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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Let's Play Monster Quest part 17



We cut straight to this mission from the last one, with no map time in between.

This is actually, in my opinion, the best-designed chapter of the entire game. Yes, desert missions are much-maligned by Fire Emblem fans, but I really do think this mission provides the right level of challenge, and specifically avoids creating "challenge" through idiotic luck-based missions, which is the most common way for the Fire Emblem games to make missions something other than mindlessly easy. Honestly, the desert isn't even that big a penalty to the player -mages and fliers have always been some of the best units in the series.



Showing off Excalibur, since we've already seen Audhulma in Carlyle's hands. Like Audhulma, it's been made unlimited use, Oddly, Monster Quest has also lowered its Might from an absurd 18 to a pedestrian 5, equal to a Fire Tome.

Hm. I'm half-expecting it to turn out to be Brave or something, now.

Lute's carrying it in the dim hope that she'll both promote and reach S rank this mission.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

XCOM Items Analysis Part 3: Gene Mods and Medals

Gene Mods

Gen Mods cost Meld and $ and take the soldier out of action for five days while the Gene Mod is being installed. Most Gene Mods require you autopsy specific Aliens to unlock, as well.

If I don't specify a required Autopsy, it's because the Gene Mod is unlocked the instant you can perform Gene Mods at all.

Brain

Neural Damping
+20 defensive Will, panic immunity, Mind Control stuns solder instead of mind controlling them
35$, 20 Meld. Requires Berserker Autopsy.

The generalist choice compared to Neural Feedback, and also primarily the low-Will choice. If you've got a soldier you want to keep using who's Will is too low to protect them from Mind Control, this is your go-to option. It's also obviously protecting against panic, but panic is very rare (A soldier with 80 Will cannot panic under any circumstances without penalties being applied to their Will, which is a fairly easy value to achieve even without taking into account external Will boosters like Neural Damping itself), even for soldiers with extremely low Will, so this isn't particularly a reason to take it. Even though it theoretically means that Neural Damping is more consistently useful than Neural Feedback, since Neural Feedback is only useful against Sectoid Commanders and Ethereals, where Neural Damping can come up in any mission against any enemy, it's just not a strong enough reason on its own.

Neural Feedback
Does 1+1x10 Will to enemies who use Psi on the soldier, and forces all their Psi abilities into cooldown
35$, 10 Meld. Requires Sectoid Commander Autopsy.

The specialized anti-Psi option: at high Will it can do fairly high damage to enemies and regardless of Will it can take Ethereals entirely out of the fight for a time. (Everything they can do aside from move around is considered a Psi ability) Note that the enemy's Will is not factored into the damage. A soldier with extremely good Will rolls carrying a Mind Shield and wearing Psi Armor can do 19~ damage in retaliation. That will outright kill a Sectoid Commander, even on Classic/Impossible, and an Ethereal on Impossible will be down to 6 hit points, just 1 on any other difficulty level. Notably, since everything Ethereals can do to your soldiers is considered to be a psionic action, it's very easy to bait them into triggering Neural Feedback, and anything they try is unlikely to work or will do poor damage to the soldier if you've stacked that much Will onto them. Simply ensure that the Neural Feedback soldier is the only thing in the Ethereal's reach. The trickier part will be cleaning out the Muton Elite bodyguards without leaving anybody else in reach of the Ethereal -unless of course you've got multiple soldiers with Neural Feedback.

Notably, Neural Feedback is pretty cheap to slot in. Its main problem is that doing stuff like upgrading your Mecs or installing Adaptive Bone Marrow is much more consistently relevant, and it's pretty easy to burn through your Meld stocks rapidly if you're careless about it, even if you aren't losing soldiers you've invested Meld into.

Eyes

Hyper-Reactive-Pupils
+10 Aim to next shot after a miss
15$, 5 Meld

Arguably the generalist option compared to Depth Perception? It doesn't self-stack, anyway, so it's not some kind of sanity check ensuring that insane dodge can be overcome. It's just... there. Sufficiently small, situational benefit I question whether it's worth the Meld cost. At least it's cheap?

Depth Perception
+5 Aim/+5 Crit chance if the soldier has the height advantage
15$, 5 Meld

For soldiers intending to abuse height advantage. Too small a benefit to really care. Really, so small I have to question whether it's worth the Meld at all. It's admittedly Meld-cheap, but 5 Meld isn't nothing, and it adds up if you slap it onto multiple Snipers. Which Snipers are honestly the main soldier type to give it to, since if they're in a sniper nest it's basically a free, automatic benefit, however small it might be.

On a conceptual level, Depth Perception bothers me, too. The whole point of the way human eyes are positioned is to produce depth perception. Exactly what is this Gene Mod supposed to be doing differently? The little graphic does nothing to clarify the point...

Heart

Secondary Heart
Soldier bleeds out instead of dying the first time they hit zero HP in a battle, bleed out timer is 2 turns longer, and Critical Wounds don't affect Will
75$, 15 Meld. Requires Cyberdisc Autopsy.

Great if you're not good at keeping your soldiers alive. If you're good at the game, it's a lot more questionable. It's also the go-to choice for anyone you want to be a psi soldier, to ensure they will remain at peak performance on their psi abilities.

It puzzles me that having a second heart ensures that you don't die the first time you drop to zero health. What about being shot in the head? Why would a second heart prevent that from being lethal? And... why does performing an autopsy on a Cyberdisc provide insight into how to install a second heart into a human being? The Autopsy on the Cyberdisc indicates it's actually a cybernetic organism, but that doesn't really explain why it provides the foundation for the Secondary Heart Gene Mod. There's a line about studying how the Cyberdisc "circulates plasma", but not only is the idea of plasma as blood faintly absurd, it still doesn't explain how the Cyberdisc autopsy leads to the Secondary Heart Gene Mod. Even taking into account the end-game dialogue further cementing that Cyberdiscs are cyborgs and therefore have organic components... uh, so? That doesn't imply they have a second heart or anything. It's really bizarre.

Adrenal Neurosympathy
When this soldier lands a kill, the soldier and nearby allies not blocked by cover get a 2-turn bonus of +10 Aim, +15 Crit, and +2 move. (Also clears panic in those allies) Once triggered, there's a 5-turn delay before the given soldier can re-trigger.
25$, 10 Meld. Requires Muton Autopsy.

A useful, general ability. The bonuses are small, but you're going to be killing things, and the potential for it to boost the entire squad means that it'll "add up" fairly quickly. If you've got Meld to burn, it's definitely worth it, and even if you don't it's probably worth slapping onto somebody. Probably a Sniper, since they don't particularly benefit from Secondary Heart if you're using them properly.

Adrenal Neurosympathy's range is huge, incidentally, and as far as I can tell the idea that its effect can be blocked by cover doesn't actually mean anything. It's hard to say though, as the game's implementation of line of sight and line of fire are sufficiently wonky all-around it's entirely possible that it is, in fact, coded to be blocked by objects, and it's just not obvious because the way the game determines whether cover applies is inconsistent and confusing anyway.

Skin

Bioelectric Skin
Can "see" enemies through walls within a short range and is immune to strangulation.
35$, 15 Meld. Requires Chryssalid Autopsy.

