XCOM 2 Alien Analysis: Chryssalid

HP: 8/9/10/13
Armor: 1
Defense: 0/0/10/10
Dodge: 10/20/20/20
Aim: 75
Mobility: 12/12/15/15 (8/16 on Rookie/Regular, 10/20 on Commander/Legendary)
Damage: 5-6 (+2)
Shred: 0
Crit Chance: 0/10%/15%/15%
Will: 50/70/70/70

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

I still intensely dislike giving a centaurian alien stupendous leaping ability (It's not like the new design gives them grasshopper-esque disproportionately huge legs to better justify this capability), but XCOM 2 gets something of a pass from the fact that the prior game already gave them this capability and, for whatever reason, XCOM 2 didn't actually do much to change their design. I don't really get why, given how significantly multiple other returning aliens were changed; it's not like XCOM 2 Chryssalids are recycling the implantation animations, or the Zombie-becomes-Chryssaida animation. The Chryssalid is the alien that would've most benefitted from a more fundamental change in its graphics, rather than the reskinning it got.

At least it's more mechanically meaningful now. Part of why I didn't like it in the prior game was that Terror maps trended away from designing themselves so Leap mattered, and big UFO maps weren't any better about this. Retaliation missions are pretty consistent about having raised ground with sufficiently limited access points it has a chance to really matter, and most of the more unusual missions Chryssalids can show up in are also pretty good about this. It's only really Chosen Strongholds where it tends to be irrelevant, which isn't so bad.

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

The combination of innate Defense and Dodge, plus higher HP, means XCOM 2 Chryssalids are not nearly as vulnerable as their immediate predecessors. Though admittedly they're also reserved for the later game...

Cannot be Poisoned.

Another melee enemy you'd love to Poison so it's less likely to reach anyone and less likely to hit if it does make it, but which is immune, taking away that option.

In the base game, this is sort of irrelevant because you'd rather set them on fire, and typically by the time Chryssalids show up you've had the time to roll the Experimental Ammo/Grenade dice enough to be reasonably likely to have Dragon Rounds and/or Incendiary Grenades. Why Poison a target to make it less likely to be dangerous when fire will ensure it's no threat? Chryssalids are also prone to severe clumping on initial activation, making the Gas Grenade's superior area of effect irrelevant, too; the Chrysalids virtually always end up positioned so a 3x3 area will catch them all just fine.

It's noticeably more relevant in War of the Chosen, where Burn no longer completely disables them and is, in general, less desirable to carry into missions, while Poison is more the default. You might actually be pained by the inability to use Poison to impair them, and you're a lot more likely to eg have a Sharpshooter equipped with Venom Rounds and really feel the pain from losing a point of damage per Pistol shot, especially given Chryssalids do have a point of Armor to further cut into Pistol damage.

It's still pretty easy to end up playing in a way that doesn't really notice, mind...

The Chryssalid's basic attack is a move-and-melee attack.

Interestingly, the SoldierSkills config file has a 3 turn cooldown listed under the Chryssalid ability set for a 'charge_and_slash' ability, suggesting that at some point move-and-melee behavior was a special attacking action, instead of move-and-melee being the game's default for melee attacks. Probably for the best that this got dropped, if so: for one thing, XCOM 2 is too oriented toward everything dying really quickly for multi-turn cooldowns to be particularly meaningful on most enemies. Since enemies will rarely live for even two turns, if the player is playing decently well, a 3 turn cooldown would be indistinguishable from having a single charge. For another, it would likely in practice have been basically the same as the current model, aside a lot of dumb edge-case jank, in that likely Chryssalids would just need the one use of move-and-melee, and after that be close enough to viable targets consistently enough that a lack of move-and-melee wouldn't cost them anything... except when the stars happened to align so that somebody was just barely out of reach, where it would randomly protect the player for no clear reason. (You can't check enemy abilities in XCOM 2, not without mod support, so it wouldn't be obvious to a player why a Chryssalid randomly stopped adjacent to one of their troops and just stared at them instead of attacking)

In any event, move-and-melee mechanics are a big boost to Chryssalid effectiveness: while their Mobility per se is actually lower than in the prior game, their actual strike range is more than twice what it used to be, even on the lower difficulties where they're actually only as fast as your own soldiers. The only caveat to this is that it does mean they get less of a boost from the initial pod activation free move. Which is honestly basically protecting them, since you get bonus Aim for enemies being closer.

Conversely, when they strike, it's.... soooorta less dangerous. The key thing is that melee attacks now use regular accuracy checks: not only can a Chryssalid miss in general, but you can impair the Chryssalid's Aim (Flashbangs, mostly) or boost the Defense of potential victims. (Smoke Grenade if everyone is clumped, for example) On the other hand, there's no equivalent to Chitin Plating to specifically cripple melee damage, melee attacks can crit so Chryssalid peak damage is higher, and their Poison infliction has been overhauled in a manner that is a lot more dangerous.

