XCOM 2 Alien Analysis: The Lost

Basic
HP: Variable
Armor: 0
Defense: 0
Dodge: 0
Aim: 75/75/85/90
Mobility: 8 (5/11)
Damage: 1-2, 1-4, or 2-6 (Crits are +2 in all cases)
Shred: 0
Crit Chance: 0
Will: 50


Headshot
If a standard shot kills the Lost, the attacker is refunded their current action points. This includes Pistol and Autopistol shots, but not special shooting actions like Rupture or Hail of Bullets.

Surprisingly, this triggers even if you kill Lost via a Stock!

Headshot means a lone soldier can potentially kill as many Lost as they have ammo without needing a special skill. In fact, if they don't need to move, they can kill twice their ammo in Lost, since reloading only eats one action; simply kill until out of bullets, reload, and keep killing. Not even getting into the possibility of free reloads... and, interestingly, even ADVENT/Alien troops benefit from the Headshot mechanic! (But only on standard shots, just like you)

This, notably, means you should never try to set up an Overwatch ambush on Lost, as Overwatch shots do not get an equivalent benefit against Lost. You're just costing yourself action potential by trying. In fact, Overwatch ambushes are also an iffy idea if you're in a mission with mixed ADVENT/Lost forces: normally when you attack a pod from Concealment, whatever pod you dealt damage to will be the very first to activate and move, and thus the one to absorb your Overwatch ambush's fire. If Lost and ADVENT forces are both visible to your units, and you set up an Overwatch ambush and fire on an ADVENT pod... the Lost will activate first and absorb the fire you'd intended to go toward the ADVENT pod. Oops.

Headshot also discourages using area-of-effect attacks to deal with groups of Lost. Outside the somewhat awkward point of Auto-Loaders providing a limited number of free reloads you may wish to ration, ammo is almost always a cheaper resource to expend than area-of-effect attacks, since most area-of-effect attacks have a hard limit on how many times they can be used where ammo is unlimited. Also, if you personally find the Auto-Loader interaction awkward, frustrating, and kind of dumb, there's a mod for making the free reload action be an additional option instead of a replacement for standard reloading.

Anyway, less obvious is that Lost Headshot mechanics reduce the dominance of Rangers, as melee attacks do not trigger Headshots, and therefore Rangers tend to be less helpful against Lost than... basically anybody except Reapers and maybe Skirmishers. Certainly, Shotguns have a good ammo supply, are very accurate up close, and hit hard, but Lost can't be flanked (Minimizing crit odds on your crit-focused weapon, and making Hunter's Instincts provide no Shotgun damage boost), are best dealt with by firing from a safe distance to minimize the odds of missing/running out of ammo leaving someone in a position to be attacked, and in the early game many Lost will be reliably one-shotted by Pistols, which never run out of ammo while also being highly accurate up close. Later in the game, Shotguns being highly accurate up close is dropping off in relevance; a Major Specialist with an Advanced Scope is already extremely likely to hit at maximum range, and will easily become guaranteed to hit by getting just a little closer or taking to high ground. Since Lost don't use Cover and never gain Defense... once you're looking at soldiers who can hit 100 accuracy on a target in the open at a distance, Shotgun up-close accuracy isn't helping against the Lost in any meaningful way.

Conversely, as I've covered before, Headshot does a lot to boost the utility of Sharpshooters, particularly early in the game; being able to mop up weak Lost in arbitrarily large numbers via Pistol is fantastic, and they can still use their Sniper Rifle to pick off tougher Lost, and then of course they'll get to reload and advance after a kill-streak is over with, reducing how much the Sniper Rifle's limitations hurt. (Contrasting with Templar, whose Autopistols are also able to clean up arbitrarily large numbers of weak Lost, but their primary weapon is melee and so can't Headshot, hurting their utility when tougher Lost are mixed in)

Immunities
Immune to Poison and most psychological effects.

So basically use Dragon Rounds when going into The Horde missions, and probably leave behind Psi Operatives; the only other Ammo that does anything is Tracer Rounds (Lost aren't digital enemies, so Bluescreen Rounds are irrelevant, they have no Armor, so AP Rounds are irrelevant, and of course they're immune to Poison so Venom Rounds don't work on them, and they can't be flanked, making Talon Rounds horribly unreliable), and Lost are easy enough to get 100% accuracy against that Tracer Rounds are likely to be redundant, and while Psi Operatives aren't as reliant on mental effects as you might expect it's not like they can chain Soulfires off of Headshot or something either.

One point of note is that this combination of immunities makes it difficult to reduce Lost accuracy. Normally Disorientation and Poison are pretty decent ways of impairing melee units, since both of them reduce Mobility and Aim, leading to melee units struggling to reach anything and then struggling to actually hit anything they do manage to reach. (Admittedly, Psi Zombies have the same immunities, but this is overruled by the whole 'just kill/disable the Sectoid' issue) You can Suppress Lost to lower their Aim, I suppose, but it would take a pretty strange situation for this to make any sense as a decision, among other points demanding the Lost are already adjacent to someone, as otherwise they're just going to start moving, triggering the Suppression shot and thus canceling its Aim penalty.

Dogpile
The Lost primary attack is a melee attack on an adjacent target. This is not a move-and-melee attack. If multiple Lost target a unit in the same turn, they will animate all their attacks at once, but this has no mechanical implications.

There's no in-game graphic or name for this, but I prefer for these at-a-glance bits to immediately and explicitly note if a unit is a dedicated melee attacker.

Mechanically, this is really just animating a bunch of separate attacks simultaneously: each Lost will make its own separate attack that gets separately reduced by Armor, and Lost that are adjacent to a target don't necessarily make an attack; Lost are melee-only and can't move-and-melee, and some Lost being able to attack doesn't automatically trigger all adjacent Lost to attack or anything like that. Similarly, the wider internet will claim that eg Untouchable and Parry will negate an entire pile-on, but this is incorrect, albeit an understandable error to make as the game does not announce any regular misses in a pile-on unless every individual Lost missed in the usual way; that is, if three Lost attack a target, and one hits and the other two miss, you'll just get the one damage value displayed and that's it, while if instead you replace 'one hits' with 'one would've hit, if not for Untouchable/Parry', you'll get the Untouchable/Parry pop-up and no commentary on the fact that two Lost missed in a conventional sense.

It's a bit unfortunate this ends up such poor visual communication, because it's very much appreciated as a solution for keeping turns moving briskly even when dealing with a lot of Lost. This is a common problem with turn-based strategy games, that often upping the number of pieces on the board is a great way to increase the depth of gameplay, and yet in many cases the point at which there's enough on the board to be satisfying is also the point at which turns take too long. This is especially problematic when it's specifically enemy turns taking too long; your own turn taking too long can be annoying, but at least you're getting to play the game. Having to spend ten minutes waiting for the enemy turn to be done is unfun, and in many cases the wait isn't actually long enough to eg go make a sandwich or the like. Lost animating their attacks -and indeed, their movement- in large groups instead of one-by-one is a good solution to this problem!

... but the game leaving out info in a misleading way is still an issue with the specific implementation.


Lost are a War of the Chosen addition that's surprisingly complicated, particularly given how uncommon an encounter they are.

First and foremost, the Lost are actually mechanically a separate faction, which will attack and be attacked by ADVENT/Alien forces and has its own separate turn, occurring after the ADVENT/Alien turn. The game cheats a little here, as this inter-enemy combat won't occur spontaneously in the shadows the way you might expect it to, but active pods will absolutely attack each other, and notably if you use Concealment to attain line of sight on both Lost and non-Lost pods they'll spontaneously activate in response to each other! This, somewhat amusingly, will consistently put the Alien/ADVENT forces on the back foot; you'll end your turn, both sides will activate during the Alien turn, and then the Lost will get a full turn on top of having activated.

