XCOM Items Analysis Part 4: Interceptor Gear

Unfortunately, the exact meaning of these numbers are not laid out on UFOpaedia, but I can make some reasonable guesses. Still, don't be surprised if rigorous testing shows I'm wrong on details. Fortunately, it's not too important, as air combat is very simple all-around.

In any case where I format a number as x/x/x/x, that corresponds to Easy/Normal/Classic/Impossible difficulties.

Firing Time is the delay between shots -a smaller number is a better number. For other values, a higher number is better, bar of course cost.




Raven
Costs 40$ to build.
Costs 20$ to maintain per month.
Speed: 1,500
Engagement Speed: 10
HP: 2,500
Armor: 5
Armor Penetration: 0

The important question  is, of course: how do these compare against the Alien UFOs?

The short version is that Small Scouts are worse than a Raven in basically every way except that they have some Armor Penetration, Large Scouts are less inferior but still basically inferior, Abductors and Supply Barges are on more even footing trending toward being better than the Raven, and Battleships and the Oveerseer ship will probably absolutely murder a single Raven, bar perhaps extensive use of Modules.


The Raven is straightforward -it's your basic Interceptor craft of the game. It has no competition until you invent the Firestorm, and the Firestorm's only actual drawback is that it's expensive to build. If you're not prone to getting your craft killed, the Firestorm is flatly better.



Firestorm
Costs 200$, 40 Alien Alloys, 20 Elerium, 1 UFO Power Source, and 2 UFO Flight Computers to build. (Note that the North America Continental Bonus will halve these costs, but the Power Source and Flight Computer requirements are unaffected by this)
Costs 10$ to maintain.
Speed: 3,500
Engagement Speed: 20/20/15/15
HP: 6,500
Armor: 25
Armor Penetration: 34/34/16/16

Better than the Raven in every way that matters except up-front cost. It even costs less to maintain, for some reason. Notably, on higher difficulties it's less of a jump in quality, which is exacerbated by the fact that most of the UFOs are more dangerous on higher difficulties. Small Scouts and Large Scouts are unaffected by difficulty, but Ravens could already easily handle them, and you have the unusual case of the Overseer weakening on the higher difficulties, specifically losing Armor. I assume this is to compensate for the Plasma Cannon being less lethal on higher difficulties and the Firestorm less able to penetrate Armor, but it's a rather odd point. Otherwise, though, UFOs get nastier on the higher two difficulties.

Firestorms are also straightforward: replace your Ravens with them as soon as you can, and just try to avoid getting them shot down.



Avalanche Missiles
Free, unlimited copies.
Hit Chance: 70%
Range: 100
Firing Time: 2
Damage: 400
Armor Penetration: 0

Your most basic Interceptor weapon. It's pretty terrible. On the other hand, it's free. Also? Until you get Plasma Cannons, it's your only weapon that can fire on UFOs almost immediately after successfully engaging. Unfortunately, it takes several in-game hours to change weapons, so it's not like you're going to badly damage a UFO with Laser Cannons, have it escape, switch an Interceptor to Avalanche Missiles, and then launch to finish it off with minimal time to be shot at. You'd have to have two different sets of Interceptors set up or something.


It competes fairly directly with...


Phoenix Cannon
35$
Hit Chance: 95%
Range: 85
Firing Time: 1
Damage: 350
Armor Penetration: 11/11/6/6

Your other basic weapon. Unlike the Avalanche Missile, you have to actually build Phoenix Cannons. This and the reduced range are, however, the only disadvantages. Okay, and it also does slightly less damage per shot, but it fires literally twice as fast and will almost never miss, so it's basically a technicality. In practice the fact that it costs $ is the main reason you might consider holding off on equipping all your Interceptors with Phoenix Cannons.


For whatever reason higher difficulties make it have less Armor Penetration. This doesn't even matter against the early ships -Large Scouts have 2 whole Armor on Impossible, oh no. Against Abductors and up, though, it makes it even more important to hurry up and move on to the strong weapons when playing on higher difficulties.



Laser Cannon
40$, 25 Alien Alloys
Hit Chance: 85%
Range: 85
Firing Time: 0.75
Damage: 400
Armor Penetration: 25/25/25/28

The middle tier of regular Interceptor weaponry. Note that it does not, in fact, fully supplant either of Avalanche Missiles -which have more range than it- nor Phoenix Cannons, which have more accuracy than it. This will usually be off-set by the improved fire rate, but not always. It's possible to skip straight to Plasma Cannons, and honestly, if you can manage it, it's probably worth doing, as the Laser Cannon is only really notable as an upgrade via its Armor Penetration. Against the smaller ships, it's uncomfortably close to the Phoenix Cannon in damage output, and is much less reliable.


The slight increase in Armor Penetration on Impossible is really puzzling to me. Does it cross some magic number threshold I'm unaware of, or is it simply an oversight of some kind?


