Shinobis are the scouts in Long War 2, but can also chop up sectoids, and lockdown Mutons. Though not the best killers in your line-up, their stealth can help you ambush the enemy, instead of blundering into them. The value of the Shinobi depends a lot on your capabilities as a commander. While good scouting can lead you to victory, poor scouting can end in disaster; activating enemy pods, rather than avoiding them. Shinobis can do even more from the shadows if you make them your officers, which you should. Otherwise they will be sitting out the fight, or abandoning their role as scout. Neither is a good choice. Here is my build:
Blademaster -or- Ghostwalker
Hit and Run
Without this ability, your Shinobi will forever be looking at chances to hit with Fleche in the 80s. And while that’s not bad, the extra 10 aim can make this attack near guaranteed and keep it in the 90s throughout the campaign. Eventually, you will need your Shinobi to fight, and the Shinobi, like the Assault, must be put in a vulnerable position to fight effectively. Failing to kill the target, makes that position far more precarious. This ability will help prevent that.
This is a great ability that can keep your Shinobi from getting trapped by patrolling pods. It is particularly useful on 1 or 2 man stealth missions where speed is essential, and the Shinobi must reveal fog of war more hastily. Because of the incredible utility of this ability on stealth missions, the Shinobi is the only class where I have two different builds. My primary 3 officers all get Blademaster, and then 2 others take Ghostwalker. These are my stealth specialists, and primarily run stealth missions but can also serve as back-ups in case of injuries. They shine on the Network Tower, Avenger Defense, and Invasion missions, when you need to sneak by a horde of bad guys.
Alternative: Lone Wolf.
Lone Wolf would be very good on Shinobis, but Blademaster grants the same aim bonus to blade attacks in all situations, as well as +1 damage.
This ability is likely to save your squad. Maybe more than once. It will allow a Shinobi to lock down a Muton, Archon, Andromedon or other melee foe, for as long as it takes to regain control of the fight. A Shinobi will always parry the first melee attack so long as the enemy does not land a crit. The Shinobi can completely avoid melee crits by wearing a nanoscale vest which in addition to adding HP also reduce crit chance by 25% (I love nanoscale and equip them throughout the campaign; crit reduction is often a life saver when enemies activate on your flank). Alternatively, melee crits can be avoided with Resilience gained from the AWC. But there are some situations that will still cause Combatives to fail. You need to know when Combatives will work, and when it won’t, or instead of saving your squad, your Shinobi will get himself killed. Regular Mutons and Andromedons will always melee an adjacent Shinobi unless they are disoriented; in which case they will shoot. A Stun Lancer doesn’t care about proximity and is more likely to run away from an adjacent Shinobi to jab someone else. The Faceless attack is an area of effect, so Combatives won’t stop it. Archons are guaranteed to melee only when they are enraged, so be sure to piss them off first. And don’t expect Combatives to lockdown 2 enemies. It only procs once per turn.
Alternatives: Shadowstep or Executioner.
Shadowstep is ok for a Shinobi that is utilized exclusively as a stealth mission operator. But usually if the Shinobi loses concealment on a stealth mission, they are dead anyway. I take Combatives on my stealth specialists because they may need to fill-in for my main Shinobi Officers.
Executioner is ok on a Shinobi. It will moderately improve their fighting ability and Reaper chaining which is most effective against the heavily wounded.
I keep a journal of my XCOM campaigns, as it helps me evaluate and consider my tactics and other decisions. I typically add additional notes when something goes very wrong. Awhile back I was looking through my journal, and found that a bunch of recent comments were of the “Bad Activation” variety. I was letting my Shinobi get revealed, which would often lead to big trouble. It might mean I lost my opportunity to ambush, but when already in a firefight it could mean activating additional pods. I made some changes to how I approach the game. I slowed things down a bit. I don’t race my Shinobi so far forward, and I don’t race the decision about where to put him. Also I always take Covert. This ability gives my scouting Shinobi much more leeway, and thus prevents many bad situations from getting truly ugly.
Alternatives: Hard Target or Cutthroat.
