Please forgive my awkward formatting, it's not my strongest skill.
So, out of all the careers for our wonderful characters, Ranger Veteran is my favorite thematically. Bardin is a cheery little bundle of grit and optimism, and running around with a shotgun blasting rats is a grand ol' time. However, the career is widely thought to be one of the weaker ones, and while I don't doubt that it is viable, I want to talk about how conflicted the talent tree and the class's identity seems to be, as well as a couple possible solutions to make our favorite little Dwarf have a fighting chance without resorting to Ironbreaker or Slayer.
Ranger Veteran is Bardin's first career, with 100hp, leaving it tied for having the lowest hp out of all the careers. This career has three passive abilities to go alongside its active ability. They are:
Survivalist (Ammo pouches drop from specials)
Loaded for Battle (+50% Ammo capacity)
Fast Hands (A 15% bonus to his reload speed)
Ingenious Improvisation (A 10% chance to not consume items upon use).
So far, we see an emphasis on using ranged weapons, and items, and indeed some amount of support (from ammo bag drops).
Ranger's active ability is Disengage, a two minute cooldown ability that lasts 10 seconds and grants Bardin stealth while he stands inside of a moderately sized area, alongside an area knockback, and a buff to his ranged weapon damage. This is a rather interesting and niche ability, and while it has one of the longer active ability cooldowns, it can lead to excellent setups, a decent boost to ranged damage, and can knockback bosses, but it can also leave you trapped if you aren't paying attention to positioning. Bardin can still take damage while in stealth, although enemies will not directly target him. Unfortunately, the boost to ranged damage is largely arbitrary, as Ranger's ranged weapons will usually 1-2 shot anything but a chaos warrior or boss as it is. The Grudge Raker is wonderful at mowing down hordes, but the Disengage damage boost doesn't change that. Furthermore, Ranger's ranged weapons aren't known for their boss damage to begin with, leaving the damage boost also feeling like a tacked-on addition that rarely gives you a noticeable benefit. I almost never find myself using Disengage for the sake of increasing my damage, it's almost always reserved as a "safety button", or for using on a boss to interrupt their abilities (which is a very inefficient use, given its very lengthy cooldown).
Ranger's first talent row offers Bardin:
Hunter's Eye: A 25% reduce in Ranged Weapon spread.
Apply Pressure: A 30% increase to incoming healing.
Foe Feller: A 5% boost to attack speed.
Here is where we see the first real issues with Ranger Veteran. While the Grudge Raker is a very strong and popular weapon, it is largely the only weapon that benefits from the first talent, as it is the only one that has any real amount of spread. Ranger Veteran's other options are the Handgun and the Crossbow, with the Crossbow being very predictable in firing pattern (accurate with a drop-off), and the Handgun being nearly pinpoint accurate, with or without aiming down the sights. Effectively, if you take this talent, you are going to use the Grudge Raker, which is a very strange thing to force into a talent tree. Why not just reduce Ranger's weapon spread overall, instead of forcing a weapon choice via a talent? This talent wouldn't be so bad if the Ranger had access to Ironbreaker,s famously inaccurate Drakefire Pistols, the main issue with this is that they don't at all benefit from Ranger's ammo drops, further shoehorning the Ranger into a limited weapon selection. The next discrepancy comes from the 5% attack speed buff. Bardin has some very powerful (albeit slow) melee weapons with the notable exceptions of the Dual Axes, so this is a nice boost to their power, but it feels disconnected from the rest of the career. Nothing else in the career really "meshes" with this talent (except for an oddball in the level 10 talent tree), leaving it feeling like an out-of-place (although situationally useful) addition to his kit. Lastly, we have his +30% healing talent. This talent doesn't really have any problems with it, but it does feel rather bland. I realize not every talent can be perfect and flavorful though, so I'm going to give it a pass as a useful niche ability.
Ranger Veteran's second talent row brings disappointment:
Last Resort: A 25% Power Boost while out of ammunition.
No Dawdling: A flat 5% increase to Bardin's movement speed.
Curl Up: 50% Damage reduction while pinned or grabbed.
This talent tree leaves me scratching my head and wanting more. Firstly, Last Resort almost directly contradicts Bardin's already situational passive of ammunition drops. While this talent does offer a sizeable damage benefit, I almost never find myself in a situation where I would rather have this talent's buff than grudge-raker bullets. I realize that it is a literal "last resort", but with the frequency of ammunition drops, I nearly never find myself starving for more, especially if I run Grungni's Cunning (which we'll get into later). This talent is also shared with Bounty Hunter, and while it isn't an amazing talent, it feels much more at home on this other career, as it doesn't have the same degree of built in ammo regeneration that Ranger does. Secondly, No Dawdling's movement speed bonus is very lackluster. It's something, but it's very underwhelming. Unless you run 5% movement speed on your trinket too, you won't quite be able to outrun Hordes or Stormvermin. It does add a small bit to your maneuverability, though it's nothing to write home about. Lastly we have Curl Up, my personal favorite talent choice in this tier. While learning to avoid being grabbed or pinned is a valuable skill, nobody is perfect, and this talent can be the difference between life or death when grabbed by a hook rat sneaking through a horde, or when a Chaos Spawn grabs you while you're unable to dodge (whether from being cornered or flanked). These talents each offer situational benefits that offer little to Bardin's overall wellbeing, with the one real exception being Curl Up (which even then, is very niche). This talent tree would benefit the most from an update, I feel.
