XCOM 2 Alien Analysis: ADVENT Mec

HP: 7/7/8/9
Armor: 1/2/2/2
Defense: 0
Dodge: 0
Aim: 70/75/75/75
Mobility: 12/12/14/14 (8/16 on Rookie/Regular, 9/18 on Commander/Legendary)
Damage: 4-6 (+2)
Shred: 1
Crit Chance: 0/10%/10%/10%
Will: 50
Tech: 50/50/70/70

Mechanical Chassis
This unit is a robot, rendering it immune to Poison, Fire, and Chryssalid Poison as well as most psionic or mental effects (Including that it will never Panic or be rendered Unconscious), but susceptible to anti-robot effects and impossible to heal with Medikits.

Mecs are going to be your earliest proper robot if Turrets don't end up filling that role. If you hit the Blacksite really fast and you define 'earliest' as 'first appearance by mission', Mecs will likely merely end up tied with Turrets, as the Blacksite is guaranteed to have a pod of two Basic Troopers led by one Basic Mec, regardless of how early or late you hit the Blacksite.

One aspect I thought was pretty neat early in my play that I tend to forget about nowadays is that Mechanical Chassis blocks off a lot of tools for hindering enemies aside killing them, and then their tendency to have high Armor makes a pure brute force solution bad, too. Unfortunately, I tend to forget about it because it's surprisingly plausible to just wipe out enemies before they can act the majority of the time. That is, Flashbangs are an impressive tool if you expect to end up with multiple enemies alive and active, and in turn robot enemies being immune to Flashbangs can be distressing if you've gotten used to them as a way to get control over bad situations and whoops the ADVENT Mec ignores it entirely...

... but past my first three or so runs where I was, among other things, getting a handle on pod mechanics, I found myself rarely building Flashbangs because it's just more economical to not build them and kill enemies dead instead. And in turn robots being immune to Flashbangs is this detail I remember is technically true, but which doesn't really matter. Their immunity to Poison and Burn is more meaningfully relevant -for one thing, it means you don't get bonus damage from Venom Rounds and Dragon Rounds- but the utility elements of these effects not being applied is surprisingly meh. 

This is another example of why I'd potentially be happy to see XCOM 3 switch to more of a give-and-attack approach to combat; Mechanical Chassis' suite of effects is pretty interesting in theory, but gets hamstrung in practice by how little need there is to use the support tools it blocks. It's the most glaring example of how the ability to -and pressure to- prevent enemies from getting turns by virtue of wiping them out 'flattens' some elements of the game that could have depth.

On a different note, it's worth mentioning that one mildly confusing bit of presentation of the game is that units with Mechanical Chassis are not 'stunned', but 'shut down'. This can give the impression that robots are immune to Stun or the like, but nah, they just get a different pop-up when you do inflict it. It's a bit weird of a decision.

Can travel Z-levels freely as part of normal movement.

Yeah, Mecs sidestep the whole 'animating ladder animations for giant robots with giant guns' thing by just jumping straight up. This is probably the primary reason SPARKs are a reversal of Enemy Within Mecs on this topic: because SPARKs are supposed to be, essentially, X-COM versions of ADVENT Mecs.

Regardless, this is one of the more uniquely threatening qualities of Mecs: they're alarmingly prone to unexpected flanks if you've gotten too used to the idea that high ground is a good way to avoid being flanked, able to hop right up no matter where the climb points are and so get a clean shot. Other enemies can do essentially the same thing, but most of them will almost always use some ability that doesn't care about flanking per se. (eg Codices will Psi Bomb, Spectres will Shadowbind/Horror/Vanish, Archons tend to go for melee strikes or use Blazing Pinions...) Mecs aren't fully reliable about leveraging it, either, but they're probably the most reliably threatening enemy in this regard -at least out of regular enemies.

On the topic of high ground, something I was quite surprised to see in the AI config files is that the AI is supposed to have a preference for ascending, all else being equal. I was surprised to see this because my own play doesn't fit that at all; in my experience, the AI will almost never take to high ground unless it's absolutely necessary for some reason or another. (eg it's a melee enemy and your squad is on higher ground, or it's a Mec that's trying to flank and this is only possible if it hops onto the building your squad is hiding atop) Indeed, if they happen to be on high ground for any reason they will virtually always abandon it at their first opportunity, regardless of whether I'm playing the base game or War of the Chosen, and regardless of what mods I happen to be running (or not running) at the time.

Instead, they will tend to prioritize advancing on your squad... even if they can't secure a flank... even though enemy units don't get additional Aim for closing with your soldiers. They really ought to pretty heavily prioritize high ground: taking high ground is basically the same as a flank in terms of Aim bonus if the target is in Low Cover, after all, and AI troops don't have alternate positional methods to boost their Aim. I honestly wonder if the code for encouraging enemies to ascend works the opposite of their intentions and actually encourages enemies to descend, given how that's so much more consistent with observed behavior. It could just be all their other priorities at work -among other points, the AI is very aggressive in XCOM 2 about having pods spread out once they're activated- but I have to wonder nonetheless.

Incidentally, there are parts of the internet that inexplicably claim that ADVENT Mecs aren't capable of jumping to higher elevations, and more precisely claim that they're limited to pipes and ladders and so on just like humanoid troops. I've no idea why anyone would claim that, as it's flatly and obvious untrue, both in the base game and in War of the Chosen. Certainly, ADVENT Mecs aren't nearly as aggressive about leveraging their ability to get height advantage as one might hope, but it's effortless to test this if you steal one with a Specialist, and it's not like it's that rare for an ADVENT Mec to go hopping up via a path that can't be climbed.

I dunno, maybe early in patching they worked that way? I'd be quite surprised, honestly, but I didn't get into the game until all the DLC was released and patching was over, so I can't completely discount the possibility.

