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- Her charge attack is an incredibly potent tool. Very importantly, it hits as a single AoE nuke (as opposed to, say, a flurry of attacks which is seen in most other charge attacks). This allows her to be one of, if not the best abusers of vaporize in the game - arguably the best scaling elemental reaction along with melt. Don't monkey around and spam your E and attacks on cooldown, thus making everything wet. Time your charge attacks precisely to coincide with fire-afflicted enemies and watch your DPS soar.
- Her charge attack grants her extreme consistent AoE damage at a fantastic range. Hitting for 10K - 20K AoE damage every charge attack on fire-afflicted enemies at unbuffed, lvl 80, non-optimal gear is common.
- Her E allows for easy grouping of enemies and self-peel. This taunt even works on Elite mobs. This makes DPS Mona extremely safe.
- Her charge attack spam (the highest DPS output rotation for Mona) is extremely stamina-hungry. Her charge attacks cost 50 stamina, thus depleting your stamina bar in about 5 attacks (you do regenerate a bit of stamina between charge attacks). This weakness will almost certainly become less of an issue as the months go by and we further increase our stamina pool with the new regions/ anemoculus-equivalents.
- Her dodge/tap-sprint is a bit clunky at times. It does not travel nearly as far as many other dodges, it cannot be cancelled mid-way through, it cannot be used to cancel into other attacks, and swapping directions is not possible until the dodge animation has finished. This is something to get used to and becomes pretty easy to deal with in time. But it makes positioning as Mona all the more important.
- Not really a "weakness" but something that might not be clear by the wording is that Mona's Burst's "omen" is an additive DMG buff. NOT multiplicative. This means that it does NOT buff your total damage by the specified amount. It is added to your other damage multipliers including Hydro Damage Bonus and Wanderer's Troupe Charge Attack bonus. It is still extremely powerful. Just a bit ambiguous wording.
- I again cannot stress this enough. Do NOT spam click your attacks (normal or charged), use your E on cooldown, and generally mindlessly apply your water to everything. You need to be precise. You need to wait until enemies are fire afflicted before raining down charge attacks. Wait for fire to refresh between charge attacks before attacking again. While rotating through vaporize charge attacks, using your E will actually lower your DPS due to wasting the vaporize procs.
- Holding down your E will cause you to place it at your current location and jump backwards. It's a great repositioning tool to disengage from melee attackers. It does not give i-frames though so don't rely on it to actually dodge through attacks.
- DPS Mona without stamina is pretty awful - especially if you've built her in a vaporize teamcomp (which you should). Be conservative with your stamina and position intelligently instead of constantly relying on your dodge/sprint.
- Your omen (the damage amplification effect of your burst) does not start until the bubble has been popped. You have time to hit approximately 4 charged attacks in that duration. Use that time wisely as it is your window to take advantage of the huge omen damage buff. Make sure your other characters have their skills up during this time. Preferably, setting off the omen with a lingering vaporize skill (Guoba, Xiangling burst, Bennet E/burst, etc) will yield the best damage window as you will be able to follow up the omen buff with a flurry of vaporize charge attacks.
- DPS Mona will absolutely be at her strongest in a vaporize team comp which enables her to constantly proc charge attacks on fire-afflicted enemies. Xiangling and Bennet are excellent for this task. Even Amber is alright. I wouldn't really suggest wasting Diluc as a mere enabler but there is definitely something satisfying about relegating him to fire-fodder for Mona.
- Mona's ideal damage rotation for the purpose of this guide will be Burst - 4 Charge Attacks on Fire-afflicted enemies. 4 Charge attacks is what you have time for within Mona's omen buff duration. It is also the number of times Xiangling's Guoba can afflict an enemy with fire. We will not be considering the vaporize burst trick (although you can check out a great post explaining the trick here).
