So this post is going to take some time, so for a couple of days it is probably going to be unstructured, incomplete, stream of consciousness while I work in 30 minute breaks to get all my ideas out then actually take another pass to make it (somewhat) intelligible. Forgive me.
This post is intended to discuss the mathematics behind the game and how you can use them to optimize your character and kill shit quickly (ideally, everything near instantly...). Some people play games to have a visceral experience, and there is nothing wrong with that, but those people should probably stop reading now: I cannot be held responsible if reading this makes the game "unfun" for you. It's kind of like hotdogs, once you know how it's made, you may not ever want one again. I'm also not responsible if using this "guide" (I use that term loosely) to create a miniature digital God King makes playing the game boring after a while; if Steiger were to make the game a challenge for the perfectly optimized character, then everyone else would be totally out of luck. If you've read all of that and still are interested in making an incredibly badass monster of a Hero and then charging through EP8 on floors well past 500 without breaking a sweat, then read on adventurer!
Rule #0 - The "correct" answer is not always fun.
This is a preface to Rule #1. Always [try to] remember that this is a game and is supposed to be fun. If you want to max out your HP and resistances and armor to top the EHP leaderboards then go nuts. If you want to tinker around with all the nifty runewords... err Mythics... then go nuts with that. If you just want to use a Lance and charge around because you love jousting, then that's fine too. At the end of the day do whatever you want, not what I (and some stupid math equation) says to.
Rule #1 - There is always a "correct" answer.
Should you go with Crit or Crit Damage? What about Icy Touch versus Might? Should you be using a sword or an axe or maybe be playing a rogue instead in the first place? Because the game is based around mathematical formulas for things like damage, resists, and the like, it turns out that in a given situation there is always an OPTIMAL set of stats. Now you might say "Well of course there is, max everything!" and you'd be right... except that this isn't possible without hacking (and if you're hacking you dont really need this guide, now do you?). Dungeon Quest is a game where your possible stats (and thus your "optimal" stats) are based on two things: the number of affix slots and your in-game resources (IE which Mythstones/crystals you have).
For the purpose of this guide, I'm going to assume you're level 99 and have some amount of a resource pool. You don't need to have dozens of every crystal/mythstone or The Perfect Nadroji Set, but a lot of the optimization we are going to be talking about is going to be geared towards high-end optimization; the logic and math behind the discussion applies regardless of what you do (and don't) have access to, so even if I'm talking about an affix you simply can't get, just review what you do have access to and apply the same logic to that to achieve a current optimization and then work up from there as you slaughter the hordes.
This Rule also assumes that you know all of the factors relevant to a situation. This isn't always going to be true; you will do a random cartographer map and get an Ice map when your gear is primarily ice damage (for example). Whoops! What this guide WILL do is discuss maximizing your potential at the macro level - you may do less damage in ice levels but those are only 25% of the maps you'll do so we'll make sure you pick up enough damage elsewhere (and minimize damage loss in those ice levels) to more than make up for it. You'll also end up fighting an Ice Immune enemy that ignores Ignore Resists and end up having to grind it down for longer with another elemental attack, and it may slow down your otherwise epic destruction speed; again, you'll be doing more damage on the whole - that Fire/Poison/Arcane Immune Extra Health guy back there died instantly... oh you didn't realize he was immune to all that? That's because he died too fast to even read his affixes. So again, there will be specific situations where your gear setup ISN'T perfect but the goal is to put together a set of gear that is optimal overall rather than having 4+ sets of gear or trying to change it around at the start of a map just to account for the specifics of the level.
There are also some things that are just too hard [impossible] to properly quantify, and since we're working with math here, things we can't quantify can't really be compared properly. That Meteor proc? Yeah it's pretty spiffy and when it goes off it can do a ton of damage. The problem is, we can't really account for when it goes off, so we can't really account for how many enemies it will hit, if they really needed a bit hit like that to kill them or whether they would have died as you carved through them with Whirlwind anyway, etc. This means that it can be extremely difficult to measure things like this against alternatives. As such, I have tended to ignore some of these somewhat "situational" procs. Other procs that are more easily quantified I have kept in. This doesn't mean you can't (or even shouldn't) use a meteor proc it just means it's hard to really translate it into theoretical damage numbers to compare so I've skipped it for that reason.
Rule #2: I'm Not Perfect
I may flub a calculation. I'm human and thus prone to errors. I'm also a lawyer [read as: not a mathematician] and while my conceptual understanding of math is probably higher than your average attorney, lots of people [probably quite a few here] know more than me. I'm also primarily a Warrior player.... It's the only class I've played to level 99 and really worked on a gear set for, so a lot of this guide is going to focus on warriors; I may reference things about Wizards/Rogues where I think it's worthwhile but I may mess that up or miss other things simply due to inexperience with them. This "guide" is meant to be a starting point for a discussion of applying math and theorycrafting to the game both for all the people on these boards that already enjoy that aspect, and as a resource/introduction for folks who may be new.
So, to the guide!
Affix Slots as a Limiting Factor
The biggest limit to your power is going to be your finite number of gear slots (6 on you and a pet) and their finite number of affix slots (6 per piece, max of 1 set and 1 crystal per piece).
