There are 3 very clear paths for the Specialist: Healer, Guaranteed Damage, and Overwatcher. They are all great, but with each build a Specialist can struggle to add value when there is nothing to hack, no one is injured, and the enemy didn’t trigger overwatch. The Specialist can feel like dead weight, in these situations, regardless of your build. I have chosen the path of Guaranteed Damage, the most risky of the Specialist builds. I support this decision by taking Bluescreen Bombs with my Grenadiers. Even with this support, the Specialist offers some of the riskiest choices in the game. Do you stun the MEC at 90% chance of success, or try to take control at 60%? You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em. Here is how I build my gambling man:
All 3 of the abilities at this tier are great. I choose Combat Protocol because guaranteed damage can be used with amazing efficiency to speed up fights and limit risks. If a dangerous enemy is behind high cover but only has 2 HP remaining, Combat Protocol can dispatch it without any hassle. Dealing with drones and MECs becomes a good bit easier as well.
Alternatives: Revival Protocol or Sentinel.
Revival Protocol is the ability I picked when I first started playing. I found it incredibly useful in reviving soldiers that had been stunned by drones, or KO’d by Stun Lancers. Eventually a Psi Operative will be able to fulfill most of this role for your squad but Solace will not revive unconscious soldiers, so Revival Protocol retains value throughout the campaign. Still, this ability is a crutch. Everything it saves your from, is avoidable. Combat Protocol will kill the drones outright before they stun you, and flashbangs disable a Stun Lancer’s melee ability. In the worst case scenario you can carry out your unconscious squadmates. This is another ability that is great for beginners but loses value as your play improves.
Sentinel is a great ability that will soften up incoming enemies and protect your squad from enemy activation fire. Combining this ability with Ever Vigilant and Cool Under Pressure will make it really sing. The problem is that the Specialist is not a pure shooter, and you won’t get as much value equipping an expensive rifle on a Specialist because they will be hacking much of the time, and will have a hacking PCS rather than a Perception PCS, and their aim progression is weak. Sentinel is still great, but Combat Protocol is cheaper and just as good. Keep in mind that Sentinel gives you one extra overwatch shot, and your Specialist can still equip a rifle and go on overwatch without it.
This ability is only good. It reduces wound time which is nice, and sometimes means you get more experience because a wounded soldier is fully healed by it. This is an easy pick at this rank, as the other abilities are far worse.
Alternatives: Covering Fire or Interference.
Covering Fire is bad. Here is what I wrote on the Ranger build guide:
Covering Fire only provides a slight aim penalty to the target, and sometimes it causes the Ranger to miss a good overwatch shot, by triggering instead on an enemy shooting from cover. The most common overwatch fire is on activating pods, and here Covering Fire does nothing.
Interference is weak, especially if you have chosen Combat Protocol, which will cancel overwatches with actual damage. There are numerous ways to cancel overwatches and this is the weakest as it doesn’t damage the enemy or make them less dangerous on the following turn. Every other ability that removes overwatch (Suppression, flashbangs, Soul Fire, etc.) is better.
This is one of my favorite abilities. It upgrades your shutdown hacks from 1 turn to 2, and delivers enough damage to kill most drones, and soften up MECs. When you override robotic enemies that extra stun effect is great. It means you can use the hacked robot for one additional turn, instead of killing it on the last turn of control, so that it doesn’t get to attack you on the following turn. It is another core ability for the Guaranteed Damage build, making your stun hacks on Drones and MECs much more effective.
Alternatives: Medical Protocol and Scanning Protocol.
Medical Protocol, and the Healer build, is great for beginners to LW2. It is so much easier to heal wounded soldiers with a gremlin than by running up next to them. This gives you a free heal as well. Like Revival Protocol, this ability is a crutch, but one that you will always be able to lean on, as injuries are inevitable. Experienced players are better at avoiding injuries, and finishing fights quickly, which makes this ability less valuable as you get better.
Scanning Protocol can reveal Faceless enemies or a nearby pod, which is ok. Faceless are not the most dangerous enemies, and finding them doesn’t make it that much easier to kill them. Scouting new pods is better done by a Shinobi.
This is a core ability for the Guaranteed Damage build, but relies on the presence of a Grenadier in your squad. My squads equip mostly SMGs and rely heavily on guaranteed damage and consumables, and so this ability is essential on longer missions.
Alternatives: Field Medic or Ever Vigilant.
