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Tactical Gameplay: Weapons and their uses


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Now that I've gotten enough playtime in, I feel I have a pretty good handle on the roles played by the weapons in the game's current build - enough of one to kick up another thread about them at least.

Like in X-Com, I expected to quickly file down my equipment loadout to a uniformly effective one. Unexpectedly, this has resulted in the machine gun, and not the assault rifle, taking position as the standard weapon in my xenonauts forces, after giving most of the weapons a series of combat tests. My impression is that Xenonauts is intended to discourage uniform loadouts or at least encourage varied ones, so I'll try to help in that regard with a summary analysis of my experience with the various weapons, including their shortcomings and my reasons for removing them from use as well as my suggestions for bringing them into competition with the machine gun.

First, I'll detail the machine gun itself, as that is the weapon which eventually made my uniform-loadout cut. The long and short of it is that the machine gun delivers to the Xenonauts player everything he was used to in X-Com. The machine gun brings back the hallmark of the usefulness of a high volume of fire, even when paired with an almost laughably wide cone of fire. It provides a very familiar feel to the X-Com vet when compared with the other weapon classes, fitting the old playstyle like a glove and doing so very effectively. It is a simple matter to overcome the weight disadvantage with this weapon, as one or two missions carrying it will give a soldier the necessary increase in strength to wield it in further missions without suffering any encumbrance. From then on, it's basically just a nice big rifle with hard-hitting bullets that can be relied on to fire at least one, and often two five-round bursts from a single operative in a single turn. With each bullet hitting harder than any other weapon save for the rocket launcher (including laser weapons!), the machine gun is more capable of one-shot kills than its competitors, and the large bursts make it highly improbable that at least one such shot will not land, and more likely than other weapons that multiple shots will hit as well. The only real disadvantage is the wild inaccuracy, which makes it much more difficult to safely fire this weapon when civilians or friendly operatives are anywhere near the line of fire, but again, this is a problem that any X-Com veteran will be very familiar with and he has no problem overcoming this issue with proper spacing and getting a good feel for the deadly cone of fire.

Because of its combination of acceptable accuracy, high stopping power, and high volume of fire, this weapon is actually better able to serve as the de facto assault rifle than the actual assault rifle is. Unfortunately, this is not what the weapon was designed for. It seems to me that the machine gun in Xenonauts was supposed to be an excellent overwatch tool - something deployed in a location that would provide area denial to allow for a player to execute fire-maneuver tactics with a concept of suppressive fire in play. I have one simple idea for making this role come into the machine gun and its class of weapons - a significant boost to the reaction fire ability of an operative wielding it. In all other respects I feel that the machine gun has been very well designed and its inaccuracy as a fire-on-the-move weapon would be a more than suitable drawback if the other weapon classes were to pick up their own slack. If the player could reliably put a machine gun on a soldier knowing that he could make that soldier shut down an area to enemy movement, he would certainly use it in this role. A second idea for achieving this would be to allow machine gun users to significantly increase their range of sight in a small cone ahead of them when they crouch, but only for the purposes of reaction fire - no map reveal and no ability to take reaction shots at enemies moving in areas that are still covered by the fog of war. This would allow players to put their machine gunners in somewhat rearward overwatch positions to deny a meaningful area of the map to enemy movement.

I have thoughts and ideas about many of the other weapons as they are currently implemented, but I'll get into those in the next few posts so as not to be too overwhelming in my first. I expect this to get pretty lengthy pretty quickly.

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Pistols, the sadly neglected sidearms, are sadly neglected for reasons that might have something to do with those shields not being present, but I think there is something else that holds them back from seeing wider spread use: they simply don't function as sidearms, due to the inventory system.

A while ago, we addressed this issue with grenades. Grenades were too cumbersome to use by swapping them out with a primary weapon before throwing, and the inventory system has been altered to allow them to be thrown from the belt. I feel that this same fix can also solve the problems of the pistol. It is a weapon intended to be used as a sidearm - an emergency backup weapon for self defense in a situation where there is no time for a more sophisticated response and the primary weapon in an operative's hands is either empty or unsuitable, as is the case with the rocket launcher. Being able to fire the pistol from the belt in the same manner as the grenade would bring this sidearm into its own as an emergency defense mechanism properly, and as action-movie-esque it seems to have a soldier firing a pistol with one hand while holding his rocket launcher in the other, it's not too far fetched - he only needs one arm to hold up the launcher he's not aiming or firing while he plugs away desperately with his pistol, which will go straight back to his belt when he's done with the business of self defense.

The shotgun/carbine weapons are advertised as being effective close range weapons which are not accurate at longer distances. In practice, I find that these weapons behave more or less as either a precision rifle or an assault rifle with poor accuracy beyond a predictable distance - not a compelling reason to take these weapons along when their longer-range counterparts exist.