Actually quite nice. Perhaps a bit expensive for what it does, and on open maps that lack Seekers it's useless, but most of the time it's actually a pretty cool tool. You only need one or two guys with it, too, so the fact that Mimetic Skin is brokenly good doesn't mean Bioelectric Skin is simply out-competed. Giving Bioelectric Skin to your Snipers means you don't need to worry about them being strangled by Seekers when they're off Squadsighting by themselves, and also bolsters their relevancy in the indoor environments Snipers usually struggle to be an aid in. Alternatively you can give it to an Assault, particularly once you're late in the game and can give them Ghost Armor to provide a source of cloaking. With Bioelectric Skin they'll often be able to tell when the're going to encounter enemies soon anyway, and so are less likely to regret the lack of Mimetic Skin.

Mimetic Skin
Soldier cloaks when moving into Full Cover if they weren't in line of sight of an enemy when initiating the move.
150$, 65 Meld. (Originally 75$, 35 Meld) Requires Seeker Autopsy.

Utterly broken. There's a reason a patch basically doubled its cost. Excepting Sectopods, no enemy has any way of coping with invisible soldiers, Mimetic Skin's requirements to be activated are fairly trivial -the act of becoming cloaked means that you don't need to worry about whether the Full Cover will be safe from a flank or not- especially for a high-level Sniper, won't activate Alien pods that enter your line of sight thus allowing things like In The Zone Squadsight kills on enemies because they haven't had the chance to run for Cover, and is just... all the utility it brings to the table would basically require an entire post to itself to go over in full. It's incredible, and the developers seemed to have severely underestimated it in development.

The only substantial caveat to the effect is that Full Cover is not always available in a fairly large area, particularly on some of the outdoors maps. Even with activated Aliens, it's not that hard to arrange to trigger it. You just need to have that soldier break line of sight with the Aliens, and then move to Full Cover. The Sectopod is basically the only Alien that can do anything about cloaked soldiers, and Mimetic Skin never times out. The cloak effect will remain until the soldier does something to end it, or until their Full Cover is destroyed. There's also a number of useful actions a soldier can take that won't break the cloak!

Going into Overwatch, tossing a Flashbang, tossing a Mimic Beacon, reloading the soldier's weapon, applying a Medikit, and using Psi Inspiration are all actions that won't break the cloak. While some of these aren't so useful (Mostly I'm thinking Mimic Beacon), effects like being able to reload under cloak are actually fantastic, and even Overwatching without breaking the cloak is a positive. +30% crit chance on incoming Aliens will stack with the +50% bonus for them being out in the open for a nearly guaranteed crit right there, before even adding in points like that Shotguns have an innate +20% crit chance.

Legs

Muscle Fiber Density
Thin Men jump effect.
60$, 25 Meld. Requires Thin Men Autopsy.

I'm not sure why this is priced so high, given that Skeleton Suits, Ghost Armor, and Archangel provide similar functionality. It's also the second-most expensive Gene Mod, which... what? Heck, a Skeleton Suit costs half the $ to make!

To be fair, it's potentially very useful for Covert Operatives -who can't take Armor- and for Assaults, who can Run & Gun much farther out than the grapnel can take them. The Volunteer might appreciate it as well, since they're not allowed a grapnel-capable suit and the mobility has its uses in the final mission. It's also just plain more useful than Adaptive Bone Marrow if you expect to successfully minimize the ability of enemies to get in shots on you, since Muscle Fiber Density isn't dependent on being shot to be useful.

Adaptive Bone Marrow
Wound recovery time reduced to a third, and the soldier will fully regenerate their "natural" health in combat, 2 HP per turn.
30$, 15 Meld.

Wound recovery time is nice, but the big benefit is the regeneration in combat. It's capped by the fact that even an elite soldier tends to be getting half or more of their health from their armor, but it's obviously a huge benefit against weaker Aliens, and even against stronger Aliens the hit point extension, for free, no need to spend a Medikit charge, is excellent. Oddly, the battle regeneration tends to make the wound recovery redundant, as anyone who ends a fight with only armor HP missing doesn't need wound recovery time. It's also kind of weird, logically speaking, that a soldier can regenerate entirely over the course of a battle, but if the fight ends with them still wounded, they'll need hours to days to heal, just less than if they didn't have Adaptive Bone Marrow.

One flaw with it is that it encourages slow, cautious play (To give soldiers time to heal) having been introduced as a Meld-requiring upgrade in Enemy Within, where Meld Canisters discourage slow and cautious play. Also, if you're doing slow and cautious play properly, Aliens will rarely get the chance to inflict damage. There's a bit of a paradoxical nature to the Gene Mod.

Medals

A complicated Enemy Within addition. Read the page yourself if you care about the full details. Note that Will bonuses from Medals don't apply to Psi combat at all. Also note that which Medal option you take is a permanent choice for the long term: you don't get to assign a Squadsight Sniper a +Aim Urban Combat Medal while giving an Assault the +Defense version of the same. You'll have either one or the other version of the Medal in a given run, the end.

Urban Combat Badge (Limit 5, provided every few missions)

+5 Defense in Cover.

OR

+5 Aim against enemies in Full Cover.

This one is just silly. Take the first one, period: in practice it will nearly always apply anyway. The second one is a lot more narrow in where it applies, and frankly making Full Cover only +15 Defense compared to Partial Cover is pretty worthless. It makes a lot more sense to load up on ways to destroy cover or flank the target than it does to just suck it up and hope the Urban Combat Badge's slight increase in Aim saves the day. You'll never know when the first option helped, but you can count on it being relevant basically anytime anything shoots at you. (Unless you get flanked)

Defender's Medal (Limit 3, issued when soldiers are killed or critically wounded, occasionally just when wounded)

Soldier never panics in response to allies being injured or killed.

OR

Medikits and Restorative Mists restore 2 more HP when used on this soldier.

This is an odd one. As "natural' panic is very rare in the game anyway, the first option isn't very useful, but the second option is weird. I basically feel the second one is better -just, it's hard to pin down who you should give it to, exactly. Assaults, I guess, since they are the most prone to risky actions?

International Service Cross (Limit 2, requires missions have been done on three different continents)

+2 Will to the soldier for each different nationality in the squad.

OR

+2 Aim for each continent bonus X-COM has earned.

Silly and gimmicky. It basically boils down to "pick option 2", since you set a Medal's type of bonus for the rest of the game, and you'll eventually have all the continent bonuses in good play, whereas you can't guarantee having every member of the squad be from different nationality. Eeeh. I guess it's nice to make nationality of troopers mechanically meaningful without turning to stereotyping? But it's the undesirable choice, so it falls a bit flat.

Council Medal of Honor (Limit 2, requires a minimum number of Terror/Council/Cover Operations missions be completed)

+1 Aim and Will for each mission the soldier has participated in (After being given the Medal) in which no soldier died, to a maximum of +10.

OR

+10 Aim and +10 crit if no allies are within 7 tiles of the soldier.

I like this Medal. Build up to a long-term payoff that's stable or take an immediate, overall weaker payoff (Will is more useful than a crit chance, really) that you have to play a specific way to actually benefit from. A lone Squadsight Sniper probably prefers the latter possibility in general, admittedly, but Squadsight Snipers tend to work in pairs so it's still a complicated Medal. The former is the more general, powerful option, but if you're still struggling to avoid deaths by the time you're given the Council Medal of Honor, the second choice is probably the better choice.

