XCOM 2 Item Analysis: Experimental Armors

Experimental Armor is the first Experimental Project that isn't available right out the gate, requiring you complete the ADVENT Shieldbearer Autopsy to unlock. Like Experimental Ammo and Experimental Grenade, it just costs 1 Elerium Core to get started, no other resources necessary, though it takes slightly longer to build with a base of 12 days of production, 6 with an Engineer assigned. Everything it produces is a 'vest' Item, eating an Item slot and incompatible with all other Vest types. (That is, you can't equip a Plated Vest and a Stasis Vest on the same soldier at the same time; Hellweave and Nanoscale Vests count even though they're not Experimental Armor results) All vests provide at least 1 HP, with the Experimental ones having additional effects that set them apart from each other.

The Experimental Vests are all strictly superior to the Nanoscale Vest you can build directly early in the game, so if you're someone who routinely finds yourself equipping Nanoscale Vests you really ought to invest in at least one or two Experimental Armor Projects so you can get a free-for-the-soldier improvement over what you're already doing.

Well, assuming you don't build Nanoscale Vests, then abandon them completely before you ever unlock Experimental Armor. Which... is likely...

In War of the Chosen, Autopsying a Purifier will, completely for free, cause all Vest Items to provide 1 more HP. It will also cause the interface to inexplicably claim +1 is being applied to other listed numerical values, but no, the Plated Vest doesn't gain bonus Armor out of it. It's just a bug that's probably never going to be fixed. In any event, this is the only change War of the Chosen makes to Vests, which is... a bit disappointing, as we'll see...

Plated Vest
HP: +2
+1 Armor

A direct, general improvement over the Nanoscale Vest.

The Plated Vest is in an awkward position thanks to the need to Autopsy an ADVENT Shieldbearer to be allowed to start rolling for it. If it was possible to acquire it as a near-beginning-of-game option, that 1 point of Armor would be shaving off a significant fraction of incoming damage. As-is, by the time you can get your first Plated Vest enemy damage tends to have pulled too far ahead for 1 point of Armor to be significant.

The alternative obvious use is to slap it on soldiers you're putting into heavy armors, and for that purpose it's... still a bit underwhelming. Enemy damage simply scales up too quickly, and enemy Shred gets too widespread. The best-case scenario is to be putting a Plated Vest on someone with Blast Padding suited up in a W.A.R. Suit, which puts you at a grand total of 4 Armor. By the time you can achieve that, this is roughly halving damage on weaker enemies... and having basically no impact on things like Sectopods, which are the things you actually care about.

Compounding this is that a lot of the more dangerous attacks are the ones that ignore Armor or Shred it (Such as, again, Sectopods...), making the Plated Vest little use in the most problematic situations -the ones you actually want to prepare for.

It's still flatly superior to a Nanoscale Vest, so if you build it you might as well use it over such, but it's surprisingly underwhelming in practice.

Stasis Vest
HP: +2
If the soldier is missing HP, they will regenerate 2 HP per turn that passes, up to a maximum of 8 HP total in the mission.

The Stasis Vest is an interesting concept, but much like the Plated Vest it's badly hampered by how long it takes to be able to start rolling for them. Early-game enemies tend to do 3-4 damage per shot; a Stasis Vest undoing 2 points at a time would be a pretty impressive longevity boost at that point, easily a literal lifesaver.

Later in the game, 2 HP at a time isn't really relevant to actual combat, and indeed there are endgame enemies -such as Sectopods- who can do more damage in one hit than the Stasis Vest can regenerate across an entire mission.

Particularly disappointing is that even though the game's explanation for the Stasis Vest is that there's essentially a Medikit sitting in the vest, slowly seeping out healing agents, the Stasis Vest doesn't purge any of the effects a Medikit can purge, not even when it specifically heals the soldier, nor does it provide passive Poison immunity the way carrying a Medikit does.

I'm not quite willing to say that you should literally equip actual Medikits over Stasis Vests, but the fact that I'm tempted to make the comparison at all is a fairly direct reflection of the Stasis Vest's problems. It being passive, whee a Medikit requires an action point, is nice and all, but the only reason I don't suggest skipping it entirely is that it's still flatly superior to a Nanoscale Vest and it is possible to end up in a situation where you have more Item slots than you do better things to put in them.

'cause yeah. The Stasis Vest is bad.

Hazmat Vest
HP: +2
The soldier cannot suffer from the Poison, Burn, or Acid status effects. Note that this includes immunity to Chryssalid Poison.

The Hazmat Suit...

... is actually pretty good!

It's a fantastic Item for a Ranger who you've got Slashing things all the time, and it's arguably the single best Item for a Templar who has failed to get Fortress, making it so that hazards are no obstacle to charging the enemy. This in turn makes it easier to justify using Experimental Grenades, making it much less of a problem that they all leave behind hazards you normally don't want soldiers walking through, but even if you don't bring any Experimental Grenades it's still amazing. Fires can occur just from general combat, Vipers spit Poison, Chryssalids have their own horrifying brand of Poison, Purifiers will completely waste turns on trying to set alight a soldier who is flatly immune to their flamethrower, Andromedons can produce Acid clouds in two different ways... flat immunity to these assorted shenanigans is really useful, easily exceeding the HP value of a Stasis Vest's regeneration through preventing that damage from occurring in the first place -and remember, XCOM 2 operates on a 'high score' approach for determining how much rest a soldier needs from their injuries, so preventing damage is far superior to undoing it after the fact- while also providing more intangible advantages from not having to suffer Poison's stat penalties or Burn removing access to key capabilities.

There are certainly situations it probably makes sense to skip out on bringing Hazmat Vests, but overall it's really good, well worth an Elerium Core.



