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Aaron

Ground Combat Balance Discussion v18.51 Hotfix 3

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This build contains my first pass at rationalising and balancing the ground combat system; any comments you have would be gratefully received in this thread. Pretty much every important value for weapons, armour and most other things in the ground combat have been systematically re-set to follow our intended progression.

A few notes - different alien species all currently have stat parity; that is, for the most part a Caesan Guard is identical to a Sebillian Guard. The main differences come from increasing stats between the "ranks" of alien types - non-combat, guard, soldier, warrior etc... and these are gradually phased in throughout the game to ramp up the challenge.

Eventually, of course, the different alien species will have different characteristics, so the player needs to adapt their tactics to fight them. This will start with stat differences (such as increased armour for Sebillians), but will eventually extend to the AI system (Androns will be single minded, never take cover and relentlessly advance on the player).

EDIT: Make sure you grab Hotfix 3, this fixes several AI issues that would have caused problems testing the balance.

EDIT2: To be absolutely clear - this is Ground Combat only, no structured changes have been made to Geoscape thus far

Edited by Aaron

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Hmm, yet to play it (waiting for the AI fixes), but not sure about the burst fire.

I had the same cost in my mod for the high-tier MG's, and it made them extremely hard to use for low experience troops. It did stop anyone but heavily experienced troops firing more than 1 burst a turn though.

Dunno about the accuracy though, since you'd use it at near-point blank range anyways, or just to spray in the hope of a kill. I'd like to see feedback on it, and if it has problems with shooting troops standing next to the firer.

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If lowering MG accuracity is amove towards making the weapon a suppressor instead of a long range snipe cheat, then I welcome it. But seems no weapon can suppress beyond its max effective range, is that intentional?

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This build contains my first pass at rationalising and balancing the ground combat system; any comments you have would be gratefully received in this thread.
Hey Aaron, it would be helpful if we knew what you actually changed (i.e. the update notes/change log), so we can see how that is working now. :D Edited by StellarRat

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Does this balance discussion only pertain to ground combat or can we raise other balance issues as well?

Assuming we can, I just made a very interesting decision.

Near the start of a game, I had a Condor trailing a light scout until it hit land. When the scout finally did hit land, I engaged it... with 0 seconds of combat fuel. Immediately, I was told that if the Condor remained in battle it wouldn't be able to return to base. I ordered it to stay and fight. Why would I intentionally sacrifice a Condor just to shoot down one little light scout?

Because, I realized, that replacing the Condor costs me $50k and some time, but no workshop time. On the other hand, the loot from the crash would be 60k in plasma pistols, a little more in plasma clips, and extra money come the end of the month. In addition to that, running the ground combat mission would help all my soldiers get skill points and therefore be more able to handle later, bigger threats.

So I find it odd, long story short, that I can justify sacrificing a plane to shoot down one reasonably unimportant target because I'll still profit.

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Seems like a logical and reasonable decision all around to me. Maybe the Condor should cost a hair more to replace like $60K? I'm not sure. It is a desperate struggle so a single Level 1 AC might well be worth less than captured UFO info and equipment. In my mind, no UFO is "unimportant" at the start.

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Losing 1 plane from the thousands available at planet earth at the time plus 60k in mods its not that great loss. Defending Earth is priceless. Acording to lore, nations are already losing good amount of planes to shot down what you did losing just 1 plane, as for game situation goes you made a perfectly valid choice.

Note: not to mention you helped funds go up not down in the región wich is an important goal since funding is scarce again.

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Been playing and finding Caesans a real pain. 4 sight difference when using jackal against them feels too much. Maybe make jackal 15 and Wolf 16.

Also im finding scout car is no longer useful scout. Its low TUs and size make it handle like a pig. "Naked" soldier seems now the new scout unit, and you get 2 for the place of a scout car and are more easily available.

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And shotguns got a huge nerf. There isn't much point in using them now, since they cost so much to fire and do so little damage.

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I've been trying to play with the current balance... and finding it unreasonable.

Suppression:

All of a sudden it's become incredibly easy to suppress aliens, with usually the first near miss making them get down. However, they seem to no longer lose AP to suppression, making the mechanic less useful. (I often see aliens with 50 max AP firing a 40-TU burst after being suppressed.) However, human units that get suppressed still lose 1/2 their TUs. Don't know if this is a bug or a balance issue.

