Holding Aggro with a Willpower Tanker

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Willpower is the most inviting of the tanker primaries to level up: the possibility of combining Quick Recovery with Stamina solves one of the biggest problems faced by levelling Tankers. There is a penalty for being so easy and inviting to play, though. It is somewhat more difficult to hold aggro on a Willpower Tanker than it is with some other sets.

There is one reason alone for this. All Tankers have an aura that taunts enemies in melee range of the Tanker. The most aggressive of these auras apply debuffs or do damage as well as taunt effects, like the two auras of Ice, or the auras of Fire and Stone.

Yours does only a mild to hit debuff; but it has an even larger disadvantage. Every other taunt aura (now including Shields) taunts its target for more than ten seconds. Yours only taunts for just over one second (1.25 seconds). And your aura, like all other tanker auras, must do a to hit check at -20% before it has a chance to taunt an archvillain or giant monster class enemy.

Since it pulses every second, you should get enough overlap, right? Wrong: the length of the taunt effect is resisted by higher conning (yellow and above) mobs, based on their levels. So very simply, when faced with red or purple mobs, you can be certain that the pulses of your taunt aura will not overlap, which means that they will wander from you the first chance they get.

This guide proposes ways to overcome that obstacle.

TIER 1: Take Taunt

This is a no-brainer. Taunt is available in each Tanker secondary. Its effects are always the same. Taunt always taunts its target, and up to five surrounding targets, for a base duration of thirty seconds. With a single taunt enhancement, that climbs to 43 seconds base.

Even though Taunt, like the taunt in your aura, is subject to diminishing returns against higher conning enemies, it still lasts plenty long enough to keep a mob's attention for a good long time. And, unlike an aura, it is guaranteed to affect an archvillain.

Taunt is just the best thing at what it does. Now that it has a -range debuff, it's even useful solo. Take it as soon as your defenses are ready for what it will bring: I usually take it shortly after hitting the SO levels. Use it liberally.

TIER 2: Slot Rise to the Challenge for Taunt

This is Willpower's compensating weakness: you can make yourself plenty tough and your character will be more fun to play than other Tanker primaries, but Rise to the Challenge is not as powerful a taunt aura as other sets get.

This can be compensated for, at least partially, by slotting two taunt enhancements into the power. Two even level SO enhancements boost the duration of its taunt effect to over two seconds. Even given the diminishing returns of higher conning enemies, this is enough to ensure overlap with all but very deep purple enemies. So long as the mob stays next to you, it should continue to be taunted.

TIER 3: Use Multi-Target Attacks in your Secondary

Your Gauntlet inherent power causes your attacks to automatically taunt the target they hit and up to four other surrounding enemies. The base duration of this taunt effect is 13.5 seconds. More can be gotten out of this inherent by using attacks that hit multiple targets.

There are several types of multi target attacks. Some are player based area of effects: think of these like a circle or sphere, affecting all that are in it. Others are cones, that affect only a circle in front of you: short range and small arc cones may as well be single target attacks that occasionally get a second or third mob if they are densely packed in front of you. Finally, all tankers have access to Taunt, a ranged area of effect attack; a very few tanker secondaries have others, and some have targeted area of effects that affect the area around a chosen spot on the ground.

My personal opinion of the several tanker secondaries and their usefulness with Willpower follows. I broke my analysis of them into several headings: Damage (how hard does it hit?); Control (how much control does it have, and how much does the kind of control you get help?); AoE (how many powers? how useful are they?); Utility (does it help keep me alive? how are its buffs or debuffs?) and overall.

Battle Axe

  • Damage: B+
  • Control: B
  • AoE: B+
  • Utility: B-
  • Overall: B +

This is a very solid set. Three multi-target attacks: one wide cone, one PBAoE, and one very narrow cone. The recharge on the multi-target attacks is very reasonable, although one attack (Cleave) is difficult to target more than one mob with. Narrow cone attacks like Cleave are more useful for holding aggro on herded mobs than they are at obtaining initial aggro on scattered mobs.

