XCOM 2 Equipment Analysis: Primary Weapons Part 2




Conventional Cannon
Damage: 4-6 (+2)
Range type: Medium
Ammo: 3
Acquisition: Unlocked at start of game.
Used by: Grenadiers.

As with the Conventional Rifle, the Conventional Cannon is a step up in damage over its prior-game counterpart, the Conventional LMG, with crit ranges equivalent to the prior game. There's the 'magic number' point of higher-difficulty basic ADVENT Troopers having 4 HP just like Impossible Sectoids did, meaning in the prior game an LMG couldn't guarantee a kill on early-game enemies on Impossible whereas the Conventional Cannon can do so on Legendary. (And Commander, as basic ADVENT Troops have 4 HP there too) This makes Cannons vastly more useful/reliable than LMGs were in the early game, when comparing highest difficulties, but once basic ADVENT Troopers stop being everywhere the difference isn't nearly as dramatic as with Rifles.

Also notice that the damage is identical to a Shotgun, just with less crit damage.

Also: a reminder that Cannons having no innate crit chance is slightly different in its implications than the prior game, since Rifles no longer have a crit chance tier (Meaning a Conventional Cannon is literally trading a point of ammo for a point of damage, relative to a Conventional Rifle), and also since enemies that don't use Cover no longer have an additional 10 crit resistance to make a Cannon-wielder's first ten points of crit chance boosting useless against the likes of Chryssalids.

Overall, though, the Cannon is much as the LMG was in the prior game: take a Rifle, amp up its damage, take away a point of ammo. In practice it's difficult to directly compare the ammo issues on the two because so much contextual stuff has changed; the ability to reload without ending your turn takes away some of the sting of limited ammo, early Expanded Magazines/Auto-Loaders makes it less of an issue in the early game, and there's nothing equivalent to Bullet Swarm to allow the Grenadier to burn through ammo turn after turn at the kind of pace Heavies could... but Grenadiers who elect to specialize in gunplay can get multiple skills that burn through 2 or 3 ammo at a time, Salvo makes it not necessarily 'free' for a high-level Grenadier to reload and then shoot, and an Expanded Magazine and/or Auto-Loader being attached to a Cannon is a slot that could've been some other Weapon Attachment, where Ammo Conservation is, from a tactical perspective, completely free.

I'd tend to say the overall result is that Cannons have much less egregious ammo issues in the early game than LMGs did, but can easily have much more intense ammo crunch in the mid-late game, but it depends in part on more player-style-type choices, like whether you prefer to focus on the grenade skills or the shooting skills. If it's the former, ammo tends to be even less of a concern in the late game.

Aesthetically, the Conventional Cannon is probably the best example of XCOM 2 making Conventional-tier weapons less futuristic-looking than in the prior game. The other weapons tend to require you're actually looking at them side-by-side for the contrast to be impossible to ignore. The Cannon is just... blatant.

Audio-wise, I really, really dislike the Conventional Cannon. It's disproportionately loud compared to basically anything else in the game, so much so that an audio level that makes everything else sound just fine makes the Conventional Cannon unpleasantly loud. This is particularly frustrating since, while Suppression is pretty lackluster, if you do elect to use it you're going to be listening to it over and over and over. I really don't get how it is that this audio problem got put on the only weapon attached to the only class where it has maximum potential to be obnoxious.

On the plus side, the period of the game in which you use Conventional weapons is comparatively small, but still. This seems like a really bizarre error to make.


Mag Cannon
Damage: 6-8 (+3)
Range type: Medium
Ammo: 3
Unlock Condition: Completing Gauss Weapons research.
Cost: 150 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in base game. 100 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 150 Supplies, 25 Alien Alloys in base game. 125 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Used by: Grenadiers.

By contrast with the Conventional Cannon, the Mag Cannon has one of the best combinations of aesthetic design and audio tuning. It's honestly one of my favorite weapons in the entire game, when not looking at the gameplay end of things.

Gameplay-wise, the main point of note is that the Mag Cannon is one of your two magnetic-tier weapons that's unlocked by the Gauss Weapons research rather than the more basic Magnetic Weapons research. This means Grenadiers tend to fall behind Specialists and Rangers for a bit when it comes to shooting things, contributing to my own tendency to preferentially focus on their grenade skills. The fact that Mag Cannons in particular are locked behind Gauss Weapons also usually makes for a bit of a difficult decision, in that overall Gauss Weapons is actually a bit poor in its rewards (Grenadiers and Sharpshooters are biased away from focusing on their primary weapons, for one), but then Grenadiers are your only natural source of weapon-derived Shred. If you're playing down at Regular this isn't terribly important, but on Commander and Legendary putting off Mag Cannons can result in you fighting a variety of 2 Armor enemies that would be much less of a nuisance if only you had Mag Cannon Shred.

Note that in the base game this has a significant component of being run-specific. If a couple of Rangers and/or Specialists get Shredder from the Advanced Warfare Center early on, it's a lot easier to justify putting off Gauss Weapons, and while any particular run is unlikely to have this happen the confluence of factors needed isn't terribly stringent. It's also influenced by the question of SPARK access; if you don't have Shen's Last Gift at all and nobody got early Shredder, you should probably prioritize Mag Cannon access. If you do have Shen's Last Gift and have an early SPARK, then just upgrading their firearm can fill this particular need pretty well, once again making it more tolerable to put off Gauss Weapons.

In War of the Chosen, bonus skills are still relevant but you're now cycling through a fairly large number of soldiers. It's possible to get so many Shredder-backed soldiers that Gauss Weapons is a low priority, but it requires a lot of Shredder rolls. SPARKs are also no longer relevant to this, since their own magnetic-tier weapon requires Gauss Weapons: you thus might put off purchasing Mag Cannons because you're using a SPARK (And they can be sent in mission after mission without worrying about Fatigue, so that's valid), but SPARKs are no longer a reason to put off researching Gauss Weapons.

Otherwise, the Mag Cannon is pretty straightforward, with little new to say about it.


