barbarian subclass ratings ranked best to worst

Barbarian Subclass Ratings: D&D 5e Paths Ranked

D&D 5e Barbarian subclass ratings and rankings featured art is “Diablo III – Barbarian fan art” by YukiharaShira. Creative Commons License.
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“What Barbarian Path should I choose?” Let’s find out! Each official Barbarian Path subclass has been rated and ranked. You can find a list of all the subclasses ranked in order at the end of this article.

Premise and Rating System for Barbarian Paths

The Barbarian may be the most well-designed class in D&D 5e. While some classes rely heavily on their subclasses to remain interesting, a Barbarian without a subclass would still be a useful character. Keeping that in mind, I’ve reviewed each official-content Barbarian Primal Path (including from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything) to evaluate how they measure up to one another as subclass options. My ratings use a five-star system based on path features, game design, fun, versatility, and lore/roleplaying for each subclass. The Paths are presented in alphabetical order.

Quick Poll: Favorite Barbarian Paths from the 5e Community

I recently added this poll to give you a voice, and I’d like to hear what your favorites are regardless of ratings.

Leap to Your Favorite Barbarian Path Rating

Flutes rates Barbarian subclasses on the Flutes Loot YouTube channel.

Path of the Ancestral Guardian (XGtE) Barbarian Subclass Rating

ancestral guardian barbarian subclass
Art by fredrickruntu, CC License.
  • Path Features: ★★★★★
  • Game Design: ★★★★★
  • Fun: ★★★★★
  • Versatility: ★★★
  • Lore & Roleplaying: ★★★★★

Path Summary: The spirits of your ancestors hinder foes who attack you and your allies. Your ancestors eventually gain the power to protect your allies from damage and retaliate against assailants. You may also receive guidance from your ancestral spirits.

Flutes’ Evaluation (5/5): I love this path. I’ve played with a handful of people who wanted to build a character that functioned as a tank; they should’ve played as an Ancestral Guardian Barbarian. There is already excellent tankiness built into every Barbarian thanks to resistances granted by Rage, but this path can protect allies as well. Any subclass that creates a unique playstyle gets an ‘A’ grade in my book.

Path of the Battlerager (SCAG) Barbarian Subclass Rating

battlerager barbarian subclass
Art by nerdhaven, CC License.
  • Path Features: ★★
  • Game Design: ★★
  • Fun: ★★
  • Versatility: ★★
  • Lore & Roleplaying: ★★

Path Summary: Only Dwarves can choose this subclass, using special spiked armor for attack and defense. The armor can be used to attack, deal grapple damage, and deal retributive damage to melee attacks. The Battlerager also can Dash as a bonus action, and gain temporary hitpoints when using Reckless Attack. 

Flutes’ Evaluation (2/5): Many players hate this subclass, but upon rereading it I found that it wasn’t as bad as I remembered (still bad though). Adding Rage and Strength damage to the bonus action attack is actually pretty strong for level three. The other features are thematically cool, though they may require a lot of chip damage that the DM may need reminders to tally. This subclass is for Dwarves only, though that requirement is easily waved by a DM.

Other Barbarian paths are stronger than this one, but I wouldn’t say the Battlerager is a trap or anything. It makes the Barbarian rely on a specific armor type, which just feels strange. I also think the Battlerager would’ve been better if the spiked armor damage scaled with proficiency bonus because the flat three-points of damage is pitiful at higher levels. There also is bonus-action fatigue since the base Barbarian requires a bonus action to Rage, so the Battlerager can’t make use of a bonus action to attack until the second round in combat. The Dash bonus action further fatigues the bonus action economy of the Battlerager. I wish the level-ten ability had one more benefit to it to make it more impressive, and I would’ve liked to see the bonus action armor attack usable when the Rage begins as part of the same bonus action to begin Raging.

If I played this path, I’d focus on the temporary hitpoints gained from Reckless Attack coupled with the spike damage that wears down melee attackers. This path has the potential to be an extremely formidable one-on-one combatant because of the chip damage it deals passively when attacked.

Path of the Beast (TCoE) Barbarian Subclass Rating

beast barbarian subclass
Beast Barbarian art provided by Wizards of the Coast
  • Path Features: ★★★★
  • Game Design: ★★
  • Fun: ★★★★★
  • Versatility: ★★★★★
  • Lore & Roleplaying: ★★★★★

Path Summary: Gain bestial features when you Rage, granting you a variety of natural weapons depending on your style and the situation at hand. Your natural attacks later become magical, and you passively gain your choice of a bestial feature all the time (you can change the feature when you rest). Your attacks become powerful as you enrage foes into attacking targets of your choice, or you can just deal bonus psychic damage. Finally, your rage empowers those around you to deal more damage, while their presence guards you against harm.

