XCOM 2 Class Analysis: Specialist

The Specialist completes the core class spiritual successor stuff, being XCOM 2's equivalent to the Support. Just as the Support had access to the rifle Rookies used and Assaults can optionally use, the Specialist gets the rifle that Rookies use and Rangers can use. Also just as the Support is focused on Medikits with an innate ability to temporarily boost ally Defense, the Specialist is focused on Medikits and has an innate ability to temporarily boost ally Defense.

Unlike the Support, the Specialist actually has a conceptual backbone. They're still probably the fuzziest concept of XCOM 2's core classes, but their hacker-with-drone concept gives them some grounding for meaningful, interesting abilities that are distinct from other classes. The main fuzziness they suffer from is having some thrown-in Overwatch specialization that doesn't have anything to do with anything else. Even then, they have a Guerrilla Training School skill that inherently strengthens their Overwatch, so it's not as tacked-on as it could be.

The Specialist's 'secondary weapon' is the Gremlin, a flying drone that follows the Specialist around and various of the Specialist's skills involve sending it out to do something. Higher-tier Gremlins boost the Specialist's Hack skill, plus some of their Gremlin-related skills get modified by higher-tier Gremlins. You might expect some kind of meta-management of the Gremlin where you can only have the Gremlin do one action per turn or something... but nah. You can totally drop Aid Protocol on someone and then, even though the Gremlin is hanging out halfway across the map from the Specialist, order it to Combat Protocol something on the other end of the map, and the Gremlin will faithfully return to the Aid Protocol target afterward. Feels like a bit of a wasted mechanic to be honest, but at least it's not frustrating and stupid, which could easily have happened if such a system had been implemented.

Though the animation times on the Gremlin's actions can get frustrating...

+3 Aim
+1 HP
+45 Hack
+4-13 Will

Yeah. +45 Hack. That's more than other classes get in total, and Specialists continue to aggressively gain Hack as they level.

Aid Protocol
The Specialist assigns their Gremlin to a target ally, granting them +20 Defense until the start of next turn. (+30 Defense if the Gremlin is Mark III) 1 turn cooldown. Does not necessarily end the turn.

Note that Aid Protocol can be targeted on any ally who is on the map and not currently Unconscious (or in Stasis), no matter their location. You don't need line of fire, or line of sight, or anything like that.

Aid Protocol is the spiritual successor to the Support's Smoke Grenade ability, but vastly better-tuned. It's lost area of effect, admittedly, but it can be used as many times as you want in a mission, will never boost your enemies, doesn't necessarily end your turn, and doesn't require the Specialist be somewhere nearby to make it work, so overall that works out to a huge boost in its utility. As such, where Smoke Grenade was an awful way to try to define the Support, Aid Protocol is a surprisingly effective way of defining the Specialist. Just being able to use it without having to sacrifice a turn of shooting is massive, frankly.

It helps that, unusually, Aid Protocol is not the only ability Specialists get out the gate.

Also note that the Specialist can target theirself with Aid Protocol. Most of the time someone else in the squad is going to be a better target, but if your Specialist is in a bad situation it's worth remembering the option exists.

If you're confident your team is going to clear your current encounter just fine you obviously shouldn't bother to use Aid Protocol, but its cooldown is sufficiently short there's really no reason to not use it if danger is a possibility, especially if the mission isn't putting you under time pressure. Again, it doesn't even end the turn if you have spare action points, so that's not a concern.

Remote Hacking
The Specialist may perform a remote Hack action if they have line of fire on one of the tiles you would normally have to enter to initiate the Hack. Additionally, they may attempt to Hack Security Towers in the same way, which are otherwise impossible to Hack. Does not necessarily end the turn.

Remote Hacking is a free bonus ability at Squaddie level, and Specialists are unique in this if we ignore SPARKs and War of the Chosen's additions. As Specialists are vastly better hackers than your other soldiers just in terms of the Hack stat, you should basically always prefer to have your Specialists perform hacking: they can do it more safely (eg avoid triggering pods prematurely), more reliably, and often don't have anything better to do: just like Aid Protocol, Remote Hacking uses one action point and doesn't necessarily end the turn, so a Specialist can hack an object and then take a shot just fine. Your other soldiers generally won't be able to achieve the same thing, as while the regular Hack action also allows the turn to continue what will normally happen is that a non-Specialist will burn one action point moving to the Hack point and their other action point on the actual Hack, with no opportunity to attack. It's either that or get on top of the Hack point and on a following turn Hack and then attack, or burn Run And Gun on Hacking. (A scenario requiring desperation to make sense) Remote Hacking is just way better, and I'm honestly understating how true this is.

