XCOM 2 Item Analysis: Heavy Weapons
Heavy Weapons are weird.
They're clearly in some sense derived from Heavies in the previous game having a rocket launcher, but they're not tied to class or anything like that, yet they're also not a general-access Item type. Instead, the E.X.O. Suit and the W.A.R. Suit -the heavy set of armors- provide the wearer a slot for equipping a Heavy Weapon. Notably, this means that the resistance classes introduced in War of the Chosen can never equip Heavy Weapons, since they're stuck with their medium-derivative unique armors, though to be fair Reapers and Templar don't particularly notice the lack. It's pretty unfortunate for Skirmishers, though, albeit it takes a bit to be noticeable a flaw since Heavy Weapons aren't available initially.
SPARKs also can't equip E.X.O. Suits or W.A.R. Suits of course, but they mandatorily are carting around a Heavy Weapon. Indeed, if you're playing with Shen's Last Gift turned on, you're basically guaranteed to have your first SPARK well before you would get heavy armor online. Even with Shen's Last Gift turned off, a SPARK may still be your first Heavy Weapon user depending on your research priorities and whether you have Integrated DLC on or off.
Anyway, Heavy Weapons always have exactly one use per mission and always inflict area of effect damage, as well as having the potential for friendly fire in that area. Most of them are explosives like grenades, but three of them have their blast radius cone-shaped instead of circular-ish. They also all end the soldier's turn by default when fired, though all soldiers that can get access to Heavy Weapons have the potential to bend that rule, with SPARKs and then Grenadiers being most consistent about getting to do so.
Heavy Weapons can be divided into three groups: basic, advanced, and end-game. The basic category is literally just Rocket Launchers, and is added to your inventory in an unlimited, free supply the instant you have the ability to equip a Heavy Weapon on someone. (ie once you have a SPARK, E.X.O. Suit, W.A.R. Suit, or R.A.G.E. Suit) The advanced category is created using the Experimental Heavy Weapons Project, which becomes available once you can equip Heavy Weapons. (ie once you have one of the aforementioned) It includes just the Flamethrower and Shredder Gun, and works exactly like the other Experimental Projects; feed an Elerium Core in, watch something random get spat out. (It takes 12 days by default, like Experimental Armor)
The remaining four Heavy Weapons are produced via the Experimental Powered Weapon Project, which is unlocked by building your first W.A.R. Suit and still works as per other Experimental Projects, just with the caveat that it also costs some Supplies. (50, except on Legendary where it costs 100 Supplies)
Curiously, all Heavy Weapons have crit damage ratings, and can indeed crit in real play. (Unlike, say, Ripjacks) I'm not sure what their crit chance is or what controls it, though, as no crit chance is listed in-game when aiming them and the crit potential isn't caused by Biggest Booms. (You can get crits with non-Grenadiers) I'd guesstimate it at around a 20% chance, going from experience and the precedent of Biggest Booms, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone has dug deeper in the code and found a different value.
Aesthetically/conceptually, Heavy Weapons are... kind of misnamed. They're not big, bulky things like the Rocket Launcher in the previous game, but rather are all fired from a wrist-mounted device. (Or, in the case of the SPARK, from their BIT) I suspect this is primarily driven by animation convenience, allowing the devs to develop one set of animations that will work fine with any of the classes, where for example a bulky bazooka sitting on the soldier's back would visually conflict with the Grenadier's relatively bulky Grenade Launcher sitting on their back already, or make all the animations where a soldier temporarily stows their primary weapon when climbing ladders and whatnot look obviously wrong, because the game makes zero effort to explain or justify this peculiar setup. Also relevant is that the enemy forces don't have an equivalent to these wrist-mounted heavy weapons, with the most obvious/egregious comparison point being how ADVENT Purifiers use a flamethrower that is an actual giant gun-thing they hold with both hands... and it's actually considerably weaker than X-COM's wrist-mounted version. I mean, you can try to argue against the wonkiness by pointing out that ADVENT Purifiers can burn all day long where X-COM Flamethrowers are single-use, but logically speaking that's a result of Purifiers carrying around fuel tanks in their armor, what with them potentially exploding on death and all, so it doesn't really address the weirdness of the Purifier flamethrower being so much less effectual.
