XCOM 2 Equipment Analysis: Core Class Secondary Weapons

Note that I'm not including the Reaper's Claymore under in these secondary weapon posts. It's technically listed by the game as a secondary weapon, but it doesn't behave like one in any meaningful sense: you don't have higher-tier versions you can equip, or alternate versions, and indeed the Claymore actually doesn't benefit from Breakthroughs, not even the broad tier ones. Getting a Conventional-tier Breakthrough will cause the game to display a +1 to the Claymore's damage when looking at it in the Armory, but gameplay will not reflect this claim.

Also note that I'm not listing an ammo value under secondary weapons, because they don't do that. If they have a limitation, it's handled elsewhere, such as how the Grenade Launcher can only be used up to three times in a mission because a Grenadier can only equip two grenades and only add a second charge to one of them. (Well, technically Pistols have an internal ammo value like a primary weapon, but the value gets interpreted by the game as 'infinite ammo' so whatever)

Note that every single one of the advanced forms is a permanent squad-wide unlock of an unlimited supply, and unlike primary weapons there's no ability to modify secondary weapons into unique copies you care about losing. Outside DLC weapons, secondary weapons are not something you worry about losing.

Conventional Pistol
Damage: 2-3 (+1)
Range type: Short
Acquisition: Unlocked at start of game.
Used by: Sharpshooter

Compared to the Conventional Pistol of the prior game, XCOM 2's Conventional Pistol is fairly dramatically stronger. An argument can be made it's the same +1 damage most of the returning primary weapons experience, but first of all jumping from 1-2 damage to 2-3 damage is proportionately huge, doubling your minimum damage and raising your maximum damage by 50%, and second of all the actual equivalent of just raising base damage by 1 would be for the Conventional Pistol to do 1-3 damage -at which point it would actually be swingier than ever and not particularly reliably stronger.

This does come with the caveat that in the prior game you could boost Pistol accuracy, crit chance, and damage via Foundry Projects, and there's not an equivalent set of options in XCOM 2, but that's misleading. Sharpshooters are the only Pistol-wielders in XCOM 2 and their GTS unlock is +10 crit chance, exactly like Improved Pistols I provided, the damage boost from Improved Pistols III was essentially irrelevant to Conventional Pistols because it required you already had access to Plasma Pistols, while the Aim boost from Improved Pistols II is complicated by a different point.

That point being that Pistols are no longer a Medium range weapon, but rather a Short range one. As such, they can get 5% more accuracy from close-range shots than Pistols in the prior game could, but have to worry about Aim penalties at longer ranges, making the comparison complicated.

Actually, in general the comparison is unusually complicated, much more so than with the primary weapons. Snipers could get Gunslinger fairly quickly to bump their Conventional Pistols up to 2-4 damage, where Sharpshooters have no directly equivalent skill... but Sharpshooters can get Lightning Hands, Quickdraw, Fan Fire, and Faceoff, all of which let them get a lot more damage out of their Pistol anyway... but on the other hand XCOM 2 has also added in Armor, which didn't exist in the prior game and has a particularly pronounced impact on lower-damage weapons: a couple points of Armor will knock a Conventional Pistol to always doing 1 damage, where eg a Conventional Rifle will do 1-3 damage under those circumstances, and a Conventional Shotgun, Cannon, or Sniper Rifle will do 2-4 damage. ie where normally a Conventional Sniper Rifle hits twice as hard as a Conventional Pistol (With the worst-case scenario being the Pistol low-rolls and the Sniper Rifle high-rolls, resulting in the Sniper Rifle doing triple damage), against a target with 2 Armor the Conventional Sniper Rifle is doing as much as four times the damage of a Conventional Pistol.

Then, of course, there's the fact that Pistols are locked to Sharpshooters, instead of being available to Rookies and three of your core classes and merely mildly specialized in by one core class. Comparing a Sharpshooter-held Pistol to a Sniper-held Pistol is semi-straightforward, but it's a little misleading to blandly say Pistols are stronger while glossing over the fact that this actually only benefits one class.

Overall, Conventional Pistols are in a much better place than in the prior game, and are much less frustratingly RNG-controlled. You no longer require an enemy to be on literally its last HP to be sure a hit will kill, after all.

On a different note: terrain destructibility. Pistols are, in the base game, unique out of player shooting weapons in their environmental damage properties. (Templar Autopistols in War of the Chosen make them non-unique by having the exact same progression) First, though, context;

Destructible environmental objects generally can be classed in one of five tiers: 'fragile' objects that I'm pretty sure don't actually use the HP system like glass windows that can be smashed by regular soldiers moving through them, 1 HP, 5 HP, 10 HP, or 20 HP. Player primary weapons all have an environmental damage rating of 5 at Conventional, and then 10 at Magnetic and Beam; this is the amount of damage they do to an environmental object's invisible HP meter if they miss and end up slamming into an environmental object, and sometimes even when they hit their primary target they'll still do environmental damage to terrain in the vicinity of their firing path. Thus, a Conventional-tier primary weapon will 100% reliably smash super-fragile objects (eg glass windows), also 100% reliably smash some slightly less fragile objects (eg cardboard walls), but take repeated misses hitting the same object to smash most objects. Meanwhile, Magnetic and Beam-tier primary weapons will smash anything that can be smashed in two hits at most, and can smash many more rugged objects in a single hit that would take two hits from a Conventional-tier weapon.

