XCOM Class Analysis: Assault
The Assault seems to lie somewhere between being your default line soldier and being a hyper-aggressive flanktastic murder machine that believes the best defense is a good offense.
Run & Gun
The Assault may fire or initiate Overwatch even after having used up all their actions in a turn. (Activated ability, 2-turn cooldown)
The defining skill for the Assault, granting them vastly superior ability to flank targets than other classes. A comparison can be made to the Support's Sprinter trait, and Run & Gun wins if you ignore that one is an activated ability with a cooldown while the other is automatic, as Sprinter is worth 4 move compared to a base per-action move of 12. (So a Sprinter Support can use 16 move and shoot something, while a Run & Gun Assault can use 24 move and shoot something. That's 50% more move) When stacking other positive modifiers like the Skeleton Suit's +3 to move, it becomes even more favorable to Run & Gun, to boot.
I like Run & Gun as an ability, overall. It provides a solid foundation for the Assault's role of "the soldier who runs up to targets and blows them away, preferably flanking them." by letting them pull off stuff your other soldiers just can't do.
Tactical Sense OR Aggression
+5 Defense per enemy visible to a max of +20 OR +10% chance to crit per enemy visible to a max of +30%.
I dislike both of these traits. On an overall build level, one is the "defensive" trait and the other is the "aggressive" trait, but neither trait really changes how the Assault plays. An Assault with Tactical Sense doesn't play more defensively, nor does one with Aggression play more aggressively. In fact, neither of them really plays all that differently from the other, nor plays all that differently from an Assault that lacks either skill. Certainly, an Assault that has one of the skills has a higher average performance, but that's it. You're not going to change what kinds of decisions you make based on which skill you take.
Compounding this is that it's extremely difficult to argue for Aggression over Tactical Sense. The big thing the Assault brings to the table over other classes is being an incredible flanker, and if you've got the flank you've got a minimum of 50% crit before you factor in that all Shotguns have 20% innate crit chance. That's a minimum of 70%. A Foundry Project will eventually cause the S.C.O.P.E. to add 10% crit chance, bringing you to 80%. The only reason to consider Aggression is if you hate having any possibility of not critting, and even then, it won't ensure a crit (When holding an upgraded S.C.O.P.E.!) unless there's at least two enemies visible. Tactical Sense will help you anytime the Assault is being shot at, the end.
Two other skills (Only one, in Enemy Within) compound the problem, but I'll cover that when I get to them.
Lightning Reflexes OR Close & Personal
The first Overwatch shot made on the Assault in a turn will miss OR the Assault gets increasing crit chance, max of 30% increase, as they get closer to their target. (Enemy Within changes Close & Personal to: if the Assault fires on a unit from within 4 tiles of the unit, the shot does not cost an action. Once per turn, and Run & Gun doesn't stack with it. A Rapid Fire is valid)
Lightning Reflexes turns your Assault into a linebreaker of sorts. Aliens playing defensively can be forced to waste their Overwatch on automatically missing the Assault, leaving your other troops free to move up in safety. Since Suppression is considered to be an Overwatch shot, it also makes the Assault essentially immune to Suppression, which is great when Aliens bother to Suppress you. This is an excellent skill, and I quite like the idea of it.
The original version of Close & Personal was terrible, and yet was a contributing factor to why Aggression is very questionable to take over Tactical Sense. If you really want crits, Close & Personal's maximum bonus, when stacked with the Shotgun's innate 20%, will turn a flank into an automatic crit. Since crit chance doesn't stack past 100% (It doesn't "rollover" into a chance for a double-crit or something), it probably makes more sense to take Tactical Sense and Close & Personal if you really care. However, I dislike the original version of Close & Personal on the design level, as it's both a very unreliable effect if you're not specifically using it to turn flanks into extremely reliable crits, and it does little to change the Assault's behavior. It theoretically encourages them to get closer, but getting closer is already incentivized by Aim mechanics if you're not talking a Sniper Rifle, flanks pretty much always involve getting very close, and Close & Personal isn't a big enough boost to really be likely to influence exactly how close the player wants to bring an Assault to the target.
The Enemy Within version is actually one of my favorite skills in the entire game, as it provides clear, powerful benefits. It can be used to let an Assault get in even more damage, or to let an Assault get in, take a shot (Preferably from a flank), and then escape to a more defensible position before the enemy's turn, or take a shot at an enemy that's gotten on top of the Assault before fleeing to a safer position, etc. It also bolsters the Assault against melee aliens pretty consistently, so that's nice.
