Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Look at the Shadow Warrior - Warhammer Online

Originally featured on on November 13th, 2008

The High-Elf Shadow Warrior is your classic ranged DPS class, or is it? Upon playing a shadow warrior a while, you’ll discover a few things differ between yourself and the traditional ranged, non-magic damage dealing classes plaguing so many other MMOs these days.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and write about how it’s perfectly ok for you to throw your Shadow Warrior into assault stance 100% of the time and laugh as you mow through enemies with your melee prowess – mostly because I’d be lying to you. It’s not ok to do that 100% of the time. However, if you plan it just right, you’ll find yourself walking away after combat instead of clicking a button and appearing in some arbitrary position a ways away.

The ability to correctly analyze your situation and change your stance and fighting style accordingly is really the key to effectively playing a Shadow Warrior. Making poor decisions, deciding its ok to get just one more eagle eye off before you re-distance yourself from the crowd, or running into the middle of combat to get that finishing blow on the tank that wandered a bit too far from the healer will more often than not leave you taking a dirt nap and wondering how long your respawn timer will be next time you do something that stupid.

Starting out with the basics – along your career as a Shadow Warrior, you’ll acquire three stances, of which only one can be active at a time. Each has a 5 second cool down when switching – to clarify, you can’t enter once stance, make an attack, and immediately switch stances again (Well, I suppose you could, but you’d be waiting 5 seconds between every attack). It should be noted that switching stances does NOT throw a global cooldown at you for all of your skills. Certain skills require you to be in a certain stance. With that being said, the stances are as follows:

Warhammer Online Screenshot
  • Scout Stance - Increases your Ballistic skill by X (raises with level), and also gives your bow attacks a 10% range boost. If you’re standing away from the crowd and just want to pluck away at range, this one’s your choice.
  • Assault Stance – Probably the best stance in terms of overall bonuses, you get X to weapon skill and strength, with a 100% boost to your armor. While the armor bonus is very nice, it doesn’t make up for the fact that unlike tanks (which also have high armor) you don’t get a shield, or very high avoidance bonuses. That roughly translates into you constantly getting hit, but for less damage. Don’t get me wrong, it raises your survivability considerably, but it isn’t by any means a calling card to fill in when your big guy calls out sick. The strength and weapon skill bonuses are very nice, and you’ll definitely see them making a difference in your melee damage.
  • Skirmish Stance – Increases your Toughness by X, and increases the chance for your bow attacks to critically hit by 5%. Now I’ll go ahead and say that the toughness stat is about as irrelevant as it gets; if you’re getting hit hard, lets face it, you’re probably going to die – switch to assault stance to mitigate the damage as best you can and either gain some distance, or try to take them down. You could always try to out DPS them in skirmish or Scout stance as well. After all, they can’t kill you if they die first, usually.
It’s hard to really describe a play style that a Shadow Warrior should stick to for success. Eventually, somewhere near level 20 when you have enough abilities to really get a feel for your career and what to expect down the line, you’ll find a few key skills that you can center yourself around, and add in a few utility abilities here and there. I found out early on that the situation really dictates your tactics – namely the terrain you have to work with, and what kind of enemies you’re facing.

You actually start the game with the ability that many Shadow Warriors will use most, Eagle Eye. It’s your basic ranged attack, with high damage and a moderately long build-up (2 seconds). This really does a considerable amount of damage, and if you can keep an enemy in sight and range long enough, you’ll really leave them in a world of hurt. You can use eagle eye in any stance.

Your spiral fletched arrows will really turn into your bread-winner for skirmish stance, as they have a one second build-up time, deal moderate damage, and can be fired off as you move around. Running around enemies ‘kiting’ them is an effective strategy combined with takedown, mentioned below. Assault and Skirmish stance only.

Broadhead Arrow is also an ability that can be activated while moving, and is a run of the mill damage over time ability. It deals a very considerable amount of damage over 15 seconds and can be re-fired, instantly, every three seconds. Any stance can fire off Broadhead Arrows, and should do so when moving around or looking for a quick casting ability that’ll give a bit of extra damage.