Pistols instead have 1 environmental damage at Conventional, 5 at Magnetic, and then 10 at Beam -in short, you shouldn't expect a Conventional Pistol to break anything of use (1 HP environmental objects are more or less always purely decorative) unless you volley a lot of Pistol shots at the same area, while Mag Pistols can actually break things but are behind the rest of your Magnetic weapons, and then the Beam Pistol finally catches Pistols up with the rest of your weapons. A player who has a good sense of the legal firing arcs on misses can, to a certain extent, plan around smashing objects through volleyed fire, and initially Pistols are behind at this job in spite of being oriented toward spamming shots. This is particularly pertinent a flaw in War of the Chosen, where Bullpups are even more oriented toward shotspam but have the usual progression in environmental damage, but even in the base game it's something to keep in mind, among other points being an argument for considering using your Sniper Rifle in the early game if you know a target's Cover is fragile. (Well, before you get Mag Pistols online, anyway...)

On a more aesthetic note, I actually really enjoy the new animation and sound effect. The switch to a powerful-seeming single-shot action, where the prior game's Conventional Pistol was a three-shot burst that sounded like a popgun, is surprisingly satisfying and gels very nicely with Pistols being stronger. My only complaint is that this is very obviously a six-shooter, which is a questionable decision with how Sharpshooter Pistol skills are focused on spitting out a lot of bullets. Faceoff in particular can result in your six-shot Pistol firing 7+ shots without stopping for a reload, no way to pretend this somehow makes sense. It's not too big a deal in practice since you'll almost always have later Pistols before the skills that are most ridiculous about this are online, but it's still an odd choice all-around to make an unlimited-ammo weapon have a very visible ammo limit that's well within normal usage ranges.

Mag Pistol
Damage: 3-4 (+1)
Range type: Short
Unlock Condition: Completing Magnetic Weapons research.
Cost: 60 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys in base game. 40 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 70 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in base game. 50 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Used by: Sharpshooter

As with the prior Pistol comparison, the Mag Pistol basically blows its counterpart -the Laser Pistol- out of the water. It does lack the Laser Pistol's innate +10 to crit chance, but otherwise you're talking 1-3 damage being laughed at by 3-4 damage. Yeah, a Laser Pistol could crit for up to 5 damage, but so can a Mag Pistol. If you assume Gunslinger, which brings the Laser Pistol to 3-5 damage, the Mag Pistol is actually slightly behind, but outside that this is a very much appreciated boost -I especially appreciate that the Mag Pistol is more clearly a boost over its prior tier. Assuming the damage numbers are all equally valid (Which I'm a bit skeptical is true in the prior game, to be honest, given eg Enemy Within has a glitch that messed up crit damage range odds badly, but let's just ignore that), around 25% of the time the Mag Pistol isn't any better than the Conventional Pistol. (50% chance for each result means that 50% of your Mag Pistol hits will be, ignoring crits because they don't change the actual principles here, impossible for the Conventional Pistol to match, but 50% of your Conventional Pistol hits will be impossible for the Mag Pistol to perform so poorly, leaving only their respective 3-damage rolls, which you split down the middle: thus, 25%) That's a huge improvement over the Laser Pistol only having a 33% chance of a result that was impossible for the Conventional Pistol to match; you expected any given Laser Pistol hit to be no better than any given Conventional Pistol hit, which was hugely frustrating for a supposed upgrade.

Something worth pointing out is that Mag Pistols are unlocked by the more basic of the two magnetic weapon researches, where the Gauss Rifle is unlocked by the more advanced one. This is another reason Pistol-focused Sharpshooters tend to perform better than Sniper Rifle-focused Sharpshooters; there's a period where Mag Pistols are a tech ahead, and so eg using Quickdraw to fire twice will actually do more damage than firing a Sniper Rifle once.

Similarly, in that period your Mag Pistol will be just as good at environmental destruction as your Sniper Rifle, and since it has unlimited ammo it's obviously the better choice for taking risky shots in hopes the miss rips up the enemy's Cover. This is one of the more subtle reasons why Lightning Hands competing with Deadeye is bad design; Lightning Hands spitting out an extra shot gives you more environmental damage output in a given turn, where Deadeye does not affect environmental damage. Thus, a Sharpshooter with Lightning Hands is more likely, once you have Mag Pistols online, to smash inconvenient Cover and clear the way for other shots, where a Deadeye shot is just more damaging to an enemy unit if it hits.

Aesthetically and whatnot, the Mag Pistol is actually one of the few magnetic-tier weapons I don't have a strongly positive opinion on. The pistol itself looks pretty nifty and I like how it looks a bit jury-rigged, but the audiovisual elements when firing are pretty underwhelming, feeling less satisfying than the Conventional Pistol.