The control is all knockup/knockdown/knockback: excellent for reducing incoming damage, but the set lacks a way to incapacitate a single high priority target (like a Malta Sapper) consistently. Unless you regularly team with someone who can take care of that, you may want a single target ranged hold from one of the ancillary pools. Your Build Up is generic.

Recommended.

Dark Melee

  • Damage: C+
  • Control: A
  • AoE: C
  • Utility: A
  • Overall: B+

This is one of my favorite sets to combine with Willpower. It is a low damage set, but its Dark damage is not often resisted. You won't kill anything very fast, but a Rikti Chief Soldier falls about as fast as anything else.

But it's the Swiss Army Knife of Tanker secondaries, giving you a self-heal, stacking debuffs, a reliable mob incapacitator (Touch of Fear), and a way to keep a mob next to you (Midnight Grasp). The first several attacks are nicely fast recharge. And almost every attack in your secondary contains a To-Hit debuff. These debuffs stack with each other, and also with the to-hit debuff in Rise to the Challenge.

On paper, it looks like a fairly solid multi-target set, with two PBAoEs and one cone. But that cone is very narrow, and requires fairly dense packing to hit a second target. It has a very short recharge. Like Cleave from Battle Axe, it may be more useful for holding herded mobs' attention than for gaining it initially.

The two AoEs both have very long recharge times. Dark Consumption does slight damage and regains some endurance from the mobs it hits. Willpower tankers should not need it for endurance, and can get better AoEs from auxiliary pools.

Soul Drain is one of the better Build Up type powers in the game, and also does damage but you will definitely want to slot it for recharge as well as accuracy. This will benefit from Hasten, which can bring it to under a minute, and makes it useful as an alpha strike to gain initial aggro.

Recommended.

Dual Blades

  • Damage: C+
  • Control: D
  • AoE: B-
  • Utility: D
  • Overall: C-

This is a difficult set to combine with Willpower. Being a Willpower tanker means needing eight of nine powers from your primary. Making the most of this set's interesting combo system means taking eight of nine powers from the secondary, and being a Willpower tanker means needing Taunt as well. Your Build Up is a combo.

There are two late cones, and one PBAoE. There is only one attack with any kind of control (knockdown) and one combo with more knockdown: nothing to incapacitate a problem mob. One thing that this set has going for it is relatively modest endurance costs: but that's less of an advantage to a willpower tanker than to other primaries. To use this with reasonable freedom, you need a less demanding primary than Willpower.

Electric Melee

  • Damage: B
  • Control: C
  • AoE: A+
  • Utility: C-
  • Overall: B+

New for i16, Electric Melee is a fine choice for the Willpower tanker whose goal is to hold aggro for a team.

First, the bad news: the set is rather slow, and benefits from recharge enhancements. The control is a mixture of sleep (yeah right), knockdown, and (feh) knockback. The endurance return feature of the set is likely wasted on a Willpower tanker. The single target damage is not all that great, although most attacks do seldom resisted energy damage as well as smashing. You only get a generic Build Up.

But lookit those AoEs! Three PBAoEs (one does no damage) and a narrow cone! But that's not all! You also get Chain Induction, that has a chance to leap from one herded mob to another. Now, technically, some of the AoEs give splash damage rather than full damage to their other targets, but they accept PBAoE enhancements. With five multi-target attacks, this set replaces Fiery Melee at the top of the heap for multi target melee sets for tankers. It comes close to Spines in its potential to mow down large numbers of mobs at once. (I wish!)

Recommended.

Energy Melee

  • Damage: A
  • Control: C
  • AoE: D-
  • Utility: D
  • Overall: D

Just as Battle Axe is all about knockdown, this one is all about stun. Problem is, because of your weaker taunt aura, stun does not help you all that much. Stunned mobs can wander away from you, out of your aura, where you lose taunt almost immediately. The Build Up is generic.