Star of Terra (Limit 1, awarded upon completing the X-COM Base Defense Mission)

Entire squad gets +5 Will and +5 Defense. (Robots only get Defense bonus)

OR

All squad members below Lieutenant gain 25% more experience for completing missions. (Unclear if this means mission completion experience or all experience)

All buddies are slightly better, or all lower-ranking buddies grow faster. You'll only get this Medal once, so be careful with the solder you give it to. If you're managing to hold onto a stable squad of six experienced members the Will+Defense will be better, and the fact that Council missions can gift experienced soldiers means that if you have a low attrition rate you'll still not be benefiting from the experience gain advantage. The Will+Defense choice has the meta-advantage that it fits better to the assumption that you'll manage to keep the holder of the Medal alive -if you're expecting soldiers to die on a regular enough basis to outpace Council soldier gifts, you're probably not able to keep the Medal holder alive consistently anyway.

Basically, probably take the Will/Defense bonus and never look back.

---------------------------------

Gene Mods seem extremely ill-considered, advancing the transhumanism of the base game (Which was restricted to psychic powers and the amoral Aliens' cybernetic horror back then) in a context it's really, really inappropriate to. There are so many logistical and ethical difficulties in permanently installing major military hardware into soldiers who are intended to return to the civilian population after their tour of duty is up, and Enemy Within entirely ignores them. This is particularly painful when you consider that Dr. Vahlen will comment, when you come up against EXALT Elites, that XCOM would, "of course", never modify their people so extensively.

Never mind that the player can install up to five Gene Mods into each soldier, and EXALT Elites only have one Gene Mod apiece. Never mind that Mecs are based around Meld use as well, and the first step in creating a Mec is, for some ungodly reason, removing all their limbs to then replace them with metal versions. In fact, only the head seems to survive the conversion process! No no, EXALT has obviously modified its operatives far more than we would ever do, because even though we're transhumanists at heart, we totally do it less than EXALT as proof that we're more moral.

Sorry, no. XCOM only has the moral high ground over the Aliens in that regard, and honestly if you stop and think about Gene Mods and Mecs too hard even that point is debatable. Most of the ethical problems in installing military hardware into your soldiers are rendered moot if your soldiers are literally manufactured by and owned by the military, with no civilian life intended at all, as seems to be the case with the Aliens. For all that the gameplay of XCOM treats your soldiers as mindless extensions of the player's will, the plot of the game firmly places them as a conventional military or paramilitary organization -that presumably these soldiers you are turning into quadruple amputees (Only worse) will be expected to return to a civilian life at some point, and it's absurd to imagine that XCOM intends for their super-top-secret military hardware to be left installed in these soldiers. What, exactly, is supposed to be going on here?

The game tries to wave away the ethical problems with Gene Mods and Mecs by framing the beneficiaries as "volunteers", but this only addresses the short-term problem of consent. It doesn't address the long-term problems, where you have to figure out what XCOM does with its soldiers when it releases them into the civilian population. The game dodges the issue by not covering the post-game world at all, and XCOM 2 starts from the assumption that XCOM failed its mission and so obviously no Mecs retired, but honestly an argument can be made that the Alien usage of cybernetics and genetic engineering is vastly more moral than how XCOM goes about it. It's very jarring how the game attempts to insist that XCOM has the moral high ground over EXALT on the topic, when it most certainly does not and can even be argued as lacking the moral high ground relative to the Aliens on the topic.

Gameplay-wise, Gene Mods are kind of all over the place. Some of them are niche, but very good when they crop up. Some of them are incredible in general. Some of them barely matter at all even when they actually apply. I really wish they'd had a more coherent vision of Gene Mods in mind. If every Gene Mod was had a small benefit, I'd assume the intention is that you're supposed to stack them onto an individual to get a clear benefit. If every Gene Mod was an incredible game-changer in its own right, that would be cool too. If they were all fairly situational, sure, fine. But the combination of the three is... confusing. The Eye Gene Mods, for example, should probably be ignored unless you've got Meld lying around after having outfitted your core team with all the other Gene Mods, because they provided such a limited benefit, and only in specific situations, where other Gene Mods are more general and significant. The price-point difference is simply not significant enough to overturn this idea, either.

Medals, though they have their flaws, seem to be a more coherent concept, in terms of every Medal providing a small, somewhat situational benefit, excepting the Star of Terra, which you can only get the one time in a run and so is justified as being an exception. If you really want to notice the effect of Medals, you kind of need to stack a few onto an individual. Fair enough, particularly since Medals are free -part of the problem with the Gene Mods with limited impact is that they demand resources and take the soldier out of action for a time, raising the question of whether such a small benefit is really worth it. With Medals, the question isn't whether you're going to give them out at all, it's who will get what Medals and what bonuses you'll have the Medals provide in your run.

Both mechanics feel like a strong idea with a somewhat underwhelming execution. This is true of gameplay, but it's also true of more narrative/thematic considerations -my issue with Gene Mods raising ethical questions isn't that the game does it, but that it makes no attempt to address those questions. Aside from some vague muttering about the future of humanity and yadda, the actual practical implications of Gene Mods are just... ignored, beyond the gameplay implications. It's difficult to take seriously some of the game's attempts to suggest XCOM may defeat the Aliens, and in the process because just as bad as them (Enemy Within opens with a different quote from Enemy Unknown: "Those who play with the devil's toys will be brought by degrees to wield his sword."), when the whole thing isn't actually explored at all. There aren't even little touches -something as minor as the player being barred from sacking soldiers with Gene Mods or who have been converted to a Mec would convey that XCOM is treating these people as military property and be subtly creepy to anyone who ran into it.

Next time, we cover Interceptors and their gear.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

XCOM Items Analysis Part 2: Armor and Items

Previously.

Armor

Body Armor
Free, unlimited copies
+1 HP

The basic armor of the game, auto-equipped to all your xcommies. In theory Body Armor means chipping damage won't automatically put soldiers in the hospital, but only Drones can do 1 point of damage in normal play. (I suppose you might lose a hit point to Thin Men poison and then immediately finish the mission?) In practice Body Armor means that hospitalization times will generally be shorter than whatever you might expect if you have the ranges memorized, and little else. 

From a conceptual standpoint, I appreciate that our soldiers are explicitly wearing body armor by default. It's always weird to play a game where soldiers are sent into battle naked, mechanically speaking. I'm just not clear what the mechanical purpose of this is.

Carapace Armor
25$, 15 Alloys
+4 HP

Special note: Assault's Extra Conditioning provides an additional +4 HP with Carapace Armor in Enemy Within, just like Titan and Archangel Armor. That means an Assault with Extra Conditioning going from Body Armor to Carapace Armor actually gains 6 HP.

The armor that replaces your basic armor. The Skeleton Suit is far superior, and has no requirements to research beyond Carapace Armor itself being completed. Enemy Within's modification might make it worthwhile over Skeleton Suits in the midgame for Assaults, as your Assaults will be reaching high enough levels to get Extra Conditioning before you get the other +4 HP Armors. Otherwise though, this is cheap, transitional armor, most noteworthy for the fact that it makes your rookies much less likely to die in one shot. Even then, an additional 3 HP is only a reasonably consistent boost to protection against Sectoids and lower-difficulty Thin Men.

