Chimera Squad Enemy Analysis: Gray Phoenix Paladin
Damage: 3 (3-5/4-6)
Will: 80 (+10/+20)
Psi: 40 (As far as I'm aware they don't use this)
Paladins add spread to their damage in addition to a flat number, which results in an unusual progression I can't encapsulate with my usual +#/+# format, hence why I'm just giving you the final damage numbers.
Alert Actions: Move to a better location, Hunker Down.
As far as I'm aware, this is it for Paladin Alert actions, which is a bit surprising as they have a non-offensive action that seems natural to slot into being an Alert action. I've never seen an Alert Paladin use Mind Merge as an Alert action, though, even though I've given them plenty of opportunities. It's possible I've had a weirdly long streak of odd luck on this point, I suppose, but it seems unlikely.
I dunno, maybe Mind Merge actually proved problematic to make an Alert action somehow?
In any event, actually covering Mind Merge;
1 action point: Adds 4 ablative HP, 1 Mobility, 10 Aim, and 25 crit chance to one target ally. Kills beneficiary if the Paladin dies. 1 turn cooldown.
Note that Paladins are forbidden from using Mind Merge on Praetorians, Necromancers, Berserkers and Faceless. They're actually excluded from a bunch of other stuff, too, mechanically, but nothing that's allowed to matter in normal play, such as faction leaders and boss enemies that can never be seen alongside a Paladin. I'm particularly curious as to why Faceless are excluded; the other options are pretty clearly trying to limit how bad for the enemy team the 'beneficiary dies if user dies' aspect is, and in the Necromancer's case is possibly bug prevention to boot (I can imagine that the code handles poorly the scenario of 'Paladin dies, so now Necromancer dies, so now the Necromancer's summons are supposed to die'), but Faceless aren't particularly durable or otherwise high-value targets. I dunno, maybe Faceless at some point did disguise themselves in Chimera Squad and this limit was to prevent Paladins from targeting them when they were disguised as civilians?
In any event, a weird quirk is that Bluescreen Rounds will cause an agent's weapon to bypass the ablative HP, even though the ablative HP is supposed to be psionic protection as opposed to a technological energy shield or the like. It won't do any damage to the ablative HP, mind, so depending on your order of operations and all it won't necessarily meaningfully benefit you; if you knock a target to 1 HP with Bluescreen Rounds-backed fire and have to follow up with attacks that don't bypass the ablative HP, the initial shot ignoring the ablative HP didn't help any.
Mind Merge is of course the return of the Priest's Holy Warrior which itself was the return of the Sectoid's Mind Merge in Enemy Unknown/Within, so we're back to a Sectoid providing this, but like the ADVENT Priest's Holy Warrior this isn't species-specific of an effect, which is nice and honestly makes more sense; Mind Merge being species-locked was always questionable from an in-universe mechanics perspective.
The Paladin as a user is actually my favorite iteration of the concept so far in terms of raw gameplay; in base Enemy Unknown, abusing the 2-for-1 aspect of Mind Merge was cute but rarely all that impactful because it was mostly tied to the most basic, least threatening enemy of the game. In Enemy Within it became more impactful with the introduction of Mechtoids, but it always bothered me how arbitrary it was that Mechtoids merely took a modest amount of damage instead of being killed outright; I understood the game design motive (It would be really janky if optimal play when encountering a Mechtoid was to let it get Mind Merged and then instant-kill it by killing the Sectoid that performed the Mind Merge), but it was still counterintuitive and could've been avoided entirely. War of the Chosen's ADVENT Priests were a decent new attempt at the idea, being by default pod leaders generally targeting lower-value allies and so it wasn't 'cheating' to leverage the 2-for-1 aspect but it was still worth pursuing if possible... but I really didn't like how it was combined with the random chance of Sustain on ADVENT Priests, where pursuing the 2-for-1 could be punished by literal RNG.
The Paladin finally strikes a nice balance; like the Priest, they're a relatively high-end unit who is generally going to be Mind Merging a unit with similar or lesser HP to them, and so you're not getting crazy amounts of free damage if you get the 2-for-1, and indeed there's a decent rate at which you'll find yourself in a position to potentially down multiple enemies some other way (eg Torque's Poison Spit, Zephyr's Crowd Control), where targeting the Paladin post Mind Merge isn't just mindlessly optimal to do essentially every time. This then further intersects with the Timeline mechanics in interesting ways; normally once an enemy has acted, they become a low priority because their turn has been shoved to the end of the Timeline, and so you're better off trying to take out enemies who will be acting before your other agents. A Paladin that has performed a Mind Merge is a rare case where you can potentially be better off targeting this unit that's just acted, such as if the Mind Merge recipient is going to act next and your current agent can down the Paladin right now.
