If you consider class based decisions a Spoiler, walk away! Otherwise, take a step in and see what I think!
While I loved the concept of the rangers, and they were one of my favorite classes to use, I was not particularly good at it. Often, my rangers were injured or killed early in the mission, and from then on I would take paints to try and keep them alive. They perform a vital role as vanguard and eyes to your group, but that often puts them in dangerous, vulnerable and isolated positions. More than once, however, a rangers shotgun or dash+ attack would save the mission. They are well equipped for brutal, in your face style of combat that rewards risk over prudence. Sadly, that is not the style I prefer. This had lead me to prioritize very different ranger skills than others may have, but I have very much benefited from having them on my missions.
Slash is a very strong ability allowing you to double-time to an enemy and attack them with a pretty strong certainty of success. Swords, Arc Blades and Plasma Blades all do significant damage with a decent critical rate. My experiences have lead me to the conclusion, though, that it is not worth the sacrifice many times, and that it is often enough for the ranger to lay low. Of note, I have often pulled additional enemy pods through a move that I needed to execute with a melee attack and ruined the mission or run that I have grown very warry of simply running out and slicing aliens open, as cool as that often is. Slash is a vital ability that needs to be used cautiously.
Phantom v. Blademaster
This one is a simple, simple choice because the results are counter intuitive and frustrating. Phantom simply allows you to remain conceals when the squad is otherwise revealed in its entirety. This sounds excellent. The problem comes when you set up a perfect ambush that relies on the Ranger taking a very high likelihood shot at a target, and they simply fail to take that shot because of phantom, leaving an Alien that is alive and, often times, shoots a friend to death. I often started ambushes with Grenades with everyone on overwatch simply to make sure that the whole cluster of enemies died. With Phantom, it makes that simply tactic much harder. By taking blademaster not only do you get extra sword damage, for when it counts and an enemy simply MUST die by a sword to the face, you also won’t completely screw up your ambush. Its a win-win all around.
Shadowstrike v. Shadowstep
I cannot believe this is even a choice. I don’t believe I have ever chosen shadowstrike. The ability to ignore enemies overwatch and reaction fire was one of my favorite abilities from the Assault class in XCOM, and I was not going to miss out on it here. Often, you could simply remove overwatch by tossing a grenade, but sometimes, there was just no way around it and someone was going to take that overwatch shot. Rangers, after rank 3, were always my go to unit to take out those models on overwatch or with suppressing fire, knowing that they could maneuver around the battlefield to get the best position to either kill or injure the offending alien.
Conceal v. Run and Gun
Now we start getting into the hard choices for rangers, where I end up vacillating between the two to figure out a winner. Conceal v. Run and Gun is one of the easier choices for me, but I can definitely see it being a choice that one would have to make on their own. Here, I enjoy conceal because I can often use the concealed Ranger to move forward, after having helped with the last ambush due to not having phantom, and spot a second group to ambush with his abilities and cause the enemies to move into my overwatching troopers behind him. It was an effective strategy I used during the middle missions before I got all my Rangers killed in the worst possible ways. A concealed ranger combo with an Killzone Sniper is my favorite ambush.
Run and gun is solid, and definitely rewards aggression, but that style of gameplay just isn’t where I live. Gutsy plays into areas you can’t reach normally are just to chancy for me to really play well with, see the Slash ability above. When I was running a pair of Rangers, before they both died, one of them had conceal and one had run and gun, and I got uses out of both. Conceal, though, definitely comes out ahead.
Implaccable v. Bladestorm
While one would be forgiven for thinking that with the high priority I put on Vipers I may prefer bladestorm, the honest truth is that I was well beyond the need to worry about vipers when I finally got a poor ranger up to rank 5. By then, I was one-shoting vipers with my basic ranged weapons and had come to equip flashbangs. With Vipers taken care of, I almost never let enemies get into combat with me or even really be close enough to worry about bladestorm going off. Implacability was my early choice, and one I never regretted. Moving up, killing an enemy with sword or shotgun, and then retreating backwards allowed me strong positional elements on a unit that, as I’ve said, tends to be out of position often.
Bladestorm has its uses, and I once again took it on my second ranger, who damaged a number of aliens and advent in her day. I really wish that it was available a touch earlier because It would have been nice to have in the early game against Stun Lancers, before I can again wither them down in a hail of gunfire and explosives from the rest of my team.
Deep Cover v. Untouchable
Deep cover, like the past two choices, isn’t the wrong choice, but it is certainly hard to justify over being immune to the next attack. This, finally, allowed me to be able to use slash and run and gun without really being concerned about being out of position because I could just tank the first attack that the enemy threw at me next turn. It would be doubly depressing if I missed, but what isn’t. At this point, the ranger went from being first in the turn order, to last, making sure I could take out an enemy and get the kills to trigger untouchable and stay alive for those few extra turns that I needed to win.
Just as untouchable is simple, so is deep cover, and I really like it on the way into a concealed mission. However, limiting your line of sight via Hunker down also limits the Sniper I had, and that just wasn’t gonna cut it. Deep hunter is good, but Untouchable is simply better.
Rapid Fire v. Reaper
This choice is hard to really get a bead on, because it is the pinnacle of your capacities as a ranger. Either your a Run and Gun, Rapid Fire master of the shotgun or your a kingslaying swordsman from hell. Either way, the choice is clear for your final level. For me, that meant Rapid Fire, clearly, because while I have had swordsmen I always preferred the shotgun. Rapid Fire shotguns are clearly my bag. Even with the -15 to hit, they are often at above 80%, which is good enough for me to be confident in. Go with what you’ve become confident in, but Rapid fire, for me, is always the right choice.
The Care and Feeding of Rangers
Rangers require little in the way of gear and special weapons. Get the arc sword quickly, and take blademaster for +4 damage over your initial sword. This is the one character I both love and hate having grenades on, because they are always so far up front. This does lead them to getting shot at much more than other classless making armor, even just nanoscale armor, very valuable.
I suggest a WAR suit loaded with a blaster bomb, simply put. the Wraith Suit is good, but I just can’t get over that extra armor and massive explosion that you can put out with a ranger. Laser sights on the beast weapons, rifle or shotgun, whichever you have, really makes the class shine as they often want to be as close the the enemy as possible to get solid cover. Repeaters are also good investments in the shotguns because sometimes executing them is better than most weapons can say.
I can’t really extol the virtues of my poor, dead, rangers but I enjoyed having them along until the final untimely death of Oni on one of the final missions. I bought him for supplies at the Resistance HQ, and never regret the purchase, even expensive as it was and with him at max level.
Next week! Psi-ops!