Monday, January 23, 2012

More on Commando PVP Specs: Gunnery vs. Assault Specialist

I have been growing a bit bored of the gunnery spec’s reliance on grav round recently.  I have heard that for PVP the assault specialist tree was king for mobility, so I decided to use my first free re-spec and see how assault played for a change of pace.  I wrote previously about the competing PVP talents in both trees.  Despite some people on the SWTOR forums (I know, I should stay away) asserting very loudly that assault was the way to go, the gunnery tree has some very viable PVP talents to sample.  I played a few games as assault, and I am ready to pass a bit of judgment. 

My verdict: I still prefer gunnery.  More to follow...

The perception that assault has greater mobility seems to come from the talent degauss.  This talent removes movement-impairing effects from your character whenever you activate reactive shield.  Couple degauss with the talent reflexive shield, which decreases reactive shield’s cooldown when you take damage, and your trinket, and theoretically you should be able to free yourself of snares with regularity.  You should be using reactive shield regularly during PVP, whenever it is available and you are in combat after all, so this seems like a good pairing.  The problem with the synergy of these talents, however, is also that you should be using reactive shield regularly during PVP, whenever it is available.  Waiting until you have a root or snare to use the shield is not necessarily a great idea.  Players often open with their strongest moves with the most burst potential, and you need to mitigate that to the greatest extent possible by activating your shield early.

Also problematic is that reactive shield does not protect you from subsequent roots.  That Inquisitor who just hit you with force lightening (both assassins and sorcerers have access to this ability) can just slow you again in 6 seconds.  If you recently used your reactive shield to free yourself from an Inquisitor, that Sniper, whom you should probably be hiding from, can hit you with leg shot, and you are stuck.  This is just an example.  Many classes have roots or snares, and they are on a much shorter cooldown than your 2 minute reactive shield, even when talented to reduce the cooldown.  Your ability to free yourself from movement-impairing effects will not be available nearly as often as you will need it.

Despite the prior analysis, it does not get to the central reasoning for why I still prefer gunnery.  The Commando is at heart a turret class.  That is why we have the BFG and abilities like full auto, mortar volley, and hail of bolts, heavy-hitting abilities that require us to stand in place for a second or two to unload.  This is to say nothing of standard rotation abilities both DPS specs are capable of using like charged bolts.  Attempting to work more mobility into a class that is fundamentally immobile is counter-intuitive.  Commandoes are designed to get into position, point, and shoot.  Abilities that favor and augment this style make Commandoes more capable.

The Commando has one baseline ability designed to keep us entrenched: concussion charge.  When enemies get close, we are vulnerable.  Concussion charge helps ensure we can keep them far away in any spec.  (It is also incredibly fun to use on the scaffolding in the Huttball arena.)  Gunnery has a fantastic talent to augment our concussion charge and add additional utility to stockstrike, another baseline Trooper ability, turning it into a knockback (or push, depending on the situation).  Another laudable talent reduces concussion charge’s cooldown to 20 seconds, with the added bonus of more frequent access to our trinket.  With two knockbacks on relatively short cooldowns and the ability to trinket every minute, we have the tools necessary to keep pesky melee classes out of our foxholes.  Remember that melee and short-range classes make up five or so of SWTOR's eight advanced classes, accounting for mirrored classes, so more utility against melee range is good.  This is not even to mention cover fire, which can make it even more difficult to close on your position.  Gunnery augments our ability to hold position.  When you can control the space around you by moving others around, you do not need to move yourself as often.

