Shen’s Last Gift, a new piece of DLC for XCOM 2, introduces a narrative mission centered on Chief Engineer Lily Shen. During this mission, players will unlock a new soldier class for XCOM called SPARK - a modular MEC unlike any operative XCOM has ever seen.

We asked the XCOM 2 developers about the inspiration behind SPARK and what kind of new gameplay options this MEC will bring to the field of battle in XCOM 2. Read on to see what they said!

“The new SPARK class brings MECs back into XCOM’s lineup,” says Creative Director Jake Solomon. MECs (Mechanized Exoskeleton Cybersuits) were an additional class of soldier introduced in XCOM: Enemy Within, the expansion to 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown. “In Shen’s Last Gift, Lily Shen personally leads a mission to uncover the truth behind a mysterious structure after hearing it’s connected to her father.” Players may remember Shen’s father was the original Chief Engineer for XCOM back in XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

SPARK is similar to other XCOM soldiers in that it’s customizable and earns promotions, which allow it to unlock abilities from one of two available skill trees. SPARK also has upgradeable weapon and armor tiers, as well as a Gremlin-like helper bot called BIT.

“A lot of the differences come with how SPARKS are obtained and maintained,” Solomon clarifies. “Since SPARKs aren’t human soldiers, they must be built in the Proving Grounds and be staffed in Engineering to heal after a mission. While this may sound harsh, SPARKs can still go on missions wounded and they’ll never panic. They can’t take cover, but their defenses can be built up to take the brunt of damage for your entire team.” Suffice it to say, SPARKS will present interesting new gameplay options to new players and seasoned veterans alike.

SPARK has two distinct ability trees to draw from when earning promotions: War Machine and Future Combat. The War Machine path develops SPARK into a defensive tank, while Future Combat turns it into an aggressive damage dealer. “An amazing War Machine ability is Sacrifice, which lets your SPARK create a protected area which will cause all attacks to be diverted to the SPARK. The SPARK also gains bonus defense and armor in this mode,” says Solomon. “Wrecking Ball is an awesome Future Combat passive ability that, when used in conjunction with another ability, lets the SPARK destroy walls and cover as it moves. Of course, we couldn’t have a MEC unit without bringing back the fan-favorite Kinetic Strike from XCOM: Enemy Within.” Yes, we can get back to punching aliens into trucks!

SPARK obviously looks a lot different from your typical XCOM soldier, what with it not being human and all – but that doesn’t mean SPARK has no personality. Art Director Greg Foertsch says finding a personality for SPARK was key in shaping its identity. “As we approached the visual design of the SPARK we wanted to push the difference between a lighter and darker personality,” Foertsch adds. “Several of the heads have a more approachable look, with others offering a bit more of a menacing design. Those looks can also be married with either a good-natured or a more intimidating voice bank.” So SPARK can be your good-natured pal or an emotionless sociopathic robo-companion – or something a bit in-between. No two SPARKs are the same.

Coming up with a design for the BIT, Foertsch says, posed a different challenge since there is already a flying drone in XCOM 2: the Gremlin. Foertsch says the team needed to create a drone that looked like the technological predecessor of the Gremlin. “With it being one of the smallest elements in the game, we wanted to ensure that the silhouette would be easily read by the player. The spherical shape was helpful here. It’s clearly different from the Gremlin, but also gave us some great opportunities to facet the conventional and plated versions and to smooth out the shape as the BIT moved into powered armor.”

XCOM 2 Designer Mark Nauta says SPARK can fill multiple roles in any player’s squad. “You can go for an all-out tank to support the rest of your soldiers, a powerful death machine that can take multiple enemies out in a single turn, or mix it up,” Nauta says. “There’s no reason why players have to choose just one. Make a whole army of SPARKs!”

But when will you be able to create this robotic army of your own? Solomon says players can recruit their first SPARK in the middle of the new narrative mission included in Shen’s Last Gift. After that mission is finished, you can start building your SPARK army in the Proving Grounds.

That’s it for this update, Commander. Be sure to follow XCOM on Twitter and Like XCOM on Facebook to keep up to date with the latest information on XCOM 2. If you’re looking to enlist with the Resistance, follow XCOM 2 on Steam Community and join the 2K Forums!