XCOM 2 Analysis: DLC Gear

This post will be covering two sets of DLC. The first of these is the Alien Hunters DLC, which gives three weapons, three armors, and one Item, all of which are unique; you can't have more than one copy, and they're notably dissimilar from existing gear in at least one important way. The second of these is the Tactical Legacy Pack, which provides 6 weapons and 4 sets of armor, but the armor is all purely aesthetic, as are two of the weapons; the other weapons are defined by pre-locked-in Weapon Attachments.

In the case of Alien Hunters, the weapons and the Item are all unlocked in one of three ways, depending on your settings: if you turn on the Alien Hunters DLC, you'll get an early rumor that once successfully scanned will dump the basic versions of the gear into your inventory for free. If you turn the Alien Hunters DLC off, you'll find you can build each one as a separate purchase from Engineering for what is overall a cheap Supply price, but burdensome enough early on you probably shouldn't buy all four right away. Finally, if you're playing War of the Chosen and select 'integrated DLC', you'll find that you have a research project that then unlocks the ability to build them from the Proving Ground, which costs the same as buying them from Engineering but takes a lot longer, between needing the research project done, needing to wait for the Proving Ground to be built, and then each separate object taking some Proving Ground construction time to build.

Whichever of these three models you have in a given run, you only get one copy of each DLC item, and can't get replacements if you lose them.

The Alien Hunters armors are more straightforward to describe, as they're not affected by your settings: each one is associated with a particular Alien Ruler, where once you've killed that Alien Ruler you get the ability to Autopsy them. Said Autopsy unlocks a Proving Ground Project that builds a unique armor that is more or less superior to a regular type of armor. If you then lose the armor, you're not able to replace it. Also, the Serpentsuit and the R.A.G.E. Suit can each be upgraded once, but the Icarus Armor cannot -it already starts out with stats appropriate for third-tier armor.

The Tactical Legacy gear is weird. By default (If you have the DLC, I mean), you'll have it all sitting in your inventory, informing you that you need to complete a mission to unlock access to them. If you just play through a campaign, you'll never unlock them. What you have to actually do is go pop into the mini-campaigns Tactical Legacy adds and complete a few of them: the first one unlocks all the Tactical Legacy weapons, which are the only thing that matters mechanically. In any event, each run starts with exactly one copy of each Tactical Legacy weapon, which will automatically upgrade as you upgrade the equivalent core weapons (ie the Traditional Sword is upgraded by upgrading your Swords in general), and if you lose a Tactical Legacy weapon that run isn't getting it back. The Tactical Legacy weapons are a bit complicated to talk about, so I'll be saving it for their own actual sections.

The Tactical Legacy armors, meanwhile, come in an unlimited supply and are just alternate aesthetics for the four core classes, specifically designed to hearken back to the appearance of the core classes from the prior game. ie the Grenadier's Tactical Legacy armor approximates the bulky appearance of the Heavy. Albeit this is with the caveat that the Tactical Legacy armors are also designed to look like rusting, falling apart versions of said armors. Regardless, they don't matter mechanically and you can't actually apply them to a soldier unless they're wearing medium armor, so even if you obsessively equip everyone with them over the regular medium armor aesthetic, you'll find that past the early game you barely have anyone actually wear them. Frankly, the Tactical Legacy armor designs were probably a waste of developer effort: between Resistance classes, SPARKs, and Psi Operatives being excluded and the light and heavy armors being excluded and the Alien Hunters armors being incompatible, there is very little cause to actually see them in action. For that matter, Rookies don't get to use Tactical Legacy armor! That's simply far too narrow to see much action.

Note that all DLC primary weapons, whether they're from Alien Hunters or Tactical Legacy, cannot be given Weapon Attachments.

Bolt Caster
Damage: 6-8 (+2)
Range: Medium
Ammo: 1
Cost (Buy-build): 45 Supplies in both versions. (Regardless of difficulty)
Cost (Proving Ground Project): 45 Supplies and 6 days of production in both versions. (8 days of production on Legendary)
Usable by: Rookies, Rangers, Specialists, Psi Operatives.
+15 to Aim, ignores target's Dodge stat, has a 20% chance to Stun target. Stun chance is 50% against Alien Rulers.

In base XCOM 2, the conventional-tier Bolt Caster strongly impresses. That it has only 1 ammo can be inconvenient, but often a soldier can afford to just sit still for a reload+fire cycle, and Specialists and Psi Operatives can often get away with reloading and using some other ability, or moving and using an ability if for some reason holding still isn't acceptable. Meanwhile, its damage per shot is around twice your regular Rifles and it ignores Dodge and it can Stun and it has boosted Aim! Early-game Conventional-tier weapons only have one Weapon Attachment slot, and the Bolt Caster's innate Aim bonus is equivalent to a Superior Scope's, or an Advanced Scope when targeting an enemy in the open; this means the inability to equip Weapon Attachments is only a versatility issue, not a performance issue, and in the early game most of your Weapon Attachments are basic-tier anyway, so usually the Bolt Caster is more accurate than even Scope-equipped weapons.

It also crosses 'magic numbers', in that its damage is high enough that it has decent odds of one-shotting early-game durable enemies you normally expect to burn two or even three shots on, all the way into Legendary. Even when it doesn't actually kill such a target, it still tends to save a shot elsewhere -a Legendary Sectoid, for example, has 10 HP, which with normal weapons can take three hits to kill if they all low-roll, assuming you're using the stronger weapons like Cannons. (That is, Rifles can take up to four shots to kill) Meanwhile, the 6 minimum damage from the Bolt Caster means a successful Cannon, Shotgun, or Sniper Rifle follow-up shot will be lethal, even aside the potential for the Bolt Caster to both high-roll and crit, or to Stun the target and so let you ignore them for a turn. This ability to free up other soldiers to handle some other task is more than worth needing to reload regularly.

It's also basically perfectly designed for hunting the Viper King: the Viper King has a problematically high Dodge stat the Bolt Caster completely ignores, his HP is low enough bringing along the Bolt Caster can easily mean the difference between him deciding to run vs causing more trouble for your team, and of course it has pretty decent odds to Stun him. He's also relatively acceptable to trigger a Ruler Reaction with a reload, making that aspect not unreasonably problematic.

In War of the Chosen, it stands out a little less. It's entirely plausible to field a squad that isn't capable of wielding the Bolt Caster in a given mission even though every soldier is a different class, completely unintentionally. This is particularly so in the mid-early portion of the game, when the Resistance classes have yet to have their disadvantages really start showing. Furthermore, if you have DLC Integration turned on, it's entirely possible you won't even have it until you're already in the middle of transitioning to Magnetics, meaning you don't even have it for the portion of the game its advantages stand out most in. And if you have the Tactical Legacy pack weapons, it gets eroded a little bit more, since they give you a slight leg up on the Weapon Attachment situation.

Its ammo limitation is also a lot more serious of a problem thanks to the Chosen themselves. They put a lot of pressure on your squad to be efficient, and the Dazed status will, if cured, leave your soldier with only one action point, leaving them unable to both reload and fire that turn if they're carting around the Bolt Caster. Its sheer power can be a lifesaver against the Chosen in the earliest battles, but as they ramp up in durability such that is becomes more difficult to alpha strike them its disadvantages stand out more harshly. Notably, you can't have the Bolt Caster exploit a damage-boosting Weakness, as it can't be equipped by Resistance classes and isn't an explosive, and furthermore they're immune to Stun, removing the potential to get lucky that way; you're better off equipping a Rifle with a Repeater if you're hoping for RNG to save you against Chosen.

As such, the conventional-tier Bolt Caster's effectiveness drops pretty significantly in War of the Chosen, even if you run with Integrated DLC off.

Magnetic Bolt Caster
Damage: 8-10 (+2)
Range: Medium
Ammo: 1
Cost: 60 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys in both versions.
Legendary Cost: 90 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in both versions.
Unlock: Purchase unlocked by completing Magnetic Weapons research.
Usable by: Rookies, Rangers, Specialists, Psi Operatives.
+15 to Aim, ignores target's Dodge stat, has a 20% chance to Stun target. Stun chance is 50% against Alien Rulers.

At Magnetics, the Bolt Caster is starting to lose its luster.

Part of the problem is how XCOM 2 handles weapon tiers; in the previous game, the rule of thumb was that upgrading a tier was roughly a 50% boost to damage over the previous tier. This meant an extra-powerful weapon stayed at roughly the same strength relative to its peers so long as they were tech-equivalent. XCOM 2 instead makes most primary weapons (All of them, prior to War of the Chosen) gain precisely 2 damage per tier, and any weapon that gains a different number instead gains... 1 damage. (Aside Beam Pistols, but the average result is about the same as a straight +1)

This means that the Magnetic Bolt Caster is simply not as huge a spike over its peers, damage-wise. The Conventional Bolt Caster had twice the minimum damage of a Conventional Rifle, and 60% more max damage. The Magnetic Bolt Caster has 60% more minimum damage, and is only a little over 30% more maximum damage. That's an advantage, sure, but much less noticeable of one.

