XCOM 2 Analysis: Soldier Bonds
Soldier Bonds is yet another ambitious new mechanic in War of the Chosen, and like many such mechanics it has more promise than it really manages to deliver.
It's not a bad addition, mind, but it really feels like it was meant to be a bit more developed than it actually is, which is supported by some Bond stuff being in the code but, as far as I'm aware, non-functional. This is particularly surprising given there's evidence the basic idea of a Bonds system was intended to be part of the base game, and got cut for time or whatever. (There's a mod for the base game that takes the non-functioning code and makes something functional from it)
In any event, Soldier Bonds are fairly straightforward: as your soldiers are generated, the game comes up with Compatibility ratings for all possible pairs of soldiers. (Exception: SPARKs are ineligible for Bonds, because XCOM 2 can't quite make up its mind on whether SPARKs are People Who Happen To Be Robots or Soulless Machines With No Personhood) A better Compatibility rating means the soldiers will gain Bond experience faster, and that's it; Bond-derived abilities aren't more effective with higher Compatibility or anything. Bond experience itself is gained simply by being deployed on missions together, with Covert Operations counting as missions for this purpose.
Once a pair of soldiers gain enough Bond experience for the first level, you can do some button-clicking and wham! They're Level 1 Bondmates. Effortless. You can't back out of this decision, note, and soldiers can only have one Bond. This is basically a battlefield marriage, 'til death do they part. If a Bondmate does die, the survivor is guaranteed to Berserk if they're on the battlefield with their Bondmate, though they can go right on to developing a new Bond so I guess there's no long-term trauma from losing your battlespouse.
Bond Levels 2 and 3 work a little differently. You still need to earn Bond experience from going out in the field with your Bondmate, and once they have enough Bond experience for the next rank... you don't get to just click into saying yes like you did with the first Bond Level. Instead, the Training Center has a slot for shoving a Bond pair in to reach their next level, tying them up for several days where you can't send them on missions and whatnot.
If the wider internet hasn't made honeymoon jokes and similar over this, I will be amazed.
Anyway, since the Training Center only has the one slot for Bond Level advancement, if you get multiple Bondmates ready to take things to the next level you're going to have to prioritize. Also note that if either Bondmate is injured or Shaken, you can't do Bond training, though regular Tiredness is no impediment to such; if you're having multiple Bonds hit their next threshold together, consider prioritizing whichever Bond pair has the longest Tired recovery period to minimize soldier crunch.
Note that Bondmate benefits are entirely dependent on their Bondmate's presence. A Level 3 Bond isn't doing a soldier any good if their partner is hanging out on the Avenger, or off on a Covert Operation without them, or kidnapped and awaiting a rescue.
In conjunction with the commitment aspect of Bonds, you should think carefully about how you want to distribute your Bonds, especially when it comes to your Resistance classes; the easy thing to do is to just Bond them to whoever they have the highest Compatibility with, but if, say, your melee Ranger and Templar are the most compatible and you don't actually like having more than one melee soldier in a squad then you're probably going to regret Bonding those two. Since you're either not going to get a second Templar at all or will only get one, you don't shrug and just start training up a new Templar with a different Bondmate, which is how you could potentially respond to Bonding a couple of Rangers together and then going 'wait, why did I do this?'
One somewhat wonky element of this is that an important consideration for planning out Bonds is knowledge of Training Center bonus skills... when your first Bonds are liable to be formed long before you've even built the Training Center, and you don't get to know what skills someone rolled until they hit the relevant rank anyway. This can lead to situations where you get halfway through a run and realize you have a great pair to Bond with each other and oops they're both in Level 2 Bonds with completely different people and the only way to fix this is to kill off their Bondmates which is a terrible plan.
Ah well. Fortunately, it's not critically important to min/max Bonds, so it generally doesn't feel punishing to have such missed opportunities. It's merely a low-level frustration, something that ideally will be ironed out in XCOM 3 if indeed Soldier Bonds and bonus skills return in it in a recognizable enough form for these concerns to remain relevant. Indeed, you can get through War of the Chosen without ever taking advantage of Bonds at all, and the loss isn't felt particularly keenly most of the time.
Anyway, time for the Bond tier effects themselves, starting of course with...