Willpower tankers should take note: if you use Strength of Will reactively rather than proactively, the animations may prevent you from using it in time. At least you don't have a self heal to worry about. This set benefits strongly from Hasten. The animations and the long recharges of the powers make for a very slow feel, and mean that you will eat a lot of damage and debuff. While it still does pretty good single target burst damage, there is only one PBAoE here, with nothing further to commend it other than Stun.

While it may be a good set for a solo tanker, this guide is about holding aggro for teams. Steer as far away from this set as you can.

Fiery Melee

  • Damage: A
  • Control: F
  • AoE: A
  • Utility: D
  • Overall: B

No control at all, solid damage, and plenty of AoE goodness: this set is an excellent choice for a Willpower tanker who wants to hold aggro -- IF they can rely on teammates to deal with problem mobs like Sappers. The only way this contributes to your survivability is by killing stuff. And you get 2 PBAoEs and one cone, all with reasonable recharge. The Build Up is generic.

I recommend that if you take this, you choose Fly as your travel power and Air Superiority as the prerequisite. That will get you some control that this set lacks.

Ice Melee

  • Damage: C
  • Control: A
  • AoE: B+
  • Utility: B+
  • Overall: B+

While Ice Melee is no longer a poor sister in the damage department, its damage powers are still primarily single target attacks. Almost every attack slows its target's movement and recharge: this helps your weaker aura a lot, if only by preventing them from leaving all that quickly. You get lots of control, including a single target hold, and a ranged, targeted AoE attack. You only get a generic Build Up.

This is an excellent choice for the team oriented tanker who will be relying on teammates to kill things. And solo, do not worry: you're still a tanker, and you have time.

Recommended.

Kinetic Melee

  • Damage: B+
  • Control: D
  • AoE: C-
  • Utility: B
  • Overall: C-

New for Issue 18, Kinetic Melee is an interesting set that Willpower tankers concerned with aggro management probably should avoid. It features an across the board -damage debuff on enemies that would seem to help a tanker stay alive. But within the confines of this guide's focus on holding aggro with Willpower, it is less than ideal. It features plenty of control to help you stay alive, but for Willpower it's all the kind of control you want to steer clear of: knockback and stun. (Burst does knockdown, but Repulsing Torrent does exactly what its name suggests.) It is a rather slow, single target focused set, similar to Energy Melee. Two multi target attacks: Repulsing Torrent (45 degree cone, knockback) and Burst (PBAoE, knockdown). You get a ranged attack. The Build Up is Power Siphon, which applies a stackable buff to your damage while further debuffing theirs. A lot of interesting stuff in here, but this will work better with the primaries that aren't strengthened by keeping mobs close at hand.

Stone Melee

  • Damage: B+
  • Control: B+
  • AoE: B
  • Utility: C
  • Overall: B+

This is another set that's an excellent choice for a team oriented Willpower tanker. You have solid single target damage. You have a targeted, slightly ranged AoE knockdown. You have a PBAoE knockdown. Your powers contain a mix of knockdown, knockback, and stun. And your tier 9 attack has a single target Hold if it hits: in other words, it can incapacitate that Sapper. The Build Up is generic.

Willpower tankers, who ought to have both Quick Recovery and Stamina, are uniquely able to benefit from this secondary, which has very high endurance costs. And it has many team friendly features.

Recommended.

Super Strength

  • Damage: B+
  • Control: B
  • AoE: B-
  • Utility: B+
  • Overall: B+

This set is very popular with Willpower tankers. It is something of a late bloomer, since its strength depends mostly on Rage (from level 28) and Foot Stomp (level 38). The control is all knockdown or knockup, and in Hand Clap, knockback, which hurts more than it helps a Willpower tanker. But nobody takes this set for Hand Clap. Knockout Blow is supposed to be a sure shot hold, incapacitating any minion it hits.

