XCOM 2 Alien Analysis: Archon King


HP: 90/100/112/120
Armor: 4/4/4/5
Defense: 25
Dodge: 20/25/30/35
Aim: 75
Mobility: 14 (9/18)
Damage: 7-10 (+3)
Shred: 2
Crit Chance: 0
Will: 50

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

As with the Berserker Queen, in conjunction with Ruler Reactions the Archon King ends up with the extremely unusual quality of not caring about Cover and yet still being a target you'll ideally arrange an Overwatch ambush on. In conjunction with his high Dodge and high innate Defense, the Archon King's HP tends to go noticeably further than you might expect if you're not heavily abusing guaranteed-hit effects.

It's also worth pointing out that difficulty has surprisingly low of an impact on the Archon King's threat profile. All the Alien Rulers are a bit 'flat' in regards to difficulty settings, as only HP, Armor, and either Defense (Berserker Queen) or Dodge (The Kings) are actually affected by difficulty, but the Archon King has the highest stats in the first place and the proportions aren't retained. That is, the Legendary Viper King has a bit more than 50% more HP than the Rookie Viper King, while the Legendary Berserker Queen has almost exactly 40% more HP than the Rookie Berserker Queen, and lastly the Legendary Archon King has exactly 33% more HP than the Rookie Archon King. So if you're struggling a bit with the Archon King on Regular but don't suffer severe problems, you'll probably still find him manageable-if-frustrating up on Commander, where you might suddenly find the Viper King jolts from 'not a threat' to straight-up getting people killed.

This is especially exaggerated if you're playing with Integrated DLC on and make a point of trying to Overwatch ambush the Alien Rulers, since the Archon King is always something of a struggle to reliably drive into fleeing, where the other Rulers can be pretty easily pushed into fleeing off just an Overwatch ambush even on Legendary.

Mental Fortress
The Archon King cannot be Mind Controlled and will never Panic.

Still standard for Alien Rulers, still no particularly new things to discuss.

Flight
Is a flying unit, allowing it to reach locations without regard for intervening terrain. Additionally, the unit will not change position if the terrain it is 'standing' on is destroyed entirely.

This is less directly relevant than one might expect, as the Archon King will almost never actually use his real movement past his initial activation move, but it does mean that if he ends up on destructible high ground blowing up the ground underneath him isn't helpful.

That said, the fact that he conceptually has flight is still very important even if the mechanical ability is pretty low-relevance, as it makes him the Alien Ruler you have the least ability to manipulate to your advantage. A soldier in the back of a high ground area is completely safe from the Berserker Queen if she can't physically get up there, and is even more safe from the Viper King if they aren't close enough to your other soldiers to be caught in a Frostbite, as he won't even try to get sight on the individual. The Archon King is going to be in their face one way or another in short order, if you're not eg repeatedly Stunning him.

This is especially important in War of the Chosen, as thoughtlessly triggering Ruler Reactions when you have people who could attack him unseen (eg by using a Grenade Launcher to hit him with a grenade from out of sight) is a much more serious mistake than doing so with the other Alien Rulers, as the Archon King will tend to promptly take away the option of contributing without triggering Ruler Reactions. You should ideally, when jumped by the Archon King, look first for people who can contribute without being seen by him.

Staff Strike
A melee attack that does 6-9 (+3 crit) damage, with +10 to Aim. This melee attack is not a move-and-melee attack.

This is of fairly limited relevance. You might expect it to crop up from the fact that the Alien Rulers are supposed to prefer alternating moving and attacking, but in practice the Archon King is just like the Berserker Queen, in the sense that he will virtually never actually perform a pure movement action, so he'll almost never actually move next to someone in preparation for a swipe, especially in War of the Chosen where he has to actually see people to Ruler React: in the base game you might have his two specials on cooldown and nobody visible to him when you trigger a Ruler Reaction, so he has no option but trying to advance, and if he's inside a building or something he might actually be close enough to move to melee reach. This can still happen in War of the Chosen, but it's even less likely, since you'd have to do something like move through his line of sight and end out of his sight. It's entirely possible to have fought the Archon King multiple times and think he doesn't have this melee attack, because it's so rarely used and he has an obvious move to view as the replacement.

It's also just plain weaker than his ranged attack, missing the Shred and with less damage. It's actually a bit silly he has it at all, as there's little reason for him to use it. As it's not exposed in a config file, you can't even readily edit it to make it more threatening!

That said, as I somewhat implied, it can crop up via him using his abilities, as those both tend to result in a turn in which he's next to someone. So let's get to one of those;

Icarus Drop
A move-and-melee action that grabs a target humanoid soldier and carries them up into the air, rendering them helpless while held, and if uninterrupted will do 3-9 damage to whoever was picked up on the following turn/Ruler Reaction. No accuracy check is performed for either of these steps. If the Archon King takes any damage before completing Icarus Drop, however, his target will be immediately released unharmed. +15 Defense while still holding the soldier. 3 turn cooldown.

