War of the Chosen Class Analysis: Grenadier
Grenadiers are probably the class least affected by War of the Chosen as far as skill prioritization/combination considerations, but there's still enough to be worth a post for. Especially since they're a good jumping-off point for something, but that's later.
The Grenadier uses their Grenade Launcher when firing grenades of any kind, giving them more launch distance and a wider blast radius. Additionally, the Grenadier has a bonus Item slot above and beyond the regular 1-2 slots; this Item slot only accepts grenade-type items. (Support grenades are allowed)
War of the Chosen doesn't add in new grenade types or otherwise do anything to substantially alter Launch Grenade as a skill. It does nerf Incendiary Grenades (Not Bombs), so if you were a fan of leaning on those in the mid-early game you'll be unpleasantly surprised, but otherwise things are much the same.
That said, Shredder crops up on other soldiers a lot more, so the Grenadier being your best grenade delivery mechanism is a little less prominent than in the base game: grenades for mass Shred is less important.
On the other hand, if you're playing on higher difficulties the Chosen being Armored from extremely early in the game makes the ability to deliver Shred on demand to inconvenient locations even more relevant from earlier than ever. You don't need a Grenadier to make the Chosen more manageable, but they can help a surprising amount. (On lower difficulties, though, the Chosen aren't particularly influential to Grenadier viability/relevancy/etc)
+1 Armor, and explosives do only 34% of normal damage to soldier.
Blast Padding is still generally a skill you shouldn't prioritize at level-up, but it's a pretty decent skill to purchase through the Training Center. Part of this is that the AI is more aggressive about using explosives in War of the Chosen, making the resistance more likely to benefit you past the early game. The Purifier in particular is extremely aggressive about using its explosive if you ever give it a good opportunity.
This somewhat assumes you have points to spare for Blast Padding, but it's as cheap as skills can get so it can be easy to slip in with a Savant or if a Grenadier happens to have awful bonus skills.
An alternative plan is to take Blast Padding on your early Corporals, planning to buy Shredder once the Training Center comes online. This is a bad plan if you're not planning on pushing for the Training Center aggressively, but if you are planning to build it early it maximizes Blast Padding's early utility while still bringing Shredder online around when you need it.
If you do this, your later Corporals should probably still grab Shredder on level-up, since later in the game Shredder is consistently more significant than Blast Padding.
Also note that on higher difficulties the Chosen being around biases things back toward grabbing Shredder first. You don't want to be wholly dependent on grenades for removing their Armor; among other point, if you're playing on Legendary difficulty and happen to run into the Warlock with explosives immunity as your first encounter, having to waste two grenades on him to get his Armor out of the way while doing zero damage is painful.
Cannon has Shred equal to weapon's tech level.
In a direct sense, the only significant change to Shredder is that you can combine it with Blast Padding. I suppose there's the Weak Points Resistance Order?
Anyway, indirectly Shredder is surprisingly different. First of all, the Chosen can show up in most missions and pick up Armor on higher difficulties and higher tiers; in the base game, once you had the Shadow Chamber up if nothing was reported that had Armor you could skip out on bringing Shred capacity with nearly no possibility of this going wrong. (Turrets being the closest thing to an exception, and you can often ignore them) In War of the Chosen, this can result in a Chosen dropping in and ignoring a good third of your squad's firepower!
Secondly, the Training Center overhaul. In the base game, getting Shredder on a non-Grenadier soldier was a pleasant surprise, not something you could plan around happening from the beginning of the game. In War of the Chosen, it's basically guaranteed that you'll have multiple soldiers roll Shredder in their bonus skill list, thanks to increased bonus skill counts and the Fatigue system encouraging a wider rotation of squad members and thus more squad members getting a chance to unlock bonus skills. This makes the Grenadier's innate access to Shredder considerably less important to plan around; if you get the Training Center up before unlocking magnetic weaponry and find you have multiple Rifle-wielding soldiers have rolled Shredder, it probably makes more sense to plan around having them handle Shredder duties.