In practice this is mostly sort of cute rather than significant, as the Lost aren't well-equipped to deal with threats like Mecs. Furthermore, both sides overall prioritize your forces over each other; individual units decide randomly at any given moment whether to target your forces or the other forces, but it is weighted toward targeting your units, and notably ADVENT/Alien forces benefit from the Headshot mechanics and re-roll which side to target each time they get a Headshot, so usually if they fire on a Lost they'll kill it and then immediately decide to target your own troops. Particularly notable is that if a Viper binds one of your soldiers, where Alien forces will ignore the bound soldier and you might expect Lost to attack the Viper and save your soldier... surprise! They're perfectly happy to gang up on your bound unit instead! Still, if a Lost or melee-only Alien personally can't see any of your own forces, they'll consistently go for what they can personally see, so it has some relevancy and should be planned around to some extent. Another way it can crop up is if Alien forces decide to try to pin your troops with Overwatch; they don't account for Lost presence when making this decision, and so can easily waste their turns intending to limit your motion and instead firing into the crowd of Lost trying to mob them.

Anyway, the Headshot mechanic is important, because Lost absolutely mob you. In the first place their pod size tends to be on the order of 4-8 Lost per pod, vs the usual 2-3 units per pod Aliens prefer to field, but any mission that includes Lost is a mission in which they spawn infinitely. The game will give you indicators at the beginning of your turn of how close the next Lost wave is to spawning, thankfully, first telling you that a Lost swarm is 'approaching', and then the turn they're going to spawn you'll be informed that the swarm is almost here, so you can plan appropriately; avoid activating Alien pods if your team is understrength, set up Overwatch to catch the initial spawn/pod activation, etc.

And it's not just that they spawn at all; Lost very specifically spawn somewhere very close that you don't currently have line of sight on and instantly activate. This most often means they spawn at the edge of your squad's vision and charge into sight, but it can lead to strange results like a bunch of them pouring out of a shipping container they couldn't possibly have been hiding in, which can be quite the nasty surprise if you were expecting them to show up further away.

Oh, and explosions of any kind accelerate the approach of a Lost wave, to the point that it's possible to outright have Lost spawn during your turn if you're overly aggressive about using explosives. This discourages you from using the usual crowd-control mechanics to deal with Lost; just keep shooting if you want to actually get ahead of their numbers!

One ini file indicates that weapons fire also speeds up Lost swarm arrival, though I don't think it actually works that way. From experience, I'm reasonably confident it instead affects how many Lost generate; if you kill an ADVENT pod quickly and quietly and then nothing happens until a Lost wave generates, it'll be like four Lost total. If you're constantly shooting with everyone every turn leading up to the wave being generated, it can be upwards of twenty Lost appearing at once!

A related point is how inactive Lost pods function. ADVENT and Alien forces will, by and large, meander about when inactive, until either their pod is activated or they see or hear something concerning, such as dead bodies and gunfire, at which point they'll generally make their way toward the concerning elements and hopefully find you. Inactive Lost pods never move if you eg sit in a corner, mashing end turn over and over, but once combat is occurring nearby them they'll wander over to where the noise is coming from. Notably, I've mentioned before the game cheating for you by making it so inactive pods won't investigate a fight if too many enemies are already involved; Lost are exempt from this particular mechanic. As such, if there's Lost just out of sight during a firefight, they'll generally show up the very next turn.

This isn't exclusively aimed at the player, either, unlike Lost wave generation. If you watch ADVENT forces fight Lost, more Lost will investigate the noises, even if your squad is Concealed and has made no noise, leading to the ADVENT forces you're watching getting mobbed by yet more Lost.

This element of Lost being interested in noises isn't hugely important, and indeed you could be forgiven for never realizing these mechanics exist at all, but it's pretty cool that the devs went through the effort of making them actually organically investigate noises. It has me curious if XCOM 3 will build on this idea; it'd be pretty great if pod management was more organic and less based on careful control over map design/generation backed by some outright nonsensical behaviors to protect you from serious mobbing.

It should also be noted that if your squad is Concealed this entirely suppresses Lost spawn waves. The game will still claim Lost are drawn closer by explosions and whatnot, but none of these pop-ups means anything so long as your squad Concealment holds. As a Reaper can use Remote Start and detonate Claymores without breaking squad Concealment, this can be a very useful distinction to know about, particularly in crate-marking supply raid maps, where ADVENT won't start marking crates until squad Concealment is broken; having a Reaper pick off enemies while the Lost distract them and contribute damage may make things a lot easier on you, assuming you're willing to play as patiently as this requires.

Oh, and another mechanic unique to the Lost!


They don't like fire.

More precisely, the Lost take double damage from fire (Though they'll still occasionally take only 1 point of damage, somehow) and burning units can spread the flames to adjacent Lost.

The Lost and Abandoned scenario is being deadly serious when it indicates that ADVENT Purifiers are good at clearing out the Lost, even if they have the unfortunate quality of tending to draw in more with their grenades and death explosions.

Furthermore, Lost will outright panic and run away if they're on fire, taking an immediate free move when initially lit up (Somewhat inconsistently...) and continuing to flee until the fire goes out or, more likely, they die.

Fiddly mechanics stuff: Lost take fire damage and spread fire to adjacent Lost before the proper start of the Lost turn, but Lost that have been lit up by spreading fire don't take immediate damage. Instead they have their reactionary panic bonus movement, and then during their turn proper they'll continue fleeing, and then on the next turn they'll take damage. Fire also can't spread in a chain within a single turn; if three Lost are standing in a row, one endpoint Lost on fire, the fire will spread to the middle Lost, but the Lost on the other end won't light up until the turn after. (And only light up then if they all hold still, which they normally won't)

You might also notice I've listed their HP as 'variable' and similarly given three different damage values. That damage isn't difficulty-based. I'm not 100% sure whether they simply 'upgrade' their 'weapon' over the course of the campaign, or have a randomized distribution of 'weapons', or maybe even a mix of the two (ie a scenario in which they're increasingly slanted toward stronger punches, but it's randomized exactly how it gets distributed), but yeah, Lost have variable-strength punches. This is somewhat hidden by how random their damage is, mind...

Their HP's variability is a lot more obvious, and definitely is partially tied to how far you are into a campaign. Lost encountered at the beginning of the campaign will tend to have 2-4 HP. Lost encountered later on can still dip as low as 2, but will average increasingly higher values the further into your campaign you get, up to 22 total if the ini file is correct. (I've personally never seen higher than about 16, but I've also never let a campaign drag on significantly)

But wait, there's even more!


Lost Dasher
HP: Variable
Armor: 0
Defense: 0
Dodge: 0
Aim: 75/75/85/90
Mobility: 24 (16/32)
Damage: 1-2, 2-4, or 3-6 (Crits are +2 in all cases)
Shred: 0
Crit Chance: 0
Will: 50

Yeah, Lost aren't just one enemy type. No, the Dasher isn't an Advanced-class of Lost like you see with ADVENT forces. Dashers show up randomly mixed in with regular Lost all the way to the start of the campaign and never actually replace them. They're specifically the taller, bulkier, darker-skinned ones with veiny growths. Curiously, they also have glowing red or orange eyes, instead of the solid green eyes of the other Lost types. I'm curious what the logic there is, as the game itself never addresses it.


Headshot
If a standard shot kills the Lost, the attacker is refunded their current action points. This includes Pistol and Autopistol shots, but not special shooting actions like Rupture or Hail of Bullets.

Dashers are tough enough it can be difficult to chain them, and in particular are almost always out of easy reach of Pistols.

A further, mildly frustrating point about Headshot: they don't stack with Hair Triggers. You can see Hair Triggers activating as you're killing Lost, but there's no benefit; you don't gain action points, or have the Hair Trigger 'deferred' where you can spend it as a free shot on a non-Headshot action, or any other possibility of use. It's not a problem, exactly, but it's another example of why I'm not fond of Hair Trigger design; I noted before that a Time Unit system could implement Hair Triggers as a non-random reduction in TU costs for firing, and that would stack in a sensible way with Lost Headshot mechanics, because they'd either do completely different things or they'd both be a reduction in TUs spent on firing and you could just add the two modifiers together.

