XCOM 2 Class Analysis: Sharpshooter
XCOM 2 has a class system much like the game before it, with many commonalities: four base classes that any Rookie promotes into at random (Though now you'll eventually pick up some control over what your Rookies become), leveling up unlocks skills with the first level-up being the defining one and later ones involving choosing between two skills (Which now includes Major, rather than it being a non-choice), there's minor stat gains as well, different classes have access to different equipment, and so on.
Indeed, the core classes of XCOM 2 quite clearly each parallel a class from the prior game, albeit in each case they've been fairly notable overhauled in both conceptual framework and actual mechanics. Which is a good thing! The previous game was vague and messy on its core classes, and needed overhauling.
I'll be starting with the Sharpshooter for analysis posts: they're the core class that's most like its predecessor (The Sniper), making them a good jumping-off point for a few different reasons.
Before getting into the Sharpshooter in specific, it's worth talking base stats:
HP: 6/5/4/4 (Rookie/Regular/Commander/Legendary difficulties)
Will: 40 (50 on Rookie difficulty)
Strength is a weird stat that mostly doesn't matter, so don't worry about it. I'll cover when it is relevant, later on. Much later on.
Anyway, these are the stats your Rookies have. The ones that aren't 0 or defined by other things, such as their weapon. Notably, on Commander and Legendary this has your Rookie base stats as actually slightly worse than basic ADVENT Troopers, though that's misleading for reasons I'll be getting into when we start talking about enemies. Aside Strength, they're mostly the same as the prior game: Aim provides your base chance to hit, HP needs to be above 0 to not be dead, Will is protection against psionic assault and Panic, and Mobility is movement speed via basically the exact same weird formula of the prior game except it rounds differently.
As for the Sharpshooter, they conform to the same basic format you'd expect from familiarity with the previous game's Sniper: their primary weapon is a Sniper Rifle, which has limitations when it comes to move-and-fire and suffers Aim penalties for closing with enemies where most weapons gain Aim for getting close to your target but it's fine because you're expected to use Squadsight, while their secondary weapon is the Pistol.
Now, in the previous game, the Heavy was the only soldier whose secondary weapon wasn't a Pistol, but in XCOM 2 no class shares a secondary weapon with another class. The Pistol is the Sharpshooter's unique calling card, instead of a backup weapon available to nearly everyone that basically only one class genuinely uses. Its actual characteristics are mostly familiar, however: it's a weak ranged attack that makes up for it with unlimited ammo and the ability to be fired even when the Sniper Rifle can't be. The primary difference aside from being class-unique and some contextual stuff I'll be getting into later on is that Pistols now have the same range mechanics as Shotguns; that is, they gain Aim for closing with enemies, but they also lose Aim for being far away from the enemy. Specifically, they'll gain up to +40 Aim (When directly adjacent) and lose up to -30 Aim. (When at the very edge of normal firing ranges) This more sharply emphasizes that the Pistol is for close-quarters work; at point-blank range, a Pistol will have 70 more accuracy than a Sniper Rifle. Conversely, trying to use the Pistol to save ammo at long-but-not-Squadsight-long ranges is a more dubious proposition.
A sub-point of all this is that where the Sniper had exactly one skill for specializing in Pistol use, the Sharpshooter has almost half of their skills dedicated to being good at using their Pistol. (Though notably none of them includes a broad boost to Pistol damage)
The Sniper Rifle, meanwhile, is also mostly familiar, but there's a big difference: in the previous game, if at any point the Sniper had done anything that wasn't completely free to do, then for the rest of their turn they couldn't fire their Sniper Rifle. (Unless they had Snap Shot) The Sharpshooter, by contrast, merely requires they are currently sitting on 2 or more action points to be able to fire their Sniper Rifle. At the beginning of the game this engine-level distinction might seem like mere pedantry, but there are assorted ways for a Sharpshooter to end up moving/attacking/otherwise doing things that spend action points and then go ahead and fire their Sniper Rifle afterward in the same turn anyway, it's just it's a little clunkier to do than with other classes, and requires you have mid-late game tools to be able to do.
Now, this all sounds like pretty big buffs to a class that was already the most broken class in the game.
Let's get to that.
But first talking about stats.
Every class gain 4-13 Will on every level-up in base XCOM 2, with the caveat that Will caps out at 100 maximum. I'll still be listing each such case for convenience's sake, but it's a rule of thumb you can memorize.
