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Mass Effect 2's focus on creating a "slick, more shooter-like game" has made it much easier to play in an FPS vein than the original game. That means a lot of players will probably be considering the Soldier class, and rightly so. The Soldier was my favorite class in Mass Effect, and is even better in Mass Effect 2.
This guide to the Soldier will lay out the basics of how to use the Soldier class and give recommendations on which skills are the most and least interesting. The Soldier is a straight-forward class on the whole - you shoot stuff a lot and it goes boom - but Soldiers also have to deal with the fact that they lack some of the tools other class do, such as heavy AOE damage or crowd control. This guide will help you build the strengths of your soldier so that the weaknesses are no longer a issue.
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The Basics of Soldier Tactics
Since the Soldier does his damage by shooting things and only shooting things you'll need to master the basic combat mechanics of the game. While some other classes can sit behind cover and throw out nukes, you'll need to get to know the rhythm of gun-play.
All opponents in Mass Effect 2 who fire weapons have certain AI characteristics, including firing patterns. Take the Heavy Mechs, for example. Their basic firing pattern is to fire their chaingun, then fire one missile. They then stop firing for a short period of time before opening up again with the chain gun. As a soldier, that period of time where the mech ceases fire is when you want to come out of cover and ruin its day. All enemies have a pattern, but it is different for different opponents, so you'll need to pay attention when you see a new opponent to determine its firing pattern. Once you've figured it out, battles become much easier.
The second basic mechanic you need to master is positioning. It is absolutely critical not to get flanked, and it helps to flank opponents as much as possible. Keep an eye on the radar in the lower right corner that comes up when you pause battles to help with this, and try not to let the red dots get all the way around you. As with the firing patterns of opponents, it is important to identify patterns in the field of combat. There are quite a few battles in the game where the player can really ruin the enemy by darting up some cover off to the side while the Soldier's squad-mates distract the enemy. Better still, you can stay safe in cover and send someone else to the dangerous positions. More on this in a coming article on Squad Tactics.
These two basics will take you throughout the game as a Soldier on normal difficulty. They're not hard to learn, but they can be hard to master. Both become more difficult as more enemies are added to the battle. Remember not to be impatient and to wait until the right moment to come out of cover and fire or attempt a flanking maneuvre.
On the next page, we'll talk about skills.
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This is the Soldier's bread-and-butter. It is a fairly simple time slow mechanic which gives the Soldier a chance to place their shots. When properly used, the Soldier can pop out when opponents have ceased firing and absolutely wreck them without the enemy having any chance of reprisal. I highly recommend that every Soldier put a high priority on this skill and max it out before any other.
Once Adrenaline Rush is maxed, players get the choice of Heightened or Hardened Adrenaline Rush. Heightened slows down time by 70%. Hardened slows it down by 50%, but players take 50% less damage while it is active. The choice is one of play-style. Long-range players will probably like Heightened because it allows them to line up the perfect shot. Close fighters will like Hardened because the damage reduction is invaluable when going toe-to-toe with shotgun in hand.
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This shot fires a single powerful round which can knock down and stun enemies. It is more useful for short and mid-range fighters than long-range ones. Those who use shotguns a lot will probably love it. Each upgrade increases the force (in newtons) and damage. When fully upgraded, the player can pick Heavy Shot or Blast. The difference is that Heavy Shot does a lot of damage against one opponent while Blast is an AOE attack. They're both useful, so take your pick. Note that it can't be used on targets that still have shields or barriers up.
Both Concussive Shot and Andrenaline Rush can get you out of a bad situation if an enemy has gotten closer than you would like and you need to knock them out and find more suitable cover.
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Combat Mastery is a straight-up buff of health, damage, and storm speed. It is important to level up, although players can use their own discretion. Players who find their Soldier too fragile will want to rank Combat Mastery more aggressively than those who don't. On my own Soldier I ranked this up to maximum second after Adrenaline Rush, but I fight in close quarters often so the health boost and storm speed boosts are more important to me than to players who fight at long ranges.
At max rank players can pick the Commando or Shock Trooper routes. To be frank, the differences between them are so minor that you'll be hard pressed to notice.
50% storm speed
70% paragon/renegade bonus
15% power damage.
Shock Troopers gain:
9% weapon damage
40% storm speed
100% paragon/renegade bonus
15% power duration.
In other words, Commandos are a little more focused on damage, and Shock Troopers a little more focused on defense, but the difference is small and will not force your Soldier into a particular play style.
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This ammo buff increases weapon damage against shields and against synthetic enemies. There is also said to be a small chance of temporarily disabling synthetic enemies or overheating enemies. The chance must be very small, or the result not very pronounced, because I have yet to notice those effects. In spite of that, Disruptor Ammo is probably the one players should rank up in first, as there are many synthetic enemies in the game.
In addition to the sythetics, many biological enemies use sheilds, so Disruptor Ammo is valuable against quite a few targets in the game. Rank 1 adds 20% damage, Rank 2 adds 30%, and rank 3 adds 40%. When maxed players can pick Heavy or Squad Disruptor ammo. Heavy increases Shepard's damage bonus to 60%, while Squad adds the 40% to the entire squad. Of the two I think Heavy is far superior since Soldiers do far more weapons damage against opponents than other squad members. Particulary if you are bringing tech or biotic heavy party members along to balance your weakspots as a soldier.
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This ammo buff sets your enemies on fire! This stops health regeneration (perfect for dealing with Krogan and Vorcha), does damage over time, and does extra damage to armor. It also adds some damage against most non-synthetic targets. The damage scales in the same way as the damage bonus for Disruptor Ammo. Synthetic enemies are actually resistant to this damage, so don't use Incendiary ammo against them.
When ranked to max, players can pick from Inferno or Squad Incendiary Ammo. This works exactly like the max rank options for Disruptor Ammo, and my recommendation remains the same - forget the squad option and go for Inferno instead.
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This ammunition has a chance to freeze enemies. The chance seems to be fairly high. Frozen enemies can't move and can be shattered by heavy damage for an instant kill. If this all sounds pretty handy, that's because it is, but it also doesn't give the damage bonuses which Disruptor and Incendiary do. Because of that, I find it hard to recommend Cryo until the other two ammo types have been ranked to max.
Incresing the rank of Cryo Ammo increases duration of the freeze effect should it occur. At max rank players have the same choice as with the other ammo types. Players can pick Improved, which increases duration of a freeze effect caused by Shepard only, or Squad, which gives everyone Cryo Ammo. Unlike the other ammos, however, Squad Cryo is actually the better choice. More Cryo Ammo bullets in the air means more chances to freeze enemies.