Ultimately, though, in practice my primary complaint with the final design is that Hair Trigger activations visibly pop up in place of Headshots being announced. I'd still be bothered by the issue on a design level, but it wouldn't be viscerally in my face that Hair Trigger activations are being wasted on Headshots if the game instead had Headshots always get priority for announcement.

Immunities
Immune to Poison and most psychological effects.

Dashers being immune to Poison is a lot more significant than with basic Lost. They're fast enough and tough enough that you might actually try to Poison them so they can't run as far and end up dismayed when it doesn't work.

The rest of the immunities are also slightly more relevant, since Dashers are more prone to being tough enough you can't casually Headshot chain them and so you're more likely to turn to other tools, like using Void Rift to soften up a group of them, at which point Void Rift having no possibility of hitting them with Insanity's effects actually matters. (Reminder: Schism-backed Insanity triggered by Void Rift still rolls for success against non-robot enemies, and will do damage and Rupture if it is successful) Not a ton so, but still.

Dogpile
The Lost primary attack is a melee attack on an adjacent target. This is not a move-and-melee attack. If multiple Lost target a unit in the same turn, they will animate all their attacks at once, but this has no mechanical implications.

Dashers are fast enough they're by far the most likely Lost type to end up attacking someone.

While we're on a topic related to targeting: what goes on when both ADVENT and X-COM units are in the area for Lost to attack?

Well, first of all, Lost check if they're adjacent to a hostile. If they are, they skip the rest of what I'm going to be laying out and just try to attack the thing they're adjacent to. (Unless they're adjacent to multiple units, but this is an uncommon occurrence, enough so I'm not sure its details) If they're not, though, they engage in a simple but slightly unintuitive check: they flip a coin, and if its heads they attempt to reach an ADVENT unit to attack it, while if it's tails they go for one of your units.

I call it 'slightly unintuitive' because this routine occurs before they check what all is in their reach. It's entirely possible to have two Lost, one in reach of an ADVENT Trooper (And nothing else) and the other in reach of a Sharpshooter (And nothing else), and end up with neither actually attacking, the two Lost shambling past each other because their coin flip told them to pursue the faction that isn't in their attack range. This... really ought to have been a tiebreaker invoked when no options were in reach or both sides were in reach...

Conversely, what about ADVENT/Alien forces choosing between Lost and X-COM?

They also perform a random check to decide, of course, but it's weighted toward attacking X-COM forces. (One mod claims it's a 70% chance to target X-COM, but I haven't confirmed this in the code myself) The exact implications are different, though. For one thing, ADVENT units can trigger Headshots, and they perform the 'Lost or not' target roll each time they trigger a Headshot; since ADVENT and Alien forces are biased toward attacking X-COM in the first place, you'll generally only see enemies get long Headshot streaks if they have no idea your forces are there or have somehow ended up without line of fire on any of your non-Concealed units. For another, since most of these units are ranged attackers, and most of the melee attackers will in fact only rarely share space with Lost, you'll almost never see them outright waste a turn trying to reach a target even though something is in their reach.

Which dovetails nicely into: ADVENT and Alien units completely ignore Lost positions when calculating where to move if your forces aren't all Concealed. One implication of this is perfectly sensible: they don't try to avoid being flanked by Lost, which is fine since Lost can't benefit from flanking anyway. Other implications are a bit stranger and/or less obvious, such as the point that most ADVENT/Alien units are even more biased toward attacking your troops than the biased random check would suggest: a Trooper, for example, doesn't start its turn by rolling a die to determine whether to position for targeting your forces or Lost. No, it maneuvers to get into a good position for attacking your forces, and if there happen to be Lost in the area, only then will the Trooper roll a die to decide who needs bullets to the face. Indeed, if a Trooper decides it doesn't like the odds of hitting any of your troops, it will frequently elect to go into Overwatch... even if there's ten Lost in sight, such that it should know this is a complete waste.

Also, the Chosen are a notable exception to the targeting behavior rules. Lost are perfectly happy to target them as part of their 'X-COM or not?' targeting roll, but the Chosen will almost always completely ignore Lost. I'm not entirely certain what edge case circumstances lead to Chosen targeting Lost; I do know it's a thing that can happen, but it's exceedingly rare, regardless of visibility and pod activation status. (That is, Chosen will ignore inactive and active Lost pods alike, and will ignore them regardless of whether the Chosen is on the other end of the map from your troops and surrounded by Lost or in your midst with Lost also in the area) Even if Lost are actively dishing out damage to them, the Chosen will generally continue to ignore them!

Also on this topic, it's worth mentioning that Lost/ADVENT interactions are another fairly obvious example of War of the Chosen being in a fairly incomplete, rushed state, as the game doesn't have the special-casing necessary to prevent assorted ADVENT/Alien units from doing very dumb, wasteful things when fighting Lost. Codices are willing to toss a Psi Bomb at Lost mobs... even though Lost have no ammo to drain and are unlikely to remain in the blast radius long enough to actually be hit by the damage component. Vipers try to Tongue Pull them, even though shooting would trigger Headshots. Mutons will try to melee Lost, even though Lost can't be Stunned and this melee attack can't Headshot. And so on and so forth.

It's generally not hugely detrimental to the experience -for one thing, Lost are so weak they tend to lose these fights by a landslide anyway- but it does stand out.

In practice I tend to be kind of glad for it, to be honest, because it often cancels out a lot of the other jank to do with Lost-containing missions. Instead of pulling two ADVENT pods due to janky Lost design and having half my squad die because of bad game design rather than bad decisions I made, it's quite common for the two activated pods to end up doing things like the Vipers all Tongue Pull Lost, the Stun Lancer charges into the open against a Lost, etc, so that my team ends up only slightly worse off than if I'd pulled exactly one pod as intended, or sometimes actually better off.

... but if XCOM 3 brings back Lost or, indeed, incorporates any form of multi-team combat setups, it's going to need to overhaul these mechanics.

Anyway.


Dashers are named appropriately, with Mobility greater than a Chryssalid's from the prior game. In conjunction with tending to have notably higher HP than regular Lost (Their base HP is 2 greater according to the files, though my own experience is they tend to have 8~ HP in your first Lost encounter vs the 2-4 seen on regular Lost, so that's clearly not the whole story, and by a similar token it's not unusual later in the game for Dashers to have 16~ HP while regular Lost are in the 6-10 range), Dashers are generally more problematic than regular Lost; if you find yourself in a situation where you can't actually wipe out the entire group, Dashers should generally be a higher priority due to their vastly greater ability to get in position to do damage.

I've alluded to this before when talking about The Horde Sitrep, but it bears repeating: Dashers will only ever appear via spawn waves including them. This is unique to them, and is actually the main reason they're overall less common than basic Lost. Spawn waves tend to be split roughly 50/50 between basic Lost and Dashers, it's just the initial Lost bias the count toward basic Lost. (This is particularly pronounced with The Horde, as it has so many Lost to start with, and then it tends to result in a pretty brisk mission experience with little incentive to trigger explosions, so Dashers may never get a chance to appear)

One thing that's a bit clunky in execution is that it's fairly important to be able to readily identify Dashers so you can take them out first, but Dashers tend to blend together with regular Lost surprisingly readily unless you've got a lot of experience fighting Lost... which tends to take a while, since Lost encounters are so rare in most runs. Part of the problem is that basic Lost actually have randomized graphics: none of the basic Lost screenshots in this page includes a ragged shirt, but Lost can absolutely have one, among other variations. Thus, it's easy for a learning player to notice that a Dasher standing next to a regular Lost has a different graphic, and end up writing off this visual difference as unimportant, just like the Lost with no clothes isn't meaningfully different from another Lost with a pair of pants but no shirt. This is then compounded by the fact that Lost have randomized HP, with wide enough variation it's absolutely possible to see a basic Lost have more HP than a Dasher within a given mission, even though broadly speaking Dashers trend toward having considerably more HP than basic Lost.