Speaking of Hacking: Hacking is a mechanic in XCOM 2, and it's... frustratingly opaque and very random. First, all Hacks fall under one of two forms: regular Hacks, and objective Hacks. Objective Hacks are things like unlocking a door to a VIP you need to rescue, and they always succeed in the primary purpose, regardless of the user's Hack rating. Such Hacks will also let you choose between two bonus things to try to shoot for, where your Hack rating does matter. Most often they'll be a reward, and a larger reward of the same kind, with the latter having a higher chance of failing. Failing an Objective Hack just means you don't get whatever bonus reward you selected.

Regular Hacks replace the automatic success with an effect that only occurs if you fail whatever effect you were shooting for. Regular Hacks primarily encompasses Hacking Security Towers, as far as the Remote Hacking skill goes anyway, and otherwise follow a similar format to objective Hacks: you get two things to try to get, generally they're 'a thing, and a better version of the thing that's more likely to fail'.

The one other difference between objective Hacks and regular Hacks is how they interact with Concealment: performing a Hack on an objective always breaks Concealment, regardless of whether you succeed or fail. Hacking a Security Tower only breaks Concealment if you fail to get your selected benefit.

The effects to earn and the effects for failing a regular Hack are many and varied. Most of the rewards are neat but not amazing effects that only apply to the mission, such as granting Run And Gun to the Hacking soldier/the entire squad for the duration of the mission, but more long-term rewards like acquiring Alien Alloys or Intel are possible. Most of these are straightforward, but two in particular bear delving into a bit more: first of all, one potential Hack reward is a permanent boost to the Hacking soldier's Hack rating. If you want to set up a soldier to be able to reliably pull off whatever Hack action you like, you're going to want to check Security Towers in every mission and ideally have the same Specialist performing the Hack each time so they can stack multiple such Hack boosts and become a super hacker.

The other unusual Hack reward worth mentioning is a 'lead' on an Avatar Project Facility. These always have a fairly high chance of failure, and the reward is... surprisingly lackluster. Normally you can't attack an Avatar Project Facility until you've made contact with the region it's in. Getting a lead to an Avatar Project Facility... provides a one-time Research project to unlock the privilege of attacking a specific Avatar Project Facility in a region you don't have contact with. This is almost impossible to get real use out of; early in the game when Avatar Project Facilities may well be multiple regions away from you, you're probably looking at success chances on the order of 3% on that Hack, which is just terrible. Later in the game when you might see a success chance more in the vein of 40%, you generally don't need leads. The fact that it outright requires a Research project to actually benefit from the Hack result is the final nail in the coffin, making it difficult to justify actually pursuing a lead even if you happen to luck into one. (eg because it was an option on an objective Hack where failure has no consequences so you went 'why not')

Note that Security Towers behave a bit unintuitively when it comes to being remotely Hacked. First of all, if you succeed in the Hack, the Security Tower is always additionally disabled: it will lose its detection radius, allowing your squad to walk right under it without breaking Concealment. This is permanent. Second, once you've Hacked a given Security Tower, you can't Hack any other Security Towers on the map... nonetheless, all other Security Towers remain operational. As such, you should generally try to Hack a Security Tower that is actually blocking a path, not whatever Security Tower you first spot. Third, all Security Towers on a map will have the same failure 'card' and the same two reward 'cards': there's no point to trying to see if you can get a more desirable Hack setup, because all the Security Towers will be the same.

Failure results for regular Hacks are mostly things like alerting nearby pods, or triggering enemy reinforcements. (Which will arrive on the very next enemy turn, so this isn't as bad as it could be) Generally they're not actually a big deal once your squad has already broken Concealment so long as you're not engaged in a fight with any enemies, but in conjunction with a failed Hack breaking Concealment they can be disastrous to trigger while your squad is still Concealed. This is particularly dangerous since several of the Hack rewards encourage trying to earn them while your squad is still Concealed, tempting you to trigger that actually-dangerous scenario!

On this topic, part of the reason I've glossed over Hacking in non-Specialists is they rarely get the opportunity to Hack in the first place. Aside using the Skulljack, non-Specialists can only Hack objective objects, which is an uncommon mechanic. It also means their bad Hack rating is less relevant than you might think: obviously it's better to Hack with a Specialist than a non-Specialist, but normally the consequences of 'failing' a Hack for a non-Specialist is just not getting a bonus. The Skulljack is the only case where a low Hack rating is actively a problematic thing.

+3 Aim
+1 HP
+5 Hack
+4-13 Will

See? Already 5 more Hack.

The Specialist's two lanes, incidentally, are 'Battle Medic' and 'Combat Hacker'. Battle Medic is basically fully committing to supporting the squad with medical aid and whatnot, while Combat Hacker is about trying to kill enemies dead with a strong propensity for messing up robots in particular. As the game has a notable bias toward robots being disproportionately dangerous, that's pretty useful! Though it's a bit erratic, as what constitutes a robot for a given skill's purposes is... surprisingly inconsistent.

