A Mercenary, when used effectively, can be one of the deadliest, most versatile classes on the battlefield. While they may lack some of the mobility, gap-closing ability, and burst damage like other Advanced Classes, their steady, sustainable output of ranged damage makes them a versatile option in almost any Operation or Warzone group. In this guide, I will be covering the Arsenal specialization. I will highlight how best to equip your Mercenary, cover the important skills on your talent tree, and discuss the viability of the myriad abilities Mercenaries possess. Let the hunt begin!
Primary Attribute: Aim
Secondary Attribute: Endurance
Tertiary Attribute: Cunning (No, this isn't a typo)
I will cover Cunning first, as it is an intriguing attribute for ALL Bounty Hunters, and I have a feeling there’s a fair share of readers out there who think I’m suggesting that you need to adjust your gear for it. Don’t do that. I repeat: Do NOT put equip anything on your Bounty Hunter that has Cunning as an attribute.
The interesting thing about Cunning is that it increases Tech Power and Tech Crit Chance. Luckily for us, there’s a wealth of those nifty Datacron thingies that improve our Cunning attribute. Collect all of them, and you will see more than a 1% increase in Tech Power and Tech Crit Chance. Now, go take a look at all of your abilities…see how many are “Tech” abilities? You just increased the damage those do, and the chance that they will critically hit…just by Datacron hunting and without altering a piece of your gear. If you have the time and patience, it is highly recommended.
One thing to keep in mind for Aim and Endurance: The Powertech, our Bounty Hunter Advanced Class counterpart, has the ability to be a tank. Because of this, you will most likely find many an Armoring, Mod, or piece of gear that has more Endurance than Aim. It best to avoid these, even when considering survivability. Mercenaries have two talents that increase our healing received by 4%, as well as talents that increase our Endurance. Strictly speaking, from a DPS standpoint, those two talents should negate any need you have to choose Endurance over Aim. Even if it means spending a couple extra credits or commendations, the DPS increase from seeking out the higher Aim gear and mods is essential.
Something to consider about Crit and Surge: Because of the Target Tracking and Hired Muscle talents in the Bodyguard and Arsenal skill trees, the 2-piece set bonus on the “Eliminator” end-game gear sets, AND the Imperial Agent buff, we find ourselves getting significant Crit bonuses left and right. Couple that with the fact that Surge follows a very steep diminishing return after 75%, and it becomes viable to not have to stack a boatload of either attribute. ~30%/~75% Crit/Surge is a good benchmark. This doesn’t mean you can’t go OVER those numbers, but just be aware that if you do, you’re overloading and missing out on opportunities to add more Aim and Power.
The nice thing about power is that there is no soft cap for it. It never suffers from diminishing returns, and thus, should be accumulated in as many ways possible, without sacrificing your other key combat ratings. It provides a very healthy boost to DPS.
Finally, Accuracy should be as close to 100% as you can get it, especially for end-game bosses. You will notice that Tech Accuracy has a base 10% higher rate than Ranged Accuracy. This means that by keeping your normal Ranged Accuracy close to 100%, only the occasional missed attack is going to be coming from your Offhand Blaster, as it is the only non-tech source of damage affected by Accuracy.
The Arsenal Spec is nice because it allows for some flexibility in where you put some talent points. I should note that this spec is most viable for PVE situations. If you decide to use it going into a Warzone, you will find yourself hampered by a lack of mobility and utility skills. It also should be noted that while using the Arsenal Spec, you will always want to have High Velocity Gas Cylinder activated.
2 Points – Improved Vents. This increases the utility of your Vent Heat ability, which should be used as often as possible. In a way, Vent Heat is an offensive cooldown for us; in situations where we really need to ramp our DPS up for a short amount of time, being able to use our hard-hitting, high-cost abilities in quick succession, and then quickly return back to a manageable heat level, is very handy. Increasing the utility of this skill is necessary.
3 Points – Hired Muscle. Always take a Crit boost. This is extremely beneficial because it affects both Ranged and Tech attacks.
2 Points – Critical Reaction. This is a personal choice, so feel free to spend these points elsewhere. However, due largely in part to our high chance to Crit on commonly used abilities, this talent provides a nearly static 5% Alacrity boost. Alacrity is certainly not a combat rating we want to stack on our gear, as too much of it will lead to heat management issues. A small amount, such as this talent provides, hits a sweet spot where our cast times are lowered just enough to provide an increased amount of casts over the course of a fight, without the stress of overheating. This is not a necessary talent, but it has been shown to increase damage output.
3 Points – Advanced Targeting. Unload and Rail Shot are two of our highest damage dealing abilities; increasing their Armor Penetration is a must.
2 Points – Mandalorian Iron Warheads. With as much as we use Tracer Missile in our primary rotation, increasing its damage output is essential.
