For the purpose of this guide, I'll focus on a Normal difficulty playthrough and on a general playstyle of XP efficiency. Reckoning allows for a lot of different playstyles -- although most of them involve a lot of button mashing -- so this isn't so much a guide for the best builds as it is one that is simply intended to help you choose what you'll want to work towards.
Loot. Every. Thing. A set piece can be in any chest or under any hidden pile of rocks, so look everywhere you can.
Don't worry about gold. Sell your excess baggage and the purple items you won't need, until you get a nice amount of cash. You won't likely spend a lot of money, since you'll find the equipment in the world or you'll craft it yourself. Once you have enough (a couple of hundred thousand is plenty), simply salvage everything through Blacksmithing. More about that later.
You should use the Fateshifting ability as often as possible. It can be tempting to save up Fate for that one big encounter or that one boss, just so you can get double XP for the big fish. That's smart, but just don't overdo it. More often than not, you'll save up a full Fate bar and fight through 10+ encounters just so you'll have a full bar when it will yield the highest expected bonus -- or to help you deal with finishing off that boss. In that time, you could've used your Fateshifting ability and filled up a new bar, provided you use different special attacks to generate Fate efficiently. Being conservative with your Fate bar isn't a bad thing, but after 8+ hours you'll have a good idea of how the dungeons and big quest encounters are paced, so use Fateshifting when it seems likely that you'll get plenty of chances to fill it up again.
The four abilities
One of the downsides of Reckoning's ability system is that you effectively only have access to the four abilities you map to the face buttons. You can cast sustained abilities and remap them afterwards, but it's worth keeping this in mind when you start investing in more than four abilities; there's a good chance you will never use those remnant and excess abilities from earlier in the game.
The Finesse tree
The rogue's ability tree. Meant for the sneaky and stabby-stab types, the Finesse tree is actually more about dealing damage through hit & run attacks than it is about being a thief in the purist sense.
Weapon of choice
First off, you'll want to decide whether to go for Daggers or Faeblades. To be honest, there's not a very large difference between them if you're mashing the same attack button over and over. Faeblades have a wider reach, so they tend to hit more enemies with a single combo. Faeblades also tend to do more damage than Daggers when you find them along the way, but they are slower -- if marginally so.
While it's mostly a matter of what feels best to you, my personal preference goes to the Faeblades. The dodge-attack from Precise Weaponry III lets you spin upwards and attack enemies all around you, while giving you extra Fate once you've upgraded this ability. While the Dagger's charge lets you poison more enemies in a group, the charge attack for either weapon isn't that great and doesn't usually do more damage than using that time to perform basic attacks.
If you're serious about the Finesse tree, you will also end up with a few sustained and passive Poison abilities. If you mix the Finesse and Sorcery trees you'll have enough mana to always keep Envenomed Edge -- the poison attack buff -- active at a 15% mana cost. Combine that with the wider reach of the Faeblades, and you're more likely to poison everyone in a group without ever having to think about it. Again, when it comes to just attacking enemies, there is not a huge difference between Faeblades and Daggers, so just experiment with what feels the most fun to play with.
The Arrow branch is a different story. A good bow can absolutely destroy enemies at range, but you have to pace yourself given the limited amount of arrows and the short delay before your quiver fills up again. Arrow Storm does not do a huge amount of damage so it's not a must, but you'll want to put points in every other Arrow branch ability if you're going to make an Archer character.
Sneaking and backstabbing
Being all sneaky might sound intriguing. It's not. Although you'll come across a dozen or so enemies that would be better off dispatched with backstabs so nobody notices you, Reckoning is about creating your own personal über hero. A successful one-hit backstab will save you about 10 seconds of combat at best, not counting the time required to sneak your way to your target. You can dodge while sneaking, which makes sneaking a lot faster, but in the end it's not a very effective ability to put points in. If you really want to play a rogue who assaults people from behind, you could try combining backstabs with Smoke Bombs and some of the other wide-area stun abilities found in the other ability trees, but it's not as effective as simply slicing and dicing your way through your foes.
