Build advice for the Vanguard in Mass Effect 2, including information on powers, weapons and tactics.
Every class in Mass Effect relies heavily on guns, but few do so to the degree the Soldier does - they’re the small arms specialists, the pure combat experts, and their focus comes at the cost of technical ability or biotic prowess. That said, the Soldier is also something of a Swiss army knife, having a tool - in this case, a gun - for every occasion; who needs biotics and tech abilities when you’ve got a weapon that can deal with every form of defense at every possible range? If that’s not enough, the Soldier also boasts an expansive complement of ammo powers, further enhancing their ability to punish enemies above and beyond what their choice in weaponry allows. The Soldier also has the highest Health total among the classes, and their simple-but-diverse solution to combat arguably makes them one of the easier characters to play.
Best Soldier Build
|Power||Evolution||Rank (Squad Points)|
|Adrenaline Rush||Heightened Adrenaline Rush||4 (10)|
|Concussive Shot||n/a||1 (1)|
|Disruptor Ammo||n/a||2 (3)|
|Incendiary Ammo||n/a||2 (3)|
|Cryo Ammo||Squad Cryo Ammo||4 (10)|
|Combat Mastery||Shock Trooper||4 (10)|
|Bonus Power: Warp Ammo||Heavy Warp Ammo||4 (10)|
- *4 Squad Points remaining.
Most classes in Mass Effect have a playstyle defining class power, and the Soldier is no exception; Adrenaline Rush is their bread and butter ability, dilating time when it’s in use, hence allowing the Soldier to pick their shots more carefully and put more bullets in the air than the enemy can muster. It’s such a useful ability, in fact, that you’ll probably want to use it every time it’s off cooldown to the exclusion of other abilities. This will greatly influence our choice in Bonus Powers, as there’s little point in picking something that’ll have its own active cooldown, hence restricting your use of Adrenaline Rush.
There’s absolutely no reason not to max out Adrenaline Rush, as doing so will reduce its duration by one second per rank, up to a minimum of 3 seconds at rank three. With a duration of 5 seconds and 50% time dilation, this is an ability you should spam at every opportunity, picking off troublesome foes, lining up efficient headshots, or just to dish out extra damage. Maxing it out should be a priority.
When you inevitably max it out you’ll get to evolve the power to either Hardened Adrenaline Rush and Heightened Adrenaline Rush. Both seem promising, with the latter boosting the dilation up to 70%, while the former reduces the Health damage you sustain during usage by 50%. The increased dilation will give you an even greater advantage, but the 50% standard dilation is already more than sufficient, while the 50% Health Damage reduction is a huge boon. On higher difficulties, a Soldier’s Shields aren’t a terribly impressive component of their defense and will often be depleted, but Hardened Adrenaline Rush will effectively double their Health for its duration. This allows the Soldier to keep dishing out damage with less risk, advance through enemy fire to better sources of cover, or close the gap to lay into an enemy with a shotgun - just pop Adrenaline Rush every time your shield goes down and make the enemy pay.
Suffice to say, Adrenaline Rush is one of the best offensive powers in the game, and Hardened Adrenaline Rush makes it one of the best defensive powers, as well.
Concussive Shot is the second power unique to the Soldier, and it’s… fine. With it you’ll shoot an explosive shot at an enemy, inflicting moderate damage and potentially knocking the target down. As you invest Squad Points into it, the concussive force (hence the likelihood to knock down foes) and the damage increase. At max rank you can choose between two evolutions: Heavy Concussive Shot (for more force/damage) or Concussive Blast (adds a 3m AoE). In higher difficulties, we generally suggest prioritizing the “Heavy” variants over the AoEs, because most powers are less effective while enemies have secondary defense (barriers, shields, armor), and on higher difficulties most enemies have secondary defenses, and there’s just less opportunity to make good use of an AoE in general. Heavy Concussive Shot, then, is our recommendation…
…except that you probably shouldn’t bother maxing it at all. The issue is twofold: first, most enemies have secondary (or even tertiary) defenses on higher difficulties, and you’re probably not knocking anything down until those are stripped. More importantly, however, if you use Concussive Shot your cooldown will prevent you from using Adrenaline Rush, and any time you could possibly use Concussive Shot, you’d be better off just using Adrenaline Rush. The only exception to this is the rare circumstance where ammo is limited (but the Soldier has an awful lot of guns - hard to imagine you running out of ammo with all of them), or when you just need to destroy a weaker enemy like a Husk, when Concussive Shot can usually do in a single hit (save on higher difficulties, where secondary defenses will limit Concussive Shot’s efficacy).