Rage is the single best Build Up type power in a tanker set, since it can be turned into an effective toggle with three recharges. It carries a fairly substantial crash, during which your damage will drop to near zero and you will be drained 20 points of endurance - but willpower tankers should have enough endurance to cope with that. And finally, Foot Stomp is an excellent PBAoE power, with substantial damage and reasonable recharge. The only problem is that you can't get it before level 38.

Recommended.

War Mace

  • Damage: B-
  • Control: B+
  • AoE: B
  • Utility: C
  • Overall: B

This one starts out very similar to Battle Axe, with slightly weaker damage. It too used to be a poor sister in the damage department, but has been buffed.

Clobber now does decent damage, and is a sure-shot stun. Your other attacks contain a mixture of stun and knockback, neither of which are that useful for Willpower tankers. You only get a generic Build Up. After level 28, this set acquires a fairly fast PBAoE and a wide cone for multi target attacking.

TIER 4: Keep punching

It's long been my opinion, not universally shared, that Willpower tankers should always take Stamina, and most should aim for Stamina at level 20 the way everybody else does. If you follow this advice, endurance should never be an issue for you, even with the most taxing secondaries like Stone Melee, and even after you've added Tough and Weave.

So you have no excuse not to be the first into every mob, and to always keep an active pace.

Use basic tactics. Move to intercept ambushes, taking advantage of corners and other obstacles if they exist. For stationary mobs, aim yourself not for the leading mob, but towards the rear of the largest mass of mobs, and taunt the leading mobs back towards you. Once you attract the attention of the pack, it helps to stay put unless some kind of emergency comes up. If Rise to the Challenge is fully slotted for Taunt, the only mobs that should peel off you are the ones your teammates have chosen to kill themselves.

Go with the flow: some teams require more aggro management than others. Teams that need a lot of tanking should be willing to cooperate with tactics such as corner pulls that concentrate mobs on yourself.

Finally, tell every kinetic player that you team with that you do NOT want the debuff known as Speed Boost. The only thing it really does for you is make your attacks recharge faster. But as a Willpower tanker, you should not need the extra recovery. And the slight advantage of faster recharge is easily outweighed by the tactical problems that arise when your movement is randomized.

TIER 5: Get an ancillary pool that helps

My opinion is that the pool powers that are unlocked at 41 serve three purposes:

  • Fixing any remaining endurance issues;
  • Getting holds to cope with late game problem mobs; and
  • Getting AoEs for team support.

A properly built Willpower attacker doesn't need endurance help. You should have no reason to consider Energy Mastery for Conserve Power.

Whether you need a single target hold depends on what you got in your secondary. Fire and Super Strength may want to consider a power pool that helps with this. I like Fire Mastery and Char for that reason, especially since it does not interfere with knockup. Later powers in Fire Mastery are also valuable multi-target attacks.

But for holding additional aggro, I recommend Salt Crystals from Earth Mastery. This is a slow recharge PBAoE sleep. The sleep business is unimportant. It also imposes a defense debuff, which helps more. But it is a HUGE AoE with a 30 foot range. And every single mob it hits within that range, up to ten, is taunted for the standard Gauntlet time of 13.5 seconds. Finally, this is available as a first tier power: you don't have to go deep into the pool for it.

TIER 6: Educate your teammates

There are two things that the rest of the player base needs to know:

  • Willpower tankers CAN hold aggro; and
  • Knockback is not your friend.

I suspect that most of the complaints you sometimes read about willpower tankers not being able to hold aggro come from people who throw about knockback liberally. Very simply, that Kheldian and that energy blaster needs to be able to finish off any mob that they knock away from you - because even in the least demanding of situations, your taunt aura is still only going to last two seconds after they're knocked away from you.

Assume basic competence, at least at first: if they targeted it, they must think they can kill it. But if they make a habit of taking on more than they can handle, a courteous tell might help.