I'm personally willing to overlook how little sense the whole setup makes since the game itself doesn't try to pretend it makes sense, and simplifying animation considerations is perfectly justified. It'd be a lot more problematic if we got a research report where Tygan provided a technobabble explanation of what led to the creation of micro-sized heavy weapons, because it'd be basically guaranteed that the attempt at justifying this would invariably have implications that didn't align with the in-game behavior at all. I mean, it's already the case that if you try to look at these logically/realistically there's the stupidly basic, obvious question of 'why don't you have two shots, one for each wrist?' But it would be so much worse if they tried to address the topic in-universe.
As-is, I can gloss over it as not being meant to be 'real' in-universe, making realism problems irrelevant.
Damage: 4-7 (+2)
Projectile travels in roughly a straight line, and will 'catch' on terrain elements, potentially preventing it from being fired on a location the soldier otherwise has a clean line of fire to.
The Rocket Launcher has the usual explosive setup of only a 20% chance of the +1 damage piece triggering.
The Rocket Launcher often destroys all destructible terrain caught in its blast radius (Not many objects can survive a hit from it, and most things that will survive will still degrade), which in conjunction with its good-for-the-early game Shred makes it a great option for softening up difficult targets of any almost any sort. If you rush for Heavy Weapon access, the Rocket Launcher can serve as essentially an early Plasma Grenade before you've even fought Mutons, with the advantage that you don't need to specifically equip it to a Grenadier to get a good blast radius. Just keep in mind that the Rocket Launcher's projectile can get caught on Cover between your soldier and their target; fortunately the game doesn't do any random variation on impact site or fail to properly predict an interception, but it can still be an unpleasant surprise to move someone to where you think they have a clear line of fire on a group of enemies, only to discover that you can't fire the rocket where you want it.
As the Rocket Launcher fires in a direct straight line, one way to work around this issue is to actually take to the high ground. Most obstacles that don't block regular line of fire, do block a Rocket Launcher, and are an extended line instead of an isolated tile only go up to your soldiers' waists or so. Firing from high ground means that you'll fire over all such obstacles, at least up until very close to your actual target at which point the Rocket Launcher's blast radius is large enough you can probably catch them in the explosion anyway. Weirdly enough, this makes Sharpshooters one of the better choices for giving an E.X.O. Suit, R.A.G.E. Suit, or W.A.R. Suit, particularly since they tend to struggle to put to full use the second Item slot from Predator/Warden Armor, especially if you're actually using them to snipe instead of relying on their Pistol skills, since you tend to want to put them on high ground anyway in that case.
A secondary consequence of the Rocket Launcher is that if you get a SPARK online early they have disproportionate explosive firepower, given the rest of your squad is probably carting around Frag Grenades or maybe 1-2 Experimental Grenades. This is one of many reasons why SPARKs impress when you first get them, even though in the long haul they're actually understrength.
Note that unlike the previous game, it's not possible to set a Rocket Launcher to detonate in midair. You can skirt around this a little bit, in that the center tile is the only one that actually matters for whether you can target the location or not, but even this is limited in its effectiveness, as the game will tend to conclude that your rocket would impact the side below the location you're trying to target if you do attempt to fire a rocket up at a roof's edge, and so refuse to let you hit your intended location. Since it also 'snaps' to the nearest ground, it's not possible to aim it at a wall a story up to try to catch enemies on a roof near the edge, either.
On the other hand, there's only one regular enemy that's capable of hanging in the air in the first place, plus one Alien Ruler if you have Alien Hunters, so this loss of functionality barely matters. Notably, you will never (Well, almost never) see multiple Archons in midair at once if we ignore multiplayer, so there's never a situation equivalent to having a mob of 6 Floaters clumped in the air just waiting for a Rocket to kill them like can and will happen regularly in the previous game.
Overall, the Rocket Launcher is an extremely solid start, and is a big contributor to why heavy armor is pretty darn good in the early-to-midgame, as you don't actually need further investment to get a good Heavy Weapon online. You've got a very solid one right out the gate, for free.