Skeleton Suit
30$, 10 Alloys
+3 HP, +10 Defense. +3 Move, Grapnel

A ridiculously versatile enhancement to soldiers that radically changes how they play in urban environments, having a much lesser effect on UFO assaults. Alien Bases are somewhere in between for the Grapnel's relevancy. In theory it's a "fast but fragile" choice when compared to Carapace Armor, but the loss of 1 HP is laughable compared to the package of benefits it provides. Functionally, it's essentially superior to Carapace Armor.

I appreciate it as a gamechanger technology that's less dramatic than, say, Flying Suits in the original XCOM. Your troops view buildings as opportunities much more consistently now, but they're still fundamentally ground-bound troops. It's a nice middle step before Archangel Armor almost completely throws terrain out the window. Snipers, in particular, have basically no reason to not just hang in the air indefinitely, between Squadsight meaning they aren't overly concerned by fuel (Fuel is only consumed on moves, not on turns) and Low Profile meaning that Full Cover isn't an incentive to land, so it's nice to not jump straight to flight.

Titan Armor
150$, 10 Elerium, 35 Alloys
+10 HP, Fire/Poison Immunity, (EW) Strangulation Immunity

The generic ultimate armor. Boring. Slightly better in Enemy Within, as no other Armor provides immunity to Seeker Strangulation, making it the safest choice, even if it's the least amazing overall. It's unfortunate that the other two non-Psi endgame Armors abruptly gain Fire and Poison immunity, though, as those effects are much more relevant in Enemy Within and it would've solidified Titan Armor's position as the most "shrug off special effects" armor type. The fact that its unique advantage in Enemy Within is strangulation immunity is kind of iffy given that basically the only reason to not have Bioelectric Skin on everyone is because Mimetic Skin is completely ridiculous -and Mimetic Skin can still be used to protect from strangulation, as Seekers can't strangle what they can't see. Worse yet, Chitin Plating provides strangulation immunity in Enemy Within as well, when it was already a very solid item in the original game. It's actually very hard to argue for using Titan Armor over one of the other endgame Armors, honestly.

Helping offset this point is that it's the cheapest of the end-game armors. The Elerium price tag is particularly notable -its Elerium demand is less than a third of the next cheapest armor, so if Elerium is seriously constraining your ability to manufacture stuff, Titan Armor may well be a worthwhile stopgap measure, even if you've already unlocked all the other advanced armors.

It helps that Psi Armor is the only endgame armor aside from Titan itself that doesn't require Titan Armor be researched first. You'll probably use Titan Armor as a transitional armor, even if it's underwhelming compared to, say, Archangel Armor.

Archangel Armor
200$, 35 Elerium, 50 Alloys
+8 HP, Flight, (EW) Fire/Poison Immunity

The ultimate in mobility... and, due to how Flight mechanics work, also bizarrely good at providing protection and enhancing offense. Due to Sniper Ability mechanics, it's also very much the Sniper Armor, between Low Profile enhancing flight's Low Cover bonus to a Heavy Cover bonus and Damn Good Ground being pretty much an automatic bonus when using Archangel Armor. In the original it's honestly also the most generically good armor -Fire immunity is functionally handled by flight... and so is Poison immunity! Meanwhile being in the air protects you from Alien Grenades, makes it impossible to flank you, provides 20 Aim against most everything you're fighting by virtue of having the high ground, renders you immune to melee attackers... flight is insanely useful. As such, in the original the only thing Titan Armor has over it aside from the price tag is extra HP, and 2 HP just isn't going to stand out that much. Even on Impossible, max-rank soldiers in Archangel Armor will have 15 HP (Bar Snipers, who will have 14) even if they have no other HP bolstering effects, and class abilities tend to exaggerate the problem, not lessen it -Assault's Extra Conditioning provides +4 on Titan Armor and on Archangel Armor, leaving the gap still at 2 HP while it actually means a comparison of 19 HP vs 21 HP, while Sniper's Low Profile takes away one of the only problems with constantly abusing flight and Damn Good Ground makes flight an even stronger advantage.

Enemy Within makes things a bit more complicated, thankfully, even though Tactical Rigging makes it even more likely that 2 HP is a joke. Titan Armor's strangulation immunity isn't something Archangel Armor does away with, and while Mimetic Skin doesn't synergize with Archangel Armor, it's not like Bioelectric Skin synergizes with it either, outside of specifically protecting against Seeker strangulation attempts, so it's not as if it's just a braindead choice to grab Bioelectric Skin and hop into Archangel Armor.

I like Archangel Armor overall, but I'm not happy with the details of flight mechanics. The fact that being in flight is equivalent to Partial Cover, only impossible to bypass or remove in any way, seems a poor design decision to me, causing flight to remove depth from the game. So even though I have no particular issue with Archangel Armor itself, it ends up making the late game a more shallow experience by virtue of granting the player access to the dubiously designed flight mechanics.

I'm getting inconsistent information as to whether Archangel Armor does or does not provide Strangulation immunity, and I haven't been able to ascertain whether being in flight does or does not protection against Strangulation attempts. Annoying.

Ghost Armor
250$, 50 Elerium, 40 Alloys
+6 HP, +20 Defense, +3 Move, Grapnel, Stealth, (EW) Fire/Poison Immunity

The super Skeleton Suit. Stealth is an amazing benefit of course, though unfortunately it's not a very interesting benefit. Powerful, yes, but not that interesting. Overall Archangel Armor will usually be more useful, but Ghost Armor is nice for your scouts, and in the base game can also be used to guarantee a crit. Striking from stealth still adds crit chance in Enemy Within, but it's just 30%, which isn't nearly as reliable.

It's unfortunate that it's overall more expensive than the Archangel Armor, given the Archangel Armor tends to be the more powerful of the two. Exacerbating the point is that Ghost Armor demands you complete the Alien Base Assault mission, where the tech requirements for Archangel Armor are centered around UFO parts. The common kind, not the Battleship-exclusive stuff. That means it's entirely possible to tech to Archangel Armor first, particularly since arguments can be made for delaying attacking the Alien Base -among other points, doing so ups the tempo of Terror missions, which tends to be considered a bad thing.

If you hit the Alien Base quickly and go for the Hyperwave Decoder ASAP, you're one research away from Ghost Armor, but by a similar token if you get lucky with UFO parts and rush to research Firestorms, you're one step away from Archangel Armor. While the Hyperwave Decoder is necessary to complete the game and, technically speaking, Firestorms aren't, it's questionable whether rushing to the Hyperwave Decoder will have an actual payoff, where rushing to Firestorms means you can take down and loot the tougher Alien ships more easily, reliably, and cheaply compared to burning Modules on getting a regular interceptor to win the fight.

Also, the techs necessary to reach Firestorms unlock Elerium Generators and the Mec-2 suit. So more incentives to incidentally tech toward Archangel Armor.

Psi Armor
400$, 40 Elerium, 20 Alloys
+6 HP, +10 Defense, +2 Move, +20 Will

The armor for when you want maximum psi combat ability. Naturally, it is terrible at anything but bolstering Psi, being flatly inferior to Ghost Armor outside the Will boost. I don't feel its Will boost is all that worthwhile, really, at least not without stacking a Mind Shield on. In practice it mostly serves as The Volunteer's armor, specifically ensuring that the Volunteer doesn't, say, fly. This would be more meaningful if the Volunteer was particularly meaningful, which they aren't.

The fact that it's by far the most expensive armor to build makes it even more dubious to actually manufacture anything beyond the one Psi Armor arbitrarily necessary to complete the game. On top of that, you're not actually allowed to build one until you've hit the Overseer Ship to jack the Ethereal Device and then researched said device. This means that even if it weren't a less-than-ideal choice for armor, you'd have a very limited window to make use of it.

