If you’re like me, you might have skipped our review and instead been stuck leading the fight for humanity’s survival since 5th of February. If you’re new to the XCOM franchise though, it’s going to be a lot more painful than you’d expect from most games. Here’s some basic tips for managing things both on the strategic as well as the tactical level in XCOM 2.
1) Customize your team
The best part of the XCOM franchise is being able to customize and name your troops and even their weapons; either comic book characters, celebrities, or even friends and family (remember to give them nice recognizable color schemes so you can read who they are from the isometric view). The character pool allows you to create these troops and keep them in a list for the game to organically throw out when you have recruit a new soldier or scientist. It’s one thing to have Rookie 1128 progress on to Colonel and then bite it, it’s a whole other thing to accidentally send your wife into the path of an alien plasma bolt.
And you even get to customize the memorial.
3) Location Location Location
Half-cover provides +20 defense. Full cover provides +40 defense. Standing out in the open drastically raises your soldiers’ chances of getting critically wounded. Always stand in cover (full cover if you can find it). The flip side applies too. Get flanking shots as much as possible. This removes any bonuses of cover your opponents might have.
Whether or not you are attacking or defending, the high ground also provides significant advantage. A sniper with squad sight in his or her own sniper’s perch is an alien killing god. That being said…
4) The is no I in TEAM
Because many XCOM 2 games are now timed, and you often have to reach an extraction zone, bear in mind that if you keep your sniper (or anyone else) too far back, you might have to leave them behind at the end of a mission.
Also, while your sniper CAN be an alien killing god from afar, he’s going to be knee deep in his own shit when a random alien group patrols near to him and everyone else is too far away. The closer you keep your team together, the better they can support each other. If you have the time, advance your team like an actual SWAT team, by leapfrogging. Keep them cohesive and mutually protected. While there are some amazing synergies out there, the most basic synergy is…
5) Overwatch Overwatch Overwatch
Overwatch allows you to fire on an enemy when they move on their turn while during your LOS. One person can miss, and might not kill even if it hits. Four (or six) people on the other hand really skews the odds in your favor. You can often kill one, maybe even more enemies. In addition, the aliens tend to play a little bit more cautiously when you have several overwatches set up. That 60% shot might seem tempting, but might spell death if you miss and subsequently allow an alien to flank you.
The biggest advantage of overwatch though is that while it seems like you are ‘giving up’ your turn, you are actually just shifting it so that it happens on the enemies turn. This allows you to react more immediately to the shifting vagaries of enemy tactics or even luck (ie a wandering Alien mob aggro). In fact, the whole of original XCOM is predicated on the concept of the ‘overwatch trap’ of setting up overwatch and letting the aliens scamper into a firing squad.
6) Concealment = Ambush
Speaking of overwatch, concealment does allow you to run and scout a little bit further, but the best use of concealment is to set up that perfect first ambush. Concealment means that your soldiers have a much farther LOS than the aliens, allowing you greater tactical knowledge, flexibility and positioning. In addition, concealed overwatch only fires if the enemy notices you. So position your guys, let loose with a gun (or grenade), get noticed, and have the rest of your team fire at the enemy while they are scampering for cover.
Why don’t you Metal Gear Solid the whole mission though? A few reasons. One, you might unluckily have an enemy spot you while you can’t effectively ambush, wasting your concealment. Two, you are revealed once you complete your objective regardless of how quietly you do it. In either situation, you’re often surrounded by aliens. It’s usually much better to just take our your enemies piecemeal.
7) Reduce RNGesus
Don’t take shots thinking ‘Oh I DEFINITELY will hit’, because you will be sadly mistaken. Skew the odds in your favour as much as possible. Grenades are a great example of this. Not only do they guarantee damage, but they also often damage and destroy cover, reducing your enemies’ defense ratings. I generally use grenades more as cover removal than anything else.
8) Have a broad team, not a deep one
It is less noticeable on the easier difficulty levels, but it generally more important to have a wide, versatile team in XCOM 2 than it is to have one epic team of awesome. Your team of Colonels might steamroll the aliens, but one unlucky death can often lead to a spiral of doom if all your have to replace him is a squaddie. I recommend an A, B and maybe even C team.
In addition, vary the capabilities of your soldiers (within reason). This prevents you from being ‘brittle’ (being awesome until some key personnel die), but also provides you a wide range of tools to choose from, which will allow you to (hopefully) pick and choose the right soldier for a specific mission or alien type.
9) Take your time
XCOM 2 is turn based for a reason. It can be a brutally difficult tactical game, and it rewards safe play (within timer reason). Don’t make the hail mary pass when you can likely complete it more safely in a longer period of time. Don’t double move because you are impatient; you’ll likely aggro more enemies than you wanted. Think through every move. Before you make a split second decision, look at the overall tactical map of the screen and ask yourself ‘could I do better?’
Similarly, think through your strategic choices as well. There are many different resources in XCOM 2 (Supplies, intel, power, contacts, to name a few). That plasma rifle might be super cool, but if it means that you don’t have enough supplies to build a comms relay to hit an alien facility, it might have just lost you the game.
Most importantly though…
10) There’s no shame in starting small
Many masochists out there are starting on Commander, or Legendary. If you’re new to the game, though, I recommend baby steps. Veteran, XCOM 2’s ‘normal’, is much more difficult than many ‘hard’ levels in other games. If you ever get your crap kicked out of you, feel free to restart, or even to reduce the difficulty. I have, and it’s allowed me to learn the ropes, especially when it comes to ‘that alien does WHAAAAAT??’ moments. The learning curve in XCOM 2 (and XCOM in general) is very high. No reason to make it even higher than you need.
XCOM 2 is out now for $79.90 on Steam and in stores.
The Digital Deluxe Edition is $94.90 and comes with the Reinforcement Pack (essentially a DLC season pass)