One of the novelties introduced in the second installment of XCOM franchise, at the same time being one of the most important gameplay mechanics you will use while on the battlefield. Hacking allows you to gain access to a wide array of things, which you would normally miss - additional resources, acquisition of a random alien facility on the map, a huge buff to your soldiers, or the possibility to seize control over enemy units.
Hacking is available to all soldier classes, but in that case it's severely limited, allowing most of them to hack objects associated with missions only (such as data-transferring terminals). This ability is much more versatile when used by a Specialist-class soldier, who can use it on a large number of objects, such as observations towers, as well as on enemy mechanized units (provided that the soldier has the necessary ability). What's more, soldiers of that class can use their GREMLIN drone to hack from a huge distance, whereas other classes need to be standing next to the object you want them to interact with.
You should remember about a couple of things when hacking:
- Hacking won't break concealment, provided that it's successful. The only exception to that rule is when you break the security of a key, mission-specific object, like defusing a bomb on a cargo, which will immediately alarm the enemies of your presence.
- Starting the hacking process, but not finishing it (when you want to check what the results of a successful hack can give you) does not cost an action point. You can perform this maneuver as many times as you want.
- You can hack enemy mechanized units without breaking concealment, if you refrain from attacking with the unit you've just gained control of.
- Skulljack, aside from a good source of Intel, is a perfect weapon against your enemies - the soldier it is used on will always die afterwards, regardless of the result of the hacking process.
- Remember to refrain from using the Skulljack on one of the enemies, the Codex. Using the tool on that very specific enemy will summon an Avatar, which will make short work of your team if they are not properly equipped. Using the Skulljack on a Codex is required as part of one of the story-related objectives, which is why you should wait before using it until you have to complete that very objective in order to push the story forward.
To begin the whole process, your Specialist must be in range of the object you want to hack (or you need to have a non-Specialist soldier standing next to it), and a new ability will appear on the action bar. After activating it, a new screen will appear, displaying a number of things:
- A guaranteed effect - something that will happen when the hacking process is successful. In case of objects and items associated with missions, this effect is always achieved, regardless of the result of the hacking, whereas in the case of other objects an unsuccessful hack will result in a series of penalties (more on that can be found at the end of this chapter).
- Two options to choose from - every object you hack will give you two options to choose from, and the effect of the option you choose will be applied upon a successful hack. There's always an easy option (located in the middle), which will often have a 100% chance to happen, and a hard one (located on the right), which is many times more difficult to achieve, but it yields better rewards.
- The HACK attribute of the character performing the hacking, as well as the level of security of the target. The difference between those two affect the chance of a successful hack - the bigger the difference the soldier has, the easier it will be to hack the object.
Increasing the HACK attribute
The Specialist's HACK attribute (as other classes shouldn't be used to hack things), responsible for increasing the chances of a successful hack, can be enhanced by various means, such as:
- Advancing the soldier to a higher rank. Each promotion increases the HACK attribute by 5 points, which is why you should make sure that your Specialist soldier achieves the highest rank as quickly as possible.
- Acquiring better versions of the GREMLIN drone. The first model that a Specialist starts with does not increase the chances of a successful hack, but the more advanced ones (MK II and MK III) increase the HACK attribute by 20 and 40 points.
- Having the Skulljack (with the Skullmining research) equipped on a soldier. Aside from the typical functions the item grants, it increases the HACK attribute of the soldier carrying it by 25 points.
- Reward for hacking. Sometimes during the hacking process you will be presented with an effect (reward) that will, upon a successful hack, increase the soldier's HACK attribute by 20 points. Those types of effects are extremely rare to find and quite difficult to achieve, but you should always aim for them, even if the chances of a successful hack are 20-30% at most.
The above information leads to one conclusion - it's recommended to use a single soldier of the Specialist class as often as possible, increasing his / her HACK attribute, turning the soldier into an extremely effective hacker. With a little bit of luck, the soldier, upon advancing to the highest rank and wielding the best GREMLIN and a Skulljack, will have the hack attribute at about 160-180 points, allowing him / her to effortlessly hack almost anything in the game (beside a single enemy, the Sectopod - which will still be quite easy to hack nonetheless).
The advantages and disadvantages of hacking
The benefits of a successful hack differ greatly depending on the enemy / object the hacking process was used on. In case of hacking mechanized enemies (MEC, Sectopods, the "second form" of the Andromedon), it is "limited" to two possibilities - you can either stun the target for two rounds (the easier option), or to seize control over the enemy for a few rounds (the more difficult option). To do that, you will need the Haywire Protocol ability of the Specialist.
It's many times more interesting when it comes to hacking surveillance towers, terminals, or by attacking the enemy with the Skulljack - there are several options to choose from. Those vary in the difficulty level, the ones that influence your whole team being the most difficult to pull off - if a single soldier is to receive a buff, the hacking will be relatively easy, but if you want to get the same effect on your whole team, you will need a soldier with a huge amount of HACK to make it happen.
Here's a list of all the possible benefits of a successful hack:
- Increasing the stats (chance to dodge, chance to critically hit) of a single soldier, or your whole team. One of the hardest to get, while at the same time probably the most powerful buff you can get in the game.
- Recovering all the action points used by a single soldier, or by your whole team. Similarly to the one described above, restoring all the action points to your whole team is like getting an extra round, without the enemy moving a muscle.
- Acquiring a small (the easier option) or a large (the more difficult one) amount of various resources, like Supplies, Alloys, or even Intel.
- Acquiring an alien facility lead - extremely valuable, especially when you are trying to reduce the progress of the AVATAR Project, yet you lack the means to achieve it.
- Reducing the scanning time (while collecting resources, making contact, etc.) by 50% for 4 weeks.
- The possibility to use the Run and Gun ability with one of your soldiers, or with your whole team - this ability allows your soldiers to perform an action even after sprinting (more on that can be found in the "Ranger" chapter).
- Increasing the sigh range of one of your soldiers, or the whole team - it allows your soldiers to reveal the fog of war from a further distance.
- Getting back into concealment by one of your soldiers, or by your whole team.
- Disorienting all the enemies on the map for 2 rounds.
- Decreasing the WILL of all the enemies on the map by 50% - a perfect choice if you have at least one (or more) Psi Operative soldiers in your team, because the very WILL attribute described the resistance of enemy units to your soldiers' psionic attacks. The lower the WILL of an enemy is, the easier it will be to inflict a status effect (like disorientation, or mind control) on him.
- Seizing control over a single, random enemy on the map.
- Permanently increasing the HACK attribute of a character by 20 points. The rarest option to appear during hacking and the one you should always select, as it gives a huge boost to the soldier's HACK attribute.
However, hacking is also associated with a huge risk, which will punish the player severely if the process ends up as a failure. The risks can be seen on the left side of the hacking screen, and are as follows:
- Calling reinforcements on the map - a red flare will appear right next to your soldiers' position, where, at the next round, a group of enemies will be dropped.
- Increasing the stats of a single enemy, or all of them - it influences, for instance, their dodge chance, their defensive or offensive capabilities, and so on.
- Attracting enemy attention - the nearest groups of enemies will head towards the location of your team. You can, however, use that to your advantage, setting up most of your team in Overwatch and purposely failing the hack. After a round or two the enemies will appear, only to be torn to shreds by your team.
- Receiving damage - it is unique to the Skulljack. If the hacking fails, the soldier will be dealt 2 points of damage (but the target will still die).
- Breaking concealment - concealment is always broken when a hacking fails, it's a punishment in itself.