I want to pause here to tell you something very important: most of this information is available on the in-game character sheet! If you ever need to quickly determine which rating does what, you won't even have to come back here to look it up at launch. Currently, TOR's character sheet is quite open about what each stat and rating does and how it works. Although the calculations are not totally transparent, you can get a general idea of which rating impacts which stat and produces which potential output.
You just have to know where to look (i.e. mouseover). If you're in weekend beta, take a moment to hit 'C' to open the character sheet and play around with different tabs (ranged, tech, defense) and mouse over the different stats and ratings that are listed there. It's a good character sheet and if you've never played the game there's a lot to learn. Knowing how to both use your character sheet and read armor ratings (and/or enable comparative tooltips) will help you make good decisions about your gear as you level. It's pretty common to be wondering "what's better?" now and again.
I'll cover more of that as we continue.
But first: Sniper and Gunslinger's primary stat is Cunning (the same applies to Operative and Scoundrel). Everyone needs Endurance. It directly increases your health pool.
Cunning increases the damage of every ability you use, whether it's ranged or tech. Stacking Aim because "hey, I use rifles/blasters!" will only improve your ranged damage and gimp your tech damage. You have many important tech abilities. Some, like Ambush, are still tech abilities even though you're firing a ranged weapon. If you want to know if an ability is ranged or tech or something else, use the 'p' hotkey to open your abilities pane. There's a table next to the visual icon that will tell you what kind of damage your ability is doing (i.e. ranged, kinetic, tech/energy ("tech" was recently renamed "energy"), elemental, etc.). This can help you determine which stats, ranged or tech or whatever, have an impact on that ability -- and can also help you determine which abilities are likely to be resisted and which are not.
Most ranged abilities, like Snipe/Charged Burst, do Kinetic damage (and abilities tend to be Kinetic damage if it's not otherwise specified). Different types of damage have different characteristics. Kinetic damage can be dodged, shielded, and evaded: in short, it can miss.
Special abilities (like Ambush/Aimed Shot and Explosive Probe/Sabotage Charge – I am not entirely sure how they are classified anymore, and the new tooltips are bugged), however, have 100% accuracy and are often considered “Energy” damage. They never outright miss. They are, however, mitigated in part by a target’s armor/defense rating. Accuracy above 100% isn't wasted -- it just lowers your opponent's defense rating (which can help you do more damage).
There are other types of damage that Sniper/Gunslinger can use in a limited fashion. These are Internal and Elemental, respectively. There are some abilities like the Engineering tree's plasma probe (Saboteur's incendiary grenade) and Interrogation Probe (shock charge) that do elemental damage. The cool thing about elemental damage is that most people don't have resistance to it, so it tends to do a fair amount of damage with relative consistency. The lack of resistance to elemental and internal damage is one reason that force-using casters tend to hit so hard. In terms of bleed trees, some bleeds or DoTs may tick as “internal” damage (I’m not sure to what extent this still applies for GS/Sniper bleeds, but if it does, it will be specified in the ability tooltip or in the ability pane you access with the “p” hotkey).
Internal damage is another one that is not often resisted. You can find your resistances to the various types of damage listed in your character sheet. Go to the tab below your character portrait and use the drop-down menu. One of the options is “defense.” You’ll see a breakdown to your resistances / defense numbers based on armor rating, type of damage, and other factors. The character sheet is always a good place to go if you’re confused about stats. Keep in mind for beta that some tooltips may still be wrong! Weapon damage comes to mind, in fact. Sometimes it is listed as 5600 when it should really be 560.0. The decimal point may be getting lost on the “main” character sheet in this case.
As far as sniper rifles and vibroknives are concerned, base damage is the most important stat. More often than not, the weapon with the higher base damage is the better quality weapon, regardless of gear “type” (i.e. premium green, prototype blue, or artifact purple). I have yet to see a higher-level green with a good base damage rating fail to outperform a lower-level blue with a lower base damage rating. There was some debate a while ago about whether or not it was possible to find a vibroknife with a low damage rating but high tech power. Nothing has yet turned up. It is pretty safe to compare vibroknives using their base damage, but you’re welcome to use tech power as a baseline, instead! Heh.