Beam Pistol
Damage: 3-6 (+2)
Range type: Short
Unlock Condition: Completing Plasma Rifle research.
Cost: 125 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in base game. 50 Supplies, 7 Alien Alloys, 5 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 150 Supplies, 25 Alien Alloys, 25 Elerium Crystals in base game. 75 Supplies, 15 Alien Alloys, 15 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Used by: Sharpshooter

As with the prior tiers, the Beam Pistol is a pretty noticeable step up in damage over its prior game counterpart, though this is probably the most ambiguous example: the Plasma Pistol only has a base damage of 2-4, and its crit damage is also slightly worse than the Beam Pistol's (5-7, vs 5-8), but Plasma Pistol access automatically meant access to Improved Pistols III, and thus a player would realistically only have Plasma Pistols at that damage value for a brief period -possibly not even going on a mission before completing Improved Pistols III! Thus arguably it's more accurate to use the boosted Plasma Pistol damage for comparing, which was 3-5; merely a worse max damage roll, and actually with higher crit damage. At that point the Beam Pistol impresses less -especially since the Plasma Pistol could be backed by Gunslinger on a Sniper, and thus hit 5-7 damage , unambiguously better than a Beam Pistol's damage.

This is in turn complicated by the fact that by the time Beam Pistols are online you really ought to be assuming Ammo access, which will frequently mean +1 damage and in the case of Bluescreen Rounds will mean a whopping +5 damage against relevant targets, but no Ammo Item provides a universal, flat +1 to damage so this still slightly favors the Gunslinger Plasma Pistol, generally speaking. It's also complicated by the fact that Snipers couldn't shoot their Pistols multiple times in a turn, where Sharpshooters can; 5-7 once from a Gunslinging Sniper is better than a Beam Pistol's single shot, but a Sharpshooter Quickdrawing a Beam Pistol will get 6-12 damage.

Even purely within the context of just XCOM 2 itself, though, it's a bit frustrating that the Beam Pistol's minimum damage is the same as the Mag Pistol, and also a bit frustrating how swingy its damage is in general. A big part of why XCOM 2 is a more tactically deep game, instead of Rolling Dice Until Somebody Wins, is that weapon damage isn't so wildly swingy. Beam Pistols having such a wide range makes RNG unduly influential on their performance, compared to... almost any other weapon in the game. Vektor Rifles are probably more RNG-centric due to the difficulties in reaching 100% crit with them while having massive crit damage and poor non-crit damage, but in the base game? The Beam Pistol has no competition for how RNG-centric their play experience is.

Just like with the magnetic tier, Beam Pistols are unlocked by the most basic beam weapon-tier upgrade, while Sniper Rifles have to wait. Indeed, with beam-tier weapons it's actually worse; with Magnetic weapons, even if you didn't specifically care about unlocking Gauss Rifles you would do so in pursuit of unlocking Gauss Cannons, not to mention advancing toward beam-tier weapons in general. With the beam-tier, Plasma Lances are unlocked by a research that, in the base game, only unlocks Plasma Lances, whereas Beam Pistols being unlocked by the Plasma Rifle research is something you're forced to do to break into the beam-tier at all. In a few runs, I've actually beaten the game without even bothering to perform the Plasma Lance research; that's not even 'well, Sniper Rifles will catch up', that's 'they're really just worse off'.

Aesthetically and all, the Beam Pistol is... uneven. I'm okay with it for general usage, even if I do have to gloss over how horrifyingly unsafe the heat venting must be, but the Beam Pistol looks and sounds awful when used with Fan Fire or Faceoff.

It's too bad, because I actually think the look of the pistol itself is one of the better beam weapon looks. It ends up looking like something an alien sculpted, which is a pretty intriguing aesthetic. If it were something I were looting off a Sectoid, I'd totally buy this is an Alien weapon!

... too bad it was made by Shen's crew, making its appearance deeply confusing.

Conventional Sword
Damage: 3-5 (+2)
Range type: Melee
Acquisition: Unlocked at start of game.
Used by: Ranger
+20 Aim, +10 to crit chance.

Note that the Armory UI doesn't actually mention Swords having an intrinsic Aim boost. You'll only see it mentioned when targeting an enemy in battle. This can get confusing if you have DLC, as the Traditional Sword (From the Tactical Legacy Pack) and the Hunter's Axe (From Alien Hunters) do list their +20 to Aim in the armory, so a side-by-side comparison may leave one with the belief that regular Swords are horribly inaccurate. As you can have DLC weapons from very early in a campaign and there's not any strong reason to have multiple Rangers on a given mission, it's easy to not be disabused of this notion for a very long time, as why would you equip a regular Sword when you have apparently better options? Especially since the Hunter's Axe really is better, just not more accurate.

Overall, though, this is straightforward: Rangers have a melee attack, here's the gear that gets tied up in it. There you go.

