Risk of Rain - Character Tier List (Current as of Version 1.2.8.)
I decided to write this after having played a whole lot of single player and multiplayer, up to and including silly challenges like unlocking everything solo in Monsoon without the use of artifacts (which would make unlocking some of them a lot easier, especially with the Command artifact). I've come up with what I feel is a pretty accurate representation of where characters stand in terms of relative usefulness to one another.
Tier lists basically exist to help players know which characters have the most powerful sets of abilities, and which are generally weaker and much more difficult to use. The lowest tier ones aren't unusable, and nobody should be discouraged from using them, it's just that lower tier characters are generally reserved for experts who know how to deal with their disadvantages. Knowing which characters are generally low tier and high tier can aid with players selecting from a wide variety of characters they are unfamiliar with and assist in educating them on what to expect from playing a particular character. One of my favourite characters (and namesake) is Roo/Victy from Streets of Rage 3, who is by far the worst character in that game, so I do enjoy playing low tier characters in a number of games and encourage people to try out the low tier characters. Also note that tier lists in games are meant to be a measure of relative strength when comparing one character to another. There are many games where the difference between high tier and low tier characters are relatively few, and even the worst characters in the game are quite capable of doing well in the game. In this case, Risk of Rain has a massive amount of variation between characters who play, and skilled players will find that the lowest tier characters on this list are generally much more difficult to succeed with compared to the higher tier characters who boast much more effective abilities.
This tier list is made with the assumption that characters have fairly minimal items or sub-optimal items. A large portion of the challenge in Risk of Rain is from being able to deal with games where you get suboptimal drops. Any class can become capable of steamrolling enemies by loading up on hundreds of items, but the real differences in classes are seen in games like multiplayer, where items are split amongst players and so you can't rely on getting exactly what you want. Difficulty learning the character is not considered to be a factor in the tier ranking - Miner and Mercenary may be the hardest characters to get the hang of playing, but when played properly they're capable of surviving things that would kill other characters, like Overloading Magma Worms. Tier lists are a measure of how good characters are relative to one another when played by a skilled player, not a measure of what kind of learning curve each character has.
Even in cases where characters do get items that let them become gamebreakers (Commando getting enough Alien Heads to spam Full Metal Jacket), or playing with Artifacts like Glass or Command, this tier list should still generally hold true. Generally, the characters that fare the best in the game are the ones with the best agility or movement ability. Every class can do damage, but several classes lack the ability to dodge attacks or make themselves invulnerable, and when trying to crowd surf or escape being cornered, this ends up being a massive liability. The ones that can actually safely escape these situations are also quite capable damage dealers, so they generally end up near the top of the list.
Note that when multiple characters are listed in the same tier they are considered to be about equal in terms of ability and are simply listed in alphabetical order. Rankings aren't necessarily indicative of exactly how much weaker one tier is compared to another, it's just meant to be a relative measure.
AAA Tier (Miner)
Absolutely, the best character in the game, no exceptions. He's also the least intuitive to learn to play as, and as a result is often severely underrated by players. He's a melee oriented defensive character who has two abilities that grant invulnerability, three that provide mobility and offense in one, one is a double jump and an infinite downward vertical ranged attack! To top it off, all of his attacks hit entire enemy groups, something that the Mercenary can't boast about.
The key to the Miner's offense is in learning to ignore his basic attack, Crush. It's only really useful for finishing enemies off or when you have enough items to safely survive a few hits. Learn to use Crush sparingly, or more importantly when not to use it (it's pretty good for finishing worms quickly). His real offense should come from chaining full Drill Charges to Backblast (turn away from the enemy immediately after the Drill Charge and fire the Backblast) or surfing crowds with the ridiculously powerful To The Stars/Starbound. Drill Charge and Backblast also hit rather far - the distance they hit enemies is much longer than it may initially appear, so you don't need to get right up next to enemies to fire them off! Then there's To The Stars, which is an insanely safe source of damage, and is the best attack in the game for hanging on a rope and pelting enemies below. It needs to hit solid ground for the blasts to trigger, so it's less ideal for midair enemies, but Crush, Drill Charge and Backblast all work for when Archer Bugs show up.
His abilities do have longer cooldowns, but as long as you stagger their uses out, you can keep yourself well protected. Drill Charge is the best dash/evade in the game, and has a massive invulnerability time - it lasts for a second even after you start moving, something other dashes and rolls like the Commando and Mercenary lack. Even better, you can charge it for huge damage, as well as use it to knockback or hit enemies clean off platforms into pits/lava! Backblast may have less movement and a bit of delay before you can move after use, but it stuns enemies and cuts through them, making it a nice way to escape through thin crowds.
Sure, the Miner may not have guns (though Heaven Cracker can give him a ranged attack if you wish), but who needs those when he can demolish things with ease, and do so while taking advantage of moves that combine damage with incredible safety that no other classes come close to matching. And all of this works with little to no reliance on specific items. When faced with multiple Overloading Worms or Cremators, the Miner can use his insane mobility and multiple invunerability moves to get in hits while avoiding damage in a way that no other class can match. Seriously, learn to play the Miner, and you'll be rewarded with an unstoppable dual-pickaxe wielding menace.
