War of the Chosen Class Analysis: Sharpshooter

War of the Chosen doesn't make many Enemy Within-esque patches to individual skills (And doesn't tend to make it obvious a change has occurred in the handful of cases it applies), but for various reasons it's a sufficiently radical overhaul to the core classes in actual practice that I'll be making separate posts for discussing the core classes in War of the Chosen.

Right out the gate, a mechanical point: while most base stats are the same, Will no longer has a uniform starting level with randomized growths. Instead, it has a randomized starting level with uniform growths. Base Will is:

Will: 35-51

Now, when I said there's no longer randomized Will growth, it's more accurate to say there's no Will Growth. This isn't strictly accurate, as Rookies promoting to Squaddie gain 5 Will, but past that? Will isn't going up without outside assistance, be it a PCS or a Covert Operation stat bonus. Which makes sense, since Will is tied into the new Fatigue mechanic... but that's gonna be a whole separate post.


Squaddie
+10 Aim
+1 HP
+5 Will

See? Non-random Will boost. Notably, even though the floor for Will is less than the original base Will, every soldier gains 5 Will at Squaddie in War of the Chosen, so 40 actually is still the minimum Will if we ignore Rookies.

I'm not entirely sure why the devs handled it that way, but okay.

Aside the Will point, though, stats are the same for returning classes.

Squadsight
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 cannot trigger at Squadsight ranges.

Same as always. There's no Enemy Within-esque patches here.

Which is actually kinda too bad 'cause I think it might've been smart to tweak it to a -1 Aim for each tile beyond normal firing range. The Aim drop-off is totally justified and a clever fix to the whole 'kill everything across the map reliably' issue from the previous game, but -2 Aim per tile is surprisingly quick to cripple Squadsight's effectiveness.

Oh well. The Darklance makes it a bit of a moot point, since it's now possible to advance and shoot like any other soldier in the late game, and Bonds and the Training Center overhaul make it a lot more realistic to have a Sharpshooter stay close to the squad while still getting in Sniper Rifle shots even before that point.


Corporal
+4 Aim

Long Watch
Sniper Rifle Overwatch is now Long Watch, able to trigger on targets at Squadsight ranges.

Long Watch remains the default smart choice at this level, and the introduction of the Darklance makes this more true once you're into the late game, since it's a lot more likely you'll be putting your Sharpshooter into Sniper Rifle overwatch instead of Pistol Overwatch.

Even before that point, Long Watch gains a fairly significant bump in usefulness in War of the Chosen, between the introduction of Reapers and the improved Target Preview function. If you have a Concealed scout with vision on an inactive pod, you can move your squad up to almost in sight of the enemy and Overwatch, and a Long Watch being included in there will ensure that even if the pod moves away from your squad what'll happen is the Long Watcher will take a shot, this will activate the pod, and the pod will immediately move toward your units that aren't Concealed, pretty much ensuring that your other Overwatching units will also get shots in.

This was all possible to do in the base game, of course, but it was much easier to accidentally activate the pod early while trying to set this up, and there wasn't a class that was actually good with Concealment anyway.

Return Fire
The first time the Sharpshooter is targeted in a turn, they will retaliate with their Pistol.

Return Fire is still a mystifying skill to me. I suppose you could buy it on your favorite Sharpshooter if you want but... why?

And no, War of the Chosen hasn't done anything to really make it more appealing. Unless I count how it's been made available to the Skirmisher, who might actually want it, but that doesn't address this comparison at all.

If you happen to have a Savant Sharpshooter with a dearth of bonus skills I suppose you might as well take it?...


Sergeant
+3 Aim
+1 HP
+5 Hack

Deadeye
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 no longer 'why would you ever do this to yourself'.

Mostly because it's possible to justify purchasing it through the Training Center if your Sharpshooter has a lack of strong competition from bonus skills. It's still pretty terrible, it's just it's no longer completely hamstrung by being in hard competition with Lightning Hands.

It also subtly benefits from the Darklance and the ability to grind Aim via Covert Ops, particularly since Covert Ops make it easier to level Sharpshooters, even if you find it too burdensome to try to use them in actual combat at low levels. Covert Ops Aim grinding makes it more realistic to get high enough Aim for Deadeye to be a sure thing on at least some enemies, and the Darklance's synergy with Death From Above means Deadeye's ability to secure a kill can be much more usefully relevant.

I still usually skip it at low levels simply because Lightning Hands is so ridiculously good and the changes that benefit Deadeye are all long-term oriented, but this is a pretty huge improvement over the base game.

