XCOM 2 Analysis: Sitreps


Sitreps are another of War of the Chosen's highly ambitious and not really complete new mechanics.

The Sitrep system is an element of randomization to missions, making them more varied. It can cause you to face enemies in a mission type they'll normally never show up in, give bonus abilities to your soldiers, place weird limitations on what you can send in, etc. Fortunately, the game always forewarns you of a given mission's Sitrep, even if the descriptions of some Sitreps in-game are profoundly unhelpful.

Sitreps normally only properly occur in Guerrilla Ops and Supply Raids. Going through the game once you might think otherwise; some mission types are predicated on conditions that the game will present as Sitreps (eg Lost presence in certain Resistance-provided missions), but these aren't randomly rolled atop normal mission generation the way Guerrilla Ops Sitreps are. This is mildly disappointing; I would've really liked for Avatar Project facilities in particular to roll Sitreps, either at generation or randomizing it every month or so. That would've added another layer of nuance to the process of selecting which Avatar Project facility to go after. Alas.

Fortunately, there's a mod to make Sitreps more widespread, if you want to see them doing more. This is particularly appreciated if you play around with mods that add in Sitreps, letting you see them pretty reliably without having to disable existing Sitreps or the like, but can be nice in general.

Regardless, Sitreps have a pronounced impact on complicating Guerrilla Ops. Not only do you have to balance the reward, mission type, and Dark Event blocking, but now Sitreps can be rendering it more ambiguous what's the overall safest, most useful pick. The config files indicate that Guerrilla Ops have a 50% chance of a Sitrep if a Guerrilla Op is generated alone (Such as by a Rumor, or very early in the game if you only have contact with one region), a 75% chance of a Sitrep on one and a 25% chance of another if two Guerrilla Ops generate, and a 100% chance for slot one, 50% chance for the second, and 5% chance of a Sitrep for the third if you get the more typical three Guerrilla Ops. These numbers are consistent with my own play, where I always have a Sitrep on one of three Guerrilla Ops, get two Sitreps reasonably frequently, and only very rarely gotten all three Guerrilla Ops having a Sitrep.

I'm not sure what the odds of a Supply Raid getting a Sitrep is. From experience, it must be pretty low, as they get Sitreps sufficiently rarely I sometimes forget it can even happen. Caveat: Supply Extraction seems to pick map type at random, and then if it picked an Old World City map type it's guaranteed to have Lost, so Lost as a Sitrep is actually somewhat common here, but it's very obvious this is similar to how certain Resistance mission types are fundamentally predicated on Lost presence, not a proper Sitrep roll that happens to pick Lost.

Several Sitreps have an impact on 'Alert Level', according to the config files. The config files themselves have...

; Alert1 = 5 enemies
; AAlert2=6
; AAlert3=8
; AAlert4=9
; AAlert5=11

; AAlert6=14

... this bit tucked away, indicating that Alert Level is literally what controls enemy quantity.

I'm not sure it actually works, mind, but this seems to be the intention.

I haven't bothered to include notes on the Alert Level modification for Sitreps since it doesn't seem to actually function, though. And isn't terribly important once you have the Shadow Chamber, too. I may change my mind at a later date if further play and testing indicates it does function and the effect is just subtle; it could be that the effect is drowned out by natural random variance, for example.


Shadow Squad
All soldiers gain a single charge of the Conceal ability, allowing them to enter Concealment at will once in the mission.

Note that Reapers using this Conceal charge will still enter Shadow as a result, making it particularly appreciated for them, especially before Silent Killer is online and so it's difficult for them to contribute without breaking Shadow.

Alternatively, you can treat Shadow Squad as an excuse to not bring a Reaper. If you're decent at moving Concealed soldiers forward without being spotted, you can simply cycle through the squad; one soldier Conceals after the Overwatch ambush, scouts, and breaks Concealment once you've picked a fight with the next pod, at which point a different soldier takes on scouting duties. One Conceal charge per soldier is more than enough Conceal charges to sneak up on every pod this way, in any mission type Shadow Squad can actually apply to.

Rangers, of course, can use it to trigger Shadow Strike for improved accuracy and much better odds of critting. That's neat.

Most of the time, though, I honestly forget to take advantage of Shadow Squad, in part because it's limited to mission types that always provide squad-wide Concealment. If Sitreps could affect Retaliation missions, that'd be a whole other story. Same for Resistance missions; one form of VIP extraction starts you out with no squad Concealment, for example. Alas, it's mostly just kinda... there, fairly forgettable.

It can be slightly more significant with Grim Horizon on, since if you're trapped in High Alert it can give you a mission of relief, kinda. But that's about it.

Note that this Sitrep is also always active when performing a rescue of a Captured soldier. You really are intended to sneak through those missions.


Location Scout
The player will have vision to every portion of the map at all times. This does not support Squadsight.