A nasty surprise regarding Icarus Drop is that it's not just a visual moving of the victim. If there are Overwatching enemies in the area, such as ADVENT Heavy Mecs, Icarus Drop will provoke reaction fire on the victim, and while it won't come up very often, it will also update the soldier's line of sight appropriately and so potentially activate pods if there are any currently hidden up on high ground nearby. The vast majority of the time, neither of these implications will crop up, but if they crop up simultaneously?... things can go very bad, very suddenly.

Another nasty surprise, generally only relevant to War of the Chosen, is that the grabbed individual is fully exposed and other enemies have no compunctions on shooting the grabbed individual, unlike soldiers held in a Bind. As such, if somebody gets grabbed with multiple ranged enemies active in the area, and you end up ending turn without interrupting the grab or triggering its completion... the soldier is liable to be targeted and killed. So, uh, probably deliberately trigger a Ruler Reaction in that case if you can.  This normally isn't a concern in the base game because he'll complete the drop at the start of the enemy turn... but he won't necessarily do so in War of the Chosen. So be careful of that in War of the Chosen runs.

Note that damage over time effects don't interrupt Icarus Drop unless they actually kill the Archon King. Also note that SPARKs cannot be grabbed, and the Archon King won't waste time trying. In the unlikely event you have only SPARKs on your team, he'll ignore the move entirely. (This isn't hypothetical. I did a six-SPARK run)

Anyway, Icarus Drop is a two-stage attack, and while it's potentially a lot of damage, it's actually surprisingly merciful. Firstly, it's actually noticeably weaker than him just shooting someone. It doesn't miss, and by extension ignores Cover and other Defense bonuses, but still, an Icarus Drop hurts less than being shot, and doesn't Shred or have other side effects.

Secondly, if you're that worried about it, you can interrupt it with guaranteed-hits, or fish for interruptions with free actions like Lightning Hands or Throw Axe (Or other actions that can't trigger a Ruler Reaction, such as a Reaper's Sting), turning the initial Icarus Drop into a complete waste of the Archon King's turn. This contrasts with eg Choke on the Viper King, where interrupting it still means you have an injured soldier, or the Berserker Queen, where nothing she does can be canceled out in a similar way.

Thirdly, if you don't interrupt Icarus Drop, it actually eats two Ruler Reactions. Indeed, it can make sense to let him complete Icarus Drop if your squad just needs to stall until he leaves, or to let him complete it because eg you want to use Restoration anyway. This also means its damage compared to just shooting is worse than it looks, since shooting twice is potentially 14-20 damage (Up to 6 over that if he's getting flanking shots) whereas one Icarus Drop is just 3-9 damage.

Regardless of whether you interrupt it or let it complete, the Archon King will end up orthogonally adjacent to his victim on the ground. This is one way he's liable to end up using his actual melee, as he'll of course be in immediate reach of whoever he grabbed. Unusually for an enemy with a non-move-and-melee attack, he'll usually just shoot someone, including potentially the person next to him, but he will sometimes remember that whacking the person next to him is an option. Usually he'll target someone else though, presumably due to the Alien Rulers all having a strong preference for spreading attacks around.

Note that since the Archon King is high in the air during Icarus Drop, many of your sure-hit options are unavailable or at least undesirable for the interruption: you can't toss a grenade at him, and while it's technically possible to target him with any of the Heavy Weapons, doing so without hurting the held soldier is unlikely to be an option, and for the cone attacks requires a soldier happens to be on nearby high ground that is fairly high up. (Four 'floors' tall, roughly) There's also UI considerations -aiming a Rocket Launcher or Blaster Launcher at a mid-air unit is possible (Even though the game won't let you aim at arbitrary points in the air), but is achieved specifically by getting the cursor hovering on your target's model, which is to say that if the Archon King's animations cause the cursor to stop be visually overlapping his body just as you click the game will probably decide you meant to fire a rocket into an empty tile on the ground and not bother to ask if that's what you really wanted unless either a friendly would happen to be hit or you have a mod to force a confirmation for such... and as of this writing I haven't been able to find such a mod. This is part of why I said in the Heavy Weapons post that you can't do mid-air aiming: because technically this isn't entirely accurate, but the situations it matters are limited and trying to use it is really easy to end up with a poorly-timed click having it not actually work out. (Or a perfectly-timed click where you slightly adjusted your cursor in the process, whoops)

Further note that all melee options are unavailable for stopping Icarus Drop. This is intuitive enough, but still worth explicitly stating. It's not too notable in the base game, but it gets surprisingly painful in War of the Chosen since Templar melee is one of your usual sure-hit options, the Katana makes Ranger melee fully reliable, and the Skirmisher's Wrath is otherwise one of their highest-chance ways of contributing damage against the Archon King but isn't valid if he's up in the air.

