Addressing the Imbalance in Core PoE Defensive Mechanics
Like most action RPG games, Path of Exile’s characters have offensive and defensive capabilities that are aligned according to common themes. Strength-based characters have Armour. Quick, nimble dexterity-based characters have Evasion, and characters based in intelligence have Energy Shield. This was easy and sensible enough when Path of Exile was in its infancy, but times have changed.
Currently, the game mechanics have evolved such that there is a perceived disparity in the defensive side of things. More specifically, two defensive mechanics act as mitigating factors, whereas the third is simply a raw pool of points.
It is easy enough for players to acquire the relevant PoE items such as Armour, Evasion and Energy Shield and develop them equally according to the Skill Tree, however they all behave differently and have differential effects.
This adds to the Life versus Energy Shield debate, since Energy Shield is considered passive, when it has more in common with Life. Armour and Evasion can be as high as 900 or 1000 points, and Energy Shield can do the same, but Energy Shield is much more effective, so much in fact, that players can keep ditch beefing up Life altogether so long as their Energy Shield levels reach a certain threshold.
As mitigating factors, the difference is even more startling. Simply put, Armour and Evasion are poor mitigating factors, whereas Energy Shield is highly reliable. Life-based characters that focus in Armour and Evasion have a maximum ceiling on Life development, mostly around 6000 points. This renders them vulnerable to one-shot kills late in the game. In sharp contrast, characters based on Energy Shield can absorb the same attack and regenerate their Energy Shield to full capacity, thanks to Vaal Pact, Ghost Reaver and other Path of Exile items that contribute to Energy Shield.
To illustrate this point, Armour and Evasion characters can’t afford to play a numbers game-style approach to defense. By dodging the first nine attacks, for example, the tenth one may be powerful enough for an instant kill. Energy Shield characters with a large enough pool can get hit multiple times and still get the job done.
Keeping in mind the power creep that is constantly growing and evolving along with the game, it becomes apparent that the disadvantages to being an Energy Shield character have all but disappeared with each new update. New items, gems, and Ascendancies have contributed to the disparity in the three fundamental core defense mechanics, and build diversity has reflected this shift toward Energy Shields.
Things may shift in favor of Armour and Evasion, however. Once upon a time Evasion was formidable, with Lightning Coil and Ondar’s Guile sweetening the deal. Armour also had its heyday, with Grace and Iron Reflexes as the skills that made it worthwhile. And it’s nearly impossible to ignore the level of face-tanking Energy shield players do when they engage a guardian. Let’s hope that the developers at Grinding Gear Games have a plan to address this imbalance in defensive mechanics, so players can realize the potential of their Armour and Evasion builds.