The following two Heavy Weapons have to be built using the Experimental Heavy Weapons Project, rolling randomly between the two as per the Experimental Projects.
It should also be noted that Heavy Weapons have nothing equivalent to Advanced Explosives. You shouldn't perform the Experimental Heavy Weapons Project very many times in a run, as the products of it can't be updated to endgame quality the way Experimental Grenades can be. Indeed, an argument can be made you shouldn't bother at all, since the Rocket Launcher is extremely solid in an extremely general manner.
War of the Chosen adding the Lost makes this less true, since the Rocket Launcher counts as an explosive and so will draw the Lost. If you've given up on the Experimental Heavy Weapons Project in your base-game runs, you may wish to revisit the topic for War of the Chosen, especially if eg you're trying out Grim Horizon and roll Lost World.
Damage: 4-7 (+2)
Sets units in its blast cone on fire, and sets random patches of terrain in its radius on fire. Does no damage to units that cannot be Burned.
The Flamethrower has a mere 10% chance of rolling its +1. Even if you manage to catch like 6 enemies in one shot, you should basically assume none of them will take full damage.
The Flamethrower is listed in the files as having decent ability to destroy terrain, but I'm not sure I've ever seen it directly destroy terrain elements. I can only recall ever seeing the resulting fires cause terrain damage -possibly its internal terrain damage rating is actually applied to the fires it creates rather than its initial hit? Though I also don't use the Flamethrower very often, so it may be that I've just happened to never use it in a situation it would visibly destroy terrain immediately. Most likely they're dummied-out values, though.
In any event, the Flamethrower is overall fairly disappointing, particularly in War of the Chosen where Burning has reduced utility. It doesn't immediately wreck Cover, it doesn't Shred, and its cone targeting behavior is awkward to hit more than one or two units with. It's especially inconvenient in Retaliation missions, where it can be a struggle to avoid catching civilians in it, and indeed it can potentially hit locations your squad can't currently see (eg inside buildings) so even if it looks safe you may end up killing civilians anyway! And even if that doesn't happen, the fires that result can easily spread and either catch civilians on fire directly and kill them with the Burning damage, or kill them indirectly if they're on a higher floor of a building by causing it to collapse, resulting in fall damage that kills them! Retaliation missions also often include explosive terrain elements, and it's not unusual for civilians to be in the blast radius, and a fire can spread to and detonate them.
But even outside Retaliation missions, the Rocket Launcher has an identical damage range with higher average damage with a more convenient blast behavior plus Shred plus effortlessly and instantly wrecking Cover while being available in unlimited numbers for free. The Flamethrower will do more damage if one counts the actual Burn damage, but that qualifier itself comes with the qualifier that non-flammable enemies will be completely unaffected, and even enemies that aren't naturally immune can fail to light up if they're standing in water, where prior to Blast Shielding being a thing in War of the Chosen absolutely nothing could be immune to any of the Rocket Launcher's effects.
The only edge the Flamethrower really has going for it in the base game is that it's a way of reliably inducing Burn en mass. Which... Incendiary Grenades fill that roll just fine with a much more convenient targeting behavior and having Shred. And a lot of the enemies that most readily justify burning limited resources on them are immune to Burn anyway, often while having Armor you want Shredded. And unlike the Flamethrower, the Incendiary Grenade does damage to anything it hits, no qualifiers. Base-game Incendiary Grenades even have very similar average damage; 4-5 vs 4-7, with Incendiary Grenades having better odds of rolling the +1 component of their damage. This is ignoring crits, admittedly, but the point is if you really want to use a splash-damage fire-producing attack, Incendiary Grenades have a shockingly similar profile in Flamethrower-favoring situations while having a variety of situations Flamethrowers just flat-out lose the comparison in. (Also, Biggest Booms Grenadiers make the crit element moot, since they can crit with Incendiary Grenades...)
