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Defense Guide for Beginners

Last Updated: November 29th 2023

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In the defense guide for beginners we cover the basics you need to know about key defenses like Resistances, Ailments, Armor, Evasion, Life recovery and much more! Having solid defenses is very important in Path of Exile. Getting damage and killing thousands of monsters is a blast, but it's no fun when a single projectile puts a stop to your rampage!

Health Pool

When your Life is reduced to zero, you die. Your Life pool is the foundation upon which you build the rest of your defences. It's important to get Life through Gear and Passives early on in your Path of Exile journey.

Increase your Life through the following sources:

  • Level up, you gain +12 Life per Character Level.
  • The Strength Attribute, +5 Life per 10 Strength.
  • % Increased Maximum Life modifiers on your Passive Tree, Gear, or Masteries.
  • +to Maximum Life modifiers on your Gear, Masteries, or Passive Tree.
A character with 4,240 maximum Life

The exact amount of Life you need varies from build to build, and should be tuned to comfort. It's good idea to take nearby Life nodes as you allocate passives while leveling. If you're following a build guide, check the passive tree for more guidance on how many Life nodes to take.


Capping your Elemental Resistances at 75% is an important part of your defences during the leveling process. Enemy damage output in Path of Exile is balanced around having capped Resistances, so if you have 50% Fire Resistance, don't think of it as taking half damage from Fire instead think of it as take double damage from Fire. If you take 100 Fire Damage at 75% Fire Resistance, you take 200 Fire Damage at 50% Fire Resistance.

There are 4 Resistances in Path of Exile, Fire, Cold, and Lightning (often referred to as Elemental Resistances) and then you have Chaos Resistance. Resistances start at 0%, and have a cap of 75% by default. Modifiers to Maximum Resistances can increase this cap to 90% greatly reducing the damage you take. Resistances can go negative, and having negative Resistances further increases the damage you take.

Resistances by Acts

Here's a quick guideline for how to treat Resistances during the leveling process. Elemental Resistances don't need to be capped until Act 4-5 in your campaign journey. Capping Chaos Resistance is less important but you should make sure to keep it positive at a minimum.

  • Act 1 - Try to get a Sapphire Ring before Merveil.
    • You can combine an Iron Ring with any Blue (Intelligence) Skill Gem at the Vendor to obtain a Sapphire Ring.
  • Act 2 - Prioritize getting a Ruby Ring, having a Topaz Ring is nice but alternatively you can use Two-Stone Rings.
    • Use the Vendor Recipe if an appropriate ring doesn't drop and you have a spare Orb of Alchemy or Essence.
  • Act 3 - Get as much Resistance as possible, consider buying the Purity of Elements Aura from Clarissa after completing Lost in Love.
  • Act 4 - Try to cap your Resistances! This means having 75% Fire, Cold, and Lightning Resistances.
    • Chaos Resistance is more difficult to obtain but having some is important.
  • Act 5 - Prepare for Kitava by over-capping your Resistances, aim for Positive Chaos Resistance and 105% Fire, Cold, and Lightning Resistances.
    • When you defeat Kitava you gain -30% to All Resistances.
  • Act 6 - This is a good time to check your Chaos Resistance.
  • Act 7 - Make sure you keep your Resistances capped as you swap gear.
  • Act 8 - Same as act 7.
  • Act 9 - Same as act 7.
  • Act 10 - Prepare for Kitava by over-capping your Elemental Resistances, aim for Positive Chaos Resistance and 105% Fire, Cold, and Lightning Resistances.
    • When you defeat Kitava you gain -30% to All Resistances (-60% Total).

By the end of Act 10 your resistances are -60% by default. Therefore, you need 135% total Fire, Cold, Lightning, and Chaos Resistances to be capped. Resistances above the cap are displayed on your character sheet, but normally don't contribute to your defenses.

Pro Tip: Using Purity of Elements reserves 50% of your mana, but renders you immune to Elemental Ailments like Freeze, Chill, Shock and Ignite.


Ailments are negative effects that either debuff or damage you. Here are the most dangerous ones to know about during the campaign. If you reach 100% chance to Avoid an Ailment in your character sheet you are immune to its effects. Bleed, Freeze, Shock, and Poison are extremely dangerous! The easiest thing to do while leveling is to wear the Purity of Elements Aura to counteract Elemental Ailments, use Steelskin early on, then the Soul of Ralakesh after you defeat Greust to counteract Bleeding, and a Life or Mana Flask Suffix to remove Poison.

