This article may need to be cleaned up to reach a higher standard of quality.
Requires rewording to make more neutral; currently reads more like an essay than an article
Dragon Age: Origins
There are three key principles to keeping an archer efficient: (a) use talents only when completely necessary; (b) have Shale in the party ( Rock Mastery aura is one of the best buffs in the whole game and works well with archers; (c) don't use the following: Haste or Swift Salve - refer to Ranged Attack Speed Bugs - unless you install a fix.
Refrain from using archery talents because they - compared to other spells and skills - have poor cost-efficiency ratios. Archery talents suffer from serious meta-balance issues. In other words, their cost-efficiency ratio in comparison to other talents/spells is as said before very poor. Cost, in this case, represents both stamina cost and the casting time. For example, the skill, Arrow of Slaying in theory seems efficient but, it takes 3 seconds to set up and a high stamina cost. With a proper setup, you could have two critical hits scored by the time it takes you to unleash one Arrow of Slaying - at zero stamina cost, without any consecutive penalties. Not to mention that even damage-wise, two critical hits are better than one Arrow of Slaying, unless one is fighting critter/normal-rank enemies, that is (yet one really doesn't need to resort to Arrow of Slaying to defeat critters).
Arrow of Slaying: Usage Guidelines
Many players like big damage numbers—herein lies the main appeal of Arrow of Slaying. However, as if three seconds set up time was not problematic enough on its own, talent mechanics are unusually convoluted and definitely counter-intuitive. Basically, the one and only factor that can guarantee you will deal heavy damage with Arrow of Slaying is a multiplier bonus based on level difference between the attacker and the target. Take a look at this table:
As you may notice, bonus multiplier progression is very weird, to say the least (in fact, there is a method to this madness: technically, binary or just either adds or substracts two from the level difference). Essentially, you have to know the exact level of your target to be able to use Arrow of Slaying effectively. In a nutshell: targets one level below the archer are worth it, as are targets 4+ levels below you; targets of the same level, as well as targets 2-3 levels below the archer are not. Please note targets 2 levels below the archer practically nullify the damage bonus, that is getting multiplied by 0. So, if your ambition is to become a great sharpshooter, one skill and one talent are mandatory: Master Survival and Combat Stealth/Master Stealth. The former allows to judge whether the target is worth your Arrow of Slaying. The latter solves, to a certain degree, the three seconds set up time problem: when you fire from Stealth (be sure to turn The Tainted Blade off), set up time obviously does not matter much.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that Arrow of Slaying is only effective vs. Critter and Normal rank enemies. Vs. Lieutenants and above, two critical hits you can score as fast as 3.2s are a much better option as far as damage output is considered.
Permanent Auto-Crit Setup
The main problem seems to be, indeed, finding that proper setup. First of all, rogue is vastly superior to warrior due to Lethality talent and Bard specialization. Basically, the only mandatory archery talents are Aim and Master Archer. As far as active talents go, Shattering Shot and Scattershot are the best of the bunch, although even that huge -20 armor penalty applied by the former with Master Archer is hardly worth it in non-boss fights, while the latter is more of a threat management talent than anything else (see Tanking: An Alternative Approach for details). Stat distribution: enough dexterity to equip your weapon of choice with Fade, gear and specialization bonuses, the rest into cunning. Dexterity-based archers are easier to start with (no attack rating issues; however, cunning build archer rogues have a decent option of choosing Duelist for a first specialization, thus effectively solving the dexterity problem), but overall much worse mid- to late-game due to armor penetration problems. The best specialization by far for your archer is Bard due to Song of Courage. Essentially, Aim + Song of Courage + Rock Mastery combination is what makes your cunning-based archer worth the investment, should you aim for permanent auto-critical or not. While Pinpoint Strike buff works nicely with ranged attacks, it lasts only 15 seconds and has a whopping 3 minutes cooldown time. Permanent auto-critical is attainable even for an entire archer party (PC archer, Leliana, Zevran, Shale). Please refer to this video to see some practical implications of this approach: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHKTJLCkvjI
It goes without saying, if you have only one archer in your party, Far Song is your best option as far as weapon choice is concerned. Somewhat surprisingly, +X% critical damage gear is nice to have, but ultimately non-essential. It is actually better to have + dexterity, + cunning, or, ideally, + all stats gear piece equipped than +X% critical damage one. Of course, the trade-off should be within common sense limits: it would be extremely unwise to unequip Red Jenny Seekers for the sake of Dalish Gloves, for instance; yet Felon's Coat will boost your archer's damage much better than Warden Commander Armor. Also, if you have Zevran in your party, don't forget to buff him for additional +2 dexterity with Rare Antivan Brandy.