It's also worth noting that Combat Hackers are a non-trivial component in sniping-focused Sharpshooters being a bit underwhelming, as Combat Hacker skills often operate under Squadsight rules, but without any penalty for actually being used at Squadsight distances. So if you want one of your soldiers able to hurt enemies at Squadsight distances... a Specialist can fulfill that role without all the awkwardness of a Sniper Rifle. They'll have some limits from charges/reloading skills, but unless you're specifically trying to abuse Squadsight with a Concealed Ranger spotting for the squad missions are rarely designed to make this a particularly relevant concern; you'll probably finish the mission before a Colonel Specialist runs through all their relevant abilities if you're not ridiculously aggressive about using Combat Hacker abilities.

So yeah. Generally you should focus Sharpshooters on their Pistol skills, at least in the base game.

Medical Protocol
The Specialist replaces standard Medikit actions with Gremlin versions that can be targeted on an ally no matter where they might be at the time. Medical Protocol also provides a free Medikit use, itself, which stacks with the charge provided by equipping a Medikit Item.

I love that XCOM 2 took a page from Long War and made Medikit specialization actually provide an innate Medikit charge. It's such an obvious, easy improvement to make such specialization less egregiously 'you can never ever not take a Medikit'.

I mean, your medical Specialists generally should do so anyway, but you're not completely wasting medical specialization skills just because you feel a particular mission can't afford to not have the Specialist equipped with something else. That's a big help.

Medical Protocol is also a massive improvement just from the fact that relative location isn't important to your medical specialists. If you split the squad up some -such as to pincer enemies down on ground level by standing your troops up on the buildings to each side- you don't have to worry about whether your Specialist is with the right little cluster, which was a frustrating issue in the previous game, exacerbated by how low squad sizes are. (Making it unnecessarily burdensome to plan team composition around the idea of two medics) This is especially important as a Specialist levels up, as a large fraction of their skills can either be used without regard to the Specialist's current position or used under Squadsight conditions, making it very viable to have a Specialist stay back from the fighting. In turn, these points combo together to make it vastly more acceptable to have a single Specialist linchpin in the group, as if you're playing reasonably competently you don't have to worry about the AI suddenly deciding to murder your Specialist and succeeding. This is a marked contrast with Supports in the previous game, where you actually basically did have to field two Supports in every mission if you didn't want to risk having a bit of bad luck leading to a frustrating, stupid situation like 'somebody is Bleeding Out, and I can't fix it because they're the one that's equipped to handle this problem and my soldiers are too stupid to borrow each other's gear at all'. Or always have the entire squad stay very close together, which was discouraged by various mechanics...

All of this together makes having a single linchpin medical Specialist very viable and surprisingly interesting, much more so than wrangling Supports in the previous game.

Also, note that Medical Protocol will clear Poison, Burn, and even Acid from the beneficiary. (Yes, including Chryssalid Poison) As such, a soldier who is mildly wounded but suffering an affliction is better to heal right away, even if a part of the healing is technically going to waste, rather than waiting until it'll be a full heal, particularly since this will lead to a shorter wound recovery period.

Combat Protocol
The Specialist sends the Gremlin to do guaranteed damage (2/4/6 for Mark I/Mark II/Mark III Gremlins) against a target the Specialist has Squadsight line of fire to. This completely ignores Armor. Some targets will take bonus damage from Combat Protocol. The bonus damage is 2-3/3-4/4-5 for Mark I/Mark II/Mark III Gremlins, working out to a total of 4-5/7-8/10-11 against robots. Two charges.

More precisely on the Armor-ignored point, its Pierce rating is 1000 in the code, which, uh, nothing comes anywhere close to that level of Armor.

Also note the 'Squadsight line of fire'. This is a recurring feature of the Specialist's offensive Gremlin effects: they have infinite range, but somebody needs to see their target and even though the Gremlin will absolutely circle around objects and whatnot it un-intuitively requires a clear line of fire to the location. As such, while Specialists can hang back from the group, they can't be positioned literally anywhere, and in fact should generally engage in Sharpshooter-esque behavior, preferring to take to high ground so they are more likely to get line of fire on a target.

Annoyingly, the list of targets that Combat Protocol does increased damage to is very arbitrary. Fortunately the game will correctly predict the damage for you so you don't have to worry about expecting boosted damage and being wrong, but it's still annoying how some targets will suffer if hit with Bluescreen Rounds or EMP Grenades and then take normal damage from Combat Protocol. It makes it difficult to actually learn the list of what Combat Protocol is best against. For example, a Codex will take bonus damage from Bluescreen Rounds but not from Combat Protocol, while a Mec or Heavy Mec will take bonus damage from both.