Third, the Resistance classes all have poor damage gains on their weapons: Reapers get +1 per tier on their rifles, Templar get +1 per tier on their Gauntlets and their Autopistol, and Skirmishers only get +1 to the Bullpup at the magnetic tier. (They get +2 at the beam tier, and +2 on each Ripjack tier, but you can't spam Ripjack strikes and the magnetic tier is the main one where upgrade priorities are heavily affected by Shred) This makes prioritizing Shred for upgrading even more important in War of the Chosen, as all the Resistance classes get just as much of a damage boost out of a Shredder gaining +1 Shred as out of upgrading their own weapons, when Armor applies.
Whereas in the base game just having widespread magnetic-tier weaponry was enough to largely not care about Armor on enemies until quite late in the game. Shredder was important to have nonetheless, but less important than in War of the Chosen.
Select an enemy unit in range that is in Cover: Demolition has an 80% chance of destroying their Cover, but has no chance of harming the unit. Consumes 2 ammo. 3 turn cooldown.
Demolition hasn't been directly changed at all. Indirectly, it's probably even less appealing than ever before; between Breakthroughs and Training Center skills, you're far more likely to be biased toward 'just shoot them already'.
It's a little disappointing War of the Chosen didn't retune Demolition. I'm not sure why it wasn't made a 100% chance of demolishing Cover in the first place, and just doing that would do a lot to make it less junk-y without warping balance. Alas, War of the Chosen seems to have been philosophically committed to not changing existing things...
... except for all the changes it quietly made, like to Rapid Fire. So... why not make Demolition less terrible?
Also, something worth mentioning is that Demolition won't warn you if you're attempting to destroy indestructible Cover. This applies to the base game as well, but it's mostly not an issue, as it's usually intuitively obvious that a given piece of Cover is indestructible, such as because it's a solid rock wall. War of the Chosen has multiple new maps with objects you wouldn't necessarily expect to be indestructible, which nonetheless are, such as how sewer maps have steel support pillars you can't break, which makes Demolition even less appealing. You can at least use grenade targeting to check if you're not sure; destructible terrain will be highlighted in orange when an explosive's blast radius overlaps with it, while indestructible terrain will not. But if your Grenadier is out of grenades, or can't target a grenade close enough?... sorry, tough luck, hope you've already memorized everything that's indestructible on every map.
A single enemy target in range becomes Suppressed until the start of the user's next turn. A Suppressed target suffers -50 to Aim, and if it moves the Suppressor will immediately take a reaction fire shot at the target for free. Additionally, if the target was on Overwatch, its Overwatch is permanently removed, even if the Suppression ends prematurely. Suppression ends if the reaction shot is triggered of if the Suppressor takes damage. Consumes 2 ammo to initiate. No cooldown.
Suppression has a notable new situation it's actually beneficial in within War of the Chosen: if you get a hold of the Tactical Analysis bonus, then suddenly Suppression is a guaranteed benefit against most ranged enemies you activate in your turn! After all, they've only got one action, so moving wastes their turn, while shooting means firing at a massive penalty. Sectopods will still have two actions and so remain a dubious Suppression target, and frustratingly a Codex is an awful target to Suppress because it will simply teleport out and Psi Bomb, unaffected by Tactical Analysis and Suppression, and of course all melee-oriented enemies it's a waste against, but that's still a good variety of enemies it's actually helpful against!
... of course, this relies on your run lucking into Tactical Analysis, which isn't remotely guaranteed. Without Tactical Analysis, Suppression is still a pretty junk-y skill that happens to be competing with another junk skill.
Still, you should probably default to Suppression in War of the Chosen just in case you luck into Tactical Analysis. Tactical Analysis is sufficiently great on its own that it's not like you're only grabbing it to make Suppression relevant or something similarly sub-optimal, after all.
Whatever grenade is in the bonus grenade-only slot gains an additional use. This applies to all grenades, including support grenades and the Frost Bomb.
