A guide to SWTOR Darkness Assassin Tanking for PvE. Written and edited by Invinc and Vindrik of Harbinger.
The Assassin Darkness spec is considered the most underpowered tank spec after patch 2.0, although some of this was slightly alleviated after patch 2.5. They use light armor and a series of talents and abilities to boost their armor rating, however their base damage reduction is still significantly lower than the other tank classes, while other methods of mitigation are higher. They have the highest threat and dps rotations, however managing procs and debuffs can make it harder to keep track of. Properly rotating cooldowns is an essential part of playing an Assassin tank due to their tendency to take more burst damage, giving them a much higher skill ceiling than other tanks on certain fights. They are the only tank that doesn’t have a charge ability, however they do have Force Speed to close gaps, as well as Force Pull to maneuver extra adds and boost aggro. An Assassin could be considered equivalent to the Mercenary healer of the tank classes, as it is the hardest to play well but gives the most utility of all the tank classes, and as such makes a better off tank than the other two classes. Despite this, a well played Assassin tank should be equal with either of the other two tank classes in their main tanking ability.
- Recklessness: Gives your Force attacks an extra 60% chance to critically hit, consumes a charge when they do, and increases the range of your Force Lightning to 30 meters. Has 2 charges.
- Overcharge Saber: Doubles the damage done by saber charges for a short while, and also increases their chance to activate by 35%.
- Overcharge Saber: Immediately restores 15% of your maximum health, and heals you for a small amount whenever the effects of your saber charge are activated for the duration. Also increases all damage reduction by 25% for the duration of the effect.
- Deflection: Increases melee and ranged Defense chance by 50% for a short while.
- Force Shroud: Gives a 100% chance to resist all Force and Tech attacks for a few seconds.
- Force Cloak & Medpac: Using Force Cloak resets the restriction that only allows you to use a Medpac once per fight, allowing you to use it multiple times.
Tricks of the Trade:
- Single target and AoE taunts
- Overload: Frontal AoE knockback
- Force Speed: Massive speed boost for a few seconds
- Stealth: You become difficult to detect and gain access to some stealth-only abilities
- Force Cloak: Removes you from combat and places you into stealth
- Stealth Rez: Force Cloak and a manual rez while out of combat
- Phase Walk: Drops a beacon on the ground that can be activated while within 60m. When triggered, you are teleported to the beacon’s location. Any friendly targets within a small AoE of your Phase Walk also have 5% increased healing.
Darkness (39 / 3 / 4): http://swtor.askmrrobot.com/skills/assassin#1220322123212110223322-3-220
Note: The two points in Thrashing Blades in the Darkness tree can also be used in Avoidance in the Deception tree for fights that require the shorter cooldowns (37 / 5 / 4). Also be aware that the talent calculator has not been updated for the patch 2.5 changes to Assassin tanking, though the talent places are still the same, the benefits that you gain may be different.
1.1 Rates (1-10):
- Single Target Dps / Threat: 10
- AoE Dps / Threat : 10
- Group Utility: 10
- Rotation Difficulty: 10
- RNG Dependant: Yes
- Defensive Cooldowns: 7
- Spikiness: 9
- Signature Ability: Phase Walk
1.2 Gearing & Stats Priority:
Secondary Tanking Stat Distribution
a) Author Recommended
Note: To get your total secondary stat pool, add up your shield, defense, and absorption in the character stats with a stim on.
- Shield Rating: 32% – 40% of your total secondary stat pool. 36% = 900 Rating
- Defense Rating: 16% – 24% of your total secondary stat pool. 20% = 500 Rating
- Absorption Rating: 40% – 48% of your total secondary stat pool. 44% = 1100 Rating
b) KeyboardNinja’s theorycrafted numbers for ideal distribution
To use these numbers, you must add up you shield, defense, and absorption in the character stats with a stim on to get your stat budget. These numbers assume you are using Reactive Warding and Fortunate Redoubt relics as they are less accurate with other relic types. Lastly these numbers are for hardmode Dread Fortress/Dread Palace averaged and may not be accurate for future operations/Nightmare mode. Read this post by KBN if you want the full run down.
