I wrote this in response to a post in the COH survivors group on Facebook, but found once I was done that it was far too long for that kind of forum. I still had intended to post this on a more server neutral space, and it may still find a home elsewhere as well, but I think it also belongs here. While Empathy is not exclusive to defenders, that is the bulk of my experience with it, as I am not generally a fan of controllers - playing them, not teaming with them. I love a good controller on my teams. I hope someone finds this helpful.
LadyMage’s Empathy Build/Playstyle guide for 2019
I wrote the book on Empathy back in the day, and considering my Empath is still my main 15 years later and I’ve made her on a variety of servers since the game came back to us, I suppose it’s time again for me to get these ideas out again. The game has changed a lot in the intervening years, even if Empathy itself has not changed as much, but we still have to adapt. Now this entire guide should be taken as “in my opinion”, but it’s an opinion with many years and thousands of hours of play behind it.
Empathy is by it’s nature a reactive set, but you can mitigate that to a point. One thing you are going to see over and over again is recharge. I cannot stress this enough - Empaths need to milk as much recharge as they can squeeze from their builds. Your final four powers are utterly awesome buffs that everyone can benefit from, but they’re on hideously long cool downs. Your heals and Resurrect are fantastic, but only if they’re available in the moment you need them. So not only are you going to have to try to get those up as often as possible, you’re going to have to take the temperature of each team and find a balance of where to lay what buff to keep things running smoothly. Since you can’t get universal coverage, especially on a large team, you’ll have to learn to prioritize.
WARNING - Empathy makes for a poor soloing set.
That should be obvious, but if it’s not let me put this out here now. There are only three powers in the entire set that you can use and effect yourself, all of the rest require allies. You can solo an empath, even an empathy defender, but it’s a slow and painful experience. If you want to make a support character but plan to solo a significant chunk of the time, this is not the set for you.
Healing Aura - Available level 1 for both Primary and Secondary
If Empathy is your secondary, such as a corruptor or a controller, you have no choice but to take this, but even if it’s your primary, remember that this is the only direct heal that affects you. You will take damage. You will need to heal yourself and those standing near you. You will want to have this. Minimum slotting really is three, and you’re going to want at least this ASAP, but I would recommend 5 or 6 by the end game. If you’re slotting with SOs or generic IOs, three heals, and a mix of recharges and end reducers as necessary. If you’re slotting with sets, a set that’s appropriate for your level, bonus points if it helps with healing or especially with recharge.
Heal Other - Available level 1 for Primary, level 2 for Secondary
Another must have as your secondary heal. It’s a larger heal with a similar cooldown, but it lets you heal at range, which is a necessity. Sometimes the main melee has splash damage that will squish you in no time if you venture in, so you will want a heal you can use when the person who’s taking damage isn’t in your immediate vicinity. Slotting again needs to be at least three, but 5 or 6 is preferable by end game. SO/Gen IO should plan for 3 heals, and the other 2 to 3 slots filled with your choice of end reducers, recharge reducers, and even range would not be a bad choice. Sets again, appropriate for your level, but some healing or recharge set bonuses are going to be your best bets.
Absorb Pain - Available Level 2 for Primary, 4 for Secondary
This is the one power I’m going to say is skippable. I don’t, but you certainly could. It’s Heal Other’s much beefier cousin, but it comes with a cost. The animation time is longer, the cool down is longer, you take a small amount of damage, and makes it so you can’t heal yourself for a short time. That doesn’t sound like much, but given the numbers it’s obvious that it was meant to heal up badly hurt melees, and if things are going sideways enough that your melees are badly injured, the chances that damage is going to be heading your way is high. Note, it does not allow you to be healed via any source, your heals or the heals of others, but does not suppress regeneration, so it can be mitigated somewhat if you have Regeneration Aura running when you hit this. You can skip this one all together, but I like to have it for my melees for emergencies. It does not require slotting, it costs almost no end, range isn’t a bad option, probably don’t need recharge if you’re using it as a back up, and heals just make it all the more silly numbers wise.I put it off until later in the build because early on the Melees don’t have that much more health than their squishier counterparts, but later on it does make for a nice emergency heal.
Note: Learn from my personal experience - do not skip Heal other and take Absorb pain instead. I did this with my initial build, back very very early in the game. It got me killed several times. Do not do this.
Resurrect - Available Level 6 for Primary, 10 for Secondary
If Empathy has another skippable power, this is it. It’s a pretty plain jane revive. Brings the target back with full health and endurance and some debt protection for a short time. It used to cost most of your endurance, but the cost has been lowered over the years. I put this one off too, but I do get it. It does not require slotting, the default slot can be either recharge, as it is on a lengthier timer, or range as the range is rather short.
