XCOM 2 Alien Analysis: Muton


HP: 8/8/9/11
Armor: 1/1/2/2
Defense: 10
Dodge: 0
Aim: 80
Mobility: 12/14/14/14 (8/16 on Rookie, 9/18 on other difficulties)
Damage: 4-6 (+2)
Shred: 1
Crit Chance: 0/10%/10%/10%
Will: 50

Bayonet
The Muton has access to a melee attack, which does 6-8 damage (+3 on a crit), has a base 80% chance to hit, and can Disorient, Stun, or knock Unconscious the target. This is not a move-and-melee attack.

I'm not 100% sure on this, but strongly suspect the side effects here is just the Stun Lancer Strength test mechanic again. The SoldierSkills config file actually has an explicitly listed Stun chance, but it's set to 0, and while I've seen Stun more often than the other results by a pretty wide margin, I have absolutely seen Mutons inflict Disorientation and Unconsciousness with their melee attacks, all of which implies the specific Stun chance is legacy code.

It's worth noting that Mutons are obsessive about going for the Bayonet strike if the option is available. If one of your soldiers is in range for a Muton to move once and then melee them, it's all but guaranteed that's what they'll do; shooting Mimic Beacons is the only case I know off the top of my head that has higher priority. Broadly speaking, this is the smart thing for Mutons to do, but if you're aware of it you can exploit it, such as setting up an Untouchable soldier or Parrying Templar in a position a Muton will be able to melee to ensure they don't instead shoot at one of your actually-vulnerable soldiers. Even better, Mutons will go for the melee strike even if that means completely abandoning Cover, so it can be used to pull a Muton out of Full Cover without burning a grenade or similar on smashing the Cover, which is particularly plausible to leverage in War of the Chosen since Templar have a lot less need to stay in Cover than your other soldiers.

That said, if you're not actively trying to exploit their obsession with going for the Bayonet strike, you should endeavor to keep your troops out of reach of Mutons. The Bayonet is just as accurate as their gun, hits harder, and can inflict dangerous side effects, all of which makes it a bad idea to give them the opportunity even before you consider that...

Execute
If the target is currently Stunned, a melee attack will be an automatic hit that automatically kills the target.

... they have Execute.

Execute is the reason why you don't want to be getting into a fist-fight with a Muton, especially if there's more than one Muton around. Even for elite troops in endgame Armor with multiple Covert Op-derived HP boosts, a couple of Mutons can take them from full to dead in one turn, with you having no chance to respond: first a melee hit happens to Stun, and then an Execution unavoidably takes them out. The only saving grace is the possibility of the soldier starting to Bleed Out instead of straight-up dying, but you can't count on that in War of the Chosen, and even in the base game you're not going to be able to count on it when Mutons first show up.

Internally, Execute is 100 damage, but barring boss-type enemies, most of whom are immune to Stun anyway, nothing comes close to 100 Armor/HP. I suppose you could arrange to grind Covert Operations to get somebody to 101 HP in an attempt to show off a soldier surviving Execute?... it'd be a massive pain and take forever if it's even possible, but hey, if someone wants to prove it's doable it's their life.

I've yet to test whether Execute can be blocked by eg Untouchable, but stuff like Aid Protocol is of no help: Execute isn't performing an accuracy test or anything, it's just 'is the target currently Stunned? If yes, hit for 100 damage'. So seriously, don't let Mutons melee you if you can avoid it.

Counterattack
The Muton has a 66% chance to negate incoming melee attacks. If it does so, it automatically performs a Bayonet strike on its attacker.

Something to note right off the bat: this can trigger on Bladestorm activations, negating the Bladestorm and giving the Muton a free attack on you. Keep Bladestorm Rangers and Templar and Retribution Skirmishers out of Muton reach! Or at least make sure to Flashbang them first, as Disorientation will disable Counterattack for the duration. Disables, such as Stun or Freeze, will also work, though this is sufficiently intuitive I imagine most players assume it's so -Stun and Freeze are very consistent about disabling reaction effects, after all.

Also note that Counterattack does potentially trigger Bayonet side effects. So you can have a Templar go for the Rend, and be instantly knocked Unconscious for their trouble Or be Stunned, and then the Muton's turn rolls around and they instantly Execute the Templar..

Don't melee Mutons without disabling or Disorienting them first.

Seriously.