2 Points – Integrated Systems. Increases healing received by 2%. Your healers will appreciate this.
3 Points – Ironsights. 9% Aim increase. Since it’s our primary stat, this one is self-explanatory!
3 Points – Stabilizers. Reduces pushback on casts for Power Shot, Tracer Missile, Concussion Missile, and Unload. With the exception of Power Shot, this is a handy talent to pick up, both for utility and higher damage.
1 Point – Muzzle Fluting. Reduces cast time of Power Shot and Tracer Missile.
1 Point – Upgraded Arsenal. For High Velocity Gas Cylinder, coupled with the Eliminator Set bonus, Rail Shot becomes free. Gotta take it.
2 Points – Custom Enviro Suit. More survivability that your healers will appreciate.
2 Points – Power Barrier. It’s a nearly static 5% shield boost. With how weak our only true defensive cooldown is, this small boost is a must for survivability.
1 Point – Tracer Missile. The core of our priority rotation. Take it.
2 Points – Target Tracking. A pretty significant Surge increase for two commonly used abilities.
1 Point – Tracer Lock. This talent applies a Target Lock buff to your character whenever you cast Tracer Missile. The buff, once it reaches five stacks, is used to increase the damage done by Rail Shot. As of patch 1.4, it also reduces the cast time of Healing Scan by 20% per stack.
This is handy, as 5 stacks of Target Lock means a cheap, instant cast heal. One caveat about using this: activating Healing Scan consumes those stacks of Target Lock. If you read the Priority Rotation section below, you will see that using Rail Shot with Target Lock at 5 stacks is best for maximizing your damage output. Be judicious about using Healing Scan and consuming those stacks.
2 Points – Terminal Velocity. Very integral to heat management. Pick it up.
1 Point – Kolto Vents. A decent HoT utility added to Vent Heat. This one isn't exactly necessary, but I've found it mildly useful during soft-enrage phases of boss fights. Feel free to put this point elsewhere.
1 Point – Light em Up. Necessary to reduce the amount of Tracer Missile casts needed to get to 5 stacks of Target Lock and Heat Signature.
1 Point – Riddle. Necessary to make Unload one of our hardest hitting abilities.
3 Points – Barrage. Also necessary to buff Unload’s damage output. Check out the section below for effective management of Barrage Procs.
2 Points – Power Overrides. Picked up primarily for the reduced cooldown on Thermal Sensor Override, which should be used whenever it is off cooldown.
1 Point – Heatseeker Missiles. Works together with the Heat Signature debuff to increase damage. This ability is heavy in the priority rotation.
Integrated Cardio Package – Useful for added survivability.
Afterburners, Jet Escape, Pinning Fire – Only pick these up if you are planning on using this spec in PVP. They provide little to no benefit in PVE. In my opinion, their benefit still doesn't even make Arsenal a viable PVP spec compared to Pyrotech, but that’s just an opinion.
Priority Rotation and Combat Abilities
In this section, I will cover how best to maximize the coordination of your abilities, and outline the priority in which you want to use them. Feel free to improvise with how you play; this is just a general template that has been proven to maximize DPS and minimize heat management headaches.
From there, prioritize the use of these abilities as they come off Cooldown
2. Rail Shot
3. Heatseeker Missile
Be sure to keep Tracer Missile going to keep Target Lock and Heat Signature at 5 stacks. It’s worth noting that Target Lock is a buff that gets consumed upon using Rail Shot or Healing Scan, whereas Heat Signature is an enemy debuff that refreshes upon each successful hit.
4. Fusion Missile with Thermal Sensor Override
This is actually a personal preference of mine. Some Mercenaries like using Thermal Sensor Override with Heatseeker Missiles, others prefer to use it in conjunction with Death From Above. I find Fusion Missile to be the most versatile, as no matter how I’m using it, it provides some form of utility. When I use Fusion Missile with Thermal Sensor Override AND Power Surge, it’s an instant free cast (you cannot use Power Surge with Death From Above because it’s a channeled spell, not a cast spell.) Because Power Surge and Thermal Sensor Override have different cooldowns, I've also noticed that using Fusion Missile with ONLY Thermal Sensor Override is actually a nice heat management tactic, as the free cast gives my heat a chance to fall back down a bit. Like I said, it’s a personal preference.
Three consecutive Tracer Missile casts will establish five stacks of both Target Lock and Heat Signature, which are vital to maximizing the damage of Rail Shot and Heatseeker Missile. Any more than that is unnecessary, and actually a waste of heat.
Note about Unload: Due to the talent tree buffs to Unload’s damage, it is one of our hardest hitting abilities. Thus, it becomes important to manage channeling it only once Barrage has procced to maximize its damage. You will know when Barrage has procced when you get those swirling, digital-looking orange circles around your character. The buff can be identified on the character panel by what looks like a hail of laser blasts on a red background. The increased damage buff itself lasts for a while, so it isn’t necessary to start channeling right away; however, it does behoove you to use it ASAP, as the sooner you consume the buff, the sooner you can get back to casting Tracer Missile, which is the ability that triggers the proc. There are times when you get unlucky and Barrage will not have procced by the time Unload has come off cooldown…your best option at that point is to use it without the proc. Weaving Rapid Shots in between your abilities is a great way to keep heat down.
