The Assault is going to be one of the most powerful classes throughout the campaign, by far the strongest at the end of the campaign, and one of the trickiest to use effectively. Tricky because you will often have an enemy you cannot kill or control except by running your Assault over next to him and shotgunning him in the head. The temptation to push this easy button can be quite strong. But it is usually a bad idea, as it could easily activate another pod. One way to prevent yourself from making this mistake is to pick Assault skills that discourage that risky behavior. And with that in mind, here is my build.
Close and Personal
Close Combat Specialist
Giving the Assault an effective way to fight from a distance is why I take Electroshock. The arc thrower, unlike the shotgun, has no range penalty and so it is a great option when you can’t get close. With Electroshock, the arc thrower becomes a 100% chance to at least disorient. This is a great counter against sectoids, breaking mind control and dispelling zombies. But more importantly, this ability encourages smarter and safer tactics. And in the late game, Electroshock will also multiply the value of Chain Lightning, which is the ability that makes the Assault the most powerful class in the game.
Alternatives: Slugshot or Lightning Reflexes.
Slugshot is fine, but it doesn’t 100% solve a problem, as Electroshock does for sectoids. When you can’t get close, Slugshot gives you a better to-hit chance, but usually still not good, and without much chance to crit. To be effective shotguns rely on proximity and flanking to increase the to-hit chance and the crit chance, not just to avoid the distance penalty. With Slugshot you get neither of these bonuses and the low aim of the Assault becomes a serious impediment. Usually I would rather try to stun (while guaranteeing disorient) and on the following turn run over and make the kill.
Lightning Reflexes seemed the obvious best choice when I first started playing LW2. In part this was based on my experience playing the original Long War in which damaging enemies did not cancel their overwatches, and numerous enemies would move backwards, and then go on overwatch. Nasty. But things are different in LW2, mostly because there are just so many ways to cancel enemy overwatches: Grenades, Flashbangs, Combat Protocol, Soul Fire, Suppression, Rockets, Flamethrowers, or just plain shooting them. And then if you can’t cancel the overwatch you can run it more safely by setting waypoints. Oh, and there is one other way to deal with overwatches… Take Electroshock. Which breaks the overwatch and also mitigates the danger of that enemy on his next turn.
Close And Personal:
Close and Personal is the best choice at Corporal. Maybe you have a regular laser sight (+5-15 crit chance) and you expect to be flanking your opponent (+40 crit chance) with a shotgun (+15 crit chance). At point blank range this gives the Assault a 70% chance to crit. The Close and Personal ability perfectly closes the probability gap, taking critical hit chance from likely to guaranteed. Eventually you will have access to a Superior Laser Sights (+15-25 crit chance) and Talon rounds. And with those items the crit chance is 120% when adjacent to most enemies, making Close and Personal superfluous. But not when shooting at a super heavy MEC, or an Archon or some other unflankable enemy. Against those nasties Close and Personal is once again quite useful.
Alternatives: Trench Gun or Arc Pulsar.
Trench Gun is okay but hard to use. Rarely will you get a double flank and instead you may settle for shooting 2 enemies both behind cover. It’s not always great, always hard to use, and often leads you to make dicey compromises in where to position your Assault, and then finding out only after you make the move that Trench Gun can only hit 2 of them instead of 3 because of step out mechanics. This would be a better ability if Advent wasn’t coded to spread out so much, but they are, and you just won’t be able to use this ability very often because of that fact.
Arc Pulsar I have never tried. It does not work with Chain Lightning, which is a shame because that would be very cool, and maybe worth trying.
This is a core ability for my Assault builds. Just like Electroshock, this ability encourages smart play by making the arc thrower more viable. The +20 to hit chance takes your likely shots and makes them guaranteed. When I first started fielding Stun Gunners I was surprised at how often they hit the stun, and then I realized, quite happily, that this was due to the fact that for the arc thrower, a graze is as good as a hit, because it also causes a stun. This ability is critically important against Gatekeepers and to a lesser extent Andromedons. Both can’t be controlled with fire or hacking, and often need to be stalled for a turn while you setup a Kubikiri or shred their armor or deal with other enemies that are easier to kill. Stunning them with your Assault is one of the 2 easy ways to control them, the other being Stasis. And consider this, the arc thrower has a one turn cool down which means you can use it every other turn. If you have an Assault and a Psi Soldier with Stasis you can stun a Gatekeeper, then stasis it, then stun it again. Giving you 3 turns of total control. But this only works well with the Stun Gunner ability due to the gatekeepers enormous defense stat (+40). And the same is true for Chain Lightning, which can stun half a dozen enemies quite easily, but will reliably hit the ones behind cover when you also choose Stun Gunner.
