XCOM 2 Class Analysis: Skirmisher
Where the Reaper can be viewed somewhat like a Ranger/Sharpshooter hybrid, the Skirmisher can be viewed somewhat like a Sharpshooter/Ranger hybrid, specifically a Gunslinger Sharpshooter; they can output many low-strength shots per turn, and they have modest skill focus on melee abilities. They even get their own version of Bladestorm!
In practice, this comparison doesn't work out particularly, as Skirmishers end up heavily defined by their ability to manipulate positioning, particularly their own but also secondarily enemy positioning, but I do suspect the developers had something along those lines in mind. Possibly also an intention to have some Grenadier hybridization, given a couple of grenade-oriented skills they have, though if so it's pretty limpwristed.
Another, non-trivial, part of the Skirmisher being just plain weird is that they're unique among classes for having strong pressures toward holding still in a turn and strong pressures toward moving more than usual. Surprisingly, they're designed so these two pressures aren't completely contradictory, though it's still a bit awkward.
In any event, the game's own description of them being a 'hit-and-run attacker' is... weird. It is technically possible to have a Skirmisher fight in a manner that could be accurately described as hit-and-run, as they have two skills that involve attacking by getting in the enemy's face and can then Grapple out of reach on the same turn, but most of the time a Skirmisher should either be holding still or closing on enemies. There's very few situations in which it actually makes sense to have a Skirmisher do any kind of hit-and-run behavior. I'm honestly not sure why the game describes them this way.
Their primary weapon, the Bullpup, actually uses the same Aim climb rules as a Shotgun, making it extremely accurate when up close but suffer badly when firing from a distance. This fact anchors basically every single one of their skills and their overall play dynamic, as many of their skills are designed to somehow or another help them offset the Bullpup's short-range qualities, and/or complement that quality. It's also specific to the Bullpup, which can get a bit confusing when using their multiple ranged attack skills that don't use Shotgun-style Aim climb.
Their secondary weapon is the Ripjack. Unlike the Claymore, it really is a proper secondary weapon, with three tiers to be upgraded through and being affected by Breakthroughs, but the specifics can be a bit unintuitive because its stats are only applied on a few specific skills. The game does consistently refer to using the Ripjack to attack in each such case, but the game does a poor job of conveying that this is a mechanically meaningful statement and not just a flavorful description.
Firing the primary weapon does not end the Skirmisher's turn.
This is the biggest pressure toward 'don't move' on the Skirmisher: where the default rule is that moving isn't costing you an offensive action, for the Skirmisher every action point is a potential shot at the enemy!
Also: huzzah in Bullet Swarm -the actually-defining skill on the Heavy- being made into a class-defining skill! Much like Long War does with Infantry, in fact.
Mind, Marauder is functionally a little less impressive than Bullet Swarm simply because XCOM 2 is more willing to provide actions that don't end the turn. A Heavy firing and then reloading was avoiding having to lose an entire turn to reloading, which was huge. A Skirmisher additionally having the option to fire and reload is only a little more flexible than a non-Skirmisher only being able to reload and then fire in a turn they weren't going to move anyway.
But it's still an excellent skill for defining a class.
Albeit in a sufficiently straightforward way in the context of XCOM 2 that it doesn't provide a lot for me to talk about. At least, not in this part of the post.
Attempts to pull a human enough target adjacent to the Skirmisher. This effect has +25 Aim over the Skirmisher's innate Aim, and is affected by height advantage, the target's Defense, and the target's Cover, but distance has no effect. If the pull succeeds, the Skirmisher automatically and unavoidably hits the target with their Ripjack. 4 turn cooldown. Doesn't necessarily end the turn.
Justice is the first of the Skirmisher's skills that uses their secondary weapon, the Ripjack, and so I'm not listing specific damage numbers because they'll depend on your Ripjack's stats, including Breakthroughs. You're starting from a base of 4 damage and gain 2 per Ripjack upgrade, though.
The game says 'humanoid' target, and this sounds more general than it is: Justice only works on ADVENT troops (The mostly-human ones, not Mecs or Sectopods), Codices, Spectres, the Lost, and X-COM troops out of liable-to-be-relevant possible targets. (Note that I'm including Avatars in 'ADVENT troops') It has to be something that uses a standard human animation set. So even though Sectoids are something most people would label 'humanoid', Justice doesn't work on them. Fortunately, ADVENT human-type soldiers are by far the most common enemy type in the game, so even though the list of units Justice works on is relatively limited you'll have plenty of opportunities to use it.
And to be completely explicit: the Ripjack strike cannot miss so long as you succeeded in pulling the target in the first place. This gives Justice the nearly-unique property of being able to miss, but not able to Graze, so it's quite convenient it actually does work on Codices: it means Justice can be used to finish off a Codex where the worst-case result is no damage is done, rather than a Graze happening and leading to it cloning itself. More generally, this ensures that using Justice as a finishing strike will never backfire by leaving a target alive and adjacent to your Skirmisher, especially since the Ripjack's damage is, aside crits, completely non-random and so the damage preview won't mislead you into taking a maybe-kill under the belief that it will definitely kill. This is especially important at the beginning of the game, where the Bullpup does 3-4 damage while the Ripjack does 4 damage, meaning a target with exactly 4 HP can be killed by a successful Bullpup shot but will be killed by a successful Justice. Justice is also often more accurate than a Bullpup shot due to its innate Aim bonus and the fact that it doesn't suffer from Aim penalties; so long as you don't have a clear shot on an extremely close target, Justice will be the more reliable way to hit.
One benefit of Justice is the target often isn't in Cover anymore, at least not relative to the Skirmisher. I think it's strictly possible for a Skirmisher to end up pulling a target to just on the other side of Low Cover from them, but I've never seen it happen, and when the Skirmisher is up against a car or a piece of Cover that fully occupies a tile I'm fairly sure it's guaranteed the target will end up in the open for the Skirmisher's purposes. This comes with the caveat that since Justice's hit chance is affected by the target's Cover the situations you most desperately want the target pulled from Cover are the situations it's least likely to actually work. On the other hand, Justice doesn't suffer accuracy penalties at a distance and has a massive Aim boost, so it's entirely possible to be in a situation where taking a shot has 40~% chance of working while Justice has a 90~% chance of working.
A consequence of the above is that Justice all but guarantees that, if the target is alive after the Ripjack strike, the Skirmisher can 100% reliably shoot them if they have action points remaining. A Skirmisher has a minimum of 68 Aim and their Bullpup gains +40 Aim from being point-blank; unless the target either ends up in Cover relative to the Skirmisher or has innate Defense, that's a guaranteed hit. And even with innate Defense, most Justice-valid targets don't go above 10 Defense even on Legendary, and 10 Defense is no protection at all from a Skirmisher who is above Squaddie rank. This means you can largely not worry about number-crunching Aim values when it comes to deciding whether it's safe to Justice a target or not, and focus just on damage to HP: for example, if your Skirmisher has two action points and you're considering using Justice on a target, if it has 7 HP you can be confident it will be dead once the Skirmisher is done with it, between the Ripjack strike and a follow-up Bullpup shot.
Something else worth pointing out is that a Skirmisher who has high ground and is Captain or higher (Or is a lower level but has a Perception PCS or a Covert Op-derived Aim boost, or the target is Holo Targeted/Aftershocked) can actually Justice targets with 0 innate Defense 100% reliably if they're merely in Low Cover. As such, in many situations Justice can be used basically like a grenade as far as removing a target's Cover protection while doing some damage to it -only better, since now the victim is in range for the rest of the squad to get Aim bonuses from up close and Justice is a cooldown skill rather than a single use per mission. On higher difficulties most Justice-valid targets you'd want to pull have 10 Defense, but for a max-level Skirmisher that still works out to a 95% chance to hit, and if you've given them a Perception PCS or ever gotten them Aim from a Covert Op... or hit them with Holo Targeting and/or Aftershock beforehand, for that matter. Whatever the case, it's not hard to push that up to 100%. Just keep in mind that putting a Scope on the Bullpup won't help Justice's accuracy.