Lightning Hands
Fires the Pistol as a completely free action, otherwise functioning as a normal Pistol shot. 3 turn cooldown.

Still amazing!

Breakthroughs actually make it potentially even more amazing, since they're disproportionately useful to Pistols, being a flat +1 to damage regardless of base damage. With a Rumor-derived Dragon/Venom Rounds and a relevant Breakthrough, or two relevant Breakthroughs, this can outright end up with comparable damage to conventional Rifles when using a conventional Pistol while being a free action!

Or you can have a run get nothing relevant and it's merely around as good as in the base game. ie amazing.


Lieutenant
+3 Aim

Death From Above
Killing an enemy the soldier had height advantage on refunds one action point and doesn't end their turn.

Death From Above gets a significant shot in the arm from War of the Chosen, thanks to the fact that the Darklance only requires 1 action point to fire. This means that in the late game Death From Above is a spontaneous Serial with no cooldown; just keep firing until either everything is dead or you're out of ammo. And the Darklance will let you fire 12 times in a row, which is enough to kill literally everything on the map much of the time, albeit War of the Chosen is more prone to missions with high quantities of enemies.

Just remember that the game sets you to 1 action point, rather than having you only spend 1. Firing without moving will result in you losing an action point regardless; better to move and then start the Death From Above chain, if you aren't already at the Perfect Position, when using the Darklance.

Also note that the Lost Headshot mechanic overrules Death From Above, refunding your soldier's entire action point count on killshots. This makes Death From Above slightly less appealing compared to the base game until you do have the Darklance, especially since War of the Chosen is a little less consistent about maps providing access to high ground. In particular, it has a lot more maps where the high ground is positioned to be situational, most pertinently in underground maps. If you get Pistol-biased by Breakthroughs from very early on, you may wish to skip Death From Above until you have the Training Center.

Quickdraw
Firing the Pistol as the first action of the soldier's turn does not automatically end the soldier's turn.

Quickdraw is a bit odd to talk about in War of the Chosen. The Darklance makes Death From Above a much better pick once you've taken out the Chosen Hunter, and I already felt Death From Above was a little favored over Quickdraw...

... but Breakthroughs and the Lost both shift things.

The Lost are the more universal point: they incentivize picking Quickdraw (At least on a Sharpshooter you are specifically constructing to be good at Lost missions) because Quickdraw makes it more acceptable to perform somewhat risky shots early in a Headshot chain. If you hit, you have two action points. If you miss, oh well, you just fire again, probably hit this time, and continue the Headshot streak. In conjunction with how Pistols are already a huge edge against the Lost due to never running out of ammo, Quickdraw is favored for Lost-cleaning.

Breakthroughs are more run-dependent, but the thing is Breakthroughs are a flat damage boost, always being +1 no matter thee weapon or tier being targeted. So where, for example, a Conventional Sniper Rifle does 4-6 damage and a Conventional Pistol does 2-3 damage, and so firing your Pistol twice has the same damage range as a Sniper Rifle firing once... well, if you get the Conventional breakthrough, suddenly that's a 5-7 vs a pair of 3-4s. That's better minimum damage and better maximum damage. Even more dramatic, if you instead get the Pistol breakthrough and not the Sniper Rifle Breakthrough it's instead 4-6 vs two 3-4s, meaning two Pistol shots is at least the damage of one Sniper Rifle shot! In a run that gets early broad Breakthroughs or especially an early Pistol Breakthrough, Quickdraw is much more favored until you get a hold of the Darklance.

Ammo Items already had a bit of influence in this direction in the base game, but outside Bluescreen Rounds seriously distorting things -which encouraged Fan Fire and Faceoff use, but didn't actually bias Quickdraw over Death From Above since Death From Above triggering still leads to more damage dealt than Quickdrawing- it wasn't enough to create a definitive bias toward Quickdraw. But if you've got Ammo and a relevant Breakthrough? Quickdraw's more general activation conditions give it a big leg up.

Or you can just use the Training Center to combine it with Death From Above. That's another big point in its favor.

Later in the game, it also benefits a lot from the Darkclaw and the Darklance -yes, the Darklance. After all, if you're going to trigger a Death From Above without moving while using the Darklance, there's literally no reason to not slip in a Quickdraw shot before the first kill.


Captain
+2 Aim
+1 HP
+5 Hack
+1 Strength

Kill Zone
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 primary weapon runs out of ammo or their next turn arrives. 3 turn cooldown.

