Discussion: Age Of Conan: Hyborian Adventures / Age Of Conan - Tactics & Strategy Discussion - Ranger Grouping Guide (long) - Grouping Guide For Rangers
This guide is intended for ranger characters to help them adapt
This guide is intended for ranger characters to help them adapt to group play in Age of Conan. While it is primarily targeted at rangers, some of the grouping concepts discussed may be of help to starting players of other classes as well. Examples will be given of when to use specific Ranger skills, but other classes may have a similar skill under a different name that could be used just as effectively.
The Need For Two Play Styles
It is not unusual for players to not realize the importance of having two distinct methods of playing their character, one that they use when solo and another play style that is tuned for group play. Age of Conan seems designed for most players to be solo for the first twenty levels or more. That is great because it teaches a player what to do and not do to survive on their own. The downside is that some of the methods of play that work well for a rangerís own survival when playing solo can wreak havoc if a ranger uses those same methods in group play.
The mantra of a ranger in solo play is: kill your opponents before they have a chance to get too close and damage your medium defense abilities. To accomplish this, solo rangers use A LOT of combos to maximize their damage output over the briefest amount of time as possible. Solo rangers burn through their stamina bar quickly, using one combo after another as the mobs draw closer, hoping the enemy dies before they can hit the ranger too hard in melee combat.
A ranger who uses this solo style of play when grouping will end up getting himself or possibly his whole group killed. What often happens is he launches all his combos into an enemy and that enemy runs straight for him instead of staying with the melee players. Then when the priest turns and does a high-power emergency heal on the ranger, the monster turns on the priest. Then the melees players run back to help and nobody is getting healed because the priest is running around screaming ďGet him off me.Ē That is when Murphyís Law decrees that a patrol will come by and add itself to the battle because of all that running around, thus ensuring a total group wipe. Been there, done that. Believe me, you do NOT want to be the ranger that started that chain of chaos.
The mantra of a ranger in a group should be: provide constant ranged damage over the entire length of a battle without drawing attention to yourself. Ideally a ranger should never need a heal and end each battle with half or more of his stamina. The best rangers are ďinvisible death acceleratorsĒ that hasten the death of the groupís enemies without adding additional burden to the healers in the group.
We will get into how that ideal can be accomplished and what specific techniques to use, but we should start first with some basic play concepts and terms, and how they relate to solo play vs. group play. Success in a game like Age of Conan is primarily about three things: situational awareness, health management, and agro management. The first two are probably very familiar to characters that play solo a lot, but agro management is the additional skill players need to consider when engaging in group combat.
Situational awareness includes what and when to fight, when and where to flee, and how to handle surprises. Starting players learn real quick that a bad choice in what and when to engage an enemy results in an overwhelming amount of damage upon yourself and a visit to the local spawn point. A player learns to adapt a play style that maximizes his odds of success.
What to fight: Consider what to fight by examining the environment, positions and movement paths of targets so that you can position yourself so as to engage the minimum number of enemies at once. The common term for this is to ďpullĒ the enemy. There are some classes that have the ability to damage a large number of mobs at once, so pulling a higher number of enemy may actually work for them, but the ranger is not one of these classes. A ranger benefits by pulling the smallest number of targets at once and focusing their damage output to one at a time.
Where to fight: A smart player will also have in his mind where to fight. If a player rushes up and engages the enemy right on their spawn point, there is an increased chance of additional enemies joining the fight, usually at just the wrong moment. Patrolling enemies are notorious for walking into range of an already engaged player battle and tipping the odds in favor of the enemy. These are called ďaddsĒ and avoidable through proper timing and positioning.
A good pull often involves a literal moving backward to bring the enemy into your zone of control and away from any potential adds. Ideally the place to battle is outside the main paths of enemies and preferable with the groupís back against a known cleared area or even a wall. Pick off any nearby enemies before they become a problem. Also donít hang around an area that you already cleared for too long. Enemies often can respawn and then add to your fight when you are least prepared.
When to flee: When the battle odds turn too heavily against a solo player the decision to flee is available. Having a prepared direction in mind away from additional enemies is ideal. Remember not to sprint your stamina completely away as this gives a bonus to hit chance for any pursuing enemy. Fleeing is a valid part of solo play, but more often than not results in death when grouping. This is because in a group you are stronger as a whole than you are alone.
Think of a person hanging by one hand to a wire. Each finger is a member of the group that allows that man to hang. If one finger after another flee, it stresses the remaining fingers and greatly reduces the manís chance of survival. So when grouping as a ranger, resist the urge to flee when things get sour. Even if you do survive, you have no way of reviving the rest of your group (like a priest class would have). There is no shame in standing to the last side by side and you will be surprised how exciting it is when a group rescues a situation that seemed impossible. That is where a group game like this can be an adrenaline inducing event like few others. Groups go to the dangerous places solo players canít and tackle the advanced challenges the developers throw at us. Donít be the finger that ran away, stick with the hand. Plus it is good for the soul to go down side-by-side in a blaze of weapon-swinging glory every now and then. Consider it a bonding experience.