Field Medic is very powerful. If you go Healer Specialist this ability (combined with Nanomedikits, Medical Protocol and Savior) will enable healing from a distance, 4 times per mission, for 11-12 HP each. Amazing. You may be wondering how I can completely forego this build, given how valuable it is on the hardest missions. Well, here is my secret. When I get the AWC, after grabbing a few high value tier 1 abilities (Flashbanger on Grenadier, Steady Hands on Sharpshooter, for example) I will start looking for Field Medic which is a tier 2 defensive perk. This means grabbing the tier 1 defensive ability on my Assaults and Shinobis. Their utility slots are less valuable than those of other classes, and are often in need of a medikit or able to administer them. If I can’t find Field Medic on enough Assaults and Shinobis, I look for it on my Psi Operatives, Sharpshooters, Gunners, and Rangers. As long as I get Field Medic on at least 1 soldier, tough missions are manageable. I bring that guy along and when my squad gets shot up, we can take a turn for healing. It will only be 3 heals of 6 HP, but that is usually sufficient until my Specialists reach Master Sgt. and grab Restoration.
Ever Vigilant is a great ability that will make your Overwatcher Specialist much speedier, a great advantage when equipping a rifle. The Overwatcher may still want to go with Airdrop, to pay back his Grenadier buddy for carrying Bluescreen Bombs.
This is a lackluster ability, not nearly as good as the other options available. But my Guaranteed Damage Specialist build cannot use those other abilities nearly as well as the Healer or Overwatcher, and is left envious at the Tech Sgt. rank. Failsafe is just ok. It allows the Specialist to go for the more risky override hack, with impunity. Against MEC1s and MEC2s this hardly matters, but against MEC3s it is nice. Failsafe can also speed up missions where there is a low probability bonus reward on a security tower, with Reinforcements or other nasty failure penalty. Failsafe allows you to immediately go for it, instead of waiting to make that hack after leaving concealment, then forgetting about it. This is mostly a quality of life improvement, but can keep your focus where it belongs, and keep you from doing something stupid. On Troop maneuvers a failed security tower hack can be a good thing, bringing in some extra corpse loot. Unfortunately, Failsafe will prevent this.
Alternatives: Savior or Cool Under Pressure.
Savior is a great ability for the Healer Specialist. It does nothing if you do not equip a medikit, which is how I roll my Guaranteed Damage Specialist, choosing instead to equip Alloy Plating, Nanoscale and a Skulljack. As I already mentioned, the Healer track allows your Specialist to heal 4 times for 11-12 HP, with a top tier gremlin. That is amazing.
Cool Under Pressure is the obvious choice for the Overwatcher build. It is a great ability that softens up incoming enemies and protects the squad from activation fire. It is an ok choice for the Guaranteed Damage Specialist as well, even with an inaccurate SMG.
The Healer, Guaranteed Damage and Overwatcher tracks ended at the previous rank. There are no more tough choices and big compromises. Full Override is one of the most powerful abilities in the game and a must have skill. It allows your Specialist to permanently mind control a MEC, often a MEC2, which will win you a standard mission. It is not too hard to engineer the hack of a MEC3, with Bluescreen Bombs and Redscreen Rounds, which will make the Psi Gate, Forge, and Invasion much easier. On easy missions, this ability can allow you to steal a MEC for the resistance which is very nice, and can help on Rendezvous, Supply Defense, and Haven Retaliations.
Alternatives: Rescue Protocol or Threat Assessment.
Rescue Protocol is weak.
Threat Assessment is very good. And should not be considered.
This is a very powerful ability that can save your squad in the worst situations. It will rarely be needed if you play smart, and your luck isn’t terrible… but this is XCOM so it is a great ability to have.
Alternatives: Kill Zone or Capacitor Discharge.
Kill Zone: Here is what I wrote on the Gunner build guide:
Kill Zone does not work as you would expect when you are in concealment. Nor does it trigger as consistently as Suppression, requiring that the enemy move at least 2 tiles within the Kill Zone area of effect. I have been very frustrated with this ability not triggering when I expected it to, and have abandoned it completely, preferring instead to use suppression, which is very similar in effect.
Capacitor Discharge is a great ability adding some offense to a class that is lacking in that regard. Most of what I know about the ability is from the Lost Tower mission where Shen rides along. The area of effect is not large but it does good damage that scales with the Gremlin, and can stun. Sting Grenades are comparable, having a larger area of effect but not doing damage. I typically rely on them, and thus feel better taking Restoration on my non-Healer, which also compensates for the lack of other healing perks.