Besides the Weapon Mastery branch and the damage output for your weapon of choice, you may want to give Shadow Flare a miss. It doesn't do a lot of damage, and being able to push away some enemies is actually counterproductive to a melee Finesse class. Why push them away when you can hit them instead? Putting one point in Shadow Flare does unlock Enduring Agony later on, which gives you a great bonus to all typical Finesse attacks.
The four abilities in the Poison branch can be a mixed bag, but the first (Envenomed Edge) and last (Paralytic Poisons) abilities in this branch are worth exploring. Not only do you get bonus damage over time, but the ability to get a chance to stun poisoned enemies later on is something that costs very little, yet gives you oh so much. Poison resistance mostly keeps you from doing less melee damage against poisonous attackers, while the ability to make the odd corpse explode in a poison cloud is not terribly useful to melee Finesse players. You'll often combo enemies away from the last corpse.
Blade Honing is a must-have for melee characters. Just getting an increase in Critical Hit damage doesn't sound like much on paper, but in practice you're going to end up with very crit-heavy weapons once you start tinkering with Sagecraft and Blacksmithing. Because Blade Honing also works for Longswords and Greatswords, it's the main reason to bother with the Finesse tree if you are focusing on a damage-heavy Might character.
Execution, the high-level passive ability, is mostly useful for Archers. You'll do passive bleeding damage with every arrow by the time you unlock this ability, and most Daggers and Faeblades don't do that much bleeding damage unless you craft them that way. Combine the fire rate of your bow with the multi-shot of your bow's charged attack, and rack up the bonus Bleeding damage.
Gambit, which lets you throw 7 traps in an area in front of you, is great for all types of players, especially ranged ones. It stalls a group of enemies for a little bit, but most of all it's a lot of fun to see them bounce from trap to trap. At 80 mana, it's also a very expensive pleasure that doesn't do very good damage by the time you unlock it.
Frost Traps, (poison and smoke) Bombs, and Lunge simply depend on your playstyle. If you're going pure Finesse, these abilities will give you the crowd control you need to manage a large battle. Bombs stun enemies and project a poison cloud once upgraded, turning you invisible in the process so you can sneak in a quick backstab, but the question is if you need enemies to be stunned. If you're fine handling groups on your own with basic attacks and dodges, you won't need these. There's something to be said for Poison Bombs since you'll inevitably have the +70% Poison effect from Enduring Agony, but the bombs are very slow to reload and require you to be near a group of enemies for maximum effect.
Frost Traps can be used to plan ahead and lure enemies into your traps, followed by ranged attacks with your Bow (or Chakrams). If you're more of an offensive type of melee player, just put your points into damage abilities instead. When building an Archer, you'll want these traps to give you the necessary breathing space between quiver reloads, though.
Lunge costs far too much mana to be effective. It reaches about twice the distance of a dodge, and after putting 5 points into it you get a measly 100 Physical Damage in return. For the melee rogues, you're better off just using the dodge-attack abilities for your Daggers or Faeblades.
In general, mana can be a problem for a pure Finesse player. Most Finesse armor doesn't give you a lot of mana or mana regeneration, but you don't really need all that much if you play smart. If you forgo spamming Bombs and Gambit, and ignore Lunge, you'll be fine with the sustained cost of keeping up your poison and critical hit buffs.
Similarly, health can be an issue if you don't have access to the Healing Surge ability from the Sorcery tree, or its bloodsucking Faer Gorta minion. If you're going pure Finesse, make sure to put some points in Alchemy for health and mana potions or, better yet, just buy a ton of them since gold is not a problem in this game.
Another option is to create your own equipment to fulfill these gaps in your build, socket specific health and mana regeneration gems into the odd useful socketable piece of armor, or use a few rings or an amulet to give you that regen. Since you'll also find more useful rings and amulets that give you bonus damage and XP, you might just want to stick with a socketable regeneration gem or the potions solution.
The Sorcery tree
I doubt I need to tell anyone how to be a mage, but there are a few nuances to the spells you can pick.
Weapon of choice
There's not a lot of choice here. The Staff is your main weapon, and your Chakrams keep groups at bay. You can use the Scepter if you must, but the mana drain for every attack is a downer. It doesn't hit and stagger groups of enemies as nicely as the Chakrams do, so you're probably better off ignoring the Scepter altogether.
