Arknights: The Ch'en Conundrum

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With the release of the Rainbow 6 Siege collab, Ch’en, the 6Dualstrike Guard, broke a record within the Arknights Gamepress community by being the first unit of her rarity to drop below a ranking of S-, which has caused a stir, with some people claiming it’s due to the author’s personal bias against her and some others questioning why she has been the only one to drop while operators like Skadi and Mostima, often considered some of the worst 6★ units as well, remain in S/S- Tier.

While these opinions are valid, here are some things that people often seem to miss (or not read/understand)

  • Gamepress’ Tier List is not written by a single person. Instead, it is a combined effort by multiple GP collaborators, most of which are endgame players with extensively developed rosters that write guides for the website, such as operator reviews or Contingency Contract homework documents.   We've also started to ask for more opinions from the gaming community, with a new channel in the GamePress Discord where players can share their voice.
  • Updates to the tier list are done slowly and gradually, and only when new Operators are added.  We typically only review/evaluate a few Archetypes at a time.  We do this because gathering/discussing opinions from multiple contributors can take a lot of time, and discussions are often not as clear-cut as “just move X up/down a tier”.  Trying to re-evaluate everything in the Tier List every update is just not feasible nor productive.  What this means is that, though Ch'en may be the first to be demoted, so won't be the last, and there will be other changes moving forward as we get to them, and as the game evolves.
  • As we've said many times before, our Tier List prioritizes comparisons within Archetypes, and the thing we focus on the most is rankings of Operators within their Archetypes.  We don't try to compare Dualstirke Guards against AoE Casters against Duelist Guards against Medics, because there is no point.  We don't try to compare operators with similar usage roles because defining them all and comparing them all would add another layer of subjectivity and cause as much disagreement as the rankings themselves. Is our approach perfect?  Of course not.  There are flaws with every approach, but we have found the current one to be the best as far as understandability, helpfulness, and ease of updating.  In the end, a Tier List can never provide the perfect answer to a player's question, and cannot replace game knowledge.

So, what happened to Ch’en?

Part I: Chi Xiao - Unsheath
Chi Xiao - Unsheath (Icon)

If you are an older Arknights player, you might remember a time where Ch’en was exalted as one of the best units in the game, primarily owing to her second skill: Chi Xiao - Unsheath. What exactly happened that made this skill fall out of favour with part of the community?

Just taking a look at the numbers makes it seem quite good: At M3, Ch’en can instantly cast this skill on deploy to deal a single hit of 500% Physical and 500% Arts to up to 7 enemies in a Lord/Ranged Guard range in front of her. After this, it takes 20 attacks to charge back up again (remember, Dualstrike Guards charge one SP each sequence of two hits). Paired with her talent, which provides all offensive recovery skills 1 SP every 4 seconds and taking into account her unmodified attack interval (1.3 seconds), we can calculate that Ch’en will be able to cast her second skill every 20 seconds of constantly attacking without any form of outside aid. That looks pretty good!

As good as it looks however, and this is something you might have heard other players talk about, the game has simply evolved past this skill and left it behind. While it was an amazing option to clear waves of enemies before due to its high, mixed damage and helidrop potential, Chi Xiao - Unsheath is unable to one-shot mooks as early as chapter 6. A regular Yeti Caster will be left with 400 HP when hit by a level 90 S2M3 Ch’en. In contrast, Cutter’s Redshift, which takes an average of 11.4 seconds of constant attacks to charge, can take one down as early as E2 Level 1 with Mastery 3. Granted, this comparison is flawed. As similar as both skills look, they are still quite different, but it still exemplifies how Ch’en’s mixed damage hurts her S2 immensely, as while before it was lauded for being able to overcome both enemies with high defence or resistance, now that both those traits have become commonplace even amongst mooks she finds great difficulties in shooting them down where a single hit of 1000% Physical or Arts damage would often perform much better. Even in regards to hitting multiple enemies at once, which is what should give Chi Xiao - Unsheath an edge over Redshift, Ch’en only wins at average DPS if she hits 3 enemies or more every skill, jumping to 2 for skill damage. What’s worse, Bibeak, the welfare unit available from the permanent Contingency Contract shop, beats her as well using Plumage Pins, and even performs better than Cutter from two to three enemies, and needs Ch’en to constantly hit FOUR to achieve higher averages. If it’s neither good at holding lanes nor at bursting enemies, what is it good for, then?

An interesting use this skill saw during the first stages of the game was as a panic button when some enemy was leaking suddenly. This usage has suffered the same fate as previously mentioned. With enemies becoming tankier and tankier with each update, her only draw is now her ability to catch aerial units such as drones as they are about to leak. Regardless, relying on a panic button is not good form and will only work for as long as Ch’en can nuke those drones.