We give one rank in it for when we’d rather conserve ammo or get the opportunity to destroy/knock down an enemy unprotected by barriers/shields/armor - a fairly rare occurrence.
The first of the Soldier’s three native ammo powers, Disruptor Ammo increases the damage you deal against synthetic enemies and shields. This is an interesting power as it covers the one defense that Warp Ammo neglects (shields), and speccing into this can be useful if you’re going to be fighting a lot of Blue Suns mercenaries, mechs or Geth, all of which either rely heavily on shields or will sustain extra damage due to being synthetic. Generally, however, relying on Overload and Warp Ammo is more than sufficient, but if you want to spend the Element Zero to respec into this for Tali’s recruitment and loyalty mission and Legion’s loyalty mission, it’ll make those easier. For general purposes, however, we only get two ranks (three Squad Points) in it - just enough to move onto Incendiary Ammo.
If you do decide to max it out for specific missions, evolve the Heavy Disruptor Ammo power - Shepard usually accounts for the majority of your damage, so you might as well play to your strengths. Alternatively, you can always just get Squad Disruptor Ammo on Zaeed and bring him along when you need it.
While Disruptor Ammo is decent under the right circumstances, Incendiary Ammo is one of the best ammo powers the game has to offer. When active, it’ll increase the damage dealt to armor, prevent regeneration and induce panic in unarmored organic foes. As for evolutions, Incendiary Ammo can be upgraded to Squad Incendiary Ammo, which will give everybody in your squad the benefits of this power. Sharing is good and all, but in the case of Incendiary Ammo, the Inferno Ammo evolution really begs for you to be selfish, as it’ll boost the damage output of the ammo to +60% and give it an area-of-effect burst up to 3 meters. With a high-damage weapon like the Mattock Heavy Rifle, this AoE burst should proc every shot, making it one of the better crowd control options in the game. Definitely tempting, but we’ve got something else in mind for the Soldier’s main ammo power.
Like with Zaeed and Disruptor Ammo, Grunt and Jacob both have access to Incendiary Ammo, which you can max out on them if you wish to give yourself this power while sparing the points. It’s extra useful on missions where you find yourself fighting Blood Pack mercenaries, but it’s also useful when fighting Collectors, as Harbinger, Husks and Scions all have armor (in the case of Husks, this is only for higher difficulties).
There are plenty of upsides and downsides to Cryo Ammo. First, the details: Cryo Ammo gives your weapons a chance to freeze enemies for 3-7 seconds (depending on rank and evolution). Not too shabby, but this will only work against enemies with no armor, shields or barriers… meaning it’s strictly for trash mobs and stronger enemies who are largely already defeated. Frozen enemies are easily shattered, and this makes choosing an evolution incredibly easy; Improved Cryo Ammo will add two seconds to the effect’s duration, which is all but meaningless, while Squad Cryo Ammo will give everybody in your squad the effects of Cryo Ammo. The latter is by far the better option.
All in all, it might not seem like such a good ammo power compared to the previously-mentioned Disruptor Ammo and Incendiary Ammo, and to be fair, Cryo Ammo isn’t always recommended (see our Vanguard page, for example), but there’s a method to our apparent madness. Shepard should always be the character inflicting the most damage in your squad, whatever class she is. As much as we love our companions, we need to face facts - the AI can be pretty unreliable. That being the case, there’s not a whole lot of point in giving them damage-boosting ammo powers (unless they have an ammo power themselves, in which case we evolve the Squad variant… mostly to give it to Shepard). They can, however, make enough use of Cryo Ammo’s ability to freeze enemies for it to matter, just strip the enemy’s defenses yourself, have your companions target said enemy, then shift focus to another foe.
