Saturday, 25 October 2014

Archery in RPGs

The criteria for being on my list is just what I personally found fun, well-implemented, powerful or interesting. I've tried to mix it up by including skill-based and tactical, RNG-based role-playing games. Enjoy!

   D a r k  S o u l s   

I love this game, the mechanics are wonderful. Providing you spec right, reinforce your bow and are skilled at headshots (love that sound!), you really shouldn't hit many speedbumps in the single-player game. Melee opponents in PvP who are killed by staggering headshots will rage hard and call you cheap. There's nothing like chaining staggers together on a tanky opponent, knowing that if the next shot fails to stagger you're probably gonna be one-shotted. Enemy archers can be really annoying; I cite the giant knights wielding dragonbows who fire "javelins" for ammo which knock you down into the void. This dragonbow can be used by the player later, though it's largely a gimmick short of long-range knockdown sniping in PvP. There are much better bows in DkS.

   O b l i v i o n   

This is sort of a joke entry (TES cannot into combat), but archery on a stealth build is mildly entertaining for a few hours due to how broken it is. You have bowzoom, enchantable arrows, high RoF and couple that with high sneak and 5% on-hit knockdown and 5% paralysis perks, you're untouchable. Expect to get extra plinks at a knocked down enemy before it manages to stand up again. I beat Oblivion's main quest on default difficulty with a first level archer. For Morrowind Bethesda released an Area Effect Arrows plug-in, but archery still wasn't as brokenly amusing as in Oblivion (and Skyrim), though mods like Requiem can really up the challenge.

   D e u s  E x  

When I get to choose between a GEP gun and mini xbow, I choose the latter. Tranquilizing "terrists" for non-lethal silent takedowns is very satisfying and facilitates the stealth approach for which Deus Ex is famous.

   B a l d u r ' s  G a t e   

Multiple reasons can be given for why archers just devastate. Early in the campaign, your average enemy is made from such lowly stock as 1-2 Hit Dice, so only one or two projectiles are required to drop them. Against such squishy foes, percentile Strength warriors wielding two-handed swords is just overkill; moreover, by the time Minsc has shouted "Go for the eyes, Boo!" and charged in, Kivan has sniped two or three from under his nose, anyway! Low level archers, who by wielding a bow gain +1 ApR, also don't necessarily need a tank to hold back certain stronger, 4-8 HD foes; they can simply mow them down as they close in. To increase killspeed and deal with truly formidable foes later in the campaign, archers can swap to enchanted quivers of Acid ArrowsFire ArrowsIce ArrowsPiercing ArrowsBiting ArrowsDispelling Arrows and the insane Detonation Arrows (1d6, +6d6 Fireball, save vs. spells for half). Upon reaching Sorcerous Sundries in Chapter Five, in addition to stacks and stacks of other ammo, the player can purchase twenty-one quivers of Acid Arrow, two-and-a-half quivers of Dispelling Arrow and three quivers of Detonation Arrows. Imagine a few archers unleashing what amount to Fireballs at a max rate of four per round - that's some serious DpR!


Decent bows are EZ to find, too: while only one composite longbow  (THAC0 +1, dmg +2) can be bought from Winthrop in the Prologue, they're commonly sold by merchants and easily looted from that point on. The Composite Long Bow +1 (THAC0 +2, dmg +3) - the "best" bow - can be bought from Feldepost's Inn as early as Chapter One; the finale of Chapter Three also yields the Longbow of Marksmanship (THAC0 +3, dmg +2); and the Eagle Bow (THAC0 +2, dmg +2) is obtainable when the player reaches Baldur's Gate city. Being wooden, bows also have the early-game perk of being exempt from the plot-based "taint" which can cause non-magical iron weapons to break in your hands.

