Hello, Commander, and welcome to XCOM 2. While you’re going to be in total command of the resistance against the aliens who have occupied Earth, we thought you might appreciate some advice from a former XCOM operative who has a little experience with these matters.
If you were around during the first war, circa XCOM: Enemy Unknown, then some of this advice will seem simplistic and obvious. However, we are nonetheless certain that some of what’s here will prove useful to your efforts in breaking the aliens’ grip on our planet.
Okay, enough with pretending to be that creepy gravel-voiced Council guy from the first game. I’ve played XCOM 2 for about 20 hours, and while I have yet to finish it, I’ve picked up on a lot of stuff that I wish I’d known sooner. I know some of you will snatch XCOM 2 up before our review goes live, so consider this an extended, slightly sarcastic tutorial for the game, along with a couple of little bits of advice on what you might want to do early on.
The Absolute Basics
Heading into combat zones with a small squad makes a bit more sense this time around, what with you being a tiny, underfunded guerrilla force rather than a global defence organisation. Nonetheless, most of the tactical fundamentals remain the same.
The most obvious is that you should try to end every turn with your soldiers in cover. This isn’t always possible or desirable – your Rangers’ sword attacks might leave them exposed, or enemies with area-of-effect attacks might force a few people into the open – but as a general rule, it’s one to follow. Cover, whether half-cover or full-cover, massively increases your chances of avoiding a hit. Use it.
When you’re not actively in combat, try to stagger your squad’s movements. Everyone has two action points, but you don’t have to use both at once – you can move one person with their first action point, then switch to a second person and move them, then switch to a third person and move them, etc. The advantage of doing this rather than spending both action points is that, if your third person comes across a group of enemies, you still have an action point spare on the first two soldiers. They’re not stuck in Overwatch miles away. You can move them closer, move them into more effective cover, or have them take a shot. It lets you reposition according to the situation, right up until the end of your turn, and that’s a very good thing.
Also, note that your soldiers and enemies can have both Armour and Health. Confusingly, Health is what’s generally increased by you outfitting your squads with better armour; when this hits zero, they’ll die or start bleeding out. Armour diminishes all incoming damage by however many points of it you have.
Zen and the Art of Guerrilla Warfare
One of the new features for XCOM 2 is Concealment, and this is something you will want to master as soon as possible.
When you start most missions, the aliens won’t be aware of your presence. Once you draw attention to yourself – getting spotted by aliens, opening fire, walking under a surveillance camera, walking up to a civilian (you are technically a terrorist organisation, remember) – then you lose Concealment.
Remember how, in XCOM, spotting enemies would instantly cause them to scatter and run for cover? Concealment stops that. Better still, any Overwatch attacks set up during Concealment will not have aim penalties. In short: have your squad move into position while hidden, have someone pop off a shot, watch as the rest of your squad opens fire when the aliens run for cover.
This gives you the chance to scout things out or start fights in your favour, and it’s a very, very useful little addition. (And note that you can also do similar when enemy reinforcements are called in, simply by putting people in Overwatch near there.) I don’t think the game ever explicitly explains quite how it works, though.
When you’re in Concealment, squares that will reveal you are marked in red, but only if you can see what’s going to reveal you. If there’s an alien squad around the corner, you won’t have the little red markers appear until you can see them – by which time it might be too late. Civilians don’t have much of a viewing range, and the big surveillance towers are stationary (and can be hacked by your Specialists), so it’s mostly a case of moving forward slowly and carefully, if possible.
Most of that is pretty self-explanatory, but what might not be is that aliens squads patrol around… but still sometimes won’t see your soldiers, despite the fact that your turn opens with a soldier in a red square.
As far as I can gather, your soldiers are still hidden as long as they’re in cover. As soon as they move or are flanked (if an alien rounds the corner next to them, or if you try moving them to another bit of cover) they’ll be spotted and Concealment will end.
On a side note, I’d recommend levelling at least one of your Rangers up the Scout tree. Having a soldier who isn’t revealed with the rest of your squad, can instantly re-enter Concealment once per tactical map, and can scout out enemy positions (and provide Squadsight for your sniper) without alerting them to your position, is unbelievably helpful.
Enemy Unknown, Again
When you’re actually fighting the aliens, don’t expect your knowledge from XCOM to carry over. Most of them have changed, and will brutally punish you for treating them the same way. I’m not going to go into loads of details because that would spoil far too much, but… well, one of the first aliens you encounter will be the humble Sectoid.
The humble Sectoid which, with your starting weapons, will probably take multiple hits to kill. And has a full slew of psionic powers, including the ability to mind control your soldiers, or puppeteer the dead as zombies. Yeeeeah. And that’s probably the weakest of the actual aliens.
Two Minutes to Midnight
Believe it or not, though, you actually have a bigger enemy than the aliens: time. I mean, not literally. You aren’t getting chased around by a giant grandfather clock that has a plasma rifle, or anything. But… you are almost constantly under time pressure, whether you’re in a tactical map or on the geoscape.
On the tactical map, you have all the time you need to consider your moves, but quite a few missions have a limited number of turns – another way, along with some of the new enemy abilities, that the game forces you out of the comfort zone of slowly and carefully creeping forward. Failing to meet the turn limit might merely fail the mission, or it might cause your Skyranger to leave the area due to incoming hostile craft, leaving your soldiers in alien hands.
On the geoscape, you’ve got a sort of doomsday clock in the form of the aliens’ mysterious Avatar Project. This gradually advances as time ticks forwards or as certain events occur, and you can force it backwards by completing certain plot-critical missions or attacking alien facilities. Where XCOM mostly forced you to be reactive, XCOM 2 has more of a focus on making you proactive – or at least, feeling like it.