Another point worth mentioning is that Justice is surprisingly prone to smashing the target's Cover if it does miss, even particularly durable Cover like entire trees. It seems to be given much less leeway to do terrain damage away from the actual target, for one. As such, Justice is worth considering even when your odds of actually pulling the target out aren't so great, because if it does miss the odds are pretty good you'll still accomplish the primary goal of denying them their Cover bonus, allowing other soldiers to follow up with clear shots.
Justice is hampered somewhat by the fact that it's primarily restricted to working on ADVENT troops, which are overall the weakest and least concerning enemy types. A Codex is also not an ideal target unless you're specifically using it as a finishing blow, as a Ripjack strike can never be a reliable kill on a full health Codex and of course they have their cloning gimmick. On Legendary, even a crit Fusion Ripjack strike backed by a Breakthrough will still leave the Codex at 1 HP. And of course pulling a Purifier is dangerous due to them potentially exploding on death.
On the other hand, ADVENT Officers, Stun Lancers, Shieldbearers, and Priests are all surprisingly durable when looking at them from an early to midgame perspective, and are all fairly high priority targets. In particular, aside Stun Lancers they can all create conditions that terminate with their death and are rather important to end immediately once they're up, making them good targets to pull from Cover and focus down. Spectres also give a strong niche for Justice, since they're one of the most durable enemies of the game that isn't some manner of boss and are even more of a high-priority target than anything other than a Priest that just Mind Controlled someone.
Also worth pointing out is that the ADVENT General is susceptible to Justice and prone to running away while being shockingly durable. Bringing a Skirmisher into a Guerrilla Op demanding you kill an ADVENT General can do a lot to reduce the frustration factor of chasing them down.
Plus, Justice is a free part of the Skirmisher's kit. If you had to purchase it I might be a little iffy on it, but it's a bonus. You won't necessarily use it in every mission you take a Skirmisher into, but it's plenty useful. In particular, on distant enemies it's consistently more accurate than a Bullpup shot, and barring Breakthrough bias or an Ammo Item a Ripjack is always at least as hard-hitting as the tier-equivalent Bullpup. The only reason you shouldn't necessarily prioritize it basically every time is that if you're under time pressure -and you usually are- you might find yourself with it on cooldown while fighting an enemy that you'd really like to Justice as a result of having tossed it out on a regular ADVENT Trooper or something.
Finally, a frustrating, unintuitive mechanical note: squad Concealment being broken by one of your soldiers being spotted will mean that any Overwatch shots your soldiers take suffer the usual Overwatch penalty, instead of the result being an Overwatch ambush. That's fine in most circumstances, but the relevancy to Justice is that instead of breaking squad Concealment like an attack, it breaks squad Concealment by virtue of the target ending up flanking the Skirmisher and so spotting them before the Ripjack strike hits. While the target won't get a pod activation move nor take a shot at the Skirmisher, this still means that Justice is something you should basically never use to open an Overwatch ambush. Save it for after the enemies have scrambled for Cover.
The Skirmisher instantly, at no action point cost, moves to a targeted tile. The tile must be at the edge of raised ground and cannot be at a lower elevation than the Skirmisher's current location, and the range on the Grapple is somewhere less than line of sight. 3 turn cooldown.
This is exactly the same Grapple as your core classes can access by equipping light armor.
The Skirmisher's innate access to a Grapple is a key part of handling the tension between the Skirmisher being incentivized to close in on enemies and yet incentivized to burn all their action points on shooting constantly. Since it's a completely free action, it can be used to re-position the Skirmisher without burning an action point on it. Furthermore, since using it tends to give the Skirmisher height advantage, even when terrain doesn't let your Skirmisher use the Grapple to close on enemies it still helps offset their long-range Aim penalties by getting high ground. (Remember: short-range weapons have a maximum Aim penalty of -30, while height advantage is worth +20. A -10 to Aim isn't too big a deal) As the Skirmisher also has multiple skills that get Aim boosts from high ground but not from closing in on enemies (Such as Justice), it's also complimentary to such skills.
Unfortunately, this is a bit of an unreliable, map-dependent thing. XCOM 2 does go out of its way to incorporate natural Grapple opportunities that are actually useful, much more so than its predecessor, but there's still maps that are essentially completely flat, or where the places you could Grapple to offer no Cover, and even on maps that don't have these problems it's still quite variable whether things will line up such that Grappling is relevant in the moment. Not to mention most high ground is potentially destructible in XCOM 2, so even a map that has it might end up with you unable to leverage the Grapple anyway.
It helps that it's an innate skill outright, but it still makes Skirmishers a bit erratic in their effectiveness based on a factor you have a limited ability to predict, and which for most classes is of only modest importance, where for the Skirmisher pretty much their entire design is centered on the assumption they can Grapple to re-position, close with the enemy, etc. The game really ought to have either made high ground much more strongly consistent or added in functionality for knowing whether a map is going to have high ground, something of that sort, if it was going to anchor the Skirmisher's design around access to high ground. You can predict that certain specific mission types will have it -any mission type that's guaranteed to have Lost, for example- but this is an imperfect point.
Also be careful around Overwatch. Surprisingly, Grappling will actually trigger Overwatch fire!
Also I say Grapple can't target terrain at a lower elevation, but while I'm pretty sure this is meant to be an absolute rule, I've every once in a while had a situation where a Skirmisher -or some other soldier in light armor, for that matter- was able to Grapple to terrain that was unambiguously at a lower height than their current position. I'm not entirely sure what factors cause this situation to arise, but you shouldn't actually assume you can't Grapple just because the normal rules of thumb say you shouldn't be able to Grapple. If the Grapple icon is lit up, there's a valid Grapple point in reach: make sure to pay attention for that.
Also note that 'at the edge of raised ground' is actually defined dynamically: if you punch a hole in a rooftop, you'll usually be able to Grapple to the edge of the newly-created hole. This is often a bad idea since doing so will almost never put you in Cover, but it can be useful to keep in mind, especially for a higher-level Skirmisher, as they have access to skills that can re-position from there without wasting action points on plain movement.
The first time an attack is aimed at the Skirmisher in a mission, they gain an additional action point on their next turn.
Reflex isn't a terrible skill, benefiting from how most XCOM 2 missions are very short and its once-per-mission limitation being less bad than it sounds due to the fact that good play involves it being exceedingly rare for your troops to be shot at in the first place, but overall I'm not a fan of it.
Part of the problem is that Return Fire is a possible bonus skill for the Skirmisher, and has a similar kind of payoff but it's actually able to trigger multiple times in a mission. Sure, Reflex's bonus action point can be spent on a variety of possible actions in theory, but while the Skirmisher does have non-shooting actions available you tend to primarily want to spend action points on shooting, leaving Reflex's primary advantage being that taking a shot with it isn't operating under a reaction fire penalty.
But even ignoring Return Fire since not every Skirmisher can assume they have access, Reflex is just an odd skill all-around, hampered by the fact that Skirmishers aren't actually all that biased toward ending up shot at.
Reflex also suffers mechanically, in that being Stunned or Dazed will prevent you from benefiting from Reflex. Even if you immediately run someone up to the Skirmisher to undo a Daze, they'll still end up at one action point, and by a similar token even if the Stun immediately ends and they would naturally wake up with one action point... they'll still wake up with one action point, not two. And Reflex will still be considered to have triggered, and therefore will be completely wasted. Given the Chosen are one of the main enemies you're unlikely to successfully prevent getting an attack in and they like to Daze your troops... this is a pretty strongly relevant problem with Reflex.
