XCOM 2 Analysis: Breakthroughs
Breakthroughs are yet another ambitious mechanic added in by War of the Chosen, this time connecting to Research.
In short, each time you complete a Research project (Not a Shadow Chamber project), there is a chance that a Breakthrough will be offered. (Yes, this includes that you can be offered a Breakthrough immediately after completing a Breakthrough, though it's uncommon) If you do not immediately start on the Breakthrough, it will promptly vanish. (Caveat: performing Instant Autopsies does not take away the ability to select the Breakthrough. Conversely, completing an Instant Autopsy doesn't give you a new chance at a Breakthrough)
Breakthroughs themselves are always free aside the lab time (That is, they don't require resources like Elerium), and the time they take to research is completely fixed aside that Legendary difficulty doubles it: on all other difficulties, a Breakthrough will (almost) always take exactly 5 days. This is unaffected by your number of Scientists, and also unaffected by whether you have a Lab constructed or not. (Though having a Lab constructed increases the odds that you'll get a Breakthrough a little bit -if I'm reading the files correctly, it's something like giving you Breakthroughs 25% more often)
One implication of this is that Breakthroughs are favored more early in the game, when every Research project takes forever, and less later in the game, when it's routine for Autopsies to be 2-3 days and even longer Researches are still under 10 days because you have so much research-boosting going on. Of course, eventually your late-game Research will be made entirely of the dregs you don't actually care about, at which point Breakthroughs are obviously favored again simply because the competition is so low-value.
In any event, most Breakthroughs provide a permanent, minor benefit in some specialized way, such as adding +1 to the damage of a class of weapon. Breakthroughs can thus tilt different playthroughs in different directions: different playthroughs will find different classes end up the strongest of the bunch, for example. This is a small-yet-nifty way of keeping runs varied even once you've played the game enough to be familiar with the core patterns.
A related concept War of the Chosen added in is Inspirations. Like Breakthroughs, you have a chance to be offered one each time you complete a Research project (That isn't an Instant Autopsy), and if you don't take advantage of it then and there the Inspiration will be lost. (Again, aside Instant Autopsies not interfering) Inspirations, however, are merely a hurrying of regular Research projects, shaving off 25-50% of the time it would normally take to complete the Research project. (The percent is random-per-Inspiration; one run might have Magnetic Weapons Inspired and so shave off a full half the duration, while another run also has it Inspired but only has 25% of its duration shaved off. I don't know the exact increments between those two extremes, but it's also not terribly important)
Inspirations are an idea I was intrigued more by as compared to Breakthroughs when I heard of them before playing the game myself, but in practice I think Breakthroughs have a stronger, more beneficial effect on gameplay. The primary effect of Inspirations in my experience is that they further encourage me to pick at low-lying Research fruit that will be completed quickly, just with the caveat that part of the point is to wait for an Inspiration to hit on whatever lengthy Research project I'm putting off. (Because eg spending 3 days on a project, and then getting Inspiration on a project that would otherwise take 14 days, is pure gain; the Inspiration will definitely shave off more than 3 days, after all) They can accelerate my game some, but since resource limits are the primary bottleneck on eg third-tier weapons being passed out even if Inspirations cause me to hit something earlier than I normally would the effect tends to be limited.
Part of the problem is that XCOM 2's Research tree doesn't lend itself well to making its Inspiration system interesting. A large fraction of your Researches are Autopsies, and aside the Officer Autopsy and, if you have Alien Hunters, the Alien Ruler Autopsies, no Autopsy can ever become Inspired. Even if they could become Inspired, many Autopsies you'd save more time overall by waiting for them to become Instant rather than jumping on an Inspiration, and so such Inspirations would tend to be wasted or newbie traps. (Which is probably precisely why they can't become Inspired) The path to third-tier primary weapons is the closest to a more typical research tree you work your way up through, and since it stands alone as a 'tall' tree how Inspiration gets spread out doesn't encourage different runs to run down different overall paths.
In a different game with a larger, more developed and specifically broader research tree, Inspiration could serve to break up cookie-cutter research paths, making it so that while the default might be that it's best to pursue X lane of research a given run could easily end up finding it much more pragmatically useful to travel down a research path most players would ignore without an Inspiration system.
In actual War of the Chosen, it's a cool idea whose impact is mostly to make it so that Breakthroughs being added en mass doesn't slow down the player's Research progress as badly relative to base XCOM 2, assuming they basically always take Breakthroughs and Inspirations when offered, with a secondary impact of making it slightly variable whether a given run gets to weapons or armor of a given tier first.
Also note that it is possible to be offered a Breakthrough simultaneously to an Inspiration, forcing you to pick one outright. It won't happen very often, but it will happen occasionally. Even more unusual is that it's possible to get an Inspired Breakthrough, which is one of two ways for a Breakthrough's lab time to vary within a run.
An additional mechanic; if you have no regular Research project currently available, you will always be offered a Breakthrough when entering Tygan's lab, up until you've burned through all the Breakthroughs in the game. (Or have a new Research project enter the pool: maybe you sold off all the corpses needed for an Autopsy rather than performing it, and looted new copies of that corpse) Bizarrely, if a Breakthrough is offered by this mechanic, it will take less time to complete if you have a Laboratory, which is the only other way Breakthrough time will ever be anything other than 5 days below Legendary and 10 days on Legendary.
Of course, as I talked about in the Covert Ops post, Breakthroughs, though clearly imagined primarily as a research-based mechanic, are generally better pulled from Covert Ops. This has the odd effect that War of the Chosen runs are, once you understand the system, liable to simply get more research done in a given amount of time than base-game runs, because instead of Inspirations helping offset lab time delays caused by pursuing Breakthroughs you'll often just get lab progress accelerated by Inspirations while Breakthroughs are dumped into your lap by Covert Ops. The only offsetting element to this is that War of the Chosen runs are more likely to burn actual lab time on Instant-able Autopsies, due to greater enemy variety meaning it takes longer to hit the Instant threshold, and indeed some enemies it may never happen where in the base game it was expected to happen basically every run.
Anyway, the following is the full list of Breakthroughs (There's no point to listing off Inspirations: if it's not an Autopsy that can become Instant or a Shadow Project, it can become Inspired) and their effects, plus my commentary.
Improved Conventional Weapons
Almost all tier 1 primary and secondary weapons gain +1 damage.
Worth pointing out is that several weapon types only gain 1 damage from advancing to magnetic, and so if you get a hold of Improved Conventional Weapons very early in the game, before you've started on the transition to magnetics, these weapons are generally best to leave for last when upgrading.
The specific list of such weapons is: Templar Gauntlets and Autopistols, Sharpshooter Pistols, Ranger Swords, and Reaper Vektor Rifles. If you have Alien Hunters, this list extends to the Shadowkeeper and the Hunter's Axe as well. Vektor Rifles will pick up a Weapon Attachment slot and greater crit damage, and Swords and the Hunter's Axe will pick up a Stun chance, so they shouldn't necessarily be put off, but still, they should generally be lesser priorities than other weapons.
Pistols and Autopistols (Including the Shadowkeeper) in particular don't even gain an additional point of crit damage when going to Magnetic and secondary weapons also don't gain a Weapon Attachment slot at the magnetic tier, so if you have Improved Conventional Weapons it's literally a waste of Supplies and Alien Alloys to upgrade them unless you also have Improved Magnetic Weapons. Templar Gauntlets don't gain crit or a Weapon Attachment slot either, but they do control the damage on Volt and Psionic Storm, so if you're prone to using Volt you should upgrade them regardless.
Also note that this and the later tier-wide upgrades will affect even weapons that have no Breakthrough for their weapon class, such as SPARK cannons, Templar Gauntlets, and Skirmisher Ripjacks. Surprisingly, this even includes affecting Gremlins and Psi Amps even though they have no standard mode of attack, boosting the damage on Combat Protocol, Capacitor Discharge, Soulfire, Void Rift, Null Lance, and most bizarrely Schism. This makes the tier-boosting Breakthroughs particularly valuable, above and beyond the obvious value of boosting all the weapons individual Improved Whatever Breakthroughs boost.
Caveat: Grenade Launchers are not affected by Breakthroughs of any kind, not even the tier-wide ones. Same for Claymores, even though they'll list a damage boost if you get Improved Conventional Weapons. I don't think BITs are affected either, though it's possible I've just overlooked Bombard getting a boost out of them.
All other weapons are affected; this will usually even include weapons added by mods, no need for modders to explicitly provide Breakthrough support!