If you have squadmates with high-damage weapons (again, the Mattock Heavy Rifle is a stellar example of a weapon that’ll proc ammo effects often) you can expect just about every shot to freeze an exposed enemy. Pass this ammo onto your squad, then switch Shepard back to another ammo power that increases damage more (Disruptor, Incendiary, or best of all, Warp). Yes, you can have a squad ammo power active for your companions and have a personal ammo power active on Shepard at the same time. It’s good stuff.
Bonus Power: Warp Ammo
Squadmates typically have two missions associated with them: their recruitment mission, and their loyalty mission. The recruitment mission will add them to the squad for you to deploy as you see fit, while their loyalty mission will increase their competence both in storyline and in actual gameplay. In the latter case, this will unlock their fourth (bottom-most) power for them to invest in, as well as allowing you to assign this newly-unlocked power as a bonus power. This can be done by using the “Advanced Training” option in the Research Terminal, and will set you back 5,000 Element Zero every time you reassign a bonus power.
As discussed above, any time the Soldier doesn’t have a skill on cooldown, they probably want to be using Adrenaline Rush, so you probably want to pick a bonus power that doesn’t interfere with your ability to spam Adrenaline Rush. That means another ammo power. Yes, the Soldier already has three, but none of those three are Warp Ammo, which grants a significant damage boost when used against barriers, armor and health - everything except shields, in fact. Since the Soldier deals most (if not all) of their damage with guns while using Adrenaline Rush for both offense and defense, Warp Ammo is the best way to compliment their playstyle. This really only leaves you weak against shields, and you can just bring along Garrus and Miranda (with Overload) or Zaeed (with Squad Disruptor Ammo) to deal with shield-heavy missions. Failing that, just respec into Disruptor Ammo yourself for geth-heavy missions.
Since this ammo power is all about making Shepard more lethal, we recommend evolving this to Heavy Warp Ammo.
Best Weapons for Soldier
|Assault Rifle - X-76e Revenant Machine Gun or X-96f Mattock Heavy Rifle||–|
|Shotgun - Geth Plasma Shotgun||Barriers/Shields|
|Sniper Rifle - M-98 Widow or X-97c Viper Sniper Rifle||Barriers and Shields|
|Hand Cannon - X-6f Carnifex Hand Cannon||Armor|
The Soldier has training in Assault Rifles, Shotguns, Sniper Rifles and Heavy Pistols, with the latter mostly being a fallback weapon. Assault Rifles are your bread-and-butter, and individual models can vary in efficacy enough to all but fill the roles of a Sniper Rifle (Mattock Heavy Rifle) or Shotgun (Revenant Machine Gun). Likewise, the Viper Sniper Rifle fills the mid-to-long range niche otherwise reserved for Assault Rifles, and the Geth Plasma Shotgun can work effectively at surprisingly long ranges.
Suffice to say, the Soldier is spoiled for choice, and many configurations will get the job done, depending on your playstyle.
Assault Rifle - Mattock Heavy Rifle / Revenant Machine Gun
The staple weapon of the Soldier, the Assault Rifle is generally effective against all forms of defense and suitable for mid-range engagements. Early models, like the Avenger, aren’t terribly impressive, but you’ll be able to pick up the excellent Mattock Heavy Rifle as soon as you reach Omega. This weapon packs a hefty punch and can almost pose as a Sniper Rifle when it comes to effective range. Its damage output is also high enough to proc ammo effects, making it incredibly useful with Inferno Ammo or Cryo Ammo. Simply put, this is the only Assault Rifle you really need for most of the game.