That said, melee crit chance feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Ranged crit chance rewards flanking targets, albeit not reliably. Melee crit chance... ends up rewarding striking from unseen locations thanks to Shadowstrike, but I'm honestly not sure that's an intended mechanic and it feels like a weird thing to reward regardless. The game could've given rising crit chance for initiating from further away, or higher crit chance from initiating from high ground, or higher crit chance from initiating from below (To thus make melee have contrary incentives), or any number of other things that would've added some nuance. Instead crit chance is primarily an extra layer of RNG with no deeper purpose to it. I'm not sure why melee attacks even have crit mechanics.

A bizarre aesthetic note: the Conventional Sword is the only Ranger melee weapon to have an actual sheath to slot into on the Ranger's back. More advanced Swords simply stick magnetically to the Ranger's back, as does the Hunter's Axe in all tiers and the Assassin's Katana and even the Traditional Sword in all its tiers! I imagine this was driven by a desire to make it obvious at a glance what tier and, later on, kind of weapon a given Ranger is equipped with, but it's pretty jarring and I'm not sure why they didn't do something like make more advanced Swords have see-through sheathes. Among other points, Rangers always play a re-sheathing animation after a strike, sound effects included, which is just jarring 99% of the time because you don't use the Conventional Sword for very long at all.

I can kind of get with the later weapons why this happened, as they have different shapes, but would it really have been so hard to add transparency to part of the sheath graphic, slap the result onto the Arc Blade and Fusion Blade graphical packages, and call it a day?

Arc Blade
Damage: 4-6 (+2)
Range type: Melee
Unlock Condition: Completing Stun Lancer Autopsy research.
Cost: 90 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in base game. 60 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 100 Supplies, 15 Alien Alloys in base game. 75 Supplies, 15 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Used by: Ranger
+20 Aim, +10 to crit chance, and has a 25% chance to Stun the target.

Sword usage peaks fairly early in base XCOM 2. This isn't obvious if you just directly compare the numbers: a Conventional Sword is one damage behind a Conventional Shotgun, and then the Shard Gun gains 2 more damage while the Arc Blade only gains 1, causing it to fall further behind. Furthermore, Shotguns have higher crit damage.

However, the unlock requirements favor the Arc Blade: in the base game, it's not unusual for you to hit the Instant threshold for Autopsying Stun Lancers a while before you get started on Magnetic Weapons, making it just a matter of whether you can spare the Supplies and Alien Alloys. More importantly, Corporal Rangers get +2 damage and +10 Aim out of Blademaster, which there's really no reason to not take it on every Ranger; thus, in actuality an Arc Blade hits like a Shard Gun for a notable fraction of the game in which your Rangers do not yet have access to Shard Guns. This is reinforced by the point that the Shard Gun is the only weapon whose Engineer requirement is high enough for the point in the game you can unlock it that I've actually seen it in my play, and the Arc Blade does not have an equivalent issue: you may do two or three missions without Shard Guns in spite of having unlocked the ability to buy them!

Indeed, for a Corporal Ranger their Sword is, in that phase of the game, a way to perform a guaranteed hit (Nothing has Defense in the early game) at high damage on a target without regard to its Cover, without spending ammo, and potentially while performing desirable movement of some kind. (eg getting closer to the mission objective, or threatening a flank on a different target, or dropping the Ranger into High Cover, or heck, all three at once) That's really amazing, even aside the Stun chance!

In War of the Chosen, early-game Sword usage doesn't hold up as well. Templar do the melee job all-around more competently, and critically you're actually pretty unlikely to hit the Instant threshold on the Stun Lancer Autopsy before completing Magnetic Weapons: ADVENT Priests and Purifiers have taken over early spawn slots that in the base game are filled with Stun Lancers, and the introduction of the Lost means you get fewer ADVENT/Alien corpses in general. Indeed, I've had War of the Chosen runs that, due to me doing some gimmick or another, never performed the Stun Lancer Autopsy because they never hit the Instant threshold even though I never sold the corpses or used them to make a Spider Suit. Purifiers, Priests, and Lost all discourage Slashing things more directly as well: Purifiers may explode on death, making Slashing them potentially a suicide mission, Priests may Sustain and now your Ranger is in danger of being killed by a flanking shot, and the Lost Headshot mechanic only applies to ranged weapons, not to melee weapons, so you'd rather Shotgun them 99% of the time.

More subtly, the Training Center overhaul biases Rangers more consistently to Shotgun usage: there's no bonus skills that unambiguously support Sword usage over Shotgun usage, whereas there's multiple that only benefit a Ranger who shoots things instead of Slashing things. The ability to now combine Shadowstrike and Shadowstep is nice, and in the more midgame Implacable being possible to combine with Bladestorm is a notable combination, but these don't offset the rest of it.

You'll still Slash things, don't get me wrong, but the Ranger's Sword game is, in War of the Chosen, notably weaker in the early game.