Anyway, this means Hail of Bullets, Soulfire, the Shadowkeeper's Shadowfall, Templar Volt, and Stocks on any compatible weapon are all especially important when fighting the Archon King, so you can be confident about interrupting an Icarus Drop. If you bring a Templar to fight the Archon King, ideally you'll have Aftershock, so any Volts you throw out help the rest of the squad land hits. The importance of sure-hit effects would be true even if Icarus Drop didn't provide +15 Defense, but since it does, accuracy-bypassing effects are especially important; 140 base accuracy is a tall order, borderline-impossible to achieve without contextual boosts like Holo Targeting.

Notably, while the SPARK isn't susceptible to Icarus Drop, they're quite terrible at interrupting it, as while the SPARK has sure-hit abilities, they can't hit the Archon King when he's that high up. Nor can they achieve a sure shot with their cannon in the base game. War of the Chosen helps via Weapon Attachments and also the addition of Aftershock on Templar: a SPARK can equip a Stock to ensure an interruption, and though it's unlikely to happen a Champion SPARK with a Superior Scope backed by Inside Knowledge, Holo Targeting, and Aftershock can just barely hit 100% accuracy against the Archon King during an Icarus Drop, in part thanks to War of the Chosen adding 5 to SPARK base Aim.

Also note that reaction attacks will not interrupt Icarus Drop. If the Archon King decides to grab a Bladestorm Templar, he'll take a hit (Assuming he hasn't already triggered that Bladestorm that turn already), but still pick up the Templar without dropping them. Same for Overwatch fire and all. The damage has to occur after the grab is done to interrupt it. Bladestorm/Retribution are still worth having when fighting him, just less helpful than you might expect. Similarly, it isn't considered to be movement for cloud purposes: even if the Archon King is hovering inside a cloud, the cloud won't status him when he uses Icarus Drop.

Overall, Icarus Drop is very much a merciful action, the Archon King taking it easy on you for 1-2 Ruler Reactions. It's part of why I consider the Archon King overall a drop in danger compared to the Berserker Queen in practice, as he actually has mercy actions, not to mention actions you can respond to.

It's also one of the more direct cases of Alien Rulers actively discouraging using your cool toys in any mission you might encounter a Alien Ruler, as while the Frost Bomb is no help against Icarus Drop, it directly incentivizes holding onto Shadowfall and Throw Axe for the Archon King, and indeed trying to hold onto them for the right moment while fighting the Archon King. Frustrating.

Note that Icarus Drop wasn't coded properly in regard to Bladestorm: the Archon King initiating Icarus Drop on a soldier with Bladestorm will, after the swipe and being carried into the sky, put them into a disabled state like they're supposed to be, but won't automatically end the turn if no other units can act, displaying them as having 2 action points available. You'll have to end the turn yourself at that point. (The 'x' button in the upper-right)

Icarus Drop is also poorly coded when it comes to indoors environments, as the Archon King will occasionally successfully drag someone up through a ceiling, and then drop them back where he picked them up instead of on the highest floor tile in the way. Usually he just won't initiate an Icarus Drop on someone with a ceiling above them, but... yeah. Oops.

Amusingly, even though the Archon King carries your soldiers very high into the sky and just drops them from there if you interrupt him, they take no fall damage. I'm honestly not sure if this is another sign of Alien Hunters being rushed, or if a more polished version would've stuck with this silliness, but it's pretty comedic to see soldiers dropping bone-breaking heights and not have any problem result, especially given this is a game that normally does fall damage.

Devastate
Does nothing mechanical on the turn used except move the Archon King high in the sky, but on the Archon King's next turn it inflicts explosions at up to 4 locations marked on the prior turn, with units caught in a given blast taking 2-6 damage and potentially being Disoriented, Stunned, or knocked Unconscious. This second phase does not consume a turn or Ruler Reactions. 5 turn cooldown.

Shockingly, Stasis will actually delay Devastate so long as you maintain it, allowing your entire squad to escape the blasts. In conjunction with how big a deal Psi Operatives are in the endgame for the base game, I strongly recommend you actually get Psi Operatives online in the base game, not to mention actually take them into the field, and do so reasonably quickly.

