Written by Jack Timson.
Let’s face it; XCOM 2 is a daunting challenge. There you are, with nothing but a haphazardly-assembled ship and a squad of quirky, customised soldiers to your name, up against a world dominated by the endless armies of mind-controlling aliens. And that’s just the plot setup; wait until you start playing!
But don’t be put off by the difficulty curve; if you can get off the ground (figuratively and literally), you can adjust and adapt as you go when you get the hang of it. But for that tentative early stage where you could just as easily lose it all as make it to the top, I’m here to offer you some early-game advice for keeping your men and women alive, making the right strategic choices and winning your first campaign!
(PS: Author will not take responsibility for any injury, madness, property damage, planetary destruction or death incurred – in-game or out – while using this advice. Have fun!)
10: Take Cover!
The old adage of Enemy Unknown returns in the sequel – Half-Cover (obstacles denoted by a half-filled shield) is no cover. To elaborate, Half-Cover is represented in-game by obstacles like boxes, railings, and other flimsy, low-profile objects. It should be avoided at all costs, especially on higher difficulties, as without various buffs such as the height advantage, smoke grenades, the Specialist’s Aid Protocol ability or using Hunker Down, you’re effectively out in the open. It should be used only when absolutely necessary, such as when no Full-Cover (denoted by a filled shield) with line-of-sight is available.
It’s important to remember the returning flank mechanics when on the offensive, along with the new ‘Good Angle’ mechanic. Flanking an enemy grants the usual increased hit and critical damage bonus, but the Good Angle bonus is essentially Flank-Lite; get at least a 45-degree angle on your target, and you’ll be granted a minor hit bonus. Be warned, though – enemies get this bonus too, so watch the sides!
9: Everybody Gets a Turn
Every XCOM player has an A-Team – the highest-ranked badasses with the longest kill-lists, a highly-synchronised set of classes that always guarantees success. While you’ll enjoy seeing them chew through aliens like a mob of Green Berets, be warned; one wrong move can put one or more of your troops out of commission for a long time – perhaps even permanently. If they aren’t fixed up by the next mission, you’re left with a massive gap in your squad and, if you’re unlucky, only rookies to fill it with.
This is why it’s imperative to start up a B-Team as early as possible. The best way to do this is to have as many as twelve rookies by the time you contact your second region, and organise them into separate squads that alternate between missions. This way, when all goes awry in one mission, you have plenty of healthy, experienced troops ready to fill the gaps in the next one, and it means you won’t have to deal with rookies who are, mid-to-late game, often a complete liability.
8: Split Ranks
To further compound on the point of unit diversity, one can find themselves befuddled by ranking up their soldiers. Sometimes it’s difficult to pick between two badass abilities that, more often than not, are direct contrasts of one another in terms of combat utility.
Luckily for us, each of the four classes’ trees is divided into two distinct subclasses. With enough rookies, you’re bound to get multiples of one class, so to save yourself the confusion you should aim to max out two of each duplicate to an opposing subclass. For instance, you could take two Specialists and turn one into a fully-fledged support medic over time, and the other as a crack combat-hacker when you expect robotic enemies and hack objectives. As you get a third or fourth Specialist, and so on, you can mix and match abilities as you will, but conforming to the subclasses is easier for the early game, allowing you to get the full picture of each classes’ abilities in action.
7: Skulljack With Care
*EARLY-GAME SPOILER WARNING! SKIP AT YOUR DISCRETION!*
Now that’s out the way, let’s talk about one of the early story objectives in the game. Doctor Tygan asks you to build a Skulljack – a brutal and invasive tool that allows you to directly hack the brains of ADVENT soldiers. Meanwhile, Central Officer Bradford will continually (and often annoyingly) implore you to equip it at the start of each mission, giving you the false impression that the objective – melee-hacking an ADVENT officer – needs to be done with utmost urgency.
The truth is it doesn’t. While you probably shouldn’t wait for three in-game months to do it, don’t try to do it as soon as the opportunity presents itself, and especially don’t if it’s your last move in a combat situation.
You see, completing this objective spawns a miniboss encounter. The Codex, a highly-mobile and well-armed psychic enemy that is immune to most alternative forms of attack, will spawn as soon as you complete the objective. Wait until you’re in a position to catch an Officer without fear of immediate retaliation from nearby aliens and have all your soldiers’ actions ready.
Oh, and before you’re tempted, DO NOT attempt to skulljack a Codex. The results are, shall we say, disastrous for lower-level soldiers.
6: Invest in Excellence
One of the first buildings you should construct within the Avenger is, without a doubt, the Guerilla Tactics School. Replacing the OTS from Enemy Unknown, it’s here you’ll buy numerous squad-wide upgrades with supplies, ones that are extremely beneficial in the early game. Plus, you can staff a Rookie in there and, after ten days, they will become Squaddie-level in a class of your choice.
