Thorn Strategy Guide: How to Play and Set Up Gear/Helixes

[Last Updated: 04/16/16]

Thorn is (as she was in the Closed Beta, aka “CTT”) pretty much all I play, and I see a lot of people having trouble with her, so I thought I’d write this little guide up on how I play her (NOT as a “sniper”).

Let me start by saying that I rarely ever charge my shots - there is not much point, you simply do soooo much more damage spamming arrows without charging at all.

I have tried her legendary gear piece, which does DRASTICALLY shorten the time you need to charge an arrow before it becomes “cursed”, but I still only curse heavy enemies for the purposes of the skill damage bonuses (it has a REALLY huge activation cost, though - same as all the legendary gear: 1800).

*I’ll add before I go on that I play a lot more in PVE story missions than PVP matches, as I’m not huge on PVP content.
However, for the matches that I have played in PVP, I did very well with the following setup/strategy as well, so…

My general strategy for how I play her, set up her gear, and set up her helixes is the following:

First of all, gear choice is VERY important with Thorn:

The first piece of gear I get up is one that has “+Max Shield” on it - believe it or not it ACTUALLY gives Thorn a shield lol. I have a rather nice one at the moment that also give me a boost to max shields when I collect a pickup, which seems to both restore some shields, and kinda acts like a pseudo “overshield” effect.

My second gear piece is always one that buffs health regen. Thorn has the highest natural health regen rate of any character in the game, but she could always need more lol. The one I have at the moment increases health regen as a primary stat, then has a secondary stats that increases it further if I “survive” for 180 seconds.

I’m still “meh” about what to use as my third gear piece - I currently have Thorn’s legendary gear equipped in one of my loadouts, but it takes so long to unlock that I find it rather annoying (it costs a whopping 1800 crystals to unlock it lmao). I have been using things with shield penetration on them a lot more tbh - while the reduced draw time for Cursed Arrows is nice and all, it simply takes sooo long to unlock the damn thing lol, that in PVE at least, the match is well beyond half over by the time I get it up (probably takes a lot less time in PVP matches than in PVE Story Missions, but still…).

As for my playstyle, well… I know many people see Thorn as a “sniper” (and indeed her character sheet even lists her as one), but that’s not how I play her.
I get up close to enemies, constantly moving, strafing around them, and jumping as I spray them full of uncharged arrows (i.e. a single click/button tap without holding it down). This allows me to dodge a lot of blows/shots, while staying close enough so that I can fill the enemy full of my entire barrage of Volley arrows. I am always making sure I am under the effects of the speed bonus pickup item CONSTANTLY as well.

I always focus on increasing my level FIRST before anything else, as well as rushing all the shard pickups (since my playstyle hinges on getting my gear up quickly). I run ahead and open all the boxes, collecting point increase pickups to help my level along, as well as looking for helix pickups (which give an instant +1 to your level).

Additionally, do not be afraid to use her melee attack if enemies get too close to you. Thorn’s melee “palm slam” is VERY fast (probably 2x the speed of firing a single uncharged arrow), and both does a fairly decent knockback, as well as a slight knock UP into the air. It even does a nice amount of damage, and can be spammed very quickly.

Also: AIM FOR THE HEAD! Thorn has a VERY high critical damage rate, and you do A LOT more damage with criticals than with most characters! n.nU

Apart from that, the correct Helix choices matter a HELL of a lot more with Thorn than with most characters:

  • I always take the ones that add “piercing” for her arrows (both for her normal attacks, as well as for Volley).
  • I always take ALL of the ones that increase her movement speed.
  • The one that increases her jump height. Seriously, TAKE THIS ONE - it increases her jump height by something like +300% (it’s ridiculous lol). Additionally, the alternative to this one is simply an “accuracy bonus” to her normal shots, which is really not very important or effectual, as it has virtually no effect if you charge your shots anyways, so…
  • Any with volley damage increase I take - Blight is nice and all, but Volley simply does WAY more damage if you hit an enemy with all arrows (especially if they are near a wall and take double or even triple hits due to the arrow rickochets lol). If you are having trouble with dying, you can take the one that gives Volley a 30% health steal over the one that adds +15% damage, but I find I am never “hurting for health” personally.
  • The one that increase the number of arrows Volley has by +2 is VERY nice, and I always take it, as it is a HUGE DPS boost. I did also test the alternative mutation that does “-2 arrows but +66% damage”, however, I’ve found that +66% damage is simply not even SORT OF enough to account for the additional arrows, nor the additional potential rikochet damage bonuses from each of the arrows.
  • I’ve seen a lot of debate over this one, but I honestly prefer the +100% Blight casting range. It simply allows me much more utility with when and how I cast Blight, and I actually keep finding myself thinking “…Just a few more levels to go!” for unlocking that one! n.nU
  • On her last Helix (the ultimate upgrade), I always go for the one that leaves behind a Blight field. The issue is that (either in PVP or PVE), I don’t find the “bouncing” effect on the alternative to be all that useful: it’s extremely hard to aim the bounces, and there are far too few places where all of the bounces get used up as well (you’d need a rather large area to use them all). Additionally, having the ability to have not one, but TWO Blights up is REALLY “nice” lol, and this also means that if you are using it in PVP matches, you can set it up so that the large damage burst from the ultimate also leaves behind a Blight field that slows and damages opponents, making them much easier to finish off! :]