If you get offered Improved Conventional Weapons early, before you've researched Magnetic Weapons, you should always go for it. It's essentially worth more than half the value of unlocking tier 2 weaponry, requires fewer researches, will basically always take less research time (A lucky run backed by Inspiration and with multiple early Scientists will probably still have Magnetic Weapons taking 11 days or something, and you'll still need Gauss Weapons to finish upgrading), and immediately delivers its damage in full without needing to spend resources into purchasing anything. Yes, it will eventually be completely invalidated, but the effect in the meanwhile is shockingly useful, especially since it causes multiple weapons to cross crucial thresholds. (eg it causes Conventional Rifles to always kill Basic ADVENT Troopers on a hit if above Regular difficulty, and if down in Regular or Rookie makes Pistols always kill Basic ADVENT Troopers on a hit)
The fact that it lets you outright skip upgrading Pistols and Autopistols means it even frees up Supplies and Alien Alloys for other things, making it de-facto worth some of each. If you grab it via Covert Op, that's like doing a Supply Run, but with some Alien Alloys and a ton of damage thrown in for free.
A pleasant surprise is that the game won't try to offer it once your technology has advanced far enough. I'm not sure the precise trigger for it being barred, but I have never seen it offered after finishing the Gauss Weapons research.
If you do get offered it partway through transitioning to magnetics, you should probably ignore it, particularly if it arrives via the lab. Among other points, Mag Pistols and Mag Autopistols are dirt-cheap, unlocked by the Magnetic Weapons research, and provide proportionately huge boosts, so if you're partway through transitioning this probably means you won't get the biggest benefit of Improved Conventional Weapons because you already upgraded Pistols and Autopistols.
A powerful, cool, interesting Breakthrough, it and its fellows down the line are some of my favorite Breakthroughs.
Improved Magnetic Weapons
Almost all tier 2 primary and secondary weapons gain +1 damage.
As with Improved Conventional Weapons, Improved Magnetic Weapons makes it so that some weapons make more sense to put off upgrading than others, due to only gaining 1 base damage over magnetics when hitting beam-tier.
The specific list of such weapons is: Templar Autopistols, Reaper Vektor Rifles, Skirmisher Bullpups, and Ranger Swords. (Alien Hunters of course extends this to include the Hunter's Axe) Vektor Rifles and Bullpups do get increased crit damage, but conversely beam weapons don't add another Weapon Attachment slot so unless you strongly value crit damage you can very much ignore their beam tier upgrades until either you get Improved Beam Weapons or you've bought literally everything else already. Autopistols also get a crit damage boost at beam tier, but otherwise there's no reason to upgrade. Swords and the Hunter's Axe are particularly notable here, since normally the switch from Stun chance at magnetic to Burn chance at beam is a pretty substantial nerf in secondary effect. As such, if you have Improved Magnetic Weapons but not Improved Beam Weapons, upgrading your Ranger secondary weapons will outright be a downgrade in actual fact. (Outside of eg Chosen) This is particularly important to keep in mind with the Hunter's Axe, since you can't change your mind and equip it in its magnetic form once you've upgraded it, where with regular Swords you can buy Fusion Swords and still use Arc Blades anytime you want.
Also worth mentioning is Sharpshooter Pistols and the Shadowkeeper, as their transition from magnetic to beam is weird. A magnetic-tier version backed by Improved Magnetic Weapons will have worse maximum damage than a Beam Pistol/Powered Shadowkeeper, but will actually have better minimum damage. This is particularly important when it comes to eg mopping up Lost, as greater minimum damage will increase how long a reliable Headshot streak can go on before you have to start taking risky shots. As such, while it's the case that a Beam Pistol has better average damage than a Mag Pistol backed by Improved Magnetic Weapons, if only because it has boosted crit damage, you certainly shouldn't be upgrading your Pistols if it'll cost you the ability to make some other, more significant upgrade; they can wait. Similarly, consider switching to a Mag Pistol for Lost missions if you have Improved Magnetic Weapons but not Improved Beam Weapons, so you can reliably maintain Headshot streaks.
Like Improved Conventional Weapons, you should basically always take this when it''s offered. Indeed, in some ways it's more true; the transition to magnetics includes a Weapon Attachment slot, while the transition to beam weapons lacks an equivalent secondary benefit, and several weapons in War of the Chosen don't gain crit damage when going up to beam-tier, so for eg Rifles the difference between an Improved Magnetic Weapons Mag Rifle and an unimproved Plasma Rifle really is just the one point of damage. In conjunction with stuff like melee weaponry switching from a generally amazing effect to a merely okay effect, Improved Magnetic Weapons makes it surprisingly acceptable to put off most beam-tier upgrades for a while. It also helps that the proportionate boost is smaller; going from a boosted Conventional Rifle to an unboosted Mag Rifle is still a 25% increase in minimum damage, where going from a boosted Mag Rifle to an unboosted Plasma Rifle is only a 12.5% increase in minimum damage. The former is very noticeable against tough targets. The latter is basically noise.
Also like Improved Conventional Weapons, this will eventually cease to be offered. I think it's specifically finishing the Plasma Rifle research, but don't quote me on that.
Also like Improved Conventional Weapons, this is one of my favorite Breakthroughs of the game, being nuanced and interesting in its implications for a run.
Improved Beam Weapons
Almost all tier 3 primary and secondary weapons gain +1 damage.
Yes, this includes the Chosen weapons, all five of them.
This is, of course, a no-brainer to take if you get it, and will amp up the pressure to get beam-tier gear online if you haven't already bought it all. An additional point of damage isn't huge when your minimum weapon damage is so high, but it's free and permanent; take it.
Improved Beam Weapons is actually my least favorite of the tier-based Breakthroughs. It's great from the perspective of trying to win, of course, but from the perspective of Breakthroughs as a system to vary runs it's boring; you want to hit beam-tier on everything as early as feasible by default, and Improved Beam Weapons just makes this truth that bit more strongly true, where the other tier-boosters actually cause you to prioritize upgrades differently, up to and including entirely ignoring what are normally significant upgrades.
I'm glad it's a part of the game overall, but it's really more a fill-in-the-blanks presence rather than a distinctive, interesting way to change up runs.
Improved Sniper Rifles
All tiers of Sniper Rifle, including the Darklance, gain +1 damage.
Something worth pointing out is that it's possible to get the same Breakthrough twice in a run. I'm not sure whether that's intentional, but I've had a Breakthrough spawn in the research queue and then also spawn as a Covert Op option before I'd finished researching it, and they did in fact stack damage benefits. This includes the tier-based ones, which is part of why I'm not sure it's intentional; getting a couple of Improved Magnetic Weapons boosts would outright make beam-tier upgrades largely worthless unless you then got Improved Beam Weapons! That seems unlikely to be an intentional dynamic.
Anyway, this is the first of several line-specific damage-boosting Breakthroughs, and they're a great concept, pushing you to vary runs in response to them. Instead of always having the same incentives and relationship every single run, these Breakthroughs mean one run may find that Sharpshooters are its best damage-dealers and so you find yourself doing things you never would've done in the base game, and then a different run Grenadiers are your best shooters and you find yourself actually using Grenadier shooting skills even though you're a player that normally basically ignores all of those in favor of their grenade skills. 1 damage might not seem like a lot, and by the time you're in the endgame with beam-tier weapons it actually is pretty minor for the most part, but there's a fairly large chunk of the game where it can have a pronounced impact on your preferred strategies and class makeup.
Improved Sniper Rifles in particular is in a weird place because prior to getting the Darklance it's pretty underwhelming, but once you have the Darklance it's pretty darn good. Being able to raise the minimum HP value that will be an assured Death From Above trigger is fantastic at that point.
Assured Serial kills is also useful, though that's somewhat true even before you get the Darklance.
Before you get the Darklance, though, overall this is a bit underwhelming because Sharpshooters often struggle to actually get their Sniper Rifle pointed at anything, particularly in the early game. In the midgame you're more likely to eg have a Run And Gun Sharpshooter and so be able to move and fire the Sniper Rifle regardless, which can help make it more useful, so bonus skills are an important part of whether this is worth grabbing in a given run.
All tiers of Shotgun, including the Arashi, gain +1 damage.
This benefits notably from the fact that high-level Rangers value assured kills, and that max-level Rangers can be double-shooting in a pinch, making an extra point of damage disproportionately useful.
On the other hand, in the late game Rangers should mostly be Slashing things, in the very early game they should mostly be Slashing things, and even in the midgame Slashing is important and proper Shotgun use focuses on crit damage, making 1 point of damage stand out less. A Conventional Shotgun can already spike to a minimum of 7 damage if you're confident you'll crit; that's comparable to a Plasma Rifle's low roll. Going to 8 damage is nice, but not necessarily helping; basic ADVENT Officers only have 7 HP even on Legendary, for example.