It also is a bit aimless in terms of defining how your Skirmisher plays. They're a little bit better the first time they got shot at, assuming they survive and aren't knocked Unconscious or anything, in a non-specific way. Okay? What's the purpose of this?
It could certainly have been worse, but I don't really get why this is a skill at all.
Using an Item that normally ends the turn when used, such as throwing a grenade, does not end the Skirmisher's turn.
If your Skirmisher has a Corporal-level bonus skill, Total Combat has decent odds of being a skill you skip over initially, possibly coming back later, possibly ignoring forever. By itself it's... not terrible, but more niche than you might expect. First of all, if your Skirmisher doesn't luck into Tactical Rigging, they only get the one Item, and there's no Item in XCOM 2 that natively has more than one use (Except for Battle Scanner... which already doesn't necessarily end the turn, making Total Combat irrelevant to it), making Total Combat a one-off benefit per battle. Second, most Items in XCOM 2 are actually passive Items rather than anything you manually use, and Skirmishers actually have motive to equip eg ammo Items so it's entirely possible to equip your Skirmisher such that Total Combat is useless. Third, you can't stack Items of a similar type, so even with Tactical Rigging you can't do the obvious thing and equip two different grenades, meaning most valid builds are still only 'get use out of it once per mission'.
Even when Total Combat could be relevant, it's often questionable how useful it actually is. Sure, let's say you do want to chuck a Plasma Grenade to wipe out a target's Cover before the team piles on the damage. With Total Combat, you chuck the grenade and then shoot them with the Skirmisher in addition to everyone else. Without Total Combat, you... shoot at something else and then chuck the grenade while the rest of your team piles on the damage. Or use Justice if it's a valid target, and only bother chucking the grenade if Justice fails to pull them from Cover. Either way, it's not like you have to waste an action point if you lack Total Combat. Which touches on part of the problem: Total Combat is basically on the wrong class. On a class that doesn't have innate ability to turn every action point into an offensive action, Total Combat could be pretty darn good. Salvo is amazing on Grenadiers, for example, admittedly in part due to their innate bonus grenade slot and potential to double the grenade charges in that slot, but even on a Specialist or Ranger Total Combat would've been pretty significantly useful. On the Skirmisher, it's a nice-to-have, something you burn points on when you have all the good stuff already, not something to actively prioritize.
Again: it's not terrible. It can be quite useful to, for example, chuck an Acid Bomb at a Sectopod and pile on the damage, particularly if things have gone a bit awry and you can't actually have your entire team focus-fire it for some reason or another. But it's a lot more limited than you might first expect, adding only a small bit of flexibility to a class that's already quite flexible.
The funny thing is that, mechanically, it's basically 100% superior to Salvo, but in functional terms it's a lot weaker.
One of the few cases Total Combat has a notable niche is that it actually works with the Skulljack, including if you Dash. While a Specialist will still be better at getting bonuses, and avoiding recoil damage from Skullmining, a Total Combat Skirmisher can Skulljack an Officer or Codex and then either duck back into Cover or immediately contribute to fighting the spawned enemy. This can be useful if you struggle to successfully isolate an Officer or Codex to make the risks of Skulljacking them pretty irrelevant. Given pod leaders always start moving first when a pod activates and so will normally absorb Overwatch fire, with Officers always being pod leaders and Codices being initially restricted to being pod leaders... that can be genuinely useful, especially if you're okay with retraining the Skirmisher down the line.
Just remember that retraining won't refund X-COM Ability Points you spent on the soldier.
Attempts to pull the Skirmisher adjacent to a chosen target. This effect has +25 Aim over the Skirmisher's innate Aim, and is affected by height advantage, the target's Defense, and the target's Cover, but distance has no effect. If the pull succeeds, the Skirmisher automatically and unavoidably hits the target with their Ripjack. 4 turn cooldown. Doesn't necessarily end the turn.
Note that unlike Justice, Wrath does not require the target use the human animation set. Want to pull yourself right in front of a Sectopod? I mean, it's your funeral, but it's totally valid mechanically.
For those of you wondering if it shares a cooldown with Justice: nope! They're completely separate. Nor does using either affect your Grapple or vice-versa. Don't worry about it.
Wrath, unfortunately, does not preview where your Skirmisher will end up. This isn't really an issue when you're just trying to get into the face of melee enemies, with no ranged enemies around to care that you might end up in the open, but is frustrating when you do care about whether you'll end up in Cover or not. Fortunately, if you've got Grapple on hand it's possible to just re-position anew if you don't like where your Skirmisher ends up after Wrath. If Grapple isn't available (Whether through cooldown or a lack of high ground to use), be wary of using Wrath unless everything in the area is dedicated melee. (Or heavily biased toward melee, like ADVENT Stun Lancers)
Wrath is also considered to be movement, and so can trigger Overwatch fire, so don't be careless with it. More obvious but still important to keep in mind is that Wrath can activate pods you didn't realize were there, and so is riskier than Justice. Generally speaking, if you can Justice a target, you should do that preferentially over hitting it with Wrath,
Like Justice, Wrath is one of the few things in the game capable of missing but not capable of Grazing. This quality is overall a little less useful on it simply because Wrath is often best used on targets Justice can't work on or when Justice is on cooldown, when Dodge is rarely found on targets Justice doesn't work on, but for example the Chosen pick up Dodge as they go, particularly the Hunter, while being immune to Justice.
Also like Justice, it's a terrible idea to try to open an Overwatch with Wrath. This isn't nearly as frustrating as with Justice since Wrath would tend to be a dubious opener anyway, but if you're ever in a situation where you're considering using Wrath to open an Overwatch ambush anyway.... reconsider.
Wrath is a good skill to have, and a fun little inversion of Justice.
Each time the Skirmisher fires a standard shot, their crit chance rises by +10 until the next turn or the Skirmisher performs an action other than a standard shot. Furthermore, each shot made against a given target in a turn adds +10 to their Aim against that target until the next turn or the Skirmisher performs an action other than a standard shot. These effects can both stack indefinitely.
Note that Zero In is very specifically triggered by shooting the Bullpup. Other targeted actions like Justice, Whiplash, or Reckoning will not provide Aim/crit boosts. As such, if you want to fully leverage Zero In, it's vitally important you attach an Extended Magazine to the Bullpup so your Skirmisher can maintain uninterrupted shooting as consistently as possible.
You might notice I didn't say it's important to have an Autoloader. You'd expect that to be a good idea, but Zero In's bonuses actually go away if the Skirmisher does anything other than take a standard shot, even performing free actions like reloading with an Autoloader, using their Grapple or using Whiplash from the next rank.
This is unfortunate, as it drags down Zero In to a fairly significant extent. It's an okay skill to have anyway since you'll trigger at least the crit chance boost semi-regularly, but it's not nearly as good as you'd intuitively expect it to be, especially if you're not aware of this aspect of it and so don't carefully play to avoid wasting its bonuses.
This could've been handled better.
Performs a completely free instant attack on a single target, using standard Aim calculations with no distance modifier. Does 6 damage against most targets, doubling to 12 against various robotic enemies. One charge per mission.
Whiplash is an auto-buy. Even on Legendary, it reliably instantly kills basic ADVENT Mecs, and since it doesn't cost an action it can be slipped in anytime you need it. It's best against robots, but even against organic enemies it's easy to justify throwing it out in a bad situation, and of course it can be used against Alien Rulers without triggering a Ruler Reaction.