That said, while a Stun chance on your melee strike sounds very powerful, if unreliable, in practice it's surprisingly underwhelming. Due to how melee inherently is a dangerous action that puts your Ranger in a position to be easily counterflanked, you should generally only use your Sword strikes as a sure thing of complete safety past the extremely early game. Usually, this means Slashing targets the Sword is guaranteed to kill, which in turn means absolutely no chance of a useful Stun.

This is further exacerbated by the Ranger's skillset being heavily oriented toward having Rangers land killing blows; a Ranger with Implacable is one who can hit-and-run, killing a target in an awkward position and retreating to safety anyway, while a Ranger with Untouchable can outright draw fire for the rest of the squad, fully confident one enemy attacking them is no problem at all... but only if you take an assured kill. This means that even though you can have a Ranger take the first strike in certain situations, such as high ground assuring a lethal follow-up shot from some other soldier, it's rarely something to actually do unless you're specifically fishing for the Stun (Presumably in a desperate situation, such that a Stun is actually useful) or eg have Death From Above on a non-Sharpshooter.

There are situations that can naturally occur where the Arc Blade's Stun chance is meaningfully relevant, but they're uncommon. Maybe you have a Berserker's pod activate, you kill its buddies, and then your Ranger is the only soldier with a move left so you go for the Slash because Cover is irrelevant anyway and shooting it can't possibly kill it; might as well hope for a Stun. It can also be worth fishing for the Stun against Alien Rulers simply because of how moving and shooting is giving them multiple Ruler Reactions where a Dashing Slash gives only one and also because Stun is hugely useful against them.

Mostly, though, the Stun chance has relevancy through Bladestorm creating situations where you can get free hits, such as having a Ranger trigger a Chryssalid pod and they all run into the Ranger. And then you have to deal with Bladestorm's reduced accuracy, making Stuns rarer than you might expect, especially because pure, hyper-aggressive melee of that sort is actually quite rare in XCOM 2; for one thing, they normally only appear in a handful of mission types.

War of the Chosen isn't much help here, either, since the Chosen are all immune to Stun and Stunning a Spectre won't cancel its Shadow. Fishing for a Stun on a Priest in an attempt to break Mind Control is the only new example of relevance, and early Priests don't even have Mind Control, not to mention you should usually be trying to kill them in general for several reasons.

It's not worthless or anything, but it really doesn't mesh with how the game is designed. Something like Armor Piercing or bonus anti-robot damage would've been a much better fit to how Swords are made to be used.

Aesthetically, I have to wonder if Rangers were intended to use the Arc Blade the same general way Stun Lancers use their batons. The Arc Blade really doesn't look like a blade, but rather like a very long taser. If so, this concept never made it into the actual animations, which would be unfortunate. Understandable, but unfortunate.

Fusion Blade
Damage: 5-7 (+3)
Range type: Melee
Unlock Condition: Completing Archon Autopsy research.
Cost: 180 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in base game. 95 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 200 Supplies, 35 Alien Alloys, 35 Elerium Crystals. 135 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys, 25 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Used by: Ranger
+20 Aim, +10 to crit chance, and has a 25% chance to Burn the target.

By the time you have the Fusion Blade, your Rangers probably aren't Slashing things very much at all in the base game, and haven't been for a while.

First of all, at Lieutenant they gain access to Run And Gun. This means in almost any situation they can get a Slash on an enemy, they could instead elect to Run And Gun and Shotgun the target, with higher crit odds and higher damage being provided by crits than if you Slashed the target. Run And Gun does have a cooldown where Slash does not, but that merely means Slash remains a backup option if Run And Gun is on cooldown or a way to finish off a weakened target without using up Run And Gun.

Second, at Captain Rangers pick up Hunter's Instincts. Great, Blademaster is +2 damage to your swords, but your Shotguns have better base damage and get +3 damage if flanking. Which the Ranger is really, really good at making happen, such as with Run And Gun. Again, Slash still has a place in the Ranger's arsenal, but it no longer is a primary attacking option.

Third, at Colonel Rangers pick up Rapid Fire, and while Reaper is a lot of fun and great in certain situations, Rapid Fire is a pretty unambiguous and significant improvement to the Ranger's performance, with said improvement being all about shooting. I tend to favor Reaper in the base game, but this is very much for the fun factor rather than a practical gameplay reason.

Collectively, the result is that once you're past the Corporals-to-Sergeants-With-Arc-Blades range of the game Rangers become increasingly slanted toward shooting things, not even touching how Shotguns gain more damage from technological improvement than Swords do. The Fusion Blade itself doesn't even necessarily hit your arsenal before the Storm Gun, as you won't necessarily hit the Instant threshold for the Archon Autopsy in a timely manner.

