BioWare has announced buffs for Engineering Sniper / Saboteur Gunslinger. This article will cover their current standing in the meta, BioWare’s announced changes for SWTOR 7.1, an analysis of the changes, and my own additional recommendations for improving the discipline.
Engineering and Saboteur’s Current Standing
Engineering / Saboteur is one of the most powerful ranged DPS disciplines right now, but they suffer from viability issues in some boss fights thanks to Plasma Probe / Incendiary Grenade being a high damage DoT that you place on the ground. Plasma Probe / Incendiary Grenade deals about 40k per activation and accounts for about 16% of your DPS. In fights where the boss frequently moves out of the Plasma Probe / Incendiary Grenade, Engineering / Saboteur can kiss that damage goodbye.
Snipers / Gunslingers in general have average survivability in PvE, but this damage mitigation doesn’t translate very well to PvP where they’re considered one of the squishiest combat styles in the game. This stark difference is created in part by their complete lack of self-healing. With the launch of 7.0, BioWare removed all self-healing from Snipers / Gunslingers including the cover heal and roll heal.
BioWare’s Announced Changes
- Redesigned Custom Auto Loaders / Jury-Rigged Mods to additionally give the following effect:
- “Snipe / Charged Burst deals additional elemental damage to targets affected by Interrogation Probe / Shock Charge.”
- Increased Electrified Railgun / Blazing Speed damage by 25%.
- Redesigned the Augmented Shields / Hotwired Defenses passive mod to give the following additional effect:
- “When taking damage while Entrench / Hunker Down is active the cooldown on Meticulous Preparation / Bag of Tricks is reduced by 2 seconds. This effect can only occur once every 3 seconds.”
Practical Implications and Analysis
I’m a bit surprised by these changes. Engineering / Saboteur is far stronger than most of the other ranged specs already. After this set of changes, Engineering / Saboteur will be the clear winner among ranged DPS specs with Lightning Sorcerer / Telekinetics Sage being the only other single-target contender. The boost to Electrified Railgun / Blazing Speed represents a 650 DPS increase while we don’t yet know how much elemental damage will be dealt by Snipe / Charged Burst. I’ll update this article once the PTS is released.
650-1200 DPS will be enough to make Engineering / Saboteur one of the strongest specs in the game, though not overpowered. The only way I can make sense of these buffs is if they’re indicative of future buffs to the other ranged specs or if BioWare is trying to compensate for the viability issue. I hope it’s the former, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the context of the Virulence / Dirty Fighting nerfs unless BioWare also plans to rebuff that spec later.
To be clear, this buff to Engineering / Saboteur is a good thing. All DPS specs should be much closer to where Engineering / Saboteur will be after these changes. It just feels a little tone-deaf while many other ranged specs are still festering in their squalor of unacceptably low DPS.
The change to the Augmented Shields / Hotwired Defenses ability tree buff will slightly improve Engineering / Saboteur’s survivability in PvE since they already take that option, but it likely won’t do anything in PvP and even though it will be accessible to all Snipers, it won’t affect which option is chosen.
The effect only offers a maximum cooldown reduction of 12 seconds per Entrench / Hunker Down, which is a drop in the bucket next to Meticulous Preparation / Bag of Tricks’ long cooldown, even with the Over-prepared / Perfect Scheme ability tree buff.
Recommendations for BioWare
Fixing Plasma Probe and Incendiary Grenade
The key to fixing Engineering / Saboteur’s viability issues comes down to adjusting how Plasma Probe / Incendiary Grenade deals damage. The damage must persist on the player after they have left the target area.
I think the simplest way to solve this is to make Plasma Probe / Incendiary Grenade work more like Revivification / Salvation where it applies a DoT that deals the full 40k damage to the next 8 enemies that stand in it while the slow continues to be applied in the same fashion it is now. It also needs to be given a 9s cooldown (same as the duration of the DoT) to prevent circumvention of the 8 target limit. If a target currently has the DoT when the ability is reactivated, it would just get refreshed by that new activation.
Rather than disappearing once 8 targets have been affected, it would remain as it still needs to apply the slow. This distinction could be made more clear by tweaking the animation of the ability to have both a fire component and an oil slick / spark powder effect on the ground to explain that the fire is separate. Once 8 targets have gotten the DoT, the fire goes out, but the oil / powder remains for the full 9 seconds.
This would only fix the viability issue in PvE. It would not result in a DPS increase in PvE because enemies are meant to stand in it for the full duration. In PvP, it will result in a DPS increase because players are moving around a lot more and don’t want to stand in the AoE, but the damage output should still be far less than the potential damage dealt by successful DoT spreads and the area control aspect remains thanks to the slow.
An alternative would be a hybrid approach where half the damage of Plasma Probe / Incendiary Grenade comes from a 9s DoT and the other half from the AoE ticks (60-30 or 75-25 split is better). This would minimize the viability issue while retaining functionality that is more true to its original design.
If BioWare wants to lean into the announced survivability buff, I’d recommend a more significant cooldown reduction to Meticulous Preparation / Bag of Tricks. Look to Pyrotech / Plasmatech’s cooldown reduction for Kotlo Overload / Adrenaline Rush where it has a 6s cooldown reduction with a 1s rate limit upon taking damage that’s active all the time.
I think the preferred approach would be to give back one of the healing effects. Both might make Snipers / Gunslingers too strong compared to other combat styles in PvE, but one might be okay. The roll heal is probably the better option since it costs a GCD to use and often isn’t used on cooldown in PvE while it is used far more frequently in PvP for kiting and repositioning.
Desired Quality of Life Improvements
I’d like to see a few QoL improvements for Engineering / Saboteur, but I don’t feel these are essential to the discipline’s viability.
Change the Sector Ranger / Spacer discipline passive to reduce the activation time of Orbital Strike / Bombing Run by 0.5 seconds, cooldown by 10 seconds, and Energy cost by 5. This puts the ability back on the GCD, aligns it with how often you can actually afford to use it (every other rotation cycle), and gives it a more palatable Energy cost.
Make Interrogation Probe / Shock Charge jump / arc to the nearest target within 10m like Scorch / Plasmatize if the current target is defeated while the ability is active. It’s such a pain to shift between never having to reapply it with Ruthless Interrogation and suddenly have to spam it all the time in situations with multiple targets. It wouldn’t be too much of an AoE DPS increase since it still has the 1 target at a time limitation it’s definitely within reason for a DoT spec.
While the notion of the shock arcing does make some sense for the first jump, it’s a little more of a stretch for additional jumps. Target hopping would make more sense if the name and animation of Shock Charge was changed to something like Hacked Probe Droid with the animation being very similar to Blood Boiler. Would be nice if the Interrogation Probe could be made a bit larger too.
You can check out the overview and analysis for all other Class Changes coming with SWTOR 7.1: