Alternative Leveling Build for Alternative Playstyles

This post is for people who may not want to play the Sniper as a ranged single-target DPS like I do. It is based totally in personal preference. This build will make no sense for someone who wants to stay at range and time their hard-hitting abilities.

It will make a lot of sense, however, to/for someone who doesn't mind getting into melee range and using Fragmentation Grenade to AoE down a pack of standards. AoE can be fun, but Frag Grenade is a largely impractical ability to use if you are playing Sniper like I do and want to use the rotations I've previously outlined in my general guide.


Why it works: Standards are the easiest things to kill in the game. Being in melee range of your enemies while Kaliyo takes aggro will allow you to hit all of your targets (Frag Grenade has an 8m range and a knockdown on weak targets) and Kaliyo probably won't die against a pack of standards. This build is largely designed to take down a lot of standards at once.

Why I don't bother: My builds prioritize high single-target damage and self-defense while staying at range. That's just the kind of person I am.

Differing results in killtime/downtime: Possible, but unlikely. Both rotations use about five GCDs to deal with a standard group (most are three mobs, very few are four or more). What differs is the range at which you engage (I engage from cover at 15-20m) -- this build walks into a group -- and possibly how familiar you are with single-target rotations. One of the key benefits of playing Marksman single-target while you're leveling is building up the "muscle memory" that I came to rely on at higher levels.

You may also have trouble relying on your tank companion to take damage at higher levels (when enemies have harder-hitting abilities). Both of my respective leveling builds focus on single-target damage and will not require a respec at any time from 1-50.

Caveat: I tested Gunslinger/Sniper exclusively in all builds in beta. At no point in any build did I ever not have a capped Gunslinger/Sniper and spend significant time testing builds and capabilities at 50. I have leveled in a variety of ways, made a variety of mistakes, and have found Marksmanship to be the single most consistent early-game spec for a ranged-based playstyle. Different specs are stronger at different points in the game. If one way of playing the game is not working for you (i.e. ranged-exclusive), I encourage you to respec and try a different method that you might better enjoy.

And now, without further hemming!

An Alternative Leveling Perspective

Quillix (DarthHater; Source - second post from the bottom)
The first 4 points for Sniper, regardless of what you want your end spec to be, should end up being Engineer's Tool Belt and Energy Tanks.
[Fen's note: This is inaccurate if you want to do high single-target DPS as a Marksmanship Sniper, not respec on your way to 50, and prefer to use Snipe at range instead of Fragmentation Grenade at melee range.]  
With the base energy level of 100, our pool of energy in which we regen at 5 energy per second is 40 energy (60 to 100). With an additional 10 energy from Energy Tanks, we then have a pool of 50 energy that is within the 5 energy per second regen rate.
[Fen's note: It's actually 44 and not 50 from my experience in the launch build (i.e. 60% of your total 110 bar is 5/tick territory), but it can be very hard to tell that it's working this way without directly mousing over your energy bar to look at the numbers. Energy Tanks is still an excellent talent in combination with Sniper's Nest, mostly because there are many and various benefits to having a larger energy pool.]
This actually is substantial.
[Fen's note: It's also the only way a Frag Grenade based build is viable at low levels before you get higher-tier energy regen talents. A single-target spec'd Marksmanship Sniper, pacing their ability usage, will not require the extra energy and may wait until the later levels to take any talents outside their tree.]
Once you have your 3s cooldown Frag Grenade, your rotation ends up being: Frag Grenade > Rifle Shot > FG > RS > FG
[Fen's note: 5 GCDs. Total of 7.5 seconds and 60 energy, with Rifle Shot to help manage energy usage. I do not enjoy using Rifle Shot this much.]
I cannot stress enough how easy it is to kill everything doing this.  On Strong or harder mobs, you will end up using Aimed Shot, Explosive Probe, Snipe, etc,
[Fen's note: This part of the rotation should look familiar. Aimed Shot is correct for Gunslingers, but for Sniper it's Ambush. I make the same mistake on a fairly regular basis. Reminder: If your rotation leads with Ambush and you have a full energy bar, you're probably doing it wrong.]
but for groups, it's Frag Grenade on cooldown.