The Flamethrower is still fairly lackluster overall in War of the Chosen, but has the very notable niche of being strongly useful in Lost missions. Lost are extremely vulnerable to Burning, taking doubled damage and having it spread among them if they're clumped (Which they frequently are), the doubled damage on fire attacks also applies to Flamethrower's initial hit, and notably the Flamethrower is a splash damage attack that does not count as an explosive for the purposes of 'explosives cause Lost waves to arrive sooner'. This last bit gives it an important edge over the Incendiary Grenade, which does count as an explosion and so can be self-defeating to break out to try to get a Lost mob under control. This makes it more worthwhile to consider investing Elerium Cores into Experimental Heavy Weapon, as a Flamethrower result isn't basically a dud. Niche and mostly inferior to Shredder Gun, yes, but actually liable to see use. This is particularly important if you're fielding SPARKs, since they're obligated to take a Heavy Weapon, with the default Rocket Launcher being dubious on Lost missions, and they're actually pretty decent at fighting Lost, among other points benefiting from Lost-guaranteeing map types always having high ground across most of the map.
More edge case-y but also relevant is the introduction of Blast Shield. If you're 100% certain you're going to fighting a Chosen who has Blast Shield, Flamethrower will be able to damage them, where a Rocket Launcher will only be able to smash Cover and Shred Armor. These aren't worthless benefits, mind, but it's at least worth considering putting a Flamethrower on someone to work around Blast Shield.
In conjunction with Incendiary Grenades having lost a lot of damage, the Flamethrower is... well, again, still fairly lackluster in War of the Chosen, it really needed to gain some damage or something... but it's merely underwhelming now, not a complete waste of an Elerium Core.
Surprisingly, where the Rocket Launcher and all grenades are 100% forced to hit a ground tile, cone-based attacks of any kind can be angled up and down freely. This doesn't give the Flamethrower anything over eg the Shredder Gun, but it does mean it can occasionally catch targets in awkward positions that the Rocket Launcher can't.
Damage: 6-9 (+1)
Does damage in a cone, potentially destroying terrain elements.
The Shredder Gun has a 58% chance of rolling +1 damage, making it rather more lethal on average than you'd expect given typical explosive damage.
Pierce, meanwhile, is how much Armor an attack ignores. I've alluded to Armor-ignoring behavior in prior posts, but not bothered to list a Pierce rating because the vast majority of attacks either have no Pierce (Most attacks) or completely ignore Armor. (EMP Grenades/Bombs, Combat Protocol)
Anyway, notice that the Shredder Gun has better up-front damage than the Flamethrower, Shred, Pierce, a wider cone, and all it loses in exchange is a little bit of reach and the fire stuff. For just killing things quickly, the Shredder Gun is very nearly flatly superior to the Flamethrower, which makes it a bit unfortunate they come from the same Proving Ground Project. While all the Proving Grounds Projects are bit uneven in quality of possible outputs, the Experimental Heavy Weapon Project is the most egregious example, since you can pretty cleanly say you'd be better off rolling the alternative. It's not even that Flamethrower is bad (Though it is), so much as that it's too similar to the Shredder Gun while being overall worse.
Even the anti-Lost functionality on the Flamethrower is only a modest help in the comparison, as the Shredder Gun also doesn't count as an explosion for Lost wave generation purposes, making it perfectly effective at clearing out Lost clusters. The fact that Flamethrowers get doubled damage against Lost also takes a while to start really mattering, as for a long time the vast majority of Lost will have 6 or less HP and so a Shredder Gun blast will kill them en mass just fine. There's also no guarantee a given run will even run into the Lost in a timeframe for this to matter -you're forced into a Lost encounter once in every run, but it's very early in the game, so early it's more or less impossible to have performed Experimental Heavy Weapon. You can then go an entire run without seeing Lost again, or have them show up but only once you've finished moving onto Powered Heavy Weapons.
The Shredder Gun is also just generally a fairly good Heavy Weapon. You can do better once you have access to Powered Heavy Weapons, of course, but most of the Powered Heavy Weapons are directly superior versions of the basic three Heavy Weapons, and you get them later in the game. That's working as intended.