Companion-wise, Kivan and Coran are already lordly archers at the time of recruitment; Khalid can be specced into a sniper and out-shoot Kivan. Coran is the undisputed king of archery, having an illegal High Mastery in bows and potentially reaching Dexterity 21 if given the Manual of Quickness of Action (Dex +1, permanent); not that he needs it. Nor does he need the Bracers of Archery (THAC0 +2) or Gauntlets of Dexterity (sets Dexterity to 18), which should be gifted to second-rate archers like Ajantis and Minsc.

One "limitation" of archery is that you can only hold twenty arrows in a quiver, of which you have three. Sixty shots might sound like more than enough, but you'll burn through them fast with a high RoF and have to backtrack to town to restock. Well, just fill your backpack slots with quivers as well, and you shouldn't run out in a hurry.

My focus here on bows n arrows doesn't mean crossbows aren't also viable, but while the Light Crossbow of Speed (THAC0 +1, dmg +1, ApR +1is readily available in Beregost, the Heavy Crossbow of Accuracy (THAC0 +5, dmg +2) may not be found by many players, as it's acquisition depends on how you solved a previous Chapter's quest. Bolt variety is very limited compared to arrows, with the Bolt of Biting and Bolt of Lightning being the most sought-after. I personally love to see Shar-teel or bards like Garrick and Eldoth firing from crossbows; Montaron is a crack shot, too.

By virtue of darts setting attack rate to 3 ApR, even "useless" mages can contribute a lil' to the party's combined projectile hail (1d3), especially if they let loose the Dart of Wounding or Dart of Stunning. Along with druids and clerics they can also fire slings, a cheeky "halfling weapon" that receives a strength bonus to damage and allows a shield in the off-hand. With such weapons at your disposal, there's really no excuse to have your back-row casters standing around doing nothing just because they're out of spells.

Archery was nerfed in Baldur's Gate 2 but an archer prestige class with Firetooth xbow (ToB) or Gesen will still tear through the field and drill down bosses, with Greater Whirlwind.

   P l a n e s c a p e:  T o r m e n t   

Duh fuq? Oh I see you forgot about Nordom! The only companion with missile weapons, means he must be mentioned with adoration. A shame he can't be recruited earlier, but he gets some use when farming XP down in Under Sigil. Yes, this is another joke entry..

   G o t h i c  2   

Just like in Dark Souls, a player who specializes in melee will still nock an arrow and make a bow sing because the design is thoughtful and the game logically at times calls for it's use, no matter your proficiency in magic/melee. The only problem is that the cheesy side of me calls for its use a little too often...

   S t o r m  o f  Z e h i r   

It's the solid crafting mechanics in this underrated expansion for Neverwinter Nights 2 that ensures bows and xbows shine. Make them out of rare materials like duskwood and zalantar, deck your low level slobs out with them (yep, even wizards), and mow down rag-tag mobs before they even get to your meatshields. More info can be found here.

   T e m p l e  o f  E l e m e n t a l  E v i l   

General consensus seems to be ranged weapons suck in this game, but holy axiomatic or icy-burst +3 longbow on a well-built elven archer means you are dropping tough foes such as Hill Giants before they can even raise an eyebrow (high initiative). Very satisfying.

   D i a b l o  2   

Bowazons were a whole lot of fun, but the letdown was they were so overshadowed by lightning javs. The Median XL: Ultimative mod turns them into glass cannons, but they can clear out areas in a couple of clicks - fastest killers I ever saw in any game. Still, the ranged king in Ultimative is the xbow necro, boasting of a skillset mixing in sniping, SMG and shot-gun firing modes. It has to be seen to be believed. 

   H o r d e s  o f  t h e  U n d e r d a r k    

My Arcane Archer run is detailed here. She mowed down the whole campaign, from the ogre mage to Mephisto. Zero challenge, but FUN.


   D r a g o n  A g e:  O r i g i n s   

You will know how effective archery can be if you run into AI using Scattershot when you are under-leveled. With quick weapon switching there is no reason not to have your non-mage companions firing from range as the enemy closes in.

