For those of you that have picked up XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you may have realized that the game is quite hard and very unforgiving. A mistake as small as positioning your troops wrong or forgetting to put your unit on overwatch can cost you the mission, or even the game. On my first try of XCOM, I barely lased three months before my best soldiers were brutally slaughtered by Chryssalids and a handful of countries decided to withdraw support.
On my second try, I was much more careful and came up with a simple list of do’s and don’ts which will help you survive your first few months and leave you in a good shape to tackle the rest of the game. If you are playing on Normal, you should be OK once you picked up some momentum. If you are playing on Classic or Impossible, you will always have to be on your toes and make sure you aren’t leaving anything to chance.
1. Only move once. One of my biggest mistakes in my first try with XCOM was that I would always tried to move my units as far as possible. More often than not, what would happen is that I would move my unit far and into some awkward cover, spot some aliens, and – since I was out of actions – had to hope one of my other units had enough actions left to help.
The most important thing to take from this, and really, for all of XCOM, is to take your time. Try to move only once and then go into overwatch. Overwatch is arguably the best tool in any XCOM operative’s arsenal, and saved my life countless times. The only time you should risk using your second action point on movement is to find better cover. There will be times where there will be no suitable cover in range, and you will have to make a run for it. Full cover is always better than partial cover; hence, making a dash for it is usually a good choice. Make sure that if you do this you leave at least one soldier in his line of sight on overwatch to maximise your chances of survival.
2. Research what you need, not what you want. How’s your XCOM team doing? Do you have many high-ranked units, or are you struggling to keep them alive long enough and are stuck with Rookies and Squaddies?
In the first case, if you have many high-ranked units, try to prioritize your armor research. The difference between carapace armor and your first armor is massive, and it increases squad survivability by a lot. This will help you keep your best soldiers alive during missions. Losing some of your best soldiers can really send you back to square one. Therefore, it is essential that you keep them alive once they begin to approach the rank of Major.
If you are still stuck with Rookies and Squaddies, it would be a good idea to prioritize your weapons research. Your Rookies will miss a lot of easy shots and can panic much more easily; therefore, having weapons that pack an extra punch can be decisive.
Remember, with XCOM, you won’t be able to research everything at once: you will have to make tough choices on what to prioritize, so make sure you are always researching what you need to make it through the next few weeks, instead of that plasma rifle you probably can’t afford anyways.
3. Knowing is half the battle. The main issue XCOM is facing is in the title itself – Enemy Unknown. You don’t know anything about these aliens. Therefore, it is important that each piece of information is used to your advantage. Prioritize autopsies every time you encounter a new alien and try to capture one of each species alive with your ARC Thrower. Both will grant you additional technology which will help you fight the alien invasion. I usually have two of my soldiers carrying an ARC Thrower, and it’s usually a good idea to save them until the last enemy so you can approach it without putting many lives at risk. It always pays off to take a few more turns to end a mission but make it out with a live alien specimen for your lab-geeks to play with.
4. Class abilities are key. Whenever you need to make a choice between two abilities, there is usually room to argue for both choices as they can both be useful depending on the situation. However, there are a few abilities which I consider essential for your XCOM operatives, such as:
Lightning Reflexes for Assault units. I can’t even begin to say how many times this ability saved my Assault units from receiving some plasma to the face. In the midst of battle, it is often easy to forget if an enemy is in overwatch mode or if you cross the line of sight of another unit in overwatch. This ability makes it so that their first reaction shot misses, meaning you are basically invulnerable to suppression and you can run and gun to any enemy without worrying about overwatch.
Field Medic for Support units. Field medic allows your Support class to use a medkit three times per mission, something which will definitely save a lot of lives early on.
Suppression for Heavy units. Suppression reduces the enemy unit’s aim by 30, as well as granting the Heavy a reaction shot if the unit decides to move. Suppression may also break the cover an enemy is hiding behind, making him easy picking for the rest of your soldiers.
Squad Sight for Sniper units. Squad Sight allows your sniper to hit any unit your squadmates see on map as long as the sniper has a clear shot. This ability really comes in handy in more open maps; if you are fighting inside a building with many twists and turns, your sniper won’t be of much use, but if the map is very open and/or has some highground, your sniper will become a killing machine without ever risking his life.
5. Find the right formula for your XCOM squad. What classes do you like best? Do you like to have several support units so you can heal and provide cover for your teammates, or do you prefer to rack up the kill count with snipers?
I found it very useful to always have two soldiers from your favorite class on the field. If you know how to use them well, you can be sure that you will encounter fewer problems in missions. For example, I fell in love with the assault class: their ability to run and gun to get up close and personal to a far away enemy, in conjunction with rapid fire (which allows you to shoot twice) and lightning reflexes, meant that I could turn the tables on even the stickiest of situations. Now, having two assault units means I could do all that twice.
Obviously, having two assault units meant I had to give up having a second support medic, but thanks to how quickly and efficiently I can wipe out tough enemies with assault classes, I find myself rarely in need of an extra medic.
I hope these five tips can help you get started and gain enough momentum to push XCOM‘s aliens back to where they came from. Since XCOM: Enemy Unknown has randomly-generated missions, this is all the help I can give, as we all have different games. Good luck, Commander.
P.S. If you are having real trouble, try naming your soldiers after Sid Meier or Ken Levine…