Furthermore, Magnetic-tier weapons pick up an additional Weapon Attachment slot, and you're in the phase of the game where you generally have some Advanced ones and often at least one Superior. A Magnetic Rifle with a Superior Scope and an Advanced Hair Trigger closes that gap further, since in some sense it's accurate enough to describe an Advanced Hair Trigger as a 10% increase in average damage. (Well, not really since Hair Trigger triggers can chain, so it's actually something more like an 11% increase in average damage, but this is all a bit abstract anyway)

Then there's the 'magic numbers' issue. If you're playing on Regular difficulty, the Magnetic Bolt Caster is still pretty respectable in this regard, as there's plenty of early midgame enemies that will handily survive a Magnetic Rifle shot but reliably die to a Magnetic Bolt Caster hit, but on Commander and Legendary you're entering the phase where most enemies will usually survive a direct hit from the Bolt Caster. Not only that, but XCOM 2 is pretty consistently tuned so that you expect to take 2-3 successful hits to kill enemies (Ignoring Dodge for the moment, admittedly, but I'll come back to that a bit more in a minute), and at the scale Magnetics is expected to operate at the Magnetic Bolt Caster will frequently not let you divert another soldier's turn elsewhere. A Legendary Muton, for example, should be Shredded and then shot at; if we assume a Mag Cannon backed by Shredder was used for the Shred and ignore crits for a moment, the Muton has lost 4-6 HP, and so has 5-7 HP remaining; that's exactly the damage range of a Magnetic Rifle, and lower than the damage on other, stronger weapons. Sure, the Magnetic Bolt Caster will definitely kill the Muton if it hits... but if the first Cannon hit high-rolled, so will a Magnetic Rifle. Or if the Mag Cannon got a crit. Or the follow-up shot could be from a Magnetic-tier Sniper Rifle, Shotgun, or Cannon, in which case the first Cannon shot has to roll its lowest result for it to be possible for the follow-up shot to not kill... and a Shotgun could easily have such high crit chance that it's guaranteed to crit and so doesn't care about the exact damage roll of the first hit.

Then there's the Alien Ruler point. While the Magnetic Bolt Caster is still plenty worth using against the Viper King, against the Berserker Queen and the Archon King it's a dubious trade. Sure, you might win the coin toss and Stun them, buying you a couple of Ruler Reactions of peace. Alternatively, you could lose that coin toss, in which case you got only a modest boost in damage and now will trigger another Ruler Reaction when you go to reload -when the Berserker Queen and Archon King are much more punishing to give turns than the Viper King. The Berserker Queen in particular doesn't even have Dodge, making the Dodge-ignoring element worthless against her.

Then there's the issue of class design. If you have the Bolt Caster right out the gate, it's a great tool for bolstering Specialists or even Rookies if you end up sending them into missions. Later in the game, you're not sending Rookies into missions unless things have gone stupendously wrong, and Specialists are gaining access to their Overwatch specialization options, which incidentally are all oriented toward multishooting. With a Magnetic Rifle, a Specialist can use Threat Assessment on theirself and then go into regular Overwatch, shooting twice with +10 Aim, which works out to more damage than a single Bolt Caster shot can get. If they have Guardian, they have very good odds of firing at least three times under those conditions, making for crazy-lethal Overwatch ambushes and further emphasizing what a problem it is that the Bolt Caster only has the one ammo, since it's completely unable to participate in these Overwatch shot-strings.

This multi-shot capability and Alien Ruler issue also both run into another issue: Repeaters. When you're encountering the Viper King, you probably don't have better than basic Repeaters, and you possibly haven't even bothered to equip them on any of your weapons anyway; a 5% chance to instantly kill him is funny, but not exactly odds to bet on. Even if you have six soldiers with basic Repeaters, all of them hitting him in a turn is still only a 15~% chance of any of those Repeaters triggering. You'll usually kill him from raw damage before any Repeater triggers, even on Legendary, with those kinds of numbers. If we instead imagine a Guardian Specialist equipped with a Superior Repeater manages 4 shots from the Threat Assessment trick (This is actually roughly the expected number of shots in that situation, though obviously you can't count on it) this works out to slightly over... a 50% chance for a Repeater trigger. (This site is useful for working out these kinds of odds without having to jump through the mental hoops of calculating it yourself) Why would you take a 50% chance to merely Stun the Berserker Queen when you could go for a roughly 50% chance of outright killing her? This isn't the prior game, you're not going to Arc Thrower her, her death is the best possible result in all situations.

This is particularly pertinent to War of the Chosen, where the combination of Reapers and how Integrated DLC makes it so you control when you first encounter an Alien Ruler means it's actually very realistic to successfully set up an Overwatch ambush having specifically brought a team kitted out to kill an Alien Ruler. It even means you don't need to get in any sense lucky with loot drops, since you can stall for quite a while without fighting her, waiting for a Superior Repeater to drop or to spawn in the Black Market.

This Repeater issue also leaks back into other realms. It's less dramatic, but in some sense it's more blatant: after all, against most enemies the Bolt Caster only has a 20% chance to Stun the target. A Superior Repeater's 15% chance to outright kill the target is only slightly worse trigger odds for a much more useful payoff. Again, War of the Chosen exacerbates the issue, since the regular appearance of the Chosen makes it much more sensible to consider slapping Repeaters on your troops. In short: a Magnetic Rifle could potentially have a Superior Repeater and a Superior Scope, and in the hands of a Specialist where they have the potential to spit out multiple shots in a turn all the Magnetic Bolt Caster really has going for it is slightly higher base damage making it a bit less impacted by Armor and not having to worry about Dodge.

By the way, I said I'd come back to Dodge, and that time is now: Codices are one of the most prominent and commonly encountered enemies with a solid Dodge rating, and their clone mechanic in particular makes them the most problematic to have Dodges trigger since it can mean you're unexpectedly adding more attackers... but their Psi Bomb is particularly punishing to the Bolt Caster, since it's impossible to have an Autoloader attached to it. This means the single enemy you most appreciate ignoring Dodge on is one of the most problematic enemies to actually bring the Bolt Caster against.

Sure, stuff like Vipers triggering Dodge can be annoying or problematic, but for one thing if you really hate those enemies you can do stuff like hurl explosives at them, ignoring Dodge and potentially letting other attacks hit 100% accuracy and thus start ignoring Dodge. Furthermore, Dodge only halves-or-so damage, and Vipers are an early-game enemy; as your squad's damage potential goes up, a Viper triggering Dodges gets less and less worrisome. The Bolt Caster ignoring Dodge is cool and all, but not really enough to even relegate it to something like 'bring it if the Shadow Chamber predicts Vipers'.

The Bolt Caster is still worth considering placing on Psi Operatives, as they rarely have cause to use their firearm regardless and having it be particularly effective when they do bother to fire it is fairly convenient. If you're skipping Psi Operatives, though, you might not want to bother upgrading the Bolt Caster; it's pretty expensive to upgrade, after all.

And of course all the things that made the conventional-tier Bolt Caster less appealing in War of the Chosen still apply to the Magnetic Bolt Caster. I often, in the base game, continue to use the Bolt Caster at the Magnetic tier in spite of its difficulties. In War of the Chosen I often end up dropping it at this point -which, with Integrated DLC on, works out to never using it at all.

Plasma Bolt Caster
Damage: 10-12 (+3)
Range: Medium
Ammo: 1
Cost: 125 Supplies, 15 Alien Alloys, 5 Elerium Crystals in both versions.
Legendary Cost: 180 Supplies, 25 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in both versions
Unlock: Purchase is unlocked by completing Plasma Rifle research.
Usable by: Rookies, Rangers, Specialists, Psi Operatives.
+15 to Aim, ignores target's Dodge stat, has a 20% chance to Stun target. Stun chance is 50% against Alien Rulers.

Fully upgraded, the Bolt Caster still hits harder than any other weapon in its tier, but in percentage terms it's only around a 30~% boost. (For both high roll and low roll) Everything that meant the Magnetic Bolt Caster is falling to the wayside still applies to the Plasma Bolt Caster, and its relative damage advantage over a Plasma Rifle is even worse than when we were looking at magnetic tiers. The one thing it has going for it over a Plasma Rifle is that it's a lot cheaper; below Legendary, it costs half the Supplies and Elerium Crystals and 75% the Alien Alloys, and on Legendary it costs less than 40% the Supplies, half the Alien Alloys, and one-sixth the Elerium Crystals.

This means that, particularly on Legendary, you may buy the Plasma Bolt Caster as an interim solution because your resources are strained.

... in the base game.

In War of the Chosen, most weapons have had their costs slashed, including the Plasma Rifle, but not including the Alien Hunters gear. The Plasma Bolt Caster is still cheaper than the Plasma Rifle, but not so dramatically; below Legendary, you're only saving around a third of your Supplies plus a quarter of Alien Alloys and half the Elerium Crystals, and on Legendary you're saving only slightly over half the Supplies, less than a third of the Alien Alloys, and admittedly a good 80% of the Elerium Crystals. So basically below Legendary it's very unlikely you'll be able to afford the Plasma Bolt Caster and not the Plasma Rifle, and on Legendary it'll largely come down to whether you're rolling in Elerium Crystals or not.

