XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

1,110 ratings
Useful Tips for the Average Player
By Ralp
WARNING: This guide was made before the release of Enemy Within expansion, thus I cant guarantee any information here will be valid on it!

After finding out all comunity guides so far were either in russian or made by trolls, I decided to take the initiative and write a serious one [or at least something which sounds serious]. This guide is based on hints I saw on the web which I believe to be useful, mostly from XCOM Wikia, UFOpaedia and steam forums, and a bit from my own gameplay experience. Its aimed at players who already did the tutorial and know the controls, but are struggling to continue after this point. Hints about the tactical battle can be used on both singleplayer and multiplayer, unless stated otherwise.

Since this is actually a collection of guidelines, you may feel free to give suggestions on the comments. I am not an XCOM guru, so every suggestion added here will be credited accordingly.
Use the save, young padawan!
Unless you turned Ironman mode on, the save feature is the best way to learn from your mistakes and get better. The game autosaves your last 3 turns, but you can manually save at any moment. You may keep several manual saves, allowing you to find out where your strategies began to fail.

Please note the aim chances are rolled once the turn starts, so loading the same save and doing the same actions gives always the same results. You may get a different roll by either changing the attack order or moving.

Originally posted by Lightna Core:
Another thing to note on reloading saves may change the positioning of alien spawns or what may exactly spawn at that spot. Yes, the Hyperwave Decoder does tell what aliens are going to be present but if you stumble across a Sectopod then reload a save, you may get Mutons instead in that particular spot while the Sectopod will spawn elsewhere.
Satellites, satellites, and satellites!
You need satellites to make money, as well as hire scientists and engineers every game month. They also reduce the country's panic level (a very nice trick for panic management) and prevents it from generating abduction missions once a whole continent is covered. As you see, launching several of them as early as possible is the key to victory.

VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure the continent your satellite will cover has at least one interceptor to defend it. You dont want that pesky UFO taking it down, do you?
Dont panic!
Panic on XCOM can either be a soldier panicking during the battle, acting randomly for a turn, or the panic level a country may sustain before withdrawing its support. "Both are equally terrifying" but not the doomsday.
  • How to deal with panicked soldiers: Unless it risks other units' lives, fall back and wait until it recovers sanity. Sometimes its not worthy to push forward while one or more troops are panicked.
  • How to deal with panic levels: They should always be your top priority when choosing abduction missions, being the others (in respective order or priority) new recruits, engineers, cash and scientists. As a general rule, allowing panic levels to raise will make missions harder, so save your best troops for such emergencies. Losing a country is no reason to ragequit, since you only lose the game if you lose eight countries! On classic/impossible mode, you will often have to neglect some countries to keep more useful ones. In my opinion, Europe is the least important one (sorry europeans!).
Workshops, of course!
Although laboratories give more scientists and speed up researches if adjacent, you shouldn't need more than one of two (if any), as the ones you receive per month and from missions should prove enough. Workshops, by giving more engineers, allows you to build better facilities earlier and gives discounts when crafting equipment, especially with the rebate bonus from adjacencies!
Make room for more troops!
Increasing your squad size from Officer Training School not only means more troops to deploy (and thus more lives to waste), but also allows more recruits to earn experience alongside veterans. Even if they dont score a kill they get the experience!
Not all corpses/wrecks are actually that important
Some of them are only required for researching and completing foundry projects. Once done they may be sold freely at the gray market. For instance, the thin man corpse is only required until Improved Medikit project is complete.

For more details, have a look at this page: http://xcom.wikia.com/wiki/Gray_Market
Flank whenever possible
Certainly one of the most helpful things you should know, not only in XCOM but on every tactical strategy game out there. Flanking consists on attacking a covered unit by hitting it at its uncovered part (usually from behind), dealing the same damage as if its exposed. A flanked unit has reduced accuracy and defense, so be extra cautious with your coverage!

Other than firing at their backs, you can also throw explosives to destroy cover and use psionic powers such as mindfray, mind control and rift (mp only).

Second Wave Hint: If feeling confident enough, you may turn on Absolutely Critical, which guarantees a successful flanking hit to be critical (but not the hit itself), regardless of it being from you or the enemy.
Even a sectoid can become a pain in the back!
Particularly on classic/impossible difficulty and multiplayer, sectoids are powerful enough to take down an unaware soldier. For only 400 points, they can also use supression and increase his friendlies' health and will via mind merge. A mind merged unit has also a higher chance to score critical hits.

