XCOM Aliens Analysis: Part 3

Lastly, Enemy's Within's additions.

Aim: 60/70/80/80
Crit chance: 0/0/15/15
Defense: 10
HP: 16/20/22/24
Mobility: 14 (8.62/17.24)
Will: 0
Damage: 6/7/9/11 (Plasma Mini-Cannon)

When benefiting from a Mind Merge (Including a Sectoid Commander's Mass Mind Merge), gains a shield that halves incoming damage and has 6 HP itself. If the originator of the Mind Merge is killed, the shield fails and the Mechtoid takes 3 damage. Mechtoids can fire twice in one turn if they don't move, and are Hardened robots that cannot be captured/stunned.

They provide 5 Meld when killed, and provide a Sectoid Corpse in addition to their unique drop of a Mechtoid Core.

Why is their head exposed to enemy fire? Why? And why does a mecha with a pilot have no Will?? Shouldn't they have the same Will as a regular Sectoid?

... oh right, gameplay.

Well, Mechtoids can fire twice in one turn, and unlike Sectopods they have no AI restriction on firing on a single target when doing so. As such, they're one of the most lethal enemies in the game against a single target, even on the lowest difficulty -and on the highest, they actually hit harder than Sectopods do with their main gun. Mechtoids will usually be accompanied by Sectoids and/or Sectoid Commanders, the former being mostly relevant for the Mind Merge shield -though a lot of times the player can simply kill the Sectoid and get direct damage on the Mechtoid itself, turning their presence into an advantage for the player. Worse, the shield doesn't protect against area of effect damage: chucking an Alien Grenade onto the Mechtoid and a Sectoid shielding it will get in 8 damage on the Mechtoid while killing the Sectoid and getting rid of the shield.

Still, they're impressively tough for being a mid-game enemy and impressively lethal. They're... kind of boring enemies, unfortunately, but I do like them as a robotic enemy that isn't straight-up endgame material.

Aesthetically, I like them well enough... except for the Sectoid having its head exposed. Like, yeah, I get that they want the player to be able to see what Alien is piloting the thing, but they could've given it a bubble helmet, or a forcefield they blame on psionic powers, or whatever. The exposed head is just nonsense.

Sadly, the Aliens are still being more sensible than XCOM is when it comes to Mec-type troopers -at least the Sectoid only has a part of its head exposed, rather than the entire head like an XCOM Mec.

Aim: 65
Crit chance: 0/0/10/10
Defense: 10/10/20/20
HP: 4/5/5/6
Mobility: 14/16/16/16 (8.62/17.24 on Easy, 9.85/19.70 on all other difficulties)
Will: 0
Damage: 3 (Plasma Pistol)

Can cloak itself temporarily, though it must drop the cloak to use its Plasma Pistol. (But not its strangling attack, which in fact it will not use unless it is cloaked, though in Multiplayer it's not held to this limitation) It's a flying robotic unit that cannot be Stunned/captured, and its strangling attack does 2 damage initially and 1 damage for each turn afterward. Once removed, a strangulated victim spends a turn suffering a 75% movement penalty and a 50% Aim penalty. The Seeker actually shares the tile with its victim while strangling them. Cannot use Cover, but does not have the Hardened trait.

Completely pathetic, except that it sneaks up on you and strangles you.

Strangulation itself is... not actually that threatening. It does take the target out of the fight, but its damage is utterly pathetic and Seekers have behavioral shackles I'll be covering in a bit. Since Seekers still obey remaquel rules about Alien "pods", you don't need to worry about Seekers sneaking up on you while you're busy with another fight, or when you're setting up a killzone and think you're safe, or whatever: the instant there's Seekers in range to attack you, you'll know.

It's too bad, because Seekers would be close to Chryssalid-tier-horrifying if they were in the original game, but the remaquel's mechanics limit their ability to be all that threatening... especially since you don't need to worry about friendly fire while shooting a Seeker off of someone it's currently strangling. Yeah, that makes sense.

This is exacerbated by the fact that if you're not playing on the highest difficulty level, the game hard-caps how many Seeker pods can spawn in a mission -specifically, just one pod. That means there can be, at most, 2 Seekers in a given mission if you're not playing Impossible...

... yes, their pods are actually restricted to 1-2 Seekers at a time. Even on Impossible, a pod of 3 Seekers will never happen.

On top of all that? They have behavioral shackles that prevent more than one Seeker initiating a Strangulation attack in a turn. Even on Impossible where it's theoretically possible for six Seekers to strangle your six troops and thus put you in a situation where you're just watching the entire squad slowly die? Nope, it'll never happen. If you use the buddy system and ensure your troops are all in pairs, Strangulation isn't really a big deal.

This isn't even getting into the fact that Mecs are immune to strangulation, SHIVs are immune, and multiple pieces of gear render soldiers immune, including the 'generic' end-game armor of Titan Armor.

I really think the developers went too far in their attempts to keep Seekers from being too threatening, and instead made them basically no threat at all. Unfortunate.