I call it 'a bit clunky in execution' because the game actually puts quite a lot of effort into making them identifiable at a glance. Dashers have glowing red eyes instead of the green eyes of other Lost types, have a radically different set of movement animations (Dashers run on all fours, where regular Lost tend to jog toward their target with their upper body tilted a bit back, as if it's being dragged along for the ride), have a noticeably darker, browner skin tone, always wear no clothes, have different sound effects, stand in a less limp manner when idling, and have veiny growths all the way up to their lower torso where regular Lost have them go up to about the knee and have little glowing green spots in them, a trait Dashers lack.

But then everything moving at once makes it harder to pay attention to any individual to catch these differences, the fact that Dashers always occur as part of a wave showing up means they have no pod activation cinematic to reliably give you a close-up of them, and the default map types designed for Lost end up obscuring some of these elements via their lighting and color palettes. While the Old World cities aren't brightly lit, they have a kind of dull, omnipresent light that's bright enough to obscure the fact that bits on regular Lost actually glow; you'll generally only notice the glowing if you get a Lost Sitrep on eg an underground map, where they can have the opportunity to run through a heavily shadowed region. Similarly, regular Lost have their apparent skin color influenced heavily by the color of the lighting the map is using; in Old World cities, with their grey light, they end up looking very grey-skinned, but there are desert maps with a yellow/orange lighting that tends to result in their skin having an orange-ish brown cast, while ADVENT city centers are generally dominated by a blue light that results in their skin looking more light blue. Dashers aren't as affected by this, and so stand out much more in ADVENT city centers. (And conversely, are even harder to tell apart on the orange-brown desert maps...)

So you could be forgiven for spending a good chunk of the game misunderstanding Dashers as 'Lost have randomized Mobility'. After all, Lost do have randomized HP, right?

It's all a bit unfortunate because the devs clearly tried to make sure you could tell the difference. This wasn't laziness or a failure to recognize the importance of this, it's that several perfectly reasonable decisions intersected in a problematic manner... and then the game was clearly rushed, so they didn't have time to go back and make any of the changes that would be necessary to address this.

Fortunately, if you do know Dashers are a thing -such as by having read this post- it isn't that hard to catch them. For starters, they're three times as fast as regular Lost, so when a wave shows up it's pretty consistently the case that, if we ignore the possibility of existing Lost distracting from the issue, the closer Lost are the Dashers. For another, you'll at least know to check your targeting possibilities for their names, instead of mentally glossing over the various individual Lost as being obviously the same thing. 

I do wish Dashers had their own head icon, though. It's nice that Lost, in general, got their own head icon, but Lost would've benefited a lot from having different head icons for each variant. Strangely, I've yet to find evidence of a mod coming up with new icons for Lost... even though there are multiple mods for giving all the other enemies unique icons, where it's vastly less useful. Huh?

Regardless, aside the point that Dashers should generally be your first priority when fighting Lost, due to their incredible speed, there's not a lot new to say about them as tactical pieces. They're tough, they're fast, they hit harder on average but their peak damage isn't any higher, there you go, that's really all there is to them in terms of tactical planning.

Moving on to...


Lost Brute
HP: Variable
Armor: 0
Defense: 0
Dodge: 0
Aim: 75/75/85/90
Mobility: 8 (5/11)
Damage: 3-4, 4-5, or 6-7 (Crits are +2 in all cases)
Shred: 0
Crit Chance: 0
Will: 50

These guys.

And yes, Brutes are distinguished from other Lost by having green growths on their upper body in addition to their lower legs, as opposed to having more visible muscles or something. This makes sense for reasons I'll be covering in a minute.


Headshot
If a standard shot kills the Lost, the attacker is refunded their current action points. This includes Pistol and Autopistol shots, but not special shooting actions like Rupture or Hail of Bullets.

Brutes are tough enough this is generally only mildly useful. Fortunately, they don't mob you, so it's not a big problem most of the time. Do keep the Headshot potential and its implications in mind, though; it is, for example, generally going to be more useful and efficient to have a Grenadier soften up a Brute so a Sharpshooter can use their Sniper Rifle to finish it than the other way around.

Immunities
Immune to Poison and most psychological effects.

Brutes would theoretically be a cool target for eg Domination. Alas, not an option.

Not a lot to say here.

Dogpile
The Lost primary attack is a melee attack on an adjacent target. This is not a move-and-melee attack. If multiple Lost target a unit in the same turn, they will animate all their attacks at once, but this has no mechanical implications.

Brutes hit hard. They're so slow it should rarely come up, but seriously, keep out of their reach.

I haven't explicitly noted it before, but it bears mentioning that Lost of different types can simultaneously participate in a dogpile animation.

With Brutes, this is atypical or impossible to see, though. Lost mass-movement animation occurs on a pod level, with each spawn wave considered to be a single pod for this purpose, and all Lost in a given pod resolve their entire turn before the game starts moving on to the next pod. The relevancy of this is that Brutes are always solo pods, no buddies whatsoever, including that they never spawn as part of waves, and so they animate separately from other Lost. I'm not entirely sure them visually attacking at the same time is impossible -it may be something that can happen if they and at least one other Lost start directly adjacent to the same target, for example- but it's certainly a rarity at minimum.

Not that this meaningfully matters that I'm aware, mind, but it's interesting regardless.

On the topic of swarming, the config files indicate that the game enforces an overall cap of 50 units on the map and a Lost-specific cap of 25 units, when it comes to Lost wave generation. I'm not sure how meaningful the overall cap is, assuming it works, as it would depend how what all the game was counting for it (ie if civilians and player units contribute to this cap, it's a lot easier to hit than if only units hostile to the player count), but the Lost-specific cap is pretty easy to test and confirm is a real thing. Just let a Lost wave generate, then toss a bunch of explosives without killing Lost: voila, a new wave will generate... a strangely small wave, given how much of a racket you'll have made.


Brutes are, thankfully, only as fast as regular Lost, but hit noticeably harder, and tend to have greater HP; where the DefaultGameData file lists the basic Lost's HP as two and the Dasher's as four, Brutes get seven. (My own experience is they tend to start from 14~ HP and rapidly rise to over 20) They'll generally be the last Lost you kill, since they're not as able to get close and do damage as Dashers but aren't as effortlessly chain-killed as regular Lost, making them a low priority and difficult to quickly kill.

Interestingly, their internal name is 'Howler', and there's code indicating they're supposed to be able to howl to call in more Lost. (Hence why they aren't visualized as huge and hugely muscled or the like: that's not actually their core concept) I suspect the specific code in question is cut content, buuut though the game in no way alludes to this, the implied functionality of calling in Lost does remain present! Specifically, normally if Lost are present in a mission, there will be 2-3 Brutes standing around on the map, and once they're all dead the entire sound mechanic where explosions and so on draw Lost closer goes away.

I say 'normally', however, because in any given mission this doesn't necessarily apply. The Lost World Dark Event can cause Lost to spawn on a map indefinitely with no anchoring Brutes around, there's a specific kind of VIP extraction mission that's guaranteed to be The Horde where the Lost spawn infinitely without regard to Brute presence, and in general The Horde Sitrep will have no Brutes and no waves except that explosions will still draw in waves. This heavily obscures the point that by default the spawn behavior is tied to Brutes, and you could be forgiven for not realizing Brutes anchor this mechanic, even if you've sunk literally hundreds of hours into War of the Chosen. The fact that the Lost and Abandoned mission doesn't use this mechanic at all doesn't help, since it's very much a tutorial on the Lost and so you'd expect it to be reasonably representative of their mechanics.

Further obscuring this point is that once a wave has started being 'drawn toward the fighting', it will continue to count down and be accelerated by noise even if all Brutes are dead. All Brutes being dead stops new waves from starting a countdown, it doesn't prevent an already on-the-way wave from arriving. This makes a sort of realistic sense, but still makes it hard to connect Brutes to the mechanic. 