Playstyle and other factors are thus an important part of this. If your best Ranger rolls Shredder and Holo Targeting, for example, there's a lot more incentive to shoot things, and you should probably prioritize Improved Shotguns. If your best Ranger's bonus skills basically fit better to Slashing all the time, this isn't so appealing.
All tiers of Cannon gain +1 damage, as do XCOM Turrets in Avenger Defense missions.
This is both great and underwhelming.
Underwhelming because Grenadiers are, on the whole, best off focusing on grenades and Heavy Weapons over shooting things in most cases, and the most heavily Armored targets may still have the shot do damage purely due to pity damage, such that the Breakthrough didn't help at all.
Great because Grenadiers are going to tend to be the first to shoot at tough targets, and so are unlikely to be landing overkill shots on near-dead targets where the Breakthrough doesn't do anything. Also, it benefits Turrets in Avenger Defense missions, and that's non-trivial if you get the Defense Matrix online early enough to benefit.
It also somewhat biases you toward giving shooting-focused Grenadiers more of a chance than if you don't get a hold of it, since there's no Breakthrough for boosting grenades, Heavy Weapons, etc. I don't usually bother to adjust my strategy in that regard, but if you're bored of Salvo and so on and roll this, you might consider changing things up.
Improved Assault Rifles
All tiers of Assault Rifle, as well as the Disruptor and Bolt Caster, gain +1 damage.
This is one of the better examples of a Breakthrough that can have a marked effect on your priorities, since Rifles are normally perpetually a point behind Cannons, Shotguns, and Sniper Rifles and the early to midgame is tuned so that hurts even worse than the proportions would suggest, such as how Basic ADVENT Troopers have juuuust enough HP on Commander and Legendary that Rifles won't necessarily kill them in one hit, or how Basic ADVENT Officers similarly have juuuust enough HP on Commander and Legendary that two Rifle shots will sometimes leave them still alive where other core class weapons will always kill them in at most 2 hits.
With Improved Assault Rifles, suddenly Specialists aren't a dip in your firepower compared to eg having a Grenadier fill the slot, and it's much more okay to have a squad include 2 or even 3 Specialists. Similarly, you should give more consideration to the possibility of equipping Rangers with Rifles; Shotguns will still have better crit damage and better accuracy up close, but boosted Rifles will clearly perform better at a distance.
Improved Vektor Rifles
All tiers of Vektor Rifle gain +1 damage.
This is great to get, pretty much a must-grab if you roll it. Vektor Rifles have poor base damage so every point helps, Silent Killer means an extra point of damage can be the difference between a shot too risky to chance vs a sure, safe kill, and of course Banish turns +1 into a sudden injection of +6 damage when you just need something to die. And Reapers really should be taken into many of the toughest missions, the ones you most desperately want more damage for.
Seriously, take it. Even lab time is a good trade.
Minor mechanics note; Improved Vektor Rifles will never be offered via Covert Op by Skirmishers or Templar. Only Reapers will provide it. The primary implication of this is that Improved Vektor Rifles is less common than core class damage boosters, which is a little annoying actually. The thematics make some sense, but in terms of game design it's a dubious decision.
All tiers of Bullpup gain +1 damage.
Since Bullpups have poor base damage and Skirmishers can often fire twice in a turn, this has a more pronounced effect than some of these Breakthroughs... when you're bringing a Skirmisher, of course.
I don't consider it an auto-take the way Improved Vektor Rifles is primarily because Skirmishers aren't an essential class the way Reapers are and, by virtue of being a Resistance class, you can't field them as heavily as most classes. Improved Shotguns can benefit you basically every mission in spite of the Fatigue system by having multiple Rangers waiting in the wings, and in an individual mission if you want you could have half the squad as Rangers. Improved Bullpups can't benefit you anytime your Skirmisher is exhausted, wounded, or busy with a Covert Op, and even if you started with Skirmishers a second Skirmisher isn't enough to reliably ensure one is present every mission, nor does it let you field more than two at once.
It's a big benefit when you are fielding a Skirmisher, definitely, but being tied to a Resistance class that isn't a Reaper hampers it. I''m not always willing to burn lab time on it, and on Legendary difficulty I'm sometimes not willing to burn Covert Op time on it. Especially if my Skirmisher has turned out a bit underwhelming, with a Standard Combat Intelligence and low bonus skill count.
Like Improved Vektor Rifles, only one Resistance faction is allowed to offer this; the Skirmishers, naturally. Also like Improved Vektor Rifle, this primarily means you'll see it less often than core class damage upgrades, which in some ways is even more unfortunate than with Improved Vektor Rifles, since Skirmishers function closest to core class dynamics, with one of their main selling points being damage output. And then eg you get Improved Pistols, and suddenly Quickdraw Sharpshooters are distressingly similar in performance prior to beam-tier weaponry coming online.
All tiers of Pistol, including the Darkclaw and Shadowkeeper, gain +1 damage.
This is one of the best damage-boosting Breakthroughs simply because damage Breakthroughs are uniformly +1 damage, and that's not only more proportionately on a Pistol than on eg a Sniper Rifle, but Pistols are themselves also tuned around the idea of making multiple shots within a turn and so will tend to stretch that damage boost farther. (eg a Quickdraw+Lightning Hands+Fan Fire will gain 5 damage in a turn from Improved Pistols, assuming they all hit) Notably, a Conventional Pistol backed by Improved Pistols is only barely weaker than an unboosted Rifle, specifically missing out on 1 max damage and 1 crit damage; if you get Improved Pistols early on, a Sharpshooter will perform well enough compared to a Specialist even when just walking about and firing their Pistol once in a turn. If you normally disdain Sharpshooters early on, you might wish to reconsider that stance if you get Improved Pistols in the first month.
It's also appreciated for making your Sharpshooters more reliable at chaining Lost kills, which is good since Lost-cleaning is one of the clearest roles for Sharpshooters in War of the Chosen. Even if you normally avoid using them at all until they've been reached a middling-to-high level via Covert Ops, you should probably bring them into Lost missions just to avoid your squad being bogged down by a constant need to reload. +1 damage on Pistols means even less ammo getting used up on Lost, which is particularly important on timed missions that are Lost+ADVENT forces, where action points spent on reloading is action points not spent on moving toward the timed objective.
All tiers of Sword and Hunter's Axe, as well as the Katana, gain +1 damage.
Improved Swords is particularly appreciated late in the game, between Implacable and Untouchable making minimum damage more important and the Katana turning Bladestorm into a guaranteed second hit, but is always nice, and contributes to run-varying since you may find yourself Slashing things over Shotgunning them for a longer period of time via Improved Swords, that kind of thing.
It's actually, proportionately, functionally one of the least impactful Breakthroughs for most of a run, weirdly enough. Swords do start out with damage identical to a Rifle, but realistically if you're going to bother with Slashing you're going to grab Blademaster, at which point they're already equivalent to Mag Rifles. So getting Improved Swords extremely early in a run will actually have less of an impact than getting Improved Rifles, in practice.
Once you're into beam-tier weaponry it turns into being one of the more impactful Breakthroughs, proportionately, simply because Swords scale poorly (+1 damage per tier; this is literally the same damage boost as going up a tier), but if it weren't for the Katana this honestly wouldn't really matter.
Surprisingly, this not only affects the Hunter's Axe but even affects the Throw Axe special! I'm not sure why SPARKs get left out so badly when it comes to Breakthroughs.
All tiers of Autopistol gain +1 damage.
How great this actually is depends pretty heavily on what bonus skills your Templar got. A Templar with Quickdraw, Lightning Hands, and Faceoff will greatly appreciate Autopistol boosts. A Templar with none of those will primarily appreciate it for helping clean up Lost.
Regardless, it's worth pointing out this is exactly equivalent to a tier upgrade for an Autopistol. Autopistols admittedly don't cost a lot to upgrade and aren't usually a heavy part of the Templar's combat activity, but still, it's a good Breakthrough to have.
Or you can skip it. Like Improved Bullpups, it's only benefiting a Resistance class (That's not Reapers), so you can't benefit from it continuously, and then it's further hampered by Templar being biased heavily toward Rends over Autopistol shots. I've had runs where I got Improved Autopistols and got nearly no use out of it, to the point I kind of regretted grabbing it at all.
It weirds me out that Templar have a Breakthrough for boosting their Autopistol damage but not for boosting their Gauntlet damage. That seems... backwards, given the class isn't oriented toward shooting things, and no Improved Autopistols isn't enough to change that on its own. Probably another product of War of the Chosen being rushed, but a bit of a confusing example of such if so.
