Experimenting with custom builds is part of the fun of PoE, but making a successful build is a complex process. There are many issues to consider, and planning your build will likely take hours of research if you’re new to PoE. When I first started playing PoE I was unfamiliar with its intricacies, and I learned the hard way this game is unforgiving for players who treat it like all the other ARPGs. After hundreds of hours played, I’m still learning new things and continue to enjoy this marvelous game. This guide is for new players. Pros won’t find anything here they don’t already know. To be clear, this guide is about the process of making a build, not a pro build guide for a specific class.
How to Make a Build for Beginners
I’m not an expert at PoE, but I’ve learned a few things about making builds through experimenting on my own. I’ve read through build guides and watched videos, but I’ve always made and played my own builds. This guide is by no means the only or best way to make a build. Rather, this is a summary of my own process.
Some players create builds based on specific unique items, others begin with a certain skill and seek to explore its maximum potential, and some builds are for specific end-game content. There are many methods for making builds, but I’m going to share what works for me, and what I think is a straightforward method for new PoE players. After endless tinkering with custom builds – most of them unsuccessful – I’ve finally developed a process that’s increased my knowledge of the game and how to play it.
There is one really important factor to making a build if you’re a PoE noob – RESEARCH! The PoE Wiki is your friend. If you’re unwilling or don’t have the time to research the many facets involved in making your build, then perhaps you should go with an established online build guide instead.
Never assume anything about PoE. Making a build without a comprehensive understanding of everything involved in the build, including skill gems, passives, gear, etc. means you’re probably making a lot of mistakes and the build won’t work as anticipated. Do yourself a favor and research the sh!t out of this game. It takes hours and hours, but the more you know about PoE the more you’ll enjoy it and appreciate its depth.
STEP 1 – Select Your Format
Your first decision is which format do you want to play – Standard or League.
For league play you’ll need a build that levels fast because leagues typically reset every four months. At the beginning of a new league everyone starts out with literally nothing. However, a trading economy soon develops and eventually players can get pretty much any gear they want – if they can afford it. When a league resets, all your characters and stash are transferred to Standard format. If you enjoy fast paced gaming, diving into new content, and competing with other players to complete challenges, then league play is probably a good choice for you.
Standard format is ‘eternal’, meaning you can play a character without the pressure of a looming league reset. As someone with relatively limited time to play PoE, I decided that Standard format is better suited for me. I enjoy doing things at my own pace, and I often get the itch to try new builds while I still have characters in development. It’s fun for me, but it’s not an efficient way to play in a League.
There are also Hardcore and Solo Self-Found (SSF) options. Hardcore builds are yet another way to make a character. If you enjoy the challenge and extreme pressure of not dying in PoE, then Hardcore is right for you. If you want to play PoE as a purely solo venture (no trading economy), dependent on your own crafting and RNG for gear, then SSF is a suitable choice.
Do what feels right for you and play the game the way you enjoy.
STEP 2 – Ascendancy Skills
Lets Begin at the End
There are so many options in PoE that one of the biggest challenges to making your own build is deciding how to begin. Personally, I like to begin by selecting a class ascendancy. Obviously, certain classes are structured for melee, ranged, or spells, but there’s a lot of potential crossover for classes and playstyles. For me, the class ascendancy helps narrow the overwhelming build options, and it helps me plan the build from start to finish.
I’ve also found that rather than trying to force my preconceived ideas for a build into an ascendancy, I’ve had more success by keeping an open mind and letting the ascendancy skills guide the process. This was an important epiphany for me to elevate my builds from craptastic to actually playable because it encourages synergy throughout the development of your build.
A typical class ascendancy has two main skill paths and two minor skill paths. Main skill paths tend to be more specific in focus and usually consist of 4 linked skills, while minor skill paths tend to offer a bit more flexibility or utility and consist of 2 linked skills. Keep in mind that you’ll probably get your first two ascendancy points around level 40ish, and more pairs of points around level 60ish & 75ish. The last set of ascendancy points you might not get until level 80ish or higher. So plan accordingly while leveling your character.