On that topic, it's worth pointing out that Lost waves are generated and perform their initial-activation move before the existing Lost move. In conjunction with how Headshots let you kill arbitrarily large numbers of Lost, it's seriously a dubious idea to try to use Overwatch to deal with Lost in striking distance -instead of stopping existing Lost from dishing out damage, you'll maybe take down a freshly-generated Lost that wasn't a concern just yet. Even if you have Guardian, this will basically always be a dumb move.

Also worth pointing out is that Lost are actually treated by the game as humanoid for the purposes of things like Justice. It's rarely worth bothering, since such abilities can't trigger Headshots, but every once in a while it's useful to be aware the option exists.

Interestingly, while Bradford doesn't have a separate 'seen first time' line for Dashers, he does for Brutes. It's easy to overlook this because Bradford doesn't make any pointed remarks about the Brute in particular, but the first time you spot a Brute Bradford will start talking about how sounds will draw more Lost in. This is a bit odd overall, and I'm not sure if this is just some clever programmer attaching generic Lost advice to spotting Brutes so you'll almost always get Bradford's 'wait, are those... human?' line and then later get specific advice on the noise mechanic, or if this is some weird artifact of Brutes being internally labeled Howlers; the game is sufficiently rushed I wouldn't be surprised if this was meant to be clear and specific advice on Lost waves being tied to Brutes and the general rushed state somehow or another instead got us this advice that, if you know about the Howler label, kinda makes sense to be triggered by seeing a Brute, but nonetheless doesn't actually hint that Brutes are the source of more Lost waves. Maybe Brutes were supposed to be revealed in the fog like when enemies attack civilians in a Retaliation mission, and play a howling animation, and it ended up a low priority and when they had to rush the game into a complete state they didn't have time to make that, but instead of dropping the mechanics they just renamed Howlers into Brutes and hoped no one noticed things not fitting quite right?

In any event, Lost generation normally being tied to Brutes is very useful information to know about because it completely changes how you should play the missions this point applies to. For the VIP Extraction mission that involves two rescuable bodyguards, if you don't know about this mechanic the Lost seem like a soft timer mechanic pressuring you to hurry. If you do know about this mechanic, it becomes obvious that moving slowly and patiently is perfectly acceptable play -at some point all the Brutes will be drawn to the noise so you can kill them, ending wave generation, and once all the ADVENT/Alien forces are dead too you'll be free to rescue and evac everyone.

Less dramatic is Supply Extraction missions, where you absolutely are on a soft timer due to ADVENT taking crates, but it can still be useful to prioritize killing Brutes to stop further waves from stalling you. At minimum, don't make the mistake of thinking you should just ignore them and move away from them.


On a completely different note, you can Autopsy the Lost!

It's just the one Autopsy; all three varieties of Lost drop the same corpse type. It's also possible to Instant, though naturally it takes a fairly ridiculous number of corpses... annoyingly, you can't sell Lost corpses at the Black Market, nor are Lost corpses spent on any Items. So the Instant massive corpse requirement only really matters inasmuch as you're unlikely to hit it on your very first Lost mission. (Which, itself, would be true anyway, due to the very first Lost mission often being a mission type where you don't loot bodies) Especially since the only payoff is the Ultrasonic Lure, which is, uh, neat and all, but probably not worth burning your research time on.

I do wish the Autopsy was a little more useful...

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

Narratively, the Lost are a pleasant surprise. Not perfectly handled, but for being Stereotypical Zombies in most respects, they're a surprisingly healthy addition to the narrative.

The biggest thing is the Lost finally provide the narrative a clear justification for so many regular citizens to put up with the brutal police state oppression ADVENT imposes. ADVENT needs an external threat for the average citizen failing to react to their omnipresent military 'peacekeepers' to be plausible, and the base game lacked one; Earth was united under one government, and even though there were Aliens they were in charge of the apparently-utopian government, not acting as the external threat ADVENT needed a massive and omnipresent military to protect itself from.

It honestly feels like an accidental benefit, because War of the Chosen doesn't do anything with it, and some elements of its handling suggest the Lost are meant to actually be something of a secret to much of the world. Even so, it genuinely makes it a lot more palatable that ADVENT citizens would find the intense military presence logical, instead of gratuitously oppressive; it's sensible to expect that even if it's something of a secret there's still citizens who escaped Lost-bordering/dominated territory and were absolutely thrilled to see an enormous number of heavily-armed and armored soldiers upon reaching an ADVENT city. (And honestly, I'm not sure how seriously to take 'Lost existing is a secret', as it may be driven by War of the Chosen generally attempting to construct itself as this... strange not-actually-a-sequel to XCOM 2, where most things new to War of the Chosen are new to your support staff, rather than being a deliberate world-building choice)

There's some more meta-level reasons why I appreciate the Lost being added in, too. One low-key frustrating element with the base game is that the whole 'open military invasion by the Aliens' thing gets glossed over, not just by eg the in-universe propaganda (Which yeah, fair enough), but by the more creator-talking-to-the-audience level stuff as well; what happened to all those abduction pods that still canonically happened, and which are being implicitly acknowledged by Bradford's reaction to the Black Site being 'they're still abducting people!'? What happened to all the existing cities? Surely they weren't all updated into ADVENT city centers or turned into complete wilderness in a mere 20 years?

The base game doesn't acknowledge any of this, whereas the addition of the Lost in War of the Chosen does. It tells us abduction pods still happened and explores some of the consequences of that, we get to see that old-world cities are abandoned for a good reason, and critically this ties into another meta-layer aspect.

I've previously complained about how nonsensical the previous game's ending was. (Down at the bottom, for reference) The entire notion of the Ethereals effectively talking about turning humans into meat slurries 'for our own good' is so inanely ridiculous it still boggles my mind that nobody on the development team went 'this is stupid and horrifying, let's not', and one of the bigger improvements with base XCOM 2 is that the narrative re-tunes the presentation of the Ethereals so that, while they still think of themselves as beneficent rulers, it's reasonably obvious that we're now supposed to disagree with their viewpoint, and also more believable that they might fail to recognize how horrific their behavior is.

But base-game XCOM 2 still has an uncomfortable undertone to it. The essential ADVENT propaganda narrative is that the Aliens showed up, there was a brief period of turbulence, and then the Aliens helped make everything way better than it had ever been, and the base game never really properly disputes this. It just reveals that humans are being made into meat slushies to try to fix the Ethereals, and hand-in-hand with this is that we learn the Ethereals are driven to do what they do by a desperate need to avert their own extinction.

This has a couple of problems. One angle is that the story could be viewed as going too far in making the Ethereals evil. This shifts the focus from 'police states are bad' to 'human extinction is bad', and in the process makes it unclear whether we're really supposed to think the brutal police state is unconscionably bad or if the brutal police state would be fine if only the Ethereals weren't making medical slushies out of us.

The other angle is that it's still distressingly easy to read the narrative as intending the Ethereals to be Actually Good People, just ones who happen to be trapped in a really terrible situation. A comparison could be made to a core process of human survival; the consumption of animals or plants. It's not particularly practical to attach a moral judgment to this; moral judgment really needs choice to be a factor, and when it comes to eating the alternative is to die, which isn't much of a choice at all.

(Some people might be tempted to take a page from real-life vegetarianism and argue the Ethereals ought to be using some kind of less unethical approach, same as someone who feels eating meat is unethical can try to live off plants and certain animal products. The problem with such an argument is that the narrative is constructed so that it's entirely possible the Ethereals have exhaustively ruled out all reasonably ethical solutions, where the comparison point isn't 'have you tried not killing and eating animals?" but rather is 'have you tried just... not eating at all?' We don't have enough information in the base game to say either way; the Ethereal line of reasoning for arriving at this solution is never touched on, and in the base game they don't get enough clear-cut characterization for us to bet in any particular direction)

Take that principle and apply it to base XCOM 2, and it's frustratingly difficult to find clear-cut evidence of the Ethereals being intended as morally bankrupt. Yes, they're secretly turning humans into medical slushies, but they're trying to avert their own extinction and for some bizarre reason human slushies happen to be the answer. Yes, they have an oppressive, secretive police state, but their species' survival is on the line and it's pretty obvious humans are pretty unlikely to willingly go along with a sizable fraction of the population being made into medical slushies. Constructing a form of government that's designed to successfully hide this info from the main of the human populace is just the natural thing to do under those circumstances, not clear evidence of moral bankruptcy.

