XCOM Class Analysis: Heavy

Heavy

The class that isn't sure what it's supposed to be or do.

That's not entirely fair -the Heavy seems to be based off of how high-Strength soldiers in the original game are desired for heavier gear (eg Rocket Launchers) and are more likely than your other soldiers to carry extra grenades or the like since they have the spare carrying capacity. That's not really a battlefield role, though, just a consequence of how the original game's stats work, so the core point stands: the remaquel just isn't clear on what makes the Heavy distinct from other classes.



Squaddie

Fire Rocket
Fires a Rocket at a designated area, ending the Heavy's turn. The Heavy cannot both move and fire a rocket in the same turn. 1 use per mission.

I've already alluded to this in my Weapons Analysis post, but I'll reiterate: I intensely dislike that the Heavy's defining trait of Rocket access eats both their Squaddie skill slot and their secondary weapon slot. Think about that for a second. Is Fire Rocket really that valuable? I certainly don't think it is. It means the Heavy is losing out compared to other classes -the Assault gets Run & Gun and Pistols. The Heavy gets a Rocket Launcher and... the skill needed to use said Rocket Launcher. That's ridiculous.

I'd simply list that "Fire Rocket" does 6 damage at base, except that would be misleading because actually the skill just fires a rocket, base damage determined by whether the Heavy is holding a Rocket Launcher (6 damage) or a Blaster Launcher. (9 damage) Arrrgh.

My biggest issue with Fire Rocket as the Heavy's Squaddie skill is that Squaddie-level skills are the foundation of a class, what most clearly separates them from Rookies, and more critically, from each other, and Fire Rocket is dubious at doing this job.


First and foremost, you only get one use out of the Fire Rocket skill at base. This restricts the influence of the skill on shaping the Heavy as a class, as after they've made their one class-unique contribution, they're basically just a Rookie with a stronger gun -at least until they've leveled up some more. Second, Fire Rocket doesn't actually do anything unique. It's two Frag Grenades stapled together, given a random chance of not hitting the target you designate (Because obviously a grenade is far easier to cause to explode precisely where you want it than a rocket is. Never mind that the remaquel's rockets can explode at arbitrary locations in the air, implying very precise control) and then given an extra restriction of not allowing you to do anything with your turn aside from launching the rocket if you want to launch the rocket -where a Frag Grenade can be thrown after making a move, or, if you have Bullet Swarm, used after taking your first shot. Also, if you have two Frag Grenades you can stack them into the same area or spread them around, whichever works best. The Rocket Launcher isn't nearly as flexible.

In other words, Fire Rocket is only really notable because A: it's automatic to any Heavy and B: it crams more destructive potential into fewer bodies. (That is: two Rookies with Frag Grenades is actually behind one Heavy in terms of terrain-destroying damage output, because the one Heavy gets the Rocket Launcher and can still carry their own Frag Grenade)

I really wish they'd given the Heavy Bullet Swarm as their Squaddie-level skill and done away with this nonsense of setting up the Rocket Launcher as an actual item. Just make Fire Rocket one of their later choosable skills and convert the Blaster Launcher into a Foundry Project upgrading all your Rockets! It's not like the remaquel's version of the Blaster Launcher is powerful enough to need actual costs attached to it to balance it. If they really don't want Heavies carrying a Pistol for some reason, blame their lack of one on their LMG being a big, heavy, inconvenient piece of gear. It's basically what they're implicitly doing already -the fact that the Heavy is carrying a rocket launcher on their back isn't any kind of reason why they couldn't also carry a pistol on their hip, speaking halfway realistically, so realism is clearly not that high of a priority.

But let's get to Bullet Swarm before we get into more detail.



Sergeant

Bullet Swarm OR Holo-Targeting

Firing as the first action of the turn only consumes one action, leaving another action to use OR when shooting at a target, that target becomes slightly easier to hit until the beginning of the player's next turn. This is applied even if the shot misses. (+10 accuracy against the target)

Take Bullet Swarm.

This is not a choice. Full stop.

Thing is, Holo-Targeting would actually be a neat skill that I'd see legitimate use for... if it could be taken alongside Bullet Swarm. Ideally, with Bullet Swarm having been the fundamental, defining Heavy skill. In that case, a couple of Heavies with Holo-Targeting could stack fire onto a single difficult target and leave your remaining four squad members with +40 accuracy when shooting at that target. The small benefits Holo-Targeting provides are actually meaningful when you get to stack them.