Anyway, while the cone behavior can be inconvenient as with the Flamethrower, the Shredder Gun has a wide enough cone that it's much more common for it to be an advantage, letting you catch 3+ enemies at once, including in situations the Rocket Launcher would only be able to catch 1-2 enemies. The reduced maximum range can be inconvenient for sniping Sharpshooters, but for other classes the reduced range makes it less likely you'll accidentally kill a civilian in a Retaliation mission. Furthermore, the Shredder Gun using cone behavior makes it fantastic at dealing with rooftop enemies, able to hit them right through the floor (The Shredder Gun isn't stopped by intervening High Cover objects, unlike the Flamethrower) and potentially tearing the floor out from under them for more damage.
On that note, I'm not sure how the Shredder Gun is really supposed to behave in regard to terrain-wrecking, but whatever the case it's frustratingly wonky. Highlighted terrain elements may or may not be destroyed in its radius with no rhyme or reason that I'm aware of. I half-suspect it's actually doing something comparable to how Saturation Fire has a chance to destroy any given terrain element in its cone of fire, but if so I don't know what that chance is. Or maybe it's just buggy. Or maybe it has some consistent and reasonably sensible behavioral system I just haven't been able to discern, such as sending distinct terrain-destroying projectiles that destroy the first thing in their path and then stop. I don't know. I just know you can't actually count on it to wreck everything it highlights in red, terrain-wise.
Fortunately, it has no equivalent issues with hitting units that get highlighted. If they're in red, they're going to be dead.
Also note that the Shredder Gun doesn't start its cone directly adjacent to its user, presumably to avoid you smashing your own Cover. It still can smash your own Cover if, for example, you're using a car as Cover, since that's too large to completely avoid its blast, but it normally won't. (Incidentally: don't take Cover against a car with an intention to fire a Shredder Gun through it. You'll be blowing it up on yourself, that's just stupid) I bring this up because you should not move directly adjacent to a target if your intention is to Shredder Gun it. You should stand at least one tile away. Conversely, you can potentially fire through your own troops without harm.
In short: the Shredder Gun is fantastically powerful and versatile, so much so that all by itself it can justify gambling on Experimental Heavy Weapon.
... or savescumming the result, if that's your thing.
From here on, it's the Powered Heavy Weapons.
Note that you do specifically have to build a W.A.R. Suit to unlock access to Powered Heavy Weapons. Upgrading the R.A.G.E. Suit to its powered form won't unlock Powered Heavy Weapons, and neither will anything you do with your SPARKs. If you don't have DLC, this doesn't matter, but if you do have DLC it can be a bit irritating, particularly in War of the Chosen where your Resistance soldiers can't equip heavy or light armors. If you regularly send a SPARK and a Resistance class out, once you've got all three Alien Ruler armors you've got only one slot left for regular, non-Medium armor! If your personal preference is a Wraith Suit, then building a W.A.R. Suit may have zero utility past unlocking Powered Heavy Weapons in War of the Chosen.
Damage: 7-10 (+2)
Projectile automatically paths around intervening obstacles, and can even be fired on locations the soldier doesn't have line of fire to so long as the squad has line of sight to the central tile.
Normally I wouldn't mention this, but it's sufficiently unusual on explosives that it bears mentioning regardless: the Blaster Launcher has the usual 50% chance of rolling +1 damage.
Unlike the previous game, the Blaster Launcher is actually really good in XCOM 2! First and foremost because acquiring it is actually fairly reasonable this time, rather than wasting valuable resources better spent on wider benefits. But even aside that, this Blaster Launcher has a massive range, high damage, a large blast radius, high Shred, and its guidance behavior is actually a huge improvement over the basic Rocket Launcher tending to get caught on Cover objects and whatnot. The ability to shoot around corners and so on is certainly appreciated as well, but just being able to fire over a waist-high fence without issue is a massive edge. No more need to perch on rooftops so you can have a clear line of fire, just stand wherever.