Either Bondmate may transfer a single action point to their Bondmate. This will grant an additional turn if the recipient was out of action points at the time. Teamwork has one charge, which is used up on both soldiers if either of them uses Teamwork. Using Teamwork does necessarily not end the user's turn. Teamwork has no limits on range and does not require line of fire or line of sight between the Bondmates.
It's Inspiration but better in almost every way, except it doesn't recharge and you can only use it on a single specific soldier as opposed to any non-SPARK soldier.
Also noteworthy is that you can use Teamwork with a Run And Gun-generated action point, and the Bondmate's received action point will be an unconstrained action point. This can allow you to have a soldier Dash somewhere and still grant an action point, one that's more flexible than when it was in their own hands. This isn't important very often, but when it matters it's really nice.
The big thing about Teamwork is that it not ending the user's turn while being able to grant an extra turn to the Bondmate means you can literally generate an extra soldier turn from what amounts to nothing. If a soldier was going to hold still and not reload, use Aid Protocol, etc, their Bondmate can perform their full turn, then they gift their Bondmate a bonus turn via Teamwork, and then they fire their gun or lob a grenade or otherwise end their own turn, and it's pure gain from an action economy perspective. This can allow you to resolve situations that really need five soldiers acting even though you've only got four at the moment, that kind of thing.
Don't discount all the other things you can do with Teamwork, though. Need someone to run an insane distance for any number of reasons? Teamwork is 50% more movement if you need them to Dash+, or is doubling their movement if you need them to Dash and still do something else afterward. Need someone to do three things at once, like healing, reviving, and still shooting? Teamwork. Need a Sharpshooter to move and still fire their Sniper Rifle? Teamwork. You've cleared a soldier's Panic but they still can't act? Teamwork.
This is, however, the only benefit a Level 1 Bond provides. It can be a mission-saver in the right circumstances, but most of the time you shouldn't be leveraging this effect at all, since you only have one charge per pair and outside saving you in emergencies the payoff is pretty low. This is one reason to consider not immediately Bonding people with whoever is right there and high compatibility; the benefits are low enough even in the difficult early game you can put it off. Indeed, the early game is sufficiently lethal an argument can be made that the risk of one soldier dying causing the other to Berserk isn't worth Teamwork. It's a weak argument, but something to keep in mind.
Takes 3 days of training at the Training Center. (6 days on Legendary)
This, oddly enough, is the big payoff Bond level. Level 3 is nice to have, but not nearly as significant.
It's worth noting that while hitting Level 2 takes time at the Training Center, this is often not really a cost at all. Tired soldiers can perform Bond Training, and frequently even non-Tired soldiers who come back from a mission ready for the next level of Bond training will finish it before another mission rolls around, particularly on difficulties below Legendary. It's only really a hassle if you have preferred Covert Op pairs, since they'll never get Tired and so would normally be able to be sent right back out if they're eligible for Bond training. (Because the alternative is that one of them was Wounded by the Covert Op, in which case they can't Bond train and can't go on Covert Operations together)
If the Bondmates are deployed on a Covert Operation together, the Covert Operation has its duration shortened by 1 day.
This doesn't have an icon in-game, so I'm borrowing a fitting Long War 2 icon. There's a lot of things in War of the Chosen you'd expect to have icons that don't; more evidence the game got rushed.
Anyway, note that Covert Operators means it's particularly useful to send Level 2 Bondmates on shorter Covert Ops, enough so it may be worth sending a higher-level Bond pair out to improve turnaround. For longer Covert Ops where the effect is negligible, it may not be worth sending your Level 2 Bond pair, such as if that's your only such pair and you'd rather have them ready for battle, or want them ready to hop onto the next Covert Op that has shorter turnaround.
Also note that if you have an Engineer staffed at the Resistance Ring, this takes off one day 'at the end'; this means it's more impactful if you have an Engineer staffed at the Resistance Ring than if you don't. For example, a 6 day duration with no staff will be reduced to 5 by Covert Operators. If you then staff it, reducing the duration to 4 days, Covert Operators will reduce it to 3 days. That's proportionately a much bigger deal.
