Fitness, is it worth it? The short answer is “no.” The long answer is, 990 shields is the magic number because that is the level of shields you need in order to handle: a prime pulse, banshee ball, and phantom shot without having your shield gate broken.
990 Shield Sweet Spot
Anything less than this number is not worth it because most enemies on gold and above will do so much damage in a single shot, or single burst, it will totally obliterate your shields regardless of your fitness level unless you are one of the tanky classes. Squishy classes are better off using and abusing shield-gate, and generally staying hidden. The points you put into fitness probably could be better utilized in another skill.
Shield-gate is a term used to express how shields act when they take high amounts of damage. When your shields absorb the maximum damage they can, the remainder of the damage is simply removed, or consumed by the shields. If you have 500 shields and 500 life and you take a 1000 damage shot, you will not die. Your shields will absorb all the damage and drop. Basically that 1000 damage could have been 1,000,000 damage and the same effect would take place. The shield-gate would eliminate all the access damage.
Please observe this graph demonstrating shields gained vs points spent. The reason I am only counting shields and not health is simplicity. Generally once your shields drop you go into hide-mode and are no longer considering taking any damage because at that point you are likely going to die. The basic gameplay is shoot until your shields drop, then hide until your shields return. Unless you are Vorcha.
As you can see, you gain a tremendous amount of shields at rank 2 compared to rank 6. Out of a total possible gain of 65% shields, 25% are gained at rank 2, spending only 3 skill points. However there are no rational builds that end with only 2 ranks in fitness, it will always be rank 3 so you get some gravy melee bonuses. This is a very good value compared to the next at rank 4, giving only 15% health and shields and no melee damage. Things begin getting very inefficient from there. Rank 5 offers no health benefit, while rank 6 gives you the final 25% except you had to spend a whopping 11 points to get from 4 to 6! Was it worth it? Not usually. Let’s look at the enemy damage.
Enemy Damage Values
This graph has the damage all of the enemies in the game do in a single shot or a single burst, when applicable. The horizontal lines show the shields of a human at all the ranks of fitness. As you can see, at 0 fitness, every single enemy in the game will deal more damage than your shields can handle. At rank 3, you gain enough shields to withstand a few of the minor cerberus troops bursts. Which is nice, but look at how little you can truly handle.
After spending 21 points into fitness you are still getting shield-gated by a phantom, scion, ravager, atlas, nemesis, and banshee. You could have spent 0 points and suffered no ill effects! Now granted this is an over-simplification. Having more shields and health WILL help you survive because not all burst-fire enemies will land the entire burst into you. They will miss, or you will hide before taking it all. In that case the extra hp are worth it. It could mean the difference between getting into cover right in the knick of time, or getting dropped. This is why I do recommend putting 3 ranks into fitness to give you that extra edge, but further points… think long and hard.
Shield Recharge Delay
It is worth talking about fitness rank 5, which gives you +15% shield recovery speed. On gold, your shields recharge after 3 seconds of rest. Rank 5 brings that 3 seconds down to 2.55 seconds. Personally, I have never noticed the difference. If I have 2.55 seconds to hide, then I probably have 3 seconds to hide. I think those 5 skill points can be better spent. I have read the argument that the less time you wait for your shields to recharge, the more time you have to fire your gun and generally output damage. That might be true, but you also could have invested those 5 point in a skill, or 15% power damage.
I have heard people say that increasing shield recharge will allow you more shield gate opportunities. This isn’t true. The shield gate is on a separate timer that is not modified by anything. The shieldgate refreshes every 3 seconds, which happens to match shield recharge on Gold. However increasing shield recharge does not grant a new shieldgate.
There is something to be said about stacking shield recharge, you could get your shields coming up after less than 1 second with a good mix of passives and gear. Maybe on characters that have the potential to stack it like the Justicar, Blade Armor or Fortification classes this would be a good evolution but in general, I don’t see it. Bottom line is, you save half a second for 5 skill points.
Here is yet another way to view the diminishing returns of fitness. Starting with rank 3, each individual investment in this tree yields a worse result than the one before from a HP per skill point perspective.