Amusingly, this somewhat breaks the AI, in that units able to smash right through terrain are coded to have a strong preference for not crushing terrain if you can't currently see them... and this Sitrep counts as seeing them for the purpose of this AI effect, resulting in Sectopods freely trundling right through ADVENT trucks and buildings without any apparent justification for this carelessness. Oops.

Also odd is that the game will correctly predict detection radii on enemies your squad can't see, but the enemy preview functionality won't trigger on pods no squad member can personally see. If you're not aware of this detail, it can lead to you thinking advancing to a location won't activate a pod, once you're past Concealment breaking, and sorry, nope. As such, while a Reaper is less useful in Location Scout than in a typical mission, you still shouldn't advance with extreme confidence unless you have very strong familiarity with how line of sight is calculated and so on such that you can, in fact, eyeball a pod and go 'this spot will go unseen' 100% reliably.

In any event, Location Scout is one of the biggest, most game-changing Sitreps to spawn. Knowing exactly what's on the map from the word go lets you know whether you should bother to hold onto limited-use effects or not (eg you brought an EMP Bomb, and only the first pod includes any digital enemies; just use it on them), makes it very safe to advance very aggressively even if the map has the kind of rough terrain that's normally dangerous in, forewarns you not only of Alien Ruler presence if applicable but lets you know exactly where they are so you can ambush them properly, etc. It also tends to make it fairly obvious whether the Chosen are going to jump you, since you'll be able to clearly see that eg there's no pod over by the objective, indicating the Chosen has displaced the pod that would normally guard the objective.

To be honest, I'm kind of sad Location Scout wasn't made an effect you could trigger at, like, an Intel cost. It'd make a certain amount of thematic sense, open up a new kind of interesting decision if done decently, help address a lot of what makes Alien Rulers in particular fairly frustrating to encounter even with Integrated DLC making them not out-of-nowhere on your first encounter with them, and just be all-around cool and interesting.

As a Sitrep, it instead feels like a gambler's mechanic, where you can 'win big' from the Sitrep system completely at random. The complex interplay of everything that goes into which Guerrilla Op to pick means it's not precisely that kind of design, but it feels a little too close to that, especially since you can always get lucky and have a clear winner of a Guerrilla Op, where it has Location Scout, is blocking the Dark Event you want to block, is offering your preferred reward, and is your preferred mission type out of the set being offered.

It's not terrible, but I feel there's wasted potential here.


Resistance Contacts
A portion of the mission's civilians will, when approached, provide random resources and then vanish from the mission. This can be any of some Supplies, Alien Alloys, or Elerium Crystals. If the mission does not normally have civilians, then Resistance Contacts will force civilians to spawn regardless, but all of them will be loot-providing civilians. You do not automatically collect the resources from surviving contacts on mission completion, even if it's a mission X-COM sticks around and loots everything in.

I have no idea how this interacts with the Alien Infiltrators Dark Event, specifically in regards to map types that normally can't have civilians. Does having Resistance Contacts cause Alien Infiltrator to spawn in some regular civilians? Or does it spawn in some regular-seeming civilians who therefore are blatantly Faceless in disguise? No interaction at all, Faceless just not spawning? Something else entirely?

Regardless, this is... cute? If the stars align it can be moderately significant, such as if it passes out Elerium Crystals when you're in the middle of trying to transition to beam-tier weaponry, or if it passes out Supplies in the mid-early game when you happen to have a fairly urgent desire for Supplies that can't yet be fulfilled by selling stuff at the Black Market, but most of the time it's just a small bonus, among other points not scaling the rewards as the game progresses. (eg if they provide Supplies, it's always 30~ Supplies, no matter how late in the game you are) And that's assuming you even find the civilians; they get placed fairly randomly. Sometimes they'll be basically right on your way and it's free stuff; they don't even break Concealment when you get to them. Other times they're hidden in some corner of the map you have no reason to go toward aside looking for them, in a mission with a time limit, and you end up handling the objective and wiping out the pods without ever having a chance to actually try to look for them.

You can bring along a Reaper and have them go hunting for the Resistance Contacts, but it can still end up being the case they're in some hidden spot you completely miss and you wipe out the pods and complete the objective without finding them. And if you're really serious about having the Reaper search instead of helping fight, you're notably impairing your squad's effectiveness. If your squad is powerful enough this is okay... you probably don't particularly care about the loot.

I honestly like the idea of this and think it would be a cool touch if, like, ADVENT city centers regularly had a randomly selected portion of civilians pass off a little bit of loot when approached before fleeing in a panic like regular civilians, but as a Sitrep it's just kinda... there.


Stealth Insertion
The mission timer doesn't start until the squad breaks Concealment. Can only occur on missions that have a timer.

The timer won't even appear until you break Concealment. Which can be annoying when you're still new enough to the game you don't have mission timers memorized, or are giving Legendary a try and don't know off the top of your head what the timers are in it, actually.