The Chakrams are worth looking into for every player, as they are perhaps the most effective secondary weapon in the game. They don't seem that powerful if you focus on the stats, but they hit anyone in a long wide strip in front of you and the damage output in groups can reach ridiculous proportions. A full combo of attacks will also make the discs hit enemies in close proximity around you when they fly back from the final attack. Time it right, and you'll evade getting hit in close combat just by sticking with the Chakrams. The dodge-attack move from Arcade Weaponry IV is also a fun way to juggle anyone who happens to get in your way.
The downside is that in order to unlock the dodge-attack, you'll need a point in Arcane Weaponry III. This ability lets you do a delayed attack for your Staff and Chakrams, but it bounces you backwards when you do this with the Chakrams. This in turn puts you further away from the enemies you want to hit, but what's worse: it takes too long to recover from the dodge-attack and leaves you open to attack. Especially when in Fateshifting mode, it can happen that you try to time your Chakram attacks to hit single enemies at range and sometimes you'll accidentally do a delayed attack when you turn to swap targets. It costs precious time, so learn to work your way around it if you can.
Still, the mix of physical and elemental damage combined with the reach and damage potential make the Chakrams a worthwhile addition to any arsenal. Use some fire damage Chakrams to deal with most of the annoying enemies you want to take out at range, and never worry again. Finally, the charge attack for the Chakrams can be risky, but it gives you a lot of Fate when executed in the middle of a group of enemies.
The Faer Gorta minion is the main attraction, since it's a skeleton that gives you health while it distracts enemies and staggers them. Did I mention it's a skeleton? Trust me, you'll want one.
For the dedicated Sorcery player, the Tempest (lightning storm) is arguably the weakest spell. It takes forever to charge, doesn't have a very large radius, and the damage is not very high. If you ignore the entire Lightning branch, you can put the remaining points into Skillful Defense from the Might tree instead. However, the Storm Bolt does have the ability to stun small clusters of enemies which can be helpful to close the distance when playing with a mixed class.
If wreaking havoc with spells if your jazz, focus on Elemental Rage, Meteor, and Winter's Embrace instead. Meteor slows down the action and does massive amounts of damage. Follow it up with Elemental Rage to stagger the enemies even more, and then charge up and cast Winter's Embrace (ice storm) while they recover. If anyone is left standing, they will be slowed by the freezing attack and you can wipe them out at your leisure.
Because these three elemental damage spells only leave the Faer Gorta as the fourth ability, you probably won't use Healing Surge very often once you reach level 30+. Any small-to-medium amounts of health you lose can be returned through the Faer Gorta, and during combat you can rely on health potions to escape death.
If you are still low-level, you'll have to micromanage your spells a little bit more until you get to the massive damage dealing spells. Mark of Flame in particular requires a bit of positioning and skill. Damage-wise, your Chakrams should outperform the Storm Bolt, but as a pure Sorcery player you'll end up with points in the Storm Bolt simply to unlock the later, more useful branches. Since you have it, you might as well use it in the meantime.
Your Sorcery equipment should provide you with all the mana and mana regen you need to keep casting during any regular encounter. Some extra (elemental) resistance is always nice to keep you from worrying about the ranged spellcasters that are harder to evade, which you'll get from most types of equipment. If you want, you can tailor some socketable equipment to give you bonuses to health and mana, or elemental damage output.
I suggest just trying out what playstyle works for you, and tailoring your equipment around it. If you tend to dive into the action and take a lot of damage, add some extra health and health regen to your build. If you hardly ever get below the 50% health mark, opt for damage output instead.
The Might tree
The Might player will be slow but unstoppable. You know what a knight is, right? There you go, then.
Weapons of choice
Another case of "how you like to play" here. Personally, I found that Greatswords are where it's at as your primary weapon. The charge attack lets you mow through enemies and adds some mobility thanks to the whirlwind attack. Greatswords tend to have the second highest amount of single hit damage as well, but lack speed. Longswords are faster, but come on now. Do you want to be Eddard Stark or some hedge knight with yet another peasantly Longsword?
Hammers are a good secondary weapon because of their moveset. The do more damage than the Greatsword, but are too slow as a primary weapon. In fact, some players might find them too slow altogether. The block-attack and parry-attack can be a good counter with the Hammer, but it's far too easy to get hit by surrounding enemies. It's the same for your charge attack. On paper, it's powerful. In practice, you're going to need some time to get skilled at timing all the Hammer moves.
