XCOM 2 Alien Analysis: Sectoid

HP: 7/8/8/10
Armor: 0
Defense: 0
Dodge: 0
Aim: 70/75/75/75
Mobility: 12 (8/16)
Damage: 3-4 (+2)
Shred: 0
Crit Chance: 0/0/10%/10%
Will: 80/80/100/100
Psi: 80/90/90/90 (War of the Chosen: 40/90/90/90)

Melee Vulnerability
Melee attacks do +3 damage to the Sectoid.

To be clear, this is a completely flat number. Stronger attacks don't get a bigger boost or anything. This is less important than you might expect since there's not any form of weak multi-hitting melee attack available, but still useful to know.

Melee Vulnerability is a very strong incentive to run at least one Ranger in the early game, so it's convenient the game forces a Ranger on you before you can encounter any Sectoids if you play with the Tutorial on. Even on Rookie it's not possible to one-shot a Sectoid with a conventional-tier gun without a crit being involved, and on Legendary even a critting Conventional Shotgun falls 1 point short. Meanwhile, a Conventional Sword will do 6-8 damage without Blademaster backing, and +2 on a crit; that's enough to have a chance to one-shot a Sectoid on every difficulty, even if it's fairly unlikely on Legendary (Need to high-roll and crit there), and with Blademaster you're jumping to 8-10 damage, enough to 100% reliably kill a Sectoid below Legendary and even on Legendary it's a better than 1-in-3 chance to kill it in one slash. (Better than 33% because you can always roll lower on damage but then crit to kill anyway)

Shard Gauntlets end up in a similar boat, doing 7-8 damage before Focus and crits. That's enough to guarantee a kill on Rookie, have decent odds of a kill on Regular and Commander, and still be able to crit and high roll for a kill on Legendary -and since the Templar can Momentum away it's a lot more acceptable to take a chance in hopes of a kill, even if nobody else can follow up and finish it reliably. And with even 1 Focus, it becomes a guaranteed kill if below Legendary. Blademaster Rangers are better for anti-Sectoid work early in the game (Especially on Legendary), but Templar are certainly useful to have in the early game, one of the more compelling reasons to consider a Templar start.

As the game progresses, this melee weakness drops away in its relevancy. Since it's a flat number, it becomes less of a percentile boost as you advance (It's doubling the minimum damage on an unsupported Conventional Sword. It's a less than 50% increase for the Katana before Blademaster), and Sectoids aren't replaced with higher-tier versions of themselves, certainly not ones with a stronger weakness to melee attacks. Meanwhile, your non-melee offense gets strong enough to render it unnecessary -if you blast their Cover with a Plasma Grenade and follow-up with a Plasma Rifle shot that's 4+7 damage at minimum, so more damage than even a Legendary Sectoid has HP- and for various reasons it overall gets more dangerous to try to melee things anyway.

It never goes away entirely in its relevancy, as you can still end up with a Sectoid in an odd position, or opportunistically Bladestorm them away trivially, or otherwise have melee be a worthwhile option to pursue. This is particularly true on Legendary, where normally your ranged weapons never hit a minimum damage high enough to guarantee a kill on a fresh Sectoid, whereas eg a Blademaster-backed Fusion Blade is 10-12 damage that won't miss unless other accuracy modifiers are in play; on lower difficulties, most beam-tier primary weapons will be lethal if they hit, full stop.

I have mixed feelings about Sectoid melee vulnerability, particularly in the base game. I can respect how well-targeted this melee weakness is in execution, but it's another example of XCOM 2's broader lack of clarity on how it wants to handle matchup considerations, and in the base game it literally only matters if you have a Ranger on your team. You should have a Ranger on your team in the base game, but my point is that 'weak to melee' sounds more nuanced and interesting than the actual dynamic of 'weak to Rangers, and only to part of their offense at that'.

War of the Chosen adding in Templar and Skirmishers as melee-capable attackers helps a lot in this regard, thankfully, but it's still a little frustrating that this is a one-off thing. No other enemy has an explicit weakness to a specific class tool/set of class tools like that, nor is there an example of an enemy specifically resisting any particular class tools in a similar sort of way. Berserkers have code for making them slightly resistant to melee attacks, but said code is non-functional and the tuning on it wouldn't have been terribly meaningful anyway, as it was just -1 damage. In the base game it's almost unavoidable to end up with Ionic Swords before Berserkers hit the field, and realistically any Ranger that would consider Slashing a Berserker is probably a Blademaster, so that's -1 on 6-8 damage. Given the base game doesn't explicitly announce passive abilities doing things... if you enabled that code and then had someone play base XCOM 2 without informing them of the change, it's entirely possible they wouldn't notice, even if they were in the habit of regularly Slashing Berserkers.

So while I think this melee weakness is reasonably well-targeted in the final product, it still raises questions to me of what the idea here is, design-wise.

Conceptually, it's also a bit strange, as the in-game framing is that Sectoids are frail and that's why melee kills them better than bullets. Meanwhile, most of the time you encounter them they have at least twice the HP of the armored soldiers they're bossing around, and it's not really clear why having a frail build is supposed to specifically make them susceptible to melee attacks anyway.

It's particularly frustrating because in real life some forms of 'bulletproof' vests are extremely bad at protecting from stabbing and/or cutting effects. It wouldn't have been that hard to have Sectoids wandering around in some kind of suit and having the Autopsy reveal that it's some manner of bullet protection that's basically useless against cutting action.

... it would've likely made their appearance less unsettling, admittedly.

Psi Reanimate
Reanimates a human or ADVENT corpse as a Psi Zombie, which dies if the Sectoid dies, is Flashbanged, or has its turn blocked entirely by effects like Stun. 4 turn cooldown.

Sectoids love to toss out Psi Reanimate whenever they can, and it basically serves as a way for them to have a dud turn while slightly hiding that fact from a learning player.

Okay, that's a little unfair. It is possible for a Sectoid to be in a situation where it's genuinely not easy to dig it out of its position -especially if you failed to bring a melee attacker along- such that the Psi Zombie can present an additional complication.

But the vast majority of the time, the Sectoid really is wasting its turn.

First of all, the Psi Zombie doesn't get a turn immediately. This means the Sectoid isn't threatening any of your soldiers just yet, where it taking a shot would potentially kill or at least put in the infirmary someone.