Killing a sectoid using mind merge also kills the merged unit! This proves extremely valuable on campaign, since it saves the materials from the merged unit should you kill the merger with a grenade.
Originally posted by Traul:
A special tip for Classic: an overwatch shot from a sectoid cannot kill a 5 life soldier, a regular shot can. If you need to risk an overwatch shot to get a sure kill this turn, do it.
Save your explosives for when you really need them
Originally posted by Dr Vahlen:
You may want to instruct your men to exercise restraint when using explosives. While certainly effective at killing aliens they also destroy the artifacts we're hoping to recover from their bodies. Just something to consider.
I heard this a lot and I hate her because of it (thank you EW for letting me turn this off!). However you should save your best toys not only for research materials but for very tough situations where using a grenade or rocket will save a soldier from certain death. You can also use them to destroy cover and open shortcuts on walls.

Notice you can still collect materials if you use explosives on the aliens and not kill them, finishing them off with firearms.
Assaults can use rifles too!
Though their primary weapon is a shotgun, it only excels on close quarters combat. If you need them to stay at a safer distance, equip them with rifles instead. This proves to be very useful when you get access to light plasma rifles, for their aim bonus.
Make sure your snipers dont get too close
The snipers are perhaps the nastiest units a player may have, as they hit hard and often from afar with their powerful rifles, particularly if they got the squadsight perk. However all this might becomes useless when the target is at close range, resulting in a significant aim penalty. Unless your sniper can score a kill with a pistol, always keep him\her on the rear.
Check the cars for flames
Cars are, at the same time, good covers and fuse bombs. Anyone next to it when it explodes either dies or is severely hurt. Depending on how much damage it takes, the car will explode either on a couple turns or immediately. Knowledge of this concept not only helps saving your units, but also allows you to punish careless folks!

Some players reported a bug where cars sometimes dont render the flames even if theyre about to explode. Due to this, always be suspicious when a car is shot even if theres no visible fire!
Smoke grenades, save lives
Other than being excellent combat medics, even the lowest ranked support can protect his allies from gunfire with their smoke grenades. Anyone inside its radius is harder to hit, including the enemy!

Not recommended against melee units!
Avoid running around like crazy!
On singleplayer, you trigger an enemy spawn by either approaching it or when a moving alien squad encounters yours (which can be predicted when a soldier hears a strange sound). If you trigger too many spawns at once, it'll be a lot harder to deal with them all. To prevent this mess, always move your troops carefully, taking only one action slot to move and saving the other to either retreat or overwatch. Don't dash if you don't need to!

You can also throw battle scanners if available, which reveals nearby enemies without alerting them.
Some nice hints regarding Overwatch
  • Dashing gives your unit a dodge bonus against overwatch fire. Still a very risky move, only do this if you don't mind wasting a soldier.

  • A safer way to fool overwatchers is walking through full cover. Even if the enemy spots you, he wont fire unless you leave your cover.

  • Suppressing fire on an overwatching unit will turn off their overwatch. (credits to Raithul)

  • An assault with sergeant rank has Lightning Reflexes available, guaranteeing him to dodge one overwatch per turn. Or more if they are triggered at the same time.

  • A support colonel may learn Sentinel, allowing him two reaction shots per enemy turn. Not really useful in my opinion, compared to Savior (+4 healing on medikits).

  • An assault captain has Close Combat Specialist ability, which gives him as many reaction shots as his clip allows with no need to overwatch, if the enemy approaches him by 4 tiles.

  • On escort missions, you are going to face several thin men falling from the sky and then overwatch. If there are reaction shots still available, they will be used against them. Very effective with squadsight snipers. (Credits to Davy Jones)

  • When facing melee units, retreating and overwatching is the best way to ambush them. They often don't think twice before rushing at your troops.

  • Be careful if you fire at a muton berserker on your turn, as he will move towards you and possibly trigger any reaction shots you may have placed!
Keep your friends close, but not too close!
Of course you need to place your units relatively close, so if one gets ambushed the others may counterattack or even flank. But getting them too close from each other is like inviting your enemy to use area of effect weapons, like explosives and the thin man's poison. Keep this in mind when facing powerful foes such as mutons, sectopods and ethereals.
Know when to push forward and when to retreat
Perhaps the most important rule in any turn-based strategy game is: DO NOT ADVANCE AT ALL IF THE ENEMY IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!!1!