Our stat, regardless of Sniper vs Operative, or spec, is always Cunning.  How you prioritize this, is up to you.  If you want a heartier character, then opt for more endurance over cunning, instead of the 'glass cannon' gear with more cunning than endurance. Cunning increases our ranged damage and crit, just like aim does, but cunning also increases tech damage and crit... aim does not.
For my leveling build, I start out with:
[Fen's Note: I honestly can't imagine not waiting to spec EMP Discharge for the Adrenaline Probe / Shield Probe reset. EMP Discharge is on a 1min CD, which means you can use it about every second or third fight (aka: whenever you feel like it) and dramatically reduce your overall downtime in ALL fights, not just vs. standard packs.
This is where I would argue that continuing to cling to Fragmentation Grenade is trying to hold onto an ability long past its limited shelf-life usefulness. What TORhead's tooltip also doesn't mention is that Frag Grenade's major damage hits only the primary target. Any other damage it does is smaller splash (so 1000 to the primary target and 300-500 to up to four surrounding targets).
As mobs increase in level their health goes up and Frag Grenade damage starts to feel a bit like spitting into the ocean.]
Here's a Q&A related to engaging mob packs in the open world, potential problems when using the above spec if you are new to the AC, and how to use this build appropriately:

Korkari (DarthHater, Source)
I've had the chance to play during the Thanksgiving beta weekend and chose to go the sniper route since that is the archetype that I am most comfortable with.  I enjoyed learning the cover system and based on your earlier comments, had a much easier time solo questing going with Engineering vs. Marksman.  My standard rotation against the usual 3-4 mob packs consisted of sending in Kaliyo, cover, laze, fragmentation grenade, rifle shot, frag grenade, RS and snipe the last mob.  It was pretty effective.

However, there have been a couple of pulls where I would go through that rotation and found that it was difficult for Kaliyo to stay alive, after which, mobs would be all over me.  I've made sure to maintain Kaliyo's gear, with an emphasis on endurance, then aim and my understanding was that she was a ranged tank and could take more punishment than I was seeing.  There is no "mend pet" in SWTOR, so I'd like any input you might have on increasing her survivability.  Should I be possibly taking aggro on 1 or 2 of the mobs to split the damage?
[Fen's note: This is a reasonable conclusion! Good thinking.] 
What has your experience been?
Second part to this question... How does Kaliyo decide whether to do a charged shot on her first move or to rocket pack into melee?  Based on type of mob?

Thanks again for your contribution to this forum.  A lot of us will be better IA's as a result.
Edit: I'd like to add that I only had a chance to level to the mid 20's, so my experience with that class was up to that point.  I first encountered these issues during the temple questline against the lightsaber-wielding mobs as well as one of the factory/warehouse questlines after (don't recall which one).
Quillix (DarthHater: Source - last post on the page)