In the original game, I feel this is barely a choice at all: take Lightning Reflexes every time. In Enemy Within, Close & Personal is an incredible skill, but one that fills a very different role from Lightning Reflexes. If you want to straightforwardly make your Assault a more dangerous unit, Close & Personal is the choice to make. If you want your Assault to be a bit more of a supporting piece to the rest of your force, Lightning Reflexes is the better choice.
Flush OR Rapid Fire
Fires a shot that forces the enemy to move from their current position, which does reduced damage (halved) but has higher accuracy (+30%) OR fires two shots in rapid succession at a -15 Aim penalty.
Flush is terrible. In theory it can be used to activate Overwatch shots from allies, landing shots that aren't being penalized by cover and have a much higher chance of getting a critical hit, but this is questionable even if the entire rest of the squad is Heavies running their "shoot twice in Overwatch" skill. Overwatch shots are operating at an Aim penalty by default, reducing the value in getting the target out of cover for the shots, and you can't back out of Overwatch. If you set more units than was necessary to gun down the moving unit, you can't have the remainder back out of Overwatch and shoot at enemies right now (In fact, the way the game resolves Overwatch, they probably all fired no matter what), and if you set too few, you've wasted the effect, since the target will simply move to a new piece of cover if at all possible. Compounding this is that most of the toughest Aliens don't even make use of cover -Flushing a target out of Full Cover so an Overwatch shot hits them will usually have higher odds of a hit than simply shooting at them while they're still in Full Cover, but against something that isn't using Cover anyway you're just taking a penalty to your accuracy for no real reason.
There's the edge case of finding yourself in a situation where one or more of your units can't get a firing line on a target at all and have someone Flush it in hopes that they'll move to where your other units can shoot them, but this will rarely crop up at all. The more skilled you are at the game, the less often it will tend to crop up -and good use of Flush is slanted toward high-skill play.
The only vaguely consistently good way to use Flush is to take advantage of its crippled damage to weaken a target in hopes of capturing it. This has the problem that you could instead simply use a Pistol for the same result, without having to worry about the Alien running out of reach of whoever you intend to have hit them with an Arc Thrower.
Flush is a bad skill, is what I'm saying.
Meanwhile, Rapid Fire is amazing. Someone else has already done the math, but the Aim penalty is minor enough that if you've got 31% or higher chance to hit when not using Rapid Fire, you should probably use Rapid Fire. (Unless you're at 95% or more but not yet 115% or more) This is especially true when you consider that you only spend the second shot if you need the second shot -if the first shot is a kill, you just use the usual one ammo. Rapid Fire doesn't even have a cooldown! You can spam it every turn, and quite often you should.
Flush might be worth considering (And occasionally using, such as when you're trying to weaken an Alien without killing it so you can capture it) if it was competing with another mediocre skill, but since the alternative is Rapid Fire, Flush isn't really worth considering at all. Why Flush out a target when you can just kill it? This is exacerbated by the point that its utility can be replicated by a number of other sources -in most cases destroying the enemy's Cover will achieve a similar or even better outcome. Enemy Within introducing Mecs with Collateral Damage drives home the problem -in Enemy Unknown, Flush has the advantage that all it consumes is ammo, which is unlimited in a mission, where all the reliable ways of destroying Cover in Enemy Unknown have a hard upper limit per mission. In Enemy Within, Collateral Damage takes over that niche.
Close Combat Specialist OR Bring 'Em On
Automatically perform a Reaction Shot against any enemy that moves to within 4 tiles of the Assault OR critical hits do 1 extra damage for each visible Alien, to a max of 5 bonus damage.
Close Combat Specialist, though a bit specialized, is an amazing skill, particularly in Enemy Within where Seekers are a thing. It won't activate on a Seeker trying to strangle the Close Combat Specialist, but it will activate if a Seeker goes for a nearby ally, reducing how many people you need to explicitly Overwatch. (eg allowing the Assault to simply reload, confident they'll fire regardless) The most obvious utility is letting the Assault get in free damage on melee enemies, but there are plenty of other situations where an enemy might move into close quarters with your Assault, and it'll be a free shot every time. (Unless you're out of ammo, anyway) The ability to automatically punish enemies turning corners unexpectedly, for instance, is a great secondary benefit.
