The Secret World Build Mechanics and Philosophy Tips Guide

The Secret World Build Mechanics and Philosophy Tips Guide by Yokai

Build mechanics in TSW are deep; far deeper than any other MMO to date, with the possible exception of EVE Online. What makes the build mechanics so deep is not the classless system with 580+ different abilities to choose from, but the amazing sophistication of the possible synergies between abilities.

I’m going to start this guide with three charts, because that’s what you’ll be referring to over and over after reading the guide at least once. All the explanation for the charts comes after the charts.

IMPORTANT: All of the charts are currently provisional and subject to significant change by later in the weekend beta period, by launch, and possibly after launch as Funcom makes balance changes. For now, consider these not as gospel, but as broad examples of how to think about the 9 weapon types and their abilities. TIP: IF YOU’RE NOT SEEING FULLY FINISHED CHARTS, REFRESH THE PAGE TO REFRESH YOUR LOCAL IMAGE CACHE.

Chart 1 – Weapon Matrix

This chart helps you compare the properties of all tanking, healing, and support weapon types with each other.

Chart 2 – ACTIVE React/Apply Matrix

This chart further explains the basic “character” of each weapon type by showing you specifically how the ACTIVE abilities of each weapon type can react to a given state, subtype, or trigger condition by applying various effects.

Tip: Click the image to open it full-sized in a new tab

Chart 3 – PASSIVE React/Apply Matrix

This chart is hugely important to creating sophisticated builds, because it is weapon-neutral. Remember that you can use a PASSIVE ability from ANY weapon in your deck, regardless of which two weapons you actually have equipped. This chart lists all the bridge passives and support passives that you can use to strong effect in ANY deck. A “bridge” passive is specifically any weapon-neutral passive that can apply a STATE or SUBTYPE. For example, Chaos has such a passive that will apply Weaken whenever you land a non-glancing hit on an Impaired target. There are also many triggers that will apply states. And Elemental has a passive that will turn a critical hit on an afflicted target into a Chain attack.

Tip: Click the image to open it full-sized in a new tab

Understanding builders and finishers

Some abilities “build resources” and are called builders. Others “consume resources” and are called finishers. Depending on your weapon type, some resources are built on yourself (visible just above your health bar), or they’re built on each target you’re attacking (floats above their head). Melee weapons like hammer start out fully built with 5 resources ready to pop with a finisher as your opening attack in each new fight. (This helps tanks do some front-loaded damage to build hate faster than teammates, or can simply be used to apply more overall DPS.)

Most builders do so for both weapons at the same time, but some appear to build only for one weapon. Pay attention to this when choosing your builders, because it’s always more efficient to use builders that build for BOTH weapons at the same time.

It’s also most efficient to have one good finisher for EACH weapon in your deck, and to pop them back-to-back once you’ve built up 5 resources for each. Only after blowing both of your finishers should you go back to building.

Many abilities are written in a manner that does not suggest that more resources = more damage for the finisher. IMO this is a quality issue with the tech writing for the ability descriptions. In my testing, I’ve found many such finishers where clearly 5 resources made them do more damage than with only 1 resource, so assume this pattern as a general rule of thumb even if the ability description doesn’t explicitly say something like “does X damage for each resource”.

Finally, a nuance of timing your builders and finishers is that you don’t always need to build to 5 resources before popping a finisher. For example, two of the elemental finishers require only 2 resources and 3 resources, respectively. (of course, with 5 resources on the target, you could pop them back to back). Another example is that the *difference* between X damage for 1 resource and Y damage for 5 resources isn’t large enough, such that it’s actually higher DPS (damage per *second*) to spam builder > finisher > builder > finisher with only one resource each time. And yet another example is that sometimes a target is near dead and you’re confident that two resources will finish him off.

Understanding “state” abilities

In TSW, “states” are temporary flags put on either your offensive target or yourself (or any of your teammates). The states are reflected in the UI with those four small bars immediately beneath the HP bar for yourself, teammates, and your currently selected target. When a state is toggled on for anyone, many abilities will REACT to that specific state by doing something interesting. Broadly speaking: Afflicted states are applied along with a DoT, Weakened states are applied along with a damage-reducing or hit-reducing debuff of some sort, Hindered states are applied along with a snare or root, and Impaired states are applied along with a stun, knockdown/knockback, or silence.

