The XCOM 2 Survival Guide

By Matt Thrower 22 Feb 2016 1

XCOM2 is a tough cookie to crumble. Especially so if you never experienced the gruelling pace of the original game, so have no tried and tested tactics to fall back on. The enemies are smarter in this version, there are time pressures everywhere, and you're a rebel outfit starved of resources.

Hey, no-one said saving the world was going to be easy.

The simple answer is to turn the difficulty down. Indeed, this is recommended elsewhere as something new players should do to smooth their passage into the game. However, doing so makes the late game, once you've built and equipped a crack team of soliders, a cakewalk. Plus, we're wargamers, so we want to do the proper drill from the off.

Here's how we managed to get to the end of the campaign without cranking down the difficulty.

Squad Building 101

Just like the original XCOM, your soldiers gain new skills as they gain experience. Just like the original there's a choice of two at each new rank. Unlike the original, both sides are often very useful and the skills on any given side tend to complement each other. 

Rangers are perhaps the biggest exception. Many of their skills, including their initial Slash, improve their melee ability. But running in and slicing at aliens often leaves you dangerously exposed. It's best to avoid these skills and make a shotgun specialist, capable of devastating short-range damage while staying in cover. Shadowstep, Run and Gun and Untouchable are the best picks for the remaining slots.

Sharpshooters also have one superior build. The "sniper" skill fit the traditional approach of sitting back and hitting things from long range. But although this works with particular equipment load-outs, it's of limited value in the timer-heavy world of XCOM 2. Taking all the pistol-based "gunslinger" skills looks a better option, resulting in a fast, flexible unit that can still put out a ton of damage. Plus, their reliance on sidearms means you can save supplies by not buying sniper rifle upgrades.

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Shades don’t buff your characters, but do look cool

Grenadiers do well to stick to a particular side of the skill tree, too, but both can be very useful. Shredder is the best starting skill for either type, as it's invaluable against the first armoured enemies you encounter. After that, develop two Grenadiers for your squad, one on each side of the tree. Your play style will eventually evolve to favour one over the other. At the end, Rupture is a better pick than the far more situational Saturation Fire.

It's a similar story for Specialists. Each side of the tree does quite distinct and equally useful things at first. Start out by developing a Combat Hacker, as they'll prove invaluable against robotic enemies. Stick with this side for the first three skills. Your second specialist should pick the first three Battle Medic skills, which boost one another to incredible effect. Then for both, take Threat Assessment, Guardian and Capacitor Discharge for your final picks.

On missions, the best mix feels like one of each class, one Psi Operative and your second Specialist build. But you can mix and match with whatever suits your style. Remember, too, that you can respec soldier skills in the Advanced Warfare Center at the cost of keeping them off duty for a few days.

Basic Bases

Arranging your mobile base, the Avenger, is a lot more straightforward in this sequel. Only one of the rooms, the Workshop, cares what it's built adjacent to. Its function is to provide robot engineers to staff rooms, so just make sure you build with at least 3 adjacent rooms and that they're ones you can overstaff.

The only other, obvious, positioning advice is to build Power Relays on top of Power Coils for a nice bonus.

It's rather a matter of when you build things rather than where. As with most things in XCOM 2, there are a number of different functional approaches. You can, for instance, build a Psi Lab to get Psi Soliders much earlier in this game than the original should you want to. They're certainly pretty useful.

Regardless of what order you choose, two things you should build early on are the Guerrilla Tactics School and the Advanced Warfare Center. The former allows you to purchase squad size upgrades and other useful tweaks like Vulture, which doubles the drop rate of tasty alien items on the battlefield. The latter speeds the healing of your soliders which is invaluable in the brutal environment of XCOM 2. Plus it's good to build early because it starts handing out bonus skills to soliders as they rank up.

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A dangerously exposed but functional ambush

Whatever you do, make sure you've always got some excess ability to contact new resistance cells and build some new Resistance Comms if not. The Advent Project doomsday clock can advance with sudden and terrifying speed. So you need to know you'll be able to take out Black Site facilities to set it back at a moment's notice.

Tactical Tips

Veterans of the original XCOM may know this, but it bears repeating: take things slow, and consider your options.

This goes even for the most basic decision making, like who to move first. If your squad is in concealment, for instance, it's often the case that not all of them will have a sensible move option that keeps them out of sight. In those cases move the soliders that can hide first, to set your ambush, and then move the one with no options to spring the trap. Similarly, once you get a Sharpshooter who gets a free pistol shot as their first action every turn, that's often the best first move to make, just to see what happens.

Don't double move all in one go. It'll leave your squad member out of actions and potentially totally exposed. Instead, move for your first action and take a look at the revealed fog of war before deciding what else to do. If at all possible, when taking either your first or second move make sure you're moving to a square in cover, preferably full cover. If you look at the hit percentages the game shows you, you'll see what a massive difference it makes in keeping your soliders alive. If you must leave someone exposed, make sure you have backup to take out any enemies around. And buff them with the Specialist's Aid Protocol ability to give them a small defensive boost. They're going to need it.

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He...slimed me!

What veterans may not spot are some of the changes between the games. Explosives are much more useful in this sequel. Not only do you not have to worry so much about damaging valuable alien equipment, but it also destroys enemy cover and removes armour. Use it liberally. It's especially handy as an option coming out of concealment, since it gives you the chance to catch a group of enemies in the blast area. Foes also use explosives much more regularly, so don't bunch your squad too tightly.

You'll quickly find that some enemies need to be prioritised. Vipers can shoot mass poison which is deadly, since there's no way to cure it without a medkit for each affected soldier. Shieldbearers, as their first action, given all nearby ADVENT units a 3-point health shield. You want neither of these things to happen, so concentrate fire to take them out before they can act if at all possible.

Similarly, the AI routines of some units can be gamed to your advantage. Stun Lancers do have a gun, but they'll often neglect to use it in favour of getting up close and personal. That makes them easy to pick off with overwatch as they dash out of cover. Sectoids have a preference for creating psi zombies if you're kind enough to leave them a corpse to work on. Doing so spares all your soldiers from their psionic attacks, and the zombie can't act straight away. So try and leave bodies lying around if there are Sectoids operating in the mission

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