Pre-buffing plays an important role for cunning-based Bard archer rogue. Both Song of Courage and The Tainted Blade bonuses are calculated based on your cunning at the moment they were activated. Equip + cunning gear, buff, unequip. It should be noted The Tainted Blade has a very annoying tendency to turn off during any dialogue/cutscene, so stay alert.
A bonus of +24 cunning is very significant (refer to Song of Courage and The Tainted Blade damage formulae). In fact, you should probably have Guildmaster's Belt (at least, pre-Andruil's Blessing) and Dusk Ring equipped in-combat, too.
Unfortunately, enchanted arrows are as close to being useless in DA:O as it gets: early-game, they are scarce enough, while having a truly epic resistible +3 nature damage bonus from Arrow of Filth mid-game+, when your archer, if properly built, should be dealing consistent 100+ damage per crit, is not too impressive. Andraste's Arrows and Elf-Flight Arrow are the only enchanted arrow types to be taken seriously, but their very limited quantity and situational usefulness do not make them too attractive, either.
Critical Damage Modifier Calculation
The formula for critical damage modifier calculation is as follows:
CriticalDamageModifier = COMBAT_CRITICAL_DAMAGE_MODIFIER + PROPERTY_ATTRIBUTE_CRITICAL_RANGE / 100.0
Combat Critical Damage Modifier is 1.5. Critical Range may theoretically vary from 0% to 200%, allowing for a 3.5 critical damage multiplier.
In DA:O, an archer can achieve a grand total of +50% critical/backstab damage (Critical Damage Modifier of 2.0), if one is willing to sacrifice aim speed by equipping Warden Commander Armor, or +35% critical/backstab damage (Critical Damage Modifier of 1.85) otherwise. However, it is advisable to equip only Far Song and Cailan's Gauntlets for a total of +25% critical/backstab damage (Critical Damage Modifier of 1.75), since removing Key to the City or Dusk Ring for The Wicked Oath's sake is counter-productive. After exporting the character to DAA, it will be immediately possible to switch Far Song for Bregan's Bow, if one is so inclined, thus raising the bonus to +30% critical/backstab damage (Critical Damage Modifier of 1.8).
Overall, the +X% critical/backstab damage bonuses are relatively minor: the primary attribute values are just not high enough yet. The situation will gradually change in DAA, though another 30 points invested into the attributes still won't be enough to make +X% critical/backstab damage items preferable to +X attributes ones.
Undesirable Gear Properties, Talents and Talent Combinations
- The Tainted Blade, being a great damage-booster, is incompatible with Stealth and, to a lesser extent, with Dual-Weapon Expert. It will break stealth due to self-inflicted damage per tick (technically, level 25 rogue with Master Stealth will have a 50% chance to pass the stealth-breaking check, but since the checks will occur each tick, it's ultimately unreliable), and bleeding lacerations from Dual Weapon Expert will apply to the rogue due to the bug. Of course, that's not to say you should avoid using The Tainted Blade on a permanent basis in other situations—no way, the talent is really good.
- Evasion is a talent to avoid. Why? Because evasion animation: (a) takes some significant time to execute; (b) plays during attack and wait phases, effectively cancelling actions assigned to a character. A 15% chance of evading while triggering evasion animation means your actions will get interrupted by physical attacks 15% of the time. Yes, you won't get hit, but you won't hit, either, and that is much worse—the DPS trade-off is very bad.
Ranged Weapon Aim Speed and Aim Speed Modifiying Factors Reference
Base weapon aim speed values in DA:O are: 0.2s for shortbows, 0.3s for longbows, 0.8s for crossbows. Aim speed modifiers (in other words, rate of fire bonuses and penalties) have a minimum hard cap of +6.0s and a maximum hard cap of -3.0s. However, aim speed can only be effectively reduced to 0 (apparently, animation length cannot be negative). There are several factors affecting aim speed, some of them, unfortunately, severely bugged—see Ranged Attack Speed Bugs for details. The following reference sheet covers aim speed modifying abilities, gear, and consumables:
- Rock Mastery: -2.0s or -4.0s (after area transition).