Second, the Psi Zombie goes down if the Sectoid goes down. If you were going to for-sure kill the Sectoid in a turn anyway, the Psi Zombie is extremely unlikely to be a complication: far more likely is that it will die without even requiring you expend a soldier's turn on it. (The only way it could be a complication is if it happens to spawn somewhere that blocks the 100%-for-sure kill plan you had in mind, like the Sectoid is on high ground and the Psi Zombie ended up blocking the only ladder you can reach)

Third, though I'll be getting more into it later in this post, Psi Zombies are sad. If you do end up unable to kill them via killing the Sectoid, and don't turn to some other measure like a Frost Bomb, you'll probably attack them once, maybe twice, and they're gone, often with no chance of a miss.

More subtle is the point that Sectoids themselves aren't that hard to kill the vast majority of the time. If they were noticeably tougher, you'd be a lot more likely to end up killing the Psi Zombie manually. This, in fact, can crop up on a different enemy much later in the game, though we'll get to that when we get to it.

Psi Reanimate being such a dud move most of the time contributes to it actually being a dubious idea to Overwatch ambush a Sectoid pod leader: usually you'd rather leave it alive and kill its podmates, if you're not able to kill them all, as odds are decent it will end up burning a turn on Psi Reanimate. Magnifying the issue is their melee weakness; melee doesn't meaningfully benefit from or participate in Overwatch ambushes, and the only significant benefit to using melee to initiate an Overwatch ambush is to ensure the target doesn't scramble out of your range during activation. Meanwhile, melee doesn't care about the Sectoid scrambling to behind High Cover -indeed, early Sectoids being pod leaders and so prioritizing High Cover is often convenient, as this frequently means your melee attacker gets to end their turn in High Cover.

Overall, while I wish Psi Reanimate was a more meaningfully interesting threat, I do appreciate that it introduces the player to a concept XCOM 2 makes fairly heavy use of, and where its skill mastery aspect is notably focused on: the notion of delayed threats vs immediate threats.

I'll be talking about that more in a later post, though, on an enemy it's more strongly relevant to. There's plenty enough in this post as-is.

Attempts to Disorient, Panic, or Mind Control a target, with Mind Control being more likely and Disorientation less likely the worse the target's Will is relative to the Sectoid's Psi rating. Has +50 to base success chance. Whatever effect results lasts for 2 turns and is broken under all the same circumstances that a Psi Zombie will die in. 3 turn cooldown.

Mindspin is the Psi Operative's Insanity ability with a different name and icon. I don't really get why they're labeled as distinct like that. Did they do different things at some point in development?

In any event, in the base game Mindspin's design is kind of dumb in that you want Sectoids to roll either Disorient or Mind Control, because if their victim Panics killing the Sectoid will clear the Panic but they won't get to act until the next turn, whereas clearing Mind Control does give them their full turn immediately, even though Mind Control is clearly intended to be a worse outcome than Panic.

In War of the Chosen, killing the originating Sectoid will immediately lead to a soldier who Panicked in response to Mindspin getting their full turn available, making it no longer actually the most threatening result, and indeed properly making it so that Mind Control is the most threatening result, as it was always intended to be. Thank goodness.

Anyway, Mindspin is the other thing Sectoids do that's usually a dud turn pretending to not be one. Unlike Psi Zombie it can actually be a serious problem without requiring an improbable intersection of events; a Sectoid Mind Controlling someone can go very bad places if you aren't able to immediately kill the Sectoid... and with one of your team unavailable until you do so, it's noticeably more likely you won't be able to do so. Such as if you were counting on your one Ranger to take them out, and then they took over the Ranger. In the base game, the fact that Panic eats a turn outright is also potentially a fairly problematic result early in the game. And as a final point of danger, a Mindspin-induced Panic can lead to a soldier deciding to chuck a grenade, which they will inexplicably virtually always decide to toss at your own soldiers; that can end up being far worse than the Sectoid taking a shot itself!

But most of the time, particularly in War of the Chosen, a Mindspin is going to result, like with a Psi Zombie, in you promptly undoing it by killing the Sectoid, with nothing bad having happened. Even the Disorientation is removed by disabling/killing the originating Sectoid! This isn't even touching on the possibility of failure: its base success chance is 140% (90 Psi Offense+50 base chance, ignoring Rookie difficulty), but that's offset by Will. In the base game, Rookies have 40 Will, and you gain Will on every level-up; thus, any soldier with an actual class has a chance of resisting the Mindspin entirely. War of the Chosen overhauls Will, but this arguably hurts Sectoids in the early game, because now Rookies can have up to an 11% chance of resisting the Mindspin, and even just Squaddies can have up to a 16% chance. (It's debatable in practice since Sectoids do go for your most susceptible soldier if they can, and odds are decent you'll have somebody who has a more than 100% chance of being afflicted for them to target)

This does touch on one of the many examples of War of the Chosen making a mechanic more interesting and meaningful indirectly, though, and a bit of a multi-layered one.

First of all, in War of the Chosen you should basically assume a Mindspin will result in a Mind Control. It's possible to get other results, but it's atypical. Difficulty-wise, this is an appreciated buff to an enemy that is underwhelming in the base game.

Second of all, War of the Chosen has overhauled mission generation routines so Sectoids are more spread out throughout a run. In the base game, Sectoids tend to show up heavily very early on, and then almost completely vanish up until Gatekeepers show up, at which point you may see groups of Sectoids attending the Gatekeepers. In War of the Chosen, they're uncommon past the early game, but not 'more or less completely nonexistent' the way they are in the base game.

These two points together are actually complementary. In the base game, it's... pretty understandable that Sectoids basically vanish past the early game, because the consistently rising Will of your soldiers substantially increases the odds of them wasting a turn outright on a failed Mindspin. Indeed, if a base-game run does run into Sectoids in the late game, they tend to be a joke, less threatening than eg an Elite Trooper. War of the Chosen making these two tweaks makes Sectoids a more meaningfully interesting enemy that never fully falls away in relevancy; the more powerful your troops become, the more threatening a Mind Control result becomes, after all.

