Dragon Age Nightmare Mode Strategy Guide: Archer Class

This post is a part of an ongoing feature here at Nightmare Mode to provide you with an expert’s strategy guide on playing Dragon Age.

(Disclaimer: this is a very long strat guide as this class has more complexity weaved into it than any other class in Dragon Age. Perhaps more than all the others combined.)

I’ll be completely honest with you, I never thought playing as an archer, or turning Leliana into one would be useful at all. There are only three talent trees for the archer, it just seems like a class or option that was tacked on at the end of the game. Everybody tells me archers suck. But Dragon Age is such a perfectly balanced game. How bad could they be, really? Could archers be deceptively good?

I took the challenge upon myself to try it. I started as a Dalish Elf. At first, I did not use a bow so I could gain some experience and such to bolster my chances. By the end of the game, I really had fallen in love with my babe of an archer. I’ll be upfront and forward; she wasn’t lethal or anything. When played right, the archer commands the battlefield like no other class. It is a highly, highly strategic class and not for the easily frustrated or impatient. You cannot plow through the game like you’re cutting through butter. You do not use the archer to inflict massive damage, but rather to stall and stop the enemy, and make armoured foes more vulnerable to attacks. The archer is an asset on the field, not a killer.

So take that as a warning if you will.

This is a further warning :I could not complete the game on nightmare mode. A lot of it was played on difficult. I did not use crossbows, I found them clunky and slow. I only used recurve bows. It is the only class that isn’t balanced to be on par with the others, but don’t let that deter you. It doesn’t mean archers are useless, it just takes a little more care and thought to play. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m leaning towards saying I had the most fun playing as an archer.

You need to take the following into account:

1. The archer is actually a rouge wielding a bow.

2. The best bows in the game come early.

3. Stats need to be very balanced, unlike the rogue or mage.

4. You won’t be packing any kind of impressive armour.

5. You won’t be able to sell all the arrows you pick up.

6. You cannot imbed runes into your bows.

What all this comes down to, is that playing the archer is a fine balancing act that pools factors from all sides, not just how you build your acher’s stats and talents, but also how you use your archer in battle, how the archer compliments other character’s strengths, and what kind of equipment you purchase.

We’ll start by explaining how to build an archer.

Elfs/rogues have access to the Ranger talent tree, and believe me, as strange as it sounds, it is very very useful. As an archer will only have 3 talent trees dedicated to the class, the Ranger tree fills in as a fourth. Summoning a bear or spider during battle gives you an extra body on the front line, drawing attention from enemies. This is a tactical/strategic advantage that no other class has.

It took awhile to get the stats down. Tons of questions went through my mind…how important for an archer is strength? Because my archer is also a rogue should I increase my cunning? Is dexterity the most important stat just like the rogue? How likely am I to take damage? How much willpower will I need to complete battles comfortably? About the only stat I knew I didn’t need was magic, but that goes without saying. Half of what makes the archer so challenging is that you need to juggle all the stats except magic.

As mentioned above, I only used recurve bows. Halfway through the game or so I ran into the second-best (but by the slimmest of margins) recurve you get early in the game, Falon’Din’s Reach . It’s huge, as large as my character if not bigger. It reminded me of the British longbow. As a history buff, I had some ideas of how to further refine my archer. If you want to read about the British longbow, I will direct you to the Wiki page. For incentive, I will say that this weapon was so revolutionary, that in the 13th century it completely changed medieval battle tactics.

Longbow warriors were specifically trained for pulling back the draw string, on technique and the strength of one side of their body, for their entire careers. It is such a demanding weapon that the bodies of longbowmen were actually deformed on one side. I know Legolas makes it look easy, but there is no way some pansy-ass white-haired Tolkien creation could have used the longbow. It is impossible for us to know what it was like, as there is no such thing as longbows anymore, and the modern recurve only has a 60lbf draw force…less than half of what a medieval longbow would have been. The ancient British longbowman would have been able to fire a 150lbf bow or more and consistently fire well over 300 metres if he wanted to. The arrows, fired with so much power and force, could easily penetrate enemy armour a couple hundred metres away from the archer.

So imagine my surprise and glee when I noticed that bows were made out of the same materials–namely Yew, but also Ash and White Ash. The fictional iron bark material also makes a useful bow, but I do not recommend getting Varlathorn to make it for you as by the time you’re in the Ruined Temple, you will acquire a recurve with the best stats in the game, Falon’Din’s Reach.

So what would a Dragon Age Origins archer need if we take into consideration the build of a medieval British longbowman? A helluva lot of strength. A helluva lot of dexterity. Those two, for sure. The conflict comes when we consider that the cunning score for a rogue replaces the strength score if it is higher. At the same time, we wonder how important cunning would be, and I would think pretty important, being savvy enough to know exactly where to place your arrows. Add willpower to all that, and I can tell you right now, you’re going to want a pretty sizeable amount of it.

It’s tricky to balance, there’s no doubt about that. I kept pumping up my cunning and dexterity for at least half the game, thinking that because the cunning score is used in place of the strength…well you get the line of thought, anyhow. At some point in the second half of the game, I decided that it was worth it to increase my strength. This was an experiment trial-and-error kind of thing, but it worked out in the end, my damage inflicted went up and the added bonus was that I got to wear better armour.

Here are the final stats (without bonuses) I ended up with.

Strength: 47

Dexterity: 37

Willpower: 30

Magic: 13

Cunning: 25

Constitution: 19

Make of that what you will. By the end of the game, I was satisfied with my stats and how my archer performed. Just note that if I were to do another archer playthrough for fun, I would try things a little differently–like a bit more strength and a bit less cunning. I would also name my character Jack Churchill.