AA Tier (Acrid, CHEF, Mercenary)
Incorrectly referred to by some players as a melee character, Acrid is a master of long-ranged hit-and-run tactics that puts the Huntress, the character who's supposed to be the expert in that department, completely to shame. Sure, the Acrid does have some close range attacks, but those should be used strictly as back-up moves, and not as his primary means of offense. He's also an incredibly safe to use character despite having no invulnerable evasion roll or dodge. That's how strong his ability to lock down and damage groups of enemies while keeping his distance is. As a bonus, Acrid also happens to be arguably the easiest character in the game to use, meaning he's highly recommended for beginners.
Acrid's basic attack, Festering Wounds, is the worst melee attack in the game. It only hits one enemy instead of all enemies, so it is only useful for finishing off lone bosses or weakened, single enemies. Instead, the true way to use the Acrid is to use Epidemic/Pandemic at every opportunity, to spread massive damage from a distance, while keeping enemies away and slowed down with Caustic Sludge (which also adds some extra damage). Caustic Sludge is not meant to be an escape move to rush through crowds; you need to be on the ground while using it (and you generally want to be jumping when you have to backtrack through an enemy group). The speed boost it provides is nice, but doesn't make it safe to rush through a crowd. Instead, look to his spitting attack, Neurotoxin. It's far, far better than his basic attack, hitting all enemies and inflicting stun, while boasting a relatively short cooldown. It's great for keeping enemies on your sludge, or for using it to get some breathing room to make an escape. If you do get cornered and need to escape, the slowdown effect Caustic Sludge has is extremely handy, even without it giving any invulnerability.
Epidemic is such an awesome ability that Acrid is unquestionably high tier in spite of otherwise having a poor basic attack, and no real dodge. All it requires is one quick shot, and then you can turn away and keep running away from enemies while it spreads and rips through crowds, including enemies above and below the initial target, unlike the Huntress or Commando who both need to keep line of sight to keep damaging enemies. In large crowds, it can be great at triggering a bunch of on-hit effects at once with minimal risk to yourself. The Acrid's ability to deal so much damage without needing to be close to enemies or put himself at risk means he can focus on evasion while firing off the occasional Epidemic. It's incredibly damaging and extremely safe. What's not to love?
One of the newer additions to the Risk of Rain playables, he has a self-buff like HAN-D, but one that greatly changes how his skills function. In terms of sheer damage potential, CHEF is arguably one of the strongest characters in the game, boasting a long-range basic attack that cuts through all enemies and hits twice. Mince also does massive damage when boosted and used up close, where all 9 of Mince's cleavers can hit bosses and grouped enemies at once. They also fan out across the entire screen before boomeranging back, meaning you can hit enemies all around you with them!
Then there's Glaze which slows down prepares enemies for Sear, which is a decent piercing attack that gets a boosted damage and stun/knockback on glazed enemies. You can also simply boost Glaze to get Marinate, which gives you a huge boost to its duration, making it pretty useful as an escape tool thanks to its speed, even without it providing invulnerability. The slowdown effect on enemies does vanish when they're hit with Sear/Blaze, but you can simply run and give yourself distance to hit them with cleavers if you prefer; the choice is yours!
In order to use him effectively, you want to be dealing boosted damage with Second Helping whenever possible, be it using Blaze to simply deal a hit of high damage, or Mince at close range to chew through a boss's health. Close range use of Mince is essentially unmatched in damage potential, and will mow down large enemies like Magma/Overloading Worms with shocking ease. Like Acrid, in spite of not having any invulnerable dodges, his insanely powerful skillset puts him well above other characters since he can kill normally dangerous bosses so quickly that they don't have time to present a threat, as well as deal massive damage to groups with his long ranged cleaver boomerangs. He's also got Glaze's boosted version, Marinate, which functions as a pretty good escape tool, as it works even when jumping, unlike the Acrid's Caustic Sludge.
Often compared to the Miner, the Mercenary may seem like a surpringly weak character for someone who may be unlocked fairly late in the game and who is rated quite highly, but don't be fooled; his agility and defense is second only to the Miner, and his low initial damage becomes respectable quite easily with just a few basic attack items. Unlike the Miner who has longer cooldowns, but insane crowd control, the Mercenary sacrifices some crowd control and safety for having extremely low cooldown times and a better hit speed - he can trigger on-hit items very rapidly with Eviscerate/Massacre, and even if it is single-target you can get amazing group damage with group damage items like Sticky Bombs (or better yet, Brilliant Behemoth).