Conversely, just like a regular Archon's Blazing Pinions, Devastate is not protected against by Fortress. Don't treat Fortress Psi Operatives (Or Templar) as safe to leave in blast zones. By a similar token, Devastate's damage mechanics operates off the same unintuitive mechanics Blazing Pinions does -being in the strike zone of two target markers does not result in being hit twice. Which is a relief.

Also like Blazing Pinions -and Icarus Drop- this is not properly treated like a movement action, ignoring reaction fire, having its range unaffected by Mobility modifications, and letting the Archon King move through clouds without becoming afflicted. This is why clouds are effective at corralling the Berserker Queen but not the Archon King: he can just fly through them with abilities.

Note that a regular Stun will not prevent Devastate from going off, nor will any other disable. It's very specifically Stasis preventing Ruler Reactions that works. B y a similar token, in the base game trying to stall by ending turn will result in Devastate immediately going through, since the Archon King got a turn. On the other hand, killing the Archon King right after he uses it will completely cancel Devastate, unlike an Archon's Blazing Pinions. This doesn't crop up very often, but it's something to keep in mind if he uses Devastate when very low on HP, especially if you have multiple free damaging actions you were holding in reserve.

And just in case you glossed over the summary, Devastate does not eat two Ruler Reactions. The Ruler Reaction -or regular turn- in which Devastate goes off is one in which he's still free to shoot, swipe, or grab someone.

As with the Berserker Queen's Quake, Devastate is only allowed to knock Unconscious one of your soldiers per use, and as usual with this type of variable-outcome attack is a Strength-against-Will test, with similar implications to Quake, though the Archon King only has 50 Strength and thus is less effective per victim at inflicting conditions. (Though Devastate tends to catch more units than Quake) Also like Quake -not to mention Blazing Pinions- it rather bizarrely lets the Archon King move roughly a Dash of distance as part of it, regardless of how many action points he actually has available and completely ignoring Mobility penalties from eg Poison, allowing him to almost always perform it as his very first action -and unlike the Berserker Queen there's no terrain-based qualifiers, since it's a flight action. More humorously, it also shares with Blazing Pinions the bizarre quality that if it sets off an environmental explosive next to where the Archon King lands, he'll take damage from the explosion in spite of that not fitting with the animations.

On the plus side, unlike Quake you have the opportunity to get at least one person out of the blast, allowing you to eg move your medical Specialist out of the target zone to ensure they can use Revival Protocol or Restoration to get Unconscious people back up. (As opposed to the Berserker Queen potentially knocking the Specialist Unconscious with no warning and limited ability to prevent it) Notably, Grappling is a free action and so doesn't trigger Ruler Reactions -the Serpentsuit can be a lifesaver here, and in the base game I tend to get 1-2 Spider Suits online fairly early in part because of the Archon King in particular. Less reliable but also worth keeping in mind is the melee attack on the R.A.G.E. Suit, as it's a free action -but it requires an enemy in reach and visible to the wearer, which can't be counted on in general but especially not in your first encounter with the Archon King.

Also keep in mind that Devastate itself is fairly punishing to taking high ground, since its explosions are extremely reliable at destroying destructible terrain elements. If you're looking at his first Devastate, Grappling to destructible high ground can be dangerous -certainly, you shouldn't have everyone Grapple to the same building, as he'll almost certainly target his second Devastate at them if you do and deaths are distressingly likely to result. On the other hand, if it's his second Devastate of the mission, this is reasonably safe, as if it's not your final confrontation with him he'll run before he's ready to launch a third Devastate, so feel free to Grapple out at that point if you didn't Grapple earlier.

Of course, this is all premised on the idea you have high ground to Grapple to. Flatter maps can be miserable to fight the Archon King on.

Devastate also makes the Archon King uniquely synergistic with other pods being present, as it tends to leave a worrying large portion of your squad out of Cover if you weren't able to get everyone out of range. This isn't too bad with the Archon King by himself -he'll usually open with Devastate, and then immediately go for Icarus Drop, which doesn't care about Cover in the first place- but can result in you driving him off successfully only to lose one or more squad members to the regular enemies that now have a clear shot at multiple injured soldiers. The Viper King could leave one soldier in an equivalent situation via Tongue Pull, but that was really it, and surprisingly the Berserker Queen's Quake doesn't do environmental damage, so she actually has almost no ability to leave your soldiers exposed to other enemies -Faithbreaker is all she's got, and enemies tend to ignore Panicked soldiers even if they're exposed, so it's only really relevant due to the point that it can result in a Panicked soldier using a grenade on an ally and thereby vaporizing their Cover.

Devastate putting the Archon King in the air of course shares a lot of implications with Icarus Drop doing so: no meleeing him, no grenade-ing him, assorted other effects can't target him, etc. Unlike Icarus Drop, it can actually occasionally be useful to target him with eg a Blaster Launcher if you can finagle it, since it's not an automatic friendly-fire incident. Still risky for the reasons I've covered before, but something to keep in mind.