- The damage formula we'll be using for the above consideration is: Burst + 4 Charge Attacks Damage on Fire-afflicted Unit = ((Burst Damage ATK Ratio)(Base ATK(1 + Sum of ATK% Bonuses) + Flat Attack Bonuses) (1 + Sum of DMG%) (1 + (Crit Rate * Crit DMG))) + ((Charge Attack Damage Ratio) (Base ATK(1 + Sum of ATK% Bonuses) + Flat Attack Bonuses) (1 + Sum of DMG% Bonuses including omen) (1 + (Crit Rate * Crit DMG))(2(1 + 0.00000004(EM)3 - 0.00011561(EM)2 + 0.19487198(EM) + 0.07024967))). Feel free to punch that into an online calculator if you want to see it formatted more nicely. (The Elemental Mastery Growth Curve is given here and comes from this great post)
- This is a guide for DPS Mona. Not support Mona. The following artifact recommendations will be made on the assumption that your Mona is taking the field the majority of the time and dolling out her charge attacks as constant DPS. This is NOT a guide for support Mona or any variant which involves her just dropping her E/Burst and swapping out. There are several guides for that already.
Artifact tl;dr: Wanderer's Troupe is the best-in-slot artifact set for DPS Mona. The main rolls should be ATK% and Hydro Damage Bonus% if you're not giving that many ATK buffs to Mona (Ex.. no Thrilling Tales of Dragon Seekers, Bennet, Food, or other external buffs). If you are buffing Mona externally (mostly through the aforementioned methods), then crit rate will be the best main roll on your circlet.
Weapon tl;dr: Sacred Winds 5 star catalyst offers the highest potential damage with its time-stacking damage amplification effect, peaking at 16 seconds. However, Skyward Atlas offers damage that is only slightly lower and also boasts a great effect that deals 720% ATK Physical Damage over 15 seconds (on a 30s cooldown). Due to DPS Mona's reliance on teammates to enable vaporize and her stamina consumption, this makes Skyward Atlas a better overall choice if you have below ~70-80% non-artifact ATK% buffs whereas Sacred Winds takes precedence otherwise
Comprehensive Artifact Main Stat Spreadsheet
Excel Version Containing All Calculations/Formulas
Results from this spreadsheet show that:
- Itemizing for double ATK% and Hydro DMG Bonus% yields anywhere from a 5% to 9% bonus over Crit Rate, Hydro Damage, ATK% or double ATK%, Crit rate main stat combinations without consideration of external (non-artifact) ATK% buffs. This even applies to highly commital crit builds which feature suboptimal damage on Mona in many situations. For example, a peak crit build boasting 62.3% Crit Rate and 112.6% Crit Damage still lost (by nearly 10%) to a no-crit investment double ATK%, Hydro Damage% main stat setup.
- At higher ATK% external buffs, (70-80% ATK buffs from teammates, food, weapons, etc.) crit rate overtakes ATK% as the optimal artifact main stat on your circlet. In situations with thrilling tales, bennet, food, and other buffs flying around crit rate will be best. How long you can keep those buffs running and whether or not the optimal nature of crit in these short durations is worth the tradeoff of crit being suboptimal when the buffs run out is dependent on your teamcomp
- The calculations for optimal main stats were done without consideration of external buffs to Mona. These could include buffs from Bennet Burst, Food, Sucrose, Thrilling Tales, etc. Due to the diminishing returns of any given damage buff type, these could heavily swing certain stats to be more favourable. The stat most heavily affected by this would likely be crit rate and crit DMG simply due to the vast majority of damage buffs in the game targetting attack, elemental mastery, and other non-crit stats. In other words, if you're giving Mona significant ATK% buffs (we're talking 70-80%+) then crit rate is better than ATK%
- Noblesse Oblige is often thought to be Mona's best-in-slot artifact set. This is not the case for DPS Mona. Once Mona uses 3 or more charge attacks for each time she uses her Burst, she will already have gained more value from Wanderer's Troupe compared to Noblesse Oblige. On the other hand, Noblesse Oblige is likely the best choice for a support Mona who seldom charge attacks and instead, focuses on her E and Burst to support her team.
- The Widsith is sometimes considered to be Mona's best-in-slot weapon. This is a great weapon. However, due to its effect only being active for 1/3 of the time, it loses a ton of effectiveness on a DPS unit who takes the field for the majority of the time.
- Sub stats are a huge part of any build and need to be more thoroughly explored. Due to the diminishing returns of ATK%, crit rate and crit dmg are likely the best substats to roll for, especially in a team that buffs Mona to any significant degree.
- Xiangling is likely the best partner for DPS Mona. Guoba afflicts enemies with fire at nearly the same rate that Mona can charge attack, allowing for great DPS and quick Vaporize combos (4 total). Bennet is also a great addition to a DPS Mona teamcomp. Alongside Xiangling, you gain fire resonance and also his ultimate which offers a huge bonus to Mona's attack. In this case, crit rate and crit dmg will almost certainly be the prioritized stats for DPS Mona.
