Choosing the right class for yourself in Path of Exile is not an easy choice. Not only are there a plethora of exiles to select from, but the versatility of the game’s skills system means that specializations aren’t exclusive to any of them. Well, sort of. This guide will dive into how exactly this skill freedom works, highlight the best classes you should be picking right now, and provide build recommendations to make the most of your time in Path of Exile: Ultimatum and beyond.
Path of Exiles Classes – How Does Versatility Impact Your Choices?
The free-to-play dungeon crawler from developer Grinding Gear Games has its own way of dealing with skills. Rather than being unlocks, skills are tied to gems, which are slotted into your equipment. These gems are categorized in colors to represent one particular stat. Red for Strength, green for Dexterity, and blue for Intelligence. But the most interesting aspect comes from the versatility of the system, as classes can equip any skill gems.
This freedom opens up many possibilities when choosing a class. The tankiness and raw strength of the Marauder fits into the usual Tank/DPS stereotype. But nothing prevents it from, for example, equipping a bow with green skill gems or a wand with blue skill gems.
Does this mean you can just choose any class and mold it to fit your playstyle? To some extent, yes, but classes in Path of Exile exist for a reason. Each class’ base stats will always support the correspondent archetype — higher strength for the Marauder, higher intelligence for the Witch — which is a great advantage to have if you already have a certain build in mind (more on this later).
Your choice will also impact the way your character evolves and becomes stronger over time. If you aren’t aware of it already, PoE is famously known for its massive passive skill tree. The tree isn’t unique to each class, but instead, classes start on different paths of the tree. The varying starting locations guarantee that whenever you level up, the passive skills you will stumble upon at first are all tied to your class. As you start branching out, different types of skills begin to appear, and that’s where you can further customize (or mess up!) your build.
In summary, you’re granted unusual freedom from the get-go, so it’s highly encouraged to just create different characters and experiment. Once you’ve learned the basics of how the game operates and what to expect from its many features, it’s time to get more specific with builds.
Best Classes and Builds – Path of Exile Ultimatum League
Now that we have a solid grasp of how classes work in Path of Exile, we can start getting into Ascendancy Classes. We’ve mentioned them before, but in summary, Ascendancy Classes are basically subclasses. Each base class has three ascendancy variants which are unlocked by completing specific trials in the game.
Ascendancies expand on the strengths of each class, and it’s with them that you can see the full potential of sticking to certain weapons, armor and even skill gem sets. Each Ascendancy opens up a new passive skill tree, thus experimentation becomes a bit more limited when you’re focusing on one of these paths. But that’s exactly what you want when pursuing builds.
Bear in mind that we’ll be doing overviews of each class alongside build recommendations, whereas specific passive abilities will be showcased using Path of Building, a community-based build planner that also provides recommendations on skills and gems. In order to make it more streamlined, we’ve included templates for each of the builds.
Assassin – Poison Blade Vortex Build
Let’s begin with the fastest of the bunch. The Shadow class excels at dexterity, translating to fast movement and attack speed, with a high chance to dodge attacks or deal critical damage, depending on your specialization. We found the Assassin ascendancy to be an interesting choice as an offensive class focused on critical hits and poison themed skills.
It’s quick and deadly, which already makes for an appealing premise, but the use of poison is the highlight here. Looking into the class’ ascendancy tree, there are two in particular that can support one of the most well known builds of the game for several leagues in a row. Noxious Strike increases your chance to poison on hit while also elevating the poison duration on enemies. At the same time it also boosts your damage over time multiplier (so you can sustain it) and gives you the ability to recover health for every poisoned enemy that dies by your hand.
As the name implies, the Poison Blade Vortex build capitalizes on this damage. It’s also based upon Blade Vortex, a skill gem that creates flying blades that orbit around the character for a couple seconds. This, of course, can be stacked multiple times, increasing the duration and damage simultaneously.
When paired up with Withering Step and Plague Bearer, the Assassin can move through enemy mobs without much effort, killing everything in their path. It’s important to learn the timing of the three skills in order to optimize their use — Plague Bearer has to be active at almost all times, while Withering Step has a cooldown that intertwines with Blade Vortex. Sourced Path of Building (Fork) can be found here.
