We love games like Dota 2, League of Legends, and Smite, but the myriad skills needed to master their complex gameplay can scare new players away. That’s why, twice a month, we pick a key skill and teach you how to master it, using a character that particularly excels at or relies on that skill in-game.
This week, we’re tackling the most basic and rewarding skill, last hitting NPC creeps. And there's no better hero to learn the ropes with than Dota 2’s long-range, kill-master Sniper.
Last hitting is the most fundamental skill in games like Dota 2, often called ARPGs or MOBAs. Like any mechanic worth its bytes, it’s easy to understand—deal the killing blow to NPCs by timing your attacks so that you're the last person to hit it—and yet impossible to execute perfectly 100% of the time.
The ideal we're striving for is getting the last hit on every single NPC creep (those little minions marching down the lanes) that we encounter in every match. Perfectionists beware: you will never achieve this lofty goal. Instead, this week we're focusing on simply getting closer to the ideal than we were before.
Every worthwhile skill needs a good motivation for learning it. In the big three—Dota 2, LoL, and Smite—nearby players get a pump of XP every time a creep dies. But you don’t score any of the delicious gold coins stuffed inside that pixel piñata unless you're the last person to hit it. That means last hitting is the fastest way to boost your character’s power.
In Dota 2 specifically, it’s also the most reliable way to stunt your opponent’s growth, thanks to the unique deny mechanic that allows you to last hit friendly creeps as well. Killing our own troops may go against every international treaty, but it denies our rivals XP and gold, so we do it happily.
It’s not really surprising that a hero named Sniper is really good at taking pot shots at minions. His Take Aim passive ability gives him the longest auto-attack range of any hero in the game, letting him finish off minions from a safe distance, so enemy players can’t harass him very easily.
He also has a 40% chance to score a Headshot on each of his attacks, adding bonus damage that can make up for your mistake of accidentally shooting a bit too early. And, trust me, that will happen a lot as a you try to master last hitting this week.
Usually, ranged heroes are more difficult to last hit with because you have to account for the time it takes for their attack projectile to travel as well. It’s a big enough of a challenge that I normally recommend a melee hero for learning to last hit, but Sniper’s shots are near-instant, thanks to a quick wind-up and super speedy projectiles.
On top of all that, Sniper is a Carry hero, meaning that he scales well with gear and will need a lot of last hits to earn the gold he’ll need to be effective. There’s nothing more depressing than a gold-starved Carry, so you absolutely need to last hit if you want to pull your weight.
Wouldn't it be great if you could be a pro at last hitting just by reading this article? Well, you can't. Sorry. Even professional players miss at least one last hit in every game they play.
For your first game as the Sniper, let’s keep the focus simple and the goal low. Aim to last hit 50% of the creeps in your lane (start with 30% if you’re new to Dota 2). Sniper is better than most heroes at last-hitting, which is why the percentage is so high—even on your worst days you should be able to get 1 or 2 per creep wave. As Sniper, you'll usually be in middle lane by yourself, so the only player you’re competing with for last hits is the enemy carry.
Remember that you can kill your own creeps in Dota 2 by attacking them (hit A then left-click) to deny the enemy the gold that it drops. That means you have twice as many health bars to monitor as you do in League of Legends and Smite, both of which do not have a shoot-your-friend deny mechanic.
Our ultimate goal for the week is to last hit 80% of the minions in our lane. We’re going to build up to that, but keep that long-term goal in mind when starting to practice.
Also worth keeping in mind: lightning attacks look awesome. Style points matter, people!
As Sniper, we’ve got a few advantages in our corner. The biggest is that our attack range is outrageous, so make sure you hang back as far as you can behind your troops. There’s no need to get close and expose yourself to potential ganks when you can safely last hit from a mile away.
Start off by making last hitting enemy creeps your top priority, and deny only when you have free windows of time in between. However, if the enemy hero is melee, they’re going to have to run into the danger zone to score their own last hits. When you find yourself in this situation, definitely take free potshots at them whenever they rush in to make them have to think twice about whether getting that last hit is worth it. In the extreme, your quick shots can even force them back to base to heal, giving you time to farm without opposition.
Even against ranged heroes, you will always out-range them if you need to harrass. But for now, play it safe and hang back against anyone that can engage you easily. Remember, we’re just focused on improving our last hit skills at this point.
At the start of the match (and then whenever you buy a new item), it’s a good idea to take a few practice shots at full-health creeps to get a feel for how long your hero's animation is and how much damage he or she character is doing.
These dead triceratops say my damage output is doing just fine.
On the next page: builds and items, micro tips, and your homework.
Builds and items
I’m not going to walk you through an all-purpose build guide for Sniper here. There are plenty of sites for that if you’re interested. This guide is about learning to last hit well, so I'm going to give you a basic gameplan for building Sniper to practice last hitting in casual environments: co-op matches vs. AI or practice maps by yourself. This build is not meant to be your new secret to success in PvP games.