Note that Whiplash does not ignore Armor. You might expect it to from being a single-target anti-robot electrical damage attack like, you know, Combat Protocol, but nope, sorry. Conversely, like Combat Protocol it doesn't consider a Codex or Spectre to be a robot, which is pretty disappointing given that 12 damage would instantly kill a Codex below Legendary, and still prevent them from cloning on Legendary. It's a little annoying how inconsistent anti-robot effects are in their definitions of what counts.
Also note that Whiplash is another example of the Skirmisher being tuned pretty heavily around Grapple use. A Colonel Skirmisher who has high ground will have Whiplash hit a target in the open 100% of the time, assuming 0 Defense. A Colonel Skirmisher on even ground with their target will hit only 80% of the time, with getting close to the target having no effect. Since it only operates off the Skirmisher's innate Aim, a Scope on the Bullpup isn't going to help: your only options aside Bond mechanics are high ground and boosting their innate Aim with a Perception PCS and/or Covert Op Aim boosts.
On that note, you might notice the Skirmisher is actually one of the better classes to consider giving a Perception PCS to. This is true enough you might want to keep an eye on the Black Market and snatch up a Superior Perception the instant it spawns so your Skirmisher will become much more reliable all-around.
Anytime the Skirmisher performs a kill, they gain +2 Mobility for the remainder of the turn.
Full Throttle's in-game description is astoundingly bad, making it sound like some kind of activated ability rather than a passive effect. In actuality, it's a completely passive benefit.
Mind, it's still not a great take, in part because the Skirmisher is usually going to perform their in-combat movement through abilities that don't use their Mobility stat, but it can help make up for the Skirmisher's tendency to fall behind the squad from constantly spending their actions on shooting and whatnot.
It's also worth pointing out it can easily become fairly ridiculous when the Lost get involved, since Headshot can lead to a Skirmisher killing a half dozen targets and still finding themselves with reason to take a movement action. In that particular example, that would give them enough Mobility for one action to be a normal Dash distance! As such, Full Throttle is worth considering if you want to make certain kinds of missions easier -one of the VIP Extraction missions spawns a large pod of Lost every turn after you've reached the VIP, and being able to have your Skirmisher gun down a portion of the Lost and still run a good distance each turn could make things a lot safer for your squad. Or maybe you've got permanent Dark Events turned on for your run and rolled Lost World; in that case Full Throttle's anti-Lost element applies a lot of the time. Might as well buy it at that point, right?
Immediately grants an action point to an ally the Skirmisher has line of fire to, giving them another turn if they are out of action points. Costs one action point. Does not necessarily end the Skirmisher's turn. 3 turn cooldown.
Note that Combat Presence works on SPARKs, unlike Inspire.
Combat Presence is quite reliably useful, and fairly versatile in its utility. At its most straightforward, gifting an additional turn to another class is almost always going to result in more damage than having the Skirmisher take an attack thanks to the Bullpup having below-average damage. More creatively, being able to get out more uses of more esoteric abilities can be quite powerful, such as letting a Grenadier get out two Frost Bombs exactly when you need them both out -or if they already have Salvo, possibly letting them get out two Frost Bombs and still Holo Target and Shred a Gatekeeper or something of the sort.
The main thing that could be considered a strike against Combat Presence is the introduction of the Bonds system. If you're reliable about bringing Bondmates together into missions, Combat Presence can easily be overshadowed by how Teamwork works at any distance and through solid walls and is usually an increase in actions taken where Combat Presence is consistently sacrificing an action. Even then, Combat Presence should ideally be used first since it has a cooldown instead of a charge limit, and it can be combined with Teamwork, letting a Skirmisher pass an action on to someone they can't see by using Combat Presence on the Bondmate they can see.
I don't tend to use Combat Presence very often, but I find that usually when it does end up used it's a lifesaver of a skill, allowing me to finish off Chosen before they kidnap someone, complete an objective before it would've become impossible, help a teammate escape to the evac point before the mission times out, get a Bondmate in range of their Mind Controlled Bondmate to clear the Mind Control, or otherwise save the day in a manner no other skill can really equate to. I wouldn't go so far as to call it an auto-buy, but if you've been ignoring it you might want to give it a second chance.
Enemies moving adjacent to the Skirmisher provoke melee 'reaction fire' with the Ripjack, as do enemies that perform any kind of action adjacent to the Skirmisher. Retribution can only activate once per turn on a given enemy, however.
Bizarrely, Retribution has janky behavior when attempting to trigger on enemies attacking without moving: where Bladestorm will go before the attacker and stop them if it kills them, Retribution will animate like that but still let the attack go through!
Also note that Retribution is not an auto-hit, unlike most Ripjack strikes. It's just base Aim, and then lowered by the Overwatch penalty. If you were expecting it to be an auto-hit, sorry. Indeed, in the long haul you'll (potentially) have three classes with Bladestorm-type options, and of the three the Skirmisher is ultimately the worst with it, as Rangers get access to the Katana eventually to have auto-hitting Armor-ignoring high damage Bladestorm, while Templar that get Bladestorm are always auto-hit with it.
That said, Retribution is still a surprisingly good skill for the Skirmisher. That it will always be unreliable is unfortunate, but the Skirmisher is very prone to ending up in close-quarters with enemies and so Retribution will have plenty of chances to activate. You just need to not be putting your Skirmisher in a dangerous situation on the idea that Retribution will finish off the target, especially since Retribution won't even stop the damage if it does kill the target due to the aforementioned bugginess.
It's unfortunate you can't do a lot to plan around Retribution, but it's still one of the Skirmisher's better skills, so much so that while I don't necessarily buy it the instant it's available I've always found myself coming back to it eventually.
Enters Overwatch, but when triggered the enemy's turn will be interrupted to allow the Skirmisher to perform a turn in the middle of the enemy's turn, instead of firing a standard shot. One charge.
So basically you can chuck grenades, Grapple up to high ground before opening fire, etc.
I like the idea of Interrupt, but I'm not entirely sure when you'd actually use it. It has one charge, so you have to pick your timing perfectly, and anytime you 100% know it will be triggered is a circumstance you could've and should've just... performed a regular attack or something. There's situations you can have a moderate degree of confidence that you'll get to use it, such as if you're in a Retaliation mission, you're near a large number of civilians, and you know there's melee enemies running about who are likely to charge civilians, but it'll always be a gamble.
If Interrupt were an upgrade to the Skirmisher's Overwatch, that would be outright amazing, causing the Skirmisher to forever escape Overwatch Aim penalties and respond to incoming pods with whatever is appropriate consistently. As a one-time special form of Overwatch... you probably shouldn't spend the points.
When entering Overwatch, the Skirmisher's current action point total is 'stored' in the Overwatch, allowing them to perform reaction fire once per unspent action point.
Waylay is a big boost to the Skirmisher's effectiveness in an initial Overwatch ambush, making it so they can fully participate in the ambush, which is particularly appreciated when taking on an Alien Ruler. Beyond that it's more a cool idea than a reliably useful skill, as outside an Overwatch ambush you rarely have cause to put a Skirmisher into Overwatch with more than one action point in the first place. Occasionally Parkour triggers will naturally create such an opportunity, and with a Reaper forward scouting you might successfully set it up via Grappling to be ready to Overwatch an incoming pod, but it won't be a staple past the initial Overwatch ambush.
It's still worth considering just for the Overwatch ambush utility, as Skirmishers tend to be a bit awkward in Overwatch ambushes. In particular, it's hugely appreciated when you're hunting Alien Rulers, letting your Skirmisher contribute two shots without provoking Ruler Reactions.
Performs a move-and-melee slash with the Ripjack. Does not necessarily end the turn, and always uses 1 action point. Uses normal Aim behavior, with +20 Aim. 5 turn cooldown.