Also note that immediate HP boost. Remember how Snipers were the only class that didn't get a hit point from hitting Squaddie? Man, this sure seems like another buff to the sniper class... well, the thing is, XCOM 2 is actually a lot more generous with HP than the previous game. In the previous game, every class gained a hit point every other level. In XCOM 2, that's the bad HP progression. The default HP progression is to gain a hit point on all but one level. This does mean Squaddie Sharpshooters aren't immediately behind the curve the way Squaddie Snipers were, but past that? The comparison is actually harsher, as Snipers only ended up 1 HP behind the curve, not 3 like Sharpshooters do.
The Aim boost is unusually generous (Other classes tend to gain 2-3 from Squaddie) as well, but this is largely making up for how un-generous to Sharpshooters Aim mechanics are.
So let's talk about that!
The Sharpshooter can fire their Sniper Rifle potentially unlimited distance, but firing beyond normal range imposes a flat -10 crit chance as well as -2 to Aim for each tile beyond normal firing range. Overwatch fire cannot trigger at Squadsight ranges.
Huzzah! XCOM 2 grasped that Squadsight should always have been the core class skill of the sniper class!
So hey, un-generous Aim mechanics. What am I talking about? Why, I'm talking about the fact that Sharpshooters get hit from both ends. Normally, distance considerations are either pure positive (ie medium range weapons), or can be negative but can also be positive. (ie short range weapons) The Sharpshooter's Sniper Rifle suffers from negative Aim modifiers for getting close and suffers Aim penalties for getting far away.
So where Snipers in the previous game could get in a good position and kill things on literally the other end of the map with 100% reliability if their Aim was high enough, Sharpshooters are going to be forced to keep moving to keep up with the rest of the squad if they want to be reliable at hitting things. In fact, the Squadsight Aim penalties add up so fast that 10 tiles in exactly cancels out a height bonus. That makes a good sniper nest merely a modest extension on how long your Sharpshooter can delay following the squad.
A further difficulty for Sharpshooters to contend with is that timed missions are much more normal in XCOM 2 than in the previous game. Instead of timed missions being a handful of DLC missions, one kind of Council mission, and I guess Terror Missions but not really, probably something like half to two-thirds of a given campaign's missions are liable to be operating on some manner of timer, with Guerrilla Ops in particular always being some form of timed mission. This is especially harsh on missions that combine a timer with a fixed evacuation point: even if you can get a Sharpshooter into an excellent position for sniping enemies across the map that requires minimal movement, they'll still be forced to move to avoid being killed by the timer running out before they make it to the evac point.
All this means that where Snipers were overpowered nonsense that broke the difficulty curve and the assumptions of how players would play the game, Sharpshooters are actually probably a bit understrength. This is further exacerbated by various changes in context, like how there's no equivalent to Archangel Armor, with perhaps the most obvious and dramatic being that the other core classes have been substantially improved. (With a bit of a caveat for the Heavy equivalent, who doesn't have anything as obviously good as Bullet Swarm)
On the plus side, they're allowed to crit at Squadsight ranges without using a cooldown skill. -10 crit chance isn't nothing, but it's a lot better than 'no crit for you ever'. It can be a little frustrating to have a target exactly 1 tile into Squadsight range and so be hit with the full -10 to crit chance, but it's not nearly as frustrating as the equivalent situation in Enemy Within.
+4 Aim is still unusually high, but not as wacky-high as +10.
On a different topic, you remember how I talked about the previous game having 'lanes' that seemed to have (inane, non-functional) concepts of what each lane was about? Yeah, that wasn't me imagining things, XCOM 2 formalizes this concept with each lane outright getting a label in-game. In the Sharpshooter's case, those lanes are 'Sniper' and 'Gunslinger'.
I always ordered the skills by lane anyway, but I'll say this more explicitly: for class posts, I'll be ordering them consistently so you can tell which skill is for which lane. In the Sharpshooter's case, the first skill I mention is that rank's Sniper lane skill, and the second skill is the Gunslinger lane skill.
So what are they at this rank?
Sniper Rifle Overwatch is now Long Watch, able to trigger on targets at Squadsight ranges.
Now you can Overwatch fire on things at Squadsight ranges.
This is vitally important anytime you intend to have your Sharpshooter hanging out in a nest so they can actually do useful Overwatching on quiet turns and then have it catch enemies that stumble into the rest of the squad, but it's also useful anytime you happened to have your Sharpshooter in Sniper Rifle Overwatch and a new pod ended up failing to have anyone walk into non-Squadsight firing range. Getting bonus shots in on the enemy is always good, even if they're still operating at an Aim penalty.