Flutes’ Evaluation (5/5): I recently read this subclass and fell in love with it. Its combat damage is on-par with other Barbarian Paths. Passive bonuses granted by the Path of the Beast can give you spell-like buffs without concentration needed, such as incredible jumping, wall-crawling, and swimming. I also love that a Barbarian can cause an enemy to attack another enemy of the Barbarian, and that there is an option for psychic damage if the forced attack isn’t a great option for the situation; forcing the enemy to attack in this way will also burn their reaction, so they won’t be able to perform an Opportunity Attack or cast Counterspell, among other things, for the remained of the round until they take a turn. Call the Hunt feels like what the Berserker wanted to be. Gaining temporary hitpoints as Rage begins is so cool and thematically satisfying. You’ll want to have a party that can use the bonus damage from this feature; plus, Call the Hunt doesn’t require an action or anything because it can just happen as part of your Rage activation.

I also like the lore possibilities that are baked into this path, especially the lycanthrope concept. Overall, this path is unique and versatile while meeting the high bar that is set for Barbarian subclasses. The game design is also strong here because several skills are based on once-per-round activation to prevent multiclassing abuses. Many abilities also work based on Proficiency Bonus, allowing multiclassing synergies for those who seek them. I love the Path of the Beast, and it makes me want to play a Barbarian!

This is my favorite Barbarian subclass, so check out my deep dive into the Path of the Beast Barbarian!

Path of the Berserker (PHB) Barbarian Subclass Rating

berserker barbarian subclass
Art by Brolo, CC License.
  • Path Features: ★★★
  • Game Design:
  • Fun: ★★★
  • Versatility: ★★
  • Lore & Roleplaying: ★★★★

Path Summary: Attack more often once you hit the second round of combat, but only if you’re willing to suffer exhaustion after your Rage ends. You’ll frighten enemies with a mighty yell, and your enemies will find your mind difficult to reach and manipulate while you’re Raging. Eventually, you can use a reaction to retaliate against attackers each round.

Flutes’ Evaluation (3/5): This middling path wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t require exhaustion for its most basic ability. Having said that, if you’re playing in a game that doesn’t have combat very often, you probably don’t care about exhaustion because you’ll rest off your fatigue without risking a hassle. The path’s anti-charm-and-fear ability is also fairly dependent on DM styles. I’ve gone whole campaigns without an enemy attempting to charm or frighten me, so I would’ve been sad to have my level-six Berserker ability negated by the game I was playing in (had I been playing as a Barbarian).

If I want to play something of a berserker, I’d go with the Path of the Zealot. The Path of the Berserker takes several rounds to get going in combat, relies on Charisma as an extra stat to invest in, and its drawbacks are heavy without huge payoff to compensate. It’s an average subclass that lives in the shadow of other paths.

I wrote my own revision of this subclass to fix it. You can read my changes here.

Path of the Storm Herald (XGtE) Barbarian Subclass Rating

storm herald barbarian subclass
Art by Ioana-Muresan, CC License.
  • Path Features:
  • Game Design: ★★★
  • Fun:
  • Versatility: ★★★★★
  • Lore & Roleplaying: ★★★★

Path Summary: Harm foes with your storm-like aura while raging, and gain other benefits like elemental damage resistance based on your ecosystem of choice. You’ll eventually protect allies from the same elemental damage type that you resist. Your capstone ability will supe up your aura with additional damage and hindrances to foes in your tempestuous aura.

Flutes’ Evaluation (3/5): First of all, unlike the Battlerager, there is evidence of wise game design with this path since its aura activates concurrently with Rage followed by bonus actions to maintain its effects. This means you can immediately benefit from the Storm Aura when you Rage instead of needing to wait until your second round of combat’s bonus action. Unfortunately, Storm Aura is really weak. At level fourteen, the aura becomes more powerful, but that glaring problem with this whole subclass is how its aura can potentially slow a game down by dealing minor damage to nearby creatures and even forcing saving throws from each. Depending on your storm-type choices, the game could slow down further as you resolve effects that aren’t really worth the time to resolve.

I like how the path allows you to choose different storm types when you level up, so the versatility is there. I just wish the choices were more exciting. This path isn’t horrendous, but there are better subclasses for Barbarians to choose. I’d skip this subclass if I were you!

