Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Supermassive Black Hole


A long time ago, I posted my first Dark Armor Sucks video. Within a few months, I noticed that people would occasionally refer to my Dark Armor guide. At the time, my response was always "Can you give me a link to that guide?" as I had not actually written this yet. I didn't even plan to write one. My guides are typically more broad in scope, taking into account an entire archetype or more. Further, at the time I had only played Dark Armor as a Tank. I still had a lot more to learn about the set before I could claim enough proficiency to write a guide on how to play Dark Armor.

Today I'm finally sitting down to write the guide that so many people have claimed to exist (I'm still trying to figure that one out). By now I've played Dark Armor through two Tanks, two Stalkers, one Brute and one Scrapper, each with a different melee powerset. I feel comfortable giving advice that applies across the board.

I can teach you how to turn a simple Dark Armor character into a Supermassive Black Hole.

But Why a Supermassive Black Hole?

For you non-science types out there, a black hole is essentially a spot in the universe with such a strong gravity that nothing can escape from it. Anything you throw at it, or anything that even passes by close enough, gets sucked in and condensed, never to be seen again. Not even light can get through a black hole.

Good Dark Armor characters have quite a few things in common with black holes. They are awesome and alluring. Their existence is typically an anomaly. There's been a good deal of study done on them. There are people out there who still believe they just don't exist.

A supermassive black hole is like the next level of black hole. It's what a black hole would be if it had enough stuff thrown at it. You find them at the center of galaxies. They're the biggest and the nastiest of black holes.

And you can be the biggest and nastiest of the Dark Armor characters out there.


Let me start with some ground work to help you decide if a Dark Armor character is really what you're looking for. Make no mistake, Dark Armor is not for everyone (then again, that could be said about any powerset). Dark Armor is not the "toggle and go" kind of powerset; it is not easy to play well. The set relies on some powerful active mitigation to stay on its feet. To get the most out of Dark Armor, it requires careful slotting and attentive play.

If you can offer that, then Dark Armor offers an extremely potent toolbox in return. Dark Armor layers heavy resistance and obscene healing ability with moderate defense and minion control. Exotic damage types like toxic and psionic are covered, as well as protection from perception debuffs and endurance drain, even a non-suppressing stealth power is included, all without having a true hole to any one damage type. Dark Armor also brings a damage aura and an offensive self revive power that leaves enemies stunned.

The cornerstone of the set is its heal, Dark Regeneration, able to bring your health from one to full in an instant. It is arguably the strongest self heal in the game, almost like having a second health bar, but the rest of the set is what gives you time to make use of that heal. At the highest end, Dark Armor can be built in such a way that Dark Regeneration is no longer needed for the majority of content. In these cases, the heal can push Dark Armor beyond the survival capabilities of other powersets.

Filling the Holes

As I alluded to in the overview, Dark Armor is not perfect. Part of unlocking the potential that Dark Armor has comes from knowing its weaknesses and how to overcome them. In this section I'll go over each of Dark Armor's problem spots and what you can do to fix it.


The most prevalent issue people have is with its endurance consumption. Even though the toggle armors of Dark Armor cost less endurance than comparable powers, there are still a lot of them. The damage aura (Death Shroud) as well as one of the control auras (Cloak of Fear) have very high endurance cots. Further, most powersets enjoy some kind of endurance management tool while Dark Armor does not. Compounding on top of the endurance complications is the heal, Dark Regeneration. Its incredible power is balanced by a prohibitive endurance cost. Without enhancements, the power can still heal you fully every thirty seconds, but it costs a third of your endurance bar to do so. You may find that its recharge time does not limit you as much as its endurance cost can.

Taken together, these conditions can be crippling if you do not know how to handle them. All the survival power in the world does you no good if you can't turn it on. What should be the obvious answer is to make liberal use of endurance reduction enhancements, but far too many people think that the only way to overcome endurance costs is to increase recovery. Look at any company or government; one of the best ways to stay in the black is to cut spending. Be sure to slot the biggest offenders first because that is where you will see the most benefit. Dark Regeneration will need heavy endurance reduction, but outside of this, each one of your attacks will consume more endurance per second than even your most expensive toggle powers.