Finally, note that difficulty influences how useful Covert Operators is, as Legendary raises Covert Op times by roughly 50%, except for the Chosen chain where it instead doubles their duration. Below Legendary, there are a number of Covert Ops that can be as short as 4 days when the Resistance Ring is manned by an Engineer. -1 day is a big deal when you were only going to take 4 days in the first place. It's still appreciated, but not nearly so dramatic, when your Covert Ops are mostly in the 10+ day range, a point exacerbated by how Legendary difficulty has different relationships between a lot of things in general; as a concrete example, Supplies are something that you're perpetually short on below Legendary, and the Supply Run Covert Op is one of those quick ones that can take as little as 4 days with a manned Resistance Ring.
Up in Legendary, though, while a portion of your costs have gone up, many costs have not, and meanwhile the rate at which you acquire new opportunities to spend Supplies has actually dramatically slowed down and you'll be collecting more corpses to sell relative to your rate of Supply spending. (Both because individual missions will have more enemies, and because you'll have more corpse-looting missions crammed between 'start of game' and 'first acquisition of magnetic weaponry', as an example of a relatively major Supply sink in the early game) As such, Supply Runs are actually rarely all that worth considering up in Legendary. This, and other things, contributes to focusing on Covert Ops with a higher base duration, so that the fastest Covert Ops you actually bother with on Legendary have a tendency to be more like twice or more as long as the fastest ones you bother with on lower difficulties.
It's still best to try to take advantage of Covert Operators where you can even on Legendary, of course, but it'll be a small, nearly-invisible benefit you probably can't readily quantify. More importantly, on Legendary you probably won't be making decisions like 'my only pair of Covert Operators is wounded; I'll do this longer Covert Op first, and then have them do this super-quick one'.
Anyway, Covert Operators makes it a good idea to attempt to build up two or three Bonds among your lower-level soldiers, and endeavor to send out even Level 1 Bond soldiers on Covert Ops together so they'll build toward Level 2 Bond. Being able to regularly send Covert Operator pairs out makes it a lot easier to slip in some of the shorter Covert Ops you might otherwise be hesitant to slip in because there's only so many days in a month to cram Covert Ops into and some Intel would be appreciated but you want other stuff more. This can add up to fairly big benefits in the long haul; among other points, it means these backline soldiers will accrue more stat boosts more quickly, and they may even displace your A team in the late game due to having a better statline, particularly if you catch their rank up using promotions provided by Covert Ops.
(On Legendary this is all less true, but it doesn't cease to be true)
A target attacked by either Bondmate is tagged for the rest of the turn with, essentially, a Holo Targeting effect that only the Bondmates benefit from, providing +10 Aim to following attacks from either Bondmate. If the Bondmates are adjacent to each other, they each get an additional +10 Aim on such follow-up attacks.
The in-game description implies that Spotter 1's bonus won't benefit the soldier that first fired, but it totally does. This is seen extremely readily when you have a Skirmisher in a Level 2 or 3 Bond, since they can fire multiple times in a turn without shenanigans being involved and furthermore their Zero In skill encourages having them fire on the same target repeatedly in a turn already. but this can actually be leveraged with any soldier if you give them extra turns... which can be done readily by using Teamwork, which you of course have. It's not consistent in my experience, so I'm pretty sure it's a bug rather than a feature, but it's something to keep in mind when planning out order of operations in cases a Bond pair member may be able to fire on the same target multiple times in a turn. Again, particularly with a Skirmisher; a Skirmisher with Zero In and a Level 2 Bond standing next to their Bondmate will gain 30 accuracy against their victim after the first shot. That's the difference between a moderately risky shot (70~%) and a sure thing.
It's also applied immediately in the case of multi-shot effects, so this tier is particularly valuable to high-level Reapers (Banish), Sharpshooters (Fan Fire), Rangers (Rapid Fire), and anyone who happens to luck into Rapid Fire where you bother to buy the skill. (Or Chain Shot, I guess) In such cases, the Bondmate being present anywhere on the map is a passive +10 accuracy on the later shots, +20 if the Bondmate is adjacent. (Except when the bug fails to apply, of course; don't rely too heavily on it)
Spotter can also trigger in some unexpected ways -most surprising is that Target Definition will trigger Spotter for one turn, which is to say a Reaper merely seeing an enemy is enough to grant an Aim boost to their Bondmate and potentially theirself. Less surprising but still not entirely intuitive is that directed, non-attacking effects like Suppression or Demolition will still tend to trigger Spotter. Related is that multi-target effects like Faceoff will also apply Spotter to each targeted enemy; a pair of Sharpshooters can have one Faceoff to set up +20 Aim for the other also using Faceoff!
