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Friday, February 24, 2017

Days of Ruin: Will, Society, and Nihilism

(Yes, I know the game is known as Dark Conflict in Europe and Australia. I played the American version. It's what I know. The only difference I can keep straight on my own is the Isabella/Catleia thing. So I'm sticking to the American translation for names)

Days of Ruin is kind of an odd game for a post-apocalyptic story. Post-apocalypses tend to focus on the scramble to survive, the throwback to subsistence living but with incongruous modern technology mixed in like machine guns replacing the good ol' bow and arrow. The initial portion of Days of Ruin's plot deals some with this idea, with the sun blotted out and our heroes trying to find some way to feed people under such circumstances, but...

... when it gets down to it, Days of Ruin is primarily wrestling with philosophical questions about society and how people relate to it, with the 'collapse of society' providing a kind of before-and-after to help illustrate how they viewed the 'normal'.

Will is coming from the position that we should pull together and help each other because, basically, it's the right thing to do. He's the only person in the plot who holds this view, and his friction with others provides a way to explore these things.

If it's not obvious, this post will be dealing with Days of Ruin spoilers.

Let's start with the Beast.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Batman's Funhouse Mirrors: The Joker

To me, the thing about the Joker is that he's a reflection of Batman that helps illustrate what Batman is by being the same in some ways, and utterly different in others. They've both built themselves into symbols of fear, the kind of name that ordinary folks in-universe say with a hush, as if saying their name risks calling their attention -and thus wrath- down on you. Or you scream it in terror because you've just spotted them. Fear, is the point: Batman scares people. The Joker scares people.

The difference is in how they go about it, what they're trying to achieve, why they do it.

Batman deliberately chose to make himself into an icon of terror because a terrible thing happened to him that he doesn't want to ever happen to anyone else if he can help it. He wants to scare criminals straight: if you're legitimately terrified that The Goddamn Bat is going to drop in on you the instant you try to hold up a tiny grocery store, then maybe you'll go looking for some way to make your money that doesn't risk The Bat's attention. Furthermore, Batman doesn't really go out of his way to induce terror, per se. He selected his imagery to frighten, and he's no stranger to using fear to get what he wants out of people, but he mostly doesn't prioritize around the capacity of an action to produce fear. The primary goal is to stop criminals from being criminals, and fear is simply one of his tools, if perhaps the most prominent one.

The Joker revels in fear, and terrorizes people for its own sake. He's unpredictable, chaotic, disturbing. In some interpretations he opposes Batman philosophically by virtue of being convinced that any happiness is a lie and it's his job to tear down the fa├žade -where Batman is trying to make the world a better place, the Joker is trying to convince people the world is worse than it seems. Other versions of the Joker simply enjoy the results they produce, that people screaming and running is its own reward, and any apparent end is an excuse, a justification. These Jokers don't rob a bank because they want the money -they rob the bank to provide a seeming structure to their fearmongering, a narrative for people to take some trust in... and for the Joker to then use against them. After all, if the Joker is robbing your bank, then you can cooperate with him and he won't shoot you, right? Ah, no, false hope: the Joker is here to shoot you (Well, to shoot someone, anyway), and robbing the bank is as good a cover story as any. It's a thing criminals do, right? The instant you think you're safe he'll kill you, surprise!... except when he doesn't, because if he did it every time, he'd become predictable.

Incidentally, this ties in quite nicely to his clown imagery, and not because there are people who find clowns disturbing. Fear and humor hinge on the same mechanism: uncertainty, unpredictability. A joke makes you laugh by surprising you. Fear is driven by the unknown, the lurking danger you think is out there but don't know when it will strike, where it will strike, why it will strike. Fear and laughter go together, so it's only natural that the Joker is a fear-mongering clown. The format of a joke is similar to the format of a nightmare -there's setup that you're not sure where it's going, and then there's a punchline out of nowhere. You laugh, caught off guard by joke, or you are struck down the very moment you think you're safe.

The result helps draw a line that helps defines Batman -it's tempting to think he frightens people for no better reason than because he enjoys it, but by contrasting him against the Joker -who most certainly does revel in fear for its own sake- the audience gets clarity that Batman isn't that way.

------

Next time, I'll talk about Robin.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Japanese Media Cheat Sheet

Over the years of reading manga, playing Japanese video games, and watching anime, I've picked up a number of useful axioms, recurring translation habits that, if you don't know about them, can produce some unintuitive translations, and just general mental note-taking that's helped me make better sense of Japanese works... while reading/playing/watching in English.