Put your first ability point into Headshot, and then work on maxing out Take Aim as soon as possible (level 7), while dumping the leftovers into Headshot. This will maximize your auto-attack range and damage, allowing you more wiggle room when last hitting. Don’t even worry about Shrapnel (an AoE DoT and slow) until later—the damage is negligible for our purposes.
Attack speed is a huge help when learning how to last hit on a new hero, because it reduces the punishment for attacking too early and will often let you swing a second time before the follow-up minion attack hits.
You want to balance it out with attack damage as well, though, which gives you a larger health margin to aim for. Start with Slippers of Agility to boost your low base damage and a Boots of Speed to help you duck in and out of harassment range while last hitting.
Build up towards Power Treads (switch it to Agility stat, unless you’re facing heavy pressure and need the Strength), and go for Butterfly as your first big item. It’s a beautiful blend of everything you want: attack speed, attack damage, and survivability. Shadow Blade is another very fun Sniper item that’s incredibly useful in teamfights or in situations where you really need an escape tool, but you can leave it in the bin during solo practice.
Wishing I had bought the Shadow Blade right about now...
Sadly, you won’t be able to simply sit in place and blast at minions all day. The battlefield is constantly in flux and you need to react to it.
If you find yourself trapped under a friendly tower, don’t try to outshoot it. It will kill most creeps in 3-5 hits. Watch the amount of health it’s taking off the creep it’s targeting and wait until you know the creep won’t survive the next tower hit to shoot it. It’s impossible to give a catch-all solution for how to beat a friendly turret, but the easiest mistake is to simply blast it willy nilly. If you’re really worried about it, just last hit minions that the turret isn’t currently focusing. It’s not too bad to burn down half-health creeps at that point because you can push the lane a bit without getting into enemy territory.
Likewise, it’s tough to deny your allied creeps under an enemy tower, but keep in mind that you don't necessarily need to get the last hit—you just need to make sure the enemy hero doesn't. It also doesn't hurt that you outrange turrets by level 7, so just keep the auto-attack pressure on any enemy melee heroes to let the turret eat the minions and be content with the draw.
If you find yourself under heavy pressure from constant ganks, narrow your focus to only getting last hits and run back towards your turret when there are none to be immediately had. There’s no reason to stand in the open waiting for the next creep wave when the enemy team is roaming.
By the time you realize you're surrounded by enemy heroes, it's too late.
Once you feel like you've got the general hang of last hitting and can regularly amass 50% of the lane creeps in last hits, it's time to add some finesse to your play.
It’s easy to put yourself out of position while last hitting. Left untouched, the creep waves will hover near the middle of the map. But if you’re making bad last hits and sniping every enemy NPC two times before it dies, the flow of battle is going to shift towards the enemy base. And, contrary to your gut impulse, that's bad because it means you're going to be fighting on their home turf, where every tree hides a ganker hungry for your delicious dwarven flesh. A good rule of thumb is that you want to keep the creep conflict on neutral or friendly ground so you don’t overextend yourself. If you need a guideline to follow, make sure that you take a shot at one of your own creeps for every shot you take at an enemy creep.
There will often come a time when you have to choose between last hitting the enemy’s creep or denying your creep. There can be a lot of factors involved, including where the enemy is, what abilities they have at their disposal, and which direction you want to move the creep wave, but my default preference is that I will always take an enemy creep kill over a deny. The reason is straight greed: killing an enemy minion nets me gold, denying doesn’t.
Outside of practice matches, it's just as important to last hit enemy heroes to score the sacks of gold and XP that comes with their bounty. Thankfully, Sniper excels at that as well courtesy of his death-summoning ultimate ability, Assassinate, which locks onto a target and puts a bullet through their head/shell/membrane/metal casing from long range.
Now here comes the tricky part. All of the hundreds of heroes in all the many MOBA games have different ranges, animations, and particle speeds that will affect the timing of your last hits. You may have mastered Dota 2’s Sniper, but you’ll need to learn each hero individually and practice them until it becomes a sort of muscle memory. You’ll know you’ve truly mastered a hero when you aren’t constantly thinking about last hitting while playing them.
Go forth and poke towers until they crumble!
Good luck out there this week, Snipers! As always, you can download Dota 2 on Steam, although you'll need a beta invite if you aren't already in. Hopefully some friendly folks can help out by offering friend invites in the comments below. Once you're in, all of the heroes, including Sniper, are 100% free, so there’s nothing stopping you from joining the PC Gamer community in-game this week.
Five goals to aim for as you learn to last hit with Sniper:
1. Hit level 6 without using any healing items or returning to base to heal.
2. Deny an entire creep wave by yourself while laned against enemy players.
3. Don’t let your opponents deny any creeps in a single wave.
4. Get 200 creep kills in a game.
5. Have the most creep kills on either team for two games in a row.