   S n o w  H u n t   

My archer was able to land many ranged sneak attacks, thanks to her dwarven companion tanking the tough packs of mobs. Read about this run in detail here. This is a wonderful adventure, btw.


   M o u n t  &  B l a d e:  W a r b a n d   

OK, this is it!

First off bows far outstrip xbows as the latter only do flat damage. A total noob using a starter bow with bent ammo can headshot an armored vet for 80 dmg. Lethal. Now, a masterwork warbow in the hands of a strongarm build with 10 power draw and +3 arrows will one-shot anyone but a king decked out in lordly fullplate. Headshots do in excess of 200 dmg. RoF at skill 400 is probably 2.5 draws per sec, causing RSI.

Second, Rhodok snipers using xbows can single-handedly win sieges, expect to get 50-200 kills before you even send your sergeants up the ladder. Plus they are tanks, the board shields on their backs protect them from responding hail when they bend forward to reload. A great unit to invest in.

Third, Khergit veteran horse archers are sexy as hell, a hundred of these guys circling and kiting an infantry force is a sight to behold. A player with 10 horse archery and 10 ride on a champion coarser is going to have lots of fun running circles around the enemy, but, even with end-game stats and gear, still needs to maintain a healthy respect for her rival sharp-shooters.

Last but not least, the Noldor rangers in the Prophecy of Pendor mod fire bows like machine guns, their arrows blot out the sky. Nothing lives. After much hardship the player can eventually earn a "sapphire bow", thereby exceeding even the DPS of these ancient elves.

Warband makes you work hard in archery, from the tentative early-game skirmishes against forest bandits up to the truly epic battles against massive roaming armies in the Prophecy of Pendor mod, but the rewards are worth it. When it comes to archery, Warband hits the bull's eye.


  1. Found ya!

    Speaking of Dark Souls,the archery mechanics are mighty different. I would say that archery in DkS1 is pretty much useless and is only good for cheap killing in single player. Like killing the red dragon from under the bridge and the like. If we speak about BOWS that is, because crossbows are actually pretty good as a side weapon/surprise element in PvP, Now, DkS2 adressed that issue and "quickdraw" mechanics for bows, now they are pretty viable in both PvE and PvP. A welcome change.

    TES games have lots of archery mods. Can't remember what I used for Skyrim in that regard, but it worked wonders with Hunterborn mod. I got myself best hunting sim since URW. Speaking of which, wtf? Where is Unreal World archery remark?

    Risen series inherited the same archery issues as Gothic 2. Which is not bad, I think. Being constantly tempted to use ranged weapon (=safe approach) means the game is actually challenging, no? It's certainly better than mindless facerolling.

    Storm of Zehir isn't underrated. Everybody loves it, and rightfully so.

    I kinda agree on the other stated points. Archer in vanilla M&B is very OP, especially during sieges. Protagonist with high archery can make crazy killing machine. A headshot every second, even more effective than two-handed axe.

    Also, I think the most satisfactory feel of bow I had in original Thief, if we speaking first person. If go for third person, it's definetely Unreal World. No better feeling than your first elk killed with an arrow,

    1. I found DkS PvP/PvE archery to be viable, just that melee(backstab)/magic was easier and more effective. It can be a challenge in PvP, but I did get some kills against decent players with zoom-in headshots on skirmish maps primarily with the shortbow for +RoF. Unfortunately, my PvP vids were accidentally deleted so I can no longer relive getting pwned by experts and my hacker vs. hacker duels. PvE archery also had some charm (very hard early on) and some later situations called out for a bow, regardless of speccage. I haven't played DkS2, yet.

      Storm of Zehir is underrated from my PoV. You would think a game offering a fully-customizable squad of six under D&D3.5 ruleset with an overland, sandboxy map would be played to hell and back, despite the unoptimized engine and mandatory cam tweaking that needs to be done (marquee select, ini-tweaked strat mode ftw). It just isn't at all popular, and that's evidenced by a severe lack of online references, resources and mods taking advantage of SoZ engine enhancements/extensions.