Regardless, this completes the circle of 'Resistance faction offers their own Breakthrough, other Resistance factions can't offer that Breakthrough', with the Templar of course being the Resistance faction that can offer Improved Autopistols. Also as usual, the primary implication of this is that you'll get Improved Autopistols less often than, say, Improved Pistols. This is mildly annoying for runs that luck into a very Pistol-focused Templar, but overall is the least frustrating example of this issue, since Templar are focused on Rending things first and foremost anyway.
Modular Sniper Rifles
All tiers of Sniper Rifle can be equipped with an additional Weapon Attachment.
I have absolutely no idea whether Modular Breakthroughs can be stacked. It's never happened in any of my runs the way I've occasionally gotten a damage boosting Breakthrough twice, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. It could just be I've not happened to have it happen yet is all.
Regardless, this will take Conventional Sniper Rifles to 2 Weapon Attachment slots, and Gauss Rifles and Plasma Lances to 3 Weapon Attachment slots. This is identical behavior to the Continent Bonus in the base game that makes all weapons have an additional Weapon Attachment slot, just broken up into a series of individual Breakthroughs.
That's nice, but this is a dubious investment. In the long haul, the Darklance will displace regular Sniper Rifles; you'll only bother using a regular Sniper Rifle if you bring multiple Sharpshooters into a mission, or if you specifically want a really good Kill Zone-supporting Sniper Rifle, since the Darklance doesn't have an Expanded Magazine. Neither of these is a very compelling scenario in normal play; Sharpshooters are not a class that stacks with itself stupendously well, outside a few edge points like Bondmate Sharpshooters being able to double-Faceoff to get unusually large use out of Spotter, and Kill Zone is only really impressive one time in a given mission.
I'm willing to grab it via Covert Op if nothing else stands out, but I never waste lab time on it.
All tiers of Shotgun can be equipped with an additional Weapon Attachment.
Like Modular Sniper Rifles, this takes the Conventional tier to 2 slots, and the later tiers to 3 slots. Also like Modular Sniper Rifles, in the long haul you probably don't care; the Arashi is better.
So, just like Modular Sniper Rifles, I'm willing to burn a Covert Op on it, but not lab time.
All tiers of Cannon can be equipped with an additional Weapon Attachment.
This is by far the best of the Modular Breakthroughs that isn't for a Resistance class weapon, since there's no Chosen weapon to render it close to irrelevant in the long haul. Grenadiers can get by pretty well on just two Weapon Attachments, but having three will particularly help shooting-focused Grenadiers do their job reliably and effectively.
I personally am usually reluctant to burn lab time on it, in part because honestly Grenadiers are the close I'm most prone to leaving behind on the Avenger in War of the Chosen, to the point that I've had multiple runs where no Grenadier ever reached Colonel, and indeed in a couple of runs my highest-level Grenadier at the end of the game was only a Captain. If you're more prone to using Grenadiers than I, though, feel free to burn lab time on it; it's an investment that won't be displaced down the line.
As an aside, SPARKs don't have a Modular Breakthrough, and don't benefit from existing ones. There's a mod that addresses this by making both Cannon breakthroughs affect SPARK cannons; that this isn't default behavior is honestly surprising to me, hence part of why I'm covering all this here in particular.
Modular Assault Rifles
All tiers of Assault Rifle can be equipped with an additional Weapon Attachment.
This is slightly less prone to being long-haul underwhelming compared to Modular Shotguns and Modular Sniper Rifles simply because three classes can use Rifles and so even if you don't ever double up on a class you may find yourself passing out the Disruptor Rifle, only to find you still need to pass out a regular Plasma Rifle because eg you're fielding a Specialist and Psi Operative simultaneously.
It still gets hurt by acquiring the Disruptor Rifle, but not quite so dramatically as those two experience with their own Chosen weapons.
I tend to be reluctant to burn lab time on it, personally, but that's in part because I have Alien Hunters and so tend to give a Psi Operative the Bolt Caster. If you don't have Alien Hunters, or do but hate the Bolt Caster (Which is not unreasonable), then you'll want your regular Rifles at their best, and may consider lab time spent on it worthwhile.
It's really too bad War of the Chosen didn't provide Weapon Attachment options for the Bolt Caster...
All tiers of Bullpup can be equipped with an additional Weapon Attachment.
Skirmishers are the class that most desperately wants as many slots on their weapon as possible, since basically only Laser Sights aren't unusually good in their hands, and in particular they honestly basically want both an Expanded Magazine and an Autoloader to minimize shots lost to the need to reload. Having a third slot lets them slap on a Scope to get more reliably at hitting things at a distance, or a Hair Trigger to leverage their ability to roll for it at least twice a turn most turns, or a Repeater for the same reason and to somewhat make up for their poor per-hit damage. Those are all nice possibilities that are lovely to be able to slap in atop All The Ammo You Will Ever Need, Hopefully.
As such, I personally consider this one of the best Modular Breakthroughs, especially since no Chosen weapon will ever displace your regular Bullpups. It does a surprising amount to push Skirmisher from 'above-average, but not stupendously memorable in that regard' to 'actually prone to being MVP'.
Of course, if you're not much of a fan of Skirmishers, or prefer to focus on their abilities not centered on shooting, you can feel free to skip it yourself. It does make Skirmishers a lot better, but it's not like it makes them so good that not using them is criminally stupid.
Just as with Improved Bullpups, Skirmishers can offer this and the other Resistance factions can't. The result that Modular Bullpups is fairly rare to get is actually fairly painful, since they really do want... well, like five Weapon Attachment slots, frankly, but the point is that for Bullpups operating with just two slots is torture. And most runs will be stuck with just the two.
Modular Vektor Rifles
All tiers of Vektor Rifle can be upgraded with an additional Weapon Attachment.
High-level Reapers really want all of a Scope, Expanded Magazine, and either a Repeater (For killing Chosen/Alien Rulers with Banish) or a Hair Trigger. (For general Silent Killer usage) As such, this is fantastic to acquire, and given Reapers are really desirable to have in many of the toughest missions, it's basically a must-have if you're not doing some manner of gimmick run. I'm outright willing to burn lab time on this, in most cases.
Just like Modular Bullpups, this continues the thing of Resistance classes not being able to offer Breakthroughs that benefit other Resistance classes. Also like Modular Bullpups, the resulting rarity in ability to get a third slot for Vektor Rifles is actually quite painful, though overall a bit less so than with Bullpups.
Reinforced Light Armor
+1 HP on Spider Suits and Wraith Suits.
This does not affect the Serpentsuit. If you've got all the DLC and like to actually leverage it all, this makes Reinforced Light Armor extremely dubious, even more so than it already is. If you're equipping all three Ruler armors on a consistent basis in the late game -and the Icarus Armor and R.A.G.E Armor are both flat improvements over their regular tier-equivalent counterparts, while the Serpent Armor is generally better than a Wraith Suit, so you should if you have the Alien Hunters DLC- then you already only have half your squad slots wanting to maybe use a Spider Suit/Wraith Suit. And then that gets cut further by any SPARKs/Resistance soldiers you bring along! It's entirely possible to end up fielding a squad that has no room for a Wraith Suit.
But even if you don't have the Alien Rulers and/or Shen's Last Gift DLCs, this is pretty dubious. +1 HP is unlikely to help in any meaningful sense once you have access to second-tier armors, and it only applies to the limited subset of soldiers you specifically equip with light armors in the first place. Not helping is that Rangers and Sharpshooters are overall the best users of light armors; Rangers in the late game will have Untouchable so that even being targeted by guaranteed-damage effects doesn't, you know, guarantee damage, making +1 HP less important, and sniping Sharpshooters love the light armor-derived ability to re-position while still being able to fire their Sniper Rifle... and if you're actually focused on sniping with them, they shouldn't usually be in a position to get shot at in the first place, making +1 HP literally worthless.
If it shows up via Covert Op and either you don't have better Covert Ops available or the Covert Op happens to have a booster you want (eg to promote someone to Captain for Squad Size II), then sure, go ahead and grab it, but if it shows up in the lab you should probably skip it.
Reinforced Heavy Armor
+1 HP on E.X.O. Suits and W.A.R. Suits.
As with Reinforced Light Armor, this doesn't apply to the R.A.G.E. Suit, and so is hurt notably by having the Alien Hunters DLC. Also like Reinforced Light Armor, getting a hit point from a Breakthrough is pretty unlikely to matter anyway.