Path of the Totem Warrior (PHB) Barbarian Subclass Rating

totem warrior barbarian subclass
Art by 000Fesbra000, CC License.
  • Path Features: ★★★★★
  • Game Design: ★★★★
  • Fun: ★★★★
  • Versatility: ★★★★★
  • Lore & Roleplaying: ★★★★★

Path Summary: Choose totem animals to gain benefits unique to each. Gain nature utility with several nature-based spells.

Flutes’ Evaluation (5/5): The pivotal choice with this subclass comes at level three, and the bear option to resist all damage except psychic damage while raging is incredibly strong. When someone plays this path, I assume they’ll choose bear at level three, and they pretty much chose this path for that ability alone. The level-six totem abilities are circumstantial, and possibly useless depending on the type of game you’re playing in. The level-ten ability Spirit Walker is typical for Barbarian paths, meaning it’s not amazing or strong, but it is flavorful while adding utility. The level-fourteen totem abilities are strong again, offering options like ally defense, flight, and attacks that knock enemies prone. I can imagine players choosing totem animals for abilities that they later regret when they learn more about the game and how well each totem will lend to their needs, so I hope DMs are forgiving and allowing of retroactive character alterations; if not, and maybe even if so, regrets can make the path less enjoyable for those who are less familiar with the game.

The path description for the Totem Warrior suggests that a Barbarian would choose only one totem animal, but that there are exceptions. I think many players of this path will vary which animal they choose for their totem features, especially since there were additional totem animals added in Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide for the elk and the tiger (comment below if you forgot all about those additional totem animals. Due to the versatile nature of the path, it could be fun for a DM to create additional totem animals, or use the current totem abilities with different associated animals based on the setting.

Overall, the Totem Warrior is a strong, versatile class that adds to the solid Barbarian class.

Path of Wild Magic (TCoE) Barbarian Subclass Rating

wild magic barbarian subclass
Beast Barbarian art provided by Wizards of the Coast
  • Path Features: ★★★
  • Game Design: ★★★★
  • Fun: ★★★
  • Versatility: ★★★
  • Lore & Roleplaying: ★★★★

Path Summary: Your Rages will trigger a random effect based on rolling 1d8. The effects are formidable. As you level up, you’ll gain tools to manage your chances of getting a wild magic effect that is timely for a given scenario. You also can grant a bonus 1d3 to an ally’s attack and skill rolls, or you can restore an ally’s spell slot based on rolling 1d3.

Flutes’ Evaluation (3/5): I’ll start off saying I’m biased to not like ‘wild magic’ character concepts; I find them to be far less enjoyable compared to others who love randomness. While I admit it can be exciting to roll and see what effect you’ll gain when you Rage, it’s hardly reliable; versatility suffers with wild magic because reliability isn’t there for a given situation. I am pleased, however, that the random effects are more useful than in the past with the Wild Magic Sorcerous Origin. I like that this path’s Unstable Backlash allows a reroll for the wild magic effect, but it’s still unstable and unreliable. Controlled Surge will later allow you to roll twice and choose your wild magic effect from the dice rolled. I find it unbearably dull to read that this Path of Wild Magic Barbarian has features that are all based around improving the odds of a desired wild magic effect; I’d prefer to just receive a variety of features. At least the wild magic effects are good, but they’re not created equal.

I also cringe that one of the level-three features, Magic Awareness, is essentially a non-spell version of Detect Magic (a spell I consider to be vastly overrated). Let’s assume for a moment that Detect Magic isn’t overrated. Your party’s spellcaster will probably have Detect Magic as a ritual casting option, negating your usefulness. At least the path concept is cool in theory. I also like the ability to restore spell slots to allies, even if just low-level slots once per person per long rest. I hate the 1d3 though, but at least it lessens the swingy nature of bonuses like this when stacked with the Bless spell or the Peace Cleric’s features.

Path of the Zealot (XGtE) Barbarian Subclass Rating

zealot barbarian subclass
Art by FallFox, CC License.
  • Path Features: ★★★★★
  • Game Design: ★★★★★
  • Fun: ★★★★★
  • Versatility: ★★★
  • Lore & Roleplaying: ★★★★★

Path Summary: Deal increased damage while refusing to fall, but you can easily be revived if you are forced into the afterlife. Your enraged nature allows you to keep fighting while technically unconscious (like Garou vs Superalloy Darkshine in One Punch Man). Allies will be bolstered by your fury in combat.

Flutes’ Evaluation (5/5): Divine Fury immediately beefs up your damage output, including your critical hits since it uses a die roll. I love how the Zealot’s path features involve buffs to spells that raise the Barbarian from the dead. I’ve mentioned in other articles for the Conquest Paladin that I think subclasses that buff current game mechanics like spells and conditions are brilliant, and the Path of the Zealot does that for me.