Like Stun Lancers and Berserkers, Chryssalids are perfectly happy to go haring off after far-distant targets. Don't be planning under the expectation they'll attack a soldier they start next to. This is particularly pertinent to Retaliation missions, where it's not unusual for them to decide to attack a civilian instead of the soldier right in front of them.

The Chryssalid may Burrow, becoming invisible. While Burrowed, area-of-effect attacks will only do half damage to the Chryssalid. If an enemy approaches the Chryssalid while it is Burrowed, it will immediately un-Burrow and perform its standard melee attack on them. This does not suffer Overwatch penalties.

Burrow is basically melee Overwatch... except minus the part where Overwatch normally can't crit and suffers an accuracy penalty. Chryssalid crit damage is only +2, admittedly, but Burrow is still notably more dangerous than you might expect. There's also the consideration of Armor to keep in mind; a SPARK with an Anodized Chassis will normally take 2-3 damage from a Chryssalid Slash. A crit spikes that to 4-5 damage. That means it's easy to end up overestimating how safe it is to use a SPARK to trigger Chryssalids, where the expected result of triggering three Burrowed Chryssalids is to get hit 1-2 times for a total of 4-6 damage and whoops you were spectacularly unlucky and got hit three times for 15 damage and now your SPARK is dead or will die to a stiff breeze when they really, really ought to have been fine.

Note that in War of the Chosen Burrow is still disabled by being set on fire in spite of Chryssalid melee no longer being disabled. You don't have to worry about flaming Chryssalids promptly hiding underground once out of sight. Setting them on fire isn't a gamebreaker anymore, but it's not completely useless.

Anyway, Burrow is surprisingly threatening. It's essentially a melee equivalent to Overwatch, but it throws in invisibility for free and ignores Concealment, up to and including Shadow! It also ignores Shadowstep and Lightning Reflexes; this latter point is particularly frustrating given that you'd really expect Lightning Reflexes to be a basically perfect counter to Burrow, and nope. The only reliable 'counters' to Burrow are the Specialist's Scan Pulse ability and the Battle Scanner Item, which will force Burrowed Chryssalids to unburrow, when Scan Pulse is a single-use ability you didn't necessarily take in the first place and Battle Scanners are also limited-use and eat a precious Item slot. In absence of these, your best options are to scout with a unit that isn't bothered by Chryssalid Poison (A SPARK, to a lesser extent a Psi Operative with Fortress or anyone carrying a Medikit), or scout with someone with Bladestorm, or reverse your usual behavior by having your scout move last, backed by the rest of the team going into Overwatch to kill any unburrowing Chryssalids. (Which is really risky, since it's not feasible to get 100%-accurate Overwatch fire against Chryssalids, and they have Dodge: it's always possible to roll a few too many misses/Grazes and now you've just given the Chryssalid an extra turn of attacking, compared to if you didn't Overatch and used fully-reliable attacks to kill it after it charged)

This is particularly problematic in the base game, as your only warning of the possibility of Burrowed Chryssalids is the Shadow Chamber informing you of Chryssalids, and the first time you encounter Chryssalids you'll just be told it's an ENEMY UNKNOWN.

War of the Chosen cheats a little for you by making it so that Burrowing briefly reveals the Chryssalid performing the Burrow...

...allowing you to know roughly how far off you are from needing to engage in Burrow countermeasures as well as ensuring that you'll know Burrow is a threat even in your first encounter.

A related point is that Chryssalids have non-standard spawn routines. The most obvious point is that Chryssalids are one of the few enemies that routinely spawns in monotyped pods, but more subtle is that Chryssalids actually have two spawn behaviors; the standard routine of spawning in a group of units that wanders around and activates all at once when spotting non-Concealed units, and a different behavior where a single Chryssalid spawns as the entirety of its pod and on the first turn Burrows and doesn't do anything else until your troops approach. (This contrast being rather more obvious in War of the Chosen, where you'll see all the Burrowing Chryssalids Burrow on the first turn and not after) Mind, sometimes Chryssalids that end up out of your sight will decide to Burrow anyway, so watch out for that!

Curiously, the skill file has an 'unburrow chance' number filed under Chryssalid abilities, which doesn't seem to correlate to anything. Also interesting is that Burrow gives Chryssalids 50% damage resistance, though this only helps them if you catch them with an explosive, which is a bit unlikely given the primary ways to reveal them also force them out of the ground. Admittedly, I've yet to see what happens if a Reaper with Target Definition spots a Chryssalid that then Burrows, and I would intuitively expect that to let you see the Chryssalid. But it's still a fairly niche resistance, primarily likely to crop up accidentally when using eg a Blaster Launcher on an active pod that happens, outside your knowledge, to be close to a Burrowed Chryssalid.

