7/6 Update: With Protocol Assimilation Announced for EN, this article has been updated with more current and accurate information to serve as a system primer.
Now that Protocol Assimilation, otherwise known as SF Capture, has dropped on the All Clients, plenty of questions are swirling about this new system. How does it work? What can we expect from it? Is it pay to win? Can we Oath Ringleaders? Having played around with the new system for a while, these are some of my 'first' impressions, and a quick overview of how things work.
How does it work?
Protocol Assimilation adds a new base room, a new set of Combat Simulations, and a whole new type of Echelon, the Coalition Echelon, which is how SF units are deployed in battle. This means yet more things to spend batteries on, although the returns hold up well. To come with the Coalition Echelons, 4 new Echelons slots (and 4 more Dorms), were added, with a complementary addition to battery income.
‘Capturing’ SF units amounts to a slightly more targeted Gacha, with a layer of RNG, which will be discussed in detail later on.
This system unlocks upon Clearing story Chapter 7-6.
Alright that’s fine, but what can I do with these new units?
SF units are fielded in a new Echelon type, called Coalition Echelons. Unlike traditional T-Doll based Echelons, Commanders have 36 "Cost" to spend on a Coalition Echelon, with units ranging from 4 "Cost" up to 10 "Cost". Coalition Echelons can contain more than 5 Dolls, maxing out at 8 Units + a Leader.
Leaders can be any unit, but are recommended to be Ringleaders to take advantage of Tile Buffs. While they appear weak at first glance, Ringleader Tile Buffs are stronger than they appear, and scale with 'links'.
If deploying a Ringleader, they can be fitted with Chips from this Screen. See the table below for a list of Chips and Effects.
Once units are placed in an Echelon, formations can be adjusted in the same way as usual.
In battle, Coalition Echelons are deployed like any other, and function the same way. Ringleaders have Strategy level Skills that can be used, similar to Tactical Fairies. In the case of Scarecrow she can deploy a Dummy that gives vision, blocks, and tile, and captures the tile it is standing on at the end of the turn, as well as Damaging enemies that walk into it.
Call in a Resupply for an adjacent Echelon. Cost: 3AP
When on a Friendly Node (Blue), increase Echelon Evasion by 100% and Armor by 50%.
Increase Echelon Damage by 10% when there are no allies within 1 Node.
Increase Damage of Friendly Echelons within 3 Nodes by 6%.
Reduce Damage of Enemy Echelons within 2 nodes by 12%.
Type: Echelon Buff
There is no AP cost for the First move. (1 Free AP).
Type: Echelon Buff
Echelon may bring an additional 2 Pips of Rations. (1 Fight or 2 turns).
|Night Vision (Vision Range)
Type: Echelon Buff
Gives the Echelon an extra node of vision at night.
|Night Vision (PEQ)
Type: Echelon Buff
Removes Night Accuracy Penalty
This is the screen in which most of the action happens with this new system. This can be a little overwhelming, so let’s break things down.
The upper right corner shows saved up EMP, or Capture Charges. The recharge rate on these is determined by your Facility levels, capping at 1 every 12 hours, or 14 per week. This sounds fairly slow, which we will talk about in-depth later on. Any ‘Extra’ Charges will be displayed here as well. Facilities will be covered in detail later in this discussion as well.
This is a Capture Refresh button, used to refresh available targets for capture. Takes 72 hours to recharge, and only starts recharging when used, meaning you can't stack resets.
This bar shows how many SF units you’ve captured from the current Area. Each area has a pool of 100 units to capture. As you can see, I have 51 out of a possible 100 remaining in this example. Also shown here is the time remaining in a given sector.
If you capture the Ringleader from a given pool you can then refresh the pool to get a chance to capture a duplicate of the Ringleader.
The scrollable bar at the bottom of the screen shows all of the possible units that can be captured in a given area, as well as how many of each are present, and how many are remaining. As you can see, I haven’t captured any Brutes, but I have pulled in 9 Rippers, 4 Dragoons, and 3 Aegis.
This is the button to open the screen for a system that allows you to guarantee capture units. More on this later.
Finally, there are the units currently scouted for potential capture displayed in the center of the screen. These are chosen at random out of the pool of remaining units.
So how do I capture them?
Luckily, this is the ‘easy’ part. Click on the unit you wish to capture and you’ll be presented with a screen that indicates the chance of success. Confirm you wish to attempt and watch a short clip, before finding out if you were successful.
Capture is assured for 1★ units, 50% chance for 2★, and 25% chance for Ringleaders, who are 3★. This is somewhat annoying, but targeting 1★ units initially will position you well and let you move on to targetting 2★s. On a failed capture, an amount of resources is rewarded. Failing to capture Scarecrow, for instance, gave me 300 Assimilation Reports. Other Failures have given a few Batteries, a small sum of Resouces or some Data.