Super early in a run, HP is fairly low, and Combat Protocol hits harder against robots than your primary weapons. This allows it to function as a clutch tool for picking off enemies in High Cover you can't get a flank on or destroy the Cover of, even if your Specialist is out of position, and indeed its Squadsight utility will usually be more helpful than a Sharpshooter's Sniper Rifle. The anti-robot damage won't crop up very often, but when Turrets and ADVENT Mecs do show up they're disproportionately durable; having a tool for ripping off a large chunk of their HP right away, guaranteed, can be very helpful, especially since your squad of low-level people won't have the Aim and supporting tools to get reliably accurate even against a target in the open with no innate Defense. Being able to zap a Mec or Turret that went into Overwatch so other soldiers can move closer to line up a shot can actually be quite useful at that stage of the game.

As the game progress, Combat Protocol drops off in effectiveness. Its damage against non-robots just plain doesn't keep up with rising enemy HP and the rising firepower of your main weapons, limiting it to the occasional snipe of an enemy your squad has already done severe damage to. Its anti-robot damage holds up better, but it's only a modest boost, and one that can't crit or trigger Repeaters or Hair Triggers, which get more relevant as a run progresses and has those more common and more powerful. Enemy robot HP rises too high to eg one-shot robots with Combat Protocol, too.

Combat Protocol also suffers some from how its characteristics are a bit at odds with each other. Robotic enemies that take bonus damage from Combat Protocol are made up of enemies that don't take Cover and have little or no innate Defense, even into the highest difficulties; a late-game squad can generally expect to fairly trivially hit 100% chance to hit with their guns against such targets, making Combat Protocol's auto-hit component pretty irrelevant if you're using it on the targets it's strongest against... but against the targets you actually appreciate auto-hit damage, its damage is underwhelming. This removes the potential to eg have a robot sitting in High Cover with just enough HP for Combat Protocol to be a guaranteed kill; as such, in the late game it's very easy to find that your Specialists that have Combat Protocol never quite get around to actually using it.

The final nail in the coffin for late-game Combat Protocol is that Bluescreen Rounds are a guaranteed early-midgame unlock. If you really want your Specialist to act as a robot killer, Bluescreen Rounds shots will do noticeably more damage than Combat Protocol -this isn't even touching on how the Gremlin Mark III takes a lot longer to unlock than Bluescreen Rounds. All Combat Protocol really has over firing the Rifle at that point is that it can't miss or Graze... which, again, in the late game it's often pretty easy to get to perfect accuracy.

I like the idea of Combat Protocol, but the context is very harmful to it, and it doesn't help that it's a charge-based ability with un-generous numbers. With better damage, it would be more common to end up in situations where it made sense to use it to finish off a target in High Cover, while if it was a reloading ability with a short cooldown it would at least escape the 'but what if I need it later? I should see if I can avoid using up limited resources' issue. As-is... yeah. It's pretty fun early in the game, but you're probably best off switching to Medical Protocol later in the game.

+3 Aim
+1 HP
+5 Hack
+4-13 Will

Revival Protocol
Once per mission, the Specialist may remove all negative mental effects, up to and including Unconsciousness, from a single ally.

Unconsciousness is XCOM 2's version of 'entered Bleeding Out mode' from the previous game, except it can be induced by effects other than having your hit points reduced to 0, and in those cases there's no need to Stabilize them. As such, Revival Protocol is basically like Revive on the Support in the previous game, except you're not allowed to stack up Medikit uses to give yourself extra revives. Which makes sense from a design standpoint.

You can, of course, also use Revival Protocol to undo Stun and the like, but this is generally a waste of your precious single charge. Unconsciousness never goes away, and in evac missions forces you to commit someone to carrying the Unconscious individual, thus effectively costing you two soldiers. Other mental effects are temporary inconveniences. As such, unless you desperately need a soldier to do something now that is being blocked by Stun or Disorientation or the like, it's generally better to save Revival Protocol as a just-in-case for Unconsciousness in particular.

Due to how Bleeding Out works in XCOM 2, Revival Protocol is actually fairly low-priority in the early game. It's preferable to have it on somebody by the time you're fielding a team of Colonels, but your first Sergeant Specialist is actually probably better off skipping it, as even if you're prone to suffering casualties it's fairly unlikely somebody will go into Bleeding Out mode. Meanwhile, the alternative can be potentially fairly useful with a little luck in the early game. You're only likely to end up needing to revive someone if you not only let a Stun Lancer make an attack but also get profoundly unlucky and have its happen to inflict Unconsciousness.

Note that Revival Protocol is considerably more important if you have the Alien Hunters DLC, as all three Alien Rulers are able to directly inflict Unconsciousness. The Berserker Queen in particular doesn't give you an opportunity to interrupt or avoid the Unconsciousness-inflicting attack, so you may want to bring two Revival Protocol Specialists along so long as the Berserker Queen appearing is a relevant risk, if only so that if one of them gets knocked out the other can revive them.

Haywire Protocol
The Specialist may attempt to remotely Hack robotic enemies they have Squadsight line of fire to. The Hack options will always be 'stun this robot' and 'temporarily seize control of this robot', and failing a hack will always result in the target's Aim and Defense being temporarily boosted. 4 turn cooldown.