Worse, the ending of the game indicates that there's some kind of dire threat to literally the entire universe that the Ethereals believe can't be fought off by anyone other than themselves. If you take that seriously, an argument can be made that everything they're doing is a net positive; sure, a bunch of humans are dying, but if there actually is a threat to the entire universe and it is something that can only be fought off by the Ethereals, then all of humanity is going to die if the Ethereals don't make medical slushies out of a portion of us. It's easy to say that the ends do, in fact, justify the means in this extreme a scenario.

The overall result is that while I'm more inclined to believe that XCOM 2 genuinely intends for the Ethereals to be The Bad Guys than the prior game, the base-game narrative now has problems with making it objectively true that they're actually bad guys.

War of the Chosen introducing the Lost (Among other things it does) helps walk back the Ethereal presentation into something less accidentally disturbing (By making it more deliberately disturbing, of course), especially when combined with getting to see how the Ethereals treat their favorites. (To wit: poorly. Because they're not actually good people) When abducting humans to turn them into healthy medical slushies was what was going on, an argument could be made they were doing what was necessary, and it was just unfortunate they were stuck in an awful situation. The Lost undercuts such a position, making it clear that abduction pods have a catastrophic effect on human life above and beyond the actual abduction; the Ethereals' willingness to use something with such inherent collateral damage pushes them away from 'good souls in a bad situation' toward 'callous jerks, more so than their bad situation can justify'. Their situation might justify abducting humans en mass, but it certainly doesn't justify wasting human life to no benefit, so their willingness to do so makes it more likely that the rest of their behavior is part and parcel of a dubious moral system.

The Lost could have been even better-handled, but they do a lot to make XCOM 2 better.

And that's just the narrative layer!

Gameplay-wise, the Lost help to substantially bolster the relevance of Sharpshooters: a Squaddie Sharpshooter who takes high ground is already at 95% chance to hit on Lost with their Sniper Rifle, and mission types that mandate Lost are 100% consistent about ensuring there's usable high ground in virtually every part of the map. Just attach a Scope (Such as by having the Marksman's Rifle from the Tactical Legacy Pack...), and suddenly it's a 100% chance to hit, and in fact has some wiggle room for Lost that are too close or a little bit out into Squadsight ranges. Since Headshot refunds the attacker's entire action point pool, a Sharpshooter can thus chain Lost until they run out of ammo -at which point they reload and start taking Pistol shots until they miss or run out of Lost the Pistol can one-shot. As Sharpshooters were a bit underpowered in the base game, and in particular their Sniper Rifles were unappealing, this is a huge boost in relevancy, and makes it a lot easier to train Sharpshooters early on, especially in conjunction with the option to send them on Covert Ops.

More subtly, the Lost help reduce the dominance of the Ranger, who was pretty far and away the strongest class in the base game. Sure, eventually you'll have the Assassin's Katana and at that point a Bladestorm Ranger is an extremely efficient Lost cleaner, but while Rangers remain plenty good into the late game it's the other classes that actually struggle in the early game.

The Lost also reduce how dominatingly influential explosives are: in the base game, tossing a grenade is guaranteed area of effect damage that destroys Cover (Making follow-up shots more accurate) and Shreds Armor, making chucking a grenade a powerful option in basically any situation. The only caveat in the base game is that you have a limited supply of explosives, and missions in the base game trend sufficiently short that just bringing a couple of Grenadiers tends to cover all your explosive needs right there. The Lost directly discourage leaning so heavily on explosives all the time, among other points making the Grenadier's lane balance a little more even by making their gun-focused lane more competitive with their explosives-focused lane, and more generally encouraging actually occasionally filling Item slots with non-grenade options.

The primary caveat to all this is that Lost are normally only in a minority of missions, and so some of these points are less influential than they could be. A secondary caveat is that the mechanics of Lost-on-ADVENT combat are sufficiently janky that it can be tremendously frustrating doing missions that mix Lost with ADVENT forces, as it's possible to have ADVENT pods activating through no fault of your own because you dared to forward scout with a Reaper and a Lost wave spawned in -and I don't mean 'the Lost wave revealed the Reaper, which in turn activates the ADVENT pod'. I mean 'you can see the ADVENT pod and the Lost wave at the same time, so the ADVENT pod immediately activates'.

There's also some particularly egregious, frustrating mechanics interactions that won't usually crop up, but which can occur via Lost World or the Lost Sitrep. Retaliation missions can turn into borderline-unplayable experiences if Burrowed Chryssalids are around at the same time Lost World is active, because Burrowed Chryssalids will pop out in response to Lost waves passing nearby them, even if you're not close enough to see the action at all. As such, you can end up with a Lost wave triggering, and now three civilians are dying each turn, one to the usual once-a-turn inactive pod attack, and the other two to Chryssalids that are supposed to be waiting to ambush you; that's very nearly a guaranteed mission failure. That's probably the most egregious example, but I could go on for quite a while, as there's multiple mission types that can have jank happen to various degrees.

Similarly, missions that mix Lost and ADVENT forces tend to drag. A VIP Extraction mission that takes 15-30 minutes normally can easily take an hour or more if it's a Lost-including variant instead. While the game does a lot to minimize slowed pacing caused by fighting through huge numbers of combatants, with stuff like Lost pods animating the movement of all pod members at the same time and visually resolving multiple attacks in a row as a single animation, it's still the case that you'll spend a lot of time on Headshotting Lost, and indeed the Headshot mechanics mean that you'll generally take longer in working through a turn of killing 8 Lost than a turn of killing 8 ADVENT/Alien units, because in the latter case you'd probably speed the process up with area-of-effect attacks. Furthermore, the assorted Lost mechanics come together to heavily encourage slow, cautious play; even though you might intuitively expect to be able to Headshot a Lost and then smoothly keep walking, having spent nothing but a point of ammo, what will often happen, especially if you disdain Sharpshooters, is that you end up having soldiers burning through their entire ammo supply, possibly twice over, and so needing to spend one or both action points on reloading, slowing their actual overall movement before considering infinite waves of Lost can keep occurring to eat action points.

Lost being drawn to sound, and how this intersects with pod activation mechanics, is a particularly subtle-yet-significant example of being encouraged to take your time. If you win a fight and then consolidate, any nearby Lost will promptly wander into reach for you to start shooting, with absolutely no possibility of making any attacks. If you advance, you may end up close enough to now-activated Lost that they're able to actually attack someone on their turn. Even with their very bad movement range, this can pretty easily happen in complex terrain with a lot of blind spots; you may end up thinking there can't possibly be any Lost anywhere near, and then end up activating a Lost hidden inside a shipping container, building, whatever, with said Lost in easy striking distance of someone because you didn't think a Lost could be hidden in that spot.

And of course for all the mission types that are guaranteed to have Lost, there's no hard mission timer, and not necessarily even a 'soft timer'. When Lost World or the Lost Sitrep shove Lost into a regular mission not specifically designed to have Lost in it, you're probably under some manner of time pressure, enough so to make it so you just have to grit your teeth and ignore how Lost are a bit punishing to aggressive play, and so you're unlikely to have quite so dramatic a lengthening in time spent on the mission.

Hopefully XCOM 3 will successfully refine mixed-force combat mechanics into something smoother, because while I love what the Lost do for the design space overall, there's still times I'm tempted to install a mod to specifically disable them. They can be that frustrating and unfun.

I haven't done it yet, but while I keep linking mods I'm actually someone who tends to insist on a 'pure' experience with minimal mechanical alteration, even when it pains me to do so. I'm sure there's plenty of people who would be quicker to disable them to make the pain stop, though, and quite justifiably.