I have an idea for a way to make these weapons useful in a manner which would make them indeed very distinct, shining in the close-range role they're meant for, and it's an idea similar to my thought on the machine gun - influencing reactions. This time, instead of improved reactions for themselves, I think that a certain resistance to enemy reaction fire could be granted to the carrier of a shotgun or carbine or submachinegun. These weapons, designed for assault troops in very close quarters situations, would be seen as very useful in this regard if a player could regularly count on a soldier equipped with one of these weapons to consistently step into view of an enemy, generally by stepping into a confined space garrisoned by enemies, and fire two shots or two bursts before provoking any reaction fire. This would give these soldiers a distinct advantage in close quarters combat where it is most relevant - assaulting a confined space - and it would do so in a way that would make it a very obvious choice for the player to use them this way as opposed to simply filling the same role with a different weapon somehow.

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Now we get to assault rifles and what is a pretty significant issue - at least to me - that they, and most of the other weapons, suffer from. Advertised as versatile do-it-all weapons with a lack of stopping power, assault rifles do seem to fit this bill pretty accurately. However, what I did not expect was their astonishingly low volume of fire. X-Com veterans are likely to be as uncomfortable with the assault rifle's tradeoff of volume of fire for accuracy as they are comfortable with the machine gun's adherence to the old spray-and-pray characteristics. It's nice to see tight groups from three round bursts, but it's quite shocking to check the time unit costs and realize that you'll never be able to fire two bursts in a single turn. It seems strange that the bulky, heavy machine guns allow you to do what you used to do - move a very short distance and fire two bursts in the same turn - while the supposedly move-and-shoot oriented assault rifles gobble up so many time units with one burst that this is not tenable with them.

Assault rifles are fine as they are in all respects except for this time unit issue. They feel cumbersome and clunky, because time units are the measure of exactly how much you can do in a turn, and a gun that can do precious little firing is a gun that, whatever way you slice it, feels like a "slow" gun to the player, and is very much not what is expected from an assault rifle. I believe that a good rule of thumb for the capabilities of an assault rifle in a game like this should allow for enough time units to fire three bursts or five relatively well aimed shots in a single turn from a single operative, provided that operative does not move at all in that turn. In practice, this results in players having enough time units to perform some very Tau-like move-shoot-move actions as a standard combat tactic, or mix it up with more movement in the place of shooting, or if positioned very well in advance, take advantage of the extra opportunity to fire many shots in a single turn. I also feel that other weapons should have their time unit costs rebalanced to be in line with this model - if the cost of shooting prohibits you from moving at all before or after doing so, the result tends to be an uncomfortably risky or annoyingly indecisive as gameplay bogs down into lots of static firing positions rather than the kind of mobile combat expected in a game where the most frequent mission is "search and destroy."

Precision rifles are last on the list of weapons I feel need some sort of change. They are apparently designed as sniping tools for use against long distance targets from static positions. They suffer from a similar problem as the other weapons currently, that problem being "how is that different from machine guns?" The practical difference right now is that the precision rifles trade the dangerous hail of civilian-slaying bullets for a reduced surety of obtaining a kill - they still punish movement pretty heavily.

However, I feel that the roles of the precision rifle and the machine gun are only half-solved by changes to make the machine gun more about reaction fire. The precision rifle doesn't seem like it's meant to be an area denial tool like the machine gun, but rather a weapon meant specifically for offense - rooting a stubborn enemy out of a position that would be too risky to assault. This is a simpler fix than anything else - just bump up the stopping power of the individual shots from a precision rifle, and don't slam it with a penalty for moving before shooting in the same turn. Even if the round used is similar or identical to that used in a machine gun, the wielder of a precision rifle is likely to take much more careful aim directed at an enemy's vitals, resulting in much more significant damage being dealt by a hit from the weapon. One shot really ought to mean one kill with this thing, so that the machine gun does not outperform it in its own role.

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One last word I want to mention is with regard to the first generation laser weapons themselves. The problem is really quite simple - the machine gun outperforms them! Even the powerful laser carbine doesn't hit as hard shot-for-shot as the machine gun does, and given the cost of producing the laser weapons, one would expect a significant improvement over ballistics to justify the trouble required of the player to obtain them. As it stands, it really comes down to paying a whole lot and not really getting anything back in the way of improved combat performance in a practical, appreciable manner. Sadly, the really-freakin'-cool-looking laser weapons just aren't worth the effort at all if you compare them to ballistic weapons looking at the numbers alone.

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The numbers haven't been set yet, should happen in the balance phase.

The assault rifle should maybe play more towards mobility while the machine gun is more of a static weapon.

The heavy flag on the machine gun would discourage movement (once it is implemented) but as it stands the assault rifle needs to use less AP per shot to fit into this role.

The precision rifle is already the best option for long range combat but could be tweaked to work better if it needs to.

It may need some penalty to short range combat though to balance it out.