The core problem is that Will boosts just aren't that necessary unless you're trying to go for the extreme scenarios -Mind Controlling an Ethereal on Impossible, for instance. I'll be covering this in detail in a later post, but suffice to say, the game is sufficiently generous with soldier base Will scores and the base bonuses to the psionic skills that use Will at all that only Berserkers, Chryssalids, Zombies, Sectoid Commanders, and Ethereals have enough Will to make Will-boosters worth considering to overcome their Will. Second Wave options will generally not change this, or will actually on average make your psionic soldiers even better at the task, too.

Mec Armors
Are limited to Mecs, whom can't use regular Armors. In practice means Mecs are considerably less versatile and interesting than regular soldiers. All Mec Armors provide the Hardened trait (ie Mecs aren't getting hit by criticals constantly just because they can't use Cover) and immunity to Fire and Poison.

The "tactical sub-systems" (pair of non-primary-weapon choices) are actually added, as you upgrade the existing suit rather than building a whole new one of the higher tier. That is, the Sentinel has access to the Warden's Kinetic Strike Module or Flamethrower in addition to its own Grenade Launcher or Restorative Mist, and the Paladin has access to everything. Specifically, you pick one out of each pair -so a Paladin suit might carry the Kinetic Strike Module, the Grenade Launcher, and the Electro Pulse, all at the same time.

Conversely it's worth noting that you should stack the following costs when looking at the higher tiers. The Paladin costs 200 Meld total, for example, not counting the 10 Meld spent into converting the soldier.

Mecs don't get a regular item slot and so cannot make use of the normal item pool.

MEC-1 Warden
+8 HP, +10 Will, +10 Defense
25$, 40 Meld
Kinetic Strike Module: +3 move, unlimited use melee punch attack that does 12 damage. (Can be upgraded to 18 damage with a Foundry Project)
OR
Flamethrower: Cone-shaped attack that does up to 6 damage (Upgradeable to 9 with a Foundry Project) to affected units (Robots are immune, among other examples) and sets the ground on fire. Affected units panic. Two uses per mission.

In summary: your first Mec is more expensive than their own price tag of 10 Meld, and your basic Mec is brutal in close-quarters. Alright.

Interestingly, Flamethrower is more of a supporting tool and Kinetic Strike Module is more of a general upgrade to the Mec itself, as forcing enemies to panic has all kinds of utility but the Flamethrower's damage is only really noteworthy if you hit a group, while Kinetic Strike Module's +3 to move is a direct, generic improvement to the Mec, and the Kinetic Strike Module has no usage limitations. If you can get next to the target, it's completely free, no cooldown or anything.

Unfortunately, Flamethrower runs into the problem that it's effectively competing with Collateral Damage -they're both area of effect attacks that have secondary utility. This is a problem because you automatically have Collateral Damage, Collateral Damage can be used as many times as you want in a mission (You just need to reload between uses), and while Flamethrower does more damage than Collateral Damage (Even with the Particle Cannon, 34% of of base is 3 or 4 damage, depending on whether it rounds up or down) damage is really basically the only thing Flamethrower has over Collateral Damage. It's usually going to make more sense to run Kinetic Strike Module and simply count on Collateral Damage to do the things you would've done with the Flamethrower. Especially since Kinetic Strike Module can directly help conserve ammo for Collateral Damage, being a completely free attack (That's stronger than your primary attack. Even crits off a Particle Cannon can't beat the Foundry-upgraded Kinetic Strike Module!) if you can arrange to be close enough to the target. An additional pain point to Flamethrower is that the Mec has a skill that adds uses to all its limited-use effects, including its main weapon's ammunition -but not the Flamethrower.

The money cost of the suit is basically a formality, honestly. 25$ isn't nothing, but the Meld price tag of 40 is a lot more likely to hold you back than the money cost.

The 8 HP ensures early Mecs will easily out-HP all but Assaults that are Majors wearing Carapace Armor. (Whom will actually have the same HP, all else being equal) In the long-term Mecs HP advantage over other troops becomes less notable, though still substantive. The innate 10 Defense on the one hand very slightly makes up for the lack of access to Cover, and on the other hand Skeleton Suits and Ghost Armor and Psi Armor all provide Defense boosts without denying use of Cover, so it's still very much the case that Mecs tend to get shot (successfully) more than your other troops, particularly when you consider Full Cover exists. The overall result is that Mecs are relying on that high HP bonus to not die.

The fact that Mecs can't use Cover means you use them very, very differently, and I like that. Where your human soldiers want to be moving from one section of cover to another, and will often go less than their maximum move because their maximum move wouldn't have them ending in cover, Mecs are going to be concerning themselves primarily with firing lines, whether that means breaking line of sight with an enemy outright to avoid being shot or moving out into the open to be able to take the shot.

MEC-2 Sentinel
+12 HP, +15 Will, +10 Defense
32$, 60 Meld
Grenade Launcher: Launches Grenades that do 4 damage. (5 if you've made the Alien Grenades Foundry Project) 2 uses per mission, has a much longer firing range than a non-Mec soldier's throw range with Grenades.
OR
Restorative Mist: Single-use Medikit that restores 4 HP (6 with the Medikit Foundry Project) to all nearby allies, including the user. Doesn't stabilize critically wounded soldiers.

Now your Mec can either double as a medic (Minus being able to stabilize fallen soldiers) or double as a grenadier. Yep.

... I guess Restorative Mist focuses the Mec on being a supporting piece? I guess?

Thanks to Enemy Within adding Tactical Rigging, modifying Deep Pockets, and improving the Heavy's Grenade specialization skill, a Grenade Launcher Mec is largely inferior to a Grenade-oriented Support or Heavy at Grenading things. Restorative Mist is a bit more interesting, as while it's inferior at single-target healing compared to a Support, the fact that it heals in an area of effect means it's actually more useful for shrugging off damage affecting multiple units, and in general can actually end up restoring more HP total than even a medikit-specialized Support. An obvious value is undoing splash damage from an Alien deciding to lob its grenade.

To be fair, Mecs have a better "throwing arm" than Heavies and Supports. The range might make Grenade Launcher worth considering. Overall, though, I don't see it as a particularly desirable choice. If you want a grenadier who can move without concerning themselves with cover, the next-best thing is, admittedly, an Assault with Resilience, and even with Resilience the Assault will still be unhappy with not taking advantage of the Defense bonus from Cover, but Restorative Mist doesn't have as much overlap with regular soldiers, regardless. On the other hand, that can be a pro-Grenade Launcher argument -since Restorative Mist fills different niches regarding healing where the Grenade Launcher is fairly indistinguishable from regular Grenade usage, shunting Grenade duty to Mecs can free up your other troops' item slots, where a Restorative Mist Mec or two might still lead to you wanting actual Medikits on your other troops, if only to stabilize the mortally wounded.

The stat bonuses from the Sentinel are surprisingly small of an improvement. A little more Will, and another 4 HP. If you've got Meld to burn, you might as well make the upgrade, but if your Meld stockpiles aren't doing so hot and you've got other things you want to spend it on, you might consider keeping it a low priority, unless you really, really want one of the two abilities it provides.