Laser Sword is a decent melee attack, but a far cry from the Miner as it only hits up to 3 enemies. Still, that's what jumping Whirlwinds are good for, as well as Blinding Assault. Blinding Assault is a nice dash, allowing you to chain it up to 3 times, making it nice for group assaults. It's also quite versatile; you can add other attacks in between your next dash for longer, safer combo strings (Blinding Assault #1 -> Whirlwind -> Blinding Assault #2 -> Eviscerate -> Blinding Assault #3). The downside is that the very last dash you do has a movement delay on it, and very little invulnerability time. You can get hit by things before you can move again after a dash (like enemy flames) so it's nowhere near as safe as Miner's Drill Charge. Still, you also get Eviscerate which can be used to avoid some attacks like when worms charge you (though it makes you stationary so careful around enemy groups). Blinding Assault also immediately goes into cooldown if your initial dash fails to hit an enemy, so it requires precise aim. If you were planning to dash multiple times and you missed the enemy you meant to hit, you just lost your means of escape.
Whirlwind doesn't give anywhere near the height boost that the Miner's jump attack does, but it still allows you to surf crowds with a fair degree of safety, and gives you a short double jump which makes you way more mobile than most other classes. You can also pull off some crazy stuff like climbing worms with Whirlwind if you're lucky enough to get skill cooldown reducing items.
The Mercenary is very much like a melee Commando, with a heavy focus on triggering on-hit items rapidly. Though he may not have quite the crowd control ability other characters chave, the Mercenary has far, far more evasion potential than most and a greater skill ceiling, enabling skilled players to survive situations that would kill the less agile characters. If you have few or no damage boosting items collected, you may need to be more patient with your kills, but you always have the option to use the Mercenary's amazing mobility to avoid damage that other characters would have to soak up and potentially be killed by.
A Tier (Bandit, Huntress)
An interesting alternative to the Commando you start with, the Bandit has a much more effective basic attack as well as a much better evasive move, but loses the straightforward usefulness the Commando's piercing and stunning attacks have. Blast does require button mashing to maximize its attack speed (estimates are that it caps at about 30 to 50% extra speed) which is a lame mechanic considering you're going to likely be mashing it constantly, with faster button taps required when you have attack speed boosts, and this risks unnecessarily straining or injuring yourself if you play games of an hour or more. However, this is easily resolved for keyboard players by setting up autofire via an AutoHotkey script, or for gamepad players, by using JoyToKey which allows for autofire of mapped keys.
Blast is fast, and hits hard, with each hit doing noticeably more damage than the Commando's basic double shot, meaning it actually outpaces the Commando in damage output against single targets. Bandit can't hit groups in a line, but you do get the short delay Dynamite toss which hits all enemies in a small blast area for damage, and which is thrown in an arc, giving you some options like attacking enemies below you, something the Commando can't do with his skills.
Smokebomb is where the Bandit really shines, being arguably the best dodge ability compared to what the Commando, Huntress and Sniper have. It makes you move really fast, lasts a long time compared to rolling, and removes all enemy aggression, meaning you can easy reposition yourself far from enemy groups without being attacked as you flee. It does have a fairly long cooldown time of 10 seconds even if you stay invisible for the maximum time (attacking will end the invisibility early which generally isn't recommended compared to putting more distance between your targets), but you can move such a great distance that you're quite safe during the cooldown. The cooldown really isn't much of a liability whatsover, and even better, the invisibility lasts long enough for you to safely sit still and trigger Bustling Fungus for two ticks of healing. This makes it amazingly versatile compared to something like the Commando or the Huntress's equivalent dodges.
Lights Out deals the equivalent of 4 Blasts in one shot to a single target, which isn't all that impressive considering how fast Blast already is and the added delay Lights Out has. It does have the special property of resetting all cooldowns if the shot kills, meaning if your first Lights Out kills a target, you can fire it again immediately thereafter, and again if your next one also kills, and so on. Realistically, it's really hard to whittle down a group until they're all weakened, and it's hard to single out one weakened enemy to score a kill when they're charging at you. Lights Out is much more handy when used with Smokebomb to quickly try and reset its long delay. Use Smokebomb to approach and single out a weakened enemy, Lights Out for the kill and immediately use Smokebomb again, then peg another weakened enemy. It's still pretty difficult to use effectively due to its single target property, and it sadly doesn't inflict stun.
Functionally, the Bandit's two shining stars are its incredibly powerful and fast basic Blast attack, and its really versatile, long lasting Smokebomb ability. Combine these with regular use of Dynamite Toss against groups, and you have a pretty solid ranged character, albeit one that isn't quite as effective at raw damage for groups of enemies as the Commando or Huntress's group attacks are, but one who can slip in and out of enemy groups with a great degree of safety.
She's a specialist with the unique ability to move while attacking, which often gets her rated as one of the best characters in the game in other rankings I've seen, but this simply isn't true. Yes, she can shoot while moving, but she's also quite frail, with one of the worst dodges in the game, and her lesser ability to handle groups compared to the Acrid, who is the true master of hit-and-run (thanks to how many enemies can be hit at once with Epidemic and Caustic Sludge), means she doesn't really perform quite as exceptionally as I've seen claimed.