That said, of the two Reinforced Heavy Armor is more inherently meritful. A Blast Padding soldier in a W.A.R. Suit actually has respectable damage reduction, making it more plausible an additional hit point will actually help, and in general the heavy armors inherently encourage having those soldiers tank hits for people in lighter armors where feasible.
You should still probably skip it if it shows up in the lab, but it's a lot more worth considering when it shows up in Covert Op form, especially if you've got an unusually large number of Salvo soldiers.
Oh, and no, there is no Medium Armor HP-boosting Breakthrough. I'm not sure why. Not enough development time? Or maybe they felt it was too generically good, for reasons like that it would be a continuous boost to Resistance class HP?
On that note, no, SPARKs don't benefit from either armor Breakthrough. Alas. Not that it hurts them much given how underwhelming these particular Breakthroughs are, but still.
Note that the mod I linked to earlier that makes SPARK cannons benefit from Improved and Modular Cannons also makes it so that both this and the light armor Breakthrough benefit the Alien Ruler armors. Still not SPARKs, though.
Really, these needed to be bigger boosts, or provide different benefits. If the light armor Breakthrough was a boost to Mobility, that would be small but worthwhile. If the heavy armor Breakthrough provided a second Heavy Weapon use, that'd be fantastic, or if it provided a point of Armor that would encourage doing stuff like buying Blast Padding on soldiers more regularly and stuffing them into heavy armors. I can kind of see the thought process, in that HP boosting is in some sense the defensive equivalent to damage boosting on weapons, but XCOM 2 is heavily slanted toward 'kill everything so it doesn't get a turn' so HP only helps when you've screwed up, whereas damage helps basically all the time, and furthermore damage boosting helps every single time you land a shot, where HP boosting helps only once, at most, per mission. (Ignoring Medikit healing, admittedly, but you're pretty unlikely to survive by the skin of your teeth multiple times within a single mission)
So +1 HP on armors is really just... not equivalent to +1 damage on weapons. It's much lesser value in actuality.
It does admittedly slightly reduce average wound recovery time, I suppose?...
Adaptive Personal Combat Sims
When replacing a PCS on a soldier, the old PCS is returned to inventory instead of being permanently lost.
This is an okay Breakthrough. Not stupendous or anything, but being able to swap in a Superior PCS on an A-team soldier and then dump their old Basic or Advanced PCS on one of your secondary soldiers is worth something, making your PCS drops go further, and making it so you don't need to think strongly on the long-term aspect of PCS distribution. I basically always grab it if it shows up, but to be honest I would totally understand someone who felt it wasn't worth the bother and skipped it every time.
Note that it's generally somewhat obvious whether you have the Breakthrough or not. If you have it, and have a PCS in storage, then the exclamation point beside the PCS menu button will appear even on soldiers who have PCSes installed, so long as at least one PCS in storage isn't the same kind and an equal or worse bonus as their current PCS. (That is; if they have a Superior Perception PCS worth +13 Aim, and all that's in storage is Perception PCSes that provide +13 or less Aim, the exclamation point won't appear. But even another Superior Perception PCS can make the exclamation point appear, so long as it's providing +14 or more Aim) As you can readily see from that same screen whether the soldier has a PCS currently equipped or not, it's easy to see whether the exclamation point is there because they have nothing equipped or there because you have Adaptive Personal Combat Sims and a not-completely-worse option in storage.
Also note that the game still won't let you directly replace a PCS with a worse version of the same. You can work around this by swapping to a different kind of PCS (eg Superior Conditioning->Agility of some kind->Advanced Conditioning), but that of course requires you have more than one PCS in storage. It's a bit janky, and honestly this probably should've added in functionality to directly uninstall PCSes.
When replacing a Weapon Attachment, the old Weapon Attachment is returned to inventory instead of being permanently lost.
A point of note: strictly speaking the game provides no easy feedback on whether you've got this effect or not, but fortunately it's easy to check for it if you don't remember whether a given run has acquired it or not; simply try to install a Weapon Attachment into a weapon, over an existing Weapon Attachment. If you have it, it will go right in, and you can then swap it right back out; no harm done. If you don't have it, the game will promptly inform you this is a permanent choice that cannot be undone and are you sure you want to do it?
Or I suppose you could go digging in the lab's research archives, but that's honestly going to be slower and less convenient in most cases.
In any event, this is one of those must-have Breakthroughs you should basically always go for unless you're doing some manner of gimmick run that has no use for Weapon Attachments. It effectively is worth some Supplies, since you'll turn around and sell old Weapon Attachments once they've been swapped for superior versions instead of them vanishing into the ether, it gives you the ability to adjust soldier gear on the fly to accommodate specific missions (eg subbing in an Expanded Magazine for Lost missions on someone who normally doesn't need ammo support), and it even, somewhat awkwardly, allows you to shuffle Attachments across classes. It's especially helpful if acquired in the early game, letting you more freely throw in Weapon Attachments on whoever without worrying about the long haul; only got a Laser Sight and want your Skirmisher better? Throw it right on, you can just swap it out later, so the fact that it's really pretty bad for a Skirmisher isn't a reason to keep it uninstalled.
Moderate complaint: this really ought to have let you straight-up strip out Weapon Attachments from a weapon, returning them to the general pool. As-is, you can only remove a Weapon Attachment if you have something to sub in over it, which creates a bizarre incentive to keep at least one Weapon Attachment in storage so you can shuffle Weapon Attachments around. It's particularly frustrating because Long War 2 coded up such functionality, so the concept and code have already been put out there, and there's no way the War of the Chosen development team was unaware of this point, as they actively worked with Pavonis Studios to help make Long War 2 happen. It's not a huge deal or anything, but frustrating and weird.
Spare Parts I
Proving Grounds Projects cost 20% less, where applicable.
Note that if you have Spare Parts I and II and thus a total reduction of 50%, even a project that requires 2 Elerium Cores will still cost 2 Elerium Cores. Same for corpse requirements, where relevant. These only affect how much Supplies, Alien Alloys, and Elerium Crystals Proving Grounds Projects cost.
This is a pretty big problem with these Breakthroughs, because the majority of your resource investment into the Proving Grounds is Elerium Cores. Only a handful of these projects cost Supplies, and only a portion of those can be performed more than once, and only the armors cost Alien Alloys and Elerium Crystals, and none of them actually requires all that much of either, nor will you want to build all that many of the armors. Furthermore, by the time you're at the point of being able to build tier three armors and by extension perform the Powered Heavy Weapons project, their Supply costs are barely relevant; you usually have reached the point where there's little left to spend your Supplies on, while your Supply intake is massive, and you're basically looking for excuses to spend Supplies anyway, making savings on them functionally worthless.
If you have Shen's Last Gift, Spare Parts I and II get a bit better. SPARKs are very hungry on all three of Supplies, Alien Alloys, and Elerium Crystals; if you're planning on building at least one SPARK, Spare Parts I or II will be decent. If you're planning on building several of them for some reason, they're very much worth considering.
If you don't have Shen's Last Gift, or don't intend to build any SPARKs (Such as because you disabled Integrated DLC and turned on the Shen's Last Gift mission and see no need to get a second SPARK), this is close to worthless. Maybe worth considering grabbing via Covert Op if it shows up early enough, since it'll get the chance to apply multiple times and that does add up, but if you've already gotten all the one-time Supply-costing projects like Plasma Grenade done it's probably not worth the bother.
Spare Parts II
Proving Grounds Projects cost 30% less, where applicable. Requires Spare Parts 1.
Yes, this is the same graphic as Spare Parts I. Yes, that's the way it is in-game, no little upward arrows to denote it's the second tier or anything.
Otherwise, see Spare Parts I; maybe worth it very early on via Covert Op, but usually worthless.
Future Combat 1
Guerrilla Tactics School upgrades cost 20% less.
If you're playing below Legendary, this is liable to be virtually worthless; GTS upgrades are cheap, and even with all the rank requirements you'll often have bought most of them before you were ever offered Future Combat 1. Saving 20% of the cost of 150 Supplies worth of upgrades is probably not worth the lab time, nor worth a Covert Op when you could instead perform a Supply Run or something.
Annoyingly, the game is perfectly happy to keep trying to offer it even once you've purchased literally every GTS upgrade, clogging up your Covert Ops or wasting a Breakthrough roll in the lab.
Up in Legendary, this actually has the potential to be solid. Your soldiers take longer to reach Captain, so you're more likely to have it arrive before it's too late to help, and the GTS class skill purchases are almost three times as expensive; instead of saving 20% on 150 Supplies worth of upgrades, you're a lot more likely to be saving 20% on 1000 or more Supplies worth of upgrades. 200 Supplies is meaningful!