With 109 points in Might, you might be better off with a Hammer than a pair of Chakrams as your secondary weapon, though. You can unlock the Chakrams if you want, but the question is whether you want reach to hit those faraway foes or pure melee damage output whenever you can get away with it.
Most of the Might player's abilities are Passive, letting you focus on dishing out damage instead.
Relentless Assault is your most useful active ability, keeping you from being staggered in mid-combo. Adrenaline Surge keeps you alive when you are low on health, plus it stacks well with the Bloodlust upgrade for Relentless Assault to give you back some health through attacks.
Battle Frenzy should be active at all times. It's not so much the added damage bonus you need, but the Stoneskin and Celerity upgrades can be very helpful during large fights; it gives you that edge to stay alive and mobile. Having said that, if you're not purely speccing for a Might build, Battle Frenzy isn't always very useful unless you know you can kill a lot of enemies in a row.
Concussive Force gives you 60% bonus vs. stunned enemies, which is excellent in combination with a Smoke Bomb or the Finesse player's poison stuns. Quake on the other hand is an early skill that you might not use that often later in the game, especially once you unlock Wrath. Quake itself does too little damage, and the only benefit is being able to stun groups of enemies. Once stunned, they'll suffer bonus damage from your attacks thanks to Concussive Force. But from the moment you unlock Wrath, you can simply roll into a group, mash the assigned button to stagger the group, and then deal massive amounts of damage all around you.
If anyone is left after Wrath, throw in a War Cry to reduce their armor, or make them panic if you upgrade the ability with Terror. The downside of panic is that you'll need some Chakrams to hit them from afar unless you want to run after the little buggers.
Finally, Harpoon is simply a low-level ability to mess around with. You can use it to snatch single enemies from afar, or to close the distance to a group of larger enemies, but the damage is negligible. Since it also costs you an Ability slot, you're not likely to use this later in the game.
Arguably the best thing about a Finesse/Sorcery build is the bonus you receive from the mixed Destiny. Your dodge move is replaced with a Poison Blink (teleport) which doesn't just poison everyone in your path, but also gets you out of buggy situations when you are stuck behind an NPC. The bonus to Piercing Damage, Elemental Damage, and Critical Hits from the Destiny means you'll want to try out a Faeblade/Chakram build.
The Chakrams usually do Elemental Damage and stagger a lot of enemies in front of you. When they get close, wipe them out with your Faeblade (or Dagger) combos. Then Blink a lot and use the special attacks to gain bonus Fate so you can Fateshift more often for bonus XP.
In the process, you'll unlock the health siphoning Faer Gorta to control the crowd, meaning you won't need those points in Frost Traps or Bombs. Casting costs will also be low thanks to points in the Sorcery tree, and you'll have enough mana to sustain your active melee buffs from the Finesse tree. The downside to this build is that it can become a bit repetitive. Any direct damage spell from the Sorcery tree pales in comparison to the damage output from your weapons, and at best you'll hurl a lightning bolt here and there since you put a point in there to progress through the Sorcery tree. Because you won't have the required amount of ability points to unlock the high level fire and ice attacks, a lot of the battles are going to feel the same; expect a lot of button mashing and looking awesome while doing it.
A more radical approach is to just ignore all the melee Weapon Mastery abilities from the Finesse tree in favor of bow abilities, and put points in the Sorcery tree to unlock Chakram bonuses, the upgraded Faer Gorta, and the Spheres of Protection. That way you usually don't have to worry about health, and it only costs you 80 mana once in a while to summon the critter again. The big drawbacks for this build are that you require a high level character to get the most out of this build, the lack of melee damage output, and the amount of points you'll have to put into Sorcery just to get that Faer Gorta and failsafe shield. You'll also lack the points to become a master Archer since you will no longer be able to unlock the ultimate Finesse Destiny which gives you the bonus to ranged damage. If you want to go ranged, you're better off focusing on damage output in the Finesse tree and Destinies.