While her ability to shoot while moving is certainly handy, her basic attack starts a bit on the slow side, and her biggest damage move, Cluster Bomb, tends to miss bomblets against smaller or aerial targets and doesn't perform quite so reliably. Laser Glaive is quite nice, with its tiny cooldown and its bouncing off nearby targets until it has hit up to 4 enemies for increasing damage, as well as going through walls. Unfortunately, none of these attacks inflict any special effects like stun, and she auto-aims when she uses any of her abilities, instead of firing in whatever direction you're holding the fire button currently, so frequently she'll change from shooting the enemies chasing you to the enemies in front of you, making it harder to focus on reducing enemy numbers. Still, her offense lets you focus entirely on movement, allowing you to worry about keeping away from the enemy while constantly firing away.
The biggest problem with the Huntress is that her dodge, Blink, is absolutely awful. It's got no invulnerability time whatsoever and the distance is so short that you can still be in attack range of enemies after using it in a group. It's crucial to use it while jumping in order to maximize its safety. It's even less safe than the Acrid's equivalent sludge, which he can jump and lay down in small strips to at least get the slowdown effect when running past enemies when cornered, and he can inflict Epidemic on the entire group to trigger a bunch of effects beforehand as well as use his close range spit to inflict stun!
Like the Acrid, the Huntress has a relatively low skill ceiling due to how basic tactics are with her. However, none of her abilities have really fancy effects like slowdown or constantly spreading to nearby enemies, or any real synergies like Mercenary's combos. All yoou really have to do is keep the heck away from enemies and just keep using her skills as their cooldown wears off. She's certainly very powerful when kitted out with a lot of items, and she can play the keepaway game reasonably well even without too many items, but her raw offence isn't quite high enough to put her in the same league as the Acrid, especially when she has such a frankly bad escape move at her disposal. Sure, it has a low cooldown, but it's awful at avoiding damage, especially compared to something like the Sniper's backflip which moves you quickly and for a very long distance, which is what counts when you need to charge past 10 or 20 enemies all clustered together. Or, compared to the Bandit, who may not hit-and-run nearly as effectively as the Huntress, but whose shots are stronger when he does start shooting, and whose escape move is exceptionally good at putting distance between himself and danger. Blink is less of a dodge, and more of a glaring liability for the Huntress, a black mark on an otherwise capable, higher tier ranged attacker.
As long as you know the map and keep moving while not letting enemies approach too closely, the Huntress is a great ranged attacker, capable of keeping up a sustained stream of hits on enemies that are lined up with her. She can really tear up enemies if given the space to run ahead of them, but be aware that if you get cornered, you can get messed up in a hurry due to how poor her dodge is at escaping trouble, especially if it's something like Bighorn Bison who have a very wide attack range. All it takes is a couple of Blighted enemies to hit you at the same time as you try to escape them for a run to suddenly end, so try and pick up a Shield Generator or something to help make up for her poor evasion.
B Tier (Commando, Loader)
Your starting character is one who will see a lot of use, but is unfortunately a bit underwhelming in terms of interesting abilities. The Commando is very straightforward, being a character with a heavy focus on triggering on-hit items as rapidly as possible, thanks to his basic attack Double Tap which hits twice for low damage, FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) which pierces all enemies in a line, and Suppressive Fire, which scores multiple hits to single targets in quick succession while stunning.
His damage output starts off a bit low, but FMJ's unique ability to immediately hit all enemies that are lined up is where he shines. You want to use this ability as often as possible to maximize your damage. It's possible to really make this a gamebreaker in longer runs by acquiring a lot of skill cooldown reduction items to spam this repeatedly, but in practice by that time you'll have so many items that you'll be easily killing enemies with or without that extra crazy damage potential. You've also got Suppressive Fire which is handy for bosses, but splits its shots up and fires them to either side when enemies surround you, which actually makes it harder to focus the damage on one enemy. Still, in addition to FMJ's knock back effect, it's nice to have a reliable stunning attack.
The Commando's reliable piercing offense is countered by his below average dodge ability. Tactical Dive doesn't move you terribly far, and the invulnerability window it gives is very short, so you'll need to take advantage of the low cooldown to use it repeatedly. It's not unusual to have to keep running away from groups of enemies, turning occasionally to FMJ and Suppressive Fire them, and the Commando isn't as suited to leading/kiting enemies as the Huntress is, or moving through large crowds safely when cornered like the Bandit is. His lower base damage also means that on-hit damage items don't trigger for quite as much damage as the Bandit's would, nor can he constantly keep up a relentless assault of hits while moving like the Huntress can. As a result, the Commando is more reliant on building up a stock of items early on in order to to survive and, despite FMJ's attractive long-range piercing properties, ends up getting rated slightly below average.
