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Posted (edited)

Quick introduction that you can skip if you want:  I’m a guy who writes articles and makes youtube videos about CRPG’s, particularly Baldur’s Gate 3. I am drafting some content for Pillars 1 and 2, I consider them to be the best CRPG’s I’ve played and its criminal that more people don’t talk about them. I am fairly new to Deadfire (300ish hours), starting playing last year.

I’ve become obsessed with Soul Blades, and I’m writing an article that analyzes the subclass and offers a MC Soul Blade build for all 4 major factions. As part of the research for that article I re-read C.LE’s brief analysis of the class in their masterful FAQ. Concerning Soul Annihilation (SA), they write: “[f]rankly this ability is a waste in many situations--you're better off using the soul blade's discounted shred powers.” However, they go on to note “as a way to quickly finish off enemies--especially when stacked on other martial enhancements as part of a martial class (i.e. a sneak attack or backstab) -- it can be useful.”

I think C.LE misses two of the most important factors that make SA so powerful when built around, what I call “build alignment” and “focus tempo.” I just want to bring these factors to your attention for discussion because I find them interesting and I hope you will too. I suspect that SA spam is at least as powerful a strategy to build around as shred power spam.

*Note* I mostly play turn-based, so I use that language, but what I say should generally apply to real time.

Build Alignment. Basically, a well aligned build is focused on one kind of thing, so that you can invest into building that one thing for maximal returns. In other words, a well aligned build is one that eliminates all dyssynergy. A cipher that wants to deal damage through shred spells has a built in dyssynergy, namely, the dyssynergy between weapon damage and spell damage: you need build towards weapon damage to efficiently generate focus, but then you need to build towards spell damage to efficiently use that focus. Soul Blades which build around SA avoid this dyssynergy. They are very well aligned around weapon damage increases, which will improve both their focus gain and focus use. Of course, many things in Deadfire modify both (like might or accuracy), but many others will only modify one or the other. For a clear example, consider a Soul Blade that is using a mythic quality greatsword with the modal and two-handed style, gaining a 120% increase to their weapon damage. If you rely on shred powers for damage, that will only improve your focus gain, but if you spam SA it improves your focus use as well.

Focus Tempo. What I call focus tempo is the rate at which you generate and spend focus, and thus maximize the volume of focus spent in a single encounter. It seems to me that people like C.LE are accustomed to thinking about focus efficiency, but they seem to be ignoring focus volume. Volume can obviously be used to offset worse efficiency. Suppose that a SA focused build is 1/3 as efficient with its focus, but its also able to output 3x as much, in this case the two strategies are equal. And I suspect something like this is actually the case. A perfect SA focused build would have a two turn tempo: on one turn you generate close to max focus and on the following turn you expend it all with SA. Repeat until all enemies are dead.

Notice also that a good tempo build for SA is simultaneously a well aligned build. Half of good tempo is doing lots of weapon damage, and when you build for that you are also doing more SA damage. Also, imagine for a moment a build that could generate 200+ focus per turn on average. This would likely be a build with a lot of weapon damage increases. If you spam Disintergrate, a single turn of attacking would generate enough focus to fund your next 4 ish turns of casting, so you end up not attacking that often. There is a tension in the action economy. If you chose to spam SA you would be spending 2x as much, generating 2x more, and attacking every round.  

Once these two factors are considered, its pretty easy to see what a good SA spam build would be like. Do they actually compete with shred spam builds? Some that I have developed definitely do. Anyways, I found this interesting, so I thought I would share. I welcome your comments and criticism!

 

Edited by Aestus
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Posted (edited)

I'm not too sure what you're referring to, but yes, I find that I only ever bother to use Borrowed Instincts on Soulblades due to it being an incredibly strong self-buff that can't come from anywhere else. All my other focus goes into Soul Annihilation. Usually you want to multi class Soulblade with a rogue (Streetfighter is fine) and a high focus Soul Annihilation will easily one-shot most non-boss enemies. I personally don't see much point in a single-class Soulblade, they don't have enough martial passives to make Soul Annihilation worth it. Time Parasite is good but too expensive outside of Ascendants casting it for free.

 

My build looks somewhat like this:

 

Edited by NotDumbEnough
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While I agree with the general principle that SBs are optimally built toward doing melee damage and then expending it in SA attacks, there is good reason to pick up other powers in addition to self-buffs like Borrowed Instinct. That is, CC and debuffs can greatly augment your martial damage. A quick example of this is Phantom Foes. With it, for only 20 focus and a fast cast, you can reduce the armor (by 1) and deflection (by 10) of a large number of foes, potentially, enabling you to hit, crit and overpen more often. And, if you're not multi classing with a trickster rogue, Secret Horrors can be great when your surrounded by foes. Needless to say, staying alive also augments your martial output. My favorite cipher MC is soul blade/forbidden fist, and I always take these two powers at least. Mind Plague is also a great debuff that I almost always take. There's no need to cast these powers when facing easy foes, but they're great for the tougher battles IMO.

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5 minutes ago, dgray62 said:

While I agree with the general principle that SBs are optimally built toward doing melee damage and then expending it in SA attacks, there is good reason to pick up other powers in addition to self-buffs like Borrowed Instinct.