This gives you 42 total affix slots (6 of them from a pet). This will optimally break down to:
Equipped Items (MH Weapon, OH Weapon, Chest, Helm, Ring, Amulet):
4x Legend or Epic Affixes
Set Affix (if possible, takes luck to find the "right" pet)
5x Epic Affixes
This nets you 6 crystal affixes, 6-7 set affixes, 29 Legend/Epic affixes. If you don't have access to Crystal affixes (or not that many) then obviously convert those to Legend/Epic as appropriate to what you have access to.
Step 1: Survive! - The EHP Treatise in a Nutshell and Translating That to What Gear to Use
First and foremost, dead men do no dps. I don't care if your whirlwind or comet or whatever skill does umpteen trillion damage per hit, if a monster kills you, you stop doing dps. Sure, you can continue (or restart if you arent on a map) but you've just lost some valuable time and will have to live with the burning shame of defeat. Your first step in becoming a Dungeon Quest God is to make sure you can survive against the legions of... hell? the planes? after midnight at a White Castle? I'm not totally sure where the forces of darkness come from, but you don't want them dragging your bloody carcass back there.
Survival is measured [partially] in terms of EHP - effective health points. EHP takes your raw health and then adjusts it for how much damage from an attack you resist (I refer to it as resist but it's technically resist and armor). If you have 100 HP and resist 0 of the damage done to you, you have 100 EHP. If you have 100 HP and resist 50% of the damage done to you, you have 200 HP. If you have 20 HP and resist 90% of the damage done to you, you still have 200 HP. If you have 200 EHP and a monster does 20 damage per hit before resistance, you can take 10 hits. EHP also takes into effect dodge, but dodge is a little fickle. Over the LONG RUN, avoidance such as dodge works the exact same as resistances. So if you have 100 HP, resist 50% of damage, and dodge 50% of attacks, your EHP in the long run is 400. On the other hand, in the short run, avoidance can cause "spike damage". This is either a streak of bad luck and not successfully dodging for enough time to actually cause your death OR when not avoiding an attack means death. Lets look at that example 400 EHP -- remember, it's 100 HP, 50% resist, 50% dodge. If you have a monster hitting for 2 damage then it'll usually take it 200 hits to kill you. Half of those 200 hits will be dodged, the remaining 100 hits will be reduced to 1 damage each, and after taking 100 of them you'll die. 200 total attacks with such a low amount of damage makes it hard for "spike damage" to matter -- who cares if you fail to dodge 10 hits in a row? Sure that 10 damage is 10% of your health pool but (statistically) it'll balance out where you'll dodge 10 hits in a row or something and it'll be fine. But lets change that little fly into a bit ole dragon. Mr. Dragon unfortunately hits for 100 damage per hit. If you dodge exactly every other attack, you'll die after about 4 attacks -- 2 will be misses, 2 will hit and be reduced to 50 damage each. But what if you fail to dodge twice in a row? Well shit, you just died after 2 attacks! Try flipping a coin 2 times in a row... there's actually a 50% chance you'll get either two heads or two tails rather than one of each... This is why dodge can be considered somewhat "unreliable" - if you're taking big hits, a bit of bad luck can REALLY hurt. If that 50% dodge were, instead, 50% of a different type of resist, then you'd ALWAYS be able to take the 4 hits from the dragon before dying. This is considered "stable". BUT, dodge isn't always bad! As we'll see later, dodge can be translated to damage, and in the long run it's still going to add survivability at roughly the same rate as resistance. It's also flatly BETTER than resist for REALLY BIG attacks. Lets say that dragon is a Hydra instead. So instead of doing 50 damage per attack, lets imagine it does 450 damage per attack (9 heads all spitting fire at you... work with me here). Even with 50% resist and 50% of some other kind of resist, you're still going to die. If that second 50% were still dodge, though, you'd have a 50% chance of surviving the otherwise "unsurvivable" attack! Sure it's still based on luck but a chance is still better than none!
Survival is also measured in terms of how much life you gain back. This is done through potions, regen, health/mana pools, fairy pet, and leech. Potions are fine in a pinch but I hate having to move my hands just to click on a stupid bottle of fruit punch just because I've taken a few too many punches to the face, so lets try to avoid that if we can (definitely have them for emergencies). Health/mana pools are like potions but not only do I have to click, I have to find one and move to it. UGH, no thanks. The Fairy pet works like a potion but is automated. She doesn't always heal you in time but at least I don't have to actually hit a button to make her work, and she's the only combat-relevant pet, so she can have a pass and come along. Regeneration is the worst. ABSOLUTELY THE WORST. I have 0 interest in standing around for 5 seconds to regenerate some portion of my life pool. Sure, it works in combat too but unfortunately it doesn't scale with your damage (or monster damage) whatsoever so while stacking it might be fine at low levels and EP, it's just not going to cut it at higher levels. That leaves Leech. Leech is the absolute single best stat in the game for survivability. Arguably if you have enough HP to take a couple of hits and still use your attack, then a high enough damage plus leech will fill you back up and you can survive indefinitely. You won't always be able to leech back at 100% efficiency (less targets for multi-target attacks, leech nerf on maps, etc) so you'll still want a healthy buffer of life, but Leech is going to be your primary go-to for keeping your health tank topped off.