While we're on the topic: Overwatch works fairly similarly to the previous game. End turn, take a shot at the first enemy to move in your radius, said shot can't crit and suffers Aim penalties, with Dashing targets being even less likely to be hit. The details are a bit different, though. For one, the Dash protection against Overwatch is less; instead of reducing accuracy to 50% of the starting number (Where Overwatch is normally reduced to 70% of the starting number in the previous game), it's merely reduced to 60%. (With 70% still being the usual reduction point in XCOM 2) This makes Dashing to push the odds in your favor notably less of a good idea to consider. You're often better off making a one-action move so you can then do something after moving to contribute.
The big change, however, is that Overwatch fire in XCOM 2 occurs sequentially. If your entire squad goes into Overwatch in front of a door and a half-dead Sectoid kicks it in? The only way you'll end up wasting your entire squad's fire on the Sectoid is if they all miss, or all but one soldier. This is a huge improvement in the effectiveness of Overwatch, and is especially important with XCOM 2 having switched to mixed pods as the default; it'd be hugely frustrating in XCOM 2 to have a Sectopod and two ADVENT Troopers walk into range, have one ADVENT Trooper die to two Overwatch shots, and then have the remaining 4 Overwatch shots all get wasted on that already-dead ADVENT Trooper instead of eg softening up the Sectopod.
You still shouldn't Overwatch when you can just take a shot, of course, but this makes the payoff from ambushes greater, and means there's no longer incentives to stagger the positions of your soldiers in an attempt to force them to fire sequentially. The elimination of that particular silliness is huge, both on a pure gameplay effectiveness level and on a player enjoyment level.
Another note about Overwatch: it's lost if the Overwatching unit takes damage. This is much more significant in regards to making enemy Overwatch easy to work around, but it's another, very significant factor in why you shouldn't go into Overwatch when there's active enemies in the area. It's entirely possible they'll just take a shot and incidentally wipe the Overwatch.
In the case of the Sharpshooter, by the way, they are the only class that can go into Overwatch with either their primary weapon or their main weapon, and unlike the prior game this doesn't involve switching between weapons. Instead, you just have a pair of Pistol-specific buttons; one for firing the Pistol, and one for going into Overwatch with the Pistol.
The first time the Sharpshooter is targeted in a turn, they will retaliate with their Pistol.
Broadly speaking, I sort of get the logic behind Return Fire; a Pistol-oriented Sharpshooter is one who is getting relatively into the thick of things, not only able to be seen and thus shot at all but in fact potentially being more aggressive than most other core classes since Pistols are short-range weapons. This should theoretically lead to the Sharpshooter drawing a higher volume of fire than much of your other soldiers.
In actuality, later Pistol skills discourage using the Sharpshooter in this way, and it's an erratic bonus. It's not even allowed to trigger multiple times in a turn, so if your Sharpshooter does draw a bunch of fire without dying Return Fire doesn't end up with a significant payoff!
Even though I feel Sniper Rifle-focused Sharpshooters tend to be understrength, I default to taking Long Watch at this rank. In addition to all the above points, XCOM 2 is, even more strongly than its predecessor, a game designed around the idea that you avoid your soldiers dying by killing the enemies before they get a chance to shoot you. Return Fire is contrary to that principle, and that right there makes is weak; Long Watch is in line with that principle, making it much more viable.
Yeah, Hack is a new stat. I'll get into it when we get to the Support equivalent, as it's much more relevant to them; your other classes can Hack, but only in specific situations, and are so much worse at it than the Support equivalent that in most situations you shouldn't have anyone else bother even when the option is available.
Fires a shot with the Sniper Rifle which does 50% more damage if it hits, but reduces the final accuracy value by 25%. 2 turn cooldown.
Deadeye is one of the trashier skills in the game. What's particularly impressive is that XCOM 2 does a much better job than the previous game of making sure most skills are at least decent, and yet Deadeye is actually worse than a lot of the previous game's trash skills. So it actually stands out much more harshly than most of the previous game's awful skills.
There are only three situations in which Deadeye is even slightly worth considering using if you do have it for some reason.
1: Your accuracy against a target is so low the Aim penalty isn't that big a deal and there's no smarter move available like climbing to high ground to make a Pistol shot.
2: You desperately need a target dead, your Sharpshooter is your last soldier to move, and a non-Deadeye hit can't possibly be a kill so the higher miss rate doesn't change your decision.