Clear Mind - Available Level 8 for Primary, 16 for Secondary
The first of your buffs, and a very potent one. It’s standard, pretty comprehensive mez protection, protecting against stun, hold, immobilize, fear, confuse and sleep with +perception, to help handle blindness. Short casting time, single target, unlike changes made to similar powers like Increase Density, but also short duration. Unlike later buffs in the set, it’s on a very short cooldown, so you can not only cast it on every person in your team, but you can layer it for increased +perception. It can be used both to free someone from said effects as well as short term protection. It does not need slotting at all - small end cost, short recharge, and none of its effects are enhanceable,so I usually put a range in it so that I can hit people with it from farther away.
Fortitude - Available level 12 for Primary, 20 for Secondary
And now we’re into the buffs with long timers. Fortitude is a significant buff to your target’s to hit, damage and defense. There’s something for everyone in here. Got a sidekicked lowbie with accuracy problems? Hit them with Fortitude, and watch their acc problems go away. Blaster keeps trying to face plant? Hit them with fortitude rather than play whack-a-mole with their health bar. Fighting some mobs that do damage that your melees aren’t good at defending against yet? Hit them with fortitude. Everyone sailing along and there’s no problems? Hit a bigger damage dealer with fortitude to make things melt a little faster. Problem is, out of the box, no enhancements, it’s recharge is half it’s duration, so you’re keeping it only on 2 people without slotting. If you want significant coverage, and you will, you’re going to want to slot with recharge. Three of them at least. You can’t enhance the damage buff, but either the defense or to hit are worthwhile options if you can find slots in your build to add to it.
Recovery Aura - Available level 18 for Primary, 28 for Secondary.
One of the set’s more notable buffs and one you can use on yourself. Recovery aura is a significant endurance recovery boost, even more so than Speed Boost. You cast it in an aura circle around yourself. Blue bars don’t move much when this buff is up and running, but it has a very long cool down, about 5 times it’s duration without any enhancements. Slot this one with recharges, but it doesn’t need anything else, so you can stop at three slots for this one.
Regeneration Aura - Available at level 26 for Primary, 35 for Secondary.
Less well loved than Recovery aura, regeneration aura is nearly identical, but for your health. It’s a significant regeneration buff, but you’re still going to see the health bars move when people get hit, and is thus less noticeable. It’s still going to free you up to do more than play health bar whack-a-mole while it’s up, so definitely get and at least three slot it for recharge. 3 more to double up the regen buff with heals does not go amiss, but is not strictly necessary.
Adrenaline Boost - Available at level 32 for Primary, 38 for Secondary
This is where it gets silly. Adrenaline boost is a souped up recovery aura, regeneration aura, and a powerful recharge buff all in one single target buff. I have one teammate who has to try really hard to move his blue bar with this up, no one else can budge it, even spamming big spendy AOEs, since the recharge buff means they have almost no cooldown. I still don’t know how he manages it, but somehow he does. Downside? Again, the cool down. Without slotting you’re only going to be able to have it on one person, and only that 1/3rd of the time. At least three slots, all recharge for this one. I reserve this one for my problem children, because with it slotted both for recharges and healing I can use it on them and then ignore them until their health bar starts to move again, which tells me it should be recharged and need to be recast. This can easily benefit from more slots for added regen.
What to pair Empathy with?
Unlike some other buff/debuff sets, Empathy has almost no specific synergy with any one set, as no powers from the set at all affect your enemies. If you’re playing a defender (or corruptor if the set ever gets proliferated across), some blast sets like ice, dark, and psychic are great for defending your group with slows, acc debuffs and recharge debuffs respectively. Or you can pick a set that helps the team mow down mobs faster, like sonic with it’s resist debuff, or water and radiation with their penchant for lowering defense. Many defender blast sets also feature some control abilities that can be very helpful. For the controllers, empathy pairs well with controls, seeing as controls are already mitigating incoming damage, but has no specific synergy with any one control set.
Should I use my other set?
In a word, yes. Empathy is half your character, not the whole character. I’m not advocating blasting while your team dies, but as you become comfortable in your role, you will find periods where things are running so smoothly that you’ll only need to refresh buffs once in a while. And your blasts or controls do help. While I can’t MAKE you use your other power set, I do believe that it’s worthwhile to develop and use your other set to help yourself and your team advance. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your party is to blast, be that to knock a wayward mob back into the melee instead of gunning for one of your squishies, toss in a hold or other control power, or shower them all with a torrent of debuffing.
What pools should I take?