Bardin's level 15 talents are where a majority of this class's power comes from, and I think that they are largely fine. The talents are:
Battle Brew: This gives Bardin a chance to find a bomb instead of an ammunition bag 25% of the time.
Grungni's Cunning: This increases the size of Bardin's ammunition drops to 30%
Master Brewer: This gives Bardin a 33% chance to find a random potion instead of ammunition.
These talents offer interesting choices and each one creates meaningful differences in your playstyle. If you run Battle Brew, it's very benefiticial to run Grenadier on your trinket, for a whopping 35% to recycle your grenades upon use. This can be a powerful benefit for clearing hordes or patrols, for killing chaos warriors, or stunning bosses too. Or, running Shrapnel can turn Bardin into a reliable boss-debuffer. Grungni's Cunning ensures that you or your team will never be out of ammunition, as the ammo drops are huge. This talent directly contradicts with Last Resort, as previously noted, as it encourages you to use your ranged weapon. This can contribute to Bardin reliably mowing down hordes, blasting stormvermin or marauders, or sniping specials, depending upon your weapon choice. Furthermore, it's a very powerful choice if you have other ammunition dependent careers in your party like a Bounty Hunter. Even melee classes can benefit from more frequent use to their powerful ranged weapons, like Foot Knight Kruber with a Blunderbuss, or Shade with more arrows. Lastly is Master Brewer. This talent is very powerful, although it can be a bit tricky. Its value is reduced as more members of your team carry grimoires. Furthermore, the random nature of which potion you will find can be a bit of a detriment, if RNG isn't kind to you. Certain potions are simply more useful on certain careers. (Looking at you, Concentration Potion and Shade!) This talent does get heaps of use on the new secret map, which I will not go into too much detail on, as it is still new. Each of these talents synergize with Ranger Veteran's identity as a ranged support character, and they are both fun and effective.
Ranger Veteran's level 20 talents are rather lackluster, and again, they seemingly contradict his play style. While this is true for all ranged careers now, it feels especially hurtful to Ranger. They are:
Roots Running Deep: Standard HP on Stagger
Ranger Reaper: Standard HP on Cleave
Hardy Heart: Standard Healshare
While I feel that the universal talent changes to the level 20 tree were a step in the right direction for the health of the game and the way it plays, they have especially hurt Ranger, who was already struggling before. With Ranger's 10% chance to not consume items, a very viable strategy is running Healer's Touch and Hardy Heart, for a 35% chance to not consume healing items, and plenty of AoE healing to share with your buddies. I have my debates about this talent tree, but they aren't exclusive to Ranger, so I'll hold my tongue.
Bardin's level 25 talent tree offers another interesting set of problems: each of the talents feels very necessary. They are:
Ranger's Ambush: Leaving Disengage's Smoke area no longer ends Disengage.
Preparation: Reduces the cooldown of Disengage by 30%
Catch a Breath: Gain 50 temporary health upon using Disengage.
These talents each feel like they're covering a weakness, rather than proving new and fun things for Ranger to do. Ranger's Ambush allows Bardin to navigate more efficiently during Disengage, meaning that you can move around a boss without wasting your active, or walk with your party through a horde without ending Disengage prematurely. It also can help you not get caught out of position. This talent doesn't necessarily allow you to do anything exciting, it simply covers the shortcomings of the ability. Preparation decreases the cooldown of Disengage by 30%, which is a very standard level 25 talent regardless of career. This could let you use it more often to knockback bosses or avoid being caught, but altogether doesn't change the way you use the ability either. Unlike Foot Knight or Slayer, Disengage isn't a career ability made to be used frequently, and this talent doesn't change that. There are few situations where I feel that I would use Disengage more than once every couple minutes anyway, as it is a very niche ability. Lastly is Catch a Breath, which adds a new function to the ability, making it a sizable (if temporary) heal. This heal doesn't remove wounds, but it can be the difference between life and death in Champion and Legend runs. The previous shortcomings of Disengage are still present with this talent, however, leaving it feeling like a bandaid fix to Ranger's lackluster survivability.
All in all, Ranger Veteran's identity is tied to its use of ranged weapons and items. These identities which can be seriously limited by carrying books, awkward weapon selection, and even talents within the class itself. Ranger has little in the means of standard damage prevention (with an honorable mention going to Curl Up), has little to incentivize using melee weapons aside from temporary health (which is standard), and has level 25 talents that don't feel like you're getting powerful new abilities, and feel more like you're patching holes in the class design.
While Ranger Veteran is definitely viable, it would benefit from some buffs to make his contribution to a party feel more meaningful and satisfying. Perhaps greater armor piercing, critical hits, or boss damage during his active (this was present some time ago, but was removed), greater differentiation between ranged and melee builds, more functional and meaningful level 10 and 25 talents, expanded weapon choices, or some means of reducing regular incoming damage.
The only truly unique thing that this career offers is its supply drops, and while no other class can match his proficiency with items, it can be closely followed by running replication traits upon gear on any map except the recent secret one. Furthermore, this style of play has its own limitations and contradictions, as previously mentioned. Item drops become less useful as you move through a level, as you often walk past duplicates you don't need or can't carry.
Ranger is a very unique career that is just a small push away from being powerful and tons of fun. The framework is already here, we have tons of memes of our favorite "doom dwarf", though it's such a shame this is the extent of what Ranger is truly able to offer in a normal game.
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