Non-Priority Rotation Skills
There are a wealth of secondary abilities that will come in handy during Operations, Warzones, Flashpoints, and Questing. Some of these are necessary to master for survival and utility, and others are just downright helpful. Let’s break them down by category.
Arsenal Mercenaries don’t possess a lot of traditional defensive cooldowns, but we do possess some abilities that can help keep us alive in dire situations. Most importantly, we have our Energy Shield, which reduces damage taken by 25% for 12 seconds. Not mind-blowing by any means, but it’s our only true defensive cooldown, and certainly has its uses.
Next we have multiple abilities that pump our health back up. Kolto Overload restores 15% of our MAXIMUM health over 10 seconds, while the talent Kolto Vents allows Vent Heat to restore 7% of MAXIMUM health over 10 seconds.
Also, while I don’t consider this a true defensive cooldown, I have mentioned how the changes in 1.4 give us the ability to make Healing Scan an instant cast if you are keeping 5 stacks of Target Lock up at all times (which you should be doing already anyways).
Mercenaries possess a standard 60-second Crowd Control ability called Concussion Missile. Enemies are rapidly healed while under its influence, and any damage breaks this ability. This is your standard CC that you are going to use when pulling large groups in Operations or Flashpoints. We also have a 4-second stun called Electro Dart that stuns the enemy from a max range of 10 meters.
Non-Priority Rotation Damage Dealing Abilities
This is where playing a Mercenary can become a very personalized experience. The rotation I posted and discussed above is merely a suggestion; it by no means covers every piece of the Mercenary’s arsenal. Some abilities will seem very attractive when you first learn them, but be careful when assessing what skills you want to be a part of your primary rotation. Here are some things to consider.
1. How much heat does it cost? This is important largely due to the fact that our heat level has a tendency to ramp up very quickly. Sure, Missile Blast looks like an attractive ability due to its moderate damage, instant cast, the fact that it applies a DoT (Damage over Time) and knocks weak enemies down, and hits 3 other enemies in the vicinity, but check out the heat cost…25! That’s a quarter of our bar, and with only the Global Cooldown to stop you from spamming it, you’re not going to get off more than 5 before you’re overheated and stuck using Rapid Shots for a while. That is not where you want to be, especially in a longer fight.
2. What kind of damage does it do? There are 4 primary types of damage in SWTOR: Kinetic, Energy, Internal, and Elemental. What’s the difference? Kinetic and Energy attacks can be mitigated by armor, while Internal and Elemental cannot. Let’s take, for example, the ability Explosive Dart. It’s an intriguing ability that brings a lot to the table. It doesn't use a lot of heat, it causes panic (essentially a short Crowd Control) on the enemy you cast it on, provided they are Weak, and affects 3 nearby enemies when it detonates, knocking them back. But if you look at the tooltip closer, you’ll see that it’s Kinetic Damage. Now, at level 50, Explosive Dart does ~1750-1800 damage, which is not that great. Couple that with the fact that that damage gets mitigated by my target’s armor, and I’m looking at a skill that does less damage than Rapid Shots. My point is, it may have its utility in certain situations, but pay attention to these kinds of details to make sure you aren't wasting heat on abilities that do sub-par DPS.
3. What secondary and tertiary effects come with the ability? A lot of our damage-dealing skills have secondary and tertiary effects attached to them. Whether it’s a knockback, panic effect, hits multiple targets, or a DoT…the simple fact is, a lot of our skills do more than just direct damage. It’s important to know what your abilities are doing, so you know when it may be inappropriate to use them.
Take, for example, The Stormcaller and Firebrand Tanks in the Explosive Conflict Operation. You know the phase where you get bumped off the tanks to go kill the Trandoshans under the shields? If you were to use Fusion Missile on one of those Trandoshans, when it blows up it’s going to affect (and kill) additional nearby targets…like the shield generator that’s keeping you alive! Just be aware of ALL the effects of an ability before you use it, otherwise you might become a liability to your group or team.
Finally, there are some skills Mercenaries possess that don’t fall into any of the aforementioned categories. Determination is our stun break ability. It has a long cooldown, but if you feel it’s necessary to use often, you can put points into the Arsenal talent Jet Escape to reduce its cooldown. Stealth Scan is our stealth break ability. Its viability is more for PVP, but I did find it amusing when we figured out we could use it in Explosive Conflict to pull the trash groups out of stealth. Also, Disabling Shot and Chaff Flare are important abilities. Chaff Flare reduces your current threat level against your enemy. I’ve found that it’s more useful to use this ability during fight transitions where tanks are re-establishing their threat, rather than every time it’s off cooldown. Disabling Shot is new for us in 1.4…we finally have an interrupt! Use it, and make sure to be coordinating with your group who’s using their interrupt and when…there is nothing more frustrating than a wasted interrupt.