Manage your time very, very carefully, because I’m 99% sure that the completion of the Avatar Project is one of the game’s fail states. You do have a little leeway – once the little bar fills up, you’re given an exact amount of time to set the project back – but not much. If you don’t regularly lower it or at least expand your network and make sure you can lower it, you might find yourself in a position where you’re either scrambling to do so, or you simply can’t do it in time.
If there is one plus side, it’s that XCOM 2 is pretty friendly about letting you know how much time you have. Everything that costs time will tell you exactly how long it will take. The bad things that can happen – aliens launching strikes of their own, or building facilities, or whatever – have a counter, so you can see when they’re going to happen. You can plan accordingly.
A Scanner, Dark-ish
I mentioned “expanding your network”, which may not make much sense because I haven’t explained the new Geoscape. Essentially, you start in one little spot of the globe, in contact with one region’s resistance force. You fly about with the Avenger, contacting neighbouring groups and forming the scattered bits of the resistance into one more cohesive force. The more regions you get in touch with, the more resources you’ll earn each month and the more opportunities you’ll have to assault alien facilities.
Of course, this also means you’ll have to fly farther to pick up resources or take on emergency missions, and you can only contact so many regions before you need to upgrade the communication facilities of the Avenger, and getting in touch with resistance cells costs resources, and…
Not only that, but pretty much everything on the world map is done via “scanning”. This nebulous concept is how you pick up resources, upgrade areas, make contact with the resistance, etc. Essentially, it means parking the Avenger in one spot and leaving it there for few in-game days to do whatever you were wanting to do.
Yes, that does mean that you have to scan to get your monthly deposit of resources. You rarely get stuff for free; pretty much everything has a time cost, which is why carefully managing that time is so important. Thankfully, you can abort scans partway through without losing progress – if you’re halfway through scanning a site that apparently contains some alien alloys and an emergency mission pops up halfway around the globe, you can go and deal with that and then resume your previous scan without having to start from scratch.
Do note that certain scans are only available for a certain amount of time, though. You can usually see which ones these are by highlighting the relevant scan/mission icon on the bottom of the geoscape screen.
Finally, if you’ve got nothing better to do, the Resistance HQ can always be scanned for a continual bonus. You can “buy” a new bonus once a month, although there’s nothing stopping you from using one for as long as you need, and then buying a different bonus halfway through that month. These bonuses include healing your troops faster, building new rooms on the Avenger faster, and the like. They can prove very, very useful.
You have two primary resources to keep track of in XCOM 2 – Supplies and Intel – and I made the horrible mistake of thinking one was more valuable than the other.
Supplies are the “standard” resource. They’re what required to build basically everything, to hire people from Resistance HQ, to keep the Avenger running, etc. These are the “money” you get from the resistance every month. As such, they seem to be the more valuable resource. I mean, it’s those (and a combination of other, rarer resources) that get your soldiers better weapons!
(On that note, most of the “main” sets of weapon and armour are automatically given to all of your soldiers once researched and built once; you don’t need to buy six gauss rifles. Special types of armour and equipment have to be crafted individually, though.)
I prioritised Supplies over Intel for awhile, and this was a bit of a mistake. Intel is used to establish contact with new regions, which is hugely important, but it’s also the form of currency the Black Market demands – and yes, I would highly recommend locating the Black Market as quickly as possible, rather than putting it off for a few months.
The Black Market lets you sell bits of your inventory in exchange for Supplies, with different items prized more highly each month, and also lets you exchange Intel for various bits and pieces. If you need some alien alloys, or desperately need another Engineer to assign to your power supply, or just have far too much Intel and want to swap some for Supplies, that’s where you go.
Engineers and Scientists work a bit differently now. Each of your Engineers are named, can be specifically assigned to rooms or projects, and you’ll be handling three or four rather than 30 or 40. They’re an extra resource, of sorts, which boost the efficiency of rooms, or let you speed up construction or production. Then there are Scientists, who… well, they speed up research.
I’ve mostly tried to explain concepts and the sort of thought processes you should use rather than give specific advice for each situation, simply because I’m still learning a lot. I don’t know what the most effective tactics are. I haven’t finished the game on the highest difficulty. Hopefully, though, this will help you have a better start than I did.
If you actually want some specific advice, then… well, in the early game I’d suggest prioritising getting better armour for your soldiers. Your early weapons are crap, but with careful positioning they’re good enough for a little while, at least (although maybe not on higher difficulties, if enemy health and damage scale particularly brutally). Your early armour, on the other hand, is paper, and you want your soldiers to survive so that they can level up, get higher stats, and learn new abilities.
On the geoscape side of things, try to pace yourself. Expanding your network is extremely important and it will net you lots of bonus cash in the long run, as well as opportunities to set back the doomsday clock, but it can be rather costly in terms of both time and resources in the short term.
That’s what I’d do if I was starting again, anyway. Focusing on weapons and reinforcing the earliest regions has left me scrambling to expand and recover… but then, “scrambling to recover” is pretty much the title of XCOM‘s design document, so I’m sure it’ll screw you over if you take another approach too.
Also, I reserve the right to change or disavow this stuff
if when, in another 20 hours of play, I realise how utterly idiotic it is. I mean, I might focus more heavily on Psionics early on in my next game…
Help, Framerate Issues
Yeah, I can’t help you with that one. They seem to come and go. I blame the aliens.
Vigilo Confido, Commander.