Splash attacks like grenades and Heavy Weapons do not trigger Spotter, which makes this tier slightly less important and beneficial to Grenadiers since a lot of their value is focused in those. If it pops up the yellow terrain targeting effect, you can be confident it won't trigger Spotter.
Also note that Overwatch fire does trigger Spotter. This is easy to overlook if you're not using mods since by default you don't get told what the hit chance of Overwatch fire was, but if you're using a mod like Perfect Information or Extended Information it's pretty obvious if you set Bondmates adjacent to each other; even through the Overwatch penalty, Spotter-when-adjacent is +16 Aim. If eg you've got a couple of Specialists in Overwatch who are the same rank and all, you'll see one get eg 67% and then the next one 83% even though they should only be maybe a point of accuracy apart. As such, it's good to get in the habit of having Bondmates Overwatch adjacent to each other, when attempting to catch pods with Overwatch fire.
Spotter is, by far, the reason I consider this to be the most significant Bond rank, being a very general boost to performance that helps in basically any situation prior to you reaching the point of fielding ridiculously elite squads that eg fire through Low Cover with a natural 100% chance to hit. The fact that it only works within a Bondmate pair isn't even much of a strike against it unless you have Beta Strike on, since you expect all the way up into Legendary to be killing many enemies in 3 or fewer shots; if Spotter was literally just another form of Holo Targeting that stacked with Holo Targeting (In the sense of benefiting the entire squad, not just the Bondmates), that would make it more flexible, but Archons, Gatekeepers, and the Chosen are basically the only enemies who are evasive enough to want widespread Aim boosting against and tough enough to usually take more than 2-3 shots to kill, so against most enemies it's not terribly important that you have to turn to a specific soldier to leverage it.
Notable caveat: Templar don't get a lot out of this. They should be landing finishing blows in most situations, which means their partner can't follow up, and most of the Templar's tools have no miss chance; Rending whoever their Bondmate shot doesn't help any since Rend couldn't miss in the first place. It can occasionally be appreciated when eg Volting Gatekeepers, or if your Templar has literally nothing better to do than fire an Autopistol shot to give their Bondmate more accuracy, but by default it's pretty close to worthless for a Templar. It's slightly better if the Templar gets a good selection of Pistol skills, since they can be taking potshots to give their Bondmate accuracy bonuses, or follow-up with eg Lightning Hands or a Quickdraw prior to Rending something else, but still pretty low value.
I personally like Bonding Templar with Grenadiers, since both of them get little value of Spotter anyway, and Volting to set up Aftermath so my Grenadier can Holo Target and Shred a Gatekeeper with their Cannon is already a sensible course of action, one Spotter does enhance. Not enough to force the topic consistently, but if eg my Templar hits the level 1 Bond threshold on multiple soldiers at the same time, I'll go for Grenadiers over other classes 100% consistently.
Also, fiddly mechanics point: the extra bonus for being adjacent is specifically for being orthogonally adjacent. If a Bond pair are crouching against a fallen log, side-by-side, you get the bonus. If instead they both huddle up against a freestanding 1-tile pillar, they won't get the extra Aim bonus, because in that situation they're diagonally adjacent, and that doesn't count. Which is weird, because the vast majority of the time, 'immediately adjacent' does, in fact, include corner contact; it's not like Chryssalids can avoid Bladestorm by attacking from a corner!
Stand By Me
Ending a movement action adjacent to the Bondmate will immediately cleanse all negative mental effects on the Bondmate, up to and including Mind Control. (Not Unconsciousness)
Yes, Level 2 Bondmates can seriously purge Mind Control just by running up to their buddy, no special action necessary. This is the big reason why hiding-in-a-closet Psi Operatives are so much less appealing for the final mission in War of the Chosen: who needs Solace when you can just field three Bond pairs and then hold to the buddy system?
Do note that, like Spotter's extra Aim boost for being adjacent, this is specifically adjacent in the orthogonal sense: even though, for example, a soldier can manually clear Daze by standing in any of the eight tiles adjacent to a soldier, Stand By Me won't clear mental effects if you stop at a 'corner'. As such, Stand By Me slightly encourages having soldiers use orthogonal stretches of Cover, where normally something like a freestanding pillar of High Cover is perfectly fine to have two soldiers making use of. You can mostly ignore this since not many enemies can inflict negative mental conditions, but you should certainly keep it in mind when fighting the Warlock, especially since he so rarely fires his rifle, making it less relevant whether a given soldier is in High Cover or Low Cover.