- Rank 3, 6 points = +25% health/shields or 250 hp – hp per skill point 41.6
- Rank 4, 4 points = +15% health/shields or 150 hp – 37.5
- Rank 5, 5 points = +0% health/shields
- Rank 6, 6 points = +25% health/shields or 250 hp – 22.72
The Cyclonic Modulator Clause
I should mention the cyclonic modulator III. This gear bonus grants +100% base shields. Note, it is base shields, as in pre-fitness shields. That means a 500/500 human with a shield cyclonic and no fitness will still end up with 1000 shields. Actually everyone class/race except Drell and Vorcha will break 990 shields with a cyclonic. I believe this further reduces the value of fitness, since this item will make any human sturdy enough to handle the most common danger attacks.
Race/Class Specific Analysis
Asari are identical to humans, except they have a much better dash. Because the Asari use up a slight amount of barrier when dashing, so the shield recharge has above-average value for them. Consider stacking rank 5 fitness with shield recharge gear on Asari.
Salarians are actually surprisingly beefy maxing out at 990 shields, marking their shields strong enough to withstand both a phantom pulse and a banshee warp ball. In addition, both salarians have energy drain which not only refills their shields, but also can grant damage reduction making Salarian shields surprisingly valuable.
Quarians are just a huge mess. It had to have been some mistake. The female Quarians top off at 990 shields which is perfect. The male soldier tops off at 875 and the male infiltrator tops off at 1050. Not sure what is going on with this race but all of them except the male soldier can reach the magic number.
Drell have no hope, max shields only 425 which is well below the damage of all the enemies. Although Drell gain speed bonus which brings additional benefits. It is hard to understand how much extra benefit Drell gain from speed, but the addition make fitness a worthwhile tree to invest in despite the sad state of their health. If you stack adrenaline mods with Drell speed, they can move sideways fast enough to avoid most fire.
Vorcha end up with 1750 (health+shields) total hp at rank 6, which is only 100 more than a human. However Vorcha regenerate health giving them a lot of mileage out of fitness. But they are also prime melee characters so your are going to have to make some tough choices. If I were you, I would take durability at rank 4, and melee at 5 and 6.
Krogans obviously love fitness. They end up with very high numbers, and have very high damage reduction. I always max fitness on Krogan because of it’s tremendous value. Krogans also are at odds with themselves splitting melee damage with shields.
Volus gain almost nothing from fitness, and they have a cloak for extra survivability. Do not waste your points. Try to use cloak to stay alive.
Geth end up with considerable shields, 1237 at rank 6 (1650 for trooper) and that is shields only! Hunter mode does reduce shields by 500 however. So you need to make some tough choices to make.
Turians are an interesting case. The old non-jetpack Turians break the magic 1000 shields barrier at rank 3. Making rank 3 fitness pretty much a must for these classes. Going higher than that brings limited value but you must remember that they can’t roll or dash to avoid trouble. The sentinel has tech armor giving him damage reduction so I would highly recommend maxing his fitness.
Armiger Legion Turians need to hit rank 4 to break 1000 shields, which is usually worth it. I don’t recommend going higher, because they also have the jetpacks for mobility. These guys also happen to have a pretty awesome melee so if you are maxing fitness, I would go durability on rank 4, and then melee on 5 and 6. Some of these guys have Stimpack which pretty much removes the need for any fitness, since stimpack gives you shields above and beyond your max anyway. Rank 4 stimpack specced for max shields already gives 1680 shields, which is more than a Turian can even get maxing fitness out.
Infiltrators shouldn’t spend very much time in fitness. They have cloak which does a great job keeping them from taking direct fire, and gives them plenty of opportunities to escape and regain shields unharmed. I would never go past rank 3 fitness on an infiltrator if not a melee build or a skill worth missing.
Vanguards can regain shields at will so they get lots of mileage out of every point. However if you keep your cool down at +200% often you can charge so often that shields are almost always at full. I believe a vanguard can go both ways in this situation.
I am sure there are hundreds of other examples and fringe situations, but the main takeaways is: 990 shields is optimal. Everything less is really not that useful. Please share your thoughts with me because I am very interested in exploring this further.