This works exactly like Remote Hacking, except you're doing it to an enemy and the consequences of success and failure are not randomly chosen at mission start.

Note that anything susceptible to Haywire Protocol is also susceptible to Bluescreen Rounds and EMP Grenades/Bombs, but the reverse is not true: there are multiple enemies Bluescreen Rounds and EMP explosives rip into that are not hackable at all.

Also note that generally your chance to take control of the robot will be roughly half your chance of merely Stunning it. Unless you grind Hack boosts significantly, it's unlikely you'll get a guarantee, or anything close to it, on the chance to take control. Most enemies you can hit with Haywire Protocol are relatively easy to Stun, however.

Haywire Protocol's rising effectiveness as your Specialists level and your Gremlins improve is another reason why Combat Protocol loses a lot of its luster later in the game. Why blow a charge on doing modest damage to a robot when you can shut it down very reliably using a cooldown ability, or even turn it on your enemies?

Failing a Haywire Protocol hack isn't even all that punishing. The Aim and Defense boost is minor, the enemies you can hack aren't getting to stack the Defense boost with any other Defense boosts (ie Cover), and Heavy Mecs in particular will often refuse to fire their rifle before the boost runs out due to their preference for lobbing Micromissiles. Sectopods will also sometimes completely waste the boost, such as by using Lightning Field, moving, and activating Wrath Cannon. It's only really Turrets that are truly consistent about leveraging the Aim boost, which isn't much of an issue because they're the easiest to succeed in hacking in the first place. Even if you do fail a hack on them, they can't move, so worst comes to worst you can back the squad out of their range; remember, your Specialist can hack them from beyond their ability to retaliate.

One thing to keep in mind is that ADVENT Turrets aren't announced by the Shadow Chamber. Just because the Shadow Chamber doesn't announce any hackable robots doesn't mean there's nothing to use Haywire Protocol on.

I personally tend to only bring one Specialist and have them carry Revival Protocol, but the utility of Haywire Protocol is sufficiently significant this is genuinely a difficult choice to make. There's a decent argument to be made for bringing two Specialists into a mission so you have access to both.

+2 Aim
+1 HP
+5 Hack
+4-13 Will

Field Medic
Grants 2 Medikit charges, assuming a Medikit is equipped.

Straightforward, obvious improvement to a medically oriented Specialist. It's unfortunate it very specifically only works with actual Medikits, though -it would be intuitively logical and help with the Specialist's Item pressure a lot if Field Medic added two Medikit charges, period, or at least added two charges if the Specialist has Medical Protocol.

Effectively much better-designed than its counterpart from the prior game, even it hasn't been heavily modified directly, since the medical situation's mechanics are much improved. Could still use some work, though.

Fairly straightforward, with little to say about it.

Scanning Protocol
Massively increases the Specialist's line of sight (But not firing range) for one turn. Additionally, enemies that are hidden are revealed: Chryssalids will un-burrow, Faceless will stop pretending to be Civilians, and any unit in Concealment will have its Concealment break. 1 charge normally, 2 charges if equipped with a Gremlin Mark III. Scanning Protocol uses one action point but does not necessarily end the turn.

I like the idea of Scanning Protocol, but tend to struggle to justify taking it. Like obviously if a given Specialist isn't going the medical route Field Medic is worthless and so Scanning Protocol is default default, but Scanning Protocol's primary practical utility is the ability to reveal hidden enemies, which... very few enemies have that capability. In the base game, it's literally just Faceless, Chryssalids, and possibly Mind Controlled Rangers.

I really do like the idea of Scanning Protocol, but it's one of XCOM 2's more underwhelming abilities.

It does get notably more appealing once you've Autopsied a Sectopod and then upgraded to Gremlin Mark III, but by that point you're getting into the late game. Depending on your priorities, you may even be about to hit the final mission, where there's literally nothing worth hitting with Scanning Protocol! So that... doesn't help much. Especially because under normal conditions Scanning Protocol is only ever strongly relevant to Retaliation missions, plus one plot mission.

One non-obvious aspect of Scanning Protocol is that it will actually temporarily mark enemies with an orange/red effect that persists through the enemy turn even if they move out of sight of your squad or do something to hide themselves, and indeed it can detect enemies through solid walls or that you can't see hiding against the cliff you're standing on. The utility of this is honestly a bit limited, but it can occasionally help, particularly in Retaliation missions where enemies are likely to go haring after a civilian outside your squad's sight. This is a bit convenient, since Retaliation missions are already where you're most likely to use Scanning Protocol, to flush out Faceless and/or Chryssalids.

It doesn't boost it into having a clear niche, but it's a weird little detail to keep in mind if you happen to be using it anyway.