Chi Xiao - Unsheath vs. Yeti Caster
Part II: Chi Xiao - Shadowless
Chi Xiao - Shadowless (Icon)

If one were to raise Ch’en in today’s day and age, it should probably be for Chi Xiao - Shadowless if nothing else. And in truth, this skill still holds decently enough to this day! Chi Xiao - Shadowless is a pure burst skill that at M3 deals a staggering total of 3200% damage divided among ten slashes which will continuously target the enemies closest to herself. During the skill, Ch’en becomes invulnerable and unable to block any enemies (Which is quite good for a tech option!) and on the final hit she stuns the last enemy hit for 4 seconds, one second longer than Projekt Red’s Wolfpack at Mastery 3.

Again, the skill looks quite good on paper, but the devil is in the details, and in this case it’s its horrendous SP cost that keeps it down. At maximum investment, Chi Xiao - Shadowless is the slowest offensive SP recovery DPS skill in the entire game, as the only one with a similar cost, Archetto’s Thundering Arrows is tied to a unit with both faster attack speed and a better SP recovery talent. Taking her talent into account, it takes Ch’en a minimum of 29 seconds of constantly attacking an enemy in order to launch a single Shadowless, which, in turn, comes with the need to put Ch’en on the frontline with potentially no other DPS supporting her, which also escalates to a bigger healer load if you want to keep the SP coming. While the damage is indeed really good, it is also incredibly unreliable. This, in turn, leads Chi Xiao - Shadowless to have a rather unimpressive average DPS, to the point where most people would recommend just using Mountain’s Earth-Shattering Smash to deal with bosses with medium to high defense instead. For example, against Talulah, taking both of their talents into account, Mountain will deal around 7500 more damage in a single cast of each of their skills.

Earth-Shattering Smash vs. Shadowless (Average DPS)

Mountain S3 (blue) beats Ch’en (orange) in average DPS (against defense)...

Earth-Shattering Smash vs. Shadowless (Skill damage)

...and in Skill damage as well.

Still, if you do want to use Ch’en, this skill is most likely the one to look out for. While it’s not the best one in its niche, it can still deal quite a bit of damage and has interesting tech options for more experienced players.

Ch'en and the meta

As mentioned previously, the meta has evolved past Ch’en without much consideration on what her spot is. As a result, many players are left wondering what her current usage really is.

Currently, the most recommended role for Ch’en to play is that of a DPS Support while running S3, primarily relying on her talent to aid operators like Thorns with Destreza or Mudrock with Crag Splitter on charging their Offensive/Defensive SP recovery skills a bit quicker while supporting with bursts of DPS against tougher enemies with Shadowless. She also makes a great partner for Archetto, as their talents work really well together.

Ch'en and the meta

Ch’en and the (alternative) meta

While Ch’en has been completely replaced in the regular endgame meta of Arknights, this doesn’t mean she’s not good elsewhere, and I don’t mean in the base.

Ch’en is a staple and star player of two popular alternative playstyles: 1P Relay and Hitless. Where her slow and not-so-great S2 used to be a liability on most teams, it’s helidrop potential has remained a very, very important part of these two alternate metas since her release, both as a means to soften enemies or nuke mooks, or to catch drones and other aerial enemies. In this context, she shares the spotlight with universally beloved operators such as SilverAsh and Eyjafjalla, and will most likely not be replaced by her alternative version anytime soon.

Ch'en and the (alternative) meta

Ch'en's bleak future

As the game keeps advancing, it’d be natural for players to grow out of the need or even want for an operator such as Ch’en, but as luck would have it, her time was cut short by a very recent update on the Chinese server: the Dossoles Holiday event.

To the joy but also perhaps grief of all Ch’en-loving doctors, she will share her fate with Skadi. The release of Ch’en the Holungday may be the final nail in her coffin, as she now has a direct competitor for a spot in a doctor’s roster, and that opponent happens to be a really, really good unit. As Alternative Units cannot be in the same roster as their regular counterpart, Ch’en’s usage will drop even further as bringing her will automatically bar you from using her alternate version in that stage, a much better unit. Exactly like what happened to Skadi and Skadi the Corrupting Heart.

Ch'en and Holungday Ch'en

I am you, but stronger.


Ch’en is not a bad unit, not by any stretch of the imagination. No 6★ will ever be (not even release date Passenger, believe it or not). She’s also nowhere near the level of most other 6★ operators. She’s neither unusable nor meta, and sits in a weird spot where her role has been relegated from DPS nuker to support via her talent for other, better operators. Despite this, while her days of glory are over, there’s nothing stopping you from using Ch’en in harder content if you want to, nor is it wrong to invest in her if it’s your personal preference. At the end of the day, Gamepress strives to give advice to all players regarding objective information on the current state of the meta, and Ch’en does not fit that mold anymore, which is why she (and probably others in the future) fell in our tier list.

We hope this clears up some questions regarding this operator, but if there are some you still have, please make sure to comment in this article (politely, please!) and have a discussion with fellow members of the Gamepress community.

Ch'en Skin
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