It is very important to understand that many of these typical MMO effects (roots, stuns, debuffs, DoTs, etc.) can also be applied by various weapon abilities WITHOUT ALSO APPLYING A STATE. In my charts, I distinguish these with the term “State-Like”. Generally speaking, when an ability can apply a state, the state name is clearly listed in the description of the ability.

Understanding “SubType” abilities

In TSW, “subtypes” are specifically the shape of a weapon attack:

Strike is a single-target attack (but not every single target attack is a “strike”). Burst is a single-target attack that comprises multiple small hits, each with their own independent hit/reaction roll. Focus is a channelled attack over time, that ticks more damage the longer you sustain it. Frenzy is typically a circular AOE of some sort. Blast is usually a cone-shaped multi-target spread in an arc in front of you. And Chain is a single target attack that subsequently spreads to other nearby targets.

As with states, it is very important to understand that not all attack shapes are also subtypes. For example, not every single-target attack is also a “Strike”, not every AOE is also a “Frenzy”, and not every cone is also a “Blast”.

Understanding Triggers

Note that I didn’t use “trigger ability” in the title of this section. That’s because there are no abilities that cause a trigger. (But there are abilities that cause states and subtypes to be applied.) The charts should make it clear what triggers generally are and which weapons have both active and passive abilities that can synergize with those triggers.

Passive abilities are not limited by your equipped weapons

When choosing abilities for your deck, the actives can come only from your two currently equipped weapons, but the passives can come from ANY weapon. This is a very important point of sophistication and one that can yield some really interesting and powerful synergies.

You should always pay special attention to chart #3 above (the Passive React/Apply Matrix), because it shows you all the cool support passives and bridge passives that you can add to literally any deck.

Yokai’s newbie build philosophy

As a complete newbie, focus on only two weapons at first until you’ve unlocked most or all of both inner circle cells (two for each weapon, four total). The inner circle cells contain literally everything you need to have a well-rounded build that’s good enough for any content in Kingsmouth, even making you able to solo the 1-skull elites in the northern part of the map by the time you’re packing mostly QL2 – QL3 gear (or even sooner if you find some really strong single-target synergies).

Focus first on creating a single deck that has: one single target builder that builds resources for BOTH weapons, one AOE or cone builder that builds for BOTH weapons, and one hard-hitting single-target consumer from EACH weapon that you can use back-to-back. That’s 4 active abilities in total. The other three actives can be whatever you like, but if there’s room for an AOE finisher, that can be useful too in your first newbie build. (And bear in mind that AOE in this sense really means “multi-target”, so cone abilities are perfectly usable instead of AOEs.)

When learning this first deck, learn to use either builder as needed to load multiple resources for each weapon type, and then pop both of your finishers back-to-back before you go back to building again. And if you use a ranged weapon in your deck, also learn to target each different mob in a swarm to use your ranged finisher(s) on each mob before you go back to building again.

After you’ve got this general purpose deck working well for you, try to build some basic variations of it before you leave Kingsmouth. Note that in most cases, this will require you to invest both SP and AP in additional weapons beyond the first two that you’ve grown comfortable with so far! Don’t worry, there is plenty of AP and SP to be earned by doing all the mission content in Kingsmouth. Don’t be in a rush to move on to Savage Coast. There is no race-to-endgame in TSW. The endgame quite literally starts in Kingsmouth.

Ideally, you want the first three deck types I list below before you move on to Savage Coast. And you want to be closer to rank 3 with each deck than to rank 2. (See my guide on group mechanics if you don’t know what I mean by the “rank” of a deck–link in my sig block below.) You’ll also probably want to experiment with the 4th deck type below soon after you start doing Savage Coast content.

1) A deck specifically geared around mostly/all single-target damage, for taking down elites (which are usually alone).

2) A deck specifically geared around multi-target AOE and/or cone damage, for taking down swarms. You *will* hit some missions that will send waves of swarms at you and if your build isn’t pure AOE carnage, you will have a rough time surviving.