It's also worth reiterating that Icarus Drop and Devastate give the Archon King a commanding view of the battlefield. This isn't very important in the base game, but in War of the Chosen suddenly you care a lot about whether an Alien Ruler can see your soldiers or not; this commanding view will tend to take away the option of having people perform regular actions without triggering Ruler Reactions. As such, consider carefully whether any currently-unseen soldiers can do anything before you trigger his first Ruler Reaction, as he will virtually always spend his first Ruler Reaction on initiating Devastate and almost certainly be able to see your entire squad.

A secondary point of note is that the Archon King is actually even worse than the Berserker Queen is about tending to incidentally reveal soldiers under regular Concealment, as the Archon King tends to try to center himself roughly in the middle-back of your squad when using Devastate. If your Concealed soldier isn't a Reaper or actively off to one side, where they'd be hidden from the rest of the squad if the rest of the squad were hostiles, the Archon King is extremely likely to reveal them as part of his first action. (This is a contributing factor to my low opinion of regular Concealment abilities, particularly in the base game where you don't have any option for being properly warned of the Archon King's presence)

Overall, while Devastate can be catastrophic if eg your squad is clumped atop a building when the Archon King patrols into your squad, I actually still consider it a comparatively merciful behavior, if less so than Icarus Drop. Even without Stasis or free movement actions to completely escape the impact zone, you still get an opportunity to decide who you feel is terrible to end up Unconscious (eg your Revival Protocol Specialist, or more extremely your Restoration Specialist) and move them so there's no possibility of being KOed. The damage is fairly low compared to your squad's expected durability, especially if you prioritize Armor. The targeting doesn't intelligently optimize, simply trying to center on four different soldiers in reach if possible, which can result in wasted shots where eg two soldiers adjacent to each other get targeted by two missiles, where either missile would've hit them both, while some other soldier nearby isn't targeted at all. It also doesn't 'see' rooftops; soldiers who are indoors will tend to draw missiles where this is no danger to them because the missile will detonate on the roof overhead.

And of course it can end up completely wasted if you're close to killing him anyway, a free turn.

If you do properly prepare with a Stasis-capable Psi Operative and free movement tools, it can easily turn into a 100% wasted action, or even a counterproductive one if the Archon King blasts buddies or catches himself with environmental explosives. I can contrast this with the Berserker Queen, where Faithbreaker is her only action you can potentially reliably render a complete waste, and the reliable answers require significant team commitment (eg everybody is a SPARK or has a Mindshield equipped), particularly in the base game where Solace doesn't refund action points lost to Panic and is unreliable about blocking effects.

It's similarly worth pointing out that the map conditions that are most favorable to Devastate -flat, open fields- favor all of the Berserker Queen's tools as well. Rivers and other impassable 'ground' are the only real caveat to this. So while there's a lot of situations that hamper the Archon King's effectiveness relative to the Berserker Queen, destructible high ground is the only case that can end up clearly favoring the Archon King as a threat.

A minor mechanical oddity; so long as the Archon King is around, regular Archons won't use Blazing Pinions. It's really easy to overlook because Alien Rulers rarely stick around for even two full player turns and you don't usually want to leave regular enemies alive and functional while an Alien Ruler is around if you can avoid it, but it's a thing, and technically pretty consistently relevant given he gets escorted by regular Archons after your first encounter. I'm a little curious as to why this is a mechanic. Did playtesters find it too problematic to have to dal with Ruler Reactions alongside a powerful-but-delayed area attack? Or did the devs just worry that would feel unfair? Something else entirely? It's weird, in any event; the other Alien Rulers don't have equivalent behavior-suppression attached to them.

On a different note, the Archon King thankfully has nothing equivalent to Battle Frenzy unless you count Ruler Reactions. Some kind of damage-derived enhancement would be pretty dumb to put on such a big sack of HP, after all... and I've seen games do exactly such a dumb thing before.


The Archon King is... a little underwhelming. He's absolutely a difficult fight since he's got a bunch of HP, Defense, and Dodge, while having high potential lethality, but... the Berserker Queen is the actual high point of Alien Ruler danger in the base game. Even if you push for magnetics and Plated Armor, she's quite likely to ambush your squad when you're only partway through that transition, and you probably won't have Plasma Grenades and Advanced Explosives. You certainly won't have Powered Heavy Weapons like the Blaster Launcher. Your squad will also be lower-level -if you're playing above Regular, you probably don't have a Colonel Specialist ready to fix up everyone, for example.