Unfortunately, Burrow is coded in a frustratingly buggy way, where Chryssalids can react to one unit entering their radius by popping out and attacking a completely different unit, sometimes one well outside their actual strike zone! As far as I know, no mod has attempted to fix this, unless one counts mods that disable Burrow entirely as a fix. That's certainly one way of bypassing the issue, but Burrow is one of the main things that sets Chryssalids apart from eg Stun Lancers as a threat; simply removing it makes them less interesting and distinctive.

Hopefully XCOM 3 will squash this particular bug if Chryssalids are brought back as an enemy, which I rather suspect they will be.

Chryssalid Poison
The Chryssalid's melee attacks always inflict Chryssalid Poison on the target on a successful hit. This form of Poison lasts forever unless cured with a Medikit. Medikits also only provide partial immunity to Chryssalid Poison, preventing it from doing damage but not preventing it from being inflicted. Other sources of Poison immunity, such as Fortress, SPARKs being robots, or the Hazmat Vest, provide total immunity to Chryssalid Poison. If the victim dies while afflicted with this brand of Poison (Including if they have a Medikit), they will immediately form a Chryssalid Cocoon, which will have 16/20/36/40 HP (Dependent on difficulty) and 50 Will, and each turn that passes the Cocoon will generate a single 'baby' Chryssalid with ?/4/5/6 HP (Dependent on difficulty) but is otherwise a full Chryssalid in stats and capabilities. The Cocoon dies when it produces its third baby Chryssalid.

This really should be Chryssalid venom, not poison, as poison is the defensive application of toxins, while venom is the offensive application. I'd actually be willing to gloss over that if the game used the incredibly awesome name used in the code of Parthogenic Poison, as that's amazing and the alliterativeness helps it, but as-is it bugs me.

It being labeled Poison is also misleading from the fact that unlike regular Poison it does not inflict stat penalties. It only does damage and then converts the victim into a Chryssalid Cocoon on death.

Also, the question mark on Rookie baby Chryssalid HP is because I've never played on Rookie, have no intention of doing so far enough to see baby Chryssalid HP, and baby Chryssalids don't have their stats conveniently exposed in a config file, so I don't know what that particular HP number is. Probably 4, maybe 3, but it's... not terribly important.

In any event, it's worth noting that while Chryssalid Poison is very different from regular Poison, I haven't been mentioning immunity to Chryssalid Poison on specific examples because the game is very consistent about immunity to regular Poison doubling as immunity to Chryssalid Poison. The only time a substantial distinction is drawn is when it comes to Medikits, where they only block the damage component of Chryssalid Poison in spite of providing complete immunity to regular Poison.

On a different mechanical note, War of the Chosen tweaks Chryssalid Poison so that it does its damage at the end of the victim's team's turn, rather than at the beginning. This mostly isn't super-important, but it's a massive difference when you've got someone on 1 HP and the ability to Medikit them this turn. Though it also means the poison gets to do damage sooner if it happens to be a Burrowed Chryssalid that landed the hit...

In any event, this is the new mechanic for Chryssalid generation. No more Zombies, no more need for a Chryssalid to be the one that lands the killing blow, and now it works on everything.

Well, nearly everything, Point is it's no longer human-specific: this is only lightly relevant to the core single-player experience, but it's very important for multiplayer and Challenge stuff, where players can be deploying Chryssalids against susceptible aliens.

In the core game, it is in fact overall a bit of a nuisance that Cocoons can be produced from eg a Berserker's body, as in the core game a Dominated Chryssalid will not cause friendly Cocoons to spawn: they'll be hostile and produce hostile baby Chryssalids. So ideally if you Dominate a Chryssalid you won't have it attack Poison-susceptible enemies. Send them after robots, other Chryssalids, Vipers, and Andromedons. (Lost and Purifiers are also fine targets, in War of the Chosen)

By a similar token, Dominating an enemy with an intention to use them to scout for Burrowed Chryssalids is generally best off picking one of the handful of targets that's immune to Chryssalid Poison, so you don't have their inevitable death producing a Chryssalid Cocoon.

Also a weird point is that XCOM 2 actually rolls for the possibility of loot being dropped from newly-generated units. This includes that Cocoons and newborn Chryssalids can potentially drop loot when killed! Where'd the gear come from, anyway? And to be clear, this applies to any case of units being spawned, so it includes wacky things like the Warlock's Spectral Zombies being able to drop loot.

Two cases I'm uncertain of and haven't gotten around to properly testing: Gatekeepers and Chosen. Both are susceptible to regular Poison, but Gatekeepers explode on death and Chosen always teleport out after you take them out. I'm not sure if Cocoons will fail to form on them as a result of these atypical behaviors or if the game just ends up producing bizarre visuals as a result. I'll update this space whenever I get around to testing these cases.