Along with CHEF, the Loader is one of the newer characters introduced in the game, and is a melee oriented character with a rapid 3 hit Knuckleboom that attacks all nearby enemies for pretty good damage (especially for triggering items). As with the Bandit, Knuckleboom requires button mashing to maximize the attack speed, and since you'll be using it a lot over a game, you'll likely want to setup autofire for your keyboard or gamepad via AutoHotkey or JoyToKey. The Loader can also drop lightning rods via M440 Conduit to deliver longer damage over time within a potentially wide area. Combined with a very short cooldown invulnerability self buff, Debris Shield, how did Loader end up being rated below average?
The problem is in his mobility or rather lack thereof. Like HAN-D, his selfbuff gives only a tiny window of increased move speed. You'll find you barely have time during the invulnerability to get in a couple Knuckleboom combos before it wears off, and afterwards you'll be left with no way to quickly dodge or escape out of the crowd, like the Miner and Mercenary can with their dashes and jumping attacks. You do have a movement skill in the form of Hydraulic Gauntlet, but it's quite awkward to use and very unreliable; if you're in the middle of a group and trying to latch onto a wall, you may well hit an enemy immediately next to you and go nowhere. It's also hard to use when going across pits other characters can dash across - the gauntlet doesn't really pull you up at all except when it feels like it, even if you latch on just at the corner of a pit, so you will often find your self latching onto walls and platforms and then falling down. Worse, on large, flat areas, you'll find you're harder pressed to find convenient surfaces to latch onto, so at best you can gauntlet from one enemy to the next... which doesn't really give you much breathing room.
The M440 Conduit doesn't seem to trigger items (aside from critical hits), and isn't terribly powerful. It can cover a pretty wide range due to its awkward hitbox (it's much bigger than the lightning suggests; place the rods diagonally and it'll hit the entire square area from one rod to the next), but you have to move pretty far in order to raise the coverage area, and in that time other classes can output plenty of damage while on the go, whereas the Loader really only has Knuckleboom to use for steady damage output.
He's a much safer melee character to use than HAN-D thanks to his shield ability (which can be rapidly spammed if you're fortunate enough to get the right items to drop the cooldown, turning it into a gamebreaker), and he can really tear up groups with Knuckleboom's high attack speed and damage, as well as resort to weaker ranged damage from the rods (you can drop them more frequently if you're willing to place them closer), but once he's in a crowd and smashing things up, the Loader has a lot of trouble getting out and putting distance between the crowd of enemies between cooldowns on his invulerability. This is really what makes him significantly worse as a melee character compared to the Miner or Mercenary, who are much better at safely escaping crowds after they've jumped in to make an assault. Hydraulic Gauntlet would have been better if it pierced an entire line of enemies and grabbed only terrain, I think, but as it works currently, is very tricky to use as an escape tool compared to a reliable roll or dodge mechanic.
When playing the Loader, you really need to know the terrain of each level and where you can (and can't) use the gauntlet to strategically escape, as well as where the lightning rods can best be placed in enemy spawn areas. Played well, the Loader can do some respectable damage with his shield ability by jumping into crowds and smashing them to bits. Just know when to get the heck outta there again before you get torn up, as a large group of enemies can rip you apart once the shield runs out.
C Tier (Sniper)
Vastly different from other characters due to his unorthodox specialty, the Sniper focuses on extreme single target damage at the cost of effectiveness when it comes to taking down groups. Though it takes a lot of skill to get used to his quirks, he can do some impressive damage to smaller clusters of enemies thanks to Steady Aim's ability to pierce, but because the damage quickly drops off with each additional enemy it hits, it really isn't good at consistent group damage to enemies. The Sniper also needs to charge Steady Aim, and while this isn't too tricky to do against basic enemies, when elites that can teleport or fire missiles appear, or enemies like Magma Worms or Wandering Vangrants show up in groups and force you to stay mobile, it can be hard to get a clear shot. You also need to master reloading in order to maximize damage, and get used to always jumping when reloading, in order to avoid the movement delay. His basic attack, Snipe, is great for use in between Steady Aim shots too, thanks to its high damage with perfect reloads, so make sure not to neglect it. The Sniper also has the Spotter:Scan/Isolate skill which gives auto criticals to whatever it's targetting, so if you can isolate that enemy you can drop it very quickly, but its targetting is awkward, and may not go after the enemy you'd like it to. Don't forget to call it back and retarget if you move away from an enemy it's latched on to.
To use him effectively, you need to take full advantage his greater than average movement speed. He's got one of the more effective dodges in the game in the form of Military Training, which moves much more quickly and for a greater distance than the Huntress or Commando's, but because it's a backflip you need to quickly turn away from the direction you want to move, so you need to practice using it. It's also very good for setting up charge shots; simply backflip away from a group of enemies, and as they whiff their attacks, you'll have time to fire off a 1/4 or even 1/2 charged blast. Unfortunately, using it in this way means that you have to wait to use it again, so you have to choose between using it for offense and risking taking damage, or saving it strictly for evasion. Also remember that Steady Aim does lots of damage even without needing a full charge, and that fully charging it can sometimes be overkill. It's much more safe to use partially charged shots with it. Unfortunately, when faced with teleporting enemies, or elite mobs that can heal other enemies, you will find yourself wishing you had an attack that provided more reliable damage spread over entire groups. Items that make it easier to pull off charge shots like Foreign Fruit (so you can recover from any damage while charging), Unstable Watch or Shield Generator should be high priority.