Anyway, Counterattack is an ability I love on a conceptual level, as it's a very strong, direct representation of Mutons out-massing your soldiers and being better-equipped than them. Of course they can crush you in close combat. In conjunction with eg the Armor stat being introduced and Mutons having unusually high Armor, Mutons in XCOM 2 actually feel like hulking supersoldiers in powered armor. I still have something of a complaint with how your own experienced soldiers kitted out in powered armor manage to blow them out of the water, but even then Mutons also get 10 innate Defense (A point you're completely unable to match, let alone exceed) and still stomp your soldiers in melee combat, so it's not like in the prior game where your endgame human soldiers really were just 100% superior to Mutons.

That said, in the base game the actual mechanical execution of Counterattack is a bit frustrating: only Rangers can perform a melee attack on Mutons, and then the way Mutons are designed they'd be a dubious Slash target even if Mutons didn't have Counterattack. Swords are not ideal against Armored targets, they're not ideal against targets with innate Defense (Until high levels, even a Blademaster Ranger has to worry about potentially missing against a 10 Defense enemy and being left helpless and in easy reach to be murdered), and by the time Mutons are entering rotation you typically already have Run And Gun and very possibly Hunter's Instincts. Even a Fusion Blade can't kill a Legendary Muton in one hit, even when backed by a crit and Blademaster, whereas a Shard Gun can do 12 damage on a crit high roll even without Hunter's Instincts or Ammo or anything else boosting it, ie 1 short of killing an untouched Legendary Muton. Better to shoot than to Slash.

As such, in the base game Counterattack ends up, unfortunately, primarily acting as a newbie trap, causing a new player to get a Ranger killed with no warning that this was a possible outcome.

In War of the Chosen, it's a lot more meaningful. Hunter's Instincts being toned down and the Katana being added means a late-game Ranger actually would consider trying to Slash a Muton if it didn't have Counterattack: backed by Bladestorm, that would be an assured kill if it weren't for the effectively-greater-than-66% chance of it horribly backfiring.

More importantly, the Templar and Skirmisher were added as additional melee attackers, and are both pieces that are otherwise not particularly great against Mutons: the Templar's Autopistol is tremendously bad against even lightly Armored targets, and having to fall back on something like Volt is pretty depressing given Mutons don't take bonus damage and Volt isn't that hard-hitting against non-psionic enemies. Without Counterattack, Templar would be an excellent answer to Mutons, as they'd just melee them and then Parry the inevitable melee attempt during the enemy's turn: with Counterattack, Templar are very close to helpless against Mutons if you're not willing to risk triggering Counterattack and don't have tools to disable it.

The Skirmisher isn't so dramatic, but Counterattack is still a lynchpin ability for making them bad against Mutons. Without Counterattack, it would be tempting to Wrath or Reckoning a Muton to get close enough for a follow-up shot, especially since the Ripjack overall hits harder than an equivalent Bullpup tier. With Counterattack, these are both incredibly bad ideas, leaving a Skirmisher to awkwardly fire from a distance over Cover with dubious odds to hit, or focus on a different target entirely, or maybe Wrath or Reckoning a different target to end up flanking the Muton and then shoot it. And the potential to counter Retribution means you shouldn't risk approaching a Muton with a high-level Skirmisher unless you're confident the Muton is going to end up dead -otherwise the Muton might advance, trigger Retribution, counter it, Stun the Skirmisher in the process, and promptly Execute them.

As such, in War of the Chosen the Muton's access to Counterattack is a key part of their threat profile, instead of a newbie trap that doesn't really change anything once you know about it. It's an impressive trick, given Counterattack itself is completely unmodified.

Incidentally, Counterattack all by itself is a good reason to consider Dominating a Muton, as the AI doesn't 'see' Counterattack and so is perfectly happy to fruitlessly hurl a bunch of melee attacks at the Muton, no matter how many Chryssalids break their teeth on the Muton's arm. Conveniently, Mutons are disproportionately prone to showing up alongside melee enemies, as they're particularly common on Retaliation missions and can outright be following around Berserkers. It's not like the rest of the Muton package is a bad deal, either, and their poor Will makes it pretty reliable to pull off, even with poorly-trained Psi Operatives.

Alien Grenade
Throws an Alien Grenade, doing 4-5 damage and 1 Shred to all units caught in its blast radius.

Unusually for explosives, this has the default +1 chance of 50%. It thus averages slightly higher damage than a Plasma Grenade used by your own soldiers, if we ignore skills like Volatile Mix.