3: Your Sharpshooter's base hit chance is 125 or more, such that Deadeye is still guaranteed to hit.
If this were the previous game, 3 wouldn't actually be that hard to achieve. It's not, though, so it's actually quite difficult to achieve, especially if you're in the habit of having your Sharpshooter hang back to snipe. 2 is not a reason to pick the skill, just a situation in which you'll use it if for some reason you have it anyway. Same for 1.
So what's the motive to pick Deadeye, exactly?
The answer is that there isn't one. The payoff isn't worth the costs.
Now, there were some disappointingly bad skills in the previous game that were worth taking because their competition was also bad and so it didn't really matter that they were bad.
Unfortunately, Deadeye is competing with...
Fires the Pistol as a completely free action, otherwise functioning as a normal Pistol shot. 3 turn cooldown.
100% free shot that, seriously, is 100% free? Sign me up!
This is the final nail in the coffin for Deadeye. Why take a skill that lets me boost damage at reduced Aim when I could boost my damage with a free shot at no penalty? Deadeye's only edges over Lightning Hands are that it's a way of getting around Armor, that it has a shorter cooldown, and that it functions at Squadsight range. The latter point isn't much of an argument in Deadeye's favor given that leaning heavy into Squadsight isn't very viable in the first place. The middle point isn't very important; in non-timed missions, it's not unusual for Lightning Hands to recharge between one fight and the next, while Deadeye isn't liable to be used twice in one fight unless things are going really badly in which case you do not want to be relying on a gamble skill. The first point only matters if you inexplicably choose to avoid bringing solid Shred on your team.
So I guess if you did a gimmick run where you only fielded Sharpshooters you might want Deadeye on some of them?
For realistic play, though, Lightning Hands is so ridiculously superior to Deadeye I don't know how this made it into the final game. It's not quite as egregious as the Bullet Swarm/Holo-Targeting non-choice, but it's in the same general vicinity.
This, by the way, is before I account for how Ammo Items even more strongly reward Pistol play and Lightning Hands in particular.
In short: take Lightning Hands.
Note that the Alien Rulers make this unevenness way worse. Lightning Hands can be used without triggering a Ruler Reaction. Deadeye is not merely gambling for more damage, but is guaranteeing a Ruler Reaction! If you don't have the Alien Hunters DLC, I can squint and pretend it's not bad play to take Deadeye over Lightning Hands, but if you do? The comparison becomes if anything more one-sided than the Bullet Swarm vs Holo-Targeting comparison!
Finally, note that the proportions for the damage component are equivalent if we ignore a bunch of factors that almost uniformly slants things in favor of Lightning Hands. Pistols and Sniper Rifles are consistently tuned so that a Pistol on average does half the damage of its tier-equivalent Sniper Rifle; thus, using Lightning Hands and then firing your Sniper Rifle is a 50% increase in damage over just using your Sniper Rifle, just like a Deadeye shot is. Only Lightning Hands doesn't have an Aim penalty, becomes more advantageously strong when damage-boosting-per-hit effects (Ammo, Rupture, etc) apply, can split damage off onto a different target if that's advantageous (eg one target is in range to die to a regular Pistol shot; Lightning Hands that target and then Sniper Rifle something else), the list is unending. The only damage-related factor that instead favors Deadeye over Lightning Hands is Armor.
Which you can Shred, making it moot.
Death From Above
Killing an enemy with the primary weapon the soldier had height advantage on refunds one action point and doesn't end their turn.
Without some form of external support this won't let your Sharpshooter take a Sniper Rifle shot multiple times in a turn, but it can let you reload, Hunker Down for safety, move to a new location or of course take a Pistol shot.
This last point is actually one of the bigger points in Death From Above's favor. Even though it's a Sniper skill, it actually synergizes fairly smoothly with Gunslinger skills: blow off a more distant target's head with your Sniper Rifle, and then use one of your Pistol skills on a close-in target.
You'll ideally give a Death From Above Sharpshooter a Spider/Wraith/Serpent Suit so they have access to a Grapple to relatively consistently be able to activate Death From Above (Grapples don't use action points in XCOM 2!), but even without that it's a surprisingly solid pick that will crop up fairly consistently. Among other things, XCOM 2 has a marked preference for starting the player's forces on high ground when doing Retaliation missions and missions that take place in an ADVENT city. In non-timed missions, Concealment also means it's not necessarily a big deal to wait one or two turns for your Sharpshooter to scramble to high ground before kicking off a fight.