Speed specifically for hasten is the only one I strongly recommend - I don’t necessarily fall into the camp that every character needs hasten, but Empathy is definitely one that benefits greatly from it. It’s not a bad idea to take a travel power, although it’s not as necessary as it once was. Leadership and concealment are both good choices. Recall friend and team teleport are both nice to have, but again not as necessary as they used to be. There are solid arguments for fighting, and a few others. The only one I would caution against is Medicine. You do not need anything in there, Empathy’s powers beat them on every count. They are the poor man’s empathy set, you already have the real thing.
IO sets and Incarnate:
Here I will tread more carefully, as depending on what version your server is running you may have different options for sets, and these are going to diverge even more over time. The main thing I would recommend keeping in mind when picking incarnate powers and IO sets is recharge. Spiritual in the alpha slot, Doctored wounds and Preventative Medicine are good heal sets that can work in 5 of your powers with global recharge as a set bonus, and you may find others that help as well. I’ve been getting a fair bit of mileage out of a stealth in my chosen travel power (mystic flight) and a knockback protection IO.
You are a squishy. You’re not going to want to be too far from melee, but you aren’t going to want to be in it. Use your aura heal on the squishies with you in the back and heal the melee characters with heal other, and as a last resort, Absorb pain. To avoid accidental misclicks, I would suggest binding Absorb pain to a key that’s within reach but not so close that you’re likely to hit it by accident. I’ll leave it to your imagination why I might caution you that. It also helps, especially if you tend to run with the same people, to bind a phrase to it. You’re going to be vulnerable for a bit after you use it, so it’s good to let your team know to cover you.
For the auras, you’re obviously going to want to keep them up as much as possible, both for your teammates and for yourself. While I do have a whistle bind for announcing to bunch up, I also don’t want to be the buzz kill if my team is running so well that we’re not pausing between groups. I’ll just maneuver myself to get as good a coverage as I can, and let them roll. I have seen people who have binds announcing that they’re rolling buffs in a number of seconds, and I keep meaning to change mine to do that, but have not yet.
Clear mind deserves a discussion all of its own. With its short duration, it’s almost more valuable as a release than a preventative. If you’re feeling particularly worried, you can keep it on your squishies, the non-melee classes rarely have mez protection of their own. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your melee sets is a big boon, as some melee mez protections have holes you can chink with clear mind in certain situations. As a rule I leave the melees to their own devices unless I know they can benefit from it with that particular enemy group or if they ask for it. The player running the character likely knows their own vulnerabilities.
Fortitude and Adrenaline boost can be both offensive and defensive in nature, so they take the most finesse to use properly. Fortitude can help sidekicked lowbies who struggle to hit, squishies, resist based and regen characters to layer defenses, and can also be a stop gap for unusual damage types such as toxic or psychic. Adrenalin Boost is great for the person who didn’t manage to get your RAs, defense based characters to layer defenses, someone who jumped the gun and used an awaken (hit them with clear mind first) and really anyone who wants to heal quicker, recover end quicker, and have their favorite powers cycle faster. If I have a lone kinetics character in the team, I’ll keep it on them if they keep the rest of us in speed boost. Keep an eye on everyone’s health bars, if you’re finding that one person is requiring a lot of your attention, hitting them with one or the other, or maybe even both buffs can take some of the pressure off you. This is something that you’ll have to take the temperature of with every new group you play with, and may change depending on what you’re fighting.
Be careful of tunnel vision. It’s easy to become oblivious to everything but the team window, or to zone so much into finding the one character who suddenly dropped that you put yourself in harms way or are unable to react to something on the field. I play fairly zoomed out if the map geometry allows so I can keep track of where everyone is, because while blasting is not my primary method of mitigating damage, sometimes it is the best option, and I won’t know that unless I know what’s going on.
Above all - do not chase people. If someone wanders away, remind them that your powers are line of sight. After that, wash your hands of them. They want to be healed or buffed, they can come to you. Chasing a wayward party member is a good way to get yourself and possibly your team wiped. Stay with your party. If you have to, announce that you’re staying with a particular party member, likely whoever has taken the tanking role, if anyone, or the person cursed with the star. That will make it clear where people can expect to find you.
Lastly, remember you are one member of a team. You cannot single-handedly save a reckless team from themselves. A certain amount of recklessness can be fun, but if you are having to do nothing but chain heal, and nothing else you’re doing is helping, either have a word with your team as to what you can do as a team to play safer, or find a new team. The onus is not solely on you to protect the whole team. This is a game, it’s supposed to be fun. Don’t continue doing something you’re not enjoying.
I hope all this was helpful. You can probably find @LadyMage on any server, as I have tested the waters in most of our communities, but I make Rebirth my new home. I don’t mind answering questions if you have any.