Use a single puller: Nothing leads to a group wipe faster than more than one person pulling enemies in at once. As a ranger in a full group, you usually will NOT be pulling. Why? The tank and melee users are up front and one of them who is designated as a puller will announce his intent to pull, then use a bow or some ranged item or skill to get the target enemyís attention. This way the enemy will come straight at them and start pounding on them, exactly as they should be.
Situational awareness for a grouped ranger is largely not in the initial pull but after that. A rangerís position is at the rear of the group as secondary shield to protect casters and healers, and to handle any adds that might otherwise endanger the party. In this position a rangerís bow or crossbow is still effective at attacking the primary targets and he can have a wide view of what is happening in the conflict. The healer will move back and forth between you and the melee users, this is his safe zone. You have an opportunity from the rear to watch for things that a melee user who is focused close up on a primary target may not see, such as approaching patrols or when an enemy breaks away and goes after the priest or caster. As a ranger you should consider it your responsibility to watch for these two situations and communicate them clearly and concisely to your group mates. Just donít get too far back, that has its own way of drawing attention.
In solo play, health management involves nothing more than watching your own health bar and using skills or items to replenish it. Healing spells, mana supply or the number of potions you have all are a factor here. Experience trying different rates of healing is the best teacher here as the exact strategies can vary with each class.
For a ranger playing solo, fleeing and potions are your primary fallbacks if your health gets too low. One thing to remember about potions: do not wait till the last minute! The strength of potions in Age of Conan is not just the initial healing they provide, but the healing over time that you gain. Use that healing potion at 40% health rather than at 20% and your survivability will go way up. Sure you may use a few more potions in situations that you may not have had to, but overall the cost is minimal.
If played properly, the grouped ranger will require little or no attention from healers in the group because he is not getting hit. Occasionally you will need a health boost and if you are in the rear of the group you may want to move forward toward the melee players in the group. By being near the melee players you do two things: First you make it easier for the directional heals from the healers that they are casting at the tanks to work on you as well. Making a healer turn around and heal you is time that the tanks are not getting the heals they need. Secondly, you bring any monster that is hitting you back toward the melee users, giving them an opportunity to get the monster off you. If you are wondering how to not get hit at all as a ranger, please consider carefully the next section on Agro management.
Agro is a phrase that refers to the amount of hate a monster has towards you and your group. Games like Age of Conan use hate as a determining factor of who a monster will attack. Properly managing how much monsters hate you in relation to the other members of your group is essential to group play.
Hate is generated in three primary ways: proximity, healing and damage. As a solo playing ranger, if you walk to close to a creature it will cause a minor amount of hate and trigger the monster to attack you. Running away to a certain distance from a monster or a monsterís spawn point diminishes its hate toward you, until it finally gives up and returns to its spawn point. If you heal yourself or others the monster also sees this as a threat to his chances of winning and you generate hate. This is how priests and other healing classes generally get attacked, by doing massive amounts of healing that moves them higher on the monsterís hate list than the other group members. It is not just how much healing, but often how much in how little time. Slower heals over time (hot) do not generate as much hate for a priest as a single large heal.
The way to generate the most hate is to cause damage to the monster. When you played as a solo ranger you were the only thing hitting the enemy, so naturally you were at the top of the monsterís hate list. Now as a grouped ranger you do NOT want to be the most hated. The ideal situation is allow the melee players be the most hated of your group. The enemy monsters will attack these players instead of you, which is something the melee classes are equipped to handle better than you as a ranger in medium or light armor. This is why a grouped ranger who blows through all his combos to cause the most amount of damage in the shortest amount of time will always move to the top of a monsterís hate list and get attacked. Not good.
How to Play a Ranger in a Group
Now you understand why a ranger playing in a group the same way he plays solo is not a good thing. A rangerís responsibility shifts in group play and now he must work with the other players by adjusting his damage output to be less of a burst and more of a steady hard rain on the enemy. The rangerís whole goal when grouped is to dance as close to the top of a monsterís hate list without actually becoming the most hated. If you do a critical ranged attack and follow it up with another too quickly, the hate you generate is higher than even the most aggressive melee player can compensate for.
Here are three rules to successful ranger group play:
Rule #1: Donít be the first to attack a monster.
This not only applies to the initial pull of a battle, but also when the ranger is choosing his target from a number of targets that has engaged the group. If nobody else in your group has done damage to a monster and you hit it with even your slightest ranged attack, guess what, you are top on his hate list and he will run at you. Instead, use the assist key and focus on a monster that the melee players have already damaged. There are a couple instances where you may choose to violate this rule, but they are only in emergencies and best done only by an experienced ranger against a target that he knows he could solo. By far though it is best just to help kill the target the melee users are focusing on.
Rule #2: Donít use your high damage combos too early or too often.