Acid Arrow is an ability gained early on, which really needs to be renamed ‘tankbuster’. At a 1.5 second build-up, you’ll launch a low damage shot that, if it connects, lowers the enemy’s armor dramatically (somewhere around 300+ points in the mid-teens, as an example) and decreases their chance to block by 10% for 10 seconds. It cools down every 5 seconds. Unlike other games, lowering someone’s armor in WAR really makes a difference, and launching this arrow at a tank will really ruin his day. You don’t even need to follow up with an Eagle Eye, you can really just launch this at a tank your friends are on, and watch him fall. It’s a good way to aid the group without taking your DPS off a healer or other ranged damage dealing class for more than a second or two. Scout or Assault stance only.

Takedown is also acquired early on, and is your basic snare shot, dealing low damage as well. It’s important to note when using this that the snare will last for 10 seconds, but the shot cools down every 15 seconds. Shooting it too early could leave your enemy with plenty of time to make his way to you. If you’ve vengeful, you’ll knock the target down for 3 seconds – more on that later. Scout or Skirmish stance only.

Warhammer Online Screenshot

A fantastic addition to your skills is the Hunter’s Fervor ability, which increases the AP regeneration rate of your entire group by 20% for 15 seconds. It’s nice to throw this in during prolonged battles where you know your healers need their AP replenished as quickly as possible.

The Shadow Warrior, like so many other careers in WAR, receives an AoE root ability. Every 20 seconds you can root in place all enemies within 30 yards of you. Damage will break the root 50% of the time. It’s really a key ability to any class that can access it and master its use. You can run into a skirmish and root down an entire group, or save a healer who is attempting to flee by rooting his target in place. The uses go far beyond escape and setting up distance, you can take an entire mass of enemies out of a scenario for a few seconds by throwing this ability down just before you die, leaving them stuck in place a few moments while the rest of your team continues to work toward accomplishing its goals.

The Shadow Warrior really starts to get interesting in the pre/early teens through level 25 or so. You’ll receive a multitude of skills that enhance your current arsenal. Among which are the Vengeance ability, and the Unshakable Focus (rank 2) morale ability.

Vengeance can be activated once every 3 minutes, and gives you a 20% boost to all damage for 15 seconds, as well as modifying some other abilities with added effects (see takedown above). Even just activating this for a little extra damage when you need it is acceptable, but the benefits other abilities gain shouldn’t be ignored.

Unshakable Focus, a Rank 2 morale ability, gives you a 100% boost to damage (stacks with all other damage boosts) for 7 seconds. Throwing up Vengeance, knocking down a target with Takedown, shooting an Acid Arrow and then following up with Unshakable Focus and an Eagle Eye or two will take down a significant amount of a target’s wounds, especially if either of the Eagle Eyes crit.
While we’re on the topic of morale abilities, I’ve had more fun with one skill from WAR than in any other MMO I’ve previously played. Your first morale ability is called Point Blank Shot, and aside from dealing a good bit of damage, it heaves your target back quite a distance. Now if you’re careful about where you are in relation to your target, and there’s a cliff nearby, you can literally launch an opponent hundreds of yards away from a battle, and leave them with no alternative but to take an often long, time consuming run back to the fight. It’s better than killing opponents most of the time, as they could often have died, respawned, and entered combat a few times before they walk back to the action. Nordenwatch is a particularly excellent scenario for this tactic, as cliffs and high ground are everywhere.

Touching on some of the other Shadow Warrior abilities, Flame Arrow is acquired at Rank 14 and is your standard fire-AoE damage shot. It inflicts elemental damage on its target, and everyone around him takes additional damage over 9 seconds. In my experience, the 20 yard range explosion on this spell really translates into anyone very close to your target. I almost never use the ability, as I often wonder what the game feels 20 yards is isn’t very accurate as to what most of us perceive it as. The AoE effect just isn’t reliable enough for me if I’m aiming at a group; most of them never get hit because they’re too far away, even though they’re almost on top of my target. The single damage/AoE is nice, but there are faster and easier ways to deal direct damage. Mix it in there with some shots if you’re bored and someone’s running to keep some damage on them. Scout stance only.

Rapid Fire is another ability that gets better if you’re Vengeful (10% damage boost). While I’ve seen this ability critically hit several times more often than not, it should be noted that if you’re an unlucky person, don’t rely on the ability to deal great damage over the time it’s active, if it’s not critically hitting, it’s dealing about the same amount as an Eagle Eye, at the same range, and taking almost twice as many action points to do it. Scout or Skirmish only.