Bring 'Em On is godawful. It's a small increase in damage if you get a crit. 1 bonus damage per visible enemy to a max of 5 damage would be decent if you could count on it, but the fact that it specifically demands you get a crit means it's erratic outside of when you're flanking a target. Even when you are flanking a target, you run into the problem that the bonus damage is fixed, and so as you progress through weapon quality it becomes a less noteworthy increase in damage. +5 is pretty great when you're using a basic Shotgun, as it's not far from doubling your damage over a non-Bring 'Em On crit. (6 or 7 crit damage on a basic Shotgun) It's not so hot when you're using an Alloy Cannon, which can do up to 15 crit damage on its own. At that point it's just a 33% increase in damage, and that's in the best-case scenario of having five enemies visible, when optimal play involves trying to never have more than one Alien pod active, and thus involves trying to never have more than 3 Aliens visible. I'd rather have Close Combat Specialist's potential to get in free extra shots, which pretty obviously doubles your damage output on a target in a turn if it activates.
Provides +1, +2, or +4 additional HP, depending on type of armor.
Makes the Assault somewhat tougher. Enemy Within provides a notable change by making Carapace Armor qualify for the +4 bonus, instead of the +2 bonus. Outside of that exception, it roughly correlates to tech level -you get +1 if you have nothing but the basic Body Armor equipped, +2 for most more advanced armors, and +4 for Archangel and Titan.
The effect is pretty small, and while it slightly biases the Assault away from Ghost Armor as its endgame armor and, in Enemy Within, gives them reason to consider sticking to Carapace instead of moving to Skeleton Suits the instant you have them, the effect it has on armor choice is also just not that big. It might keep your Assault alive one shot longer, but it's also entirely possible for the bonus HP to be irrelevant in the face of Alien firepower, particularly in the late game. An Assault in Titan Armor on Impossible, for instance, has 21 HP instead of 17, which will only occasionally make a difference against an Impossible Mechtoid's base damage of 11. (It could roll low twice in a row and thus only do 20 damage, but it usually won't)
I do appreciate that Enemy Within made Carapace get the +4 bonus, though. It means that early-mid-game high-experience Assaults are actually noticeably more durable than your other classes, aside from the somewhat complicated comparison to Heavies. (Also, Mecs win the day period, but they're much more expensive than an ordinary soldier and are sufficiently different that direct comparisons don't work so well) I personally feel the Heavy's equivalent skill is far, far superior, no questions asked, which is a bit disappointing, but it's not ruinous to game balance. It's annoying, particularly if you're running Training Roulette, but it could easily be worse.
Resilience OR Killer Instinct
Attacks on the soldier will never be critical hits OR using Run & Gun adds 50% damage to critical hits for the rest of the turn.
I personally prefer Resilience, as Killer Instinct is only fully reliable a benefit if you stack on critical hit boosts and grab a flank (You'll need +30%, even with a flank and a Shotgun, to reach 100% crit chance), and one of the problems with trying to get a flank, even with Run & Gun, is that you don't necessarily have a flanking position on your target that keeps you in cover, and indeed running into the middle of a group of Aliens means that often even when you do grab a position that's currently safe, multiple enemies will be one move away from flanking you anyway. As such, Resilience frees the Assault up to actually get flanks consistently without worrying about being torn apart by crits, where taking Killer Instinct can put you in a position where actually taking advantage of it is virtually guaranteeing the Assault's death. If you play more conservatively with the Assault as a result, you're even less likely to get crits in the first place, and therefore Killer Instinct becomes somewhat self-defeating of a choice, given that Resilience is what puts you in a position to actually take advantage of Killer Instinct's benefits -but you can't have them at the same time! I really think Resilience should've been the Assault's Major skill, and then Killer Instinct placed as competing with something like Lightning Reflexes or, heck, Extra Conditioning.
I like the idea of the choice, that you're choosing between emphasizing the Run & Gun flank effect by virtue of not having to worry overly much about keeping the Assault safe vs emphasizing the Run & Gun flank effect by making it even more murderous, but I don't think it really works out, especially since the further you get in the game the less common flankable enemies become. Muton Elites are basically the only end-game enemy that you can consistently expect to flank -everything else is Hardened and/or Flight-capable. That makes Killer Instinct even more unreliable and limited the further you go in the game. The only point in Killer Instinct's favor is that it theoretically finally provides a big payoff to investing in the Assault's +crit skills: with the original version of Close & Personal plus Aggression plus a S.C.O.P.E. with the Foundry Project upgrade plus the base crit chance from Shotgun-class weapons, an Assault can get to 90% crit chance without a flank. With Bring 'Em On and Killer Instinct and Rapid Fire, a crit-focused Assault wielding an Alloy Cannon can do 15+5x50%x2=60 damage. That's enough to one-round a Sectopod in Enemy Within!