Selecting ascendancy skills should provide a strong indication of what the build needs for passives and skill gems. I like to search the passive tree for nodes related to each ascendancy skill. This gives me an idea about how easy or difficult it is to path to the nodes I need to complement the ascendancy skills. Certain ascendancy skills might seem like a perfect match, but the passive tree nodes you need are spread out all over the place. While this shouldn’t be the only factor in selecting ascendancy skills, it certainly helps me understand the relationship between the passive tree and the ascendancy skills I want for my build.
So, which ascendancy skills should we choose? I suggest dividing the ascendancy skills into 4 points of offense and 4 points of defense/utility skills. I also suggest you prioritize your ascendancy skills and determine exactly in which order you want to acquire them. Generally, if your build is tanky and relies on certain ascendancy skills for important offense boosts, then prioritize those skills first. On the other hand, if your build is a bit squishy, then you should prioritize defense ascendancy skills first.
STEP 3 – Skill Gems
There are so many skill gems, and GGG is always cooking up new skills and revising old skills. How do we narrow our options for choosing a skill gem for our build, and why are we doing this before we complete our passive tree?
Usually, your selection of skill gems has a huge impact on the nodes you select in the passive tree. It’s also not uncommon to have two sets of different attack skill gems in weapons you can swap, one for clearing packs of mobs, and another for killing bosses. Ideally we can do both with one set of skill gems, but that’s not always possible.
When selecting skill gems, always pay close attention to several factors, and I again suggest checking every detail of skill gems on the PoE Wiki. There are a lot of good tips and suggestions on most of the skill gems. It takes time to research so many skill gems, but PoE is all about details, and learning all the details makes you a better player with better builds.
What character level is the skill gem?
I’m referring to the required character level to use the gem. You need something for the early game, and it’s possible you might continue using that skill gem for your entire build. It’s also possible the skill gem you really want for your build isn’t usable until level 30ish, so what will you do until then?
What base stats (Intelligence, Dexterity, Strength) are required to use the gem?
Check the gem level 1 through 20 base stat requirements if it’s a skill gem you plan on developing all the way into the late game. It really sucks when you’re unable to even socket a gem or continue leveling an important skill gem because you didn’t consider the base stat requirements. Plan accordingly with proper gear and passive tree bonuses to your base stats! Also keep in mind that you might not need all your skill gems at level 20. Maybe you only need or want to invest the minimum base stats necessary just to equip the gem at level 1 and keep it that way.
What type of weapon is required to use the skill gem, and what kind of base stats are required to use that type of weapon?
When you’re not totally familiar with all the available skill gems it’s easy to mistakenly plan a build based on a weapon type that’s incompatible with your selected skill gem, or a weapon type with base stat requirements contrary to the base stat requirements of the skill gem. It’s easier, although not absolutely necessary, to make a build when the base stat requirements for the skill gems match the base stat requirements for your preferred weapon and gear.
What is the damage effectiveness % of the gem?
Attack and spell skill gems have a damage effectiveness % modifier, meaning that some skills get a 200% or higher bonus, while others only have 25%. This means if you have a weapon with a +10 damage bonus with a skill gem at 100% damage effectiveness, the +10 damage bonus stays a +10 bonus. But if you have a skill gem with 200% damage effectiveness, the +10 bonus is essentially doubled to +20! This is true for most damage modifiers on all of your gear.
Generally, skill gems with single targets or small AoE have higher damage effectiveness % modifiers, while skill gems capable of hitting wide areas have lower damage effectiveness % modifiers, but there are notable exceptions. Consider how to maximize the damage effectiveness of your attack skills, and don’t be dissuaded by skill gems with low damage effectiveness %. Certain skill gems are so powerful they need a low damage effectiveness % for balance.
How do you acquire the skill gem?
Through a quest reward, vendor, or otherwise? Certain gems are drops only.
What tags are associated with the skill gem?