Beam Cannon
Damage: 8-10 (+4 in the base game, +3 in War of the Chosen)
Range type: Medium
Ammo: 3
Unlock Condition: Completing Beam Cannon research.
Cost: 250 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in base game. 150 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 400 Supplies, 60 Alien Alloys, 40 Elerium Crystals in base game. 325 Supplies, 45 Alien Alloys, 30 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Used by: Grenadiers.

This is actually exactly as strong as its prior-game equivalent of the Heavy Plasma, except it actually has worse peak crit damage, particularly in War of the Chosen. In conjunction with Grenadiers not having a Bullet Swarm equivalent, late-game Grenadiers do not stand out as damage-dealers among your classes the way Heavies did.

In the base game, the Beam Cannon research is pretty low-value. Jumping to 3 Shred from 2 Shred isn't a vitally important improvement, and the damage boost is merely nice; Grenadiers are not tuned to contribute by shooting things to death. Even their shooting skill tree is primarily a supporting tree, with damage dealt by the Grenadier being closer to a bonus rather than the actual point. Since the Beam Cannon research doesn't do anything but unlock Beam Cannons... this makes it a bit of a low priority.

It's slightly more important in War of the Chosen, if you have Shen's Last Gift and are bothering to use one or more SPARKs. It also benefits more subtly from the fact that Cannons are the only core class primary weapon that you don't loot a superior version off of the Chosen; why bother unlocking Stormguns if you've already gotten the Arashi off of the Assassin? As such, if you're not entirely sure what your future plans are in general, the Beam Cannon research is the 'safe' bet for maximizing benefit to your squad.

The Beam Cannon isn't as immediately, obviously awful, aesthetically, as the Stormgun is, as far as the charging period and all, but it's arguably actually worse. The Conventional Cannon's design is clearly pulling from eg rotary cannons, which is a class of weapon you can define by its ability to sustain fire, until ammo runs out or the weapon overheats far beyond its intended tolerances, and this visualization isn't just 'it looks cool', but is actually supported by the fact that Grenadiers are the only class that can Suppress -if you didn't notice in the AWC/Training Center posts, Suppression isn't a bonus skill. The Beam Cannon needing to charge up before firing is a hurdle to believing it can sustain fire, exacerbated by the fact that the Suppression animation is a stop-start loop of very nearly a regular attack animation; in the Beam Cannon's case this ends up coming across like the Beam Cannon is building charge to then expend it and then runs out, in which case it can't possibly be capable of sustaining fire.

The other issue is that the Beam Cannon is animated in the same rotary cannon style as the Conventional Cannon, even though this is extremely questionable with everything about the beam-tier weapon concept and animation style. A rotary cannon has two essential functions being performed by the setup of multiple rotating barrels: the first of these is that loading ammunition, firing, and then unloading the bullet casing gets performed without interruption by virtue of a given barrel doing each step at a different point in rotation; Barrel 1 fires, then while it's ejecting its casing Barrel 2 fires, then Barrel 1 reloads while Barrel 2 ejects its casing and Barrel 3 fires, etc. The second of these is that rotary cannons work around the heat issues of sustained fire by spreading the heat around; if a single-barreled weapon can sustain, heat-wise, 200 rounds per minutes but will overheat and experience serious problems at 1000 rounds per minute, a 5-barrel rotary cannon of equivalent design can sustain 1000 rounds per minute without overheating.

So first of all the Beam Cannon, unlike its predecessor weapons, has no evidence of a casing-equivalent being ejected. It's not as if tiny Elerium batteries are being loaded, discharged in the firing cycle, ejected, and a new Elerium battery loaded. This guts a sizable fraction of the point of rotating, yet the Beam Cannon still rotates, very visibly.

One can try to argue that the heat issue justifies the rotation, but this is a bit thin. While it makes perfect sense that a plasma-beam-firing weapon would rapidly heat -probably much faster than a bullet-based weapon, in fact- and in turn one could mitigate the issue some by spreading the load across multiple firing points, rotation would only be potentially useful for ensuring all the shots from a single point in an attempt to ensure consistency and accuracy... except wait, beam-tier weapons aren't releasing a small, distinct projectile. They're firing a sustained shot that lasts for a half second or so. For the rotation to lead to an increase in accuracy and all, the Beam Cannon couldn't perform a smooth, continuous rotation, it would need to have a stuttery start-stop rotation where a barrel rotated into firing position, sustained its half-second-or-so shot, then stopped, rotated, and the next barrel continue the cycle. Which... isn't how the Beam Cannon is animated at all.

Oh, and on top of all the reasons it doesn't even make sense, the animation of a Beam Cannon firing is just plain ugly.

The Beam Cannon, more than any other beam-tier weapon, is the weapon that makes me think the devs made the entire plasma beam concept for the Aliens in particular, and only later looped back to applying it to X-COM, because none of the Alien weapons has these animation and conceptual problems. I don't think they're particularly stellar, but none of them makes me cringe in agonized horror to see in action the way multiple X-COM beam-tier weapons do.


Conventional Sniper Rifle
Damage: 4-6 (+2)
Range type: Long
Ammo: 3
Acquisition: Unlocked at start of game.
Used by: Sharpshooters.
Special: Requires 2 action points to fire. +10 crit chance.

As in the previous game, Long range is exclusive to Sniper Rifles, and actively penalizes Aim for getting too close. Specifically, you can suffer up to -30 Aim for getting too close, increasing in 3 Aim increments per tile of approach starting from 10 tiles out. As with Short range, these values are not affected by teching up: higher-tier Sniper Rifles aren't less badly off for getting up close or anything like that. This -30 to Aim is another subtle nerf to Sniper Rifles, as in the prior game Sniper Rifles suffered at most -24 to Aim, starting from exactly the same range cutoff point.

Not strictly a nerf is that the damage values are identical to the prior game, including crit damage ranges. What is strictly a nerf is that crit chance has been reduced from +25, and Sharpshooters don't have an equivalent to Headshot, so they crit much less often than in the prior game, in spite of their GTS skill being a crit booster. Also noteworthy is that Sniper Rifles no longer inexplicable have greater ammo reserves than all other weapon categories, and in fact are tied with Cannons for having the worst ammo reserves before DLC came along.