It remains worth considering putting onto Psi Operatives, either way, at least once you reach the point you have no reason to not upgrade the Bolt Caster, but by this point it's extremely difficult to justify using the Bolt Caster otherwise.

To be honest, I really feel like the Bolt Caster should've been classed as a Sniper Rifle. Frankly, its firing animation already has a lot more in common with the Sniper Rifle firing animation than with the Assault Rifle firing animation, and mechanically it would hold up a lot better: Death From Above would allow a Sharpshooter to fire and immediately reload, one of the main problems with constantly needing to reload -that this harshly limits your ability to get flanks in extended combat- isn't a new issue over regular Sniper Rifles, and Sharpshooters are sufficiently focused on their Pistols in practice that the Bolt Caster being clunky wouldn't be nearly so burdensome for them as it is on Specialists. As the most blatant example, its issues against Codices wouldn't be so harsh on a class with an unlimited ammo secondary weapon to thus actually attack after a Psi Bomb.

More fancifully, the game could've gotten away with making the Bolt Caster a Sniper Rifle that could be fired after moving. The need to reload would still force a Sharpshooter using it to mostly sit still in the middle of combat, but they'd also get to eg move with the squad and Overwatch with their primary weapon consistently, get to sometimes Squadsight-flank enemies by moving, get even stronger synergy with Death From Above since they'd get to kill something, reload, and thus on the next turn move and fire and potentially reload again to continue the cycle, and just generally provide a decisive edge in a realm that Sharpshooters normally underperform in.

It would still be a bit awkward since Serial and Kill Zone are both Sniper Rifle skills that suffer enormously from the single-shot limitation, but all four core classes have this issue to some degree or another, as they all have ways to multi-shoot or otherwise burn through multiple units of ammo in a single turn. The Sharpshooter is the class that would get to emphasize the strengths of the Bolt Caster most, and work around its weaknesses most consistently. (Preferably the Bolt Caster's damage would go up one point at all tiers, since Sniper Rifles hit one point harder than Assault Rifles, but honestly it would still be pretty good as a Sniper Rifle even without this)

Mind, even then it would need to have a better progression, since the lack of Weapon Attachments and the way damage progresses through tiers would still be working against it. Just having it gain +3 damage per tier would do a surprising amount to help, and having it either pick up a new effect or bolster its existing effects when making the jump to magnetics would help keep it competitive with regular magnetic and then beam weapons. (eg Stun chance and Aim boost go up, or it gains a boost to crit chance comparable to a Laser Sight)

On the plus side, XCOM 2 gives you config file options to edit a lot of things, including the Bolt Caster. I'm not aware of an easy way to re-class the Bolt Caster as a Sniper Rifle, but you can fake it by giving Sharpshooters access to Rifles and just not using regular Rifles on your Sharpshooters, and you can directly edit the Bolt Caster's damage and other values yourself. The config files don't provide a way to edit the Stun chance individually for tiers, but they do let you modify the Aim bonus for each tier, modify the crit chance for each tier (And thus give later tiers a crit chance boost), and a few other less relevant things. Just keep in mind DLC weapons are found in DLC folders, rather than in the general weapon data config file, and that the internal code designation for the Bolt Caster is 'HUNTERRIFLE'. (By which I actually mean 'HUNTERRIFLE' does not refer to the Chosen Hunter's Darklance, so you shouldn't gloss over HUNTERRIFLE as being Not The Thing You're Looking For if you're going to try this)

On a completely different note, the Plasma Bolt Caster is one of the only beam-tier weapons where I think the animation is essentially perfect, instead of awful. A little silly, to be sure, but whatever. It's really too bad you have so little cause to use it... particularly in War of the Chosen, where all the things that make the earlier tiers of Bolt Caster newly-dubious still apply. Heck, I haven't even mentioned the addition of the Lost, who are an addition that is extremely hostile to the Bolt Caster at all tiers!

Damage: 2-3 (+1)
Range: Short
Ammo: Unlimited.
Cost (Buy-build): 35 Supplies in both versions. (Regardless of difficulty)
Cost (Proving Ground Project): 35 Supplies and 6 days of production in both versions. (8 days of production on Legendary)
Usable by: Sharpshooters.
+10 to Aim, +15 to crit chance, 'Shadowfall' can be used once per mission: Shadowfall cannot miss or be Dodged and if it kills the target the Sharpshooter immediately enters Concealment.

Note that the Aim and crit chance boosts do, in fact, apply to any Pistol skill the wielder uses, not just basic Pistol shots.

Where the Bolt Caster impresses initially but falls away as you advance technologically, the Shadowkeeper is a straightforward, unambiguous improvement over a tech-equivalent Pistol. Free Aim, free crit chance, and a free bonus skill, all with no tradeoff whatsoever. You should always try to equip your Sharpshooter with the Shadowkeeper over a regular Pistol.

Shadowfall is especially useful toward the very beginning of the game where it's not unusual to eg have a Rookie or Specialist flank a basic ADVENT Trooper and then low-roll and thus leave it with exactly one hit point. Being able to force a kill on them even if they were actually in High Cover is a nice safety net to have, with the Concealment gained being an occasionally useful benefit to boot, particularly in the base game where you don't have Reapers for scouting. On higher difficulties it can also be useful for finishing off a Sectoid when your Ranger's Slash isn't as lethal as you were hoping, and in general in the early game it's not unusual for enemies to end up at 1-2 HP with your low-level and under-equipped squad poorly-positioned to reliably finish them off.

As enemies start jumping up in quality Shadowfall's utility drops off. The ability to force a hit becomes less useful as your Sharpshooter's Aim climbs higher, potentially even gaining a Perception PCS, your Sharpshooter picks up multiple safety nets that mean it's usually redundant (eg with Lightning Hands and Quickdraw you can take two 50% chances to land a regular hit, only falling back on Shadowfall if they both fail to finish the target), and once your Sharpshooter has Fan Fire and Faceoff it suffers from the fact that using Shadowfall usually means not using one of those very powerful skills, when said abilities are also cooldown-based instead of charge-based and so easier to justify throwing out even if it's risking wastage. Fights also tend to last longer later in the game, such that successfully getting Concealment from Shadowfall is liable to function merely as one turn where enemies probably won't take shots at your Sharpshooter, instead of providing free forward scouting to trigger the next pod on your terms.

You shouldn't completely forget about Shadowfall, but it stops being a regularly useful part of your toolkit past the beginning of the game.

This is particularly unfortunate in War of the Chosen, where Integrated DLC will significantly delay your access to the Shadowkeeper, as it means that you just plain don't have it in the portion of the game it's most useful in. I almost never use Shadowfall in War of the Chosen, sadly.

The Shadowkeeper otherwise remains an excellent tool, mind. It's just Shadowfall that suffers.

Enhanced Shadowkeeper
Damage: 3-4 (+1)
Range: Short
Ammo: Unlimited.
Cost: 45 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys in both versions.
Legendary Cost: 60 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in both versions
Unlock: Purchase unlocked by completing Magnetic Weapons research.
Usable by: Sharpshooters.
+10 to Aim, +15 to crit chance, 'Shadowfall' can be used once per mission: Shadowfall cannot miss or be Dodged and if it kills the target the Sharpshooter immediately enters Concealment.

In the base game, the Enhanced Shadowkeeper continues the trend of the Shadowkeeper being a clean, straightforward improvement. Not only is the actual weapon itself flatly superior to a Mag Pistol, but in the base game the Enhanced Shadowkeeper upgrade actually costs fewer Supplies than the Mag Pistol upgrade does! And even in War of the Chosen, where it costs more Supplies than the Mag Pistol, the difference is trivial: 5 more Supplies below Legendary, 10 more Supplies on Legendary.

As such, you should actually upgrade the Shadowkeeper first and foremost, and not even bother to upgrade regular Pistols unless you expect to send multiple Sharpshooters into a mission. And you can often get away with not bothering unless and until the very mission you find yourself needing to upgrade regular Pistols.

Shadowfall, meanwhile, is generally pretty irrelevant by the time you can make the Enhanced Shadowkeeper upgrade. It can occasionally be useful for finishing off a Codex, I suppose?

Though on the topic of Shadowfall, it's worth mentioning that the game checks for detection immediately, so if you have your Sharpshooter stand in the open and kill someone with Shadowfall they may be instantly spotted. This usually isn't a concern, but is important to keep in mind when considering action order; if your Sharpshooter is flanked and you're considering using Shadowfall, you might want want to kill the flanker first with someone else, if feasible.

Powered Shadowkeeper
Damage: 3-6 (+2)
Range: Short
Ammo: Unlimited.
Cost: 100 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in both versions.
Legendary Cost: 125 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys, 20 Elerium Crystals in base game. 100 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys, 20 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Unlock: Purchase is unlocked by completing Plasma Rifle research.
Usable by: Sharpshooters.
+10 to Aim, +15 to crit chance, 'Shadowfall' can be used once per mission: Shadowfall cannot miss or be Dodged and if it kills the target the Sharpshooter immediately enters Concealment.