Aesthetically.. er, why is it called "strangulation"? Their animation doesn't involve strangling the target, it involves sort of hugging them while opening their mouth and pointing it at the target. For that matter, the process of grabbing onto a target is incredibly awkward-looking, as they have a squid-like design and yet insist on bringing their tentacles to their head end so that they're grabbing you like they would do if they were a human being going for a grapple.

... I like their design well enough when they're just sort of ominously floating at a distance, but they look awful in action.

Exalt Troopers
EXALT Elites use Gene Mods, three of which are unique to EXALT.

Iron Skin reduces damage by 25%. (It applies to everything, even Mind Fray!)

Adrenaline Surge provides +10 Aim and +10 Crit chance when injured. (Unclear full details: How long does it last?)

Regen Pheromones causes the unit and adjacent allies to restore 1 HP at the beginning of EXALT's turn.

All EXALT units have -10 to their crit chance on the lower two Difficulties, in contrast to Aliens almost-universally getting +10 on the higher two Difficulties. I'm... not sure why that is. Does EXALT really need yet another way to suck?

Mobility-wise, all EXALT troopers have the usual 12. (ie 7.5/15 tiles of movement)

Aim: 50/50/60/65
Crit chance: 0 (+10 from EXALT Assault Rifle)
Defense: 0
HP: 6/7/8/9
Will: 50
Damage: 3 (EXALT Assault Rifle)

Carries a Frag Grenade.

The crappiest EXALT unit, which is supposed to be equivalent to the player's Assaults. It's tougher than a Sectoid and carries a Frag Grenade, but you're unlikely to be fighting EXALT in the same time frame as Sectoids being normal: a better comparison point is Mutons, which blow them out of the water in every realm except Will. (Okay, and they have identical movement speed, whatever) Hooray?

Operatives would be marginally noteworthy if EXALT units could show up alongside Aliens, as EXALT Operatives have a rather high Will score by Alien standards, making them a bit more resistant to Psi than most non-Psi-capable Aliens. As-is, their Will is still awful, so it's not like EXALT is particularly less susceptible to Psi than the Aliens -at least, not until they promote to Elites.

Aesthetically, I have no idea what Firaxis was thinking with EXALT. They're guys in old-timey suits with even more old-timey bandit scarf-masks. There's actually visual details suggesting they're being Gene Modded, but the player has little reason to notice or care about these details while playing the game, except the pretty blatant orange effect over the skin common to all the Elites. They're also fairly hard to tell apart at a glance, which is not a good thing, even if it totally fits with how undifferentiated they are from a gameplay standpoint. I'm not going to comment on the aesthetics of the other EXALT units -they're that similar, and the summary is "Ill-conceived" regardless of individual case.

My best guess is that they're meant as a nod to the Bureau game, but that just raises more questions than it answers. Worse, they're different enough from each other that they weren't some simple, quick re-skinning of a base EXALT graphic to save effort.

I just don't get EXALT.

Aim: 45/45/55/60
Crit chance: 0 (+10 from EXALT Assault Rifle)
Defense: 0
HP: 6/7/7/8
Will: 50
Damage: 3 (EXALT Assault Rifle)
Has Smoke Grenade, Covering Fire, and Field Medic. They carry a Medikit.

It's an EXALT Support. They exist, I guess?

Honestly, EXALT's base goons aren't tough enough for a Medic to be that relevant, and the AI doesn't get the luxury of healing between firefights like the player does. In practice I suspect EXALT Medics spending turns healing allies is usually a net positive to the player, when it even has a chance to happen, because as weak as their attack is it's still less threatening for them to add some hit points to a guy than to remove some of your own. Even if you're at Laser tier and not moved onto to Plasma yet -and Enemy Within does try to slow up the progression to Plasma- 4 HP is still less than you do in a single attack. Covering Fire is awful, and Smoke Grenade... if the AI is bad, it's worse than useless, and even if the AI is quite good, it's still questionable in its utility.

Sadly, I'd argue Operatives are more threatening, just because they carry a Frag Grenade.

Medics would actually be kind of interesting if EXALT units could show up alongside Aliens, as medical support would be something of a game-changer with all the biological Aliens, but noooo, it would make too much sense for EXALT to actually fight alongside the Aliens.

Aim: 50/50/60/65
Crit chance: 0
Defense: 0
HP: 7/8/9/10
Will: 50
Damage: 4 (EXALT LMG)
Carries a Frag Grenade and a Rocket Launcher, and has Holo-Targeting and Suppression.

The only threatening basic EXALT unit. With the most HP, sharing "best damage" with the Sniper, and even Holo-Targeting is kind of relevant given how awful EXALT's base Aim is -they could use all the help they can get.

The EXALT Heavy is also essentially a 100% direct upgrade to the EXALT Operative.

I have no idea why they thought this was good design, and frankly the implications for how Firaxis seems to view the X-COM Assault and Heavy are disturbing.