Kill Zone is also propped up by War of the Chosen. First is that you can combine it with Faceoff access via the Training Center; if your Sharpshooter has AP to spare, this is pretty easy to justify. Second is, once again, the Darklance's presence, making it much less clunky to set up a Kill Zone because you can move in the same turn you set it up without shenanigans.

Bonds also help it twice over: they make it easier to arrange action point-gifting to set up a Killzone before you've got the Darklance, and the Spotter effect turns Kill Zone into a limited form of Holo-Targeting. If your Sharpshooter is Bonded with someone who also has some way of attacking a bunch of targets at once, such as a Saturation Fire Grenadier or Skirmisher? Kill Zone as an opener can be quite nice.

The Training Center overhaul also means you can get skill combinations that bolster its relevancy. A Run And Gun+Shredder Sharpshooter would be able to move to position and spray Shred at everything, for example. Remember: Shredder does not get applied by Pistol shots, so there is no 'but Faceoff can do it better' here.

Lastly, Reapers are a big boost to Kill Zone's use, making it much more practical to scout without activating pods and then set up a Kill Zone to catch them out during the enemy turn.

As such, Kill Zone is no longer basically a skill specialized exclusively in Overwatch ambushes, but actually reasonably generally worth considering.

One subtle flaw to keep in mind with Kill Zone is that it doesn't properly apply Weapon Attachment modifications. Its Aim will not be boosted by a Scope, a Stock will not give it guaranteed damage on a miss, a Repeater will never trigger on a hit, etc. This is a flaw with it in the base game as well, but Kill Zone is sufficiently difficult to justify actually taking, and sufficiently bad even when acquired via the Advanced Warfare Center, that sensible play didn't have good cause to run into these issues.

I mean, it's generally a more relevant concern to eg a Grenadier who rolled it as a bonus skill, but still.

Faceoff
Fires the Pistol at every enemy in range, once apiece. 3 turn cooldown.

Faceoff remains amazing, and like Lightning Hands Breakthroughs can make it even more disproportionately good. It also benefits significantly from the Darkclaw, as now tossing out a Faceoff when Armored targets are around can do real damage to them without requiring Shredding them first.

Do keep in mind, though, that while it isn't necessarily wasteful to use it against Lost (Among other things, it's not interrupted by a miss, and can soften up large groups for somebody else to Headshot chain, all without pushing Lost spawns closer), it can be wasteful. Generally you're best off manually Pistoling every Lost that's guaranteed to die so you can then determine whether Faceoff makes any sense, unless it's really obvious Faceoff makes sense. (eg multiple Lost with too much HP to be killed, or multiple non-Lost enemies you also want to shoot)


Major
+2 Aim

Steady Hands
If the soldier has not moved in the previous turn, their next shot gains +10 to Aim and crit chance.

Still does not work the way the game claims it does, and I still don't know how it actually works.

On the plus side, you can combine it with Aim now for +30 Aim. Neat.

Aim
Hunkering Down confers +20 Aim to the soldier's next shot.

Until you get the Darklance, it's basically the same as in the base game; not great, but potentially good to combine with Death From Above. Once you have the Darklance, it's... actually pretty hard to justify, since you're no longer doing things like 'Death From Above kill, can't fire Sniper Rifle, might as well Hunker Down'. Nah, you're going to keep firing the Darklance until it runs out of ammo or things to kill. And it takes a long time for it to run out of ammo.

As such, outside of rolling Deep Cover on your Sharpshooter, Aim is actually even less worth considering in War of the Chosen, especially if you have a habit of sending your Sharpshooters on Covert Ops for Aim.


Colonel
+2 Aim
+1 HP
+5 Hack

Final stats
Aim: 91
HP: 8
Hack: 20

Serial
Activated ability that causes kill shots with the soldier's primary weapon to cost no actions for the rest of the turn. 4 turn cooldown.

Serial is... actually even worse off in War of the Chosen than in the base game.

Sure, a Sharpshooter can buy it from the Training Center, making the fact that it competes with Fan Fire less egregious, and since it's an innate skill it'll only be 15 AP instead of the 25 any other class would be charged so it's tempting to think of it as a steal...

... but once you've got the Darklance Serial is, in the vast majority of situations, a complete waste of AP. Death From Above Darklance is basically Serial, only replacing its cooldown with the relatively minor limitation of needing high ground in particular. There are some maps that are flat enough it's more or less impossible to get high ground advantage, but even in War of the Chosen they don't crop up that often, so purchasing Serial to hedge your bets is pretty dubious unless, like, you've got a Savant Sharpshooter who only rolled 2 bonus skills, both of them early and neither of them being 25 point ones. Or have more X-COM points than you know what to do with and all your other A and B team members have no better purchases.