The fact that Reckoning has the bizarre, surprising behavior of using only 1 action point even when performing a Dash is huge, and means it's much more directly comparable to Wrath than one might expect, in that they're both tools for simultaneously moving and melee attacking that only use one action point. Reckoning has a lot of advantages over Wrath in this job as well, since its chance of hitting the target is not lowered by Cover, it doesn't require a clean line of fire to the target and so can be used to get the Skirmisher to have line of fire on targets that are blocked off by walls, and it always drops the Skirmisher adjacent to the target even if you fail to do damage to the target. As the Bullpup has extremely high Aim climb for getting close, being able to for-sure drop your Skirmisher next to a target can act as a safety net when you desperately need a low-HP target to die right away; if the Ripjack strike fails, simply shoot the target. Wrath failing will instead leave the Skirmisher far away, unlikely to land a follow-up shot.
Wrath does have a few advantages over Reckoning, though. The big one is that where Reckoning can be used around corners, Wrath can be used across rivers/bottomless pits/etc, potentially allowing the Skirmisher to get in-close in situations Reckoning wouldn't help in at all, but Wrath is also the safer choice for spending a Skirmisher's final action point on, since if you're using it to finish off a target the target will always be dead if the Skirmisher is adjacent to them, avoiding leaving them flanked by their would-be victim. Wrath also has a shorter cooldown, but more importantly they don't share cooldowns, so having both options available makes your Skirmisher more reliable at being able to close. This is especially helpful in timed missions where even if you are personally willing to wait for long cooldowns to catch up the game won't let you, allowing you to use one and then the other.
Overall, if you only want one or the other Reckoning is probably the more broadly useful choice, but if you've got AP to spare or are willing to spend X-COM AP on it having both is better than just one.
Same Aim as a Specialist, but for a Skirmisher that's simultaneously overkill and nowhere near enough. It's overkill because Bullpups get up to +40 for being in-close and Skirmishers are excellent at securing high ground to boot; 80 Aim+the high ground bonus is already 100% accuracy right there, and 80 Aim for being right in the target's face? You could reliably hit an enemy with 20 Defense!
Not enough, though, because Bullpups lose up to -30 Aim for distance and the Skirmisher has multiple abilities that can't get additional Aim from closing in, and in the case of Justice and Wrath are really meant to be used on targets that are currently in Cover -their innate +25 will let them reliably hit enemies in Low Cover if the Skirmisher also has high ground advantage, but they're unreliable against High Cover and also slightly unreliable if the target has even 10 innate Defense. (Which many enemies do, in fact, have on Legendary) You need 15 more Aim than the Skirmisher has at Colonel to ensure Justice and Wrath will work on targets in Low Cover that have no innate Defense even if the Skirmisher doesn't have the high ground, 20 more Aim to ensure Whiplash will always hit targets standing in the open with no innate Defense even if you don't have high ground, 30 more Aim to ensure Whiplash will hit targets with 10 innate Defense in those conditions (ie Heavy Mecs) and to also ensure even a max-distance Bullpup will cleanly hit a 0-Defense target standing in the open if you have high ground...
... basically, a Skirmisher doesn't start hitting serious diminishing returns on Aim boosting until they have around 130 Aim. A Superior Perception PCS and a Superior Scope can hit that range with the Bullpup per se, but the Scope won't help with Whiplash, Justice, Wrath... and, notably, Retribution is a reaction fire attack that, again, won't benefit from the Scope. You'd actually need a bit over 140 innate Aim to reach the point of Retribution not missing -against targets with no innate Defense.
I don't personally do this because I'd rather have them actually fighting in the field, but an argument can be made for prioritizing sending your Skirmisher on Covert Ops to grind their Aim up.
Immediately lowers all ability cooldowns by 1 turn. Doesn't necessarily end the turn. Has no cooldown. Costs only one action point.
Costs 25 ability points.
Manual Override is a nifty little idea, but I'm not sure how great it is in practice. Yes, the Skirmisher has a large number of cooldown abilities, but none of them is unambiguously amazing where it's clearly beneficial to hurry it along, aside the arguable case of your Skirmisher happening to roll Saturation Fire. The Skirmisher's cooldown skills are normally workhorse skills, good to have and to use but not so far ahead of eg a shooting action that sacrificing a shooting action to gain access to them is clearly a good trade.
If it weren't a Colonel-level skill and didn't cost 25 Ability Points, I'd probably rate it pretty decently just for the potential for the stars to align and it be the perfect thing to have in a situation, but having to wait until your Skirmisher is max level is a big strike against it, and having to spend 25 Ability Points on it is a bigger strike against it. Sure, it could be exactly what you need at some unknown point in the future, but buying two other skills has the potential for either of those skills to meet that criterion as well, so what's Manual Override got to justify itself over buying two other skills?
It doesn't help that Reckoning is one of the main skills I'd love to be able to hurry along but it gets hurt by sacrificing action points.
Normally, I feel it's better design for a class skill to be reloading or otherwise reusable, but in Manual Override's case I think it might've been better off as a single-charge skill that didn't spend an action and instantly erased all your cooldowns. It would still end up a little awkward, but as-is even when I buy Manual Override I've never ended up in a situation where I went 'good thing I bought Manual Override, it's clearly beneficial here'. Having it free within a battle and instantly ensuring access to all your cooldown skills -or even better would be if it recharged charge skills as well, enabling double Whiplash!- would be clearly worth using in an emergency, and it would only be a question of whether it was worth buying.
During the next enemy's turn, each time an enemy takes an action the Skirmisher will get a free turn with one action point in the middle of the enemy's turn. One charge. Doesn't react to Lost actions or to pod activations.
Costs 25 ability points.
That's right: for one turn, you are the Alien Ruler!
The inability to trigger on Lost is from the in-game description, but I've not personally tested it, and it's only mildly relevant whether it's true or not thanks to Lost Headshot mechanics giving you tons of free actions anyway.
Battlelord is an incredibly cool idea, but unfortunately it doesn't perform so well in practice.
First and foremost, Battlelord performs best in situations you should be endeavoring to avoid happening, and that in War of the Chosen are quite practical to mostly-reliably avoid happening: when you've pulled too many pods at once. A sub-point of this is that Battlelord isn't so powerful that it lets you flip things around and dominate in those circumstances -a Skirmisher is very unlikely to single-handedly wipe out three pods just because you triggered Battlelord.
Second, the Skirmisher is actually not particularly well-equipped to leverage Battlelord. Skirmishers don't have ways to stay safe in the open, need to get in close to reliably do damage, and are already tuned to rely on their ability to output multiple offensive actions per turn to justify their presence on a squad. A Ranger with Battlelord would be able to potentially Slash one target after another. A Sharpshooter with Battlelord would be able to take a series of shots in safety. A Specialist with Battlelord would appreciate being able to spit out multiple of their powerful offensive ability in rapid succession. A Grenadier with Battlelord would be able to wreck enemy Cover with a grenade, Demolition, or Saturation Fire and follow up by shooting the exposed targets as Battlelord triggered. A Psi Operative with Battlelord would be able to cram multiple of their powerful abilities into a single turn, disabling, Dominating, or outright killing multiple enemies. A SPARK with Battlelord would be able to relatively fearlessly advance to flank and whatnot and output high damage in general. A Templar with Battlelord and Parry would be essentially invincible.
Only a Reaper would be liable to be a worse abuser of Battlelord than a Skirmisher.
Third, the fact that it's limited to one charge means it's easy to end up holding off on using it, waiting for a better time to use it, and never end up using it, or to blow it on a situation it wasn't particularly helpful in and so not have it available when it would've been very good.
Fourth, it's not actually as generally powerful as it sounds. Pure movement actions don't trigger it, enemies entering Overwatch doesn't trigger it, and some special actions like a Shieldbearer creating a shield don't trigger it. It does at least have the advantage that the Skirmisher doesn't need to see an enemy for their action to trigger Battlelord's bonus action, but still, you'll usually have it activate less than once per enemy on the field, potentially much less.