The Powered Shadowkeeper remains a straightforward improvement over its tier-equivalent regular counterpart, including that in the base game it costs fewer resources to make the upgrade than to make the Beam Pistol upgrade. You should still preferentially upgrade the Shadowkeeper over general Pistols unless you expect to use multiple Sharpshooters, in short.

War of the Chosen makes things less straightforward, as the Powered Shadowkeeper costs more than the Beam Pistol upgrade, and while it's not a ton it's not completely trivial the way it is at the magnetic tier. You should still usually upgrade the Shadowkeeper over regular Pistols, though, simply due to its performance advantages.

Shadowfall's supposed primary usage has at this point pretty much completely fallen by the wayside, exacerbated by the fact that the minimum damage hasn't actually gone up any and so the Powered Shadowkeeper isn't actually any better than the Enhanced Shadowkeeper for assuring a kill on a low-HP target. That said, Shadowfall has a notable late-game use when fighting the Archon King: his Icarus Drop attack is automatically interrupted by damage, no matter how little damage was actually dealt, and due to Ruler Reactions it's important you are sure the attack will hit. Since he has built-in Defense and you can't count on having anyone especially close to him, Shadowfall is a useful fallback option for letting you save someone from an Icarus Drop without fail. Conveniently, there's no reason to not have a Sharpshooter carting the Shadowkeeper around in every mission. So keep that in mind, particularly if you're playing with Integrated DLC off/playing the base game and so will run into the Archon King without any warning; holding onto Shadowfall just in case he shows up is worth considering.

Aesthetically, the Powered Shadowkeeper is, somewhat bizarrely, one of the more egregious beam-tier weapons about ruining the flow of firing animations. In spite of the fact that the Shadowkeeper always has a brief, visible and audible delay while the hammer cocks back, the Powered Shadowkeeper still manages to be particularly jarring a loss of animation flow over its predecessors. I've no idea how this happened.

Hunter's Axe
Damage: 4-6 (+2)
Range: Melee
Usable by: Rangers.
Cost (Buy-build): 40 Supplies in both versions. (Regardless of difficulty)
Cost (Proving Ground Project): 40 Supplies and 6 days of construction. (8 days of production on Legendary)
+20 to Aim, +10 to crit chance, 'Throw Axe' can be used once per mission: Throw Axe is a ranged attack that has no range modifiers and does not use an action, but does benefit from height advantage.

Note that Throw Axe does get the +20 to Aim from the Hunter's Axe itself. It, somewhat unintuitively, does not benefit from Blademaster, and so tends to have a poorer chance to hit than you might expect; you basically need height advantage or a Perception PCS to get its accuracy reliable. This also means Throw Axe's damage is usually 2 less than a Slash in real play, since you really ought to be taking Blademaster consistently.

An annoying bit of inconsistency is that Throw Axe is treated as a melee attack by the Immune To Melee Strength on Chosen, but nonetheless doesn't get bonus damage on Sectoids, who are weak to melee attacks.

Like the Shadowkeeper, the Hunter's Axe is a pretty straightforward improvement over a Sword, throwing in a point of damage and a very silly ranged attack. There's no reason to not equip a Ranger with the Hunter's Axe whenever possible, aside the risk of losing it.

Notably, the Hunter's Axe is juuust strong enough to kill Sectoids on Commander if you high roll and crit, and on Legendary you just also need Blademaster first. Or back on Commander Blademaster means you can crit or high roll and it'll be a kill, which is pretty decent, especially if you eg have the Shadowkeeper lying in wait to finish them if they survive the Slash. This is not possible with a conventional-tier Sword, and is a very relevant benchmark in the early game, if an unreliable one.

The Throw Axe function is very weird and unintuitive, and since it doesn't benefit from Blademaster it's perpetually understrength once you're past the beginning of the game. Still, it's 100% free damage once per mission, and it doesn't trigger Ruler Reactions. It should generally be saved for Alien Rulers or situations where you suddenly need significant action economy, such as it letting you finish off two enemies with your Ranger where you really need both of them dead and nobody else can get the job done. For this purpose, it's excellent, all the way to the end of the game.

Ionic Axe
Damage: 5-7 (+2)
Range: Melee
Usable by: Rangers.
Cost: 65 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys in both versions.
Legendary Cost: 80 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in both versions.
Unlock: Purchase unlocked by completing Stun Lancer Autopsy research.
+20 to Aim, +15 to crit chance, has a 25% chance to Stun the target, 'Throw Axe' can be used once per mission: Throw Axe is a ranged attack that has no range modifiers and does not use an action, but does benefit from height advantage. Throw Axe is also able to Stun the target.

As with the Enhanced Shadowkeeper, the Ionic Axe is a straightforwardly good improvement over a Sword, up to and including that it actually costs less than an Arc Blade in the base game, and in War of the Chosen it only costs 5 more Supplies vs 5 less Alien Alloys -when Alien Alloys are generally more valuable and difficult to come by than Supplies. Indeed, particularly in the base game you should probably never bother to buy the Ionic Sword upgrade at all, unless you end up fielding multiple Rangers.

Unlike Shadowfall, Throw Axe isn't losing its luster at the magnetic tier. In fact, this is actually its peak for Alien Ruler fighting, allowing you to gamble on a Stun with zero chance of a Ruler Reaction. Sure, the odds aren't great, but there's no risk or danger involved so on balance it stays more reliably relevant against the Berserker Queen and Archon King than, say, the Bolt Caster. The worst that happens is you miss and waste the Throw Axe charge. As opposed to the worst scenario for a lot of options being that you miss and so trigger a Ruler Reaction, potentially getting people killed.

Outside Alien Rulers the Stun chance on Throw Axe is less appealing, since Throw Axe is usually best used to land kills for action economy rather than trying to gamble on a Stun, but occasionally you can end up in a situation where you want to use Throw Axe to soften up a target before finishing them off some other way. In that case, the Stun chance may give you an unexpected bit of breathing room, allowing you to put off killing that target for a turn while you deal with other threats.

Fusion Axe
Damage: 6-8 (+3)
Range: Melee
Usable by: Rangers.
Cost: 130 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys, 5 Elerium Crystals in both versions.
Legendary Cost: 160 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in both versions.
Unlock: Purchase unlocked by completing Archon Autopsy.
+20 to Aim, +20 to crit chance, has a 25% chance to Burn the target, 'Throw Axe' can be used once per mission: Throw Axe is a ranged attack that has no range modifiers and does not use an action, but does benefit from height advantage. Throw Axe is also able to Burn the target.

Like the Powered Shadowkeeper, the Fusion Axe continues the trend of being a straightforward, unambiguous improvement over the regular counterpart when playing in the base game, costing less than upgrading to Fusion Blades and still being 100% superior in the field.

Also like the Powered Shadowkeeper, War of the Chosen complicates this comparison, as the Fusion Axe costs more Supplies than a Fusion Blade, albeit not a ton. (35 more below Legendary, 25 more on Legendary) Curiously, Legendary difficulty is more favorable to the Fusion Axe, as it significantly spikes the Elerium Crystal cost on Fusion Blades (35 Elerium Crystals in base, 25 in War of the Chosen, vs 10 either way below Legendary) while the Fusion Axe only has a small increase in Elerium Crystal cost. As Elerium Crystals tend to be the primary limiter on your ability to upgrade to beam-tier weaponry, it's probably better to go for the Fusion Axe first, even if you expect to field multiple Rangers in a mission, simply because spending 10 Elerium Crystals is easier to slip in among all your other beam-tier improvements than 35/25 Elerium Crystals.

As with Blades, it's honestly worth considering ignoring this upgrade entirely, and in fact this is more true with the Hunter's Axe: purchasing the Fusion Blade upgrade doesn't take away access to Ionic Blades if you've already bought them. Purchasing the Fusion Axe does deny you the option of ever switching back to the Ionic Axe. I usually don't skip it, in part because I tend to embrace the kill-strike focus on Rangers and so don't care overly-much about the side effects, and in War of the Chosen the whole thing is rendered a bit moot in the long haul by how the Katana is so ridiculously good, but if you like to have your Rangers strike tough targets before everyone else Stun chance is more useful than a Burn chance and you usually won't miss that one point of damage.

Do keep in mind that Chosen can't be Stunned. This biases things a bit more toward just taking the Fusion Axe upgrade, especially if one of the Chosen has rolled Bewildered; setting them on fire will be quite useful in that case.

Frost Bomb
Range: 10
Radius: 2
Cost (Buy-build): 35 Supplies in both versions. (Regardless of difficulty)
Cost (Proving Ground Project): 35 Supplies and 6 days of construction. (8 days of production on Legendary)
Thrown like a grenade. Inflicts Freeze on all units caught in its blast radius, lasting for 1 turn. Freeze inflicts a -10 Defense penalty on the victim, prevents them from taking any action during their turn, and disables reaction abilities such as Codex duplicating in response to damage. Sectopods, Gatekeepers, and the Chosen are all resistant to this effect, immediately defrosting with no penalty when their turn arrives. Against Alien Rulers, the timer only advances on Ruler Reaction turns.