|Stat Budget||Defense||Shield||Absorb||Full set|
|2200||422||741||1037||Augmented Arkanian (2181)|
|2700||383||1025||1292||Dread Foraged (2721)|
- **Must Have** Accuracy: 104% Force – 94% melee (1% from companion + 3% from talent = 0% from Gear)
- *Must Have** Alacrity: 0%
- **Must Have** Surge Rating: 0
- **Must Have** Critical Rating: 0
- **Must Have** Power: 0 (except for that gained by augments)
- **Must Have** Augments: Shield (Shield) / Defense (Redoubt) / Absorption (Absorb) to meet the above percentages
- Relics: Shield Amplification, Fortunate Redoubt, Reactive Warding (dependent on the fight, you can pick whoever two you need).
- Set Bonus: 4 Piece Survivor’s
- Dark Charge
1.3 Tanking Strategy:
Assassin Darkness spec is the tanking spec that tends to rely more on RNG, procs, and maintaining multiple abilities than other tanks. Dark Protection and Dark Ward are your most important buffs to keep up, and maintining them should be your priority. Dark Ward doesn’t cost Force but has 15 second CD and synergises with the Dark Bulwark talent, so each time you lose one of your fifteen Dark Ward charges, you gain a charge of Dark Bulwark, giving you an extra 1% Absorption per stack, up to a maximum of 8, making it so that your last 8 charges of Dark Ward are the most effective, as you have the Shield benefit from Dark Ward as well as the Absorption benefit from Dark Bulwark. Dark Protection, on the other hand, triggers when you accumulate 3 charges of Harnessed Darkness, causing your next Force Lightning to deal significantly more damage and giving you a stack of Dark Protection each time Force Lightning ticks (4 stacks). You should be striving to keep Dark Protection up at all times. Aside from doing so, the rotation is generally straightforward; Wither and Shock to build Harnessed Darkness, Discharge to maintain the debuff, Maul when it procs and spam Thrash to proc Energize, making your next Shock a critical hit and resetting its cooldown.
- Dark Ward is a short CD ability which you should endeavour to keep active at all times. It increases your Shield chance as well as granting other boosts thanks to talents and set bonuses. More experienced players who are able to keep track of their buffs effectively can delay recasting Dark Ward until all of the previous Ward’s charges either expire or are consumed. Doing so will give you maximum Shield and Absorption for as long as possible before resetting it upon refresh.
- Wither is a high threat ability with decent AoE damage, however unlike most AoE abilities, even when tanking a single target this ability should be a core part of your rotation. In addition to the targeted AoE effect and high threat generation, it also applies a -5% damage done debuff to every target it hits, which should be up on all targets at all times. It also grants a charge of Harnessed Darkness on use.
- Shock is your best single target damaging ability, with the Chain Shock talent giving it a chance to do even more damage. The Energize talent makes it a guaranteed critical hit, while Electrify reduces its cost and increases its threat generation significantly. You should be using it as often as possible, as it also gives you a stack of Harnessed Darkness upon use. Using an Energized Shock while Recklessness is active also increases its critical damage by an additional 50%.
- Force Lightning is a channeled ability that will give you 1 charge of Dark Protection per tick of damage, increasing your damage reduction by a total of 4% (1% per stack). You should only ever use Force Lightning with 3 stacks of Harnessed Darkness in order to gain this buff, but any ticks that do not deal damage will not give you a stack of Dark Protection.
- Discharge is another high threat AoE ability, making it excellent for an AoE rotation, and is used in single target fights to build initial aggro and maintain a -5% Accuracy debuff on the boss. Once your initial threat has been gained, however, Discharge should only be used to maintain its debuff, as Thrash and Shock spams are more important for generating stacks of Harnessed Darkness and higher damage.
- Maul can be used when you gain the Conspirator’s Cloak proc from using Thrash or Assassinate, costing 50% less Force and being usable from in front of your target. It is excellent for burst damage, and should replace your next Thrash when available.
- Assassinate is your sub 30% ability, and should be used whenever it is available, replacing Thrash, as it will still cause all the same procs while dealing more damage.
- Thrash is your filler ability by design. While main tanking you tend to spam this ability a lot, triggering Energize as much as possible in order to Shock faster to reduce the time between refreshing stacks of Dark Protection, as well as triggering Conspirator’s Cloak.
