A simple guide to playing this game’s most fascinating character.
- Artificer: The Basics
Artificer: The Basics
The Purpose of this Guide
This guide is written in order to help players better understand Artificer’s abilities, playstyles, and capabilities. A similar guide, by RobinValentine, exists already, but when I started this guide it hadn’t been updated in ages and was extremely outdated. As a longtime Artificer main, I’d like to give my own take on the character’s philosophy even though absolutely nobody asked.
Also, half this guide was written before Skills 2.0, so my apologies for inconsistencies in writing or whatever other problems may arise from that kind of thing. Please send me hate in the comments because this guide is probably not ready for release.
A Quick Summary
Artificer is… not in a great spot currently. She can be very powerful, but I’m sure many of you have noticed that it doesn’t always feel that way. It’s well agreed upon even by Artificer mains that she has some pretty major problems.
However, Artificer is still one of the hardest hitting survivors. She can steamroll single targets, groups of enemies, and teleporter bosses alike with few level-ups or items. That said, she is a hard survivor to learn – every attack is a cooldown, and you have little in the way of defense.
Although Artificer has unique struggles that gives her possibly the hardest endgame, her raw power sets her aside from the others, allowing her to get an good start that can change the course of a game in the long run.
Flame Bolt – Primary
- Cooldown: 1.3s
- Proc Coefficient: 1.0
- Fire a bolt for 220% damage that ignites enemies. Hold up to 4.
As Artificer’s standard M1 ability, it stands out from all the others in the fact that it only has 4 charges at a time. This, paired with a long-ish cooldown, means that you will not be able to fire this as often as you may like.
I think it’s best to say that Artificer doesn’t have a real primary attack. This is her M1, but not her primary. This ability cannot be consistently available to you and will almost always be on cooldown in some way (at least, it should be). With that aside, let’s discuss usage.
The Flame Bolt does high damage for a M1 skill, and is comparable to many other M2 skills. It has fair area of effect, and burns targets upon hit. This burn means that you can drop early game wisps, beetles, etc. down to 1/4 health and just leave them to die on their own. However, the Flame Bolt has a very slow travel time, meaning that it is not very viable to try to hit targets from far away.
You will probably want to throw out your Flame Bolts before and in between your other skills. It has the shortest cooldown by far and you can easily fire them at enemies before your next attack. Preferably at trash mobs that it’ll be able to kill.
Plasma Bolt – Primary
- Cooldown: 1.3s
- Proc Coefficient: 1.0
- Fire a bolt for 220% damage that explodes in a small area. Hold up to 4.
The Plasma Bolt is Artificer’s alternate M1 attack, throwing volatile projectiles at your enemies rather than shards of flaming fury. It is unlocked by killing 20 enemies at once.
This skill trades off its sister skill’s damage over time for much more area of effect. Despite lacking a very valuable burn effect in the early game, the explosion is very handy for attacking groups. Even though you also have other skills perfectly capable of dealing with crowds, having a bit more isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
A big plus for Plasma Bolt is that its large AoE makes accuracy a mere suggestion, and can offset this skill’s terrible velocity.
If you choose to use this alternative, then you should use it in the same way as you do Flame Bolts: fire them before and in between uses of your other skills. They do fine damage to bosses, but they are often best thrown at trash mobs to get them off your back.
Charged Nano Bomb – Secondary
- Cooldown: 5s
- Proc Coefficient: 0.3 (Sparks), 1.0 (Bomb)
- Charge up a nano-bomb that deals 400%-2000% damage and stuns all enemies.
The Charged Nano Bomb is a powerful attack that will strike out at enemies as it travels by, and will explode in a rather large radius when hitting an enemy or a surface.
Artificer’s Nano-Bomb requires 2 seconds to fully charge without attack speed bonuses, and its damage will increase the longer it is charged. This skill is great for triggering on-hits due to its massive damage, meaning even bigger damage when triggering your Kjaro’s Bands and ATG Missiles. Additionally, you can sprint while charging it up, meaning you aren’t a sitting duck when trying to rack up big damage. And lastly, the Bomb stuns enemies when it zaps them: this can be a quick defensive tool in order to avoid a telegraphed attack, especially golem lasers.
Often times, it is better to miss with the Nano-Bomb than to actually land the hit. For instance, throwing it in between a mob of 10 wisps will cause it to zap all of them as it passes by, doing a more effective distribution of damage than an impact.
You won’t always have to fully charge the Bomb – it’s powerful enough to kill squishy enemies with minimal charge, so why waste time cranking it up to the max? Sometimes the stun is all you need or have time for anyways.