If you have access to IOs, get your hands on a Theft of Essence: Chance for +Endurance proc and slot it into Dark Regeneration. Do whatever it takes, which is usually "get two hero merits and buy one." This single IO turns that powerful heal into a possible endurance recovery tool too. With this, each target in range of Dark Regeneration will give you a 20% chance to gain 10% of your maximum endurance. With ten targets, the average is a return of twenty endurance points.

Beyond that, you do want to find ways to boost your endurance recovery. Increasing your maximum endurance also increases the rate endurance recovers, so find set bonuses for this and collect your accolade powers. Miracle and Numina unique IOs are also very desirable, but still not as important as the Theft of Essence proc. A final option is to take epic power pools that grant endurance recovery or cost reduction tools.


The next biggest issue with Dark Armor is a lack of knockback protection. This weakness is not to be overlooked, especially considering the active mitigation that Dark Armor relies on. That unrivaled healing power of Dark Regeneration can do you no good while you are on your backside.

The best way to close this hole is through the use of invention origin enhancements that grant Knockback Protection. There are two cheap options and one that can be a bit more expensive. Steadfast Protection can be slotted in any of your resistance toggles and Karma can go in Cloak of Darkness; both of these are very cheap on the market. Blessing of the Zephyr is a more expensive option, but it can be slotted in any travel power. Try to get the lowest level versions of these IOs that you can so that you can keep its protection as you exemplar.

If you do not use IOs for any reason, there are other options available. Acrobatics, from the Leaping power pool grants knockback protection. Beware that this adds yet another toggle to your endurance costs. A cheaper option that is a little less effective is Hover, which will not exactly protect you from knockback, but it will make you recover faster. The benefits to Hover include lower endurance cost as well as not requiring two other power selections first.

Enemy knockback comes in one of three magnitudes: Less than one, ten, and metric tonne. Luckily, the last two are rather rare, the third is almost unique. The point I want to draw from this is that you should strive for only as much protection as you need. Four points of protection (one IO's worth) will cover you for the vast majority of knockback you will find. Obtaining eight points will provide no benefit over four points. Twelve points will cover you for all but the most rare and extreme situations but there's nothing you can do about those situations anyway.

Energy Resistance

You should be aware of the amount of energy resistance that Dark Armor provides. While it is not quite a hole, the resistance you get is shy of what I could call comfortable for such a prevalent damage type. This is especially noticeable in the incarnate content.

Cloak of Darkness already begins providing a cover for this hole, though, because it gives you defense to all types of damage equally. Adding more energy defense, either through set bonuses or other powers, will put you in the position to ignore this concern for energy damage.

Target Requirement

One final, minor issue is that a good portion of Dark Armor mitigation needs to be able to hit enemies to work. Both control auras and Dark Regeneration will do you no good if you cannot hit your targets. Two things can hinder you in this regard, to-hit debuffs and confuse effects.

This issue is minor for two reasons. You rarely ever get into these situations to begin with and when you do, they're pretty easy to fix. Neither overwhelming to-hit debuffs or confuse should be able to catch you by surprise, so when you know you're going to fight Circle of Thorns, pack some yellow inspirations and a few break frees. If you're really worried about it, take the power Tactics.

Single Target Weakness

Dark Armor's most powerful survival tool, Dark Regeneration, suffers when you are only fighting one opponent because it heals you per target it hits. In a crowd of five, it's easy to hit enough to fill your health bar. When there's only one thing to hit, you might even miss it completely and the heal will essentially fail.

The solution to this will be obvious if you've read my MFing Warshade guide. Find more targets.

Become the Black Hole

I like to take my guides from character creation forward; this one will be no exception. Once you have a nice costume, you need to spend some time getting your power customization right. This is probably the most difficult part of making a character with Dark Armor, because the character creation screen does not give you a lot of time to observe the toggle powers running, and there's no way to see the combination of effects until you're outside with all the powers. Getting a look you're happy with will probably take a bit of trial and error, but until then, I've got a few tips to help out.