Does not use Cover, but is never considered to be in the open.

The first general-encounter enemy of the game to have no use for Cover.

Psi Zombies and Turrets can both show up before Mecs, mind, but neither is guaranteed, and in both cases you can substantially bypass fighting them properly. Faceless also ignore Cover, but they only show up in Retaliation missions normally, and are weird all-around. Mecs are the first enemy you'll encounter, you know, wandering around in a pod in a normal mission without caring about Cover.

Notably, Mecs are the point at which the Overwatch ambush concept starts suffering serious, obvious problems. I've already noted that in a general sense pod leaders tend, quite often, to be the toughest and yet least immediately threatening members of their pods, while Overwatch ambushes consistently attempt to prioritize the pod leader. With Mecs, this all remains true to some extent or another, but is then exacerbated by the fact that ambushing a Mec in particular is anti-useful: if you don't ambush the Mec, what will happen is that it will happily advance toward your squad, thus raising the odds of hitting on every squad member except maybe your Sharpshooters. If you do ambush it... you're directly worse off than just shooting it after it's activated, because they don't use their pod activation scramble move to get to safety the way Cover-using enemies do.

Mecs are the first example of this particular problem, but they're far from the last.

A single enemy target in range becomes Suppressed until the start of the user's next turn. A Suppressed target suffers -35 to Aim, and if it moves the Suppressor will immediately take a reaction fire shot at the target for free. Additionally, if the target was on Overwatch, its Overwatch is permanently removed, even if the Suppression ends prematurely. Suppression ends if the reaction shot is triggered or if the Suppressor takes damage. Consumes 2 ammo to initiate. No cooldown.

Mecs are fairly fond of using Suppression. They're sufficiently fond of it they'll sometimes use it on a soldier they have flanked!

This is an unfortunate trend, particularly in the base game, as Suppressing one of your units is virtually always the wrong choice.

First of all is the usual problems with Overwatch: if the target moves, Suppression is just a regular shot with no crit chance and worse accuracy. And having spent 2 ammo in the process, to boot, unlike normal Overwatch. Similarly, and even worse than regular Overwatch, if one of your other units does damage, you'll cancel the Suppression, making it a complete waste of their turn -this being worse than regular Overwatch in that regular Overwatch will shoot whoever first moves, where with Suppression you can just move somebody other than the target.

Second is the issue of XCOM 2 class design. By default, XCOM 2 shies away from classes that have incentives to hold still while using their Aim stat: low-level soldiers of any class except Sharpshooter are designed to default to spending one action point on movement and the other on an offensive action every turn, making the Aim penalty pretty irrelevant even if you don't casually cancel the Suppression. Higher level soldiers are more prone to picking up incentives to hold still on a given turn... but this has a distressing tendency to ignore Aim. A highly-trained Psi Operative can use Stasis and then one of their other psionic abilities, ignoring Aim either way. A Salvo Grenadier isn't using Aim on their initial (Damaging!) action, and furthermore high-level Grenadiers can use Hail of Bullets to ignore Suppression. A high-level Specialist should have the ability to gift Overwatch fire via Aid Protocol, but then a Specialist with offensive skills has all of them ignore Aim. SPARKs always start with access to a Heavy Weapon, and can pick up Bombard later, so even when they want to leverage Overdrive Suppression is unlikely to be a big deal. Rangers never pick up a reason to hold still, leaving only Sharpshooters meaningfully inconvenienced by Suppression's Aim penalty in a white room death match.

War of the Chosen helps a little. Skirmishers want to hold still and burn all action points on Aim-using aggressive actions, and high-level Reapers that have been revealed may wish to reload and Banish, while being unlikely to have slotted in an Auto-Loader. Bonds give everybody except SPARKs more probability of wanting to hold still and then shoot, via passing the first action point to their Bondmate. Against a Parry Templar, the fact that Parry clears once your turn starts means Suppression may actually be more likely to hurt the Templar than taking a regular shot.

But it's still the case that Suppression is bad and the AI doesn't even try to target it in an intelligible way.

Notably, Mecs are one of the most egregious units about preferring to charge your squad and then perform a non-movement action. Mecs won't, for example, see that you have a Specialist on Overwatch, with Guardian, backed by Aid Protocol-provided Overwatch, and decide they should Suppress that to wipe the Overwatch. No, they'll charge forward and very possibly die before properly acting. One of the only situations Suppression has actual functionality, and they don't use it then.

I'm still confused as to why Suppression is so bad. Long War managed to give Suppression more or less sensible behavior, where it restricted access to special abilities, lowered toss range on grenades, and if Suppression ended up taking a shot it was a full accuracy shot that completely ignored the target's Cover and was allowed to crit (ie clearly better than just taking a regular shot), and XCOM 2 is quite obviously learning from some of Long War's better decisions. Why not this one?

All in all, it's possible for Suppression to create problems for you, but it's tremendously unlikely. The vast majority of the time it's basically the Mec wasting its turn for you.

At least Suppression isn't as common on enemies as it was in the prior game...

Carries one Micromissile charge, which does 3 Damage and 1 Shred in an area while destroying environmental objects in the area.

Yes, this is the same icon as Fan Fire. That's how it is in-game. I strongly suspect the icon was actually designed for Micromissiles and stolen for Fan Fire because someone had the thought that you're usually not able to see enemy icons.

Note that when I say Micromissiles destroy environmental objects, I don't mean they 'damage' or 'potentially destroy' environmental objects. I mean that Micromissiles will 100% consistently vaporize any terrain element that can be destroyed if it gets caught in the Micromissile radius. This makes Mecs extremely high-priority targets: if they go for a Micromissile strike, it's not only guaranteed damage, probably on multiple soldiers, but very likely one or more other enemies will follow up by firing on your suddenly-vulnerable soldiers if they weren't hiding behind completely indestructible Cover. This will tend to result in dead soldiers, no matter how tough or well-protected they were. Even worse is if they were on a building, since they'll fall and take 2 damage. (Though on the plus side they're probably in Cover or out of sight after the fall...)