Also note that the line of sight boosting doesn't activate pods and doesn't reveal terrain. I'm sticking with the game's own description of it boosting line of sight even though that's a bit misleading primarily because I'm not sure how else to elegantly describe it, but it's a pretty weird ability honestly.

+2 Aim
+1 Strength
+5 Hack
+4-13 Will

Covering Fire
Overwatch can trigger on most non-movement actions, in addition to movement.

Covering Fire is, by itself, virtually worthless, much like in the previous game: generally any situation you'd trigger a Covering Fire Overwatch shot and not a regular Overwatch shot is one where you're actively behind just, you know, shooting someone during your turn. Even considering it goes before the target attacks, like in Enemy Within... seriously, just take a regular shot. Same result, but without the accuracy penalty.

It gets a little better when you hit your next level: with Guardian, you can potentially get lucky and fire more shots than if you did take a regular shot, without needing enemies moving to trigger it (Which, mind, is an extremely minor advantage as most enemies strongly prefer to move even when there's no actual benefit to moving), while with Ever Vigilant a Dash suddenly gets to throw in a shot that triggers even on enemies that don't bother to move.

These are still both fairly underwhelming possibilities, exacerbated by the fact that Covering Fire competes with...

Threat Assessment
Aid Protocol now grants the target a Covering Fire Overwatch shot in addition to its Defense bonus, but also has its cooldown increased by 1 turn.

Notice that you can choose between 'my Overwatch is better' and 'I can outright gift an additional shot that has the benefits I could buy for myself'.

Like. I don't see why this is a choice. It's not as egregious as Bullet Swarm vs Holo Targeting, but it's the same class of non-decision: take a specialized bonus, or take a thing that has essentially the same functionality thrown in as a bonus on top of its actual primary benefit. Why would I ever take Covering Fire over Threat Assessment?

Remember: Aid Protocol doesn't end the turn, can be targeted on any ally, no matter their location, and its only limitation is a brief cooldown. So you get to add a bonus shot outright, in addition to Aid Protocol's normal benefits! This isn't even touching on how the Specialist is generally one of the worst classes at shooting things to death, with only Psi Operatives beating them out for the prize of 'I am bad with guns'. Why make a Specialist be marginally better at shooting, sorta, when I could make other classes better at shooting? Even if I want my Specialist to get Covering Fire, Threat Assessment works even if the Specialist uses Aid Protocol on theirself!

So exactly what is supposed to be the appeal of Covering Fire?


Threat Assessment is particularly appreciated when opening an Overwatch ambush: Threat Assessment has no weird limitations like only activating on units whose turn has ended, and indeed an affected unit can run around and use special abilities, fire their gun, lob grenades, etc, without losing their gifted Overwatch. As such, doing something like using Aid Protocol on a Grenadier who you intend to have open the ambush with a grenade/regular shot/Saturation Fire/whatever will then cause them to also take an Overwatch ambush shot!

But even once Concealment is broken, Threat Assessment is helpful almost anytime your enemies are putting up meaningful resistance, which is the kind of circumstance it's most important to get boosting in. So it's pretty darn great!

The fact that it raises the cooldown on Aid Protocol is basically ignorable, by the way, and I'm not really sure why the devs gave Threat Assessment that as a disadvantage. It almost never matters in real play, and I'm not able to imagine a balance reason that would justify it. It'd make a bit more sense if the Specialist had a chain of skills that made Aid Protocol more powerful while raising its cooldown, as then there'd be an actually interesting set of decisions to be made regarding whether the rising cooldown is worth the increasingly intense burst of power on Aid Protocol, but as-is it's just confusing.

+1 Aim
+1 HP
+5 Hack
+4-13 Will

Ever Vigilant
At the end of the squad's turn, the soldier enters Overwatch if they took no non-movement actions.

Ever Vigilant is very much my default pick at this level, as Specialists have a habit of falling behind the squad, and being able to catch up with a Dash while still putting up Overwatch is excellent.

I can totally understand preferring the alternative, though.

Note that Ever Vigilant is very specifically only allowed to trigger if movement was the only action taken. Aid Protocol, Medical Protocol, even just reloading will prevent it from triggering. This makes it a little less great than one might hope; it's very specifically helping when Dashing to catch up with the squad and the like, not causing you to go into Overwatch anytime you've not taken a shot. (Contrasting with Deep Cover on the Ranger) I haven't specifically tested if this includes eg being blocked by using Run And Gun for a triple-action point Dash, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Still, I like it quite fine, and it's in my opinion the best-designed of the Overwatch specialty skills as far as avoiding issues like 'just take a regular shot, come on' or 'and now you should never take a regular shot'.

Each time an Overwatch shot hits its target, there is a 50% chance the soldier will remain in Overwatch.

Take Rapid Reaction, remove its upper limit, but make it only a chance to trigger when it does hit.