The Archon King, meanwhile, will generally show up when you're partway through transitioning to beam weaponry and Powered Armor. That sounds equivalent, but you gain a flat +2 damage per weapon tier, which means in percentage terms beam weapons are a smaller increase over magnetic weapons than magnetic weapons are over conventional weapons, making it less important whether your team has completed the transition to beam weapons or not. For example, a Cannon, Shotgun, or Sniper Rifle is gaining 33%-50% more damage going from conventional to magnetic, but is only gaining 25%-33% going from magnetic to beam.

Furthermore, you almost certainly have Plasma Grenades and Advanced Explosives, roughly doubling the effectiveness of your grenades when it comes to damage and Shred; when the Berserker Queen shows up, you'll be lucky if you have two Acid Grenades to completely remove her Legendary Armor in two attacks. If you haven't prioritized Experimental Grenades or have been unlucky, you may need four grenades to Shred all her Armor! When the Archon King shows up, if you prioritized Experimental Grenades you almost certainly have an Acid Bomb to wipe all but one Armor out in one action, and even if you haven't it'll only take three Plasma Grenades to remove all his Armor.

The Archon King also only has 20% more HP than the Berserker Queen on Legendary (It's more like 25% on Regular, but whatever), which you might notice is less than the percentage damage increase gained in upping to beam weapons over magnetic weapons. This is complicated by his Dodge stat and his higher Defense, and notably his Defense is static across difficulties where the Berserker Queen has none on Rookie and Regular and then gains Defense going above those difficulties, meaning the Archon King is notably harder to kill relative to the Berserker Queen on Regular than on Legendary, but still.

His behavior is also easier to cope with. While the Archon King has a ranged attack and the Berserker Queen does not, the Berserker Queen often has no 'wasted' actions, or only one if she needs to spend a turn advancing due to awkward terrain. Pretty much any action from her is probably an immediate attempt to do damage and worse to your squad, with no way for you to prevent it aside hoping for a Stun or hitting her with the Frost Bomb or something. The Archon King's Icarus Drop, meanwhile, will be a wasted turn outright if you do damage to him (And two nearly-wasted turns if you don't interrupt it), and Devastate gives you the opportunity to get at least one squad member out of reach, where Faithbreaker and Quake give you no opportunity to respond. This means that even though the Archon King has better damage and can threaten the squad no matter their position, he actually tends to spend fewer turns on dishing out damage and inflicting negative effects.

Again: the Archon King is a hard fight, but in the base game if you were able to get past the Berserker Queen without too much trouble the Archon King is liable to be much less worrying. The only significant caveat here is that on Legendary he's dangerously likely to leave your entire squad Injured for long enough they're not ready for at least one mission, which in the base game can be ruinous if you haven't been trying to beef up your roster so you have decent-level fallback options.

The Archon King's relatively late placement is also important. By the time he shows up, the player is probably in the middle of dismantling Avatar Project facilities and/or hitting the Forge and Psi Gate missions. I'm not actually sure what mission he normally will be hitting you on the first time he shows up, because I've most often had him jump me during one of those missions instead. As none of those missions has any kind of timer or other pressure (eg civilian deaths in Retaliation missions), he's a lot less likely to be an immediate, serious threat than the Berserker Queen on your first encounter -and since an Alien Ruler's first fight is the one where it's hardest to drive them off, due to their Armor not being Shredded yet, that further contributes to him being less likely to wipe squads or force you to sacrifice soldiers or fail the mission.

War of the Chosen's Integrated DLC option does a lot to correct the progression, as do other changes like access to Reapers. Just being able to reliably send in a squad to hunt for the Berserker Queen and Overwatch ambush her to bypass her Ruler Reactions does a lot to reduce her threat level, and in War of the Chosen it's not unusual for Avatar Project facilities to have a river or similar feature that lets you take shots at the Berserker Queen without her being able to close in on the squad, at least not so quickly. It's also often practical to put off hitting either of their facilities until after you've finished transitioning to beam weapons and otherwise getting into endgame shape, at which point the relative durability issue goes away: if you do that, you won't fight the Berserker Queen with magnetics and the Archon King with beam weapons and so have her effectively having more HP as far as number of attacks it takes to kill her, making the Archon King's durability advantage over her more properly an advantage instead of the Red Queen effect in action.

It's also the case that the entire squad being laid up after a mission is already something to plan for even in perfect War of the Chosen missions, so his particular ability to hospitalize an entire squad for a while doesn't stand out so starkly; in War of the Chosen, a squad potentially being out of action for a week or two after a mission is just business as usual.

I still rate the Berserker Queen as a little more dangerous than the Archon King, even with Integrated DLC on, but it's a much closer point and RNG is a notable factor given his Dodge stat, not to mention strategic luck: I've had runs where Avatar Project Facility placement funneled me to the Archon King first, even before the Viper King!