Exacerbating the issue is that ADVENT Mecs have insane range on Micromissiles and zero respect for notions like 'line of sight' or 'line of fire'. If a Mec is active, it is perfectly happy to lob missiles at soldiers no enemy can see, and do so even if they're hiding inside a completely enclosed room deep inside a building where there's absolutely no way the Micromissiles should be able to reach in the first place, all while having done so from considerably more than a screen away.

I realize I sound like I'm exaggerating, but I've had literally that scenario happen.

I honestly don't understand why Micromissiles have such generous physics. It's insane.

All of this means you should never, ever let a Mec have even a single turn if it's even slightly possible to prevent it.

The only good news in this regard is that Mecs are very unreliable about using Micromissiles. Sometimes they'll immediately lob them at your most vulnerable cluster of soldiers and get half your squad killed. Sometimes they'll wander around for several turns, Suppressing people, going into Overwatch for no clear reason, and firing on soldiers in High Cover they have poor odds of hitting. Sometimes they'll wander around to flank someone, and then decide they don't like their position and move again, accomplishing nothing.

But the possibility of them using Micromissiles is not one you should give a chance to happen. It's one of the most dangerous things any enemy in the entire game can do, especially if you make a habit of trying to leverage high ground, which... you're really supposed to be doing.

If you do let them get a turn, and they do use their Micromissiles, they suddenly turn into a middle-low priority. Or if you use Fuse to wipe out their Micromissile charge, that also makes them a middle-low priority. Either way, without the Micromissile charge they're only noteworthy for their potential to Leap to a flank you thought couldn't happen, in terms of offensive quality; mostly they're durable, which is not a quality that makes an enemy a high priority.

So long as they have their Micromissile charge, though, Mecs are incredibly dangerous.

In any event, ADVENT Mecs are the player's introduction to Armor. Well, Turrets fill that role in theory, but Turrets can often be completely ignored. Mecs cannot. 2 Armor is enough that if the player doesn't try to Shred the Mec, it'll take vastly longer to take it down than its HP would normally imply (Especially if you're still using Conventional weapons when you fight them), but low enough it doesn't take much Shred to flip them to being trivial.

This introduction to Armor is decently representative of a few facts; firstly, that most armored targets are susceptible to anti-robot effects. Secondly, most armored targets don't make use of Cover. Thirdly, most armored targets also have decently high HP for their tier of enemy, so even if you wipe out their Armor effortlessly you'll still generally need to put in more work to actually kill them than would be necessary against unarmored or lightly armored enemies.

Overall, though, Mecs are the game softballing the concept of Armor so you can get used to it. They're fragile enough it is feasible to simply shoot them to death in a single turn (Outside Legendary, 4 Cannon/Shotgun/Sniper Rifle shots will kill them, so even if you haven't expanded your squad they can be taken out in a single turn very reliably, you just won't be able to deal with their podmates that turn is all), their lack of Defense, inability to use Cover, and tendency to charge your squad means they're really easy to land shots on, and initially they're restricted to being pod leaders, preventing you from seeing more than one per pod. (Caveat: in War of the Chosen, an early Mechanized Defenses Sitrep will result in every pod being 2-3 Mecs. This is genuinely a bit terrifying)

This isn't even getting into how Combat Protocol ignores Armor and does bonus damage to them with no chance to miss.

Strictly speaking, you can use Haywire Protocol to take a hold of -or Stun- a Mec, but I've consistently struggled to find an opportunity it makes sense to give it a try in. Failing the hack makes it harder to land follow up shots on them, and then if they get a turn they're more likely to land hits if they do something other than use their Micromissiles, while their Tech score is high enough it's very unlikely you'll have the Hack score necessary for even a shutdown to be a reliable success, not before they're already getting phased out, especially in War of the Chosen where your soldiers tend to level slower in practice. If you do succeed in controlling them, they're not even a very useful unit, in spite of how dangerous they can be to your forces. You might have everything line up where they can toss their Micromissiles at some high ground Turrets, I suppose...

... but part of the problem is that Haywire Protocol gives only temporary control. Domination is pretty nice because the control never times out, allowing you to use it on an enemy encountered early and then use that enemy as a disposable scout/distraction for the squad for the remainder of the mission. A hacked Mec needs to either die during the enemy turn -unlikely, given their durability and problems like enemy units struggling to hit 100% accuracy even against targets in the open- or be killed by you anyway, just a bit later.

Not helping is that the class that's best suited to bypassing a Defense boost to kill a Mec anyway is exactly the class you have to use to perform Haywire Protocol. A squad of nothing but Specialists can have one or two go for Haywire Protocol, and if it fails you shrug and just burn a couple Combat Protocols to wipe it out -I've done exactly that in my mono-Specialist runs. For a more normal squad, though, a failed Haywire Protocol is probably going to require follow-up with precious resources that aren't super-great against Mecs...

... this is a bit of a recurring problem with Haywire Protocol, honestly, that you have to be willing to take unnecessary risks for it to have any chance of being any good. I'm sure there's players that swear by it, but it doesn't really fit into the game's design very well...

HP: 12/14/15/18
Armor: 2/3/3/3
Defense: 10
Dodge: 0
Aim: 75
Mobility: 12/15/15/15 (8/16 on Rookie, 10/20 on all other difficulties)
Damage: 8-9 (+3)
Shred: 2
Crit Chance: 0/10%/10%/10%
Will: 50
Tech: 80/80/90/90

Mechanical Chassis
This unit is a robot, rendering it immune to Poison, Fire, and Chryssalid Poison as well as most psionic or mental effects (Including that it will never Panic or be rendered Unconscious), but susceptible to anti-robot effects and impossible to heal with Medikits.