This requires a bit of back story on how the game has progressed during beta.  The 'tanking stance' that the tank companions such as Kaliyo, Khem Val, SCORPIO, Pierce, Xalek, etc received increased threat, shield chance, and armor.  Approximately 4-5 builds back, they removed the armor bonus from the tanking stance from all companions.  This change makes them considerably squishier.  So much in fact, that all player tanks, and depending on gear, players that aren't tanks will have more defense than your tanking companions.  There was considerable uproar on the test forums, first starting with BUG reports, as this change was completely undocumented... and while they removed the word 'armor' from the main ability tooltip on your companion bar, it still showed up on the buff tooltip on your companion.  In the most recent build, the buff tooltip has been updated and no longer states armor now.
[Fen's note: I noticed that companions were squishier, but it didn't much change how I played the game or my overall experience. I accepted that they were squishier (on purpose, because for a while they were better than player tanks!) and moved on. There was a timeframe where I ran into problems because I didn't notice that I'd given Kaliyo a Generator instead of a Shield Generator. The two perform very different functions.]
I never saw an official response to this change, and I completely disagree with it as the rhythm of game play changed and now you need to dismiss/summon your companion after every pull, or every other pull at 30+, in order to heal them up because they will be near dead. 
[Fen's note: Interestingly, this is not always the case if you are focusing targets at 30+ with a DPS companion like Vector. Sometimes they'll be near dead, other times, if your companion CCs or uses a defensive ability, you'll have killed the mobs so fast that neither of you will take significant damage.]
The change was most likely made because healer classes with tank companions could solo all 2heroic and most 4heroic content in the game. 
[Fen's note: Really, at low levels they were better than player tanks and that was kinda silly.]
But classes such as sniper end up hurting when they have no heals to toss out on their companion, which is why I go Biochem on my Sniper.
[Fen's note: I used stims and medpacks only in emergencies and/or only on boss fights. I also chose to split threat with my companion and didn't rely on their single health pool to soak up all the damage that mobs could dish out. Most of the time, outside of fighting elites in open world or special elites in class quests, I didn't even need to use stims or medpacks (I carried 10 medpacks of the appropriate level at all times, but that was it). I might have used them more often if I had leveled Biochem and had a bajillion to spare, though - Biochem is a good profession for reasons previously outlined.]
Here is why I dismiss/summon instead of heal or resurrect when my companion is low on health or dies.  When a companion is low on health, you need to channel Recuperate for 10-15s to get them up to full health.  If a companion dies, you need to cast your Resurrect Companion ability with a 2s cast, which spawns them at 10% health, and then channel Recuperate for 10-15s.  Counter to that, you can dismiss your companion, and summon with a 1.5s cast, and they will be at full health.  So to limit down time, I dismiss/summon instead of heal.  If I'm outside, I'll mount on my speeder and dismount which also heals them to full.  This really ruins the flow of the game in my opinion, and they need to address this.  Every class in the game shouldn't be punished because of what healers can do with their tank companions.
[Fen's note: The increased downtime is negligible, in my opinion. My companions may also take less damage because of the way I play. Healers have a slight advantage in solo PvE over pure DPS no matter what way you play. Stealthers can also get out of combat if a fight goes bad.]
For clusters of mobs, I rarely kill them from range, I will get up point blank melee range.
[Fen's note: My emphasis. This is the most important difference between us.]
In general, there are 3 types of clusters of mobs;
  • Tightly grouped up
  • Mostly grouped up with 1 or 2 off to the side
  • Spread out
For the tightly grouped mob pack I run up to melee range, toss out a Frag, and enter cover. I do this because I don't want melee mobs running after me away from the ranged mobs.  I'll rotate between them always trying to select the highest hitpoint one to Frag next.  For the groups where 1 mob is off to the side, I'll swing around and start with it, and position myself so my Frag knocks him towards the other mobs.  If the mob is far enough way from the others, I'll use Cover Pulse to send it flying on top of them.  If there are 2 mobs off to the side, I'll get just outside melee range and cast Cover Pulse, knocking them both back on top of the others, then I'll run up and plant cover again at melee range and Frag rotation.  My entire approach is to get them grouped up.  For the mobs that are completely spread out, I simply kill them individually as it's more of a headache to get them stacked up.
[Fen's note: This is where I have to explain something important. Back when Frag Grenade was a useless ability, mobs still hit for about the same amount of damage and still came in groups. The key to taking no damage at all was to use Flash Bang to hit all your targets (or at least two of them, if they were spread out) and then kill each one at a time in the eight second interval before the stun wore off. You can even solo some open-world heroic quests by using a variation of this method.
This is the reason Flash Bang is at the beginning of almost every one of my "ability priorities" regardless of spec and that I take Engineer's Tool Belt not for the reduction to Fragmentation Grenade CD, but for the ability to more frequently use Flash Bang (60s untalented CD and 30m range for Snipers: you should think about when to use it but you should also use it as often as possible). The above positioning circus is one of many reasons (other than personal preference) why I'd never use a frag-based spec to level.
Coincidentally, it is difficult to kill things one at a time when you have AoE damage abilities in your rotation. This build can work, but it is basically antithetical to how I play Sniper for most of the game.]
Kaliyo's ability prioritization is always Charge first, 'IF' she is within 15m range.. which is the range of that ability.  If she is outside 15m from her target, she will stay at range using Charged Shot first if it is off cooldown, and Frag Grenade.  There are 2 reasons I always enter melee range on normal mob packs, first is because of the melee mobs, I don't want them running to me and not get hit by the AOE.  So to keep them stacked up, I have to be in melee range.  Second, me running into melee range means Kaliyo will be in melee range too.  Kaliyo has EMP Pulse which is a PBAOE damage ability, her Shotgun Blast which is melee range that gives her armor, and her Flare Gun with is a 15m range PBAOE taunt.  Kaliyo operates best in melee range.  At higher levels, she will pull enough AOE threat that all I have to do is run in and start Frag Grenade rotation and she will get agro on everything.  This is also the quickest way to kill things.
[Fen's note: Debateable. At higher levels, using a DPS companion and focusing their target has pretty good results in combination with Flash Bang. Use a tank companion at your discretion.]  
If I need to, I'll dismiss/summon, or mount/dismount to heal her between packs.


