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Nobear

A3: My Party Build and Early Torment Advice

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Posted (edited)

[Spoiler warning]

 

There is already advice out there for the full game, but I wanted to hone in on the mistakes I made that prompted me — as a perfectionist and completionist — to restart several times. First, I present my party:

 

Azshandine, human dex-based archer evasion tank who will minor in Priest Spells and eventually get Resistance

Elinarae, human strength-based dual-wielding backstabber who will eventually get Parry

Kalaestra, human mage who will eventually minor in Priest Spells

Quri, human priest who will eventually get Parry

 

By eventually, I mean by level 35, the last level when skill points come 2 per level. Each character has a total of 73 skill points to work with at level 35, and 75 total at level 40. Other posts list 43 as the highest reasonably attainable level, whereas 45 would be the next time you'd get another 2 skill points.

 

Balancing Optimal and Fun: I realize parties with two mages and one priest are generally considered most optimal, especially given that you can only have one cloak (i.e. Curses, Bolts, Blades, or Arcane) active at once. I do feel that the introduction of friendly fire has made magic slightly less powerful, or at least subject to further tactical considerations that weren't present in A1 or A2. I also have a personal preference for diversity, using as many of the available options as possible. This party is really only missing pole and thrown weapons. Your party could be based on mine, but substitute for these options based on preference. I personally find the flurry-of-blades aesthetic of dual wielding to be very satisfying, and I'm pretty sure dual wielding still out-damages pole weapons in endgame* after the A2 nerf. As for bows, I remember the Fury Crossbow from the original A3 and am looking forward to seeing its remake counterpart (no spoilers please), and there is also quite a bit of money to be made from selling thrown weapons. This guide is not so much to crunch out the very most optimal party build, but more to get the most out of the one you choose (assuming you don't choose totally ineffective characters, like ones that try to split between the three primary attack stats).

 

*Dual wielding and pole weapons do roughly comparable damage endgame in A3, according to Randomizer. I also like the greater diversity of finding deadly and unique blades for both hands. Personal preference. Don't let me dissuade you from going poles instead.

 

Primary stat vs Endurance: I've read different advice about your primary attack stat (i.e. Dexterity, Strength, or Intelligence) vs Endurance. I've tried leveling my primary stat to Endurance at a 2:1 ratio, and prioritizing other traits over those that boost the primary stat. In my experience, this is a recipe for disaster. The amount of times I had trouble hitting, and wasted resources and/or died in a protracted battle as a result, far outnumbered the times I was unavoidably one-shot. Some advice says Endurance is helpful in the early game, but not in the late game. Well I can tell you, your primary stat is more helpful than Endurance in the early game. In other words, my advice is to forget Endurance entirely. Eventually you might get it as a trait, but not as a high priority. If you don't believe me, try fighting the Haakai summoned by sanctifying the Troglo altar at an appropriate level without exclusively pumping your primary stat. Or fighting the chitrachs in Upper Avernum just after defeating the first plague. You'll miss so much you will want to cry. So avoid frustration and pump only your primary stat, period. In the rare level-appropriate fights where being one-shot is a bigger issue than hitting your enemy, that's what you judiciously save your Invulnerability Potions for. Vahkohs is a good example of that. Those potions are rare, but I had my dual wielder take one and put it to great use for that fight.

 

Raising a dual wielder: If you have someone in your party you want to be a dual wielder, consider having them use a sword and shield until at least level 8 or so. Even pumping Strength as high as possible, the starting 35% hit and damage penalty of dual wielding means it'll often be a DPR (Damage Per Round) loss at low level. Before % damage increases (the earliest sources for which are traits and Blademaster), the math works out that you need at least a 75% modified hit chance for dual wielding to be a DPR gain over sword-and-board. Hit chance and % damage increases from any source are equally effective in countering this penalty, although the trait that only increases hit chance is strictly inferior to a point of Strength. The Dual Wielding skill would ironically be the most efficient way to counter the penalty at low levels, except it's not accessible at low levels. Blademaster will eventually outperform Dual Wielding, once your modified hit chance is capped for most enemies. Blademaster is still great to get early, especially since it helps even before you transition to dual wielding.