Aim: 60/60/70/70
Crit chance: 0 (+25 from EXALT Sniper Rifle)
Defense: 0
HP: 5/6/6/7
Will: 50
Damage: 4 (EXALT Sniper Rifle)

Has Headshot, Damn Good Ground, and Snapshot.

Boring. Not really a sniper, either, since they don't get Squadsight. Also the most fragile of the EXALT units.

Honestly? Pretty much a bad EXALT Heavy, especially since their aim when Snap Shot's penalty is applied is identical or worse. Damn Good Ground is too small a bonus when it even applies and Headshot is too unreliable. (55 percent crit chance, if you're playing on the higher two difficulties? That's basically a coin flip)

Elite Operative
Aim: 60/60/70/75
Crit chance: 0 (+10 from EXALT Laser Rifle)
Defense: 0
HP: 8/9/10/11
Will: 80
Damage: 5 (EXALT Laser Rifle)
Carries an Alien Grenade and has the Adrenaline Surge Gene Mod.

More threatening than an Operative, still basically flatly inferior to their Heavy counterpart.

Adrenaline Surge is not strictly worse than Iron Skin, but it's not actually a particularly good Gene Mod, where Iron Skin is an amazing Gene Mod, so it's sort of irrelevant that it's a different thing.

Mostly the Elite Operative makes me sad that EXALT doesn't fight alongside the Aliens, as 80 Will is quite impressive, and the Elite EXALT units would actually be noteworthy as an addition to Alien forces that is relatively Psi resistant without either being immune (Robots) or Psi-capable itself. Instead all it means is that Psi is unreliable in EXALT missions in specific, which go away entirely once you've hit EXALT's HQ, and the mid-late game is where your Psi is likely to be coming online at all -so basically EXALT is liable to vanish around the same time their Elite's high Will scores might make them an interesting enemy.


Elite Medic
Aim: 55/55/65/70
Crit chance: 0 (+10 from EXALT Laser Rifle)
Defense: 0
HP: 8/9/10/10
Will: 80
Damage: 5 (EXALT Laser Rifle)

Has Smoke Grenade, Covering Fire, Field Medic, Smoke and Mirrors, and the Gene Mod Regen Pheromones. Carries a Medikit.

Well, they can use their useless Medikit 3 times instead of 1 time. Yay? Similarly, they can use their useless Smoke Grenade three times instead of one time. Wooo.

To be fair, EXALT Elites are at least tough enough it's actually vaguely relevant that Elite Medics can heal guys, and in particular the Heavy's Iron Skin means that 4 HP goes slightly farther -you have to attack with 5 damage to undo it. Additionally, Regen Pheromones means that a lot of times they'll heal their target for 5 HP in total, if you don't simply kill them or their target before EXALT's next turn.

So... kind of relevant. Kind of.

Elite Heavy
Aim: 55/55/65/70
Crit chance: 0
Defense: 0
HP: 8/9/10/11
Will: 80
Damage: 6 (EXALT Heavy Laser)
Carries an Alien Grenade and a Rocket Launcher, has Holo-Targeting, Suppression, Rapid Reaction, and the Gene Mod Iron Skin.

Threatening! The only EXALT Elite unit that is, really. In particular, they've got two turns of "yes, my gun is offline, but I can still kill you", where Elite Operatives have one turn and the Elite Medics and Elite Snipers will just stare helplessly at your guys if you shut off their guns. A high priority target if you're abusing that particular mechanic, which you will be.

Why is EXALT designed this way?

Elite Sniper
Aim: 70/70/80/85
Crit chance: 0 (+30 from EXALT Laser Sniper Rifle)
Defense: 0
HP: 7/8/8/9
Will: 80
Damage: 6 (EXALT Laser Sniper Rifle)

Has Headshot, Damn Good Ground, Snap Shot, Executioner, and the Gene Mod Depth Perception.

Their new traits just make them even more accurate than a regular EXALT Sniper in specific situations. Still largely "worse Elite Heavy". Whyyyyy.

Okay, that's not entirely fair. They'll crit periodically, where EXALT Elite Heavies can never crit without a flank. That's... not a good design decision, though. Random chance of being more lethal? Doesn't differentiate the Elite Sniper from the Elite Heavy. It also runs into trouble if you're fielding elite Assaults, who can take complete crit immunity at Colonel -and EXALT Elites take so long to show up you've probably got Colonels by the time they hit the field.


Overall Enemy Within basically just makes the game easier, when the base game wasn't that hard, and the fact that the new enemies are, bar the Mechtoid, uniformly underwhelming is a major contributing factor.

Sadly, the final mission doesn't get changed to address the sudden existence of Seekers and Mechtoids, either. Were they not able to hire the same voice actor to deliver the silly spiels about how awful all the Aliens are?

Though EXALT is the most disappointing. The game really seems to think they're scary and that their missions are hard, giving you utterly absurd tools like being able to shut off all their guns for an entire turn for free, multiple times per mission, but they're astoundingly un-threatening foes before you turn off their guns.

Oh well.

Next time, we do an analysis of the Second Wave options.


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