All of your decisions on specs and builds must be rooted in logic and clear decisions about your gameplay goals and preferences.

Taking AoE talents and relying on Fragmentation Grenade means that you will need to move into melee range and gather up your targets to be effective. This is what you should do if you want to play this way and build this way. Quillix also frequently leveled as an Operative and was tired of single-target attacking enemies. We have fundamentally different gameplay experiences in that regard. I preferred single-target damage because, in the majority of beta builds, I found single-target damage to be higher and more consistent than AoE damage. For most of beta Fragmentation Grenade also did not do enough damage to be used in the manner outlined above (frankly, I didn't have it on my bar during most of testing). The ninja-buff to Frag Grenade damage made it "not totally useless even for Marksman" approximately three builds ago.

Taking single-target talents and then relying on abilities like Explosive Probe, Snipe, and Ambush to do damage will mean you can stay in one place at range. I find this useful against ranged enemies (i.e. to negate some damage completely when behind natural cover). Even lategame my spec does not suffer from the weaknesses of tank companions. The reduced effectiveness of tank companions has not particularly affected either my playstyle or my downtime. For example, I choose to turn off some of Kaliyo's threat abilities so that she and I share threat and we both end up at about 60-65% health rather than one or the other of us taking all the damage. I also frequently switch to using Vector to clear standard mob groups on Alderaan.

My single-target burst way of playing Sniper means that I reduce the number of enemies attacking myself and my companion as quickly as possible (mostly through the use of focus-targeting and Flash Bang to take as little damage as possible). I like to direct my companion to attack one mob, finish it off with my first CD, direct companion to attack a second, finish that one off with my second CD, and then move on to focus the final opponent. This strategy is particularly effective as a pure single-target burst DPS squishy Sniper -- which is the kind of Sniper I play!

Final Thoughts

Important: Just because someone is leveling in a way I don't enjoy and that does not complement my playstyle does not make it wrong.

After taking some time to read the DarthHater forums, I'm also beginning to understand why people have been asking me about the "Energy Tanks" leveling builds. "Sure, you can do that if you want" has always been true.

However, I do not prefer to level that way and -- as previously outlined -- like setting up once at range and then taking single targets down as fast as possible. I find TOR's AoE damage comparatively lackluster across all classes (considering it works best only against standard/trash targets). Fragmentation Grenade has always been an ability of last resort for me (I prefer two front-loaded 800-1500 Snipes over one 1000-1100 Frag Grenade in the same timeframe, which is why I talent Snap Shot).

This is one really good example of how "preference" can influence someone's beta build and tactics.

This kind of response concerns me:

Kokari (Darth Hater; Source)

Thank you both for your responses. It makes me feel a bit better to know why my "tank" companion felt so squishy. Quillixx, I will try the run-in-and-melee-AoE method you described above, though that is counter to my sensibilities of why I chose to play the sniper. The reasons are sound though and will see how comfortable it is for me to adapt to my playstyle. :)
I usually try to begin my fights at or near max range, which would explain why I observed Kaliyo starting with a ranged ability a majority of the time. I hope Bioware is able to fix the tanking stance or at least find an acceptable compromise to minimize the disadvantage to the sniper AC.

The emphasis is mine.

I want to discourage people from needlessly making compromises like the one above without knowing about the reasonable, viable, and logical alternatives. Fact of the matter is that Fragmentation Grenade doesn't show up in any of my rotations because I just ... always have other options. Sniper has an incredible number of viable damage abilities. This means you can pick and choose the ones you like and adapt your playstyle accordingly.

