XCOM 2 Analysis: Dark Events

Dark Events are a new strategic mechanic in XCOM 2, though in design space terms they and the Avatar Project timer roughly take the place of Panic. Sort of.

Point is: in the prior game, you would periodically get three Abductions in somewhat random countries, with each country offering a different reward, and whichever country you picked would have its Panic lowered while the two you did not pick would have their Panic go up.

In XCOM 2, you instead periodically get up to three Guerrilla Ops in somewhat random regions, with each one having a different reward, and additionally each one is tied to a Dark Event card; assuming you complete the mission, you will cancel out the Dark Event that was tied to that mission, while the other Dark Events will remain, potentially going through. (There is nothing directly equivalent to Panic, though, and prior to War of the Chosen the country placement was very close to being completely irrelevant on a mechanical level)

I say 'up to three' because where Abductions were always three unless you had almost every country covered with Satellites, Guerrilla Ops are tied to the number of Dark Events in the queue and can only spawn in territories you're actually in contact with. Thus, if a Dark Event goes through before the next round of Guerrilla Ops, or you block a Dark Event via triggering a Guerrilla Op Rumor and completing it, only up to two Guerrilla Ops will generate, and if you're in contact with less than three regions you can't have three Guerrilla Ops generate. This latter point means it's important to get your first three contacts made relatively quickly, as otherwise you're at the mercy of the RNG for whether you'll even be able to block whatever Dark Event you consider most urgent.

Additionally, the very first month only generates two Dark Events, and so will only ever generate two Guerrilla Ops at most.

If a Dark Event is successfully blocked, its replacement will be a hidden Dark Event that requires spending Intel to reveal which one it is. (25 Intel on most difficulties, 30 Intel on Legendary) If a Dark Event is currently queued up, it can't be added to the current list, so if you have an unrevealed Dark Event you can at least be confident it isn't a duplicate of one of the revealed ones, which can factor into whether you decide to reveal the hidden Dark Event or not. (ie 'this one I can already see is The Worst Thing, so I don't care what the hidden one is') Similarly, with one semi-exception in War of the Chosen, any ongoing Dark Event can't be added back into the pool until it times out, and so you can be certain the hidden Dark Event is not any ongoing Dark Events.

The hidden Dark Event mechanic is in practice very exploitable if you're not holding to Ironman rules, as you can pay the Intel cost and then immediately reload. I like the idea of it, but the execution could've used some work. Alas, War of the Chosen doesn't fix this particular issue. At least it isn't as awful as the Intel Scan mechanic from Enemy Within...

Note that Dark Events are always specifically generated at the beginning of the month, at the same time you get your Supply drop. This is mostly not terribly important, but it does mean that a Rumor-generated Guerrilla Op is more useful the earlier in a month you trigger it; if you trigger it toward the end of the month, the game will promptly queue up two hidden Dark Events and you'll have gotten nearly no benefit. If you arrange for the month to roll over first, though, you'll delay by a full month the replacement Dark Event getting to properly activate.

On that note, I'm not sure the exact mechanics of Dark Event activation timing. I don't think I've ever had a Dark Event activate before the monthly Guerrilla Ops can trigger in the same month it was added to the current pool, but it's possible I've had it happen and just lost track of which Dark Event got added in a given month and so didn't realize. I do know that Dark Events usually activate shortly after you've finished the Guerrilla Op, if they activate at all, and that they tend to not activate the month they were newly-added at all. It's also rare for multiple Dark Events to activate in the same month, though I'm not sure the exact mechanics of that; it's clearly not an actual hard limit on how many can activate in a month because I've had 2 trigger in the same month, it's just happened only a handful of times across my runs.

I also know there's very clearly not any kind of hard-and-fast rule of a Dark Event activating if you take too long to get around to blocking it, or if there is it's a really generous time limit, as I've had cases where a Dark Event sat in the pool for months without activating or being blocked. 

Regardless, as a general rule of thumb you will usually have at least two opportunities to block a given Dark Event, and will more or less always have at least one opportunity. You can thus get away with ignoring a high-priority Dark Event for one month, at least usually, if you eg want the reward for blocking a different one more, or hate the mission type that will block it, but if you do this twice in a row you're taking a serious risk.

Note that if you fail a Guerrilla Op for blocking a Dark Event, that Dark Event will immediately activate, no matter how recently it was added to the pool. If you're playing by Ironman rules (Hopefully not with the in-game Ironman setting turned on, given how bugs and the like are liable to trap you in an unwinnable state or something at some point if you do that), attempting to block a Dark Event that has a particularly difficult mission type attached to it for that month is actually worse than ignoring it, as failing is actively hurrying it along.

Also note that in every run the game will generate a Guerrilla Op early, with this Guerrilla Op having no Dark Event tied to it and always providing an Engineer as its reward. I'm not sure why this was presented as a Guerrilla Op, honestly, as it just trips up a player learning the game by deviating from the usual rules of how Guerrilla Ops operate. Whatever the case, this is how you get your first Engineer, which is important as the game is designed so you need at least 1 Engineer for minimum functionality. Don't skip or fail this mission.

Also note that Dark Events normally always time out after a few weeks or have an immediate effect and promptly go away. War of the Chosen gives you the option 'Grim Horizon', which makes most timed Dark Events permanent, but that's not default behavior.

Anyway, base game Dark Events;

ADVENT Midnight Raids
Cost of recruiting Rookies doubled for 4 weeks.

This is a bit of a joke Dark Event. If you're playing decently, it basically won't matter, as generally you purchase a batch of Rookies early in the game if you hire Rookies at all, and later recruits are primarily mission rewards or purchased through the Black Market or HQ or whatever, with possibly another batch recruit in the mid-game if your early game was really rough on your troop count.