I’m going to begin with an important and often-discussed topic: armor ratings. Armor ratings can be a quick way to evaluate which piece of gear is better. An armor rating acts something like a gear tier rating. It’s not the only thing you should look at when comparing items, but it’s very helpful to use if you’re looking at two similar items (i.e. with similar stats) to figure out which is going to help you more. A blue level 32 item with an 89 rating (these numbers are made up!) is better than a green level 34 item with an 82 rating. Believe it or not, armor rating is important for everyone and every class in the game. Armor rating is part of what determines your overall defense rating (i.e. your ability to mitigate damage done by equal-level opponents) and it will continue to play a factor in how much damage you take from both PvE and open world PvP opponents while you level. When in doubt with gear, at least in this build, it is a good idea to go for the item with the higher armor rating.
These are really useful when you’re trying to find a way to determine “what’s better.” You can enable them in your “preferences” (hit ESC while ingame to bring up the options). I believe these options are located in the “UI” tab. I like to enable summary, detailed, and companion comparative tooltips.
When these tooltips are enabled, if you mouseover a vendor item or a quest reward, a little window will pop up showing your current gear’s stats. The “comparative” part of tooltips means that there will be a column of red or green numbers at the bottom of the item information window. This tells you the differences (positive or negative) between the gear you have targeted (in the vendor/quest reward pane) and the gear you have equipped (in the popup window that follows your mouse cursor, on mouseover of any new or unequipped item).
The quick version: If there is a lot of green in the popup window next to your mouse, the new gear you’re looking at is better than what you’re wearing. If the popup window has a lot of red, however, you’re better off with the gear you have.
If you have mods in your gear, the “detailed” comparative tooltip will show you which mods are contributing which stats. This is a handy feature when you often get modifications to put into your gear and you need to know first, which type of mod you have (support, modulator, etc.) and second whether or not a new mod is an improvement (and by how much). If you are offered a mod you can’t use as a quest reward, you may have the option to pick up a blue prototype mission box instead. These blue boxes may contain relic items! However, what you get out of the boxes won’t always be usable by your or your companion. Taking the box is a gamble. When I have a choice between a mod I know I can’t use and a random item I might be able to use or sell? I go for the random box every time.
(these appear on items as embedded stats, but may also appear on individual mods and relics)
The important (or useful, opinions vary about which is better) ratings for Sniper/Gunslinger are, in no particular order: Accuracy, Power, Critical, Surge, and Alacrity. “What’s better” may vary by spec, though I have seen evidence that balanced ratings are the way to go.
Accuracy improves your chance to hit on all damage types. I consider it essential.
Power improves the base damage of every ability. It doesn't suffer as much from diminishing returns as Crit or Surge. As of December 2011, I am starting to tend to prefer power on gear and in temporary boosts from relics and adrenals.
Critical improves your chance for a critical hit. This can mean a difference of 500-1k damage (sometimes more). I consider it essential. Sniper has few talents that guarantee critical hits (Laze Target is one), so anything you can do to increase your crit rating will help increase the amount of your overall damage.
Surge improves the amount of damage you do on a critical hit. I consider it important, but not to the point where I'd stack it over accuracy and crit. You'll do better if you try to balance your ratings.
Alacrity improves the charge/channel times of non-instant abilities (i.e. Sniper/Charged Burst, Ambush/Aimed Shot, Orbital Strike / XS Freighter Flyby). Because you have talents that can passively decrease the channel times of most abilities, I consider alacrity an interesting but non-essential stat for Snipers. You also get a buff at level 50 that temporarily boosts your alacrity. If there are no other good options and a piece of gear has something like crit/alacrity or accuracy/alacrity -- it's probably for healers (healers love alacrity). Gear like that is potentially a good stopgap improvement for you while you're leveling, as long as no one else in the party would benefit from it. Alacrity has no effect on either cooldown timers or the GCD.
