XCOM Class Analysis: Mec

Mec

The Mec is something of a "super-class", though with enough trade-offs that Meld costs aren't the only reason to not Mec up everybody in your force. The biggest difference, by far, is that they don't benefit from Cover, albeit it's also less important to their survival thanks to being Hardened.

A point of note: Mecs gain experience at half the usual rate.

Mecs inherit stats from the base soldier. This is mostly significant when it comes to Aim -Mecs have a low Aim growth rate, but since their Aim isn't recalculated on conversion, a Colonel Sniper converted into a Mec will have higher Aim than a Squaddie (Of any class, Sniper included) being promoted to a Mec and then leveled to Colonel. In conjunction with the experience penalty, there are strong motivations to hold off on converting soldiers into Mecs until you have at least one Colonel available for conversion. Consider focusing early-game Meld expenditures on Gene Mods.

Mecs also get, in addition to Collateral Damage as their Squaddie skill, a bonus skill that varies based on which class they were before conversion. Those four skills will be covered before rank-based skills.

Assault: Shock-Absorbent Armor
Damage taken from attackers within 4 tiles is reduced by 33%.

This combines particularly nicely with the Kinetic Strike Module, but in general Mecs are good at moving aggressively since they don't benefit from Cover anyway. It's a fairly natural extension of the Assault's preference for flanking etc, and it even goes well with how to use Mecs. I like it a lot.

Heavy: Body Shield
The closest enemy has -20 Aim and cannot land critical hits if targeting the Mec.

This is much less meaningful than you might expect, as the Hardened trait amounts to crit immunity against enemies most of the time anyway. You have to be playing on Classic or Impossible for any of the enemies to have a crit chance at all (Exception: EXALT Sniper and Elite Sniper), and on Classic it's only Mechtoids, plain Mutons (Heavy Plasmas don't have a crit chance), Thin Men, Floaters, Heavy Floaters, Outsiders, Cyberdiscs, and Sectopods that breach 10 crit chance. (This is assuming Aliens benefit from the crit chance bonus on their guns -I'm not actually certain they do. If they don't this list drops to "just Mechtoids") Impossible adds in the final boss to that list. That's it. As such, Body Shield's targeted crit immunity only applies in four situations.

1: One of your soldiers has been mind controlled. Preferably, one of your Assaults or, improbably, Snipers. Heavies need multiple crit bonuses to be able to overcome Hardened's additional 10% protection, and both they and Supports lack any crit-chance boosting skills to compensate. Supports are also unlikely to actually carry crit-chance boosters particularly -a S.C.O.P.E. is competing with things they're actually good with, like Medikits, Grenades, and Arc Throwers.

2: EXALT mission, specifically facing Snipers or Elite Snipers.

3: You're fighting one of the specific Aliens in the list (Mechtoids, plain Mutons, Thin Men, Floaters, Heavy Floaters, Outsiders, Cyberdiscs, Sectopods) and are playing on Classic or Impossible.

4: You're playing multiplayer.

Otherwise? Body Shield's "targeted crit immunity" is doing nothing.

That leaves the -20 Aim. I'm not sure exactly how smart and responsive the AI actually is, so this one is more complicated to discuss. Basically, if the AI is prone to deciding to not attack a target because their odds of hitting are too low, Body Shield effectively tends to amount to a form of AI manipulation that discourages the nearest enemy from targeting the Heavy Mec, with the actual -20 to Aim only being a meaningful benefit if you send the Mec out to where enemies can target it and can't target your other soldiers. That would actually be basically an active negative, since Mecs are generally your best choice for soaking damage!

If, on the other hand, the AI just isn't that smart and responsive, it's instead an extremely unreliable benefit -since there's no guarantee the nearest alien will decide to target the Mec, there's no guarantee you'll actually benefit from Body Shield. None.

I don't like Body Shield. From a pure player utility standpoint, it's pretty 'meh', with its only advantage being that it is the most widely/consistently doing something, out of the 'bonus' skills. From a game design standpoint, it doesn't do anything interesting either. It's primarily a very gimmicky Defense bonus.

On top of all the above, Heavies are the worst Mec conversion anyway, thanks to having the worst Aim growth. Their only positive in that regard is that, since Mecs and Heavies have the same Aim growth, there's less reason to wait on converting a Heavy into a Mec -but it's only less. The penalty to experience gain remains, and is fairly hefty.

So I basically feel converting Heavies into Mecs is not really worth doing.


Sniper: Platform Stability
+10 Aim and +10 crit chance if the Mec hasn't moved this turn.