This also has other depth-adding implications, such as being a reason to consider passing out Mind Shields earlier than the endgame. It's impressively well-done for how small the set of tweaks looks

While we're talking about our first Mind Control-capable enemy... a nasty surprise is that in XCOM 2 the AI properly recognizes that Mind Controlled units are still hostiles and will leverage their controlled state appropriately. Just like you're allowed to target Mind Controlled units with hostile actions normally forbidden from targeting allies, the AI will happily take shots at Mind Controlled units if they have no better options. (They do prefer targeting soldiers still under your control, all else being equal) Exacerbating this unexpected bit of AI intelligence is that the AI will go out of its way to avoid putting Mind Controlled soldiers in Cover as they move them. This both makes them even more effective at flanking their buddies than they would be just from starting inside your lines, but also means when the AI decides it has no good shots on your soldiers still under your control it's extremely likely the shot they make on the Mind Controlled unit will hit.

It also means the old standby of just having everyone else run out of reach until the Mind Control wears off is a terrible plan. The AI will probably just kill the Mind Controlled soldier if they can't get at any of the soldiers still under your control. I mean, this would rarely be a viable plan in XCOM 2 anyway due to its tendency to incorporate fairly tight time pressure into missions, but there are missions with no time pressure, or situations in missions with time pressure where it could be theoretically a good plan if it weren't for this detail.

Curiously, there's lines in the config files for 'psidet', which I suspect is short for 'psi detonation' as they seem to define environmental damage and blast radius. I'm guessing this was either some manner of targeted ability that got cut... or that at one point Sectoids would've exploded on death like Ethereals in the previous game. It's worth noting that in Chimera Squad one Sectoid enemy variant has a form of psionic death explosion, though that version doesn't do environmental damage and all, it just tries to Panic your units if they're caught in it. But the relevancy here is that Chimera Squad makes use of a few different concepts XCOM 2 dropped, such as the ability for enemies to manually call in reinforcements, so this is light circumstantial evidence pointing toward 'death explosion'.

Interesting, either way, and I'm curious as to why it got cut, whatever it was.

Anyway, the Sectoid's weapon has slightly poorer damage than the numbers might lead you to believe, as they only have a 25% chance of getting the +1. As such, the big thing they have over a Basic Trooper  when it comes to damage is +2 from crits instead of +1; you should be more careful to avoid being flanked by Sectoids than with Basic Troopers, especially on the lower difficulties where Cover ensures they can't crit.

Sectoids are, incidentally, almost always one of your first enemy encounters past the very first mission. (Which always contains just Troopers and a single Officer outside of Legendary difficulty. Turning on the Tutorial gives a different exact enemy setup, but still no Sectoid) They're also one of the highest HP enemies in the early game, though the game is still taking it easy on you by making them weak to melee and prone to doing things that will be completely neutralized if you kill them quickly. Indeed, in the base game they tend to be less threatening than Basic ADVENT Troopers even though they're flatly superior in stats and capabilities simply because the ADVENT Trooper will consistently shoot at you instead of burning turns on actions that aren't immediately threatening and can be directly canceled out by killing them.

In War of the Chosen they're still usually less of a priority than ADVENT Troopers, but the marked tendency for Mindspin to get a Mind Control result makes that less clear-cut, particularly if you're not fond of carrying lots of Flashbangs. It's worth pointing out that carrying lots of Flashbangs is a bit risky in War of the Chosen, given the Chosen are immune and they compete with the grenades you're liable to want so you can smash Chosen Cover and Shred their Armor. In the base game I felt Flashbangs were, if you were willing to fork over the Supplies, on average a little bit more useful than a Frag Grenade in the early game. In War of the Chosen I tend to be reluctant to build Flashbangs until I already have Predator Armor online, if ever. So you might not want to plan around the idea of having mass Flashbangs for Sectoids in War of the Chosen...

Also, while Sectoids love to use Psi Reanimate and Mindspin, you should not treat that as license to leave troops open to being shot at by them. (ie don't place someone in the open or flanked by a Sectoid) If a Sectoid finds itself with a clean shot on a soldier, it will usually take the shot instead of using one of its psionic abilities, and like an Officer it's fairly accurate and pretty lethal by early game standards. It's more okay to leave a soldier at risk of a flank where the Sectoid would have to move first; Sectoids are surprisingly prone to deciding to just stay where they are and immediately use a psionic ability, instead of moving every single turn the way most enemies of the game do. As such, they're inconsistent about taking easy flanking opportunities, particularly when bodies are about and they haven't already used Psi Reanimate.

Also, Sectoids are the first example of an enemy you can set on fire but generally do not want to set them on fire; as I've emphasized repeatedly, it's almost always possible to immediately undo a Psi Reanimate or Mindspin, whereas if the Sectoid fires on someone they may end up dead. Setting them on fire will leave them with no option other than taking the shot. This usually isn't hugely important -you can't deliberately set them on fire early in the game, and in the late game your firepower is high enough to easily kill them- but it can crop up intermittently, and Burn is sufficiently widely useful in the base game it's easy to get into a mindless habit of spreading it around without thinking about whether any setting any given enemy alight is a good idea or not. And in War of the Chosen they're more consistent about showing up in the midgame, so it's a lot more likely to get someone killed to be careless with fire.

On a different note, Sectoids are also the first example of a concept I touched upon before in regards to pod generation: the leader/follower dynamic being leveraged to demote units to mooks. At the very beginning of the game, Sectoids are restricted to always being pod leaders, just like Officers. Unlike Officers, this eventually changes, and you'll see them being lead by other enemies, or occasionally you'll see a pod where a Sectoid is leading one or even two other Sectoids. This is a fairly clever way of gradually upping how dangerous enemy formations are without explicitly and directly buffing a unit's stats as the game progresses, contrasting with how ADVENT units do straight-up upgrade as the game progresses, and is seen with multiple early-to-midgame alien enemies, and it has the nice benefit of making the player improving their forces feel more meaningful because there remains relevant comparison points to pull ahead of. That is, for your poor Rookies at the beginning of the game, a Sectoid is alarmingly durable and dangerously lethal, able to potentially kill people in one shot and liable to itself require several attacks to kill. For your mid-level veterans equipped with Predator Armor and magnetic weaponry, they can probably survive a couple of hits from a Sectoid and are quite likely to be able to two-shot it, maybe even one-shot it depending on difficulty and whether they have melee weaponry or not. And for your endgame elites, Sectoids are now cannon fodder, generally only able to be a problem if you're seriously careless.