Ranger high-damage comboís generate A LOT of hate. Use your regular attacks often instead. These generate less hate, but still really add up over time. Because you are not being hit, you have the time, and this allows the melee players to build up hate from the monster. Then, when a target monster is at a lower amount of health (say 60% or so), chances are the melee players have had time to generate a lot of hate and then it is a good time to let loose with a few combos. Try alternating between a combo and a regular attack or two. The bonus is that regular attacks also do not use your stamina. Be aware of how long the fight is going to be and adjust your stamina usage to last the entire time.
Rule #3: Save some stamina for an emergency.
Donít blow all your stamina on combos unless there is a dire reason to. So what if a battle takes a few seconds longer than it would if you had used all your stamina on combos. Remember we talked about adds and being a bodyguard to the priest and mage classes? That is when you need a pool of stamina to pull a mob off a priest or to take the place of a downed tank at the end of a battle. Keep a combo at the ready that slows an enemy target. That will give time for the priest to move back and allow you and others to get back higher on that monsterís hate list than the healer. The crowd control skills of a ranger can turn a chaotic situation into a group win.
Gear and other techniques
Having a second set of gear for grouping that includes items with hate reduction is a good idea. These items will appear with a negative % hate amount in their descriptions. One percent hate reduction may not seem like much, but have that modification on five of your armor items and suddenly you have a large difference that minimizes the chance of you jumping to the top of the hate list. If you are doing a slight amount less damage per second as a result of this hate-reducing gear, that is ok. Time to kill is not nearly as important in group combat as it is when you are a solo ranger. Keeping control over a situation and damage over time is more important for the grouped ranger.
A crossbow equipped ranger has an opportunity to use a stance that causes many of his attacks (regular or combo) to throwback an enemy onto his back. This is crazy effective when solo as it keeps those enemies from being able to hurt you and it does not keep your ranged combos from working Ė a ranger can hit a downed enemy just as well as one that is standing. A grouped ranger with crossbow will more than likely use the penetration stance instead of the throwback stance for a couple reasons. First, melee users can often waste a combo that they have lined up if their target is suddenly thrown back out of their reach. Second, in a packed dungeon a target that gets thrown back is often thrown into the radius of nearby enemy and often leads to adds. If you must use the throwback stance, communicate it clearly to your group that you have it engaged so they know what to expect. When your group healer is dead and your melee players can use every advantage they can get, the throwback stance can be a group lifesaver.
Do not forget that as a ranger you get a feat that can add throwback to one of your melee combos. That comes in handy as a way to throw multiple enemies off a priest and onto their backs, giving your group time to regain hate and giving the priest time to retreat.
As a ranger you also have the sneak ability. Use it to gather information about areas the group is approaching or to place a snare. Make sure that snare placement is according to what your group is expecting. Often it is just wisest to place a snare at the rear of the group and tell the priest to use it as a retreat point in case he gets too much agro.
In the same way a ranger may consider having different gear based for solo play compared to group play, there are a few feats that likewise fit more to PvP play than to group PvE. For example we already discussed the knock back stance. I am not a fan of the waylayer feat that gives the ranger explosive pots he can throw. These do area damage, and while that may be great for PvP combat, in a group setting against multiple targets it is more likely to pull monsters off the tanks than it is to do much benefit. Group PvE combat should be about control because we can predict how the AI enemy will act, and the exploding grenade-like pots add too much chaos. Chaos though is probably very handy against player enemies that are not predictable.
This is long winded guide I know, and it probably goes over a lot of material that experienced MMO players already know, but I hope it helps bring starting rangers and other classes into the full fun of grouping in Age of Conan. If you are just starting out, let me know in game and we can discuss.
Nice write up. I have a question. Has anyone noticed it being easier to protect the squishes in AOC since we have a physical body and mobs can't run right thru us? Anyone used the map geography or party formations to keep the squishies safe?
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The write up is good but I would like to point out a few things I personally disagree with.
Having the ranger pull is safer for the group, and here's why. When they are stealthed, their first shot is a mezz that does not alert anyone to the rangers presence. If after mezzing the ranger backs off and allows the mezz to where off, it usually brings only the mezzed target, sometimes 1-2 others. Placing a trap at the initial contact point, I.E. where the ranger shot the mezz shot, stops most that run at the group. Now, Pindown on the pull, This allows the all the Ranged DD (spellcasters and other ranged attacks) to hammer the target in the ground. All the while, the tank is picking up the original mezzed/trapped/chainshocked mob. We rangers have enough hitpoints to be able to deal with a mob, our level 1 on 1, so if the squishies get charged, the ranger can pull agro off right away. Pindown also works in this situation, as the squishy can run away to reposition or flee. If your tank is pulling, he usually has to get into throwing range to pull at range and he has no abiliy to cancel the pull if it goes wrong. Rangers do, the Mezz shot allows them to back out of agro range, with can reset the mobs agro radius. IE, allowing the ranger to cancel a pull by getting out of range. This is not WoW, where alot of those PvE tactics worked, I know, I leveled a troll hunter on Dragonmaw and quit when the expantion came out. But I digress.