Thankfully, in terms of affixes, survival is relatively easy once you've got a decent pool of resources! You will want Blood Magic, Plagued, all of your stat points into Health if you're a warrior, Mana if you're a mage and one or the other if you're a rogue (no, seriously, rogues get the short end of the stick on this), Cosmic Power if you're a Mage and want to be SUPER obnoxiously tanky, and "enough" Leech (and damage to back it up) to stay at full health. Why do you want all of this? I'm glad you asked!
Health and Mana
It's a no brainer that adding to your health pool increases your survivability. It's called HEALTH for crying out loud! For Warriors, adding stat points to Health also adds Armor -- not an incredible boon as we'll see later but hey, it's not like Mana was going to give you anything extra either... For Wizards, adding stat points into Mana adds All Resist. This boosts survivability but why would you want a big ole mana pool when we're talking about survival? Am I going to tell you to use Mana Shield? NOPE. Blood Magic! It turns your brain matter into more meat for monsters to eat before you die! Like that asshole who played football in high school and took a few too many hard tackles!
Health/Mana > Blood Magic
Blood Magic converts all of your HP and MP into a single pool and all of your HP/MP effects into HP effects. You then spend 3x the mana cost of an attack as HP when you use it. How does this help to be hurting yourself every time you attack? Because of leech and Plagued! Blood Magic comes with a dps boost which is just swell but we aren't talking about damage here (yet) we're talking about surviving... What it truly does for you is to combine both of your resource pools into one that is boosted and replenished by ALL of your HP/MP effects.... It also just happens to be the same resource pool that Plagued works off of... So with a fair amount of base HP or Mana you use Blood Magic to end up with a big ole pool of blood sloshing around in your veins for when monsters get a piece of you. Again, rogues get somewhat shafted since pumping points into Health and Mana doesn't increase any of your secondary survivability stats and putting points into Power is dumb (we'll discuss this later) but pick ONE of the two and stick with it (DO NOT split evenly between health and mana! ALL INTO ONE for rogues).
- Notes about Blood Magic:
- The order affixes are calculated actually does Blood Magic AFTER most [all?] non-set affixes. This means if you have a TON of mana that is going to become HP through Blood Magic, having +25% HP is going to do just about nothing. Instead, it's going to increase your shitty base HP pool BEFORE blood magic and not give you any benefits to your mana-turned-health. Instead, you want one of your pools (health or mana, depending on class as described above) getting all of your stat points and bonuses from gear... +HP and +%HP if you're a warrior or rogue pumping health, +MP and +%MP if you're a wizard or rogue pumping mana.
- If you have access to Cosmic Power, bonuses from this can increase your survivability enormously.
- Even if you split it between HP Leech and Mana Leech, you STILL cap at 5% total HP Leech after Blood Magic is applied, so don't think you can stack both to 5% and have 10% total, it won't work.
- It's the best. You DO practice Santeria.
Blood Magic > Plagued Plagued then turns that big ole HP pool into RAW DEFENSE as long as you have enough Plagued set bonus! (with Rage it also turns that armor into sweet sweet crit damage, but that's not [exactly] survival [yet] so we'll talk about it later [soon]. Plagued sets your Armor equal to a percent of your HP. At level 1 of plagued and a small health pool, this actually nerfs your survival (whoops!) BUT once you hit plagued level 5 and a big old honking health pool, you're looking at armor = 125% health... if health is 30k (or 50k...) that translates to easily over 35k armor. My warrior (with admittedly pretty high end gear) is sitting at 54k HP and 98.6k armor total.
"But Zierham!", you might be thinking, "You said we were going to talk about survival here, not damage! There's an entire section devoted to damage later! What gives?!" Obviously you're going to want damage. You're going to want a metric fuckton of it. You're trying to be a god not just your county's heavyweight champion. After we've gotten "enough" EHP, why don't we start focusing on damage and then let that damage make us even more tanky! That's what this guide is all about -- getting as much benefit as possible from every affix slot.
How much leech you need depends on your damage output. If your damage sucks, 1% leech isn't going to really help (1% of crap is crap, get it?) Heck, if your damage is super shitty then even 5% leech isn't going to make much of a difference. But once you've gotten your damage output maximized, you can skate by with 1% leech easily. I currently use 3% leech on my set just to account for maps with Leech Nerf; you may need more if your dps is lacking or less if your dps is higher (or if your playstyle is such that you take less damage). I basically never see my health not at full if I am attacking, even on 70% leech nerf maps. Hoorah.
Translating This to Slots
So how does this translate to what defensive stats your gear should have? Well we discuss how many affix slots you have above, and for the purposes of defense we're going to use the following:
Crystal Slots (1-2):
+100% HP or MP
+50% Dodge (Optional, but recommended -- we'll turn that dodge into damage later anyway)
Cosmic Power (if you're a wizard or rogue pumping mana -- can rogues even get cosmic power...?)
+2 All Sets
+2 All Sets
+5000 HP/Mana (Optional)
This gives you Plagued (5), Blood Magic (5), Cosmic Power (5)[wizards] , +100% hp/mana, 2+% leech, and 5000 HP/Mana. My warrior has literally just those set bonuses, +85% HP crystal affix, 41% dodge crystal affix, and 4300 hp epic affix and ends up at just under 55k hp, 98.6k armor, 493 all resist, 60% dodge for a total EHP of 4.44M.
Obviously this is a lot of affixes to be using on survivability but again, dying is pathetic and to be avoided at all costs. We'll just have to figure out how to turn those defensive affixes back into damage output, won't we?
