Shotgunning First Principles

Saint Landwalker’s Guide to Shotguns: Part 2

So you’ve studied the shotguns. You’ve learned their strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly, their fashion. And for some reason, you haven’t given up on them entirely and gone off to play with submachine guns and assault rifles instead. The next challenge is figuring out how to actually use these weapons in the field. What are the key tactics to get the most benefit out of your bad decision-making? What talents work, and which ones don’t? How do you use a Marine Super 90 one-handed while power-strutting across the middle of the battlefield like a Hyena Engineer (spoiler: You don’t).

Before diving into the talents in an upcoming installment, let’s first look at shotgunning from a higher, broader level—what are the core issues and actions that you need to be focusing on while sprinting around the battlefield as a harbinger of death, or at least a harbinger of mild discomfort? Some of the “how-tos” of shotguns are unique to this weapon class, while others are more broadly applicable but especially important to using shotguns.


There’s no single message more important to convey than this one. Close-Quarters Combat (CQC) playstyles mean you will almost certainly take damage. No way around it. You might use shields, CC skills, decoys, grenades, whatever, but you’re going to get shot. Probably a lot.

… it is crucial to have at least one ability to mitigate damage and/or self-heal

Because of this, it is crucial to have at least one ability to mitigate damage and/or self-heal. You might get this through skills, talents, gear attributes, whatever, but you’re going to need something.

For talents, I’ve found the chest talent Unbreakable (and Perfect Unbreakable) to be enormously beneficial, especially when you’re first getting your shotgunning feet wet. This talent provides a huge survivability boost and is an invaluable shield against spike damage, buying you time to execute that fallback plan. Truth be told, there aren’t a lot of chest talents that are especially synergistic with shotgunning, but Unbreakable leads that short list.

Passive armor regeneration probably needs too much commitment from attributes and brands to be worth it for a damage-oriented shotgun build, but might be useful for a more tank/support-oriented shotgun build. The newly-added Foundry Bulwark gear set is particularly well-suited to this with its 3% Armor Regeneration per second three-piece bonus, but you can also get regeneration from the Gila Guard three-piece bonus, the Golan Gear two-piece bonus, the Emperor’s Guard named Murakami kneepads. In my opinion, the armor regeneration gear attribute is pretty underwhelming, capping out at only 4,925 HP per second—less than half of one percent on a One Million Armor build.

There are a number of on-kill abilities that provide armor regeneration as well, which can be especially useful in solo play. Badger three-piece (10%), the “Incessant” Gunner trait (10%), System Corruption two-piece (15%), and the Deathgrips named 5.11 Tactical gloves are all usable. The Bloodsucker backpack talent might be appealing, but the amount (10%) and duration (10 seconds) of bonus armor it provides, in my experience, usually don’t translate to all that much benefit.

Single-round Reloads vs. Detachable Magazines

The different reload styles serve as a stark dividing line not just between shotguns and every other weapon class, but within the shotgun class itself. The detachable magazine weapons—the SASG-12 and the ACS-12—will feel familiar to most players, as their reloading feels no different from reloading an assault rifle. The full reload process takes significantly less time than single-round reloaders, but once you start the reload process, that weapon is out of commission until the process is finished.

Only have time to stick two rounds into that M870?

Single-round reloading applies to all tube-magazine shotguns—the M870, Super 90, SPAS-12, and KSG—as well as the double-barrel and sawed-off double-barrel. Single-round reloading without any speed modifications is brutally slow, but has a very important advantage over box magazines: You can interrupt the reload process at any time by pressing the same button you use to fire the weapon. Only have time to stick two rounds into that M870? Not a problem! You can stop reloading after two rounds and get back to shooting whatever enemy is violating your personal space. While the double-barrel takes 1.10 seconds to load each round, all other single-round reloaders clock in at less than 0.75 seconds per shell, which can give a shotgun user a vital option for squeezing off that one extra emergency shot.

ABR: Always Be Reloading

This is a tactic that’s basically mandatory for any agent using single-round reloaders. Any time you aren’t shooting, using a skill, throwing a grenade, or healing, you should be reloading your weapon. Unless your shotgun is fully loaded, you should never have any dead time. Reload when you’re taking cover; reload during cover-to-cover moves; reload when you’re running around an enemy’s flank; reload all the time. Tube-magazine shotguns generally have small magazines and long reload times, so this helps keep the magazine topped off at all times. As long as your agent is always staying on top of their magazine, when the time comes to start shooting again, you’ll be maximizing the number of rounds you have available.