But you can't stack them enough for it to really matter, in no small part because it's competing with Bullet Swarm. One Heavy providing a single Holo-Targeting can maybe get a roughly 50% chance of having done something useful if the entire rest of the squad all unloads a shot at the target the Heavy shot at... or the Heavy could've taken a second shot themselves, often with greater than 50% accuracy. As you stack Heavies onto your squad, the dynamic only slowly shifts in favor of Holo-Targeting. Bullet Swarm does basically exactly what Holo-Targeting does -increases your likelihood of managing to shoot the target- and so many other things.


(10/9/2017 update: It's even worse than I thought. Holo-Targeting doesn't stack)

With Bullet Swarm, a Heavy can take a shot, and then reload. Or move to safety. Or chuck a Grenade. Or use a Medikit. Or get to better cover. Or Hunker Down for their own safety. Or enter Overwatch because there's no enemies in sight because they just killed the last one. Or they're conveniently standing next to a weakened alien and they zap it with their Arc Thrower.

Bullet Swarm is one of the best skills in the entire game, while Holo-Targeting is somewhere between "okay" and "kind of terrible." It's inane, and I'm baffled at how Bullet Swarm is so accessible (Very first level-up after gaining a class), and yet not actually their Squaddie skill. They certainly weren't trying to place the skill far down the Heavy's skill tree in some attempt to prevent them from acquiring ultimate power too early.

And, incidentally, Bullet Swarm does far more to establish the Heavy as your damage output powerhouse than the Fire Rocket skill does. Being able to shoot twice in one turn, no special conditions or penalties or cooldowns or anything means that the Heavy is lord of damage output, held back only by their ammunition problems.

So: Bullet Swarm as the Squaddie skill? Would've worked far better, being a skill that benefits the Heavy pretty much every turn they shoot at something -which is all the turns that matter, incidentally. Very defining, very powerful, very visible. Fire Rocket, meanwhile, is a skill you can end up failing to use over the course of an entire mission because you never had a "perfect" or even merely "good" moment to fire the rocket in.

To be fair, Holo-Targeting applies in circumstances Bullet Swarm doesn't provide a benefit. For instance, Rockets will actually apply the Holo-Targeting effect to enemies. But Bullet Swarm is just too good for it to really matter.



Corporal

Shredder Rocket OR Suppression
Fires a rocket that causes enemies hit by it to take 33% more damage from all sources until the start of the player's next turn OR spends two ammo to "suppress" a single target.

Shredder Rocket is an additional, separate charge from your regular rocket, hitting for less damage (4, normally. I'm unclear if the Blaster Launcher effects its damage output) but having the "shred" special effect. I'm not sure why they handled it that way when they could've just made it upgrade your regular rockets with the "shred" effect. I guess they wanted you to choose between damage up front vs boosting your allies' damage down the line? Except it's not much of a choice, especially since the damage of the two rocket types is so close. It's a very puzzling dynamic.

Suppression itself is... I like the idea of it, but it's not handled well by the game. A Suppressed target will, if it moves, provoke a Reaction Fire shot from the soldier performing the Suppression, and until the Suppression is broken, the target loses 30% of its accuracy. I'm unclear whether this is -30 to Aim or -30% to the final accuracy number. The latter would be inferior in pretty much all circumstances, for reference: only Impossible Muton Elites reach 100 base Aim, and you'd need to be above 100 accuracy for -30% to be better than -30 flat.

The core problem is: why didn't you just enter Overwatch or, better yet, take a shot? The Aim penalty is too small to count on, Suppression burns 2 ammo to activate it with no guarantee you'll even get to take a shot as a result, Suppression ends if the soldier performing the Suppression is injured... there's only a handful of points in Suppression's favor, and they're all questionable.

The first point is that Suppression gives you some control over your reaction fire. A soldier Suppressing a target will reaction fire that target, and that target alone. This can potentially be useful if you want to ensure that your reaction fire doesn't all end up stacked onto a single target, wasting the overkill damage. The second point is that Suppression even more strongly discourages the AI from moving than just Overwatching nearby them, which can be useful when trying to perform a capture, albeit with the risk of the Heavy managing to kill the target if it does decide to move. The third, and most minor point, is that Suppression will actually shut off enemy Overwatch, including Suppression. This is only really noteworthy if you take Danger Zone to potentially disable multiple Overwatches at once, and even then it runs into the problem that the Heavy has to be conveniently in a position to pull off Suppressing targets without any need to move into position -if the Heavy has to close with them, they're going to shoot the Heavy, negating the whole "let's go Suppress them so they don't take Overwatch shots at our team" thing.