- Force Pull is a very important part of your opening rotation due to its high threat generation. It won’t actually pull a boss to you, but the threat that it generates as you run into melee range to continue your rotation is invaluable, as it’s the only real ranged ability that you have.
- Lacerate is your AoE filler ability that replaces Thrash in your regular rotation. It is very expensive and doesn’t deal a huge amount of damage, but if you are tanking multiple targets and both Wither and Discharge are on CD, you have nothing else to use besides Lacerate. You should never use Lacerate if you are tanking less than 4 targets that are all taking damage.
1.4 Defensive Cooldown Explanation:
- Dark Ward is your most important CD, as it gives a passive +15% Shield rating while active, in addition to a few other benefits from talents and the set bonus. Being able to keep it up constantly throughout entire fights makes it an incredibly powerful full time buff, as there are very few fights that are able to drain all of the stacks before you’re able to reapply it.
- Phase Walk is by far the most important group utility CD from any of the tank classes, and is often not utilised by many Assassins. Using Phase Walk for positioning purposes is convenient, however it is far more useful to maximise the benefit given by the Assassin’s Shelter talent, which increases all healing done by those standing in the immediate radius of your Phase Walk by 5%. A common misconception is that the healing benefit granted by this ability is minimal and doesn’t really make much of an impact. However, any bonus healing that is available should always be taken advantage of, especially considering the enormous amount of total healing that ends up taking place throughout the full length of a fight.
- Force Shroud is an excellent utility CD. It makes you immune to all Force and Tech effects for a few seconds, making a good Assassin able to avoid a great deal of otherwise frustrating mechanics, and mitigate a great deal of potential burst damage. Due to talents that reduce its cooldown, Force Shroud is available on a regular basis and can be used multiple times throughout any boss fight.
- Deflection is a decent CD for a tank, giving you an extra 50% melee and ranged Defense chance, but although it gives you good mitigation for melee and ranged attacks, there is no added benefit for anything else, meaning that all Force, Tech, Internal and Elemental damage are not mitigated by it at all. Since these attacks are often the ones dealing the large spikes of damage, Deflection generally causes you to take less consistent damage, but doesn’t alter the big hits. Although this makes it more practical than a CD like Kolto Overload, it’s also significantly worse than Saber Ward.
- Overcharge Saber is in general a very useful CD to have available. Although it has a relatively long cooldown, the on-demand and over-time healing it provides is an excellent benefit, and the flat damage reduction that it provides means that in many circumstances it’s actually a better cooldown than Deflection.
- Force Cloak + Medpac is a very useful skill to have, and is unfortunately one that many Assassins either don’t utilise or even know about. Medpacs have a relatively short CD that could be used multiple times each fight, but a while ago an internal lockout was placed on them so that only one could be used per fight. A well-timed medpac can save your life, as can hiding from a boss to give your healers the extra few seconds that they need. The most common method while main tanking is to use Force Cloak + Medpac + Taunt to get the boss back, and while off tanking you can simply Force Cloak to reset the Medpac’s combat condition and hold onto it for later use. Remember that Force Cloak will always drop you out of combat, regardless of how fast you are pulled back in, either while trying to stealth rez or just trying to refresh your medpac. Just because you are a tank doesn’t mean that you should die to stop the dps from taking a hit on your behalf, so sometimes some calculated risks are required. However, when using Force Cloak it is always worth noting that while you remain stealthed, all healing received will be negated. As such, the moment that you use Force Cloak you should remove yourself from stealth, either by using another ability or removing the buff. If you are going to die momentarily and you know that the healers aren’t able to save you, you can Force Cloak to save yourself. Here are a few possible cases of what may happen:
- Melee dps takes aggro after you Force Cloak, the boss turns and hits him for the vast majority of his HP. You can either taunt back immediately, with or without using a medpac, and hope that your healers’ heal you enough before the next hit to keep you alive, or you can taunt and Force Speed away to give yourself an extra few seconds of safety. Keep in mind that this won’t work for all fights, as some bosses have ranged abilities or leaps that will actually increase the damage you take if you do this.