MEC-3 Paladin
+16 HP, +20 Will, +10 Defense
106$, 100 Meld
Proximity Mine Launcher: Lobs a mine that does 8 damage when triggered by enemy proximity or other explosives catching it in their radius. 3 per mission by default.
OR
Electro Pulse: Inflicts 5 damage to all units, friend or foe, within a radius around the Mec, and also stuns robots for one turn. (Unclear its usage limitations, if any)

Lastly, your Mec throws in a utility effect, one short-ranged, one more roundabout. They both involve risk of friendly fire.

Electro Pulse has an odd mechanic: mind controlled aliens don't shardify their weaponry if killed by alien fire... or if killed by Electro Pulse. As an area of effect attack, it also ignores damage reduction, which synergizes well with its effectiveness against robotic enemies, as Sectopods and Mectoids (both robots) are the only enemies in the game that have damage reduction effects. The wiki is also inconsistent on its damage output -the actual Mec page claims it does doubled damage against robots, while the Paladin's page claims it does 5 damage whether it's hitting "organic" enemies or robot

I find the two different abilities interesting, but I'm unsure what kind of choice is really being made in practice. Defensive play isn't much of a thing in the game, so mines are closer to being extra-powerful grenades that are slightly less convenient to activate than anything else, while Electro Pulse's main point of clear interest is that it temporarily disables robots.

Proximity Mine Launcher is a further reason why I consider Grenade Launcher a somewhat dubious choice, though it's an admittedly somewhat unfair comparison point. Electro Pulse is also obviously very useful for dealing with the powerful robot enemies of the game -which is all the robots that aren't drones. Buying turns to get to safety or pump out damage is obviously excellent. The potential to capture more Alien gear, though a bit finicky to make happen, is still nice to have if you've got good psi guys anyway, and it does have the advantage that unlike the Arc Thrower the Electro Pulse will never randomly fail. Muton Elites are a noteworthy possibility -they're your only source of Heavy Plasmas, they have terrible Will, and they have high enough HP that it can be a pain to successfully arrange an Arc Thrower capture. It may well be easier to bring them down to Electro Pulse range

As with the second suit, the stat bonuses are a pretty small increase over the previous suit, while the suit is fairly expensive. Again, if you want one of the abilities, get upgrading, but if you don't and have other ways to spend your Meld, those other uses might be better to prioritize.

Items

Frag Grenades
Free, unlimited copies
3 damage in a radius of 2 tiles, destroys Cover and skips accuracy checks.

The default Item for when you don't have anything else to equip. That's kind of an interesting point, because most games would've opted for something with a passive stat benefit rather than a limited-use active effect, or had it so you started the game with nothing to equip in the item slot at all.

Tactically speaking, Frag Grenades serve two primary purposes: clearing out cover so your other units can get more accuracy and a high chance of a crit, and doing guaranteed damage on targets. Keep in mind Frag Grenades destroy Alien weaponry held by Aliens they kill, with not even Weapon Fragments remaining. (This applies to Rockets, for that matter) Being too happy with explosives can hamper you in the long term. However tempting it might be to lob a Grenade into a cluster of Sectoids for a mass instant-kill, you should generally run through your other options first.

Oddly, I get the impression the developers imagined the Frag Grenade as more of a tool of destruction than a supporting tool, but its capacity to destroy cover en mass places it firmly in the camp of supporting tool -using Grenades to clear out cover will bolster the accuracy of follow-up shots and on average increase their damage on successful hits, too. (Due to the crit chance bonus for firing on a target not benefiting from cover) It's not like the Frag Grenade does any more damage than your basic Assault Rifle unless you hit more than one target.

Alien Grenades
Cost n/a (Steal it from Aliens, or perform the Foundry Project to have unlimited free copies)
5 damage in a radius of 2 tiles, destroys Cover and skips accuracy checks.

The better Frag Grenade, simple as that. Thankfully, the game understands this, though it's unfortunate that the Foundry Project that replaces Frag Grenades with Alien Grenades is basically redundant in the original game, as capturing one of every Alien nets you 4 (Or is it 3? I'm not sure whether researching Alien Grenades uses up one) when you can only deploy six soldiers in a mission. The Foundry Project is a bit more meaningful in Enemy Within, since Tactical Rigging ensures 2 item slots on every soldier, meaning 12 Alien Grenades is the maximum you'd hypothetically need and even just two Heavies doubling up on Grenades means you want 4 of the things. Additionally, the Project benefits Mecs, who can't make use of captured Alien Grenades at all, making the Project worth considering even if you're very capture-happy.

Note that stolen Alien Grenades aren't used up just because you threw them at an enemy in a mission. I consider this an acceptable loss of realism to smooth out the gameplay, honestly. Managing stolen Alien Grenades in the original XCOM was a nuisance, and you had to be very Grenade-happy to actually burn through what you looted, generally speaking, so overall the remaquel's dynamic is both fairly faithful to real game experience in the original and yet more meaningful (And less annoying) of a gameplay mechanic, since you have to go out of your way to loot more and can more clearly say how many people you can outfit with your stolen Alien Grenades: one soldier per stolen Alien Grenade.

Arc Thrower
35$ (10$ on Easy difficulty)
Stuns at roughly a range of 2 tiles, demanding the target has 4 or less HP to be valid. (Chance of success increases as HP decreases, with 4 HP being dramatically less likely to succeed than 3, 2, or 1 HP) You cannot carry two Arc Throwers, and they can't stun robots. (Nor Cryssalids and Zombies, and EXALT soldiers suicide when stunned) Can be upgraded to work on up to 7 HP, upgraded to "hack" (mind control) enemy robots, and upgraded to repair friendly robots, including Mecs. (These all run on its core set of charges)

Goodbye Stun Rods, we've phased out the complicated and tactically deep Stun mechanics/damage type for a random chance of downing the target permanently (But it's not lethal, honest) that demands you use up your valuable Item slot on it and has a limited number of uses presumably because the developers are terrified you'll harvest all the aliens. Or something to that effect, I assume.

The only nice thing I have to say about the Arc Thrower is that being short-ranged rather than melee is an understandable decision given how the movement mechanics have been completely overhauled. The non-capture utility effects you can upgrade onto it? Gimmicks. Dumb gimmicks.

I can kind of understand why they made capture mechanics so limited, since otherwise the only thing preventing you from immediately transitioning to mass Plasma weaponry would be the time it takes to research them, but I'm not a fan regardless. The fact that the Arc Thrower is always only a chance of downing the target particularly irritates me. Really? Even when they're at 1 HP? Why?

Combat Stims
50$, 15 Alloys, 1 Berserker Corpse
Can be used twice in a mission (Not affected by Deep Pockets), granting the user an increase in Will for purposes of Panic resistance, +3 Speed, halves incoming damage, and renders the soldier immune to crits for two turns.

Bafflingly, using Combat Stims uses an action and in fact ends your turn. I have no idea why the creators thought anybody would ever want to use this. When I first learned of it and assumed it didn't consume your turn to activate it, I thought it sounded like a niche, but powerful item. This? This is garbage. Worse, the requirement of a Berserker corpse places it as only being available in the latter portion of the game, where there's going to be a lot more competition from other items for the slot -if you could realistically use it early game it might at least be worthwhile over Frag Grenades and Nano-Fiber Vests or something, but as-is by the time you can get it you almost certainly have vastly better items for the slot.