Nano-Bomb is weak at range due to its projectile speed and massive gravity. It’s best to close the distance between your target while you’re charging it up to try to get a better shot.
Cast Nano Spear – Secondary
- Cooldown: 5s
- Proc Coefficient: 1.0
- Charge up a piercing nano-spear that deals 400%-1200% damage and freezes all enemies.
This skill is the unlockable alternative to Charged Nano-Bomb, and it is unlocked by killing a teleporter boss in under one second.
The Nano-Spear is very similar in spirit to Nano-Bomb, but carries with it many differences. Once again, it is a heavy-hitting charge-based attack, but instead of lashing out at nearby enemies and exploding, it penetrates through enemies. This means that if circumstances permit, you can do a LOT more damage to a train of enemies than the Bomb can.
Although it loses much of its area of effect, it does freeze most enemies, which stops them completely and allows for immediate execution under 30% HP for the duration. Obviously, the Nano-Bomb is better at dealing with clumps of enemies, but it’s up to you to decide which is the better option.
The most obvious differences, though, are the damage and the range. Nano-Bomb is capable of a massive 2000%, compared to Nano-Spear’s still-impressive 1200%. The tradeoff, however, is that Nano-Spear travels extremely fast and is unaffected by gravity. This makes it the champion for long-ranged combat. Oh, and it can freeze the final boss, did you know that? The fight’s basically rigged against Artificer so it’s nice to be able to turn the tables a little bit.
The usage of the Nano Spear should be similar to that of the Bomb. However, you may need to put in a bit more effort to form a line of enemies rather than just a mess of lemurians. Additionally, while its freeze effect is able to disable small enemies similarly to the Nano Bomb and Snapfreeze, it is much harder to panic-use than the others.
You don’t have to full charge this either- for the same reasons as before, really.
Snapfreeze – Utility
- Cooldown: 12s
- Proc Coefficient: 1.0
- Create a barrier that freezes enemies for 100% damage. Enemies at low health are instantly killed if frozen.
Snapfreeze places down a barrier of 12 ice spikes that damage enemies for 100% each, and freeze most nonboss enemies
Artificer’s Utility is different from most others’ because of its long cooldown and lack of mobility or defense. Despite what the description may suggest, the barrier does not stop projectiles from hitting you. However, it is still has potential.
Frozen enemies can be instantly executed when they fall below 30% HP, which can make a huge difference, especially against tanky enemies like elites. Boss enemies cannot be frozen, but will still take damage from the spikes themselves. This is good for bosses such as Beetle Queen and Magma Worm, because the barrier can be arranged in a way that they will hit most of the individual spikes and take damage from them.
Snapfreeze can be used in a variety of ways, but it’s best reserved for controlling fights. It’s powerful for locking down groups and single enemies alike to deal free damage without having to dodge attacks. You can refreeze the same enemy by leading them through more and more spikes as soon as they are mobile again. This lets you pound on enemies while regenerating your own health for upwards of 6 seconds without them having a chance to retaliate.
You can also freeze enemies just to cancel their attacks. Golem lasers, Beetle Guard slams, Elder Lemurian fireballs, you name it, are all stopped instantly by a Snapfreeze.
Oh yeah, and this attack freezes the final boss too.
Flamethrower – Special
- Cooldown: 5s
- Proc Coefficient: 1.0
- Burn all enemies in front of you for 1700% damage.
The flamethrower is a close-ranged powerhouse that is regarded as the most high-risk high-reward skill in the game.
These twin jets of pure damage are capable of ridiculous amounts of damage in the right hands. between its innumerous ticks, stacking burn afflictions, and infinite pierce, it can rack up big damage in groups. Combine that with a Proc Coefficient of 1.0, and you can devastate most things with your piercing flames and on-hit activations.
However, Flamethrower is your longest skill and is cancelled by sprint, meaning that you will often have to cut it short in order to dodge incoming attacks in the late game. It’s also dangerous at times due to the fact that you must be near your enemies to utilize it.
The Flamethrower should be used as often as possible if you are in range. It’s certainly strong against single targets, but its strength is in group fighting – if you can pierce even a few enemies at once, its potential becomes very apparent very fast, especially when paired with on-hits like Ukulele.
Ion Surge – Special
- Cooldown: 8s
- Proc Coefficient: 1.0
- Burst into the sky, dealing 800% damage and stunning nearby enemies.
The Ion Surge is unlocked after killing 15 enemies without touching the floor. It rockets you into the air, leaving an explosion at your feet.