Still a robot.

Can travel Z-levels freely as part of normal movement.

Heavy Mecs aren't any more prone to actually taking to high ground than Mecs. Their slight Mobility edge does make them that little bit more likely to end up flanking high ground soldiers, technically... though you usually will be more concerned about their Micromissiles.

Does not use Cover, but is never considered to be in the open.

So I already noted that ambushing a basic Mec leading a pod is anti-useful, but it gets worse with Heavy Mecs. How? Well...

Thing is, Heavy Mecs are unique among enemies in that when they are first activated they will normally immediately enter Overwatch. If the Heavy Mec can't personally see any of your troops, it will charge your position just like a regular Mec always does, but this doesn't happen very often: their default is very much to go into Overwatch. And the thing is, Overwatch ambushes work like regular Overwatch, which is to say your squad opens fire on enemies that move. So if you attempt to perform a full ambush on a Heavy Mec's pod, what will generally happen is that the Heavy Mec goes into Overwatch, your squad kills its podmates, and then you have at least one soldier sitting in Overwatch, the Heavy Mec unharmed. (And no, Covering Fire won't let your Overwatch trigger in response to them entering Overwatch)

This is especially problematic since Heavy Mecs are really, really bad to leave running around, though I'll be getting into the details of that a bit later. The point is, there's a pretty severe learning curve issue here, where the very early game trains you heavily on the idea of using Overwatch ambushes to get an initial advantage, and as you transition into the midgame attempting to keep on Overwatch ambushing like the game taught you to do is going to increasingly backfire.

This gets exacerbated by multiple other issues. First and foremost is that the pod leader concept, though laid out fairly obviously in the config files, is never alluded to within gameplay, making it non-obvious that pod leaders are prioritized by Overwatch fire. Second, as I've noted before, Overwatch fire can animate radically differently from what happened mechanically, so even if a player is aware of the pod leader concept they're quite likely to take a long time (Like, multiple runs long time) to realize on their own that pod leaders get prioritized in Overwatch ambushes, because they'll regularly see the game showing stuff like a Rookie downing an ADVENT Trooper followed by their Specialist and Grenadier taking out the ADVENT Officer that was leading the pod, even though what the engine actually worked out internally is that the Specialist and Grenadier went before the Rookie, fired on the Officer for being the pod leader, their collective fire killed the Officer, and then the Rookie started looking for a target and ended up hitting and killing the Trooper.

So when your average player attempts to Overwatch ambush a Heavy Mec-led pod, if their entire squad uses up their Overwatch on attempting to kill the Heavy Mec's podmates, while the Heavy Mec is of course unscathed, they likely won't see anything wrong with this picture. They'll likely only start getting clued in if they end up with every podmate dead and X-COM soldiers still hanging out in Overwatch, the Heavy Mec untouched. And even then, they may think they just didn't have a firing line, or that the game bugged out, rather than realizing there's an internally consistent set of rules at work they need to account for.

Or if they attempted to Overwatch ambush a Turret much earlier and had it completely fail. That could happen, and save them some pain when Heavy Mecs show up.

Regardless, this is... not well-considered design.

Thankfully, the Heavy Mec is the apex of bad regarding Overwatch ambush design. There's still more enemies to come that don't fit properly into the Overwatch ambush mechanics, but none of them goes into Overwatch on activation or otherwise makes attempting an ambush substantially worse than just taking shots normally.

Returning to more player-wise implications...

One implication of the Overwatch-activation behavior is that once Heavy Mecs enter rotation Shadowstep and Lightning Reflexes become situationally useful on a semi-regular basis. Not enough for me to care about either, but if you regularly find yourself getting soldiers shot by freshly-activated Heavy Mecs, or keep wanting to eg have a Ranger close before firing before anything else happens, or whatever, you might want to take Shadowstep more regularly, and same for Lightning Reflexes in War of the Chosen when it's on offer.

Also, one frustrating edge case of this unique behavior is that a Heavy Mec's pod can stumble into your forces in a Retaliation mission, and then the Heavy Mec instantly kills a civilian because the civilian ran away from the other members of the pod. This is another case where animation and mechanics end up out of sync, as the the civilian will start running before the Heavy Mec enters Overwatch, but will still end up shot... there's not a lot you can do to prevent this, unfortunately, and it's probably never going to be patched out even though it's pretty dumb, given XCOM 2 hasn't gotten a new patch -not counting the launcher update, which I'm not because it doesn't affect gameplay- since late 2017, after all.

Less frustrating but also noteworthy is how the Overwatch activation behavior gets used in a non-Chosen Avenger Defense mission: once you've destroyed the 'spike' and it's time to retreat to the Avenger, every turn a reinforcement pod will prep to drop in, and it will always include a Heavy Mec. (Unless you're too early in the game for Heavy Mecs to have entered rotation: this is one reason to consider letting a Hunt XCOM Dark Event through if it occurs early) This creates a 'sticky' situation where you're trying to get away from the enemy but simply running will risk getting someone hurt or even killed, ending up likely slowing your retreat because you have people fight the reinforcements so your further-out troops can keep running. This is a situation Sharpshooters particularly shine, as you can have a couple sitting back at the Avenger's ramp, taking shots to help the rest of your soldiers escape without dealing with the 'stickiness' of the situation. For that matter, Quickdraw and Lightning Hands make it easier for the Sharpshooters to perform fighting retreats, knocking out Overwatch while still being able to move if they still need to retreat.

This use of Heavy Mecs is also one of the reasons the Defense Matrix is actually worth considering building, particularly in War of the Chosen where you can have Squadsight Turrets. Having the Defense Matrix turrets taking potshots at Heavy Mecs to disable their Overwatch is much better than having your soldiers fire on them when you're trying to make a run for it, after all.

