Revenge of the nerd
Just as Alien Hunters’ mission brought Central Officer Bradford into the field, Shen’s Last Gift has chief engineer Lily Shen get in on the action. Early in the game, before completing the first Advent Blacksite mission, Shen picks up a strange signal through channels only her father would know how to use. It provides coordinates of a secretive, but apparently abandoned Advent robotics facility, to which Shen leads the investigation.
Shen is a powerful specialist with skills from the combat hacker side of the tree well beyond what your soldiers will have this early in the game. Her abilities for dealing with mechanical foes come in particularly handy during the mission, since the abandoned robotics facility is – unsurprisingly — swarming with robots.
Fighting your way through the AI-controlled facility with its horde of Terminator-reminiscent robots is no cakewalk.
Fighting your way through the AI-controlled facility with its horde of Terminator-reminiscent robots is no cakewalk. This long mission requires that you are conservative with your limited-use items and abilities if you want to be equipped to handle the giant robot boss fight at the end. Fortunately, you get some reinforcement along the way with the first SPARK.
SPARK’s are the eponymous last gift of Dr. Shen, the chief engineer from XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and father to Lily. Apparently the prototype built here by Dr. Shen served as the model for all of Advent’s Mech soldiers. Once you’ve liberated the original midway through the mission, though, it will join your squad to help, and then you will be able to build more at the proving ground.
Like Advent’s mechs, the SPARK is a large combat droid packing a serious punch. Standing head and shoulders above your other soldiers, their size prevents them from taking advantage of cover bonuses, but they make up for it with armor plating instead.
Like soldiers wearing powered armor, SPARKs can equip heavy weapons built from the proving ground. They also wield a heavy autocannon that shreds armor like grenadier attacks do. Adding in a dash of utility, the SPARK also comes with a little flying robot companion of its own, the BIT, which can remotely hack like specialists do, though with substantially lower skill. All of their equipment is upgradable alongside the other classes, tied to your research.
SPARKs level up and acquire skills from two parallel trees like all of the other standard classes. All SPARKs start with Overdrive, which allows them to take three actions in a single turn, with no actions ending it until all three are spent. Multiple attacks are hindered, however, by a 15-percent recoil penalty after each successive shot. It operates on a four-turn cool down.
Like Advent’s mechs, the SPARK is a large combat droid packing a serious punch.
The War Machine tree of skills encourages a more aggressive style of play, getting particularly good use out of Overdive with Adaptive Aim removing the recoil penalty and Wrecking Ball allowing it to barrel through walls and obstacles while in Overdrive. The powerful Hunter Protocol further down the tree allows for a chance to take a free overwatch shot whenever any enemy is revealed, letting you use the SPARK to aggressively charge forward and start mopping up Advent immediately.
Future Combat lends itself to a more supportive role, starting with Bulwark to allow all adjacent regular soldiers to get full cover for staying near the SPARK. Getting in front and covering its fellow soldiers is rewarded with Intimidate, causing enemies that attack it to potentially panic and Channeling Field absorbing attacks that increase the power of the SPARK’s next standard attack. Repair makes it useful to have multiple SPARKs at the same time, allowing repairs on robotic units.
SPARKs are a powerful addition to XCOM’s ranks, allowing for even greater flexibility in squad composition as they can provide both some of the specialist’s support and the grenadier’s serious firepower. Overdrive is especially useful in a lot of situations, providing a little bit of added flexibility when you need it most. With their high base damage, my SPARKs were often able to save the rest of the squad and singlehandedly wipe out an unexpected pod.
The mission itself isn’t a particularly substantial addition, but SPARKs are well worth the price of admission as another tool in your arsenal from early in the game. They expand upon XCOM 2’s general design principle of resisting min-maxing and optimal play, instead allowing for a wider range of strategies that can take you to victory. They also of course add more toys for modders to tinker with, which is always a good thing. We’ve quite enjoyed XCOM 2’s first round of DLC, and look forward to a more substantial expansion akin to Enemy Within.
- SPARK robots are a fun new class
- New story mission
- Story mission not particularly unique or interesting