It's a nice dynamic, and I appreciate it a lot! The prior game outright phasing out many of the early-game enemies aside some oddities like Thin Men remaining common in Council missions no matter how far you got tended to make it feel like you weren't really improving at all, because benchmarks like 'can reliably one-shot a Sectoid' didn't stay relevant for very long before they got essentially completely displaced by tougher, harder-hitting enemies. Enemy Within admittedly addressed this in regards to Sectoids in particular via Mechtoids usually being escorted by Sectoids, but other early-game enemies were still hit by this, with Outsiders being particularly egregious since completing the Alien Base assault immediately replaces them with Sectoid Commanders with no chance of ever seeing an Outsider ever again.

Mind, base XCOM 2 used the concept somewhat poorly. I've already touched on how Sectoids largely vanish past the base game's early game, and how they're also very sad, ineffectual enemies if they do show up in the late game of the base game, and while they're probably the most egregious example of these issues they're not the only example. Fortunately, War of the Chosen does a lot to address these deficiencies, which itself suggests XCOM 3 is liable to get it right as well. (Unless they switch to a completely different model, I suppose)

The Sectoid Autopsy is a pretty significant one, surprisingly so for how early it is. It unlocks the Mind Shield, which is a shockingly useful Item in a surprisingly wide array of situations, and it also unlocks the ability to research psionics, which is necessary if you want to make use of Psi Operatives.

If you don't care about the Psi Lab, in the base game you can put off the Autopsy until it hits the Instant threshold because the Mind Shield's utility is relatively low in the early game (Its protection against Panic and Mindspin probably aren't worth giving up a Frag Grenade) and you usually hit the Instant threshold before they almost completely stop appearing. If you do care about the Psi Lab, you should probably get the Autopsy done fairly quickly, as the sooner the Psi Lab is online the better. This admittedly in part depends on your strategic plans and luck therein; the Psi Lab demanding 4 Power makes it dubious to build before you've gotten a Power Relay built unless you happen to get bonus Power early somehow or another, for example, so if you're not going to build a Power Relay until you've dug up an Exposed Power Coil then you generally shouldn't be building a Psi Lab until you're in the early midgame. (ie in such a case you shouldn't prioritize the Sectoid Autopsy until you're nearly done with a Power Relay/digging up an Exposed Power Coil)

War of the Chosen makes it more worth considering getting the Autopsy done early, thanks primarily to the Chosen. The Warlock's Mind Control is the most serious concern, but even being able to provide immunity to Daze, if only to one or two key members who can clear it manually on everyone else, can be huge, particularly on higher difficulties where it's often unrealistic to take the Chosen out in a single turn outside a lucky Repeater trigger.

Design-wise, the Sectoid is representative of a broader point I'm a bit unhappy with in XCOM 2's design; that the player's research access is pretty un-X-COM-y.

In prior games, there's always been a certain amount of stuff you unlocked by capturing the right enemies. In classic X-COM, you needed to capture a psychic alien to get a hold of psychic abilities for yourself, for example, and the prior game not only had that but also had it be the case that you preferably would capture enemies to jump to Plasma weaponry early, since you no longer automatically looted enemy weaponry simply for killing them. Even Apocalypse, which was fairly light on these mechanics (Largely to its detriment), still made it necessary to capture at least one live alien before you could get a more advanced biological lab.

The important bit here is that the player has to earn certain capabilities through specific, directed effort. This is interesting and satisfying, and opens up the possibility of the game diversifying the experience by virtue of the player prioritizing different things in different runs, particularly if the game outright puts disparate options in competition with each other -such as how the Arc Thrower had one charge per mission and you could only equip each soldier with one copy per mission, making it impossible to capture every alien you encountered. Do you capture that Sectoid with your one charge, because it's easy and you need plenty of Plasma Pistols for your squad, or do you hold off on burning the charge in hopes that you'll be able to capture a Floater or Thin Man later in the mission for their more powerful and valuable Light Plasma Rifle? That's an interesting choice.

XCOM 2, unfortunately, has simply abandoned this mechanic. You don't capture enemies at all, with the equivalent mechanic for plot-advancement -the Skulljack- having its secondary benefits be unrelated to technological progression. You don't Skullmine an ADVENT Shieldbearer to unlock access to a research topic inspired by their shield capability. You don't Skullmine an ADVENT Officer to unlock a psionic leadership technology for your soldiers. You just get Intel and the occasional Facility Lead out of Skullmining, which is a boring set of benefits.

Indeed, the Instant Autopsy mechanic having been turned into 'accumulate enough corpses' means that you don't have to make any kind of hard decision in relation to a lot of potential technologies. The later enemies, and some of the early enemies that are uncommon in general and phased out fairly quickly, you're probably going to have to specifically burn laboratory time on them, but for many of the very common early-game enemies like ADVENT Troopers and Sectoids you'll hit the Instant threshold so long as you don't sell their corpses on the Black Market... and for some of them, you'll probably hit the Instant threshold before the Black Market even appears, particularly in the base game. The prior game having the We Have Ways Continent Bonus was really, really dumb, but you did at least have to work to earn Instant Autopsies, even if the work was relatively minor compared to the payoff such that it was an overly-optimal course of action to engage in.

Sectoids are a particularly obvious offender here because psionics is locked behind them. In prior games, you had to earn psionics. (Well, except Apocalypse, but I'll come back to that in a minute) In XCOM 2 you'll probably be focusing on actually important research and unlock the Psionics research completely for free, and it's only a question of whether you are willing to invest laboratory time into the Psionics research per se and then resources into the Psi Lab for whether you'll get Psi Operatives up and running.

The other reason Sectoids are a big offender here is that it doesn't even make much narrative sense. The Ethereals are uplifting humanity and specifically need to cultivate psychic powers in us for their own reasons. Realistically speaking, psychic powers shouldn't even be a thing X-COM has to unlock at all: at most it should require a Psi Lab be constructed first, and to be completely honest I'm genuinely confused as to why Psi Operatives aren't just a regular Rookie promotion option. I can contrast this with Apocalypse: the reason you don't have to earn psionics in it is because you have them available right from the beginning of the game, what with their secrets having been unlocked in the first game. Which, you know, makes sense, and is also a cool way to viscerally represent how things have changed since earlier games. That XCOM 2 didn't follow in those footsteps is puzzling in general, but it's not like Psi Operatives were really designed as a mid-late superclass that would justify needing to be unlocked, or anything of the sort, making it doubly puzzling. If Psi Operatives are going to be so easy to unlock, and not gamechangers overall, why weren't they made an actual core class?