A single enemy target in range becomes Suppressed until the start of the user's next turn. A Suppressed target suffers -35 to Aim, and if it moves the Suppressor will immediately take a reaction fire shot at the target for free. Additionally, if the target was on Overwatch, its Overwatch is permanently removed, even if the Suppression ends prematurely. Suppression ends if the reaction shot is triggered of if the Suppressor takes damage. Consumes 2 ammo to initiate. No cooldown.

Heavy Mecs are still willing to use Suppression, but it's far rarer for it to happen than with basic Mecs.

It's still basically always a waste of their turn if they do elect to go for the Suppression, just like basic Mecs. More so, really...

Carries two Micromissile charges, which do 3-5 Damage and 1 Shred in an area while destroying environmental objects.

So remember all that stuff I said about how Mecs should never be given a turn, if at all possible?

Yeah, never let a Heavy Mec get a turn if you can at all avoid it.

First of all, they have two Micromissile charges, meaning that their threat level doesn't drop after firing one. They can just do it again next turn, and by a similar token you can't have a Psi Operative use Fuse once to neuter that particular threat. You have to do it twice, which means either having two Psi Operatives or gifting your one Psi Operative an extra move. (Which in the base game still means having two Psi Operatives...)

Second, and much more significant, Heavy Mecs place Micromissile usage as one of their highest priorities by a tremendous margin. If they've got at least one Micromissile charge, and they get a turn, it's essentially guaranteed they'll lob it at your squad. (Sometimes they'll even do stuff like flank someone, have high ground advantage... and then lob Micromissiles at this lone flanked soldier, even though firing their rifle would be the correct choice in that case) It's not literally guaranteed -among other points, during non-Chosen Avenger Defense missions the thing where enemies may decide to just Dash for the Avenger's ramp can overrule this preference- but it's such a tremendously strong bias you're better off planning as if Heavy Mecs will always Micromissile when able, because it's close enough to true, where regular Mecs are actually not particularly prone to using their Micromissiles.

A side implication is that Heavy Mecs are extremely likely to trigger fall damage on your units, far more so than literally any other unit that's capable of causing such an effect. This makes it particularly dangerous to cluster troops on three-story buildings if there's two or more Heavy Mecs in the area, as it's extremely likely one will Micromissile the clump, cause them to fall and take another 2 points of damage, and then the other Heavy Mec will also Micromissile the newly-fallen clump, resulting in a total of 10-14 damage to each of your clumped troops. Given that 18 is the general maximum HP your troops can hit in the endgame... that's a lot of damage to be opening yourself up to, easily able to kill half or more of your squad in literally two unit actions.

While the threat presented by them using Micromissiles is less of a bump in danger over basic Mecs doing the same than you might expect -they can always do just as little damage, with only the charge count and max damage different- the vastly greater aggressiveness about using Micromissiles means you really, really shouldn't be letting Heavy Mecs get turns. Which is pretty nasty given how tough they are! 3 Armor is a fair amount of damage reduction even from the perspective of beam-tier weapons, and and they have a lot of HP no matter the difficulty. Their 10 innate Defense is also more noteworthy than you might expect, adding miss chances in a number of situations you'd otherwise see perfect accuracy from your troops, such as Blademaster Slashes. Improbable ones, yes, but if you go for a 97% chance and whoops it fails it's not exactly helpful to say 'well, it wasn't likely to happen'.

Indeed, Heavy Mecs are one of the main reasons why I try to prioritize Bluescreen Rounds reasonably quickly. They give a lot more wiggle room when fighting Heavy Mecs.

The Heavy ADVENT Mec is unique among enemies in that it's part of a tier chain, yet it actually has a separate graphic from its lower-tier version. No other enemy does this in XCOM 2, and I suspect it's a late change for reasons I'll be getting into in a bit.

It's conspicuous, because Heavy Mecs are very much just upstatted basic Mecs. They don't get any new abilities, unless one counts going into Overwatch as their pod activation move action. This contrasts with eg ADVENT Troopers picking up a Frag Grenade when transitioning to their Advanced tier, or ADVENT Priests picking up Mind Control at their own Advanced tier.

Mecs are also the earliest example of a multi-tier enemy where there's only the two tiers, instead of the usual three tiers. This isn't actually unique to them, but it's still worth mentioning as unusual.

Counterintuitively, Heavy Mecs are more appealing targets for Haywire Protocol than basic Mecs. If you did, in fact, prioritize the Mec Breakdown, you should have upgraded Gremlins, which includes +20 to Hack, making the Heavy Mec's Tech score advantage less meaningful than you might expect. They also last into the endgame, where you might be bringing to bear Gremlin Mk. IIIs, and the deeper you get into the game the more your squad picks up tools for bypassing Defense, making a failed hack less punishing. (It's not like the Aim boost is terribly relevant, given how reluctant they are to do anything other than lob Micromissiles until out) Meanwhile, the ability to have them toss out mass Shred, however weak, is notably more appealing when late game enemies are so much more prone to having Armor than the enemies running around when basic Mecs were entering rotation, and Heavy Mecs can absorb enough punishment it might be worth the gamble if you're in a bad situation, such as having pulled two pods. Enemy firepower -and access to Shred- is also up enough it's a lot more likely the Heavy Mec will end up killed by enemies, making it a more appealing decoy or distraction.

I still rarely can justify the risk, but where on basic Mecs I feel the potential to use Haywire Protocol is a bit of a trap option, on Heavy Mecs I feel it's a risky but decent option, so long as you're okay with that risk.

The Mec Breakdown (Autopsy) is one of the most important ones in the game; it unlocks the Gremlin Mark II and the Bluescreen Protocols Proving Grounds Project. (Which unlocks Bluescreen Rounds and EMP Grenades) As the nastiest, toughest enemies of the game are heavily biased toward being susceptible to Bluescreen Protocol stuff, this is very important to get online, and of course upgrading your Gremlins is just generally useful. (Well, unless you don't use Specialists...)