The Fusion Blade itself is insult to injury on top of all that, not really worth pursuing the Archon Autopsy to unlock unless you have nothing better for Tygan's crew to be doing. Replacing a 25% chance to Stun with a 25% chance to Burn, in exchange for getting a whole one point of damage? I mean, yeah, damage is important, but more things are immune to Burn than to Stun, and damage+disabling some abilities is usually not nearly so useful as outright disabling the target. The only exceptions are Chryssalids and Berserkers, which in the base game are completely shut down by being set on fire, becoming unable to attack or Burrow in the case of Chryssalids, and having no alternative way to be a problem for you. Which... for one thing, they're both exclusive to Retaliation missions, Avenger Defense missions, and certain plot missions. Most mission types you'll never see them. Chryssalids are even rarer than that might sound; it's not unusual for them to enter rotation, show up on a Retaliation mission, and then the rest of your campaign only sees them again because they're guaranteed to show up in a couple plot missions. That is, it's not unusual for them to just not show up at all in later Retaliation missions.

Oh, and targets standing in water can't be set on fire, and targets moving through water will automatically be cleared of fire. Notably, it's not at all unusual for a river to be present on a Retaliation map, where setting enemies alight is most useful.

If the Fusion Blade was guaranteed to set its target on fire, I'd be a bit frustrated by losing Stun but probably feel it was an overall improvement, if only because against targets not immune to fire it would effectively raise minimum damage by 2 and maximum damage by a whopping 4 points, since the victim would take 1-3 Burn damage before getting a chance to act. As-is, where it's 25% Stun chance replaced by 25% Burn chance? Why?

Mind, either way the Fusion Blade still suffers from the same issue as the Arc Blade that you want to have Rangers land kill strikes and a side effect of setting things on fire doesn't mesh with that because usually you won't give it a chance to trigger at all. That its effect is overall a downgrade is incredibly frustrating, but in practice it's not like it matters all that much.

War of the Chosen is better for Slash focus in the late game, but it's not because of anything to do with the Fusion Blade. Indeed, War of the Chosen makes it so that Chryssalids and Berserkers actually retain the ability to melee attack while on fire, making it worse than ever! The only good news for it is that the Lost and Chosen are immune to Stun, with the Lost in particular being extra-susceptible to fire, but Lost are designed to be shot, not Slashed so the Lost aren't terribly helpful to the Fusion Blade. The Katana is the actual reason Sword focus blossoms so much in War of the Chosen's late game -well, that and the fact that Rapid Fire and Hunter's Instincts got nerfed.

It's too bad the Fusion Blade is so underwhelming, because its visual design is pretty great and the concept of a flaming sword has plenty of obvious appeal.

Conventional Grenade Launcher
Acquisition: Unlocked at start of game.
Used by: Grenadier
+4 to grenade range
+1 to grenade blast radius

The equivalent to the Rocket Launcher of the prior game, it's difficult to make a direct comparison between the two, as Grenade Launchers are defined entirely by the grenades you load onto your Grenadier, where the Rocket Launcher's behavior was defined primarily internally by the Heavy's level-up picks. (eg Danger Zone expanding Rocket blast zones) Among other points, it was meaningful to claim the Rocket Launcher had a damage value at all -this is not so with the Grenade Launcher. It doesn't even modify the damage of grenades it launches.

In practical terms, the Grenade Launcher is a vastly more interesting, nuanced execution of the basic concept of delivering explosives at a distance. No more worrying about a dumb, pointless 10% chance for your explosive to go wildly off course. No more 'I'm defined by Rockets, but can also specialize in grenades for some bizarre reason even though they fill almost the exact same set of niches'. The ability to customize your loadout based on playstyle or mission needs.

The only thing the Grenade Launcher could be said to have lost in real terms is the ability to airburst explosives, but this is barely a loss in real terms -almost no enemies have flight in XCOM 2, and only one regular enemy (And one Alien Ruler) will ever end its turn midair under normal conditions. You don't care about not being able to fire a Rocket into a blob of Floaters hanging in a clump midair, because those conditions can't happen in XCOM 2.

For reference, the Grenade Launcher's boosts basically work out to the Grenadier being able to hit all the way out to normal vision range.

Aesthetically, I do have to wonder if Grenadiers were at some point intended to have a great grenade capacity. The ammo compartment of the Grenade Launcher really looks like it should hold 6 shots, when a Grenadier can only have up to 3 grenade uses per mission.

On the other hand, I'd be surprised if Pistols ever had ammo at any point in XCOM 2's development, and their Conventional tier is a six-shooter. It could just be the art team not being fully on board with the gameplay portion of the team's intentions.

Advanced Grenade Launcher
Unlock Condition: Completing Muton Autopsy research.
Cost: 75 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in base game. 100 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 80 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys in base game. 175 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Used by: Grenadier
+5 to grenade range
+2 to grenade blast radius

No, there is no third-tier Grenade Launcher. It's unique among secondary weapons in this regard, and even War of the Chosen doesn't give it a third tier. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe the devs thought the Advanced Grenade Launcher was already plenty good? Certainly, War of the Chosen actually increasing its cost suggests that, given so many weapons have their cost reduced to accommodate the increased load from the new classes.

Or maybe this is because they only had two tiers of Rocket Launcher in the prior game? The Grenade Launcher is XCOM 2's equivalent to the Rocket Launcher. Though as far as that goes the Plasma Grenade and then the Advanced Explosives Proving Ground Projects are much closer to being the equivalent of building a Blaster Launcher, in terms of boosting the damage on your Heavy-analogue's secondary weapon.