  • Bleed: Deals Physical Damage over Time. This damage is tripled while you are moving. Counter Bleeding with Steelskin. You can also counter Bleeding by crafting of the Lizard on a Utility Flask or of Sealing on a Life or Mana Flask. After defeating Greust in Act 7, you can use the Soul of Ralakesh Minor Pantheon to greatly reduce the Bleeding damage you take.
  • Freeze: Prevents you from moving or using skills. This ailment is extremely lethal, counter it using a Flask Suffix, Purity of Elements, the Soul of the Brine King (after completing Act 6) or, (in the endgame) Boots with the Rin's Prefix granting 100% Chance to Avoid being Frozen.
  • Chill: Slows your action speed down significantly. Chill is extremely annoying but rarely lethal. If you want to counter it upgrade your Soul of the Brine King, or use modifiers granting Reduced Effect of Chill on You.
  • Shock: Makes you take up to 50% more damage. This is often a silent killer, as you don't notice the Shock debuff, then get hit and "1-shot" out of nowhere. To counteract Shock use a Flask Suffix for Reduced Effect of Shock on You, or alternatively wear the Purity of Elements or Tempest Shield Auras.
  • Ignite: Deals Fire Damage over Time. If you have good recovery this Ailment isn't particularly dangerous. However if you find yourself dying frequently to Ignites, the best way to counteract it early on is through Life Regeneration, or a better Life Flask.
  • Poison: Deals Chaos Damage over Time. Counter this by crafting of the Skunk on a Utility Flask or of the Antitoxin on a Life or Mana Flask. The Soul of Shakari minor Pantheon is another great way to counter Poison.

Alternative Ailments

While you don't encounter Alternative Ailments frequently they can be extremely dangerous. You'll encounter these Ailments through Delirium content, or Eldritch Altars. Unlike normal Ailments they're more difficult to counter, you need Elemental Ailment immunity from something like Purity of Elements.

  • Brittle: Increases your chance to be Critically Struck, Evasion rating helps to mitigate the effect.
  • Sap: Reduces the damage you deal, if you deal enough damage this Ailment isn't an issue.
  • Scorch: Lowers your Elemental Resistances, mitigate this by over-capping your Resistances.

Base Defences

There are 4 modifiers classified as Defenses, these aren't the only way to survive better but whenever the game refers to Defenses, Defensive Modifiers, or Global Defenses it means Armor, Evasion, Energy Shield, or Ward. Bases with a higher Level or Attribute requirement, generally provide more base defences.

  • Armor mitigates Physical Damage from hits, regardless of whether the incoming damage is an Attack or Spell. Armor is a powerful mitigation tool throughout the campaign. Armor is very effective at mitigating multiple small hits, but struggles against large hits.
    • Use Determination to increase your Armor.
  • Evasion gives you a chance to avoid all damage from attacks, but has no effect against spells. It synergizes with Spell Suppresion, due to the fact that Spell Suppression is obtained from Evasion-based gear and passives within the Dexterity part of the passive tree.
    • Use Grace to increase your Evasion.
    • Evasion also provides limited protection from Attack Critical Strikes.
  • Energy Shield protects your Life against all damage types except Chaos Damage. If you haven't taken damage for a short amount of time, your Energy Shield begins to Recharge.
    • While you have any Energy Shield, your character has a 50% chance to avoid being stunned.
    • Use the Discipline Aura to increase your Energy Shield.
  • Ward is the last Defence stat in Path of Exile, it appears on special gear from Expedition. When you hit while you possess Ward, a portion of the damage is mitigated and Ward's effects are temporarily disabled. Because the effect is disabled after you're hit it makes for an unreliable defense and isn't frequently used.

Life Recovery

Early on you rely on Life Flasks to recover Life, so you should always have at least one equipped and continually replace them with better ones as you progress. You can do this by purchasing a better flask at the Vendor in town, or by vendoring 3 Life Flasks of the same base type to receive a Flask 1 tier higher.