If you're feeling particularly risky, combine your Faeblades or Daggers with the Might tree. What you'll want to go for here is the Battle Frenzy ability to deal increased damage as you slay enemies, and the upgraded Relentless Assault ability so you won't get interrupted and steal health with your quick strikes. The Finesse weapons will give you the speed to dish out a lot of damage, and since you won't put any points into any of the Might tree's weapon masteries, you'll gain some more durability from the other abilities. After all, you need to put points into something in order to unlock the higher level Might abilities.
When you do run out of health, Adrenaline Surge kicks in to let you deal even more damage, at which point you can simply use Relentless Assault again to steal that health back. The reason for the Finesse weapons is that they are simply faster and tend to keep you close to your enemies, whereas the Greatsword will usually make encounters with more agile enemies very annoying. You won't die easily, but in order to benefit from a Battle Frenzy trigger it's better to stay close to your foes. The Piercing Damage from your weapons offsets the lack of a War Cry Might ability that reduces enemy armor, and the bonus to Critical Hits from the upgraded Adrenaline Surge is a killer combination with your crit-heavy weapons. For even more damage, throw a Smoke Bomb to stun a group and then destroy them with your +60% damage bonus against stunned enemies from Concussive Force. Ouch!
This build has a few options. Pick your favorite Might weapon (Greatsword/Longsword/Hammer) and combine it with either the Scepter or the Chakrams as your ranged secondary weapon. You'll still want your typical Might build with extra health, resistance, and Relentless Assault. Battle Frenzy is an option, but with a slow weapon you might not find that much use for it depending on what types of enemies you are fighting.
For the Sorcery tree, choose between an elemental branch or the trusty Faer Gorta. You should be beefy enough to not require the minion to distract anyone in combat, and he costs a lot of points to become effective. At best, you'll unlock Elemental Rage or Tempest -- the latter of which takes too long to cast to be effective for my liking. The benefit of going for Tempest is being able to use the Storm Bolt to stun enemies and close the distance.
The Sphere of Protection might be a bit overkill unless you want to play as a tank. If you ask me, the Mark of Flame is too much hassle to cast and activate on a group, so why not try out the upgrade for Ice Barrage? Frostshackle increases damage, and adds to the freezing effect you could craft into your Might weapon. Enemies all around you will be even slower while your damage keeps increasing thanks to your Might abilities. Slow and steady wins the day!
As the Jack of All Trades, you're going to lose out on some of the more fun high-end abilities in each tree. At best, you'll wield a Might weapon for close range melee in combination with some Chakrams for long-range group attacks. You won't have enough points to fully unlock the Arrow branch, the Faer Gorta minion, or the elemental spells.
The Universalist Destiny gives you a trophy/achievement and unlocks all the Weapon Mastery branches, meaning you can tailor your last few skill points to fit your weapons and attacks of choice. The +20% damage bonus to melee, ranged, and magic attacks is nice, but you'll likely find more enjoyment in focusing on two ability trees at the most -- if you want variety, just respec your build.
Whatever class you'll tailor for yourself, you'll want a few skills maxed out as soon as possible. In particular, Blacksmithing and Sagecrafting. Once you have enough cash from selling equipment (200K should be enough), start salvaging every single item you can. The most powerful equipment has to be crafted, especially if you are going on a melee route. I've seen a build that crit for over 3 million damage on the official forums, which is about 1,000 times more powerful than you need to be on Normal difficulty.
Damage % components (Improved or Master Damaging Bindings) are a must, and for a nice overview of which weapons use what kind of components, check out this Wiki entry.
One trick people seem to use a lot is saving, salvaging an item with the specs they want in a component, and reloading until they get a component with the right specs. Another option is to insert a gem into a socketable weapon, then salvage it. The stats the gem provides can transfer to a component. Also, buy Repair Kits. It's cheaper than paying for repairs, and as long as you only use them when an item is reaching critical durability, you should have enough on you at all times. If you are one of the 1%, buy every single items in a shop and salvage the whole lot. You're probably better off doing this in the higher level shops of the game, of course.