This is another Sitrep that's actually a gamechanger. (Assuming you haven't turned on Time Turner or lucked into Resistance Orders that make it a bit redundant, anyway) The default tuning of timers, particularly on Legendary, demands the squad move pretty aggressively, and particularly if you don't have a Reaper there's a very real risk of breaking squad Concealment or, post-Concealment, pulling a pod you are absolutely not ready to fight, and so ending up with things going very badly. Stealth Insertion delays that pressure, allowing you to at least set up your Overwatch ambush before you have to hurry up.

It's particularly significant if it shows up on a Psionic Transmitter mission. Their abbreviated 'natural' timer and attendant need to blow up relays to avoid failing the mission can easily force you to break squad Concealment before ever finding an enemy pod, which in turn makes it particularly dangerous to advance if you didn't bring a Reaper. Having the clock stopped until you break Concealment lets you set up a proper Overwatch ambush, or sneak relatively close to the Psionic Transmitter before you start smashing relays, and either way this dramatically reduces the time pressure and attendant danger to your squad.

Mind, Stealth Insertion also does a pretty good job of illustrating why this behavior isn't the default in these missions; the Concealment mechanic isn't actually meant as a stealth mechanic or anything, it's primarily there to make time pressure not so punishing to deal with in a pod activation system. Without such time pressure, Concealment ends up encouraging tedious gameplay, exactly the kind of tedious gameplay XCOM 2's design is trying to avoid, where you may end up spending multiple turns setting up The Perfect Overwatch Ambush instead of getting to the meat of the gameplay, or just sitting there indefinitely, waiting for a pod to move because it currently has someone in its detection radius, getting increasingly frustrated as the pod continues to sit there, where either way normally the timer would push you to stop playing in a tedious, boring way, and get to actually interacting with the opposition already.

As such, I'm perfectly happy with how uncommon it is, and if XCOM 3 comes back with the Concealment system and timed missions and so on I would be perfectly happy if Stealth Insertion didn't make a return.


Low Profile
Only soldiers of Sergeant or below may be deployed on the mission. The mission always has the sub-Sitrep of Low Alert, reducing how many enemies are on the map.

This is a fairly miserably awful Sitrep to deal with unless you get it so early on you have few soldiers above Sergeant in the first place. It can be particularly punishing very late in the game, particularly on lower difficulties, where even C-list Covert Op gophers have already hit Lieutenant and so you only have, like, three or four soldiers down at Squaddie and Corporal, unable to even field a full team. Notably, a number of classes really blossom starting from Captain or so, so this isn't just forcing you to field soldiers other than your highest-level soldiers, this is forcing you to field particularly painfully low-level soldiers.

It's particularly infuriating if it spawns in a Supply Raid mission. With Guerrilla Ops, you can virtually always just take a different Guerrilla Op with a less awful Sitrep. With Supply Raids, your only alternative is to ignore the mission, missing out on piles of resources and causing the region the mission spawned in to promptly break contact with you, forcing you to re-contact them.

It's sufficiently bad that even if you normally insist on Ironmanning things, I'd seriously argue you should just reload if it spawns on a Supply Raid mission. It's just... that badly-tuned.

Indeed, while it's not a mod I take advantage of myself, I completely understand why a mod exists to disable this Sitrep entirely. It's just not line with the degree of effect of other Sitreps, and it isn't even fun or interesting.


ADVENT Chests
The mission is dotted with crates that can be opened to acquire randomized loot. You do not automatically acquire the loot from untouched crates if you win the mission, even if it's a mission X-COM sticks around and loots everything in.

This is cute and all, but not that different from Resistance Contacts, and much like Resistance Contacts I'd like it more if it was a somewhat standard gameplay feature instead of a Sitrep you sometimes see. As in, I've talked before about how XCOM 2's loot system would be a lot more interesting if the gameplay progression was more fundamentally built around it; take that basic thought, and then have many maps/missions have ADVENT crates here and there that self-destruct after a delay when approached or whatever, with these being a primary source of Supplies and to a lesser extent Alien Alloys and Elerium Crystals. That could've been really interesting if done well. (Mind, it also would've been terrible if done poorly, so I'm only mildly wistful on this topic)

As-is, it's just kind of there, sometimes mattering, usually not.

I've gotten this Sitrep so rarely -like, twice in all my runs- that I honestly don't know what kind of loot it provides. I'll hopefully update this slightly at a later date once I have some idea.

One thing to point out is that opening these chests has a risk of breaking Shadow. It only adds 10% to the meter, but it's a bizarre decision given your squad can collect resources from Resistance Contacts with no risk of breaking even squad Concealment, even though that really should be the much more visible and suspicious thing. It means that where a Reaper sweeping for Resistance Contacts is tedious and annoying but as safe as you can get while separating a major squad member from the group, trying to do the same with ADVENT Chests is inexplicably notably riskier. Especially if your Reaper at any point takes a shot that risks breaking Shadow before going crate-hunting, due to Shadow's weird rules with chains of risking breaking it.


Surgical
Squad size limited to 3. Timer extended by 2 turns. Somehow incompatible with Chosen and Alien Rulers.

That last bit is inferred from looking at the config files, and my assumption is that Alien Rulers and Chosen are barred from spawning into a Surgical mission. Which would be for the best, design-wise. Too bad Low Profile doesn't have such code...