This is misleading in practice since Overwatch ambushes do count as Overwatch shots for Guardian's purposes, which makes Guardian potentially quite spectacular in an Overwatch ambush since you'll get a bunch of shots on targets in the open without any Aim penalty if it successfully chains. Indeed, I'd argue that the big appeal of Guardian over Ever Vigilant is how it ups your damage potential in Overwatch ambushes, as Ever Vigilant tends to be more useful when it comes to getting Overwatch shots off on pods stumbling into your vision post-ambush by ensuring your Specialist actually is in Overwatch in the first place.

Do note that since Guardian requires the shot hit, this means in most situations its actual chance of triggering is effectively less than 50%. This biases it notably toward enhancing Overwatch ambushes, where the lack of accuracy penalty means it's much more likely Guardian chaining will be stopped by its own die rolls rather than by missing a shot.

I'm not personally a fan of Guardian due to it being based on RNG and not really solving any problems the Specialist suffers from (And also because I prefer to give the Bolt Caster to Specialists, at which point Guardian can't trigger), but it is a more straightforward improvement to the Specialist's performance than Ever Vigilant. Bonus shots are basically always good.

An interesting interaction worth pointing out: Guardian can actually trigger on Threat Assessment-derived Overwatch! As such, Threat Assessment is generally best gifted off to a Guardian Specialist in hopes of triggering chained shots, if there's no stronger reason to be gifting to someone else. Notably, Threat Assessment can also be stacked with regular Overwatch, meaning a Specialist can use Aid Protocol on theirself and go into Overwatch to have two 50% chances of a single Guardian trigger. Guardian still won't be fully reliable in that case, but it does mean you expect to trigger Guardian at least once, and with Cool Under Pressure they'll be particularly accurate shots.

+1 Aim
+1 HP
+5 Hack
+4-13 Will

Aim: 80
HP: 10
Hack: 80

Yeah, four times the Hack other classes have at max.

Also note that Aim score. That means a Colonel Specialist who is standing directly adjacent to their target will barely be ensured the hit, assuming it has no Defense and no Cover. You should generally prioritize Scopes on Rifles for your Specialists, as well as preferentially stick to high ground for its +20 to Aim, or just assume you won't be counting on your Specialists for their Rifle usage.

This is also a reason why they're one of the better picks for carrying the Bolt Caster if you have the Alien Hunter's DLC, as it has an innate +15 to Aim, making it much easier to achieve a reliable hit on targets in the open.

The Gremlin Heals or Revives every member of the squad, depending on which they need. Squad members who need neither are skipped. One charge. Does not necessarily end the turn.

Restoration is a giant Panic Button, broken out when your entire squad is coming apart at the seams and you need to immediately fix up multiple people. Note that Restoration does not care about whether your Specialist is carting around a Medikit or anything like that; Restoration is completely separate from your Medical Protocol/Medikit/Field Medic/Revival Protocol charges, doesn't require any prior skills to take, etc. Indeed, if you want you can set up a Combat Hacker who takes only Restoration as an emergency backup while otherwise being focused on making enemies die to have a pretty serviceable medical situation. It's the everything-coming-apart-at-the-seams situations that tend to cause casualties anyway.

Note that Restoration effectively uses Medical Protocol or Revival Protocol on each soldier it does something to, and so will clear Poison/Burn/Acid from wounded soldiers and can also clear eg Stun, not just Unconsciousness. Among other points, it's better to pop Restoration than to burn Revival Protocol if multiple people are suffering mental effects, even if only one soldier is actually Unconscious, particularly because Restoration only does one or the other: a soldier who is Bleeding Out will be Stabilized but will remain Unconscious, as the most pertinent example. Of course, you could burn a Medical Protocol on Stabilization followed by a Restoration to get them back on their feet, which is probably the smart thing to do, honestly.

Ideally, you won't use Restoration very often, but it's one of the most dramatic skills about being able to turn around a really bad situation. Being able to turn an incoming squad wipe into a successful mission where nobody dies is incredibly valuable.

Capacitor Discharge
Sends the Gremlin to a location the squad can see that's within slightly more than the Specialist's own sight radius, and does damage to all targets in the area, potentially Disorienting or Stunning victims. The damage is dependent both on the Gremlin's tier and whether a given victim is considered to be a robot or not. Against non-robots, it's 3-6/5-8/7-10, against robots it's 5-8/8-12/11-14. One charge.

Bizarrely, where Combat Protocol and Haywire Protocol were both Squadsight attacks, Capacitor Discharge functions more like a grenade. This isn't at all intuitive a progression, and makes Capacitor Discharge considerably less versatile than you might first expect.

I'll be getting into the damage formula more when we get to weapons, but for the moment I'll note that these damage numbers are misleading: third-tier non-robot damage only has a 33% chance of its +1 roll applying (As opposed to the usual 50% chance), while the anti-robot damage is an 85%/36%/4% chance of getting its +1. This means Capacitor Discharge's damage at higher tiers is weighted lower than you would expect just looking at the listed numbers, particularly when looking at the anti-robot damage.