- It is not efficient to itemize for energy recharge on Mona for DPS, even with her Ascension 4 talent. You start off with a default 100% Energy recharge. Even getting another 50-75% comes at the cost of ATK%, Hydro DMG%, or Crit stats and it's not even close to worth it. Just take the 20% default hydro % bonus and run with it. And you don't have to feel as bad about energy recharge substat rolls. That's about it.
Bow+Handcannon loadout/playstyle is EXTREMELY strong currently, due to the sandbox changes and introduction of stasis (detailed breakdown of buffs + detailed breakdown of bow+HC in general)
- Removal of 150rpm handcannons: The best handcannon choices for bow+HC are 140s or 120s (more impact and range for cleanup following a bow hit), thus removing 150s provides an indirect buff to bow+HC. With 150s gone, bow+HC users are no longer at a TtK disadvantage in a straight-up handcannon fight (if using a 140 - if using a 120 there is still obviously a TtK disadvantage, but it is reduced).
- Buff of 110s to 120s: High-impact handcannons have always been the optimal choice for bow+HC, due to their best-in-class range and the fact that crit/body combos from a single bow shot and handcannon shot are more likely to net the kill with higher handcannon damage. The RPM buff from 110 to 120 is a straight buff to bow+HC as it allows for faster repeat shots if you whiff the first shot following a bow hit, and it improves lethality generally if you get into an engagement with just your handcannon.
- Handcannon range buff: This is one of the most significant buffs - in the previous sandbox it was not uncommon for handcannon follow-up shots to be out of range on longer sight lines, given that bows have so much more range. The increased damage drop-off of handcannons now makes that much less likely. Equally significant is the parallel increase to handcannon aim assist (which is tied to range): this has made follow-up shots noticeably easier to pull off at range. This is particularly important for 120s, which are now almost never out-ranged and have become really noticeably "stickier".
- Auto rifle nerf: This one is straightforward: 600rpm autos killed extremely fast - occasionally too fast for a bow shot followed up by a handcannon shot. The slight nerf to autos has been noticeable in this regard.
- Sniper rifle nerf: This is a significant indirect buff to bow+HC. Snipers have always been the achilles heel to the loadout, as the main disadvantage of bow+HC is the fact that you frequently will remain grounded (aerial play is limited compared to most traditional loadouts) - this results in often being very "snipeable". The sniper nerf (reduced AA for low-zoom scopes) has reduced the prevalence of snipers generally, and reduced their effectiveness in countering bow+HC.
- Mountaintop nerf: In skilled hands, Mountaintop was a pretty hard counter to bow+HC: it fired instantly, could kill instantly without requiring nearly as much precision as bow+HC, and is basically made for in-air play. The nerf here removed one of the major barriers to using bow+HC in high-level play.
- The new seasonal artifact: This is minor, but worth mentioning. The new artifact has two mods that benefit bow+HC: Hand Cannon Targeting and Unflinching Hand Cannon Aim. These are pretty self-explanatory, and both serve to improve probability of landing follow-up handcannon shots.
- Stasis being a thing now: Stasis has largely upended the flow of the game, and overall I agree with the majority opinion that it is unbalanced and unfun generally. That said, we play the game we have - and in doing that I've noticed that the new stasis gameplay has actually benefitted bow+HC; players are more "timid" so to speak - less likely to ape/engage in CQC due to the threat of being insta-frozen by melees/grenades. This has resulted in more engagements occurring at mid-range - the ideal bow+HC range. It's now easier than ever to keep your engagement range at the ideal point, maximizing effectiveness of the loadout. Proper bow+HC play already involved managing engagement distance to stay out of CQC (no shotgun right?) - staying out of insta-freeze range is essentially the same and doesn't disadvantage the playstyle at all.
As you can see, the buffs are largely indirect small items - but cumulatively they present a truly significant overall buff to bow+HC. It was already strong (particularly in 6s) - now it's extremely strong in skilled hands. The playstyle is completely different to conventional loadouts and a lot of fun - if you haven't tried it out, now's the time!
