Long War Initial Impressions: Tactics

One of the most striking things to me about Long War from right out the gate is that it manages to take the remaquel's fairly shallow tactical combat and make it into something that's actually tactical.

See, in the base version of the remaquel, the player doesn't really need to think in terms of the 'bigger picture' of managing their squad to play fairly well. There's some order-of-operations details to keep in mind -eg if you're going to use explosives in a turn, they should probably be used before you take shots, so that Cover destruction benefits your regular shots and also to avoid destroying loot- but broadly speaking you can usually just work out what a given unit can/should do in a turn and end up with the squad efficiently dispatching all the Aliens. A lot of my ragging on individual skills and decisions in part grew out of this core issue, too, such as how Flush is a really dubious choice in the base game. Theoretically Flush can be used to break Suppression, end a flank on an ally, and a few other things oriented toward helping allies, but most of these just aren't relevant in real play, and so it's reduced to being a way of making a weak-but-accurate attack.

In Long War, just playing the very first mission -the one that, in the base game, is a tutorial mission- rapidly made it very obvious I needed to be thinking in terms of the squad as a whole when making individual decisions. My squad was wiped out entirely on my first try. (And on my second try, but that involved a lot more RNG-screw) It's really impressive, because I didn't really think the base game's mchanics were capable of supporting such an experience, not without a massive overhaul, and while that's exactly what Long War is the impact of those changes on the first mission is fairly limited. There's no Officers yet, the overhauled Mecs are months away, the overhauled Psi powers are also a ways away...

A big part of this is that Cover's impact has been increased, while the player's soldiers are de-facto slower thanks to most Items imposing Mobility penalties when carried. Getting a flank is usually going to take multiple turns to arrange if you don't have Run & Gun, and possibly even if you do, and not going for a flank means rolling dice that are quite unfavorable. Another part of it is that the Aliens in Long War are, themselves, actually playing on the level I'm talking about, which is shocking from any AI but is particularly impressive when compared against the derpy AI of the remaquel. Long War Aliens will do things like Dash for a flank on one of your units, and then a different Alien starts Suppressing the now-flanked soldier, putting them into a lose/lose situation that requires certain tools or specific skills (eg Lightning Reflexes) to break the soldier out without notable risk. So not only does the player have to think about what their soldiers can do as a collective unit, but they have to think about what enemy units can do as a collective unit.

This also changes the nature of Alien numbers in a fundamental way. In the base game, fighting more Aliens at once is mostly bad because it gives the Aliens more opportunities to roll dice at you, and eventually those dice rolls are going to get someone killed. It's not precisely a linear increase in challenge, because it's usually going to be more like 'your squad can almost-completely-reliably kill 2 Aliens without them doing anything' and so an increase from fighting 3 Aliens to fighting 6 Aliens means having four times as many Aliens getting to roll dice at you on the first turn, and assuming none of your guys dies an infinite increase for comparing the respective second turns... but bar a few specific exceptions like how Mechtoids can get their shield only if they have Sectoid or Sectoid Commander allies, there's not really synergy when fighting more and more Aliens.

In Long War, additional Aliens is a far more disproportionate increase in difficulty. It's also worth commentary that Long War has overall raised Alien lethality, so there's a marked tendency for shots that land to be spontaneously lethal, meaning it's really dangerous to let Aliens roll dice at you, but the bigger thing is how bigger groups have stronger tactics to use against you. A single 4-person pod of just Floaters has enough units to... well, go for one 'regular' flank+Suppression combo, plus have a Floater Launch to a hidden location behind your lines, leaving the fourth Floater to roll dice at you or try to Suppress another individual or something. You've still got four/five squad members free -before you expand squad size!- to hunt down the Launching Floater and/or try to untangle the Suppressed individual(s) somehow or another. You double the Floater count, and depending on how many soldiers a Floater can flank, this can potentially turn into your entire squad locked down by Suppression while two different Floaters are going for a flank by different means!

It's really interesting, impressive stuff.


Though it segues nicely into probably my single most hated element of Long War.

No, not the Arc Thrower issue. That's more mystifying of a decision than anything else.  No, the issue I'm talking about is that, for all that Cyberdiscs and Chryssalid pods and Muton Elite pods and so on are really clearly meant to be the most problematic, terrifying enemies to face, by far the worst enemy to face...

... is freakin' Floaters.

Yes, Floaters. No, Long War hasn't really altered their stats significantly or given them some new, awesome ability. Muton Berserkers have stopped being jokes because they all have Muscle Fiber Density, meaning high ground is no longer any protection from them. Thin Men have spiked in danger in no small part by virtue of Acid being hugely threatening, where Poison was an ignorable inconvenience. Sectoids are more dangerous because they have Mind Fray and Psi Panic. Outsiders have picked up Muscle Fiber Density and significant health regeneration.

Floaters are mechanically unchanged, with even the UFOpaedia page saying they 'behave identically to vanilla'. They actually have an extra HP, 5 extra Aim, and 10 more Will, but that's small potatoes overall, so fair enough. The game is even nice enough on the lower difficulties to give them -5 Defense, so that they only have 5 Defense more than the base game's Floaters when in flight.