Death From Above is good. Not a guaranteed take, but my default at this tier.
On a mechanical note, Death From Above's mechanics don't work the way the game presents them as. The game claims a killshot only uses 1 action point if you have Death From Above. This would imply that, for example, using Inspiration to push a Death From Above Sharpshooter to 3 action points and then killing your target would result in them dropping from 3 action points to 2 action points, allowing them to fire their Sniper Rifle again. In actuality, they will be set to 1 action point, no matter how many they have; as such, you should fire and then Inspire if you wish to fire the Sniper Rifle multiple times in a turn.
The only (base game) exception to this is that Hair Trigger activations overrule Death From Above activations, and are more generous a refund.
Also, to be completely clear: this does not work with Pistol shots. Or with tossing grenades and the like. You can't use it to mop up a series of near-death enemies with your Pistol. You'll need Faceoff for that.
Firing the Pistol as the first action of the soldier's turn does not automatically end the soldier's turn.
It's Bullet Swarm, but for the Pistol.
Unlike Bullet Swarm, Quickdraw isn't a blatant 'always take me no matter what' skill. There's several reasons for this: the biggest reason is that in XCOM 2 it's normal to be able to do multiple things in a turn without specifically having to move. Heavies got to do things like reload and then fire where other classes were stuck missing out on a turn of fire if they bothered to reload in combat; while a Sharpshooter can't fire their Sniper Rifle after reloading under normal circumstances, they can certainly reload and then fire a Pistol, and a non-Sharpshooter class with a Bullet Swarm ability isn't actually gaining the ability to reload and fire in the same turn, as that's already a standard capability.
Less massive but more blatant is that Quickdraw is attached to specifically firing a Pistol, which is deliberately designed as an understrength weapon. At base values, firing a Pistol twice has equivalent damage to firing a Sniper Rifle once, but more susceptible to Armor; thus by default Quickdraw is not a way to increase your damage output, but rather a way to split your damage output. This comes with two caveats, mind; firstly, that Ammo Items cause damage to tilt toward Pistols over Sniper Rifles, and secondly that you can Quickdraw followed by a Faceoff or Fan Fire, in which case it really is just a straight boost to damage output. This makes Quickdraw a lot more appealing for Pistol builds once you get to your higher ranks, where Faceoff and Fan Fire await.
Less massive and less blatant but still quite relevant is that it competes with Death From Above. Quickdraw gets the advantage that it can be done anytime, anywhere, instead of requiring a killshot and high ground, but when you do trigger Death From Above it's clearly superior to Quickdraw.
This level, incidentally, is a notable component of Return Fire being not that great. If you go full Gunslinger like the game somewhat expects, Quickdraw is actively discouraging aggressively charging enemies; an action point spent on movement is an action point not spent on shooting things once you have Quickdraw. You can't even construct an argument about ammo efficiency, because Pistols have unlimited ammo! So unless your current accuracy is atrocious and can be substantially boosted with movement, it's usually better to just fire your Pistol twice than it is to move and then fire it once. At which point you're not aggressively charging in to bait out Return Fire triggers.
And if you instead take Death From Above, that also discourages behavior that Return Fire needs to justify itself!
So what kind of build actually wants Return Fire, exactly?
Yes, Strength can be gained from levels. I'm not entirely sure why, given that my understanding of the Strength-using mechanics makes class-based Strength boosts so tiny in their relevance that it's effortlessly drowned out by RNG. Regardless, the Sharpshooter is one of the worse classes when it comes to Strength gains, which... matters? Technically? I guess?
Designates a cone-shaped region, in which the soldier will automatically perform Overwatch fire on any enemy that passes through or fires from within the region, lasting until the soldier's Sniper Rifle runs out of ammo or their next turn arrives. 3 turn cooldown.
Note that Kill Zone does not require Long Watch to be able to strike at Squadsight distances, in spite of being a form of Overwatch.
Also note that while I include 'fires from within the region', this is purely because I'm not completely certain the in-game description is wrong on this count. I've personally yet to see it actually happen, but it's possible I've simply never had an enemy try to fire from within the actual Kill Zone region, as for one thing the game only displays the Kill Zone when you're considering using the skill, which makes it easy to lose track of what tiles are actually inside it by the time the enemy turn rolls around.