For a low-level Sniper->Mec conversion, this is a pretty mediocre skill, as Mecs have a strong preference for moving and attacking... up until Major, at which point it's strongly synergistic with Overdrive. Since the ideal scenario is already to hit Colonel and then convert, this works out pretty nicely.

Platform Stability is, unfortunately, a small benefit you can't plan around, but you can be reasonably confident benefit is actually happening on a reliable basis once you've got Overdrive. I think it works okay.


Support: Distortion Field
Allies in an area around the Mec who are currently in Cover gain +10 to Defense.

This is probably the overall most useful Mec conversion skill if you're planning on converting someone to a Mec early on and expect to field a single Mec alongside regular soldiers. In that scenario it's a pretty consistent +10 Defense for your other soldiers, which is pretty nice. You can't plan around it, but you can assume it will help on most missions, at least if you let enemies shoot at you.

If you're good at ensuring your enemies never get a chance to fire on you, then only Platform Stability even does anything, out of the 'bonus' skills, so that caveat isn't much of one, relatively.

Note that Distortion Fields don't stack: you can't use two Support Mecs to give your other soldiers +20 Defense. Alas.


From here, we cover rank-based skills.


Squaddie

Collateral Damage
Attacks an area, destroying terrain objects and automatically hitting enemies in the area for 34% of the base damage of the Mec's primary gun. Consumes 2 ammo.

Note that if you don't have Ammo Conservation and your Mec doesn't have Expanded Storage, this requires/consumes your entire ammo stock.

In spite of the fact that this is a skill you need to be careful in your usage of, Collateral Damage works very well as a fundamentally defining skill of the class. Being able to repeatedly, reliably wreck Cover and 100% force damage on targets is incredible, and prior to Enemy Within could only be done a limited number of times in total across a mission. This can be used to finish off weakened groups, do chipping damage when you're trying to go for an Arc Thrower capture, soften up targets while simultaneously clearing out their Cover so your other units can more reliably land their shots... the utility is enormous.

Also note that Collateral Damage, in spite of not being an explosive attack in concept, is treated the same as grenades and so on: Aliens killed by it won't drop Weapon Fragments. In practice it's probably most accurate to think of it as a weak grenade that uses up ammo instead of having a fixed number of uses, because that's pretty much exactly how it behaves.

Lastly, note that improving the main gun has barely any effect on Collateral Damage's damage.



Sergeant

Advanced Fire Control OR Automated Threat Assessment
Overwatch shots no longer suffer an accuracy penalty OR the Mec has +15 Defense if it's currently in Overwatch.

Automated Threat Assessment is terrible. The effect ends once Overwatch is actually triggered, and +15 Defense is just not that good. A comparison can be made to Hunker Down -an action denied to Mecs- which doubles the Cover bonus and renders the unit immune to critical hits. (I think the crit immunity is provided even when flanked?) Hunker Down will provide +20 or +40 Defense, depending on what kind of Cover the unit is in, and will last until the start of your next turn, with its only disadvantage being that it reduces your line of sight. (This basically just means a unit you're considering having Hunkering Down should wait until any Squadsight Snipers have already fired) Automated Threat Assessment instead provides +15 Defense until your Mec fires their Overwatch shot, or your next turn if that never happens.

In theory Automated Threat Assessment makes Overwatch a "safer" choice, but the problem is that the safe choice in any situation Automated Threat Assessment might be beneficial is to shoot something. Either that or try to break line of sight.

Advanced Fire Control, by comparison, is nothing amazing, but at least actually provides a worthwhile benefit. If you're doing the usual thing of moving one action at a time and Overwatching if nothing has happened, then it will make you a lot more likely -about 50% more likely!- to land shots on Aliens that activate on their turn by entering the Mec's strike zone.

So: take Advanced Fire Control. I honestly have no idea what Firaxis was thinking with Automated Threat Assessment.



Corporal

Vital-Point Targeting OR Damage Control
+2 damage against Autopsied targets (EXALT and mind controlled XCOM agents are treated as Autopsied by default) OR when injured, for the next two turns the Mec takes 2 less damage from all attacks.

I'm not clear if Damage Control's timer resets when being struck again. I would hope so, but I'm not sure.

Vital-Point Targeting is a fairly straightforward improvement to your Mec's general utility, with the caveat that you have to Autopsy targets. This isn't much of a caveat if you have South America's bonus -all it means at that point is that new Aliens will get one whole mission of not taking extra damage- and against EXALT it's a free +2 damage in general. Note that it only applies to the main gun -you don't get bonus damage on Collateral Damage, Grenades, the Kinetic Strike Module, etc.