Choosing to play Dark Armor does not automagically force your character to be all "dark tendril darkness of doom." There are a few baked in effects, such as dark pulses and the infamous invisible character, but they can be turned off by simply selecting the "no fade or pulse" option (which still allows you to color the powers). As to the colors, I have seen some very impressive looks pulled off. To name a few: Green swamp creature, turquoise ocean armor, fluffy pink cotton candy, minimalist grays that just look smokey, bloody red, even yellow-orange fire and of course my practically patented tan Sand Armor.

While leveling up, typically take every armor toggle as it opens up. Murky Cloud can be put off for a while if you have other powers you want, but it should still be taken by the late teens when energy damage and endurance drain start to show up. Before the days of Inherent Fitness, I would delay Death Shroud until I had Stamina, but that is no longer a concern. The damage aura is a very cost effective means to damage several targets. Dark Regeneration should be taken as soon as possible and given as many slots as you can spare. Especially in the early levels, that heal is what keeps you on your feet.

The endurance bar is going to feel like a throttle on you before long, so you should learn to use only the armors necessary for the task. Cloak of Darkness is probably the least useful of your armors if you have nothing to stack with it, but it is also your source of immobilize protection. To get the immobilize protection for a fifth of the endurance cost, look to Combat Jumping. Turn off Death Shroud when you get down to one target. Use blue inspirations. Eventually, you can overcome all this need with proper slotting. Endurance reduction in your attack powers is key.

Dark Regeneration is going to take some practice before you are using it optimally, but both your endurance consumption and survival depend on it. In a full crowd, the power can heal for many more times than your health bar allows, which means its effect and its cost in terms of health per endurance point is linked to how many hit points you have when you activate the power. The less health you have, the more you get back, even though the endurance cost doesn't change. To get the most out of Dark Regeneration, theoretically you would activate the power so that you are healed when you have only a single hit point left. That's not possible, if for no other reason than server timing. Regardless, you may need to break yourself of the habit that a yellow health bar is bad. You don't care. Your health bar goes to full from whatever it's at. At first, let your health fall to a quarter before you activate Dark Regeneration. As you become more comfortable with your character, your timing will get better. You will be able to judge how fast your health is falling and fire your heal closer and closer to that last hit point.

Through the twenties, you will probably feel like you have more powers than slots. Luckily, you can start grabbing SOs at stores and generic IOs start to become more powerful to match. This is a good time to pick up the Fighting pool for Tough and Weave. Continue the strategy from before; only use these powers if you need the extra mitigation and only use Tough against heavy S/L enemies.

Cloak of Fear and Oppressive Gloom are the two control auras; of these you should probably take one of them but almost never both. Each power pulses every second to check if it applies its effect to enemies nearby. If your other powerset has control powers that will stack with one particular aura, that should lean your choice in that direction. The first available aura, Cloak of Fear, is very potent if and only if you can manage its heavy cost and overcome its low inherent accuracy (read: devote a lot of slots to this power). Enemies affected by Cloak of Fear will suffer a minor to-hit debuff and minions will become terrorized. Terrorized enemies can only take one action against you every five seconds and only if you have hit them within those five seconds. The terrorize effect does not cause foes run from you. The second aura to become available is Oppressive Gloom. It costs a tiny fraction of the endurance cost that Cloak of Fear does and it does not have an accuracy penalty. Instead, it has a minor health cost per enemy to run and does not have a debuff to apply, only the stun for minions. Oppressive Gloom is the prime example of a "one-slot-wonder."

The final power choice to Dark Armor is the self revive, Soul Transfer. If Dark Regeneration is a second health bar, this power is a third that also lets you shrug off heavy debuffs. Basically, anything that wants to kill you has to do it twice for it to count. This power is not just a safety net like most other self revives, this is offensive and can be tide turning. It does not work unless there are enemies nearby, but it cannot miss and it applies a magnitude thirty stun to everything it hits. Further, you get fifteen seconds of untouchable status to turn most of your toggles back on in peace. I have occasionally let myself die just to use the stun to help my team get back on its feet.