Picking Your Class
With the right crystals, the only differences between classes are:
1. Primary (non-special) skills. Since you can use crystals to change the Special skills for your MH and OH weapons, the first difference between classes is their non-special skills. Through the Battle Mage set, Rogues and Wizards can get access to Charge as a primary skill, and with the Spell Sword set, rogues and warriors can get access to the Comet primary skill. Mythics also grant skills, but we'll talk later about why using Mythics might be too much of a sacrifice in affix slots. I've also not used many [any] of them at present so I can't really comment on their value as primary skills [yet].
2. Talents. Each class gets a different set of talents, so this is going to be a huge way to differentiate your character. As we'll discuss later, the vast majority of them are still translatable into damage such that they can be compared, but even ignoring slight final power differences they also add some flavor.
3. Hero Skills. At current, you cannot gain skills in out-of-class skills. So if you're using Whirlwind from the Battle Mage set and you aren't a warrior, you can't take advantage of the [HUGE] bonuses of pumping 20 Hero Points into the Whirlwind Skill. You also can't benefit from +all skills since they only affect your class' skills. This is a major reason that Battle Mage and Spell Sword fall flat in the end-game - you're easily 30-50% damage behind the main class that has the skill.
4. Stat Point Bonuses. As we discussed above, if you're a wizard you get to take advantage of the All Resist bonus from pumping mana, whereas Warriors get Armor from Health (which is then negated by plagued) and Rogues get dodge from Power (but shouldn't put points in power as we'll discuss below). Basically if you're a wizard, this is a boon, if you aren't then you just gotta suck it up.
5. Set Bonuses. Some set bonuses are exclusive to certain classes [outside of pets -- good call Bola!] so Warriors generally won't have access to Cosmic Power, etc.
6. The look of the little dude you're going to watch running around for hours on end. Hey, maybe you just don't like the way the Warrior looks or think the rogue's skimpy outfits are sexist, I'm just noting the difference.
We'll work out numerically which class is "best" later, but obviously ANY class can be optimized to absolutely destroy legions of monsters, so you'll probably want to pick largely based on which primary skill you intend to use.
Which Primary Skill Should I Use?
First of all, you will want to be using ONE WEAPON for damage. This is because you will need to focus on specific damage affixes on your weapon that DO NOT carry over to your other weapon. If you were going to try to use skills from both weapons for damage output, you'd end up spending about 6 affixes on Weapon Damage Affixes whereas if you economize down to 1 weapon, you only need to use 3 (and the 3 slots on the other weapon can be used for universal damage affixes that WILL help your primary weapon).
With this in mind, you're also going to want to use your main-hand weapon as your damage skill if you have a viable option for doing so, in order to let you capitalize on using Mirror Image special on your off hand. Since Mirror Image is based on your MH damage instead of offhand, it means you can ignore weapon damage affixes on your offhand while still getting the benefit of a (almost) passive damage boost from your offhand skills.
The golden rule of picking a skill to use is that you ALWAYS want use an AE as your most often used skill. This isn't World of Warcraft or Everquest where you'll be fighting one boss monster for 30 minutes straight. Even the toughest boss monster i've come across still only takes somewhere around 20-50x the time to kill that a normal monster does... so when normal monsters die in under a second, even the biggest of bads is still going to drop in under a minute. This also isn't a game where you are fighting that SUPER HARD boss type that often -- your run of the mill Cartographer or epic monster is only going to take 2-5x the time to kill of a normal monster, and how often are you REALLY facing the Legend or Mythic enemy that has the right combination of affixes to really take forever? Not all that often! Because of this, and because your goal is to destroy entire packs of monsters at once you are definitely going to want to be hurting as many monsters as possible at once. So that sword primary skill? Garbage. Sorry Steiger, I'm not saying the design is bad just that literally every ARPG game in the history of the world ends up with AE skills being infinitely better than single target skills unless you have frequent really tough single boss monsters.
You also need to consider "how" the skill works -- the Hammer is AE but requires you stand still for the entire attack animation, and doesn't leave a lasting source of damage, whereas Whirlwind continues to deal damage while letting you move around. Charge lets you move but only in long, straight lines with no ability to change course (and essentially immobility of you charge into a wall).
Finally, you should consider how Hero Skills boost the attack -- you'll (pretty quickly) have 20 Hero Skill Points in your main attack, so compare them as if the Hero Skill were maxed...
Flurry - This has such a tiny AE that it may as well not have one at all. It also doesn't let you move while you use it. You aim at an enemy (or enemies) hold attack and stand still until they are dead, then move and point at another enemy or group of them. Yawn. Hero Skill points help it some -- it adds Extra Attacks as you dump points, but seems to cap at +1 (or at least at Rank 20 it's still just +1 extra attack), it adds the standard 5% damage bonus, and also adds some Crit Chance while reducing Skill Cost. The Crit Chance isn't that useful (it's essentially about 1 normal affix slot worth) and the Skill Cost Reduction isn't worthwhile when it costs so little to begin with and you're planning to leech to stay full anyway. Also, the skill itself does horrible damage (just 100% damage) so when you combine that with only hitting a few enemies at once due to the low AE range, it's just not good.