Damage Control is... kind of bad. If you tend to play your Mecs as not using a regular shot, it's probably the better choice just because it'll sometimes do something, but overall it's Will to Survive's strangely bad cousin.

Frankly, I'm not sure why it's not simply a passive damage reduction effect. Or at least a larger level of protection -part of the problem is that end-game Aliens hit so hard that 2 less damage just isn't that helpful. You end up at 26 HP if your Mec is max level, in a Paladin, benefiting from Shaped Armor (On Impossible: each step down in difficulty from Impossible adds another hit point, to a total of 29 on Easy), which means if Muton Elites and Sectopods are shooting at your end-game Mec with Damage Control... well, the Mec might take one extra shot to kill?

Mostly I'd say "just take Vital-Point Targeting and never look back." Especially since good play will maximize how much you shoot enemies and minimize how much they shoot you -if you're playing the game competently, Vital-Point Targeting will be more consistently helpful than Damage Control.

Still, as I already said, if you almost never fire the main gun on your Mecs, Damage Control is technically more relevant, so the situation isn't as bad as it could be.



Lieutenant

Jet Boot Module OR One For All
When activated, the Mec can freely access high terrain (1 turn cooldown) OR when activated, the Mec becomes a Full Cover element. The effect ends if the Mec moves or uses an "arm-based weapon."

Restorative Mist, Grenade Launcher, Proximity Mine Launcher, and Electro Pulse are, to my understanding, the only things the Mec can do that do not disable One For All.

Jet Boot Module addresses one of the primary limitations of Mecs -that where your other soldiers can reach roofs and other high ground by climbing ladders, pipes, etc, Mecs will normally be stuck trudging through the streets, unable to take the high ground. It's a significant benefit, and very worth taking.

One For All is... much more situational, especially when you consider that optimal play revolves around avoiding enemies having the chance to shoot at you at all. Since the majority of useful actions the Mec can take end One For All, and the effect is itself only useful if Full Cover is either sparse or not placed where you need it, you'll rarely benefit from it even if you do get shot at a lot. I'm not sure why it isn't either a passive effect or only disabled by movement per se. It would still be situational even in such cases, but it would be a lot more competitive with Jet Boot Module.

99% of the time I'd recommend Jet Boot Module over One For All. Jet Boot Module corrects a critical deficiency in Mecs, where One For All rarely provides a benefit at all.



Captain

Repair Servos OR Expanded Storage
Restores 2 HP per turn to a total limit of 6 HP within a mission total OR increase ammo by 50% and adds a additional per-mission used to Restorative Mist, Grenade Launcher, and Proximity Mine Launcher.

Repair Servos is terrible. 6 additional HP is... not bad, but it's not very notable, especially since Mecs already have a lot of extra HP from their armor. Expanded Storage directly compensates for a major deficiency on the Mec -their extremely limited ammo- with secondary benefits to one or two secondary tools if you're above basic Mec armor. (Both of the Sentinel's options benefit from Expanded Storage, so it's guaranteed to do more than just add ammo once you're above Warden) Expanded Storage would be worth considering even if it competed with something really amazing -Repair Servos just doesn't cut it.

I can understand why they didn't want Repair Servos to be unlimited self-healing over time, as one of the clear design goals of Enemy Within was to discourage the kind of slow, cautious play of the original game. If Repair Servos was unlimited healing, there'd be strong incentives to let your Mecs absorb punishment and then simply pass your turn a dozen times sort of thing, which flies in the face of trying to discourage overly cautious play. But as-is, Repair Servos is basically a 6 HP upgrade, only worse than simply giving the Mec an additional 6 HP up-front. If it was a 6 HP upgrade directly, it would be pretty decent, ensuring that when things go horribly wrong your Mec will probably take at least one more shot to actually die than if you hadn't taken it. I'd probably still prefer Expanded Storage just because you should be planning around shooting at enemies without being shot at by them, but it would actually be worth considering at that point.

On top of all that, Expanded Storage applies to Restorative Mist. With Improved Medikit, a Restorative Mist use provides... 6 HP. And provides it to allies, too! If you really want your Mec to basically get another six HP, Expanded Storage Restorative Mist is the clear winner.

It's also puzzling to me that Enemy Within introduces a Gene Mod that provides unlimited regeneration, albeit not of armor-derived HP. Why is it okay for regular soldiers to have unlimited regeneration and not Mecs?



Major

Overdrive
Firing the primary weapon as the first action no longer ends the turn.

Bullet Swarm, only it's guaranteed. And higher-rank.

