Sniper is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult classes to master in SW:TOR. A lot can go wrong. You can dive into the wrong cover point, or get focused, or (because you don't get a healing companion until Imperial Taris) struggle to complete some solo content. This post is going to focus on a broad summary of my experiences playing Sniper in beta. I plan to update this section when I have more perspective on the launch build. Until then, I hope this is useful.
Although Snipers can solo fairly well, they aren't primarily a "solo" class. I consider hybrids like Operative and Sorcerer, which have access to basic heals, stronger in most solo content. On the bright side? You'll feel pretty fearsome if you're part of a group. Having a tank that can keep the attention of enemies means you get to drop some serious damage on said enemies without fearing for your life. Did I mention that you turn into an instagib assassin when PvP opponents hit 30% health? No? Well, you do!
Sniper specs vary in terms of relative mobility, survivability, and type of damage output. Each spec brings something different and interesting to the table. If you like ranged DPS and you want a variety of DPS options, Sniper may be the class for you. You can be burst-focus or more sustained, DoT or AoE, and mobile or calculating as you move between cover points. I'll be describing the relative strengths and weaknesses of each spec later in the guide.
Of course, it helps if you enjoy using the cover mechanic. I find that cover is an interesting new element in combat and that positioning becomes a vital element of Sniper gameplay. Taking cover in a good spot can do one of several things: hide you, give you cover bonuses against your target, and help you guard a strategic point on a battlefield. Bad cover, though? Bad positioning will get you focused pretty quick. Sometimes drawing attention to yourself is an unavoidable part of strategy (i.e. "sacrifice" guarding to prevent or delay a turret cap in Alderaan) -- other times, it's just a symptom of poor planning and fudged ability usage.
FAQs and Caveats
Q: How is solo sniper gameplay?
A: If you plan to solo most of the game's content, I suggest spec'ing Marksman until at least 35 for the strong early game defensive talents (cover screen in the first tier and ballistic dampers in the second tier). After that both Engineering and Lethality have grown into their core talents and they'll start to make more "sense" in terms of abilities. I have seen nothing to indicate that either Engineering or Lethality are non-viable leveling specs in comparison to Marksman. In some cases they may even be preferable to Marks. Marksman is just what I prefer to use when I level. However, some of the core skills you learn from playing Marksman (particularly energy management and how to utilize cover!) will help you be a better and more well-rounded Sniper overall. It is my opinion that Marksman is also the most straightforward spec to play.
Be warned: soloing as a Sniper is not easy and can at times be incredibly frustrating. Don't be ashamed to ask for help if you're having trouble with a gold elite in a class quest. This gets to be "interesting" around level 31-32 in this build, and difficulty can vary substantially even if you're at "content level." The important part here is not to beat yourself up too much if you start to die more than you ever did in the early levels.
Q: How does Sniper DPS compare to X DPS? How does X DPS compare to X other DPS?
A: Every class is balanced around level 50 gameplay by design. If you have faith in BWA (and I tend to), then Sniper DPS will compare well to any other DPS at 50. The current bolster system in PvP is harsh on a "fresh 50" without gear, though! Sometimes you end up with less HP as a "fresh" 50 than a bolstered level 11 (particularly if you've been soloing content and have skipped Flashpoints or Heroic content). You will notice that your class gets weaker and stronger relative to other classes at different levels. This is normal! Rest assured that you will have a lot of fun with the abilities at 50. Sniper tends to be a late-bloomer in most respects. The class rewards patience and intelligent gameplay.
Q: How do you like the Cover system? Is it bad? Is it good?
A: I love cover. Not everyone loves cover, because it takes time to learn. Many classes are pretty easy to play right out of the gate. The ACs that use cover take longer to learn because people have to adapt to an unfamiliar mechanic. It can take even longer to learn to effectively use cover-based ACs like Sniper and Gunslinger. Some people enjoy learning a new system while others may find it tedious. I personally take great satisfaction from using cover well. The new system (cover is no longer on the GCD) makes using cover more intuitive and painless than at any time in the past. I fully expect BWA to refine cover if they find people are still encountering issues. As a longtime tester, I have seen only positive developments on this front.
Q: Will Sniper be viable in PvE raids?
A: Absolutely. In addition to your fabulous DPS, you also get an amazing group AoE defense shield at level 42. It reduces incoming damage from all sources by 20% in a 10m radius around you. You have to play the class and see the shield in action to fully appreciate how awesome it is. Raid leaders are going to love you if you know when and how to use this ability.
Q: How long did it take you to get to 50?
A: I was 45 in a week soloing content (i.e. skipped most FPs and Heroics on my way up), then I slacked. Bear in mind that I've been to 50 multiple times in multiple builds. Leveling is faster or slower based on whether or not you have a group and how well you know the questlines on various planets. New players can expect to level more slowly while they navigate zones with "fog of war" up. PvP and Space Combat (particularly 30+, as far as Space Combat is concerned) are viable ways to supplement your EXP. It may be possible to level solely through PvP (though experience gain was recently reduced in a patch). I expect a week or less is in range of most hardcore players. Three or four weeks would be a more average pace. But honestly? The IA story is great! It'd be a huge waste if you skipped it or didn't take at least a little leveling time to watch it. There are some parts (even while I’m trying to get to 50 ASAP) that I like to watch every time.
Q: Hey Fen, why are you in melee range so often?
A: 3/5 potential interrupts, if you are a Marksman, work only when you are less than 10m away from your target. CC and interrupts are important in TOR (particularly if you plan to level solo). The only reason I was able to beat the level 31-32 IA class quest elite (as a Sniper of the appropriate level) was that I used every single one of those interrupts -- the majority of which had been forgotten by the average Sniper precisely because they believed they could/should be able to handle everything at range. Cycling interrupts is, as far as I know, the only way to beat that particular quest as a Sniper without being two or three levels above it (or getting help from someone else).
What does that mean for Sniper tactics in general? Some melee range tactics are, situationally, superior to just staying at max ranged distance. At higher levels, knowing when and how to use the melee-range interrupts is essential to solo PvE success. You have never seen a more frustrated Sage or Inquisitor than when a Gunslinger/Sniper (in full command of their interrupts and CDs) moves into melee range and locks them down on five consecutive abilities. The icing on the cake is when, with your opponent at 30% health or less, you hit them with a Leg Shot snare as they're trying to Force Speed away. You'll rarely see this entire scenario on my stream because 1v1 is rare in PvP ... and it's not often you have all your CDs up to really enjoy this situation!
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