Going Supermassive

There's a common saying among people who play Dark Armor. "If it can't kill me in the time it takes Dark Regeneration to recharge, it can't kill me." What makes the saying true is how Dark Regeneration works. In most situations, using Dark Regeneration essentially resets the battle for you. Once you use the power, all the damage the enemies have done becomes undone. You sit at full health, and as long as you are still on your feet when Dark Regeneration has recharged, you get to do it again. Then again and again and again. Turning a Dark Armor character into a Supermassive Black Hole comes from understanding exactly what this saying means and applying it to your character.

The most obvious aspect of the saying is the tie between survival and recharge time. The more quickly Dark Regeneration recharges, the more often you can reset the bar. Put another way, you only need to survive for as long as it takes Dark Regeneration to recharge. Proper slotting puts the power at fifteen seconds from thirty. With Hasten, Alpha slot powers, or set bonuses, you can push this down to around eleven without too much trouble. If you could somehow cap your recharge, the power would be available every six seconds. Let's change the saying a little to help the effect sink in.

"If you can't kill me in eleven seconds, you might as well not even try."

I don't know about you, but I find that pretty damn intimidating. Clock starts ticking and I've got eleven seconds to knock this guy out. If I can't, all my effort will have been completely wasted.

The next aspect of the saying is the assumption that Dark Regeneration can be fired indefinitely. With a moderate slotting of two SOs, Dark Regeneration costs just over twenty points of endurance. If you recall from above, the Theft of Essence proc will net you a twenty point endurance gain on average for every use in a crowd of ten or more. Even if you can't obtain that IO, at a likewise moderate net recovery of two endurance per second, in the eleven seconds it takes to recharge you will have gained more than enough endurance to use it again.

Once you push the limits of how often you can use Dark Regeneration, the last limit to push is how many hit points it can heal for. How do you make it heal you for more than a full health bar, though? Simple! Get a bigger health bar. Accolade powers are the best and cheapest things to get, amounting to a total of twenty percent extra hit points. That just increased Dark Regeneration's healing by twenty percent. Set bonuses are equally valuable, as are buffs from teammates if you can get them.

Finally, the saying tells you to push the limits of what you can survive for those eleven seconds. Dark Armor already has very good innate resists and a healing power that is second to none. Of the three forms of mitigation, Dark Armor is only light on defense. In this respect, the game mechanics weigh heavily in our favor because defense is very easy to add through the invention system. You should be aware that the more defense you add, the more valuable every point becomes, to a point. Sets like Shield Defense and Super Reflexes start with high defense and reach the softcap quickly. Dark Armor can achieve the softcap as well, but layers in the healing and resistance that no other can match.

That is not to say that you need to go for softcap or bust. For example, I built my Claws/Dark Brute for only moderate defense. While he isn't exactly the same brick wall that my Dark/Fire Tank is (built to the softcap), he certainly survives well enough. These builds will serve as great examples when it comes to making your own build. Both builds stay away from very expensive IOs but, as shown, still perform very well.

The addition of defense is the real secret to Dark Armor's potential. It starts with a decent base, Cloak of Darkness. Weave will double it, and Combat Jumping adds just that much more for almost no endurance cost. You get three resistance armors that make for great places to put Reactive Armor sets and the Steadfast Unique. From here, you probably want to take it one of two directions. Pursue typed or positional defense, never both. Typed tends to be easier, if only for Kinetic Combat and Eradication sets, but going for positional can cover against more attacks.

The saying has one tiny bit of a downside. If you are going to die, it's either going to happen really fast or with your recharge floored. When this does happen, hopefully you won't be too surprised to remember that you have a second "reset the battle" button lying around somewhere. Get up, find the still staggering bastard that caused this lapse of consciousness, and turn him into a dash of stardust.