With his high natural attack growth and great evasion backflip, the Sniper also makes effective use of drones, but when it comes to actual sniping, you often have to get creative to safely use Steady Aim - be it jumping and charging it midair to fire it off when you hit the ground, or using one of those bouncy geysers, and timing it to hit a group in the distance that can't reach you. Positioning is important, as you don't want to start charging up in a position where you'll eat a bunch of hits. When faced with fast moving groups, you often have to simply escape, firing off shots when you can, using your good evasion to wait for an opening to safely return fire. If you happen to get a Laser Turbine, one of the newer items in the game, it's exceptionally good on the Sniper as it charges while using Steady Aim, causing it to trigger quite frequently!
The Sniper isn't an awful character in the hands of a skilled player, and is certainly much better than he's often given credit for (I've seen people say he's the worst character in the game, which is complete nonsense). His damage and evasion aren't seriously reliant on items thanks to his high attack growth and his impressive dodge, but the offensive skills he's got to work with just aren't as effective against the large groups of enemies you'll be facing as what other characters have, especially considering the effort and skill it takes to use him properly. His specialty doesn't quite work in the game; bosses aren't as dangerous as large mobs of elites tend to be, and there's a number of bosses like Overloading/Magma Worms (who break his Spotter lock-on when they go underground) against whom the Sniper has a bit of trouble! If you sit around trying to kill enemies as they spawn around you, you can easily end up getting overwhelmed, especially if you're playing in Monsoon. He actually works best when running quickly to the final boss, as things can get very hectic if you decide to loop since he lacks a fast, reliable group attack, and his best source of damage requires sitting dangerously still for a second or two to charge it up. If you're looping the game, always run to the teleporter, and wait for the timer to finish counting down before worrying seriously about attacking; it's a lot easier to patiently take down enemies when you don't have to worry about them teleporting on top of you!
D Tier (Enforcer)
One of the earlier characters to unlock, the Enforcer tries to play defensively with a close range piercing Riot Shotgun, a keepaway Shield Slam, an effective grenade launcher Crowd Control and a very unusual Protect and Serve move, that makes him invulnerable to frontal attacks and allows him to strafe and fire faster, at the cost of killing his mobility. Unfortunately, he tends to get crowded easily, especially in single player, where his lack of escape moves means he needs to avoid trouble in the first place. For stunnable enemies, he can launch Crowd Control as well as knockback smaller enemies with Shield Slam, but neither of these work on the stronger bosses, which is a serious problem. Still, when you know his limitations, he can actually be pretty effective, as long as you learn how keep groups of enemies at bay properly.
Protect and Serve needs to be used sparingly, and only for short bursts. If you sit still for a long period of time, you're going to get crowded. Still, he's better than HAN-D, who tries to do the same thing with his punches, but has no reliable keepaway or stun options, and instead of invulnerability, has to earn emergency heals. Just be aware that the invulnerability gets a bit iffy against enemies who can rush you like Greater Wisps, or against things like Magma Worms or the final boss's sword swipes at pointblank range, since the hits can still register from behind you.
Despite his low speed and generally poor attack range, having at least the occasional long range grenade shot to stun is a nice advantage, and his Shield Slam covers a fair bit of area of effect, making it great for multisegmented enemies or for hitting enemies on platforms slightly below you. The problem is that he's rather lacking in raw damage, with no abities boasting much raw oomph alone. His shotgun is quite slow, so the Enforcer needs to patiently rack up hits, and use Protect and Serve when it's safe to boost his attack speed.
If the grenade were stronger it'd be a more competitive option, but it's clearly meant to be more of a defensive measure, with consistent shotgun blasts taking up the main brunt of the Enforcer's offense. This means getting quite close to enemies, and a mistimed Protect and Serve means you'll take hits from behind. Learn to use Shield Slam and Crowd Control to keep enemies at bay, particularly the shield which can knock enemies off platforms to thin out crowds and get breathing room. Also learn how your grenade bounces, and where you can use it to hit enemies below you.
Used properly, the Enforcer can work decently, especially given how all of his attacks pierce and hit all enemies in range, but you need to practice using the grenade and shield to keep enemies controlled. Once all enemies are away from you on one side, you can mop them up with Protect and Serve, or for more dangerous elite enemies who shock you or teleport, you can simply keep moving and lobbing grenades into the group, shotgunning occasionally when they get close. Keep in mind that you're still heavily reliant on items for survival, as you're nowhere near equipped to dodge something like multiple worms at once if you loop the game and don't have many mobility items.
E Tier (Engineer)
At first glance, most players will be very impressed by the vast array of tools the Engineer has. Who can blame them? You've got homing missiles, a basic attack that hits three times per shot for triggering items, landmines that hit groups of enemies and can be spread out to cover and protect a wide area, and attack turrets that draw aggression away from the Engineer. Compared to the Commando you start with, it's really fancy stuff!