Intriguingly, the blobby Chryssalid Poison effects on afflicted soldiers actually look a lot like the blobby material the centaurian boss Chryssalids from Enforcer spat out. Much like Archons resembling Cyberbeasts in visual and audio and cultural influence, I can't help but suspect this is deliberate, which is cool. Enforcer has some pretty solid ideas in there; seeing them dredged up and given a better treatment is nice.

In any event, Chryssalid Poison makes it desperately important to bring Medikits and/or ensure your entire team is immune to Chryssalid Poison when Burrowing Chryssalids are a concern, in part due to the aforementioned bugginess of Burrow's attack behavior: you can't 100% reliably prevent Burrowed Chryssalids from successfully hitting someone, and due to the bugginess you can't reliably control who gets hit. Since Chryssalid Poison never goes away and injures people each turn, even one hit landing can inevitably result in a death if you can't cure it. The Psi Gate mission in particular has a lot of guaranteed Burrowing Chryssalids and is a lengthy enough mission there's more or less no chance of saving someone hit early by virtue of completing the mission before they die. So, uh, bring Medikits into the Psi Gate mission!

Unless your squad happens to be made entirely of Fortress SPARKs, Fortress Templar, and Fortress Psi Operatives, of course. A bit weird a squad, but not that out there.

When you don't have to worry about Burrow-pod Chryssalids, it's not nearly so important to bring Medikits. Which in practice means if you don't roll Infestation you only really need the Medikits/immunities in the Psi Gate mission, since Burrow-pods only show up in the Psi Gate mission unless Infestation kicks in: all other times Chryssalids spawn, they're only going to Burrow if they lose sight of your squad post-activation. This is a pretty unlikely scenario, requiring something strange happen like you activate a pod while your forces are up a cliff, where the pod promptly spends their post-activation movement moving out of your squad's sight into the cliff's shadow with no other enemies in the area providing sight of your squad. (ie literally exactly what happened to me in my very first Chryssalid-containing Retaliation mission...)

As noted earlier, Chryssalids are completely unique in the base game for not participating in mixed pod mechanics: if a pod has even one Chryssalid, no other pod member is a Chryssalid. Period. I actually feel like this is a bit of a missed opportunity, in that it would've made a lot of sense to have some manner of 'Chryssalid Handler' unit instead of continuing to have Chryssalids fight alongside other enemies cohesively while insisting they're basically wild animals let loose. It would've been particularly great if said handler was a Viper: this would simultaneously function as a callback to classic X-COM (Where Chryssalids were the Snakeman terror unit), make very good internal sense (Vipers being immune to Poison means they're not susceptible to Chryssalid Poison. It's either them, a robot, or an Andromedon for a relatively safe Chryssalid handler that exists in the base game), potentially resolve the issue of Viper corpses being overly-rare (Have Chryssalid Handlers be an elite Viper variant that drops the same corpse), and even have some gameplay synergy! (Viper spits Poison cloud, Chryssalids charge right through it without a care) It's such a natural idea I'm genuinely amazed that as far as I can tell no mod introduces such an enemy.

War of the Chosen adding Lost arguably makes this no longer unique to Chryssalids (Lost Brutes are always alone, after all), but it's still a notable quirk of Chryssalids. It also means they're the only move-and-melee unit that doesn't have to worry about leaving its pod behind when repeatedly killing civilians: if an inactive Chryssalid makes a series of such kills, its fellow Chryssalids will of course keep up with it just fine.

Anyway, on the topic of Chryssalid deployment, it's worth pointing out they primarily show up in Retaliation missions, particularly in the base game. (War of the Chosen lets them show up in Chosen Strongholds, for one) They also show up in some plot missions (The Psi Gate mission and the final mission, specifically. Also the Avenger Defense mission if you want to count that as a plot mission, though they'll only show if it happens late enough they're in normal rotation), and Dark Events and Sitreps can potentially have them show up in most mission types, but by default Retaliation missions are basically it. (Unlike the previous game, where they also showed up in all the larger UFOs) Chryssalid presence in Retaliation missions is actually less of a problem than you might expect; XCOM 2 doesn't cheat with magical out-of-sight kills being rolled and then rolled for whether they result in a Zombie (Well, Cocoon in this case), and the routines for determining who performs an out-of-sight kill are heavily biased toward ranged attackers. In conjunction with activated Chryssalids tending to prioritize targeting the player's forces, you're actually pretty unlikely to see Chryssalids exploding out of control via Civilian casualties. 

On the higher two difficulties, this is particularly merciful given that Cocoons get monstrous HP values such that it's quite possible your team can't destroy a Cocoon before it spawns a Chryssalid.

