The purpose of this post is to talk at length about the Pure Ranger Arcane Archer, what it excels at, where its shortcomings are, and how it functions in a group.
Soloing is the strongest suit of an Arcane Archer. Area of Effect burst damage at long range with a high degree of safety, stealth, evasion, self heals, freedom of movement, and other factors contribute to making the Arcane Archer a very strong and capable solo character. My 20 Ranger Arcane Archer can solo Gianthold Tor on Normal with a Hireling (including dragons), frequently does Weapon Shipment runs in Shavarath, and can handle most quests completely solo, even quests in the Vale.
Outdoor areas seem made for the Arcane Archer. The ability to stealth from rare to rare in outdoor zones and take out red named mobs with ease comes easy for Arcane Archers. Kills can be made with a high degree of safety and often kills can be made with little or no incoming damage, provided the archer is smart and plans ahead. My Arcane Archer runs all 14 rares in Shavarath solo and gets ransack on the chests weekly, sometimes even pulling +2 Tomes and other nice items on relatively short runs (20-30 Minutes depending on how many rares are up). Contrary to popular belief this has much less to do with ranged exploiting (firing at mobs that can't see you) and much more to do with high ranged burst damage via manyshot and skill at kiting. Investing in the sprint line of enhancements allows for not only fast travel between spawns but allows for area of effect herding with little or no personal risk (sprinting around a large number of monsters, drawing them together with circle strafing, and burning them down with improved precise shot and manyshot).
Kiting in the wrong situation tends to aggravate other players, and 1 poorly played ranger often ruins it for the rest of us. Kiting is one thing when solo and another when in a group. When solo, kiting allows for high survivability while outputting moderate damage. When grouped, kiting allows a ranger to easily gather mobs together for Area of Effect Spells, scout ahead of a group and pull, and most importantly, serve as a ranged tank (more on this later)
Area of Effect Damage:
Arcane archers excel at using burst damage on multiple targets at once. With skill, an Arcane Archer can kill four or more targets at once, multiplying their damage by the number of targets. With practice and a good bow an Arcane Archer can even kill two bosses at once (such as in Gianthold Tor). The more targets an Arcane Archer has in front of them, the more damage they can do. With skill, an Arcane Archer can sprint through 20+ mobs and turn mid-kite to do amazing amounts of damage (one of my favorite places to do this is at the end of Running With The Devils, in the optional hallway that's full of Barbazu).
Arcane Archers excel at Ranged Tanking, but very few groups either allow them the opportunity or have ever used the strategy. An Arcane Archer can easily strafe tank the fire elemental boss in the Shroud in the Southeast corner with no support whatsoever and prep it at 5% for the boss kill order. An Arcane Archer can also employ the same strategy on the fire elemental boss again on the fight before Harry, sticking him in a corner and using evasion along with fire protection to keep him away from the group while they fill to max mana and buff to prep for the final Harry fight. An Arcane Archer can do this with no heals and without putting the group through the headache of boxing in another mob that may cleave or get free and go for the healers. In the same way an Arcane Archer can pull mobs off of squishies that get aggro in other missions and hold them in a circle strafe until the healers have a chance to catch up and the tank can regain aggro.
There are two ways an Arcane Archer can contribute damage in a single target boss fight. The first is simply to switch to melee weapons, the other is to make sure that aggro is seated on the tank and then to begin firing outside of melee range. Melee allows for much higher single target damage (outside of manyshot), and ranged damage allows for a steady damage contribution without the need for heals. In addition, if the party begins to wipe, the Arcane Archer can pull aggro and kite the boss while healers equalize the group. In the case of a full party wipe, depending on skill, the Arcane Archer can kite the boss and burn it down, giving the group a chance of success where there would otherwise be failure.
In addition to kiting, snaring, crippling, circle strafing, and other tactics, the Arcane Archer can take an otherwise unmanageable fight and make it manageable. Fear Imbued Arrows with an Improved Cursespewing bow can greatly mitigate the incoming damage to a group, but should only be used in conjunction with paralyzing effects and at the direction of the party. Too many Arcane Archers will use these effects in situations that don't call for it, adding to the stigma that most ranged characters already get.