Throw Sword - This has more potential -- it is an AE skill since it passes through enemies and continues to deal damage in a "bar" in the direction it was thrown. It also continues a fair distance (easily 1 full screen) and does INCREDIBLE damage (800%!). The primary drawback is, of course, its cooldown. The 2s cooldown means that you could use it in a rotation (Throw Sword as often as it is up, then flurry the rest of the time) but this brings us back to Flurry and I very much dislike flurry. The Hero Skill points do it solid justice (the usual 5% damage per point as well as Damage Per Pierced (great when you are throwing it through a pack of 20+ enemies) but they can't really save it from the cesspool that is Flurry.
Smash - A bigger AE (at least it feels like) than Flurry, but you're swinging it slower than molasses and it's still just going to hit stuff in front of you (and close to you). You're also totally stuck while you swing which is boring and not effective in terms of getting from one pack of monsters to the next. It also knocks back and stuns, but when it knocks enemies back out of your AE range, this is actually counter productive, and stunning them there is even worse. Hero Skill points add the usual damage while also adding Stun Chance, Crit Damage, and Skill Cost. Stun Chance is bad as noted above, crit damage is useless once we get Rage (we will be getting rage) and the Skill Cost reduction has merit since Hammers are SUPER expensive to swing (especially with blood magic) but still end up useless once we leech back to full constantly. Pass.
EarthShatter - Like Smash but more damage and it hits multiple times. 3x 500% damage is AMAZING except that like Smash you're stuck there swinging for an inordinate amount of time AND it's got an even longer cooldown than Throw Sword. The AE range on it is also still about the same as Smash which is to say bigger than Flurry but still not particularly big. The thought of sitting there using this every 3 seconds and Smash inbetween is terrible -- I want shit to die in WAY less time than that, and not be rooted in one spot while I kill them! Hero Skill Points add damage, crit damage, knockback distance, and reduce the cooldown -- the crit damage is useless once you use Rage and Knockback distance again punts them out of your AE range and is bad. The cooldown reduction would be cool except that its .5% each point, so 10% at Rank 20. Using this every 2.7 seconds and Smash inbetween is still bad.
Charge - Ok, so now we're moving into Killing-While-Moving skills, so that's good! You can charge back and forth through packs of monsters to kill them and its AE for that reason, but hitting many monsters at once can be unwieldy -- if the pack of monsters "squishes" (becomes wider than it is deep) then you'll only be hitting a small portion of the pack, and you will lose out on a lot of your damage potential. Still, this is a step in the right direction! Hero Points make this a little better - in addition to the basic dmg increase you get AE radius, AND hit frequency (and skill cost reduction) -- the AE radius increase and hit frequency bonus both serve to make this better in terms of hitting multiple monsters (or monsters multiple times) per attack.
KnightsCharge - Oooo this is getting more fun -- Unlike Charge, you can actually maneuver while using Knights Charge. It knocks back but because you can use it while moving, the knockback just serves to move the enemies back to where you're charging through unlike the Hammer skills knocking them out of your attack. It also does 600% dmg and if you wiggle the control stick well while you use it, it can have a solid AE effect. Hero Points also help - they increase your movement speed while using it, as well as SIGNIFICANTLY increasing the hit frequency. The cooldown is 3 seconds but it lasts for about 1 second, so its uptime is a whole lot better than EarthShatter despite the same cooldown. With Charge being decent, it also wouldn't be horrible to use Charge between uses of Knights Charge.
Cleave - It hits a few things in front of you and also causes bleeds. This qualifies as an AE but like Smash and Flurry it is kind of small and thus unremarkable. I don't much care for bleeds (I want things dead now so I can take their stuff, rather than letting them die later and making me go back for their stuff) so that's irrelevant to me too. Hero Points don't even save this -- all you get other than the basic dmg increase is more bleed bonuses and a skill cost reduction. Nope.
Whirlwind - Ah yes, here it is. This is the skill we've been waiting for! It does an AE (and it does it all around you!) It lets you move while you're doing it so you don't have to stop. It does 200% damage (ok, this is a lot lower than the other Special skills, but don't worry!). It's fully spammable. Let me let that sink in for a second - it has a cooldown but it lasts as long as its cooldown so you can use it full time. You NEVER have to go back to using your regular skill (Cleave sucks, as we discussed above). This is like full-time Knights Charge with lower damage. Hero Skill Points are just the icing on the cake, adding movement speed, spell size (basically AE range), and hit frequency. It's like all the benefits of Hero Points in Knights Charge plus more, all useable full-time. YES PLEASE!
So for Warriors, I strongly recommend using Whirlwind as your primary attack.
Rogue I need to theorycraft this more, please comment if you already have and I'll incorporate it here!
Wizard I need to theorycraft this more, please comment if you already have and I'll incorporate it here!
Picking Your Main-Hand Weapon
"But, Zierham! You already told us to use Whirlwind so we're using an Axe, why have this extra section?" Because you don't have to use an axe to use whirlwind! There are two ways to use Whirlwind without using an Axe; the Battle Mage set and using a crystal to change your mainhand special skill. Using Battle Mage also changes your normal main hand skill (to Charge) while using a crystal doesn't change your main-hand skill. As we discussed above, charge is actually probably the only warrior main hand normal skill worth noting, so you might be thinking you'd want to use the Battle Mage set or else use a Crystal on a Lance to change the special while leaving Charge -- this is viable, but it's not what I'm recommending!