Have a Fallback Plan

As a generalized statement about The Division 2, you should always use the right tool for the job. Due to irreparably flawed game design, sometimes the right tool isn’t a shotgun. Some situations just aren’t appropriate to shotguns (like the gunfight between balconies midway through Grand Washington Hotel). Sometimes you just really need a fully-loaded weapon right now and don’t have time to muck around with the shotgun’s loading style.

Have a secondary weapon you can use—I tend to favor rifles and ARs for longer-than-shotgun engagement ranges—and don’t be afraid of using your sidearm to get that last bit of health off an enemy after you run the shotgun empty. Having a “clean up” sidearm pairs particularly well with the Finisher or Preservation talents.

Have a Literal Fallback Plan

Don’t be dead. Stay alive.

CQC playstyles are highly prone to getting pushed and flanked by NPCs, and shotguns are the Closest of Close Quarters Combat. If you get enveloped by enemies, you’re probably going to die. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, and have a plan to fall back or reposition to a safer location if (or when) you need to. You can always regroup and go back on the offensive after a tactical withdrawal, but you can’t go on the offensive if you’re dead. Don’t be dead. Stay alive.

No-Look Shotgunning

Pretty much all weapons can blind-fire by pressing the “shoot things” button while behind cover without bothering to aim. Aiming exposes your agent to damage, and NPCs are more than happy to deliver said damage to you through whatever window you leave open for them. While most weapons lose a lot of accuracy with this maneuver, shotguns are actually pretty good at blind-firing. This can be especially useful given the weapon class’s low ROF (which can sometimes mean longer exposure in order to fire multiple rounds) and large pellet spread (so you don’t have to be spot-on with your aiming). Try it out and get used to it, because when three Rushers are barreling down on you while a Heavy with a minigun soaks the battlefield in lead, being able to shoot and hide at the same time can make the difference between victory and respawning.

Weakpoints Save Lives

CQC, by definition, means that you’re usually the closest agent to enemy weakpoints, so you usually have the best shot at them, too. This is convenient for groups so that your teammates can focus on shooting other targets, but it’s a lifesaver in solo play. Destroying weakpoints briefly staggers enemies—sometimes several enemies, in the case of things like Hyena spice bags—to buy you extra time, whether it’s to run away or to get some extra risk-free shots in. Assuming the enemy is still alive afterwards, they’re always going to be less of a threat, as you’ve taken away one (usually the most dangerous) of their tools. Destroyed weakpoints make the encounter easier and more survivable, and surviving is kind of a big deal.

It’s worth pointing out that the Demolisher Firefly is a great tool for this. Even at Skill Tier 0, the Demolisher can destroy almost any weakpoint in the game. Just be warned that if the weakpoint is of the explodey variety (such as grenade pouches), the explosion will usually kill the Firefly, so it won’t be able to move on to targets further down its queue.

Crowd Control Saves Lives

Similar to disarming and staggering enemies by destroying their weakpoints, being able to disable enemies is crucial to CQC playstyles. It buys you time to move to a new position, close ground with an enemy, get close-range shots more safely, revive a teammate—more time is always useful, and if enemies aren’t shooting at you then you’re staying alive.

Key tools for this are the Banshee Pulse, Blinder Firefly, Riot Foam (whether it’s from the chem launcher or the grenade), and potentially anything fire-related. Even the Jammer Pulse technically can fill this role, although it doesn’t disable elite-tier non-robotic enemies. Be warned, however, that CC skills were nerfed in Title Update 10, both in their duration and cooldown. Using these at Tier 0 is still doable, but the windows are shorter and further apart. If you can squeeze out even just one skill tier in your build, it will be a big help, especially against elite enemies or at higher difficulty levels.

CQC is the Best Grenade in the Game

Think about grenades for a moment, and in particular, think about what happens when you use them. Most of the time, what happens is the enemy diving out of the radius of the grenade, resulting in no damage—but if it caused the enemy to dive out of cover, that’s still a grenade well-spent, because it gives you an opening to damage or kill your target even if they avoid the grenade. Grenades are at least as valuable for flushing out targets as they are for causing actual damage.