Still love the Lost, but they needed more work.

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

Next time, we cover the Stun Lancer.

See you then.

Comments

  1. Wasn't expecting to learn much about the mechanics of the Lost, since they seem simple enough. It's cool that there's actually quite a bit going on under the hood, even though it sounds like it was only implemented halfway. The Howler bit especially would have been nice to be integrated better into the gameplay.

    The way the Lost and ADVENT interact with each other was probably the biggest let down for me. I would expect the Lost to just dogpile whoever is closest, but the coin flip makes them behave in an erratic way that is too hard to use for your own benefit. Maybe the alternative would have been too easy to abuse, who knows. However, ADVENT ignoring the Lost always felt "unfair". I wish either their AI would have been coded to take them into account, or else the game clearly communicated with you that you shouldn't expect the Lost to draw attention away from you. Kind of like opposite Retaliation missions (i.e. in those Bradford explicitly points out that ADVENT will ignore XCOM to hunt civilians; in Lost missions, he could point out that ADVENT will ignore the Lost if it means killing XCOM operatives).

    Anyway, even without going into full additional factions, the Lost had a lot of potential to significantly spice up the gameplay, but maybe base XCOM 2 just wasn't ready to fully exploit them.


    I did not think about the morality of the ethereals' actions from their point of view. To be honest I don't think it really matters to justify XCOM actions: the aliens have set up an oppressive regime with the objective to harvest humans at an industrial scale, of course they have to be put down, no matter their ultimate goals. For all we know, they don't even have morals in any way that would be recognizable to humans, since they're, well, aliens.

    But even if we assume that they share a moral sense that is in any way similar to the human one, there is a metric ton of evidence already in the base game that they're not just forced into an impossible situation, but that they're straight up evil. They're enslaving entire species under their command. Conducting horrific experiments on them to improve their combat ability. Invading Earth, releasing fricking Chryssalids on the human population, rather than coming forward and saying "hey we're being chased by a horrible intergalactic threat, and we need help fighting it back". While you may argue that *some* of it might have been necessary, what's the point of genetically modifying Vipers into not having any males, to prevent them from reproducing?

    And it's not like they *had* to go the oppressive government route with Earth. They had psions controlling government officials, surely they would have figured out that if they asked nicely for volunteers for experiments to help them, droves of humans would have jumped on the chance. Because there's always someone for anything. And why does the Black Vial require processing live humans? Would dead humans be ok? How about volunteers on their death bed? Would regular non-lethal harvesting of body fluids be good enough? We don't know, and they don't care. They obviously went with the "convenient" solution, because they're the sort of aliens that enslave whole species instead of trying diplomacy.

    And somewhat unrelated... the parenthetical about vegans felt like a gratuitous attack on them, and I'm not even vegetarian. I think you're better off just removing that part, it doesn't even help the point you're trying to make ("we don't have a choice, so it's no use to examine it morally... well ok actually we do have that choice, but those that choose differently are not doing it for moral reasons"). You can mention obligate carnivores (e.g. cats) if you think your point doesn't stand without mentioning veganism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, Lost targeting behavior was pretty surprising to realize the details of. I get not having them predictably target the literal closest target, but the fact that they pick a faction to chase per turn without regard to what's actually in their reach is just... odd. I suspect it's another casualty of War of the Chosen's rushed state, primarily, but am not entirely sure.

      I don't really agree on 'ADVENT ignores Lost and that's disappointing'. Their movement planning doesn't account for Lost (If they know of X-COM units), but this is actually pretty reasonable as a simple, effective enough axiom, and my own disappointment is that Lost are often TOO effective a distraction, between AI units having rigid, bad accuracy and several specific types being bad about not pursuing Headshots even when they can, not to mention the AI will almost never stand still and spend both action points on a full Headshot chain+reloads. It ends up compensating for how hankily problematic Lost/ADVENT interactions are, but in a more refined version I'd definately want ADVENT to be more willing to ignore Lost than they currently are. (Not least because it would make Lost attacking ADVENT units more likely to be relevant)

      I'll be getting into the subject of how Ethereal morality is handled more later anyway, but for the moment I'll note that XCOM 2 actually gives us startlingly little clear information to place meaningful responsibility on the Ethereals, and XCOM 2 wanting you to view most of the aliens as Totally Evil Don't Feel Bad About Killing Them combines with this to paint a rather different likely picture from the intended one. Prior to War of the Chosen, there is not, in fact, ANY evidence that the Ethereals are responsible for 99% of the Evil Bad Guy Things we are supposed to take as evidence of their evil: they've explicitly stepped back and not really participated in world affairs since the original invasion ended, and we explicitly learn they have a very good reason to be pre-occupied, enough so they might not have a real sense of what's going on with Earth. For all we're told and shown, it's entirely possible that what's actually going on is that there's a Muton council of elders running the brutal ADVENT regime while the Ethereals are completely clueless that their underlings are doing this. The 'you used to be our greatest weapon against this world, it can be so once again' line is one of the only bits unambiguously showing the audience of the Ethereals making an awful decision and being sufficiently informed about the specifics a reasonable person could readily see how awful that is.

      Delete
    2. The 'meta' element -where one is kind of meant to assume that broadly speaking any names that showed up in classic X-COM are similar enough- ends up more hurting than helping here, since the prior game has made it clear that Firaxis Ethereals have very, very little to do with Gollop Ethereals, a point reinforced by The Bureau's handling of Ethereals, whereas most of the REST of the aliens are slight tweaks on the classic concept. So, for example, in classic X-COM Sectoids are indicated to have been engaging in extensive genetic modification of their species, themselves, a point that got built on with Aquatoids in Terror From the Deep: am I supposed to assume XCOM 2 Sectoids incorporating human DNA is Ethereal genetic meddling, or am I supposed to assume the Sectoids did this to themselves, exactly as Gollop Sectoids were making efforts towards, efforts that show up in Apocalypse? Meanwhile, I can't go "Well, obviously I should assume Ethereal behavior is consistent with Gollop Ethereal behavior, which neatly explains various things I'm seeing in a VERY evil way'.

      And then various individual bits are janky or weak for their own reasons. I'll be delving into this more in the Viper post itself, but 'the Ethereals made them solo-female as a population control mechanism' is an extremely bizarre, difficult-to-believe explanation, far more unbelievable than, for example, 'they're a naturally all-female species that reproduces just fine anyway' -ie something that has occurred multiple times in nature. I'm certain the population-control explanation is the writer-intended explanation, simply because Tygan jumping to that conclusion makes absolutely zero sense for him to do from an in-universe standpoint and that's usually a sign of the writer talking to the audience through a character, but that doesn't mean the narrative successfully sold it as an example Look How Evil The Ethereals Are.

      Again: going to be getting into this more in later posts, because a lot of my criticisms in this regard are a bit of a 'the devil is in the details' situation, which... requires a lot of words to get into, and is meant to be in the main posts anyway.

      The vegetarianism bit comes from long experience that people create false dichotomies using it when discussing eg fictional beings who have a core mechanism that demands murder to sustain them. (Some depictions of vampires, for example) I probably should adjust it to make my point better, but what it's motivated by is that if you go 'choosing to kill small animals or die isn't much of a choice' as a comparison to fictional beings needing to do something reprehensible-seeming people will frequently say 'but you can just eat plants instead' -and not in the sense of trying to make a legitimate point like 'but what if the vampires can drink blood from, you know, animals?' but in a deliberately-missing-the-point sense, attacking your argument by pointing out something that is technically flawed as a comparison point without actually engaging with the substance of the argument to make the argument seem weaker than it is.

      That's not happening today -this has been a rough month for me, and I seriously considered filler or skipping this week's XCOM 2 update due to how out of it I've been- but I'll try to adjust it.

