A lot of people overlook this and wonder why they are out of energy all the time. Then they play a class with a deep resource pool like Sith Sorcerer and quit Sniper or Operative simply because they didn’t know what they were getting into and didn’t have good information about resource management.
In exchange for a low resource pool and a variable regeneration mechanic, Sniper and Operative have relatively low energy costs on most specs. This means you can pace yourself by using different abilities or just leaning on your default attack (it’s bound to the “1” hotkey ingame automatically) while your energy regenerates.
Resource management separates good snipers from great ones. Most Snipers probably don't think about energy usage beyond the bolded sentence at the top of this page (or they've discovered that some combinations or abilities work better then others, but they haven't yet figured out why).
Rather than tell you how and when and why to use each ability (bear in mind that some specs are inherently more energy-intensive than others), I’m going to give you some guidelines that you can use while you level to develop your own “priority list.” Yours may not be the same as mine. I’ve been level 50 for a while now and sometimes it is hard for me to remember what the other levels are like.
The Energy Toolbar
Your energy bar is yellow, which makes it really easy to see on the blue UI frame. Beside the long yellow bar is a shorter area with four yellow arrows. These arrows represent your level of energy regeneration. Four arrows represents a regeneration rate of 5/sec. If you ever have questions about how fast you are regenerating energy, you can mouseover these arrows to check the numerical energy/sec value. In my opinion, the numbers aren’t nearly as important as getting an intuitive feel for your abilities. We can spend time theorycrafting after launch.
You will notice that being in “four arrow” territory is the fastest way to replenish your energy, that it is okay to briefly dip into “three arrow” and "two arrow" territory as long as you get back to three-four relatively fast (if you are doing sustained damage), and that the only time you want to get into the hell that is “one arrow” is when you need a target dead and dead right now, this instant.
When you get access to Adrenaline Probe, it is sometimes okay to drain all your energy and then use the probe to refill your bar. Adrenaline Probe exists in the game as a way for Sniper to strategically burn energy when necessary without overly punishing them as a DPS class. They wouldn’t be much good as DPS if they lacked an ability to react to changing situations around them. One of the key ways Snipers react to combat is deciding how long they can safely let an opponent live. You are essentially balancing your energy with your damage output and hitpoints.
The key principle for soloing is opportunity cost. If you are doing one thing you cannot be doing another. For example, if you are doing burst DPS you are sacrificing energy regeneration in order to do damage and preserve your hitpoints. If you are doing sustained DPS you are sacrificing some damage and hitpoints in order to keep your energy regeneration high.
At higher levels you will have incentive to maintain sustained damage and use your control abilities until your opponent hits 30% life, at which point you can decide whether or not you need to continue doing sustained damage or transition into burst damage in order to kill an enemy before it can kill you. Knowing when to transition to which type of damage is key to playing Sniper well (especially if you are solo).
My priorities are based on several things: my current energy level, the cooldowns I have available (and the length of an ability’s cooldown in general), the energy efficiency of the available abilities, and the way those abilities use energy. It is easier to develop ability priorities in PvE because you have time to think about what you’re doing. What you learn about your class in PvE can help prepare you for pacing your energy usage in PvP (when you need to be relying on your reflexes).
If I’m about to go from “two arrow” to “three arrow” (or three to four), I might choose to use a default attack to allow my energy to climb. I also might use a channeled ability with a front-loaded energy cost because my energy will continue to regenerate during the channeled damage. It is best to use instant abilities with a high energy cost while your energy is high. When you have finished using an instant ability like that, you start immediately at a lower energy level. It is better for that lower energy level to remain in “three arrow.” Another ability that can be tricky to use is Ambush. It charges up (allowing energy to regenerate during the charge), then uses its energy at the end of the charge. This means that you are better off using Ambush when you are between 70%-80% energy to allow your energy to regenerate during the charged part of the ability (so that the high energy cost comes when you are in a high energy state). Using Ambush at 100% energy is frankly a waste of time in which your energy (had you already used some!) could be regenerating.
Incidentally, this is why I like to plant Explosive Probe, use Flash Grenade, and then detonate that probe with Ambush on very difficult targets (i.e. a fight with a gold elite enemy). Explosive Probe to Ambush is an extremely efficient PvE opener and can be used to good effect in PvP as well (but not quite in the same way and not always as an opener; more explanation on this in Engineering/PvP tactics). If you are Engineering spec, a good followup to the initial detonation of Explosive Probe is to use Series of Shots to detonate the multiple probes on your target.
It’s tricky to describe this. Most often I’d deal in specific examples and you’ll find a few in the spec-specific sections of this guide. Basically, you need to be careful about how you use anything with a long cooldown and you can be a little less careful with any ability that has a short cooldown. Spend time thinking about where and how you want to use anything that has a cooldown of 30 seconds or more. Think about whether it will stack well with another of your abilities (i.e. your defensive cooldowns are very good when stacked together and if you need one you will probably need to use all of them). Think about how often an ability can be used in a short fight vs. a long fight and at what point you would need to use it (beginning, middle, or end). Think about whether or not an ability uses energy and whether or not it's on the GCD (many defensive abilities do not require energy to use and do not activate the GCD). An alternative to spamming a default attack that gobbles up a GCD may be using a non-damage ability like Marksman’s Diversion to debuff the accuracy of your target and free up your damage abilities to be used when you feel like it (and not when the GCD ends).