Altogether, Sniper Rifles don't stand out from their peers the way they did in the prior game. Indeed, in conjunction with Squadsight hitting them with Aim penalties for firing from further out and a lot of the Sniper's favorite toys having gone completely missing (eg no Archangel Armor) or been made less of a dominating auto-take (eg Tracer Rounds are essentially a S.C.O.P.E.... but they compete with other things a Sharpshooter might actually want to equip, like Bluescreen Rounds), Sniper Rifles are very much the worst of the primary weapons. I keep insisting Sharpshooters are better off focusing on their Pistols with good cause.

Also, I alluded to this on the Sharpshooter's page, but it bears repeating: the Sniper Rifle can be fired after moving, it just requires 2 action points are available. (And that both can be spent on firing, though this qualifier is unlikely to crop up in the base game and is still uncommon in War of the Chosen) Run And Gun, Teamwork, Inspire, and other ways of generating or transferring action points can all be used to let a Sharpshooter move and still fire their Sniper Rifle, or otherwise act and then fire their Sniper Rifle. (eg reload, Run And Gun, fire, or Quickdraw a Fan Fire and then fire their Sniper Rifle) This is especially pertinent in War of the Chosen, due to the greater likelihood for a given Sharpshooter to roll a relevant bonus skill and the introduction of multiple ways for outsiders to grant action points.

Aesthetically, I have no particular opinion on the Sniper Rifle. I will note that its design isn't exactly well-suited to the traditional sniper thing of laying prone, weapon steadied on the ground and against one's shoulder, but the Firaxis XCOM games don't allow for that as a thing at all so it's not that important. Annoying in the abstract, but if some artist came up with this design because it's what looks good in the actual gameplay and engine, sure whatever.


Gauss Rifle
Damage: 6-8 (+3)
Range type: Long
Ammo: 3
Unlock Condition: Completing Gauss Weapons research.
Cost: 150 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in base game. 100 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 175 Supplies, 25 Alien Alloys in base game. 140 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Used by: Sharpshooters.
Special: Requires 2 action points to fire. +10 crit chance.

That's right, the Sniper Rifle no longer gains crit chance from teching up, essentially swapping with the Shotgun.

Unlike the basic Sniper Rifle, the Gauss Rifle is, like most other weapons in XCOM 2, 1 point of damage over its prior game counterpart -the Laser Sniper Rifle- while having the same crit damage range as its prior game counterpart. This makes it a more notable boost in Sniper Rifle performance than the Laser Sniper Rifle was in the prior game, albeit with the caveat that Sharpshooters tend to get more out of Pistol boosting than Sniper Rifle boosting, unlike Snipers in the prior game.

Whether the Gauss Rifle is worth pursuing for its own sake or not ends up being a bit of a moot point due to it being unlocked alongside Mag Cannons. Whether it's worth purchasing, meanwhile... well, I usually buy it eventually, simply because Supplies and Alien Alloys eventually largely stop being particularly limiting resources, but I've sometimes put it off for quite a while.

Aesthetically, the Gauss Rifle is pretty darn good. My only substantial complaint is that it's intensely confusing why the grip and the ammo clip are connected by a bit.


Plasma Lance
Damage: 8-10 (+4)
Range type: Long
Ammo: 3
Unlock Condition: Completing Plasma Lance research.
Cost: 300 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in base game. 200 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 500 Supplies, 50 Alien Alloys, 60 Elerium Crystals in base game. 375 Supplies, 35 Alien Alloys, 50 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Used by: Sharpshooters.
Special: Requires 2 action points to fire. +10 crit chance.

As with the Beam Cannon, the Plasma Lance's non-crit damage ranges are identical to its prior game counterpart -the Plasma Sniper Rifle- but it has weaker crit damage. Unlike the Beam Cannon, it furthermore suffers from not being a crit chance booster over the prior tier. So yeah, Sharpshooters are just plain worse off than Snipers were in their own game once you're in the late game.

Not helping the Plasma Lance's case is its research position. In the base game, it's the only thing unlocked by the Plasma Lance research; this is true of Beam cannons and Stormguns as well, but they're overall more appealing than the Plasma Lance and Sharpshooters generally benefit a lot more from Beam Pistols (Which are unlocked by the Plasma Rifle research) than from Plasma Lances anyway, particularly this late in the game where you're going to have Fan Fire and Faceoff, not to mention Ammo Items to tilt things heavily toward Pistol use.

In War of the Chosen, the Plasma Lance research additionally unlocks the Shadow Lance for Reapers. In theory this gives the Plasma Lance an edge over the Stormgun and Beam Cannon, particularly if you don't have Shen's Last Gift, but there's two issues there. First of all, the Shadow Lance is only +1 damage and +1 crit damage; it's a nice bonus, not an essential upgrade. Second of all, the Plasma Lance research now requires you Autopsy an Archon, which otherwise only gives you access to third-tier melee weaponry. As we'll be covering in a later post, third-tier melee weaponry isn't particularly great. As it tends to talk a long time to get the Archon Autopsy to its Instant threshold, if it ever happens in a given run, this means the research burden for getting Plasma Lances and Shadow Lances unlocked is unusually large. In practice it's often more logistically sensible to take down the Chosen Hunter, even on Legendary where it takes a lot longer to set up an assault on a Chosen Stronghold -especially since the Darklance is such a massive gamechanger.

Aesthetically/narratively, the Plasma Lance is the only beam weapon that is completely believable and sensible in its handling. A sniper rifle isn't a weapon you fire from the hip or whatever, and it certainly isn't supposed to be fired from anywhere near the target. The charge period would realistically still be a problem, but not necessarily a fatal problem, and depending on how beam weapon physics interact with considerations like gravity and wind it might be a lot easier to learn than firing an actual sniper rifle at long range. The noise from charging is also easier to gloss over with a sniper rifle, since realistically ideal use would often be too far to be heard by enemies anyway.