 

Level 1: Everyone starts custom, with 2 Tool Use and the Nimble Fingers trait. In addition, Azshandine has 2 Melee Weapons, 1 Bows; Elinarae has 3 Melee Weapons; Kalaestra has 3 Mage Spells; and Quri has 3 Priest Spells. The early focus on tool use is because I prioritize access, and there are really good things you can get at level 1 with 12 Tool Use. Of particular note are the Fine Steel Waveblade (9 TU) in Fort Emergence and the Waveblade (12 TU) in Ghikra. The first I give to my dual wielder, and it's way stronger than anything else you're likely to find until at least level 20 or so. Given the mileage I get out of it, it's the first item I bless (at the Portal Fortress). btw make sure to ask Kelner about recharging the device. I'm pretty sure the condition for it to be ready again is not the passage of time, but defeating the Slime Plague. Enchanting early items like this — even long-lasting ones — may or may not prove to be a mistake by endgame. Time will tell. Even unenchanted, the Fine Steel Waveblade is placed way too early IMHO, and will serve as a nasty blade for a while. The other Waveblade I give to my mage, because the +10% hit chance on it cancels out 10% worth of hit penalties on encumbering gear, which lets her wear a bronze or iron shield and chainmail before gaining access to the Swordmage trait.

 

At level 1 on Torment, you are weak as hell against even rats. Fortunately, I've found a way to avoid combat entirely at level 1. Thoroughly explore Fort Emergence, then the Portal Fortress, then New Cotra. Find the cows for the Nephil's quest in a corner southwest of New Cotra, avoiding the chitrach larvae patrolling the herb patch. Then go to a recessed, rubble-filled area just south of the big lake to "help" the Vahnatai defeat the chitrachs. Of course, you'll be lucky to hit a larva at level 1, let alone a chitrach. But, unlike some later fights where the people you're helping actually need the help, these Vahnatai can handle themselves. In addition to the above, this should get you to level 2 without any combat where you need to actually put yourself in jeopardy. Save and reload often to avoid other potential fights.

 

Advice about Saved Games: I tend to have four rotating saves at a time, then periodically switch to a different set of four saves when I reach a certain milestone, and want to have the option of restarting from just before it. An example of this would be to reserve a save from just before stepping into the portal to recover the stolen Orb of Thralni. And I name my saves to keep track of these milestones.

 

Level 2: Everyone gets 1 Nature Lore. Azshandine gets to 2 Bows, Elinarae gets to 4 Melee Weapons, Kalaestra gets to 4 Mage Spells, and Quri gets to 4 Priest Spells. You could postpone the point of Nature Lore if you want, or forego it entirely if you're not a completionist. I don't think Upper Avernum requires any Nature Lore, except for parts only accessible with the Orb of Thralni. I can state definitively that 4 NL is enough to get you through mainland Krizsan Province on the surface, as far east as the Slime Pit.

 

But in any case, postponing combat (except the above Vahnatai encounter) until level 2 will give you an advantage as you start to kill those goblins, and complete the courier quest and most of the southernmost outdoor portion of Upper Avernum. Fights within this general region that I'd save for after defeating the Slime Plague include the long passage at the very south (where you are ambushed by rats including a Vapor Rat) and the bugs in a backroom in Ghikra. The Ice Worm, and the hellhounds behind locked doors and switches in the Portal Fortress, I'd save for after defeating the Roach Plague.

 

Levels 3-5: Azshandine levels 1 each in Melee Weapons and Bows. This has the side benefit of getting her to AR very quickly, and without spending anything on training. Elinarae levels 1 each in Melee Weapons and Blademaster. Kalaestra levels 1 each in Mage Spells and Melee Weapons. And Quri levels 1 each in Priest Spells and Melee Weapons. You aren't likely to come across a need for the second level of Nimble Fingers until after defeating at least the Slime Plague. Prioritize primary stat increase traits, followed by damage-boosting traits. The health-boosting traits only become better than a point of Endurance once you have at least 100 health. By level 5, the party should have completed the bandit quest. Going much further in Upper Avernum will prove problematic, whereas the party is now ready to venture onto the surface!