Capacitor Discharge is a powerful, versatile offensive option. It's not, let's be honest, on the same scale of amazing-ness that Restoration is, but being able to spring massive area of effect damage where you need it is fairly useful, and Capacitor Discharge has notably more range than trying to toss a grenade -and Specialists are a lot less likely than other classes to be able to justify fitting a grenade into their inventory anyway.

One way of using it that's relatively clear-cut is for initiating an Overwatch ambush. I generally prefer to initiate Overwatch ambushes with actual explosives, in no small part due to Shred, but there are situations where it can make sense to save explosives for later, such as if you know a Sectopod is somewhere on the map and the pod you're going to ambush doesn't even have Armor.

On that note, while Combat Protocol ignores Armor, Capacitor Discharge does not. This is profoundly unintuitive, but true regardless. This is unfortunate, as it somewhat discourages actually taking advantage of its anti-robot damage -Sectopods in particular have so much Armor that Capacitor Discharge will actually do worse damage to them than to eg an ADVENT Trooper. (Well, if you assume a lower difficulty and a Mark III Gremlin, it will merely do equal damage to each, but that doesn't really change the point) This is one reason why I'm not a big fan of Capacitor Discharge, as its peak potential isn't really as high as you might hope. Andromedon Shells are basically the closest thing to a perfect enemy to hit with Capacitor Discharge, but you're almost never going to have a group of Andromedon Shells conveniently clustered for a Capacitor Discharge for a variety of reasons.

It can be useful, don't get me wrong, but Restoration isn't nearly as finicky to leverage and has much greater potential to take a very bad situation and turn it around into being just fine. As such, I tend to end up taking Restoration at this level, even on Specialists I've otherwise geared for a more offensive bent.


And now for the final base-game Guerrilla Tactics School skill.

Cool Under Pressure
Specialist reaction shots are now able to crit, and get +10 to Aim. (Before reaction modifiers)

I'm mostly confident its Aim bonus does in fact apply to Overwatch ambushes, but not 100% sure. Don't quote me on that.

Anyway, Cool Under Pressure is a nice little bonus you can never really count on or particularly leverage. It's appreciated, to be sure, but there's not really anything in particular to plan around with it, and the only time you can be clear it actually did anything is if a reaction shot is a crit. One outside of an Overwatch ambush, at that, since those are already able to crit. You might as well get it eventually, but it's another fairly low-priority GTS skill. It does at least anchor the Specialist's Overwatch specialization as unequivocally Their Thing, which is particularly important given that Guardian, Covering Fire, and Ever Vigilant can all be passed out to other classes by the Advanced Warfare Center. If Cool Under Pressure wasn't exclusive to and guaranteed on Specialists, the notion that they have an Overwatch specialty would be a bit of a joke.

Unfortunately, this does come with the note that Overwatch specialization still has no real mechanical place in XCOM 2. Overwatch is, in player hands, still primarily about getting first-strike bonus damage on pods that stumble into your team, not a distinct role to be filled. (And in AI hands, Overwatch is largely a low-key way to make the AI less threatening, by opening up the possibility of them effectively skipping their turn without being blatant about skipping their turn) The fact that your Specialists are a little better at it than your other classes is just sort of... there, not actually something that makes them stand out from the crowd.

Oh well. It's at least an improvement over the prior game's approach to Overwatch skills.


Where the Support suffered primarily from vagueness in what it was really meant to be or do, the Specialist suffers primarily from understandable caution. They have a fair few abilities that really sound quite powerful, and that indeed I'd have killed to have access to in the previous game: delivering completely unavoidable damage at Squadsight ranges with no possibility of costing me actual strategic resources sounds borderline overpowered, even! Same for the potential to Mind Control targets at Squadsight ranges, no matter that it can only be done on a few specific enemies.

So while it's unfortunate that the Specialist has a number of somewhat underwhelming abilities, it's quite understandable how this came about. This is the kind of situation conservative design is common in, for understandable reasons, and furthermore the changed context is a notable culprit. Part of the reason eg Combat Protocol doesn't do a good job of staying relevant into the late game is that XCOM 2 doesn't aggressively pass out Defense to enemies the way the prior game did; an unavoidable hit that does bonus damage against robots would've been fantastic against Cyberdiscs, Sectopods, and even Drones and Seekers, thanks to them all having either high innate Defense or access to flight and so easy access to untouchable +20 Defense. If XCOM 2 had stuck to a similar pattern, the Specialist's ability to force decent damage on robots would probably be nearly essential, rather than kinda eh.

Maybe they'll finally get it right for XCOM 3.

Anyway, next time, we move on to discussing the Advanced Warfare Center, as it's only relevant to the four core classes.


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