The overall result of the capture mechanic having been removed and Instant Autopsies having been made much more incidental is that runs in XCOM 2 have little room for variation through differing strategic decisions. War of the Chosen introducing Inspirations and Breakthroughs helps offset this to a degree, but it's at the edges of the system. (Fatigue is actually the main thing that keeps runs varied and engaging, plus to a lesser extent the Training Center overhaul) Contributing to the issue is that most Autopsy results are fairly low-value, with some of the higher-value ones -like Mind Shields or Arc Blades- falling under the banner of 'you usually acquire it incidentally'. If more Autopsies had bigger returns, you'd at least have a minor tension of 'do I put it off in hopes of it hitting the Instant threshold, or do I put off other research so I can unlock this Cool And Useful Thing right away?'As-is, there's a bare handful of Autopsies that are worth going out of your way for, particularly in the base game -War of the Chosen adding more early-game enemy types means most existing early-game enemies don't hit the Instant threshold as readily, if at all, which is another example of War of the Chosen subtly fixing many of the base game's issues without obviously going out of its way to do so.

On a completely different topic...

HP: 4/6/6/8
Armor: 0
Defense: 0
Dodge: 0
Aim: 75/65/75/75
Mobility: 12/12/15/15 (8/16 on Rookie/Regular, 10/20 on Commander/Legendary)
Damage: 3-4 (+2)
Shred: 0
Crit Chance: 0/0/15%/15%
Will: 50

... Psi Zombie stats. (Yes, they have lower Aim on Regular in particular, that's not an oversight on my part. It's probably an oversight on the dev team's part, though)

Immune to Poison.

This occasionally slightly helps Psi Zombies. Not much -by the time you have Venom Rounds you probably have magnetics and so only on Legendary is it not strongly expected that an unboosted hit is a kill anyway- but it does mean if you get into an awkward situation and are considering tossing a Gas Grenade in an attempt to slow the Psi Zombie enough it can't melee anyone/penalize its Aim so it's less likely to hit whoever it reaches... uh, sorry, that's not actually an option.

Slightly more likely to crop up is that it means Sectoids work better with Vipers than you might expect. Still not terribly important, but something to keep in mind.

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

I'm recycling the terminology and icon from the prior game, but while XCOM 2 retains the behavior of Hardened it does not actually visibly tag units with an ability to indicate this effect. You can still tell at a glance whether a given enemy has this quality or not, though annoyingly only once they're at least slightly alert, because active pods and alert inactive pods will always show some manner of shield icon over their head if they can use Cover where enemies that do not use Cover will never show a shield icon... but it's pretty easy to overlook that, which can be a bit frustrating when you're encountering a new enemy, still Concealed, and aren't sure whether you should plan for it running right at you or running for Cover. (Andromedons are a big offender here, as while they're humanoid they're also huge, heavily armed, and are prone to smashing through Cover when walking; it's not obvious visually obvious why they would use Cover when Berserkers don't)

In the Psi Zombie's case, the main point of interest here is that the Zombies of the prior game didn't use Cover but did not get Hardened's protection. Psi Zombies being a clear recycling of the Zombie mechanics and some aspects of the concept, but then not being extra crit vulnerable, is a bit of a surprise.

It's one I approve of, though. Zombies in the prior game had shockingly high HP that was pretty clearly tuned under the idea they tend to die fast anyway due to crit vulnerability, and that was... a pretty dumb, RNG-swingy dynamic. XCOM 2 setting up Psi Zombies so they're reliably frail is a much better dynamic.

This generalizes, note: every unit in XCOM 2 is either susceptible to flanking-derived crit bonuses and uses Cover or has neither true. There's no Zombie-like exceptions. Nor any units that use Cover while being immune to flanking crit bonuses, like high-level Assaults could be in the prior game.

Cannot be Stunned or Mind Controlled and will never Panic.

This doesn't actually have an icon or description in-game, and so the only way to figure out it's true is to try to use a relevant ability and have it refuse to target the Psi Zombie or fail to trigger its effect even if it should be guaranteed to do so. This is me recycling an icon for an ability with similar effects and making up an appropriate name.

Incidentally, this means their lackluster Will doesn't meaningfully impair them. It does mean they're technically going to generally take more damage from Schism-backed Void Rift, I suppose, but you're unlikely to be deliberately targeting a Psi Zombie with a Void Rift in the first place, for a variety of reasons.

Ultimately, it's not terribly important a quality, as most of the tools it protects them from take a while to come online and you'd usually rather target their controller anyway. Stunning a Sectoid will straight-up kill the Psi Zombie, after all. It's appropriate on a thematic level, but not terribly gameplay-relevant, unfortunately.

Melee attack is a move-and-melee attack.

Yes, they use the same icon as the Ranger's Slash for their melee attack in-game. I'm not sure why they don't use the Berserker's fist icon. It makes me wonder if Sectoids and Psi Zombies got relatively pinned down early in development, with Berserkers coming later and no one going 'hey, we've made a melee punching icon, let's go back and reuse that for Psi Zombies'.

Also, while it is a move-and-melee attack, the AI has a habit of stopping just short of your soldiers without attacking. I'm honestly not sure if this is an intentional AI shackle, an oversight caused by recycling the prior game's Zombie routines, or a bug of some kind. This contributes to Psi Zombies rarely presenting any threat, even on higher difficulties where they have above-average Mobility and so should be able to strike at fairly tremendous distances. 15 Mobility is the equivalent of a Templar at 3 Focus, and those are shockingly mobile. They do sometimes remember to move-and-punch as one motion, but it's not the default, and so being a Dash's distance away from them is often enough to let you ignore them for a turn.