Surprisingly, this usually isn't so bad, assuming your most elite soldiers aren't all wounded or something. If you get it early on, it's only cutting your squad from 5 to 3; bad, but not halving your firepower and so on. If you get it late in the game, a couple of Bondmate Colonels plus another Colonel may well be able to trivially stomp the map anyway; Colonels are really powerful, and Surgical does, in fact, make it so you're dealing with fewer enemies overall.


There's only really a portion of the midgame, after you're expected to have a max-size squad but before you're expected to have Majors and Colonels, where this can be pretty killer. In particular, if you don't yet have more than maybe 1 soldier above Sergeant, Low Profile will actually be unequivocally less threatening, even though it's usually much more unpleasant to deal with.

Outside that relatively brief period, though?... surprisingly, this is often actually an interesting experience, rather than a horrible one!

I really think its exact effects should've been different, such as reducing by 1 how many people you can bring instead of reducing you to 3 people, but still, this is actually one of the cooler Sitreps.


High Explosives
The mission is dotted with explosive terrain objects that can be targeted by units to detonate them.

This is usually primarily an advantage. The AI will never deliberately target environmental explosives, and plenty of enemies can't trigger them accidentally. You should still avoid taking Cover nearby these explosives in case an ADVENT Trooper remembers they're carrying a grenade, but the point is you can generally treat this as a helpful Covert Op.

Qualifier: you're trying to not wreck the environment in Supply Raids, and it's easy to end up destroying supply crates by catching an explosive with an area-of-effect attack, or to opportunistically detonate an explosive and then to your dismay the fire it starts destroys supply crates. Or even to take a shot, miss, have it start a fire, and then the fire detonates an explosive you were trying to not blow up!

Still, in Guerrilla Ops it's usually a positive, or at least not a negative.

This is an idea that would be more interesting if XCOM 2 was using physics on projectiles like class X-COM, forcing you to think twice about a given shot. In actual XCOM 2, it really is mostly just... more opportunities to blow up enemies, plus occasional frustration in Supply Raid missions.


Show of Force
Makes everything all ADVENT, no Aliens.

The code also seems to imply it increases how large individual pods are, but I've not seen it actually do so in real play. Maybe something they thought would be cool, tried it out, concluded it was horrible, and promptly disabled it but didn't remove the allusions to this idea in the code?

Regardless, note that as usual Mecs and Turrets are counted as ADVENT units and so can show up in a Show of Force mission.

This would be more interesting if Aliens were more distinct from ADVENT forces, not to mention if ADVENT-majority wasn't already the default. War of the Chosen is more prone to Alien-dominant forces, and from earlier in the game, but it still defaults pretty strongly to maps being ADVENT-heavy. So this is kind of a neat idea in principle, but doesn't feel very distinctive in practice.

Alas.


The Lost
The mission has Lost present.

This is one of the most dramatic Sitreps, and probably basically the entire reason the Sitreps system even exists. An entire third faction in turn order, one that is a radically different experience to fight, and which due to Lost wave mechanics has much deeper implications than just the part where you're fighting a non-standard enemy type that normally can't show up in any ol' mission? That's multiple layers of huge.

A particularly interesting mechanics interaction is that if The Lost triggers on a mission where you're defending a destructible object, the AI's willingness to take potshots in the fog will extend to shooting at the Lost. The Lost won't activate in response to being shot (Unless your squad has sight on them), and each pod will only be willing to have their pod leader take a shot, with this being limited to once per pod per turn, so Headshot mechanics are irrelevant to it. This has the side effect of giving you advance warning on the general location of ADVENT/Alien pods, and also means that in those missions in particular the Lost will tend to be slightly less of a problem, taking injuries and losses before you even encounter them.

In War of the Chosen your very first Resistance-provided mission will always, if you don't have Lost And Abandoned turned on, have either The Lost or The Horde attached to it. This particular example is the game being artificial, but as I've alluded to already it's also the case that some mission sub-types are premised under Lost presence and so will always present as having The Lost Sitrep. (Though it's not a properly rolled Sitrep and can be stacked atop a properly rolled other Sitrep) Less consistent and less obvious is that some missions can have Lost presence, but it's not guaranteed and depends on the map type; Supply Extraction missions are one example, where they can either pick a map type of an ADVENT supply depot in the woods, in which case there's no Lost unless the Sitrep roll per se picks The Lost, or it can pick an 'Old World' city map type, in which case Lost will be guaranteed. Which incidentally means you can mostly-reliably predict map type in Supply Extraction missions; if they don't have The Lost, they must be the ADVENT supply depot map type, while if they do generate with The Lost it's extremely likely that they're an Old World city map. This is genuinely somewhat useful to know ahead of time; Old World maps are 100% consistent about having high ground for Skirmishers to make use of, and also 100% consistent about being the kind of map Reapers are particularly important to bring if you want to avoid stumbling into a pod unawares, whereas the ADVENT supply depot map is fairly flat and a Reaper is still helpful but not particularly essential. That kind of thing.