Where my Sniper builds are concerned, I just always had better options than Fragmentation Grenade.

For Marksman that better option is Snipe. Snipe has no cooldown, does consistent front-loaded damage, unlocks Followthrough and Reactive Shot, can be made even better through Sniper Volley stacking and ... well, the Marksmanship tree improves Snipe an awful lot. In comparison, Fragmentation Grenade is instant and knocks down standard/weak enemies ... and is not improved by any of the base/native talents in the Marksmanship tree.

My Engineering builds also frequently skip the improvement to Fragmentation Grenade and rely on high single-target ranged burst with some improved DoTs and defensive abilities (aka: I don't try to use Fragmentation Grenade in situations where it does not excel, which is most of the situations I encounter when playing an Engineering spec'd Sniper at range, much like the other poster in that thread).

The only thing I'll promise about every one of my builds is that they are designed to work (with few exceptions) totally at range. If that's your idea of fun, use 'em. They'll be more or less strong at different points in the game as you increase in level.

I hope all of that mess was a useful comparison. I realize that "full" explanations of your options as a Sniper can be hard to find under the best circumstances.

Edit: If you want to know who's really good at killing lots of trash mobs at once, it's Trooper/Bounty Hunter. So if your goal is to dominate trash mobs, I'd suggest those classes. Or Sage's Force in Balance AoE (it's instant, costs practically no energy, and will instantly kill a wave of three trash mobs). Everybody kills trash mobs and most of them do it better than Sniper. Where Snipers excel is on the hard targets.


  1. Fen, I (Korkari) was the one who originally wrote the two forum posts you cited in your article. I appreciate all of the knowledge and experience that both you and Quillixx are willing to share and feel I should provide a little bit more detail with respect to my own preferred playstyle and my experience during beta.

    Hunter, sniper, archer, marksman... call it what you will, that is the archetype I gravitate to in the games I play. Ranged DPS. Keep the mobs away from me as long as possible while I whittle away at their health. So I knew that the IA sniper was the AC I wanted to play and try out in beta. My own preference is to stay at max range, find cover and open with a high-damage shot, such as Ambush, then cycle through my other abilities. I would use Flash Bang when it was off CD. My original build was straight-up Markman and I enjoyed the hard-hitting shots. However, I first encountered my first real test in beta during the questlines that took me through the Dark Temple (mid-teens, maybe?). I believe it was a function of fast respawns due to having a lot of people questing there as well as dealing with multiple saber-wielding mobs, but I found myself overwhelmed with melee mobs around me a few times and questioned whether or not I was speccing correctly.

    After my first beta was over, I took the time to reassess and research how I should have done things differently. Hence, my forum posts to Quillixx and his replies. I am not set in my ways and wanted to try out different methods. For solo questing during the second (and last) beta, the AOE method works, not only for the splash damage done to the groups of mobs, but the damage you are able to mitigate because of the knockback that the grenade does.

    As I stated in my post, the AOE method is against my "sensibilities" about playing a ranged class. However, I think it shows me options and is another tool in my belt. I plan to find the right time during leveling to go back to my sniper roots and pick off my mobs one at a time. Part of my research is finding when that time is right.

    The contributions that you, Quillixx and others provide is a wonderful jumping point for all future IA's. In the end, there are no right or wrong answers; it's up to each person to find what works for them and what doesn't. I am anxious to try out both ways again and see if my experiences during beta will make things easier.

    I'm being deployed on Dreshdae Cantina, but hopefully my path with cross with you and other knowledgeable IA's to share our experiences.

  2. Thank you for that thoughtful response, Korkari.

    In regards to the Dark Temple: It has long hallways and mobs with wide aggro radii. Provided you stick close to the walls and methodically kill off the stuff in front of you, you'll be fine. Takes a bit longer to fight through, but isn't so bad as a single-target DPS (top off your health-energy as you go).

    I have a lot of habits/routines developed during beta that I don't always make clear in guides.

    I would say, if you're going Marksmanship and having issues during the lower levels, go back to it when you unlock Followthrough at level 35ish. The spec gets really fun to play about then.