Anyway, this is also one of the earliest examples of the conspicuousness of how the game always endeavors to have a miss chance on the AI forces. Melee attacks are affected by a bare handful of accuracy modifiers, so having a base accuracy of 75 isn't serving some purpose like making high ground meaningfully beneficial. It's really just there to ensure there's a flat 25% chance you'll get lucky and have nothing bad happen even when your play really should've resulted in someone taking a hit. I'm... not a fan of that design principle. I hate it less than designing the game so the player can always have everything go horribly wrong no matter what (ie the targeted design goal of the prior game), but not as much less as you might expect. Either way, it's making skillful play less important. (And I don't mean 'making skillful play at the tactical layer less important because the strategic layer is more important and I'm objecting to that for some reason', I mean 'skill matters less, full stop') The primary reason I haven't complained about it much in these posts is because XCOM 2 is so heavily designed around 'kill everything before it acts' as a goal an actual human being can fairly reliably achieve via skillful play backed by decent strategic planning that it doesn't actually come up very often once you're reasonably competent at the game...

... but keep this in mind for when I get to the Alien Rulers and tactical-layer Chosen.

On a different note, one unexpected bit of behavior that seems likely to be a bug is that even though Hunker Down is supposed to not provide protection if you're being flanked and so you'd intuitively expect it to not affect attacks that ignore Cover, like melee attacks... it, uh, does affect them. If you've got a soldier in danger of being attacked in melee, Hunkering Down will severely slash the odds of being hit -it's 30 more Defense, when melee attacks typically have 75 or 85 base accuracy- and the 50 Dodge means even if the attack does hit you have respectable odds of reducing the damage/overruling a crit.

You're probably not going to be leveraging this against Psi Zombies, mind, but it's good to know regardless.

Psi Zombies are, unsurprisingly, pathetic. They're slightly more directly threatening than Chryssalid Zombies from the first game, since they can move-and-melee attack (... when they remember this is available to them, which is strangely rare), but they don't have any capability equivalent to a Chryssalid bursting out of them after a few turns so... they're just a weak melee attacker. And they don't switch to higher-tier versions or anything. In conjunction with how going after their creator is a great way to incidentally remove them... you should almost never actually be punched by a Zombie.

There's not a lot of strategy to fighting Psi Zombies. They're pathetic for the early game, rapidly become irrelevant, and can be literally ignored since taking out their creator takes them down too. Why burn effort on specifically killing them if you don't have to?

No, they don't have an Autopsy either, just like the previous game's Zombies. Which is a very relevant comparison, since their animation procedures are blatantly almost the exact same code as the previous game's code. They even vomit when they die, even though that doesn't make any sense from a Psi Zombie!


The Sectoid is, in terms of aesthetic, a bit odd and out of place.

One of the things the game is mostly pretty good about outside the core ADVENT designs is that the less PR-friendly aliens aren't normally allowed to show up in ADVENT city centers. But... then Sectoids are a basic enemy that's not only allowed to show up in city centers but is basically guaranteed to be seen in them, and they are not PR-friendly. They manage to simultaneously look like something that eats children and look human enough that them running around naked really ought to twig people's taboos about nakedness, regardless of the lack of genitalia.

The degree to which Sectoids in particular look out of place is another one of those things that makes me suspect the early game designs got made first, before the tone of the story was really settled, and they never went back and reworked the Sectoid into a Retaliation mission sort of unit to fit the new tone.

If I ignore all that, I actually like the Sectoid design overall, and indeed in many ways it's actually my favorite design in XCOM 2. It helps that it makes essentially no attempt to hearken back to the original X-COM's Sectoid design; the only concession to that is that XCOM 2 Sectoid's have straight-up black eyes, instead of the black-with-such-heavy-orange-they-look-just-orange color from the previous game's design. In every other way, it's 'take the previous game's Sectoid, then blend it with human features, and throw in razor teeth so it's menacing'.

I especially like their animation when climbing down pipes, as they actually climb down headfirst, which is so unexpected to see from such a human-ish creature it helps sell the idea that they really are aliens.

Really, they do a fantastic job of being unsettlingly creepy. The nearly-human skull shape with no cheeks or hair of any kind, the chest that glows with an inner light, the pinkish skin tone that kind of looks like a human skin tone in some light conditions and in other conditions is clearly not a human skin tone, the way their pelvic bone sticks out, their strangely-placed and very visible ear-holes, their spine's shape being visible through their skin... there's a lot of great details like this, where they look human-ish at a glance and upon closer inspection they're really not in striking, unexpected ways. Also helping with the creep factor is how many of these details are reminiscent of an emaciated human, which even makes a kind of logical sense for a few different reasons.

I just wish there was evidence of thought being given to how 'Sectoids are insanely creepy-looking' was supposed to make sense alongside 'the human populace thinks everything is great' at the same time as 'Sectoids openly walk ADVENT city streets'. Are Sectoids routinely and highly visibly helping people in incredibly selfless ways, like running into a burning building without protection and dragging people to safety even as they end up with burn scars, such that virtually every ADVENT citizen looks past how insanely creepy they are? Do they help at daycare centers, treating small children with infinite patience and kindness, such that the current generation of young adults has a reason to have fond memories of Sectoids that completely overrule how creepy they look?

What's going on here to resolve this apparent contradiction?

... I do also appreciate the mechanical aspect of Sectoids clearly having psychic powers in XCOM 2. As I commented at the time, one of my issues with basic Sectoids in the prior game is that there's no underlying mechanical 'truth' to the idea that Mind Merge is a psychic ability, as opposed to any other kind of special ability. XCOM 2 Sectoids don't have that issue, and it's quite nice.

Audio-wise, Sectoids are also one of the cases of audio from base XCOM 2 I like with no caveats. They did an excellent job of giving it new audio that's clearly related to the previous game's Sectoid audio, but changed to fit to their new size and, uh, mouth. Most of the returning or semi-returning enemies are either completely unrecognizable, audio-wise (eg Vipers don't really sound like Thin Men, even though they both have hissing sound bites), or are barely altered such that I don't know why they bothered. (eg Mutons, Chryssalids)

The Sectoid Psi animations are interesting, too. Psi Operatives, ADVENT Priests, and one other unit all visibly focus purple energy through their Psi Amp into a tightly-contained ball in their other hand before launching the controlled mass at their target. Sectoids stir the air above them when using Mindspin, pulling together a loose, incoherent mass they then whip at their target. It's a very clear signal that Sectoids aren't very skilled with their psychic abilities -a fact reinforced by the fact that they're stuck with Mindspin for offensive psychic abilities, instead of deliberately shooting for particular effects such as Mind Control- and it's interesting how XCOM 2 makes the process of using psychic powers more physical. (The visible, physical manipulation of some manner of purple energy)

Also interesting is that they use their right arm for the Mindspin process, which is the one their weapon is on. It suggests the possibility that their wrist-gun is actually doubling as a Psi Amp, as otherwise I'd expect the opposite behavior; why flail your firearm around wildly when you could use your free hand? Especially because there is glow effects centered on both their skull and on their weapon.