This is intended to be a resource for other people who enjoy English translations of Japanese works, helping them to understand what they are missing... or at least why the works they enjoy can at times seem incomprehensibly strange.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Let's Play Monster Quest: Part 21a

So it turns out the next mission -which is one of the hardest missions in the game normally, arguably the hardest due to Fog of War- is yet harder than the default version of itself, enough so that while I might be able to beat it on sheer stubbornness with my current team...

... I've given in and decided to go skirmish with wild monsters to train up some of my people.

Normally, this is something I avoid doing. Frankly, the game just isn't that hard, and what few challenges can be found past the twins' divergence point are too easy to trivialize by fighting a skirmish or two or swinging by the Tower of Valni. The exceptions are, conversely, generally difficult to do much of anything about via grinding, because the strength of your existing characters has more or less no bearing on what makes the sequence difficult.

There was a time where I tended to try to train Amelia, Ross, and Ewan up to their first promotion on monsters, but I got experienced enough with the game that it became fairly trivial to get them to level ten on the level you recruit them, or the one after it at most, helped in no small part by how ridiculously fast they gain experience, rendering easy fights unnecessary.

In general, while Sacred Stones allows you to grind, the missions seem to really have been designed under the assumption that while you can grind if you're bad at the game, a good player will be able to pull through without grinding and without casualties.

Monster Quest seems, conversely, to have been designed under the assumption that grinding increasingly makes it acceptable for missions to produce potentially unbeatable challenges, as the player can just back off. Lyon, for instance, was actually impossible for a good portion of my characters to hurt, and far too lethal for most of my characters to be safe to stay in his striking distance, if only due to the chance of an instant-kill crit.

Between the next mission being quite hard in general and, in particular, the fact that it allows the player to take 17 units instead of the usual 14-or-less meaning that I'd have to sub in some pre-promotes if I wanted to maintain the same overall quality... yeah. Skirmish time.

Admittedly, part of what's motivating this decision is that I've been curious as to what, if anything, Monster Quest has done to the skirmish encounters.

However, if you're not really interested in watching me grind in a skirmish or three, you can feel free to skip to the next mission.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Let's Play Monster Quest: Part 20

So before we start the actual chapter: stuff I should've done much, much sooner!


Here's Nidhogg. It has three max range, I presume because it's a Bow and it'd be sort of doofy for the Bow Sacred Twin to have the same range as all these normally-melee weapons. It's actually lose 3 Might and gained 2 Weight, so aside from the range increase and unlimited uses it's strictly inferior to the normal version, but that's fine with me. This is still amazing and I love how Monster Quest handles the Sacred Twins.


I ultimately use the Dragonshield on Tana. I considered giving it to Lute or one of the other Mogalls, but their Defense cap is so low I'm worried they'll hit it on pure leveling in spite of having poor Defense right now. I also considered making Tethys even more immortal for giggles, but naaah, Monster Quest has upped the challenge enough I'd like to do useful stat gains.

So! That stone thing Lyon dropped while fleeing.


... huh. Myrrh can't use it. That's... surprising.


Colm can use it! Very odd. In the regular game, Myrrh can use monster weapons and monsters can use the Dragonstone. Monster Quest has made a rather more significant alteration than I expected!


Confirming the reverse: the Dragonstone can't be used by monsters. (I did not test this exhaustively, note)

Iiinteresting.


Confirming that monster weapons are more nuanced than even "Myrrh gets Dragonstone and everybody else gets everything else" -I can give Joshua the Mauthe Doog a Sharp Claw and he'll use it, but Gilliam the Bael has no use for Fiery Fang. I might investigate this more thoroughly later.


Oh, and it turns out if you look at the Stone Shard from the use item screen it basically straight-up tells you it's a monster weapon.

I didn't take a screenshot, but the regular monster weapons do not have this text themselves, and indeed have no text at all. To be fair, I'm pretty sure the Stone Shard can be used by any monster other than Myrrh that doesn't use regular weapons -I didn't screenshot it, but I did confirm that passing it to one of my Deathgoyles didn't let them use it- where the other monster weapons are more nuanced than that. It might not have been practical to lay out what each monster weapon can be used by.