That's all for the main point of this post. I figured I'd also write up an overview of the bow+HC loadout, for anyone who is curious/unaware or has never tried it out and wants to know how to set it up properly.
Warning: wall of text below! Turns out there was a lot of minutiae to talk about. Most of what follows will probably seem obvious to seasoned players - this is more intended for newer players or those who haven't considered bow+HC before :)
- Recommended loadout:
Legendary bows should have either quickdraw (best), snapshot, or be equipped with Quick Access Sling.
Specific best-in-slot options for handcannons and bows are detailed below, with build recommendations.
- Armour mods/weapon mods/character stats:
Recovery: Bow+HC requires significant management of engagement range - often resulting in frequent disengagements when playing against skilled players (covered in depth in the Playstyle section below). For this reason recovery is even more beneficial than usual - after mobility, maximize recovery as much as possible.
Discipline: I personally place discipline as my 3rd priority following mobility and recovery - and I firmly believe that mobility should be the highest priority. That said, there is an argument for building around discipline for high-level play: in tough lobbies, basic bow+HC play is typically not very effective (good players will not be easy picks). In these games, higher-level play is necessary to win - a major component of which is ability (grenade) use. So, if you're intending to hit Legend with bow+HC, run Trials flawless with consistency, play in challenging private matches, etc - you may want to spec into as much discipline as possible (and practice grenade/aerial play in 6s).
Amour mods: Optimal armour mods are what you'd expect them to be: dexterity, targeting, and unflinching. These mods can be for handcannons or bows - I personally prefer handcannon mods, as I seem to hit my bow shots more consistently than my handcannon crits.
Worth noting: because bow+HC is a double-primary loadout, the slots for special ammo mods are freed up for other options.
Subclass choice: Bow+HC is pleasantly subclass-agnostic for all classes; it works well with pretty much everything. That said, stasis subclasses are probably the optimal choice currently...
Weapon mods: Depending on your playstyle, handcannons benefit most from either Targeting Adjuster (or the new Adept Targeting Adjuster), the new Adept Range mod, or Icarus. Icarus is best-in-slot for high-level play, as it goes a long way to counteracting the biggest disadvantage of bow+HC (lack of aerial play options). If you are sticking to 6s or just don't prefer an aerial playstyle, the Targeting Adjuster mods or Adept Range both increase the reliability of landing follow-up handcannon shots.
The best mod choice for bows is dependent on weapon perks and build. Adept Accuracy, either of the Targeting Adjuster mods, Icarus, and Quick Access Sling are the best options. If the bow doesn't have quickdraw (and you aren't a hunter running Dragon's Shadow), Quick Access Sling is necessary. However, this isn't optimal as you are sacrificing more accuracy/aim assist or increased aerial accuracy - whereas a bow with quickdraw needn't make a sacrifice. The best option is to run Icarus on a bow that has quickdraw and perks for high accuracy.
- Bow Choice:
So: legendary precision bows. Three options are standouts: Subtle Calamity (energy), Biting Winds (kinetic, new in Beyond Light), and Accrued Redemption (kinetic). All three can max out the accuracy stat (the roll is Tactile String/Natural String+Fibreglass Arrow Shaft+Accuracy masterwork), and all three can roll quickdraw. The god roll Biting Winds is arguable best, as it can roll quickdraw and snapshot for maximum handling speed. If you don't have rolls on either of these bows, No Turning Back (kinetic) is an excellent 2nd choice as it's an easily-obtained static roll with quickdraw and maxed accuracy (if you have the accuracy MW, which rolls randomly). For light-level-enabled modes, Biting Winds is the only option that is not sunset - there is no energy option with quickdraw. There is Point of the Stag (not sunset)- it doesn't roll quickdraw, but can work with Quick Access Sling as a make-do option (sacrificing Icarus sadly).
- Exotic Bows: These are obviously all unique - but in brief, Le Monarque is the only real choice for high-level play. Furthermore, the characteristics of Le Monarque that make it unique also make it arguably the best choice out of all bows:
Le Monarque's damage numbers enable guaranteed-kill crit/body combos that are unique among all bows: LM body+120rpm crit: 214 damage; LM body+140rpm crit: 195 damage. 195 kills low-resilience, 214 is guaranteed. Neither of these combos is a kill with any other bow. The importance of this really can't be overstated: although it is always preferable to land a crit with your bow shot, the flexibility of being able to secure the kill at minimum TtK with a body shot puts Le Monarque in a league of its own. The disorienting/stressing effects that the poison DoT places on opponents (which will spread to nearby opponents if they are clustered) are just icing on the cake.