I do wish the game bothered to provide any kind of justification for Sectoids wandering around unarmored, though.

On a different note, one of the nicer touches of the game is that some enemies will, when Overwatch fire triggers on them while they're moving, modify their running animation. The Sectoid is the most blatant example, putting one arm out in front of their face to protect it, but there's a few other units that react to running through Overwatch fire, just less blatantly.

A similar point of animation improvement I very much appreciate is how enemies react to missed shots. In the prior game, enemies tended to be animated as if they were dodging bullets, which was obviously inane nonsense, and it looked absolutely terrible to boot, since what would typically happen was that the shot went way off course and the target reacted after the shot had already passed. (Particularly with Laser weapons, since they were all hitscan) In XCOM 2, enemies tend to be animated as if they were startled by the shot; Sectoids will jerk away and then hiss at their attacker, for example. This makes much more sense and looks so much better.

Also on the topic of animation, the Sectoid has one of my favorite basic attack animations in the entire game. This is rather surprising given that in some fundamental sense it's just a green version of the Plasma Rifle shot, but Sectoids, for some strange reason, are the only plasma weapon enemy to have no charge period on their weapon. They just smoothly point their gauntlet at their target and bam! The shot appears instantly. The especially surprising thing is that the Sectoid has the most visual justification to having a delay on shooting, as the gauntlet has to open up to reveal the bit that fires the beam. However, this happens sufficiently smoothly in the animation it doesn't meaningfully delay anything.

This is a contributing factor to my fondness of a mod that includes playable Sectoids. Plasma beam weapons that are viscerally enjoyable instead of deeply unpleasant!


Next time, we jump over to War of the Chosen for a second to cover the Lost, as they're guaranteed to show up quite early in any given run.

See you then.


  1. Hmmm... while I agree with the distinction between immediate and delayed threats, I wouldn't say the dev intention with the sectoid abilities was to make them intimidating while effectively pointless. It only "devolves" to that point after you become sufficiently skilled at the game. For example, someone relatively new to the game is more likely to trigger multiple pods at once, and then sectoids can easily become very scary.

    An alien that followed the "intimidating yet ineffectual" concept would be one that spends their first turn buffing themselves, or whatever. Instead, the design of the sectoid feels more like one where the devs actually wanted you to engage with its abilities (by having enough hp that you're unlikely to alpha-strike its whole pod in the early game, and having an "immediate" effect on your options the following turn), but where you're unlikely to suffer long term consequences (wounds/deaths) because of it, as long as you handle it properly. Well, ok, I'm talking about mindspin. The psi-zombie is a dud, yeah.

    And then there's beta strike, where they're hella scary in the early game. But that's outside the scope of your articles. :p

    And for something completely different: the sectoid was the most jarring part of XCOM2, coming back from Chimera Squad. The couple of sectoids we see there (Verge, the news anchor) walk upright and behave sort of like Start Trek Vulcans (and also suddenly have lips that hide their teeth). The body language of XCOM2 sectoids is essentially that of tall, hairless Skaven. I assume CS updated sectoids to make their integration into society more believable, but damn that was a 180 turn.

    1. It's actually extremely rare to be able to pull multiple pods in the earliest missions. The maps are generally too large for how many pods there are, and the pods themselves are small and almost always widely spaced with patrol routes that keep them from overlapping. Your first Retaliation mission is the primary exception in this regard, and this issue is heavily offset by Sectoids tending to get distracted by killing civilians when they're not using psionic abilities.

      It's possible 'Sectoids seem scarier than they actually are' isn't the design intent, but I'd be quite surprised, given how many elements of XCOM 2's design are deliberately targeted to produce the effect of making a naive player believing they're skillfully overcoming a difficult game even when that's 100% not true. And even for a low-skill player, ADVENT Troopers going for actual offense 100% reliably tends to be more dangerous -for one thing, a learning player is more likely to be making positioning mistakes, not having a good sense of how far is far enough to avoid being flanked, or otherwise ending up with soldiers in awkward positions that get them flanked.

      I've been playing Beta Strike. While the contrast isn't quite as dramatic as non-Beta Strike -since you'll never be losing units in one shot to ADVENT Troopers that fire and hit- it's still the case that Sectoids are largely a non-threat, at least on Commander. (I've not gotten to a Legendary Beta Strike run, and Sectoids are noticeably more likely to be a problem on Legendary normally) Unless you have a habit of just... not bringing melee? I guess? I'm not sure why you'd do that; the Ranger is far and away the best of the core classes, not to mention extremely fun, but I suppose Fatigue means means it can happen in spite of your intentions at times.

      Chimera Squad's Sectoid design is... inconsistent. Verge has cheeks/lips, as does the one news anchor you see in a lot of the comic book cinemas, but generic Sectoids -whether enemies or civilians- as well as Floyd Tesseract (The conspiracy theorist Sectoid) actually do still have the lipless/cheekless design. Verge also actually retains a lot of the regular Sectoid animations, such as their odd hop-off-wall animation. I think he even goes headfirst down ladders? It's been a bit and doesn't crop up often given Verge should rarely move, but I'm pretty sure I'm remembering that correctly.

      Personally, I don't think Chimera Squad gave us more friendly Sectoid designs to make their integration more believable, because otherwise it would've made the redesign universal. I'm pretty sure it's just to make Verge look adequately friendly so he can act as the face of the game -he's the most prominent alien teammate, foisted on you in your first run (With Cherub as your only not-entirely-human alternative initially) and prominently displayed on the boxart- and then I guess they made the news anchor also look that way so we'd have evidence Verge isn't a freakish aberration, where the thought process is that of course a news anchor Sectoid is going to be unusually photogenic? Or maybe it was about easing you into the concept of friendly aliens; the game doesn't cram into your face stuff like Faceless being peacefully integrated into society right away, but if you pay attention you'll see stuff like posters showing Faceless in hard hats, and there's lore stuff about Andromedons and Archons having sanctuaries, Gatekeepers actually being surprisingly gentle in their mindscape... Chryssalids are the only alien Chimera Squad runs as not possible to peacefully integrate (Aside the Ethereals, but they seem to all be dead, so...) and that's, uh, perfectly reasonable.