As I alluded to earlier, the Grenade Launcher got more expensive in War of the Chosen, more than doubling its Supply cost on Legendary and still a 33% increase on other difficulties. Again, I'm not really sure why.

In any event, this is straightforward enough. Grenadiers grenade better once you've Autopsied Mutons. The narrative connection is pretty tenuous -it's not like Mutons have a grenade launcher of their own- but Mutons are the closest thing to a 'grenade specialist' on the enemy forces. I'd personally have tied it to the ADVENT Mec Breakdown due to their Micromissile Launcher, but XCOM 2 already has issues with how uneven Autopsy value is and Mecs are already a high-value Autopsy... so eh. Whatever.

Aesthetically, I'm very curious why the Advanced Grenade Launcher is so directly in line with general X-COM magnetic weaponry designs. Was it at some point intended to be unlocked by magnetic weapon researches? Certainly, it makes logical sense that technology for using magnetics to fire projectiles would work with a grenade launcher. If so, the decision to assign it to the Muton Autopsy would be a bit unfortunate, since as-is it's very confusing a visual choice.

Basic Gremlin
Acquisition: Unlocked at start of game.
Used by: Specialist
+0 Hack, +20 Defense from Aid Protocol, weakest damage on Combat Protocol and Capacitor Discharge

Your basic Gremlin.

Mechanically, there's not a lot to say about it. The Gremlin isn't a nuanced and complicated game mechanic in its own right. It's just the narrative justification for several of the Specialist's abilities.

Aesthetically/narratively, I have mixed feelings about the Gremlin. When I was reading a bit about XCOM 2 ahead of time, minimizing spoiler exposure but interested in the class design, I of course ran across the description of the Gremlin as a small robot too inconspicuous to be noticed by enemies. This seemed a reasonable justification for why you don't have to deal with enemies shooting at it, and fit with my mental scenario of this being a very stealth-focused game.

In actuality, the Gremlin's design is utterly ridiculous as far as that goes. The Gremlin is far too massive to be 'inconspicuous', and the thing glows. Indeed, XCOM 2 cleaves strongly enough to the common pop culture thing of 'red lights for bad guys, blue lights for good guys' that the Gremlin would be liable to stand out starkly in a lot of situations, a conspicuous source of blue light in environments that ought to be bathed solely in red lights.

I'm really not sure why this is. Broadly speaking, I can understand the Gremlin being comically massive from a pure realism standpoint, as gameplay clarity trumps realism and it's important to be able to tell your classes apart at a glance, but the degree to which the Gremlin is massive is fairly confusing even in that context. Again, in part because it glows. The only other class to have a similar feature is the SPARK, and you're not going to mistake a hulking robot with a BIT for a human with a Gremlin. So... why is it so massive? Did playtesting determine that yes, really, if you make it any smaller than this players will fail to notice it?

More purely narratively, the Gremlin is also pretty representative of how XCOM 2 seems to waffle back and forth on its concept of X-COM as an organization. Much of the game presents you as a Mad Max post-apocalypse crew scavenging the wastes to survive, suggesting a lack of sophisticated technological support. Then one of your core classes is defined around using an artificial intelligence. An artificial intelligence in a small frame, demanding very sophisticated technology to justify cramming all that cleverness inside successfully. An artificial intelligence with magic antigrav technology.

Again, when I was reading about the game, I didn't find the issue of having a class defined by a robotic partner fundamentally unbelievable. I figured X-COM as an organization was supposed to be raiding ADVENT technology for their own purposes, with Gremlins being adapted from some manner of ADVENT drone, or even supposed to be directly based off the prior game's Drones. You can still go with the latter interpretation and I do have to wonder if that was the original thought process behind Gremlins, but ADVENT and the Aliens in XCOM 2 completely lack comparable flying drones, and implicit in my classic interpretation was an assumption that X-COM was supposed to be the underdog primarily by virtue of the Aliens having better technology, superior numbers, etc; it never crossed my mind that XCOM 2 might present the player's forces as Mad Max post-apocalyptic scavengers, because that isn't intuitive at all to the premise.

As-is, I'm honestly not sure if the concept of the world changed in development and Gremlins are an unfortunate holdover from some time they actually made sense, or if the devs assembled the world more or less exactly as envisioned and just failed to notice the inconsistency, or if the art team was just off doing their own thing with only limited awareness of the state of the world as defined by the primary narrative. Something weird happened here, whatever it was.

Gremlin Mk. II
Unlock Condition: Completing ADVENT Mec Breakdown research.
Cost: 50 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys in base game. 35 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 60 Supplies, 15 Alien Alloys in base game. 45 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Used by: Specialist
+20 Hack, +30 Defense from Aid Protocol, stronger damage on Combat Protocol and Capacitor Discharge, +1 HP healed by Medical Protocol

Mechanically, it's sort of irrelevant whether this is worth pursuing in its own right, particularly in War of the Chosen. Bluescreen Rounds is simply too fantastic an unlock to ignore, and in War of the Chosen you're forced to do the Mec Breakdown before you can research Elerium and thus hit third-tier weapons and armor, meaning you'll inevitably unlock this no matter what.