... though this is making me that bit more disappointed that Myrrh isn't a Dracozombie, since Monster Quest apparently figured out how to sub-divide monster weapons, and so Wretched Air wouldn't be something I could slap onto Gilliam or whatever.

I want a Dracozombie, dangit.


And the Stone Shard is +3 to Skill, Speed, Defense, and Resist. Nifty! I appreciate how the Stone Shard helps keep monster weapon monsters relevant in the end-game, given they don't get the completely absurd Sacred Twins.


Grabbing this screenshot because I am not joking with these jokes about the two hearts of the Darkling Woods. I'll grab an equivalent screenshot later, for the final mission, just to prove this point.


I grabbed this screenshot later than I usually do and then liked how it came out.

The name has always seemed odd to me. Yeah, Lyon's got some Twoface thing going on in this mission when we catch up to him, but that's not really the two faces of evil. That's one face that's good or an act -depending, strangely, on whether you're on Eirika's route or Ephraim's route- and another face that's evil.

Oh well, whatever.

This is a short mission that's basically gobs of free experience. It turns out the Monster Quest version is rather more challenging, but it's still short -lately my screenshot counts have run 300+ or 400+, but with this mission I had less than 200 screenshots, even with all this pre-mission stuff.

I had to restart it twice due to two mean traps. I'll be pointing them out as we go along.

Monday, January 9, 2017

XCOM Multiplayer Analysis Part 3: Enemy Within

Enemy Within does not give Tactical Rigging to XCOM Soldiers, and indeed removes the second slot from the interface entirely since Deep Pockets' behavior has changed to make it irrelevant.

Mec Troopers
Note that you must purchase a Mec Suit for a Mec, placing them at a minimum of 3500 points. (2000 for the trooper,1500 for a Bruiser suit)

Vanguard (Squaddie): 1200 points
Shock-Absorbent Armor
Collateral Damage

Your most basic Mec. Load them into a Bruiser to take advantage of their Shock-Absorbent Armor, and you've largely invalidated the Alien melee. Okay, not exactly, since you're spending more than you would on a Chryssalid and the Chryssalid is faster and has Leap, but the Mec gets a gun, ranged splash damage that destroy cover, better HP... the Berserker, meanwhile, is 500 more points than the cheapest Mec, and struggles to justify itself over such.

If you're interested in pumping more points into a melee Mec, focusing on upgrading the suit is probably the way to go, as you can only get 4 more Aim over the Vanguard, the suits are better for giving HP, you get more Will either way and the skills you get out of grabbing higher-ranked Mecs aren't strongly relevant to a melee Mec overall. Taking a Guardian instead might be worth considering though, as Damage Control is a more consistent increase in durability in practice, and an additional charge of 300 points is cheap.


Guardian (Sergeant): 1500 points
Body Shield
Collateral Damage
Advanced Fire Control
Damage Control

For only 300 points more, lose your close-combat-specialty effect in exchange for a modest chance to avoid being shot by the nearest guy. Advanced Fire Control is an okay perk in Multiplayer, though hampered by the fact that Enemy Within has made stealth much more widely available and effective.

Damage Control makes it a lot harder for the enemy to alpha strike your Mec down, which is actually a pretty nice benefit in Multiplayer, as a key part of the game is successfully removing enemy units outright, and a single Mec really can be threatening enough that the inability to kill it right now is a serious problem.

Body Shield is somewhat gameable -whoever is nearest to the Mec can fire on a different target, or wait for everybody else to take their shots, back off so someone else is now the closest unit to the Mec, and then shoot at the Mec- but arguably Shock-Absorbent Armor is still the worse of the two, as generally only melee attacks have to really worry about it, and human opponents are not nearly as dumb as the AI is, generally speaking. Why stay next to a Mec and suffer from the damage penalty when you could back just far enough away to escape it? Since the Guardian has Damage Control, in practice they'll tend to be the harder of the two to kill, barring melee attackers. Since the Guardian is only 300 more points than the Vanguard, this is usually not a difficult burden to shoulder.

Savior (Captain): 2100 points
Distortion Field
Collateral Damage
Automated Threat Assessment
Damage Control
One For All
Expanded Storage

For 600 more points than the previous, swap in a fairly general protective boost to your allies, gain an extra unit of ammo/extra uses of some Mec suit abilities, and... One For All, I guess, but One For All is dubious in single player and worse in Multiplayer. Oh, and replace Advanced Fire Control with Automated Threat Assessment, yay.