The big change here is being able to combine it with Holo Targeting, instead of having to pick one or the other. As Holo Targeting is actually very useful for even a grenade-focused build, that's pretty significant. You might not want to grab both prior to getting Salvo, but certainly once you do have Salvo you should re-visit the possibility.
Otherwise it's much the same as ever. It's not like you loot the special grenades the Assassin and Hunter use.
Firing your cannon at an enemy marks it until the start of the soldier's next turn, adding +15 Aim to all following attacks at that target.
Additionally, Holo Targeting benefits from the existence of the Chosen, since you'll regularly find yourself dogpiling onto a tough target that lives long enough for Holo Targeting to benefit the entire squad, particularly on higher difficulties.
This does come with the qualifier that it's a lot more likely you'll have Holo Targeting on non-Grenadiers, and since Holo-Targeting doesn't stack this can make it less important to grab Holo Targeting on your Grenadiers, but that's dependent on your run's luck and how you teambuild.
Grenades do +2 damage to units.
As with Heavy Ordnance, Volatile Mix hasn't been particularly affected by War of the Chosen overall. The main thing to keep in mind is that if one of the Chosen has Shell-Shocked, Volatile Mix's value is increased, as its bonus damage does in fact get doubled by Shell-Shocked. As such, even if you normally skip Volatile Mix on Grenadiers, you should keep it in mind in War of the Chosen.
Conversely, if no Chosen has Shell-Shocked and one of them is immune to explosives, it's worth considering skipping Volatile Mix if you're not that big on it normally anyway, as Chosen explosives immunity extends to blocking Volatile Mix's damage.
One subtle thing to keep in mind is that the existence of Breakthroughs does actually slightly change things, tilting them a little more toward Chain Shot. There is no Breakthrough for boosting grenades in any capacity, whereas Cannon damage can be boosted by Breakthroughs and they can potentially get an additional Weapon Attachment slot from a Breakthrough as well. For a run where Cannons are untouched by Breakthroughs, this doesn't matter, but if eg you get Improved Cannons, Improved Beam Weapons, and Modular Cannons, suddenly Chain Shot is looking a lot more appealing.
Fires a shot at -15 Aim. If that shot hits, immediately follows-up with another shot at -15 Aim. 3 turn cooldown.
Chain Shot is still a bit lackluster, but for a Grenadier with a lot of AP to spare and nothing better to spend it on, it's worth considering. The issue with it in the base game isn't that you'd never want to use it, it's that it's way more situational than Volatile Mix and you have to pick between the two. Since that's not strictly true in War of the Chosen, it's vastly more likely you'll actually use it.
A secondary, if niche, point is that in the base game a Grenadier who rolls Rapid Fire has basically no reason to take Chain Shot, whereas in War of the Chosen Chain Shot functions as the budget version of Rapid Fire for a Grenadier who happens to roll Rapid Fire. One with a shorter cooldown, too. As such, a Grenadier with significant Aim support -such as having been grinding Aim from Covert Operations and then taking a Superior Scope and Superior Perception PCS- may well find Chain Shot functions as flatly superior to Rapid Fire.
It's also worth pointing out that the Chosen being a regular, serious threat slightly favors Chain Shot over Volatile Mix. Only slightly, in part because you should eventually be finishing off all the Chosen and so eventually they stop tilting things, but they're single tough targets you can and should be setting up Holo Targeting and whatnot on, and by default they show up alone where the base-game big nasties always were part of a pod of at least two other enemies. (Aside a single exception per run apiece for Sectopods and Gatekeepers...) You'd rather Chain Shot them than hit them with Volatile Mix grenades, all things considered.
Firing a grenade or using a Heavy Weapon as the first action doesn't end the soldier's turn.
