XCOM Big Picture Part 2: Weapons

So last time I covered classes, and how the game seems unclear what a given class is meant to do as differentiated from the other classes and also how teams of classes are supposed to fit together. Now I'm going to cover weapons, which intertwines closely to the class issue, but also intersects with other design flaws.

In the original XCOM, a weapon had, as far as 'combat' (I'm not touching on production costs and the like for this post) stats, the following: size, weight, grip type, Time Unit cost and weapon accuracy for Auto/Snap/Aimed shots (That's three pairs of numbers), and then the clip determined damage, damage type, and the number of shots in the clip.

Collectively, these numbers allow a given weapon a fairly wide range of meaningful differences, covering both immediate tactical import and more long-term/strategic considerations and the intersection of such.

In the remaquel, by contrast, a weapon has, as far as 'combat' stats goes, the following: base damage, damage for a critical hit, clip size, and 'range type'.

Yeah, that's four stats.

Strictly speaking, weapons can modify Aim, have crit chance bonuses, and they have 'terrain damage', but... only the Laser Pistol and Light Plasma Rifle modify Aim, crit chance is fixed for a given weapon category aside from the Sniper Rifle, and terrain damage is completely fixed once you stop looking at the conventional tier of weaponry. So this barely matters in real terms.

Furthermore, the core stats are themselves pretty limited in their meaning, particularly when contrasted against the original game. Base damage is an easy, somewhat subtle comparison: in the original game, base damage wasn't just a quality difference point, it was critical to penetrating enemy armor and punching holes in terrain. A Pistol will never penetrate a UFO's walls, no matter how many shots you unload into them, and will never hurt a Sectopod either. (Unless you're playing on Beginner difficulty, where Alien Armor is halved, in which case you have a small chance if firing from behind or somehow from below) In the remaquel, though, a Plasma Pistol will always take about 3/7ths of the time a Plasma Rifle takes to kill a target, no matter the target. (Unless we're looking at player units, at which point the Heavy and Mec having abilities that subtract 2 damage from attacks, flatly, is an exception)

Crit damage is similarly a good comparison point, for much the same reason. The closest equivalent in the original game is that non-explosive weapons rolled damage derived from their listed base damage on the basis of anywhere from 0-200%, with each possibility being equally likely. In conjunction with armor and terrain variability, this leads to cases where, for instance, it will probably take a lot of fire to take down a Sectopod, but you won't be entirely certain which shot will be the finishing blow. A really good example is that grounded UFOs are exceptionally durable, with the Heavy Plasma being one of the only weapons in the game that can break through them -and it has to roll high, so a plan involving trying to cut a hole into a UFO using a Heavy Plasma is likely to burn a lot of Heavy Plasma ammunition, take multiple turns, and involve uncertainty of when exactly the hole will be made.

Whereas in the remaquel a crit is just a roughly percentage-based boost to damage (Explicitly percentage-based if you turn on one Second Wave option), in a game where Armor doesn't apply, and terrain damage is an entirely different mechanic. A critical hit isn't a way to force damage through against a heavily armored target, or a way to inflict disabling injuries that impair the target in useful ways. It's just a chance of, essentially, completing a battle faster than you thought you would.

Clip size is also less interesting. In the remaquel, your soldiers are apparently carrying around an infinite supply of ammo in hammerspace and it's just their dinky guns can only hold a tiny handful of shots for some reason: in conjunction with myriad other mechanics, it's perfectly logical/viable to finish up a firefight, pass a turn having everyone reload, and then go back to looking for fights, all in essentially total safety. The question of when/whether to reload is not a tactically interesting one, no hard choices exist. In the original game, swapping out a partially-used clip for a full one is a lot more inherently risky, and there's no ability to combine partially-used clips: if you have a soldier carrying around three clips, have them empty each halfway before swapping to the next one, and find yourself still fighting... you can't combine two half-clips into a full clip. You'll just have to risk ending up needing to do a combat-reload or the like. Even if ammo worked in the original like it does in the remaquel, combat doesn't, and so the process of spending time and energy reloading when you can't currently see an Alien wouldn't be a risk-free obvious decision. The overall result is that in the remaquel clip size is only noticeable in cases where you fail to kill an Alien pod before somebody runs out of ammo.

Tying directly to the class point: weapons. In classic XCOM, there's a variety of weapons, and they serve rather different roles, providing options for diversity. There's some wonkiness there -Laser Pistols largely invalidate most of the basic weapons in practice, surprisingly enough, and the Heavy Plasma is sufficiently good in general you can basically just throw them into everyone's hands if you don't want to bother with the complexity of having a variety of weapons on your soldiers- but there's still some actual diversity. Even some weapons that tend to be considered quite terrible by the community have been found to have niche uses, such as the Heavy Laser, which is by far your best option for quickly taking out Sectopods due to their heavy armor and weakness to Laser weaponry. Given how dangerous and hard to kill Sectopods are, this is a niche some players consider worth filling!

So that's a fairly long-winded way of saying weapons aren't very capable of being made meaningfully distinct in the remaquel. That's a flaw in and of itself, but weapon access is one of the main ways classes are made distinct from each other, and it ends up falling a bit flat because weapons aren't very distinct from each other. The most successful examples, in practice, are the Sniper Rifle -the inability to fire it on the move by a default is a game changer, and the fact that its Aim worsens as it gets closer means even a Snap Shot Sniper behaves differently from, say, an Assault- and the Rocket Launcher. (Less for itself and more for the fact that the Heavy thus lacks a Pistol, which in turn exacerbates the LMG-class weaponry having limited ammo)

In practice, the primary reason weapon variety is at all meaningful in the remaquel is how it impacts equipping a full squad: looting Light Plasma Rifles early in the game and researching them ASAP will bump up Rookies, Supports, and Assaults, but won't benefit Heavies or Snipers. Snipers can't reach their final weapon tier through captures, period, while Assaults can use Plasma Rifles but can't get Alloy Cannons through captures. Mecs are only ever manually upgraded, never simply equipping looted weaponry. This is sort of interesting in terms of how it impacts the big picture, strategic planning stuff, but it's not anything that makes the weapons distinct from each other in the field.

Further, weaponry within a class isn't interesting. The only semi-complicated decisions are that Laser Pistols have +10 Aim, that Assaults and Supports can wield a Light Plasma Rifle for +10 Aim over a Plasma Rifle, and that Assaults can choose between Shotguns and Rifles. This last one isn't much of a choice, honestly: Shotguns hit harder, both weapons are more accurate the closer you are to the target, and Shotguns have more of a crit chance. The only time a Rifle is advantaged is if you have some reason to keep your distance -on the class that is all about closing in. Similarly, the two cases of being able to trade away some damage for some Aim are almost flatly slanted toward Aim. And in the case of Heavies, Mecs, and Snipers, their primary weapon (And secondary weapon, for Heavies!) is a simple quality progression from conventional to Laser to Plasma, no meaningful choice involved at all.

The end result is that game would be barely affected if the Heavy and Assault unique weapons (LMG and Shotgun, respectively) were dumped in favor of them both wielding Rifles. Heavies would be a little less prone to running out of ammo in a fight and have slightly worse damage, while Assaults would be a little less good overall, but... mostly, the game would end up streamlined. It wouldn't lose much in the way of nuance because it doesn't have much in the way of nuance, in this realm.


Next time, I talk about Overwatch and Suppression: two mechanics the game doesn't seem to know what to do with.


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