This skill gives Artificer a whole new style of play. – the Attack Helicopter. She can stay in the air indefinitely and avoid most enemy attacks, although at times you might find yourself a sitting duck against lasers and such. Ion Surge offers Artificer some powerful movement Utility, not only in the way of escaping combat on a whim but also for just pure traversal. Being able to rocket into the sky can make travelling across vertical areas much faster, saving you precious time. You can even just fly up to the final boss while ignoring the main objective.
Of course, this new power comes with a tradeoff, that being a large amount of your damage. Flamethrower is a devastating ability that can be tough to play without, but if it suits your style to rain hell from above, Ion Surge is a good choice. It’s safer, and she still retains acceptable damage with enough Backup Magazines and such.
If you’re not using it to keep yourself perpetually afloat, Ion Surge is most effective to get out of a dangerous situation, especially when surrounded. It stuns all non-boss enemies so you shouldn’t need to worry about getting sniped immediately.
ENV Suit – Passive
The ENV Suit allows players to control their descents by slowing them to a crawl. Unless you need to go somewhere, you should probably always float. If you hit the ground, jump up again and hover some more.
This will keep you out of danger in three ways: A) you won’t have to worry about pesky ground hazards, B) melee enemies will have a tough time touching you, and C) it becomes much easier to manipulate and dodge heavy attacks like those from Greater Wisps and Brass Contraptions.
It takes a bit of practice to figure out how you in particular will use it, but you’ll find what works pretty quickly. The ENV Suit also pretty much negates the dangers of fall damage, which is quite a nice bonus.
The Close Quarters Approach
There’s two main ways I think you could play Artificer, and I’ll first cover the close quarters approach.
Many of Artificer’s skills seem to encourage a short range playstyle, particularly her default kit. Flame Bolt travels slowly, has a maximum range, and a small AoE compared to Plasma Bolt, making it difficult to hit far away targets. Nano-Bomb too has a poor velocity and is also heavily influenced by gravity, limiting it to effectively medium range. Flamethrower’s range is hardly outside of a Focus Crystal’s area of influence either.
So, keeping these weaknesses in mind, Artificer’s default loadout is best equipped for being within punching distance. This can be a dangerous playstyle, but with skillful movement and clever ability use, it’s certainly manageable. You can play this way with some alternates as well if you’d like, but I do recommend the full default kit.
When entering combat, it’s a good first step to unload some Flame (or Plasma!) Bolts. They’re the fastest to expend and can recharge quickly while using your other skills, which means less downtime in your attack patterns. 3-4 is my personal go to, and although I typically just unload into the biggest target, you may choose to attack the smaller enemies in order to clear them out sooner.
With your Bolts now cooling down, you can choose to either use Flamethrower or your Secondary. Use your best judgement, as different circumstances will call for different abilities. When you finish casting whichever skill you just used, toss another few Bolts and then use whichever skill you didn’t cast.
At any point you can use your Snapfreeze. It’s a versatile tool, so use it to plop down on a boss, or freeze the enemies and line them up for Flamethrower, or just save it in case of a problem. Whichever way you see fit.
The cycle repeats from this point, and truthfully it’s rare you’ll have much downtime waiting for a recharge. It’s important to remember that this is just a loose suggestion for major combat encounters: you will obviously not need to go all out like this when dealing with a couple beetles or wisps. And this rotation won’t be so rigid if you get any form of cooldown reduction. Items like Bandolier, Alien Head, Brainstalks, Purity, and Backup Mags open up the character to play in any way you want really.
The Ranged Approach
The second major way to play Artificer would be the Ranged approach (or as I call it, the Attack Helicopter).
Artificer’s alternate skills are all a lot more complementary to a longer range than her defaults. Plasma Bolt’s AoE makes it easy to land your shots on a target you might miss with Flame Bolt. Nano-Spear can be thrown from long distances while allowing you to retain accuracy thanks to its straight shot and quick travel time. And lastly, Ion Surge lets you hover in the sky indefinitely and fire straight down at the peasants below.
As with the Close Quarters approach, you can substitute some of these skills with the defaults, but ultimately this group of skills synergize nicely into a safe, relaxed manner of play. You remain out of range of most attacks, while retaining respectable damage and gaining a large amount of mobility.
The combat is a little simpler this way. With Flamethrower out of the equation, it’s simply a game of alternating your Bolts and Secondary. Damage downtime is to be expected, since you lack a 3 second intermission for flame-fueled glory, but you now have the option to simply leave danger at a whim. Surrounded? Blast off. Teleporter event? Bye bye Beetle Queen. Elite Greater Wisps making an appearance? Whoooooosh. You’ll never have to touch the ground again if you don’t want.
You get the idea. You obviously still have Snapfreeze at your disposal, and its versatility means that you just use it to suit your style, but the majority of Attack Helicopter Artificer is just flying around dropping stuff on monsters.