Particularly Synergistic Powersets

No matter what archetype you choose to run Dark Armor on, in the end, it's only half of your character. If you want to pick a melee set that can play to your strengths, you'll need to pay attention to a few things.

Offensively, any powerset with a consistent or long term alternative to Build Up will be advantageous. These kinds of powers exchange burst damage for increased damage over time; the result for Dark Armor is that Death Shroud will see all of that benefit. Claws, Dark Melee, Kinetic Melee, Super Strength and Dual Blades all have powers to bring out this synergy.

When it comes to staying on your feet longer, look to powersets that knock the enemies off of theirs. As the saying goes, you only need to survive for so long. When the enemies spend three to four seconds of every Dark Regeneration cycle simply getting up off the ground, you greatly increase the breathing room you have to use your heal. Titan Weapons, Stone Melee, Mace and Axe, are probably the best at this, but Super Strength, Kinetic Melee and Claws are all very good here as well.

Considering the control auras should have you looking for powers that can stack for very reliable control, to include "one shot" stun or terrorize on bosses. Stone Melee is the clear best for stacking stun; Dark Melee is the only option for stacking terrorize. Kinetic and Energy Melee, as well as Martial Arts and War Mace all have reliable single target stun attacks.

Kinetic Melee deserves special mention because, along with having every single synergy I just explained, it also has a damage debuff to really aid your survival, especially against single targets.

Powersets like Katana, Ninja Blade, Broadsword, Staff Fighting and Titan Weapons all include defense boosting attacks. These can provide a little help hitting the softcap if that is your goal.

You may want to avoid powersets that are particularly hard on the endurance bar, such as Stone Melee or Titan Weapons, if this is your first venture into Dark Armor. If you're sure that you know what you're doing, don't hesitate from swinging a concrete lollipop at people.

Many people will turn to Dark Melee for the endurance recovery tool, the to-hit debuffs, and the ability to stack fear. Personally, I do not recommend it. I don't like the single target focus, and I feel that Siphon Life loses its allure when compared to the power of Dark Regeneration.

Dark Armor on a Stalker

When you put Dark Armor on a Stalker, it becomes a special brand of awesome, but I need to back up and explain because a whole mess of things change for this archetype.

First, and perhaps obviously, you lose Death Shroud for Hide. Cloak of Darkness is also replaced by an auto power called Shadow Dweller. It still boosts defense, although not as much, but it's great for not having an endurance cost. Remember that you'll be stacking Hide as well. The last big change is how the control auras work; they will suppress while you are hidden. Until you take action to break hide, they will do nothing but consume endurance and immediately apply their effects once you do.

The control auras are what shine so well on a Stalker. In my experience, Stalkers have more trouble with a slew of minions than they do one really tough boss. The control auras allow you to ignore the minions and focus on the bosses in a group. Assassination Strike has particularly good synergy with Cloak of Fear because of the terrorize and to-hit debuff that affects an area around your assassination target.

Incarnate Powers

As I see it, most of your incarnate power choices are going to come down to taste, but what you put in the Alpha slot is worth talking about.

Cardiac is the easy way out of dealing with your endurance issues, and I completely despise it for this use. My characters work without incarnate powers because the majority of game content doesn't let you use them. When the incarnate stuff hit and all I had was my Tank, Cardiac is what I picked because I wanted the resistance. I saw it as the best way to increase my survival because of the already high resistance I had. I've since switched over to Resilient because it offers even more resistance, even though the rest of Resilient offers no real benefit.

Spiritual and Agility are probably the most fitting after Resilient, and I can't decide which is better. Both make Dark Regeneration recharge faster; Spiritual will boost the heal and your stun where Agility helps defense. Spiritual has the edge if you end up in a lot of fights against a single target. My Brute loves his Spiritual, mostly for more frequent attacks (Eviscerate and Spin), but I think he would be just as happy with Agility.

Stalkers and Scrappers, because of their high base damage, should always at least consider pursuing Musculature. It has the added benefit to Judgement and Lore pets.


  1. Would you consider Ageless a viable incarnate power to use? I plan on not taking Cardiac and going with Agility instead for defense/recharge.