On top of all that, the use of manipulating the AI is questionable because most Aliens are either more dangerous when they choose to hold still and do something other than a standard shot, or are melee aliens that Suppression is just a waste of ammo to target with, or are Sectoids. Who can Suppress you back to disable your Suppression, wasting your effort, and they won't ever run out of ammo, so you'll lose that contest of endurance. I guess maybe Suppressing Muton Elites might be useful? Maybe?

The only reason I'm not simply declaring "always take Shredder Rocket" is because Danger Zone and Mayhem stacked onto Suppression is notable in a unique way.



Lieutenant

HEAT Ammo OR Rapid Reaction
+100% damage to robots (+50% in Enemy Within) OR reaction fire will shoot a second time if the first shot lands.

Take HEAT Ammo.

This was so good they nerfed it for Enemy Within, and it's still a mindless choice. Rapid Reaction is dubious, given one of the Heavy's problems is that they have poor Aim, while robots make up many of the game's most dangerous enemies/the only robot not scary enough to make HEAT Ammo worthwhile are Drones, which only appear at all when accompanying one of the actually scary robots.

HEAT Ammo, incidentally, helps firm up the Heavy as the class to look to when you want a single big target dead as fast as possible. This was reinforced by Shredder Rockets, albeit by a different angle, but HEAT Ammo pretty firmly places Heavies as your go-to choice against the biggest and nastiest individual threats.

If you're thinking of Rapid Reaction as potentially useful: no. Take a Support, get them leveled up for Sentinel. They actually have Overwatch-supporting skills. The only thing the Heavy has going for them over the Support is a stronger main gun, and frankly if you want an Overwatch-based murder machine the Support's far superior effectiveness at using Overwatch will easily overcome the difference.



Captain

Grenadier OR Danger Zone
Carry two Grenades in a single item slot (Enemy Within: Frag, Alien, and Needle Grenades additionally gain 1 point of damage) OR increase area of effect of rockets and Suppression by 2 tiles.

I really, really don't get why they didn't make Danger Zone Suppression the default state of Suppression. Suppression would actually be decent if it could be used to pin down clusters of enemies, for a lot of reasons. Worse, Danger Zone actually benefits your Shredder Rockets, too, so even if you're picking Danger Zone entirely because you don't want to be forced to give your Heavy a Grenade of some kind that's not actually biasing you toward taking Suppression over Shredder Rocket.

Grenadier vs Danger Zone is actually the first hard choice with a Heavy. Grenadier is really good, especially in Enemy Within, but Danger Zone isn't actually bad, and has the advantage that it doesn't specifically demand you commit item slots to specific kinds of items. If you don't want to feel obligated to bring along some form of Grenade on your Heavy, Danger Zone is the choice.... but even if you love carrying Grenades on your Heavies, Danger Zone has validity, particularly if you're planning to take Rocketeer.



Major

Will to Survive
The Heavy takes 2 less damage from attacks when in cover and not flanked.

I'm not actually sure if the "not flanked" comment simply means that flankers ignore it or it actually means flankers disable it, such that other foes aren't affected by it so long as somebody is flanking the Heavy. I suspect the former, but wouldn't put the latter past the game.

My only real complaint with Will to Survive is that it's puzzling to give it to the Heavy in specific. This is the one and only skill that even slightly suggests Firaxis intends for the Heavy to act as a damage sponge, and it's not actually particularly practical to use Heavies as damage sponges due to how they tend to lag behind all non-Sniper classes (Who, instead of lagging behind, set up on some distant peak and then never move again while blowing holes in enemies anyway) in the field, and it's not like Heavies have any skills to encourage enemies to target them as opposed to your other soldiers.

I actually quite like the idea of damage reduction that's only provided when in cover, but I'd kind of rather see it as a universal rule that cover provide such benefits, or a more common effect to get out of skills or items or something. That the Heavy gets it as a unique, distinguishing skill is just... strange.

A point to note is that Will to Survive can, in fact, reduce damage to zero. High-level Heavies can literally ignore Drones, and won't necessarily take any damage when a Sectoid shoots at them. Also, Will to Survive effects stuff you wouldn't actually expect it to affect -psychic attacks are weakened by it, for example. I think poison damage might be the only form of damage that completely ignores it.