But since we must advance to win the game, here are some lines to help you out:
  • Lure aliens into an ambush. If the AI knows you're there and retreating, they are most likely gonna chase you. This is a good method to deal with large groups of enemies.

  • If a unit took too much damage, get it out of the enemy's sight, then wait for an opportunity to use a medkit.

  • Fall back if one of your troops is mind controlled and you can't deal with the controller. Mind control has a cooldown of 4 turns, so either wait or, if it's too dangerous, kill your own soldier.

  • Keep a distance of at least 9 tiles from chryssalids, so they wont be able to attack if they reach you. (Credits to amirhuman)
The skyranger aint there for decoration
If you're sure your current mission cannot be done because you lost too many soldiers or for whatever other reason, you may abandon it and return to HQ. However the skyranger will only bring back soldiers that are inside this blue rectangle near it when you decide to fall back. All others will be left to die!
SHIV: is it worthy?
Pros: Immunity to mind attacks, can suppress enemies, has high health, provides cover to your troops and, with proper research, fly!

Cons: Cant take cover, using flight exposes it too much, need lots of resources to upgrade it properly and occupies a soldier's slot. Use it wisely.

Don't start an essential mission without proper equipment
Since Earth won't be doomed if you ignore them for a while, take your time to research and build stuff to keep your troops alive and banging. Below are some hints of what you should get before starting certain missions:
  • Alien Base Assault: Carapace/Skeleton armor and laser weapons are recommended, although some people can do it with just the basic gear.

  • Overseer Crash Site: Should be okay with the same sets as above, but light plasma rifle and alien grenades helps. Please note it actually starts by building the hyperwave relay, so a firestorm interceptor with a good weapon is a must to take down the overseer UFO!

  • Temple Ship Assault: This is the final mission, so you most likely have the best gear possible at this point. Titan armor (or psi for the psionic soldiers) and plasma weapons are the minimum.
Be extra careful when on UFO landing sites!
Sending troops to take over a landed UFO is the same as with a crashed UFO, except it has many more aliens guarding it! While crashed UFOs usually have only few groups around it, on landed UFOs you should always be prepared to face enemy reinforcements approaching your soldiers, even if they didn't move a single step.
Arc Thrower: The XCOM's "Companion Cube"
  • Unlocks interrogations, which reduces certain researches' duration by 50%.
  • You can use the interrogated alien's corpse for autopsy or item crafting.
  • The stunned alien's weapon won't break, allowing you to equip it on your troops after doing proper research!
  • You may also get a limited supply of alien grenades by this method, before you research it and it becomes infinite.
  • With the Foundry, you can use it to capture drones and repair SHIVs.
  • It occupies the backpack slot, which could be better used with grenades.
  • You often need to damage the alien a lot before successfuly stunning, which may kill it if unlucky.
  • The user needs to get dangerously close to the alien.
  • Not recommended for "farming" weapons. If you really need better guns, craft them on HQ.

The table below shows the stun success chances based on the enemy's health:
Source: http://xcom.wikia.com/wiki/Arc_Thrower_(weapon)
Hunker down if all else fails
Sometimes you may find a unit pinned down to the point it cant move nor fire properly. The best thing you can do at such bad moment is hunker down and hope for a better turn. Assuming the unit isn't flanked, hunkering down doubles your cover's defence and makes you immune to critical hits at the cost of reduced line of sight. It can even hide the unit depending on terrain's elevation.
Help, I'm being supressed!
Supressive fire can turn elite troopers into landlubbers with ease by drastically reducing its aim for the turn, plus giving a free overwatch shot if you are stupid enough to move. And with a good chance of destroying his/her cover if using laser or plasma.