I've already covered Bullet Swarm pretty extensively with the Heavy, so you should know it's an incredible skill that redefines a unit that has it. It's exactly the kind of skill that should be at Major -that is, forced onto the unit without being their basic skill- and it's great to see Enemy Within getting this right on the Mec.



Colonel

Absorption Fields OR Reactive Targeting Sensors
If an attack would remove more than 33% of the Mec's maximum health, it instead removes 33% of their maximum health OR once per turn, being attacked triggers a Reaction Fire shot against the attacker.

Absorption Fields can actually be exploited in conjunction with Damage Control and Repair Servos, if playing with Hidden Potential turned on -in that case it's possible to have a soldier who never rolls an added HP, and if you're playing on Impossible, that means you'll get a Mec with 11 HP if running the base suit. Suddenly even the most powerful attack will be reduced to nothing or 1 damage if the Mec has been injured recently, and they'll self-regenerate a few hit points too.

That silly exploit aside, Absorption Fields is actually kind of terrible. A max rank Mec in a Paladin with Shaped Armor on Impossible has 26 HP, which means that taking a shot from something like a Sectopod's 10 damage will be reduced to 8-9 (I'm not sure exactly how it handles rounding) damage. 12 damage is about as high as the Aliens can get on Impossible difficulty, so roughly a third of the damage is shaved off in the most extreme scenarios.

It's a little better if for some reason you have a high-rank Mec in just a Warden with no Shaped Armor, because then you're talking 13 HP base and so everything gets dropped down to 4 (to 5?) damage which is a reduction to basically anything except Sectoids, but that's ideally going to be a temporary situation if it happens at all.

Reactive Targeting Module is generally a lot better -high ranking Heavies are the only troops that are really in competition with Mecs for potential to absorb punishment, and Mecs don't need to worry about being flanked, which makes them able to safely soak damage in situations a Heavy would be slaughtered in. So if you're going to let any of your troops get shot at, it's going to be your Mecs, and Reactive Targeting Module turns that into damage output. The main argument for Absorption Field over it is honestly that Reactive Targeting Module can create problems for you by unexpectedly eating a unit of ammo you'd needed for Collateral Damage/you'd intended to spend your last shot on a different enemy.

This isn't much of an argument.

Incidentally, this is another point in Advanced Fire Control's favor -it applies to Reactive Targeting Module shots. Automated Threat Assessment doesn't have an equivalent secondary benefit. Since Reactive Targeting Module is strongly favored as your last pick, that means Advanced Fire Control is extremely likely to pay off down the line even if you don't like putting your Mecs in Overwatch.

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First, gameplay.

You might have noticed that for all five cases of a skill choice at level-up, I've indicated that one of the skills is good or at least passable, and the other is terrible or at least overly niche. Yeah, Mecs trend heavily toward a singular build. It's kind of disappointing, and a little surprising. I would've expected the development team to have a better handle on skill balance by the time they got to Enemy Within. I'm not even sure what, if any, overall theme there is to the choices -"aggressive" vs "defensive" is my best guess, and if that is the intention, then just like with the Assault it doesn't really work. I'm surprised the development team hadn't cottoned on to this by now, honestly.

Looking deeper, in a lot of ways the Mec seems kind of familiar -here we have a unit that can't climb ladders, pipes, etc, that can't use Cover, that can act as Cover, and that has an exceptionally powerful gun. Where have I heard this?...

... oh, right! SHIVs.

I really think it would've made a lot more sense to overhaul SHIVs than to introduce a whole new gameplay mechanic that fills a fairly similar role, only much better. It's particularly painful when you consider that Enemy Within makes a few attempts to bolster SHIVs, since they might've had a chance to gain new relevance as a result if it weren't for Mecs so handily outclassing them.

"But Ghoul King!'" you cry. "Mecs are cyborgs using Meld! It wouldn't make narrative sense to apply Meld to SHIVs!"


Ah, but that's where you're wrong. Meld is nanotechnological nonsense explicitly used to combine organic and technological stuff together. There's no reason why it can't run the opposite direction -take SHIV, apply Meld, get a cyborg by way of making a machine more organic.

Of course, this segues neatly into...

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.... the "fluff" aspects: the lore, the concept, the story.

First: It's utterly bizarre how the Mec's skills are almost uniformly framed as equipment. (One For All's vague name is the main exception) Why does a Mec getting combat experience lead to XCOM slapping on more gear to a given Mec, and why don't these upgrades cost any $ or Meld? This gets even weirder when you look at specific cases; why are Jet Boot Modules something a Mec has, rather than something their suit has? You can freely swap around Mec suits, after all -they're not integrated to a given Mec, so you can't pretend that the Mec installed a Jet Boot Module into their suit, presumably out of their own pay. It certainly doesn't make sense to imagine that the Jet Boot Module is installed in their own feet!

