This week on Behind the Mask, we're going to discuss the Soldier, Champions Online's modern weapons expert. The Soldier is a step down from the proposed Marine Archetype in that it only has eight weeks of basic training, unlike the Marine's 13.5 weeks, and the quality of a Soldier's training and discipline is inferior in almost every respect.

The proposed Marine Archetype includes two powers at level 1: Beatdown and Assault Rifle. The Marine's Beatdown has a 100% chance of putting an opponent into a blood choke on hit, while his Assault Rifle fires three-round bursts and kills the enemy instantly. The Marine also uses the "Hard Charger" role, which gives it infinite energy and infinite health. After all, Marines never quit and Marines never die. These elements are balanced by the Marine-exclusive Navy travel power, which gets the Marines to where they need to go within three to five weeks, most of the time.

The Soldier is just inferior in every respect to a battle-hardened Marine, but these weekend warriors have enough training to hold their own with undisciplined civillian heroes and their fancy tights.

Basic training

The Soldier rocks out in the Avenger role, which means that he isn't very tough (unlike a Marine) but deals good damage with his ranged attacks. This is somewhat mitigated by his "spray and pray" mentality; the Soldier fires large volumes of bullets in the hopes that some of them will land. The Soldier's super Dexterity gives him a better critical rate than most heroes, but compared to the "One shot, one kill" mentality of the USMC, the Army combat doctrine leaves something to be desired. He also has a super EGO, which is strange considering he's the bottom of the barrel of the Armed Forces (Air Force notwithstanding). His high opinion of himself leads to stronger critical hits, though.

At level 8, Soldiers learn to use Targeting Computers, which increase their overall damage and gives them a Lock On ability. When a Soldier attacks his target, his computer locks on and adjusts his aim, making criticals more likely and more deadly. This helps make up for the Army's mediocre training.

At level 22, the Soldier gets a Killer Instinct, or at least what passes as one. While he never gets particularly good at breaking combos, he becomes invigorated anytime he gets close to hitting center mass. Every time he criticals, KI gives him a boost of energy -- this is an extremely critical (pardon the pun) ability for Munitions characters of all kinds, and the Soldier is no different.

The Soldier learns how to Lock and Load at level 27, which is absolutely strange since this is a basic skill taught in USMC basic training. For the Soldier, learning proper weapon handling techniques gives him a sizable damage and critical boost for a short time. It's a little bit superfluous for the Soldier, but it's worth using every fight when it's available. Unfortunately, the Soldier's ability to stay in Condition 1 lasts only a short while. His improved discipline is excellent for escaping mez effects, but in general I recommend using it frequently for damage rather than saving it for a rainy day. If you're going up against a boss, though, you should probably wait for it to recharge, obviously.

A punishing arsenal

The Soldier's energy-building power is Steady Shot, one of the more unique energy-builders in the game. Steady Shot uses a high-power .45 ACP handgun to deliver accurate and effective fire, and it deals far more damage and builds far more energy per shot than other energy builders. This is countered by the Army's poor training -- the Soldier fires his handgun slowly compared to the fire-rate of other energy-building attacks.

The Soldier also starts with the M16 assault rifle, the greatest weapon ever made by man or God. In a Marine's hands, the M16 is a tool of death and destruction, killing insurgents and supervillains alike with single well-aimed shots. Due to the Army's "spray and pray" methodology, it is somewhat less effective in the hands of a Soldier. The Soldier is the only Archetype in Champions Online to get a Tier 1 power at the start of the game, and the M16's effectiveness in those early levels is incredibly high. Even though the Soldier fires his rifle in full auto, the DPS well exceeds that of any starter attack, and it has a 100-foot range. As the Soldier gets more AoE attacks, the Assault Rifle gets less use, but it is still a decently damaging, energy-efficient attack.

For tanking heroes, the Assault Rifle works great with Crippling Challenge as a long-range, high-threat taunting power for bosses.

The Soldier's first weapon upgrade is an MP5 submachinegun. Rather than firing it in short, controlled bursts, the Soldier chooses to spray bullets indiscriminately, hitting everything in a wide cone in front of him. As the number of targets increases, the Soldier's accuracy decreases, leading to an overall decrease in damage per target (but higher damage overall). The base damage of SMG Burst is fairly respectable compared to other AoE attacks, although the damage falloff hurts against big groups.

The Soldier can supplement his faulty training by "shooting to wound." Instead of learning to deliver accurate fire on target, the Aggression advantage lets the Soldier spray bullets in the hopes of wounding his opponents. The wounds cause bleeding damage over time and work great in conjunction with Form of the Swordsman on martial arts heroes. On the Soldier, it's a decent way to offset the damage decrease from hitting multiple enemies, since the bleeds do full damage.

Overall, the SMG is one of the Soldier's most effective tools, especially at close range where Aggression is more likely to wound the enemy.

At level 11, the Soldier has a real choice -- Shotgun or Frag Grenade. The combat shotgun is generally the better choice since it deals very good damage. However, it is somewhat redundant with SMG Burst and has annoying random knockback. Most Soldiers can stick with the SMG and do just fine, but when paired with Aggression (tap SMG for a second then unload the shotgun), the damage can stack up fast.

The frag grenade is a decent choice for crowd control. It deals a fairly sizable knockback to every enemy hit by it, so it can be good to give the Soldier a breather or buy him some time to fall back. It doesn't really see a whole lot of use, since most of the time Soldiers will be wasting taxpayer money on bullets and won't have the time to throw grenades.

A more useful grenade unlocks at level 17: the smoke grenade. This device is excellent for marking targets and signalling a retreat. In fact, due to the Army's propensity for falling back, this tool makes perfect sense. It's only good as a perception debuff without advantages, but the Escape Artist advantage turns it into a threat wipe with a hidden 30-second cooldown. It can even be used while the Soldier is held to buy him time to break free.

The final choice for the Soldier comes at level 32. He can choose between a Gatling Gun or every insurgent's favorite weapon, the RPG. Of the two, the Gatling Gun is probably the better deal. The Soldier will still mostly be relying on his trusty SMG or shotgun for groups of enemies, but against single foes, the Gatling Gun does huge damage.

The Rocket isn't too bad; its damage is very high, and it has a large area of effect, but it doesn't do anything for the Soldier that isn't accomplished by other powers. You may want it just as a theme power.

The last weapon available to a Soldier is a Sniper Rifle, available at level 40. The rifle does a lot of damage and stuns its target, but it has a very long charge time and must be charged fully to strike at all. It's more useful as a surprise attack in PvP than anything else. It does have some use due to its 120-foot range, but unfortunately the Soldier can't shoot farther than that due to his poor marksmanship skill.

Post-deployment training

Although the Soldier's training is pretty inflexible, you can really improve his ability to take on villains with some basic upgrades.

As I mentioned in my general Avenger guide, stimpacks are really useful, so make sure you're stocked before a battle. I recommend Arms or Science crafting for the Soldier. If you're planning on making your own gear, Arms is slightly better, but in general, crafted gear kind of sucks.

The Soldier should focus primarily on DEX, EGO, and CON for his gear and talents. Because DEX follows a diminishing returns model on his critical chance, you may want to squeeze a little REC here and there, too. Other stats are not so useful. Even though it is not a superstat, CON is vitally (ha, pun!) important for keeping a Soldier (or really any hero) alive.

Ranks and advantages are tricky. Depending on what powers you select, you may want more or fewer advantages in other powers. For instance, if you don't take Gatling Gun, you probably want to get Assault Rifle to Rank 3 as it's your best backup single target attack.

The two advantages I heavily recommend are Aggression (for SMG Burst) and Escape Artist (for Smoke Grenade) as mentioned above. These two advantages are really character-defining for the Soldier.

If you're planning on using Shotgun for your main AoE damage, you'll want R1 SMG (with Aggression) and R3 Shotgun. Otherwise, just get R2 SMG and use SMG for your AoE needs. In general, I think SMG is probably a little better. The Breaching Round upgrade for the Shotgun is nice, though -- it guarantees knockback against your primary target, making it a more defensive weapon when you're trying to avoid damage.

Ranking up Targeting Computer is pretty essential; rank it up to R3 as soon as you get it.

Gatling Gun and Rocket probably deserve to be ranked up as well -- if you picked Rocket for theme, you might not want to rank it up, but it does work great as an AoE alpha strike. If you get Gatling Gun and don't rank it up... I don't know what to say. If you pick up the Listen to Reason advantage, it does give you the ability to gain an Enrage stack (for use with Breaching Round) but requires a full maintain. On other heroes, this advantage is decent, but on the Soldier... it's pretty blah. If your main leveling partner is Darkness-heavy (or is the Void Archetype), it might be good just to help your partner out.

If you picked Gatling Gun and aren't too attached to your Assault Rifle (like I am), you might consider getting Crippling Challenge for it to break through blocking. Don't get this advantage if you use AR as a main attack, as it draws a ton of threat. As mentioned above, this combination is probably the best long-range boss taunt in the game.

Your other advantages are up to you. Incendiary frag grenades, ranking up your energy builder, ranking up Lock and Load, and Retaliation's knockback advantage are decent choices. Ranking up Sniper Rifle might be good if you PvP a lot or if you participate in cosmic farming.

Overall

While inferior to a Marine in every imaginable way, the Soldier performs quite a bit better than I expected compared to undisciplined civillian rabble. Compared to Inferno, his damage is a little low, but he makes up for it with tricks and survivability. Also, unlike the Inferno, he's free to heavily stat-up CON without gimping his passive energy benefits.

When he's not touring the streets of Millennium City or rolling mooks in Vibora Bay, Patrick Mackey goes Behind the Mask to bring you the nitty-gritty of the superhero world every Thursday. Whether it's expert analysis of Champions Online's game mechanics or his chronicled hatred of roleplaying vampires, Patrick holds nothing back.

This article was originally published on Massively.
The Guild Counsel: Till death do us part?