Both Success and Failure cycle 1 unit in the pool.
Before you continue: I want you to go and read this thread by Mars on Twitter. I'll summarize it at the end, and there will be two more summaries, but it handles the question of Pay to Win, and should be kept in mind when dealing with everything that follows.
Cooperative Capture is the companion gacha system to regular capture and allows you to pull between 1 and 10 units from the remaining pool. This is done by spending Cooperation Contracts, the Red Ticket Item shown on the right. Each Contract is 1 capture.
At the bottom left, you can see a simple breakdown of the remaining units that can be captured by rarity. After deploying a Cooperative Capture, watch or skip a nifty cutscene, and then see your results.
Cooperative Capture does not cycle the units available to capture in the normal manner and does not prefer units shown as available to capture when selecting from the available pool.
This is 100% RNG, and while you bypass the traditional capture chance mechanic, this is fundamentally another Gacha system, which means you can get all 1★s, or all 2★ and the Ringleader at any given time. Obviously, shrinking the pool helps with this to an extent, but this system is, at its core, another type of gacha.
New Combat Sims
Protocol Assimilation comes with 4 new resources to manage. A new type of Combat Report, 2 new kinds of Data, and Petri Dishes. All of these are earned from 3 new Combat Simulations, which put a bit of a different twist on things.
Unlike previous Simulations, these give you a limited selection of dolls to build an Echelon to face a specified enemy. Rewards are based on how fast you clear the challenge when compared to a target time. The Dolls and Enemy cycle weekly.
In this case, the enemy is 10 Manticores, and our target time is 23 Seconds. The button on the lower left auto generates a formation, while the right button lets you adjust the formation.
Auto-formation is not recommended. It tends to produce poor results.
If you want to design your own squad, click on the Doll image cards and adjust as normal. This serves as an interesting challenge and adds only a little bit of work to the daily routine. The faster you clear the Drill, the more rewards you receive, up to 20% extra.
All three Sims are open at all times, but each day one of them is given a 3x Reward Bonus, which I would highly recommend targeting to maximize income. Sunday has all three Sims with bonus, with the recommendation being to alternate between Petri Dishes Sim and Data Sim
Other than that, these behave as traditional Combat Sims, with Extra Energy, and the same recharge Rate. Be aware, however, that SF Sims have a separate Energy/Extra Energy pool from regular sims.
As a note, the Data Sim randomly rewards either Basic or Advanced Data, there is no way to effectively influence this.
For those truly looking to min-max the experience it can be argued the skipping the XP Disks and running Data on those days is more valuable.
Before moving on, we need to talk about Growth Factors. Growth Factors are the final RNG element of this new system.
Each SF unit will have an icon on their Unit card, Ringleaders helpfully avoid this, which marks their Growth Factor. Growth Factors are XS, S, M, L, and XL, with XL being the highest.
Growth Factors apply the following modifiers to stats.
Those wishing to maximize their potential should aim for XL units as a result, but M and L modifiers will serve you will if needed, and as will be discussed later, there is a way to move Growth Factors, Links, Rarity, and Skill levels between units.
Growth Factors can be swapped between units using one of the new Base Facilities, more on that in the facilities section below. Keep in mind doing so is a fairly significant commitment and should be saved for XLs if possible.
Dummy Linking and Rarity Up
Unlike traditional Dolls, SF units do not need to meet a level requirement to Dummy Link. Instead, any units can be linked at any level. Ringleaders and a few later enemies are not dummy linked, and instead, gain flat stat bonuses from 'Linking'.
The game will warn you when performing the first link if you want to link a high Growth Factor unit to a lower one. For instance, if attempting to combine a XL Growth Factor Unit with a M growth Factor unit, the game will helpfully yell at you that this is a bad idea. Beyond that, a single copy of a unit is needed for each Link level. Maxing out Dummy Links improves repair time by a significant amount, along with the usual benefits of increased HP, Link Protection, and will fully repair the unit.
Some units that come later will instead gain stat bonuses from linking. This includes Manticores and Goliath Factories. Ringleaders also receive different bonuses from this system, detailed on their analysis pages, linked below.
The second means of growth for SF units is Ether Development, which will look familiar to anyone who played other Gacha games with a Limit Break system.
Ether Development does require a level threshold per Star. 10, 30, 70, and 90, for each increase, for all rarities. If you meet the level threshold, you will then need to spend the strangely named Petri Dishes to unlock each star. The stats and maxed stats for each unit will be shown, and the stats after the improvement will be shown with the green bars. In the case of our Jaeger, it has a Damage of 69 at the moment and will have 75 Damage after being Developed, with a max of 86 at this level.