If this section sucks that’s because I mainly play with her default kit so I’m not well experienced in this area.
A major complaint I’ve heard even among seasoned veterans of the game is how dangerous it is to play Artificer in close range, especially when it comes to Flamethrower. I’ve never had this experience.
The best advice I can give if you’re struggling with staying alive is to keep moving. Namely, SPRINT! Sprint whenever you can. Sprint when you’re charging your secondary. Sprint to flank around enemies. This not only prevents you from getting whacked constantly, it also lets you have damage reduction from Rose Buckler quite often (for when you get whacked occasionally)
If you are morbidly obese and can’t sprint, then even doing things like strafing back and forth in front of your target and hovering constantly will save you from a TON of pointless damage.
Really, I feel like intelligent movement and positioning can make this character a breeze with enough practice. Jumping onto and off of slopes to get the high ground, flanking around the boss to avoid an attack, cancelling your Flamethrower to run away, and baiting attacks from Brass Contraptions and Greater Wisps are just some examples of how you can cleverly maneuver around a dangerous encounter.
Maybe I’m making this sound easier than it is, or not understanding the intuition it takes, or speaking from a position of too much practice, I don’t know. But it’s helpful to at least consider and try to apply to your playstyle if you find yourself struggling.
Suggesting specific items and builds for characters is stupid because a) you won’t always have great control over what you get and b) people just suggest stuff that is just super generic like critical strike and Ukulele. But I’ll take a swing at it and note a few items that are particularly effective and ineffective.
- Crowbar – Although still not a particularly good item, it performs comparatively well on Artificer since she can so easily access powerful burst damage like Nano-Bomb and Nano-Spear.
- Focus Crystal – Artificer’s natural ability to excel in close quarters makes this a pretty obvious good choice. Not recommended for the attack helicopter loadout.
- Backup Magazine – This item gives you more attack uptime which is good. The boost obviously does nothing after you expend all its charges but in reality you’ll probably still be noticing the effects of this item nearly all the time.
- Chronobauble – Locking down enemies to either make them easier to hit in attack helicopter mode or less dangerous in close quarters. Decent either way.
- Kjaro’s & Runald’s Bands – These items are good on basically everyone, but I would argue they perform better than most on Artificer. Similarly to Crowbar, these items benefit from large chunks of burst damage, which Artificer happens to specialize in.
- Hopoo Feather – Great for staying afloat longer and pretending the floor is lava.
- Hardlight Afterburner – This item is good all around, but it has a special utility with Artificer since she can freeze the final boss. This item lets her do it basically permanently and have a free win.
- Strides of Heresy – Snapfreeze might not be important enough to you to keep, and Shadowfade is a pretty powerful defensive skill. Personal preference really.
- Effigy of Grief – Easy to aim in attack helicopter mode with no risk of affecting yourself. Not recommended for close quarters loadouts.
- Purity – If you want to ditch items based on chance and just deal some raw damage, this item lets you fire whatever you want basically all the time.
- Soldier’s Syringe – Although technically attack speed scales up Artificer’s cast speed, it does nothing to improve her actual attack rate since she doesn’t gain any cooldown for M1 and Flamethrower doesn’t get more ticks. It’s still “ok” but it’s just less effective than it is for other characters.
- Tri-Tip Dagger – This item already has problems with low-stack effectiveness and it just gets worse on such a slowly-attacking character.
- Predatory Instincts – The first stack of this item is “ok” since it gives +5% critical chance but this item shouldn’t be a priority for the same reason as Soldier’s Syringe.
- Old Guillotine – This is not a terrible item by any means but it carries less weight since Artificer already has the ability to execute.
- Berserker’s Pauldron – This item is bad enough on its own but on Artificer its buff is even less useful.
- War Horn – Same problem as Syringe, Predatory, etc.
- Essence of Heresy – Artificer lacks the ability to stack this item’s debuff and loses out on a rather important part of her loadout no matter which you picked. No thanks.
There’s no denying it – Artificer’s not top tier. Tough to learn, tough to play, and your reward for this hard work is… insiginificant. Many survivors are much easier to play and are still more powerful. She just doesn’t scale as well as everyone else.
But Artificer’s a fun character. Her learning curve and skill requirement provide an experience I’ve enjoyed since the day I’ve unlocked her. She’s still plenty powerful to win the game and have god runs – just maybe not as easily as the rest. And what I said at the beginning of the guide (which I wrote in like 2019) is still true: she’s still a powerful early-game character who can help the player get a good start to a good run. You shouldn’t hesitate to learn to play as her just because another character might be better.