Icarus Armor is the most straightforwardly unambiguous upgrade of the three Alien Ruler armors, being 100% superior to Warden Armor where the upgraded Serpentsuit has some disadvantages relative to Wraith Armor and the upgraded R.A.G.E. Suit has some disadvantages relative to a W.A.R. Suit.

In practical terms, it's a little less impressive than that description might lead you to believe. Part of this is not the fault of the design: it's a bad idea to use the Icarus Jump willy-nilly because it's prone to crashing the game outright in the base game, whereas in War of the Chosen you've got so many great classes that can't use alternate armors it's easy to find yourself sending out a squad without the Icarus Armor because there's other stuff you're prioritizing on the people who actually can equip it at all. The ability to freely hop up and down Z-levels is conceptually fantastic, but in the actual gameplay it's surprisingly underwhelming, usually being worse than a Grapple in actual practice. Sure, a Grapple has a cooldown where Icarus Armor can be used to jump to high ground literally every turn if terrain allows, but a Grapple is also a free action that can significantly move the soldier, letting them cover more ground in time-sensitive missions and whatnot. Icarus Jump can fill a similar role... but even aside the crashing, it's only got two charges and still has a cooldown.

In practice, I tend to put Icarus Armor on my Specialists, and that's pretty much entirely so they can equip a Medikit and a Skulljack at the same time; if I want them equipping both, that means Predator/Warden/Icarus Armor, and Icarus Armor is of course the superior choice. On other classes, being able to equip two Items is useful, but not usually important enough to outweigh the advantages of heavy and/or light armor.

That's functional enough as a niche, but still surprisingly underwhelming for being your ultimate Alien Ruler armor.

Narratively, the Autopsy is even more lackluster. It largely reiterates what's been said before or that you'll see in-game, such as Tygan dedicating an entire paragraph (Of two!) to 'this guy likes to grab your soldiers and carry them into the sky', and reiterating Bradford's complaints about Vahlen having upgraded the Archon King's gear... somehow. The Vahlen dialogue portion is slightly more interesting, with Vahlen's dialogue being worded in a way that could be taken as confirming that Archons are a distinct species, not related to Floaters except in the sense of being flying cyborgs. Even so, her commenting on how the Archon King is extremely smart is an unsupported, meaningless statement, and her characterization of being fascinated by Archons ever since she first sighted them is... tantalizing, but this game isn't doing anything with it and I'm skeptical XCOM 3 will come back to the topic so it just feels like wasted potential.

It's yet another reason why the Archon King feels all-around rushed and incomplete, on top of issues like Icarus Jump being prone to crashes in the base game. It comes across like the devs didn't have any concept of the Archon King at all as anything other than a gameplay piece -and it's worth noting that the Cutting Room Floor page for XCOM 2 indicates the base game initially had files for Alien Ruler units that loosely matched the final Alien Rulers. It's not hard to see how that could've led to 'let's recycle that concept for DLC, gameplay-wise', with the narrative end waved off as 'we'll figure it out before release! Probably!'

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Aesthetically, you could be forgiven for mistaking the Archon King for a simple recolor of a regular Archon. This isn't actually so -he has the six eyes on his helmet, the helmet's upper portion has a flat end thing going on instead of tapering to a clear point, his halo is studded with spikes, and red lightning arcs inside the halo periodically- but of the three Alien Rulers he's the least distinct from his regular unit equivalent. His audio is a little better -unlike the Berserker Queen, he has distinct audio- but it's still not nearly as distinct as the Viper King, with most of the Archon King's audio being clearly just regular Archon sound bites with a filter or something applied to make them deeper and all.

To be fair, I think the Devastate sound clip sounds noticeably more menacing than the Blazing Pinions sound clip, but for the most part the Archon King is just an Archon, But Angry And Demon-y in audio, with only a piece of Icarus Drop's audio really sounding like it's new, where most of the Viper King's audio is clearly intended to sound related to regular Viper audio but nonetheless isn't just a mild tweak of existing Viper sound bites.

Anyway, these points are part of why the Archon King in particular comes across to me like the most last-minute and slapdash of the Alien Rulers: the Berserker Queen looks like they made a distinct model with plans for new animations and abilities, and ran out of time for those last bits. The Archon King comes across like they didn't even have time to think about what his new abilities and animations could be, and had to rush out a distinct model. The fact that the Cutting Room Floor indicates the grab ability was already planned for an enemy that got cut and repurposed into this Archon King is particularly notable; before I learned that, the grab ability was a bit of an issue with my theory because it was more new and distinct than anything the Berserker Queen does. If the grab ability was already substantially coded, and just the enemy that uses it got cut... well, then the Archon King really doesn't do anything new at all, does he? Not in the context of the development history. Devastate is just Blazing Pinions with mental effects attached and adjusted to fit Ruler Reactions, after all.