Alternatives: Killer Instinct or Fortify.
Killer Instinct gives you extra crit damage which you won’t need most of the time.
Fortify is activated to give you +20 defense when you are in a dangerous spot, which is ok.
Formidable would be great on any soldier, especially for an Assault which is often in a dangerous position. It adds 2 HP and some explosion resistance. Good.
Alternatives: Extra Conditioning or Aggression.
Extra Conditioning makes it more likely that the Run & Gun ability will be up and available in consecutive encounters, which is nice but ideally Assaults should not be Run & Gunning every chance they get! Again, I choose abilities that lead to good decision making. Spamming Run & Gun is poor tactics (or no tactics) and likely to get the Assault and the whole squad killed.
Aggression is good but overkill if you have Close and Personal. You could choose Aggression here instead of Close and Personal, which would give you about the same crit chance. Then you could take Trench Gun or Arc Pulsar at CPL rank if those appeal to you. But if you have Close and Personal, this is overkill most of the time.
All 3 of the abilities at Tech Sgt. rank grant you an extra action or attack under different circumstances.
Hit and Run: after taking a flanking shot gain an extra action. Does not work with Run & Gun.
Close Encounters: when shooting within 4 tiles (but not using Run & Gun) gain an extra action.
Rapid Fire: Fire twice anytime, but with a -15 to hit penalty.
All of these abilities are fantastic, of course. But which is the best? For a long time I always picked Close Encounters because it gave the Assault the flexibility to target multiple enemies with 2 attacks rather than putting 2 shots on one target with Rapid Fire. This would potentially allow the Assault to kill or stun 2 enemies instead of only one. And sometimes this works great. But often with Close Encounters this doesn’t matter because you need both shots to kill the primary target, or there isn’t a second target near by. More problematic though is that with Close Encounters you often start each battle with only one shot, because you need to activate Run & Gun to get close to a target, and that disables Close Encounters.
Hit and Run also does not work with Run & Gun but can give you the same flexibility as Close Encounters to split your shots. Unfortunately it doesn’t proc against unflankable enemies, and there are a lot of those: Drones, MECs, Turrets, Sectopods, Faceless, Chryssalids, Berserkers, Archons, and Gatekeepers.
With Rapid Fire you have no flexibility. You are shooting twice at one target, and at a -15 aim penalty. But this is rarely a liability because shotguns get a massive +60 to hit at point blank range. It falls off quickly (+45 at 2 tile, +30 at 3 tiles, and +15 at 4 tiles) but you can still guarantee double crits most of the time if you are close. And you can get in close right away because it works with Run & Gun unlike Close Encounters. When paired with an Officer’s Command ability, Rapid Fire allows an Assault to get 4 shots on a boss level enemy. There is another hidden advantage: both shots will trigger before a codex or avatar can teleport. This is no trivial matter. The codex presents a tricky problem. You can’t treat it like a normal enemy, and remove its cover, because it will clone. Even if you manage to flank it, you will often fail to kill it with one shot (because high dodge), and then you have 2 of them. To do it right you need to disorient it first so it can’t clone, then blow its cover, then shoot it, and then maybe shoot it again, using up the actions of at least 3 soldiers. Or you can run your Assault over next to it, and use Rapid Fire.
Close Combat Specialist:
This is the toughest decision for the Assault build. I have gone back and forth between CCS and Untouchable. Both of these abilities are unreliable as they depend on the enemy’s actions. Both are frustrating. CCS can deplete your ammo firing poor shots against drones, and it complicates the choice of weapon upgrades. Do you want the hair trigger so CCS will hit more often? Or both the expanded magazine and the auto loader so you won’t run out of ammo? While Untouchable does nothing if the aliens decide to fire on a different soldier. It also encourages you to leave your Assault exposed to draw fire, which can backfire with your Assault getting shot at multiple times, with only one shot negated by Untouchable. So both abilities are problematic.
And yet both abilities are also incredibly powerful, usually saving me when I am not expecting it. I often forget about these skills entirely because I don’t include them in most of my calculations. And that’s due to the randomness of the AI, a big variable in any calculation. Ultimately I take CCS because I believe it comes into play more frequently.
The other ability Bring’Em On, is going to be overkill when combined with Rapid Fire, most of the time. If you go with Close Encounters, I can see Bring’Em On being a reasonable choice.
Chain Lightning is the best ability in the game when paired with Stun Gunner. It can be made stupidly overpowered if you manage to get a second Gatekeeper shell (One is available on the Psi Gate mission) and use it to build an Arc Blaster.
Alternatives: Street Sweeper or Lethal.
Street Sweeper was nerfed. Even before that, it wasn’t quite as good as Chain Lightning.
Lethal is nowhere near as good as Chain Lightning.