On the other hand, that's the best-case scenario, and demands the impossible scenario of using the Enemy Unknown version of Close & Personal against the Enemy Within version of the Sectopod. In actuality, either you're playing Enemy Unknown and that's hilarious overkill against basically everything in the game, or you're playing Enemy Within and you just can't get reliable enough crits to make this an effect worth counting on. Enemy Within's additional items and Gene Mods and Medals don't make up the difference of the loss of Close & Personal's crit chance bonus: even with Depth Perception's bonus, the pheromone boost of a recent kill, and +10% crit chance from one of the Medals, these only add up to +25%, instead of Close & Personal's up to 30%, and they're also all a lot less reliable to pull off and, in the case of the Medal, demand you permanently commit an entire Medal type to the overall inferior choice. A more realistic upper limit on the Assault's crit chance in Enemy Within is 60% -and then you drop it to 50% against Hardened targets like the Sectopod. At that point you have about a 25% chance of actually having your Assault vaporize the Sectopod, and about a 25% chance of getting zero benefit from all your crit-based skills. That's godawful, not remotely worth planning around. Even if I assume Ghost Armor, Mimetic Skin, or a Ghost Grenade is used to bolster that by 30%, it's still shakier than I'd like, especially since the value I'm citing for one-rounding a Sectopod with a single Assault additionally demands both shots roll their higher critical damage number, making the one-round kill even less likely than I'm presenting it as being.
So I mentioned when covering Tactical Sense vs Aggression that Tactical Sense is the "defensive" trait while Aggression is the "aggressive" trait. That dichotomy basically defines the Assault's two "lanes" -the left set of skills is all "defensive" skills, and the right set of skills is all "aggressive" skills. Unfortunately, this is a case of the remaquel falling into a trap many games fall into -that of thinking that enhancing defensive ratings is automatically a boost to defensive play, while enhancing offensive ratings is automatically a boost to aggressive play. In actuality, it's more nuanced than that, and at the extreme ends it tends to flip around. If you're literally invincible, you can be as reckless as you like because you can't be hurt. It's when you're vulnerable that you have to play carefully.
Compounding this is that there isn't really such a thing as "defensive" play in the remaquel, not for the player anyway. There's cautious play, where you move slowly and as often as possible end your turn with all your soldiers in Overwatch in an attempt to avoid activating more than one Alien pod at a time and ensure that you'll get to reaction fire them as they activate and then get a full turn on top of that, but the XCOM Base Assault mission in Enemy Within and one form of EXALT mission are the only times where hunkering down and waiting for the enemy to come to you is particularly viable as a way to win a mission. (Keeping in mind that the XCOM Base Assault happens once per game, while EXALT missions are both far too easy and stop happening once you've hit EXALT's HQ) This is compounded by the fact that some Alien pods will simply never move from their position until activated -mostly this means the "commander" pods on UFOs (Outsiders, Sectoid Commanders, or an Ethereal with Muton Elite bodyguards, no exceptions) but even non-commander pods will sometimes just sit around and do nothing indefinitely.
However, even if I decide to call the cautious form of play "defensive", none of the Assault's "defensive" skills actually enhances their effectiveness at cautious play. At most the "defensive" skills are less strongly incentivizing reckless play than the "aggressive" skills, which isn't the same thing as encouraging cautious play.
Worse, the Assault's skill pairs just aren't well-balanced. Lightning Reflexes vs Close & Personal is the closest to a balanced choice, and even then only in Enemy Within. The rest of the pairs are weighted so strongly toward one skill over the other there's little reason to consider more than the one Assault build.
I consider the Assault to be one of the more poorly constructed classes, which is a bit odd, as they have the best-designed, most-class defining Squaddie-level skill of any class except maybe Collateral Damage on Mecs. A strong start, but a bland everything else. Their class-unique weapon of Shotguns does little to help define them since it's a slightly more extreme version of the game's default assumption (Specifically: getting closer is good for your Aim), and they have no other intrinsic properties to really set them apart from the other classes. Some of their more advanced skills help clearly place their role -Resilience and Killer Instinct both drive home the Run & Gun flanking murdermachine role, albeit in slightly different ways- but they don't particularly manage to carve out multiple different kinds of niches for Assaults, excepting the Enemy Within choice of Lightning Reflexes vs Close & Personal.
Next time, we cover the Sniper.