3) A deck primarily using long-range attacks (AR or Elemental-distance: 20meters plus), because some fights will require you to stay out of melee distance entirely.

4) A deck that has one “column dash backward” or “column dash forward” active. For example, Shotgun and AR have the dash backward abilities, and Hammer and some others have the dash forward abilities. These dashes work like mini teleports in that you will move through any mobs that are in your way. These dash abilities can be handy because the “reaction indicators” when mobs do their special attacks move especially slow at first, but as you encounter tougher mobs, but you will have less reaction time to manually move out of the way if you fight primarily in melee distance, and dashing can make it easier to avoid these faster specials. You can pick up a basic dash pretty quickly/cheaply. For example, Assault Rifle and Shotgun both have the dash backs for only 12 AP. The shotgun variety recharges faster (10sec) than the AR variety (15sec), but this is balanced by the AR version applying a hinder and some AOE damage.

5) Don’t focus on the bottom skill row for each weapon at first. (There is one important exception to this guideline: Elementalism–more on that in a moment.) As a newbie, you want to push the skill level of the weapons you use to Skill 2 right away in Kingsmouth, so that you can equip QL3 weapons as fast as possible. And shortly afterward you want to hit Skill 3 and 4 in each weapon so that when you leave Kingsmouth and start getting QL4 and QL5 drops you can take advantage of those too. This means you should dump all your SP in the top DPS row for each weapon at first. Don’t bother dumping points in the bottom rows for a while, because they benefit only the specialized “role” of each weapon, and those specialized roles can’t really be played effectively until you have invested in some of the outer circle abilities. At first, you want sheer damage output more than anything else.

Now, Elementalism breaks this general rule of thumb. The top row for Elementalism doesn’t increase DPS per hit, it increases DPS by adding a chance to transform any single-target ability into AOE damage!! This means that long range single-target ability you’re using to pull single targets away from other enemies might sometimes AOE on you and will draw multiple enemies! So For Elementalism, you should put skill points ONLY in the bottom row at first, until you get more comfortable with dealing with unexpected adds.


Inner circle abilities versus outer circle abilities

The inner circle cells provide all your “bread and butter” attack basics for each weapon type. Unlocking all of the inner cells costs roughly the same as unlocking only TWO of the outer circle cells (out of 57 total). Therefore, your first approach to “horizontal progression” should IMO be to prioritize fully unlocking all of the inner circle cells for every weapon, so that: 1) you’ll have multiple options for the first two dungeons you’ll encounter in the game, and 2) You’ll have full access to all the less expensive weapon-neutral passives in the outer ring.

It’s worth noting that Funcom has designed every dungeon, even Polaris (the very first, in Kingsmouth), to require your team to discuss and experiment with different builds (decks) to solve the puzzle of how to beat the multiple minibosses and bosses. They want the team to wipe repeatedly on any given boss until the team figures out how to fight it effectively. And the solution will always require a degree of horizontal flexibility for every team member, meaning you can’t just rely on the same two or three weapons and two decks that you prefer to use for most of your adventuring in the open world areas.

In fact, if you look closely at the descriptions for many outer circle abilities, many of them seem lackluster or even outright “weaker” than a similar counterpart in the inner circle. You might wonder “why on earth would I spend all the AP needed to get that 34AP ability when my trusty 3AP inner circle ability that I’ve been using forever seems to hit harder and be better?

More expensive = more specialized, NOT more stronger

The answer to the preceding question, and the key to advanced deck building philosophy, is to discard the mindset you bring from other MMOs that “if a skill is more expensive, it must be *stronger* in some way. In TSW, this is not how it works. Instead, all those expensive outer circle abilities are, for the most part, simply more *specialized* for specific situations. Those outer circle abilities are not inherently stronger by themselves. Instead, they are stronger either for certain very specific situations (like a particular dungeon boss), or when you combine them with several other outer- and inner-circle abilities for a set of focused, stacking synergies.

