BioWare has announced balance tweaks for Virulence Sniper / Dirty Fighting 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.
Virulence and Dirty Fighting’s Current Standing
Virulence Sniper / Dirty Fighting Gunslinger is in a fairly strong spot right now in PvE, but they’re definitely not overpowered. The discipline does have a few quirks that are caused by how damage output is distributed between abilities and the fact that their damage boosts are time-based rather than being based on stacks. This has created some awkward incentives with stacking unusual amounts of alacrity and made it viable to use a much simpler rotation.
Survivability has been a common source of frustration in PvP since Snipers / Gunslingers lost all of their self-healing with the launch of 7.0, though they’re pretty balanced in PvE right now.
BioWare’s Announced Changes
- Viral Targeting / Blood Sights no longer increases poison effect / bleed effect damage by 10%.
- Decay / Nice Try damage bonus decreased from 5% to 3%.
- Critical Grenade / Sharp Objects applied critical hit damage bonus from periodic effects is reduced to 5% down from 10%, and its effect has been fixed so it correctly applies the critical hit damage bonus.
- 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
Critical Grenade and Sharp Objects
Critical Grenade / Sharp Objects is the main ability tree buff for sustained DPS. The other options are particularly weak and incredibly situational. Currently, Critical Grenade / Sharp Objects seems to exclusively boost the critical chance by 10% of Corrosive Grenade / Shrap Bomb and Lethal Shot / Dirty Blast DoTs. It never boosts the critical damage of those abilities (no supercrits).
Critical Grenade / Sharp Objects currently seems to provide a DPS increase of about 500. With the change to affect critical damage, Critical Grenade / Sharp objects would provide a DPS increase of about 300, resulting in a 200 DPS nerf to that passive from the change. This does help to make the other options for the Corrosive Grenade / Shrap Bomb a bit more viable.
Other Damage Nerfs
The removal of the damage boost to poison / bleed effects during Viral Targeting / Blood Sights results in a loss of about 400 sustained DPS while the nerf to Decay will result in a loss of about 300 DPS, for a (not) grand total of 900 DPS as a result of these nerfs.
I do want to be clear that the math for these changes is a bit tricky and Virulence / Dirty Fighting doesn’t have the most consistent parses, so I would be careful about getting fully outraged until we can test the changes on the PTS.
Just like the buffs and nerfs to other disciplines, these changes are pretty small. Virulence / Dirty Fighting will remain one of the best ranged DPS disciplines, though more clearly behind Engineering / Saboteur in terms of damage output. I get the impression that these tweaks were more of a first step in redistributing damage away from Viral Targeting / Blood Sights and Lethal Shot / Dirty Blast. This diminishes the DoT spec’s burst capabilities and makes Takedown / Quickdraw a more viable alternative, both of which make Viral Targeting / Blood Sights less essential to the rotation.
These changes may also be enough to where Takedown / Quickdraw will be prioritized over Lethal Shot / Dirty Blast, at least when poison / bleed damage boosts aren’t active. BioWare has run into this issue at least once, maybe twice in the past, so it would be good for something more drastic to be done.
Augmented Shields / Hotwired Defenses
A lot of players have been complaining about Sniper / Gunslinger’s poor survivability in PvP. Given that this can only result in a maximum cooldown reduction of 12 seconds per Entrench / Hunker Down and that ability tree buff isn’t going to be taken much anyway, it’s practically useless, especially for Virulence / Dirty Fighting where each of the other options will almost always be more valuable.
Recommendations for BioWare
There’s not really anything that’s essential to fix with Virulence / Dirty Fighting and these minor nerfs don’t change that. However, I do have some feedback to offer about these changes.
Long-Term Fix for Lethal Shot / Dirty Blast Spam
I am glad that damage is being moved away from Viral Targeting / Blood Sights and make Takedown / Quickdraw more viable, but more lasting steps need to be taken if BioWare doesn’t want to deal with this anymore.
Takedown / Quickdraw and Series of Shots / Speed Shot should be able to tick (but not apply) the Exploited Weakness DoT from Lethal Shot / Dirty Blast. I would be interested in seeing a more complicated rotation where those abilities always take priority over Lethal Shot / Dirty Blast because of damage, not Energy.
Preventing Damage Boost Abuse with Alacrity
The bigger issue plaguing Virulence / Dirty Fighting has to do with its duration-based damage boosts and how the discipline deals its damage, particularly Weakening Blast / Hemorrhaging Blast and now Viral Targeting / Blood Sights.
I don’t think it should be possible to clip an extra Cull / Wounding Shots inside these damage boosts by increasing alacrity. The damage boost durations should be balanced around being able to get a specific number of Culls / Wounding Shots per activation where adding alacrity can’t change that.
Polishing DoT Spread
I’m completely fine with Virulence / Dirty Fighting’s AoE damage being lower than what Engineering / Saboteur offers, but there is room to make Virulence / Saboteur’s DoT spread feel far less clunky.
Corrosive Grenade / Shrap Bomb should have an 8m radius. 5m is just not enough to catch everything in a lot of groups of trash while 8m is. 5m would be more acceptable if it was a placeable AoE, so I guess that’s an option as well, but 5m non-placeable is just not enough.
Corrosive Dart / Vital Shot also needs to be spreadable to targets that still have Lingering Toxins / Lingering Wounds. It’s absolutely obnoxious to have to wait until that falls off before reapplying DoTs. Being able to spread properly won’t make Virulence / Dirty Fighting’s AoE damage output superior to Engineering / Saboteur, it’s just a long-overdue quality of life thing.
Improving PvP Survivability
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.
You can check out the overview and analysis for all other Class Changes coming with SWTOR 7.1: