A Mild-Mannered Reporter: In the case of Blasters

In a way, there's a unique glory to unrepentant damage-dealing classes. Let the other characters focus on having unique and subtle hybrid style, through which every movement builds into some arcane methodology. That's all well and good, but you need to have a character option whose sole purpose in life is destruction. The sort of class whose idea of subtlety is shooting the target, shooting it again, and setting it on fire, and if there's anything left after all of that, maybe you'll ask it a question or two.

A hammer is an excellent tool when you just want something smashed, after all.

Blasters fill the role of unmitigated damage dealer in City of Heroes, and that makes them a joy to write about because they are focused without being monodimensional. Whether you're new to the game as a whole or just new to playing a ranged damage machine, read on for a discussion of the archetype, its abilities, and what can be expected when you decide to just blast everything into oblivion.

Blasters in a nutshell

The original archetypes for City of Heroes were a bit more one-sided than the later City of Villains options, but they still had some variety built in. A Tanker could manage to deal some solid damage, a Scrapper could hold on to an enemy or two as an ersatz tank, a Controller who picked Empathy as a secondary could (and would) be press-ganged into healing. Not so for the Blaster. Since day one, the Blaster has done one thing and one thing only: find any targets with health remaining and fix that problem. Whether raining down wide-area death or just sniping the daylights out of an inconvenient boss, the Blaster is the go-to archetype for crushing targets.

That's not to say that Blasters are simple, just that they focus on a single task and do it very well. They do it so well, in fact, that their inherent power ensures that even when they're held, they're still capable of inflicting damage, since their first two primary powers and their first secondary power remain accessible even when the player is otherwise incapacitated. Furthermore, each attack provides a small damage boost to the next attack, reliant on how long the attack takes to activate and how wide an area it affects. (Sniper-style attacks give the largest bonus, while wide-area instant attacks give the smallest boost.)

But dealing damage in CoH is a complex affair, and that's where the Blaster excels. Need to focus on high damage to a single target? Blasters have got tools for that. Hordes of enemies need to be wiped out? They've got tools for that. Trying to keep a target in melee range? They've got tools for that, something the hybrid "blapper" builds heavily focus on. Unlike other archetypes whose damage-dealing is more specialized, Blasters can do it all, complete with some self-buffs and other boosts to make powers more effective.

Unfortunately, all of this does come at a price. A Blaster is the multi-function damage tool, but the archetype has scant tools for doing anything else. You're not even particularly healthy, meaning that when something nasty decides to claw at your throat, you'll drop faster than the ratings on a mid-season replacement sitcom. And in a group with a lot of archetypes already doing solid damage as a sideline to other functions, sometimes your slightly bigger numbers don't stand out as much as you might like.

Primary sets

A Blaster's primary sets are all built around doing astonishing ranged damage. Several of them also have little riders attached to give a semblance of other functions, but your primary goal is to stand back and unleash destruction at a distance.

Archery, Assault Rifle, Fire Blast, Energy Blast: These sets all rose in my estimation when considering them for Corruptors rather than Defenders. They rise again when being used for Blasters, since their take-no-prisoners pure damage approach is perfectly suited to the archetype. Fire Blast and Assault Rifle in particular have long been among the most efficient sets you can grab.

Dual Pistols, Electrical Blast, Ice Blast, Psychic Blast, Radiation Blast: On the other hand, these sets are... just a little bit weaker, not to the point of uselessness by any means, but when your goal is damage instead of debuffs, these sets don't quite have the same sting to them. Psychic and Radiation in particular seem to be a bit shy in the vital field of area damage, at that.

Sonic Attack: What, wasn't I just saying that those debuffs were a little bit less desirable? Yes I was. But Sonic Attack's debuffs are different because landing them ensures that the next several attacks hit harder, and that ties into the Blaster's piledriver damage something wonderful. Thus, I have to give Sonic Attack a bit more of a nod.

Secondary sets

The secondary sets for Blasters are pretty wide-ranging, being a mix of self-buffs, melee abilities, and a few minor tools like immobilize effects to keep you out of the paint whenever possible. (Of course, some Blasters prefer to get into the paint anyway, so that's a bit more situational.)

Devices: Feeling a bit light on your AoE power or your soloing options? Devices is filled with ways to immobilize enemies as needed, along with a very nice self-buff toggle and two extra area damage abilities. It's been a very nice set for the archetype ever since the game was launched.

Electricity Manipulation: If you want to stay out of the fray, this set is pretty terrible, as most of its effects are either melee attacks or point-blank AoEs. However, if you want to either get into the mix or be able to hold your own when all else fails, the set has several light holds and some pretty damaging close attacks.

Energy Manipulation: The melee strikes are decent but nothing inspiring, but the variety of buffs you can pop when needed is downright inspiring. Need a bit of extra range, need a little more endurance, need some solid damage buffs? This set brings all of the above.

Fire Manipulation: It's almost exactly like Electricity Manipulation, only it does the same trick even better. Now there's almost a reason to get into the fray just to start chaining nasty area attacks together. You do want for much in the way of single-target attacks or utility, however.

Ice Manipulation: I hate to say it, but it's mostly just a thematic set. It's got some ranged attacks and some light holds, but there are two other archetypes that handle that better (including one that also handles ranged ice damage). Not bad, just not that great by comparison to its brethren.

Mental Manipulation: There are some nifty effects in here, including a toggle to confuse enemies around you, but there aren't a whole lot of standouts. That having been said, it does have a nice touch of ranged powers to bring to the table.

As for me...

A Blaster was the second character I played, utilizing knockback effects of Energy Blast and Devices to great effect. It was great fun knocking enemies off one another and then watching them try and fail to come back after me. The problem I ran into with the archetype as a whole was that at least from my perspective, playing a different mix of powers still felt more or less the same, with only minor differences in play.

Like I said, a hammer is a great tool when you just want to smash something. But I'm the guy who will carry around a full toolbag that doesn't do anything in such a straightforward fashion; I prefer something that's a bit weaker in a straight-on contest but offers more options. And that's the truth about the class in a nutshell. Players who like to do one thing very well will get a kick out of it; other players might not.

But hey, know what you do well and love what you do. Right? Right.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments or via mail to eliot@massively.com. (I look forward to the cries of "I love my Ice/Ice blaster" in the comments -- really, it makes me happy that the game can support such diverse opinions.) Next week I'm going to talk about travel and whether or not it really serves the purpose it used to in the current state of the game.

By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.
This article was originally published on Massively.