Kill Zone is most notable for its use in Overwatch ambushes, where the Overwatch accuracy penalty doesn't apply and all your targets are not only out in the open but can be tripped to start moving at your discretion. Just make sure to attach an Extended Magazine to your Sharpshooter so they don't run out of ammo before running out of opportunities to fire!
Once you've broken Concealment, it's... still got its uses, but to be frank it tends to be inferior to its competing skill, due to it being tied to the Sniper Rifle and the cone behavior being clunky to actually use.
Speaking of its competing skill...
Fires the Pistol at every enemy in range, once apiece. 3 turn cooldown.
Faceoff is frankly a fairly ridiculous skill. Yeah, you're specifically firing with your Pistol, but every shot is a regular shot (ie no reaction fire Aim penalty or the like), it has no cap on its number of targets, Pistols have unlimited ammunition so it can actually hit 10+ targets if you've got that many in sight (Where Kill Zone can only hit up to 6 targets, and only if you have a Superior Extended Magazine), and it's still benefiting from Ammo Items etc. Faceoff can, in fact, be a much better way of opening an Overwatch ambush than Kill Zone, and continues to be excellent even once your squad is forced into the open. Among other points, you can move and Faceoff, or Death From Above and Faceoff, or Quickdraw and then Faceoff, giving it a lot of versatility.
It also makes for an excellent follow-up on hurling explosives at a pod; instead of needing to burn multiple soldier actions on cleaning up a series of nearly-dead enemies, or tossing out more explosives (Which are limited in use and risk destroying loot items), you can have a Sharpshooter Faceoff and clean them all up, freeing the rest of your squad to focus on any larger threats still lingering. (eg Sectopods)
Faceoff is amazing and very much my default pick at this level. I actually like the idea behind Kill Zone a lot better and was much more excited by it when I read about it before ever touching the game, but Faceoff is just a much more versatile, consistently useful skill, and even the fact that it has lower damage per hit isn't that big a deal given that Kill Zone is painfully prone to missing, between being a form of Overwatch and being liable to be firing at least some of its shots at Squadsight ranges. Faceoff, meanwhile, gets Pistol-derived Aim bonuses for getting close-ish, so... it's quite likely your damage output is actually higher on Faceoff than on Kill Zone if you're not specifically talking an Overwatch ambush.
And sometimes even then.
If the soldier has not moved in the previous turn, their next shot gains +10 to Aim and crit chance.
Steady Hands has an unintuitive requirement, and frankly I don't know if the game is glitchy or the description is just flat-out lying but I've repeatedly seen the Steady Hands bonus be applied to a Sharpshooter who had moved in the previous turn. And if I'm misunderstanding and the game is trying to say 'that hasn't moved in this turn' (ie Platform Stability on the Mec in the previous game), that's also not reflective of what actually happens!
In practice Steady Hands works out to being a stat bonus whose only coherent rule I know is actually true is that it'll go away after you fire your first shot, so if you end up firing multiple times in a turn (ie Death From Above or Quickdraw), you won't get the bonus on later shots.
If Steady Hands were less confusing/erratic, I'd have more to say here. I tend to take it as my default for this rank anyway, but only because it's purely passive where its counterpart requires specific behavior that I don't tend to engage in.
Hunkering Down confers +20 Aim to the soldier's next shot.
Aim is almost certainly meant to be combined with Quickdraw (What with being under the Gunslinger lane), but is actually a more natural synergy with Death From Above, allowing you to fire your Sniper Rifle with +20 Aim on every single shot. Combining Aim with Quickdraw means sacrificing half your damage in exchange for better odds on your next shot, which you can already do in the form of burning an action point on moving closer to the target before firing.
To be entirely fair, Aim being attached to Hunkering Down means you're also improving your Sharpshooter's survivability, but they genuinely don't tend to get shot at much in typical play. It's not as true as it was of Snipers in the previous game, but they're still less likely to be in reach of any enemies, and also less likely to be picked as targets if they are in reach due to other, easier-to-flank targets existing. So a Quickdraw Sharpshooter is generally better off just... taking another shot.
Activated ability that causes kill-shots with the Sniper Rifle to cost no action points for the rest of the turn. 4 turn cooldown.
Both the in-game description and the wider internet claims that Serial imposes a penalty to crit chance for follow-up shots that stacks for each kill made. I have never been able to find any evidence this exists: I've not found the value while digging around in the files, nobody anywhere online can provide an actual number for the penalty, and most critically when I've used Serial myself this penalty has mysteriously failed to manifest. I wouldn't be surprised if this is a penalty that did exist at some point, got removed, and the description wasn't updated appropriately.