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As you know, with suppression being implemented the functionality of the machine gun and similar weapons will change greatly so... But really, there has been almost no weapon balancing done yet (it's more of a beta thing) but with a little luck every weapon will find it niche.

I do agree that more specialization is probably needed like better reaction, more damage for the shotgun, maybe a higher ap cost for the sniper (so it doesn't turn into a burstless assault rifle), better reaction for the pistol. However reaction fire hasn't even been implemented for player soldiers so it's kinda hard to judge though it's worth it to discuss how these weapon roles might be realized.

Edit: I've deleted my original post and pasted it here so there's no break in Rot's presentation.

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Hi there

(I'll send ahead that until beta testing the weapons tweaking isn't yet an issue and considering this I think the balance we have is pretty good.)

Now.

Very nice thread.

I do disagree with your assessment of the shotguns, however. A very major difference to sniper weapons is that shotguns are light on the time units. So you can be very mobile with them, emphasizing their close quarter role much unlike the sniper rifle. And they put many aliens down with the first shot which is something the asault rifle does not do.

One factor that makes the machine gun so very useful and one that will hopefully disappear soon, is that right now most aliens are playing turret defence during the whole mission. This produces scenarios were you turn around a corner and have to put the alien down with this very shot so as not to receive hot plasma love to the face.

Once aliens start moving on their own and now put everything into reaction fire with eyes in the backs of their heads, smaller damage portions with increased mobility might get more effective. We shall see.

Otherwise full agreement to most of your points.

The assault rifle could indeed have a faster rapid fire option (or maybe another spray option with more bullets?) but I would also vote for an increase in accuracy for the aimed shot because that one is lacking, too. The small stopping power will keep it from replacing the sniper rifle. I stole this suggestion form someone, I think because I remember reading it somewhere else.

Leo

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I do very much agree about the pistol issue. Having to spend ap to move it from the inventory to a hand slot defeats its purpose as an emergency sidearm and limits its use to the shield combo. You could, of course, keep it in a hand slot along with your primary weapon but then you compromise accuracy.

The pistol should be a quickslot item like the grenades and such.

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It's also not that worth it to carry one at the present moment, as they're horribly inaccurate and take too many shots to put an alien down.

I mean seriously, what are they firing? Peas?!

That is the idea of pistol - a backup weapon.

And when you are all out of your favourite inicendiary rockets a few weak and inaccurate pistol shots are better than nothing.

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I agree that the machinegun is a little too powerful at this point. In my opinion it needs to be a little more like the current squad automatic weapon that the Army uses with it firing the same bullets as an M-16. The biggest reason that the machinegun is so successful at dropping enemies is its armor penetration characteristic relative to the enemies that we see in the game right now. Unfortunately, the armor penetration characteristic has very different effects depending on the armor of the target which means that we really need to see Androns in the game before we can talk about modifying the machinegun too much. We might end up with the interesting effect of the machinegun being better for certain alien base types and and the sniper rifle (with it's better armor penetration) being better for others. Once we have a better idea what type of targets we are going to be firing at, then we can find the balance point between whether it is better to throw a lot of weaker rounds at an opponent or to get one could shot that blows through their armor.

To provide an example, in my modifications of the game, I added a carbine equivalent to the ballistic tier that fired more rounds at a shorter range (same damage an AP as the rifle), what suprised me is how dramatically it's effectiveness drops once you start seeing soldiers (especially the Sebillians). Against the non-combatants it cuts through them like butter, but because the AP and damage are so low it is nearly ineffective against soldiers.

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On the machine gun, one quick fix would be to only allow it to be fired from a crouching position (simulating setting the weapon up properly). Adding an extra 12 AP to the hopscotch manuever should force it into a defensive/battlefield control role nicely.

Then again, the AP costs of weapons are pretty moot from a powergamer perspective as there's no time pressure and the Aliens have no offensive goals of their own. If optimum play is advancing with heavy machineguns at snail's pace then people will do it regardless of how inconvenient it is.

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On the machine gun, one quick fix would be to only allow it to be fired from a crouching position (simulating setting the weapon up properly). Adding an extra 12 AP to the hopscotch manuever should force it into a defensive/battlefield control role nicely.

Then again, the AP costs of weapons are pretty moot from a powergamer perspective as there's no time pressure and the Aliens have no offensive goals of their own. If optimum play is advancing with heavy machineguns at snail's pace then people will do it regardless of how inconvenient it is.

The presence of civilians on the battlefield introduces a time incentive to get to the aliens to stop further killing. While that may be a safer strategy for your soldiers, the cost in civilian lives will hurt your standing each mission.

That said, moving slowly tends to be a good X-Com strategy in general, so while there are incentives to go faster, the risk to your troops may not be worth it - losing some standing isn't the end of the world, so you're not forced to save everyone. So there's incentives to play it safe and to hurry, and the choice of what to do is left to the player.

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