As with ADVENT Troopers and Officers, this grenade has a notably larger radius than your own grenades have by default, enough so it can be surprisingly difficult to avoid multiple soldiers being caught in the blast radius. Otherwise, it's essentially a slightly weaker Plasma Grenade -which makes sense, since Mutons are visibly carrying a Plasma Grenade, and Autopsying them is how you unlock Plasma Grenades- and the extent to which it's slightly weaker (1 less Shred) isn't very important, as your own access to Armor is much lesser than enemy forces: aside a SPARK with fully upgraded chassis with the Bulwark skill and Sacrifice currently active, hitting a total of 6 Armor, player Armor is mostly going to be in the 1-2 points range. If you commit to Armor you can get as much as 4 points on a regular soldier: 2 from a W.A.R. Armor, 1 from Blast Padding, and 1 from equipping a Plated Vest. At that point Alien Grenade only having 1 Shred is almost like a real disadvantage... but the game isn't particularly rewarding of Armor stacking, and in fact is so oriented toward the best defense being everything dying before it can attack you that a Plated Vest is usually going to be a waste of an equipment slot and Blast Padding an iffy expenditure of Ability Points.

The main thing worth noting about Alien Grenade is, as I've noted before, that Mutons are, for whatever exact reason, really prone to responding to Panic by charging your squad and chucking their Alien Grenade at the squad. Outside of when they're Panicking, Mutons only rarely toss their grenade, in part because of their obsession with melee: there's a surprisingly narrow distance at which a Muton can't melee anyone but can lob their grenade. Quite often they'll either be too close, and go for the Bayonet strike, or be too far, and so not have the option of lobbing the grenade.

That said, if a Muton does remember its Alien Grenade, it's basically guaranteed it will vaporize all the Cover of whoever it gets thrown at. If any enemies are able to follow up, that can be quite lethal. As such, Mutons are a moderately high-priority target.

On a different note, I recently worked out why enemy grenades have a larger blast radius than yours, except Purifiers: because originally, they didn't, but one of the handful of patches base XCOM 2 got nerfed explosives all-around for the player, including shrinking their blast zone, and apparently the devs just didn't patch enemy explosives to be consistent. Meanwhile, Purifiers got introduced well after this patch, so they got the same radius your Incendiaries have post-patching.

Kind of a weird result...

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

Just like on Mecs, Suppression on Mutons is generally a waste of their turn. The waste is a bit less egregious: for starters, Mutons being so focused on melee opportunities means they're less prone to even considering Suppression in the first place, and for another while it's still worse than a regular shot Mutons are more prone than Mecs to ending up in a situation where all their options suck or are unavailable. A Muton that can't get in range to melee, can't flank, and has no great Alien Grenade targets deciding to Suppress one of your soldiers in High Cover is probably a waste of their turn, but if their only other option is taking a shot that's unlikely to hit... well, that's not nearly as egregious as a basic Mec ignoring its Micromissiles to Suppress, or getting a flank and Suppressing instead of shooting.

The other good news is that this is the last Suppression-capable enemy in XCOM 2. Suppression is terrible in XCOM 2 still, but at least it wasn't passed out to literally half the enemies like in the prior game.

Mutons are both familiar and yet quite different, mechanically. They're still an early-midgame Alien that falls away in relevance once you've got end-game weaponry on everyone, they still have access to Suppression and an Alien Grenade, but they've lost the largely-pointless Blood Call and the irritatingly random Intimidate in favor of leveraging their hulking mass and tribal history notions to become a fairly threatening melee combatant. (Which incidentally makes Berserkers a little less unnatural) Also notable once you're throwing around mid-game or end-game armors is that their gun has innate Shred; 1 Shred might not sound like much, but the player doesn't have nearly so great an ability to climb in Armor as enemies do. 1 Shred is enough to completely destroy your Armor in the early-to-midgame when Mutons are first showing up, and will still tear through your Armor quickly into the end-game. 4 Armor is as high as you can go outside SPARKs, and most of your soldiers can only get up to 3 Armor.

On a different note, Mutons are one of the best enemies in the game to set on fire, particularly in War of the Chosen where a lot of enemies that were previously hard-disabled by fire now ignore it aside the damage. Mutons are, after all, one of the only enemies where taking a shot is one of the least threatening possibilities for them to do -it's more threatening than Suppression, admittedly, but most of the time locking off Suppression is worth doing as part of locking off Bayonet, Plasma Grenade, and of course Execute. And remember: enemies can't Hunker Down, and don't get Medikits or the like, so unless water happens to be present they can't put it out.

Overall, the main element of Mutons worth mentioning is how they fit into a larger design trend in XCOM 2.