- Rapid Aim on Repeater Gloves: -3.0s.
- Rapid Shot: up to -3.0s (with Master Archer).
- Rapid Aim on Antique Warden Crossbow: -0.5s.
- Rapid Aim on Armsman's Tensioner, Camenae's Barbute, Falon'Din's Reach, Far Song, Marjolaine's Recurve, Spear-Thrower: -0.3s.
- Rapid Aim on Dalish Longbow, Scout's Bow: -0.1s.
- Haste: +0.8s.
- Swift Salve: +0.9s.
- Aim: +1.5s.
- Defensive Fire:+1.2s.
Massive Armor Usage and its Effects on Aim Speed
Only massive chest armor affects ranged attack speed. An archer can equip massive helmet, boots, and gloves without suffering aiming speed penalty, as long as he meets strength requirements for those gear pieces. Since archers are not about talent-spamming, fatigue factor should not be much of a concern. Overall, there are two massive armor pieces useful for any archer build: This is the best archer helmet in the game, outclassing even the Helm of Honnleath: it gives a +5 dexterity bonus and maximizes spirit resistance. The problem with Corruption is you obtain it very late in the game. On the other hand, an imported Warden archer will be able to put it to good use in DAA until s/he finds a worthy alternative. These are the only improvement on Red Jenny Seekers in DA:O: they have the same +15% critical damage bonus, and increased armor. Since it is a Return to Ostagar item, it is also DAA-transferable. For more thoughts on DAA-exportable archer gear, see: Exporting the Warden Archer to DAA: Gear & Party Problems
This setup, plus strength bonus from Fade essences, will net a total of +25 strength. There would be a need to equip some minor strength-enhancing gear, like Barbarian Mace or Shadow of the Empire first in order to equip some of the major strength-enhancing items. Luckily, one will have to go through this tiresome process only once.
The massive chest armor penalty is applied directly to Base Attack Timing (BaseDuration), in other words, to the default ranged attack animation length with Aim Speed 0. The BAT for massive (heavy/massive without Master Archer) chest armor is 2.0s, for any other chest armor it is 0.8s, after which, the game engine adds a flat +0.8s animation length. Thus, the maximum fire rate attainable with any chest armor but heavy/massive is 1.6s, while the maximum fire rate with heavy/massive chest armor is 2.8s. Please note Aim Speed modifiers do not affect these values—Aim Speed calculations are applied on top of BAT.
Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening
A viable DA:OA archer is vastly different from a viable DA:O archer. The main contributing factor to this is Accuracy modal ability. In short, DA:O Cunning-based archers will have to undergo a respecialization. A classic Strength/Dexterity archery build is much more viable in DA:OA due to insane benefits from Accuracy. However, it is worthy to remember damage from abilities and gear (DamageBonus attribute) is capped at 100. That said, Dexterity-based critical chance and critical range (+X% critical/backstab damage) bonuses from Accuracy far outweigh any possible benefits one can gain from investing in Cunning or Strength.
Best item properties for an archer in DA:OA are: + damage-affecting attributes, +X% critical/backstab damage, armor penetration. Attribute-based damage is calculated separately from DamageBonus; +X% critical/backstab damage can actually reach its maximum 3.5 factor with Accuracy and new gear; since this is a Dexterity-based, not Cunning-based build, armor penetration bonuses will provide a significant damage boost against heavily armored enemies.
Specializations and Talents
Optimal specializations for an archer party are as follows: Bard—pre-buffed with + Cunning Song of Courage x3 will allow you to reach auto-critical without Aim; Assassin—specialization passive bonus, unresistible Mark of Death, though no longer stackable as of v. 1.03, provides an effective +20% damage bonus in most cases, since the majority of enemies have DamageScale equal to 1.0; Legionnaire Scout—specialization passive bonus, Mark of the Legion grants a huge +10 bonus to a damage-affecting attribute, Strength of Stone is the best anti-boss ability in the game.