Another early-game investment to consider should be the Advanced Warfare Centre. Not only does it half the healing time for soldiers when staffed with an engineer, but it allows for soldiers to completely re-spec their skill trees, and randomly grants soldiers perks outside of their class whenever they rank up.
5: The Non-Lethal Option
At the start of the game, your basic troops will be going into battle armed with an assault rifle and a frag grenade. These are great offensive options at a glance, but you’ll find they lose their effectiveness pretty fast as stronger enemy units come to the fore.
Better, then, to invest in non-killy equipment in the Engineering section that’ll give you more bang (pun intended) for your buck. Foremost of these is the flashbang grenade; though it does no damage, any enemy caught in its considerable blast radius becomes disorientated, crippling their aim and mobility for two turns, and cancelling any psi-powers they are using. The medikit in the hands of a medic-specced specialist and with the appropriate research also comes in handy, as does the smoke grenade, which shrouds groups of soldiers in its radius with a defensive bonus. Be sure at least three soldiers in your squad are carrying life-saving items like these; they can really turn things around with the right use.
4: Employee Management
Base building has changed since Enemy Unknown. You only have twelve slots to build in and a reshuffle of the adjacency bonus; only the Workshop, which requires an engineer staffed for its ability to work, will bring benefits from proper placing. It’s imperative, therefore, to place it – and make sure you get this down – on the middle column of the second row. This, with proper staffing, will give you up to four free ‘engineers’ for tiles directly above, below and to the side of the Workshop. You should endeavour to place constantly-used facilities, such as the Proving Grounds, Resistance Comms and Power Generators, in these sections to maximise their effectiveness and free up slots elsewhere.
Speaking of Engineers, you will absolutely need them. If in doubt of which mission to undertake for its reward or what to spend supplies on, Engineers should always be high-priority – they excavate areas for construction and vastly amplify your existing structures’ abilities. While Scientists serve as a mostly-passive bonus, Engineers are the bread and butter of production on the Avenger. Use them wisely.
3: Tread Lightly
Switching back to the combat game, you should always be on the lookout for trouble. Aliens and their minions lurk around every corner, and one misstep can bring the whole horde crashing down upon your head. Most missions begin with the Concealment phase, allowing you to safely avoid detection as long as you don’t take an action or move into an area marked by a red eye icon. You should stay in this mode for as long as you can, breaking it only when your trap is set or when absolutely necessary. Shots taken in Concealment, and any Overwatch orders made before it is broken, have a significant increase to aim and critical chances.
Even when out of Concealment, this line of thinking should be taken into account. Never dash into the fog of war – it’ll place you far from your squad, and you risk running into aliens and having no actions left to defend yourself. While you should take factors like the mission timers into account, moving too quickly may win a trivial mission, but cost you precious manpower.
2: Fear The Overwatch
The Overwatch feature returns and it’s vastly improved. No longer will everyone unload their bullets on the first thing that moves. The system is tiered, meaning every soldier on Overwatch will fire in succession. If the target dies from the first soldier’s attack, the second soldier will fire at different target.
Like regular shooting, Overwatch benefits greatly from being done in Concealment; this has lead to the famous ‘Beaglerush Manoeuvre’ after the infamous XCOM streamer. Be wary – it still carries the aim penalty, and pulling this off without managing to knock out every enemy will roll you right into their turn if all your troops fired. Keep one or two off Overwatch if it goes tits-up.
Enemies are still capable of Overwatching, and the Lightning Reflexes perk from the previous game are gone, meaning there is no guaranteed way of cancelling an enemy Overwatch besides flashbang grenades and successful attacks. Run that gauntlet at your peril!
1: No Shame in Scumming
If you listen to the XCOM fanbase, the only way is Ironman mode; that being no saving and loading – every action you take is final. Though most of the community no doubt takes pleasure from grief and frustration, why should you have to subject yourself to this with the intent of actually winning a campaign?
At this stage, I would actively recommend AGAINST Ironman mode. Though the game is solid, many bugs exist, and misclicks are a problem I encounter frequently. If this is your first campaign, there’ll be things you didn’t see coming, or features you weren’t a hundred-percent sure of. Maybe, even, that xeno should’ve god-damn died to that 98% chance to hit! Sometimes you don’t have to suffer stupidity – either the games’ or yours – and all it takes is to load up that save you made less than a turn ago and boom! Back in action!
Hopefully this will be enough to get you started with your campaign to liberate the planet. There’s more than enough surprises and strategies that exist beyond this, but for the average gamer who simply wants to enjoy a challenging tactical experience, this should suffice as a starting point. Now go, and send countless painstakingly-customised goons to die for the human race!