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Dark Souls 3: Breaking the Tank

Hey there, I've been playing a bunch of Dark Souls 3 recently, and have been enjoying it immensely. However, while playing it seems like one of my favorite builds in DS is not quite as useful as it used to be. In fact I would argue that its almost completely useless in DS3.

The build I'm referring to is the classic Tank build of course. The build where you wear heavy armor, big shields, big weapons, and do little damage, but you survive huge hits by being like a giant rock. Every fight in this build is a battle of attrition, you don't do a ton of damage, but neither do they.

Now it's hard to talk about something being broken in dark souls games without being accused of just complaining due to losing fights. So to sidestep the subjective feelings on Tank builds, I decided to do some frigging math.

What follows is a quick and dirty mathematical breakdown of how much the "Equip Load Tank Build" really does just suck in DS3.

Lets do some math

So to do this math we need to understand the damage formula and how it interacts with various defense values. The first important thing is understanding how you even get armor numbers. There are two sources of armor in the game:

  1. Damage Reduction from your stats. This is gained from your soul levels or from points in VIT. Every couple of SL you'll automatically get some DR, while points in END will give you more DR per level. This number is unaffected by the type of armor you wear, just that you wear armor. The number of pieces of armor you wear affect how much of this DR you get, if you wear all 4 you get 100% of it. This number is a flat damage reduction. I.e. it just subtracts from the damage that would have been done to you directly
  2. Absorption from your armor. This is the only thing your armor contributes to the damage formula. This is a % reduction in damage and is applied after the flat damage reduction is applied. Some people claim that it has diminishing returns past 20%, but my testing did not prove this out.

With that in mind I went out and tested some damage to confirm the damage formula. This formula is guessed to be: (Damage - DR) * (1 - %of reduction).

I did this by standing and taking fireballs to the face, and calculating the damage. Why fireballs? They don't crit and they had a similar damage ratio as a small dagger did from enemies in the same area.

When doing this I had three armor sets, No Armor, the Starting Armor of the Knight class, and Heavy Armor on the same level as Havels (Top Tier Weight):

  1. Armor set 1: No armor, HP after hit 402/764, DR of 77. Damage Taken: 362. Original Damage: (362/(1 - 0)) + 77 = 439
  2. Armor set 2: Knight Armor, HP after hit 517/764, DR of 131 + 22.019%. Damage Taken: 247. Original Damage: (247/(1 - .22019)) + 131 = 447
  3. Armor set 3: Heavy Armor, HP after hit 547/764, DR of 131 + 31.568%. Damage Taken: 217. Original Damage: (217/(1 - .31568)) + 131 = 448

Now obviously this is a low data set, but it gives me confidence that the damage formula works as guessed. Its the most straight forward formula and seems to provide consistent results (variance in values should be expected from random damage multipliers).

We can't extract too many conclusions from this data yet, because I had an over inflated VITstat in order to wear the 3rd armor set, which gave me a larger flat DR for the 2nd set than it would normally have. But now we have a damage formula, so we can do some more hardcore math planning here.

Now to theory craft

So for theory crafting to compare how useful the heavy armor is, were going to start with these premises:

  1. We will do the math for 450, 900, and 1350 base damage. These represent a small hit, a medium hit, and a major hit. Based off of the 450 fireball doing about as much damage as a quick knife hit. But now we will do the math involving physical defense of these armors.
  2. We will do the math for the minimum build you would need to wear these armor sets from deprived state (with some error since I cant get exactly the right DR values, may be off +/5 DR)
  3. We will also compare what would happen if you poured leftover stats in Vigor for HP
  4. All of these builds are assumed to have a base weight of 19.6 (From a Greatsword, Shield, and Rings, which are all light tank equipment, builds that use Greatshields or Ultra Greatswords would require even more VIT).
  5. We also will assume all builds will be using a ring that gives them a 15% increase in maximum weight
  6. While some people may be fine playing with Slow Roll, most tanks still try to achieve the medium roll, because even with the tankiest build you still need to dodge. So all math is done assuming we need a 69% weight ratio. (Not 70%, that is a slow roll)
  7. Finally our final measurement will be the number of hits one can take before dying. Anyone who is familiar with D&D or DR in other things knows that its more useful the more hits you take, so just comparing damages directly is meaningless. What's more meaningful for players is how many hits they can take before dying.

With that in mind here are the four builds we will be calculating numbers for. The required VIT numbers are calculated from the rules above, they are left as an exorcise to the reader. The corresponding flat DR values were calculated by respeccing in game, and may be off by a few points due to me not being a deprived.