      Risen and URW I also haven't played. I'll check them out, and would also like to try Severence: Blade of Darkness as an archer.

      I share your view of archery in Thief - love the game. But it isn't an RPG, so isn't on the list.

      Just remembered that in Oblivion archery you can block with a bow...

  2. >I share your view of archery in Thief - love the game. But it isn't an RPG, so isn't on the list.
    But Oblivion is on the list, so I thought FPS are allowed too. *trollface*

    You must really hate yourself if you're thinking of completing BoD as an archer. Pure madness.
    - No crosshair
    - No mouse control (technicaly there is, but it's not nearly usable)
    - Practically no arrows throughout the game
    - Just one bow. And exceptionnaly weak one.

    Bows are there just for solving button puzzles.

    1. Mmm, I was under the impression it might be viable with the Amazon. Will look into it, there are also mods to explore.

      Other games I might try archery in:

      Divinity 2, Divine Divinity, Dark Messiah, Gothic 3, Arcanum (only done firearms), Age of Decadence, ToME4, Arx Fatalis.

    2. Can't say I used archery in any of games you listed. Divine Divinity wouldn't be a problem theoretically, as long as you focus your build on using bows. Dark Messiah is impossible to complete with pure archer, methinks. Too many "hordes of mobs in tight space" situations.. Arcanum sounds interesting, if you go for techo-bows or pure archer with no magic. Archer/mage would be easy as bitch combat-wise. Gothic 3 - well, it's basically the same Gothic combat-wise, but with a bit of arcade feeling. Bows are still cheap tactics against stupid AI.

      Never played other game you listed, but looking forward to see additional archery reviews.

      Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup is easy as fuck to play as kobold xbowmen or centaur archer, btw. You could also make some crazy archery experiments in (not so) old crpgs. Like, running through Wizardry 8 with archers only, just for teh lulz. (completing in with faery bishop solo was pretty fun back in the day)

    3. Arcanum tech archery is apparently on par with guns, you get decent RoF... The problem is that combat sucks in that game, though. Everytime I conceive a build in Arcanum the very thought of the combat implementation and uninspired encounters instantly drains my will to play.

      Divine Divinity poison bow/arrow is supposed to be obscenely OP. But again, yawn. What a slog that game becomes.

      I've considered doing full archer parties in Baldur's Gate, Storm of Zehir and Temple of Elemental Evil, but knowing the games intimately I can clearly foresee see how mind-numbingly repetitive and inefficient it would be.

      At the moment I'm recounting Hordes of the Underdark (check blog archive link), playing as Arcane Archer with Sharywn and Deekin (so, a trio of ranged attackers - and three characters with bard lvls). Finding it mildly amusing, even though I'm both meta- and power-gaming. I'm really only doing it to see how Project Q looks. I was gonna post it as a Let's Play on the Codex, but it probably wouldn't go down all that well there.

  3. Historically/practically speaking, Archery should devastate. With only melee weapons in open combat that starts at range, it would be the medieval equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight. Bows are the Guns of this technology level.

    But in the D&D based games archery is typically quite weak. BG adds cheesy fireball arrows that change that. But with normal arrows, archery is more of an annoyance, than a threat.

    In NWN1 (where I have spent most hours) it is really only in HotU that an Archer makes sense with massive levels of AA boosts and Custom built bows. In the OC or SoU, archers would be largely ineffective, lacking both super bows, and huge numbers of AA levels required to make an archer effective.

    On top of that distances are small and a charging enemy will close in a couple of shots. In close quarters melee weapons are MUCH more effective.

    Though it is odd that wizards don't have better defense against arrows, since they have so many magic defenses, as well as standard melee defensive tools (like acid sheath) that just don't work against arrows, likely because archers aren't taken as a serious threat, so it was overlooked. AAs just eat wizards in NWN1.