This is probably for the best, as the Gremlin Mk. II is surprisingly underwhelming. For medically-oriented Specialists, this tier is a largely-irrelevant boost to Hack and a slight boost to healing, and that's it. For more offensively-inclined Specialists, it's more notable, doubling the damage of Combat Protocol and making Haywire Protocol notably more reliable, but it's still a surprisingly small a boost in practical terms. Technically it also boosts Capacitor Discharge, but above Regular difficulty it's very unlikely you''ll ever have a Colonel Specialist prior to unlocking this, making it a bit of a technicality.

Fortunately, it's reasonably affordable, making it not a particularly difficult decision whether to purchase it.

Aesthetically, I honestly could not tell you what's different about this from the prior edition without directly comparing the two graphics. (Apparently the Mk. II gains an antenna. Okay?) This is particularly inconvenient since secondary weapons don't get direct UI representation; if you pop into a run after a bit of a break, it's easy to have no idea what tier your Gremlins are at.

Fortunately, it's not actually a big deal as anytime you'd particularly care about the difference the game will tell you what you're getting (ie Combat Protocol's damage is correctly predicted based on the equipped tier of Gremlin), but it's a bit odd. Most gear does a pretty good job of being identifiable on-sight, aside some issues with the armors. I'm curious why the Gremlin Mk. II is an exception to this.

Narratively, it's a bit unfortunate the game doesn't seem to have a concrete concept of what's happening here. Broadly speaking, it makes sense that studying enemy robots leads to improvements in your own robotics. Details-wise, it's... not necessarily nonsense, but certainly not intuitively obvious in making sense. For one thing, ADVENT Mecs are supposed to be based on the prior Shen's designs, which even aside how odd a concept that is it then makes it weird that his daughter doesn't already have a lot of the nuance there from more firsthand experience with his own designs. Nor are ADVENT Mecs particularly Gremlin-like in any way that matters; it's not like ADVENT Mecs will hack your own forces when afforded the opportunity.

I'm ultimately okay with this, in that the alternative robots all present their own issues, but it would've been nice if instead Drones had returned and been the Autopsy that gave you this Gremlin tier. Or something of that sort.

Gremlin Mk. III
Unlock Condition: Completing Sectopod Breakdown research.
Cost: 75 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in base game. 50 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys, 5 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 100 Supplies, 15 Alien Alloys, 20 Elerium Crystals in base game. 75 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys, and 20 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Used by: Specialist
+40 Hack, +40 Defense from Aid Protocol, strongest damage on Combat Protocol and Capacitor Discharge, +2 HP healed by Medical Protocol, extra charge for Scanning Protocol

Something worth mentioning is that Revival Protocol claims that higher-tier Gremlins will lead to more charges, and the funny thing is there's a chunk of code for Gremlin Mk. IIIs providing 2 Revival Protocol charges... but then the game never calls this chunk of code, and so Revival Protocol is perpetually stuck with 1 charge.


Even with that functionality missing, this is a more widespread improvement than the prior tier. This is good, as unlike the Mk. II this isn't an incidental acquisition; the Sectopod Breakthrough has no value beyond unlocking this, and Sectopods are sufficiently rare, late-game foes that you're basically guaranteed to not hit their Instant threshold. Even if you deliberately stalled, you'd probably run out of things to research first.

This is particularly important in War of the Chosen, as Breakthroughs mean you're vastly more likely to have worthwhile researches still waiting to be done when you're ready to launch the endgame. If this wasn't a pretty good payoff, it would be easy to completely ignore the Sectopod Autopsy. As-is, this can contribute to slightly difficult decisions about what to prioritize in the late game.

Aesthetically, I'm... okay with this Gremlin? It's pretty obviously meant to be aesthetically similar to beam-tier weapons, but it looks pretty good in its own right and, much like SPARK armors, if I can accept X-COM producing a bunch of antigravity AIs then it's not any kind of stretch for X-COM to then get them into a shinier, more properly sealed chassis. It also helps that being able to tell secondary weapons apart at a glance is a little more important and beneficial overall than with primary weapons due to how the UI is handled.

Narratively, this has much the same issues as the Mk. II, though slightly less so. The Sectopod is heavily implied to be pure Alien technology so it's a lot more intuitive that AI improvements could be extracted from studying it, after all. Like the Mk. II I'm largely willing to gloss over the wonky parts as being a product of the lack of alternate endgame robots to study. I mean, you could go with the Andromedon instead, but it wouldn't really change the things that make this weird.

I do feel the correct solution would've been to approach Autopsy rewards and secondary weapon advancement completely differently, admittedly, but I can understand and sympathize with how this happened.


Next time, we wrap up with Psi Amps and DLC-class gear.

See you then.


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