Something worth pointing out, particularly on the lower two difficulties, is that Bladestorm scouts aren't as effective at softening up just-activated pods as Close Combat Specialist Assaults were in the prior game. Between how tremendous Chryssalid Mobility was and how relatively generous Close Combat Specialist's activation radius was, it was quite normal for an activated pod to shove itself right into your Assault's face and get shot for its trouble. XCOM 2's Chryssalids will only occasionally have the Bladestorm equivalent happen (Since they don't advance as far, and Bladestorm doesn't strike as far), outside of course Burrowed Chryssalids. In conjunction with move-and-melee mechanics, it's a lot harder to completely trivialize Chryssalids. Especially since they're overall more durable than the prior game's Chryssalids.

In any event, the combination of some Defense, some Dodge, a point of Armor, and a propensity for clumping on initial activation makes Chryssalids one of the better enemy types to start by tossing an explosive at them. In the base game the ideal is of course to use an Incendiary Grenade to hard-disable them, but really anything is helpful, even if Gas Grenades are least helpful. Removing that one point of Armor tends to have a bigger impact than you might expct.

As a Domination target, Chryssalids aren't particularly appealing. Against most organic targets, you don't want them landing hits because it'll result in hostile Chryssalids. Against Codices, they're prone to Grazing and furthering the clone count. Against Armored robots, their damage contribution is generally pretty sad. Their ability to Burrow, though neat, is very limited in utility in player hands, as while I've compared it to Overwatch its actual trigger zone is noticeably less than standard line of sight, so it's only rarely practical to try to set Burrow up as part of an Overwatch wall -even aside the part where you don't want the Chryssalid infecting enemies and Burrow doesn't give you control over their targeting.

The main utility they do offer of note is, amusingly, that they're one of your better options for scouting for Burrowed Chryssalids: immune to Chryssalid Poison, innate Defense reducing the odds of being hit, Dodge and Armor making their HP go farther, all on a unit you don't actually care about the survival of. This comes with the caveat that Burrow's attack behavior is janky and they won't necessarily end up the target, mind...

Mostly, though, they're just an okay distraction, when most enemies are okay distractions when Dominated. You're usually better off Dominating something else. Even in the Psi Gate mission: it frequently has Codices, and they're pretty solid for scouting for Burrowed Chryssalids, too.

On the plus side, they're one of the better targets for Insanity. Mediocre Will, severely impaired by Disorientation, Panic has no possibility of backfiring (They just run away or hold still, cowering. They'll never attack anything while Panicked), and if they end up Mind Controlled they're decently likely to draw fire from other enemies, maybe even die before you have to deal with them yourself. Regular Chryssalid pods are really prone to clumping on initial activation, too, making them a great Void Rift target, dovetailing nicely with how good Insanity is against them. Really, in general Psi Operatives are surprisingly nice against Chryssalids in particular; it's a bit funny to me.

Unusually, the Tactical Legacy mission packs actually have a custom Chryssalid model. These 'Neonate Chryssalids' only show up in It Came From The Sea, and are in mechanical terms essentially just baby Chryssalids with no Armor; 4 HP, same damage and Mobility, etc. Though for whatever reason their stats are of a Rookie difficulty Chryssalid, eg 10 Dodge, no innate Defense, only 12 Mobility, etc. Even though the Tactical Legacy Pack missions don't let you play on Rookie.

Regardless, it's a nice callback to how newborn Chryssalids in the prior game would initially have a pale pink/white carapace, which makes sense since the Tactical Legacy pack is all-around hearkening back to the prior game. It Came From The Sea in particular is in part hearkening back to Site Recon, where Chryssalids were popping out of sharks and whatnot.

Mechanically, they don't really matter. The game likes to have them jump out of water, which can catch you off guard initially, but they're easily killed. You'll be a lot more concerned by the regular Chryssalids... especially since they get to jump out of the water, too.

Hence why I haven't bothered to cover Neonate Chryssalids in a separate post; not much point.

Autopsy-wise, the Chryssalid Autopsy... exists? It gives you access to Hellweave, which has the advantage of being flatly superior to Nanofiber Vests and has the advantage over other Vests of not being a Proving Ground Project and thus not costing an Elerium Core, but Hellweave itself is a bit underwhelming. In the base game it's clearly meant to be a Chryssalid counter, as being on fire shuts off their melee attack in the base game, but reactively setting enemies on fire is pretty underwhelming a benefit and doesn't address any of the actual problems with letting Chryssalids attack your forces. If it pre-emptively set them on fire, it would've been pretty good, but as-is... eeeh.

This is the base game, mind. In War of the Chosen, where eg Chryssalids can still melee while on fire, it's even worse!

This isn't even touching on the sheer weirdness of it. Why did studying a dead Chryssalid lead to an undervest that... somehow... sets attackers on fire? I dunno, and I'm pretty sure the devs don't know either.

This is something of a recurring issue with the more monstrous alien Autopsies, and one of the only things that makes me miss Gene Mods. Studying Chryssalids to install jumpy legs in our soldiers via mad science would make a kind of sense, and honestly with XCOM-2's setup it wouldn't be too hard to justify strangely easy access to biological manipulation of this sort: gene therapy clinics have been around for ages, and Tygan explicitly worked in one. It's pretty easy to parlay that into suggesting X-COM is basically just using some of the Ethereal's own modification techniques, since they're in widespread enough use it makes sense some of the techniques and technology would've leaked out of Ethereal control.