Finally, there is the nature of how the two specs are meant to play.  Gunnery uses armor piercing cell and revolves around abilities that reduce your target’s armor (grav round) and increase the damage of other abilities (grav round --> demolition round; charged barrel --> high impact bolt) to increase your burst damage potential; assault uses plasma cell, and revolves around DOTs to burn your target down.  Both specs therefore need to use tools that augment their strengths.  It makes sense that a class designed to sit in one place would need abilities that bring enemies down before, or soon after, they reach you.  One problem I encountered consistently in the assault spec was low survivability.  I frequently did not stay alive long enough (without my wife as a pocket healer) to see my enemies fall before they brought me down, even with reactive shield, adrenaline rush, and PVP stims.  I am not familiar with how Vanguards play, but I suspect that with their baseline survival tools, they would do much better in PVP as assault spec than would a Commando.  (Assault may be fine for PVE where your DOTs have time to take effect, but I am primarily discussing PVP.)

I also ran low on ammo often.  This despite assault having several free high impact bolts due to ionic accelerator, a reduced cooldown on recharge cells, and ammo regeneration when you get hit with incapacitating effects.  Part of this I chock up to not being familiar with the spec.  However, gunnery has several talents that reduce the cost of abilities or regenerate ammo passively, which makes for greater freedom to use hard-hitting abilities more often, and fewer hammer shots.  This gets back to the issue of survivability and whether you can bring your opponent down first when you must use your free but low-damage attack more often.

When you get down to it, assault does make Commandoes a bit more mobile.  However, the spec gives a class that is fundamentally designed to stand in place only a modicum of greater mobility.  Points up the assault tree seem better spent elsewhere given the terrain control utility gunnery provides and my personal play style.  I will stick with the spec for a couple more days to see if I can find any hidden gems, but my first impression from my foray into assault is that for a Commando, gunnery spec is the way to go for PVP.


  1. I kind of have to disagree with your post. I leveled all the way through Gunnery, and have formed this very delicate love/hate relationship with it. Yes..the damage is great..but being interrupted and then ability-locked makes us completely useless. Gunnery is extremely bursty but it's also the easiest rotation to get interrupted. W/ Grav Round being the bread and butter of the spec w/ a 1.4s (talented) cast, unless you are behind the scenes or far away and no one is paying attention to you, you're going to do very little damage.
    I just recently switched to AS because I have always felt it was extremely gear dependent (high crit/surge), and now that I'm in full Champion/Battlemaster gear, with different mods, I felt it was time to give it a shot..and I have to's gamebreaking how good this is for pvp.
    I think the awesome thing about AS is that the damage is so minor people don't really take you as a threat. You aren't hitting people back to back for 3-5k's a lot of DoTs that wind the targets health down w/o them even noticing..and then it's a Plastique + HiB + Charged Bolts and they're dead.
    The thing I love most about AS is the slow affect your Hammer Shot does to them, this has saved my life 100x over. The kiting factor alone is more than enough reason to switch to AS.
    There are currently 2 Battlemaster Commando's on our server, me (AS) and the other (Gunnery). We end up in warzones all the time and our damage is comparable.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Renny. Definitely some interesting points.

    I'm still pretty sold by the ability to knock people around in the Huttball arena (my favorite so far) that gunnery brings, which is a very terrain-control dependent warzone unlike Alderaan, and even Voidstar where the best opportunity is really the bridge between area one and two. It’s still useful if you can find an elevated point, such as the left and right capture points in Alderaan. There, you knock a melee class over the edge, and they have to take the long way back to you, plenty of time to deal some damage. When they reach you, you knock them over again, depending on which ability (stockstrike or concussion charge) is off cooldown. More and more, I see gunnery as a terrain control spec, the counterpart to assault’s mobility.

    Out of curiosity, how do you manage your ammo? I consistently run out as assault unless I use plenty of hammer shots.

  3. I use Hammer Shot..a lot. Going one v. one with rotation would go:

    Reserve Cell
    Incendiary Round
    Full Auto
    Charged Bolts --> HIB

    Then it's just a spam w/ Hammer Shot till Plastique or HIB comes off of CD w/ a refresh of Inc. round.

    I find that the ammo issues come into play when people treat Charged Bolts like Grav's not meant to be spammed..its not meant to be used that's last on your priority list..and should only be used if you're a) high on ammo and everything is on CD (which is unlikely) or b) target is low on health and you need a bit of burst.