- Ranged dps takes aggro after you Force Cloak, and the boss has to run all the way across the room to get to them. This will give healers couple of seconds to heal you up, and a skilled ranged dps would have enough time to either kite momentarily or use a defensive maneuver to avoid the boss for a few more seconds or survive the hit. You taunt the boss back at an appropriate time and the fight continues. Again, in some fights the boss may leap to their target and give them less time to react, or may have a frontal AoE that wipes the ops. Always be aware of exactly what will happen if you decide to do this.
- The boss turns to a dps and immediately kills them. The healers can battle rez or stealth rez if available, after the fight is slightly less stressful and the ops is no longer at risk of wiping. The damage lost by having that dps dead for a few seconds may cost you some valuable time to beat an Enrage timer, but if you had died then before you could be rezzed, the boss probably would have killed a few extra people as well and likely would have become a wipe.
- This strategy should only be used by skilled players that know how the fight is progressing with timers, resources, Enrage, and every possible aspect involved, as well as exactly what mechanics will come into play that could end in disaster if they decide to Force Cloak. A rookie tank, or any tank lacking awareness, will probably wipe the ops group when attempting this risky maneuver instead of saving them.
1.5 Group Buffs:
- Wither: -5% damage done by all targets affected
- Discharge: -5% Accuracy for all targets affected
- Phase Walk: +5% healing done by all players within the AoE
- Force Cloak: Allows for stealth rez
1.6 Ability Priority:
- Dark Ward: DW
- Force Pull: FP
- Force Lightning: FL
- Wither: WT
- Discharge: DC
- Thrash: TH
Defensive Cooldowns Priority:
1.7 Opening Threat Rotation
Note: The use of Force Pull is only at range when running towards the boss, and Conspirator’s Cloak will cause you to immediately gain 4 stacks of Dark Protection upon leaving stealth. Taunt use is relative, depending on the fight and your ops group. Read the “How Taunt Functions” section to understand when best to use your taunts.
Opener 1: Stealth + Pre-cast Phase Walk + DW + Force Speed / FP + WT + DC + Shock + TH + Shock (proc) + Recklessness / FL + TH + Shock (proc)
- This opener depends on ideal proc rate of Shock from Thrash (If Shock doesn’t proc, you would need to wait an additional GCD for Shock to come off cooldown, which can delay cast of Force Lighting and your threat generation)
Opener 2: Stealth + Pre-cast Phase Walk + DW + Force Speed / FP + Shock + WT + DC + TH + Shock + Recklessness / FL + TH
- This alternative opener does not depends on RNG (Shock is moved to the front so it will be up again when used. However you are delaying the use of Wither by 1 GCD which grants you 5% damage reduction on target)
1.8 AoE Ability Priority & Explanation
AoE Ability Priority:
AoE Ability Explanation:
- Wither is your most important single ability for both single target and AoE rotations. It helps to build stacks of Harnessed Darkness, as well as causing high threat and placing a damage reduction debuff on mobs.
- Discharge is the second ability that you will be using on cooldown when AoE tanking. It creates a high amount of threat, as well as placing an accuracy reduction debuff on all targets.
- Shock should be used between your AoE abilities to bolster your stacks of Harnessed Darkness, as maintaining Dark Protection is imperative regardless of what you’re tanking.
- Force Lightning is another filler ability, which you should be using while at 3 stacks of Harnessed Darkness, and while your AoE abilities are on cooldown, in order to maintain your stacks of Dark Protection.
- Overload isn’t a particularly good AoE, and should generally only be used on packs that have boss immunity or to push targets into position, to maximise your group’s AoE dps. Even so, if your other abilities are all on cooldown, and Overload won’t knock your targets away from incoming damage, it’s a better choice than Lacerate as it is free of cost.
- Lacerate is probably the worst AoE ability in the game for any spec, due to its high cost and very low damage output. It should be avoided for the most part, however if your other abilities are all on cooldown, it is a better option to try and proc Energize than Thrash for the opening of your rotation. After the first two AoEs, you can resume using Thrash instead.
1.9 AoE Rotation
Note: Mastering the range of Overload is an important part of this pull in order to gain its full advantage. The sooner you use it while still hitting all your targets, the less time wasted by its GCD. The only difference if targets do not have boss immunity would be to remove Overload.