 

Early combat tactics: If there's literally one word of advice I can give, here it is: Daze. At low level, all your characters are likely to die if attacked by more than one or two enemies at once. Even a dex-based evasion tank will not yet have high enough evasion to survive multiple attacks most of the time. To avoid accidentally waking up dazed enemies, I would even consider postponing the Bolt of Fire upgrade (adds a chance of cleave), and being very judicious in when to use summons and when to avoid them. I'd say to generally only use a summon if it's likely to attack a melee enemy, so you can be reasonably certain that any enemy the summon wakes from Daze will attack the summon, not a player character.

 

Daze continues to be occasionally useful at higher levels. But once your tank can actually tank most enemies — a process that should begin to solidify for a well-built dex-based evasion tank around the time you're wrapping up the Slime Plague — your default mage spell priorities will probably switch from Daze -> Haste to Haste -> AoE (Area of Effect) damage spells. At this point (for outdoor encounters) my default tactics switch to moving my tank up 5 spaces and shooting the highest priority target, moving my backstabber up one space, and using the first round to buff and wait for the enemy to surround the tank. This works with most groups of predominantly melee enemies, particularly comfortably once my tank's Dexterity is so high that enemies of an appropriate level have only a 5% chance to hit her.

 

A word on party order: Playing with both a mage and a priest, I find I prefer having the mage go first. One reason is that, if the mage casts Haste in combat, the priest has a chance to benefit from it on the same round. The other reason is that damaging mage spells tend to cost less mana than their priest counterparts, at least until you have access to high level spells. If an enemy might be finished with either a Bolt of Fire or a Smite, I'll try the more mana-efficient one first, and only Smite if Bolt of Fire missed or otherwise failed to kill. Likewise starting later on with Icy Rain vs Divine Fire. Note that having the priest go first would alternately have the advantage of allowing her to cast a time-sensitive heal, cure, or Unshackle on the mage. A case could be made for either order, and you could switch the order for different situations. For instance, have the mage go first except when about to face an enemy likely to hurt or disable the mage.

 

Battle Disciplines: My archer tank usually uses the first ranged discipline until she gets Blade Sweep. I think I remember reading that Blade Sweep is dex-based, and it does seem that my dex-based tank is far more accurate and hard-hitting with it than is my strength-based dual wielder. Once she can properly tank hordes of weak enemies like slimes or goblins, Blade Sweep is deliciously effective against them, killing or almost killing many of those who surround her. AR (Adrenaline Rush) is my default choice once I get it, but I still prefer Blade Sweep for efficiently clearing the occasional horde of weak trash I encounter. Blade Shield is also useful when tanking is more important than taking out high priority targets, and/or when all the enemies are surrounding the tank. When it's down to just one or two enemies on the tank, sometimes I'll have her move away and shoot them, using AR if available.

 

For my dual-wielder, some of the early melee disciplines have good utility features for different situations. But if I think one strong hit will likely kill an enemy, I'll just use the first discipline, since it does more damage and resets faster. After assigning 8 skill points to Melee Weapons, she is the first character I buy weapon skills for in order to get AR. Keep in mind my tank gets 8 to both Melee Weapons and Bows, so she gets AR and Blade Shield for free. I find AR on a well-built backstabber to be very satisfying. She usually just holds back and shoots (and generally misses) on the first round. btw I've found it's quite possible for a backrow character to aggro an unengaged enemy onto themselves by attacking, even if they miss, so I usually have Elinarae shoot one adjacent to the tank. On the second round, she goes in behind up to 3 enemies surrounding the tank, and ARs down as many as possible. Occasionally, it will be both possible and more fun/effective IMHO for her to instead go for high priority targets(s) on the first round, not waiting for enemies to surround the tank. Usually, however, this results in a messy battlefield and enemies doing more damage than necessary, because some understandably decide to hit her and not the tank.

 

Finally, I'll note that I've found Blade Shield occasionally useful for my backstabber. When in hell would that be, you might ask? Well, when she can't backstab (safely), such as when a Shambler or Troglodyte Khazi puts up Blade Shield or Spine Shield themselves. She's basically useless in these situations — which is why I consider such enemies to be high priority — so I figure she might as well tank it out, and see if she can't hurt some enemies with a taste of their own medicine. btw I give her both the Blink and Lightning crystals. Blink is useful when she gets ensnared or immobilized, and Lightning lets her do some damage (albeit not much, based on game mechanics) when all targets available to her would be unsafe to hit.