The Blaster Launcher has good odds of being a player's introduction to the whole 'the center tile's visibility is the only one that matters' thing found on a few area-of-effect attacks, as its favorable targeting behavior makes it easy to run into it very visibly. Usually it's not obvious the difference between 'you can't target that tile because you can't see it' vs 'you can't target that tile because a wall is blocking your line of fire to it', but of course the Blaster Launcher takes away the possibility of 'there's an obstacle between my soldier and their target'. By extension, it's a lot more important to keep that limitation in mind when using the Blaster Launcher, and be aware of how to work around it; if your preferred tile isn't visible, check nearby tiles! You may be able to get your desired result by just shifting a tile or two away.
The Blaster Launcher is actually the only Powered Heavy Weapon that doesn't operate on cone behavior, making it the least interchangeable with the others. It's also the only one that counts as an explosion for Lost purposes, making it the least desirable to take into Lost-containing missions. Outside that, though, it should very much be your default pick if you don't have a strong reason to want something else, as its combination of qualities makes it uniquely versatile. It Shreds, vaporize Cover, does high damage, can be used by a sniping Sharpshooter or horribly out-of-position-anyone (Well, aside Resistance classes) to save your squad when things have played out in a really unexpected way, and take out awkwardly-positioned enemies effortlessly. It being reliable at tearing ground out from under enemies also makes it very useful when rooftops get involved. Its blast radius is also large enough it's not uncommon to be able to catch multiple pods with it for your initial Overwatch ambush, which is a powerful utility.
It's actually even better in War of the Chosen, since now it's quite realistic to have a Reaper act as a spotter for Blaster Launchers on currently-inactive pods. As the late game is prone to ending up with pods overlapping so you can, in fact, catch multiple with one shot, this is pretty reliably useful a utility! Less reliable but also notable is that it can help a lot when fighting Chosen; a Planewalker Chosen is unlikely to teleport out of a Blaster Launcher's reach, allowing you to force a new teleport if they end up in a position you're not happy with, the Assassin is prone to hiding herself behind solid walls and the Blaster Launcher can let you do damage to her simultaneous to forcing her into the open, and if the Warlock or Hunter summons minions it's not unusual for it to be the case that when your turn rolls around the Blaster Launcher can catch the Chosen and their minions in one strike.
Though this does come with the caveat that Blast Shield shrugs off the Blaster Launcher's damage.
On a different note, it bothers me how the Blaster Launcher is now just a random result of lady Shen doing experiments with powered-up Heavy Weapons. With XCOM 2's premise, it makes little sense to suggest that X-COM as an organization had a prototype of the concept or something from the original invasion. If you generously assume that Slingshot is canon I guess you can try to justify it, but the overall indication of XCOM 2 is that the Aliens won too fast for any such thing to be plausible. It particularly bugs me because it would've made a kind of game design sense to have the Blaster Launcher parallel the Rocket Launcher in terms of being reliably available in any run (ie as an Autopsy result), so having the Blaster Launcher be something you build directly after some research was done would've served a useful gameplay purpose in addition to being more narratively coherent.
Still. This is less random and nonsensical than the previous game's conditions for creating a Blaster Launcher, and there's so little narrative attention given to Heavy Weapons that to an extent I'm willing to sweep them all under 'the devs were more focused on making good gameplay than on having it narratively coherent'. If that was indeed why things got handled this way, kudos! If not, ah well. It could certainly be worse.
Damage: 6-9 (+2)
Sets units in its blast cone on fire, and sets random patches of terrain in its radius on fire. Does no damage to units that cannot be Burned.
The Hellfire Projector has a 20% chance of rolling +1, making its already-underwhelming damage even worse than it looks. Also, it's literally the Flamethrower, but as a Powered Heavy Weapon.
Like the Flamethrower, it tends to struggle to justify itself. The Shredder Gun has its own Powered Heavy Weapon equivalent that is, once again, superior to the Hellfire Projector aside the fire behavior, and Incendiary Grenades get upgraded to Incendiary Bombs pretty much incidentally to handle the fire-spreading utility. In fact, in War of the Chosen the Incendiary Bomb/Hellfire Projector comparison is much uglier for the Heavy Weapon end than the Incendiary Grenade/Flamethrower end, as the Hellfire Projector is less than 50% stronger than the Flamethrower overall while the Incendiary Bomb is more than twice as strong as the Incendiary Grenade and has a larger blast radius. Indeed, a high-roll Incendiary Bomb will do literally the same damage as a low-roll Hellfire Projector... oh, and if the target is Armored, the Incendiary Bomb is doing a better job of softening up the target for follow-up attacks. And if the target can't be Burned at all, the Incendiary Bomb is still doing damage, where the Hellfire Projector is completely useless.