On top of those more immediate benefits, in War of the Chosen the Mec Breakdown is actually necessary to perform the Elerium research, which is itself necessary for your tier 3 weapons and armor, so you must perform it if you want to achieve endgame quality, making it arguably the single most important Autopsy in War of the Chosen.

Furthermore, Mecs are sufficiently uncommon enemies -they tend pretty heavily to be pod leaders, for one- that you're fairly unlikely to hit their instant threshold, at least not until so late in the game you really ought to have done the Breakdown weeks ago. As such, you should generally set aside some research time for their Breakdown relatively early in the game, so you can actually get the benefits in a timely manner rather than bottlenecking yourself. (Unless you get an early Mechanized Defenses Sitrep in War of the Chosen, of course) This is less essential in the base game, but Bluescreen Rounds are valuable enough to be worth considering setting aside that research time regardless.

There's also the slightly perverse element to this that Autopsying Mecs does a lot to make Mecs easier to fight, twice over if you're actually making use of offensive Specialist skills since those scale with Gremlin tier.

Curiously, even though Heavy Mecs drop the same corpse as Mecs...

... there's a separate Autopsy graphic for Heavy Mecs. I suspect this is a sign Heavy Mecs were intended to be more distinct of a unit type from Mecs, with presumably separate Breakddowns. Notably, the Heavy Mec graphics has the bullet holes and other battle damage in different places, so this isn't a simple recolor!

Even more interesting in this regard is that if you have the Alien Hunters DLC, the game tracks your kills on each enemy type, displaying a skull or corpse in the hangar with the kill-count underneath the trophy. For tiered enemies, the kills simply roll together all tiers -in fact, Lost, Lost Dashers, and Lost Brutes all get lumped together by this display, too, summarized under a regular Lost head.

But for Mecs, the Basic and Heavy versions get tracked separately!

There's a number of other little details indicating that the devs intend, on some level, for Basic Mecs and Heavy Mecs to both be canonical and be distinct models, rather than the Heavy version simply being the game mechanics tiering process at work. In some circumstances, such as the final mission, it's possible to see a Heavy Mec leading a pod that contains a Basic Mec as a follower -outside Mecs, you will never see an individual pod simultaneously contain two different tiers of a specific enemy class. Similarly, a Chosen with Mechlord can, at a specific tier of training, summon one Basic Mec and one Heavy Mec. Secondary visual elements of the game -such as cinemas and terrain elements- collectively make use of both visuals, instead of only one or the other.

I suspect the devs originally intended for the Mecs to be entirely separate unit types and shoved them together into a single unit line due to something like struggling to think up an Autopsy reward for each, or concluding late in playtesting that players found it too confusing for this one case of visually alike units to be completely separate in mechanics, or some such. Among other points, such a theory would pretty neatly explain the rather conspicuous point that the micromissile launcher is painted red on both units, where this is consistent with the Heavy Mec's color scheme and contrasts strongly with the Basic Mec's stark white color scheme, as it would suggest the Basic Mec wasn't originally intended to have micromissiles at all, the launcher model and associated ability hastily added to it without even bothering to reskin it, purely to draw a connection to the Heavy Mec it was now the lower-tier version of.


... when we see Mecs in the opening cinematic, you can't see a back-mounted launcher. Admittedly, they're also not carrying their rifle, but that would interfere with their synchronized salute, where the Micromissile launcher would not. And it's not like one can argue they don't have the launcher because this ADVENT demonstration is unarmed...

... as the immediately preceding shot clearly shows Troopers carrying their rifles.

It's not clear-cut proof, but it's certainly consistent with 'basic Mecs didn't originally have the Micromissile launcher'.

Most telling, though, is after you complete the ADVENT Network Tower mission, the resulting cinema briefly shows a basic ADVENT Mec trying to take shots at the Skyranger as it flees... and you can clearly see it has no Micromissile launcher on its back.



Narratively and aesthetically, ADVENT Mecs are odd.

In both cases, there's a heavy connection to Mecs from Enemy Within; many of the ADVENT Mecs animations are clearly recycled from the Enemy Within Mec animations (eg Jet Boot Module effects, general running animation, the Micromissile launcher is just a Grenade Launcher, etc), and if you play through the Shen's Last Gift mission it's bluntly spelled out that ADVENT Mecs are derived from plans that last game's Shen was prototyping.

And in both cases it's weird.

Narratively, it's just bizarre. ADVENT Mecs are pure robots, not cyborgs the way Enemy Within Mecs were, and it's both difficult to imagine how the Aliens would've gotten a hold of Shen's plans and even more difficult to imagine why they would care. The Aliens already have vastly better robotics technology, and given that Shen's Mec designs were both secret and according to XCOM 2 they never made it to reality anyway it's not like I can excuse this as some kind of PR trick where the Aliens are using homegrown human technology to better sell the illusion that ADVENT is a homegrown human government willingly collaborating with the Aliens instead of a blatant puppet government serving Alien interests.

So why did the Aliens explicitly co-opt Shen's Mec design?

Unfortunately, the game offers no answers for this inexplicable, contrary-to-sense decision. Even Shen's Last Gift just... presents it as being a factually true thing without bothering to explain the underlying reasoning of people in-universe. It at least retcons Shen's planned Mecs into being a robot design instead of a cyborg design, partially ameliorating some of the wonkiness, but only really the wonkiness at the edges: it still doesn't explain why Raymond Shen's vague plans for a mechanized combat platform got coopted by the invaders when they have better designs of their own.