Petri Dish costs vary according to unit rarity.
The other benefit of Ether Development is that it will unlock Skills. All SF units unlock a Skill at Rarity 4, with 2★ and higher Dolls starting with a Skill when Captured. Skills are leveled up using the Data types from the new Sims.
Coalition Echelons gain XP the same way as traditional Echelons, either by taking part in battles, or by being given Reports, named Assault Growth Long Term Storage Disks, which are earned from the left Sim under Assimilation Drills. The function as traditional Combat Reports, aside from their exclusivity to Coalition Echelons.
These Disks award 3000 XP per Disk, and SF units appear to follow a different leveling curve than traditional Dolls, one that accelerates early leveling and then catches up and exceeds the standard leveling curve by level 90. The Final XP cost to level an SF unit to 100 is identical to a regular doll, however.
In combat, Coalition Echelons do not receive Multiplied XP based upon Dummy Links, which does slow down leveling, although the increased leveling speed through the early levels does make up for this. Weekly, you will be able to get about 180 Disks from Drills.
Coalition Echelons are not efficient to level via Combat, requiring 360 Ammo and Rations to fight. Thus, Disks will be the primary source of XP, and those are best earned every 3rd day from Sims. It is not recommended to farm Disks on Sunday.
Disks can also be gained by spending Kernels in the shop. Earned by retiring SF units, Dark Star Kernels can be traded for Disks at a rate of 375 for 50. Dark Star Kernels come from retiring 1★ units, at a rate of 100/unit. 15 Super Star Kernels can be exchanged for 50 Disks as well. Any Prowlers or Brutes you are forced to pick up are good candidates for this. This will slightly increase Disk income over time, but should not be relied upon.
For players not concerned about being supremely resource-efficient, using a Coalition Echelon for Intelligence quests will give a steady drip of XP while waiting for Disks to arrive. 360 Ammo and Rations a deployment isn’t a great use of resources, but will trickle in XP for those who want it. For anyone else, leveling Coalition Echelons is not a speedy process, although you are still likely to outpace your Petri Dish income with your leveling.
While there are methods to 'Corpse Drag' Coalition Echelons, these require Ringleaders that we do not yet have, are tedious, time consuming, and are not recommended.
New Base Room
Protocol Assimilation brings two new facilities to upgrade, The Pulse Reactor, and the Tactical Chip Development Terminal.
The Pulse Reactor governs how many Electronic Pulses, or Capture chances you can store, and how fast they are recharged. At max level, you can store 14 charges, and they recharge approximately one every 12 Hours. Charge rate maxes at Level 9, Storage at Level 10.
Because the Pulse Reactor's Level is directly tied to the Electronic Pulses recharge time and charge storage, leveling the Pulse Reactor to Level 9 ASAP is highly recommended.
The Tactical Chip Development Terminal is upgraded to unlock new Chips for Ringleaders, which are listed in full above.
Each level unlocks new chips to be researched. Each Chip costs 1000 Batteries to research and an amount of time. Chip bonuses include an SF Echelon PEQ, increased night vision, buffs when close to, or far away from enemies, and more.
The final Facility, the Binary Fusion Impeller, does not need to be upgraded and is used to move Links, levels, and Skill levels between SF units. This prevents wasted investment should you invest in a unit with a lower Growth Factor, and then pull one with a higher Growth Factor. This Costs Transfer Material, apparently 50 per operation. Transfer material is obtained by spending currency obtained when retiring SF units, and is rather expensive at 1850 Dark Star Kernels for 50, or 75 Super Star Kernels. Bear in mind that this requires retiring either nineteen 1★ units or eight 2★, putting it well out of reach during the first and possibly even second Sectors.
Alright, now that we’ve gotten all the technical stuff out of the way, time for some opinions.
What uses do these new Echelons and Units have?
As fielding a Coalition Echelon requires a chunky 360 Rations and Ammo, regardless of how many units are deployed, you’ll want to be more strategic about their use. With that said, the variety of Chips that can be equipped give you plenty of toys to play with when you do. For night maps, extra vision is invaluable, and Scarecrow's dummy can be used to save an AP while gaining map vision and map control. Possibilities, at the moment, are largely limited by what MICA allows us to do going forwards.
Foreign info: For Dual Randomness Ranking, having two Manticores and the free Scarecrow was sufficient. On Mirror Stage's Echelons Coalition Echelons weren't a strict requirement, although Commanders with proper teams had an easier time dealing with the ranking and event.
Is it Pay to Win?
UPDATED on 7/6/2021:
TL:DR: Not really. To snip from the linked Twitter thread above.