The skill level curve of an Arcane Archer can be daunting. A good or exceptional Arcane Archer can be a big asset to a group, mitigating incoming damage, adding crowd control, offhealing, burst damaging groups of smaller enemies, and otherwise contributing highly, whereas an Arcane Archer with little skill or a solo mentality can frustrate a group, get themselves killed, and otherwise perpetuate many of the problems that groups in high level content have with archers in general.
The Wizard/Sorcerer Comparison:
A Wizard does not have the same sustained DPS as a Sorcerer over a longer series of fights because of resources. They are utility characters and can add a great deal to a party if played properly. Played improperly, they can wipe a group, pull aggro off of the tank if rushing damage, and can frustrate groups with their abilities (charm, grease, and other useful when used properly but irritating otherwise spells come to mind). In particular situations their ability to use their larger toolset becomes a party saver. Sound familiar? In my opinion, the Arcane Archer is the Wizard to the Tempest Ranger's Sorcerer. They have a wide set of tools to use but have less sustained damage potential in particular situations. There are situations you would rather have a Wizard in your party, and there are situations you would rather have a Sorcerer in your party.
Things for Arcane Archers to Remember:
1. If you pull aggro, run to the tank. Kiting mobs away from a group trying to kill them is an easy way to get booted from a group, just as charming mobs just before they die as a spellcaster or running off to aggro new groups when your group is still fighting an old one as a meleer are equally inefficient and frustrating. Grouping is about teamwork, not showboating and certainly not your own survival at the cost of everyone else's.
2. There is a time and place for Improved Precise Shot. If you immediately start shooting at monsters the moment you see them and hit many of them with every arrow, what do you expect will happen when your group rushes in? They will go straight for you and ignore the tank, every time. Target intelligently. When appropriate, AoE, and when it's not appropriate, focus on spellcasters. They will be out of spell range for you and you will pull their attention from the group. Your evasion and Freedom of Movement will let you drop them while the group focuses on melee mobs and bosses.
3. Just because Manyshot is up doesn't mean you should open up your attacks on a boss with it. Yes, it's high burst damage. That's the problem. Let aggro get properly seated and wait for a boss to be at 75% or 50% before blowing Manyshot. You will be amazed at the change in your aggro profile.
4. When possible, take advantage of what you're good at. If nothing you're good at is useful to the group, don't be afraid to pull out two weapons and melee or even offheal. If you find a situation that will be useful to the group, don't be afraid to ask or offer.
"Hey, Tank, if you shield block in front of me I can take out all of those archers up top and we can save the healer some mana for the boss fight over this bridge."
"Hey guys, let me pull the Fire Elemental to the Southeast Corner, I'll prep him at 5% and you guys can focus on the other mobs so we can get this done faster."
"Hey, before you disarm that trap, let me run ahead and pull. Maybe we can drag them across the flame jets and save ourselves the hassle."
"Hey, let me sprint ahead and gather them up for Firewall, I'll be back in a moment with lots of juicy targets."
"Mind if I kite these little guys around while you guys drop the boss?"
5. Arcane Arrows and you!
One of the biggest perks to being an Arcane Archer is that outside of Greater Bane Bows, you don't need to worry about the bonus on your bow, just look for prefixes and suffixes. With an unlimited supply of +5 Arrows that +1 Paralyzing Bow is the same as a +5 Paralyzing Bow. This will let you amass a collection of quality bows at a much cheaper cost than most are faced with when acquiring multiple weapons. Enjoy it and plan for it.
These are just my opinions, of course, and I welcome contradicting opinion and feedback. I'm just sick and tired of seeing so many complaints about Arcane Archers and even seeing them being forced out of groups for no other reason than ignorance and bias. A properly played Arcane Archer, in my opinion is an asset, not a liability, and learning how to better work as a group helps us all be better players.
-Rivenstar, 20 Ranger Arcane Archer, Khyber-