Even if you’re a veteran of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 is likely to catch you off guard. The aliens are a meaner, sneakier lot this time out, and it’s going to take every dirty trick in the book to keep up with them. The XCOM team has more tactical options and gear to keep track of than ever, and while it may be overwhelming at first, putting those options to good use can allow you to seriously turn the tables on the alien menace.
Here are some tips that will hopefully let your squad hit the ground running.
Base and squad development
- It’s not unusual to feel a little outgunned early on when you’re stuck fielding four-man squads of bumbling rookies. To even the playing field as quickly as possible, build the Guerrilla Tactics School as one of your very first rooms. This will immediately allow you to increase your squad size to five and start training rookies towards specific classes. Just having one extra gun and grenade on a mission makes a huge difference.
- Spread out the XP, but also cultivate one rock star. A deep bench of squad members to choose from is essential. Even if you don’t lose many troopers, getting wounded is inevitable, and a bad wound can hospitalize a soldier for up to a month. You don’t want a bad mission to leave you with nothing but untrained rookies, so make sure to rotate the squad members naturally so you have a good pool of decently ranked soldiers ready for combat. At the same time, the second Guerrilla Tactics School squad size perk (and the first on higher difficulties) requires a highly ranked soldier to unlock. You’ll want those ASAP, so having a single MVP who is a rank or two ahead of everyone else can actually be beneficial.
- Predator armor should be one of the first upgrades you rush toward. There are plenty of options to devote your research time and supplies towards, but I don’t think any of them will pay out as much as Predator armor in the early game. It grants each squad member four extra health and allows them to carry a second item, dramatically increasing the squads’ tactical flexibility. Research hybrid materials and plated armor as soon as they are available.
- The Advanced Warfare Center is another room you’ll want to build as soon as you can. Not only does it dramatically reduce the recovery time of wounded soldiers, but it grants a chance of unlocking a random perk each time a soldier levels up. A few of these can make an otherwise mundane squaddie into a real powerhouse (my back-up Specialist who unlocked the Grenadier’s shredder perk became one of my favorite picks). Early on, your support staff will badger you towards building a bunch of plot essential rooms, but you can actually put these off longer than they imply. Prioritize a strong squad over making Central happy.
- Speaking of putting things off, the AVATAR countdown is scary, but not as scary as it looks. When it fills up it isn’t an instant game over, it just puts you in a critical state with a 20 day final countdown. Don’t feel like you have to tackle every black site and plot mission as soon as they come up, you can take your time investigating resistance rumors and leveling up your squad before diving into the difficult plot missions. Just make sure you have a resistance contact open in an area with a black site mission you can always take on if the counter gets too hot.
Tactics and classes
- Grenades are exceptionally useful at all stages in the game for knocking out cover and peeling armor, but don’t get tunnel vision with them. The other utility item options are super useful in their own right and can help you a lot more than a fourth redundant grenade.
- Flashbangs are a Godsend. While they don’t tear down cover or do damage, they cover a massive area and disorientate enemies, dropping their accuracy to nil. They can also break some enemy skills like the Sectoids’ mind control or the Codex’s ability to split into two and teleport after it’s hit, perfect for focusing down a kill on one of those slippery bastards.
- The Mimic Beacon is completely broken and a great way to save yourself in a bad situation. If you’ve never tried it, the Beacon tosses out like a grenade and makes a dummy squad member that enemies MUST shoot at if they can see it. You can have a Berserker an inch away from stomping your Specialist into the dirt in the next round complete turn its back and dash towards a mimic if you pop it out. Even better, toss it behind cover and it gets the cover bonus like a regular trooper! Watch entire enemy turns wasted trying to kill a hologram in full cover! It’s completely busted as is and I expect Firaxis will nerf it later, so enjoy it while you can.
- Specialized ammo items are incredibly great. You might be hesitant to devote an Elerium Core to developing them in the Proving Ground when other options are more overtly powerful, but try a few. A.I scrambling Bluescreen rounds are phenomenal when the aliens start throwing MECs and Sectapod tanks at you. Talon rounds that increase crit damage are crazy with a Ranger devoted to flanking targets or a pistol-focused Sharpshooter. Venom and Tracer rounds are a great way to prop up lower ranked squaddies you have to take into combat.
- Speaking of pistol-focused Sharpshooters, they are crazy good. With a combination of skills, a well-positioned pistol Sharpshooter can fire on a single target FIVE times in a single turn. Remember, weapon upgrades and ammo perks apply towards the pistol as well. Most enemies outside of a Sectapod won’t survive that kind of barrage.
- Don’t sleep on some of the Grenadier’s non-explosive skills. Blowing things up is great, and early on it’s hard to think of reasons not to just spec every Grenadier into explosives, but the gun skills are no joke. Combining Shredder with Holo-targetting, and Rupture completely guts large targets, making them an easy kill for squaddies to mop up. A lot of late-game big enemies don’t even bother with cover and just slather on the armor and health, so it is good to have someone specifically designated to deal with those threats.
- Specialists are great. It’s easy to overlook them in favor of high damage Grenadiers, Sharpshooters, and Rangers, but Specialists definitely have a place, especially ones spec’d toward combat. Being able to complete objectives as a distance, scan for hidden enemies, and do unmissable damage to enemies is something you shouldn’t underestimate.
- The Spider Suit and Wraith Suit are unsung heroes. I know the E.X.O. frame and W.A.R. suits are way more impressive looking and you should totally get them, but the mobility of the grappling hook the Spider and Wraith suits provide shouldn’t be underestimated. Using the hook doesn’t use a movement action, so you can instantly scale tall buildings and still move and fire, or move and overwatch when you get there.
- Grenades and rockets can be used for more than raw damage and cover elimination, you can also knock down walls and collapse floors with them. Useful to remember on missions with a strict timer — don’t go around a building, go through it! Also, enemies that fall multiple levels take extra damage and turrets are instantly destroyed, lots of tricky fights can be completely avoided by just taking out the ground the enemy is standing on.
- Always remember that flanked enemies MUST move. It won’t always come up, but knowing you can manipulate enemy movement like that can be handy when someone is stuck with their ass hanging out. Rather than moving the flanked squad member, you can force the enemy to move before capitalizing on that shot if you can flank them.
- Don’t forget that you can often retreat from a bad mission! So long as there isn’t any extenuating circumstances, most missions allow you to call in the Skyranger for an evac if things get too hairy. If you’re trying your best not to save scum or playing on Ironman, discretion might be the better part of valor if things look hopeless.