I'll be talking about this more when we get to the Lost themselves, but Lost presence broadly discourages using explosives, encourages bringing Sharpshooters (Templar can also work, though I consider it a bit of a waste of their abilities), makes the Flamethrower maybe worth actually bringing, and makes Expanded Magazines and Automated Reloaders more of a priority than usual. It also makes it harder to set up an Overwatch ambush, because Lost can activate ADVENT pods, and Overwatch ambushes only function on inactive pods.

This is also the main Sitrep that has me skeptical the Alert Level system really properly works, as the files are pretty clear that there's supposed to be fewer ADVENT/Alien pods on the map with the Lost making up the difference, but my experience is that The Lost has no effect on such counts; the Lost are just thrown in atop the ADVENT/Alien forces. This is extremely blatant early in the game, when missions are at their most rigid and predictable, but never stops being true.


The Horde
The mission is made entirely of Lost, though the Chosen can spawn in regardless. If the mission type would normally generate ADVENT reinforcements, The Horde disables that behavior.

Interestingly, The Horde can only occur on a limited sub-set of missions. Straight from the config files:

ValidMissionTypes="Recover"
ValidMissionTypes="Recover_ADV"
ValidMissionTypes="Recover_Vehicle"
ValidMissionTypes="Recover_Train"
ValidMissionTypes="Hack"
ValidMissionTypes="Hack_ADV"
ValidMissionTypes="Hack_Train"
ValidMissionTypes="DestroyRelay"
ValidMissionTypes="Extract"
ValidMissionTypes="Rescue_AdventCell"
ValidMissionTypes="Rescue_Vehicle"
ValidMissionTypes="SabotageTransmitter"

So basically only missions in which ADVENT is supposed to be escorting or defending something important, and the Horde implicitly changes the narrative to them having given up in the face of the Lost.

Note that the Horde will generally result in an absolutely massive number of Lost in a basically contiguous mass between you and the object. They'll technically be discrete pods, but with so many of them packed so close together it's fairly difficult to tell where one starts and another begins, and due to Lost sound mechanics once you've started shooting you'll end up pulling even more Lost immediately.

Also note that it will, appropriately enough, prevent civilians from spawning in. Among other points, this means it will actually overrule Alien Infiltrator, preventing any Faceless from spawning in because they have no civilians to hide among.

It's worth pointing out that in The Horde missions squad Concealment is pretty worthless, and there's not a ton of reason to concern yourself with preserving it, particularly if you have a Reaper to perform advance scouting. An Overwatch ambush is worse than useless, since Lost not only don't take Cover but the Headshot mechanic means that regular shots can clear out a lot more Lost than Overwatch shots can, and Lost Dashers are the only sub-type that moves fast enough to potentially attack your soldiers the same turn you activated them unless you either moved someone incredibly recklessly or had Lost outright hidden inside a building or something such that you didn't activate them until they were right on top of you...

... and Lost Dashers are never generated at the start of a mission, inactive, so it's always safe to move forward and activate new Lost pods so long as you're not moving extremely aggressively.

The only reason to consider not just picking a fight with Lost the instant you can see them in a The Horde mission is that Chosen can still spawn in, and still wait until squad Concealment is broken before doing so. And that's really more a reason to consider having a Silent Killer Reaper clear out Lost, not a reason to delay fighting Lost at all. And personally I find that so tedious -you have to wait for the Reaper's Shadow fail check every single time- that I don't bother. It's not necessary, not even on Legendary.

Overall, while The Horde is a neat idea on several levels (I really like the flavor of 'ADVENT just plain gave up and left in the face of infinite zombies'), I'm happy with the fact that it's pretty rare to encounter it. As an occasional change of pace it's fine, but fighting just Lost is a fairly flat gameplay experience, and would get very dull very quickly if it was something you had to do a lot more regularly.


Psionic Storm
The enemy composition will be nearly exclusively psionically capable enemies, meaning Sectoids, ADVENT Priests, Codices, Spectres, and Gatekeepers.

Psionic Storm rolling early in the game is very constrictive on enemy lists, since only Sectoids and basic ADVENT Priests are in the spawn tables from the start of the game, out of psionic enemies. There will usually be a lone ADVENT Trooper or some such on the map, but mostly it'll just be pods of Sectoids and Priests. This can be surprisingly dangerous, as while Sectoids and ADVENT Priests normally prefer to focus on using their special abilities, when multiple of them are active it's much more likely for one to use an ability and then the following ones take shots or at least enter Overwatch. So if you're expecting them to give you a turn of relative safety... nah.

Mind, the alternative would be risking your entire squad getting Mind Controlled in one turn, so this is probably less terrifying in practice. And regardless, very early on it means that instead of half the enemies being 3-4 HP basic ADVENT Troopers, you're dealing with nothing but enemies who have 7+ HP.