Even ignoring all that, how are Mecs supposed to fit into the setting? What does the public think Mecs are for, what they do? This is already a problem with ADVENT Troopers and so on, but Mecs retain many of the same problems and add in more from being robots. ADVENT troops are, as far as the regular citizens are supposed to believe, fellow human beings who presumably have empathy and understanding and so on, where it's reasonable of your average citizen to believe that if eg they accidentally violate a law an ADVENT 'peacekeeper' will be likely to handle the situation in a reasonable way, rather than hauling them off to a gulag or putting a bullet through their head. There's no evidence in the game to suggest the average citizen should have similar assumptions about robots, and the only context ADVENT Mecs are ever depicted in is distinctly military.

Shen, in the Autopsy, wonders to herself how happy the average ADVENT citizen would be if they knew Mecs are scanning faces and comparing them to a database to decide whether to kill any given individual, constantly. But why is your average ADVENT citizen comfortable with Mecs in the first place?

It's especially frustrating because there's an opportunity here, where plot and gameplay intersect. The basic Mec's Micromissile access is honestly too much for the design, only not obviously horrific because they so rarely actually break them out. It would've been a lot better for them to have been equipped with Flashbangs or tear gas or something, and then the narrative could inform us they were for purposes like riot control. There'd still be issues, but it'd be easier to buy that regular citizens think of Mecs as... well, peacekeepers, especially if the basic Mec's firearm had some less-than-lethal munitions mechanic that was acknowledged by the narrative as being a thing. Tranquilizer rounds that knock your soldiers Unconscious instead of magnetic rounds to kill them, or something. And then the Heavy Mec could stay more or less exactly as it is, only now it wouldn't be 'a basic Mec, but upstatted', but rather 'a basic Mec, but now it's trying to kill your squad', and narratively it would flow naturally to assume that switch to lethal Mecs was made because X-COM was causing too much trouble and the Ethereals were losing interest in maintaining the fa├žade, or felt comfortable pushing the propaganda engine into convincing the public that X-COM deserves death for 'terrorist activities' or some such.

Mind, this in part touches on a broader philosophical design point, that I feel the Firaxis XCOM games are shooting for a design that's pretty design-hostile to actually killing your soldiers and then doesn't try very hard to introduce mechanics for non-lethal fail-states. It's particularly conspicuous in XCOM 2 because the narrative would benefit a lot from pursuing such measures: if ADVENT troops defaulted to using less-than-lethal munitions, and attempted to make off with Unconscious bodies to take them to jail, where you could lose a mid-level soldier but rescue them later, that would do a lot to ablate the narrative problems the game has, where it's difficult to believe the average ADVENT citizen buys this 'ADVENT peacekeepers' malarkey, simultaneous to better fitting the overall gameplay design. Whereas I feel the lethality issue is still present in Enemy Unknown/Within, but primarily on a gameplay level; narratively, it mostly makes more or less perfect sense that your enemies shoot to kill in Enemy Unknown/Within, and would in fact require more hoops to jump through to justify a less lethal combat situation. (Indeed, one of my main complaints with the prior game is that combat isn't terribly lethal, when everything the narrative tells us indicates your soldiers should pretty much always instantly die from anything that hits them before you start getting to advanced armors)


One touch I do like about Mecs is that they do a certain amount of making use of their hands in animations for something other than carrying their rifle. Robots carrying firearms like human soldiers is a pretty common thing in video games, and it often strains suspension of disbelief because the way the robots are used they'd make more sense to have their weaponry integrated instead of carried. ADVENT Mecs aren't perfect in this regard, but it's nice seeing, as part of pod activation, Mecs making hand motions that are the kind of thing soldiers do in the field for silent, visual communication. It's undermined a little by the fact that they make their weird, non-specific electronic noises simultaneous to making these motions, but still, it makes it easier to buy that Mecs have a humanoid design to leverage the utility of a humanoid shape with humanoid hands and so on, from an in-universe perspective. This is a surprisingly rare thing to see in video games, even though it doesn't take a lot to implement.

(Though conversely I don't like their pointing-hand-at-enemy animation, both because it's not obviously purposeful and because it takes way too long and the game basically freezes until the animation is done. Thankfully, War of the Chosen fixed this, disabling the animation in question, so you'll only occasionally be tormented by your own SPARKs doing it. Humanoid enemies in general have this hand-pointing effect, actually, but on most enemies it's brief enough to be only a slight bother. It's only Mecs where it very visibly puts the game on hold for a frustratingly long period)

I also least appreciate that basic Mecs -the only ones we're explicitly shown being visible to the public- have a Good Guy aesthetic, in terms of the white and all. They're the only unit in the base game that I'm reasonably confident was deliberately designed to be appealing in that manner, and I've already gone over how this really ought to be the default for any enemy that's supposed to be known to the general public.

My only major complaint in that regard is the facelessness of the design, when humans have a profound tendency to shove faces onto things in an attempt to humanize them and make them more appealing. This is actually a recurring trend with ADVENT units, but Troopers and whatnot at least have the excuse that their helmets are supposed to be hiding their inhuman features from the public. It's a thin excuse, with many problems, but it's an attempt. ADVENT Mecs really ought to look more like... well, the default SPARK 001 design;

The appearance of a mouth, optics that evoke the human eye with a focal point in the center surrounded by color, the appearance of a nose, 'eyelids'... SPARK 001's head is distinctly robotic, but hits all those notes to give the impression of a face, where the ADVENT Mec's head resembles an abstract mask with no decoration.

I personally find the ADVENT Mec aesthetic more appealing, but I can't help but be aware that it's a deliberately dehumanized design, when that's really not what should be happening within the setting.

Even there, I might instead be praising it if the game had handled things just a little differently. If every SPARK head had been designed to be similarly dehumanized, I might think the devs were going for the dehumanized look because they thought it looked cool, rather than them obviously cleaving to the stock 'friendlies get faces and individuality and stuff, hostiles are dehumanized so it's emotionally easier to murder them all' thing.


