XCOM Big Picture Part 4: Fast, Aggressive Play? Not Really

In the previous post I talked a bit about how Overwatch isn't really the big problem with charging for a flank.

This actually ties into a larger philosophical inconsistency with the game that underlies many of its problems: the game seems to intend to be a faster, more aggressive and more agile experience than the original X-COM, but its final implementation encourages pretty much the opposite of that.

Points in favor of its apparent goal include:

+It has smaller squad sizes (4-6, compared to the original game's 14-26) and enemy encounters are reduced (The pod mechanic effectively reduces the number of Aliens to find/duration of the Alien turn by between 1/2 to 2/3rds, in practice, and Terror missions outright drop from 18-23 Aliens in Superhuman to 15 Aliens, period, on Impossible, though most other reasonably direct comparisons are similar total Aliens or even slightly higher) compared to the original XCOM, drastically reducing the amount of time spent on a turn and reducing how long a battle takes. (Even easy, 'short' fights can drag on for 45 minutes or more in the original game. In the remaquel a short/easy mission can easily be five minutes if the player doesn't dither much)

+Inventory management is hugely simplified and more automated (The game 'remembers' who was given what, so you only have to do inventory management when you want to change loadouts), dramatically reducing the amount of time spent on fiddling with your soldiers' inventory and thus increasing the amount of time spent on The Fun Parts of the game.

+The two action system means that movement is 'free' in many situations, by contrast with the original game where your Reactions score was directly modified by the percentage of your Time Unit meter remaining and so anything a soldier did at minimum reduced their Reactions score. (That is: in the remaquel, you can have soldiers burn their first action on movement and then enter Overwatch, every turn, with no disadvantage caused by having moved. In the original game, trying to hop soldiers forward involves reducing their ability to get reaction shots off, period)

+Related to the above, the 'pods' system means that a player is encouraged to seek out enemies, because the process of flailing about in the dark isn't liable to get soldiers killed with no warning.

+Related to that, remaquel soldiers aren't at risk of being one-shotted past the early game. In the original XCOM, soldiers are pretty much always at risk of being killed in a single shot (In a game where many weapons can fire three shots at once and most weapons can be fired several times in a single turn!) which contributes to encouraging slow, cautious play, because no matter how experienced and armored a soldier is a single incautious choice can instantly kill them. (A Heavy Plasma can do up to 230 damage, the Flying Suit only has 110 Armor in front and no Plasma resistance, and soldier HP caps at 61. A max HP soldier in a Flying Suit is unlikely to be killed in one shot, but by 'unlikely' I mean it's about a 25% chance, assuming my math isn't horribly wrong) In the remaquel, you only really have to worry about soldiers being killed by a single attack in the very early game, and primarily on higher difficulties. (The highest damage a single attack can do, ignoring critical hits, in the remaquel is 12 off a Mechtoid on Impossible. A Colonel Support in Titan Armor has 17, the Support being the most fragile class liable to be getting shot at in the first place) This means you can be a bit more reckless with your soldiers.

+On top of that, critical wounds in the remaquel is a mechanic that means that sometimes a soldier doesn't actually die when killed. Contrast this against the original game's fatal wounds mechanic, where a soldier who does survive being shot is probably now bleeding out and will die unless the mission is completed first or they get Medikit treatment. So in the original game, a soldier can die even when the actual shot didn't deal fatal damage (Indeed, it's completely possible for a soldier to receive damage, survive it, and then immediately die on the player's turn!) while in the remaquel a soldier doesn't necessarily die even when fatally shot! Enemy Within further cements this, as the Secondary Heart Gene Mod ensures that the first time a soldier dies in a mission they can be stabilized, and also removes the Will penalty for surviving being killed that normally means there's some long-term penalties to being taken out.

+Related to both of those, casualties aren't as problematic, due to the gift soldier mechanics. Specifically, a gift soldier is always one rank below whatever is your currently highest-rank soldier, meaning so long as you retain at least one Colonel you'll get a steady stream of Majors. This isn't class-locked, either: if you've got a Colonel Sniper who lives through one mission after another while all their Heavy, Support, and Assault buddies drop like flies, the gift soldiers will be a Major of any of the core classes, not just Snipers. This means the occasional casualty will increasingly tend to just mean you fall back on an idling gift soldier, who is basically ready to go right now. This is further exacerbated by the fact that soldiers in the remaquel don't draw a salary, and therefore redundant soldiers make more sense to hold onto for later than to sack so they stop eating funds.