Plasma Cannon
135$, 25 Alien Alloys, 25 Elerium
Hit Chance: 85%
Range: 100
Firing Time: 1.25
Damage: 800/800/700/700
Armor Penetration: 48/48/33/33

The overall best weapon available to Interceptors until you've got Fusion Lances. Note that researching a Plasma Rifle or Light Plasma Rifle will let you immediately research Plasma Cannons. As such, if you manage an early capture, you can potentially skip right past Laser Cannons to Plasma Cannons. The ideal scenario is to take advantage of Slingshot so you can capture a Muton to interrogate them, halving all Plasma weapon research times, but even just capturing a Thin Man or Floater can work, just more slowly.

This is less worth pursuing on higher difficulties and especially in Enemy Within; Plasma research takes longer in Enemy Within, the Plasma Cannon is less powerful on higher difficulties in general, and on Impossible the Laser Cannon receives a slight buff, but that doesn't mean you should ignore the option entirely. Enemy Within partially offsets this by ensuring you have Slingshot available, for one. (Though on the other hand Slingshot takes longer to trigger in Enemy Within) For two, on higher difficulties it's more important to be efficient and effective about how you expend resources -skipping right over Laser Cannons is a bigger deal when you have less to work with and need more.


EMP Cannon
150$, 25 Alien Alloys, 15 Elerium
Hit Chance: 90%
Range: 85
Firing Time: 1.25
Damage: 1200
Armor Penetration: 44

The EMP Cannon is unusual, having the special property of tending to leave the downed UFO more intact. This means you'll generally get more ship components, but also that you'll face more Aliens. The EMP Cannon is one of the better weapons available to you before you consider its advantage at looting, but it has fairly steep unlocking requirements -you have to have unlocked Plasma Cannons and Firestorms as well as researched Elerium before you can research the EMP Cannon. In practice you'll probably never place it on a Raven, especially since the biggest, most valuable ships are too lethal for it to be all that practical to use Ravens to down them in general, let alone with the short-ranged EMP Cannon. You can do it if you're willing to burn Dodge Modules, but it's inefficient, and, again: you already have Firestorms.

Compared to the Plasma Cannon, its only disadvantages are that it costs a little more $ to build (But less Elerium, which will often be more problematic a cost to cover), and that it's shorter-ranged. You can also count it as a meta-disadvantage that it leaves more Aliens alive, making missions riskier/harder, but in good play facing more enemies is overall a good thing, as it gives your troops more experience and gives you more loot (Weapon Shards, which can hamper your ability to perform research if you aren't collecting enough) so I personally would tend to rate that as a positive trait.


The range disadvantage is the main one worth noting, giving UFOs more time to shoot at your Interceptor and also reducing how much of the overall engagement time is available to shoot them in. This can be offset by UFO Tracking -which has the advantage that Cyberdiscs are never out of vogue, and so you can count on being able to produce it all the way to the end of the game- but Cyberdiscs are generally not common enough for you to simply assume you'll have enough UFO Tracking modules to consistently off-set the range disadvantage.


Still, the EMP Cannon is overall the best Interceptor weapon that isn't the Fusion Lance, and unlike the Fusion Lance it doesn't require unusual UFO components to be constructed successfully. Depending on your situation, it may be worth skipping right past Plasma Cannons.



Fusion Lance
100$, 20 Alien Alloys, 15 Elerium, 1 Fusion Core
Hit Chance: 100%
Range: 100
Firing Time: 1.5
Damage: 1400
Armor Penetration: 44

A special note about the Fusion Lance: it cannot be equipped to a Raven. Only Firestorms can carry it.

Unequivocally the best Interceptor weapon. EMP Cannons might be worth using if you want to maximize loot, but otherwise it's Fusion Lances all the way if you can build them. The primary limiter on them is that you need to have taken on a Battleship successfully to be able to build one. If you don't have Slingshot, this can lead to a bit of a "the key is in the safe" sort of situation, wherein you could readily shoot down a Battleship if only you had a Fusion Lance, which you need to shoot down a Battleship to get, but it's not really a big deal most of the time. Worst comes to worst, you burn Modules on your first successful Battleship fight.


Note that Fusion Lance can be researched directly if you have a Fusion Core. As such, with Slingshot it actually is possible to skip past every weapon straight to Fusion Lance... though you'll still need to research New Fighter Craft and build Firestorms all over the place for that to actually do you any good.


As an aside, I find it frustrating that the Blaster Launcher's research takes 33% longer and requires 50% more Weapon Fragments than Fusion Lance's research. Your godly perfectly ultimate fighter craft weapon is easier to acquire and costs less to construct than your disappointingly modest boost to your Heavy's limited-use class special? That's just... why?



Defensive Matrix
50$, 3 Floater corpses

When activated, the Interceptor will automatically dodge two shots, but the Defensive Matrix will be used up. In Enemy Unknown, this applies to the next two shots made by the UFO, while in Enemy Within it applies to the next two shots that would've hit. UFO weapons all have 75% accuracy, so it might be tempting to think the distinction is minor, but only about half the time will a 75% chance of success land two shots in a row, and roughly 5% of the time they'll actually miss twice in a row. As such, not only is it reassuring to know you literally can't waste the module on shots that would've missed anyway, but it actually means that about half the time you use it the Enemy Within change will benefit you.