There are many different tags, and they are important for linking support gems and selecting passive tree nodes relevant for your main skill gems. If you don’t know what a certain tag means, look it up on the wiki – it might be crucial to the viability of your build! More tags doesnt necessarily mean a skill gem is better, rather it’s a more complicated gem.
How exactly does the skill gem function and what are its mechanics?
Again, PoE Wiki is invaluable in this regard. A really important thing to research is if the skill gem ‘hits’ enemies, as many support skill gems depend on the active skill gem making a ‘hit’. This is not always clearly explained in the skill gem description shown on the skill gem infographic.
Is the skill gem good at clearing packs or single targets?
In the early game, my suggestion is to use a skill gem with AoE, splash, or multi-hits that’s good at clearing packs. A single target skill gem is only viable in the early game if you can immediately link it with a support gem that has AoE, splash, or multi-hit options. In other words, it’s easier if the skill gem already has the capability to hit several targets without relying on support gems.
STEP 4 – Passive Tree
Most builds plan on enough passive points up to level 90, which is typically 113 points if you kill all the bandits for the 2 bonus points. However, leveling up to 90 takes a long time unless you’re an efficient and dedicated daily player. Leveling up to the max of 100 is something only the most dedicated players are willing to do, and most builds don’t include passive tree points up to level 100. I tend to plan the most essential parts of my builds with 103 points up to level 80, with the understanding that the last 10 points will gradually trickle in as I grind up to level 90 and 113 points.
Based on the ascendancy skills, the skill gems, and the base stat requirements for gems and gear, it’s time to figure out how to make an efficient path on the passive tree. Here are some general suggestions about planning your passive tree path…
Stay focused on the needs of the ascendancy skills, skill gems, and gear.
One of my favorite things about PoE is the passive tree. I enjoy just looking at it. There are so many possibilities, but also many ways to get sidetracked on your build. You can’t have everything you want on the passive tree, so you need to really focus on the few things your build truly needs! Make every point count.
How to Path on the Passive Tree?
Generally, I try to develop the branches (the nodes with +10 bonus to a base stat) of my passive tree build before developing the node clusters attached to those branches. After establishing the branches, you have access to all the offense and life or utility nodes for your build when you need them. Of course there will be some exceptions, but completing every relevant node cluster along your path before establishing the branches slows down your progress. Then when you need to increase life or offense/defense it takes several levels to extend the branches to get it.
Establishing the branches of your passive tree first also helps build up your base stats, which means you don’t have to worry as much about the base stat requirements for skill gems and gear while leveling. Additionally, increasing your base stats first helps develop the main mechanics of your build, like mana, life, evasion, accuracy, etc.
How much offense do I need?
I typically devote 40ish points to my offense nodes, with the rest of the points for life and utility options. I also try to path to a few of my offense nodes, or skill gem related nodes, early in the game. In the very early game you don’t need to be a tank, and a fledgling offense on the passive tree helps level your character much faster.
Another consideration for offense is damage type. There are many types of damage, and it helps to focus on one type of damage or multiple damage types that work together on the passive tree. For example, nodes for projectile damage and bow damage for a ranged build, or dagger damage and one-handed melee weapon damage for a melee build. The PoE Wiki usually lists which types of damage increase the dps of skills. More research!
How much life do I need?
This depends on several factors, including if you’re making an energy shield (ES) build instead of a life build, but generally I like to aim for about 200% life bonus for melee/tanky builds, and about 150% to 175% for non-melee builds. Certain areas of the passive tree are kind of sparse with life nodes, so it may take a lot of points to path to the life bonuses you need for the build.
A good rule of thumb is to have 300 life for each Act, so upon finishing Act 10 you have 3K life. Combining life increases from the passive tree with life increases on your gear, you should be able to attain 300 life per Act without much difficulty. Many PoE noobs complain about getting one-shot deaths from unique and rare monsters, and it’s often because of their paltry life total.
To Keystone, or not to Keystone?