In any event, it doesn't exist, don't worry about it, Serial is unlimited kill ability with no penalty so long as you every shot is a kill-shot. (Well, it's possible it has a hidden penalty to crit damage, as that would be more difficult to test, but if so who cares?)
Anyway, it's In The Zone, except it's an activated ability and doesn't require the target is actually in the open to trigger. That sounds kinda broken!
Surprisingly, it's actually kinda lackluster. The big problem is that Faceoff exists, shows up first, doesn't have to worry about Ammo limitations, a crit penalty, or having to deal with how awkward Sniper Rifles are in general. It even has a lower cooldown than Serial does! Faceoff thus tends to outperform Serial for cleaning up groups of weakened enemies. Serial has a small edge in being attached to the stronger weapon, allowing it to killstreak enemies at higher HP thresholds, and another small edge in being able to be used at Squadsight ranges, but... that's about it.
These are all fairly serious problems for Serial, but as a backup option to ensure your Sharpshooter can clean up, even if Faceoff is on cooldown or the Sharpshooter is out of position to use it? It could justify itself.
No, the actual problem is that it competes with...
Fires 3 Pistol shots at a single target. 3 turn cooldown.
Fan Fire is a surprisingly ridiculous skill for looking so humble.
Okay, here's where I clarify that Ammo Item thing I've been alluding to.
XCOM 2 has Ammo as a class of Item. Ammo Items always modify your primary weapon; in most cases, they add damage with some side effect, though this isn't universal. For every other class in the game, that's the sum total to talk about.
Sharpshooters, however, are special-cased so that Ammo Items also apply to their Pistol.
This might not sound that significant, but... first of all, Ammo Items that boost damage always do so by a flat amount. Pistols are tuned so that two shots from them is roughly equivalent to one shot from a Sniper Rifle, and if the game had operated on percentile damage modifier -or special-cased things so that the Sniper Rifle in specific got doubled damage from Ammo Items- that would be the end of things.
However, every flat point of damage added shifts the weight in favor of Pistols. At Conventional, you go from 2-3 on Pistols vs 4-6 on Sniper Rifles to suddenly 3-4 vs 5-7, numbers that clearly favor Pistols in a 'Pistols fire twice' scenario. (6-8 vs 5-7)
This isn't a big deal...
... until you consider Bluescreen Rounds.
Bluescreen Rounds are important for several reasons. The most obvious one is they're worth +5 damage. That seriously tilts things in favor of Pistols. (Bluescreen Conventional Pistol firing twice is 14-16 damage vs Bluescreen Conventional Sniper Rifle being 9-11 damage, making firing the Pistol twice a more than 50% increase in damage) But wait, Ammo Items are Experimental (ie you can't count on getting them when you want them), right? And anyway Bluescreen Rounds only work on robots, so that's not so powerful, right?
Bluescreen Rounds are unlocked as a regular purchase by the Bluescreen Protocol Proving Ground Project, which itself is unlocked by the ADVENT Mec Breakdown. Exactly how early you get to pull that off is down to luck, but the instant you've got your first ADVENT Mec wreck you can 100% reliably get started on the road to Bluescreen Rounds.
Alright, fine, but they're still limited to robots, and robots aren't everything in this game. No big deal.
Nope, it's a huge deal. First of all, the two toughest, most dangerous regular enemies are both susceptible to Bluescreen Rounds. This is particularly pertinent to Fan Fire; Bluescreen Rounds Fan Fire is, assuming all your shots connect, a guaranteed 21+ damage (With Conventional Pistols) against enemies who, on Legendary have 30 or 40 HP. Assume Energy Pistol, and you're talking 27-33 damage. So... Shred all their Armor, Fan Fire once, they're dead. (Since they'll have lost HP to the Shredding process)
That's huge by itself and is a big big reason to be taking Fan Fire over Serial, particularly as there's no competitive option on any other (base game) class for just dumping damage on a single target if it's susceptible to Bluescreen rounds.
But wait, it gets
Looking at the enemy list, you might think Bluescreen Rounds applies to ADVENT Mecs, Heavy Mecs, Turrets, and Sectopods, and shrug. Good, but still relatively situational.
In actuality, not only does it apply to Gatekeepers (As implied by 'the two toughest regular enemies'), it also applies to Andromedon shells (We'll get to that, don't worry) and the Codex. That enemy that's prone to cloning itself if you don't kill it in one attack, which can seriously complicate your squad's life, and which can directly drain ammo from your guns?