It can also be quite nasty if you get it shortly after Skulljacking an ADVENT Officer, as it can result in large numbers of Codices, when Codices are really designed to be something of an early-game boss fight when there's one Codex, and indeed are tuned to still be an above-average enemy in the endgame. Facing multiple pods of them when you haven't even transitioned to magnetic weapons at all as yet? Yikes.

As Templar have some abilities that perform better when facing psionic opponents, you should give more consideration to bringing a Templar along into a Psionic Storm mission. Especially since Sectoids are susceptible to melee. (Which incidentally encourages Ranger use) Similarly, Stocks are worth considering to reliably deal with Sustaining Priests, Mind Shields are worth considering in general since Sectoids and Priests will waste their turns on psionic actions against Mind Shielded soldier, or Psi Operatives with Solace if you're late enough to have that, and past the very early game... uh, Bluescreen Rounds and EMP Grenade, actually. Three of the five enemies that Psionic Storm focuses on are digital enemies susceptible to these Items!

That's honestly one of the more interesting elements of XCOM 2 to me, that instead of 'psychic enemy' and 'digital enemy' being mutually exclusive they have fairly heavy overlap. It's unusual, and is one of the reasons I'm clear XCOM 2 has a radically different conception of psychic powers than the prior game, as well as why I'm interested in seeing what XCOM 3 does with psionics.


Automated Defenses
The enemy composition will be nearly exclusively robotic enemies, such as ADVENT Mecs, Spectres, ADVENT Turrets, Codices, and Sectopods.

ADVENT Mecs and Turrets are the only enemies that are in the table in the early game, which can make an early Automated Defenses astonishingly dangerous; the result will be that every pod is 2-3 Mecs at a time they're intended to be restricted to being pod leaders supported by less durable units like ADVENT Troopers. This is, in fact, one of the most dangerous Sitreps to roll toward the beginning of the game; blobs of 8 HP, 2 Armor enemies before you even have Shredder on anyone and your best damage is 4-6 is kind of terrifying.

Once you've gotten Codices into the spawn table, and especially once Spectres enter rotation, it becomes much less worrisome, as these operate on the 'will be very dangerous if you give them more than one turn' model of enemy design, instead of Mecs operating under the 'will do damage right now' model. Spectres are also in the general vicinity of when it's reasonable to acquire Bluescreen Rounds, which of course makes Automated Defenses much easier to fight through, since literally everything it focuses on is susceptible to them. (And EMP Grenades, for that matter)


Savage
The enemy composition will be nearly entirely 'monstrous' Aliens, meaning Chryssalids, Faceless, and Muton Berserkers. Note that Faceless forced by this Sitrep will not start out disguised as a civilian.

If you roll this early in the game, you'll end up with the unusual enemy composition of basically pure Faceless. It's also not unusual for Savage to actually be your first encounter with Chryssalids, as they can end up entering rotation notably before a Retaliation mission is actually scheduled. Berserkers showing up is the primary way you'll get non-Savage enemies in a Savage encounter, as they can be leaders to stuff like Mutons and Stun Lancers, and the game will normally refuse to have a Berserker-only pod, and they can't lead Faceless, so the pods will end up rounded out by Stun Lancers or whatever.

Also, like with the Lost Sitrep, this can produce strange results in Defend The Device missions, as the Berserker ability to decide to target allies can lead to Berserkers killing their podmates while the pod is inactive. It's not even restricted to only one Berserker doing so per turn or anything. As such, this can be, bizarrely enough, a boon on Protect The Device missions.

Overall, Savage is probably my favorite of this set of enemy composition Sitreps simply because Savage's list of enemies is entirely enemies that are limited to Retaliation missions and a handful of other mission types. Getting Berserkers, Chryssalids, and Faceless in stock Guerrilla Op or Supply Raid missions is something that normally can't happen at all, and notably Berserkers lack a Dark Event to spread them around, while Faceless are otherwise only encountered in a pod-wandering-about state in the very last mission of the game. (Or when Chosen summon them, but that's not an inactive Faceless pod) Thus, Savage creates experiences that are otherwise impossible, or at least extremely rare.

As opposed to Psionic Storm and Automated Defenses only really being crazy-bizarre if they show up very early in a run, where enemy composition is fairly rigid across runs and specifically forced to be a mixture of different enemy types as opposed to 'literally nothing but ADVENT Mecs'. I've absolutely had missions that weren't Automated Defenses but had no enemies outside the Automated Defenses list, and similarly had missions that weren't Psionic Storm but had nothing outside of its list.

That can't happen with Savage.

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In practice, the Sitreps system is a bit underwhelming, an idea with good potential but an iffy execution, but it's also one of the most minor of War of the Chosen's replayability-enhancing systems anyway; even with a better execution, it would be relatively unobtrusive unless it was taken in a radically different direction. Something like Sitreps instead being regional 'rules', where one run might always have Savage on every New Arctic mission and then a different run always has Show of Force in New Arctic missions.