Onto your equipment. As I said the best recurve in the game is Falon’Din’s Reach, but another bow with the same stats is Mage’s Eye, found in the village of Haven. The only difference between these two is their bonuses. As soon as I got Mage’s Eye, that’s the one I used for the rest of the game, it gives you 3% critical chance and +4 attack. Otherwise, choose equipment which gives you the best bonuses to your important stats, namely your dexterity and cunning. This will free up points to give to your strength, willpower, and constitution.

I ended up with the following equipment by the end of the game:

The Long Sight (5% ranged critical chance)

Repeater Gloves (Rapid Aim, +1 armour penetration, found in Ostagar)

Felon’s Coat (+6 dexterity, +9 defense, +4 armour, +2 stamina regen, +15 physical resistance)

Cadash Stompers (+2 dex, +2 armour, 2% ranged critical, 2% melee critical)

Key to the City (+2 to all attributes, +4% spell resistance)

Lifegiver (absolute must for every playthrough no matter which class you are)

I would highly recommend the expensive Felon’s Coat (Wades Armour Shop in Denerim) for the archer, or your rogue for that matter. The +6 dexterity is worth all 88 soveriegns. The item set bonuses for armour of the same set isn’t worth it for the archer, because there is no set of armour that is made for the archer. It’s better to say screw this and slop together the best misfits you can come across.

Now that we’ve gone through stats and equipment sets, we can turn our attention to the talent trees and skill sets.

All three archer talent trees must be fully fleshed out. Almost all of those skills are important, you’ll need every last one of them. I’ll note here that the 37 points I got my dexterity up to was based on the Arrow of Slaying talent, which requires 30 dexterity. The full Ranger tree is to your advantage as well. That’s all you need, because that’s all that is specific to the archer class that is relevant. With the rest of your talent points you can fill out the lock picking tree so you don’ t need another rouge tagging along with you. The tree with the talent Evasion is probably worth it as well, though there isn’t really a way of measuring how effective it is.

This is where the true effectiveness of the archer comes in, using the talents in battle. You want your archer to stand back, behind the battle, like a mage does. This is so you can see what is going on and where your allies need your help. If I notice Alistair is getting his ass kicked, I might use a Pinning Shot, then a Shattering Shot to pierce armour to make it easier for Alistair to defeat the enemy. The Scattershot is as useful as a spell like Mind Blast, stunning all enemies in the immediate area. You can use this to give your side the advantage when a whole bunch of enemies comes barrelling at you, allowing your guys to land the first blows.

When all is going well, you can fire away at whomever you wish, landing Critical Shots and Arrow of Slaying to lay waste. These two talents are also useful if someone is getting banged up pretty good but the enemy they are facing is almost dead.

Rapid Shot and Aim are two sustained spells you want to have on at all times. Suppressing Fire or Defensive Fire are also useful in certain situations. Sustained spells are where the ranger skills come in handy for those larger battles where you just wish you had an extra body on the field. Well, now you do. The spider and bear work best.

Archers let the player play quarterback. You can sit back and observe the whole field, the whole battle, and manipulate it and keep your enemies at bay, help out your allies, all from standing in one spot. It makes you feel like a general. If everyone’s doing fine, you can use your archer to pin down that pesky mage or archer way off in the distance or up on that hilltop, and proceed to let him have it with an Arrow of Slaying.

As you can clearly see, all of that talent usage demands a lot of willpower. Mine was set at 30 but again, I think I’d like it a tad higher if I were to go back and play again as an archer. Most talents also recharge quickly so you can use them multiple times in battle.

I think that’s it. This strat guide is long enough already, so I’ll make party recommendations quick. I went with Wynne or Morrigan, Shale, and my dog. The best possible party would likely be two warriors, and Wynne or Morrigan. Using the dog for a whole game is interesting and a lot better than you might think, those Mabari are vicious. They’re also a great help for tackling down blood mages.

Let those arrows rip.

One Comment

  1. Shane

    I’m currently playing a Dalish archer rogue at the moment. I just started playing in Nightmare mode now that I’m in Orzammar and my crew is better outfitted. I like playing an archer better than I did as a duel weilding rogue. It’s harder early in when your stats are still low and your attack isn’t that high. You are so right about having patience and not expecting to tank the field. But you can so kick some major boo-Tay once your attack is up above 100.   

     I have ranger but just don’t use it that often. I did early when I needed another body on the field. At level 18 my stats are as follows, these are agumented with equipment I was just too lazy to look up the base. 

    Str: 21
    Dex: 54
    Wp: 17
    Mg: 13
    Cun: 43
    Con: 13

    Defense is 109
    Attack 103
    Damage 40.7

    I concentrated points into Cun and Dex thinking to take advantage of the Lethality talent. I read recently that something is amiss with bows and that modifier but I’m still not complaining on the damage output. A lot of my numbers are 40 or higher depending upon the archery talent I’m using. I don’t use a lot of sustained unless we’re in a pinch and I need rapid fire or I’m playing where’s the rogue and using aim to get more damage when firing from stealth. Arrow of slaying almost always gives 200-400 and no one can complain over that! 🙂

    You couldn’t be more correct. An archer is more of a support unit but you do so much damage on a whole by using shattering shot, critical shot, and the other talents that inflict penalties that you can really help your party. I’m like you, like to play general even if I mess it up sometimes. You have to admit that an archer with stealth can solo in some situations by being able to fire from afar before disappearing again! 

    Oh and my equipment is, armsman’s tensioner, angled strikers, felon’s coat, bards’s dancing shoes, longbowman’s belt, reflection, harvest festival ring, and the dusk ring. I almost always use mages’s eye for the attack bonus and ranged crit chance. Maybe not the best build but it seems to be working.  🙂