XCOM Enemy Unknown seemed on the surface to be a game about leading a rag-tag band of hardnuts as they battled wave after wave of invading aliens, but it was really, underneath all that, a game about managing failure. It was about fighting infinite aggression with finite resources, and about making do as best you could in a war in which every loss was both permanent and costly.
XCOM 2 offers more of the same – and that’s fabulous news, especially as it’s available on consoles as well as PC. If anything, Firaxis has sweetened the deal by making the whole thing even less forgiving. The turn-based battles that your squad finds itself in are now enlivened with timers, and played out across procedurally-scrambled maps, while the story sees your enemies entrenched and evolved, with new units to surprise you on the battlefield, and new means of bringing your carefully-crafted plans to ruin.
All of which means that the pleasures to be had in turning the tides have never been sweeter, whether you’re limping towards your first victory in a skirmish or cobbling together the ideal base to streamline your production of enhanced tech. This is a hard game, in other words, but you wouldn’t want it any other way. And there are plenty of things you can do to tilt the odds in your favour.
To help you along the way, we’ve put together a guide that should prove pretty handy, whether you’re a newcomer to the series or a veteran of the earlier wars.
XCOM 2 tips and tricks
XCOM 2 enables you to do a whole host of cool and wonderful things with soldier loadouts, battlefield tactics, base building, character customisation and many more of its complex and versatile systems. The key to success lies in experimentation. Discovering an effective new strategy or a particularly deadly combination of Soldier Abilities is one of the many joys of the game and you’ll no doubt find your own favourites during play.
However, to set you on the path towards halting the Avatar Project – or at least to not being steamrolled by the alien forces within the first hour of play – consider these tips as an early survival guide.
Beware the Sectoids
Far more dangerous than they ever were in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the new Sectoids have benefitted from human/alien hybridisation, giving them a more imposing form and a great deal more hit points than their predecessors had. The Sectoids’ ability detrimental mind effects can incapacitate your soldiers for a turn or, worse, take over their minds entirely, turning a previously valuable ally into a deadly adversary. To make matters worse, they can also reanimate previously terminated foes as powerful Psi Zombies. In all cases, focus your attacks on the Sectoid, rather than their Psionic puppet, as taking out the alien will immediately dispel their hold over their victim.
Use the environment for both defence and offense
Taking up positions of defensive cover is imperative for survival, but in many cases the environment can also be used to your offensive tactical advantage, too. Look to destroy cars, turrets and power generators that the alien forces might be using as their own cover. After enough damage has been dealt, these hazardous cover options will explode – either instantly or on the next alien turn – dealing damage to any alien that hasn’t fled from the scene of their volatile cover.
Stay on top of engineer staffing
Your helpful ally and resident mechanical whizz, Chief Engineer Shen, will often pop-up to inform you that you have unassigned engineering staff who could be put to good use. Assigning engineers to staffing facilities, building items or clearing out debris aboard the Avenger is certainly essential for maximising your initially meagre staff resources.
Equally as important, but less immediately apparent, is that having engineers assigned to facilities that aren’t currently producing anything is just as wasteful. If you’re lucky enough not to have any soldiers convalescing at the Advanced Warfare Centre, then you don’t need to assign an engineer there to increase the healing rate, for example. This engineer can likely be put to good use elsewhere, particularly in the early stages of the game when you have limited staff resources. Good battlefield management begins with good base management.
Play aggressively but don’t overstretch yourself
Pretty basic stuff, but relevant to both returning XCOM veterans and newcomers alike. Many of the missions in XCOM 2 have some form of turn timer, such as those dictating the window for hacking an open data point, or extracting a valuable civilian asset, for example. This lends a degree of urgency that was missing from XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and often means it’s necessary to progress through the level toward the target just a little bit quicker than feels strictly comfortable.
Ensure, however, that you remain vigilant and don’t overstretch your squad, particularly when moving into fog of war territory, otherwise you can quickly find yourself under siege. Maximise the advantages of Concealment – the brief period at the start of many missions where your presence is undetected by the enemy troops – by setting up ambushes or positioning your squad effectively. Be sure to also make judicious use of Battle Scanners and Soldier Abilities that reveal the environment, as well as concealed enemies. As ever with XCOM, forewarned is forearmed.
Visit the Black Market
Once revealed, the Black Market is your go-to destination for raising quick cash by selling unwanted loot and resources – just be careful not to leave yourself short longer term. The hot goods change on a regular basis, so check back in every now and then to see what’s selling for a premium as the in-game months roll by.
The Black Market is also incredibly useful for picking up various perks that can speed up research projects, which is particularly useful when you want to gain access to something that Dr Tygan is telling you will otherwise take weeks of research.
Stalling the Avatar Project
Once you get into the meat of an XCOM 2 campaign, your actions on the world map are dictated by a big, red progress bar at the top of the screen. You’ll need to disrupt the alien’s progress towards their Avatar Project by completing story objectives, or destroying facilities. If you don’t and that bar is filled, it’s game over.
Well, actually, that’s not quite true. Once the progress bar is maxed out, you’re given an additional 20 days to slow the Avatar Project, as the progress bar is replaced with an even-more-threatening timer. If this runs out, you’ve lost the game, but if you do manage to hit a facility, the timer will stop and everything goes back to normal. Next time the progress bar is filled, the exact same thing will happen.
This means that it’s entirely possible to take advantage of this timer, to give yourself a little more breathing room in the campaign. Let the progress bar fill and hold off on hitting a facility until the timer is almost done and you can gain weeks of extra research/construction time. Especially useful on the higher difficulty settings.
How to approach the Alien Hunters DLC
The thing you need to know about the Alien Hunters DLC is that it will inevitably lead to your campaign being much easier and much more difficult to complete.
If you start a new game with this DLC enabled, you’ll be given the option to investigate a crashed ranger on the world map, fairly early on in your campaign. Do this, and you’ll discover a cache of unique weapons that you’ll want to immediately equip in favour of your soldiers’ starting gear. This stuff is great: a super powerful, single-shot bolt caster, a pair of axes and a frost bomb. You’ll want to be using this for the rest of your playthrough.
However, once you’ve got your hands on this gear, you’ll then be prompted to embark on a new mission, tracking down an old friend from XCOM: Enemy Unknown. From this point onwards, you can expect three alien bosses to appear at any point during your campaign. Killing them allows you to upgrade your unique weapons and unlock powerful armour sets, but oh my goodness gracious me, are these some tough units to fight.
Not only can they appear, out of nowhere, whilst you’re already fighting a group of aliens, but they will also respond to every action you make. This is crucial to understand. After every individual movement you make, they will react with an action of their own. It’s absolutely vital that you make good use of the frost bomb to buy yourself some extra time and use any free actions (like throwing an axe) that you have at your disposal.
These bosses will be some of the toughest fights you experience during your campaign, but if you make it through them, you’ll be incredibly well equipped for whatever else is to come.
Thanks to Chris Bratt for additional reporting on this guide.