EDIT: Ok, I have all the mutations now, and the final one is just as worthless as the rest of them lol…

For a full list of Thorn’s mutations, as well as her legendary gear, see my post here (or just scroll down lol): Thorn Strategy Guide: How to Play and Set Up Gear/Helixes

There are a few things I want to qualify about gear pieces and what has NO effect on Thorn. These include:

  • Attack speed increases. Do not bother with these - they do not affect even her draw speed…
  • Reload stuff - kinda obvious these don’t work, but I thought I’d still mention it.

Additionally, unexpected gear effects on Thorn:

  • I said this above, but I’ll say it here as well: Gear with +Max Shield ACTUALLY GIVES THORN A SHIELD!!!

…I have yet to see anyone out-Thorn me lol, and the few times I did play a PVP match, I died maybe around 1-2 times during the entire match, while getting many, MANY kills… n.nU

Oh, one final thing: I really do think this is a character that simply does not work nearly as well with a gamepad (controller) than with a mouse. If you are using a gamepad/controller, at the very least I’d HIGHLY recommend turning aim-assist OFF.

Now, I play on the PC version, and while I did test playing with my gamepad several times, in both the closed AND open beta, the fact that Thorn requires precision aiming without any real ability to “toggle” a slower aiming speed (i.e. “ironsight aiming”) means that a mouse will always outperform a gamepad/controller with regards to pinpoint precision (and I think that this is even more true with regards to Thorn - read the next paragraph for several reasons).

While gamepads/controllers usually compensate for the deficiency that a joystick has over a mouse (that is to say, not being able to rapidly change between slow, precision movements to quick, jerky turns) by including auto-aim functionality, Thorn really does need to “lead” her shots (as her arrows fly quite slowly), and thus in this case, auto-aim is fairly worthless, and even borderline unhelpful to the point of “making it harder” lol…*

*I really don’t wanna start an argument about the above statement here - I am simply stating why I believe Thorn is best played with a mouse over a gamepad/controller. This is my personal opinion on this situation, derived from my own experiences with trying out both input methods.
I would also like to add that I DO play quite a few games with a gamepad on my PC as well, using a Xbox 360 controller. To give a VERY “close to home” example with regards to Battleborn: I played all three Borderlands games exclusively with a gamepad.
I even spent the time customizing my gamepad by sodering on replacements for the LED’s on the circuit board with orange ones at one point (cuz I’m mad apparently - those things are the size of skin flakes lmfao):
Anyways, I am saying the above statements as a way of to displaying that I am only “slightly” biased here (and yes, I am still rational enough about this to be able to state that I probably am still slightly biased lol).

I simply do not want to start any “flame wars” over said statements I made here - that was in NO WAY the intention of my statements, and I’ve seen it occur far too many times whenever anyone brings up this “argument”, so… =.=

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Hey, I was thinking about making a guide myself lol.

I’ve been playing Thorn almost exclusively since the CTT and she is by far my favorite character to play. I didn’t read through the whole guide, really just looked at the helix and gear because it’s kind of a wall and all I really cared about was how you built. I’m gonna make a little argument on gear, but that’s about it.

First, I’ll talk about her helix. Thorn’s Helix is pretty easy to understand, and implement. If you really want to go brain dead, it’s the right side for EVERY single one, aside from the level 5 one where you get an increase to curse skill damage. All of Thorns mutations are kind of garbage, imo. Including her last one. Her last mutation is on her level 10 helix, and it makes her ult stick to whatever it hits and blow up with proximity, or in 10 seconds. I’ve gotten a few kills from the blight left behind, and I think it’s still just better.