Advanced build example 0: Creating a build around a specific SubType

The easiest type of advanced build to create is one that centers around a specific SubType. In the outer-circle, you’ll generally find lots of weapon-neutral passives that provide some hefty buffs to attacks of a specific SubType. For example, if you look in the SubTypes > Single-Target > Strike *column* of my chart on Passive abilities, you’ll see that Hammer, Shotgun, and Elemental all contain some weapon neutral passives that provide some significant buffs when you use Strike abilities. Among these buffs are things like +25% chance to penetrate, +25% chance to crit, +25% crit damage, and a +7.5% damage increase to all damage (from a Strike). Overall, this means a LOT more damage output if you ensure your build contains only Strike actives.

So by loading up these four weapon-neutral passives and choosing two weapons that will give you a solid Strike builder and two good Strike finishers, you have just created the core of strong single-target “boss killer” deck with only 3 actives and 4 passives. For your remaining actives and passives, you could look for abilities that synergize well with “reacts to critical hits” and “reacts to penetrating hits”, because your core abilities greatly increase your crit and penetration chances.

You could alternatively fill the remaining slots with synergies for a *different* subtype to make an all-around deck. For example, with 4 remaining active slots and 3 remaining passive slots, you could build those out with an eye to using only active Frenzy or Chain attacks for dealing with swarms, and finding some passives that synergize well with Frenzy or Chain attacks.

Advanced build example 1: Discovering and creating a “Afflict Penetration” build

For example, if you use one passive and one active slot to ensure that you can always apply an Afflicted state to a target 100% of the time, then there are quite a few outer circle abilities that will synergize with this “Affliction build” much better than their vanilla inner circle counterparts. For example, if you look at my chart for “Active” abilities, you’ll see many abilities that can REACT to a hit/attack on an Afflicted target that can: also Hinder them, apply an additional stacking DOT, cleanse or heal yourself or your defensive target, increase your damage output, improve your chances to make penetrating hits, or buff your defense in some way. And if you look at my chart for “Passive” abilities, you’ll see that regardless of your two specific weapons, you can also add some passives to your deck that will: improve your chances to make penetrating hits even more (all buffs generally stack), improve your damage even more in a variety of AOE/ST ways (even by making some of your normal ST attacks become Chain attacks instead), and to perform team heals.

So when I look at these two Active/Passive charts in this way, I see a strong potential synergy between both Affliction and Penetrating Hits, and I also see the number 1 appearing a lot in the columns for Affliction and Pen+ in both charts. This suggests that if I want to create an “Afflicted-Penetration” build, I should ensure that Blades are one of my two weapons for that build type. I also see the number 8 appearing a lot in the columns for Pen+, which suggests that for this particular build, there are a lot of good synergies with Shotgun as well.

In this example of building an “Afflicted-Penetration” deck, I’d probably build it around Blades/Shotgun, look for the specific abilities from each weapon that stack up the Pen+ buffs and be certain to slot them into my deck, and then with the leftover slots I’d look through the interesting effects I can apply when a Penetrating hit occurs, find those specific abilities, and slot them into the deck too. Finally, I’d build some gear with as much Pen+ stats as possible to wear and save this gear as part of my deck.

Hopefully this one example shows a generally useful approach to discovering strong stacking synergies for building more advanced decks.

Example 2 – Building useful variations of a Healing deck

You may have noticed that the inner circle healing abilities are all primarily self-heals or single-target heals on your current defensive target (a teammate). You may also have noticed that by and large, these inner circle healing abilities are fairly weak. Even though the abilities scale with your skill levels and with +Heal Rating stats on your gear, if you rely only on inner circle healing abilities you really won’t be able to keep a tank (or yourself) alive under serious pressure.

For players that enjoying playing a healing role (or if you enjoy being a “heal tank” when soloing), the trick is to find healing synergies that you can stack up to much greater overall effect. You will probably also want an AOE variant for boss fights (or outdoor missions) that overwhelm your entire team at once with waves of weenie swarms or environmental damage.

As in example #1, we can use primarily the active/passive charts to get an initial feel for which weapons work best in each variation we need. To recap, those variations are: Self/ST healing for soloing, ST healing for traditional tank and spank boss encounters where everyone is hammering a single boss and the meatshield is soaking most of the aggro and damage, and Team-wide healing for missions/boss encounters with lots of AOE swarms and wide area environmental damage effects.