If we're ignoring the special skills on a weapon (intending to use Battle Mage or a crystal) then what matters other than the normal skill? For warriors, there's a little trick you can take advantage of... Hammers do higher base damage! As best I can tell, the reason the trick exists is that way back when, Hammers were even more godawful than they are now, so they were buffed by increasing their attack speed. Their base damage was high AND STAYED HIGH when the buff went live, so they currently have the highest base dmg of any warrior weapon. You can test this yourself -- disenchant any ilvl 100 weapon completely and inspect it to see it's damage range -- a Hammer with an Item Quality of -5% still easily beats out the competition (7312-12187 versus: a) 2340-3900 for a iq-1% sword, b) 2535-4225 for an iq+0% axe, and c) 3900-6500 for an iq+1% lance). You can also test to confirm that this base damage factors directly to Whirlwind Damage. Sweet! This means using a Hammer to Whirlwind is mathematically better than using anything else. This easily beats out the very minor possible benefit of having Charge as your other skill by using a Lance (though you can get both by using the Battle Mage set with a Hammer...).
Rogue - To be theorycrafted.
Wizard - To be theorycrafted.
Luck, Item Find, and Gold Find
These exist. Depending on what you are trying for (legendaries vs. crystal/mythstones vs. gold) they can even speed up how quickly you get what you want. They also come at the cost of dps (even when you can salvage some DPS out of them with set bonuses). If you want you can trade off some DPS to increase these stats but remember, killing faster (or on a higher EP) also increases your drop rate and thus your results. I am personally not "looking" for anything in particular so I mostly just enjoy destroying a lot of monsters quickly so I have literally none of this on my gear. Instead, I play EP8 to give me some baseline and have 20 points into the Luck Hero Skill. Again, feel free to sprinkle this in to taste if you want, but I'm not here to give you the best break-even point in terms of items-found, I'm just here to help you wreck shit.
DPS! DPS! MORE MORE MORE!
OK -- as much as I expect this is the portion of the guide that will be of the most interest to people, this is actually the EASY part! All of the stuff above (how much survival to get, which skills to use, etc) are sort of ephemeral and difficult to quantify; while I believe in my recommendations and think I can defend them with soft numbers if needed, they still rely in some part on opinion or subjective preference. Now we're on to the stuff that is legitimately just raw math and comparison!
So, you've got your class picked out. You've got your survival taken care of. You've got your skill picked out and you even have a weapon picked out (if you're following my recommendation of using a Hammer with Whirlwind, you've even mixed and matched these -- how hip of you!). Now you just need to know how to maximize your ability to beat the absolute crap out of anything that looks at you funny [and keep yourself healthy by doing it].
First Step: Weapon Affixes
We talked above about weapon affixes being the reason you wanted to focus on one primary attack and let you other weapon (likely your offhand) be a stat stick. This is why: you are going to want [need] three specific affixes on your weapon (in addition to a set and crystal affix, if you've got the budget for it).
+ 5000 Weapon Damage (Epic Affix)
+50% Weapon Damage (Epic Affix)
Socket (to put in a +50% Weapon Damage Mythstone)
Other (Can be +2 Extra Attacks if you are using a skill that benefits -- Whirlwind DOESN'T)
The %Weapon Damage, Flat Weapon Damage, and Socket (for more % Weapon Damage) are absolutely not optional. These can ONLY be gotten on your weapon and don't apply from your other weapon, so you want every scrap of them you can get (which is the above, absent bugs). There used to be bugs that allowed you to get multiple of the same affix, so it is technically possible to have a legacy item with this bug for even higher dmg, but outside of that, those are going to be your 5 (or 6 if you are using a skill that can apply + Extra Attacks) weapon affixes. Locked in stone. Period. Done.
Second Step: What to do with your Offhand?
Fap fap jokes aside, you may as well get some benefit out of your offhand beyond merely the 6 affix slots it brings. Mirror Image basically doubles your damage output since it is keyed off of your Mainhand Damage as long as you hit it every time it's up, so you tell me if you can find something that adds more than that. With Whirlwind you can either have it "in front" of you so it deals damage then you deal damage (best for narrow packs of enemies) or "next to" you so it hits part one side of the pack while you hit the other, and both of you hit the middle (best for wide packs).
If you're a warrior, this is great to pair with a Horn so you can use Sprint on demand (especially useful if you go back to pick up an item you missed and want to get there and then back to monsters ASAP). If your leech isn't enough to keep you topped off in leech nerf maps, you can also go with a Hatchet since the normal skill for Hatchets doesn't have a cooldown and can be paired with the Prayer talent to net you free health on demand (I can heal myself for 10.7k about 2-3 times per second if I do this -- the axes do horrible damage, but if for any reason I couldnt leech back up that would be a pretty solid way to get life back... think of it as future proofing for when/if Steiger adds leech immune stuff.
Second Step: Other Sets
So in the survival section I told you to get Plagued, Blood Magic and maybe Cosmic Power if you're a wizard or otherwise pumping Mana. This leaves you with 4-5 additional slots for set bonuses. I'll go through and try to quantify the damage increase in raw terms or in terms of how many affixes it would "cost" to get that benefit otherwise, where applicable. I assume you have 2x +2 All Sets affixes -- if you dont, the value of set bonuses is going to go down, but you'll want (and eventually get) the two +2 Set Affixes so you may as well plan for it now.