+As one final point on this death-themed set of points, casualties are less big of a deal in the remaquel because equipment loss isn't a thing. In the original game, a soldier who died took their Armor with them to the afterlife, regardless of why they died. (Bleeding out inside their power armor destroys it just as surely as being vaporized by a Blaster Bomb, never mind that the Armor will survive any amount of bleeding on it so long as the soldier remains alive) Additionally, their carried gear could potentially be destroyed by explosives once they'd dropped it, or lost because the entire mission failed and nobody came back. In the remaquel, you'll always get back all the gear a soldier was carrying. (I think this is up to and including if your squad wipes in its entirety, but I cannot currently test this and the broader internet isn't being helpful on the topic)

Put the previous two points together, and what you get is that in the original XCOM a squad wipe of elite soldiers in end-game armor probably meant dropping down to inexperienced rookies wearing 'pajamas' (ie no Armor at all) and possibly meant a setback in your actual weapon quality, depending on how many Heavy Plasmas the player is actually keeping in storage. In the remaquel a late-game squad wipe just means transferring your gear to a clump of Majors, with the only loss of performance being the loss of Colonel-tier stat bonuses and skills. (Or if I'm incorrect on how squad wipes are handled, we can replace the scenario with the equally realistic near-squad wipe of losing almost the entire squad but winning) This isn't even touching upon various other examples the remaquel is softer on failure, such as how it's not possible to lose a Skyranger at all.

+The mechanics of Cover and Flanking actively reward taking advantage of the 'free' movement: if you can use your free move to get a flank, you are more likely to hit the target and extremely likely to outright get bonus damage.

+Enemy Within introducing Meld Canisters pressures the player to do missions speedily, so they can get the Meld.


-The 'pods' system actually wraps around to encouraging hyper-defensive play. Since you can be 100% confident that slow, cautious play will never result in unnecessary deaths from being sniped by Aliens or the like, slow, cautious play is king. Spotter+Sniper teams are better than ever, and indeed the biggest problem with moving about for a flank/having an Assault try to use Run & Gun is the risk of activating pods, which the Assault has absolutely no skills to mitigate that particular risk. Thus the pod activation mechanic directly discourages seeking a flank.

-Aliens automatically entering Overwatch when activated further discourages moving during combat. Better to pick them off from your current position than to pursue a flank. Assaults having Lightning Reflexes theoretically means they specialize in flanks, but the pod activation risk is a bigger deterrent to seeking a flank. Assaults are just a little more likely to, for instance, move up from behind their fellow soldiers to improve their accuracy even though an enemy is on Overwatch, basically.

-When you do get a flank, it isn't actually that important or beneficial, particularly as the player's forces become more experienced and better-equipped. As a concrete example, a Colonel Sniper with Damn Good Ground holding a SCOPE who gets the high ground (Probably from Archangel Armor) ends up with an Aim of 145 (105 from being a Colonel Sniper, 10 from the SCOPE, 20 from the default high ground Aim bonus, and another 10 from Damn Good Ground), which is so much Aim that an enemy in Full Cover will always be hit if it doesn't have an additional source of Defense. The Muton Elite is the only enemy (and only on the higher two difficulties!) that can use Cover and gets more than 20 base Defense. Which means this Colonel Sniper's absolute worst accuracy will be 75%, against Muton Elites in Full Cover, and against everything else 85% will be as low as they go, if that.

Now of course the Sniper isn't supposed to flank, and the other classes aren't able to achieve such high general Aim they can basically ignore Cover, but there are multiple ways to destroy Cover to get the benefits of a flank without actually flanking the target, and even if there weren't this just underlines how good the spotter+Sniper combination is. Why bother flanking when you can have four Snipers sitting tight, killing everything the instant your spotters activate them no matter how good their defensive situation is?

-Now, a flank's other big benefit is a high chance of a critical hit. This ends up undermined in two big ways: firstly, the best flanker (Assaults) can use skills to very reliably get critical hits without any need for a flank, undermining the idea of seeking a flank. For that matter, the worst flanker (Snipers) also ends up with a very high chance of critical hits without any need for a flank! (A Plasma Sniper Rifle plus an upgraded SCOPE is already a 45% chance of a critical hit, no need for a Headshot or anything)