Conclusion: As far as ratings on Sniper gear are concerned, I prefer a balance of acc/crit with surge/power as primary or secondary stats when possible. There are currently some useful relics that, when activated, provide substantial temporary boosts to surge and power. I attempted to stack crit exclusively two or three builds ago and ended up royally gimping myself in the accuracy department (when I hit, I crit – but I missed an awful lot). Having balanced ratings and stats mattered then, and will likely continue to matter in the current beta build and at launch. I have since avoided stacking stats and have only been “gimp” when my gear is inappropriate for my level (aka: wearing level 35 stuff at level 45-50; this can happen easily if you solo a lot of content and skip flashpoints).
The Basics of SW:TOR Modification
NB: Itemization is one place where the game is constantly changing and improving. The mods we have now may not be the mods we have live, but I’ll do my best to explain the trends I’ve noticed with the system.
Mods are a significant part of SW:TOR’s itemization system. They’re the most important pieces of “non-equipment” you’ll find because they enhance your current gear, upgrade lower-level gear that you haven’t yet replaced, and in some cases allow you to get a “scoundrel” look (i.e. capes) on a Gunslinger. There’s a popular saying that “mods make the gear.”
In order to use a modification, you need modifiable gear. Not all gear has slots that take mods. A lot of items in this build (particularly greens and blues) have embedded stats rather than mod slots. Mod slots become more common on “pre-slotted” prototype (blue) and artifact (purple) gear. “Pre-slotted” just means that the gear has natural mods in it and isn’t a blank canvas. However, there is another type of gear that comes with mod slots but no mods in them (“blank” gear). Blank gear often has a good base armor rating and three-four mod slots. “Blank gear” is useful if you’ve been collecting level-appropriate mods but don’t want to put them in a piece of armor with a lower armor rating.
The most important thing about mods: use them when they are in line with your level!
A level 16 relic mod is strongest (and most beneficial to you) when you are level 16. There is no point in hoarding or saving them if you’re not going to use them right away or they don’t have stats you want on your gear (or your companions’ gear, if they have gear with mod slots).
A modification slot, if it is full, will still show the name of the mod in parentheses (i.e. like a support in the case of armor, and a modulator or barrel in the case of weapons). Mod slots can only be filled with like mods. This is important. Supports can only replace other supports and fit in empty slots marked with the “support” name. Barrels can only replace other barrels and fit in empty slots on weapons marked with “barrel.” You cannot put a support mod in a barrel slot and vice versa (much as I would often like to do this).
To use a mod, ctrl-right click on item either in your inventory or equipped on your character. A “modification” window will pop up. You now have two choices: you can put a new mod on top of an old mod (destroying the old mod), or you can take out the old mod first (for a fee of credits). It can be worth it to save the mod you’re replacing when you have another piece of gear that would benefit from the old mod. Most often, however, I just destroy old mods and move on. Removing high-level mods costs more credits than removing low-level mods.
Warning: As helpful as mods are, you were once able to use them to screw up your gear if you weren’t careful. This is one way in which itemization has been improving over the last few builds. There are now fewer mods with more consistent stats, so it’s less likely that you’ll accidentally make your gear worse than you found it (i.e. by stacking so much of one kind of rating that you sacrifice another important rating; for example sacrificing accuracy for crit).
The best sources of moddable gear tend to be heroic quest rewards, random world drops, and the Galactic Trade Network. Mods make up an average number of quest rewards as well, but you are usually better served by searching the GTN in order to find exactly the kind of mod you are looking for (i.e. a modulator to put in a high-quality sniper weapon).
In conclusion: Either use mods at appropriate levels or sell them, spend a little time seeing if quest rewards that are mods will upgrade any of your gear, and try to keep your ratings balanced rather than stacking one to the exclusion of a complementary rating (i.e. acc vs. crit and surge vs. power).
Errata (11.29.2011): It was brought to my attention that I had the tooltip colors mixed up in the "quick version" explanation (i.e. green for red and red for green). This paragraph should now be correct.
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