The Gunner is a great soldier to have in a large fire fight. From the get go they can suppress multiple enemies, provided they clump together, which they rarely do. As Gunners level up their suppression fire and overwatches become deadly, and they will add multiple shot abilities into their repertoire. But it is not enough. The Gunner is one of the weakest classes in the end game. They always have lower aim than other shooters, and they can rarely guarantee control of the enemy. Here is how I build a Gunner so they will continue to have a spot in my lineup.
Cool Under Pressure
Nobody likes Grazing Fire, including me. It doesn’t feel like you are gaining much. Its an insurance policy against a total miss, but doesn’t pay well. Another disadvantage is that as the Gunner’s aim improves the likelihood of triggering this ability diminishes. Most frustrating, I can’t tell when this perk has caused a graze, so I never feel the value. So why pick it? Well a Gunner’s aim never becomes great, and many of the Gunner’s shots will be against moving targets and thus have an aim penalty. So Grazing Fire is going to turn some misses into grazes. And in a lot of situations that makes a huge difference. Take Chain Shot. The first shot has a -10 aim penalty, and if it misses completely there won’t be a second shot. Or an overwatch shot on an incoming enemy—a graze will prevent him from shooting. Also a graze is all you need to trigger special ammo abilities which may set the enemy on fire or apply shred or rupture. Grazing Fire is great. Even if it doesn’t feel great.
Alternatives: Combatives or Center Mass.
Combatives can be extremely powerful, locking down a Muton or Archon for multiple turns. A slow Gunners has a harder time using this ability than the faster Shinobi. And the counter attack with a knife is less meaningful than with a sword. Yet in a total breakdown this skill can save your squad, so it is good.
Center Mass adds +1 damage to every shot which is very good. I wouldn’t fault anyone for taking it over Grazing Fire, and I reconsider this option every time I start a campaign, eventually arriving at the same conclusion I did last campaign. It doesn’t really matter. The value of Center Mass declines as your base damage increases, just as the value of Grazing Fire declines as you aim increases. When your gunner has a Beam Cannon and is hitting for 11-15 damage and shooting 2-3 times a turn, an extra point of damage is not very meaningful. And neither is Grazing Fire when you max out your aim, equip a Superior Perception PCS, and have a Superior Hair Trigger and Scope.
This ability adds +15 aim when your suppressed targets try to move. This is fantastic. The only problem with this ability is that Suppression is not what it used to be. In the previous Long War, there were only a few ways to control enemies, and suppression was the main one. In Long War 2 your soldiers have many ways to control enemies that work better than suppression. But suppression still works, and that’s what Gunners do. With Lockdown, Mayhem, and Cool Under Pressure a Gunner can almost guarantee hits on enemies that run the suppression. And this means suppression can be used offensively. Force the suppressed targets to move (by flanking or removing cover) and the Gunner can kill multiple enemies in a single turn.
Alternatives: Flush or Formidable.
Flush is terrible. It often helps the enemy, as they will reposition strategically.
Formidable is +2 HP, which is great.
This ability grants an extra 25% damage from suppression fire. This is far better than it seems, and really must be seen to be believed. One limitation of Mayhem is that it must be paired with Lockdown and Cool Under Pressure to maximize value. If you are not going to select those abilities, you shouldn’t select this one. With Cool Under Pressure and a Gauss Cannon, this ability should average about +2 damage per normal hit, and +3 when you crit, enough to kill many uninjured enemies. And that is key. Suppression is often used on the enemies you couldn’t get to, and have all their HP. Frequently a Mayhem suppression will transform these threats into corpses.
Alternatives: Hail of Bullets or Shredder.
Hail of Bullets used to be a lower rank ability in a previous version of LW2. And at a lower rank it was wonderful, carrying your weak rookie squads through the early game. But when your squads have Sgt. ranked soldiers, they have other ways of getting around or through cover. And it conflicts with Suppression which is the Gunner’s default way of dealing with enemies that are hard to hit. If you want to completely forego Suppression and the abilities that buff Suppression, this is the ability to get.