Here are some other examples of Life Recovery:

  • Regeneration: causes your Life to slowly tick up, providing a source of consistent healing.
    • While leveling, the Vitality Aura is a powerful source of Life Regeneration .
  • Leech: heals you, or restores your Mana over time based on a portion of the damage you deal.
  • Recoup: Heals you for a portion of the damage you take.
  • Life Gain on Hit: Recover your Life when you hit enemies!

Defensive Buffs

  • Auras: Determination and Grace reserve some of your Mana to grant lots of Armor or Evasion.
  • Flasks: Granite Flask and Jade Flask are a great way to enhance the Armor and Evasion scaling of your gear and auras.
  • Guard Skills: Most Guard skills give you a temporary health pool. The common early choice is Steelskin, but if you're stacking Armor you should use Molten Shell instead.

Other Defences

Life, Resistances, Armor, Evasion, Energy Shield & Ward aren't your only ways to deal with damage in Path of Exile. Here are some other methods you may commonly encounter during the campaign and early endgame.

  • Pantheons: As you defeat gods and capture their souls in Act 6 or later you gain access to a wide variety of defensive Pantheons. Use Divine Vessels to enhance them.
  • Block: gives you a chance to block all incoming damage from a hit and prevent any Ailments it would apply.
  • Spell Suppression: mitigates 50% of the damage you take from Spell hits.
  • Reduced/Less Damage Taken: these affixes directly modify the damage you take.
    • Reduced combines additively with other sources.
    • Less combines multiplicatively with other sources.
  • Damage Shifting: Taking Physical damage as Elemental damage allows you to leverage your Resistances to mitigate more of the damage you take.
    • An affix like: 50% of Physical Damage from Hits taken as Lightning Damage does not apply to Damage over Time.
    • Whereas: 40% of Physical Damage taken as Fire Damage applies to all Physical damage you take including Bleed.

To learn about the more advanced defences in Path of Exile, check out our guide here.

Tips & Tricks

There are some enemy mechanics that kill you no matter how good your defenses are. Don't get discouraged and instead try to learn from each death! Many boss abilities have audio cues, so ensure voice lines aren't muted. Observe your enemies to learn their skill patterns and find spots where you can safely position yourself. Nothing is more powerful than not taking any damage at all.

Regardless, here are a few general tips:

  • Never stand still! This helps avoid projectiles and ground attacks.
  • Don't backtrack, instead push forward or you might run straight into attacks that were coming for you already.
  • Beware of on-death effects and corpse explosions. 
  • Keep an eye out for damage over time effects to counter them with your Life Flask
  • The slower and bigger an enemy, the harder they hit. Dodge telegraphed attacks! 
  • Pay attention to Rare monsters, you can mouse over them to see their affixes.
  • Map Modifiers increase the difficulty and can make a map impossible to complete.
    • Some of the deadliest include:
    • -#% maximum Player Resistances
    • Players cannot Regenerate Life, Mana, or Energy Shield
    • Players have #% Reduced Effect of Non-Curse Auras from Skills
    • When following a build guide, check which map mods to avoid.


  • It's good idea to take nearby Life nodes as you allocate passives while leveling.
  • Counter damage by getting your Fire, Cold, Lightning and Chaos Resistances 75%.
    • Remember to over-cap your resistances (105%) before Act 5 and Act 10 Kitava.
  • Ailments like Bleed, Freeze, Shock, and Poison are lethal, use Flasks, Auras and Pantheons to counter them.
  • Learn how Armor, Evasion and Energy Shield work to boost your survivability.
  • Keep your Life Flasks updated to recover your health.
    • You can vendor 3 identical Life or Mana flasks to get 1 Flask of the next tier.
    • Other forms of Life Recovery include Regen, Leech, and Recoup.
  • Various Auras and Guard skills provide additional defense.
  • Consider adding in other defensive stats like Spell Suppression, Block, and Damage Shifting to make your build even tankier!
  • As you complete acts 5 to 10 use Defensive Pantheons.
  • Understanding the ways enemies deal damage is a crucial part of survival.
  • Map mods are often deadly, read your maps before activating them and avoid the most dangerous affixes.
  • Move constantly to avoid damage aimed at where you were standing.

For further information, you can find an in-depth guide about Defenses here.


Written by Tenkiei
Contributions by Tytykiller
Reviewed by Palsteron

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