Fifth, you had to pay 25 Ability Points to get it. That's basically two other skills entirely you could've purchased.
It's really too bad, because it really is such a fun idea, but the context is pretty strongly against it being particularly great. The fact that Zero In doesn't work the way you'd expect is a particularly big strike against it, as it means it's impractical to use Battlelord to build up big Zero In bonuses.
Alas. Maybe next game.
Enemies that attack the Skirmisher have a chance of Panicking.
Costs 25 ability points.
No, X-COM, you are the Muton. Again.
Unfortunately, while making enemies Panic is nice, Judgement is saddled with the issue of costing 25 Ability Points and only triggering when the Skirmisher is targeted by an attack. Good play minimizes the opportunities for the enemy to make an attack in the first place, and the enemies that it's hardest to arrange this on are also inconveniently all immune to Panic anyway, such as the Chosen. As such, Judgement is only really worth purchasing if you've got AP to spare and are running out of better things to buy.
It's better than, say, Interrupt, but it's pretty underwhelming for being a skill you have to wait until Colonel and spend 25 AP on.
And yes, the Skirmisher's Colonel skills are all a bit underwhelming. Not that the Reaper's were stupendous, but they were more strongly worth considering. I'm not sure why the Skirmisher in particular has such lackluster Colonel skills.
And here's the X-COM skills.
Grenades do +2 damage to units and have +1 to their blast radius.
Volatile Mix isn't complete garbage, particularly if you also rolled Tactical Rigging, as Skirmishers actually are one of your better grenade-chuckers thanks to their significant ability to re-position, and indeed Skirmishers probably appreciate it more than Rangers, Specialists, or Sharpshooters ever will, but it's a bit difficult to justify pouring Ability Points into it. You'll only benefit from it once in a mission at most, the damage boost is okay early in the game but becomes largely irrelevant as the game progresses, and the blast radius increase is too unreliable in actually mattering.
It's too bad Volatile Mix doesn't increase the Shred on grenades. It would be a lot more appealing in general if it did, even if it sacrificed damage or blast radius increase for it.
The first time the Skirmisher is targeted in a turn, they will retaliate with their Bullpup.
Where Return Fire is pretty dubious on a Sharpshooter, on a Skirmisher it's decent enough. It still is marred by the fact that good play minimizes the opportunities for enemies to take shots at your troops in the first place, but the Skirmisher tends to end up drawing fire from enemies, is vastly more likely to survive a hit than a Sharpshooter, and the Bullpup hits harder than a Pistol does. The one trade-off is that for the Skirmisher Return Fire is eating ammo. I don't prioritize it, but if I've got points to spare I'm willing to grab it as a just-in-case little bonus.
Just make sure you've got an Autoloader and Expanded Magazine on the Bullpup so Return Fire doesn't leave you in an awkward position at an inopportune moment.
The soldier gains an additional Item slot.
As Skirmishers are incentivized to carry both a grenade and an Ammo Item, Tactical Rigging is a hugely good idea to take if it's available. Even aside that point, just being able to cram in a Vest or whatever is basically a free benefit. This is seriously basically an auto-buy, with the only question being how quickly you grab it -if it's placed early in the Skirmisher's tree, you might end up putting it off for lack of Item options to actually use it with, for example.
Fortunately, the difference between one Item slot and two Item slots is not nearly as dramatic as the difference between one Item slot and no Item slots. As such, where Tactical Rigging on Reapers is overly-swingy of design, Tactical Rigging on Skirmishers is merely a very good skill.
Fires at every unit, friend or foe alike, in a cone-shaped radius. Terrain objects within the cone also have a 33% chance apiece of being destroyed. Uses 3 ammo. 5 turn cooldown.
Costs 25 Ability Points.
Note that Saturation Fire automatically ends the Skirmisher's turn, just like when a Grenadier uses it, unaffected by Marauder. As such, you should ideally only use it after you've gotten a Skirmisher down to their last action point.
If you're wanting to actually use Saturation Fire on a Skirmisher, it's pretty much mandatory to put both an Expanded Magazine and an Autoloader on their Bullpup. Without an Autoloader, Saturation Fire is liable to end up costing you an attacking action because you had to spend it on a reload. Without an Expanded Magazine, you can't fire a regular shot and then Saturation Fire at all without an Autoloader, and even with an Autoloader you'll end up severely ammo-inefficient if you just eg fire a shot, Autoload, and then Saturation Fire.
The main point in Saturation Fire's favor is actually the potential for it to roll early, allowing you access to a normally Colonel-exclusive skill potentially as early as your first Corporal. When all your troops are high level, you have plenty of options for saturating fire on the enemy and destroying Cover en mass, and a Skirmisher isn't a particularly effective user of Saturation Fire thanks to their low damage and the fact that it being guaranteed to end the turn is an actual imposition on them, and you're probably better off spending the points elsewhere, as their only somewhat significant edge over a Grenadier when it comes to Saturation Fire is that Skirmishers have superior ability to re-position -and the Grapple is the main one of relevance, since Saturation Fire actually can't hit enemies directly adjacent to the user, making Reckoning and Wrath less useful for maximizing Saturation Fire's number of victims than you might expect. Early in the game, however, this is more or less uniquely valuable. If the stars align and you get eg a Superior Expanded Magazine and an Autoloader of some kind relatively early, it can be quite reliably fantastic.
The early access consideration gets more and more relevant as you climb difficulties, as your troops take longer to level up. Colonel in particular takes disproportionately long to get to on Commander and Legendary, so if your Skirmisher rolls Saturation Fire at all they probably get access to it before you get it via a Grenadier, possibly well before. This is, of course, even more true if you tend to prioritize sending your Skirmisher into battle when possible and tend to let Grenadiers get shunted aside. Regardless, this means Saturation Fire is more likely to be worth considering if you're playing on a higher difficulty.
Personally, I suspect Skirmishers have Saturation Fire purely because of the thematics of how they put out lots of shots and Saturation Fire involves putting out a lot of shots, but whatever. It's serviceable.
The first reaction fire performed against this soldier in a given turn automatically misses.
Normally Overwatch protection isn't something I'd particularly recommend, but in the Skirmisher's case Lightning Reflexes is actually pretty good. Grapple, Wrath and Reckoning all provide the Skirmisher ways of triggering Overwatch fire without wasting an action on a pure movement action, the Bullpup uses Shotgun-type Aim behavior and so getting in closer is hugely important, and the Skirmisher is often one of the better soldiers to have move first in a turn so you can respond to the outcomes of their actions, thanks to their inherent unpredictability, which tends to be exacerbated by things it's a good idea to do with them. (eg they're one of your better options to equip with Dragon or Venom Rounds, both of which add more unpredictability to their actions) Lightning Reflexes allows them to casually move first anyway in many situations, which is a big help.
It's also convenient if you're just struggling to actually remember that Wrath and the Grapple trigger Overwatch fire, making it so that your memory problems don't get your Skirmisher killed. If that's an issue you consistently experience, buy Lightning Reflexes if it's available.
You might intuitively expect Lightning Reflexes to synergize with Reflex, but unfortunately Reflex isn't triggered by reaction fire. It's specifically triggered by enemies deliberately targeting the Skirmisher during the enemy turn. Alas.
The usual GTS skill.
When the Skirmisher performs almost any kind of action in a turn, they have a 5% chance of being granted an additional action point. This can give them a second turn if they use up all their action points at the same time as triggering Parkour.