Colonel

Rocketeer OR Mayhem
Fire Rocket has a second use OR Suppression and all area-of-effect abilities do additional damage based on the "tech level" of whatever is benefiting.

Rocketeer is a straightforward upgrade, giving you a second rocket, for a total of three rocket shots if you took Shredder Rocket. There's not a lot to say about it without returning to my criticism that Bullet Swarm is a much more logical Squaddie skill than Fire Rocket.

Mayhem is weird and a little complicated. It's one of the examples of how the Blaster Launcher is treated as a Plasma-tier weapon -Mayhem provides 1, 2, or 3 damage based on whether a weapon is considered Conventional, Laser, or Plasma, and the Blaster Launcher gets that +3 for firing Rockets. (And I think for firing Shredder Rockets? In any event, the basic Rocket Launcher gives +2, as if it was Laser-tier, strangely) It also does something rather unusual with Suppression -the intuitive thing is to expect it to raise damage on the Overwatch shot, but actually what it does is cause the initial Suppression to inflict damage to everything being Suppressed, 100% reliably. Combined with Danger Zone, and it's actually maybe worth considering taking Suppression, as its 3 (Assuming a Heavy Plasma) free damage against a group of enemies is like a Frag Grenade you can use an unlimited number of times over the course of a mission. It's less reliable about destroying their cover of course, but that's still legitimately impressive.

Earlier I said I don't really get why Suppression doesn't already use the Danger Zone mechanics. That was misleading: the Danger Zone+Mayhem form of Suppression is what I really think makes the most sense as the default. A slow, steady erosion of the enemy's HP and cover while punishing attempts to move from the position is not only a legitimate niche in its own right but would also be in some sense a rather accurate representation of what happens when suppressive fire is directed at a target or, as is often the case in real life, a group of targets. Danger Zone could still add area of effect to Suppression, just being a bit less significant since it would already be area of effect, and Mayhem adding extra damage works just fine too, so it's not like the skills would have to be replaced with different skills or something to make this work.

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I feel like Firaxis couldn't quite make up their mind as to whether they wanted the Heavy to be a supporting piece like the Support, but 'more aggressive', or if they wanted the Heavy to be your big guns class, here to be ungainly and awkward and incredibly lethal when used right. Broadly speaking, the Heavy seems to have two paths intended: a "support" path, with Suppression and Holo-Targeting and so on, and a "destruction" path that focuses on rockets and grenades laying out damage, but a lot of the "destruction" benefits function as support benefits -using Rockets to clear out cover is a support to your other troops- and three of the "support" skills stack together to provide infinite-use mass damage that can never miss.

Even if the lanes worked as they seem to be intended, it's still rather odd that one of the Heavy's lanes is basically "Support class, but as a lane on the Heavy class." This lack of clarity is a marked contrast with the other three "core classes" -the Assault, Support, and Sniper. Firaxis wasn't necessarily clear on how to make the other three core classes distinct and interesting and balanced, and the Support in particular has problems I'll cover when we get there, but all three of them have a clear, core concept to define their role on the battlefield. The Heavy is just... unclear, and not by virtue of being some kind of jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none.

That the Heavy rather randomly has by far the best increase to survivability of any skill on any class just adds to the sense that Firaxis wasn't entirely sure what they wanted the Heavy to be about.

It's too bad, because I feel the Heavy is in part about the admirable goal of getting away from how a number of classic XCOM players will, in fact, simply throw rocket launchers onto every squad member and blow up everything on the map. The harsh restrictions on the Heavy's "Fire Rocket" ability feel like something of an overreaction to how ridiculous -in most every sense of the word- rocketry was in the original XCOM.

Unfortunately, the Heavy's lack of a clear overall vision hurts the game's design, and the degree to which its primary weapon is boring doesn't help: LMG-class weapons being literally Rifles that do slightly more damage, have one less base ammo, and don't have a base 10% crit chance means that LMGs do little to distinguish Heavies from Supports and, to a lesser extent, Assaults, contributing to the problem of the class itself being a bit vague as to what it's about.

I've already covered Bullet Swarm and the Fire Rocket skills, but it bears repeating: the Squaddie-level skill should be the one that sets the tone for what defines a class, and should influence the class' fundamental role on the battlefield. Fire Rocket doesn't do either. Bullet Swarm does both, in spite of being an optional skill, rather than a core skill.

Next time, we cover the Support.

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