Since Floater corpses aren't useful for anything else except selling at the Grey Market, the corpse cost is pretty trivial, with the primary caveat being that Floaters are eventually phased out. The cash component is more likely to discourage use early in the game. On the other hand, Ravens can go up against most early UFOs and kill them fairly consistently, so you probably don't need the module in the early game. The most likely circumstance to appreciate it is if you've managed to get high quality weapons but not unlock -or construct, at least- Firestorms. This can be done by successfully capturing a Muton fairly early, researching their (Light) Plasma Rifle, and going straight to Plasma Cannons from there, and can result in having the firepower to take on Battleships without having sufficient durability on your craft to actually win those fights without using multiple craft. (Preferably with well-timed disengagements) In that scenario, Defensive Matrix is a fantastic stop-gap measure while you transition to Firestorms.



UFO Tracking
20$, 2 Cyberdisc Wrecks

The primary effect of UFO Tracking is that it freezes the "clock", preventing the UFO from escaping for a few extra seconds. A secondary benefit the game doesn't mention is that it will also reduce how long it takes for shorter-range weapons (ie the Phoenix Cannon, Laser Cannon, and EMP Cannon) to have range on the UFO and start firing.

UFO Tracking is a mixed bag of a module, as increasing the time spent fighting the UFO has the trade-off of increasing the time the UFO shoots at you. On the other hand, every single UFO weapon is (slightly) longer range than your longest-range weapons, and if you're using the shorter-range weapons this can lead to a re-engagement giving the UFO free time to shoot at your Interceptor. As such, even if you're confident you can simply re-engage the UFO successfully without it fleeing the planet, it may still make more sense to activate UFO Tracking then to let it escape and re-engage it.


Overall this is a module to be careful about using, particularly since Cyberdiscs are sufficiently uncommon of an enemy -you'll never see more than one to a pod, and if you're not playing Impossible then in the smaller UFOs they're hard capped to one pod in the entire mission when they spawn at all- that you'll probably never have tons of Cyberdisc Wrecks to spare. On the other hand, they never stop showing up, either, so UFO Tracking is the main Module you can count on access to into the end game.



Uplink Targeting
10$, 3 Sectoid Corpses

Your next two shots will automatically hit when using this.

Unlike Defensive Matrix, Enemy Within didn't improve Uplink Targeting -if your next two shots would've hit anyway, Uplink Targeting will be used up and wasted regardless. Worse, only Avalanche Missiles are sufficiently inaccurate that it's reasonably likely to have actually helped, and Fusion Lances actually can't miss. While the $ cost is minimal and in the early game Sectoid bodies are abundant, eventually Sectoids will largely stop spawning. This is basically something you might use in the early game to supplement Avalanche usage, and even that's iffy, as the UFOs you face will largely be easily dealt with regardless. If you use Phoenix Cannons, which have 95% accuracy and fire twice as fast at a small loss to damage and reduced range, Uplink Targeting is essentially value-less even in the early game.


An argument can be made for simply relying on Avalanche Missiles in the early game, but that argument boils down to "early UFOs are weak enough to not need more than the minimum." That's not really an argument to use Uplink Targeting.


I kind of wish Uplink Targeting was an actual damage increase. Just say something like "we target weak points in the UFO," and it makes sense right there, and it would've had a much clearer value in the game. Right now the main reason a player might use it is because the game is fairly opaque about the air combat, and so players who don't go trawling wikis or the like are forced to make their best guess as to whether it's relevant or not -and the default assumption is going to tend to be "Well, they wouldn't have put it in the game if it was useless, right?"


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Interceptor craft are fairly simple in the remaquel, and I'm fine with that. I wish it was a little less simple, but I think simplifying the dogfight minigame and its associated components was probably the right decision -the original XCOM has enough complexity to become burdensome to the player without much actual value being added. Paring it down is good. I just wish the actual weapons were either even more simple (Reduce them all down to just damage and have everything else identical across all weapons, for example) or weren't clearly designed as a fairly straight line of improvement. Only EMP doesn't fit fairly cleanly into the weapon progression.


Modules are sort of weird. They replace the stances of the original XCOM in function in a lot of ways, but are a simple "do better in battle by burning a strategic resource" dynamic. In some ways I think this is an improvement -the stances in the original XCOM were more about trying to optimize how to play the game while the game fails to provide you the information needed to figure out what's the optimal thing to do. Modules are much clearer -how much are you willing to burn on trying to win?


Overall I feel the remaquel had the right idea, but managed to hit a sourspot. If it were even simpler, or abstracted out entirely -that is, remove the minigame and replace it with something like a simple chance of any generated UFO being shot down, odds being improved by improving Interceptor technology- that would probably be an improvement. If it was made a bit more involved and complicated, where your decisions are a bit more meaningful than "Am I willing to expend resources into improving my aircraft?", that would probably be an improvement. Enemy Within didn't do anything to touch upon the topic, either, which is unfortunate.


On the other hand, interception in the original XCOM is a lot of effort to micromanage for fairly little payoff of actual fun. So the remaquel blows the original game out of the water when it comes to this.


Next time, we move on to class analysis, starting with the Assault.

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