I mean, it would require overhauling Tygan's dialogue so he isn't perpetually astonished by every feat of organic engineering the Ethereals engage in, and also require not writing X-COM as almost completely in the dark about the global government, but I've been over how little sense that latter point makes, and it's not like Tygan couldn't still be amazed by stuff like Vipers and Thin Men being the same beings.


My first impression of XCOM 2 Chryssalids was quite poor.

Gameplay-wise, they're obviously a huge improvement, with the primary issue being a coding issue more than anything else. (ie Burrow's janky, broken behavior that is clearly not design-intended) I do dislike the ongoing 'melee always has a chance to miss' thing, but that's a broader design issue, not a strike specifically against Chryssalids.

In terms of their aesthetic/conceptual/narrative handling, though...

Part of the thing is how many issues are inherited from the prior design: the centaurian super-leaping design that doesn't even have cricket-esque spring-legs to try to visually justify it, the persistent insistence on drawing comparisons to bugs when the exoskeleton is the only vaguely bug-like element to them, and so on.

Others, though, are newly-added in, one way or another.

Chryssalid hands, for example: in the prior game, these were a bit tacked-on, but were in fact used for the implantation animation. It was a bit frustrating how they didn't do things like use doorknobs with their hands, but there was a use for their hands. XCOM 2 Chryssalids never use their hands, unless one generously counts their 'running through Overwatch fire' animation, where they put their hands up to defend their face, same as Sectoids. So why do they have them, both from the out-of-universe standpoint of bothering to model and animate irrelevant hands, and from the in-universe standpoint of 'what are hands for in this creature?' It doesn't even matter whether you assume their current design is a product of natural evolution vs them being engineered by the Ethereals to be this way, either way this is a bothersome question. Why do they awkwardly rear back and attack with their front legs, instead of having armaments on their arms?

Narratively, there's a tangle of questions the game doesn't explicitly address and which don't have an immediately obvious model to explain them implicitly. In the prior game, one could readily assume that, like in classic X-COM, Chryssalids were basically the alien version of barely-controlled warhounds, kept in cages until it was time for a Terror attack, at which point they were unleashed and X-COM heroically charged in and killed them all. This was an imperfect model, not wholly realistic, but functional enough so long as one also implicitly accepted that gameplay did not 1-to-1 match in-universe reality on topics like Chryssalids coordinating with other aliens -that is, in the game newborn Chryssalids and Zombies are instantly cooperating as combatants with the alien forces, but one can shrug that off as a gameplay thing, that they don't flee off-map or function as a third faction hostile to all non-Chryssalids because such scenarios aren't design-useful even if they realistically ought to be happening.

A casual glance at XCOM 2 might lead one to think it's the same setup. After all, Chryssalids are the third and final Retaliation-focused enemy not seen in most mission types, just like how Chryssalids weren't deployed in Abductions and whatnot in the prior game.

Then you get into the Psi Gate mission, and less egregiously the final mission of the game, and it becomes obvious this can't be the case. The Psi Gate is always defended by an unusually large number of Chryssalids, including at least one regular pod atop the Gate itself and a half dozen-ish Burrowed in its immediate vicinity. The general implication is that these Chryssalids have been sitting here in the wilderness for who knows how many years, with no evidence of a control mechanism (Tygan doesn't refer to finding a chip connected to the psionic network, for example) and yet somehow they're... a completely contained concern?

Site Recon in Enemy Within made it clear the devs intended for the explosive growth potential of Chryssalid populations implied by the game mechanics to be roughly accurate to in-universe reality, and XCOM 2 doesn't walk that back any. If anything, it makes it a lot worse, since Chryssalids can now infest virtually anything by raw mechanics (And it should be noted that this is consistent with Site Recon having Chryssalids infesting sharks and a whale: that already made it clear the mechanics of only infesting humans was an engine limitation sort of thing, not an in-universe thing) and get three Chryssalids per infested human instead of one, as well as more reliably getting Chryssalids out of kills. Under the prior game's mechanics, if you dropped a Chryssalid into a city of 100,000 people and let it and its results run rampant, walling in the city so they couldn't get out but otherwise not stopping them, you'd end up with at most 100,001 Chryssalids -and more realistically it would be a much smaller number, since Zombie kills don't produce Chryssalids and neither do Poison kills.

Whereas in XCOM 2 that would extremely reliably result in 300,001 Chryssalids. Yikes!