I'm not a fan of the Savior. Not enough payoff for the points, compared to the previous two Mecs. Distortion Field and Expanded Storage are nice, but not that nice, and Automated Threat Assessment's mechanics make it fairly godawful. The Savior is probably the closest thing to a gunner-oriented build for Mecs, but it's not like they have Overdrive. Really, the main reason I can imagine to consider it is if you're planning shenanigans with stacking Distortion Field with other Defense boosters/high Defense units. (eg Muton Elites in Full Cover and benefiting from Distortion Field have 70 Defense passively, which is higher than most units' Aim in Multiplayer)

Commando (Captain): 2300 points
Shock-Absorbent Armor
Collateral Damage
Advanced Fire Control
Damage Control
Jet Boot Module
Repair Servos

Your last Mec choice. Notice how there's no Sniper Mec, and no Major or Colonel choices.That sucks, given that Overdrive and Reactive Targeting Sensors are some of the best aspects of a Mec. Credit where it's due: I'm glad every Mec got Damage Control over Vital-Point Targeting, since the latter would have been quite wonky in Multiplayer.

As for the Commando itself... Jet Boot Module's utility is painfully dependent on map type, while Repair Servos is just garbage. I have difficulty justifying spending points on a Commando. To be fair, upgrading the Mec suit to gain Restorative Mist is, itself, a price hike of 2000+ points, where the Commando is only 200 points more than the Savior, so the "Expanded Storage Restorative Mist is better than Repair Servos" argument isn't particularly relevant, but still. The Commando is just really hard to argue for. When it gets down to it, I think the Guardian is probably the overall best choice for a Mec regardless of your exact plan, unless you really need to save 300 points for elsewhere and so Vanguard is actually justified.

Mec Suits
The loadouts are preselected, and so Mecs have six Armor choices rather than three. Somewhat disappointingly, they're just two simple progressions, no mixing things up.

Torch: 1800 points (2000 post-patch)
Flamethrower

One of two basic Mec suits.

Overall the worse one: Flamethrower's limited uses hurt it, you're still short-range-oriented but without a free Mobility boost, you're paying more points for the privilege, and auto-panicking enemies just isn't nearly as useful as killing them. The fact that it's area-of-effect damage also has the problem that human players aren't as dumb as the AI, generally speaking, and there's tons of things that are immune to Flamethrower anyway, so it may be outright a useless pick in some matchups!

Admittedly, it's still probably better than buying a Rocketman or EXALT Heavy for 6 splash damage.

Bruiser: 1000 points (1500 post-patch)
Kinetic Strike Module

The other of two basic Mec suits.

Overall the superior one, as I just covered. In particular, Kinetic Strike Module's free boost to Mobility means that even if you're intending to use your Mec as a gunner unit, it's still bringing something of significance to the table. As such, it should be your default choice when considering a Mec for your Multiplayer team.

For that matter, being able to punch things to death right after burning all your ammo on a Collateral Damage is plenty useful in its own right.

The Bruiser's existence is also a big hit to the melee Aliens' viability, which is a bit unfortunate given they were already struggling to be viable.

Phoenix: 3200 points (3500 post-patch)
Flamethrower
Restorative Mist

Pay 2000+ points for Restorative Mist and some stat boosts?

... over-priced, in my opinion. Not so much because it isn't valuable, as because 5500 points dumped into one unit is, as I covered with the Cybrdisc, constrictive. Restorative Mist would be fairly amazing if you could reasonably expect to combine it with a team of sufficiently durable units they could tank a couple of Alien Grenades to then be healed. It would be even more amazing if combining it with Expanded Storage didn't raise your minimum to 6400 points. Also, you haven't even upgraded the gun at these values.

As-is? You have too few points left over to go into other things.

And of course Flamethrower over Kinetic Strike Module is sub-optimal. +4 Mobility from the Kinetic Strike Module would've directly assisted in getting your splash healing to where you need it to be, where the Flamethrower does nothing to synergize with the Restorative Mist.


Demolisher: 1700 points (2200 post-patch)
Kinetic Strike Module
Grenade Launcher

Pre- and post-patch, this is 700 points over the Bruiser for the Grenade Launcher and some stat gains, primarily a decent amount of HP. That's actually pretty modest when you consider that Grenade Launcher's Grenades fire farther and hit harder than a Frag Grenade -weaker than an Alien Grenade, but only a little, and you still have the range advantage. Definitely worth considering, especially if you have essentially finished your team and find you have 700 or so points still free to be spent on improving the team.