Yeah, Bluescreen Rounds on a Gunslinging Sharpshooter ruin them. Do some opening damage with someone else, and then wipe out all of them, copies and all, with a Faceoff. Or if you know there's nothing more serious on the mission, just Fan Fire the one in front of you to deal with it instantly. Even if you put it off a turn and it Psi Bombs your Sharpshooter, they just shrug, move out of the Psi Bomb radius, and then blow the Codex's head off instantly, uncaring about their Sniper Rifle's ammo being gone.
Bluescreen Rounds on Gunslinging Sharpshooters does a lot to make the most painful enemies of the game trivial, with a bonus of making a few other enemies trivial to boot.
Which in turn makes Fan Fire a vastly more compelling pick than Serial.
A new mechanic to XCOM 2 is that most of your classes have a skill you purchase from the Guerrilla Training School instead of earning through leveling. You can't purchase a given class' such skill until you've gotten a soldier of that class to Captain rank, but once you've bought the skill it forever applies to any soldier of that class you have, even if they're below Captain.
In the Sharpshooter's case, it's...
Sharpshooters have +10 to crit chance.
... pretty generic and underwhelming, and arguably a de-facto nerf relative to the prior game.
Snipers got to get +20 to crit on Sniper Rifles by just using Laser Sniper Rifles, and went even better once you upgraded to Plasma. XCOM 2's Sniper Rifles provide a flat +10 to crit, so Deadshot is just evening you up with oldschool Laser Sniper Rifles.
On the other hand, it applies to your Pistol shots, and frankly good Sharpshooters tend to spend most of their time using their Pistol, so eh. The Sniper Rifle also has one of the bigger crit damage boosts, so more crits is a good thing. And there's a whole other thing about crit mechanics I'll get to later that makes comparing it to crit rates in the previous game a little misleading, but the Sharpshooter is one of the classes that benefits least from the change so nah, not now.
It's worth purchasing regardless of how underwhelming it is, but it's possibly the lowest-value of the GTS skills. If you're pressed for Supplies, it's perfectly fine to put off buying Deadshot.
You might've noticed I feel Pistol-focused Sharpshooters are pretty darn good, while Sniper Rifle-focused Sharpshooters are kind of eh.
Yeah. This is true.
Gunslingers are great for both extremes of enemy-solving: they efficiently clean up groups of weakened enemies it's overkill to blow a full regular attack on individually (Which easily happens through use of grenades and/or Heavy Weapons) and can rip apart most of the single big threats effortlessly with the right setup, where said setup is 100% reliable to acquire by the midgame. (ie before the big threats are actually arriving) They can suffer when fighting certain middling-durability enemies that aren't susceptible to Bluescreen Rounds, particularly the ones with decent Armor (eg Mutons on Commander/Legendary, live Andromedons in general), and the endgame boss enemy is also a problem for them (Particularly on higher difficulties, as its Armor climbs surprisingly high given where it starts), but outside that? They're amazing troubleshooters.
Sniper Sharpshooters, meanwhile... their key problem is that they perform best on the easiest missions. They're not even all that great in such missions, but it wouldn't matter even if they were because those are the missions you can get away with an underperforming team. It's cool to set up a Killzone Overwatch ambush successfully, but anytime you can fiddle around with making it happen at all, let alone optimally, is also a time you don't really need the help. Having a soldier specialize in excelling in easy missions just... doesn't make a lot of sense.
Long Watch and Death From Above are still worth considering, and Aim vs Steady Hands is just a weird comparison all-around, but for the remaining three skills? Gunslinger just has way better of a set of skills.
I'm a little disappointed, but this is still a huge improvement over how utterly broken Snipers were in the previous game. It's understandable that XCOM 2 went overboard in trying to correct for that and made Sniper-lane Sharpshooters understrength in the process.
I do feel Deadeye and Serial are a bit obvious in being bad, but... it's not anywhere near on the order of Snap Shot's awfulness. I personally would've made Deadeye's only flaw be that it's a cooldown ability, or made it a completely different trade-off ('High damage with poor accuracy' as a trade-off is inane in virtually every game that has ever had it as a possible concept, invariably being worthless, overly-good, or completely meaningless), and Serial would frankly have probably been fine as a passive version of itself with no other changes (Ignoring the Advanced Warfare Center for the moment), but I can see how this happened and sympathize.
Anyway, next time we move on to Totally Not The Assault, Nosirree.
See you then.