The game makes Parkour sound like it only triggers on movement actions, but no, it can trigger anytime they do just about anything; I've had it trigger on Grapples semi-frequently and occasionally had it trigger when shooting, using Wrath, Justice, etc. The in-game description also claims it only triggers on their first action in a turn, but I've had it trigger on their second action in a turn. By extension, the in-game description is implying Parkour can only trigger once per turn, and this is also untrue. The odds of it happening are low enough that you could easily play multiple full campaigns without ever having it trigger, but I've had it happen twice.
As far as I'm aware, the only actions that Parkour can't actually trigger on are turn-transferring actions (ie Teamwork and Combat Presence), actions that are guaranteed to end the turn (ie entering any of Overwatch, Interrupt, or Battlelord, or using Saturation Fire), and completely free actions. (ie Whiplash) And it's possible I've just not had it trigger on those actions as yet, so don't take my word for it. I've personally never had it trigger on reloading, for example, but would be surprised if reloading was excluded from rolling for Parkour.
A silly consequence of Parkour's mechanics is that you're technically best off having the Skirmisher always perform single-move actions as opposed to Dashing, to maximize the odds of Parkour triggering. Fortunately, in most situations this isn't something to bother indulging, as for example the Skirmisher won't necessarily be able to make use of a bonus action point if they're sticking with the rest of the group under squad Concealment, and in combat you're basically never going to perform a regular Dash anyway. It's primarily relevant when, for example, attempting to run for the evac point, or if the Skirmisher has ended up alone for some reason and is attempting to catch up with the rest of the group.
Due to Parkour's surprisingly generous trigger conditions, its low trigger chance is fairly misleading. The chance of either action in a turn triggering Parkour is something around a 9% chance, and if the Skirmisher ends up with additional actions via Reflex, Teamwork, Inspire, etc, that's even more Parkour chances, as are Parkour triggers themselves. You can't count on it triggering at any particular moment and so can't plan around it, and that's not really how I'd prefer it to have been designed, but it's actually one of the better GTS skills, surprisingly. Certainly better than Reaper Infiltration.
Aesthetically and to a surprising extent mechanically, Skirmishers draw heavy inspiration from Predators. You've got the wristblades, being at home on rooftops, mossy camo at the shoulders, the general juxtaposition of primitive-looking bits with clearly futuristic elements, the general visual profile.
Some of the elements that make me feel this influence is obvious aren't that indicative on their own, but stand out in the context of what the narrative concept of Skirmishers is supposed to be. For example, I wouldn't point to the Skirmisher helmet design as being Predator-like, as really it isn't all that like a Predator mask, but Skirmishers are supposed to be rogue ADVENT troops using gear they had on them when they ran away plus makeshift gear they've cobbled together since then, and their helmets have a lot more in common with a Predator mask than they do with an ADVENT helmet. Excepting Purifiers, ADVENT soldiers always have their helmet designed to leave their mouth visible, always have a protruding 'forehead' design to the helmet (Most obvious on Officers due to having a decorative spike attached to it), always have a fairly 'clean' design like they're a single piece, and never have apparent viewports for the eyes. The Skirmisher helmet design violates all of these consistent rules, whereas eg the rebreather-looking bit at the chin is similar to what a Predator mask has, Predator masks trend toward eye designs reminiscent of someone squinting angrily which is comparable to the Skirmisher helmet's slit-eyes, and more debatable is that the way the Skirmisher helmet 'frames' the area the eye-slits are on is vaguely similar to how Predator masks consistently 'frame' the forehead.
Mind, part of what's going on is that the underlying concept of what ADVENT troops look like in general has also shifted. When we see ADVENT troops without a helmet from base-game materials, they just have a funny nose and oddly-shaped eyes, whereas Skirmishers have scars and metal bits sticking out of their skin more visually consistent with the notion that they've been surgically altered.
On the other hand, War of the Chosen also adds in Purifiers and Priests as new ADVENT troops. (I'm willing to ignore ADVENT Generals, since they're just a recolor of Officers) Both of them are, in fact, consistent with prior ADVENT troop designs, aside color trends and that Purifiers in particular don't have exposed mouths due to the concept of them being in an environmentally sealed suit. So the concept change of what ADVENT troops look is more about what's under the armor than about the armor design itself. So the inconsistency between Skirmisher helmet/armor design and ADVENT troop helmet/armor design stands as relevant. In fact, the only element of Skirmisher design that is genuinely consistent with ADVENT design is that Skirmishers have access to the cosmetic choice of having an Officer scarf.
The influence is so significant I'm honestly a bit surprised they didn't go all the way and give Skirmishers, like, stolen experimental ADVENT cloaking technology or something.
Personally, I'm pretty weirded out by the decision to model ex-ADVENT troops after Predators in so many ways on a foundational level, but surprisingly it works out okay in practice. If I were in charge I'd probably have pushed to have the Ripjack's striking elements bear a resemblance to Stun Lancer rods, to suggest the Ripjack's offensive components were cobbled together in part from scavenged ADVENT Stun Lancer gear, but whatever. It's a good idea to give Skirmishers something other than being ADVENT troops; ADVENT troops are individually pretty one-note, and trying to assemble a class by welding together a bunch of ADVENT soldier capabilities would be a pretty poor choice. On a gameplay level, there's not actually enough distinct ADVENT capabilities to even make a Resistance class out of the lot, and on a narrative/conceptual level it would draw further attention to how the player's soldiers are vastly more versatile than their enemies, not to mention be difficult to pull off aesthetically in a natural way given ADVENT soldier capabilities revolve pretty heavily around their gear.
So even though I'm pretty confused as to why this decision happened, I don't think it's a bad one by any means. Just... weird.
Narratively/conceptually, the Skirmishers are, as I've already alluded to a bunch, ex-ADVENT troops who have escaped the chip-based mind control (Which now that I think about it is probably a stealth reference to Terror From the Deep's Molecular Control being ostensibly based on chips) and rebelled against their creators.
This is... a pretty strange concept for a Resistance faction being welded into XCOM 2, to be honest. They'd probably have worked a lot better if War of the Chosen had been an actual sequel, rather than an ambitious overhaul of XCOM 2. For one thing, one of the main 'twists' of XCOM 2 is the reveal that the reason for ADVENT's human-but-strange appearance isn't modifications made to loyal humans, but rather is that they're human/Alien hybrids grown in vats, and the Skirmishers heavily undercut that twist. A player who started with just War of the Chosen would be pretty confused when they got to the Forge and everybody was reacting like it's shocking and weird that ADVENT troops are vat-grown soldiers, given that the Skirmisher dialogue goes out of its way to be explicit that Skirmishers are not regular humans and never were. War of the Chosen would ideally have replaced some of the dialogue at the Forge if it was going to add in the Skirmishers at all.
Even aside that, though, the whole thing is odd. For one thing, there's the control chip concept itself. Are we supposed to think literally all ADVENT soldiers would turn on their masters the instant the control chip was disabled or removed? If so, why? This is all they've ever known, and they've been continuously fed psychic propaganda via said chip. Shouldn't the default response to being released from chip-based control to be confused and maybe feel a little lost? I'd really expect your average ADVENT soldier freed from such control to basically carry on as usual the instant something happened to reassert their routine, such as being given an order. Certainly, I'd expect some ADVENT soldiers to go rogue for one reason or another, but I'd expect it to be unusual even when a control chip failed or was removed.
To be fair, part of the problem is the game doesn't address the topic at all. I personally suspect the concept really is 'any ADVENT soldier whose chip stops working instantly hates their bosses and wants out', but while I could point to reasons why the game gives me that vibe there's no point where it ever explicitly states or even heavily implies such a thing.
Regardless of what's intended there, another aspect of why the Skirmishers are a bit of a weird choice here is that they call a lot more attention to an element of XCOM 2 that's honestly a bit uncomfortable.