This path feels more like an archetypal berserker to me than the actual Path of the Berserker; it’s tough to permanently kill while also dealing massive damage. The Zealot also overshadows the Berserker’s war-cry-ish ability by focusing on the Zealot empowering allies (situationally-guaranteed benefit) rather than trying to frighten enemies (unreliable due to saving throws based on Charisma) as the Berserker does. The Rage Beyond Death is perfect for the warrior that refuses to be put down; this class is so innovative as it interacts with basic game mechanics in unique ways. I definitely recommend the Path of the Zealot. I only docked it on versatility because it’s heavily dependent on how necessary and accessible raising the dead is in a game setting and with a DM’s style. This subclass is really good at not dying in the first place, though. Combined with the base Barbarian features, the Zealot refuses to die!

Barbarian Subclass Rankings Best to Worst

  1. Totem Warrior
  2. Ancestral Guardian
  3. Beast
  4. Zealot
  5. Wild Magic
  6. Storm Herald
  7. Berserker
  8. Battlerager

Totem Warrior ranked the best. Battlerager ranked the worst. Several ratings were even between subclasses, so general community impressions and accumulated years of playtesting served as tiebreakers. Path of the Beast is my personal favorite. Zealot is often the standard for Barbarians who merely want to deal the most damage.


The Barbarian class possesses solid subclasses on top of its incredible class design. The best paths to choose are paths of the Totem Warrior, Ancestral Guardian, and Beast, but the others could work for you too if you choose them with eyes wide open to their flaws. Beware of the Battlerager and Berserker, as those are pretty weak. Having said that, the main complaint I hear from players about Barbarians is that Barbarians are boring after a while. So subclass isn’t as important as a player’s ability to think outside the box. If players can constantly reinvent how they play their Barbarian character, the experience won’t become monotonous.

What has your experience been with Barbarian paths? I’d love to hear opinions and experiences contrary to my own, especially if I can learn something new about the paths. Commune with the comments section below to tell me what you think.

You can also check out these other articles about Barbarians and other related topics:

You might enjoy my Barbarian class guide on YouTube:

8 thoughts on “<b>Barbarian Subclass Ratings</b>: D&D 5e Paths Ranked”

  1. I like the looks that you do at subclasses. Really interesting. I really like the barbarian class because it can actually be a pretty versatile class when building. You can go for the hulking dragonborn and wear heavy armor. Or you can roll with my personal favorite…a halfling barbarian who compensates for his small stature with his massive ego and temper. And I think the subclasses really let you create far more unique characters than a lot of the other martial/melee based class options. Obviously, you can create whatever character you like, but the mechanics of the barbarian really allow you to not sacrifice combat ability or RP usefulness in order to play a unique character.

    1. Hi Ian, I completely agree. The Barbarian class is hyper-accessible. New and experienced players alike can enjoy the class. It’s simple but effective. The subclasses enhance an already-great class.

  2. FYI, I suspect you have an error in the second sentence of your Conclusion because it contains a duplication: “The best paths to choose are paths of the Totem Warrior, Ancestral Guardian, Beast, and Ancestral Guardian…”

  3. For a super tanky character, you can take a zealot mountain dwarf to have access to the Dwarven Fortitude feat, one of the only ways to heal yourself while raging without multiclassing, since you can’t cast spells or concentrate on them while raging. you can also try to invest a lot in AC, by using magic items, ally spells, feats, unarmored defense, high Con and Dex, etc…

    1. There’s something about Dwarven Fortitude that just feels good. It plays with two less-used mechanics: Dodge and Hit Dice. I love it.

  4. I will start by saying that I dont disagree with your criticisms of Storm Herald. They are completely reasonable. As someone who has played the path as a sea elf and plays D&D for the role play more than the dungeon crawl, this path has been my favorite out of any I have played for any class, bar none. That isnt a reason to choose it as beat but Kai, the sea elf barbarian struggling to find the balance between the elemental part of his druidic family with the attachment to his primal fury, will always hold a special place in my heart as my favorite character ever played

    1. Hi Luke! The Storm Herald’s lore and flavor are fascinating. I completely understand where you’re coming from when you say your favorite character is a Storm Herald Barbarian. Ratings ultimately pale in comparison to actual gameplay and fun, and they aren’t indicative of the fun you can have. 🙂
      Thanks for sharing your experience with anyone who is into the idea of a storm-wielding maverick.

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