Yeah, I never meant to imply that every other ability is a waste. Although, I will say I find practically every buff/debuff that competes for your action (i.e. that isn't quick cast) are seldom as efficient as they seem on soul blades. The more I experience I have with the subclass the less I use Borrowed Instinct to be honest, of course, it depends so much on your party composition/build, I probably shouldn't generalize.

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Yes, the quick cast powers are nice for soul blades. The slower cast powers are great for psions, since they generate focus while casting. While SB is the best choice for martial MCs IMO, psions are best for caster MCs.

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I went and thought about it a bit. If there's one thing a SC Soulblade has an advantage in, it's Reaping Knives. Since the most cost-effective way to expend focus is to immediately use Soul Annihilation when you have 10 focus, an SC Soulblade can get a slow but steady stream of focus through Reaping Knives. If you have 2 instances of Reaping Knives up, you should be able to simply spam Soul Annihilation on every single attack (in most scenarios, assuming your allies land their hits) without having to do a normal attack in between to gain focus.

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18 minutes ago, NotDumbEnough said:

I went and thought about it a bit. If there's one thing a SC Soulblade has an advantage in, it's Reaping Knives. Since the most cost-effective way to expend focus is to immediately use Soul Annihilation when you have 10 focus, an SC Soulblade can get a slow but steady stream of focus through Reaping Knives. If you have 2 instances of Reaping Knives up, you should be able to simply spam Soul Annihilation on every single attack (in most scenarios, assuming your allies land their hits) without having to do a normal attack in between to gain focus.

Yeah, I've actually never tried it, but I've thought for a while it should be good.

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Soul Annihilation is one of the best damage abilities in the game for multiple reasons:

  • has huge single target damage potential
  • can be spammed
  • targets deflection (the lowest defense and the easiest to debuff)
  • does raw damage
  • interrupts on crits
  • it's a PL1 ability (gets a big dmg bonus from PL at high levels)

From the way its damage scales it's obvious the rogues are the most suited for a MC soul blade. The streetfighter has the best dps potential but, without a priest with BB/SoT, it's difficult to play one. 

Besides dmg bonuses and speed the third way to increase the dps of a SB is by generating free focus. The trickster, besides better survivability, can trigger more easily ripostes and also disengagement attacks (when using Ryngrim's Repulsive Visage).

Regarding the weapons there are many interesting options:

  • Voidwheel - the champ of single target damage (best suited for a streetfighter under BDD)
  • Whispers of the Endless Paths -  the champ of AoE damage (having high deflection ensures also some free focus from Offensive Parry)
  • Sun and Moon - the second head replenishes focus allowing continuous use of SA (can be used with a bashing shield for increased defense, speed and focus - Tuotilo's Palm can generate more Focus with Outward Spikes, Magran's Blessing can generate focus with the Fire Shield)
  • Grave Calling - the damage from Chillfog proc generates focus too
  • Chromoprismatic Quarterstaff - next best thing after Voidwheel and best dps option if you don't have BDD
  • Engoliero do Espirs - the AoE proc is great (triggers often, generates focus and heals)
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I find helwalker/soul blade combo with Voidwheel very powerful. Weapon itself gives you crazy focus abd wounds every attack. If you have health draining via chanter draining chant or furyshapers draining totem you re basicly unkillable(as long as you keep damaging).

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I feel like Recall Agony and Silent Scream are broadly okay as shreds on Soul Blade, Recall is multiplicative and thus nice, Silent Scream is a nice aoe. Situationally Disintegration for bosses if you can stomach the cast time. Although I admit that Scream, like Mind Wave, is a spell I mostly keep in my builds for fond memories of running a melee banshee cipher through about 2/3 of my replays of the first game.

 

I would consider Pain Link a big deal on Soul Blade if it still worked like in the first game since retaliation tank was a nice subrole of cipher in 1, but as a single target and strictly non-self thing, I kinda hate it if I'm not running mods.

 

Also I feel like SA's interrupt on crit is definitely made for running accurate weapons or single style

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Posted (edited)

Honestly I find most (not all) shred spells pretty negligible, especially if they don't target a lot of enemies and cause about as much damage as weapon strikes would do in the same amount of time. Because why would I do weapon dmg in order to gain focus and then cast a rel. lengthy damaging spell that costs focus - instead of just keep attacking with the weapon and deal damage AND gain focus? It feels just like changing the way of dealing damage and paying for that non-improvement. Just generally speaking. I know that there are situations where it can be useful to have different dmg types and so on.

The exception is the Psion of course because he has not motivation to use a weapon in the first place. Ascended Ascendant, too - because he can cast for free then and some shred spells are fast. 

Therefore I tend to mostly use CC and buffs even as Soulblade - if I'm not using the focus for SA. 🤷‍♂️

I find - even as Soulblade who has reduced shred costs - that a Whisper of Treason or Puppet Master is often so much more worth than Mind Blades and such stuff.  