In the prior game, the overt mechanics were clearly designed under the idea of the player closing with the enemy, between flanking bonuses and the Aim climb most weapons experienced. Unfortunately, this was in actual practice pretty consistently punished by the game; sure, you got Aim climb for getting closer, but so did the AI, and the way Aim/Defense math is tuned in that game a given amount of Aim boost is usually more valuable to the enemy than to the player.

In short: the AI tended to have worse Aim than the player, and Aim boosts have a greater proportionate impact the worse your Aim already is, taking into account how Aim intersects with Defense. A unit with 50 Aim firing on a unit in Full Cover would have a 10% chance to hit. Get close enough to get +20 Aim, and that chance triples to 30%. Meanwhile, a unit with 70 Aim is going from 30% to 50%, which is less than doubling your chance to hit. Which means a low-to-mid-level player unit facing off against a Floater where they're both in Full Cover should optimally just... sit there and keep exchanging fire, rather than trying to get in the Floater's face for the Aim bonus.

This is very possibly the reason why XCOM 2 removed Aim climb from AI units, incidentally. I'm not a fan of it as a solution, but I can kind of see how they arrived at it as an idea, given the above problem.

But this was far from the only way the prior game punished what it was intended to reward. Flying enemies of any sort exacerbated the issue by making it impossible to flank them if they didn't want to be flanked, while they were free to flank the player; thus, getting closer to them was making it easier for them to flank you with no equivalent reward on your end. Sectopods, Cyberdiscs, and Ethereals all exploding meant that getting closer could be punished even if you never let the enemy have an actual action. Melee enemies removed the 'Aim climb is more useful to the AI than to the player' factor, but replaced it with 'distance completely removes their ability to hurt you', which is actually even more extreme about encouraging keeping your distance. Grenades were another widespread incentive to keep your distance, being one of the only ways the AI could 100% reliably force damage on your units, where the only defense was to be too far away for them to toss it at your soldiers in the first place. And of course pod activation mechanics meant that anytime you advanced on enemies you were risking adding enemies to the fight when your goal was to subtract enemies from the fight.

XCOM 2 hasn't removed all these mechanics, but it's put a fair amount of effort into making the default behavior of the game be that approaching the enemy is actually rewarded, instead of punished. The introduction of powerful, useful melee attacks to the player's own arsenal being one of the more obvious examples of such. (Yes, I know Mecs had the Kinetic Strike Module in Enemy Within. It didn't do as much to encourage getting in close as you might hope)

Then we have XCOM 2 Mutons, who are a rare exception to this XCOM 2 trend: with most enemies, you should very much default to closing with them. With Mutons, it's generally better to keep your distance. I actually like that, as it helps make Mutons feel very different from many other enemies. They're not actually the only enemy you're encouraged to keep your distance from (Purifiers are another big one, in War of the Chosen), but they're probably the most dramatic one, and they're one of the better examples of XCOM 2 being better at setting up enemies so you approach fighting different enemies in a fundamentally different manner, instead of everything being fought basically the same regardless of its capabilities.

Mutons are, in fact, probably my favorite enemy in XCOM 2 from a design perspective, contrasting with Mutons in the prior game being one of my least favorite. It's a pleasant surprise.


Autopsy-wise, Mutons are a really big deal, directly unlocking the Advanced Grenade Launcher and also the Plasma Grenade Proving Ground Project. Not only does the Plasma Grenade Project replace your Frag Grenades with superior Plasma Grenades, but it unlocks the Advanced Explosives project, which permanently improves not only all your Experimental Grenades but also your EMP Grenades! (And technically your Smoke Grenades, though that... barely matters...) As such, they're strongly worth considering Autopsying early, instead of ignoring entirely or waiting for the Instant Autopsy to be reached. This is compounded by them being a sufficiently uncommon enemy it's not at all unusual for you to never reach the instant threshold.

Furthermore, in War of the Chosen the Muton Autopsy is actually necessary for Powered Armor -which is nice, actually tying into the idea that Mutons are supposed to be wandering around in their own powered armor, a concept the previous game claimed but then didn't do anything to support. Mechanically, this pushes their Autopsy even further into importance, more or less tied with the ADVENT Mec for importance in the long haul. It's not unusual for me to Autopsy the Muton first, in fact, depending in part on what all I'm doing with the run. (eg a SPARK-heavy run gets less out of the Muton Autopsy, whereas if I've ended up with multiple great Grenadiers the Muton Autopsy is fantastic)

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Narratively, the game is... a bit mixed-up when it comes to Mutons.