Pulling group at range, targets have boss immunity:
Stealth (if out of combat) / DW / Force Speed + Overload + WT + DC + Shock + Lacerate + Shock (proc) + FL + WT + DC
Pulling group at close range, while in combat, targets have boss immunity:
Force Cloak (if feasible) / DW + WT + DC + Shock + Lacerate + Shock + FL + Overload + WT + DC
Video of a typical tanking in an operation
1.11 Tips and Tricks
- Using Blackout often lets you get as close to a boss as you need to in order to place your Phase Walk in an ideal position.
- Even with a 15 minute CD on Revive, you should always have it on your action bars so that it can be quickly accessed, and never be used outside of a stealth rez situation.
- Recklessness is a purely offensive CD that also increases Force Lightning’s range to 30 meters, so if you either need to quickly push a phase while at range or need some fast extra aggro on another target, Recklessness may be the best option.
- Force Pull can only be used between 10-30 meters, but its threat generation is excellent. Beside your opening rotation, Force Pull is your best option for getting initial or extra aggro on any mob who is not already in melee range.
- Phase Walk’s cooldown will only trigger if you use it to teleport yourself. As such, unless you are main tanking and cannot maneuver around the room, as soon as your Phase Walk expires you can replace it again, meaning that for many fights the effect should be available for the majority of the fight.
- Keep in mind you can use Force Cloak between phases and transition delays both to reset the restriction on medpac use as well as to gain 4 stacks of Dark Protection once you exit stealth.
1.12 General Tanking Strategies
- Differently from dps cooldowns, tank CDs are not something you should be trying to use as much as possible in a boss fight, because you never know when something might happens that may cause the healers to need an extra boost in order to keep you alive. That being said, on fights that have high standard incoming damage with no mechanic potential for burst, it is generally a good idea to hold on to one cooldown in case of an emergency, but cycle through any others in order to mitigate as much damage as possible for the length of the fight.
- A common mistake from average inexperienced Flashpoint tanks is thinking that taunt will basically keep the boss on you no matter happens, without understanding how it actually functions. The reality is that taunts do have 6 seconds where the boss will be forced to attack you, however immediately following that, if your threat is not high enough you will lose aggro again. As such, taunt’s real job is to keep you at the top of the threat meter, since a taunt will always give you aggro equal to the highest person on the threat meter, plus an extra 10%. This means that if you taunt during your initial pull, you will hold the boss for 6 seconds, but that extra 10% will be wasted, as 10% of a small amount of initial aggro is not as effective as waiting for a few seconds until your threat is higher before taunting, which will give you a higher increase and make it harder for the dps to pull off of you. Due to this functionality, you are best off opening with your high-threat abilities to hold initial aggro for the first few GCDs, and once dps start doing their highest peak of damage and threat a few seconds in, or as soon as you lose aggro, use your single taunt, as this will put you above the highest current threat by 10%, at which time the dps should use their threat drops. Good dps should know that after the first taunt is an ideal time to use their threat drop, as it maximises the threat cushion gained by the tank. This will give you enough room to hold boss for another few GCDs at least, before perhaps having to use an AoE taunt to do the same thing again. Following that, your single target taunt should be available shortly thereafter, and this method should secure you as the top threat for the remainder of the fight. If you are worried about threat in general, using taunt as it becomes available will boost your threat generation significantly, just ensure that you aren’t using it on cooldown in fights that require tank swaps, as you should always have it available when it’s needed.
- The highest burst dps done in any boss fight is generally at the start of the fight, since everyone will have pre-cast their abilities and buffs and cooldowns, Bloodthirst | Inspiration, adrenals and relics. Because of this, asking a dps to push their damage as high as possible is essentially hamstringing your ops group, especially for fights that have tight Enrage timers. Initial tank rotations are specifically designed to generate enough threat to hold aggro off of any dps regardless of how good they are, so you should never be struggling for threat.