The Paladin being moderately durable also means there's a decent rate at which you're having to think ahead to determine whether prioritizing the Paladin is really all that optimal. That is, if it will take two agent actions to down the Paladin, whereas your current agent could down some frailer enemy right now, the 2-for-1 deal aspect of targeting the Paladin isn't actually overwhelmingly favored, especially if both of your agents expect to take out a frailer enemy if they target such frailer enemies; in that case you're spending 2 agent actions to down 2 enemies either way, so is targeting the Paladin really the superior choice? Especially since this intersects with the Timeline point I brought up a moment ago; if your current agent can down the enemy that will act before your next agent, and your second agent can down the enemy that will act before your third agent, whereas the Paladin Mind Merged an enemy who won't act until after your fourth agent (eg the Paladin and another enemy went after your very first agent post-Breach, and both survived your first agent's turn), then it's actually probably smarter to down those two enemies and deny the enemy team turns now than to go for the 2-for-1 of taking out the Paladin.
This is all nice on its own, making this mechanic have a surprising amount of nuance, but is especially important in the context of Paladins having...
1 action point: One ally gains an immediate action point. Can only be used on the unit currently being Mind Merged. 2 turn cooldown.
... Impel, which they can only use on a Mind Merged target.
Before continuing this point, I should note that while a Paladin can in fact Mind Merge a target and then immediately Impel them (You can see this in action via Puppeteering a Paladin), I've yet to see the AI do so. They far prefer to save Impel for the turn after the one in which they Mind Merged -which makes sense, since doing so is essentially producing a free turn after a bit of a delay.
That bit of context is why I say it's especially important the player has cause to not always prioritize the Paladin as Obviously Optimal. If the mechanics were such that the player should just always target a Paladin after its Mind Merge is performed (Which is much how things worked out in Enemy Unknown/Within), then the Paladin would basically never have an opportunity to actually leverage Impel and the ability's existence would border into being a technicality. As-is, while good play will still often prevent a Paladin from using Impel, that's only in the sense that the broader design encourages limiting opportunities for enemies to actually get turns, not in the sense that a skilled player is likely to never let Paladins in particular get a meaningfully useful turn.
Impel itself also adds a further layer of complexity to juggle when thinking ahead, in that letting a Paladin act twice in a row is a disproportionate threat; maybe you should let those two frailer enemies act and prioritize the Paladin, in the scenario I laid out a minute ago, depending on how dangerous those two enemies are and how dangerous the Mind Merged unit is. It also means it can be worth considering simply targeting the Mind Merged enemy, depending on how everything has shaken out; if you've ended up substantially weakening the Mind Merged target with splash damage and whatnot while never quite catching the Paladin, it may make more sense to finish the Mind Merge target instead of trying to target the Paladin; you'll prevent the Mind Merged unit from getting 2 turns to shoot with boosted accuracy and crit chance regardless of whether you take out the Paladin or the Mind Merge recipient, after all, so if the recipient is possible for your current agent to down and not the Paladin... well, there you go.
All this stuff doesn't come up every time you fight a Paladin -there will absolutely be times where a Paladin targets a unit who will act soon where you have the tools to take out the Paladin immediately and so you just get free damage- but the Paladin is one of the stronger bits of Chimera Squad's design, where sometimes everything comes together to make an interesting puzzle that requires thought and judgment calls to correctly disentangle. When Chimera Squad has these kinds of moments happen, they're great; it's just unfortunate that even on the highest difficulty they're uncommon overall.
Oh, and a final mechanical note: while you can in fact Mind Merge your agents, it's not something I'd recommend doing, as the Paladin going down will result in the agent immediately starting to Bleed Out. (Which is less bad than what I'd expected when testing, honestly; I was figuring it would kill the agent outright) If you've got an agent low on HP and have Puppeteered a Paladin who is in good condition, I suppose you're not increasing your risk particularly, but by default it's a pretty big risk for pretty mild rewards. Do keep in mind the potential to Impel an agent, though; if the right agent acting now can reliably end the Encounter, Mind Merge into Impel may actually be the safest option available.
I really love the Paladin's aesthetic.