Shredder is one of the few ways (other than consumable ordinance) to break armor. But I take a lot of ordinance on missions. By the time I start seeing Sectopods and MEC3s, my Grenadier should have at least 2 alien grenades from airdrop (each shred 3 armor with HEAT Warheads), and my squads should have 2 E.X.O. Suits with either a Shredder Gun (shred 2 armor) or an extra rocket (shred 2 armor). This is enough, especially considering that I use Kubikiri a lot.
One more note: Your preference here is going to depend on your experience level. With less experience, Hail of Bullets is really nice. As you learn how to work around cover, it will become less important. Then Shredder will be a compelling option, as it will be the best way to deal with armor… until you learn to use Kubikiri effectively. Only experienced players will see Mayhem as the best choice, and even for the experienced player, its not clear cut. All 3 abilities are great and this is another tough call.
The Gunner is offered a slew of multi-shot abilities. Chain Shot is the first available, and the one that I take, passing on Cyclic Fire and Rapid Fire. This works well for me because I also take Grazing Fire, which gives Chain Shot a much better chance to do something great.
Alternatives: Iron Curtain or Demolition.
Iron Curtain has a narrow window of utility. It is most useful against melee enemies, with a large pool of HP, and that are far away from all your troops. Enraged Archons get 3 Action points, and thus an enormous mobility range, so they usually don’t qualify. Since I build the Gunner to do extra damage via suppression, Iron Curtain is often inferior to that.
Demolition would be a great skill if it guaranteed cover destruction, but it doesn’t. As it is now, it will very often fail to destroy strong cover objects. Also it conflicts with Suppression.
Cool Under Pressure:
This is the ability that justifies a slot in my squad for the Gunner. Cool Under Pressure improves suppression and even more importantly makes the Gunner an overwatch terror. In LW2, unlike LW, incoming enemies can shoot you. That is, unless you shoot them first with an overwatch shot. Good overwatching is incredibly valuable as a defensive measure. Some of the worst hits I take are from incoming enemies that have flanking shots on my soldiers. Shinobi scouting is one way to prevent this, but your scout can’t be everywhere. The next best thing you can do is have a soldier that specializes in overwatching to protect your squad. Cool Under Pressure adds +10 aim on reaction shots, thus improving your chance to shut down enemy activation fire. Additionally it enables critical hits on overwatch shots, resulting in outright kills much of the time. The other class that can perform this duty for your squad is the Ranger, and they are better at it, but the Gunner is almost as good, and never redundant.
Alternatives: Cyclic Fire or Danger Zone.
Cyclic Fire is the 2nd multi-shot ability offered to the Gunner, and probably the best. It is less flexible than the others, requiring 2 action points, and there is an aim penalty. Still taking 3 shots is quite good. Skipping Cyclic Fire because I already have Chain Shot is a small compromise I make in my build, in order to acquire Cool Under Pressure.
Danger Zone is also great. It only increases the range of Suppression a single tile, but it matters a lot. This is because the AI knows how to spread out their troops just enough to prevent your area suppression from enclosing multiple targets. Infuriating. With Danger Zone they can’t manage this, and you will be able to suppress multiple targets much more frequently. While I like Danger Zone a lot, at this stage in the game your Gunner is not going to be suppressing the enemy quite so frequently, choosing instead to shoot multiple times.
This is a very disappointing rank up. None of the options here make much of a difference. I take Rupture, which is about as good as Chain Shot, simply because Chain Shot has a 3 turn cooldown. Sometimes in a prolonged fire fight I benefit from having both of these special shots, because the other is on cooldown. Also Rupture can be a better option against the worst enemies in the game.
Alternatives: Rapid Fire or Kill Zone.
Rapid Fire is about as good as Rupture and Chain Shot. It is more similar to Chain Shot than Rupture, and feels redundant.
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.
This ability will turn your Gunner into a Ranger… sort of. Its fantastic. You get a normal shot and then a special shot, increasing your damage output a lot. The biggest drawback of this ability is that the Gunner is already slow. And if you like to put your Gunners on overwatch, and you have Traverse fire, they can slow down your squad which may be an issue on timed missions.
Alternatives: Saturation Fire or Combat Fitness.
Saturation Fire was nerfed. Now it rarely destroys sturdy cover, and does not reliably destroy normal cover. It is still great. Traverse Fire is a bit easier to use.
Combat Fitness is just ok. Marginally improving your stats can’t compete with an extra attack.