The code indicates the Frost Bomb is supposed to last for 2-3 Ruler Reactions against Alien Rulers, but I've never seen it last longer than 2 Ruler Reactions.

The game itself will claim that the Frost Bomb took away one action point from units who promptly break free from the Freeze (As in, there's a little pop-up when they defrost saying that they lost an action point), but this is not remotely true: a Sectopod is perfectly happy to defrost, attack, walk, and attack again, and the Chosen are still able to move and perform any non-move action the same turn they defrosted. As such, it's generally a waste to use a Frost Bomb on any of those enemies, even though you'd intuitively expect them to be the best targets for it. Use Stasis on Sectopods and Gatekeepers if you need to buy time, and just cry if you're dealing with Chosen because they're immune to basically all stalling tools.

Avatars and Codices are by far the best targets for a Frost Bomb, due to it disabling their problematic reaction abilities, though it's also plenty useful for buying time against Andromedons or basically anything else you're not confident in your ability to immediately kill that you still don't want to act right away. (eg you end up in a situation where you can't spare the squad attention necessary to kill a Shieldbearer, but still don't want it putting up the shield) And of course it can be a lifesaver against Alien Rulers, which is particularly important in the base game -or if you don't turn on Integrated DLC- where they can jump you with zero warning; you should generally endeavor to bring the Frost Bomb along in every mission in that case to make them a little less nightmarish.

While I said the Frost Bomb is generally a waste on the Chosen, that 'generally' caveat is important: for one thing, it's one of a tiny handful of ways to undo the Warlock's Mind Control without actually killing him, and unlike eg Sectoids it's quite regularly the case that 'just kill him' isn't a realistic answer, particularly on higher difficulties. The Frost Bomb is particularly important in this regard in the early to midgame, when you're potentially getting Bladestorm Rangers online but probably don't have Psi Operatives at all, let alone a Solace Psi Operative. Aside the Frost Bomb and Solace your only option for clearing the Warlock's Mind Control is for the Mind Controlled individual to have a Level 2 Bond and said Bondmate is close enough to get adjacent to them -at which point Bladestorm will trigger. Oops.

Alternatively, you could just make a point of keeping your Bladestormers equipped with Mind Shields anytime the Warlock could show up, or hold off on Bladestorm until you have multiple Psi Operatives with Solace you're willing to send into the field, but the Frost Bomb is an option to keep in mind in this regard, especially since it's a pretty generally great tool that happens to also be uniquely useful for coping with the Warlock's Mind Control, where slapping a Mind Shield on your Ranger is n't nearly so widely useful.

Anyway, another way the Frost Bomb can be useful against Chosen is that it disables Planewalker, just like it disables the Codex and Avatar reactive teleports. This can allow you to pin the Chosen in place and pile on the damage if they happen to be in a relatively vulnerable position, assuring a kill where otherwise you'd have to hope they didn't go bouncing off somewhere inaccessible to most of your team or the like. This is especially helpful if the Hunter is the one who rolls Planewalker, since he tends to turn getting a flank on your guys into straight-up trying to kill them, where the Assassin and Warlock will frequently insist on using on of their many special abilities that doesn't care about Cover in the first place even when they have a clean shot on someone. As such, even if you can't actually kill the Hunter thanks to Frost Bombing him, it still may be worth considering Frost Bombing him just so you can do a bunch of damage without risking giving him a clean kill-shot.

Also, a weird mechanics point is that Frost Bomb will erase existing negative conditions on its victims. This isn't mentioned by the game and isn't announced unless you're playing War of the Chosen and use it on one of your own people suffering an affliction, so it's really easy to overlook ,but it does. This is primarily an inconvenience, as it means that Poisoning/Burning/Aciding a target and then hitting it with a Frost Bomb is canceling out the damage over time, but it's useful to keep in mind the potential to remove negative conditions on one of your own soldiers in a pinch. Especially if you can catch them simultaneous to enemies you want disabled.

The weird thing is the Freeze status doesn't actually conflict with other statuses. You're free to inflict Poison, Burn, Acid, etc on a Frozen target. It's just the initial application wipes them. I'm really not sure why this is a mechanic. I originally thought it was just wiping Burn, which made reasonably intuitive real-world sense, ice putting out fire and all, but no, it even wipes negative mental conditions like Disorientation, Daze, and Stun. I'm curious what logic led to this, it's so odd.

On a conceptual note, the Frost Bomb is the one case where grenades being infinitely reusable across missions but having limited numbers you can assign to soldiers and limited use within a mission really bothers me. The Frost Bomb is a special one-of-a-kind artifact we can't replicate, but apparently we can keep refilling it with more ice stuff, I guess? What, is the container and its release mechanisms a mystery to us, and vitally important to making it possible to use its contents? No, realistically the Frost Bomb should either be actually one-use-ever, like the Overdrive Serum, or we should be able to make additional copies.

You can argue this issue applies to Experimental Grenades as well, and I do think it probably would've made more sense for Experimental Projects to unlock the ability to directly purchase whatever they happened to create, but I can kind of justify it as representing a production line issue of some sort, where a Gas Grenade represents the ability to produce Gas Grenades on a regular basis and we're just abstracting out all the stockpiling and resource costs and whatnot is all. It's not a great solution, but it's somewhat functional, only seriously breaking down in regards to the part where a soldier you fail to evac alive or dead will permanently take their Experimental Grenade with them.

The Frost Bomb doesn't really provide any room for an equivalently functional explanation, especially since the explicit concept is that it's just bottled-up Viper King 'venom'. You shouldn't have a production line of the stuff at all to start with, and should only have even partially renewed supplies when you successfully kill the Viper King!

What's particularly frustrating is that this isn't even an inevitable consequence of creating a grenade Item that's mechanically a one-of-a-kind thing. Just shifting the concept to something like 'it's some advanced psi grenade that puts targets into a form of stasis/Stuns targets/warps the fabric of space and time to make them easier to hit and not able to move' would make it a lot easier to buy. I'd be able to assume it's not so much a grenade in the sense of an explosive as it is a thrown device that burns battery power to do High Tech Effects, where the actual process of picking it up and bringing it back to Shen to recharge its batteries is being abstracted out but is a reasonably logical inference. Bam! Reusable, one-of-a-kind grenade with crazy effects.

To be entirely fair, though, there's a lot of evidence that Alien Hunters changed its concept radically and was rushed. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Frost Bomb's baffling status was never the intended state of things, and was a relatively last-minute change while they were in a rush to just get the DLC out on the deadline. That's exactly the kind of condition where bad decisions get made either because nobody has room to really think about things and so just doesn't have the opportunity to go 'wait, does that actually make sense?', or get made because the better decisions would take time to implement that isn't available. In the case of Alien Rulers, I'm pretty sure they had a more coherent, intelligible, and effortful model in mind that got cut short; I'll be talking about this more when we get to the Alien Rulers themselves.

Cost: 1 Elerium Core, 5 Alien Alloys, 5 Elerium Crystals, and 7 days of production in both versions.
Legendary Cost: 1 Elerium Core, 10 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals, and 9 days of production in both versions.
Unlock: Purchase unlocked by Viper King Autopsy. Can only be built once.
+5 HP
+1 Mobility
+35 Dodge
Cost: 75 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in both versions.
Legendary Cost: 125 Supplies, 15 Alien Alloys, 15 Elerium Crystals in both versions.
Unlock: Purchase unlocked by completing Powered Armor research.
+7 HP
+2 Mobility
+40 Dodge
Both tiers
Provides a Grapple with a 1-turn cooldown, which functions exactly like the Grapple on the Spider Suit and Wraith Suit. Provides 1 charge of Frostbite, which is a completely free attack against a single target that Freezes the target for one turn if it hits, functioning exactly like the Frost Bomb's Freeze. Additionally, if the target uses a human animation set, Frostbite will pull the target out of position and they will land somewhere closer to the user, or potentially behind the user, before Freezing. In the event of Frostbite missing, it goes on a 2 turn cooldown instead of being wasted. Lastly, Vipers have a 33% chance of Panicking when first sighting the wearer.

Note that the base Serpentsuit is completely superior to a Spider Suit and so you should always build the Serpentsuit before a Spider Suit if you have the option to do so, but the upgraded Serpentsuit is not completely superior to the Wraith Suit, thanks to the Wraith Suit having its phasing ability, which is amazing in certain situations.

Also note that the Panic-inducing effect is capped to one squad member per pod: if a pod of three Vipers turns a corner, odds are decent one of them will freak out, but never more than one. On the other hand, if you turn a corner and find yourself facing three Vipers that are each in a separate pod, it's unlikely but absolutely possible for all three to hide in a corner hoping you don't kill them. This applies to the other Alien Ruler-derived armors, as well.

The Serpentsuit's Panic effect is basically just a nice bonus. Vipers are the weakest of the enemies you can Panic with Alien Ruler armor, and they're sufficiently uncommon and biased sufficiently early that it's entirely possible for a run to build the Serpentsuit and then never run into a Viper again. More typically, you'll run into them maybe three times over the course of a run after building the suit, hopefully getting some use out of the Panic effect, but not much.