That said, a compelling alternative awaits on the Collector Ship, where you’ll be able to pick up a bonus weapon that can otherwise not be obtained. In the Assault Rifle slot, this new weapon is the Revenant Machine Gun, which is one of the most powerful weapons in the game. While it’s more than capable of replacing the Mattock Heavy Rifle, it should be noted that these two weapons don’t have a similar function, despite both being Assault Rifles; the Mattock Heavy Rifle is a slower-firing Assault Rifle that packs the punch (and has something approach the range of) a Sniper Rifle, while the Revenant Machine Gun is rapid-firing but incredibly inaccurate. If you can close the distance, the Revenant Machine Gun can deal hellish damage, but you have to sustain fire on an enemy in addition to its aforementioned downsides of being inaccurate, which also limits its range. On the other hand, the Viper Sniper Rifle can fill most of the roles the Mattock Heavy Rifle could, so you won’t be missing out on much if you sacrifice the Mattock’s range for the Revenant’s sheer power.
Shotgun - Geth Plasma Shotgun
Strong against both shields and barriers (the former of which the Soldier could use means of dealing with) and having exceptional range for a shotgun, the Geth Plasma Shotgun clearly the best-in-class weapon for the Soldier. It can be charged for heavy damage, and with Adrenaline Rush, the Soldier is uniquely fit to survive extended periods of time exposed to enemy fire - something that charging this weapon unfortunately requires. A charged shot can easily kill most enemies, and the Soldier can pull off at least two partially-charged shots per Adrenaline Rush. Best of all, you can get this weapon as soon as you reach Omega. The Soldier doesn’t have to - and arguably shouldn’t - rely on this weapon like the Vanguard has to, but it’s a wonderful complement to their arsenal.
Sniper Rifle - Viper Sniper Rifle / M-98 Widow
With Adrenaline Rush, the Soldier is just as capable of a sniper as the Infiltrator, being able to easily pull off headshots and sustain fire while doing so. Any time the enemy is out of comfortable range of the Mattock Heavy Rifle, swap over to the Sniper Rifle. Like the Assault Rifle, there are two viable choices for end-game Sniper Rifle, and unfortunately both won’t be available until around mid-game.
First up is the Viper Sniper Rifle, which can be found during Thane’s recruitment mission, which is unfortunately far into the game - you’ll have to complete the mission on Horizon, then gain access to Illium, from which Thane’s mission can be started. Be sure to grab this gun during the mission, as it’s missable.
Once you have it, you’ll find that the Viper differs from other Sniper Rifles, being less powerful, but faster firing and possessing a respectable clip size. Put a scope on the Mattock Heavy Rifle and you’ve got a good general idea of how this weapon performs. Naturally this makes it somewhat redundant if you use the Mattock Heavy Rifle, but it’s still a potent long-range weapon that the Soldier can make good use of due to Adrenaline Rush.
Alternatively, you have the Widow, another weapon that can only be found on the Collector Ship, and only if you have access to Sniper Rifles by default, limiting this gun to the Soldier and Infiltrator. This is a more typical Sniper Rifle, necessitating a reload after every shot but dealing immense damage every time it hits. Arguably better for an Infiltrator than a Soldier, as the Soldier can endure the prolonged exposure the Viper demands better, but there’s nothing more powerful per shot (aside from some heavy weapons) than the Widow.
Heavy Pistol - Carnifex Hand Cannon
The X-6f Carnifex can be obtained during the main mission Dossier: The Professor, and while it’s a powerful enough weapon that’s strong against armor, the Soldier has far, far better options. For the Soldier, it’s a fallback weapon you’ll probably never use.
Advanced Weapon Training - Assault Rifle Training
During the mission Collector Ship you’ll be able to examine some “Collector Technology”, which will present you with three weapon options: Assault Rifle training, Shotgun training or Sniper Rifle training. If you already have access to one of these weapon types and pick the same weapon again (for example, a Vanguard picks Shotgun Training) you’ll acquire a new weapon of that type: the Revenant assault rifle, the Claymore shotgun or the Widow sniper rifle. If you pick a weapon type you do not already have access to, you’ll gain proficiency in that weapon type, but you will not otherwise gain one of the three aforementioned weapons. Since the Soldier already has training in Assault Rifles, Shotguns and Sniper Rifles, you’re choosing between three new weapons, one of each type.