The new rogue sustainable, Weak Points—essentially, a minor brother to Mark of Death in terms of effect, is definitely worth picking and keeping active at all times. New archery talents, excluding Accuracy, are somewhat underwhelming. Arrow Time is extremely situational. Burst Shot is friendly fire-capable, cannot boast an excessively impressive range (especially compared to an old war horse like Scattershot) and crits with factor of 3.0 on the main target, then with standard factor of 1.5 on the rest in 3m radius—in short, better effect is attainable without 2s conjuration time in DA:OA. Rain of Arrows can be marginally useful again large groups of immobilized enemies (or unusually masochistic ranged attackers), but that is a very unlikely scenario.
Some of the old archery talents become more useful than ever: critical Scattershot with 3.5 factor is a sight to behold, while cumulative Suppressing Fire finally gets to shine in an archer party. However, one of the old staple talents becomes largely obsolete and even counter-productive after a certain point in DAA. Aim could be a very good synergy to Accuracy. However, without Shale's Rock Mastery, the only practical way to deal with the +1.5s aim speed penalty it imposes is to equip Repeater Gloves. This is a viable option early-game, when you cannot reach auto-crit with Accuracy and Song of Courage alone, but definitely sub-optimal mid-game+, as you gradually gain access to some great archery gloves.
Maximum Damage Approach: Spirit Warrior Archer
A Spirit Warrior archer with a proper setup can outperform a rogue archer damage-wise by as much as 250-300%. However, there are four necessary conditions to it: (1) getting the Spirit_Damage_Bonus property to the maximum (+50%): it's not an easy requirement, since most of the +X% elemental damage items are mage-restricted; (2) getting the CriticalRange property to the maximum possible: the cap will probably be unattainable with a warrior, but it is possible to get it as high as 160-170%; (3) achieving the first two goals without sacrificing much of your + attribute gear—balance your gear carefully; (4) casting an Affliction Hex or a Vulnerability Hex on a target with high-spellpower mage prior to attacking: though it's not an overtly lengthy preparation phase, by any means.
Achieving goal (1) can be somewhat tricky. However, equipping Dreamsever ring, Focus Ring or Spiral Band ring, Amulet of the War Mage, inserting three Amplification Runes into armor slots, and maxing out the Spirit Warrior talent tree (each talent after Beyond the Veil grants a hidden +5% spirit damage bonus) will account for a full +50% bonus.
Optimal stat, talent and specialization choices are really simple with this build. Stats: all Dex if you have a party to boost your ranged critical chance (a Bard, for example): otherwise, invest 5 points into strength to get Bravery. Talents: Accuracy, Master Archer, Scattershot. Arrow of Slaying, if you like huge four-digit damage numbers; Spirit Warrior tree. Specializations: Spirit Warrior, evidently; Berserk, for the spec bonus; any specialization would be equally useless in the third spec slot, but maybe Champion is a bit better than the rest thanks to Superiority-enhanced War Cry and decent spec bonuses.
Youtube video The damage numbers speak for themselves: 938 on a regular crit; 2586 with an Arrow of Slaying; 657 on a spirit-resistant primary target, then 700+ on the rest with Scattershot. Please note: the gear setup Oghren uses is sub-optimal (no Bregan's Bow (Awakening)); he has lower stats than an imported Warden would normally have; and, finally, he has no bard to boost his crit chance. 3k damage AoS is possible with maximized stats/party buffs/gearing.
Recommended Archery Gear
Some of the gear listed below is not specifically archer-oriented, but definitely worth equipping, either as a pre-buff option or as a permanent combat one, if you are into optimizing your archer's performance.
|+X% ranged critical chance||+X% critical/backstab damage||+X dexterity||+X cunning|
|+X to all attributes||+X strength||+X strength and +X dexterity||+X cunning and +X dexterity|
A reasonable question might arise at this point: while dexterity build can just invest in strength to meet the requirements, how is a cunning-based archer supposed to equip those items? In fact, it is possible to equip these armor pieces with minimal investment into strength, if the archer has Dual-Weapon Mastery (the archer should have enough unspent talent points by end-game). See +X strength or +X to all attributes, from the table above for some choices.
While it is true archers do not rely on active talents, having an ability to release Scattershot at will, not to speak of Mark of Death and Strength of Stone during boss battles, is very handy. Reservoir Runes of various tiers, as well as Clarity skill, will assist the archer in offsetting fatigue penalty from wearing heavy and massive armor pieces. Alternatively, Stealth-less soloists might wish to take advantage of pseudo-armor runes bug by inserting Masterpiece or Paragon tier Dweomer runes into armor slots.