Future Combat 2
Guerrilla Tactics School upgrades cost a further 30% less.
Yes, this is the same graphic as Future Combat 1. Yes, that's the way it is in-game.
Like Future Combat 1, Future Combat 2 is almost always worthless below Legendary, rarely being offered early enough to have any chance of being a good deal, while up in Legendary it has pretty decent odds of being pretty darn good. Saving 300 Supplies because you've got 1000 Supplies of upgrades waiting to be bought is very good.
Also like Future Combat 1, the game is perfectly happy to keep trying to offer it even after you've bought all the upgrades, which is frustrating.
Proving Ground Construction
The Proving Ground facility costs half as much to construct.
This is the first example of a series of Breakthroughs relating to facility construction, and unfortunately it's pretty representative of how dubious they are: first of all, several facilities are priority constructions, such that it's unlikely you'll get the Breakthrough before you build them. Second of all, the benefit isn't that significant: 50% off sounds like a lot, but the Proving Ground only costs 100 Supplies in the first place, so this is just saving you 50 Supplies. Even early in the game 50 Supplies really isn't that significant, and critically a Supply Run Covert Op can provide notably more than that. So if you have both a Supply Run and one of these Breakthroughs available via Covert Op simultaneously... the Supply Run is generally going to be the same thing but better. Third of all, the game will only offer such Breakthroughs if you currently have the option of building the structure; in the case of the Proving Ground, you'll need to perform the ADVENT Officer Autopsy to unlock the Proving Ground. This limits the window in which you can be offered these Breakthroughs; if you unlock the Proving Ground and immediately go to build it, the game had one split-second opportunity to offer this Breakthrough; immediately after you finished the Officer Autopsy.
The plus side to this is that the game will always stop trying to offer these Breakthroughs if you've already built the relevant facility and it's a facility capped at 1 copy, such as the Proving Ground, and therefore you don't have to worry about them clogging up Covert Op slots or wasting Breakthrough spawns. Aside the edge case of the month rolling over, then you start building the facility, then your ongoing Covert Op completes and you discover that you got the Breakthrough for the facility you already started building, but, you know, edge case. And if you're really worried about that kind of thing, you can check your Covert Op list when the month rolls over instead of waiting for your current Covert Op to complete.
In theory it's a little more appealing when acquired as a proper lab research topic, since you're turning 'free' lab time into Supplies, a task otherwise impossible, but there's a pretty narrow portion of the game where this is plausibly a good deal. Early in the game, your research really needs to go to actual priorities, like making progress on plot topics and unlocking magnetic weapons and Predator armor. Late in the game, when you have a bit more freedom for assigning researches, Supplies is pretty much always the thing you have more than you know what to do with. There's a brief phase in the early midgame where you may find yourself with nothing better for your research to be focused on and an urgent need for Supplies, and in that case these Breakthroughs might be worth spending lab time on.
Most of the time, though, these should be skipped unless they're very specifically being offered as a Covert Op where you have no better options available. (eg you're near the beginning of the game, and what few alternate Covert Ops are available are more hazardous and/or also low in value)
Guerrilla Tactics School Construction
The Guerrilla Tactics School Facility costs half as much to construct.
This is one of the most pointless of the Facility cost reduction Breakthroughs, as the GTS is one of the first Facilities you should have online in any run that isn't some bizarre gimmick run or distorted by mods or ini editing. As the game only offers you Breakthroughs for Facilities you currently have the ability to build and the GTS is, like most Facilities, not possible to have more than one copy of, you're extraordinarily unlikely to even see this Breakthrough unless you pour literally hundreds of hours into War of the Chosen or deliberately avoid building the GTS early for reasons like 'using mods that make it less important'. There's not even an Achievement for beating the game without squad size expansions or anything like that.
Indeed, the first time I did roll this, it was still pointless, because it had shown up in my initial Covert Op pool and by the time I had the Resistance Ring online to go for it I'd already started building the GTS.
It's not like the GTS is particularly expensive, either. Sure, Supplies are tight in the early game, but this is still pretty underwhelming. I'd rather have had something like an additional slot for training Rookies, or even better it would've been cool if Live Fire Training had been a Breakthrough instead of a Resistance Order.
On the plus side, you don't have to worry about it clogging up your research or Covert Ops. It's merely virtually pointless that it exists, not actively impacting a typical run in a negative way.
Oh, and yes, this being the exact same graphic used for Future Combat 1 and 2 is, in fact, what goes on in-game. I get the impression the Breakthroughs system was one of the lower priorities in development, which is unfortunate because it's one of the more fundamentally compelling systems War of the Chosen adds.
Training Center Construction
The Training Center costs half as much to construct.
I honestly have no idea what this icon is supposed to be. An abstract Chryssalid face? That seems unlikely to be the intent, but it's the only thing I can come up with that seems even vaguely plausible for an XCOM 2 icon. It somewhat reminds me of alien heads from a few other games, but I doubt this is a random Half-Life shoutout or something.
Regardless, much like the GTS version you're fairly unlikely to see this in practice, as the Training Center should be one of your fairly early priorities. I frequently build it as my third facility; Resistance Ring, then GTS, then Training Center. Getting higher-tier Bonds going faster is very useful not only for the essentially free tactical combat value but also for accelerating Covert Op turnaround, and while it's generally not viable to buy your first bonus skill until about Lieutenant once you are at that point the effect can be pretty huge. You also need the Training Center built to be able to even see how many bonus skills most of your soldiers have, let alone what skills they specifically have. A soldier with a full 4 bonus skills has better odds of being worth going out of your way to preserve than one with only 2 bonus skills, and having that info early can be useful when forced into a situation where you have to decide who is liable to get killed, or who to send on Covert Ops with a high Capture Risk.
Training Center Construction in't borderline-pointless the way Guerrilla Tactics School Construction is, as there's solid arguments for putting off the Training Center until later (eg Resistance Ring, then GTS, then Proving Ground), and the Training Center costs more; saving 63 Supplies isn't huge, but it's better than saving 43.
But it's still something you'll only rarely even see.
Power Conduit Construction
The Power Conduit upgrade for Power Relays costs half as much.
This is an okay facility-related Breakthrough. Most runs will end up building two Power Relays, and many of them will end up upgrading both of them as well, and if you're waiting to be able to build them on Exposed Power Coils it'll generally take a couple of months -much longer, on Legendary- to get even your first Power Conduit built. This means you have a decent amount of time for it to actually get offered, and while Power Conduits aren't expensive if you're buying two of them you'll end up saving 80 Supplies, which is better than eg Training Center Construction. Furthermore, you're normally building your first Power Relays in the phase of the game where lab time is somewhat less precious and Supply crunch is noticeable; it may actually be a good trade-off to make.
I'd have rather it was a Breakthrough that increased how much power you got out of Power Conduits/Power Relays, but this isn't terrible. I usually ignore it, but there's decent arguments in its favor.
Elerium Conduit Construction
The Elerium Conduit upgrade for Power Relays costs half as much.
Yep, another reused Breakthrough graphic.
I virtually never build Elerium Conduit upgrades. In a normal run you don't have the Elerium Crystals to spare, particularly on Legendary, and just building Power Relays on your two guaranteed Power Coils is enough to ensure plenty of power for the Avenger in conjunction with Engineers manning slots and upgrading one or both with Power Conduits. This all costs primarily Supplies, which are always much easier to come by than the Elerium Crystals the Elerium Conduit upgrade demands.
This is a roundabout way of saying Elerium Conduit Construction is borderline worthless of a Breakthrough. Particularly frustrating is that it'll tend to semi-regularly clog your Covert Ops or waste a lab Breakthrough trigger, since there's no point where you've made it permanently, inarguably irrelevant.
That said, cost reduction Breakthroughs do affect how many Elerium Crystals a facility costs, where applicable. So that's... something, I suppose.
To be honest, I don't even understand why this Breakthrough exists. Elerim Conduits were extremely dubious in the base game, and War of the Chosen has provided tools to speed up facility construction, speed up Excavation, and also provided new ways to make your power go further, like burning Covert Ops on adding Contacts so you don't need as much Resistance Comms support, making it even less likely you'll bother with Elerium Conduits. In the base game, I could imagine having circumstances conspire such that an Elerium Conduit was actually the best solution to a bad situation. In War of the Chosen, it's virtually impossible for circumstances to line up that way.
It's not like halving the upgrade's cost addresses the reasons why it's close to worthless, either.
I just don't get this Breakthrough.