Snapshot Sights: This perk allows the player to remain in hipfire (out of ADS) before engaging - without either snapshot or quickdraw, bows enter ADS too slowly to allow this. Bow+HC users without snapshot/quickdraw will have to pre-aim before engagements - this is hugely disadvantageous because A) this is simply not always possible in the chaos of the crucible, and B) ADS time should be minimized because it has a host of obvious disadvantages - loss of radasituational awareness, promotion of passive play, etc.
One very specific build is extremely strong and worth mentioning: Le Monarque+Oathkeepers. With legendary bows I strongly advise against running Oathkeepers - they serve little purpose, and can actively promote an excessively passive and non-aerial playstyle. With Le Monarque, that is not the case. There is a huge benefit to knowing your poison DoT damage is always guaranteed; without Oathkeepers, the window for successfully landing that poison shot is very narrow - in the chaos of the crucible, not even the best players can pull it off with absolute consistency. Oathkeepers remove that variable entirely, enabling focus to be shifted elsewhere (positioning, radar, communication, etc).
There are a few disadvantages to LM+Oathkeepers. The biggest is probably the fact that you can't run Icarus on your bow - limiting aerial play compared to legendary bows with Icarus. The other main disadvantage (which can be counteracted by conscious play) is the tendency for Oathkeepers to induce a more passive playstyle. It's easy to keep an arrow knocked at all times - but it's a terrible idea, as you become far more static (predictable), and less likely to rotate properly throughout the match. If running Oathkeepers, it is important to be aware of this tendency, and to intentionally avoid these pitfalls.
- Handcannon choice:
The Steady Hand deserves a special note - it is the clear best-in-slot choice. Firstly, as the only non-sunset 120 with quickdraw, it is the only legendary 120rpm option for Trials/IB if you aren't running Lucky Pants/Dragon's Shadow. However, beyond that it also has phenomenal base stats, perk options, and "acquirability" (it should be farmable from IB, and odds are decent for strong rolls). Optimal rolls include: quickdraw+snapshot (1/36 chance), quickdraw+iron grip (1/36 chance), and quickdraw+wellspring (1/36 chance). Snapshot would shave a few frames off optimal TtK and is obviously excellent, but not necessary like quickdraw. Iron Grip hugely boosts stability, which is severely lacking in 120s. Wellspring reduces all cooldowns on kill - great for the neutral game and likely to be highly utilized, as almost all kills with bow+HC are with the handcannon. Additionally, with the correct roll The Steady Hand can reach a massive 86 range (actually 96 if using the Adept Range mod when it is available!). Max range roll requires: range MW+sureshot+any of the 4 second-slot perks which provide +5 range. Odds for this roll are a surprisingly reasonable 1/48. The god-roll with max range and quickdraw is a 1/288 chance. The GOD god-roll of max range+quickdraw+one of the 3 optimal final perks listed above is a 1/576 chance (I want one...).
(Interesting side note on The Steady Hand: If you want a high-impact handcannon with high stability, this is the one to farm for when iron banner rolls around. The stability god-roll reaches a massive 86 stability - far and away higher than any other 120rpm handcannon. The best part is it still maintains an impressive 71 range. Odds for getting this roll are 1/1152)
140rpm handcannons, while objectively worse than 120s for bow+HC, can still put in work. Options featuring quickdraw include: Ten Paces (kinetic), Kindled Orchid (energy), and The Old Fashioned (kinetic). Of these, only The Old Fashioned is not sunset; there is no non-sunset energy 140rpm handcannon that can roll quickdraw.
- For light-level-enabled modes: note on weapon pairings/sunsetting
Hunters running Dragon's Shadow or Lucky pants have a few more options: Le Monarque+any HC Point of the Stag+any HC, or Biting Winds+any HC. Nonetheless, sunsetting has clearly reduced the pool of potential bow+HC builds by a big margin.