It's also worth commentary that it's only slightly more expensive (200 points) than the Torch while providing a more useful splash attack, enhanced mobility, more HP and Will, and an infinite-use backup weapon. This makes it even harder to justify the Torch.

Ifrit: 3600 points (3800 post-patch)
Flamethrower
Restorative Mist
Proximity Mine Launcher

I'm unclear why this is such a small cost increase over the Phoenix. Frankly, if you're considering the Phoenix, you should ignore it in favor of the Ifrit just for the stat bonuses and Proximity Mine Launcher you're getting for a mere 300 points increase in cost.

Whether the Ifrit is actually worth the points is a whole other topic, and one I lean toward the answer probably being "No". It's odds are much better than the Phoenix, though.

Typhoon: 2100 points (2600 post-patch)
Kinetic Strike Module
Grenade Launcher
Electro Pulse

For 500 more points than the Demolisher, you get some more stat boosts and Electro Pulse. The Electro Pulse is amazing if the enemy is fielding a Cyberdisc or Mechtoid(s), and is still pretty decent even if they aren't, and the cost increase is small enough that if you're willing to dump so many points into a single unit in the first place it's probably worth considering going straight to Typhoon.

Mec Weapons

Railgun: 300 points

If you're investing in a Mec in the first place, you really ought to take the Railgun. No reason to have your massive points sink wielding a pea-shooter when you can up their damage by 50% for a measly 300 points.

Particle Cannon: 1000 points

The Particle Cannon would be a lot more worth considering if there was a Major or Colonel-level Mec available to Overdrive it. As-is I'm not sure it's worth the points, generally.

Gene Mods
Each choice is a pair of Gene Mods. You only get one.

+
Berserker: 100 points, Adrenal Neurosympathy, Hyper-Reactive Pupils

For almost no points, get almost no benefits.

I kid, kind of. But seriously, Adrenal Neurosympathy requires a kill be landed and its three effects are fairly minor, both individually and taken as a collective, while Hyper-Reactive Pupils is a small benefit you won't necessarily live long enough to take advantage of if you miss a shot.

That said, my main criticism of Berserker is that Watcher exists: Depth Perception confers a more usefully-situated bonus than Hyper-Reactive Pupils, and Muscle Fiber Density provides greater mobility in general but also stacks nicely with Depth Perception itself. Put another way, Watcher provides consistent, leveragable advantages, where Berserker has one piece that requires you get unlucky first and the other requires that you arrange for that specific soldier to land the killshot.

I think Berserker might be aimed at Assaults, under the idea of Rapid Firing something to death, but I feel like Watcher is still the overall more useful one even in that scenario.

+
Lurker: 400 points (1200 post-patch), Mimetic Skin, Muscle Fiber Density

Mimetic Skin is crazy-powerful, even with Enemy Within taking the crit bonus for attacking from stealth down from +100 to +30. Muscle Fiber Density is just a bonus.

I'm boggling that Firaxis had it at just 400 points in the first place. I feel Multiplayer tends to overvalue anything that does direct damage and undervalue anything that doesn't, unfortunately, with Lurker's original low price being one of the more extremely examples.

Mimetic Skin apparently doesn't break cloak after a turn, either, so it's an absurd stalling tool if the opponent doesn't have any detection tools nor any splash damage. Frankly, Mimetic Skin probably shouldn't have been allowed into Multiplayer, or given different behavior in the first place, as currently a match can simply drag indefinitely, victory being ceded to whoever has more patience and/or time and/or the better internet connection, as opposed to skill having anything to do with it.

I'm also kind of baffled that you can't reveal a cloaked unit by standing next to it or anything of the sort, both on a 'realism' level and on a game design level.

+
Hypersenses: 400 points, Hyper-Reactive Pupils, Bioelectric Skin

Honestly, the only reason to consider Hypersenses is to try to counter-act Mimetic Skin. It's too expensive for too dubious a payoff otherwise. Which is too bad, because if it was good enough to be a staple choice, Mimetic Skin's abusability wouldn't be such a problem.

Part of the problem is that Multiplayer's maps lean away from the kind of dense urban environments that Bioelectric Skin is most valuable in. Trainyard is the only map where its sense-through-walls benefit is consistently significant.