The Keystones are the largest nodes on the tree, and they dramatically alter the mechanics of the game. Before establishing your path on the passive tree, you need to determine which, if any, Keystones are absolutely necessary for your build. Don’t feel like you must include Keystones in your passive tree, but certain builds simply won’t work without them. Most of my builds typically have 1 to 4 Keystone nodes.
Run the Jewels
How many jewel sockets do you need on the passive tree? This really depends on the specific needs of a build, but generally I don’t go out of my way to path to jewel sockets. If there happens to be a jewel socket just one or two nodes away from my main path, then maybe I’ll include it if I’ve already covered all the other needs of the build like life and offense. Most of my builds have 0 to 3 jewel sockets, but similar to making a build based on specific unique gear, you can make a build based on several specific ‘unique’ jewels. Keep in mind that some unique jewels are limited to only 1 or 2 jewel sockets in the passive tree. Do your research!
While planning your passive tree path, it should evolve as you add the necessary nodes for the build. It’s not unusual for me while planning my build to ‘finish’ a 113 point passive tree, then go back and find ways to make a more efficient path with fewer points. Many builds tend to have a few main branches, with relevant node clusters attached to those branches. The most common reasons for sprawling paths on the passive tree are to get life nodes, power/endurance/frenzy charge nodes, specific nodes for weapon/damage types, or nodes that complement your skill gems.
STEP 5 – Gear
As mentioned earlier in the guide, some builds are based solely around specific unique items. I enjoy crafting gear and collecting unique drops rather than trading for unique items, but that’s just my solo self found preference. If you enjoy trading and selling items, then you should definitely research unique items to complement your build.
Similar to passive tree Keystones, some unique items totally change the game mechanics or sidestep certain restrictions. Don’t assume you need high level or expensive unique items for your build. Many low level uniques have amazing abilities or modifiers, and many uniques are quite affordable. For example, you might plan on unique items with redundant abilities from your passive tree, which means you can go back and free up those passive tree points for something else. Or you might find unique items that stack modifiers or important abilities for your build. You might end up not finding any uniques specifically well suited for your build and that’s ok! Sometimes rares can be even more powerful than uniques and there’s an infinite variety of rare gear in PoE.
Most game mechanics and abilities described in the PoE Wiki include a list of related unique items. Want to make the ultimate frenzy charge build with unique gear? Check the PoE Wiki!
As a general suggestion, I like gear which includes a hefty amount of life (or ES if going that route) and resists. I often craft extra life and resists – especially chaos resist – onto my rares to fill in any gaps in my life total and defense.
STEP 6 – Plan it Out!
Alright, you’ve figured out the ascendancy skills, skill gems, passive tree, and gear for your build. You have all that stuff memorized right? It helps me a lot to make a diagram of how my build will develop as I level up my character. I like to take screen shots of the skill gem and support gem descriptions and arrange them based on character level requirements so I have a better understanding of the development of my build. I also add up all the reserved mana necessary for auras, curses, etc., and make notes of the required base stats for skills and gear. Then I go back and check the passive tree to make sure I’m meeting all the necessary requirements for everything to work.
Resources like Path of Builder, PoE Planner, and Mikelat’s Aura Calculator, etc. are incredibly helpful for double checking the details of your build. It’s also a good idea to get other opinions on your builds. Even seasoned players make mistakes or misunderstand how certain things work when testing a new build. The PoE build forum is active and helpful, and even Steam has some helpful resources. If you have any friends who play PoE, ask their opinions of your build. There are so many possibilities in PoE it’s quite likely you’re overlooking opportunities to min/max your build and make it as good as possible. Be willing to listen to advice when it’s given and don’t respond like a crybaby if someone rips your craptastic build.
Whatever process works for you, it’s worth the time to plan it out and double check all the details of your build before spending hours and hours leveling up your character only to discover you made a major mistake and have to start over.
Good luck Exile!
More of this sort of thing:
- Path of Exile: Inventory Management & Item Evaluation Tips
- Path of Exile: Beginner’s Luck Achievement Guide
- Path of Exile: Controls & Hotkeys