    1. +1 ApR granted by bows allows archery to devasate in early BG with normal arrows. Other reasons are given in the article, too. Note that the article is based on original BG, not EE. There are notable differences. My coverage is almost always for the originals over the EEs (reasons: I prefer the originals, I don't like Beamdog's additions, the originals are the authority because they were made by BioWare and have been in a consistent state for two decades and Beamdog are still patching and updating the EEs after 5 years...)

      In BG2, archery can still devastate but doesn't compare to melee. First, while there is a bow that grants +1 ApR that stacks with normal bow +ApR (Tuigan), BG2 employs dual-wielding for +1 ApR and itemizes weapons that grant +1 ApR on top of that, too (Belm & Kundane). Second, there are also no detonation arrows itemized, only limited dispelling arrows itemized, and Acid Arrows were nerfed from 2d6 to 1d3 (other arrows were nerfed, too). In an oversight, however, auto-ammo erroneously stacks with conventional ammo (e.g, Gesen, Firetooth, Tansheron, Everard's). Third, BG2 does not host as many wide open wilderness spaces for kiting purposes. Fourth, enemy movement rate was increased, meaning the archer is closed in on more quickly. Fifth, ranged weapons and their ammo lack god-like on-hit effects such as vorpal, stun and slow (Archer PrC THAC0/Strength drain kills from Called Shot cannot keep up with that, and it's too specific to be notable, anyway). I could go on and cover HLAs, but then it might as well be a blog post.

      In IWD, archery is great in the early going (again, the +ApR) and can remain viable throughout thanks to the Messenger of Sseth (+1 ApR) and Hammer +4 (sets ApR to 4 and stacks with other ApR sources for an EZ 10 ApR). The latter is a random find, though, and so it doesn't count. Acid Arrows remain unnerfed at 2d6 but are not as readily itemized as in BG. With that said, archery gets completely outstripped by melee weapons sporting on-hit stun and on-hit effects akin to vorpal.

      In IWD2, the Strength bonus to great weapons (e.g, Halberd of Hate/Greataxe of Flame) coupled with Cleave seals the deal for melee. IWD2 has situations that call for archery but otherwise archery is just a fun diversion.

      In PS:T, it's all about Nordom and that's not notable because he's a late-game addition.

      In ToEE, archery can devastate but it's totally outstripped by great weapon wielders (glaive) built around clearing out entire rooms full of mobs by virtue of Combat Reflexes and Great Cleave stacking with Whirlwind. In vanilla, you just click Whirlwind and watch everything die. One AoE can trigger the death of entire mobs, too.

      So yeah, I think the original BG is one of the few RPGs where archery can really compete with melee. I don't think archery competes in HotU with a Weapon Master wielding a Scythe.

    2. It's been about 10 years since I played BG1/BG2. I remember archery being useful in BG1 mainly because it is lower level, and due to the silly explosive arrows and starting the final battle with a massed sortie of explosive arrows. In BG2, I remember not using bows at all because without the explosive arrows, they were kind of useless.

      I never played ToEE/IWDx because they are known more as the hack and slash game, with just an anonymous party. That really isn't my thing. I put up with party play in BG/BG2 because they had personalities and story. But hack and slash with a generic party. No thanks, ever.

    3. The above "AoE" is meant to be "AoO" (Attack of Opportunity).

      I like IWD, IWD2, ToEE, Wizardry 8 and Storm of Zehir for their party creation options, but I do prefer the considerations added by companions (esp. BG for its deep companion pool). ToEE and Storm of Zehir have quite a few recruitable companions, but they are not all that entertaining and there is something to be said for a proper protagonist as opposed to an impersonal party as the protagonist. I have enjoyed both setups over the years, but BG hit the sweetspot.

      MotB sported limited itemization of detonation arrows, which is what BG should have done (60 at Sorcerous Sundries is a bit much).

  4. Dark souls 1 archery has a problem that magic and Dragonslayer arrows are awaliable only in the second act. That make archery problematic for international/faith and quality builds unless you backed yourself up with chaos longbow/Pharis bow/composite bow.