First, the ones I use:
Blood Magic: You have this because it helps give you an enormous health pool and lets you ignore the cost of your skills (and technically saves you an affix slot since you ONLY need one kind of leech) but it also directly increases your damage! By 62.5% to be exact (at a set value of 5) which is a huge benefit for a single set affix (and one you want for its defensive/simplification boons anyway!)
Plagued: Like Blood Magic you've already got this for its defensive value, but the offensive value of this is hidden is a bit hidden-- it isn't the DOT damage increase since if more enemies are poisoned it means more enemies are still alive, which is antithetical to my goals of killing them all... it also means if they die from the poison I'd have to either wait for that or go back for whatever loot they dropped. Instead, it's in setting your armor value high to allow you to use Rage to great effect!
Rage: This one is a no-brainer. With the high Armor you'll have from Plagued, this will single handedly cap you at 350% Crit Damage. This is roughly 5 affixes worth of Crit Damage and while the net damage increase depends on your crit and deadly strike, it's going to add a lot. Do it, the only time its not worth it is if you have a horribly low amount of crit.
Permafrost: This will add 50% ice damage and also a bit of survival. You may not need the survival, but 50% ice damage is [roughly] 50% damage if you're primarily using Ice element attacks, so this is a solid choice. The survival boost is just gravy.
Momentum: The way it is written when you inspect it is incorrect - according to the Dictionary it adds 12.5% per rank of your movement speed to damage, with movement speed having a cap of +100%. This means at Momentum (5) you're looking at 62.5% of your Movement Speed translating to damage. Legendary Affix Movement Speed bonuses cap at 15% so this seem somewhat weak - you "waste" an affix by getting Momentum just to turn your 15% Movement Speed affixes into about 8.5% damage bonuses each? Surely you could just replace those Movement Speed Affixes with some damage ones and come out ahead? Well, in terms of absolute damage, you're probably right -- the thing is, increasing your Movement Speed increases how quickly you can get from pack to pack thus directly decreasing your damage downtime. It also means if you have to run back to pick up an item that dropped that you initially missed, you're losing less damage uptime. Lastly, this skill seems to work on Movement Speed bonuses from other sources -- such as the Movement Speed Bonus when whirlwinding from Hero Points in Whirlwind (as well as sprint movement speed bonus, etc). Basically if you can get your movement speed increased by 100% all or most of the time, this set bonus can net you up to 62.5% damage! If you don't have access to many Crystal affixes, this may leave you without enough affix slots to stack up Movement Speed, so this might not be possible but even at 50% (the bonus from points in whirlwind and a couple of affixes or perhaps sprint up some of the time) it's going to add over 30% damage, which is nothing to sneeze at (remember, the movement speed is its own benefit too, especially with a move-while-attacking skill like Whirlwind!)
Spell Sword: This can be kind of nice -- it translates 100% of your Dodge bonus into bonuses to Damage, Resists, and MP (and thus health). Unfortunately, it also changes your skills to Comet and Meteor. If you're using Whirlwind, this becomes a problem since we're kind of building around the slice and dice from that. If you're not a wizard, building around Comet and/or Meteor also cuts your damage potential since you can't jam hero points here. Basically if you're intending to use Comet it can provide a solid boost, but to fully optimize a Comet build you'll need to be a wizard, and at the time of writing this I havent really worked up any details on wizards. The one way around this is if you use Battle Mage AND Spell Sword -- for whatever reason, having both of those sets leaves you with the Battle Mage skills (Charge and Whirlwind) so this will let you take advantage of using Dodge to convert directly to multiple stats including damage. This is at the cost of 2 set slots, so you can do it if you want to optimize but remember the cost is pretty high in terms of alternative set bonuses you could be taking advantage of...
Battle Mage: Only use this because you want access to Whirlwind and are using the Spell Sword set. The Armor Bonus is before Plagued is applied, so is minimal and thus not worth it. If you aren't using Spell Sword just use a crystal to change your Main Hand Special to Whirlwind and move on.
Terrashaper: This one is VERY hard to quantify in terms of net damage increase, but at Set Level 5 it's a 37.5% chance to proc Earthshatter on hit AND ATTACK. Even if it's effected by proc normalization, this will still proc pretty frequently and unlike most procs it can even proc on attacks not just hits. Basically I use this and I have no idea how much damage it actually nets out but it procs a TON (it frequently chainprocs and I leave a line of craters where I have just whirlwinded through). Be careful, if it procs enough it can potentially lag your phone (I use an overclocked Galaxy S4 and this can happen if I am running stuff in the background when it procs a bunch -- slower/older phones will likely have this issue more frequently).
(You may notice this is 8 sets -- back in 1.5 or 1.6 it was possible to add a second Set Affix to an item that already had it. I ended up having Terrashaper added and its fun enough I havent bothered to change it yet. As I mentioned, Terrashaper is hard to quantify in terms of damage, so if I was getting rid of something, I'd probably drop it (or else drop Spell Sword and Battle Mage, and pick up Cosmic Power by changing a Wizard item with it to a Warrior Item [does this work? I havent tried?] and go with a Mana Build, or maybe use Deadly Arts to be able to have more Mirror Images up at once). Just saying, Legacy Items like this aren't necessary to kill shit, so pick the 7 you like best and go with them!
