In Path of Exile, your character is going to die. Often. And in frustrating ways. Especially frustrating in hardcore. If you read up on different builds, most of them gloat about their impressive amounts of damage (millions of DPS, nine-digit hits, shapers per second, etc). These are great, they bring in the views, but new players see these videos and miss out on a important thing: defense.
Defense can be a complicated thing in Path of Exile, but with more understanding of how it works, you'll keep your character alive long enough to lay out those intensified, pinpoint-supported Blazing Salvos. Sorted with the most common types of defense first, here's many of the different types you need to be aware of. Many of these defense types synergize, so if I repeat myself... sorry.
Life is gained through your strength, your equipment, and different modifiers you can find in your passive tree. The more life you have, the more damage you can take. To not make yourself a total glass cannon, try to have at least 200 points of life at the end of each act.
In addition to using flasks, going to town or, well, dying in softcore, Life can be recovered by life gain on hit, life regeneration, and life leech. Life gain on hit gives you life for every attack that successfully hits. Life regen grants you a flat value and or percentage of life regenerated per second. Life leech gives you back a percentage of damage you cause as life, but beware: life leech isn't instant AND it starts with a ceiling of only +2% of your maximum life leeched per second. This means that while it may be tempting to only use on-hit, leech and regen to tank hits, it's important to invest in other types of defense to increase your chances of survival.
Warning: There are five main damage sources in the game: physical, fire, lightning, cold, and chaos. Just like you can do damage with these different types to enemies, they can do them back to you. Keep that in mind, as most of the types of defense in this game prevents some, but not all types of incoming damage.
The Big Three - Evasion, Armor, & Energy Shield
Almost every piece of equipment you wear in this game has one or two of these defensive stats on them. Each type of these defenses block some (but not all) types of incoming damage.
Evasion is the stat for Dexterity builds. The higher your evasion, the more of an enemy's attacks (not spells) you can completely evade. Keep in mind that Evasion is a separate stat from block or dodge, and all of them can be used together.
Armor is the stat for Strength builds. It blocks hits from physical attacks and spells (but not from elemental or chaos). The higher your Armor, the more damage you mitigate. Armor can only block at most 10% of its value in damage per hit. For example: 3000 armor can at most absorb 300 damage of a hit.
Energy Shield is the stat for Intelligence builds. It provides a secondary life bar that covers your main one. The more Energy Shield you have, the more damage from any non-chaos source you can absorb before damaging your life pool. Energy Shield regenerates after you don't take any damage for four seconds.
While armor, evasion and energy shield are both effective and plentifully found, it's important to invest in other types of defense to increase your chances of survival.
There are four types of resists that correspond to non-physical damage: fire, lightning, cold, and chaos. You earn resists through just about everything: equipment, passive points, ascendancies, auras, flasks, totems with auras, they're nearly everywhere. Resists start at 0% and max out at 75%. While hitting the maximum in all your resists may seem easy, progressing through the game causes your resists to get permanently debuffed by 30%. Twice.
It's a good rule of thumb to cap your elemental resists as soon as you can, as they can block a tremendous amount of incoming damage. A 1000 damage fireball hitting you at -60% resist (1600 damage) is a lot harsher than at 75% resist (250 damage). Chaos damage is less prevalent, so a good target for your character's chaos resistance is 0%. While resists can allow your character to take way more damage from certain sources, it's important to invest in other types of defense to increase your chances of survival.
Blocking is a way to prevent all incoming damage from hits. Shields (23-27%), some staves (18-20%), and dual wielding (15%) all give you chances to block attacks, and there are many other ways to raise your block chance for both attacks and spells. Glancing Blows, for example, is a keystone that drastically improves your block chance, but allows a portion of the total damage to get through. While blocking is a fantastic way to remove damage from hits, it's important to invest in other types of defense to increase your chances of survival.
Physical Damage Reduction
Physical damage reduction is a defensive stat that prevents a percentage of incoming damage. Endurance charges are one of the main sources of physical damage reduction. Every charge will additively grant you 4% physical damage reduction and 4% elemental resistances. Ascendancies, skills, Oak, and equipment can increase your PDR to a cap of 90%. While an impressive defense against physical damage, it does nothing against other types of damage, so it's important to invest in other types of defense to increase your chances of survival.
There are a number of additional defensive buffs you can gain through skill gems, equipment, and the passive tree. Some of these are permanent, while others are triggered to give you a chance to stop or reduce incoming damage. Arcane Cloak, Bone Armour, Steelskin, Molten Shell, Immortal Call, and Fortify Support are all examples of different defensive buffs you can apply to your character. With most of them being conditional and temporary, it's important to invest in other types of defense to increase your chances of survival.
Avoid exists on some equipment and can stop a percentage of hits from causing damage, Reduced Damage Taken modifiers drop (or raise) a flat amount of damage from certain hits, Damage Shifting can take damage from one type and turn it into another, Mind over Matter takes a percentage of damage meant for your life and reduces your mana, The Agnostic turns your mana pool into additional life regeneration, Acrobatics gives you a flat chance to evade attacks at the expense of your block chance/armor/energy shield, and many more that are probably going to be added in patches long after this video has been made. With that being said, it's important to ignore all defenses and just walk out of the way of every attack. Enemies can't hit what they can't reach, right? Right? Hello?
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