In general terms, the Paladin looks to be a regular citizen doing their best to armor up in the face of an expected serious police response; they've got eye protection that looks to be some kind of Sectoid eyeglasses or goggles (Sectoids lack ears and a nose, so human-made glasses obviously would be difficult or impossible to keep on), they've got a scarf pulled high enough to completely cover their mouth (and possbly noseholes; I'm not entirely sure whether Sectoids are supposed to entirely lack noses or if they're just restricted to non-obvious noseholes), which collectively would protect against tear gas (Or whatever City 31 would use as an equivalent) as well as the eyewear minimizing the odds of rubber bullets putting out an eye, and the body of their clothing looks to be something thick and a little rigid, akin to wearing a leather jacket as makeshift armor.
In some sense none of this is terribly noteworthy, just pulling inspiration from real-life examples of civilians doing their best to use household materials to prep for battle against anti-riot forces... but it's clear somebody put actual thought into how to translate the aesthetic to a Sectoid in specific, such as how I already pointed out that human eyewear designed to sit on the nose and ears obviously wouldn't work at all on a Sectoid. (Hence the strap running around their entire head and pulled tight) The closest thing to a complaint I have is that I'd expect some manner of headwear, and I'm willing to shrug that off in part as making sure the player can readily see the Paladin is a Sectoid and not a hybrid or human; with how covered-up Paladins are, adding a hat or helmet really would make it easy to guess wrong, even with how lanky Sectoids are and how their hands do look noticeably different when viewed up close.
And honestly, the Sectoid head shape is such that I could readily imagine Sectoids don't care for hats in general. It's entirely possible it would be a huge pain to get a hat to both stay on their head and not block their vision; even for actual humans this can be a nuisance, and the Sectoid head shape and eye placement is such that they don't have a clear equivalent to a forehead as far as this goes. That is, they have an area that I imagine plenty of people naturally think of as a forehead, but where on a human the forehead is a noticeable gap between the upper portion of the eyes and the top of the head that means a hat can sit pretty low on the head with little or no obstruction of vision, on a Sectoid there's basically no gap between the top of their eyes and the top of their head. Probably only hats that rely on a strap running under the chin to stay on would work about equally well for humans and Sectoids -which has obvious compatibility problems with the Paladin's scarf!
As a nice bonus, the Paladin actually hits similar territory as the ADVENT Officer, in terms of looking plausibly Cool And Heroic, which is a pleasant surprise after how XCOM 2 defaulted heavily to enemy forces being Evil Bad Guy Designs. (When, as I've complained about before, that didn't make sense in context) I would in fact expect Gray Phoenix forces to default, where they had the opportunity to express themselves on this topic, to a Heroic Common Person Aesthetic; they think of themselves as regular people who have switched from one form of oppression to another and are fighting to return to the homes that were stolen from them, after all. So a Sectoid cobbling together makeshift protection and ending up with a plausibly Cool And Heroic look is really something I'd expect to happen.
This gets into questions of whether aliens would share an aesthetic sense with humans in even the most general of senses (Especially considering humans already have an incredibly wide range of aesthetics that absolutely do disagree with each other pretty hard on various points), but Chimera Squad makes it clear that its primary approach is to 'humanize' the aliens and treat most of them as being not particularly different from local humans at all in terms of culture, aesthetic sensibilities, etc. I might feel that realistically a Muton wouldn't automatically agree that a black suit is formalwear appropriate to a city's mayor, but Chimera Squad is choosing to emphasize similarities as part of its trend of inclusiveness -that differences are acknowledged and their impact referenced, but Sectoids, Vipers, Mutons, and even Faceless are all meant to feel like a regular person you don't find weird or offputting within the context of City 31's social environment. And that's fair and even admirable, so I'm not going to belabor the alien aesthetic point; it would be rather missing the point to try to argue that alien aesthetics should be more alien.
Normally I'd talk about narrative elements here, but part of what's great about the Paladin's aesthetic is how the narrative end of things is conveyed so clearly and senibly by the aesthetics; this is a Regular Citizen Sectoid who is doing their best with civilian-accessible equipment (Plus a beam weapon, but shhh) to prep themselves for a hostile response from law enforcement, as you'd expect given the general framework of what Gray Phoenix is. There's specific questions I could ask and that would be nice to have answered by materials at some point -for example, did the Ethereal regime even have Sectoids you could meaningfully describe as Not Military, or should I be assuming a Civilian Gray Phoenix Sectoid means 'a Sectoid soldier who tried to integrate for a while, but then decided to join Gray Phoenix', or what- but nothing truly important for Chimera Squad itself to answer.
So I don't really have anything to say about narrative bits I haven't already said.
Next time, we cover the other Gray Phoenix Sectoid, the Dominator.
See you then.