The Geth Plasma Shotgun is arguably already a match for the Claymore, so we’ll write that choice off, as the Assault Rifle and Sniper Rifle are more interesting. Your choice basically comes down to the Revenant Machine Gun, a short-range, inaccurate bullet-hose that can dish out incredible damage with sustained fire, and the Widow, a ponderous put powerful Sniper Rifle. We prefer the Widow, as the Mattock Heavy Rifle is sufficient for the Assault Rifle slot and doesn’t require us to close the distance as much as the Revenant Machine Gun does, but the choice here is pretty low stakes. If you choose the Revenant Machine Gun, just use the Viper Sniper Rifle to fill the hole in your arsenal left by the Mattock Heavy Rifle, and if you chose the Widow… well, use it to deal immense damage to foes beyond the effective range of the Mattock Heavy Rifle.
Best Armor for Soldier
|Kuwashii Visor||Harrot’s Emporium (Omega)||Increases headshot damage by 10%..|
|Kestrel Torso Sheath||Serrice Technology (Illium)||Increases melee damage by 10%, increases weapon damage by 5%, increases shields by 3%.|
|N7 Shoulder Guards||Initial Equip||Increases weapon damage by 3%.|
|Stabilization Gauntlets||Omega Market (Omega)||Increases weapon damage by 5%.|
|Life Support Webbing||Sirta Foundation (Citadel)||Increases health by 10%.|
The Soldier primarily wants two things on their armor - weapon damage, and health. Given how easy it is to pull off headshots, you may as well count headshot damage as general damage, as there’s no good reason you shouldn’t be landing headshots with Adrenaline Rush. For the helmet we went with the Kawashii Visor for pure headshot damage, but the Kestrel Helmet also works in a pinch. Kestrel Torso Sheath is the best we can do in terms of chest armor (Aegis Vest is a substitute if you’d rather have health), while the vanilla N7 Shoulder Guards provide us a damage boost on the shoulder slot (Asymmetric Defense Layer is a good alternative if you’d rather have health). Finish up with Stabilization Gauntlets for the arms and Life Support Webbing on the legs and you’ve got +10% headshot damage, +13% weapon damage and +10% health. Enemies you target with the Mattock Heavy Rifle and Viper or Widow Sniper Rifles will notice the difference. If you prefer to make use of the Revenant or Geth Plasma Shotgun, swap out the Kuwashii Visor for the Kestrel Helmet, as your ability to regularly pull off headshots will be somewhat compromised.
Best Squadmates for Soldier
The Soldier’s best companions are their weapons, and they’ve got a gun for every situation… and most of the time, that gun is an Assault Rifle. Still, you’ve got companions, so you may as well use them.
Given that the Soldier is spoiled for choice when it comes to ammo powers and weapon loadouts, there’s no good reason to go into any mission weak against any form of defense, so choosing the Soldier’s squadmates is less about covering weaknesses as much as it’s about piling onto strengths. Failing that, bringing along the odd brute to soak up fire for you isn’t a bad idea. Miranda and Grunt are regularly ideal, as the latter can draw aggro when you need to take a breather to regenerate between Adrenaline Rush bursts, and Miranda can target every enemy weakness (Warp for barriers and armor, Overload for shields) while also giving you a passive weapon damage bonus with her Cerberus Leader ability. That +15% weapon damage and +7.5% health is nothing to sneeze at, for a Soldier.
Some exceptions can be make when you need to deviate from this arrangement - Samara can replace Miranda when you’d rather have another Mattock Rifle proccing ammo powers (usually Cryo Ammo) and are going up against numerous armored foes - Blood Pack and Collectors being the most likely suspects. Alternatively, benching Grunt for Garrus or Zaeed during missions with numerous shielded and/or synthetic enemies (Blue Suns mercenaries or Geth) will give you extra uses of Overload or an alternative source of Disruptor Ammo, depending on your needs.