      Delete
    3. My point about ADVENT ignoring the Lost was not clear at all, sorry. They definitely don't straight up ignore the Lost. But sometimes they make baffling decisions, like running to a position to flank your soldiers, only the position is completely surrounded by Lost. What bothers me is the inconsistency, really. I would prefer if they actually *did* ignore the Lost, but the game pointed it out explicitly.

      I did not pay close attention to who was attributed responsibility for all the horrors in XCOM 2. I think the game often just says it's the "aliens" doing it, and I remember the game being strangely vague about who the "elders" are (although with all the ethereal statues, it's not too hard to guess). I don't even remember if XCOM 2 explicitly points out the psionic slavery under which the ethereals keep the other species. I'm curious about what you'll say in the post about ethereal morality,

      Yeah, I get that about people bringing up veganism to avoid the point altogether. It just came across too aggressive.

      I hope this coming month treats you better! Take care, don't overdo it.

      Delete
    4. Oh, and don't feel forced to respond to my comments if it's taking too much time / effort.

      Delete
    5. No, I enjoy constructing these responses, and they help clarify how to word later posts -or current posts, in this case- on topics I've been clear I needed to cover but wasn't sure entirely how to approach. It's more relaxing than some things I could be doing.

      Anyway, okay, yeah, your point about the Lost makes more sense put that way. I still wouldn't call it an inconsistency, but it is janky design, yes.

      Not going to delve deeply into it here, but responsibility-wise your own approach to experiencing the game was probably kinda... the intended one, I guess? In the sense that I suspect the devs put the Ethereals at the top of the evil organization and expected the player to thus assume blame goes to them, and as a result failed to put in the effort to affirm this is actually a justified position to take.

      And no, XCOM 2 never explicitly indicates the Ethereals are psionically dominating the aliens. I suspect that's not the intention at all, in fact. That said, everything about the visuals of Codices (Combined with some of eg Tygan's dialogue) HEAVILY implies they're Ethereal finger puppets, so it's not completely unreasonable to take that as an indication they know what's happening at the street level and are fine with it. It's just it's so subtle I suspect most players don't notice it, and indeed is so subtle I'm... not even entirely sure my interpretation IS the intended one, here. (Among other points, stuff like Avatars and Codices sharing a teleport animation and gun shape could just be asset re-use to save money and all, with no intention for it to be meaningful in-universe)

      Not sure what you mean by 'too aggressive' re: vegetarianism, but like I said I'll overhaul that chunk. Hopefully tomorrow, possibly on Thursday depending on how some stuff shakes out.

      Delete
    6. Hmmm... I remember the brainchips on ADVENT and their connection to the psionic network to be a de facto type of psionic slavery, through a constant barrage of orders and assorted brainwashing. The fact that it was a psionic link really leaves no one else but the ethereals as the ones that keep it running. I guess from there I just jumped into assuming that all aliens were controlled in a similar manner, even if it's not spelled out (they were psionically dominated in XCOM:EU, no?).

      The veganism aside: the main issue is the following sentence "To be entirely frank this is generally motivated less by actual morals and more by misplaced empathy toward cute animals". It's just rarely a good idea to tell other people what they're thinking, it comes off as very rude. From what you said in earlier comments, you were trying to say something along the lines of "Yes, I know the meat-eating analogy is not perfect, because veganism exists, but bear with me anyway". However, with that sentence, it comes across as "Yes, I know the meat-eating analogy won't please vegans, but I don't like vegans anyway". I would avoid bringing up the motivations of vegans if you don't think they would agree with what you say.

      Delete
    7. ADVENT explicitly have chips, and the ending has dialogue about the Ethereals... somehow... being the foundation of the psionic network. But the aliens are never suggested to be controlled in a similar manner (And multiple of them present obstacles for such an explanation: newborn Chryssalids aren't omni-hostile, and it's unlikely they're somehow born pre-chipped), and even if they were the only info we get about who is disseminating orders in the psionic network we get is that the Commander was controlling ADVENT units while in stasis, in the guise of simulated fights against the original alien invasion. I wouldn't be surprised if the team intended for the psionic network to be a direct link between the Ethereals in their coffins and ADVENT forces the world over, but the game never does anything to imply such an explanation, and it would be inconsistent with a bunch of details -and if that was the base game's model, I'm pretty sure War of the Chosen quietly threw it out. Stuff like the Chosen ordering about ADVENT troops in a disrespectful manner is pretty eyebrow-raising if ADVENT troops are effectively Ethereal finger puppets, as one of the most in-your-face examples.

      The vegetarianism piece has been overhauled now, actually.

      Delete
    8. The vegetarianism aside is much better now!

      Delete
  2. What I'm inclined to wonder about with The Lost, storywise, is what other alternatives got considered. I want to know how the conversation went, that lead the designers from "we want a third, antagonistic faction" to "zombie apocalypse".

    I *suspect*, given the relatively limited programming time available for War of The Chosen, zombies were picked because that wold require a minimal level of AI tweaks; the zombies are dumb, everyone knows zombies are dumb, we don't need to worry too much about giving them tactical sophistication, and everyone is OK with the zombie horde being pretty much minor variants of "basic zombie" - we don't need an elaborate command structure or specialist troops.

    It would be interesting to see if, given more time, they could have done some alternative third faction; an alien civil war, some kind of renegade AI corrupting the alien machines, etc. Or, to give some Alien vibes, Chryssalids - the aliens fumble a terror attack, and now there's a breeding hive of Chryssalids lose in the wild. That would have some implication about the Ethereal's long term plans; if they're planning to get what they want from Earth and leave, then they don't care if it turns into a chryssalid infested wasteland after they're gone.

    I think there is some missing design space on the strategic level. It would be kind of neat if the Lost threat was ramped up in ways tied directly to how you were doing against the Chosen - as long as X-COM isn't a threat, the Chosen are also keeping the Lost from interfering with ADVENT activities, but as they have to devote more resources to fighting you, and as the Chosen get picked off, the Lost grow more threatening to everyone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I basically suspect the Lost are a deliberately simple prototype of several concepts at the same time: an excuse to test out ways of making larger unit-counts more bearable to play through (War of the Chosen has several mission types with larger-scale battles, in addition to the Lost, like how Chosen Strongholds can have 4-unit pods very casually, suggesting the team was eyeing the idea of XCOM 3 moving up to a larger scale), a way to check what issues will arise when cycling between more than two factions (eg letting them relatively painlessly discover issues like 'ADVENT Overwatch is worthless when Lost are in the area'), testing implications of using more natural sound mechanics for enemy investigation behavior, and probably a few other things not standing out to me. (Testing how to make melee an interesting threat, maybe?)

      There's a LOT of elements of War of the Chosen that make me think they're prototyping concepts for an Apocalypse parallel, in the sense of having to manage politics, multiple distinct factions operating on the strategic layer as part of that, and more than two factions potentially hostile to each other; the Lost don't do anything on the strategic layer, and were probably never intended to do so, but I have a suspicion XCOM 3 is intended to kind of shove together the Chosen and Resistance factions into one system, with different factions to make friends with and benefit from their specialties or make enemies with and end up fighting their forces, each of whom has a distinctive leader functioning as a boss enemy. (Imagine if you could piss off the Templar and Geist started hounding your forces as an extra-powerful Templar, functioning akin to Chosen dropping in on you) I thought this before Chimera Squad came along and made each Investigation target's leader a distinctive boss fight enemy, even.

      Delete
  3. Would you be willing to collaborate on "XMLizing" some of your content like these unit posts to make them easier to wiki/guidebook? You have a solid structure but separating the prose and op ed from the dataset would take some time. Beyond that tho you're honestly best resource on xcom 2 to date. Wish you'd started 3 yrs ago haha

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Potentially? If I had any idea how to organize these better, I'd absolutely be doing so already, I just don't know how to do anything marginally sophisticated and my attempts to find explanations have consistently gone nowhere.

      Thanks for the compliment, in any event.

      Delete
    2. We'll help. These are best guides out there tbh

      Delete
    3. Not sure how we'll arrange this, but alright.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts