Thursday, July 7, 2016

PoE: Self-Found Solo Summoning HOWTO [2.3]

Since I've posted about my summoner (through Normal, Cruel, and Merciless difficulty levels) in Path of Exile (PoE), I've had a couple of requests to go into some more detail on her build and how I've been playing her. This is current as of PoE version 2.3.
The first thing you have to choose when making a character in PoE is whether to play hardcore (first death kicks you out of the league) or softcore (dying may cost you some XP, but you stay in the league). A summoner is viable in either mode, but I highly recommend softcore for most people. It's much more forgiving until the very high levels, when the XP penalty gets harsh enough that dying really slows progress. It only takes one moment of inattention (or bad lag) when you've just stumbled upon some really nasty boss or monster pack to bite the dust, and in hardcore leagues you only get the one chance. Having said that, if you really want to play hardcore, a summoner is one of the safer options. Just err on the side of more defenses whenever possible, and be prepared to grind a few extra levels before taking on particularly nasty areas.

I chose to play a Witch, but a Scion is also viable. The Witch isn't able to buy some useful skill gems from vendors, but she's got easier access to most of the minion nodes as well as the full necromancy ascendancy class. Playing as Witch is definitely the simpler route, even with the limits on available gems. The Scion version has advantages at high levels and with certain gear, so it's better for experienced players, and generally you don't want to be playing self-found. For the rest of this guide, I'll assume playing as a Witch.

In the early levels, I recommend going up the passive tree to get Minion Instability, which causes explosions when your minions die. (Example) It's not a good long-term tactic, but in the early levels your minions are going to die a lot anyway. Might as well get some use out of their demise! Once you've defeated Brutus in the Act 1 Jail, you can get Summon Skeletons + Spell Totem Support from the quest reward or purchase from the vendor, which works wonderfully with Minion Instability. While clearing normal monsters, drop the totem out in front of you so the enemies focus on it, and all your minions will jump into the fight once they're engaged. In boss fights, you can drop the totem, let the skeletons make suicide runs at the boss, and focus on keeping yourself alive and/or summoning raging spirits until the fight is over. This works pretty well up until the tail end of Act 4 Normal.

Somewhere around level 40, you'll want to use a respec point to get rid of Minion Instability and pick up Elemental Equilibrium instead. (Example) Change your totem link to use Arc instead of Summon Skeletons. You can still use the totem the same way as before, but now instead of summoning skeletons it will do a little lightning damage and trigger Elemental Equilibrium, making every enemy it hits vulnerable to cold and fire. With Hatred and/or Anger running as an aura, and the natural fire damage from your raging spirits, your minions do a lot of fire and/or cold damage. Just be careful that none of your gear adds fire or cold damage to spells - you don't want Arc to be doing anything other than lightning damage! 

From that point on, you've got choices on how you'd like to focus your build. I like to grab the Sovereignty node cluster to improve my auras, and all the extra zombie nodes. You can skip those zombie nodes if you're focused more on raging spirits, but in either case you'll want the nodes that increase minion damage. Most people will use a life-based build with some armor and energy shield defense, but it's possible to get Chaos Inoculation and focus entirely on energy shield. Here's a sample 100-point passive tree for a life-based build, and here's another using CI.

Once you're able to open up the Necromancer Ascendancy nodes, I recommend getting Commander of Darkness first, for the extra resistances and damage for all allies affected by your auras (which includes your minions). Pick up Mistress of Sacrifice next, which really boosts the benefits of Flesh Offering. I took Spirit Eater for my third node since it works so nicely with Flesh Offering, although Flesh Binder would also work if you'd like some added defense.

When playing a self-found character, you'll mostly you'll be using whatever gear drops with a good amount of resistances, some life and/or energy shield, and the appropriate links. Try to get a helm that has +1/2 to minion skills if possible, and fill it with your Raise Zombie gem plus supports. It's worthwhile to prioritize movement speed on your boots, as with almost every PoE character, since running away fast may keep you alive in a tight corner. I highly recommend using a shield instead of a 2-handed weapon or dual-wielding setup, since it's much easier to get resistances and other defensive stats that way. Plus a bit of block chance never hurts.

Here are the skill gems that I use, and how they're linked:

Summon Raging Spirit + Spell Echo + Melee Splash + Minion Damage + Item Rarity: My spirits are my main damage-dealer, so they get to use the 5-link in my chest armor. (When playing self-found, you're unlikely to see a usable 6-link item until very high levels, if at all.) Spell Echo is by far the most important support here, but it takes a while before it's available - until then, you can use a Faster Casting if you have the right links. You could do Multistrike instead of Melee Splash, which is better DPS for single targets, but I've found that there's very little in the game that is truly single target. Most of the bosses spawn enough adds that you really want some damage splashing to kill them off quickly, so the horde doesn't get distracted.