This shouldn't be more than a small annoyance for clever tacticians, as hitting the supressor is enough to disable it. Also lightning reflexes works against them much like it does with overwatches, assuming the assault is the one being supressed.
Mind shields are also weapons
On its description, a mind shield "strengthens the user's Will against enemy psionic attacks". What most people don't realize is that Will not only affects your unit's resistance to psi attacks, but also makes his own psi abilities easier to hit! This, along with psi armor and other buffs, makes your psionic "gadgets" more likely to work on every non-mechanical unit, including ethereals! Good luck with Xavier achievement! :)
Multiplayer: Pay close attention to the sounds
Enjoy the opponent's turn by panning the camera around while trying to listen to any sound which can lead to your enemies' positions. A breaking window, a slammed door, footsteps and some typical alien noises are things the fog of war cannot hide.
A few other tips the game doesn't even tell you about
By Vic
  • Overwatch doesn't trigger unless a unit moves within two tiles while inside the Overwatching unit's line of sight. That means if you are caught in the open and stuck in an Overwatch trap you can move a single tile out of cover then another tile into hopefully better cover. To avoid said traps just move enough that you can enter a unit's line of sight but no farther, this makes Deadeye snipers in multiplayer trivial to defeat.

  • Combat drugs gives you +20 to aim and +10 to crit, which can be devastating if your soldier is able to fire twice in a single turn.

  • Press the unit info button (Or LS if using a controller) to view a unit's stats, buffs and debuffs. Useful to find out why your soldier has a red arrow next to it.

  • Mind Merging a Sectoid Commander will give you an extra 25% to land a Psi attack on any unit, that means you can Mind Control Chrysalids and other SCs. In SP you can use Psi Inspire to buff your Psi Soldier's will, letting them MC Ethereals. Note that hitting an opponent with Mind Fray softens their will, making them easier to MC.
    Maybe I can get Xavier achievement after this tip.

  • Grappling hooks can be used to avoid suppressions and overwatches entirely.

  • And last, but not least, do not underestimate the phoenix cannon! It's almost impossible to take down your first large UFO without it, especially on higher difficulties!
And that's it... for now!
For those looking after advanced strategies at high difficulties, I recommend reading this: http://scientificgamer.com/xcom-101/

Oh, why dont you have a look at this video? Its aimed at ironman impossible, but gave me valuable help on singleplayer in general.

As suggested, I am adding a research flowchart I found on XCOM Wiki[xcom.wikia.com]. It shows what unlocks what, including interrogation credits. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Download the full resolution research flowchart
Research projects list (does not include foundry)[xcom.wikia.com]
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jingle_jongle Jun 14 @ 12:26pm 
This is a great review I am super glad I saw it! Good Job.:mug::microraptor:
Ralp  [author] May 12, 2017 @ 9:09am 
@Hakaari I don't know about Longwar, but on higher difficulties you'll have to build at least one lab or workshop, unless you don't mind alien tech advancing much faster than yours. Sure they are worthless endgame and you are free to demolish these by then, yet on my first months at classic difficulty I couldn't make it without them.
Hakaari May 12, 2017 @ 7:53am 
do have to disagree with the building of laboratories and workshops as they are just time and resource consuming, and at endgame completely worthless, but other than that, excellent tips.

also, on Longwar Mod, save all the equipment you can scavenge for future Council requests, or some fast cash for those upgrades.
SuperChumbo Jan 31, 2017 @ 11:28pm 
great work for compiling this up. thanks
Shaniqqa Feb 6, 2016 @ 9:26am 
try to have a max assault on berserkers shoot em twice and if theyre still kickin then they will move and your assault will shoot them again cuz the 4 tile thing.
ᏦᏂᎯᏒᏂᎯ乙 Feb 6, 2016 @ 1:14am 
Great guide! Note: the thinmen spit poison also on single units.
Northern Epsilon Sep 15, 2015 @ 6:00pm 
For your information on EXALT. (EW faction)

They are similar to your early game soldiers (Body armour and conventional weapons) and you will likely encounter them with lasers, alien grenades and gene enhancements. Not sure about plasma guns, but you may encounter them with plasma guns.

Also, their HQ is randomly selected every game for those who can't guess.
Guaxinim Bodybuilder Sep 13, 2015 @ 6:10pm 
This guide is amazing!
Deadpooleon Mar 8, 2015 @ 12:04pm 
I love how stupid Berserkers are, you can just have 5 guys on overwatch, one shoots and he charges into the trap...
ΜΛRGI Dec 25, 2014 @ 12:38pm 
good guide

has anyone some tips against these annoying elite mutons, they are hitting every shot and do a huge amount of damage (atleast in my playthrough)