Grenades:

They NEED to have over 10 range. The old balance (of having mortar arms on all of our soldiers) was obvs. bad, but the current range of 10 is impossible to use. They're less accurate now and having a dropoff of damage is really weird -- why would an explosive device get weaker because it's far away from it's point of origin? Remove the suppression/stun dropoff after effective range, and make them even less accurate (so you can't RELIABLY use them at long ranges, but if a soldier gets a good throw in it should still be effective.)

Precision Rifles:

While I understand their new higher TU cost, they are now essentially useless. They do a whopping 5(!) more damage than assault rifles and have NO mitigation. In the old version, precision rifles made great "battle rifles" that were used in roles essentially similar to assault rifles, but slightly longer range. Now, you lose the option for burst fire, have to deal with the "heavy" trait, and have half the clip size. In return, you get 50% longer range, 5 extra damage, and the option to pay 10 more TUs for 20 more accuracy. What I'd suggest is to further increase ALL aim levels of the precision rifle by 10 TUs, increase the accuracy of each level by 30, and increase their range by at least 10 more tiles. This would take them out of the battle rifle region and into the sniper rifle region, having nigh-infinite range, good accuracy, and high damage but having very high TU costs. And most of the maps in game aren't really sniper-friendly, with lots of things to block LOS that aliens love to hide behind.

LMGs:

Are surprisingly accurate. Honestly, the best weapon in the game right now. They've got the same damage and mitigation of snipers, and their burst fire is the same cost and accuracy as a rifle's burst, but with two more bullets per burst to get hits with. The only downside they have is that you HAVE to choose burst (not really a problem) and the heavy tag, which is mostly negated by the sheer volume of fire. In fact, I think I'm going to try all LMGs next.

Shotguns/Pistols:

Haven't used them, but looking at the xml files...

The shotgun is a carbon copy of the Rifle, but loses burst and the highest level of accuracy, and has a tiny clip. Also has a 25% smaller range, AND 5 points less damage. The only advantages are 2kg less weight and having a higher reaction modifier... so unless an enemy's going to turn the corner less than 15 tiles away, there's literally no reason to ever use the shotgun right now.

Pistols barely do any damage, and have a really short range, but they actually have a notable advantage: They can get shots at 30 or 60 accuracy for 1/2 the TU cost of the rifle. And they've got the one-handedness, light weight and high reaction modifier. So there's even LESS reason to use a shotgun.

Seriously, the only situation where you want to have a shotgun rather than any other weapon is if an enemy's about to trigger a reaction shot, and they're between 10 and 15 tiles away, and/or they have between 20 and 25 health (after armor mod). And even in that highly specific situation, a pistol might be able to get you TWO reaction shots at different points for more damage than the shotgun total.

In general, I don't like the low-accuracy game. It puts too much power in the hands of the RNG, and too little in the player. I've seen people arguing that having inaccurate soldiers makes for a "tactical" game, and I disagree with that. Example: I was playing XCOM2012's multiplayer with a friend, and we decided to make a game for "teh lulz" where both of us took only basic rookies with basic rifles. Each shot had a 45% chance to connect by default, then modified by cover. In the end he won, simply because the RNG rolled in his favor more often than it did mine: My troops weren't any more or less in cover than his, he just got luckier rolls. It wasn't a tactical game -- it was a luck game. I think if you manage your troops well (both strategically and tactically) you ought to be rewarded with high percentages and effective hits.

On a Geoscape balance note: The light scout's ability to roll is essentially meaningless, as I've yet to have a single missile fail to connect (and I've not been using special launch tactics, just letting them fly as soon as lock is achieved). Also I started getting full-size scouts after just three light scout shootdowns (+1 auto-generated mission). It seemed strange to be getting scouts that quickly. I had just enough time to get my first Foxtrot by the time they arrived. (Note: As soon as the game starts I hire 5 scientists. When Alien Invasion finishes I assign the 10 starting scientists to the Hunter. When the 5 new ones arrive they work on the Foxtrot, and the other 10 get to work on the Fox as soon as Hunter research is done. At the same time I start making my first Hunter, immediately followed by my first Fox. So I get them out about as soon as is humanly possible.)

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Scouts show up early, but you get a mix of them for about a month. So it isn't all bad, and it gives you a good length of time to get used to fighting aliens with rifles before corvettes arrive.

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Thanks for the feedback guys - I am seeing a lot of issues reported to do with alien sight ranges and AP over-abundance, please make sure you have the latest hotfix (3, in the announcements forum) as this corrects some serious issues with those systems.