Next time, we cover the ADVENT General, one of War of the Chosen's odder additions.

See you then.


  1. At least at lower levels (I'm a filthy casual, only play Veteran), I find MECs to be the point at which the game takes the gloves off, so to speak. Well, if we ignore the stun lancers, which are a very different kind of threat. They're tanky enough (by the time you meet them) that they force you to choose between taking them down or whoever else is in their pod, if you even do take them down, and they pack quite a punch when their AI doesn't make them do weird things. Especially in timed missions, they can really give you a hard time by just forcing you to stay put or risk overextending with active enemies around. Not to mention their effect as reinforcements: in my (subjective) experience, they're the main ADVENT unit that turns a tricky situation into a "we're running to the extraction point now".

    The Mechanized Defenses sitrep really should be gated behind some level of progression. In my WotC run, I got that before I met my first MEC, and chose that mission because "how bad can it be?". Ended up pulling two pods of 3 MECs each at once while half my team was on the roof of a 2-story building (was trying to conceal-reposition so that I would have a better shot on the first pod; terrible idea). Then the Hunter showed up, then reinforcements dropped down with an additional MEC and two other randos. If it weren't for Beta strike, some ungodly luck, and the terrible AI (Hunter and reinforcements just chilled on their end of the map, most MECs took questionable shots instead of blasting me to the other life), that would have been a total party wipe. I mean, it did make for a memorable mission, but *still*. That was absurd.

    1. You need to Autopsy a Mec to get Bluescreen Rounds/EMP Grenades, so your first encounters with Mecs are almost always the roughest ones. Basic Mecs are a bit of a joke if you have Bluescreen Rounds: a magnetic-tier primary weapon is already 5 damage minimum (Well, except the Resistance classes, but they don't really count against my point for various reasons), Bluescreen Rounds adds another 5, and that's already the 10 needed to beat their HP+Armor in one hit. Without Bluescreen Rounds you're liable to spend at least three squad members of effort on beating them down, which is a rather stark difference. Between that and how consistently useful into the late game Bluescreen Rounds are, I tend to prioritize unlocking them and buying at least one fairly early.

      I have mixed feelings about Mechanized Defenses being allowed to generate that early. I actually really like the part where an early Mechanized Defenses gets you their Autopsy absurdly early and in fact automatically makes it Instant, and wish XCOM 2/War of the Chosen had more stuff like this that can radically affect your progression. But on the other hand, yes, it's pretty ridiculous -you could potentially have Mechanized Defenses as literally your *second* mission if the Engineer-gifting Guerrilla Op rolled its 5% chance to generate a Sitrep. So three Squaddies and a Resistance class who MIGHT be a Corporal, using Conventional-tier weapons, having to fight groups of enemies who normally only start showing up as 1 in a pod at Force Level 8 of 20.

      I think my preferred solution would be for a super-early Mechanized Defenses to cap the pods at 1 member apiece, though. Three pods of 1 Mec apiece would make for a distinctive challenge, but one still well within reason for your earliest-game forces to take on. The only flaw would be the halved experience generation, and XCOM 2 is already clearly okay with inconsistent experience generation. (eg Turrets are independent of normal spawn routines, and thus generated turrets are 'extra' experience) And then you'd get to keep the part where super-early Mecs has neat implications on your strategic progression, like getting souped-up Gremlins a LOT earlier.

    2. I'm definitely not prioritizing Bluescreen rounds enough. I fall into the trap of not doing autopsies until they're instant, and spending supplies on all-purpose upgrades (armor/weapons) before "silver bullet" items. But I keep forgetting that silver bullet will consistently work against the toughest guys in every encounter, which smoothes out difficulty a lot more than the 3rd or 4th weapon upgrade. I will try that whenever I reinstall the game.

      Yeah, nerfing Mechanized Defenses in very early missions would also work. I mean, ideally there would be another mechanical enemy that is weaker than the MEC and that enters rotation earlier, but that would have been a lot of extra work for not much gain (unless they found a role that could be filled by such a new unit).

    3. @pigeonfeller — I agree that having a mechanical enemy which precedes MECs would have been nice. I’ve been playing through Long War 2, and the best new unit of the early game is, hands down, the ADVENT Surveillance Drone.

    4. To be fair on Autopsies, a lot of them are genuinely not worth prioritizing, with low payoffs or payoffs that aren't important enough to prioritize that early. (eg upgrading your melee gear is something you should absolutely do eventually, but pushing for a Stun Lancer Autopsy really early is a dubious investment of lab time) In War of the Chosen, I primarily prioritize the Mec Breakdown and Muton Autopsy -other Autopsies I tend to ignore until either they hit Instant or I'm running out of better things to do with the lab, unless I'm doing something weird with the run that adjusts my priorities. (eg in my War of the Chosen mono-Ranger run, I did do the Stun Lancer Autopsy early, before bothering with Gauss Weapons, since Gauss Weapons had no relevancy to my team while Fusion Blade/Axe access was relevant to my entire team)

      ADVENT Surveillance Drones from Long War 2 are fantastic and it would've been nice if War of the Chosen had ported them in and made them official. I'm not a fan of how Long War 2 itself uses them, but an early Armor-heavy robot is something I wish the official game had, even before considering that swarms of Surveillance Drones would be a much more suitable opponent for an early Mechanized Defenses mission. You have guaranteed Shred from the very beginning of the game, and one of your classes can get an anti-robot weapon as their first proper level-up -it's actually a bit frustrating how long it takes Combat Protocol to have real relevance, especially in War of the Chosen where it doesn't make sense to rush the Blacksite and so encounter early Turrets, and the natural Shred from Frag Grenades means an early enemy with eg 2 points of Armor would be absolutely manageable even with Rookies, while being distinctive from other enemies.


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