Raise Zombie + Multistrike + Fortify + Minion Damage: I really like Fortify for my zombies, which improves their survival greatly against stuff with big AoE attacks. (I got lucky with a drop - witches don't get Fortify from quests/vendors. Melee Physical Damage is an alternative support gem, if you don't find a Fortify.) In this case, I prefer Multistrike to Melee Splash, since the spirits already have that AoE damage covered. Minion Damage is never a bad idea for a support gem, or you could also use Faster Attacks in that slot if you have one available.

Raise Spectre + Summon Chaos Golem + Minion Damage + Lesser Multiple Projectiles: This is my "secondary summons" link. The LMP is great when you revive things with projectile attacks, such as my usual crew of Tentacle Miscreations. As you level, you can find something with decent ranged attacks almost everywhere in the game (though Act 1 is pretty sparse). I don't think the golem is getting any benefit from LMP, but I needed somewhere to put the gem, and certainly he gets the Minion Damage.

Animate Guardian: I have this guy in a Unset Ring slot, no links. Mostly just for the sake of saying that I have an extra minion, rather than any real utility. Hey, an extra body never hurts. Once you get all the passive minion nodes, he almost never dies, so I rarely have to worry about finding items to equip him with.

Discipline: If you're going with Chaos Inoculation, this aura is a requirement. Even in a life-based build, though, it's useful to boost survival. My own, and the minions as you're leveling, that bit of ES can really help keep your zombies upright. You may have to wait until you've gotten some of the mana-reservation-reduction passive nodes if you want to run two auras. Certainly this is the case if you'd like to go with more damage and run both Hatred and Anger. I chose more survival with Discipline rather than the second damage aura, so the mana reservation isn't quite as much.

Hatred + Generosity: Lots of extra cold damage for all the minions. You could run Anger instead if you prefer, or try to do both if you're willing to do without the extra energy shield from Discipline. Don't run Wrath since it doesn't work with the Elemental Equilibrium setup, of course.

Arc + Spell Totem + Chain: Used to trigger Elemental Equilibrium. Make sure it's only doing lightning damage - don't accidentally equip some piece of gear that adds fire and/or cold damage to your spells. The extra Chain isn't really necessary, I suppose, but I find that it helps to maximize the number of targets hit, especially on maps with increased pack sizes.

Flesh Offering: Amazing buff for your minions early on, and for you too once you get the Mistress of Sacrifice ascendancy node. Link it to Increased Duration if you can find one, but you may have to do without since Witches can't buy that from vendors.

Convocation: There will be times when the minions get lost and your horde is spread out across several rooms, or stuck behind a wall, etc. You really want this skill to get them all back together, especially if you've just wandered into a small room with lots of enemies going after your personal self. I use Convocation most when opening strongboxes - hit a Quartz flask so you don't get stuck, hit the box, run through the spawn, then Convocation. That puts all your minions in a perfect position to focus fire and wipe out the whole spawn quickly, rather than being spread out and possibly losing some minions (or worse, your personal self).

Enfeeble: I'm only running one curse, and I mostly only use it against bosses or particularly nasty magic packs. I picked Enfeeble because the minions are doing plenty of damage as long as they stay upright, so it's more important to make sure they stay that way than to try to increase the damage output. Temporal Chains would be a good alternate option, if you can find one. If you have the slots and gems, an Enfeeble (or Temporal Chains) + Flesh Offering + Increased Duration link would be good.

Desecrate: Every time you log in, you'll need to summon zombies and spectres. I like to go to the Lunaris Temple waypoint, drop into level 2, then use Desecrate to make corpses until I get two Tentacle Miscreations to revive, and enough other corpses to zombify. Occasionally it's also useful to use Desecrate to drop a set of corpses to power your Flesh Offering, when normal monster destruction isn't generating enough. You can do without this, or put it on weapon switch to use only in that initial summoning stage, if you're short on slots.

Lightning Warp: Got to have a movement skill to jump over those broken bridges and other map annoyances! Link it to Reduced Duration if you have the gem available and an extra link someplace.

There are plenty of other summoning guides if you'd like to learn more about optimizing the build, mostly in the Witch section at the official PoE forums. Looking at those other guide is particularly useful if you're not playing self-found and are willing to trade for some better gear. Happy summoning!

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