Keep in mind that the GCD is 1.5 seconds and, if you are somewhere between 85-95 energy, you could potentially waste some energy regen by accidentally using your default attack ability even one more time than you thought you would! This is one area of judging ability priority that just takes practice.
Some abilities are more efficient than others. The most efficient abilities also tend to be granted to Sniper around level 30-35, can be unlocked by using a less efficient ability, and are keystones of any rotation. Not using your most efficient abilities and making no effort to understand which are more or less efficient is the fast way to poorly using your resources. It’s good to balance efficient abilities with inefficient ones (or use them in combination) because of the variable way in which energy regenerates. Using only efficient abilities is just as bad as using only inefficient ones that do lots of damage (many people don’t understand this concept).
If you are using only efficient abilities, you won’t be able to drain your energy bar at mid-high levels. What works at lower levels is a really bad thing to do as you progress through the game. It is better to constantly re-evaluate your energy usage as you level rather than getting into a set rotation and thinking “that’s it, I now know this class!”
If you are using only abilities that hit hard for high numbers, but are not efficient, then you will quickly run out of energy and your damage will drop to zero if you don’t have Adrenaline Probe available.
Using efficient and inefficient abilities in combination will produce a steady drain on your resources that you can more actively predict and effectively manage. This is difficult to do well but becomes important around level 20 and only increases in importance as you level. It is much easier to develop combinations of abilities in advance while you are quietly PvE leveling than it is to divine them in the heat of a PvP match (though, no doubt, you would begin to notice this effect in PvP as well).
Timing of Energy Cost
This is an unusual concept that most people do not talk about and very few Snipers have probably even considered. I’ve never heard another Sniper discuss this in any capacity, but “when” an ability uses energy is just as important as how much energy it uses. I am not going to explain how every sniper ability uses energy, but I am going to give you some key examples and basic types to look for while you play the game.
Instant (Fragmentation Grenade)
This ability instantly consumes a chunk of energy. I like to use it when I am already in “three-four arrow” territory and unlikely to drop lower. These abilities tend to make decent openers or finishers in a fight and I consider them “burst” in most cases. They can be more or less efficient and on more or less of a cooldown. Highly efficient instant abilities are a vital part of a sustained DPS priority/rotation. Those very special abilities are often unlocked by an additional condition (i.e. you just recently used Snipe, in the case of Followthrough … or your target is at 30% health, in the case of Takedown).
These abilities do not consume energy until they fire, only charge time. They are good to use at slightly lower than optimum energy levels (for example, if you just dipped into “two or three arrow” regen). Why is this? Your energy regenerates during the charge and is only consumed at the end. They are great abilities to use in combination with highly efficient abilities while trying to maintain sustained DPS.
Channeled (Orbital Strike, Series of Shots)
Many of Sniper’s channeled abilities become usable only in the mid-late game. Channeled abilities use energy at the beginning of the channel. During the channel, however, your energy will regen. They can be used at many different points in an ability priority depending on what your goals for damage are, how much energy they cost, and whether or not you can regenerate the energy they have used while they are channeling. I prefer to use these abilities when I am in mid-low three or four arrow territory. It is not bad to dip into “three arrow” on the initial cast and then get back to “four” during the channel.
If you spend any time at all considering the points I’ve outlined, you will be a better Sniper than someone who hasn’t. You will also better understand why I tend to say “ability priority” rather than rotation and tend to use some things at particular times in a fight rather than others. None of these concepts are easy to master. Combining efficient and inefficient abilities (in order to achieve a predictable rate of energy regeneration) is actually a nonintuitive tactic that I developed over months of playing the class. There’s more to deciding what ability to use and when than just what I’ve outlined, too. Some of it also has to do with the number and strength of the enemies you’re fighting.
Briefly, always opening with Explosive Probe and Ambush for big hits is stupid if your target doesn’t have enough health to justify the energy expense. For example, if you are facing three standard targets you can usually take them out with one heavy-hitting ability each and save yourself some energy and cooldown time (I use Series of Shots on one, Ambush on another, and Explosive Probe/Snipe on the third as a 41+ Engineering spec). Any good DPS knows better than to overkill their enemies. It is better to do “just enough” and even “slightly less” damage than it is to overkill an NPC or a player by 1k (the exception to this rule is at the very end of a fight when both you and your opponent are at low HP: defeat them using any means necessary or available to you!)
This is one of the most challenging and "finesse" elements of Sniper next to positioning because you have so many options and viable damage abilities. It takes time, patience, and practice to do any of this well.
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Errata/Corrections (11.25/27.11): I erroneously reported "three" arrows as the maximum regeneration point. This is not the case. Four arrows is the maximum regeneration indicator. It was still correctly reported as 5energy/second. I have changed some of my pacing recommendations to reflect the correct visual indicators. Caught a second incorrect reference in another paragraph (11.27).