I mentioned it in the first post, but please keep it on the topic of the Ground Combat for now - the Geoscape has not been touched yet (I'll change the thread title to reflect this).

I'll try to answer your points in order - if I don't answer a specific one, it probably means it was a useful point that needs no comment.

@lightgemini, about "scout" cars - they are of course intended to give the player a disposable unit to put in dangerous situations (such as going into the FOW first), but they do also have heavy weapons aboard for fire support; I am not convinced therefore that they should be "the" scout unit, and in fact one of the goals I want to nudge the game towards in general is making it so that there is no "one way" to do anything - every choice the player makes should be interesting. How do you find the current health of the vehicles? Too fragile? What about weapons effectiveness?

@Sathra, shotguns are a bit weird right now, they are stats wise a carbine minus burst fire - once I'm happy with overall weapon progression I will go back and tweak them so they more correctly resemble a shotgun.

@Waladil, please make sure you the latest hotfix (3, in the announcements forum), this will fix aliens not losing AP from suppression. On that topic suppression is currently very easy against the early aliens, but subsequent alien ranks becoming increasingly braver and harder to suppress - whereas the suppression values of weapon types do not increase. The intention is to give players a little bit more wiggle room in the early stages of the invasion to "manage" aliens they encounter by suppression while they are learning the best tactics for later battles against more determined foes.

Grenades aren't really working as intended at the moment, they shouldn't have damage drop off with range and the throw distance should be governed by soldier strength. I wouldn't spend too much time with them until those issues are fixed.

Also, please do try crazy builds like "all MGs" - if they work well then it's not really as intended, and definitely something I want to know about.

A few notes from me.

Under this new system human weapons currently all have zero mitigation (that is, armour penetration) and all aliens have zero armour - this is to keep things simple while we establish a simple progression of weapons. Both armour and mitigation will combe back later as species related stats - so Androns and Sebillians will have armour values, and certain human weapons will gain mitigation values to encourage the player to change their loadout based on the foe they are facing.

Keep in mind with the ballistic weapons that they are constrained by needing to conform to at least somewhat realistic values - the shotgun clip size for example. Please don't get hung up on these, and try to make it through to the laser weapons at least and try them too.

Please keep the feedback coming - late game feedback is especially vital, as the point of this exercise is to make sure weapon values are scaling well with later game armours/aliens.

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My first few combats were fairly easy compared to how it was before the AI fixes were put in place. I was playing on veteran. Anyway, a couple notes on what I've seen so far.

1. Assault rifles are finally right. More kills then ever before with them tonight. They can finally suppress something.

2. Agree with the nerfing the rocket launcher, grenades and LMG got. Rocket launcher almost too nerfed, but can live with it. Do not nerf any of these weapons more though.

3. LMG suppression needs to go up a bit though. Now difficult to suppress with it. Before was best suppression weapon.

4. Hunter slowed down a bit too much. Suggest you add some TU back. Also, Hunter machinegun does lots of damage to props, but seems to have less killing power against aliens then LMG?? Might need to check that. Should kill, suppress, and mitigate BETTER than LMG as has larger caliber rounds. Also, should have at least as good accuracy as LMG (probably better really.) Hunter still worthless against plasma rifles. Should be able to survive one "accident". Needs some kind of help there. Too expensive for such a vulnerable vehicle. Now also too slow to pull back if it sees something nasty too. You're better off with a fast soldier for scouting now. Soldiers are much cheaper too specially if you count workshop time and expenses for the optional rocket launcher, pulse laser, etc... More armor, more speed, better weapon(s), pick one...give us something to work with here. Gauddlike has even modded in a smoke dispenser, that might be nice.

5. Shotgun: WTF? ;) Now is truly completely useless. Before at least good short range weapon. This gave it the unique role it has IRL. Now assault rifle is better in every situation. Please put it back the way it was before (65 damage, range 7). I'm hoping this was an accident because I can't see any justification for the uber-nerfing it received. It had limited, but useful role before.

6. Pistols: Still useless, don't care. They are mostly decorations for officers to carry around IRL. Even officer will grab rifle if he has to actually fight.

7. Reduced costs for Condor, good idea. No problem with this.

Also, need to report a fairly major bug. Stun grenades now kill your troops like real grenades and can also knock them out just like aliens. I was shocked when a stun grenade bounced off cover and blew up two of my guys. Totally vap'ed one of them no less. Filing bug report.