Gear wise, I got lucky at the start of the beta, and I’ve been rolling the following. I have a health regen item that increases healing recieved whenever I take health damage. I’m not quite sure if the healing received works with her passive health regen, but it seems liked it. Following that, I have a move speed/heal power item. Again, not entirely sure if the heal power item works because I don’t know the formula for it all. However, I do see a visual difference in healing. It’s at this point, it looks like I’m always standing next to a healing station, when in fact I’m running around murdering people. My third item is a legendary that gives something around 7.86% Attack damage, some move speed figure I can’t remember, and another 7.86% attack damage when I’m below 25% health. These items make me damn near unkillable and really punish anyone who thinks they can dive me.

Thorn is a really strong character with incredible mobility and kiting, and she has very few bad matchups because of this.

I’ll talk about some more Thorn stuff later when I read through the guide in its entirety, or make one of my own.


I just got the final mutation this morning (said I just needed fking 25 more XP lol), and yeah - just as worthless as the rest of em lmao…

Also: I do get what you’re saying about gear, but in my opinion, Thorn is one of the most versatile characters, and you can play her in several different ways successfully, so it comes down to how you intend to use her as for the things I mentioned above.
I will note that I did mention this guide was more written on the side of PVE (as that’s what I play more of), and thus some Helix/Gear choices may be tweaked to better accommodate PVP, but I’ve not had any issues with PVP with my above build.

Additionally, I haven’t found movement speed buffing gear to be that beneficial, buuuut I also mainly play PVE, and it’s VERY easy to constantly stay under the effects of speed pickups in PVE story missions, soooo… n.nU

As for “Heal Power” - I recall getting a forum moderator to settle WTF it actually does for us back in the Closed Beta, and they said something like “Primarily used for healer characters to increase the amount they heal, and does not affect health regen.” I think they may have also said that health pickups are NOT affected by it, and that is does NOT affect personal health regeneration. “Healing Received” is the stat that increases the amount of incoming healing from exterior sources.

EDIT: Also, a Thorn with an ACTUAL shield really is a terrifying sight, even a small one. This is the one I’ve been using, and the secondary effect really does seem to restore some shields when I pick up an item (as long as I’m not already being boosted by it):


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Hmm, okay. I might have to redo my build then. Kinda funny though because I’ve been using it since beta opened on PS4, lol. I think I’m going to write a somewhat in depth PvP guide on thorn, and a brief analysis on who she is as a character, and how I think she’ll be on official game release.

Well than I still have several weeks on you! >:]

…In all seriousness though, Thorn is an INCREDIBLY versatile character, and I do not believe there is any one “right” way to play her. The above is simply what I’ve found works best for me! n.nU

As I have all the mutation unlocked now (as well as Thorn’s legendary gear piece), I thought I’d share what they are:

[Thorn’s Legendary Gear]:


*Note that there will probably be some slight fluctuations on the exact percentages with what you find, but it’s not nearly as much on legendaries (and the extra “Thorn Only” effect will not change).

[Helix Mutations]:

First Mutation:

Second Mutation:

Third Mutation:

Fourth Mutation:

Fifth Mutation:

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Several weeks? Didn’t it open on PS4 before PC or Xbox? lol

Closed Beta, aka “Closed Technical Test” (CTT), lasted for quite a while! :]

EDIT: Ah sorry - I missed that you said you also played in the CTT. I musta played 100+ matches/missions during that thing lol…

I played in the CTT from start to finish, an absurd amount. Almost absurd as how much I’ve played the beta, lol. Neither of those quite absurd as how much I’m going to play the real game, though. :slight_smile:

I was really hoping it would take a while for people to figure out she can carry a shield. I’ve been running one in her since the ctt. Guess the cats out of the bag. My gear is 140 shield, +6 regen, and +204 health with another 109 health 90 sec after spawn. I rarely die in any pvp match. I play her as a medium range caster. I live by her blight. She can almost single a lane in meltdown.


Technically I figured this one out back in the CTT as well lol.

I like to have gear that boost Sprint speed by 8% and even more if you have less then 50% health. A helmet that affects cc duration by 12% and gives 8% sprint speed. Lastly I have a legendary gear that gives 8% attack damage and movement speed by 4 and bonus is if you are under 25% health you get 8% more damage. Works wonders for surviving and chaseing.

Heh, I ran the same legendary. Bloody Mess, Burst Hit, yeah?

I think so yeah