Impressive as it may appear, the Engineer has two major disadvantages: you have no kind of dodge or mobility enhancing move whatsoever, and more importantly, your only group damage attack, the Bounding Mine, is actually pretty sucky. You can hold up to 15 of them, and dropping them all at once while sitting on a rope will do very impressive damage, but they take 6 seconds per mine to recharge. It's actually quite a long cooldown to recover all your mines. You do have Auto-Turret which draws enemy attacks away, but it has an absolutely massive cooldown, so if you drop it and have to run away from where it is, you're not getting another one for a long time unless you had two stocked up.
The Tri-Nades are a bit weak, though their effectiveness really shines when you have lots of items to trigger. The Thermal Harpoons start off useful for weaker enemies (though Jellyfish seem to have wonky collision detection and nullify half the shots), but their inability to hit groups of enemies combined with their long movement delay keeps them from being truly amazing. If you could move while firing them that'd do a lot to help offset the Engineer's lack of a natural dodge or easily reusable group attack.
When on a rope, you can drop mines and turrets below for a degree of effectiveness, but then you're at the mercy of midair enemies, who require grenades to safely dispose of. Nothing in the Engineer's arsenal really helps dodge large clusters of Cremators firing at you, nor does he have anything that can quickly hit enemy groups repeatedly for damage like the Acrid, Huntress or Commando have. His Auto-Turrets aren't even terribly good at drawing aggression away, as many enemies will simply walk by and ignore them, only too delighted to keep chasing you. It can help to drop mines near the turrets as the blasts seems to make the refocus their target. Worse, turrets appear to be destroyable - if a large group of enemies piles on a turret they can actually kill it fairly quickly!
Without something like the Acrid or CHEF's massive group damage, or the Loader's ability to give himself invulnerability at-will to avoid damage when needed, or any kind of a movement boost skill, the Engineer is a heavily item reliant character, and one who doesn't perform as well as others tend to. If you have a bad run where you don't get any movement boosting items (Red Whip, Paul's Goat Hoof, Rusty Jetpack, Hopoo Feather) and decide to loop the game, you can easily get steamrolled when multiple worms appear. It's especially bad if you play multiplayer where items inevitably get split up amongst players, meaning the good stuff tends to get spread much more thinly. Fancy as his abilities may initially appear, don't be fooled; his bag of tricks is nowhere near as reliable for survival as what most of the other characters have to work with.
F Tier (HAN-D)
Boasting the worst set of abilities in the game, HAN-D is difficult to use for beginners and experts alike, and even with lots of practice, the effort to use him simply doesn't pay off unless you're purposefully looking for a challenge. His basic punch, Hurt, hits all enemies the punch connects with, but is ridiculously slow to start as well as recover from. Even with the knockback, it's very, very unsafe to use. Even more unsafe is Forced_Reassembly, his hammer attack. The damage is good (especially against Magma Worms, one area where HAN-D is legitimately capable of being impressive), but it has a tremendous startup time and doesn't inflict stun on enemies, meaning as with his basic attack, you can expect to get hit by enemies when using it. Sure, it knocks enemies into the air, but that doesn't necessary interrupt their attacks or prevent them from hitting you on the way back down! You basically need an Ancient Scepter for it not to suck (which gives it a stun effect it ought to have had to begin with).
In addition to two incredibly unsafe attacks, HAN-D can temporarily boost his attack speed and stun chance with Overclock by 30%, but without a number of attack speed buffs, his attacks will still be much to slow to be considered safe to use. He has no dodge move, with only Overclock providing any sort of defense in his arsenal, in the form of a movement speed buff that barely lasts for any time whatsoever! Instead, for survival, he has Drones, which he has to earn by scoring kills, and which restore a bit of health and do a bit of damage when used, but you can only stock up to 10 of them at a time, and when faced with larger groups of elite mobs who take a lot longer to kill, you can easily burn through your drones trying to keep your health up. They can be used to attack at range, but they're so weak that even firing off all 10 at once may only score only one or two kills. Being able to stock up heals is nice, but it's nicer still to be able to avoid taking damage to begin with, because if those Drones get used up during a boss or a mob of elites and you don't score kills to replenish them, HAN-D can really end up in trouble. In Multiplayer, HAN-D's a bit better, as any kills with earn him Drones so long as he's nearby, even those from other players, so it's easier for him to keep up a supply of Drones in multiplayer. It doesn't fix his issues, but it at least makes him a bit more survivable.
He's so slow that he's bad at melee, he's bad at defense, he's bad at hit-and-run, he's bad at staying alive... he's simply bad all-around. Instead of hoping for items to complement and improve his abilities, HAN-D needs items simply to have any chance at staying alive. As a consolation, he does have better HP regen growth than most characters as well as armor, but those don't do much to offset his incredibly limited set of abilities. Items like Frost Relics serve him well to quickly eliminate threats and boost his capability of maintaining his Drones.