So improbable edge cases might justify it, but the vast majority of the time? I can't imagine wasting AP/the level-up pick on it. Even before you get the Darklance, Faceoff covers a lot of the utility here.

Fan Fire
Fires 3 Pistol shots at a single target. 3 turn cooldown.

Hey, that list of 'robots' that Bluescreen Rounds works on? Yeah, throw Spectres into the list.

Fan Fire remains epically amazing, but now the Sharpshooter has actual competition for its utility. A Major-level Reaper can use Banish to achieve basically the same effect but with higher base damage and the potential to extend to up to six or potentially even seven shots simply by applying a Superior Extended Magazine to their rifle, and a Colonel-level Reaper gets to upgrade Banish so it will continue on to further targets once the original one is dead. The primary significant qualifier to this competition is that Reapers have to luck into Tactical Rigging to be able to equip an Ammo Item, so not every run will end up with a Reaper as relevant competition.

Skirmishers are also relevant competition, able to naturally double-shoot with a weapon with higher base damage, getting a 100% free-to-use (If only once per mission) skill that's specifically anti-robot, and having multiple skills that can allow even more shooting in a turn depending on admittedly unreliable conditions.

SPARKs can't equip Bluescreen Rounds, but they have much higher base damage and in War of the Chosen it's actually realistic to plan around an Adaptive Aim SPARK arranging to fire 3 (or more) times in a single turn thanks to gaining access to Weapon Attachments, and SPARKs have natural Shred, which is extremely relevant against the biggest threats of the game, robot or not. Which means a Corporal-equivalent SPARK is actually competitive with a Colonel-level Sharpshooter at this job!

Lastly, the bonus skill overhaul makes it vastly more likely that any of the core classes might randomly luck into relevant capabilities. (Since it's not 'you get maybe one', but rather is 2-4, well over doubling the odds of a given soldier rolling Rapid Fire or something)

As such, while Fan Fire Sharpshooters are still very good, they don't stand out so starkly for the utility of removing a single big target.

That said, in the late game the Darkclaw re-boosts Fan Fire's relevance, as a Darkclaw-equipped Sharpshooter with Bluescreen Rounds can kill a Legendary Sectopod in one action with no prior setup, even without Breakthroughs; 9-12x3 damage, getting reduced by one point of Armor? It's not a guaranteed kill (24-33 damage), but it's pretty decent odds, and realistically your Sharpshooter also has Lightning Hands, ensuring the kill. And unlike eg Banish, you can repeat this in longer missions!

So Fan Fire certainly isn't out of the running or anything, it's just less unique.

------------------------------------

I won't be covering GTS skills in War of the Chosen class analysis posts, since nothing it does gives me a reason to discuss them anew.

Anyway, the Sharpshooter is fairly significantly buffed by War of the Chosen, relative to other classes, which is probably for the best. They had strong, useful niches in the base game, but they were absolutely the weakest class aside maybe SPARKs, with a particularly rough early game that could make it difficult to train them to the point where they're actually strongly competitive.

This is all kind of funny, albeit not particularly surprising, since it's an inversion of the prior game situation where Snipers were hideously overpowered and Enemy Within made not-very-successful attempts to rein them in.

Anyway, there's some wonkiness here in that I'm pretty sure War of the Chosen was trying to prop up Sniper Rifle play in particular, and while the Darklance is definitely huge it's the case that War of the Chosen is overall actually even more Pistol-biased, between Breakthroughs being inherently Pistol-biased and the Darkclaw almost completely eliminating the primary flaw with Pistol focus. (That Armor is disproportionately punishing to spamming individually weak shots; only two enemies in the entire game have enough Armor on Legendary to lower the Darkclaw's damage at all)

Certainly, I'll be quite surprised if XCOM 3 comes along and straight-up embraces how Sharpshooters are designed so in practice their Pistol is their primary weapon and their Sniper Rifle is their secondary weapon they break out occasionally. The Sniper and Sharpshooter are both explicitly defined by their respective games first and foremost by their sniping ability, after all.

But whatever, this is a pretty huge improvement, which is particularly impressive given the Sharpshooter isn't one of the classes with a patched skill.

Next time, we cover how the Ranger has changed in War of the Chosen.

See you then.

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