If XCOM 3 brings back Sitreps and builds on them, that'd be cool, but if the concept is quietly dropped, I personally won't mind at all, aside the point that I'd be disappointed if this included the Lost being quietly dropped from gameplay.

Regardless, next time we cover a much more significant system added by War of the Chosen: Fatigue.

See you then.

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  1. Personally, I'd like to see more of sitreps, especially if the gear system was balanced around something like more frequent enemy type sitreps. Bringing bluescreen rounds to the Automated Defenses sitrep is an excellent plan, bringing them to a Savage sitrep is a waste of a gear slot. I'd like to see more of this, where the sitrep actually makes you stop and think about what loadout you're bringing.

    (It's a general problem a lot of game design faces around balancing specific "anti-enemy type" gear against generalist gear; if the player has a lot of control over what they're fighting, it's easy to be too strong, but if they don't, it can be pretty pointless. The sitrep system could strike a decent balance point, where the game assumes you bring some anti-robot gear to the Automated Defences, but usually stick to more general gear otherwise)

    Sitreps like Shadow Squad, which basically boil down to "do the same gameplan that you would have used anyway, but with a buff" are really kind of pointless, and I don't think would be missed. Low Profile definitely won't be missed.

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    1. Well, like, Automated Defenses is an excellent example of why I wouldn't miss the Sitrep mechanic; even aside how it's absolutely not balanced for the early game, once you have Bluescreen Rounds and EMP Grenades online Automated Defenses switches from being thematic and moderately interesting to shooting fish in a barrel with a rocket launcher. Savage is less egregious, but still makes it mind-numbingly obvious that anti-melee tools are ridiculously powerful, Psionic Storm makes Mind Shields disproportionately rewarding, etc. Only The Lost has a complex enough set of implications to be really interesting.

      The kind of scenario you seem to be shooting for is much better handled by the Investigations mechanic in Chimera Squad, where you don't get precise enemy list per mission but once you've been through the game once you'll know that most enemy types are predictably restricted to specific Investigations, with these being organized in useful sets like 'one Investigation has almost all the robots, and has a lot of them'. Or what I laid out of Sitreps being a regional thing could be interesting, particularly if missions weren't crammed down your throat by default; having North America be under the control of a specific faction, ala Investigation mechanics, where the player can choose what places to hit when and so have some control over matchup, but not so precise as these Sitreps are, could be amazing. But just bringing back Sitreps as-is, with a more refined list, would fundamentally tend to be a very mild, boring mechanic unless every Sitrep was as dramatic and ambitious as The Lost.

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    2. Yeah, the problem in XCOM 2 is that gear was balanced around not getting sitreps; bluescreen rounds are balanced to be useful/good on the assumption that you go into most missions expecting robots to make up a minority of enemies, so they have to be way too strong if the enemies would be be all robots. In an X-COM 3, I'd want it to be part of the balance from the ground up, such that Bluescreen Rounds and EMP Grenades, or whatever their equivalent turned out to be, were merely a very good idea, instead of a way to trivialize the mission.

      And if you tone them down like that, they become significantly less attractive choices for non-sitrep missions, which means that balancing them when you're adding sitreps as an afterthought becomes a difficult task, and there's no way they'd get time to do that for an expansion.

      I've not played Chimera Squad, so no opinion there. I'm sure Sitreps aren't the only way to achieve this goal. Making every Sitrep as dramatic as The Lost would be pretty impressive. Maybe if X-COM 3 had multiple competing alien factions, Sitreps could be used as a way of showing conflict between the factions; just as The Lost and The Horde are "mission against ADVENT complicated by Lost attack", other factions could have their own attack sitreps.

      Now, as someone who started back with classic X-COM, I disapprove of the idea of having competing factions; X-COM works on a simple faction system: There are exactly 2 sides. There are humans over here, and aliens over there, and the only diplomacy involved is keeping your side from defecting. But with the new Resistance factions, and the multi-species team apparently involved in Chimera Squad, it seems like the designers are leaning towards more complex situations.

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    3. I'm only partially talking about the strength of Bluescreen Rounds. My primary point is the brain-dead quality of how they intersect with Automated Defenses; if you toned down Bluescreen Rounds, that wouldn't change the part where you just automatically, mindlessly equip them on everyone for an Automated Defenses mission. The balance consideration is actually secondary to my point; I'm focused on how interesting, or not, decisions are.

      Having also started with classic X-COM, and far preferred it to Firaxis' first attempt at the formula, I don't really agree that X-COM is fundamentally a 2-faction game. The tactical combat was ill-suited to having more than two factions, ignoring civilians for the moment, but the strategic layer works a lot better as a nuanced and interesting system if the player is having to balance multiple factional considerations. Indeed, that's exactly what Apocalypse did, and its primary failing in this regard is that it didn't live up to its ambitions, such that the strategic factional stuff is mostly a side-show you can exploit to farm resources you're not supposed to have yet. The core idea was sound, however.