+
Bastion: 250 points, Neural Feedback, Adaptive Bone Marrow

You regenerate health and you punish Psi. Seems useful for the points if you're worried about Psi, and an XCOM-focused team is liable to be worried about Psi. Would be better if Ethereals were actually relevant to competitive matches. As-is, it's basically anti-Sectoid Commander.

+
Watcher: 100 points, Depth Perception, Muscle Fiber Density

Get to high ground more readily, and then get a little more stats out of doing so. For 100 points, Watcher is basically an auto-buy if you don't want one of the other Gene Mod pairs. Boulevard is the only Multiplayer map where Muscle Fiber Density is essentially irrelevant, so it's a pretty consistently relevant Mod pair.

The Rest

Mechtoid: 3200 points

An exceptionally useful unit, and it makes filler Sectoids even more useful.

One of your best sources of damage output, both in a general sense and in terms of points-to-damage-output. When backed by Sectoids/a Sectoid Commander, they're also frighteningly durable, with 20 hit points before you slap a Mind Merge shield on them, which is 6 free HP and halves incoming damage to boot. That's basically 32 hit points to burn through if they only get one Mind Merge shield in the entire match!

That said, they have less utility functions than a lot of other units do, and can struggle to deal with high Defense targets if not well-supported.

Their biggest flaw is that they have 0 Will without being Psi-immune, and thus anything capable of Mind Control (Read: Sectoid Commanders) will always succeed in stealing them from you. As such, they're somewhat risky to scout with in spite of how their incredible durability makes them an obvious choice for such a duty. If you're certain the enemy has no Mind Control though, they're fantastic units, well worth taking one or two.

Seeker: 2200 points

I ragged on Seekers extensively in the Aliens analysis...

... but in Multiplayer their behavioral shackles don't apply.

Want to strangle while visible? Go for it! Want to fire your Plasma Pistol while cloaked? Totally valid!

They do have the flaw that Strangulation isn't usable against Alien units, but that's not too bad of a problem. They remain useful as scouts and flankers that don't cost too much, even if there's nothing to strangle. With Lurker's price point patched up to 1200, a Rookie with Mimetic Skin is only barely cheaper than a Seeker, while lacking flight, so this is a valid niche. Against forces that are employing a single big nasty XCOM soldier, a Seeker is an extremely points-efficient way to take them out of the game for at least a turn or two... assuming they're not immune to Strangulation, which is unfortunately a pretty big caveat.

Still, if you incorporate them as a scout/flanker and treat the potential for Strangulation as a bonus, then they're reasonably solid.

Needle Grenade: 500 points (300 post-patch)

Once they were patched down to cheaper than Alien Grenade? Definitely worth considering. Against a competent player, they're probably largely avoiding clustering their troops where a regular Grenade blast radius can catch multiple, but not necessarily for the Needle Grenade's radius.

Conversely, even if you're only hitting one target... if it's not going to survive, you don't care so much that their Cover will survive, or may even consider that a positive. If the target is going to survive, the failure to destroy Cover is a bit of a negative, but not overly so, especially since some forms of Cover aren't possible to destroy anyway.

Overall a decent pick.

EXALT Sniper: 2000 points (1400 post-patch)
Headshot
Damn Good Ground
Snapshot

The most direct comparison is to the Hunter. Pre-patching, the EXALT Sniper was more expensive than the Hunter, while being worse in literally every way. Damn Good Ground's Aim bonus still places them behind a Hunter's base Aim, leaving only the Defense bonus to their name. 10 Defense does not justify the losses in myriad stats and fewer skills and increased costs.

Post-patching, they're at least cheaper than a Hunter... but they're still taking (Sizable) hits on every stat and losing out on the ability to pick up XCOM's equipment goodies. Not worth it.

EXALT Medic: 1000 points
Smoke Grenade
Covering Fire
Field Medic

A cheap Medic. Way cheap. The Elite is 50% more expensive, but has better stats including a better weapon and a second Smoke Grenade use, and the amazing Regen Pheromones, blowing EXALT Medics out of the water. Still, if you have 1000 points left over to fill one slot in, the EXALT Medic isn't a bad buy. Compared to a Smokejumper, you're basically spending 100 points and sacrificing 25 Aim to gain Covering Fire, an innate Medikit, and a skill to make that Medikit better. Put another way, if you want a dedicated medic -one whose ability to shoot at things successfully is not desired- for dirt-cheap, the EXALT Medic is your man.

Otherwise pass right over them, as they're pretty awful.