Even if these points didn't apply, critical hits aren't terribly important. A successful critical hit usually amounts to a 50% increase in damage. That's nice, but it's generally not a game-changer. It's not as if this is the original XCOM, where armor means that higher damage is disproportionately useful (ie a 50% increase in damage in the original game can mean the difference between being unable to hurt the target vs being able to occasionally kill it in one shot), or anything of the sort. It's literally about as valuable as half a regular shot. In the event that you need 1-and-a-half shots, or 2-and-a-half shots, or whatever, to actually kill a target, then it's nice that it saves a single shot being spent, but that's pretty much it. The only secondary mechanics that make critical hits worth pursuing are that Headshot does additional damage if the shot is a critical hit (But the Sniper is terrible at achieving flanks and a Plasma Sniper Rifle Headshot is already a 65% chance of a critical hit, 75% with an upgraded SCOPE) and that the Assault's Bring 'Em On and Killer Instinct skills both provide bonus damage on critical hits. (But again, the Assault can very reliably achieve critical hits without a flank. 20% from the Shotgun and 30% from Aggression -most pods have three Aliens to max it instantly- is already a 50% chance. In the original game Close & Personal can boost this up to 80%, and an upgraded SCOPE can bring it up to 90%. Enemy Within reworking Close & Personal effectively caps their innate crit chance at 60%, and Gene Mods and Medals do little to make up for this, so Assaults are more strongly incentivized to pursue a flank in Enemy Within... but Bring 'Em On and Killer Instinct are fairly awful skills, and Killer Instinct in particular suffers from the fact that Resilience is overall the better choice for flanking specialization while also being useful all the time, instead of only on a turn you activated Run & Gun and got a crit)

Flanks are thus reduced to a 'nice-to-have', something worth pursuing when you're confident you won't activate any Aliens, won't activate an Overwatch shot, etc, and happen to be conveniently close to one anyway.

-Meld Canisters stop being a thing eventually, as they only spawn on a given map once. As such, the player is pressured by Meld Canisters primarily in the early portion of a run, with any mission that lacks Meld Canisters entirely being a mission in which slow and cautious play returns to being the norm. Furthermore, as the game progresses enemies that give Meld on death become increasingly common, and they're not timed, so in later missions it's pretty easy to shrug off lost Meld Canisters. And Meld's costs are heavily front-loaded: A Mec requires 200 Meld to get their suit produced and upgraded all the way to a Paladin, but converting a soldier into a Mec only requires 10 Meld, and the Soldier is the only part you can lose. (ie if your end-game Paladin Mec dies, you only have to pay 10 Meld to have a Paladin Mec back in action)

If you're focusing on Gene Mods you can end up burning through a lot of Meld by losing soldiers, but the payoff for most Gene Mods is fairly low, and they're still pretty cheap, and the fact that you can invest in Mecs instead for more payoff at less risk of losing a big investment means it's questionable in the first place to dump too much of your Meld into Gene Mods. So getting your first Mec or two set up and going is hideously Meld-intensive, but once you've got a couple of Paladin suits the worst case scenario is losing 20 Meld per battle, in the scenario you get the two Mecs killed every single time. You'll get all that back from just a couple of Heavy Floater pods!

-Soldiers aren't at risk of being one-shotted past the early game, but you don't encounter individual units most of the time. Three Sectoids can do up to 12 damage to a single target, if they get lucky, not even counting the potential for crits, which is a single pod of Sectoids and is enough to kill a Colonel in a Skeleton Suit even on Easy difficulty! On Impossible, an Assault (For Extra Conditioning) in Titan Armor who is Colonel rank only has 21 HP. 24 if you give them Chitin Plating. A Muton pod of three Mutons with regular Plasma Rifles can kill this Assault in one turn, again without any need for crits, just three high rolls. A Heavy in Titan Armor, benefiting from Will To Survive, will instead have 20 HP and take at most 6 damage per shot, so they can (barely) survive a pod of Mutons hitting them, while a Mec gets to 23 HP if in a Paladin suit and Colonel rank and can potentially have Damage Control to take 8+6+6 and thus also barely survive... but this isn't the most lethal possible pod. A Mechtoid on Impossible can do up to 12 damage twice in a turn -still not counting crits- and can be escorted by two Sectoid Commanders, who can Mind Fray/Alien Grenade for 5 damage apiece. That's 34 total damage to one target. The Mec can also have Absorption Field, but unless I've horribly misunderstood how Absorption Field and Damage Control interact that shouldn't save them.

So even your toughest units who are outright designed to tank damage are hideously unsafe if they've activated one pod, let alone two.


You can be a little more reckless than in the original game, but not as much as you might think. It is simply far too important to arrange circumstances such that you activate a pod and then immediately deal with it before it has a chance to do anything to risk more aggressive play.

Next time, I cover how the remaquel reduces the tactical and strategic intertwining that is a major distinguishing feature of the XCOM series, as well as of imitators.


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