Also? Mecs are a mind-boggling piece of dubious transhumanism. The game doesn't call your attention to it on a verbal level, but visually the game is quite explicit that limbs are chopped off as part of the conversion -when you're selecting a candidate there's even an animation visibly depicting the removal of all their limbs! This makes no actual sense given the design of the Mec suit, which could easily fit a perfectly normal human inside. Even if you need to install cybernetic nonsense as an interface for... some reason... instead of providing more conventional controls, that in no way calls for turning them into cybernetic quadriplegics. You could plug some ports in their existing limbs and leave their body fully functional, end up looking like a Gene Mod soldier with the mechanical ports on their limbs.

Speaking of the suit: why does figuring out how to use Meld instantly lead to practical, combat-ready humanoid battle suits? This should be a monstrous project all on its own, and it has the dubious honor of being one the game doesn't actually demand you reverse-engineer from an Alien example. You don't need to Autopsy a Mechtoid or anything of the sort, which would provide at least a thin justification for so readily surmounting an incredible engineering problem. But no, it's an incidental benefit of figuring out how this Meld stuff works. What, do large quantities of Meld just naturally form up into a humanoid robotic suit? This is jarringly ludicrous, even by XCOM's somewhat silly standards.


Worse, the game appears to actually intend for the head to be the only body part that wasn't removed or altered -the torso appears to have been replaced, going by how Mecs have an altered/metal-looking body, which is baffling. Topping the madness off is that the only part of their original body remaining -their head- is completely exposed in the field! This is almost certainly because the remaquel wants you to relate to your soldiers as real human beings blah blah blah, but it's lunacy. In any sort of sensible reality, your Paladin-suit Mec with 26 HP would go down instantly the second a random Sectoid happened to get a lucky Plasma Pistol shot right into the head. (Which XCOM veterans are probably mentally inserting "would happen the very first time a Sectoid pointed a pistol in their direction" while griping about rookie inaccuracy)

But that's not even getting into deeper ethical and logistical questions. Your "volunteers" (as Dr. Vahlen insists on calling them) have had almost their entire body replaced by military hardware -hardware that, in fact, serves no purpose except to allow them to operate military hardware.

Say XCOM wins this war. What then?

You're a secret paramilitary organization chopping people up and spending who-knows-how-much-money on the Mec hardware that goes into them. You can't just have them sign a non-disclosure agreement and send them home. They have probably literally tens of thousands of the UN's money in them in removable hardware. Do you simply take back all that stuff, send them home as a head in a jar, and pat yourself on the back as the savior of humanity, paragon of morality? Do you spend additional money on giving them cybernetic parts that don't have military use? Do you care whether they can pass for normal afterward? Do they care?

I mean, this is honestly one, maybe two steps removed from slavery. XCOM owns literally more than 90% of a Mec's body. How the heck does that even work, legally?

Worse, the payoff isn't even justified, as I already alluded to. There's no reason why piloting a giant mid-sized fighting robot should require replacing most of their body. If XCOM was doing things like installing robot eyes to make people more accurate, replacing legs with robot legs so they run faster, etc, there'd at least be a reason to be entering this ethically murky morass. But XCOM is just having their soldiers pilot an oversized humanoid suit! This doesn't require surgical removal of all their limbs. That's pointless, idiotic, nonsensical. There's no reason to be doing this. None.

The Aliens are more justified in their horrific cybernetic abominations. There's at least some kind of underlying logic involved. That's a bad sign, given how hard the game tries to drive home what a tortured, horrific existence Floaters have.

I'm not a fan of Mecs, when it gets down to it. Gameplay-wise, they're basically SHIVs that gain experience and have (slightly) modular gear (ie SHIVs done right), and frankly that could've been done by invoking artificial intelligence. Taking the existing robot units and making them more relevant would've been vastly more intelligible. It could still have been tied into the Meld mechanic -simply say that the AI is being produced by producing a half-organic-half-silicon brain using Meld. If moral dubiousness is intentional -and the opening quote of Enemy Within suggests it is- you've got plenty of murky moral questions to explore from producing a sentience literally as a disposable soldier. It also would've made for a tighter, better experience as compared to tacking on Mecs and making some secondary efforts to try to reduce the irrelevance of SHIVs. (Having introduced a unit type that does much of what they do, only better)

When it gets down to it, Collateral Damage is the only new, interesting, well-designed part of Mecs. I'd have been fine with that being given to the robots.

Which, incidentally, will be what we cover next time.

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