Level 16’s Eye Shot deals average damage and reduces the target’s initiative by a fair amount when it hits, so they’ll evade less and get critically hit more. Not a bad deal for a one second cast time. The effect lingers for 20 seconds, and the shot itself has a 10 second cooldown. Skirmish stance only.
You get steady aim (ability) at level 20, which lasts 6 seconds and gives all of your attacks a 50% chance to critically hit while it’s active. In doing so, it also increases their build up time by 2 seconds. This gives you enough time to get an Eagle Eye, or two Spiral Fletched Arrows off. It’s nice, but if you get interrupted while building up the abilities it generally gets wasted. Make sure you’ve got the time to get the abilities off uninterrupted and you’ll be able to use Steady Aim effectively when you need it.

Warhammer Online Screenshot

Now the Steady Aim ability isn’t to be confused with the steady aim tactic (at level 19), which just increases your ballistic skill by a decent amount, somewhere around 60 If you’re in the mid teens for reference. It’s nice if you’re someone who doesn’t like to fiddle with tactics and extra abilities. Otherwise, there are better tactics available out there.

Assault stance gets its most useful ability at 25, named Opportunistic Strike, which disarms your opponent for 5 seconds after dealing some lower-end damage to them. Really great for those tight situations when a melee class gets on top of you and you need to slow their damage output down for a few seconds. Assault stance only.

Assault stance gets the Counterstrike ability at level 30, which interrupts any ability the target was using. It does minimal damage, and refreshes every 20 seconds. Assault only.

Throat Shot is acquired at level 35 and keeps your target from casting spells for five seconds. It only takes one second to build up, and refreshes every 30 seconds. But its 100 yard range means you can take a healer out of a fight for a few seconds from quite a distance away. Timed well with a few big attacks and you can even down him before he has a chance to start casting again. Scout stance only.
The last ability you’ll get is Lileath’s Arrow at level 40, which is really a modified version of the spiral fletched arrows you got when you first started out. It can be fired on the run, and has a 2 second build time, but deals moderately high damage to anyone in front of you up to 65 feet away. Nice for spreading the damage around a big group. The shadow warrior really gets a great selection of tactics, and honestly – its all about preference. I highly recommend everyone plays with each tactic for a few scenarios just so they get a chance to experience all it’s worth. I’ve listed a few of my favorites below:
Expert Skirmisher is acquired early on, and is something I’ve grown to love – you’ll deal 25% more damage when you’re within 45 feet of your target, however you’ll deal 20% less damage when you’re further than 45 feet from your target.

Bullseye is another great damage dealing tactic – when you critically hit, you’ll receive an additional 20% chance to critically hit on your attacks for 5 seconds, you’ll also become 10% more vulnerable to being critically hit during this time, as long as you’re careful, you can really increase your damage output with this one.

Instinctive Aim is another ability that effects steady aim *the ability. It takes steady aim’s cooldown down to 10 seconds from 30, which gives you a big opportunity to critically hit targets whenever you’d like to, as the bonus from steady aim is quite nice. It only leaves a 4 second window for you not to have the 50% chance to crit.

Morale abilities for the Shadow warrior really also depend a lot on preference and play style. I mentioned point blank shot before as your Rank 1 ability, and I’ll nicely ask you to keep it there, as throwing people out of a fight almost at will (since it’s a rank 1 ability) is unbelievably useful at almost any time.

Unshakable focus, also mentioned above, is nice but doesn‘t last long enough. Unless you really like BIG numbers, switch it out to the Focused Mind Rank 2 ability when you get it at level 20 – it’ll remove almost any status effect on you (silence, disarm, root or snare), and keep them off for 10 seconds, as well as making all your skills build up 50% faster. Oh, and for those 10 seconds, your abilities can’t be set back either. Very nice for holding your ground or gaining distance in a tight situation when you need your shots to count.

Instill fear is the way to go for Rank 3 morale – it disarms and silences everything around you for seven seconds. Yes, really.

Hail of doom is your Rank 4 morale ability, and its nice AoE damage on a single spot for five seconds, don’t get me wrong. But let’s be honest here, how often are people standing in a 30 yard area for 5 seconds? They really could’ve come up with a better Rank 4 ability for Shadow Warriors. However, with the insane crippling power of Instill Fear at your disposal once your morale bar builds to Rank 3, it really doesn’t matter what your Rank 4 ability is, you’d have to be insane to pass it up.