    Best of luck!

  3. Ack. One more thing: Having melee mobs cluster up on you isn't an issue as long as you're not dying. You're still playing the class correctly. If you are dying, then that is a problem.

    I'm not sure which of those outcomes (dying vs. not dying) describes your particular situation. Heh.

  4. My usual reaction to seeing melee get up close and personal with me is to back away. It comes from 4.5 years of ingrained WoW training, so I probably created more of a mess for myself than I should have.

    Secondly, I hit the temple when I was about 1-2 levels lower than the mobs in there because I was anxious to keep my class story going.

    During that set of quests, I would often die before my companion (Kaliyo), so I just needed to learn to mitigate aggro better. As the game wore on, I improved and started to find a rhythm. I would ultimately like to find that rhythm using the traditional role of ranged sniper, rather than melee AOE.

    Live and learn. Thanks as always for your input.

  5. Hmmmm! I have a few ideas about what might help in the future. There have been plenty of times in beta when I soloed quests four levels higher than myself with the aid of a companion.

    Using the "attack" command on Kaliyo - it looks like a fist just below her portrait on the UI - can help her target mobs preemptively (and also help you focus down a specific target more easily).

    I'm not sure if you've tried this yet, but there's an order to killing things:
    1. Standards
    2. Strongs
    3. Elites

    Here's why: Standards do plenty of damage but they have low HP. Taking out two standards before you take out a Strong (neutralize the Strong with Flash Bang while you kill the standards) will keep both you and Kaliyo from taking a lot of damage. It's counterintuitive for players from certain games, but it'll make more sense after you've tried it.

    If Kaliyo is having trouble taking aggro:
    Open up your Companion "control" bar (underneath their portraits on your UI is a "+" symbol, click it - the default location for the expanded bar is over your hotkeys). Check her abilities to make sure her taunts/threat moves are turned on.

    If she starts dying more often, turn one or two of them off until you start to trade aggro with her. It can take practice.

    I'll give you an illustration of my low-level routine with Kaliyo: Scan an area for patrolling enemies, take cover next to a wall or solid object (to control aggro radii), and then send Kaliyo in to attack something. Alternatively, I'd use Flash Bang on a group and then either focus Kaliyo's targets or direct her to attack a target I wanted to focus. Prioritize the use of Explosive Probe, Snipe, and Ambush.

    The only challenge for energy management should be making sure you pace your use of Snipe. If a melee enemy comes up to you, you can briefly hop out of cover to use Debilitate(2sec stun)/Shiv and then drop back into cover. You'd be surprised that it's pretty good damage!

  6. Sometimes posting faults you have made can be funny for some, so I will share some of mine while leveling, with the disclaimer that towards the end of beta, I learned and adapted. :)

    "Using the "attack" command on Kaliyo - it looks like a fist just below her portrait on the UI - can help her target mobs preemptively (and also help you focus down a specific target more easily)."
    - In the beginning (up to level 16), I didn't do this. I would just take cover, Laze, Ambush and by then, Kaliyo would smack me upside the head because I made it so hard for her to focus on the multiple targets. After level 16, I would send her in first. It wasn't that I was ignorant of that ability. Call it impatience, or maybe I thought I was more OP than I was. This is a habit now, though I would love a quick macro that would send in my companion and take cover with one button. This was how I set up my hunter in WoW, btw... Hunter's Mark and send in the pet.

    "'m not sure if you've tried this yet, but there's an order to killing things:
    1. Standards
    2. Strongs
    3. Elites"
    - This is good to know and reading your posts, I already picked up on this, but not before beta was over. I would always target the most powerful mobs first because I considered them the biggest "threat".

    I didn't notice, but if I don't specify a target for Kaliyo, is there a kill order she follows? Will she target my target first, does she target the most powerful mob, or maybe melee>ranged?

  7. There was no set order I could discern last beta build. I have a feeling it might be "whichever one hits you with a hostile action next" but it has always been squirrely and I've never been able to tell for sure.

    I think all of us are itching for macros. Maybe we'll get a good system with some support in a little later in their launch/content production cycle. I'm sure it's on the priority list.


Commenting? Thanks, I appreciate it! -Fen