A surprising mechanics detail; if a soldier gets Stunned, Dazed, or Panics during the enemy turn, normally these will all cost them at least one action point, unavoidably. If, however, the afflicted is a part of a level 2 or higher Bond and is standing adjacent to their Bondmate, the effect will be cleared before the game gets around to subtracting action points! As such, when dealing with Chosen, Stun Lancers, or Berserkers, consider sticking to the buddy system, so you can completely negate the effectiveness of their negative mental condition affliction.
Stand By Me is the other reason this is the big payoff Bond tier. Purging negative mental affects isn't as constant a benefit as boosting Aim, but negative mental effects are otherwise only possible to deal with via Mindshields, a Psi Operative with Solace, or by the specific case being special-cased with one o more specific means of clearing it. (eg Mind Control is always ended by killing the controller, Sectoids and Priests can be Flashbanged to clear their effects, Daze can be manually cleared...) Mindshields consume previous inventory space, Solace requires a significant commitment to even access, and not every negative mental condition builds in a method for clearing it; Stand By Me, meanwhile, is an incidental benefit of doing something you should be doing anyway (Developing Bonds), can be done unlimitedly (Where eg Freeze Bombing the Warlock to cancel Mind Control can only be done once, twice if the holder is a Heavy Ordinance Grenadier), and is as simple as moving adjacent; if the Bondmates are within one move of each other, you're spending a single action point, which is one of the cheapest resources to be spending. And if they're already adjacent, you don't need to do anything in particular!
Furthermore, most negative mental conditions are extremely threatening. Stun, Daze, and Panic can all deny their victims turns entirely, potentially multiple turns in a row, with one effect of this being that the soldier is left exposed as enemies attempt to flank them. Disorientation locks out most actions, even fairly basic ones like reloading (A Disoriented soldier that's out of ammo can't do anything except moving!), and then penalizes Aim and Mobility so the soldier can barely contribute with what actions do remain available to them. Mind Control takes a soldier out of your hands while giving the enemy a strong attacker that's probably already flanking your own troops, one you don't actually want to hurt, and Mind Controlled soldiers will move aggressively without bothering with Cover, while enemies are perfectly happy to shoot your exposed Mind Controlled soldier! And Sectoids and ADVENT Priests are the only Mind Controllers where it's easy to cancel it; other Mind Controllers are tough to kill and immune to most effects that would cut off the Mind Control, like Flashbangs or lucky Stuns.
As such, while Stand By Me won't help in every mission, when it does help it will tend to help tremendously.
Takes 6 days of training at the Training Center to achieve. (12 days on Legendary)
Below Legendary, this remains pretty token. 6 days is fast enough it's still pretty rare for a new mission to come along before they're done if they hit the threshold from a field mission, and is often less time than it would take for Tired soldiers to recover anyway.
On Legendary, this is actually moderately burdensome, taking longer than typical Tired durations and regularly taking so long a new mission does, in fact, roll in before the pair training are done. On the plus side, you can cancel Bond training at will, so you can still just cram them into the Training Center if no other Bond pair needs it without worrying about it creating problems so long as you're not someone deeply mired in the Sunk Cost Fallacy, but it does mean that if Fatigue and injuries are stacking up you might find yourself struggling to find an opportunity to hit Bond Level 3 at all, whether because you don't even bother to send them into the Training Center or because you keep having to pull them out before they can finish because you can't field a full squad otherwise.
Teamwork now has an additional charge, but otherwise behaves identically.
Teamwork, but you can be slightly more willing to use charges, since you have two to work with.
One thing worth pointing out is that Advanced Teamwork goes really well with Run And Gun, letting you gift two extra turns to a Bondmate while the gifter still gets to fire that turn as well. This can be an incredible lifesaver in a disaster situation like having pulled three pods at once, letting you output enough actions to kill/disable literally every enemy when that shouldn't be possible.