- Exotic armour:
Lucky Pants lend themselves well to builds that incorporate exotic handcannons (TLW+bow, Sturm+bow, Ace+bow, etc.). These builds all have inherent advantages and disadvantages that follow the unique attributes of each exotic handcannon. They also allow use of handcannons which lack quickdraw. Builds include: Le Monarque+any handcannon that lacks quickdraw, or a legendary bow+exotic handcannon. For regular crucible, Subtle Calamity pairs best with Lucky Pants as it can roll quickdraw - for Trials/IB you are limited to Point of the Stag+Quick Access Sling.
Dragon's Shadow provides the necessary handling boost for handcannons and allows for builds with handcannons/bows that lack quickdraw. I personally am not a huge fan, as I find losing my dodge to cooldown and needing to monitor the buff/cooldown constantly to be pretty disadvantageous (especially when simply using a handcannon with quickdraw provides the same benefit).
Oathkeepers are interesting, in that I would only recommend them when paired with Le Monarque - the advantage of a guaranteed poison hit is substantial. For legendary bows, Oathkeepers offer less benefit and may even promote an excessively passive playstyle, at the cost of your exotic slot.
The above three options are the primary exotics for bow+HC, but there is an exception: builds with a legendary handcannon w/quickdraw and legendary bow. In this case, neither Oathkeepers, Lucky Pants, or Dragon's Shadow provide a significant benefit, and exotic choice is really up to preference for specific perks. I personally would recommend Wormhusk, because disengaging to heal is a necessary tactic with bow+HC.
Warlocks and titans have very minimal choice regarding exotics to pair with bow+HC. For warlocks, Ophidian Aspect is a strong choice for its buff to weapon handling (important note: the handling buff from Ophidian Aspect is not enough to counteract a lack of quickdraw, especially for 120s). If using a handcannon with quickdraw, Transversive Steps are probably best. One unique strategy for warlocks revolves around empowering rifts: if you're running Le Monarque, empowering rifts will 1-shot at any resilience. I personally don't love this strategy as you're limited by ability cooldown and it's inherently passive... but it definitely works.
For titans... I'm honestly not sure if there is any exotic that directly pairs with bow+HC. Peacekeepers could be really interesting for a closer-range bow+SMG build maybe?
- The playstyle:
The fundamentals of the playstyle are largely the same as regular crucible loadouts: good game sense, knowing when to retreat, playing with your teammates, etc.
One very basic point is pre-drawing your bow (this may seem obvious, but this guide is geared to players who may have zero experience with bows): the bow+HC time-to-kill is simply not competitive if you are drawing your bow once you see an enemy.
Compared to traditional loadouts (primary+shotgun, primary+sniper, etc.), the main differentiator in how to play effectively with bow+HC is engagement range. Bow+HC lacks any insta-kill "panic buttons" in CQC (bow body shot+melee is the closest option) and similarly is at an obvious disadvantage in long range vs. snipers. While it's true that in low-level 6s lobbies you can pretty much run rampant without caring too much about engagement range (if you're decently skilled with bow+HC), things change at higher levels of competition. Against skilled players you WILL lose if they successfully force an engagement at long or short range. Maintaining the correct spacing between yourself and opponents is crucial. Consciously controlling your movement so at to engage at the correct range (midrange) as often as possible is essential to strong bow+HC play.
Following from this is knowing when to disengage. This is important for all loadouts but is especially relevant to bow+HC. The playstyle often requires disengaging more frequently relative to normal playstyles; unlike shotgunning, you don't often need to fully commit ("ape"); unlike sniping, you won't often be securing instant kills without taking any damage. Playing in the midrange without instant-kill special weapons means that you will need to disengage more frequently to "play your life" - which is fundamental in high-level play regardless of loadout.
Snipers are a particular weakness for bow+HC (less so in Beyond Light but still significant). Bows can be thought of as ultra-low zoom snipers that don't kill on crits, have a charge time, and limit your mobility; with this mindset it's easy to see why challenging snipers at range is easily punished. Restraint is essential: skilled snipers will win every time and peeking should usually be avoided against good players. You'll die. In 6s, the best play is often to not challenge sniper lanes and simply rotate to a new position - you will avoid a losing engagement and can enter a more favourable one quickly. In survival/trials, sacrificing your position is not usually the best option - you could be leaving your teammates at a disadvantage, surrendering heavy spawn, guarding a revive etc. Here, engagement range is critical; reducing engagement range is the only play, and it functions the same as it would with a shotgun or fusion rifle loadout (avoid sightlines and flank/pressure as best as possible). Challenging snipers can be done most safely with radar pinging tactics (applies to all loadouts) - peek from a sightline while a teammate is within radar range of the sniper and at a different angle/sightline. If you can't challenge a sniper's lane safely, play defensively and don't peek. Emotes/swords can be used 3rd-person perspective peeking - useful in extra sweaty lobbies.