Like Heavy Ordnance and Volatile Mix, Salvo is minimally affected by War of the Chosen, since explosives are minimally effected by the game. It remains an excellent skill, even if you want your Grenadier focused on bullets. If anything, the increased turn economy is more important in War of the Chosen, since the Chosen are, on higher difficulties, not designed to be stomped in a single turn without even needing the full squad the way most regular pods are, but this isn't a gamechanger.
No, the presence of the Chosen doesn't really affect this point. You still want to lob grenades to Shred their Armor and often to smash their Cover so everyone else can pile on the damage.
Hail of Bullets
Expends 3 ammo, but is guaranteed to hit the target. Cannot crit. 5 turn cooldown.
Hail of Bullets benefits significantly from the ability to purchase it with Salvo instead of having to pick one. It's still a situational skill, but that doesn't mean you should avoid purchasing it, it just means it's a lesser priority than several of the bonus skills you could luck into.
It's absolutely worth keeping in mind if one of the Chosen rolls Low Profile, though. The fully-trained Legendary-difficulty Assassin sitting in High Cover with Low Profile triggered is sitting on 80 Defense: even with tools like Aftershock and Holo Targeting it's pretty unreasonable to try to overcome that much Defense with actual Aim boosts. Being able to force a hit can be vital -particularly if the Chosen has other Strengths that make it more important to land the hit, like Kinetic Plating, Revenge, or Watchful. (The latter meaning you may be dealing with Overwatch you need removed before it's safe to move anyone else) If they've got all four of those Strengths... yikes, Hail of Bullets can be basically vital.
The inability to crit is, from a Grenadier perspective, still not terribly important, for exactly the reasons it wasn't important in the base game; if you have crit chance, you probably don't want to use Hail of Bullets anyway.
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.
Saturation Fire's wonkiness remains, but being able to take it alongside Rupture makes it that little bit more relevant. It's also worth pointing out that Saturation Fire isn't available via Training Center, and for the one other class that can get Saturation Fire -Skirmishers- Saturation Fire costs a full 25 Ability Points. As such, Grenadiers are your best source of Saturation Fire, especially since they're not as ammo-hungry as Skirmishers are and so can better shoulder its ammo needs.
Expends 3 ammo, but is guaranteed to crit on a successful hit and the target permanently suffers from the Rupture status, which causes all following attacks to do an additional 3 damage per hit. 3 turn cooldown.
As with Saturation Fire, Rupture benefits from no longer hard-competing with its fellow Colonel-tier skill. Also, Rupture is a 25 AP skill when found on your other soldiers, and other classes don't have in-built qualities that make them particularly better with Rupture, so it's often better to take it through a Grenadier than to take it through someone else.
Rupture also benefits significantly from the addition of the Chosen, particularly on higher difficulty levels where their HP spikes dramatically. In the base game, the Rupture effect per se was only particularly useful on Sectopods, Gatekeepers, and arguably Andromedons, and Gatekeepers having such high Defense made it difficult for a Grenadier to land the shot -on Legendary, a closed Gatekeeper has 40 Defense to a Colonel Grenadier's 75 Aim. Even with a Superior Scope and a boosted Superior Perception PCS and high ground, you'd only have a 91-96% chance to hit if you weren't also close enough to get in-close Aim bonuses! This meant Rupture was somewhat narrow, exacerbated by the fact that Bluescreen Rounds made it pretty unnecessary to readily kill robots -and Alien Rulers didn't help unless you rolled Rupture from the AWC early on, since you're unlikely to get a Colonel Grenadier in time to use it on even the Berserker Queen and the Archon King has 25 innate Defense and is extremely difficult to arrange high ground on at all, making it tricky to land a Rupture -and if you miss, you've just given him a free Ruler Reaction.
The Chosen, meanwhile, are actually reasonable to successfully hit with Rupture, have monstrous HP values on higher difficulties/at later training tiers, and you're unlikely to kill all of them before you're getting Colonels.