      And narratively, classic X-COM wasn't that black-and-white. It's a UFO mythology story in which you are the shady men in black hiding aliens from the public and hoarding alien technology, with countries potentially pulling from the X-COM project and siding with the aliens and all. There's a reason Apocalypse went with multiple factions and, among other things, handled the police and Mars Security as being pretty much better-financed gangs; this is a direct continuation of the grey-on-grey, sometimes black-on-black, tone of the original game, with no assumed-good figures anywhere in the narrative. X-COM, in Apocalypse, is obligated to fight the aliens and so narratively can't be pure evil, but the game is perfectly happy to let you play as the biggest, worst gang in the city, just with the caveat that you're also the gang most effective at combating the alien threat. Classic X-COM doesn't have the same tone in the mechanics, but this is because the world is simplistic, even with how insanely ambitious the game was.

      (This is one reason why the first Firaxis attempt pulling from The Next Generation for the tone of your support staff is a mistake: Firaxis is missing that you are a shady organization that is, at best, a net good because you're fighting the aliens and they're unambiguously horribly evil. You are NOT noble shiny-good, and Firaxis trying to model you as such is horribly dissonant and utterly ignorant of the material they're using as inspiration)

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    4. Fair point with the decision being uninteresting. It'd be a pretty substantial overhaul to make it interesting. I think it could be done, if the gear was less about direct counters (bluscreen rounds are +damage against robots), and more about balancing softer counters, like how much Shred is wanted against Automated Defences, as opposed to Show of Force. It's helpful in both, but it could shake up your team composition a bit, especially if you don't have enough high-level grenadiers to go around.

      Classic X-COM is not black-and-white, no. Definitely not. Now, the bit where I deliberately murdered civilians rather than let the chryssalids, have them, that was perhaps an emergent mechanic, rather than intended gameplay. But the X-COM setup is "There is a big threat. If you do not fight the big threat, nobody else will". Balancing politics on the human side is fine, but getting a few months into the game, and receiving a message that the Templars took down one of the Alien Rulers because you were occupied elsewhere would not be very X-COM.

      The Lost are tactically interesting[1]. But if the Avatar project could be prevented by the Lost overrunning an Avatar project facility, without the player's intervention, that would be a net bad for the game. Here, I'm contrasting X-COM with something like Civilization, where having one AI faction take down another off-screen is fine.

      Cynically, perhaps you cold refine my position to "there are only two *competent* factions, X-COM and the Aliens".

      [1] As you point out with The Horde, missions with nothing but Lost work best as a change of pace. Individual Lost are profoundly uninteresting.

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    5. Well, direct counters per se is a more direct manifestation of the issue I'm talking about, but like part of the reason Bluescreen Rounds against robots is mindless is because Ammo in general is powerful and important, and Dragon Rounds and Venom Rounds both do nothing to robots, Tracer Rounds are low-value in general, and AP Rounds is directly inferior to Bluescreen Rounds when fighting robots. If, for example, Bluescreen Rounds was lowered to +2 damage while enemy robots all had at least 3 Armor, then you'd at least be choosing between two basic approaches: AP Rounds for brute force just shoot 'em strategies, or Bluescreen Rounds backed by Shred for higher final damage but requiring other Item or team support.

      I disagree with the notion that other parties acting off-screen would be un-X-COM. The trick here is that third parties acting off-screen can't be purely advantageous or purely detrimental; having the Lost overrun an Avatar Project Facility in XCOM 2-as-currently-designed would be bad because it's literally just the game arbitrarily saving you some work. Having the Templar kill an Alien Ruler off-screen is only bad if eg the corpse gets dumped into your lap so you get all the positives of fighting an Alien Ruler with none of the danger. If, instead, you'd have to do a favor for the Templar for them to pass the corpse on, where said favor was meaningfully costly, that'd be a whole other scenario.

      X-COM has always been in part about agents pursuing their agendas outside of your immediate awareness. This is part of why Firaxis' first attempt disappointed me so much: it removed all the mechanics where the aliens are building base and gathering resources and scouting for Terror sites and scouting for your base and turned it all into arbitrary scripting on fixed timetables. This is also why Apocalypse is a natural enough extension of the original game: a city full of parties advancing their own agendas you can try to figure out and foil or assist flows naturally from that, and Apocalypse's primary failing in this regard is that its ambitions exceeded its reach. (ie the factions mostly do little or nothing, and what stuff they do actually do is pretty one-dimensional)

      So for example returning to 'Lost overrunning an Avatar Project Facility': if instead it was 'Lost overrun map region, and turn it into a breeding ground for more Lost', where you also have to prevent the Lost from overrunning the Earth/Lost get more numerous and powerful in the tactical layer the more Geoscape territories they control, that'd be interesting and potentially quite good for the game.

      That said, it'd be really easy for attempts at such to end up the way you're describing, where the undermine the game's backbone without bringing enough value to the table. Or to end up like Apocalypse, with great ideas that aren't constructed close enough to the vision to do what they're really supposed to be doing.

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  2. Great content series. I hope firaxis core devs read your detailed analysis. Email me if you'd like to look at other additive income alongside patreon

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