In high-level lobbies, basic spacing strategies (and good aim, basic game sense, etc.) is typically inadequate to consistently win with bow+HC. Skilled opponents will exploit the weaknesses of the loadout and provide zero easy picks. In these scenarios the key is being unpredictable. Most players haven't encountered skilled bow+HC players at high levels; they will base their play off past encounters with bow+HC in low-level lobbies. The idea is pretty simple and not unique to bow+HC: be conscious of what the enemy expects you to do, and avoid doing those things. Functionally, this mostly boils down to four things: aggressive vs. passive play, usage of abilities (specifically grenades), aerial play, and teamshotting.
Aggressive vs. passive play
Deceptively simple: most players expect bow users to be highly passive - this is what they've encountered most frequently. Push aggressively to catch (most) players by surprise. Alternate aggressive pushes with baiting - fake a push, then back off from absolute close range. Mix up with grenades/aerial play. This is similar to good play with regular loadouts, but can be trickier in that you should be aware of engagement range at all times, due to your lack of instant-kill special weapons.
Very self-explanatory yet very important. High-level lobbies won't afford you many opportunities for clean bow-swap-to-handcannon kills. Playing intelligently with your teammates will give you the opportunity for instant kills, as opponents need only marginal damage to be vulnerable to a single bow crit - 49 for legendary bows, just 25 for Le Monarque. These damage levels are typically below the "retreat threshold" at which players will disengage to heal - leaving them open to a bow crit for the kill.
Usage of abilities
Countering the inherent disadvantages of bow+HC at close range is difficult. Grenade abilities are a strong option available to all classes - due to the massive crit damage of a single bow shot (151 for legendaries, 175 for Le Monarque), even the slightest tickle from a grenade can prime an enemy for an insta-kill. If you're running LM, take note of the damage number if you tag an opponent with a grenade - anything 75 or higher can be followed up with an LM bodyshot for a guaranteed kill. This also (obviously) works in reverse - tagging an enemy with a bow shot primes them for a grenade (depending on the bow and crit/body, grenades need only hit for a maximum of 99 down to a minimum of just 25 for a guaranteed kill).
Class abilities are useful, but not as critical to the playstyle as skilled grenade use. Dodge is probably the best class ability for bow+HC - it is a strong tool to control engagement range and disengage. It also enhances survivability in CQC - very beneficial for bow+HC given the obvious lack of a special weapon. Following up a dodge in close quarters with a jump often allows bow+HC to avoid a shotgun/melee death, and sets up a bow bodyshot+handcannon cleanup (or bow+melee when in range). At the very least it gives you a chance to trade. Barricade mostly functions as it would with any loadout - the one notable exception is that barricades can be particularly useful for pre-drawing a bow while maintaining sight of an opponent. Empowering Rifts have a unique benefit in that they can allow bows to instant-kill in a single crit.
For good reason, aerial play is not typically seen as a strong suit of bows: they suffer from significant penalties to in-air accuracy, and missing while airborne leaves bow users highly vulnerable. However, when executed properly, aerial play with bow+HC can be highly effective - and is in fact necessary to maximize the potential of the loadout. Strong aerial play is key to higher level bow+HC. At higher levels of play, the loadout is unlikely to be effective without it. Due to how important aerial play is, I've expanded this section to be a deep dive into every aspect of aerial play with bow+HC.
Note: "aerial play" refers to any instance of play while non-grounded - from the smallest jump-shot to a full double-jump.
For handcannons, Icarus is absolutely essential if you want to maximize aerial bow+HC play. Even if you are a grounded player, I would still recommend Icarus for your handcannon; regardless of playstyle, you will at times find yourself airborne. Often these will be moments of undesirable close quarters combat - a heavily disadvantaged position for bow+HC, and one in which your best play will usually involve your handcannon. Minimize this disadvantage as much as possible: run Icarus on your handcannon.