Resistance Comms Construction
Halves the cost of building the Resistance Comms facility.
This is potentially decent. You can't really count on it being good, but if you end up building two Resistance Comms it will save 110 Supplies, which isn't bad, and like Power Conduits you're often building your first Resistance Comms in the phase of the game where lab time isn't urgently valuable and Supply crunch is probably happening.
I say you can't really count on it, though, because in War of the Chosen you often don't actually need a second Resistance Comms facility. Most runs only end up needing 8-12 Contacts to hit the Forge and Psi Gate missions and hit Avatar Project Facilities enough to avoid a game over, you start with 3 Contacts, and building, upgrading, and fully manning a single Resistance Comms will provide 8 more Contacts. 11 Contacts is often enough for your needs...
... and in War of the Chosen, if you prioritize chasing Contact boosts from Rumors and Covert Ops you'll often get 3 more Contacts before you're in the endgame. (Or you could get Resistance Rising I or II!) It's extraordinarily unlikely you'll need more than 14 Contacts in a run, even if you put off the Shadow Chamber and its projects a fair amount. At which point, why bother making a second Resistance Comms? 55 Supplies isn't nearly so solid a savings.
Indeed, I've had a couple of runs that got so many Contacts from Rumors, Covert Ops, and Resistance Orders I never built any Resistance Comms!
And conversely, once I got a handle on War of the Chosen, it became very rare for me to build a second Resistance Comms.
So like I said: potentially decent.
But honestly... not likely.
Additional Comms Station Construction
Halves the cost of upgrading Resistance Comms with an additional slot.
Upgrading Resistance Comms costs 125 Supplies a pop. Potentially saving 125 Supplies isn't bad.
Unfortunately, as I just covered, it's pretty unlikely to happen. Even if you do build a second Resistance Comms, you're quite unlikely to upgrade both of them; you'd basically need to have bad luck on Engineer recruitment simultaneous to having a desperate need for additional Contacts for it to be liable to actually happen.
As such, this is usually something you should skip, particularly if it shows up in the lab.
UFO Defense Construction
Halves the cost of building the Defense Matrix facility.
Saving 37 Supplies is pretty underwhelming, and the Defense Matrix is one of those Facilities you're likely to either start building immediately after unlocking it, or decide you don't care and never build it ever.
Also, I'm not sure why whoever came up with this icon thought it was a good idea to depict a Turret from the front, because it is not at all obvious that this is depicting a Turret.
This Breakthrough deeply confuses me.
Quad Turrets Construction
Halves the cost of upgrading the Defense Matrix facility.
Upgrading a Defense Matrix is also 75 Supplies, so this is also lackluster savings, and even more so than the basic Defense Matrix this is generally an upgrade you either take immediately or never take. (Or more precisely, you probably build the Defense Matrix and upgrade it the instant it's finished, or you don't bother to build it at all) So you'll virtually never see this Breakthrough, full stop.
I mean, the Defense Matrix is at least worth building in War of the Chosen due to the combination of 'now Turrets gain Squadsight if the Defense Matrix is manned' and 'now you have decent odds of benefiting more than once in the entire game' and 'Chosen Sabotage is substantially more likely to fail if you have a Defense Matrix', but these Breakthroughs are still pretty bizarre and dubious.
I'm honestly surprised they weren't, instead, the way you boosted Turret damage. Or a way to boost their Aim, that would've been very nice. Just say it's a Breakthrough related to their target-acquisition algorithms, there you go, it makes sense narratively and is more useful in gameplay.
Ah well. At least it won't actually clog things up, generally speaking.
Psi Chamber Construction
Halves the cost of building the Psi Lab facility.
This is one of the relatively decent facility Breakthroughs, between the Psi Chamber being on the expensive side for a facility -125 Supplies and 20 Elerium Crystals- and sufficiently demanding power-wise that even if you want to build it right away you may be forced to wait long enough for this to actually appear, in part because it can be unlocked extremely early; you just need the Sectoid Autopsy to get started on Psionics, and once Psionics is researched Psi Chamber Construction can pop in anytime until the Psi Lab is started. Still not great, but decent.
The saved Elerium Crystals is particularly appreciated if playing on Legendary, freeing up more for beam-tier equipment upgrades, and Legendary's much slower Excavation and facility construction also means you're even more likely to have Psi Chamber Construction offered in a timely manner. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a must-have, but if you were planning on building a Psi Lab regardless, it's certainly worth considering spending a Covert Op on it, maybe even lab time.
Second Cell Construction
Halves the cost of upgrading the Psi Lab facility.
If you're going to bother with Psi Operatives at all it's usually best to get the second slot, to maximize the payoff for your investment. Picking this up via a Covert Op is certainly worth considering right there, and fortuitously the Psi Lab upgrade costs 225 Supplies and 15 Elerium Crystal; that's more Supplies than building it in the first place! That's pretty good savings, particularly since, this includes that it saves you 8 Elerium Crystals.
Its main flaw is that it can't be offered until the Psi Lab has been finished, and it's not at all unusual to be able to upgrade the Psi Lab the very instant you have it built, and if you're going to upgrade it at all it's desirable to do so as early as possible. As such, there's often no opportunity for it to be offered at all.
Still, you can end up building the Psi Lab, not having the power to upgrade it, and get offered Second Cell Construction before you hit that point. It's merely unlikely to appear, not virtually impossible.
Halves the cost of building the Laboratory facility.
63 Supplies saved is okay, just as with the Training Center and whatnot, and notably the Laboratory is available to build right away but probably shouldn't be built initially since it's only really worth it once you have multiple Scientists. Which means Laboratory Construction gets a fairly long stretch of the game to be thrown at you before you get around to actually building a Laboratory, giving it better odds of actually helping than a number of these facility-related Breakthroughs.
I wouldn't burn lab time on it, but I'm okay with burning Covert Op time on it if no Supply Run is available, or if it's faster than the Supply Run that is available, or the like.
Additional Research Station Construction
Halves the cost of upgrading the Laboratory facility.
This is also 63 Supplies saved, but is substantially held back by the fact that the usual thing to do with a Laboratory is to upgrade it the very instant it's finished, meaning you're extremely unlikely to ever see this Breakthrough offered, let alone actually take advantage of it.
Halves the cost of building the Workshop facility.
Unfortunately, the Workshop is extremely dubious. On difficulties below Legendary, you're not under that much time pressure and will generally eventually get more Engineers than you know what to do with so long as you pursue Engineer-providing Rumors, missions, and Covert Ops as a modestly high priority. On Legendary, time pressure is significant for much longer, but so is power pressure, such that it's difficult to justify trying to squeeze a Workshop in somewhere early in your construction and Excavation. By the time you can slip a Workshop in, you don't really need one anymore. It's also very difficult to arrange an optimal Workshop-friendly facility distribution even when you know what you're doing, further reducing the appeal of actually building a Workshop.
All of which means that saving money on building a Workshop is more or less worthless on every difficulty.
Which is too bad, because the Workshop is expensive. Halving its cost is saving you 125 Supplies, which is notably more than a single Supply Run can possibly provide. If the Workshop was actually worth building, this would be an actually worthwhile Breakthrough to grab!
Additional Workbench Construction
Halves the cost of upgrading the Workshop facility.
See previous; upgrading the Workshop is actually fairly pricey, so this should be a good deal, but the Workshop itself is almost never worth building, and it's even rarer for it to be worth upgrading. Only Resistance Comms and Power Relays can have more than one Engineer assigned, and it's only possible to surround the Workshop with four facilities if it's placed in the upper-middle or lower-middle slots; this makes it a pain to actually get the Workshop situated so you can leverage the full four Gremlins, and often arranging for such conditions means damaging your build some way or another, whether it's delaying initial construction of essential facilities or sub-optimally placing the Workshop on an Exposed Power Coil or tearing down and re-building essential facilities later.
ie this should be a good Breakthrough, but is actually awful.
Not helping is that, as usual, you can only be offered it after you've finished your Workshop. If you could get both Breakthroughs ahead of time, you might at least get both Breakthroughs via Covert Ops and as a result pursue the Workshop, at least in theory.
Halves the cost of building the Infirmary facility.
Well, you should build the Infirmary in every run, even if it's fine to put it off a bit. If you can get this from an early Covert Op, it's kind of like getting some Supplies.
I personally wouldn't burn lab time on it, but from a Covert Op? Sure, why not, assuming that cramming it into my Covert Op schedule doesn't get in the way of other things I care about.
Hypervital Module Construction
Halves the cost of performing the Hypervital Module upgrade for the Infirmary.