Also note this lets you pass an action off and then back. That might sound pointlessly wasteful, but you can eg Run And Gun, Dash, Teamwork, then Teamwork back, and now you've converted the Run And Gun action point into a full, regular action point without taking any action points from the Bondmate. If you really, really need a soldier to cover a lot of ground right now but also need their Bondmate's entire set of actions, or have already used them up, this can be what prevents you from failing a mission. It's niche, but useful to keep in mind, particularly with Rangers since this can be used to Slash at three action points worth of running distance, where Run And Gun by itself doesn't allow that.
Overall, though, this really is just Teamwork, But More So.
If both Bondmates are in position to perform a standard shot on a target, either Bondmate may elect to Dual Strike that target. This causes both Bondmates to fire a standard shot at the target, but only uses an action point and ends the turn of whichever Bondmate initiates the Dual Strike, and the non-initiating Bondmate can even have their turn already over without issue. Both Bondmates still spend and require ammo as normal, however. One use per mission, shared between the Bondmates.
Interestingly, if the Bondmate who follows up actually kills the target, this absolutely can trigger on-kill skills like Implacable on that soldier. Testing seems to indicate it won't trigger Death From Above, so you can't use it to start a Death From Above soldier's turn back up, but being able to give a Ranger a bonus move or protection from one attack even though their turn is over is potentially useful if you're aware of that possibility.
To be clear, the initiator won't get any such benefits if their partner lands the killing blow even though they triggered the attack. Among other points, with Reapers it's generally preferable to have their Bondmate initiate the Dual Strike, as the Reaper will still roll for Shadow breaking regardless of who initiates, but can at least benefit from Silent Killer if their partner initiates it and thus causes the Reaper's shot to be the finishing blow.
An odd wrinkle: a Sharpshooter cannot initiate a Duel Strike unless they're currently able to fire their Sniper Rifle (ie they normally can't move and Dual Strike), but this has no affect on their Bondmate's ability to initiate the Dual Strike. Thus, you can move a Sharpshooter and then have their partner initiate the Dual Strike. Also note that Dual Strike cannot take advantage of Squadsight, regardless of who is initiating; the target must be in ordinary firing distance of both soldiers, even if both soldiers are Sharpshooters. This usually isn't important since you shouldn't be trying all that hard to use Squadsight anyway, but it is a small disappointment.
Something to keep in mind is that Marauder doesn't trigger on Dual Strike. That is, if a Skirmisher has two action points, they can fire and then Dual Strike, but cannot Dual Strike and then fire; the Dual Strike will eat both action points. This makes Dual Strike slightly less great for Skirmishers than one might expect, and it's not particularly intuitive. A related point is that Hair Triggers can't activate on it (No matter which Bondmate has a Hair Trigger), just like most non-standard shots, very slightly hurting the value of Hair Triggers late in the game. (In the sense that they overlap with Repeaters, and Repeaters can trigger on Dual Strike but not Hair Triggers)
Also, to be clear, this is guaranteed to trigger Spotter. Among other points, it's best to try to initiate with whoever has the better accuracy, if you have the option of choosing and no other factors are more important, to make sure the Spotter bonus benefits whoever needs it most. A related point is that the second shooter will immediately benefit from eg Holo Targeting being applied by the first shooter; these two facts together can give you impressive accuracy on an otherwise lackulster shooter, such as a Grenadier with no Scope and no Perception PCS.
Also note that the Dual Strike is used up even if the partner doesn't take a shot because the initiator's shot killed the target. Dual Strikes are best used on very durable targets that will assuredly survive the first shot, as a result.
A minor frustration; when aiming a Dual Strike, the game will only predict the accuracy and damage of the initiator. This usually isn't too big a deal as you can just pop over to the initiator and aim a standard shot to see the preview, then mentally add up whatever modifiers the Dual Strike will trigger, but if the partner is currently out of action points, or is a Sharpshooter with only one action point? (And no Darklance, of course) Yeah, you'll just have to guess. Surprisingly, as far as I'm aware no mod addresses this. I mean, it is pretty minor, but there's tons of mods that address even more minor things, so...
Anyway, for being part of the ultimate Bond tier, Dual Strike is overall surprisingly lackluster. Yes, it generates an additional shot from nowhere, but you could already do that with Teamwork, and now you can do it multiple times with Teamwork. And Teamwork is flexible; a Bonded Psi Operative can be dropping a Void Rift and a Null Lance in the same turn via Teamwork. A Bonded Ranger could Slash one thing to get into position for a Rapid Fire on another thing. A Bonded Grenadier could lob two grenades and then Rupture something. Etc. Dual Strike is specifically adding a single regular shot, only overall slightly worse since Hair Triggers can't go off, Death From Above can't trigger, etc.