Fortunately, the Serpentsuit is an excellent piece of armor regardless. While you can't count on Dodge to save a soldier, the Serpentsuit makes the wearer vastly more mobile, 35-40 Dodge is high enough it's actually reasonably likely to trigger at least once before the wearer dies, and Frostbite is an incredible clutch skill, particularly when dealing with the Berserker Queen and Archon King since it provides a way to try to Freeze them that doesn't trigger a Ruler Reaction.

Even outside them, though, Frostbite is a riskless option for trying to put a problem on pause. If you miss, you don't even waste the charge! And against humanoid troops, it can be used to pull a target out of Cover -note that this uses base Aim and its accuracy behavior is like a regular shot but with no Aim climb, and therefore is generally best off on a Ranger to flank for okay odds or on a Sharpshooter to leverage their high Aim; a Colonel Sharpshooter Grappling to high ground will have a 91% chance to hit a no-Defense target in Low Cover, which can easily be pushed to 100% by eg a Superior Perception PCS, or starting with a Holo Targeting shot, or the like.

R.A.G.E. Suit
Cost: 1 Elerium Core, 5 Alien Alloys, 5 Elerium Crystals, taking 8 days of production in both versions.
Legendary Cost: 1 Elerium Core, 10 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals, taking 9 days of production in both versions.
Unlock: Purchase unlocked by Berserker Queen Autopsy. Can only be built once.
+6 HP
+1 Armor
Cost: 75 Supplies, 15 Alien Alloys, and 5 Elerium Crystals in both versions.
Legendary Cost: 125 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in both versions.
Unlock: Purchase unlocked by completing Powered Armor research.
+7 HP
+2 Armor
Both tiers
+1 Mobility
+1 Heavy Weapon slot
The R.A.G.E. Suit provides one charge of 'Rage Strike'. Rage Strike is a move-and-melee attack that does 5-7 damage, Shreds 2 Armor, and doesn't cost an action but does have its maximum range defined by your current movement radius as derived from action points  Additionally, Mutons and Muton Berserkers have a 33% chance of Panicking when first sighting the wearer.

I'm almost completely certain Rage Strike's behavior is not as intended, but it's quite convenient. It also doesn't actually use up the charge if you miss, though it goes on cooldown at that point. It also has the ability to Disorient, Stun, or even knock Unconscious the target, though these results are uncommon. Even so, since enemies have no innate ability to clear Unconsciousness, Rage Strike has the potential to basically act as an instant-kill! (Though note you won't get a corpse out of such an enemy, if the mission is a body-looting mission) One final odd quirk of Rage Strike: the user has to personally have sight on the target to be able to target them, even though normally melee attacks only care about the combination of squad vision and the soldier's movement range.

Also note that building the R.A.G.E. Suit will unlock the Experimental Heavy Weapon Proving Ground Project. This is particularly convenient if you kill the Berserker Queen fairly early, allowing you to skip building an E.X.O. Suit entirely without missing out on the ability to get Shredder Guns. (And I guess Flamethrowers)

Where the Serpentsuit is a light armor, the R.A.G.E. Suit is a heavy armor. Also like the Serpentsuit, its base parameters are 100% superior to its initial regular counterpart (The E.X.O. Suit), while the upgraded version is not clearly superior to its counterpart. (The W.A.R. Suit) Unlike the Serpentsuit, the R.A.G.E. Suit is in practice pretty straightforwardly superior even when comparing against its endgame counterpart, as the W.A.R. Suit's unique ability is baffling junk whereas Rage Strike is amazing.

Rage Strike should be kept in mind less for the damage output consideration and more for the potential to re-position a soldier without costing any action points. This can be used to pull a soldier up to high ground by punching an enemy up there, to get a Dash-and-a-half of movement by punching a distant target, get Sharpshooter's flanking while still ready to fire, and myriad other mobility-related uses. 5-7 damage is nice and all, literally a Magnetic Rifle of damage, but isn't that impressive even if you acquire the R.A.G.E. Suit as soon as the Berserker Queen first shows up and falls away as overall firepower rises while the Rage Strike remains unchanged. Sharpshooters in particular can get a surprising amount of utility out of Rage Strike, allowing them to re-position and fire their Sniper Rifle, or re-position and Quickdraw followed by Faceoff, etc, briefly offsetting their issues with getting around, the melee behavior is complementary with how Pistol-focused Sharpshooters prefer to be close for accuracy purposes, while the free re-positioning requires some oblique thinking to leverage to its fullest effect with Sniper Rifles but is in some ways even more useful for Sniper Rifle builds.

Grenadiers are another excellent user of the R.A.G.E. Suit, having obvious synergy with the Heavy Weapons access and benefiting decently from the combination of more Mobility and Rage Strike to let them re-position significantly for free. This makes the tendency for Salvo Grenadiers to fall behind the squad less of an issue, and of course being able to achieve a close-range flank via Rage Strike helps make up for the Grenadier's lacking Aim.

Rangers, Specialists, and Psi Operatives get much less use out of this. Rangers already have excellent mobility and a built-in melee attack; it's better than having them an E.X.O. Suit or W.A.R. Suit, but not by much. Psi Operatives get little use out of re-positioning themselves, since most of their abilities ignore Cover, some of them can be used right through walls, etc, and would often rather use their own special abilities instead of a Heavy Weapon anyway. Specialists are in a similar boat as Psi Operatives, with medical Specialists in particular having strong incentive to go for having two proper Item slots and being able to perform their key duties regardless of position. All three would usually get more use out of the Serpentsuit, if you're eg fielding a squad heavy on Resistance soldiers and/or SPARKs and so are struggling to put DLC gear to use.

A cute, albeit nonsensical, touch with the R.A.G.E. Suit is that the soldier's footstep sounds are replaced with the Berserker footstep sounds. It can be fairly alarming if you haven't figured it out yet, since this includes that their idle shuffling in place will trigger it, potentially leading you to believe Berserkers are on missions they actually aren't, but it's kind of cool once you figure it out.

Also notable is that equipping the R.A.G.E. Suit normally forces one of a limited range of palettes so the suit looks like red muscle on white and all, up to and including that this can change the color of eg a helmet your soldier is equipped with. This can be a bit annoying if you went through a lot of effort to get a particular look, slapped the R.A.G.E. Suit on them, and now you don't remember the exact settings you had; it won't revert if unequipped.

Icarus Armor
Cost: 1 Elerium Core, 75 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys, 20 Elerium Crystals in both versions, taking 10 days to produce.
Legendary Cost: 125 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys, 30 Elerium Crystals in base game, taking 16 days to produce. War of the Chosen adds an Elerium Core to the cost, but is otherwise unchanged.
Unlock: Purchase unlocked by Archon King Autopsy.  Can only be built once.
+7 HP
+1 Mobility
+1 Armor
+1 Item slot
The soldier may freely traverse Z-levels as part of normal movement at no cost. Additionally, they have 2 charges of 'Icarus Jump', which teleports them to any tile that is both visible to the squad and not blocked by a roof as a completely free action. 2 turn cooldown on Icarus Jump. Note that being indoors will block Icarus Jump as well, though a map being conceptually indoors (eg Chosen Stronghold assault) is not an issue. Archons have a 33% chance of Panicking when first sighting the wearer.

Fair warning: Icarus Jump is, like a lot of Alien Hunters content, fairly buggy. In its case, I've found that Icarus Jumping into sight of Archons that haven't seen the wearer previously is strongly prone to a crash, though I've also had it crash after an Icarus Jump when no Archons were on the map at all. As such, I tend to just not use Icarus Jump if I can avoid it.

Fortunately, the Icarus Armor is 100% superior to Warden Armor even ignoring Icarus Jump, so this is a fairly minor burden to bear.

War of the Chosen also seems to have substantially ironed out Icarus Jump's code. I've had crashes occur in the process of Icarus Jump running, but in the base game if I save, use Icarus Jump, and the game crashes, and then I reload, it will always crash at exactly the same point if I repeat the same actions. In War of the Chosen, a crash occurring during Icarus Jump usually won't repeat if I recreate the conditions.

In any event, the Icarus Armor is by far the most blatantly 'super' of the Alien Hunters armors, taking Warden Armor and then throwing in multiple free stat boosts, a teleport ability, Archon Panic, and the ability to just hop up buildings without any climbing gear like a SPARK. It's also, weirdly enough, probably the most boring of the armors in practice; part of this is the aforementioned super-ness, as you never have to think 'maybe I should give them Warden Armor instead...' the way Serpent Armor comparing to Wraith Suits can, but the main of it is that its unique abilities are less gamechangers than you might expect.

The ability to freely travel Z-levels is usually like having Grapple access, but less useful. Soldiers can already descend any number of Z-levels without issue, and it's fairly rare for you to want to ascend multiple times in close succession such that Grapple's cooldown is a serious obstacle. Meanwhile, a Grapple lets Sharpshooters re-position and still snipe, lets any soldier achieve unreal flanks at times, can be used for a drastic movement speed boost when under time pressure, etc. The Icarus Armor does get two Item slots, but this isn't particularly synergistic; absolutely no equipped Item uses a regular accuracy check whereby height advantage is useful, and eg Sharpshooters are just fine with committing one Item slot to Ammo and ignoring the other one while equipped with a light armor.