The Hypervital Module is extremely dubious a purchase, and halving its cost doesn't actually do anything to address its deficiencies. It's not even that many Supplies being saved; 40 Supplies. That's it.
It's actually fairly annoying to have this clogging up Covert Ops or popping into the lab... which is frustrating since making the upgrade is a complete waste, so good play will be consistently having this waste Breakthrough opportunities.
At least the Hypervital Module is new. Overestimating its value is reasonable, and it does sound like a solidly useful concept in principle, where I can see how the devs thought it would be good enough to bother building. This Breakthrough is bad, but I can understand how it happened, unlike some of these Breakthroughs that are just plain confusing.
Digital Network Construction
Halves the cost of performing the Digital Network upgrade for the Resistance Ring.
Note that there are two upgrades at the Resistance Ring, and this only effects the cheaper one. In practice it's saving you... 50 Supplies.
This can be an okay benefit from a Covert Op, such as if none of your other Covert Ops is offering Supplies anyway or you really want the soldier boost being offered, but it's extremely difficult to justify spending lab time on it. And it does benefit some from the fact that it's usually best to put off upgrading the Resistance Ring until you're in the part of the game where Supply crunch is a factor. Not a lot of benefit, but some.
Holo Planner Construction
Halves the cost of performing the Holo Planner upgrade for the Resistance Ring.
Yeah, it's yet another recycled Breakthrough graphic. This one is particularly puzzling, since just removing the arrows or halving the number of arrows would immediately make for a slightly distinct graphic, and the game is willing to do exactly that to separate out graphics. I suspect some manner of oversight occurred here, because it seems likely that with-arrows is a modified version of a without-arrows graphic that inexplicably isn't used; it'd be easier to add arrows in to a no-arrows graphic than to remove arrows from a with-arrow graphic, after all, and that's how these things usually go.
In any event, this is saving a whole 63 Supplies, and so is maybe okay to grab via a Covert Op but is still usually a waste of lab time. It also can't be offered until you've purchased the Digital Network upgrade, and it's entirely possible to end up purchasing both upgrades at the same time. Even if you don't, this makes it that bit less likely you'll get it at all.
On the plus side, the game doesn't have a Resistance Ring cost reduction Breakthrough. That would've been downright appalling, given the game itself clearly wants your very first building to be the Resistance Ring, and is completely justified in pushing that. I kind of suspect that at some point in development such a Breakthrough did exist, probably using a no-arrows version of this graphic and got removed because yeah that would be awful to include, only nobody thought to shuffle the no-arrows graphic onto Digital Network Construction. Oops.
Shadow Chamber Construction
Halves the cost of building the Shadow Chamber.
You'll basically never see this. It can't be offered before you complete Alien Encryption, and you can't put off building the Shadow Chamber for very long unless you get multiple Sabotage Covert Operations very early on because you'll be risking a game over if you put it off. I only saw it by deliberately fishing for it, for screenshot purposes.
Furthermore, delaying building the Shadow Chamber means both delaying your ability to actually advance toward the endgame and means delaying access to enemy unit previews. So even aside the 'build it quick or game over' aspect, you'd want it built fast just to avoid the game taking unnecessarily long and to get access to its mechanical benefits early, particularly as later enemies are kinda designed around the assumption that you do, in fact, have the Shadow Chamber to let you plan for them properly.
Like most of these facility-related Breakthroughs, should you happen to be whatever tiny percentage of people ever see it, it's... okay as a Covert Op grab, and dubious for spending lab time on. 63 Supplies is, as usual, not great but not terrible..
I really think these facility Breakthroughs would've been a lot better if they slashed the power requirements of their facilities/facility upgrades. Among other things, a big part of what makes the early game repetitive is your tiny Power budget; you start with just enough spare Power to fit in two essential structures (Resistance Ring+GTS) and then a third structure you can actually get away with varying. Breakthroughs that provided more freedom regarding the Power situation would potentially let you squeeze in facilities or upgrades you'd normally put off. It would also have a clear, permanent payoff; the facility Breakthroughs are lower in value than eg the damage boosting Breakthroughs in part because a modest resource savings fades away in importance once you reach the point of having more Supplies than you know what to do with, where damage boosts are forever. (Aside that Conventional and Magnetic damage boosts will eventually be obsoleted, but their benefits are so huge during the phase they apply it's fine they eventually stop mattering) Less Power demands would mean less pressure to build Power Relays, the ability to free up Engineers from manning Power Relay slots and focus their efforts elsewhere and in turn less pressure to aggressively recruit Engineers, and with enough such Breakthroughs accumulated you might not even need the second Power Relay!
That would make facility-related Breakthroughs change the course of the average game in a large, obvious manner. Halving costs is... not nearly so meaningful or interesting.
One time, you can instantly excavate a single room in the Avenger without need of an Engineer.
This is the unambiguously best of the facility-related Breakthroughs, dramatically accelerating your facility timetable if used properly -especially on Legendary, where excavations not in the top row take 50% longer than normal, which is to say three times as long as equivalent top row slots instead of twice as long- while providing an immediate injection of resources and allowing you to distribute Engineers to facilities you might otherwise neglect until later. (eg the Resistance Ring) Don't waste it on one of the spots that only takes one or two Engineers at max: use it on an Exposed Power Coil or some other spot that will take up to three Engineers to dig open. That maximizes its value (The more Engineers a location can support, the longer it takes to Excavate, and the bigger the Supply and Alien Alloy payoff if it's not an Exposed Power Coil), and will almost always be more helpful than using it on a closer spot that requires fewer Engineers.
The game itself doesn't explain how you use it, but it's fairly intuitive; normally when you pop into a room that can currently be dug out, the Excavate button will be dark until you assign some Engineers. If you have Rapid Excavation ready to go, it will be in the lit-up green state even with no Engineers assigned; if you attempt to start an Excavation without assigning an Engineer, the game will ask if you want to use up the Rapid Excavation charge, and if you say yes the room will be instantly cleared. Alternatively, you can assign Engineers as normal and then click the Excavate button, in which case it will be Excavated as normal.
Also nice is that it won't be offered once you're done Excavating the Avenger. No having to worry about it wasting Covert Op slots or lab Breakthrough chances at that point.
This is the only Breakthrough I always take if it shows up in the lab. (Well, I wouldn't if I had plenty of Engineers and only one spot to Excavate, but that hasn't happened as yet) Instant resources, dramatic acceleration of your facility timeline, and less pressure to pile on the Engineers is a fantastic set of benefits, and the accelerated facility timeline can benefit you in so many different ways it doesn't really matter what your most urgent concern is, Rapid Excavation is helping. It's particularly excellent if it shows up when you're still working your way to your first Exposed Power Coil, but even once you've got your first Power Relay on an Exposed Power Coil built it's still the best of the facility-related Breakthroughs by a fairly wide margin.
It's also unique and interesting, instead of being one of several Breakthroughs that are the same basic idea applied to different specific things, which is definitely a big part of why I like it. I'd be an even bigger fan of Breakthroughs if more of them were original like this.
Overall, the Breakthroughs idea is better in concept than execution, a system for greater variety when replaying the game that ultimately has a large number of its options too low-value to be all that worth considering and too low-impact to be all that interesting in practice, plus several options you will basically never see even though you want to use them, but even with its underwhelming execution it manages to do a pretty solid job of making War of the Chosen a more varied and interesting experience than base XCOM 2.
I'm hoping that XCOM 3, whenever it comes along, brings back the basic idea. With some refinement like replacing dud Breakthroughs, adding in new Breakthrough concepts that have an interesting impact on runs, and so on, it could be an incredible system for helping ensure each new run is a fresh experience for many, many runs.
Inspirations, meanwhile, really depends on how XCOM 3 handles its tech tree. If it falls in the same basic mold as XCOM 2 and its predecessor, Inspirations would remain a neat idea that's dull in practice. If XCOM 3 broadens your research tree so that enhancement comes from spreading out into multiple realms rather than essentially-linear advancement down a narrow pair of lanes that are partially intertwined, then Inspirations could become an excellent way to enhance replayability by making different runs end up prioritizing different things.
Also, it's worth pointing out that this isn't the entirety of what War of the Chosen does with research. In addition to the new Autopsies, some old Autopsies have been made prerequisites to existing researches that, in the base game, didn't require them. I certainly appreciate the idea, as for example it's nice on a thematic level that studying Mutons is now necessary to work out how to build your own powered armor, though in practice the exact choices are a bit... centralizing. More on this when we get to the enemies in question, though.
Next time, we cover one of War of the Chosen's less ambitious, but still random and interesting systems; Sitreps.
See you then.