XCOM is a notoriously punishing series of strategy games, from the 90s originals up through Firaxis’ fantastic reboot, and 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. Veterans have now had over a year to master its intricacies, including its very own Long War mod, but Advent has thrown a wrench into our hard-earned strategies with the eponymous elites in the War of the Chosen expansion. Fortunately some powerful new rebel factions have joined the fight on our side to even the scales. Alongside our general guide for the base game, we’ve added some pointers to help you get the most out of these new additions, and take on the Chosen. These should be useful to both series veterans and fresh-faced recruits alike. If you just want the WotC-specific tips, skip to last page.
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. War of the Chosen has added a clutch feature that many players had already modded in, which is the ability to preview available targets when deciding where to move your units. Holding left alt will bring up all of the targets your soldier will be able to shoot from the tile you’re highlighting, taking out all the guesswork and making it much easier to plan your turns precisely.
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 in 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.
Don’t stress too hard about the Avatar Project
The Avatar Project–Advent’s menacing master plan–looms over the strategic layer and sets the overall tempo for the game as it ticks down towards your loss. Seeing that ominous red bar fill steadily up can apply a lot of pressure, and especially for new players can make the situation seem more dire than it actually is. In reality you can be a little more lax about letting the Avatar project fill up than the game wants you to think. There are no scaling consequences as the clock advances, so all that matters is that you hold off total defeat. Even when the meter runs to completion, that still gives you a generous 20 days to respond. It’s often better to let the Avatar meter tick up quite a bit early on, spending that time building out your team and developing a strong, economic foundation for the rest of the game. Once you’re in a good position, it’s not too hard to push it back by hitting a few Avatar facilities in quick succession, which should be easier to do than if you tried while earlier and less well equipped. Covert actions from the resistance ring in War of the Chosen also sometimes let you knock the Avatar Project back a few notches, letting you avoid dangerous raids even longer.
Stay classy — Character roles and builds
While all of your soldiers can carry grenades into battle, grenadiers specialize in raining down explosive destruction on the battlefield, and accordingly can carry more with them than anyone else. Propelled by a specialized launcher, their grenades fly further and hit for more damage over a wider radius. Because so many of the cover-providing environmental elements in XCOM 2 are destructible and armor can be shredded by explosives, grenadiers serve primarily as a control class, reshaping the battlefield in your favor.
- The Demolitions Expert skill tree focuses on the former, with skills like “heavy ordinance,” “volatile mix,” and “salvo,” allowing for grenade fire to be more frequent and effective. Given how much area-of-effect damage and environmental destruction this basic skill package provides, “suppression” and “rupture” from the opposing tree stand out as particularly useful over their somewhat redundant counterparts in “demolition” and “saturation fire.” EXO/WAR Suits from the proving ground are particularly effective, as the additional armor stacks with “blast padding” to make grenadiers into tough tanks, and the suit-mounted heavy weapons benefit from bonuses like salvo.
- Heavy Gunner, on the other hand, emphasizes the cannon and shredding armor through direct fire. “shredder,” “holo targeting,” and “chain shot” can wreak havoc on the highly armored robotic enemies encountered later in the game, ripping through armor and setting up fellow squad mates to finish the job. Rupture remains a key skill, too, especially for huge enemies like sectopods. Salvo from demolitions expert can be more tactically disruptive than the guaranteed hit from “hail of bullets,” so it’s often better to compensate for the grenadier’s diminished aim through weapon modules and PCS upgrades instead. Autoloaders and expanded magazines also help compensate for the aggressive ammo expenditure of the heavy gunner’s more powerful abilities.
- All of the grenadier’s grenade-related bonuses apply to all grenades, such as the defensive smoke grenade or the various experimental grenades from the proving grounds. Armor-melting acid grenades are particularly synergistic with what grenadiers are already trying to do.
Like Enemy Unknown‘s assault class, rangers are up-close-and-personal heavy damage dealers. Their biggest change this time around is enhanced synergy with the new concealment mechanics. Able to dish out huge damage in single shots, they’re perfect for finishing off the most imminently threatening enemies on the field.
- The Scout tree focuses on stealth, allowing your rangers to extend and abuse the tactical advantage granted by concealment. Rangers with the “phantom” ability start missions in concealment even when the rest of the squad does not, making them perfect for scouting ahead to determine enemy locations or quietly completing mission objectives while their colleagues distract Advent. Even used purely for combat, the combination of phantom, “shadow strike,” “conceal,” and “rapid fire” can allow for catch enemies unaware multiple times per mission with a devastating flanked attack from the shadows. When combined “implacable” and “untouchable” allow a ranger to remain relatively safe even after sneaking up for a surprise kill.