- A great deal of tanks confuse the Guard tooltip’s PvE and PvP aspects, and don’t quite understand how it actually works. In PvE, Guard reduces the target’s damage taken by 5% and reduces threat generation by 25%. The 50% damage transference is only activated in PvP combat. This means that you should either be guarding the two highest dps if you are worried about losing aggro, or anyone that will be taking excessive mechanic damage as part of the fight.
- A good tank should always be doing their best to try and make everybody else’s job as simple and easy as possible. As such, the boss should be tanked in place as often as possible, placed in a position where they are easily accessible to all members of the ops group, and never moved out of ground AoE when it’s not necessary.
- Assisting with the group’s overall dps is always a good idea. Doing your best to deal as much damage as possible while tanking will help to push Enrage timers and burn phases, and will still generate a high amount of threat.
- Being able to adapt quickly to emergency situations, such as an impromptu Stealth rez, is a must, and you should always be aware of ways to mitigate your own damage taken, and maximising the chance of a successful rez when this happens.
- Adjusting your user interface to help you perform well is incredibly helpful, including enabling the target of target and focus target windows in your interface editor. Always knowing who your target is hitting and what your focus target is doing will help you to call out predictable mechanics, swap targets when necessary and be situationally aware of what is about to happen next.
1.13 How Taunt Functions
The taunt ability has a really simple mechanic that dictates how it works. Every enemy has a threat meter, which dictates who they will attack, the highest person on their individual threat meter will always be their target. Threat is generated via dealing damage and healing, and some abilities generate threat on higher multipliers than others. Taunting a target will instantly generate threat for you equal to the highest person on the target’s threat meter, plus an extra 10%, as well as forcing the target to attack you for the next 6 seconds. As such, if you are passed on the threat meter after this 6 seconds has elapsed, the target will return back to attacking the highest person on the threat meter. Taunting while you already have aggro will simply give you an extra 10% of your own threat. Keep in mind that the extra 10% threat generation is applied upon using the taunt, and regular threat generation continues accumulating for the duration of the taunt’s effect, so although taunt will give you an edge in threat, if the highest amount of threat on the boss is only low, then the 10% extra that you will gain is not particularly substantial. Because of this, especially early on in fights and during aggro drop mechanics, taunt is not a substitute for good initial threat generation through a proper rotation.
Asking dps to slow down at the start of a fight so that you can maintain aggro is something that will significantly hold back both your group’s dps as well as your own threat. Guarding two of your best dps is generally the best course of action, as it will minimise the chances that they will be able to catch up to you after your initial taunt rotation, but asking them to slow their dps is counterintuitive, as if they are dealing less damage then you can only taunt off of yourself, and as such may actually gain less initial threat. Due to the mechanics of taunt, you should be holding your initial taunts for a few GCDs to ensure that as much threat is built up as possible before you need to use it, and should a dps pull aggro from you that would be an ideal time to taunt. Immediately following this the dps should use their threat drop, so that you gain as much threat as possible, while they lose as much as possible and therefore the gap between the two of you is significantly increased
AoE taunt functions in the same way, and affects each target individually. Because each enemy has their own individual threat meter, each threat calculation is done separately, meaning that an initial AoE taunt on a fresh group of mobs can easily still lose aggro to healers if you don’t maintain threat on each target using other AoE abilities.
About the Authors
Invinc and Vindrik are both members of <Hatred> on Harbinger, an endgame progression guild with world 3rd clear of Nightmare S&V, World 2nd clear of Nightmare TFB, world 1st speed clear (under 2 hrs) of Nightmare S&V, and numerous server firsts at the 8m level.
Invinc is the guild leader of <Hatred> and mains an operative DPS but plays pretty much every and all classes for operations. He currently leads the parses on operative lethality DPS on multiple boss fights and dummy parses. Also known as Carlenux, Carlenix (sniper), Carlenx (Sorcerer), Pyrotec (Powertech)
Vindrik mains an operative healer and is the raid leader for group B in <Hatred> (World 5th speed clear of Nightmare S&V). He is the former raid leader of <Notorious Synergy> on Dalborra, one of the world top guilds pre-2.0 (World 4th).
While the information here are mostly written by these two players, numerous other Hatred raid members and guides were consulted. Questions, comments, concerns will be answered by Invinc, who goes by the name of Carlos Eduardo Mata in the comments section below.