For that matter, War of the Chosen also makes Rupture more relevant against the Alien Rulers. With Integrated DLC, it's actually plausible to get a Colonel Grenadier ready to go before ever encountering the Viper King or Berserker Queen -against the Viper King Rupturing him is probably overkill if you've waited that long to fight him, but against the Berserker Queen it can make things a lot less miserable. In conjunction with Reapers making it a lot more plausible to hunt down an Alien Ruler to ambush it, it's actually possible to Rupture an Alien Ruler and then bury it in boosted Overwatch fire, with a missed Rupture not even triggering a Ruler Reaction, making it more worth considering trying to use on the Archon King.
Rupture's actually pretty darn good in War of the Chosen, in short.
One thing worth discussing is that while XCOM 2 is a massive improvement over the prior game as far as class design and whatnot, it still suffers from a certain amount of fuzziness, a lack of a clear understanding of its own underlying design philosophy. The previous game suffered from this by virtue of wanting to be classic X-COM without really understanding why classic X-COM has the qualities it has and what elements are important to producing its experience. XCOM 2 suffers from this in a more general, fundamental, non-obvious way.
The Grenadier is a good jumping-off point because in practice they successfully fill a fairly specific team role, with the game itself seeming a bit oblivious to this role and oblivious to how everything fits together in regards to other classes. Said role is to soften up 'hard targets'.
This requires some explanation.
In XCOM 2, enemies can, for the most part, be largely categorized as 'hard targets' or 'soft targets'. There are enemies that don't fit cleanly into these categories, but I'll come back to that another time; it's not important to this topic. The point is: generally an enemy is either Cover-using with little or no innate Armor and limited or no innate Defense and low enough HP you expect to kill them in 1-2 hits if your soldiers are at the correct tier of weapon, or an enemy cannot make use of Cover and has high innate Armor and/or high innate Defense and certainly has fairly high HP, enough so that you expect a minimum of 3 successful hits to kill them and very possibly a lot more than that. This general principle creates a relatively obvious continuum of specialization, and the actual design works out roughly to Grenadiers specializing in one end and Rangers and Sharpshooters the other end.
Grenadiers are uniquely effective -ignoring SPARKs for a second- at helping the squad kill hard targets. They have an unlimited capacity to Shred Armor, they carry more grenades than other classes and almost all grenades have at least one point of Shred, at least two points once you're in the late game with Plasma Grenades and Advanced Explosives (And, notably, only Frag Grenades and Plasma Grenades can be used to directly destroy Cover, meaning most grenades don't make it easier to hit soft targets by removing their Cover), Rupture is only really worth bothering against targets you expect to require multiple follow-up shots, and their innate Aim is so bad that getting them to 100% reliably hit 0-Defense targets in the open takes multiple forms of accuracy boosting, such as height advantage, a Scope, Holo Targeting, etc. Certainly, you shouldn't count on them to be killing a soft target in Cover.
Sharpshooters, conversely, are extraordinarily bad against hard targets by default. They're strongly biased toward spamming Pistol shots, and without AP Rounds or Bluescreen Rounds Armor will thus hit them harder than other classes, and many of their better skills exaggerate the point, such as how Lightning Hands is basically a 50% increase in damage in the form of a separate attack that will thus be separately penalized by Armor, or how Fan Fire is a trio of shots and thus gets hit three times by Armor.
In practice the Sharpshooter is actually king of killing hard targets in the base game, but that has to do with how Bluescreen Rounds provides a massive bonus against a list of enemies that includes the two toughest regular enemies of the game, and particularly how Ammo Items don't provide lesser bonuses to Pistol shots. As far as the design goes, they're clearly intended to be bad against hard targets, with their only class-innate tool for working around this at all being Deadeye.
Rangers, meanwhile, are not specifically bad against hard targets, but are extraordinarily good against soft targets: if it can be flanked, they're hitting more than a tech level ahead of where they should be (In the base game), and they're really good at getting flanks. Sword action is also biased toward soft targets, as one of its main advantages is bypassing Cover -which most hard targets don't make use of in the first place. Cementing that particular point is that the two most heavily Armored enemies of the game outright explode on death, heavily discouraging trying to Slash them.