Even if, say, you end up hiring 2-3 Rookies in the mid-game for the purpose of getting Psi Operatives... generally by that point having to pay 50-75 extra Supplies isn't much of a burden.

I appreciate the idea here, but it doesn't work very well at actually influencing your experience.

That said, Grim Horizon does make it permanent, so if eg you're planning on getting Psi Operatives going with freshly-purchased Rookies later in the run, it can crop up as actually mattering in a Grim Horizon run. Or if you're just prone to getting people killed in a more general sense. Or if you're playing on Legendary, where the Chosen are distressingly likely to kidnap people or cause egregious harm to a large number of people, whereby you may need to hire more recruits just to be able to field full squads into missions reliably.

On the other hand it's still entirely possible to have it completely irrelevant due to the aforementioned shift to not hiring Rookies, particularly as War of the Chosen has given you additional ways to recruit people from missions, including having a guaranteed early mission that always includes the potential to acquire 1-2 military personnel, and of course you'll recruit 3-4 Resistance soldiers... and if you have Shen's Last Gift, you can build or otherwise acquire SPARKs, which are unaffected by ADVENT Midnight Raids.

So even Grim Horizon is pretty meh at making it matter.

Viper Rounds
ADVENT soldiers, Mecs, and Turrets all have a chance of being equipped with Venom Rounds. Beneficiaries gain +1 damage against Poison-susceptible targets and will Poison on hit.

Conceptually, this is a cool and flavorful idea.

Mechanically, it's kinda eh. Good play minimizes opportunities for the AI to get in shots, ADVENT troops overall lean frail, and their most dangerous troops frequently never get around to firing their rifle. An Officer you let live for a turn may well move and then Mark Target, a Shieldbearer will almost always put up the shield first thing, Mecs prefer to fire their Micromissiles most of the time, Priests prefer using their abilities...

... even if you're not very good at the game, it's entirely possible to have Viper Rounds triggering never actually matter because no ADVENT soldier gets around to taking a shot before it times out, or because like exactly two shots were fired and they both missed, or the only soldiers who get around to firing before it times out happen to be the soldiers that weren't affected by Viper Rounds. Turrets are at least going to do nothing but shoot, but they're a rare enemy and are easy to avoid and usually easy to kill in spite of how high their durability is 'on paper'.

It's a little more interesting in War of the Chosen with Grim Horizon turned on, as while it will still only rarely crop up, rolling it early means probably at some point an ADVENT soldier will take a shot and hit someone who is actually vulnerable to Poison while having been affected by Viper Rounds. Consider passing out Medikits more aggressively if you're playing with Grim Horizon and this triggers early.

And yes, in engine terms they really are carting around Venom Rounds, bonus damage included. This is unusual; most Dark Events that modify units are applying a buff that never times out. This distinction is largely invisible in normal play, but if you're using informational mods it will stand out; some mods will reveal the Venom Rounds while not revealing other Dark Event effects, while other mods will be the reverse.

It also makes it more useful to consider Poison immunity; passing out Medikits or Hazmat Vests, focusing more on Psi Operatives due to Fortress, or fielding more SPARKs will all protect against the bonus damage, not just the Poisoning per se.

ADVENT Alloy Padding
All human-type ADVENT troops have a chance to gain a free point of Armor above and beyond any innate Armor they might have for one month, as do ADVENT Mecs and Heavy Mecs.

On most ADVENT units, this is mildly cute. 1 point of damage lost will virtually never affect anything past the fairly early game, and Dark Events can never be on for most of the first month, and even into the second month it's pretty common for no Dark Event to actually trigger, since there's only two, you block one, and the other will virtually never activate until after the second Guerrilla Op set is done late in the second month. So it's very close to impossible to see ADVENT Alloy Plating triggering in the portion of the game it would be most influential on lightly-Armored enemies.

On the ADVENT troops that actually have decent Armor, particularly if you're playing on Commander or Legendary, this can seriously punish you if you're not staying on top of Shred. A Legendary basic Shieldbearer has 3 Armor base; if you're operating with magnetic weaponry, your Specialists are expecting to do 2-4 damage per shot, to a unit with 9 HP, meaning you'll take 3-5 shots to kill them. Tack on a point of Armor from ADVENT Alloy Padding, and suddenly you drop to 1-3 damage, meaning you'll take three to nine shots to kill them! That's a worst-case scenario, admittedly, but even switching to assuming non-Shredding Grenadiers it has a noticeable impact; you'll go from 3-5 damage (2-3 shots to kill them) to 2-4 damage. (3-5 shots to kill them)

War of the Chosen also notably props up ADVENT Alloy Padding's relevance, since all three Resistance classes have below-average damage per shot. A Skirmisher with no Shred support or AP Rounds will hate even just adding 1 point of Armor to early-game troops with no innate Armor, losing 25-33% of their damage on their Bullpup and 25% consistently on Justice.

And of course if you have Grim Horizon on, this becomes notably higher a priority to block. Without Grim Horizon, it may never matter; it's only a chance to trigger on any given troop, it only lasts a month, and there's no guarantee that even when it does trigger that it actually affects anything in practice. (That is, if you fire two shots on an Advanced Trooper who gained Armor that each do more than half their HP but less than their max HP before the Armor is taken into account, then the Armor didn't do anything) The timer also means that if eg you're worried about it making a Chosen Stronghold assault tougher, you can potentially just wait for it to time out. Grim Horizon both means that it's inevitable it will matter at some point, and means you can't stall to avoid it affecting key missions. (Well, mostly. You can still stall to wait for the enemy list to re-randomize until the Shadow Chamber informs you that a specific Avatar Project Facility has no enemies ADVENT Alloy Padding can affect. That's... really about it, though)

I do wish the exact implementation was more meaningful than what we got, though. War of the Chosen helps, but it still tends to not matter, or barely matter.