Now on to the other set bonuses:
Aftermath: Might be useful if you were using a skill rotation that uses both Meteor and Shatter to be able to use your big ticket spells with a lower cooldown, but the only rotation I want is my hammer rotating around me when I whirlwind. It can also allow Meteor to draw enemies in in a Meteor/Comet build so your comet explosion blows up more dudes, but again I havent done a wizard write up yet, so that's outside the scope of this for now... Pass!
Ascendant: At first glance this might seem like a decent damage buff as well as a survival buff, but it's a trap! The survival buff is there, but if your attacks are a random element (a whopping 62.5% of your attacks with a Set Level of 5!) then it means your Elemental Damage % modifiers aren't working half the time, [i]including Frostbiting if you don't chill the enemy immediately.[/i] This is an unacceptable loss of dps unless you're a wizard taking advantage of the Amplify talent (I havent fully theorycrafted it, but I am thinking a Wizard with Amplify and Ascendant can probably parse out higher than being single element... will need time to actually run the numbers out). For our warrior, skip it even if the survival boost is tempting!
Buccaneer: Increases Scatter Shot damage based on your goldfind. Since Scatter Shot has a cooldown, this means you arent getting the full bonus from this with every attack. Arguably if you can reduce your cooldown enough to spam Scatter Shot it may be viable since the value of Gold Find affixes can go pretty high, but I haven't figured out a viable way to get your scatter shot cooldown that low while still leaving enough slots to support your damage in other ways.
Cosmic Power: As referenced above, this can turn a wizard (or anyone else who can get Cosmic Power) into the tankiest of tanks when combined with Blood Magic and a decent MP pool. Beyond that, the damage increase isn't worth noting (the way its described is that 12.5% of your max MP is added to projectiles that travel through a Time Warp field... with 50k HP (if it even counts your HP as MP?) this is only about 1k damage and you've got to use Time Warp Field to make it work (and a projectile attack). Even if we were using Time Warp and a projectile, this would still be a low damage boost. Use it for the survival boost or don't use it at all.
Deadly Arts: If you have capped Deadly Strike, then it'll reduce your cooldowns by 75%. Unclear if this is subject to the cap on cooldown reduction but presumably it is. I prefer not to use cooldown skills where avoidable, but it can also increase your ability to have extra Mirror Images up which is swell, so it's not worthless.
Druidic: This is awful. You don't want to rely on MP/HP regen to heal since it means sitting out of combat instead of just jumping in and letting Leech keep you full, and the AE damage is also pitiful on high EP maps (monsters with millions of health don't give a shit if you deal a few thousand more poison damage or even a few dozen thousand).
Electrified: This is hard to quantify. With a whirlwind build you are whirling through enemies and thus getting beat on a lot, but Eleftrified seems to deal damage AFTER resists -- even if a monster did 50k damage to you (almost enough to one shot you!) you'd still only do a few hundred thousand with Electrified, and that's after spending a Set Bonus slot on it and a bunch of Reflect Damage affixes. Monsters don't actually deal anywhere near that damage, so really you're just tickling them for a few thousand of their millions of HP at high floors and EP levels.
Golden Veins: I wanted to like this, especially with Gold Find affixes being able to go to pretty high levels, but unfortunately its your average gold find on gear... meaning per item. You'd have to literally spend an affix slot on EVERY ITEM (plus one for Golden Veins) to get about a 60% damage bonus. Too much spent for too little gain!
Living Force: A whirlwind build doesn't really use projectiles, but even a comet build (the wizard skill I have the most experience with) actually doesn't benefit terribly much from this. The reason being is that the explosion doesn't happen when it passes through enemies; only when it comes back to you. This means the range at which you can begin to engage a pack (actually one of Comet's benefits) is reduced since it only goes about 75% of a screen away, AND the AE damage is delayed a few seconds while it travels, AND is centered back on you. Frankly with the amount of damage we'll put out once you're optimized, there's no reason to let the pack live for the time it takes the comet to return -- you may as well just throw 5 comets at the leader of the pack that explode instantly without Living Force and call it a day -- they're dead already.
Overload: A 25% chance to cast a 250% damage attack is pretty swanky, especially with a whirlwinder getting hit so much. Unfortunately I've never had a chance to use it. If the AE is big enough this could easily translate to a big damage increase (250% of mainhand damage is a bit less than whirlwind itself, but if it procs constantly with all the hits you take, it could pump out almost as much damage?). I'll try to test this once the guide is otherwise complete and report back, but this has POTENTIAL!
Pathfinder: 62.5% of your total dodge in additional damage reduction. Sure, it can just about double your EHP if you max dodge but we've already got Plagued doing that for us, so why waste another affix slot when it isn't needed? If for some reason you are on a high enough floor that your survival has actually started to come into question again, feel free to sub it in -- until then, it just isn't necessary.
Summoner: If I ever come up with a viable end game summoner build I'll let you know, otherwise this isn't relevant to our goals here.
Trickster: This is pretty nifty -- it basically lets you have an extra Mirror Image up every time you use one (assuming it works with Mirror Image itself). This can amount to a 100% damage increase, so definitely worth considering -- I havent actually used it, so I can't comment on if it doesnt work for some reason but this could easily make it into my build when/if I get around to trying it!
More to come!