    Thanks again for another epic guide! Cheers to Staff Melee/Dark Armor!


    1. Ageless powers, particularly the ones with debuff resistance, are fantastic. Use it after a Dark Regeneration to get the most out of its recharge boost.

    2. Ah I see. I was actually planning on going for the +recovery Ageless though, simply because thats all the less endurance problems I'll have for a good minute and a half. If Staff Fighting was out in Mid's I could make a viable build, but it isn't available so I'm using Ninja Blade as a substitute on the Stalker. Dark armor has surprisingly great resistances.

  2. Dechs,

    Awesome info as always. You might wanna mention that the Def. gained by Katana, Ninja Blade, Broadsword, Staff Fighting and Titan Weapons is melee/lethal only. The only reason to say that is cuz most of the IO treatments are of the sm/let/nrg/neg/etc variety and ppl might get a hole in their sm defenses if not careful about planning.

    You planning on making a staff/dark (dark/staff)? I would suggest you go with the broom staff and your sand colored dark so you can clean up after yourself. :)
    Staff's got more synergy than you can shake a stick at with dark, imo. Besides what you mentioned, the tier 9 adds resist/rec/regen and then there's the end/rech/damage increase with mind/soul/body toggle.

  3. You mentioned the epic pool powers as an alternative to the IO. Is this doable without either for the lower levels?

    1. Absolutely. All my DA characters are leveled up on SOs. No, they're not soloing +4x8 at level 20, but they can handle their own. I can't stress using endurance reduction in your attacks enough, though.

  4. To start: good guide. I think you hit the most important points from what I've seen with my experimental dark armor tank, brute, scrapper, and now in work stalker.
    That said, there are some nuances that might be worth mentioning.
    1) dark regen can be a staple power, but theft of essence may not be as good when the ppm changes hit in i24.
    2) Dark regen, cloak of fear, and oppressive gloom are all optional powers based on your build/play style. All 3 can be strong cornerstone powers, but they will affect your other power choices. Cloak of fear is spectacular for single target builds. Aoe builds usually benefit more from oppressive gloom, with exception to council werewolves wandering around at high speed. Dark regen really shines when solo or damage sponging, but expect to convert all of your insp to blues unless you take end boosting/reducing powers/abilities.
    3) the self res isnt as optional as others claim. If you don't like sinking chunks of end into self healing, which is time spent not killing, this is a staple power. I found that when you need dark regen instead of green insp, you will need to pop it again and again and need to eat blues. The alternative is to accept death, self-res and stun the whole group to make the fight more manageable.
    4)DM is great with DA ...if you don't take dark regen. DM is more geared toward off tanks and damage dealers (stalkers do well with it). The end management from DM would allow you to pick more expensive ancilliary abilities while not sacrificing survivability (as an off tank you shouldn't be taking gobs of damage in the first place unless soloing). High recharge and at least 1 heal io can make siphon life work fairly well and still net some decent single target damage.

    Tldr: DA has more build specific abilities than other sets. You shouldn't be taking all powers in DA unless you plan on being a jack of all trades and plan on being a blue insp junkie.

    1. I disagree with a lot of what you say here.
      1) Totally agree, the PPM changes could make ToE worse.
      2) Dark Regen is absolutely not optional. This is the largest source of survival that the set provides. Cloak of Fear is better for AoE builds because foes will not be wandering out of AoE range. Oppressive Gloom is the better against single targets because you won't care that things wander.
      3) You say time spent healing is time spent not killing, but the revive takes longer to activate than Dark Regeneration, and that doesn't even factor in time to turn all the toggles back on. You're contradicting yourself with this one.
      4) I'll say it again: Dark Regeneration is not optional. I would say Siphon Life is optional, but it's one of the best single target attacks in Dark Melee. Basically, don't bother slotting it for heal because you won't need it.

      As a general note, you keep talking about needing blue inspirations because of Dark Regen use. That sounds to me like you just don't have it slotted properly. Emphasize endurance reduction and recharge, don't bother enhancing heal.