Alien Cipher
Intel costs doubled for 4 weeks.

Note that this applies to all Intel costs. It affects the Black Market, it affects the cost of revealing a concealed Dark Event, and it affects the cost of contacting new regions. The only thing I haven't explicitly confirmed it affecting is that the second-to-last mission gives you the ability to buy benefits using Intel; I don't specifically know whether they interact or not.

Anyway, this can be killer if, for example, you've been putting off contacting new regions and suddenly you can't cover the Intel cost and a new Avatar Project Facility has spawned somewhere with extra progress attached to it that you really need to hit as soon as possible. It can also be problematic if the Black Market is selling something you want quite badly, such as a Superior Perception PCS, and normally you'd be able to slip it in without affecting other Intel needs but the doubled costs means you can't buy it without interfering with your ability to reveal a Dark Event and/or contact new regions.

Alternatively, it can be basically a joke. Maybe it triggers really early, after you've contacted two additional regions but before you have the ability to be in contact with more than three, and then times out shortly before or after you finish your first Resistance Comm Center. Or maybe it triggers very, very late in the game, when you're already in contact with everything you care about and you have more Intel than you know what to do with anyway.

It's really too bad Intel wasn't tied together with the Hacking mechanic, with Hacking made more widely relevant. That would've made Alien Cipher less swingily influenced by the strategic timing it shows up. As-is, it's sometimes literally a run-killer if you don't block it, but often can be entirely ignored. That's... not great design.

Rapid Response
Guarantees ADVENT reinforcements on Guerrilla Ops.

This is very specifically Guerrilla Ops, which makes it surprisingly irrelevant, particularly since reinforcements aren't allowed to drop in until you break Concealment and Guerrilla Ops very consistently start you in Concealment if no Sitreps apply... and Sitreps don't exist in the base game, so that caveat doesn't apply there. Regardless, it'll apply to 1-2, maybe 3 Guerrilla Ops if you do something to get a bonus Guerrilla Op, if you're not playing with Grim Horizon... which, again, isn't even an option in the base game.

As such, Rapid Response is one of the better Dark Events to let through, since its consequences are fairly minor and manageable. Just remember to not have your Concealment ambush pull so many pods you'll have combat-ready survivors, or else the reinforcements might turn an iffy situation unmanageable. By a similar token, if you manage to get to your objective without breaking Concealment (Unlikely, but occasionally possible), make sure to account for the fact that achieving the objective will break Concealment and immediately drop troops on you; make sure you get you troops into defensive positions, ready to Overwatch.

Rapid Response is a little more interesting if you have Grim Horizon on, especially if you're holding yourself to Ironman rules, as ignoring it will make it a little bit harder to reliably block Dark Events in future. This may be less urgently threatening than some other Dark Event sitting in the pool, but ignoring it will instead be risking letting something else terrible through down the line. That's actually a cool dynamic, though one that's not a great fit to how XCOM 2 is really designed under the assumption you literally win every mission, most of them cleanly. It'd be pretty great if XCOM 3 manages to move in a more fitting direction for this kind of idea while also implementing this kind of idea.

Show of Force
Maximum pod size is raised to up to 4 in all missions, and missions will have more pods.

This can turn missions into an unpleasant mess, particularly in the base game where you don't have access to Reaper scouting, but if you're decent at the game it actually tends to be a bit of boost, giving your soldiers more kills and therefore more experience.

It'd be more threatening if it upped enemy quality in some sense, but alas, XCOM 2 doesn't really support doing that, at least not with non-ADVENT enemies... and only up until ADVENT enemies hit Elite, to boot. Oh well.

Note that it has no impact on Lost. I mean, most of these have no impact on Lost, but I feel this particular case needs to be especially explicit. You can potentially bypass it by picking a mission with The Horde Sitrep, or reduce its impact by hitting a mission with The Lost Sitrep.

Grim Horizon makes Show of Force a little more interesting, as its aggregate effect is more meaningful. Part of the reason I'm not a fan of Show of Force normally is that, past the extremely early game, it tends to get drowned out by innate enemy variance. That is, a month in which you end up with a series of missions with innate high enemy counts will not be all that different from a month in which you get a series of missions with low innate enemy counts but Show of Force is active. Show of Force thus doesn't really have a clear, concrete experience on play. Grim Horizon will cause it to last forever, and the aggregate effect is a lot clearer at that point.

This really needed more fundamental support from the system, though. Distinct, powerful enemy types showing up in greater numbers than is ever allowed normally would be a much better, clearer effect.

ADVENT Rural Checkpoints
The next Resistance Supply drop has half its Supplies taken before ever reaching you.

In the early to midgame, this can be a harsh blow, as you have so many things to spend Supplies on and the Resistance Supply drop is a shockingly large portion of your total Supply intake, especially since selling stuff at the Black Market is difficult to justify early in the game. You just can't afford to sell off precious resources, and you don't yet have old stuff to sell. (That is, once you've got a good supply of W.A.R. Suits ready, it can make sense to sell off your old E.X.O. Suits, and same for Flamethrowers and Shredder Guns if you end up with a good number of their Powered Heavy Weapon counterparts, etc) Especially if you're very aware of and planning around your budget, such that ADVENT Rural Checkpoints going off turns the next Supply drop from 'covers all these things I want shortly' to being inadequate for your plans, it can be quite unpleasant.