You'll use it, don't get me wrong, but that's more because Bonding costs no material resources and the time investment is easy to make essentially free too, not because it's a particularly great payoff. Indeed, I sometimes don't even bother to move a given soldier pair past level 2 Bonds for a while, if they're one of my better pairs of soldiers and I'm having enough mission crunch. I expect to use them repeatedly in the neat future.
If this was something like 'every time either Bondmate targets a given enemy, their Bondmate will immediately fire for free if possible', that would've been... well, overpowered, honestly, but the point is I would've gotten the positioning. Dual Strike really is largely 'Teamwork, but worse', as far as its actual utility. It'd make more sense to have Dual Strike as your basic Bonding payoff, and Teamwork come later.
It's not a lethal flaw or anything, but it's another pretty clear example of War of the Chosen being rushed and not getting anywhere near the level of polish the base game got.
In addition to the above stuff, there is a list of benefits in the config files that appear to be disabled, as I alluded to earlier. It's possible some of them are functional and just non-obvious enough that it's easy to overlook them, though, hence part of why I'm bothering to list them in this post.
Before I get into the actually cut abilities, though; Spotter also has code for potentially providing a crit bonus, but the bonus is set to 0 so currently this does nothing. You should be able to edit it to function, though, if you eg want a way to make Ripjack crit damage matter. Admittedly I haven't gotten around to testing this so it might not actually work, but I'd be a bit surprised if it didn't work, given how straightforward an effect it is.
Also worth mentioning is that the SoldierSkills config file defines the Bondmate 'buddy radius' as being 6/7/8 tiles at Bond Levels 1/2/3. If any of the following hidden effects is functioning and bounded by this Bondmate radius, those are the tile ranges to keep in mind.
Bond Return Fire: When one member of the Bond is fired on, their Bondmate has a chance to retaliate for free against the attacker. This chance is 25% at Bond Level 2 and 40% at Bond Level 3, unless the two soldiers are sufficiently close to each other, in which case those values in which case the chances jump to 50% at Bond Level 2 and 60% at Bond Level 3.
This is the big one I'm quite certain isn't enabled. My soldiers don't get shot at very often, certainly, but this ought to have triggered at some point if it actually works.
I'm okay with it being disabled, mind. It would've been kind of irrelevant to 'normal' play, in the sense of 'playing without trying to take advantage of it', given the low odds of triggering, good play minimizing opportunities for the enemy to fire on you, and the fact that the soldier would probably have pretty good odds of missing to boot, and also it would've provided perverse incentives to try to get a soldier shot at for the express purpose of generating additional shots from some other soldier.
That all would've been kind of awful, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's exactly why it's disabled.
Bond Will Bonus: Bondmates have 20 additional Will for certain purposes, if both are present.
I don't think this is enabled, but I can't be certain. For example, if it only applies to Panic checks, I would have no way of knowing that; the base game has those opaque, and I've yet to find a mod that makes Panic odds visible or the like. I do know it's not affecting the Fatigue system, in any event.
If it is enabled... it seems unlikely to even matter that much? I dunno, maybe it affects Panic rolls and they're constructed such that +20 Will is a huge deal, but I doubt it. The way XCOM 2 usually constructs Will-related stuff, +20 Will would tend to, at most, mean stuff like 'this highly-probably Mind Control attempt is now merely very likely', and in some cases it would have virtually no chance of mattering at all.
If it is disabled that makes perfect sense to me, honestly.
Bond Tireless: Bondmates lose Will more slowly over the course of a mission, if both are present. This is specifically 25%, 33%, or 50% slower at Bond Levels 1, 2, and 3, respectively.