Elementalist – Carrion Golem Build
Some players consider the Necromancer class and minion-based builds to be rather boring. Don’t let this deter you though. They can be a good way to learn the ropes of the game without needing to worry about the complexity of other classes. Whereas others have you juggling between several skills or forcing you to keep moving, summoning a group of minions to do the job for you makes things easier and that’s what we’ll be focusing on for this entry.
The Witch will become a Necromancer, Occultist, or Elementalist through its ascendancies. Each expands upon the bonuses to Intelligence the class has from scratch, but fewer things in the world are cooler than golems, so we went for the Elementalist. With it you have a damage boost across the different elemental ailments, and of course, golem-related skills to increase how long they can put up a fight, as well as the bonuses from having them tagging along.
The Carrion Golem build starts off using the skill of the same name, summoning a creature that can attack independently and will stand on its feet longer than your usual zombie minion. You still want to have both spectres and zombies in your party though since the golems benefit from having them in the group as well. The ascendancy passive skills you choose will focus on the big folks, however.
Liege of the Primordial and Elemancer are your top priorities here. Once you have both of them, you’ll be able to summon up to six golems at the time instead of the usual four and also get tons of other bonuses. Your golems will be immune to elemental damage, the buffs for both you and them get increased, and the overall damage will go higher as a result as well. Most importantly, whenever any of them gets killed, resummoning only takes four seconds. Sourced Path of Building (Fork) can be found here.
Hierophant – Freezing Pulse Totems Build
Even when using two-handed swords and bows, Intelligence-based classes can make great use of totems. In Path of Exile, totems don’t just provide passive buffs. They can attack enemies, cast auras, and even use spells from skill gems. Once placed on the ground they work independently and have a health bar that will destroy them when depleted. Having a group of these summons can lead to some unexpected results, and this is where the Hierophant excels.
The Templar is an intriguing class from the start. In practice, the class finds itself in between the Marauder (Strength) and the Witch (Intelligence), working as a hybrid class. As a result, all three subclasses are quite different from one another. The Hierophant is great if you’re interested in spell casting using totems, boasting a huge mana pool that becomes more important than your character’s health as it serves as the base for everything.
Freezing Pulse is a spell skill that launches a frozen projectile that deals cold damage, and also pierces through enemies, with a chance to freeze them entirely as well. It’s incredibly powerful and satisfying to use. Placing multiple totems with this skill is even more gratifying, amplifying your range and damage output.
In a similar fashion to the Elementalist’s golems, we’re going to be focusing on the ascendancy passive skills centered around totems. Pursuit of Faith increases the maximum number of summoned totems, lengthens their duration, and boosts how quickly they’re placed on the ground. Ritual of Awakening is the perfect companion to that, improving your damage and regenerating both mana and health for each summoned totem. It’s a different build compared to the others, but can lead to an interesting playstyle that fits Path of Exile’s frenziness rather well. Sourced Path of Building (Fork) can be found here.
Deadeye – Toxic Rain Build
Toxic Rain has been a popular skill gem for the Duelist and Ranger subclasses across multiple leagues.It continues to be rampant. This time around we have our eyes set on the Ranger’s Deadeye ascendancy which is great for using bows. This class excels at projectile skills and that’s exactly what we’ll need for the build at hand.
The title of the skill is rather self-explanatory: while using bows, the character will fire arrows into the air, causing them to rain down on the targeted area. In addition, projectiles hitting the ground lead to so-called spore pods, dealing chaos damage over time and slowing down the movement speed of affected enemies. It’s a powerful skill on its own, but can be further increased thanks to the Deadeye’s capabilities.
Before getting into ascendancy passive skills, alongside Toxic Rain you’re gonna want to look for Mirage Archer. This is a support gem, meaning that it has to be linked to a skill gem. Doing so will summon a mimic of your character that repeats the attached skill you trigger, which is Toxic Rain in this case. It’s not only cool but also extremely useful to have.
When paired up with Gathering Winds (giving you the Tailwind buff that increases action speed every time you trigger Toxic Rain) and Occupying Force (increasing the number of Mirage Archers up to 3 at the time), the Deadeye finds itself in an interesting position. Enemies won’t die automatically and you constantly have to keep on moving. But being able to summon multiple archers that act similarly to totems (as Occupying Force detaches them from your character) creates a brilliant dynamic. Sourced Path of Building (Fork) can be found here.