And of course the actual firing isn't ugly to see in action.

It's a bit unfortunate you're encouraged to rarely see it in action...


Conventional Heavy Autocannon
Damage: 4-6 (+2)
Range type: Medium
Ammo: 3
Acquisition: Unlocked at start of game.
Used by: SPARK.

Compared to its approximate equivalent from the prior game, the Mec's Minigun, the Heavy Autocannon has the same non-crit damage range and slightly weaker crit damage range. It also lacks an innate crit chance, and so in the base game you're only going to crit on flanks; War of the Chosen at least opens up the possibility of slapping on a Laser Sight, however inadvisable that might be. 

This is a subtle contributing factor to SPARKs being a bit understrength, where Mecs impressed: at the conventional tier of weapons, Mecs were your best combination of damage and mobility, as only Snipers matched them for damage, but couldn't move and fire without Snap Shot and suffered an Aim penalty from Snap Shot. SPARKs, meanwhile, are exactly even with Rangers and especially Grenadiers at damage output, instead of being ahead, before getting into skills -and if we start getting into skills we have to consider that eg Rangers get Hunter's Instincts and Rapid Fire, so the SPARK's access to Overdrive is not clearly ahead in damage potential past the early game.

On the plus side, the Heavy Autocannon has better innate ammo reserves than the Minigun did, but this is misleading, as Overdrive and Hunter Protocol give SPARKs much greater ability to burn ammo than Mecs had from their Overdrive+Collateral Damage, Mecs had a skill that boosted their ammo reserves to be equal, and Mecs had access to Ammo Conservation like all your soldiers, where in the base game SPARKs don't get access to Expanded Magazines and even into War of the Chosen they don't have the potential to get a third Weapon Attachment slot.

The overall result is that the Heavy Autocannon's performance is notably behind the Minigun's, even though it looks slightly better. The only complicating wrinkle is the introduction of Armor and SPARKs having innate access to Shredder, which has no equivalent in Enemy Within to cleanly say whether the Minigun was better or worse... and most enemies in XCOM 2 have no Armor, so most of the time it doesn't matter.

I'd better understand this decision if the line had innate Pierce in addition to innate Shred. At that point it would have effectively equal damage to the Minigun when fighting Armored targets while also Shredding them for allies, and if this extended as a pattern -that is, where Pierce was 1/2/3 like Shred is 1/2/3 by tier- this would outright make the higher tiers effectively more lethal than their Mec weapon equivalents when fighting heavily Armored targets. It would still be a little bit of a letdown how the SPARK would perform worse than a Mec against soft targets, but for one thing Armor is correlated pretty strongly to the toughest, nastiest enemies, making 'good against heavily Armored targets' pretty close to 'good against the most dangerous enemies of the game', which is a pretty great specialization to have.

As-is, I don't really get why SPARK weapons are pretty consistently behind Mecs weapons.

Aesthetically, the Heavy Autocannon is great. Great animation, great sound, and a perfectly fine look for the weapon itself. (Admittedly, it helps that the Heavy Autocannon is difficult to correlate to a real-world weapon) It's so great that it's slightly unfortunate that in the base game you may well get Magnetic Weapons online shortly after acquiring your first SPARK and so barely get to see and hear it in action. This isn't true in War of the Chosen, though that's a bit of a mixed blessing...


Helix Rail-Cannon
Damage: 6-8 (+3)
Range type: Medium
Ammo: 3
Unlock Condition: Completing Magnetic Weapons research in base game. Completing Gauss Weapons research in War of the Chosen.
Cost: 125 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in base game. 90 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 175 Supplies, 25 Alien Alloys in base game. 110 Supplies, 15 Alien Alloys in War of the Chosen.
Used by: SPARK.

Just as the prior tier, the Helix Rail-Cannon has the same damage range as its approximate equivalent from the prior game -the Mec's Railgun- but with weaker crits and no innate crit chance. It remains the case that this means SPARK damage doesn't impress as much as one might expect coming from Mecs in Enemy Within, and in real terms it's actually worse than that because you can have Ammo Items online in the vicinity of having Magnetic weaponry, making it distressingly likely the Helix Rail-Cannon will actually be behind other weapons in its tier in actual practice.

The Helix Rail-Cannon being unlocked by Magnetic Weapons in the base game is nonetheless another factor in SPARKs having a strong early game performance, as means the class they're most closely equivalent to in functionality -the Grenadier- they get the jump on in primary weapon performance, which is particularly notable since weapon tier directly controls Shred. In fact, this reinforces itself, because it's less important to pursue Gauss Weapons if you already have a 2-Shred attacker via the Helix Rail-Cannon, and if you take advantage of that opportunity you're lengthening the period of time in which the SPARK is functioning an awful lot like a superior Grenadier.

Of course, in War of the Chosen this falls away since the Helix Rail-Cannon is now locked behind Gauss Weapons, just like the Mag Cannon. You can still get away with using SPARKs over Grenadiers in this regard, and indeed the Helix Rail-Cannon is a cheaper purchase than the Mag Cannon, but the incentive structures are completely different.

Aesthetically, the Helix Rail-Cannon is one of my favorite weapons in the entire game. You've got a rotary cannon look that includes the barrels visibly heating up when firing, said rotary cannon look is experimental in a 'maybe future technology would make this practical?' sort of way, and it just sounds great. I'm always a little disappointed when I finally move on past them.

It's also nice that it's the only weapon in its class that has the rotary functionality. A concept I always like to see explored that's only rarely explored is for the potential for technological advancement to change how certain familiar concepts get used. Usually scifi video games, and honestly even more cerebral scifi can be guilty of this, will just dress the same concepts in a shinier package, never mind that new scientific and engineering concepts are different, not 'the same thing but magically more efficient/powerful/whatever'. Even if the game doesn't explore and justify this particular difference, it's nice to see, especially in contrast with eg the Grenadier's Cannon line slavishly sticking to a rotary cannon visualization even when it makes absolutely no sense on any level.


Elerium Phase Cannon
Damage: 8-10 (+4)
Range type: Medium
Ammo: 3
Unlock Condition: Completing Plasma Rifle research in base game. Completing Beam Cannon research in War of the Chosen.
Cost: 250 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in base game. 175 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Legendary Cost: 450 Supplies, 50 Alien Alloys, and 50 Elerium Crystals in base game. 250 Supplies, 30 Alien Alloys, 15 Elerium Crystals in War of the Chosen.
Used by: SPARK.

Where the prior two tiers were equal in base damage to their approximate equivalents, the Elerium Phase Cannon is actually weaker than the Mec's Particle Cannon, being behind in base damage by 1 point and having a weaker crit damage boost to boot. The ammo advantage is even harder to pretend is an advantage, since these are both endgame gear, and so it's much more reasonable to compare them under the assumption of other mid-to-endgame considerations, eg Ammo Conservation in the prior game being unlocked from Autopsying Mutons. This is very puzzling given the overall trend of rising firepower in XCOM 2; I'd expect the Elerium Phase Cannon to be even with the Particle Cannon at worst.

The Elerium Phase Cannon is nonetheless a contributing factor to the SPARK being overall frontloaded... in the base game, where it's unlocked the instant you've broken into beam-tier weapons. War of the Chosen pushing it onto the Beam Cannon research takes away that implication. Which is a bit unfortunate, cementing SPARKs falling off in the late game. It's really too bad War of the Chosen didn't overhaul SPARKs more heavily...

Aesthetically, the Elerium Phase Cannon is... actually surprisingly good! It's still worse than the prior two designs, but nowhere near as dramatically as most beam-tier weapons. It helps a lot that the pre-fire charging sequence is notably faster than other beam weapons, comparable to the extremely brief delay seen when Shen shows off the Plasma Rifle in a cinematic. The firing animation also escapes the usual weirdness with beam-tier firing animations, with it technically firing multiple discrete shots but in a manner that looks more like energy flowing wildly out of the weapon. It's actually a really cool effect, and a convincing depiction of sustained beam-tier firing that avoids looking like the game just hanging. (Which is what would happen if you made the regular beam fire last longer with no other change in an attempt to represent sustained fire)

Do note that the graphic above is not properly representative of how it looks in-game, though. For whatever reason the files squash the Elerium Phase Cannon; in the actual game it's noticeably longer than the prior two weapons.


Vektor Rifle
Damage: 3-4 (+3)
Range type: Vektor
Ammo: 3
Acquisition: Unlocked at start of game.
Used by: Reaper

I list the Vektor's range type as 'Vektor' because it does, in fact, have its own range category. Functionally, it's basically just Medium range, but a little bit better, capping at out +25 Aim for getting in the enemy's face and adding +1 to the maximum Aim boost at Magnetic and Energy apiece just like Medium does. It also starts its Aim climb 1 tile further out than Medium does at Conventional, and then extends it by 1 tile more for each upgrade you make instead of having Medium's weird boost at Magnetic that goes away at Beam-tier. Aside those weird details, though: Medium, but with +5 maximum Aim and getting it slightly earlier and a little faster overall because of the higher max.

Anyway, the Vektor Rifle is basically a worse Rifle aside slightly greater crit damage, with worse max damage and worse ammo. Better Aim climb, yes, enough so that a Squaddie Reaper can just barely hit 100 accuracy by getting directly adjacent to their target, but otherwise worse than a Rifle. This is part of why Reapers are generally best off focusing on scouting and Claymore use in the early game, particularly on higher difficulties; on Regular you'll always kill a basic ADVENT Trooper in one shot. On Commander and Legendary, you have only a 50% chance of doing so, as opposed to a Rookie or Specialist's 66% chance and most everybody else's 100% chance.

Mind, the reduced ammo is less of a limiter than you might expect. Reapers shouldn't be shooting much prior to getting Silent Killer anyway, and so long as they're in Shadow there's nearly no point to Overwatching. In conjunction with their incredible movement speed, it's pretty easy to slip in a reload without really costing you anything. It's mostly an issue when dealing with Lost.

On a more aesthetic note, the Vektor Rifle has a bizarre UI effect when targeting enemies, completely unique to it. This doesn't actually mean anything, and the game will occasionally wig out and keep on displaying part of the effect even though you've moved on to non-Reapers. It's... pretty annoying, and I'm confused why this was done at all.

The Resistance class weapons are, incidentally, one of the reasons why I'm skeptical that the oversized weapons of the base game are meant to serve a useful purpose, as the Resistance class weapons are all much more reasonably sized. The Vektor Rifle is particularly blatant since it has a similar profile and animation to the Sniper Rifle, and yet is much smaller.


Temnotic Rifle
Damage: 4-5 (+4)
Range type: Vektor
Ammo: 3
Unlock Condition: Completing Gauss Weapons research.
Cost: 40 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys.
Legendary Cost: 60 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys.
Used by: Reaper

'Temnotic' probably comes from Russian, specifically темнота, which basically just means darkness, night, that kind of thing. Because the Reapers have a Russian thing going on, I assume. Kind of dumb in practice since their beam-tier weapon is named the same basic thing, just in English... I'm kind of curious how the Russian-language localization handled these names, actually.

In any event, the Temnotic Rifle is a very slight boost to the Vektor Rifle's power, so slight that if you have Improved Conventional Weapons you can get away with not buying it if you really want the Supplies or Alien Alloys to go elsewhere, because at that point you're just missing out on 1 crit damage and 1 point of accuracy. Also notice its high roll is equivalent to the Magnetic Rifle's low roll. Yeah, Reapers are not good at shooting things to death. Indeed, even the superior crit damage doesn't help: a critting Temnotic Rifle does 8-9 damage. A critting Magnetic Rifle does 8-10 damage. Even with Blood Trail you have barely higher average damage, less than a full point of damage. And Rifles are the weak core class primary weapon! Reapers are fine at finishing off weakened targets in safety once you have Silent Killer, but don't trea them as damage dealers in a more general sense.

Aesthetically, the Temnotic Rifle is really cool. The really curious what the weird cloud it releases is meant to be exactly, but it's very visually distinctive regardless and the Temnotic Rifle's audio is fantastic too.


Shadow Lance
Damage: 5-6 (+5)
Range type: Vektor
Ammo: 3
Unlock Condition: Completing Plasma Lance research.
Cost: 110 Supplies, 7 Alien Alloys, 7 Elerium Crystals.
Legendary Cost: 225 Supplies, 20 Alien Alloys, 20 Elerium Crystals)
Used by: Reaper

Now you hit almost as hard as a Mag Rifle!... when Specialists have long since moved on to Plasma Rifles. The crit situation is still pretty disappointing; even with War of the Chosen nerfing multiple beam-tier weapon crit damage numbers, including the Plasma Rifle, a critting Plasma Rifle is 10-12 damage vs 10-11 damage on a critting Shadow Lance.

I suspect the devs intended Vektor Rifles to be competitive on the basis of crits, but if so the game pretty thoroughly failed at that. I've already been over how infeasible it is to hit 100 crit chance with a Reaper; this isn't like Shotguns, where it's really easy to hit 100 crit chance on flankable targets, and even non-flankable targets you can hit 65 crit chance via Stormgun innate crit chance+Talon Rounds+Superior Laser Sight pretty reliably, such that in the late game the design can basically assume Rangers are critting when shooting much of the time.

It doesn't help that it's locked behind the Plasma Lance research. I've honestly gone entire runs without ever bothering to unlock Shadow Lances. They're not important, and there's too many more urgently useful researches to necessarily expect to get around to them before launching the endgame.

Aesthetically, the Shadow Lance isn't so bad, as Reapers have a similar firing animation to Sharpshooters that goes okay with the charge period on beam weapons. It only looks dumb when using Banish, where the Reaper sloooooooowly unloads their entire clip and it's just completely unbelievable an animation... but this is a problem with Banish no matter which Vektor Rifle youre using. The Shadow Lance looks slightly worse, but whatever.

I mean, it's still a massive downgrade over the Temnotic Rifle, but if the Temnotic Rifle was merely okay instead of incredible the Shadow Lance would be fine.

Narratively, the Shadow Lance adds atop all the other issues with the beam tier the part where Reapers as a faction disdain Alien technology, when the concept of beam weapons is that they're unambiguously a replication of Alien technology. The game itself draws attention to this in the description for the Shadow Lance, even!

To be honest, this points toward a missed opportunity. Welding Resistance faction weapon progression directly atop regular weapons research is functional, but it's boring and leads to janky results like this. It would've been much more interesting and coherent if you were performing Covert Ops to get Resistance factions to hand over their better toys, and it's well within the engine's ability to do so; Breakthroughs are research projects you can get from Covert Ops, for example. In turn, instead of the Shadow Lance being an Alien plasma weapon thing, it could've been some ambiguous Reaper-developed weapon, with its own appropriate aesthetic and no obvious narrative jank. That would've been really cool, not to mention the larger potential for the game to make your progression less linear and more replayable-interesting. (By locking assorted other gear behind Covert Op 'research', distributed by faction, so that a run that befriends Reapers first gets different gear than one that befriends Templar first)

Mind, War of the Chosen is overly-ambitious as-is, but switching Resistance weapon upgrades to being Covert Op-acquired would just have required different thoughts during development. It wouldn't have required an avalanche of new content.

Ah well. Maybe XCOM 3 will explore these angles.


Kal-7 Bullpup
Damage: 3-4 (+1)
Range type: Short
Ammo: 3
Acquisition: Unlocked at start of game.
Used by: Skirmisher

While the Bullpup uses the same range behavior as a Shotgun, its weaker crit damage makes flanks and whatnot much less important to pursue, giving it surprisingly distinctive behavior even aside from being attached to the Skirmisher.

Otherwise, its stats are identical to the Vektor Rifle's. Only where for the Vektor Rifle this makes Reapers bad at contributing damage, for the Skirmisher this primarily reins in how much damage they're outputting; two Bullpup shots is 6-8 damage, where an early-game Cannon, Sniper Rifle, or Shotgun-wielder is expecting to spit out one 4-6 damage shot. Shotguns on a flank expect to crit for 7-9 damage, admittedly, but Skirmishers get to distribute the damage some; kill two different ADVENT Troopers, instead of horribly overkilling one, for example.

The poor ammo, however, is a sharp limiter on the Skirmisher's early-game effectiveness, particularly since there's no such thing as an essentially-free reload moment for them thanks to Marauder. Bullpups really do desperately need Expanded Magazines and/or Auto-Loaders to actually be reliably competitive with other classes, as otherwise they get dragged down by ending up needing to give up a shot every other turn. (At which point you're averaging 4.5-6 damage a turn -slightly better than Shotguns, Cannons, and Sniper Rifles... all of which have better crit damage) The Ripjack-based skills can ease the pain some, but they put off the issue, they don't fundamentally solve it. It's not like using a Ripjack skill provides an action point that can only be spent on reloading, or something.

To be honest, this is a case where XCOM 2's low granularity hurts its design. The Bullpup is a bit under-strength because the devs correctly realize giving it a profile equivalent to the Rifle, let alone one of the stronger weapons, is kind of overtly ridiculous when it's going to be shooting twice a turn, but the low granularity means the game lowering the maximum damage one point instantly makes it only shakily competitive with the strong weapons -which are really the benchmark to measure against, not the Rifle. With larger, more granular numbers, it would be a lot more  feasible to slightly lower the Bullpup's damage compared to a Rifle without necessarily ending up understrength.

XCOM 2 raising base damage a little all-around was a step in the right direction, which makes it plausible to me that XCOM 3 might boost numbers into a range where this kind of thing is resolvable. Not likely, to be honest, given how XCOM 2 stays pretty close to the prior game's formulation of damage and HP numbers and their progression, but more plausible than I would've predicted before actually playing XCOM 2 and looking hard at its numbers.

Aesthetically/conceptually, the Kal-7 Bullpup is weird. The concept of Skirmishers is that they're rogue ADVENT troops running around with whatever the had on them when they went rogue plus cobbled-together gear. The natural thing would honestly be for them to be using ADVENT mag rifles, albeit rusty, poorly-maintained ones, but instead Skirmishers have a completely unique weapon that can't be compared to anything any ADVENT soldier carries. I'm overall able to gloss over this simply because I enjoy the Bullpup's gameplay design, but it's still pretty weird.


Kal-15 Bullpup
Damage: 5-6 (+1)
Range type: Short
Ammo: 3
Unlock Condition: Completing Magnetic Weapons research.
Cost: 45 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys.
Legendary Cost: 70 Supplies, 15 Alien Alloys.
Used by: Skirmisher

Unlike the Temnotic Rifle, the Kal-15 Bullpup is the usual +2 to damage, and so should be prioritized as rapidly as possible, particularly so since the Kal-7 Bullpup is unusually weak. It's not much of a different compared to a Rifle -just that maximum damage is going up by 50% instead of 40%- but when compared to eg a Shotgun? Pretty big deal.

Plus, Resistance class weapons are all cheap, presumably to offset the fact that you're normally purchasing for one, maybe two soldiers. Grabbing it is easy to fit in. The math is also a lot more favorable to the Kal-15 Bullpup compared to the Kal-7; the Kal-15 is doing 10-12 damage per turn, or 7.5-9 if you assume reloading every other turn, vs eg Mag Cannons doing 6-8 a turn. (Admittedly ignoring crits, which is noteworthy given the Kal-15 does not gain crit damage compared to the Kal-7) Indeed, once Magnetic Weapons comes along Skirmishers tend to be very above-average performers, and fortuitously magnetic-tier weapons tend to be what you use for the vast majority of your combats, so Skirmishers get a fairly lengthy portion of the game in which they're very good.

This, incidentally, is a factor tilting away from Skirmisher start being a good idea. A Skirmisher at the beginning of the game just doesn't add as much to the squad as a Reaper or Templar does, and if you recruit your first Skirmisher in the vicinity of when you're finishing Magnetic Weapons they spend little, if any, time under-strength, not to mention you'll have had time to pick up a few Weapon Attachments to help with the ammo situation.

Aesthetically, the Kal-15 is another fantastic magnetic weapon, looking and sounding great. Notably, it has a similar 'mag cloud' as the Temnotic Rifle; I guess the team liked that effect just as much as I do, or something. It's kinda weird as far as narrative consistency, but whatever.

Conceptually, the weirdness intensifies. X-COM unlocks the secret of magnetic weaponry, and instead of helping the Skirmishers to, say, get their stolen ADVENT gear into good condition... they develop a magnetically-powered version of the jury-rigged unique weapon Skirmishers are running around with? I can largely gloss over this as a gameplay and animation artifact, but it's still weird, yet another example of how the Skirmisher concept is not very coherent.


Kal-90 Bullpup
Damage: 6-7 (+2)
Range type: Short
Ammo: 3
Unlock Condition: Completing Plasma Rifle research.
Cost: 90 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys, 5 Elerium Crystals.
Legendary Cost: 210 Supplies, 25 Alien Alloys, 15 Elerium Crystals)
Used by: Skirmisher

Only +1 damage, though also +1 crit damage, the Kal-90 isn't a huge priority. This only really matters inasmuch as if you have Improved Magnetic Weapons and not Improved Beam Weapons you can skip the purchase with little loss, since it's unlocked by the Plasma Rifle research and so it's not a question of pursuing it, but it does mean that the math of beam-tier weaponry is slightly less favorable to Skirmishers than with magnetic-tier weaponry; double-firing the Kal-90 is 12-14 damage, average damage if you reload every other turn is 9-10.5, vs a beam Cannon doing 8-10 damage each turn. Still nowhere near as bad as with the Kal-7, though; Skirmishers don't stand out from the crowd in the endgame as much as with magnetic-tier weaponry, especially when you consider that non-Grenadier core classes have access to Chosen weaponry, but if they're sustaining fire they're still definitely ahead on damage output.

Aesthetically speaking, the Kal-90 Bullpup is one of the strongest examples of why I don't like the beam-tier weapons having a charge period before firing. With the prior two tiers, the Skirmisher spitting out large numbers of shots relative to other soldiers feels very  plausible, as they bring the weapon up fairly quickly and it fires a brief burst and there you go. With the Kal-90, the charge period makes it seem a lot less intuitively plausible, in addition to the player-time-wasting component being even more dramatic and frustrating since you're hoping to trigger it two or more times per turn, every combat turn.

The Kal-90 being a plasma beam weapon you develop for the Skirmishers overall makes more sense than the Shadow Lance (It seems unlikely the Skirmishers would object to using plasma weapons, and it's not like a ground-pounder ADVENT troop ever has access to their own plasma weapons for Skirmishers to be ahead of you in this regard), but this is still a case where I think the Covert Op-derived research idea would be stronger, especially due to the aforementioned animation issue. Having the Skirmishers come up with some distinctive, jury-rigged death machine for their tier 3 weapon would've potentially sidestepped beam animations not going well with Skirmisher animations. It would also have sidestepped the weirdness of X-COM continuing to develop shinier versions of a jury-rigged weapon class, which is an issue that applies to the Kal-15 too. Again, I can largely gloss over this as an artifact of gameplay/animation considerations, but... still contributes to the incoherent-ness of the Skirmisher concept.

On the plus side, the ergonomics are at least very similar to the prior weapons.


Shard Gauntlet
Damage: 4-5 (+2)
Range type: Melee
Acquisition: Unlocked at start of game.
Used by: Templar
+10 crit chance.

Your basic Gauntlet for Templar.

Notice that its damage is 100% superior to a Rifle's damage before Focus comes into play. Also note that even on Legendary this is enough to reliably kill basic ADVENT Troopers -and Templar don't miss. Templar are fantastic at the beginning of the game for dealing with Troopers in good Cover that are awkward or impossible to actually flank.

For some different magic numbers, note that below Commander a Shard Gauntlet is an auto-kill on Sectoids, on Commander it's an auto-kill if you have any Focus at all, whereas on Legendary Sectoids will always survive unless you specifically get a crit and high roll on basic damage or have 2 Focus and high-roll on damage. (Or have 1 Focus and crit) On lower difficulties, you can thus count on Templar removing Sectoids very reliably, making it a lot more tolerable to consider ignoring them (Especially if you can Momentum the Templar to an unseen location so there's no possibility of the Sectoid Mind Controlling them), but up on Legendary that's a bad plan and you should get some damage in on the Sectoid right away to set up for a Templar kill.

Overall, though, the Shard Gauntlet is straightforward once you account for it being a primary melee weapon. Among other points, this includes that if you click on an alien head icon Templar will always interpret that as 'try to melee this enemy' unless the target is not in melee reach. I understand the impetus there, but it's kind of an iffy decision as far as UI ergonomics goes, as it means a new player will have to adjust to Templar being a unique exception to how the UI works. I spent a while regularly accidentally ordering my Templar to melee something in situations I wanted them to shoot it due to this... and then once i got used to that, I spent a while semi-regularly accidentally ordering my Templar to shoot something I hadn't realized wasn't in melee range. It's a pretty big headache and I don't think it adds much convenience once you are used to it.

Conceptually, Shard Gauntlets are notable for being a very blatant example of the Firaxis XCOM games shifting their concept of how psychic stuff works. here we have psionically-powered technology, driven by external power sources instead of purely the Power Of The Mind, and not only that but our Power Of The Mind concept is being used to punch people to death. Well. Stab them as part of a punch, but whatever.

I am curious why the basic tier is called a 'Shard' Gauntlet, though. What's the 'shard' part of the name supposed to be referring to?


Tempest Gauntlet
Damage: 5-6 (+2)
Range type: Melee
Unlock Condition: Completing Plated Armor.
Cost: 40 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys.
Legendary Cost: 65 Supplies, 10 Alien Alloys.
Used by: Templar
+10 crit chance.

Gauntlets are weird, being the only weapon type in the entire game whose progression is locked behind armor technology. This means that if you preferentially prioritize advancing weapons technology over armor technology -which, frankly, the game is clearly tuned under the assumption that you do exactly that- Templar will end up temporarily behind in the early-middle portion of the game.

Overall, this isn't too big a deal with the Tempest Gauntlet. You generally spend most of your time using melee with Templar, making it a bit moot that Gauntlet tier controls the power of eg Volt, and it's only +1 damage to melee. It doesn't even boost crit damage. Indeed, when I get Improved Conventional Weapons early in a run without getting Improved Magnetic Weapons, I usually don't bother to upgrade Templar Gauntlets at all.

Aesthetically/conceptually, the game never really delves into what's supposed to be going on with Gauntlet progression. It is worth pointing out that, as I covered in the armor post, your core armor progression is centered around powered armor as the endpoint, so it's easy to imagine that somehow improved power production and distribution systems translates into a psionic equivalent for Gauntlets, at which point upgrading your Gauntlets is either purely gameplay-derived (That is, that 'realistically' just updating to Plated Armor directly improves Gauntlet damage by providing more power to the Gauntlets) or a representation of developing Gauntlets that can handle the new power load, but the game never spells any such thing out and I'm probably just making up a logical headcanon that fits things but was never imagined by anyone on the team.

I will comment that while I'd intuitively expect the reclusive psionic warriors using internally-developed psionic gear to be the premiere example of 'why aren't you using Covert Ops to get them giving you their better gear?', in practice Templar Gauntlets are the case that makes the most natural sense to be directly tied up in your own technological progression due to the above probably-a-headcanon stuff.


Celestial Gauntlet
Damage: 7-8 (+2)
Range type: Melee
Unlock Condition: Completing Powered Armor.
Cost: 125 Supplies, 5 Alien Alloys, 10 Elerium Crystals.
Legendary Cost: 240 Supplies, 15 Alien Alloys, 30 Elerium Crystals.
Used by: Templar
+10 crit chance.

Celestial Gauntlets are +2 damage, and thus very important to grab, compounded by the fact that you almost certainly can have bought Ionic Storm before the Celestial Gauntlet came along and it makes it a lot more important to have proper Gauntlet tier progression. Though it's interesting that Gauntlets never gain crit damage -they're unique for this. I'm curious why.

Where Tempest Gauntlets are realistically behind most or all your other weapons for acquisition, for Celestial Gauntlets it's much more up in the air. I personally usually research Plasma Rifle before I researched Powered Armor, but I've had runs where eg Powered Armor was immediately Inspired where I shrugged and went for it first, and even when I've gotten Plasma Rifle researched before Powered Armor I've often researched Powered Armor before any of the other beam-tier weapons. It's just not massively important to progress to beam-tier weapons the way it is to get to magnetic weapons before the game starts punishing you for having fallen behind, whereas Powered Armor has some pretty substantial dividends that are useful to get going early, such as paving the way to Powered Heavy Weapons.

One final aesthetic commentary on Gauntlets: a minor issue with Gauntlets is that it's extremely difficult to tell tiers apart in actual play. This is compounded by the fact that the Templar armor tier graphics aren't that distinct from each other either. In particular, the in-mission graphic for Gauntlets in the lower-right corner is virtually indistinguishable for Gauntlet tier. This makes it much easier to lose track of what your Gauntlet situation is than with any other weapon, and is a bit of an unfortunate oversight.

---------------------------------------------

Primary weapon design is a lot better than in the prior game, even with all the new jank. I remain puzzled as to why beam-tier weaponry is so consistently less well-made in terms of the audio and visual elements than the magnetic-tier, which is a new issue, but whatever. Overall improvement nonetheless.

Next time, we take a look at secondary weapons.

See you then.

Comments

Popular Posts