This is another one I could buy is enabled and I'm just not clearly noticing its effect. Will drain is not communicated very well by the game, after all, and is sufficiently randomized it wouldn't be very obvious even with a mod to display Will drain. Like, if the above is modifiers of the chance of Will drain from sighting enemies, in a multiplicative sense, than eg level 3 Bondmates would still lose 0-6 Will when sighting a 3-enemy pod, it'd just be 6 rolls with a 25% chance to drain 1 Will instead of 6 rolls with a 50% chance to drain 1 Will. Advantageous, on average, but not necessarily doing anything in any given moment. (In the sense that eg you send four soldiers into a mission, two of them are a level 3 Bond pair and the other two are not Bonded, but the Bond pair get very unlucky and lose 2 Will per enemy every time this particular mission while the Bondless pair get lucky and never lose any Will from seeing enemies)
It'd be a pretty clear incentive to try to build up Bond, in any event.
Bond Bonus Turns: Bondmates have a 25% chance of getting a bonus turn under some circumstance, with this raised to a 50% chance when sufficiently close to each other, assuming both are present.
I've never seen Bondmates get bonus turns under any circumstance, even though the chance to trigger is fairly high. If it is something that functions, it must be under really niche conditions. I'm strongly confident this one is disabled, because I'm having trouble thinking of a remotely sensible condition for it to trigger under that I've successfully avoided consistently enough to avoid triggering it.
I'm perfectly happy with that scenario, too. I'm already not a fan of some of the swingy RNG mechanics XCOM 2 has, and a Bond-based bonus turn RNG mechanic would be pervasive in its huge swinginess. Action economy is simply too central to XCOM 2's design; being able to ration out limited resources to generate a bunch of extra actions to save yourself from pulling too many pods is legitimate game design. Making it completely plausible for the player to horribly screw up, pull all five pods on a map, and then win without issue because lol here's literally ten bonus turns would be awful.
So yeah, glad this seems to be disabled.
Bond Don't Die On Me: Bondmates have their Bleedout timer extended by 2 turns, assuming both are present.
I've personally never had a Bondmate go down without it being immediate, permanent death, so I've no idea if this functions or not.
If it is active... cool? This would be an erratic effect in its relevance, and prone to not being particularly relevant since your medical class can instantly heal someone from anywhere on the map, but at least it isn't based in RNG or anything?
To be honest, I'm a bit surprised they didn't make high-level Bonds force a soldier to always go into Bleeding Out mode if they should've died. It would've been a pretty strong incentive to build up Bonds, not been any kind of perverse incentive, and been less weird than the base game design inevitably ensuring all your soldiers are more or less guaranteed to go into Bleeding Out mode with barely any effort on your part.
For that matter, I'm surprised they didn't make it so Bondmates can Stabilize each other for free, or freeze the Bleedout timer when carrying their Bondmate, or something of the sort. Fiction loves the power of Big Feelings magically letting people stave off death in their loved ones for no particular reason. It seems an obvious thing to translate into a mechanic, and would've dovetailed nicely with War of the Chosen no longer taking it as a given that you're always fielding at least one of every class in every mission the way the base game assumed; as-is, War of the Chosen can be a little janky because the design kind of assumes you're fielding Specialists constantly but unlike the base game it's not actually realistic to do so 100% consistently unless you, like, use the Guerrilla Tactics School to turn all your remaining Rookies into Specialists.
Not complaining, exactly, just a bit surprised by what they did consider, vs what doesn't seem to have crossed their minds.
Bonds are a bit of a simple system that pretty clearly was intended to be more than it was. I particularly feel like an opportunity was missed with the Training Center overhaul, in that it would've been really cool if Bondmates could learn each other's skills. That would have been nuanced, complex, and done a much stronger job of selling the idea that diversity is strength -that is, right now Bondmates have a certain amount of incentive to Bond together soldiers of the same class, instead of different classes. For example, a pair of Sharpshooters can Faceoff twice to have the second one get the Spotter bonus on every enemy.
It's not, like, so powerful I obsessively do so or anything, but I've had multiple occasions where I have two soldiers of the same class who have high Compatibility and I just shrug and go with it because diversity in Bondmates is only kind of indirectly important by virtue of doubling up on classes in a given deployment usually not being ideal. And even then, with Grenadiers and Psi Operatives some of the biggest reasons diversity is good -like the existence of one-of-a-kind Chosen gear making it so a second copy of a given class will be noticeably worse than the first copy- don't apply.
Ah well. It's an okay system even as-is, and I suspect XCOM 3 will develop it better. Something to look forward to down the line.
Next time, we cover a major new mechanic to War of the Chosen; Covert Ops.
See you then.