This isn't even getting into the attendant containment-speed problems. Let's just arbitrarily say a turn in each game represent one minute: in that scenario, a lone Chryssalid in Enemy Unknown kills someone at most once a minute, and it takes three minutes for the resulting Zombie to hatch into a Chryssalid and get started contributing to the Chryssalid population. Thus, if a crack squad of Chryssalid-stompers swoops in thirty minutes later and starts burning them out, you'll have, if we assume optimum conditions to make the math cleaner, 408 Chryssalids to kill. That's, uh, terrifying, but it's also assuming optimum circumstances for the Chryssalids, where they always have a civilian in reach after they're done with their prior civilian and always get a successful implantation and never have a Zombie kill-steal and so on.

In XCOM 2, that exact same scenario has the first kill result in a new Chryssalid one minute later, followed by two more over the next two minutes. Thus, each Chryssalid adds an immediate contributor exactly one minute after its kill, plus two more with a delay. Even considering that in-game baby Chryssalids don't get a turn on the turn they were generated, adding a one-minute delay to our model, that still means the Chryssalid population grows explosively, so much so that... well, frankly math is not my strong suit, but even just doubling two 29 times gets me over 500,000. When doubling is actually much lower than the theoretical optimum rate of growth for XXCOM 2 Chryssalids: a kill doesn't result in one more Chryssalid also killing people to make more Chryssalids, it results in three more, just with a delay between additions. That's a delayed quadrupling of the population, not a doubling!

Now obviously in real life factors like 'this city only has 100,000 people' and 'people would try to run and/or fight back' mean these absurd numbers wouldn't happen in reality, but my point is that a Chryssalid infestation going unmolested on Earth in XCOM 2 ought, by the mechanics we're seeing, to be an insanely dangerous thing, where even a single Chryssalid slipping whatever net of control the Ethereals hopefully have can result in absurdly bad situations in alarmingly small time scales. As in it wouldn't be unreasonable for a story to write 'one Chryssalid escaped. Two weeks later, ADVENT patrols discovered three nearby towns of a few thousand people each had all been completely replaced by Chryssalids'.

So, uh, why haven't the Chryssalids spread over all of Earth in an unstoppable tide of chitinous doom?

'cause all these things put together paints a picture where that's basically the inevitable result if the Ethereals are even marginally careless with the Chryssalids.

This is, unusually, a case where War of the Chosen emphasizes the issues instead of obviously walking issues back or turning them into obvious strengths of the storytelling. Chryssalids can show up natively in more mission types (eg Chosen Strongholds), can be summoned anytime by a Beastmaster Chosen, and can show up in several mission types via the Savage Sitrep, War of the Chosen's clearer characterization of the Ethereals makes it unambiguous that they are careless and horrible in exactly the manner that is consistent with letting Chryssalids loose without thinking too hard about consequences, and nothing has been added in to the world in terms of Chryssalid control measures or the like.


... Lost and Abandoned depicts the Reapers as being in the middle of cooking and eating a Chryssalid in an old world city when your squad shows up. The most natural explanation for this is that Chryssalids are running loose in the city. (Rather than, say, the Reapers having killed a Chryssalid elsewhere, then packed it up and brought it here to cook) So even the more purely narrative elements paint a picture of Chryssalids being pretty careless thrown around Earth by the Ethereals.

Then there's...

... It Came From The Sea, as mentioned earlier, where the narrative all but explicitly tells us that there's countless Chryssalids lurking in the ocean. This is probably the easiest Chryssalid-related narrative bit to swallow without much thought, both because the Tactical Legacy Pack is deliberately ambiguous in canonicity and because It Came From The Sea's plot has these Chryssalids coming out of the ocean in response to a specific signal, where the general implication is that the sea-going Chryssalids like it just fine down there. I can buy that so long as no fishing ships dredge them up and no Ethereal psychic signals are played that they're not coming out of the ocean.

Indeed, this actually connects in a potentially interesting way with the Psi Gate and the final mission, in that the Psi Gate's immediate vicinity has strange purple plants growing around it, with the final mission including more of these weird plants potted all over the place. The implication seems to be that these are alien plantlife, with the Psi Gate incidentally terraforming (Well, xenoforming) its immediate area, presumably by seeds/spores/whatever managing to leak through the portal when it's being used

So one possibility is that Chryssalids are, as of XCOM 2/War of the Chosen/Tactical Legacy Pack, intended to be more of a territorial species that doesn't leave environs they're comfortable in if they can avoid it, and thus they don't spread across the planet explosively because they actually hate leaving comfortable territory. You could even extend this farther by imagining that Chryssalids don't actually hold up so well in Earth's atmosphere, that our air is low on some essential element and they'll asphyxiate over the course of an hour if they're not underwater or near alien plantlife that outputs the stuff, or something in that vein.