If you choose to play as HAN-D, do so knowing you're handicapping yourself. When using him, don't merely sit still and try to keep enemies at bay with the knockback from your punches - that strategy will go sour when ranged enemies like greater wisps appear. Be prepared to use jumping punches to soar through groups and get some measure of evasion (as a lot of attacks can be jumped over). Also, instead of waiting until you're surrounded by enemies, try to time your uses of Forced_Reassembly to slam the hammer down just as enemies approach you and get in range. Another option is to focus on getting drones and keeping them alive by simply never getting close to enemies. Your naturally higher HP growth does help with drone survivability, and you can eventually build a stockpile of defensive and offensive items that allows you to take advantage of your melee without putting yourself at such risk.
And for reference, the list without descriptions, sorted alphabetically within tiers:
AAA Tier (Miner)
AA Tier (Acrid, CHEF, Mercenary)
A Tier (Bandit, Huntress)
B Tier (Commando, Loader)
C Tier (Sniper)
D Tier (Enforcer)
E Tier (Engineer)
F Tier (HAN-D)
Afterword (Random Thoughts):
* To the people who believe "Tiers don't exist!/Tiers are stupid!/Tiers don't matter, items are what really count!": Yes, the game does have a heavy dose of luck in terms of the items you get, but the high tier characters are generally where they are because they can perform effectively with minimal reliance on luck thanks to having very powerful skillsets. It's a natural result of a game where characters play slightly differently from one another. Note that Sniper's a bit of an odd exception - he's not terribly item reliant early on compared to someone like the Commando, and has very good damage and mobility early on. The problem is that as enemy group size and health scales up the later you are in the game (especially in the loop), the more he has trouble killing those groups in a timely fashion, because of how attack items don't tend to scale as well on him due to his attack speed always remaining rather limited slow. The Sniper needs to play patiently as well as cleverly in order to survive, especially in a multiplayer game where you might not be contributing to kills as quickly as other characters will once everyone starts building up items.
* The Bandit, Sniper, and Enforcer were the hardest for me to place in this ranking. Sniper is certainly limited in group combats, but he's so agile that he can get out of sticky situations and still wear down groups eventually. Bandit being in the same tier as Huntress may be a bit controversial, but the Bandit's basic attack is really awesome, one of the best of the basic attacks thanks to its combination of range, speed, and damage. And Smokebomb is such a fantastic escape tool when used properly that it easily makes up for his less advantageous crowd control. As for the Enforcer, I felt for a long time when I first started playing that the Enforcer was truly awful, but as I've played him more, his shield bash and stunning grenades combined with all of his attacks piercing enemies, makes him fairly decent compared to the likes of HAN-D. I truly feel that he's even better than the Engineer, if only by a slim margin, because his group damage and his ability to escape danger with his shield and grenades really does work better than the Engineer's options. He's just much more difficult to learn to use effectively.
* Anyone who says the Huntress is as good as or better than the Acrid is insane. Epidemic is arguably the best attack in the game, and if the Acrid had more mobility or an invulnerability move, he'd rated as good as the Miner, if not possibly better.
* CHEF is basically the official anti-Magma Worm character. Seriously, his cleavers just rip them (and everything else) to bits).
* As much as I find Commando boring and uninteresting to play as, all of his moves really are pretty reliable and rating him lower would be doing him an injustice.
* Loader's gauntlet is way too awkward to use reliably. Debris Shield is his bread and butter for both offense and defense as far as I can tell. Even if his mobility sucks, he's really freaking powerful and a shield that I'm sure HAN-D is super jealous of. He can play the keepway game with turrets if need be, and scales awesomely well with items much like the Commando does, so I do genuinely think he deserves the tier he's in (sorry Sniper, I still love you).
* Anyone who rates Sniper as the worst character is insane. Okay, so he has trouble scoring kills during the teleporter events when crowds start to form, but his backflip and base running speed are so amazing that he dodges stuff like a champ! Show him some love.
* HAN-D, why do you have to be so slow? His hammer's fun to use, though. If Overclock's movement speed lasted throughout the entire time it boosts his attack speed, he'd be a much more competitive character, but his inability to safely reposition himself combined with his insanely laggy attacks makes me quite comfortable in saying he's the worst character in the game. There's plenty of folks who enjoy using him, and that's totally okay. He can do some pretty decent damage eventually, and build up some mobility items so he can actually escape danger, but he needs a ton of upgrading with items to get to that point.
* I feel guilty playing as the Miner. It's incredibly fun to have all that mobility and those invulnerability frames to blaze through enemy groups, dash through crowds as Magma Worms are spawning all around you, or dodging through groups of Cremator rocks (4 at once is fun!), but damn are you ever hard to kill when you know what you're doing. It feels wrong. I can understand if you're not very good at using the Miner because he's certainly extremely difficult to use, but if you seriously think he's only mediocre compared to the other characters, you deserve a pair of pickaxes to the face. =D
Last edited: Jul 18, 2015