Also note that ADVENT Rural Checkpoints eating half the Supplies is calculated before maintenance costs eat Supplies. It's entirely possible for ADVENT Rural Checkpoints to take a drop of 200 actual Supplies down to 25 actual Supplies because it was actually 350 Supplies minus 150 for maintenance costs.

I'm not sure what would happen if this resulted in a negative number. It's yet to happen to me. So I don't know if you actually go into negatives, or if the game tweaks the numbers of ADVENT Rural Checkpoints so it fails to take so many Supplies you would go into the negatives, or it crashes the game, or what.

Note that Grim Horizon has no effect on ADVENT Rural Checkpoints. It will still wipe half your supplies on exactly one drop, and then go away.

War of the Chosen indirectly reduces ADVENT Rural Checkpoints' importance. In War of the Chosen, you're expected to generate at least some of your Supplies from Covert Ops, which can be done responsively mid-month and are unaffected by ADVENT Rural Checkpoints, reducing how much, proportionately, you expect to lose to it triggering, and crucially the Chosen will perform a lot of Retributions throughout a run, so in War of the Chosen your Supply drop is just less Supplies in the first place.

Breakthroughs and Covert Ops also reduce its importance in less obvious ways; damage-boosting Breakthroughs make it less urgent to spend Supplies on upgrading your weapons (There is literally no difference between a boosted Conventional Pistol and an unboosted Mag Pistol, for example), while other Breakthroughs can extend your Supplies by slashing costs on infrastructure. Covert Ops, meanwhile, can be used to acquire additional Contacts, delaying the need for Resistance Comms to be constructed, directly reduce Avatar Project progress to delay the need to burn Supplies on radio relays and Resistance Comms, and acquire Resistance Orders, which can be used to reduce Supply needs or increase Supply acquisition from other sources. (eg more Supplies from selling at the Black Market) Collectively, these mean that your Supply drop per se being slashed is a lot less likely to actually seriously harm your progress.

For that matter, innate access to Resistance Orders can soften the blow. Starting with Heavy Equipment will cause you to bring in resources from excavating the Avenger much faster than normal, for example.

Indeed, in War of the Chosen, I usually let ADVENT Rural Checkpoints through as a complete non-threat, where in the base game I consider it a middling-priority.

Resistance Informant
Retaliation mission counter accelerated by 2 weeks.

To be clear, Retaliation mission is the Terror mission equivalent, not a UFO going hunting for you. It's unfortunate that the game does a poor job at verbally distinguishing between 'retaliating against X-COM by hitting Havens' and 'retaliating against X-COM by sending out a UFO to attack them' -the game actually uses variations on the word 'retaliate' in relation to both, and I spent a while under the impression the Retaliation timer was how long until a UFO would be sent to attack you. I only figured out it wasn't because the Retaliation timer is never higher than 4 weeks, which is consistent with not-Terror-missions occurring roughly once a month and is not consistent with how my runs generally get one UFO hunting in the entire run.

Anyway, this is... honestly a poorly-considered Dark Event. If a player is able to cope with Retaliation missions -which they're not actually designed to be that hard- this is accelerating the player's income boost timetable for basically free. War of the Chosen's changes are a bit of a mixed bag here: on the one hand, the Fatigue system and the Chosen makes it vastly more plausible for a Retaliation mission to go horribly awry (Because you sent in your C team, thanks to the A and B teams not being ready for a fight, and then the Chosen Warlock showed up and things got really bad really fast), but on the other hand the new variation of Retaliation missions has broken AI that tends to make things hugely in the player's favor. So in War of the Chosen it's a bit of a luck of the draw thing whether this is all advantage or a disaster that potentially wipes a team.

Generally a low priority to block, in any event.

Do note that if the next Retaliation mission is already less than about two weeks away Resistance Informant triggering will immediately trigger a Retaliation mission. This is particularly important in War of the Chosen where Fatigue management is a thing; ignoring Resistance Informant in favor of some other Dark Event may lead to you having to do two missions back-to-back with not enough people rested enough to easily cope with it. Consider double-checking your team's overall Fatigue and injury situation before committing to ignoring Resistance Informant when the Guerrilla Ops spawn.

Grim Horizon-wise, Resistance Informant is actually unaffected by Grim Horizon. It doesn't permanently halve the Retaliation mission timer or anything like that. I have mixed feelings, given that would be really tedious, when War of the Chosen already suffers a bit from tending to drag... but it also contributes to Grim Horizon being unreliable in actually mattering, which is a bit frustrating.

Hunt X-COM
Spawns a UFO on the global map, which wanders around. Eventually it finds the Avenger, at which point an Avenger Defense mission may result.

Note that you're guaranteed to get a UFO hunting you through advancing the plot, unrelated to Dark Events. Basically, each time you complete a Shadow Chamber research or a plot mission, there's a chance for a UFO to spawn in, hunting for X-COM, with this chance ceasing once it's happened once and it being guaranteed to happen before you've done them all.

When a UFO does spawn, whether through the mandatory plot advancement consideration or through Hunt X-COM triggering, Bradford will inform you that you should watch where you fly. This is a lie. In actuality, the UFO will wander around at random, paying no attention to you even if you fly right through it, until an invisible timer finishes that causes it to intercept you 100% reliably no matter where you and it are. At that point, one of two things will happen.

The first possibility is that this is your first time being intercepted by a UFO. In that case, the UFO will trigger an Avenger Defense mission.