Narratively, the Archon King is fairly minimal in coverage. Vahlen thinks he's worryingly intelligent, Bradford and Tygan remark on Vahlen having somehow upgraded his gear... that's about it. It's yet another element that contributes to him seeming the most rushed, as there's not really anything to him in a narrative capacity, especially when one considers that the intelligence bit is just a direct repeat of Vahlen worrying about the Viper King's intelligence -to the point it took me a few runs to realize she says this about both of them, and not just one.

He's also one of the bigger strains on the final product's 'Alien Rulers as escaped mad science experiments' approach. Vahlen found an Archon -a cyborg, when she has, in XCOM 2 canon, no familiarity with cybernetics- and somehow upgraded this high-tech piece of alien engineering to be even more better? Forget why she would do that, I want to know how she could possibly have done such a thing!

Once again, this gear advantage makes a lot more sense if the Archon King were an actual ruler of his species using the most expensive and exclusive gear.

On a different note, if the Alien Rulers were all proto-Chosen, I'm rather curious how the Archon King would fit in. The evidence is there was supposed to be a Julian-led fourth Resistance faction of robots, and a fourth Chosen that would likely have been Grenadier-like; I have to wonder if, essentially, a character got cut twice, where the Chosen Grenadier or whatever would have been a cyborg (To counterpart to Julian's robot faction) and whatever prototype personality the Archon King might've had would hypothetically have gone to this Chosen?

That's all particularly speculative, though, and I wouldn't be particularly surprised if it's not even slightly accurate.

On a different note, I'm kind of curious if maybe the Hunters Axes were meant to be the Archon King's weapon. Regular Archons are your source of third-tier melee weapon upgrades, after all, and they're unique among enemies for using the same tool to fight in melee and at range, which can be connected to the Hunters Axes having the ranged attack. I'd historically guessed Berserker Queen for the Hunter's Axes because it's easy to imagine simply adding the axes to her hands with little modification and ending up with sensible animations, but honestly given how blatantly the Berserker Queen's animations don't build on her model, the scenario likely runs the other way, where the Archon King was intended to dual-wield axes instead of using a regular Archon staff and they didn't have the time to implement anything close to this.

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Next time, we finally move onto the Chosen, starting with an overall intro to their shared tactical elements.

See you then.

Comments

  1. Icarus Drop causing fall damage would make it pretty unbalanced; four stories' drop would be eight points of damage! That would mean countering it would be much worse overall than just letting it through.

    Again more evidence of Alien Hunters' rushed state. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't consider giving the attack fall damage at all, but I wouldn't be surprised either if they actually did implement it and found out about the severe unbalance during playtesting.

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  2. My personal guess is that a more polished version of Alien Hunters would've just had a more appropriate animation approach: maybe instead of carrying the target into the air and stopping there, he'd have grabbed them down at ground level, and letting the attack through would result in him blasting off and slamming down in one action, sidestepping the 'interrupting means a bone-crunching fall' issue entirely.

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    1. That makes sense. Highly looking forward to the Chosen posts, btw. You'd think with them being so central to WOTC and all the myriad ways they can show up in your run with various perks and debuffs, etc. there'd be some place on the Internet where all of this is documented, but (just with everything else about this game) nope.

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    2. Yeah, part of why I started this series is I'd go looking stuff up because I was curious what a given thing actually meant and if there were any rules to keep in mind, and find that the information either didn't exist or was ridiculously barebones if it was content new to WoTC... not that base XCOM 2 was all that well-documented, either, but most of the obvious things to be curious about were at least *mentioned* on wikis and whatnot.

      But while news articles and whatnot love using screenshots of the Assassin... yeah, virtually no info.

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  3. Interesting, I had always thought of the Archon as the most dangerous due to devastate and the grab giving a defense bonus. Personally I've always had more trouble with the Archon King than the Berserker Queen but that may just be my playstyle. Also ditto about the "intelligence" remarks by Vahlen; I always thought she was exclusively referring to the Archon King and HE was the one who actually broke containment and made everything fall apart. If nothing else, the confusion definitely shows the rushed state of the DLC. Thanks for covering.

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    1. I actually aborted my original base-game Legendary run over the Archon King hospitalizing my entire team, a feat the Berserker Queen never managed in that run; in general, I think the absolute worst-case scenarios he can produce are overall more horrific than the Berserker Queen's, but in the vast majority of my runs he never approaches such a wort-case.

      So basically I feel he's less bad on average, which won't necessarily be true in any particular run.

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