Edited by StellarRat

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Initial impressions on the new balance.

1. The Hunter car is wrongly rebalanced. It's now sower, so I will just move my troops slower, but still behind it. The core of the problem remains unchanged, and it is that putting the scout car in danger is extremely preferable to putting soldiers in danger. I'm fine with losing a scoutcar every other mission if I have to.

2. Too much suppression now. I see aliens suppressed by the first bullet from an assault rifle. It's probably too much to effortlessly suppress everything.

3. The TU costs are now such that a high-accuracy shot from an assault rifle costs the same as burst fire, and so I don't really see when burst fire is good anymore. It's better to take an accurate shot which will probably hit and suppress, while a burst will most probably not hit.

4. Grenades might have been a bit overnerfed in terms of their effective range. This is still better than them being perfect artillery like before.

5. Pistols still need a slight buff to be a viable backup option for heavy weapons guys or specialists that are low on ammo or TUs.

6. This is not a problem of the combat values strictly, but ammo is still not a factor with ballistic weapons. Every soldier is either dead or heading back to base before needing to reload.

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I'm starting my new LMG-only run. On Steam, no less!

I'm 3 missions in so far, and here are the rules I'm following.

1.) All troops must carry only a light machine gun, ammo, any armor, and a few stun/flashbangs.

2.) Aside from capturing one specimen of each enemy species (minus Andron, obvs), my combat tactic is to find targets, then fire bullets until they die.

3.) To increase the number of machine guns, no car may be brought. Only troops.

So far, things have been going well. I lost one soldier in the first mission (shot once by friendly fire, then took several plasma bullets from the permeable-walls bug), and aside from that we've been successful. During my last mission I literally cut down three trees because they were between my troops and a caesan. In the same mission, a caesan fired at us from outside LOS (his buddy squadsighted for him). Just for sh*ts and giggles, I fired bursts in the approximate area he was. Both bursts I fired hit and the second one killed him.

Yeah. Machine guns are currently win. I'll keep you updated as I proceed.

EDIT: Had a second casualty. Due to TWO horrible command mistakes (first I moved her out of cover unneccesarily, then I accidentally ended my turn really early when I was going for a medkit.

Should also mention that my troops carry medkits, forgot to put that in when I wrote down rule 1 above.

Edited by Waladil

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I've been all the way through laser weapons and have begun deploying plasma weapons. My impression of the laser weapons is that they are pretty well balanced against the enemies I've fought. One thing about the last changes that's REALLY noticeable, at least for me, is that I'm doing nearly all my killing with direct fire now. The days of grenade and rocket launcher dominance are past because of the last nerfing. However, I do feel the game is a lot less frustrating than it was just a few days ago when the AI had a huge TU and vision advantage.

I have three additional recommendations on the balance:

1. I think the laser magazines need to hold a few more megawatts of power. I'm using three on the average for my laser rifles and more than that for the scatter laser (as many as five in a terror battle.) My troops can't carry much else due to the weight. Either that or make the laser magazines a little lighter. I'd say add about 50% more charge to them.

2. Jackel Armor should not reduce your sight range as much as it does. It's really crappy armor and by the time you get it the aliens usually have plasma rifles which makes it nearly worthless as it is. I'd say that Jackel ought be lighter, not change your vision at all, and potentially even cheaper and faster to produce than it already is.

3. Yeah, the Hunter sucks, still. It really has no place on the battlefield anymore. It's not really a "scout car" anymore. It's more like something to hide behind until it gets blown up (don't tell the crew that.) However, a little buffing could fix it right up.

Suggestions: 1. Increase vision range and speed. 2. If #1 isn't palatable, improve starting weapon to .50 caliber MG (double damage and penetration of current MG) OR increase ROF (more rounds per burst or less TU to fire) on existing weapon (trust me they have plenty of ammo onboard.) 3. Don't like #1 or #2? Than give the ability stand up to plasma rifle firing i.e. more health, better armor, etc...

Edited by StellarRat

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Yeah. Machine guns are currently win. I'll keep you updated as I proceed.

Do you feel they are TOO good? I really wouldn't want them nerfed much more than they already have been. The problem with MGs IRL life is that they take a while to setup for firing. And that doesn't really reflect much in the game even with the heavy penalty. The only thing I can think of, is to increase the ammo weight, so only the strongest troops could manage one with the ammo (that's the really heavy part actually.) IRL, MGs usually have a two man crew. Edited by StellarRat

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No, I don't feel like they are too good. I feel like the recent changes homogenized most of the weapons and LMGs got the best arrangement of factors.