Also, it's a bit pricey. It's also the only payoff for Berserker Autopsy in the original, and Enemy Within adding Neural Damping coming from the Berserker Autopsy isn't much of a payoff either, but this is a minor hurdle thanks to South America's "We Have Ways" continental bonus making all autopsies and interrogations instantaneous. The fact that it's an incredibly bad item not remotely worth the resources that go into it is the real problem.

Medikit
25$
Can be used to restore 4 (+2 with a Foundry Upgrade) HP to an ally, stabilize a dying ally, or clear Poison on an ally. The holder cannot be Poisoned. Only one may be held by a soldier at a time.

Return of the Medikit, only now health mechanics are dull and boring so the Medikit itself is dull and boring. I do like the touch that the holder is immune to Poison, even if it contributes to Thin Men's Poison gimmicks being less meaningful than you might expect.

The fact that, aesthetically, it's this weird spray mist is honestly puzzling. Was it simply an easy thing to animate? It's honestly a bit distracting, conceptually. Why is this a single-target effect when my troops spray the mist so liberally? And why is it called a Medikit, when it's not a kit at all? 

Mind Shield
150$, 10 Alloys, 30 Elerium, 1 Ethereal Corpse
+30 Will.

The in-game description implies the Mind Shield applies specifically to defending against Psionic attacks, but it's not -that Will applies to everything. Unfortunately, the Mind Shield is not very relevant -if you can build a Mind Shield, you're probably at the end of the game, as it requires an Ethereal corpse. In all honesty it's main relevancy is making multiplayer balance dumb by being 1/10th the cost of a Psi Armor while providing a bigger Will boost and leaving your Armor slot available for something actually good. In single player though, there's not much reason to acquire one, let alone actually equip it on somebody. I guess if you've got the spare Ethereal Corpse, you might as well build one for the Volunteer?

Nano-Fiber Vest
20$
+2 HP

Your basic item for bonus HP. I'd rather have a Frag Grenade 90% of the time, honestly, but 2 extra HP isn't bad.

I've always found it vaguely confusing how this is basically a piece of armor that goes in the item slot. I guess it's meant to represent that it's a vest you're wearing under your armor? But that just raises questions about why it eats the item slot, rather than being a Foundry Project that's two free HP for your troops. I can sort of hand-wave away most of the items competing with each other as a simplification, but it's genuinely confusing to me that Nano-Fiber Vest eats the item slot. It's also kind of representative of how Foundry Projects, in general, are a bit disappointing to me -I quite like the idea of a concrete improvement as we implement what alien technologies are based around greater knowledge being a thing, but there's precious few Foundry Projects to improve your soldiers, and Ammo Conservation is the only one that improves your generic soldiers without regard to their exact equipment. The Foundry seems like a bit of missed opportunity to raise the player's minimum starting state in a way that's flavorful and not based entirely around how loot is normally indestructible in the remaquel. The Total Loss Second Wave option, or something like it, could've been the default rule, with Foundry Projects that boost your soldiers' capabilities helping buffer players against severe casualties.

Alas.

Chitin Plating
85$, 15 Alloys, 4 Chryssalid Corpses
+4 HP, 50% damage taken from melee attack, (EW) Strangulation immunity.

A more advanced HP increaser. If you've got one and you don't have anything better in mind for your soldier it's a good catchall option. In Enemy Within it's also valuable for protecting against Seekers, though whether you should build it is complicated by the fact that Needle Grenades also use up Chryssalid corpses. In the original though, you might as well build a few Chitin Plating with your piles of Chryssalid corpses. Even in Enemy Within, it's still a really good idea to build a few, if only to protect your Snipers from Seekers and the possibility of melee aliens sneaking up on them.

I honestly have no idea what the graphic is supposed to be representing. Are you wearing chitinous shoulderpads? Is it meant to be a a close-up of an individual segment of the stuff, which we're supposed to assume completely covers the armor? It's a very puzzling graphic.

S.C.O.P.E
20$
+10 Accuracy. Can be upgraded via Foundry to provide +10 Crit. Neither stacks with the Pistol's Foundry Upgrades that provide the same.

Honestly, the only reason this strikes me as relevant at all is because a Squadsight Sniper has pretty much nothing better to do with their item slot, as they don't need increased durability, will rarely get use out of tossing Grenades of any kind at the enemy, etc. Enemy Within adds in Seekers, at which point Chitin Plating or a Respirator Implant if you haven't gotten to Chitin Plating yet can be appealing for said Snipers, but Enemy Within also adds Tactical Rigging, at which point your Sniper is back to "Well, why not". Otherwise? The item contributes nearly nothing. The fact that people use it is more a commentary on how ridiculously good Squadsight Snipers are than on anything else.

I think the graphic is meant to resemble a scope, but honestly it looks like a gun designed by someone with no ergonomic sense,or an extremely bulky flashlight meant to be carried like a briefcase, which is ridiculous. I honestly wonder if they repurposed a graphic originally intended to represent something else, especially since the S.C.O.P.E has a similar aesthetic principle to the gear you steal from aliens -the blue/grey/silver color scheme is mostly reserved for advanced gear, with the relatively ordinary human stuff mostly being brown. Admittedly, this is meant to be some kind of advanced aim assist, but... I dunno. I still suspect it's a repurposed graphic.

Enemy Within additions

Flashbang Grenade
35$
A single-use Grenade-style weapon, but instead of damaging enemies it imposes temporary penalties to Movement (-50%) and Aim. (-50) Doesn't work on robots and "advanced psionic aliens". Has no effect on allies.

An interesting idea, but ultimately it's main flaw is that early game Aliens are so fragile you're probably better off lobbing a Frag Grenade or two to instantly kill them and late game Aliens are almost all immune. Still, I appreciate the idea, even if the implementation needs work. It does have the advantage of being semi-useful for helping you capture those aliens that aren't immune to it? And it's got some potential against melee aliens, I guess.

Gas Grenade
35$, 2 Thin Men Corpses
Grenade that Poisons all enemies within its blast radius for 1-3 turns. Poison does 1 damage per turn and imposes a -20 Aim penalty. Has no effect on robots, Thin Men, or Mecs. Requires 2 Thin Men corpses.

Finally it actually matters that there are enemies immune to Poison! But not much, because Gas Grenades are dubious. -20 Aim is... not a lot, and its best-case scenario on damage is equaled by Frag Grenades, except Frag Grenades do it instantly. And consistently. Like the Flashbang, I appreciate the idea but think the execution needs work.

Ghost Grenade
200$, 25 Elerium, 4 Seeker Wrecks
Grenade that cloaks allies until the start of their next turn. Units attacking from under cloak get a bonus to crit chance. Has no effect on Seekers (Multiplayer relevant?) and soldiers with Mimetic Skin. Requires 4 Seeker wrecks.

Stealth for everyone! A big problem with it is that Ghost Armor and Mimetic Skin tend to invalidate it. Mimetic Skin is particularly guilty of this, as its competition (Bioelectric Skin) is nice, but not amazing like Mimetic Skin is, so Meld costs is the main thing that will tend to dissuade you from installing Mimetic Skin into everyone. This... is less of a limiter than it might sound, and Ghost Grenades are astonishingly expensive to buy.

Still, it works on S.H.I.V.s and Mecs. If you have trouble keeping your Mec(s) alive, it might be worth carrying a Ghost Grenade so you can save them in an emergency. 