Nonetheless, Floaters just feel like the single most unfair, poorly-designed foes in Long War.

(Admittedly I haven't yet fought Sectopods, Ethereals, Heavy Floaters, or more than one Sectoid Commander)

Back in the Aliens analysis, I commented on Evasion as 'basically just an annoying denial of the ability to flank them yourself'. I'd actually intended to talk in more detail about how I consider that to be a bad thing, but I forgot because in the base version of the game it really is just that; annoying, but not important or memorable.

Long War, however, brings the design problem with unremovable Partial Cover to the fore, with the spike in difficulty in general and in particular the importance of playing tactically.

That problem being: what options are there to fight Floaters competently?

As far as I can tell, there aren't any. You can take Deadeye on some classes, but +15 to Aim when you've got 40-50 Aim without it means you're very much at the not-at-all-tender 'mercy' of the RNG. You can't Grenade them to get around the RNG (Unless they're on the ground, in which case you can just flank them), and even if you could Grenades have been weakened. Rocketry is a terrible option for the early game (ie when they first show up) because the rocket will almost certainly go substantially off-course. You can't use Mind Fray to murder them, because Psi powers take a while to show up and Mind Fray only does 1 damage in Long War anyway. There's actually a Flak Ammo item, but bafflingly it increases your damage against air units and is locked behind Mec access anyway. (So basically it's for killing Cyberdiscs, and that's about it)

The only 'tactic' available for fighting Floaters I can tell is to roll dice and pray.

Oh, you can do some things to slightly shift things in your favor. Holo-Targeting works on them, for example, but contrary to what I thought of the base game's behavior it doesn't stack. (I don't know if this is a Long War change or if I just assumed Holo-Targeting couldn't possibly be even more terrible than it already would be just by competing with Bullet Swarm and was wrong) You can also do some things to reduce the problems from them flanking you, and I should probably get better about taking advantage of those -I actually didn't know Smoke Grenades negate the core effects of being flanked in Long War, for example- but for actually killing Floaters? Basically,, sometimes Floaters will stupidly let themselves be uncovered, so try to provoke them into being stupid, and Shotguns have massive accuracy bonuses up close, so if you can bait them into getting into Shotgun range that's an option.

But more typical is getting into a firefight where it doesn't really make sense for you to try to advance -for fear of activating more Aliens, or because you're already in good Cover and anyway the Floaters will just fearlessly fly right behind you and instagib you if you try to get close enough to actually hit them- and just... rolling dice.

It's ridiculous the degree to which Floaters are a problem, and it's especially galling because the mod doesn't provide any tools for fighting them. You've got HEAT Ammo to help you take apart the highly durable robots of the game. You can use Gas Grenades to cripple their Damage Reduction, too. Shredder Ammo can make single big nasties easier to deal with. Seekers can be revealed with Battlescanners, and Overwatch clusters can be used to substantially mitigate their threat, not to mention using Close Combat Specialist Assaults to safeguard people. Etc.

It's not just that Floaters are in Partial Cover anytime they're in flight. It's also that getting flight, when backed by Long War's AI, means that if I try to get the high ground advantage to try to offset their unremovable Defense they'll just laugh at me and fly high up and get the high ground advantage instead.

There's no tactics I can use, and I can't really prepare myself better on a strategic levels. When I've gone up against Cyberdiscs with no HEAT Ammo and no Shredder Ammo, I've taken casualties with equanimity, accepted that was on me. I've scrambled to try to get to Gauss weaponry before enemy HP and Damage Reduction climbed high enough to make Lasers inadequate, and accepted that as part of the game. I've found Thin Men incredibly frustrating, but I'm clear that's in part a consequence of the choices I've made. (eg I didn't prioritize Psi powers, which provides an immediate way to mitigate Acid, I've left my Armor development in the lurch meaning no Acid protection from that route, and from the very beginning I could have been passing out Medikits to more of my soldiers to at least eliminate the damage)

It's also frustrating because while it's basically a consequence of the base game choosing to design Floaters dubiously, and Long War is overall faithful to the base game, Long War is perfectly happy to make major changes (eg Outsiders being almost unrecognizable) in cases where an element's design was lacking or seriously flawed. So apparently Pavonis Interactive didn't see Floaters as having near-zero tactical and strategic responses, or saw it but didn't see it as a problem?

And they're so common. I'd be tempted to edit the ini if I had any idea what I wanted to do to keep Floaters interesting and threatening while doing away with the unmitigated nonsense part of fighting them, because fighting Floaters is the most soul-crushing part of Long War. I don't dread fighting Cyberdiscs or Chryssalid mobs or Muton Elite blobs or Berserkers leaping two stories or any of the things I should dread.

Nope, it's Floaters. Floaters make me want to cry.


(You can tell how badly they're impacting my experience from the fact that this post is ostensibly about me praising Long War having real tactics and yet 'oh god Floaters' is like three times as much real estate as the praising portion)

Still, when I'm not fighting Floaters Long War remains incredibly engaging.


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