Particularly egregious is that the Hellfire Projector is, aside the fire, actually worse than the Shredder Gun, as they have identical damage ranges, but the Shredder Gun rolls higher more often, has a wider cone of fire, and has built-in Shred and Pierce to outright give it a damage advantage against Armored targets. It's really wonky that an Elerium Core+some Supplies can output a result worse than one of your just-an-Elerium-Core possibilities!
I mean, yeah, setting enemies on fire can be very useful, but... firstly, the best result is always that every enemy is dead before they get a chance to act, and in XCOM 2 achieving this on a mostly-consistent basis isn't actually that hard. Second, several of the abilities you most want to shut down aren't affected by fire. (eg Shieldbearers putting up their shield) Third, plenty of other enemies don't have abilities you can shut down or alternatively are overall more dangerous if you shut down their abilities. (You would generally rather a Sectoid go for a Mindspin or raise a Psi Zombie than take a shot, since taking a shot at you is the only action whose results can't be immediately undone by killing it) Fire would have to be a lot more reliably a big advantage for it to make sense to have the Hellfire Projector's damage-dealing ability so blatantly inferior to the Shredder Gun.
This is especially true in War of the Chosen, where dedicated melee enemies aren't hard-disabled by being set on fire. It at least theoretically made sense to equip a Hellfire Projector for the Psi Gate mission so you could disable Chryssalids en mass in the base game, but in War of the Chosen missions with the Lost are the only time it's not complete junk.
Oh, and literally all the elite endgame enemies -Andromedons, Sectopods, and Gatekeepers- are immune to the Hellfire Projector. It actually tends to perform more poorly in context than the Flamethrower, simply because fire immunity is pretty rare in the midgame, when you might be unlocking a Flamethrower, whereas by the time you expect the Hellfire Projector to be online you also expect fire immunity to crop up regularly, on the problematic enemies that are exactly the kind of thing you want to burn limited resources on. If it at least Panicked enemies it hit like the Enemy Within Flamethrower, it would be useful for letting you put a group of enemies on pause while you deal with more dire threats, but as-is it's just... bad.
War of the Chosen isn't exactly a big help here, either. Of the three new regular enemy types, two of them are immune to fire, and the Chosen push you to have ways to bypass and Shred Armor if you don't want to lose soldiers to them, so you'd rather have the Shredstorm Cannon. If the Flamethrower and Hellfire Projector were a Poison spray, they'd at least have the unique distinction of being a Heavy Weapon-based way to inflict Poison, which is the best damage-over-time status to inflict on Chosen, but as-is... eeeeh. If you happen to get Lost in a really late mission, you might as well bring it, but otherwise?
The Hellfire Projector is complete junk, and I just don't understand why.
Damage: 8-11 (+2)
Does damage in a cone, potentially destroying terrain elements.
The Shredstorm Cannon has a 35% chance of rolling its +1, and thus is a little less lethal on average than its numbers suggest, though still better off than eg the Hellfire Projector.
Like the Shredder Gun, the Shredstorm Cannon's cone of fire doesn't hit immediately adjacent to the user.
Being a beefed-up Shredder Gun, which was already a very powerful, useful item, the Shredstorm Cannon is unsurprisingly quite good as well. In fact, it's arguably better than the Blaster Launcher, with better damage, innate Pierce, better Shred, and still-generous targeting. The main advantages the Blaster Launcher has going for it is that it's completely consistent about smashing all the terrain in its blast radius, and that its generous targeting behavior makes it much easier to damage only what you want to damage and not eg squadmates who happen to be in the way.