The talk-y bits are in fairly consistent agreement that the XCOM 2 Muton design is new from an in-universe standpoint, heavily implying the design from the previous game is canonically the form Mutons took in the initial invasion. Some late-game cinematics also depict previous-game Alien designs, Muton included...

... such as this shot during the first Codex Shadow Project cinematic, depicting Muton Elites, Mutons, Ethereals, basic Floaters, Outsiders, Sectoids, Cyberdiscs, and Chryssalids, all in their design from the prior game where its relevant to note the distinction. All of which implies XCOM 2 is taking the position that the current design is not a retcon, but a change in-universe.

Nonetheless, if you have the Tutorial on there's a flashback toward the beginning of the game that depicts an XCOM 2-style Muton breaking into X-COM's base.

Mind, there's a lot of choreography problems with the Tutorial cinematics...

Also notable in this regard is that Bradford's introduction to Mutons describes them as seeming 'a little more agile' than the Mutons of the prior game, which is confusing as XCOM 2 Mutons don't have any new mechanics that could be argued as growing out of greater agility. They're not faster, they don't suddenly climb more widely, they don't have any of the new Dodge stat... I honestly have no idea why this is a thing Bradford says. Is it supposed to somehow be a warning of their newfound melee capability, just with an absolutely baffling choice of words?

The whole thing is sufficiently messy I'm honestly not sure where to start for theories on why we ended up with this confusing set of decisions.

In any event, the visual design itself... exists? I don't really get why they got redesigned like this, personally. I had issues with the prior game's design, but some of these have already been addressed by shifted mechanics, such as how this supersoldier in powered armor has an actual Armor stat and dominates your puny human soldiers in melee. The new design admittedly moves away from the 'space gorilla' design to something a bit more alien-looking, but the Alien designs are still slanted toward Suspiciously Humanoid so there's not much of a believability gain there. The redesign itself raises questions, particularly with it being acknowledged in-universe that they look different; I was more positive on the redesign when I was first playing, when it seemed like they were taking the All Just A Dream reframing of the prior game as an opportunity to redesign everything. With it being clear that, no, the older designs are still canon... whyyyy did the Muton get this redesign? From both an out-of-universe standpoint and an in-universe one, it's baffling.

What's particularly confusing is that Mutons are one of the enemy types that's allowed to show up on maps with ADVENT civilians. If Mutons had been redesigned into something more PR-friendly, I'd get it, but if anything they seem more intimidating and evil-looking now, making it weird.

I do at least pretty unambiguously approve of the removal of Blood Call. Its mechanics were terrible, the racial unity thing didn't make much sense -as I've said before, there's no logical reason why Mutons exhorting their comrades would only affect members of their own species- and it wasn't that interesting in practice. My only mixed feeling is that a better implementation of it would've actually been consistent with XCOM 2's implementation of complicator enemies.


In general, while I approve of the mechanics overhaul for Mutons, I'm just baffled by the narrative/visual elements.

Oh, and they still have their gasmask, it still doesn't have any mechanical implications, and they're still not protecting their head. In fact, their head looks more vulnerable now, because it's much larger and sticks a fair distance forward whereas they no longer have the oversized collar to potentially protect their head from most non-front directions.

I love their gameplay end, particularly in War of the Chosen, but I just don't get the rest of what happened with them.

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Next time, we cover the ADVENT Shieldbearer.

See you then.

Comments

  1. Yeah, that melee counter really is a newbie trap. My first game of X-COM2, I almost flubbed a retaliation mission because I was unaware of it, and had a shiny new Templar I was test-driving who got KTFO trying to rend one.

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  2. I feel like the mutons could have done with a slightly more impressive weapon; the bayonet makes sense, and I like the design on its own, but when you're looking at them from a distance, it isn't a strong visual cue of "this enemy is terrifying in melee". It'd be less of a newbie trap if, like rangers, they were actually carrying two separate weapons. Giving them a wrist mounted plasma blaster and a giant axe would have made it much easier for someone to intuit that they were scarier in melee, whereas their actual weapon looks like a shooty weapon first with a secondary melee function, which isn't how they play.

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    1. That's a decent point, though to be fair I suspect their degree of melee dominance wasn't their starting point in design -the devs clearly mis-estimated how influential melee access is in general on initial release, with it taking until War of the Chosen for them to get a handle on eg Ranger tuning. Probably this happened because they were imagined as their design suggests and Bradford describes them: the line soldier of the future/aliens, and whoops their melee dominance ended up being their defining trait in practice.

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