The second possibility is that this is not your first time being intercepted by a UFO. In that case, there is a difficulty-based chance the UFO will trigger an Avenger Defense mission, with the remaining percent of the time being that you get off scot free and the UFO vanishes forever, never to be seen again. (This is actually save-scummable, as the game rolls at the point the UFO's timer runs out and it intercepts you, not when it's first generated) If you're on Rookie or Regular, you're never getting a second interception. If you're on Commander, it's a 25% chance that a second interception will succeed and force an Avenger Defense mission. If you're on Legendary, it's a 50% chance to be forced into another Avenger Defense Mission.

Notice that this means that it is 100% guaranteed that every single run will have an Avenger Defense mission, but it's actually pretty unlikely you'll get more than one, because you'd need a Hunt X-COM Dark Event to roll, not be blocked, actually activate before you end the game, and then finally whichever UFO went second needs to pass the final check. While I couldn't give you concrete numbers, I do know the Hunt X-COM Dark Event is also rare. I've had multiple runs that literally never saw it at any point, and I don't think I've ever had a run where it showed up even twice. So it's really, really unlikely you'll get even three Avenger Defense missions in a given run.

Also note that this means that you should treat the Dark Event differently depending on how early in your run it's triggered. If it's late in the run, after you've already been hit by the plot-spawned UFO, this is a fairly easy Dark Event to justify letting through, as there's a substantial chance that it will do literally nothing, and honestly late in a run you're usually well-equipped for Avenger Defense missions anyway. Indeed, if you're playing down on Regular, this becomes effectively a dud Dark Event past the extreme early game.

If it's early in a run, though, you may wish to prioritize blocking it, as it will hit you with an Avenger Defense mission, and notably Berserkers are able to spawn into it and are technically entered into rotation notably earlier than you'll usually have your first Retaliation mission trigger. I've had a couple runs where the Avenger Defense mission was my first encounter with Berserkers, and in one case it was early enough I didn't have magnetic weaponry online even though I'd prioritized it; the only reason that run didn't lose anybody was that the Berserkers focused on trying to reach the Avenger instead of killing my troops, which you can't count on them doing.

An interesting point is that you're always able to field a full squad of six into an Avenger Defense mission, even if you don't have both squad size increases purchased. This makes an early Hunt X-COM trigger less threatening than you might expect, and is particularly important on higher difficulties, where experience gain slows down enough you may well have only one -or neither!- of the squad size improvements.

Also note that there's a 'landed UFO' mission type that will never spawn before a UFO has hunted for X-COM at least once. Landed UFO missions are moderately tough but very lucrative, so it's worth considering letting Hunt X-COM through if it spawns early so you'll have more opportunities to get them. If you're able to cope with the Avenger Defense mission, you'll be much better off! If you can't, though, uh, that's literally a game over. Be particularly cautious about this decision if Iron Manning.

It's also worth mentioning that there's a mildly annoying 'the key is in the safe' quality connected to this, in that Avenger Defense missions are the only time the ADVENT Turret Breakdown will ever benefit you, and one of the most reliable ways to loot a Turret wreck is to do a Landed UFO mission, as they're a looting mission that almost always spawns at least one Turret somewhere... but you have to have done an Avenger Defense mission to have the Landed UFO mission type. Oops.

This is slightly less frustrating in War of the Chosen, where the Chosen can initiate their own Avenger Defense missions where the Defense Matrix is quite useful, so that's something.

Also, no, Grim Horizon doesn't affect this at all. Which isn't surprising given the mechanics of UFOs. If their presence actually passively did something, having this on permanently would actually do something of note. As-is, they're just a delayed mission generation, and past the first one just the possibility of a mission at that.

Increased detection radius on enemies.

Mechanically, this is actually coded as a debuff on your soldiers, but I don't believe that distinction matters to the player. It's just a mildly interesting bit about what's going on 'under the hood'.

Also note that Vigilance does not affect Security Towers.

In the base game, this is annoying and I hate it. Enemy detection radii are normally tuned so that a soldier who only moves in half-moves will only have to worry about being spotted when approaching corners or high ground edges, unless they have multiple Mobility boosters. (Such as someone in the Serpentsuit with a Superior Mobility PCS that's being boosted by the GTS PCS upgrade) Vigilance pushes up the radius just enough that even with no Mobility enhancers you're risking walking right into a previously-unknown detection radius in an open ground situation if you do go out to your maximum half-move distance with no Mobility boosters.

That's thematically appropriate, but in gameplay terms it just makes Vigilance this frustrating, functionally random chance to be screwed over in spite of engaging in good play. 'Random' because a lot of the time doing what normally makes sense will have no unpleasant consequences whatsoever. And of course Vigilance doesn't even matter if you get detected by turning a corner or something when an enemy is right around the bend.

I'd personally rather Vigilance had given a small, second-tier detection radius, where your soldiers would be detected if they were in that radius even if buffered by Cover. That would've made it harder/riskier to set up Overwatch ambushes, particularly in missions with no time pressure where you can normally get away with passing turns to wait for the perfect moment, without having this weird consequence of randomly screwing over the player for what is normally correct play and still is usually correct play.

War of the Chosen makes Vigilance doofy in a different way. Anytime you're scouting with a Reaper, Vigilance basically doesn't matter; they'll still start out with enemies having to get directly adjacent to them to detect them, so it won't matter unless you take some shots that could break Shadow and get lucky and fail to break Shadow. (Note: I don't actually know that Reapers will be affected by Vigilance at that point, I've never carefully tested it or dug into the code, it's possible they still don't care about Vigilance) Furthermore, the mission type for rescuing a Captured soldier uses a different set of detection rules that overrules normal ones, including overruling Vigilance's effect; if you do such a mission after Vigilance has activated, Vigilance won't actually be doing anything!