I feel like a burst from an assault rifle which is smaller, lighter, and only fires three bullets (although I know that the actual time of holding down the trigger is practically identical) should be faster and/or more accurate than a burst from a big heavy machine gun.

I mean, I can consider a to-hit chance of 10% to be perfectly acceptable, because I'm rolling that 10% five times. And any hit is tied for the most damage available at any given tier. Cover isn't as much of a worry, especially thin cover like hedges and fences, because I can just destroy those with a sheer hail of bullets.

Really, I think that machine guns right now are right. Everything else ought to be brought into line with them and given specific, useful roles.

(Plus, LMGs are the only weapon one can effectively guess at enemy locations with. I've killed several aliens without ever seeing them, just by guessing at their location and firing bursts into the dark.)

EDIT: LMG-only run update:

October 16th. Things have been going well. A few casualties here and there but well within operational parameters. Scatter lasers have been developed and 6 of the 8 troops carried them into battle in an operation against our first enemy Corvette. The mission was an unparalleled success. There were no Xenonaut injuries, and we killed three Androns (our first Andron encounter) and captured one Harridan (also first Harridan encounter) using only flashbangs. The other three Androns and the other Harridan died on impact.

Edited by Waladil

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The hunter does indeed need a buff, right now it's the biggest target on the battlefield yet it's usually the one to go down first due to the size of it. It also seems rather odd that soldiers can generally move further than it can TU wise

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Make the scout car cheaper so it stays expendable. I lost mine on 2 or 3 UFO and didnt bother to make another at all, losing 2 more would be financial fail.

Also make it use 10 rounds per burst the thingy has 2 MG on the turret not one, so at least it can be used as heavy support . I used it with 10 rounds in my mod and it worked nice even without the nerf it has now, and the ammo lasted 7 burst wich is ok for a misión and doesnt let you go too trigger happy with it as you run dry fast if wasting on "pray & pray" basis.

I found Lasers to make the game too easy, Androns being mowed down with laser rifles/ scatter.

Note, played on NORMAL , wich felt too easy to be that normal.

Edited by lightgemini

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Not sure how much TUs aliens are supposed to have, but I notice suppressed aliens have enough for one 3-round burst from a plasma rifle. Don't know if that is intended.

And I am surprised some people find the Hunter to be weak now. It's weak but still overpowered, which is not a contradiction in this case - it's still better than taking two extra soldiers, because it's capable of ensuring higher survival rates with its spotting and ability to attract fire.

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Well, now the hunter cannot shoot then escape.

And while it have 150hp now, it do not have any armour against plasma weapons.

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It's not there to shoot. To me, its entire purpose is to keep your soldiers alive. Surviving soldiers = stats increases = better success later on and higher mission rewards. Every time a Hunter dies, it's a soldier that doesn't die because he wasn't fired at. Use it to spot aliens, then fire at them. If the alien doesn't die, just make sure your Hunter is the closest unit to the alien. Then your forces survive, and you can still afford new Hunters even by losing them every other mission.

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The problem is that it can neither spot ahead of time nor escape anymore, so any alien with a plasma rifle can destroy one about 50% of time on first contact. Plasma rifles come pretty earlier in the game too. Just thinking them as "expendable" scouts doesn't do it for me. I can buy raw recruits for that cheaper and they can carry better weapons and go places the Hunter cannot, plus they're faster. I haven't built one since the first one got blown up. I could actually use one with a even a completely cheesy weapon if it was faster, at least it could scout then. I know Solver thinks it's just a cheap replacement for soldiers, but I don't feel it's even good for that.

One thing that would help a little is if the Hunter could back up without spending TUs to rotate. You know the reverse gear. ;) At least you could keep the front armor facing the bad guys then while you're running away like a little girl.

BTW, does the Scimitar tank actually work? I have a chance to build one now in the game.

Edited by StellarRat

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Except that cheap soldiers are even worse as scouts.

The soldiers will die even more, cheap recruits will rarely survive even one hit from plasma. The Hunter will certainly take a hit, sometimes a full burst, and it will also get fully repaired after the mission if it survived at all, while a rookie will be injured and out for days if surviving. Further, the hunter is a priority target and thus you know your good soldiers won't be fired at, rookies do not give you that guarantee. Heck, you can even use a hunter as mobile cover on wide-open desert maps.

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