NPCs hate it when you’re close to them, and if you get close enough while they’re in cover, they’ll jump out of cover almost immediately.

For the shotgunner, CQC happens to be arguably the most effective way to push targets out of cover—which is why it’s such a good surrogate for grenades. NPCs hate it when you’re close to them, and if you get close enough while they’re in cover, they’ll jump out of cover almost immediately. Not only is this good for the CQC player, but it benefits the entire group. This is the reason why Damage to Targets Out of Cover is one of the most valuable stats a shotgunner can get: If you’re playing CQC right, you’ll very rarely be shooting at targets that aren’t out of cover.

This doesn’t come without a caveat, though: Enemies may indeed pop out of cover when you get close to them, but sometimes in the process they decide to walk around your cover to administer some close-ranged pain. Make sure you can put the enemy down before they do that, or have a fallback plan.

Pellets Don’t Count

You might be looking at the points above and thinking that talents like Clutch and Entrench might be good options. Unfortunately, the game has other plans.

Unlike other weapons firing one projectile per shot, shotguns fire eight pellets per shot. Each pellet is calculated separately—they get their own damage, their own critical hit result, their own hit registration, etc. However, with the lone exception of the Striker gear set, nothing in the game that provides a per-shot benefit counts the eight pellets fired by each shotgun round as individual triggers for that benefit. Whether a shot lands one pellet or eight pellets, each shot will only proc abilities one time. As a result, shotguns’ low rate of fire and small magazine sizes typically become a significant liability when trying to use these abilities.

Examples of talents that suffer from this include Clutch, Entrench, Obliterate, Fast Hands, and Steady-Handed. While some of these talents would synergize wonderfully with shotguns if they counted per-pellet, unfortunately that isn’t the case and these talents lose a lot of value.

Know When to Push… And When Not

Especially when you’re playing solo, if you’re primarily using a shotgun, you’re going to be spending a lot of time pushing, and it’s important to identify when and why to push. Flushing enemies out of cover, reaching a high-danger enemy to eliminate them quickly, and beating enemies to a potential flanking position are all key “push moments.” Before you push, though, have a fallback plan in case you run yourself into trouble.

Speaking of trouble, while pushing is key to gaining advantages against your opponents, pushing also means putting yourself in more dangerous positions. You’ll frequently (ideally temporarily) be at more risk of getting flanked or surrounded. Sometimes that danger is going to outweigh whatever benefits you might be able to gain from pushing. The run-and-gun nature of shotgunning makes it easy to get carried away and fall into a trap of “push, push, push, then push again,” especially given the short activation window for many of the talents that shotguns take advantage of. Don’t be afraid to be patient. Take a breather to get your bearings and evaluate the situation. Stay. Alive.

Mandatory Shield Section

No evaluation of close-quarters playstyles would be complete without addressing shields, so let’s address them: I don’t like shields. I don’t like the way they look. I don’t like the way they feel. I don’t like that they take up a skill slot I could be using for CC. I just don’t like them.

That said, shields can save you in a tough situation as a panic defense, or serve as a good supplement while you’re pushing enemies. My personal preference is to push after CCing instead of with a shield, but at the end of the day, play what feels best to you. If you’re comfortable using shields, go for it! Anything that lets you stay alive is something worth doing.

Don’t sleep on the Firewall’s Striker Shield skill, either. This can give a damage bonus not only to the shotgunner, but to any teammates in that shotgunner’s rear arc. Damage bonuses are nice, and when you’re within 10 meters of a group of enemies, “kill them faster” is a good way not to get surrounded.


Hopefully this article has provided some valuable insight into the how of running shotgun builds. (There is no why of running shotgun builds, other than “Because I feel like it and it amuses me,” which is the only reason anyone should ever need, anyway.) While many of the points made above can be extrapolated to most playstyles, CQC cranks everything up to 11, as every mistake is amplified.

And you will make mistakes. Probably a lot of mistakes. That’s part of the whole misguided journey! Don’t worry about it. Don’t be afraid to drop down a difficulty level just to get your feet under you. Focus on missions you’re already comfortable running to get started. Learn from those mistakes, identify what went wrong, and think about what you should have done instead (other than “use different builds”). Then dive back in and put those lessons into practice.