 

Warnings about maximizing skills: The most recent mistake I caught that prompted me to restart was being unfamiliar with the rather arbitrary system for maximizing skills. Basically, if you plan to maximize a particular skill beyond 10, there is a certain arbitrary order you must adhere to: 1) assign skill points, 2) buy two levels from a trainer, 3) use knowledge crystals and other skill-boosting sources. Diverging from this order means you'll never be able to reach the maximum possible value for that skill, ever. Also, the almighty character editor won't even be able to correct this transgression.

 

Careful with the skill-boosting quests, because it can be hard to tell when a quest boosts a skill, and if so which one. The two I found by my early 20s were the Steal Book for Ivanova quest from Golddale (+1 Hardiness for the party) and Hidden Poulsbo Giants (+1 Lethal Blow for the party). Be forewarned! Also, have fun :).

Edited by Nobear
Updated with much more info and detail.

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I held off on tool use until level 2 and nature lore until later just to have the extra fighting abilities. Sure you get better items and some experience from getting past doors, but you can wait. Spells are better for attacking at the start.

 

Endurance can wait until level 5 before starting to increase it just because you want to hit, but later you start needing just a few extra health to avoid dying in one round by just those few points. 2 to 1 is too high a ratio between primary stat and endurance. 4 to 1 will do for torment.

 

I don't put any weapon skill points in my primary mage and priest until after the trainer. Between the trainer and some items like Discipline Blade you can get enough skills to wait while building up damage and higher summoning levels at the start where they make a difference.

 

I ran a torment singleton and found the difference just a level could make in some key encounters like the Orb of Thralni recovery quest, so deciding where to go becomes the most important decision part of your build to avoid going to hard areas the first time you can.

 

What you don't notice because of your exploration choices is the importance of dexterity on going first in combat against monsters like slimes on the surface.

 

Dual wielding versus pole weapons is about equal just because a melee fighter is worse than any spell casting attacker with area effect. Archer is better in most of the game due to damage avoidance against most monsters when also using parry to protect the spell casters.

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Thank you for your feedback, Randomizer. I edited my post to be much longer and provide far more info and detail, as well as to note what you said about dual wielding vs pole weapons being roughly equal. btw your massive item list incorrectly states that Ivanova's quest grants Resistance. It grants Hardiness.

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Posted (edited)

On your points:

 

16 hours ago, Randomizer said:

I held off on tool use until level 2 and nature lore until later just to have the extra fighting abilities. Sure you get better items and some experience from getting past doors, but you can wait. Spells are better for attacking at the start.

 

I would certainly have been fine putting off Nature Lore for a few levels. But once I venture onto the surface, one of the first things I go for is a Steel Breastplate in a cache on the northwest corner of mainland Krizsan Province. Putting off Tool Use seems like a reasonable option, I'm just presenting another option with specific alternative benefits. You could, perhaps, compromise with Tool Use and start with 9, so you can get the Fine Steel Waveblade right away. Any wave blade can be useful, if not for a melee fighter, then for a mage to counteract encumbrance penalties before access to Swordmage.

 

16 hours ago, Randomizer said:

Endurance can wait until level 5 before starting to increase it just because you want to hit, but later you start needing just a few extra health to avoid dying in one round by just those few points. 2 to 1 is too high a ratio between primary stat and endurance. 4 to 1 will do for torment.

 

I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I'd consider assigning some Endurance if I could still be hit-capped against all level-appropriate enemies. But chitrachs, and the haakai summoned by sanctifying the Troglo temple altar, are just two examples of enemies I wasn't hit-capped against at appropriate level, even when I assigned every point and prioritized every talent to boost my main attack stat. Only my tank took any Endurance traits by my low 20s. Enemies that posed a problem for me more because of dying in one round than because it was hard to hit them were relatively rare. I postponed fighting the Ice Worm, any drakes, or basilisks in groups. Scrolls of Spellward can help against these. I've only felt the need to use one Invulnerability Potion so far, which my dual wielder took fighting Vahkohs. In my current game since last restarting, I'll see if using one can allow me to beat the Ice Worm right after defeating the Slime Plague. I had a brainfart when writing the previous sentence. That won't work, since it's an outdoor encounter, and the Ice Worm acts first at that level.