    1. Damn phone, stop fixing my "mistakes" >_< I meant intelligence/faith builds. And forgot to mention that it's a problem when you move up Ng+ - you suddenly loose ability to utilise your magic/divine or dragonslayer bow since you can't buy new arrows.

    2. I never played New Game Plus, and I haven't played Dark Souls since it came out so I don't remember the itemization or build particulars.

      I recently tested out a Moon Elf Arcane Archer in SoZ: Bard 3/Rogue 4/Fighter 4/Arcane Archer 9. Longbow all the way. Went with Favored Enemy: Reptilian Humanoids, Monstrous Humanoids. Relevant feats were: Point Blank, Rapid Shot, Many Shot, Improved crit. Pump Dex but get Str high to take advantage of Mighty property. It clears the fields pretty well. Ranged attacks in SoZ are generally quite effective, I've found. Except the tank (a Dwarven Defender), I deck everyone out with ranged weapons, even wizards. Cleric and Druid took Zen Archery. Ammo + weapon can be easily enchanted 5% into the campaign. Trivializes combat encounters until you face off against Yuan-ti (AA still rips them a new one with acid enchantments, though).

      Don't fire on the mob until they swarm and train on the charging tank or the mob tracks the archers instead, which is bad. Enemy mob will just whale away on the tank while being torn to shreds by projectiles, just like in the Infinity Engine RPGs.

      Problem was, I doubled the role of my AA as Rogue. That meant I couldn't detect epic traps, such as the ones found in Zecorian's Demense. Inshula is unable to detect them either. It really helps to have a semi-dedicated Rogue in SoZ.

    3. K-pack actually add even more archer classes. It add awesome Elemental archer(5lvl max), that add elemental damage and has damage bonus for being genasi of similar element and Marksman(24 level max) which require ranger multishot and give free IRF, free one shot, free EWF and EWS in longbow with 6/- Dr. With all of this you can make really awesome archer even without buggy death attack

      Archery in original DS was kinda lame, too little items to choose from and dangerous traps in form of ability to make lightning bow, while there are no lightning arrows, so bow can't deliver it's lightning bonus

    4. That K-pack archer sounds rather OP... the crafting of bow + ammo already puts a well-built AA over the top. You can craft a longbow from Duskwood or just buy one from Thundertree.

      I don't remember Dark Souls well, anymore. I just remember reinforcing my bow to keep it viable. I am not saying archery competes with backstab chains and the like, to be clear.

    5. It is kinda op. Fighter/Arcane archer/Elemental archer/Assassin deliver outright insane damage per shot. Mighty bow is good. Also cool ranged character is a monk/stormlord/cleric. Dat flurry shurikens with 1d6 electricity and 1d6 sound on them. Or awesome throwing axes, who are unlimitedly mighty!

      Actually archer can xD I don't remember exactly setup, but there were video on YouTube with "one shot archer" build. He could even one shot giant dad!

    6. Yeah, rolling with non-standard ranged weapons can be pretty cool. Haven't really tried it in NWN or NWN2, though I remember the Revenant in Snow Hunt being scary throwing sonic axes. Slings are very strong for BG2 Archer PrCs/Cleric duals. It's like your bullets could penetrate an engine block. Kensai PrC throwing axes, hammers or daggers can also one-shot non-trivial enemies with raw damage. Very satisfying. Imo, nothing beats xbow necro in Diablo 2 Ultimative, though. Everything just dies. But they are not easy to build and outfit.

    7. Throwing weapon in nwn1 is kinda lame since AA simply superior with its bow enhancement. But in nwn2 with stormlord, who provide similar enhancement to throwing weapon and has 10/10 divine caster level it's really fun. And you can use shield as well!

      Never played diablo 2 but I remember insane dwarf with gun from sacred. This bustard could just spam same multiattack constantly and kill bosses in seconds!


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