However, the game itself seems only dimly aware of these specializations, and indeed they're not very 'even'. I already implicitly touched on this: the Sharpshooter is specialized against soft targets (In theory, not in practice, etc) not by virtue of being good against soft targets, but by virtue of being bad against hard targets. (This is, incidentally, yet another factor in why they're an understrength class) Rangers are also better against soft targets than hard targets, but they're not actually bad against hard targets, they just have significant advantages that only apply against soft targets.
That right there puts the Ranger pretty obviously ahead of the Sharpshooter on this abstract design level: they're both better against soft targets than hard targets, but for the Ranger the method of arrival is by excelling in one situation, where for the Sharpshooter it's by virtue of suffering in the other situation. One is advantaged to define their role, the other is disadvantaged to define their role.
Similarly, Grenadiers being important to the squad against hard targets isn't really that Grenadiers are particularly exceptional against hard targets. They excel at stripping Armor from your enemies, but the Armor still weakens their attacks if you don't specifically equip them with AP Rounds, and you can give anyone AP Rounds. (Except SPARKs...) To be as advantaged against Armored targets as Rangers are against flanked targets, conceptually, the Grenadier's Shredder ability would need to outright punish targets for having Armor, such as having each point of Armor removed inflict two (Or more) points of damage to the target as part of the Shredding.
Indeed, Psi Operatives are actually much more anti-hard-target-oriented than Grenadiers are, thanks to Soulfire, Void Rift, Null Lance, and Schism damage all ignoring Armor. The Grenadier makes Armored targets easier for the squad to kill quickly. The Psi Operative personally kills Armored targets relatively readily -and that's even though some of the most prominent Armored targets are robots and thus immune to a notable portion of their ability set!
Of course, this also comes to one of the other reasons the whole thing is fuzzy and wonky: many of the most powerful effects against hard targets are also extraordinarily useful against soft targets. Soulfire, Void Rift, and Null Lance all ignore Armor but also all ignore Defense/Cover. Grenades Shred Armor, but Frag/Plasma Grenades also smash Cover and all grenades force damage on a target without regard to Defense, making all of them useful against soft targets.
And on the flipside, most anti-soft-target effects are either not very good (eg Demolition) or are still plenty relevant against hard targets. (eg Holo Targeting can be used to set up for firing clear through Cover, but it can also be used to ensure an inaccurate Grenadier still actually lands their Shredding Rupture on a Sectopod in spite of their bad Aim, and Hail of Bullets can be used to ignore Cover but it can also be used to ensure you Shred a Gatekeeper in spite of its high, unremovable Defense)
There's only a bare handful of effects that really cleave strongly to this distinction, and the result is that an opportunity to better define class roles was... not completely lost, but heavily underutilized.
The particularly unfortunate thing is that War of the Chosen doesn't seem to have noticed this issue at all, in contrast to the many other design flaws with the base game it made efforts to correct. Indeed, while I love, for example, the Training Center overhaul, some of these changes contribute to the problem: the Shredder skill is the thing that makes the Grenadier at all notable as anti-hard-target, and in War of the Chosen you expect to get multiple soldiers rolling Shredder as a bonus skill.
Similarly, the Grenadier's internal definition suffers from the Training Center overhaul: while the implementation could've been a lot better, their two lanes have a strong underlying element of 'specialize against soft targets' (The bullet-oriented portion of the tree) vs 'specialize against hard targets'. (The grenades-focused portion of the tree) Being able to readily buy from both lanes undercuts this distinction, making it plausible to make a Grenadier who is 'specialized' in both ends of things.
I'm hoping that XCOM 3 will manage to learn from this almost-there design consideration, but it's one of the elements of XCOM 2 I have doubts will be substantially improved going forward.
Next time, we cover how the Specialist has changed for War of the Chosen.
See you then.