Mimic Beacon
50$
Can be thrown like a grenade, and is treated by Aliens as X-COM presence -they will seek it out as if they're hearing X-COM soldiers. Aliens already in combat are less likely to be fooled. Has 2 charges, and each Beacon lasts 2 turns.

It's difficult to say exactly how useful this actually is. Theoretically it can be used to bait an Alien pod into advancing into your mob of Overwatch guys? I don't know how well it works in practice though -what's its range limit, exactly? Will it "pull" Aliens that are inclined to sit tight? These are important questions I cannot find answers to, and AI is always tricky to make predictions about.

It also bothers me a little that Aliens can potentially be fooled by a Mimic Beacon that's actually in their line of sight. As far as I'm aware, the smarter Aliens aren't protected from this...

Needle Grenade
40$, 5 Alloys, 2 Chryssalid Corpses
A Grenade that does 3 damage in more than double the radius of a Frag or Alien Grenade, but instead of destroying cover is blocked by it.

A Frag Grenade, but with a wider strike zone... and unable to touch Cover... and in fact blocked by Cover.

Worth considering, actually. The trade-off is a reasonably even one, and it has the crucial advantage that not being considered an explosive means that you can murder Sectoids en mass and actually get Weapon Fragments out of them. It's also easy to forget that "double the radius" means something ridiculous like four times the strike zone, not twice the strike zone. I quite like it, though I wouldn't be surprised if it would benefit from some tuning.

Reaper Rounds
30$
Provides a 20% crit bonus against organic targets for "conventional" (ie basic) weapons, but doubles the range penalty. Has no effect on Pistols.

Why. Why would anyone make this. What's even the point of this item? I'd rather carry a Frag Grenade -clear their cover and damage them in one go. You get a 50% crit chance against enemies out of cover, regardless of what weapon you're using and not only without doubled range penalties but in fact wiping their cover makes them easier to hit. Chryssalids and Ethereals are the only organic enemies that don't make use of cover, too, with Ethereals being far, far too late-game for Reaper Rounds to be relevant (You'll probably be transitioning to Plasma, or already done doing so, by the time your first Ethereal appears) and a 20% chance of more damage is extremely dubious against Chryssalids. I'd consider Reaper Rounds questionable if they were free, and they aren't. The only point in their favor is that you don't specifically have to research them -Experimental Warfare unlocks them as a bonus.

I'm not even sure what it means that it doubles range penalties, as Sniper Rifles and Shotguns are the only weapons that suffer Aim penalties in relation to range. Does that mean its disadvantage only applies to those weapon types? Or is it actually doing something entirely different, like imposing range penalties, no matter the weapon type?

I really wish this had instead been an early-game Foundry Project. It would still have been weak, but it would've actually been worth considering. Alternatively, if Reaper Rounds were outright a +1 to damage, or had a really exotic effect like lowering the target's Movement speed, they would've at least had a clear niche, even if they were a bit underwhelming. I really just... have no idea why this was thought by anyone to be a good enough idea to suggest it in the first place, let alone survive playtesting to reach the final product.

Respirator Implant
35$
+2 HP, Strangulation Immunity

Invalidated by Chitin Plating. Invalidates the Nano-Fiber Vest. I have no idea why the developers felt the need to make this. Particularly puzzling is that you can easily encounter Chryssalids before you encounter Seekers (Chryssalids are guaranteed in early Terror Missions, of which you are guaranteed at least one every two months, while Seekers can't show up in the first month no matter what and have a low chance of spawning in a mission even once they enter the rotation. More simply: you will see Chryssalids in month 2, and you only have a chance of seeing Seekers in month 2), so the respective research requirements of Chryssalid Autopsy for Chitin Plating vs Seeker Autopsy for Respirator Implant means it's not particularly unusual to have access to Chitin Plating before you have access to the Respirator Implant.

To be fair, the Respirator Implant costs less than half the money Chitin Plating costs, has no corpse requirement to produce, and doesn't use Alloys... but honestly, it's probably smarter to save money for Chitin Plating, rather than wasting funding on Respirator Implants. Money spent on stuff you expect to replace in the near-to-mid-future is probably wasted money. Tactical Rigging doesn't help the issue -if for some reason you want to maximize the HP of a soldier, Chitin Plating+Nanofiber Vest will have the same result as Chitin Plating+Respirator Implant, but for less money. You basically need to be short of Chryssalid corpses to seriously consider the Respirator Implant, full stop, and that's basically only going to be an early-game issue, if it happens at all.

The fact that it's labeled an "implant" bothers me, as well. If it's an implant, why is it so easily added and removed from soldiers? Also, why does it eat up the item slot, instead of being a permanent upgrade done at the Cybernetics Lab or something?

---------------------------------

Armor is one point I feel the remaquel overall does better than the original XCOM. In classic XCOM, there were three types of armor (Four if you counted not equipping your soldiers with anything), and they were a simple progression of quality, with the ultimate armor throwing in unlimited flight ability for free. This... wasn't very interesting. The main reason it was an at all difficult choice was that a soldier who died took their armor with them -which was fairly unusual for the game. Other gear was only destroyed if it was hit with explosives, and even then it had to actually be on the ground at the time. A soldier killed with explosives would actually have all their gear intact -except the armor. As such, in the original game the primary difficult decision regarding armor was how much in the way of resources you were willing to spend, taking into account the risk of those resources being promptly destroyed by enemy action. Some players simply refuse to give any armor to their inexperienced soldiers, while others give the lowest tier of armor and no higher until the soldiers are sufficiently experienced. That kind of thing.

In the remaquel, there's instead four "lanes" of armor: tough but generic (Basic, Carapace, Titan), mobility (Skeleton Suit, Ghost Armor), flight (Archangel Armor), and psi. (Psi) Only "generic" and "mobility" have more than one representative, but the key point is that endgame armor is actually between four different choices. I wish those four different choices were a bit more distinct, but this is still far more interesting than the original XCOM's single lane of increasing quality.

Items... I'm less thrilled with. The original XCOM's approach to inventory was overall more complicated than necessary and was often a giant pain in the butt to interact with, but I feel the remaquel goes too far in the opposite direction. Worse, I feel some of the items -Reaper Rounds and Nanofiber Vest in particular- highlight what a missed opportunity Foundry Projects represent.

See, in the original XCOM, one of the issues with the game design is that so much of your improvement is in the form of your soldiers leveling their stats -and only a few points at a time- that "stumbling" (suffering some casualties) can turn into an uncontrolled downhill slide where the fact that you lost some of your most elite troops leads to you losing more of them the next time you fight some aliens and so on, with rookies equipped with the latest and greatest gear just not enough of an improvement to give you room to recovery.

So when I first learned of Foundry Projects, I was sort of imagining you'd get a few things like a universal HP upgrade, a universal Aim upgrade, maybe a universal movement upgrade. Stuff that meant that late-game rookies weren't so far behind early-game elites, so that even a full squad wipe didn't literally knock you back to the stone age. Gear in the remaquel is normally impossible to lose, and that serves the purpose instead... but it's honestly kind of distracting how it doesn't really make a lot of sense, and, again, feels like a missed opportunity regardless. Among other points, the closest you'll ever come to improving the Aim of your troops is making the Officer Training School upgrade that means all rookies are auto-promoted to Squaddie, and thus a class, instead of needing to be in combat.

Next time, we cover Gene Mods and Medals.