Edited by Boeroer
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Deadfire Community Patch: Nexus Mods

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28 minutes ago, Boeroer said:

Honestly I find most (not all) shred spells pretty negligible, especially if they don't target a lot of enemies and cause about as much damage as weapon strikes would do in the same amount of time. Because why would I do weapon dmg in order to gain focus and then cast a rel. lengthy damaging spell that costs focus - instead of just keep attacking with the weapon and deal damage AND gain focus? It feels just like changing the way of dealing damage and paying for that non-improvement.

My thoughts exactly! I'm guessing from the responses that this really isn't as controversial a take as I expected it to be. I'm obviously new to the game, so I incorrectly expected the view expressed by what I assumed to be a popular guide to be more widely held. Regardless, it is still interesting to me to see what C.LE was missing, since they obviously understand a lot about the game and are very good at it. I had a feeling that relying on SA for damage was the better strategy, but it is true that Disintegrate is a much more efficient from a damage-to-focus perspective, and I wasn't sure why it was better when that is the case. I think we've gotten to the bottom of it now.

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Posted (edited)

Well, I can see a Soulblade who mainly uses ranged weapons to gain focus from rel. safety and use it for shred spells (because especially at low levels they are really cheap) - and maybe only use SA once an enemy appears in front of them or so. With this approach a Single Class Soulblade even makes sense because of Reaping Knives and also Time Parasite and also Shared Nightmare (bigger AoEs). When killing fast the Soulblade can reach high max focus (+10 per kill iirc) and then could spam fast, cheap, large shred spells. So maybe that (or something similar where SA isn't your most-used ability) is a fun way to play a Soulblade (no idea, never tried that).

But if I'm doing a melee SA anyway it just feels ineffective to me to use Shred spells instead of just virtually cutting an enemy in half with SA. 

Edited by Boeroer
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Deadfire Community Patch: Nexus Mods

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3 minutes ago, Boeroer said:

Well, I can see a Soulblade who mainly uses ranged weapons to gain focus from rel. safety and use it for shred spells (because especially at low levels they are really cheap) - and maybe only use SA once an enemy appears in front of them or so. So maybe that (or something similar where SA isn't your most-used ability) is a fun way to play a Soulblade. 

This is probably the optimal way to play a SC soul blade, using a ranged weapon with AOE procs like Watershaper's Focus, once you reach PL 9 and get shared nightmare. I agree that SA is the usually the best use of focus for melee MC builds.

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Posted (edited)
41 minutes ago, Aestus said:

My thoughts exactly! I'm guessing from the responses that this really isn't as controversial a take as I expected it to be. I'm obviously new to the game, so I incorrectly expected the view expressed by what I assumed to be a popular guide to be more widely held. Regardless, it is still interesting to me to see what C.LE was missing, since they obviously understand a lot about the game and are very good at it. I had a feeling that relying on SA for damage was the better strategy, but it is true that Disintegrate is a much more efficient from a damage-to-focus perspective, and I wasn't sure why it was better when that is the case. I think we've gotten to the bottom of it now.

I don't think @thelee is really missing anything in his guide

The section to the soul blade is relatively short but he does correctly mention it's a better class for multiclassing.

You can do some single class soul blade aoe memes if you don't mind cheesing with "the forbidden necklace" but for the most part you do want it to be mced with a rogue, fighter, barb, monk, ranger any martial class really.

(even a wizard or priest can work well with them if you go the buff yourself melee route)

Edited by Raven Darkholme
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Posted (edited)

i missed this thread until i got tagged in it. thanks for the kind words about the FAQ in general, and also i fully am open that my guide may have big holes in it - i definitely cannot grab all the meta or interactions that might be really relevant, i just try my best, it is also now an extremely huge piece of text and it's not always obvious to me what might need updating.

in addition, the SA was written really extremely early in the game's metagame history. while i still stand by it as a general thinking of the class, since then a lot more interactions and optimizations for it have been found (including simply just that it benefits from weapon damage bonuses, which wasn't obviously known at the time, which i updated to add but didn't really expand on the ramifications of) that can make specific approaches sing really well instead of just as a focus dump. i'll take the criticism and make sure to update the language a bit more thoroughly the next time i have enough pending changes to make an update.

Edited by thelee
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1 hour ago, Raven Darkholme said:

I don't think @thelee is really missing anything in his guide

The section to the soul blade is relatively short but he does correctly mention it's a better class for multiclassing.

But I didn't say anything about his comment on multi-classing. I specifically addressed his comparison of SA to shred spells as a strategy for dealing damage. I just think its overly focused on focus efficiency and misses the advantages SA has in build alignment and focus tempo. I'm happy to agree on the rest of what he says about soul blades, it was just that one sentence that I think could be better.

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51 minutes ago, Aestus said:

But I didn't say anything about his comment on multi-classing. I specifically addressed his comparison of SA to shred spells as a strategy for dealing damage. I just think its overly focused on focus efficiency and misses the advantages SA has in build alignment and focus tempo. I'm happy to agree on the rest of what he says about soul blades, it was just that one sentence that I think could be better.

Maybe i just misread it in the guide, I thought the comparison shred to SA was made and then direct conclusion was to go a multiclass so SA is more useful in combo with sneak etc.

Either way he answered further up. :)

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