XCOM is a notoriously punishing series of strategy games, and the newly-released XCOM 2 is no different. In many ways it’s significantly harder than its predecessor, Enemy Unknown. While the in-game tutorials do a good job of laying out the basics of how it works, there is an immense amount of second-order knowledge that has to be earned in the field. Since we’ve had a month or so of playing the game, here are some starting pointers based on that experience. While much is the same as its predecessor, many of the changes to gameplay alter tactics on a fundamental level, so these should be useful to both series veterans and fresh-faced recruits alike.
Look at all of your options before making a move
Since XCOM is a turn-based game, you have the luxury of unlimited time to make each move. Every turn, you should start off by cycling through your whole team to assess their options, rather than just taking actions in the automatic order. With a finite number of actions, you want to make sure that every move is as efficient and effective as possible.
If you have time, take it
XCOM 2 does a great job of mixing up mission parameters so you are forced to vary your tactics as the situation demands. Many missions have time constraints forcing you to plow ahead. For missions that do not, though, you should take as much time as you need to scope out the scene and set up to engage the enemy on your terms.
Concealment is a new mechanic that allows your squad to get the drop on unaware enemies. Until concealment is broken, the enemies have a smaller radius of awareness, which is clearly telegraphed so you can maneuver freely around them. Take the time to position your troops with cover and high ground to do the most damage, then set all but one member of your squad to overwatch. Attack the unsuspecting aliens with the last soldier and enjoy the ensuing slaughter.
Watch out for Sectoids
The cute, little, bobble-headed grunts of the first game have grown up. In addition to being larger and generally more intimidating, the infusion of human DNA into the Sectoids has greatly enhanced their psionic capabilities and made them a far greater threat in the field. Sectoids can now attack your soldiers psionically, causing negative effects that range from disorienting or incapacitating your troops for a turn to outright taking control over them, which can be a brutal swing in the alien’s favor depending on your positioning when it happens. They can also revive fallen foes as zombie puppets.
Although scarier than their predecessors, the Sectoids’ AI can be gamed to your favor once you’ve figured out how they work. Sectoids are frequently deployed with a few Advent soldiers. If you can kill at least one of these before the Sectoid has a chance to act, it will almost certainly spend its turn reviving it as a zombie. Because zombies and mind-controlled soldiers don’t act on their first turn, this can buy you time to kill the Sectoid itself, which will in turn free anyone under its control.
Lead with explosives
Armor works a bit differently in XCOM 2 than its predecessor. The yellow lozenge at the end of a character’s health bar acts as a constant reduction on all damage taken. However, armor can be “shredded” by explosives (or normal Grenadier attacks with certain upgrades), which permanently removes it for all subsequent attacks. Furthermore, many of the cover-providing environmental elements can be destroyed by grenades. Accordingly, it is often best to lead a round of attacks with explosives, which will shred armor, destroy cover, and generally make enemies more vulnerable to attacks from the rest of your squad, ensuring the most value for your actions. This is especially pertinent for ambushes from concealment, when unwitting enemies are more closely clustered than they will be once engaged.
Grow the resistance early and often
While the Geoscape strategic metagame is certainly much more interesting XCOM 2 than building satellites in Enemy Unknown, there are certain similarities to how your should approach it. The game will present you with lots of tempting options for ways to spend your time in the Avenger, picking up valuable resources or recruits. Focus on expanding the resistance early in the game, contacting new regions, and building radio towers in regions you own, once you have researched them. Both of these will increase your monthly supply income, which is critical to your long term success.
Radio towers also have the added bonus of reducing the intel cost of contacting new regions, which is based on the distance to the nearest tower. Global access becomes increasingly important as the game goes on and you are prompted to investigate alien facilities around the world. Having to spend weeks contacting multiple new regions in order to access a critical story mission or Avatar Project facility on the other side of the world can completely kill your momentum.