And of course War of the Chosen has added multiple new mission types where you don't start in Concealment at all, such as Chosen Strongholds, where Vigilance will still be irrelevant unless you have some Phantoms. Similarly, it doesn't really matter if you get a The Horde Sitrep, since Overwatch ambushes are worthless against the Lost, they're melee units and so don't get an opportunistic attack if they stumble into you during their turn, and in a The Horde mission it's not even risking activating ADVENT/Alien troops earlier than you want.

As such, in War of the Chosen Vigilance might create the exact same annoying edge case you-got-screwed-by-what-amounts-to-RNG situations, or it might have little or no impact at all before it times out.

That's, uh, not great.

Grim Horizon doesn't help except inasmuch as it basically ensures it will crop up as actually mattering at least a few times. Which is just... frustrating, given the way it mattering tends to work.

New Construction
Accelerates next Avatar Project Facility's construction by 2 weeks.

In the early game, this can actually be worse to roll than a Minor or Major Breakthrough, as Avatar Project Facilities always spawn in a region you aren't in contact with and are not only worth a block of progress but also will eventually tack on additional blocks and they accelerate the rate at which blocks not attached to specific facilities accrue! If it spawns in literally the furthest region from you, there's not a lot you can do to avoid or work around it. Usually I consider this a low priority to block since you can cancel the effect by raiding the resulting facility, which also earns your troops experience, but in the very early game I'd seriously be tempted to block it over even a Major Breakthrough.

On Commander difficulty in particular, Avatar Project facilities can outright spawn with two blocks, so it's particularly true there that it can be worse to get than a Major Breakthrough. If it spawns with two blocks four regions out, that's going to be a lot harder to undo than a Major Breakthrough.

Once you're in contact with the entire world, New Construction is a joke regardless of difficulty. You can just immediately wipe it, negating a Dark Event without needing a Guerrilla Op for it, particularly in the base game where there's no Fatigue system and no consideration of managing Chosen tempo.

War of the Chosen makes the Avatar Project timer a bit of a joke overall, so honestly you should probably just let it through unless you really want the reward and/or hate the alternative mission types. It's simply too easy to cancel out Avatar Project progress with Covert Ops, and you perform multiple Covert Ops per month. Trading a Covert Op to more-than-undo a Dark Event's effects is a good trade, given Dark Events are approximately one per month in actual pace.

Grim Horizon doesn't interact with this, note. It doesn't permanently accelerate Avatar Project Facility construction or anything like that. As such, it's one of the safer things to let through if you have Grim Horizon on.

In many mission types, two separate pods of lone burrower Chryssalids will be placed, in addition to normal enemy generation.

Note that Chryssalids can and will target civilians in ADVENT city centers and whatnot, not just Retaliation missions. Indeed, a Burrowed Chryssalid may randomly elect to pop out and attack a civilian somewhere in the shadows even though the civilian didn't move and none of your forces woke up the Chryssalid, potentially leading to a cocoon growing in the shadows you couldn't have done anything to prevent.

The game itself presents Infestation as being allowed to generate Chryssalids in any mission, but this is not accurate; Infestation won't affect Chosen Stronghold assaults, Chosen Avenger Assaults, and probably a few other missions. The game also doesn't at all hint at the fact that these Chryssalids are specifically Burrower pods instead of generic wandering Chryssalid pods. This is important; a given Chryssalid is always either a lone Chryssalid that will, if possible, spend its first turn burrowing, or a member of a larger pod that will wander as normal until activated, only Burrowing if it gets activated and then ends up out of sight of your squad, and normally the lone Burrowoer pods are only found in Retaliation missions and the Psi Gate mission.

Infestation can be one of the nastier Dark Events to get hit with, putting additional strain on your team design -it's extremely dangerous to skip Medikit inclusion if Chryssalids are running around, for example- and if a given map has civilians you can potentially end up with a lot of activated Chryssalids running around in the darkness, especially if you end up tied up by normal pods. It can end up not being a big deal, if it times out before you do any, or at least many, missions Infestation can affect, but it's very much one of the more worrying Dark Events.

War of the Chosen on average makes it slightly less threatening, as War of the Chosen shifts the balance of mission types away from civilian-containing missions. It also gets overruled by The Horde Sitrep, and even Lost Sitreps make it a little less threatening since Lost can't produce more Chryssalids and Chryssalids can't get Headshots; Lost and Chryssalids fighting each other is all to the good from the player's perspective. War of the Chosen does not, however, meaningfully mitigate the worst-case scenario, excepting that if you have a Bladestorm Templar or have the Katana your perfectly accurate Bladestormer will be able to reliably kill an infinite number of baby Chryssalids in complete safety, potentially preventing the Chryssalids from causing any harm.

The other way it makes Infestation less threatening is that Chryssalids are now revealed temporarily when Burrowing or Unburrowing. If you're good at remembering landmarks and whatnot, you can potentially be eg knocking them out of their Burrow with a Rocket instead of walking right into them.

Conversely, it is worth pointing out that War of the Chosen gives an extra edge of nastiness to it, in that normally Reapers are great for scouting safely, but with Burrowing Chryssalids about that's risking getting your Reaper maimed or killed with no warning, and certainly revealed; Burrowed Chryssalids will pop out and attack if one of your units wanders near, regardless of whether they're Concealed or not, and even Shadow is no protection. 

Note that Infestation is not allowed to be rolled until roughly the point at which Chryssalids have entered general rotation. This means you don't have to worry about eg fighting Chryssalids while still stuck with Conventional weaponry unless you've seriously neglected your weapons technology, and also means it's actually pretty rare to see Infestation, since for the initial months it just plain cannot be entered into the pool. Perhaps more importantly, it means you'll have had time to purchase some Medikits and get Predator Armor purchased; with basic armor, Chryssalids would be distressingly prone to one-shotting your soldiers, after all.