EXALT Operative: 1200 points
Equipped with one Frag Grenade

Garbage.

10 more Will than an XCOM Rookie, and that's it. Worse Aim, same HP... a Smokejumper with a Frag Grenade will cost the same as an EXALT Operative and only lose 5 Will by comparison.

There is no reason to ever take a basic EXALT Operative.


EXALT Heavy: 2900 points
Rocket Launcher
Holo-Targeting
Suppression
Equipped with one Frag Grenade

A Muton will usually fill the role better for less points. If you specifically want the ability to use two explosives, an Imperator carrying an Alien Grenade (3000 points, total, post-patching) will handily outperform it with only a slight points increase. Holo-Targeting does not give you a reason to use the EXALT Heavy over either of these.

Never use an EXALT Heavy.

EXALT Elite Medic: 1500 points
Smoke Grenade,
Covering Fire
Field Medic
Smoke and Mirrors
Regen Pheromones
Equipped with an EXALT Laser Rifle

Effectively an up-statted XCOM Medic, for less points than the XCOM Medic! Slower and lacks Dense Smoke, and also can't be given other gear, but the weapon is Laser-tier for free and Regen Pheromones is amazing and, more importantly, unique. Since the XCOM Medic can potentially combo with other gear they're not invalidated per se, but the EXALT Elite Medic should be your go-to medical unit if you don't feel like dumping gobs of points into bonus gear for your medic. Unlimited healing from Regen Pheromones also opens up the option of hit-and-running foes to wear them down, though that's usually not going to be combat-practical.


EXALT Elite Operative: 3000 points
Adrenaline Surge Gene Mod
Equipped with an EXALT Laser Rifle and one Alien Grenade

Horribly over-priced garbage.

Mutons are cheaper and better in nearly every way. Adrenaline Surge is a pretty terrible skill, and it and their fairly high Will the only things they have over a Muton. If you want something with high Will, then Sectoid Commanders fill the role better overall, Alien Grenade included, while having several other useful abilities, including that Mind Fray helps compensate for the Plasma Pistol having less damage than the EXALT Laser Rifle in a direct and obvious way.


EXALT Elite Sniper: 3200 points
Headshot
Damn Good Ground
Snap Shot
Executioner
Depth Perception
Equipped with an EXALT Laser Sniper Rifle

Take 70 base Aim. Subtract 10 because Snap Shot. Be highly generous and assume they have the high ground at all times -they now have 95 Aim, under overly generous assumptions.

Alternatively, you could spend 300 points less on a Muton Elite, which has 5 more Aim if it has the high ground, and is even more accurate than that in the more probable scenario that neither has the high ground. It also has nearly twice the HP, a free Alien Grenade it can toss hilarious distances, a more powerful gun -essentially offsetting trying to get crits with Headshot/Executioner/Depth Perception- as well as 20 innate Defense rather than 10 situational Defense. And synergy with regular Mutons. And Suppression thrown in, because why not?

Admittedly, the EXALT Elite Sniper has 80 Will instead of 20, but that's pretty much literally the only thing they have going for them, and quite frankly a Hunter with Bastion and a Laser Sniper Rifle costs less, is better at shrugging off Psi, has all the same skills plus Gunslinger and Battle Scanner, the same HP, better Aim...

Do not buy an EXALT Elite Sniper under any circumstances.


EXALT Elite Heavy: 3600 points
Rocket Launcher
Holo-Targeting
Suppression
Rapid Reaction
Iron Skin
Equipped with an EXALT Heavy Laser and one Alien Grenade

The main reason EXALT Elite Heavies aren't unusable trash is that they handily beat out Heavies for price-to-utility ratio if what you're wanting is a cheap rocket. A Rocketman is already 3400 points! That's a Squaddie Heavy with no weapon upgrade or item, and while EXALT units are awful, the EXALT Elite Heavy is still a lot better than that. Iron Skin also means they're a bit tougher overall than they seem -10 hit points going roughly 33% farther. Call it 13 effective HP, with Medikit usage itself going farther thanks to Iron Skin too. That's not half-bad for just tanking damage.

Definitely the go-to choice if you're dead-set on a Heavy for Rocket reasons.

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It's pretty obvious that XCOM's Multiplayer wasn't a high priority, what with only one balance patch ever, but I still have to wonder how some of these decisions made it into the final product.

In any event, next time... we finish this XCOM analysis.