 

The rest of your points I think include very good observations and advice, universally worth taking into account. Thanks again.

Edited by Nobear

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Vahkohs is a really good case of invulnerability potion and the difficulty of area effect spells unless you are careful with party placement.

 

Troglo Temple facing the Haakai is more party placement to keep away from the Haakai and take out the major demons quickly before they swarm the party. I found if I could keep most of the party away from the Haakai, I needed less health.

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1 hour ago, Randomizer said:

Vahkohs is a really good case of invulnerability potion and the difficulty of area effect spells unless you are careful with party placement.

 

With Vahkohs, I had my tank block the rats from the left, and shoot the boss with AR. She wasn't tanking him at all, so it was definitely a good time for my dual wielder to drink an invulnerability potion and focus fire him down with AR. Meanwhile, I had my mage cast an Arcane Summon to tank the rats from the right. The casters took out the rats with - yes - well-placed AoEs, starting with the group on the right, although my priest prioritized Unshackle and used Mass Healing liberally as needed. By buffing in pre-combat and hitting hard and fast, we took him down before he summoned the bats.

 

1 hour ago, Randomizer said:

Troglo Temple facing the Haakai is more party placement to keep away from the Haakai and take out the major demons quickly before they swarm the party. I found if I could keep most of the party away from the Haakai, I needed less health.

 

I definitely took out most of the other demons before killing the Haakai, partly because my dual wielder needed a clear path to efficiently reach him, but I believe she used her first AR to mow down the other major demons. The Haakai never moved from his starting spot. A Spellward scroll and Mass Healing were enough to keep my party alive through his AoE.

 

Part of my ability to survive fights like that without assigning Endurance points, I think, is the order in which I even attempt encounters. I am currently writing a walkthrough which details this order, intended as a continuation of this thread.

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This is good advice and clearly written -- I'm sure a lot of players will find it useful, Nobear.

 

I largely agree about Endurance.  Randomizer and I have been having this argument for what must be a decade now.  You put the dilemma well: Endurance makes a very piddly difference to your survival by the second half of the game, yet the early game is when it's most important to get your primary attack stat as high as possible.  Eventually you get to the point where you max the hit cap and have a high base amount of damage dice -- and then it doesn't matter so much, as neither placement option is game-changing.

 

Things were different in Geneforge and the Second Trilogy, where EVERYTHING ELSE in the HP formula was multiplied by your Endurance.  (Or something like that, it's been a while.)  Now that it's a flat +5, the impact is much, much, much smaller.

 

Randomizer, you always pull out this same line about "you start needing just a few extra health to avoid dying in one round by just those few points".  That is hogwash.  The "you start" part is especially hogwash -- as not only do manually placed points of Endurance have less effect on your HP, proportionately, as you gain levels and other bonuses -- but your armor and resistances also ramp up fairly rapidly.  But the other problem is that, since your HP is a finite number and above-your-level enemies on Torment deal huge damage early on, not even putting 2/3 of your points into Endurance will cause the scenario you describe to stop happening!  In an encounter where you are literally less than 5 HP away from surviving, there is always something else you can do to deal with things -- alter your tactics, your character placement, use summons, etc.  Or, for that matter, wait for a single level up, which after all automatically comes with 5 HP, and come back.  Whereas having a 5% lower chance to hit (and a die less of damage) handicaps your performance with greater frequency.

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6 hours ago, Clash on the Big Beige said:

Things were different in Geneforge and the Second Trilogy, where EVERYTHING ELSE in the HP formula was multiplied by your Endurance.  (Or something like that, it's been a while.)  Now that it's a flat +5, the impact is much, much, much smaller.

 

I think there was a base value that wasn't multiplied, so your HP wasn't directly proportional to your Endurance (and you didn't instantly drop dead if you managed to get your Endurance down to 0, which was possible in some games due to equipment penalties), but it was pretty close.

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Hah, yeah, I forgot about those equipment penalties, heh.  There was indeed a fairly small base value.

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