For bows, it comes down to your personal playstyle - for certain aerial playstyles, the best option is legendary bow+Icarus. The obvious sacrifice here is giving up Le Monarque. LM is arguably the best bow in the game; trading it's huge advantages for anything is a big ask. That said, strong aerial play is important enough against tough opponents that giving up LM can be worth it. Ultimately, it comes down to preference - both options have pros and cons, and suit different playstyles. Both can work equally well at high levels, where good aerial play is necessary - the difference is in the playstyle. I recommend practicing with both to see which works best for you.
With aerial play it's usually best to aim for body shots (with bows) when in close quarters. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that bow body shots can be landed consistently in CQC from hip-fire. This is huge: hip-firing is faster, allows you to maintain situational awareness, affords instant access to your abilities, and maximizes your movement options. ADSing for a crit while in a CQC fight is clunky and highly limiting. The second reason is basic consistency: the odds of missing against slippery opponents are higher in CQC, where missing usually results in death. Targeting a crit instead of centre-of-mass is riskier. While hitting aerial crits undeniably offers better damage and potential TtK (guaranteed kill with 1 followup handcannon hit), the increased consistency of targeting body shots is usually worth the tradeoff. Bow body shots do a surprising amount of damage and can usually get the job done; if you are forced into an absolute close-range engagement and can't disengage, bow bodyshot+melee is the best "panic button" available and can kill near instantly.
At medium range and further, aiming for crits while airborne makes sense; missing is less likely to result in death, and the goal is to deal maximum damage. In these engagements, an essential aerial technique is jump-shotting at range from cover. The keys here are range and cover: jump-shotting out of cover or in close/close-mid range is viable and useful, but bow+HC doesn't offer any real advantages vs. regular loadouts in such scenarios. On the other hand, the unique attributes of bows offer real advantages when jump-shotting at range (mid+) and peeking from cover. These include:
- Unequaled damage from a single shot (min 101, max 175).
- No need to factor in the possibility of wasting special ammo (less risk)
- Inherent high accuracy and unlimited range of bows (higher probability of success)
Regardless of your build choice, clean-up kills at close range (or with the threat of snipers) should almost always be attempted with aerial play - most players will not expect this from bow users, and bow body shot damage is often enough to secure the kill with no follow-up.
Another aerial tactic worth mentioning is engaging with only your handcannon. Against particularly slippery or skilled opponents this can be more reliable - and it serves as a mix-up which they will not be expecting.
I'll wrap up this guide with a breakdown of what I personally consider to be the current best build overall for aerial bow+HC play - and for the playstyle as a whole. It's not the strongest option in all scenarios - but it is definitely the most versatile, with fewer weaknesses than other bow+HC builds. It's also relatively simple to put together and works with all classes - although hunter probably synergizes best.
The build is (quite simply) Le Monarque+120rpm HC. The unique attribute of this particular pairing which makes it so strong is the bow bodyshot + handcannon crit combo: a Le Monarque body shot and 120rpm crit hits for 215 - a guaranteed kill. All other bow+HC builds require a bow crit to guarantee a kill with the followup handcannon shot. This means you can secure kills at the fastest possible TtK regardless of landing the bow crit, at (nearly) any range! The strength of this cannot be overstated; it enables plays based off intentional bow bodyshots that no other build can match - and provides superior forgiveness and flexibility in every engagement. These attributes enable a playstyle that is unique to this build. Relative to other bow+HC builds, LM+120rpm has nearly zero downsides: in close/close-mid range, it excels for aggressive aerial play (second only to legendary bow+TLW) - offering near-instantaneous kill potential without requiring high precision. This makes intentionally playing around hip-fire body-shots a competitive strategy - and Le Monarque is equipped with snapshot for rapid pivots to ADS as needed. At mid-range and further, the best-in-slot damage output of LM and best-in-slot damage+range of 120rpm handcannons offer the greatest lethality in a bow+HC loadout - and again require objectively less precision for minimum TtK. No other build is as effective at all ranges, or as forgiving. The best part is this build is relatively easy to set up: all you need is a 120rpm HC with quickdraw (or Lucky Pants/Dragon's Shadow) and Icarus.
That's all for now... way more than I intended to write haha. Hopefully this provides a useful overview of bow+HC. Try it out if you haven't before and you're looking for a totally different playstyle in the crucible!