Also note that the Shadow Chamber will not predict the Burrower Chryssalids being added by Infestation. The Shadow Chamber saying there's 9 enemies and no Chryssalids is only an assurance of no Chryssalids if it's a mission type that can't be touched by Infestation. This is especially nasty in the base game; in War of the Chosen you'll at least be forewarned of them during the enemy's first turn. In the base game, your first clue that you should be wary of Chryssalids may be a Chryssalid lunging out of the dirt and crit-killing someone.

Lastly, and weirdly, Infestation will still time out even with Grim Horizon on. That's... weird, though admittedly it would be pretty tiresome to deal with Chryssalid ambushes for in-game months.

Alien Infiltrator
Any mission in which civilians can normally be encountered will have some of those civilians be Faceless.

Some mission types are guaranteed to have civilians, such as dealing with VIPs or rescuing resistance operatives. Other mission types are guaranteed to not have them, such as all plot missions, Avatar Facility raids, and assorted 'hit ADVENT in the field' missions. A relatively small portion of mission types can go either way, such as hitting ADVENT trains, which can occur inside ADVENT city centers or small towns but also can occur in the middle of nowhere.

This means you can usually tell ahead of time whether a given mission will be affected or not. It also means Alien Infiltrator has a much more limited impact than you might expect; the in-game description claims Faceless will show up in every mission, and that's just wrong.

Overall, this is usually not very threatening. Few missions are even affected by it, civilians are often out of the way when they do exist, and there's absolutely no incentive to approach civilians if you're not in a Retaliation mission. Often what will happen is that you complete the mission objective, kill all the non-Faceless, and then random civilians in corners of the map you never went near pop their claws and proceed to stand around doing nothing until you find them. Cleaning them up is generally tedious, but not dangerous.

War of the Chosen makes it even more of a non-threat, with more or less no new mission type including civilians and Faceless themselves having been made less effective at ambushing; in the base game, Alien Infiltrator might lead to you having a Faceless burst forth and maul someone with no real warning. In War of the Chosen, unless you actually get right in the Faceless' face while it's disguised you'll have at least a full turn warning.

Bizarrely, Grim Horizon doesn't actually make it permanent, just like Infestation is exempt. Not that it would be particularly impactful if it were permanent, but I'm a bit mystified as to why Alien Infiltrator is excluded from Grim Horizon.

Minor Breakthrough
Immediate +1 to Avatar Project progress, attached to an Avatar Project Facility

In the base game, this is exceedingly threatening to get in the early mid-game. Long-term optimal play involves delaying building power facilities until you've dug out an Exposed Power Coil, and while there's some randomness to their placement they're always in the bottom two rows of the Avenger, and they always take 30 days of work before stacking Engineers and require three Engineers to knock that down to a more reasonable 10 days. (Double the day count if playing on Legendary, of course) You also only start out with enough power to build a couple of facilities, and it's desperately urgent you get the Guerrilla Tactics School online, and pretty strongly preferable to get the Advanced Warfare Center up early as well. This means long-term optimal play will seriously delay your ability to get Resistance Comms online unless you luck into power or resistance contacts from Rumors/the Continent Bonus that provides power (Hidden Reserves), and thus seriously delay your ability to hit Avatar Project Facilities, which up on Legendary will always be at least 2 contacts out, and on Commander your first Facility will be 3 out. Since you only start with a maximum of 3 contacts, with your starting region counting against it... on most difficulties, even if you delay contacting regions until the first Avatar Project Facility spawns, you probably won't be able to reach the Facility to destroy it prior to getting your first Resistance Comms online.

As such, if you're not making some manner of sacrifice or getting strategically lucky in specific ways, this showing up early is generally one of the most threatening Dark Events to roll, second only to an early Major Breakthrough, able to take a run that's riding the edge and turn it into a game over.

Later in a run, it becomes a joke; the game gives you a ridiculously generous ability to cancel Avatar Project progress with plot progress in the late game, and you should have contact with much of the world. As such, you can often ignore it outright, or cancel it by hitting whatever Facility benefited in short order. If you've got Facilities hanging around in contacted territories, it may be something you can undo literally instantly! (From a strategic perspective, I mean)

In War of the Chosen, its sting is substantially diminished. There's a Covert Op that cancels out 2 bars of Avatar Project progress each time it's performed, and it's entirely possible to have all three Resistance factions offering such a Covert Op in the same month. As you can easily fit three such Covert Ops into a single month with time to spare for other Covert Ops, Minor Breakthroughs are a bit of a joke unless the RNG decides to be really uncooperative about generating relevant Covert Operations, and you should generally let them through while you focus on real threats.

And that's ignoring the possibility of lucking into the Sabotage Resistance Order, which removes one block every month, with the only cost being it eating a Resistance Order slot. With that it's trivial to make the game drag out as long as you like!

Less obvious is the impact of other Resistance Orders. Resistance Rising I and II can give you extra contacts early to hit an Avatar Project Facility that in the base game would require build sacrifices or luck with Rumors. Heavy Equipment and/or Modular Construction can get your power and Resistance Comms online a lot sooner so you can hit Facilities sooner. Resistance Network can let you put off making contact with a region until the moment it becomes urgent/useful, making it so that pursuing Rumors and whatnot is less strategically risky and you can be more reliably efficient with how you 'spend' resistance contacts. (ie if there's two Facilities, you can jump abruptly to whichever one the Minor Breakthrough benefits, responsively) Hidden Reserves being split into a couple of Resistance Orders instead of a Continent Bonus makes getting early bonus power a lot less finicky, potentially letting you build a very early Comms Facility without messing up your build order or waiting for power facilities to come online. (In the base game, you need to have your initial continent roll Hidden Reserves, and have it be one of the continents that has only 3 regions to contact, or get a resistance contact from a Rumor very early on, or it won't let you get an early Resistance Comms)

This is all luck-based and can't be counted on, but the sheer number of tools means it's reasonably likely a given run will benefit from at least one, and this is on top of existing potential to eg get power or resistance contacts from Rumors. It's pretty rare for a War of the Chosen run to be particularly pressured by the Avatar Project.