Icarus Jump is a bit more dramatic, but is burdened by the crash issue and also burdened by the fact that trying to take advantage of its full range is something of a trap; if you Icarus Jump to the opposite side of a pod, you've probably activated one or more other pods as a result; the trouble you've brought with such an action isn't adequately made up for by the benefit of having one whole flanker on the first pod. A Grapple's range is often just as good for pulling off flanks and whatnot in practice, with much less risk of pulling a pod. Same with the R.A.G.E. Suit's Rage Strike.

As such, the Icarus Armor's memorable qualities aren't particularly great, encouraging you to treat it as little more than Warden Armor with a cooler aesthetic.

That said, if you're okay with risking crashes, it can still be a decent choice for letting a Sharpshooter jump from one sniper nest to another without interfering with their ability to contribute fire, which can be nice on some maps, and it's uniquely good for medical Specialists since they can equip a Medikit and Skulljack (Or Ammo, or whatever) while still being able to get atop buildings and cliffs without need of convenient climbing aids. It's also uniquely useful on a Ranger, potentially allowing them to perform a Slash under conditions Grapple access wouldn't allow, particularly if you're talking a Ranger with significant Mobility boosting, and comboing decently with Implacable. (eg you can be standing on one side of a train, Slash to kill a target on the other side of the train, and then Implacable back to the first side where the other pod members can't reach to attack in a single turn) It's occasionally got somewhat narrow utility on a Psi Operative, allowing you to Icarus Jump to a precise location to set up for a Null Lance that catches multiple targets, though outside that Psi Operatives really don't benefit from it; they don't value high ground as much as your other soldiers, for one.

Its aesthetic is fantastic, by the way, being obviously derived from the Archon King's design (Aside the question of where the legs came from...) yet making reasonable logical visual sense (How does the R.A.G.E. Suit work at all?) and being very visually strikingly different from all your other gear in a manner that nonetheless is broadly in line with the game's aesthetic. (Where eg the Serpentsuit really looks like a plastic suit a skilled cosplayer made, not like serious armor in line with XCOM 2's other armors) It's really too bad a typical run will only use it fairly briefly; its visuals are far and away the best of this bunch.


Tactical Legacy pack

I'm not listing costs for the Tactical Legacy gear because they don't have costs. Upgrading a general class of weapon automatically upgrades the Tactical Legacy version if you still have it, for free, and the initial tier is provided to you for free as well.

Similarly, I'm not covering the armors. They're pure aesthetic, and honestly I don't find them particularly memorable or compelling. I honestly can't tell what changes for any of them aside the Grenadier armor, where the Tactical Legacy armor is based on the Heavy's blast suit-type design and so is much bulkier and has a fairly prominent collar. If you care, I'm sure there's other sites or videos or something that go in-depth on them.

One thing to note is that the Tactical Legacy primary weapons encourage prioritizing giving Weapon Attachments to Reaper and Skirmisher weapons first, since there's no Tactical Legacy weapons for them and the Tactical Legacy weapons auto-upgrade their Weapon Attachments as you tier up.

Note, however, that Tactical Legacy weapons are not affected by the Breakthroughs that add an additional Weapon Attachment slot. This means that any of these is generally going to be displaced by its regular counterpart if you get the relevant Breakthrough, in the long haul, since three Superior Weapon Attachments is obviously better than two, and the innate, auto-upgrading Weapon Attachments are the only thing Tactical Legacy weapons have going for them.


Old World Assault Rifle: Basic Scope

Remember to equip it to a Rookie or Specialist as soon as you can. +5 Aim isn't much, but there's literally no reason to not equip it in the beginning of the game.

Also remember that Scopes make flanks slightly more rewarding. A point-blank shot with a beginning-of-game Rookie is normally a 15% chance to miss the shot and everything go wrong; with the Old World Assault Rifle, it'll only be a 5% chance. Still possible, but a lot rarer.

The Old World Assault Rifle isn't amazing, but it's serviceable enough, and Rifles are the easiest weapon type to justify slapping an early Advanced Weapon Attachment onto a regular weapon, since so many classes can use Rifles; it's not at all unusual to bring multiple Rifle-wielding soldiers into a mission, all throughout a run, so you're not 'wasting' the Weapon Attachment if you switch back to preferring the Tactical Legacy Rifle once you hit magnetics.

Aesthetically, this is literally the Rifle from the prior game, but tweaked to look old and beat-up. This is pretty accurate to most of the weapons; the conventional-tier looks like the conventional-tier equivalent in the prior game but old and worn out, the magnetic-tier looks like the laser-tier from the prior game but old and worn out, and the beam-tier looks like the plasma-tier from the prior game, but old and worn out. The magnetic-tier ones are generally least alike to their prior-game counterparts in visuals, even aside that they always fire magnetic projectiles instead of lasers, whereas the plasma weapons only really look particularly different because plasma weapons in the prior game have a shiny plastic look that contrasts sharply with the worn, rusted metal look of the Tactical Legacy weapons.

Improvised Magnetic Rifle: Advanced Scope, Advanced Repeater

This is a surprisingly big spike in the Tactical Legacy Rifle's utility, helped in no small part by the Chosen being excellent Repeater targets. An Advanced Repeater wouldn't have been my choice for a second slot, and Specialists in particular would often rather wield a regular Rifle with an Expanded Magazine once they start opening up multi-Overwatch shooting so the maximim chain of shots is physically possible to occur, but this is still pretty solid.

Aesthetically, this is a clear cousin to the Laser Rifle of the prior game. It doesn't have that big round bit on the side, but the basic shape and color is otherwise rather familiar, so much so I'm not entirely sure why the Tactical Legacy magnetic-tier weapons weren't made lasers outright. That would've been pretty cool, and as we'll be getting to in a minute, the beam-tier weapons don't feel beholden to XCOM 2's aesthetics.

I dunno, maybe they didn't bother due to Pavonis Studios already producing Laser weapon sets? Tactical Legacy Lasers would've made more sense with the Tactical Legacy missions, though...

Prototype Plasma Rifle: Superior Scope, Superior Repeater

Nothing game-changing here, and even more so than the Improvised Magnetic Rifle Specialists are often better off with a regular Rifle so they can get expanded ammo. Psi Operatives are fine with it, though, and it's worth considering on a Ranger if you want them able to fire at a distance effectively.

Aesthetically, this is literally the Plasma Rifle from the prior game, but made to look old and beat up. The sound effects are new, though, and stand out a lot more; plasma weapons in the prior game were surprisingly quiet, where the Prototype Plasma Rifle has a very audible charge sound and shot-fired sound. I like them more than I'd have expected if I was forewarned, though.

And yes, this means beam-tier Tactical Legacy Pack weapons don't actually hold to the beam aesthetic. For that reason alone I prefer to use them, sometimes outright making mechanically sub-optimal decisions simply because that's how much I hate the normal beam-tier visuals and sounds.

Sniper Rifle

Marksman's Rifle: Basic Scope

I find it difficult to justify using the Marksman's Rifle if I get an early Autoloader. It's generally far more useful to be able to reload and fire than to have a tiny Aim boost, especially since Sharpshooters already get to high Aim easily; at Squaddie a Sharpshooter with high ground already has 95 Aim if the target is in the open and has no Defense. A Scope would turn that into a sure thing, yes, but an Autoloader will ensure that if the Sharpshooter ends up shooting three times in a row and then is needed for another turn of fire they're still good. Furthermore, Sharpshooters have their Pistol to fall back on, which can easily hit 100% accuracy by flanking targets at mid-to-close ranges, so in a lot of situations you'd want your Sharpshooter to have better odds of hitting just falling back on their Pistol would work -and probably be the better choice, since it lets them move to keep up with the squad and all.

That said, it's nice to bring it into early Lost missions, since high ground+Scope is, even with a Squaddie Sharpshooter, enough to ensure a 100% chance to hit on Lost. This prevents Headshot streaks being interrupted by a poorly-timed miss, and unlike an Autoloader no amount of Lost being generated will use it up. As there's a 100% guaranteed early Lost mission, this is actually liable to be relevant to the vast majority of runs if you have the Tactical Legacy gear at all.

Aesthetically, it's actually easy to overlook that this is derived from the prior game's conventional-tier Sniper Rifle design, as that design was so cartoonish that just making it look realistic immediately obscures the origin to a shocking extent.

Anti-Materiel Rifle: Advanced Scope, Advanced Autoloader

This is the point where the Tactical Legacy Sniper Rifle jumps significantly in relevance, since Scope+Autoloader is the most generically optimal pair of Weapon Attachments for a Sniper Rifle and therefore you often wouldn't have equipped differently anyway. I'm okay with 'wasting' a regular Autoloader on a regular Sniper Rifle anyway, since basic Weapon Attachments aren't that valuable in the long haul, but you should usually not be quick to equip Advanced or Superior Scopes and Autoloaders on regular Sniper Rifles unless you're eg wanting a Scope+Repeater Sniper Rifle for anti-Chosen/Alien Ruler purposes.