  1. Armor Set 1: Basic Knight Armor, No Vigor. Weight: 45.9 VIT Required: 18. VIG: 10 HP: ~400 SL: 9 Physical DR: ~94 % Reduction: 26.557%
  2. Armor Set 2: Basic Knight Armor, Vigor. Weight: 45.9VIT Required: 18. VIG: 50 HP: 1300 SL:48 Physical DR: ~110 % Reduction: 26.557
  3. Armor Set 3: Heavy Armor, No Vigor Weight: 78.5VIT Required: 58 VIG: 0 HP: ~400 SL: 48 Physical DR: ~146 % Reduction: 31.266%
  4. Armor Set 4: Heavy Armor, Vigor Weight: 78.5 VIT Required: 58 VIG: 50 HP: 1300 SL: 88 Physical DR: ~161 % Reduction: 31.266%

There are a few things you may notice in these builds. Such as the fact that the flat DR you gain from END is noticeable, but the % reduction between armors... not so much (there's a 39 level difference between 1 and 3 and a 5% reduction difference). The final build is included as an end game build, as to reach that soul level you would need to be basically at the end of the game, with almost no bosses left. It is included to see how tank compares at the end of the spectrum.

Now that we have these builds, LETS DO SOME MATH. Starting with the 450 damage scenario.

  1. Armor Set 1: (450 - 94) * (1 - .26557) = 261. Hits till death: 2
  2. Armor Set 2: (450 - 110) * (1 - .26557) = 250 Hits till death: 6
  3. Armor Set 3: (450 - 146) * (1 - .31266) = 209 Hits till death: 2
  4. Armor Set 3: (450 - 161) * (1 - .31266) = 199 Hits till death: 7

So, looking at these numbers. the third option performs VERY BADLY. Even though its SL 48 it survives about as well as a SL 9 build! You could essentially pump into VIT for half of the game and practically make no actual progress towards being tankier (not even counting that finding heavy armor in the game is a pain).

The fourth build also doesn't perform spectacularly when compared against its analog: build 2. You only get 1 more hit before dying for a difference in 40 levels. That's 40 levels you aren't pumping more into HP or into Stamina, Strength, or Dex. Is that single hit really worth that many levels?

But lets do some more math, this time with 900 damage:

  1. Armor Set 1: (900 - 94) * (1 - .26557) = 592. Hits till death: 1
  2. Armor Set 2: (900 - 110) * (1 - .26557) = 580 Hits till death: 3
  3. Armor Set 3: (900 - 146) * (1 - .31266) = 518 Hits till death: 1
  4. Armor Set 4: (900 - 161) * (1 - .31266) = 508 Hits till death: 3

Weirdly enough this basically susses out to the same as above, except that build 4 actually performs worse. This makes sense on some level, flat damage reduction is better for smaller quicker hits, and while the % reduction is more it doesn't eclipse the flat DR at this level.

Let's look at the last scenario. These are like BOSS levels of damage, so hopefully the fourth option here performs better:

  1. Armor Set 1: (1350 - 94) * (1 - .26557) = 922. Hits till death: 1
  2. Armor Set 2: (1350 - 110) * (1 - .26557) = 911. Hits till death: 2
  3. Armor Set 3: (1350 - 146) * ( 1 - .31266) = 828. Hits till death: 1
  4. Armor Set 4: (1350 - 161) * (1 - .31266) = 817. Hits till death: 2

Even at this level of damage, the reduction you get from the % reduction just doesn't outpace the extra health your getting from VIG.

Conclusion on Damage Reduction from Armor

Based off all this theoretical data, here are some conclusions I have come to:

  1. While these damage values represent end of the game levels of damage, I have a feeling that these numbers ultimately aren't that different from the early game. This is because the difference in % reduction is so small that it wouldn't be noticeable at a small level, and while you would have more flat DR, it still gets outpaced entirely by just having more health!
  2. The only situation in which the heavier armor build is better than the medium armor build has nothing to do with the armor. It's better in the first case because the flat DR from the VIT stat, and because the damage done is through small multiple hits.
  3. While at higher damage values the % damage reduction starts being noticeable (a difference of nearly 100 damage in the last scenario!), this difference just doesn't fill the gap made up by the Vigor stat. The effective number of hits you can take still remains the same. This is because the difference of 5% in reduction is just too small to make up for the stat gaps.
  4. Endurance is basically a useless stat until you've maxed your other stats. Once you've maxed out HP then endurance will be the only way to get reduced damage, but until then it's really just not worth focusing on.
  5. Going down the endurance path will lead to incredibly unsatisfying progression. This is because unlike other stats it's benefits aren't linear! While you get some flat DR from it, you really don't see a big difference in using it until you hit a point where it lets you wear new armor
  6. If your willing to take a fat roll these numbers may be a bit better for you, but I doubt it. If you want to take the fat roll, you'd need less VIT to be able to wear these armors, but If I were to take a guess, I think having fat roll would hurt you more than you'd benefit from a lower SL here (especially since you'd miss out on flat DR from extra VIT, the one area it did improve!)
  7. Focusing on this stat makes blocking/dodging harder. This is because you have to focus on VIT or VIG, but there is a third stat essential to tank builds: Endurance. In Dark Souls 3 monsters tear through your stamina while blocking with your shield, if you want to be able to block at all you'll need to pump some levels into stamina, making this build even more unfeasible.
  8. Finally this isn't even a full tank build. Most full tank builds in other games included a great shield (Havels) and a heavy weapon, which would require even more VIT.