In every previous X-COM game, whether made by Firaxis or not and heck even Xenonauts is consistent with this, the starting knowledge condition of humanity and the player regarding the alien invaders is that they're a hostile mystery doing unacceptably horrible things to Earthlings. Why there's a mysterious coalition of alien species that are unified in their hostility to us is not known, and it's made pretty clear they're not interested in talking. The original game in particular was fairly explicit that a member of the funding council of nations leaving could be caused by them having cut a deal with the invaders -and heavily implied in conjunction with later Autopsy and Interrogation information was that these 'deals' were probably not truly consented to, but rather psychic domination had been performed so that people thought they were making friends with the nice space monsters.
The overall result is that terminating all hostiles with extreme prejudice is a very reasonable response in each such game.
Also common to these games -Apocalypse excepted in details, but the basic shape of the story is similar and it's not important to my point so don't worry about it- is that the player and their organization slowly comes to realize that the diverse array of enemies they're fighting are really one psychically adept overlord species and a series of slaves, robot slaves, and monstrous animals that can't be reasoned with. This starts raising ethical questions, but it's placed late in the game and in each such game the game is constructed so that the developer can't be certain of the obvious knowledge state of the player's organization until essentially the last minute.
This lets the games essentially sidestep the ethical concerns and put them off until a later game. Whether X-COM as an organization is mass murdering psychically enslaved innocents and then performing gruesome experiments on both their living and dead while knowing that they're enslaved innocents can essentially be treated as 'probably not' for canonical purposes. The pre-Firaxis games also benefit a lot from the fact that the X-COM organization is consistently treated as ambiguous in its heroicness -remember, the original game has its roots in UFO mythology, with X-COM being merely an unusual permutation of the 'the government is hiding that there are aliens' aspect of UFO mythology. A big part of UFO mythology is an inherent mistrust of governmental authorities, an assumption that these secrets are being kept for less-than-noble reasons, with the best-case scenario generally being along the line of the very condescending 'they think we're too stupid to be trusted with the secret because we'd panic or something' setup seen in the Men In Black franchise. As such, if X-COM as an organization can be viewed as cacklingly evil in the older games... well, that's fine. They're not supposed to be unambiguously heroic.
XCOM 2, meanwhile, wants the X-COM organization to be pretty unambiguously heroically in the right, sets it up so you and your people know that some portion of the beings they're ambushing and cutting open the bodies of are unwilling slaves, and outright hammers the point home from potentially literally the first mission: when you first spot an ADVENT Officer, Bradford will remark that X-COM doesn't know if the Officers are more disciplined or under stricter mind control, making it unambiguous that X-COM as an organization already knows they're killing mind-controlled people.
This is further exacerbated by the reframing of how combat is handled: in the prior game, most missions involved fighting off Aliens that were actively in the middle of aggressive action against Earth, so they needed to be stopped. In XCOM 2, you are on the offense in most missions, and indeed you outright ambush your unaware enemies. Worse, the soldiers you're killing are largely irrelevant to the actual problems caused by the Ethereal regime: killing ADVENT Troopers and Sectoids won't do anything to stop humans from being processed into smoothies by Gene Therapy Clinics, or delay the advancement of the Avatar Project, or help people in the city centers realize the government they live inside is horrifying and needs to change or be replaced, or otherwise do anything to make things better. And worst of all, in several mission types Bradford will urge you to kill literally everything on the map even though it's not remotely necessary as part of completing the objective: you can succeed at, for example, a mission where you have to destroy an Alien transmitter by destroying it and then evacuating the squad, but it's not what you're intended to do. You're intended to kill everything that moves, no matter how unnecessary it might be.
In base XCOM 2, all of this was already pretty uncomfortable, and it might've been even worse if what I think the Alien Hunters DLC was intended to be had ended up being reality, but ultimately the main reason it made me intensely uncomfortable was how the game's visual and audio cues went out of their way to present the whole thing as you Heroically Stomping Evil's Face In in flagrant defiance of how ethically murky the whole thing actually was. Without those cues, that murkiness wouldn't necessarily detract from the experience, especially since X-COM as an organization does have pretty solid reasons to be trying to fight the oppressive authorities, and furthermore has emotional considerations that can account for some of the ethical dubiousness. Bradford has obvious reasons to hate the Aliens and want them dead, for example, and if it weren't for the visual and audio cues painting the player's actions as so unambiguously heroic I'd basically assume his insistence on killing everything dead was meant to be ethically dubious but a logical outgrowth of his life experiences.
The Skirmishers drag all these issues to the forefront in multiple ways.
First of all, they drag the reveal that ADVENT troops are a custom-made species grown in vats to the front of the story. In the base game, X-COM starts out believing that ADVENT troops are collaborators, knowing and informed participants in the slow genocide of their own species in exchange for personal benefits. That's a pretty damn solid reason to want these people dead, and due to how the plot missions are organized the game benefits from a similar 'canonicity' issue as I brought up earlier: sure, you can hit the Forge relatively early in a run and so logically X-COM as an organization should know they're possibly doing something equivalent to murdering children who don't understand the implications of their actions, but you can also hit the Forge last and then almost immediately launch the endgame.
Whereas in War of the Chosen X-COM apparently already knows that ADVENT troops are vat clones who have never known anything else, and also knows these people aren't Born Evil or something: that if you get the mind control chip out of them or jam the signal, they may well stop trying to kill you and start helping you fight back against the Ethereals. So... why is none of our R&D devoted to figuring out options for doing this kind of thing? This is especially uncomfortable due to things like the Skulljack existing, establishing that it's totally possible to interface with the psychic control chip in the field, closing off the ability to assume that's just not technically possible.
Second and more subtle is that this gives X-COM an immediate line on inside information about ADVENT and the Aliens. It doesn't actually make sense, but the base game operates on the premise that X-COM's view of the Aliens and ADVENT is entirely external and so they don't have information on anything like what a Muton does in its off time or whether Sectoids ever show kindness to children out of the genuine goodness of their heart. War of the Chosen makes the Skirmishers a blunt, unambiguous hole in this idea, which is important because of how it connects to the prior game.
See, XCOM 2 is operating from the idea that you lost the prior game, and did so fairly early to boot. The whole ending spiel in the Temple Ship where we get it bluntly confirmed that the Ethereals have been going around conquering species and turning them into mindslaves, that basically anything that's intelligent and not an Ethereal is in some sense innocent? You as a player might know about it, but X-COM as an organization is supposed to have no clue.
Tenuous as the whole thing is, if you accept it then it in turn makes sense that X-COM as an organization is assuming that the Aliens on Earth are collaborators just like they believed ADVENT troops are collaborators. That's a reasonable assumption if you don't know it's all mindslavery all the way down. In turn, killing Vipers and Sectoids and Mutons and so on for the crime of existing is more or less a reasonable response.
... but Skirmishers should know that the mind control extends to many Alien soldiers, and if they're sharing information as much as they're indicated to this really ought to be known to X-COM as well. Why aren't I trying to convince Mutons to turn against their evil overlords? Heck, why aren't there colonies of Aliens hiding in the wilderness, having broken control somehow or another and decided they want no part in this?
Third, even if you're not prone to critical analysis of a video game you're playing, Skirmishers get a lot of dialogue drawing your attention to the whole thing. Stuff like saying 'their service is over' on killing an enemy. It's pretty hard to overlook that you're aggressively killing people indistinguishable from recruits of yours, no effort made toward diplomacy or anything.
If instead XCOM 3 had come along and the Skirmishers were suddenly a thing there, probably these problems wouldn't exist, and probably there wouldn't be equivalent problems.
But as part of War of the Chosen?... it's a strange, uncomfortable decision.
Still less uncomfortable than the base game experience, but very strange.
Next time, we cover the Templar, alternative masters of psychic powers.
See you then.