Using this strategy every player has a better than 50% chance to capture all Ringleaders. If you are only targeting certain Ringleaders, this chance rises, as you can save the resources that would be spent elsewhere. Further, when we have cycled through all Ringleaders, they are rerun, giving additional chances to capture them. Finally ,the Kernel Shop allows players to get a single copy of hte previous months Ringleader for 800 Gold Kernels, (80 2* units). This is not a cheap option, but careful saving can allow the targetted acquisition of a Ringleader.
Shown above are the results almost 100% free to play messing about with the system. Not shown are 3 more units fully, or almost fully linked. Granted, these units are not all XL growth factors, nor has my spread of resources been optimal. However, this team has been able to hack and slash it’s way past every challenge I put before it (except White Nyto). Tests have included Story bosses, Event Bosses, and general enemies in recent and upcoming story maps. For context, this squad performs comparable to a well leveled AR/SMG Echelon against the Black Nyto Bosses from the end of Continuum Turbulence, despite having no Skill Levels, and messy uneven leveling. For a longer battle benchmark, Agent from Singularity Chapter 3 was a general success although the Melee’s went down hard, shocking no one.
For clarity, my acquisitions have been free to play with the exception of 3 100% pulls, which were bought to test if these pulls use the units shown as capture options first, or if they pull randomly from the pool. Disappointingly, they randomly select from the pool.
At release on CN/TW/KR there was a lot of speculation the system could be heavily P2W. However, one year past, and with a fair amount of free rolls, it turns out it hasn't been. Coalition Echelons had a limited usefulness in Dual Randomness ranking, were not allowed to be fielded on the Singularity+ Ranking rerun or on Continuum Turbulence+ Ranking rerun. On Mirror Stage, Coalition Echelons only gave a slight edge over normal G&K Echelons, with only two other Ringleaders, Agent and Alchemist, playing an important part in the event.
Tl;dr Pay to Win?
One year later, it doesn't seem as P2W as initially feared. That's not to say Protocol Assimilation is entirely F2P, as rolling for XL units and SF Ringleaders can give P2W players a wider variety of options that post MS content may use. As Agent and Alchemist have proven to be valuable Ringleaders, as are Manticore units, whaling can help players guarantee said units.
So, is it P2W in the end? Arguably yes. Then again, if you look at JP Ranking strats, a case could be said that ranking is already P2W on the higher end, as Parachute Fairy plays a big role in it, and whaling can increase your odds of pulling more Parachutes and Fodder Fairies to increase their rarity.
Can I Oath SF?
MICA listened to the cries of players everywhere, and SF oath is entirely possible on old servers, and was available at launch on EN!
Is it fun?
Absolutely. Coalition Echelons fun to use, and theorycrafting has kept me busy since launch on CN. Beating up other Ringleaders with Scarecrow/SF units is cheerfully hilarious, and they will carve up most enemy units along the way. Hydras and Gundams remain the field of more dedicated units (at least, for now), but otherwise, Coalition squads will hold their own in combat.
Granted, the slow progression is a real downer, but it has not dampened my enjoyment of the new system. For players who don't often corpse drag, or rely on CRs to level dolls, the progression will not feel significantly slower, if at all.
What should I Capture First?
7/6/2021 Update: Completely revamped to account for changes in SF capture since launch.
For a very very quick summary of SF capture priorities, please consult this infographic by Cleista. Be aware, this graphic is intended to reflect the state of Protocol Assimilation on the old servers at this time, and thus includes some units that are not yet present on EN.
Units placed in lower tiers and listed as Fodder can be raised and expected to perform more or less in line with their placement. In the short term raising some units that are suboptimal is just fine.
Quick notes: On the current banner you can safely scrap Brutes, Vespids, Rippers, Scouts, Guards, and Prowlers. Dragoons are toss-up, but if you want Gold Kernels now, burn them. Strikers are a toss-up,
It takes a little while for SWAP Aegis to appear so if you wish to raise an Aegis or two it isn't a terrible investment.
Other Notes: Yes, Manticores are broken. It's great. Dingergates are largely for memes with Intruder. Good fun though.
For a longer form analysis of each unit, please consult their individual pages, seen below.
TL:DR My Thoughts
- Outside of the initial burst of captures and resource income from Tutorial/Beginner quests, progression is a bit slow.
- More Resources to manage.
- Capture rates are a bit annoying at times, doubly so for Ringleaders
- I still can’t figure out how to Oath Scarecrow-they fixed this part
- Baseline power level is high, and the maxed out power level appears to border on obscene.
- Useful new additions to the game, including extra night vision, buffs and debuffs.
- Tutorial and new career quests set you up well as a casual player.
- A quick tap will skip the Ringleader Skill cut in.
- Coalition Echelons are great fun to smack things in the face with.