War of the Chosen tilts things more in favor of the Blaster Launcher, making it pretty unambiguously the apex Powered Heavy Weapon. The Shredstorm Cannon still has advantages, but in War of the Chosen I tend to just slap Blaster Launchers on everyone unless the mission contains Lost, where in the base game I prefer a mix of Blaster Launchers and Shredstorm Cannons. The Blaster Launcher's utility against eg Chosen is just too useful in War of the Chosen.
Overall, though, there's little to say about it. It's really good, but not fundamentally different from the Shredder Gun.
Damage: 7-10 (+3)
Does damage in a cone, potentially destroying terrain elements.
The Plasma Blaster has a 64% chance of rolling +1, making its expected damage a little higher than you would normally predict by looking at its damage range.
The Plasma Blaster is a baffling Heavy Weapon to me. It's essentially the Shredstorm Cannon, but... weaker? 1 less damage, 1 more crit damage (However much that's worth...), and replaces the 4 Shred/2 Pierce with just 4 Pierce, while otherwise having identical parameters. (Aside the +1 chance, I suppose) Even their terrain damage stat is the same! So... what's the appeal of the Plasma Blaster supposed to be? Like, yes, against Andromedons, Sectopods, and Gatekeepers it will do a whole 1 point of damage more than the Shredstorm Cannon in an immediate sense... but these are all enemies that you expect to then need to make follow-up shots, probably multiple of them if it's a Sectopod or Gatekeeper. You'd rather Shred them so your other attacks will do more damage.
Also, while I list it as having the same radius as the Shredstorm Cannon, as that's what the ini file lists, it's actually just a straight-line attack like Null Lance. So it also has much more limited ability to hit multiple targets than the Shredstorm Cannon!
It could certainly be even worse, but the Plasma Blaster is genuinely confusing to me in how it's so obviously a bad Shredstorm Cannon. The Hellfire Projector is also, in practice, pretty lackluster, but I can see how the devs might've overestimated its strengths and underestimated how oppressive its flaws are. The Plasma Blaster is just blatantly worse than the Shredstorm Cannon.
To be entirely fair, the late game of XCOM 2 is, in general, less well-tuned than the earlier portions of the game simply because it's easier to playtest the early parts properly, but this particular example is poor tuning is very, very confusing.
I feel like Heavy Weapons were imagined as more distinct of a concept than they actually are. In practice, they tend to end up functioning as a way to work around the inability to stack grenades -okay, I can't have an Incendiary Grenade and a Frag Grenade, so I'll switch from Predator Armor to an E.X.O. Suit and swap out the Frag Grenade for a Rocket Launcher, and it's pretty close to being the-same-thing-but-better as if I was just equipping the two grenades. The cone-based weaponry is sufficiently distinct as to break this up a little bit, and that helps, but I still suspect this was meant to go farther than it actually did.
Indeed, when I was catching bits and pieces about the game in the weeks leading up to its release, trying to avoid being spoiled on it and ending up semi-spoiled anyway, I actually had the impression the entire heavy armor/Heavy Weapon combination was a sort of evolution of the Mec concept, where you'd be able to put someone in a super-heavy armor suit that used its own set of gear entirely and presumably class skills would be adapted to better suit this concept. (That is, a Sharpshooter's Quickdraw skill would translate into different functionality if they were wandering around in heavy armor) Only unlike Mecs you'd be able to just swap soldiers into lighter gear if you didn't want them behaving as a Mec-equivalent for one mission. That sounded pretty amazing as a concept, especially since there was obvious potential for this to play into a 'stealth vs strength' dynamic in how you approached missions, and was one of the reasons I was overall looking forward to XCOM 2 in spite of my reservations.
And... nah, heavy armor is just stattier than medium armor and replaces the second Item slot with a Heavy Weapon slot, with the primary trade-off being that medium armor is upgraded permanently and quickly where heavy armor eats Proving Ground time and Elerium Cores.
I'm left wondering if there was a stronger concept underlying the whole idea that just didn't get executed as imagined, or if the devs really did have such a lackluster concept as the core notion behind this 'heavy' gear.
Oh well. Maybe XCOM 3 will refine it into something actually cool and interesting.
Next time, we cover DLC-specific gear.
See you then.