So from all this the only conclusion I can come to is: If your on your first run through DS3 and are used to playing a tank build, just level up your vitality enough to not slow roll on some medium armor, then ignore it. You really won't get much out of it, and it will feel like your character is stagnating if you focus on it.

What about Poise?

Those of you out there who have played a lot of tank builds in the past may have noticed I left out all discussion of Poise. This is because honestly, no one knows how Poise works in Dark Souls 3 yet, so I can only really give me subjective experience on it.

For those who don't build Tank. Poise is a stat in the Souls series that determines if you can take a hit and not be interrupted. It's essential for tanks because it allows them to use slower weapons without being interrupted, and lets them do things like drink estus flasks while getting hit. Which is essential when your fat rolling or when your just not doing a lot of damage (a lot of tank fights are battles of attrition).

Poise in DS1 and DS2 is rather simple. Your character has a poise value determined by their armor, that poise value is a meter that gets drained every time your hit. Different kinds of attacks drain poise differently, and it refills over time. If your poise drops to 0 you get stunned (enemies get free hits on you), and your poise gauge immediately refills. DS2 introduced "Hyper Poise" as well, which is a mechanic that temporarily boosts your poise value while swinging certain weapons. They use this to essentially make it so those HUGE slow weapons are harder to interrupt.

Now in those games the values for poise on the high end were somewhere in the ~100 range (Havels Set in DS2 gave 132 poise), and attacks would do in the range of 5-30 poise damage depending on the type of weapon. It was possible to take hits from bosses and still not get knocked out of animations. This was essential for tank builds in boss fights as it let them heal mid hit.

Now in Dark Souls 3 the poise number seem to be much lower. The Knight armor gives you 21.68 poise, and the Heavy Armor I was using gives you 32.75.

These numbers are so much lower than they used to be that I have to hope that the system just works differently now (maybe its percentages based?), because if it worked the old way it used to then poise would essentially be useless.

So without some solid formulas all I can really give you is some anecdotal evidence, which is that poise seems to affect very little. Even with the heavy armor on I regularly get interrupted by thieves with daggers. I have to imagine its useless in boss fights. Either way it doesnt seem predictable as it was in the older games, which makes it much less useful, and the difference of 10 poise between the two armor sets really doesn't seem worth 40 Soul Levels.

Some final thoughts

From all of this above, I think I've laid out a decent case for why tank builds in DS3 are unsatisfying.

Before anyone comes into talk about how all these changes were intentional to discourage tank builds, even if you accept that premise how they achieved this is poorly designed.

In Bloodborne they achieved removing tank builds by just not giving you heavier armor, and by making all armor have trade offs. In this game there's a specific stat for being able to wear heavier armor that you can dump into, and just get nothing out of. It's easy for people who either played tank builds in old games or want to try heavier armor in this one to be tricked into essentially pouring stats into a useless area.

It feels like in this game they decided to make armor weight as constrictive as it was in DS1, but keep the stat changes in DS2, which results in a mess.

In Dark Souls 1, your maximum equip load was very hard to manage (there was a ring to increase it, but numbers were much lower than 2), but increasing your max load also increased your stamina. This let you be better at blocking with shields and dodging.

In Dark Souls 2, they separated equip load into its own stat to force tank characters to commit to a build, but they gave you two rings that increase your equip load and in general more soul levels to make up for the new stat. (So you could still pump your stamina for shields or health for hits)

With Dark Souls 3 they seem to have reverted to the weight balancing/soul level range of DS1 but keeping DS2s separate stat. As a result, like DS2 you have to really commit to equip load if you want to wear heavy armor, but unlike Dark Souls 2 you have to greatly sacrifice your other stats to do this, which really just makes it not worth it.

Anyways I look forward to someone who points out how I did some math wrong or Im missing some essential part of the equation that makes tanks work, but for now I've respecced my once proud tank warrior into a medium armor wearer with lots of stamina and health.