      But the game start out with the more human-like ones, and makes some of your initial exposures (ie Verge) especially human-like, so easing you in fits.

    2. Huh, I hadn’t noticed sectoids not being consistent in CS. FWIW, Floyd Tesseract still has lips in at least one comic book drawing of him, maybe the artists just didn’t know how to draw lipless sectoids that didn’t look menacing? At any rate, I guess this means the human-alien DNA merge wasn’t reproduced exactly the same way from one sectoid to the next.

      As far as activating multiple pods at once in the early game... I can only say that it happens? It’s not an every mission occurrence, but it’s there, at least in my experience. Especially when being liberal with your ranger slashes.

      I guess the main difference with Beta Strike sectoids is that without the option, you can just ignore a sectoid for one turn if you have a blademaster, and if you’re unlucky enough to have your ranger mindspun, it still takes only two shots to down one. With Beta Strike, you have to respect sectoids or eventually find yourself fighting 3 aliens and a mind controlled soldier with only 3 soldiers, and not enough firepower to kill the sectoid and restore the situation.

    3. Chimera Squad's comic drawings are willing to do the comic thing of distorting, exaggerating, or simplifying for the purpose of expressiveness, and for example in the intro cinema Floyd is here to be angrily outraged and so is drawn appropriately. Conversely, if you get the mission to rescue him and take it (It's not guaranteed to appear and it's skippable), his portrait draws him with the lipless, cheekless design, with some liver spot looking... spots. And they managed to make his portrait art look very gregarious, leveraging the death's-head grin to make him look insanely cheerful instead of, you know, monstrous. So it's not a matter of the art team not knowing how to draw Sectoids in a non-menacing way without giving them lips and cheeks.

      I'm not saying early game multiple pod activation never happens, my point is that the game is carefully designed to minimize the possibility of it happening, and successfully enough that even if you're aggressively engaging in inappropriate tactics it's unlikely to happen more than occasionally. In my earliest play of XCOM 2 I got stuck on this idea of wanting to expend my Overwatch ambush on an 'appropriate' encounter, where I'd try to sneak past a pod if I thought it wasn't tough enough (eg if it was just two Troopers), and I still virtually never managed to activate multiple pods in the early game; usually my attempts to sneak away and find a different pod either succeeded, or the pod I was trying to get away from patrolled such that I couldn't move someone without breaking Concealment, and in the latter case no other pod wandered into my vicinity. There's some specific mission and map exceptions (eg Retaliation missions, the Blacksite quite often, some of War of the Chosen's new map types), but it's... rarely an issue. I did a base-game run where I fielded literally nothing but Rangers, so naturally I spent the early game Slashing EVERYTHING, and it still took until the mid-to-late game for this to be something that routinely activated pods. (And by that point I'd transitioned to focusing on shooting things, so...)

      Beta Strike Sectoid-wise, I can certainly agree with that framing. I suppose I don't find them that threatening in part because beta Strike makes it easier to be a bit careless about their Trooper escorts, making it more acceptable to pile some damage on the Sectoid instead of focusing exclusively on their minions for the first turn, which ends up counteracting the increase in HP in practice. And then if a Trooper takes a shot, it does usually miss.

    4. I see the point about the comic drawings tending towards exaggeration. But it still seems like most new content is with "lipped", upright sectoids, and most lipless/hunched sectoids are from reused assets of XCOM2. If this https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/xcom/images/6/61/Floyd.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20200507062830
      is the portrait of Tesseract you mentioned, he has his mouth open in a smile, but he still has lips?

      Anyway, it's a detail. Your argument that it was more about making Verge (the apparent mascot of the game) more "photogenic", which got passed along (inconsistently) to other sectoids, makes sense to me. I attribute the jankiness to the CS team having less resources than the main team.

      I might have just been unlucky in my last run. I was trying to be clever about moving in concealment, and ended up triggering all 3 pods in my very first mission post-gatecrasher in my last run (it was my first BS run, and I was concerned I would not get to the generator in time). I was likely more sensitive to multi-pod activations for the rest of the run due to that. You have more time with the game than I do, so I defer to your experience :p

    5. That is Floyd's portrait yes. I'd say it's ambiguous whether he's being drawn with lips or not, but I am noticing that he's probably meant to have cheeks (The art is just simple enough it could, theoretically, be a simplified representation of the death's-head look), so he's certainly further from XCOM 2 Sectoid design than I'd remembered him being.

      I'm a little skeptical that budget per se is behind the inconsistency between enemy Sectoids and drawn/NPC/friendly Sectoids. Mu primary suspicion is of a difference in local needs/utility. Expressiveness being pursued frequently ends up pressing designs into a more human-like shape, and lips in particular are a non-trivial portion of human expression: you can't frown or smile without lips and cheeks, for example. So I wouldn't be surprised if Floyd, the news anchor, and Verge were all given more human designs so they could express appropriate emotions. (Or, in Verge and the news anchor's case, so their common lack of expression feels meaningful) Meanwhile, enemy Sectoids don't need to put on frowny faces for scenes or anything -Chimera Squad doesn't do pod activation close-ups, nor does it have a replacement close-up effect- so they got left with the classic design.

      Yeah, ouch. That can happen, if everything lines up right; most maps place an enemy pod BEHIND the objective, but a few place them directly on top of it or actively in front of it, which can get them overlapping with the middle pod. And the first pod... I'll be talking about this more in a later post, but even when your forces are Concealed, the AI has a certain amount of awareness of your position, where there's usually a pod trying to position itself between you and the objective. This is one reason it's a terrible idea to try to sneak past the first pod of a mission: they'll usually unavoidably stalk you until you break Concealment, making it a LOT more likely you'll end up triggering multiple pods at once, and a lot more likely that it'll happen by virtue of one of them spotting your guys to boot.

      Point being, yeah, sneaking past one pod and being on a map with a more forward-placed final pod could produce that result.


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