Which is... a bit of an issue with War of the Chosen's design in my view. I liked how the base game puts pressure on you to beat the game in a timely manner, instead of stalling indefinitely until you have everything just so. Indeed, I found it a bit irritating how the late game consistently turns into you being ready to launch the final mission yet able to stall for in-game months if you like, and had hoped War of the Chosen would do something to correct the pressure so it remains present in the late game.

War of the Chosen is a big enough improvement overall I still strongly prefer it to base XCOM 2, but this particular element is a bit disappointing.

Also note that Grim Horizon has no effect on this, unsurprisingly.

Major Breakthrough
Immediate +2 to Avatar Project progress, attached to an Avatar Project Facility

Major Breakthroughs are Minor Breakthroughs, but more so. Like Minor Breakthroughs, they're very dangerous early in a base game run (I'd argue they're the single most threatening Dark Evnt in the base game, prior to the late game), stop mattering late in the game, and in War of the Chosen can often be ignored without consequence.

I will take this moment to point out that you'll never get a Minor or Major Breakthrough in the first month, since they require an Avatar Project Facility present to distribute to. Similarly, New Construction, Resistance Informant, and I suspect Alien Infiltrator can't be picked in the first month, due to their relevant mechanics having not been rolled out; the first month is thus 2 Dark Events out of a pool of 10-11 Dark Events in the base game. And that's assuming none of the other Dark Events is barred in the first month. As such, base game runs tend to have a fairly repetitive early game if you do a lot of runs.


Dark Events are one of the systems I was most excited by the idea of, and most disappointed by the reality of. It's a system for representing your enemy doing stuff on the strategic layer, and for you working to fight against this stuff, made into a somewhat-simplified game mechanic that's thus relatively safe from the problems more realism-focused systems often fall prey to! It's also a system for granting greater replayability, since Dark Events are randomized and so adjusting your tactics in response to Dark Events can lead to different runs being different experiences due to having different Dark Event sets!

Unfortunately... well, first of all, there's really not enough Dark Events. A typical run will run through somewhere over 10 Dark Event cards when there's only 15 Dark Event cards, with Dark Event variety being further limited by points like 'no Infestation for much of a run'. Runs tend to blur together just from that aspect.

Second, most Dark Events don't change how you ought to be playing. You don't find a set of tools you normally lean on being blunted such that you should focus on alternatives. You don't find that enemy parameters shift in a way that makes some weapons more useful than others. No Dark Event gives enemies powerful qualities that need to be countered by Item loadouts; there's no Dark Event that makes invisibility a common quality on enemies, whereby Scanning Protocol and Battle Scanners become crucial, as a straightforward example.

Third, Dark Events are all ephemeral things, either explicitly timing out or having an effect that is ultimately lost in the shuffle. Say a Minor Breakthrough slaps a block of progress into a Facility you were planning on assaulting soon anyway, and the block being added doesn't push the bar to the max. Who cares that it went through, at that point? You promptly undid it before anything could meaningfully happen.

When I was first learning about Dark Events, I was under the impression that the Grim Horizon option in War of the Chosen was the default behavior for Dark Events. I'd also imagined Dark Events functioned in part as Alien 'tech advancement'; that instead of periodically adding new, tough enemies to the pool and removing obsolete editions of ADVENT troops in discrete stages, you'd have Dark Events adding HP, Aim, Armor, etc, to specific sets of enemies, permanently, and maybe some enemies wouldn't even be allowed to enter rotation without a Dark Event triggering.

Conversely, I'd been under the impression Dark Events were a lot more... overwhelming, let's say. That instead of 3 Dark Events in the pool per month, with you blocking one and the other two generally not activating until at least a month later, it would've been at least a rate of three actually activating per month and in any event whatever Dark Events you didn't block would immediately go through and a new set added at the next step, or that Dark Events were generated and hit their activation timer on a more continuous basis, with Guerrilla Ops opportunities triggering regularly and simply being 'pick an event to block, the others proceed as normal'.

Either way, I was imagining a deep, robust system in which a player could, to a certain extent, sculpt the nature of enemy progression to suit their playstyle, including experimenting with alternate playstyles and in turn appropriately modifying their approach to Dark Event blocking, as well runs varying to some extent simply due to different combinations of Dark Events being selected over time. Continuous, overwhelming Dark Event generation would also have organically sold the idea that ADVENT/the Aliens are continuously leveraging their vast resource base, and in turn that X-COM can only be in so many places at once, attacking only so many of these projects.

I'm sympathetic to the fact that the game didn't approach the heights I'd been imagining, but ultimately I suspect XCOM 2 didn't so much shoot for such amazingness and fall short for the reasonable reason of such being a high bar to hit, but rather that such a deep and interesting system never crossed anyone's minds. Dark Events really seem to be primarily imagined as a replacement for Panic generation from Abduction missions, and that would be just... disappointing.

War of the Chosen does, thankfully, introduce more interesting Dark Events, in such a manner where I'm wondering if maybe XCOM 3 will take the system in such a direction, but is not fundamentally changed so it's still a bit disappointing.

Speaking of War of the Chosen, next time we cover the Dark Events added by War of the Chosen.

See you then.


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