Now look at the healing-specific *rows* in the *active* charts to get a feel for which weapons to investigate further:

For the Self/ST rows: we see an equal amount of the numbers 5 and 6, which might make it seem like it’s a toss-up between Assault Rifle and Fist. However, notice that two of those instances of number 6 rely on two different states, whereas 5 can apply Self/ST heals based on very common events: Any Hit, Non-glancing Hits, and Frenzy (of which AR has a lot of Frenzy attacks). What this tells me is that Assault Rifle is clearly a better primary weapon for self-healing while soloing, because I’ll be able to find synergies that proc very often in response to common, easily achieveable events all the time when I’m by myself.

(Side note: Since we don’t know the full story for Blood yet, don’t take this as gospel: it’s just an example based on info we have right now between Beta Weekend #2 and Beta Weekend #3)

But what about Single-target healing for meatshields in a typical tank and spank scenario? In this case, either AR -OR- Fist might work okay, because in a team situation you can count on lots of states being applied all the time, and two of the three active synergies for Fist can take advantage of states.

Finally, for the team-healing scenarios, we see from the first general weapons chart that both AR and Fist can directly apply team-wide heals, but only AR can also reactively apply team-wide heals. This is backed up by the *active* chart, which shows that there is some AR active ability that will apply a team-wide heal in response to non-glancing hits. In my book that adds up to AR being the clear choice to build around for team healing scenarios. (At least for now–remember we don’t know the whole story for Blood yet.)

So let’s keep it simple and just build all three variations around AR as our primary healing weapon. What to do for our secondary weapon?

In the solo self-healing situation, you probably want a heavy tanking weapon and to build a hybrid tanking/healing deck. Hammer stats aren’t in the charts yet, but based on Blade versus Chaos, and looking first at the *active* chart, we see that Chaos actives can provide Evade+ and Def+, while Blades can provide only Def+. However, Blades can react to two very common events: Getting Hit (by anything), and you hitting an Afflicted target. This makes me lean towards Blade as my second weapon. So now that I’ve narrowed down to AR/Blade for this type of solo-oriented heal tanking build, I can look at the specific synergies that those two weapons can capitalize on. Taking it a step further by looking at chart 1 (the weapon matrix) I see more Xs and Os among the two weapons in the row for the Afflicted state, so I’m probably going to build the non-healing synergies of this deck around Affliction.

Now for the standard ST Heals in tank and spank encounter with team. As I mentioned in my other “build mechanics” guide, since I’m probably playing a “pure healer” role in this type of encounter and letting my teammates handle the damage output, I obviously want to pair AR with another Healing-centric weapon. Fists would seem to be the clear winner here, but here we are fishing in the dark because we don’t know about Blood’s full “flavor” yet. My gut instincts tell me that in tank and spank encounters, healers want primarily ranged heals, and Fist is a melee distance weapon. So even though we don’t know about Blood just yet, my gut tells me to pair Blood with AR for this scenario, and we’ll look for every possible healing synergy between Blood and AR.

Finally, the team-wide heals for swarm/environmental AOE damage encounters. Here, the thought process is similar to that for the tank and spank encounters, but Fist becomes a much more viable choice, possibly even the best choice, for two reasons: 1) You’re going to be in the fray with everyone else, rather than trying to keep your distance. With swarms, you typically want to clump up so AOE and taunts can reach as many targets as possible. And 2) Fist has a active self heal that will react to YOU getting hit, which will be happening a lot in swarm situations. So now we have AR/Fist for this type of encounter, and you can go looking for every possible healing synergy between AR and Fist.

I hope these two examples have been helpful, and that you can build upon them, borrow from them, or adapt them to your own most intuitive strategies for designing useful builds for the various situations the game will throw at you. Good luck!

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2 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Cracking guide. Thank you

  2. Anonymous says:

    That is the best description I have read yet and it has very little jargon that has not been explained earlier in the article. Well done.
    Any tips for EL/SG

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