Hard Target is the ability I would choose if I wasn’t taking Covert. Combine this ability with a Dodge PCS and you can get your Shinobi’s Dodge very high, mitigating most direct hits.
Cutthroat is good, not great. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help guarantee the kill, instead only increasing crit probability and crit damage. This is less vital, as I only feel comfortable running my Shinobi over to that Advent soldier, when I can guarantee a kill, not because I may be able to do extra damage. Cutthroat seems most relevant when locking down Mutons or Archons with Combatives, making your counter attacks and Bladestorm strong enough to finish the fight rather than just stalling the enemy.
This ability will prove very useful if you fail to kill something with your Fleche. Also it pairs extremely well with Combatives, doubling the damage you deal to that poor frustrated Muton. A big issue with this ability is that an adjacent enemy will often move away from you, and Bladestorm will not trigger. You can prevent this by positioning your Shinobi square to the enemy, rather than diagonally, giving the target no tile to run through that won’t result in a Bladestorm. But this usually leaves the Shinobi exposed.
Alternatives: Shadowstrike or Low Profile.
Shadowstrike seems like a nice ability, though I can’t remember having ever selected it in LW2. It works great in the base game.
Low Profile doesn’t seem very valuable. When the Shinobi is in concealment, it has no value. When fighting, the Shinobi will often be easy to flank, which limits the value of this skill.
Even after it was nerfed, Reaper has a lot of value. You won’t be able to kill 10 enemies, but 2 or 3 is not unlikely. The damage output does fall off precipitously.
Alternatives: Hunter’s Instincts or Evasive.
Hunter’s Instincts does not work with swords, so it is not great for your sword guy. It will be useful if you take Hit and Run at Gunnery Sgt. but still not as useful as Reaper.
Evasive is great, demoting the first full hit to a graze instead. And turning all the grazes into misses until they get a real hit. The graze band is 20. You should consider this ability to be effectively+ 20 Defense until you take a hit, then a large HP bonus afterwards (however much damage was reduced). I think Evasive is about as good as Reaper, perhaps better. Yet, it is a defensive ability on a soldier who stays in concealment much of the time. When you do unleash your Shinobi, it is often when the fighting is almost over, or when you really need the Shinobi to intervene. In both cases, I think more offense is preferable to more defense.
Hit and Run:
Because the Shinobi needs to use an SMG to retain stealth and speed, this ability is only just good. Still, it works really nicely in conjunction with Reaper, enabling the Shinobi to extend the chain by softening up the next target.
Alternatives: Tradecraft or Whirlwind.
Tradecraft is not very good. I’ve done some testing with it and found the actual reduction of infiltration times for 6-7 man squads to be paltry. To reduce infiltration times you are better off keeping the same soldiers under the same officers as best you can, using Suppressors and equipping SMGs on those classes that can still be effective with them. Chameleon suits are good for stealth missions.
Whirlwind is a nice ability that will allow your Shinobi to find a better defensive position. High level enemies get this perk, and it makes them super annoying. One advantage over Hit & Run is that it doesn’t require that you spend more money upgrading the Shinobi’s gun. Unfortunately since the 1.5 update it does not work with Reaper; that aside, it is about as good as Hit and Run, and worth trying.
This is a great ability that finally allows the Shinobi to fight early in a mission and then resume scouting duties. For long missions such as the Forge, it will shine. On shorter missions it will speed your squad up, and allow some flexibility in how you use the Shinobi. You still can’t run your Shinobi around with abandon, but Conceal is a valuable mulligan in a game with notably little forgiveness.
Alternatives: Rapid Fire and Coup de Grace.
Rapid Fire is only ok. Because of the aim penalty it doesn’t allow the Shinobi to meaningfully contribute from a distance. It can serve as the capper on a Reaper chain, but other than that, I can’t imagine it ever being significantly better than Fleche with a Fusion Blade.
Coup de Grace is not good. Disabled opponents are not the ones you need to be killing. This conflicts with basic XCOM philosophy. We kill the dangerous enemies first, not those that are stunned, panicked, or disoriented. Their time will come.