Aesthetically, I also like this quite a bit more than its regular counterpart. The bulk and all makes it look much more like an experimental weapon based on poorly-understood principles, where later versions will iron out the kinks and fit more value in less space.

Mind, it's actually pretty blatantly based off the Laser Sniper Rifle's design, with the only significant change other than wear-and-tear being the replacement of the glowing red bits, but that doesn't really change my opinion.

Energy AMR: Superior Scope, Superior Autoloader

Still generally pushes aside regular Sniper Rifles unless you're using multiple Sharpshooters or have an additional Weapon Attachment slot on your Sniper Rifles.

While it's not as dramatic as most of the other beam-tier Tactical Legacy pack weapons, this is still a much more pleasing aesthetic and sound combination than the Plasma Sniper Rifle. It's too bad runs will generally use it briefly -or not at all, if you hit the Hunter really early- due to the Darklance being such a gamechanger.

And yes, it's a pretty direct port of the prior game's Plasma Sniper Rifle design. I'm not sure why it wasn't just called a Plasma Sniper Rifle, or a Prototype Plasma Sniper, or something of that sort.

I do wonder if there's any element of Planned XCOM 3 Elements leaking in here. An Anti-Materiel Rifle name suggests armor-penetrating properties, and Sniper Rifles don't have any such property in XCOM 2. Maybe the devs were thinking in terms of XCOM 3 Sniper Rifles penetrating Armor?


Light Machine Gun: Basic Stock

As Grenadiers are the least accurate class, a Stock is quite appreciated, especially at the beginning of the game where it's not unusual to end up with an enemy with 1 HP remaining. Early Grenadiers also don't have any ammo-hungry abilities -well, that are worth using, anyway- so initially an Expanded Magazine or Autoloader wouldn't really have anything going for it over a Stock in most missions.

It's unfortunately usually worse than ammo support in Lost missions, though, which can be inconvenient.

Since Mag Cannons take a while to unlock even if you prioritize them, the LMG can end up temporarily sidelined by a Conventional Cannon with a better Weapon Attachment, or if you don't want to 'waste' a Weapon Attachment on a Cannon you may find yourself avoiding using your Grenadiers entirely for a period due to the LMG underperforming.

This is one of the Tactical Legacy weapons that barely resembles its prior-game counterpart. The LMG of the prior game was some bizarre, plastic-looking scifi gun that didn't really look like anything I'm aware of actually existing. This LMG looks like an actual light machine gun, including being designed so it can be set on the ground or similar to stabilize it. There's broadly similarities to the prior game's design, yes, but only in the very loosest of senses. It's very odd, though honestly I'm perfectly happy with it.

Magnetic Support Cannon: Advanced Stock, Advanced Expanded Magazine

This is a big spike in the Tactical Legacy Cannon's effectiveness, since ammo is so important to Grenadiers. The Advanced Stock is also nice if you pushed pretty hard to get Gauss Weapons early, since 2 guaranteed damage is still a respectable amount in the mid-early game before Berserkers start showing up.

It's not unusual for me to displace it with a regular Mag Cannon, mind, such as if I find a Superior Scope or Superior Autoloader, especially later in the Mag Cannon's lifecycle when I'm liable to have at least one high-level Grenadier to be very ammo-and-Aim hungry and Superior Weapon Attachments are expected, but it's still a good backup option if eg I end up bringing two Grenadiers into the same mission.

This is pretty much the Heavy Laser's design, if it was less cartoonish. It works much better here than it did for the Heavy Laser.

Energy Cannon: Superior Stock, Superior Expanded Magazine

Unlike the other Tactical Legacy primary weapons, the Cannon is never displaced by a Chosen weapon, giving it unusual longevity. This comes with the caveat that a Superior Stock is pretty undesirable on a late-game Cannon, which is unfortunate since I much prefer the Energy Cannon's aesthetic to the Beam Cannon's; indeed, it's the weapon I'm most prone to going 'screw it, I'd rather enjoy myself than have my team be slightly more effective in combat'.

This is, of course, the Heavy Plasma's design. It's design is distinctive and memorable enough I noticed this pretty much the first time I saw it, where the other beam-tier weapons I had to stop and think about it after seeing the Energy Cannon.


Scattergun: Basic Laser Sight

This is a bit underwhelming. You might as well use it initially, but a Basic Laser Sight is... who cares?

This is the other conventional-tier primary weapon that actually doesn't resemble its prior-game counterpart at all. The prior game's Conventional Shotgun very visibly had comically large shells -so large I'm not convinced they could fit down the barrel- set on the outside, presumably for ready access when reloading. The Scattergun doesn't have anything like that.

Augmented Shotgun: Advanced Laser Sight, Advanced Hair Trigger

This is much better. Your Ranger may actually have access to eg Talon Rounds at the same time as this, such that crit boosting is pretty respectable, and that plus the Advanced Hair Trigger is pretty close to the perfect combination for a Ranger in most conditions.

You might want an alternative with ammo support in Lost missions, for example, but this is very solid and you can easily skip ever slotting a Weapon Attachment into a Shotgun at all.

This is, of course, closely patterned after the Scatter Laser's design, though a bit less cartoonishly exaggerated in its proportions. And rusted. Can't forget the wear-and-tear.

Energy Sweeper: Superior Laser Sight, Superior Hair Trigger

See Augmented Shotgun, but more so. I suppose you might want a Repeater instead of a Laser Sight when hitting Chosen Strongholds? But for most purposes this is perfect.

Aesthetically, this is literally the Alloy Cannon's design, but greened up and spitting plasma instead of Alien Alloys. That's perfect, in my book! It's what the Alloy Cannon should've been in the first place!


Traditional Sword
+20 Aim

It's just a regular Sword. A regular Sword that for some reason has no sheathe.

I don't really get the Traditional Sword's design.

Experimental Blade
+20 Aim, 25% chance to Stun enemies

I actually like this design better than the Ionic Blade's design. Firstly, because Ranger attack animations are heavily slanted toward slashing over stabbing, and the Ionic Blade's design doesn't work for that while the Experimental Blade's does, but secondly I also just really like the Experimental Blade's jury-rigged design. It really looks like your R&D team took a look at a Stun Lancer's prod, went 'power supply in a melee weapon, sure, let's see if we can imitate that', and awkwardly assembled a prototype that works well enough. That's a much better fit to X-COM's overall aesthetic in XCOM 2 than the Ionic Blade's very clean, polished design.

Advanced Blade
+20 Aim, 25% chance to set enemies on fire

Note that, just like the Hunter's Axe, the Tactical Legacy Sword being upgraded replaces your existing copy, and therefore upgrading your Swords will prevent you from ever equipping the Experimental Blade again. This isn't important from a purely mechanical perspective the way it is with the Axe, but if you love the Experimental Blade's design, or just want to be able to use the Tactical Legacy Sword while still having it Stun into the endgame, unlocking Fusion Blades at all is taking away that option.

The Advanced Blade is utterly forgettable and I couldn't tell you what is supposed to be going on with its design. It's certainly different from the Fusion Blade's design, being acid green instead of electric blue, but that's all I can say about it. I'm not even sure what its concept is supposed to be. Why is it acid green?


Traditional Handgun

The Tactical Legacy Pistol is mechanically identical to a regular Pistol, and bizarrely enough it looks less primitive than the regular Pistol. If you like the look and don't have the Shadowkeeper or Darklaw you might as well use it I guess.

Personally, I prefer the revolver design of the regular Conventional Pistol and think it works better for the way Sharpshooter Pistol attacks animate, but others may have their own preferences.

I'm unsure if this is an adaptation of the Conventional Pistol design of the prior game. The prior game's Conventional Pistol was sufficiently cartoonishly exaggerated that just switching to XCOM 2's art style and adding in rust and whatnot would look like a completely different weapon.

Rail Pistol

This thankfully looks more primitive than its regular Pistol counterpart. Less jury-rigged, though, which is a bit odd.

The Rail Pistol's design is fine, and unlike the Traditional Handgun I do slightly prefer it to its generic counterpart. I still rarely end up using it, mind, because the Shadowkeeper exists and is pure advantage, but hey, I do usually use it at least briefly in a given run.

Mind, it's really just the Laser Pistol from the prior game but with the glowing red bits no longer glowing red, but surprisingly this honestly looks fairly visually natural for the concept of a 'rail pistol' anyway.

Energy Pistol

The Energy Pistol's design is fantastic, and it makes me sad that I usually can't justify using it because the Powered Shadowkeeper is better, mechanically. Plasma projectiles fit so much more naturally than beam weapon, well, beams, to the aesthetics of Pistol animations, and even its sound effects are great.

Alas, you need to turn to config file manipulation or mods if you don't want to be hamstringing yourself by using it if you also have Alien Hunters.

Curiously, this isn't a fairly direct translation of the prior game's Plasma Pistol design.


Next time, we wrap up gear by covering what you loot from the Chosen in War of the Chosen.

See you then.


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