.... Experimental Armor is Not Very Good.

Stasis Vest is complete junk. Plated Vest could be pretty decent, but in real play it's more or less impossible to see its Actually Good scenario happen. So you're gambling on rolling the Hazmat Vest to justify your investment. That's a 1 in 3 chance of getting something that isn't basically a waste of an Elerium Core.

If you've got tons more Elerium Cores than you know what to do with and nothing more important for the Proving Ground to work on, you might as well. If you actually tend to find yourself struggling to fill your Ranger or Templar Item slots without falling back on a Nanoscale Vest, you might as well roll the die at least once so you can directly improve upon the Nanoscale Vest.

But overall, Experimental Armor is unequivocally the worst of the Experimental Projects, and if you want to skip it completely that's a perfectly justifiable position. For that matter, I'm not even that unsympathetic to people savescumming to force Experimental Armor to give up the Hazmat Vest; it's not something I'm going to do myself, but this is a pretty clear mistake in the design space.

Really, the entire vest concept is a neat idea, but one with a lackluster execution. Even though there's two more vest Items outside the Experimental Armor project, it remains the case that the Hazmat Vest is really the only good vest. Everything else is disappointing.

Part of the problem is that you do have to unlock Experimental Armor. Experimental Grenades justifies itself by providing really good grenades that you'd probably rather take over a Frag Grenade. Experimental Ammo justifies itself by being a useful way to fill your second inventory slot once you have Predator Armor, without having to spend Supplies on it, which is important in the early to midgame when Supplies are tight, whereas you don't necessarily have anything better to do with your Elerium Cores. If you swapped Experimental Armor with Experimental Ammo in terms of unlock access, Experimental Armor would still be pretty bad, but it would at least be the case you'd probably do it a few times before you unlocked Experimental Ammo, simply to put your Elerium Cores and empty Item slots to use.

What's particularly unfortunate is that it feels like there was a missed opportunity here with the Vests and Ammo Projects. The Ammo Projects are pretty straightforward to talk about in this regard: the fact that they consume a general-purpose Item slot is simply bizarre and unintuitive. Ammo Items aren't modeled as the soldier carrying regular ammo and specialty ammo; they're modeled as the soldier replacing their regular ammo. Sure, XCOM 2 abstracts things, and for example in the previous game I didn't mind that Reaper Rounds ate an Item slot per se -it didn't make logical sense there, either, but it was also the only ammo Item in the game. If you modeled it as 'well, you're just replacing your regular ammo and so it doesn't eat a proper Item slot', a hypothetical Actually Good Reaper Rounds would've been more or less an automatic slot into all your weapons, and at that point you might as well have just made it a Foundry Project outright.

XCOM 2, however, has enough Ammo Items that it can ground them in competing with each other in specific. The game could absolutely have had all your soldiers have a dedicated Ammo slot, similarly to the Grenadier's bonus grenade slot, and simply have it equipped with 'conventional ammo' by default. This would've incidentally propped up the weaker Ammo types -a Grenadier in heavy armor wouldn't have to give up one of their class-critical grenades just to equip Tracer Rounds, for example- and it would've tied more of X-COM's quality progression to technology rather than class level, making casualties a more acceptable consequence to inflict on the player. After all, if you have a dedicated Ammo slot that normally has nothing of use in it, any Ammo Item being constructed is an improvement, unambiguously so, and this keeps going up until you have six of them for your six-soldier squad.

By a similar token, the Vest concept, and the Experimental Armor project in particular, would've worked a lot better if soldiers had a dedicated Vest slot. The fact that Vests are mostly on the weak side wouldn't leave Experimental Vests in the lurch as a dubious use of Elerium Cores; they're still all unambiguously better than Nanoscale Vests, and with a dedicated Vest slot you wouldn't run into the 'just equip a grenade/Ammo Item/whatever instead' issue. Experimental Armor's results being underwhelming would at worst delay it until later in the game as a good investment of Elerium Cores. And even more so than Ammo Items, it would help make casualties more tolerable by making it so that even more of your soldier durability is coming from the organization's improvements rather than the individual's improvements; as-is, your tougher soldiers gain 6 HP from leveling... and 6 HP from armor technology.

With a dedicated Vest slot, that would jump to 6 HP from leveling vs 8 HP from interchangeable technological improvements, or 6 vs 9 in War of the Chosen thanks to the Purifier Autopsy bonus. Which, incidentally, that Autopsy would suddenly turn actually pretty decent!

And conceptually, while Vests are easier to justify fitting into the abstracted Item system, it's still a bit weird how a layer of protection that can apparently fit comfortably under their regular gear is inexplicably in conflict with carrying a grenade, or a Battle Scanner, or whatever. I can at least pretend this is representing a weight issue, or encumbrance in a more general sense (Armor, even vest-like armor like Kevlar vests, tends to interfere with motion to some extent or another), unlike with Ammo, but it's still there, and in conjunction with how much benefit to the gameplay this change would've brought it's a pretty sad missed opportunity. Especially since the game can pretty clearly support special Item slots of this sort: it does exactly this with the Grenadier's bonus grenade slot, after all.

A tertiary benefit would be to prop up SPARKs, who are understrength: it's pretty obvious that the primary reason they don't have Item access is because they can't use the standard human animation stuff and so would have to be given custom animations for things like using a Medikit or throwing a grenade. Ammo Items don't have that concern and access to them would do a fair amount to bolster SPARK relevance in addition to making logical in-universe sense for them to have access to. (Where Vest access would also improve them without animation issues, but would be a lot more conceptually bizarre)

At least there's a mod for these concepts...


Next time, we check out Heavy Weapons of all sorts.

See you then.


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