Detect Hidden needs 5 points into it as soon as you can afford it. 2 points lets you see hidden treasures on the map, which is incredibly useful. 5 points lets you see Hidden Doors, which is also nice. You don't want to run around knowing there might be a piece of armor from a set behind that door you cannot open, do you? You can max out this skill if you want, which shows you all the treasures and lorestones on the map. If you tend to explore everything anyway, you won't need it. However, "collecting" all the lorestones of a type can give you a very nice permanent bonus, so it's up to you how anal you are about finding these map collectibles through mere exploring alone.
Because you won't run out of gold, Alchemy is not a necessity for most players. There are enough vendors around to just buy your potions. Besides, you'll often just forget to use the buff potions or you won't even need them if you aren't playing on Hard. Just keep a few special ones in your backpack for the boss fights, and sell the rest.
Lockpicking is useful for those locked chests, but you don't need a massive amount of points in this skill because lockpicking is easy. Simply try out if lockpicking works with the pick's initial position in the minigame, then try it 30 degrees to the right or left, and then try out the other side. 9 out of 10 times you'll find the right spot without losing too many picks.
Dispelling is another matter. With 4 points into Dispelling, you won't get the "dark sigils" anymore -- the penalty icons that kick you out of the minigame. It can still be hard to time it right, so if you want to open every single chest, put some points in here.
Mercantile is useless because you'll have enough gold. If you can spare it, just put 3 points into it so you get some gold whenever you have to discard white items in the middle of a dungeon. You'll feel less bad for destroying an item, and it lets you scan which items that are worth the least before you destroy them.
Persuasion is a tricky one. It can open up some dialogue options, usually just leading to a little more gold or items you won't need. Sometimes it will save you part of a questline, but then you could lose out on XP from killing monsters along the way. Unless you are a terrible thief, you're not likely to ever have to bribe anyone for your crimes, so don't worry about that aspect of the Persuasion skill. If they bust you, just go questing in another area for a day or two. Just put points in Persuasion if you tend to go through all the conversation trees in Mass Effect.
Finally, Stealth is only useful if you like to backstab enemies and steal items in the various Traveler faction quests. With a few points into Stealth, you shouldn't have much trouble stealing anything as long as you are patient enough to let the alert indicator fall back to 0%.
Trainers give you an extra point in a skill, permanently. It costs you some cash, but you'll always have enough cash. Trainers only allow you to buy a skillpoint if you already have the required amount of skillpoints in that skill, and higher level trainers require higher levels of skill. One trick to game the system is to buy the skills you can, respec at a Fateweaver according to the trainer requirements, and then buy the rest of the skills that weren't available before. Finally, respec to your old build with the added bonus of extra permanent skillpoints. You can't exploit this by going to the same trainer 10 times in a row with this method, but it's a decent way to actually use all that gold you'll collect.
It's also a bit lame and a slightly lengthy process, so it's up to you if you want to max out your character this way.
Progressing through the storyline
Finally(!), while you may have set out to create your ideal character based on those abilities and skills that match your playstyle, there is still one issue. Sidequests. There are hundreds of them! Chances are, you've played an RPG before and you don't mind a bit of reading, or you would never have made it this far. And in that case, you know you're going to accept all of those sidequests until you get sick of them. If you do that, you'll also likely ignore a few Story quests in favor of wrapping up the sidequests in the areas leading up to the Story quest locations.
Complete a line of Story quests, and fulfill a handful of sidequests and Faction quests along the way so you don't end up being underleveled at a boss. The reason for doing so is that Story quests will give you a permanent Twist of Fate bonus. (The Faction quest lines do so as well.) After you've received one of these Twists of Fate, then by all means go wrap up your sidequests and ignore the Story for a while. Some of the early-to-mid game Twists of Fate give you bonuses like +5% XP, so you'll want to have that before you start spending 10 hours on doing various sidequests. The easiest solution is to just make the Twists of Fate the points in the game where you take a break from the storyline, and use the permanent bonus to get through sidequests a little faster.
Above all else...
Just have fun with it! Experiment. Make a build that lets you be a powerhouse without wearing pants. A respec is practically free since you end up with millions of gold near the end of the game, but you can always save and try. Of course, that would be a very inefficient usage of your precious videogame time. But Reckoning is about finding what "clicks" with your personal playstyle, so don't feel obligated to stick with a certain build just because it has a higher damage output. Fun trumps all aspects of building your character, especially when you're going to spend 70 hours.
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