Given missions in XCOM 2 (And the prior game) are, from an in-universe standpoint, supposed to be pretty brisk affairs, it would be very functional for the series to say that Chryssalids deployed in Terror/Retaliation missions were suicide soldiers with a trivial life expectancy -that a Terror attack on New York would result in an intense conflict lasting for an hour or two, but past that every Chryssalid would either have fled into the ocean or suffocated to death in the event that X-COM failed to terminate the attack via force, rather than resulting in several million Chryssalids spreading out to the rest of the US. Same basic idea with Retaliation missions: ADVENT shows up, opens up the crates with Chryssalid life support systems built in, and airdrops the Chryssalids in as disposable living weapons that will literally die with no specific need to sweep for Chryssalids after the Retaliation is successful.

The Infestation Dark Event's handling is also interesting here. I doubt it's an intentional implication, but the fact that Infestation specifically causes Burrowed Chryssalids to spawn in can fit in to this theory quite well. There are a number of real-life animals that will get through rough conditions by burrowing underground until the environment is more conducive to their survival, and all the examples I know of off the top of my head happen to be water-loving animals that burrow to evade dry periods, such as lungfish and some desert-dwelling amphibians. It would make an intuitive sort of sense if Chryssalids from Infestation are Burrowing as a survival mechanism, planted by ADVENT in environments they can't survive in for long and hiding underground to try to wait for rain or the like. Them Unburrowing to attack isn't exactly hard to explain, either; the nuclear option is to just blame the Ethereals and assume they did some engineering, but even without that it's not hard to imagine Chryssalids are willing to come out of hiding for a meal -in-game, Chryssalids will, in fact, Burrow when there's no hostiles around they can find. You have to kind of gloss over how Chryssalids don't have any feeding behavior in-game, always converting victims into Cocoons, but this kind of thing is pretty normal in games. Even when depicting real predators, games generally don't bother to include feeding behaviors, and that's understandable given most games aren't designed in a manner where they'd add anything to the gameplay. So them not being depicted doesn't necessarily mean anything as far as in-universe reality.

Anyway, one might feel the Savage Sitrep is a bit of a strike against this whole thing as far as intentionality, but War of the Chosen's obviously rushed, incomplete nature rides to the rescue for once: one of the things War of the Chosen did was add a whole new 'tileset' of widely xenoformed maps in the same sort of vein as the Psi Gate's immediate environs. In the final product it just randomly gets swapped in for various mission types like the Blacksite, Forge, certain supply raid map types,, or Avatar Project Facilities, but it's all too easy for me to imagine that more was intended to be done with this map set. Maybe there'd been plans to connect it to other factors, where eg a mission rolling Savage or Psionic Storm would force the map to generate as a xenoformed version. At that point Chryssalids patrolling in the open for an uncertain-but-long period of time would be consistent with this theory, and just not happened due to War of the Chosen being rushed.

It's also worth pointing out that XCOM 2's redesign is taking pretty obvious inspiration from crustaceans, such as how Chryssalid legs now bear a striking resemblance to crab pincirs, (Not that they use them appropriately, mind...) This is consistent with Site Recon and It Came From The Sea giving an aquatic bent to Chryssalids, and notably many crustaceans are able to function outside water for a reasonable period; so long as their gills are adequately moist, they can get adequate oxygen even above-water. (Indeed, if you catch crabs, putting them in a bucket of water is a bad thing if you're trying to keep them alive: they'll use up all the oxygen in the water and suffocate faster than if you left them in open air and waited for their gills to dry!) Given one of my main complaints with the Firaxis games is the tendency to make alien life overly-much like terrestrial life, there's a solid meta argument for assuming that Chryssalids are basically terrifying alien crabs when making guesses about things like their breathing mechanisms...

... which fits nicely with all the above theorizing about 'maybe Chryssalids don't hold up well in Earth's atmosphere over an extended period'.

The overall result is that even though I had an extremely negative first impression of XCOM 2's Chryssalids, by the time I'd run through all the DLC content I was actually genuinely curious to see where the series might go with them in future. I still have some issues with the aesthetic elements, and it would be nice if topics like 'how are Chryssalids controlled?' actually got addressed explicitly, but I can believe later games will actually realize more clearly at least some of this potential.

This comes with the qualifier that XCOM 3 seems likely to be focused on a whole new threat, making it plausible Chryssalids will fall to the wayside alongside all the other established aliens. Especially since Chimera Squad didn't walk back Chryssalids any, leaving them just as dangerous and animal as XCOM 2 presents them; it's pretty unlikely XCOM 3 is going to give you attack dog Chryssalids, and they certainly won't be proper team members.

On the other hand, War of the Chosen experimented with the Lost as a 'faction' of omni-hostile beings who don't have larger agendas and so on. I won't be at all surprised if XCOM 3 brings back Chryssalids in the role currently occupied by the Lost, where they're simultaneously hostile to you and your primary enemies and show up only intermittently, when you happen to be operating in an infested area.

So yeah. I'm actually interested in where XCOM 3 takes Chryssalids.


Next time, we cover one of XCOM 2's completely new enemy types: the Andromedon.

See you then.


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