- Assault instead emphasizes the Ranger’s new sword for melee attacks. “blademaster,” “shadowstep,” and “reaper” combine into a devastating chain attack that rapidly finishes off a group of aliens that has already been softened up, such as by a grenadier’s bombardment. Untouchable is key for survival if you go this route, along with any equipment and PCS upgrades that improve durability. Vital tech upgrades for Rangers’ swords can be built after the stun lancer and archon autopsies.
- Both builds are greatly supported by the Spider/Wraith Suits from the proving ground and the enhanced mobility that they provide.
Redesigned from Enemy Unknown‘s sniper class, the sharpshooter’s name change reflects a more robust support for their secondary weapon, the pistol. Sharpshooters focus on damage from a distance, either concentrated into powerful, single attacks with the sniper rifle, or spread out through a series of rapid pistol shots.
- The Sniper tree supports the traditional role of a high damage dealer who provides cover for the rest of the squad from a distance. Ideally you want to place snipers in one, elevated position that covers a wide swathe of the level. As a largely stationary position, it can be tricky for them to keep up with the rest of the squad and remain useful in timed missions that force you to keep moving. The Spider/Wraith Suit from the proving grounds can help with this, particularly with the ability to easily grapple up to high ground. Even if focusing on the powerful sniper abilities at the top of the tree, “return fire” and “lightning hands” can add up to a lot of damage in the long run and allow for greater flexibility. Tracer rounds, scopes, and the perception PCS all help mitigate the aim penalty from “squadsight”. Auto-loaders, repeaters, and expanded magazines can all help extend the chain of a Serial or Kill Zone attack.
- Gunslingers, on the other hand, are much better at maintaining pressure while staying on the move, reserving rifle shots for more specialized situations. lightning hands, quickdraw, and “fan fire” can stack to allow more damage done in a single turn than nearly any other class in the game. Experimental ammo from the proving grounds is most effective here, with their bonuses stacking for every shot. Dragon and venom rounds compliment the gunslinger’s skill particularly well, immediately adding +1 damage in addition to sustained burning or poison damage. Enemy armor, however, stings much more when applied to numerous, smaller hits, so be sure to come prepared with a Grenadier capable of clearing it first.
- Keep in mind that weapon upgrades only apply to the sniper rifle, and cannot be used for the pistol.
A flexible support class, specialists primarily act through their flying gremlin drones, which heal and protect their squad mates or harass and disable robotic foes. They also specialize in another of XCOM 2‘s new mechanics, hacking. Having at least one specialist focused on healing with you at all times is practically a requirement for keeping your squad alive as the game goes on. Because the two skill trees fill such different roles, doubling up on Specialists can be one of the best ways to capitalize on the increased squad size bonuses from the guerrilla tactics school.
- Battle Medic skills do exactly what you would expect, allowing for the Specialist to keep their squad mates fresh with medical and revival protocols and “field medic.” If you’re not bringing along a hacking-focused specialist, then “haywire protocol” and “capacitor discharge” can be powerful abilities to balance out their utility.
- Combat Hackers become more important as the game goes on and you encounter some of its nastier robots, such as the advanced MECs and the towering sectopods. Combat protocol may be slightly underwhelming at first, but don’t underestimate its ability to do guaranteed damage that ignores cover and armor, particularly against robots. This damage increases substantially as you upgrade the gremlin.
- Note that all of the gremlin’s protocol abilities require a single action and do not end the turn, allowing for immense flexibility in how Specialists conduct their turns.
- Because Specialists benefit the most from medkits or the hacking-aiding skulljacks, they are particularly well-served by the additional utility item slot in the basic Predator and Warden Armors.
The fifth soldier class introduced in XCOM 2, the psi operative works differently from the others. Instead of gaining promotions through field experience, Psi operatives level up through training in a specialized facility on the Avenger. Moreover, rather than progressing linearly through a sequence of choices for new abilities, psi operatives choose each successive ability to train from a random selection, meaning they can get access to their most powerful abilities from the beginning, or learn both abilities from the same tier. These powers can be extremely impactful on the field, so it behooves you to get a jump on training your psi operatives as early as possible, which is easy with some focused research.
In order to access psi operatives, first kill a Sectoid in the field. Instructing Dr. Tygan to complete the Sectoid Autopsy will unlock the “Psionics” research project, which will in turn let you build the Psi Lab. Stick a fresh recruit in there and start them training, and you’ll be mind-controlling aliens in no time. Staffing the Lab with an engineer or GREMLIN substantially accelerates the training process.
Home is where your jet is – Base Building
At first glance, your base inside the mobile Avenger looks similar to the side-on view of your underground facility in Enemy Unknown — a bisected grid of stacked rooms reminiscent of Fallout Shelter or The Life Aquatic. Befitting the smaller, scrappier scale of your operation this time around, however, the grid is half the size at three by four rooms. That many fewer decisions makes each one all the more important, so here are some tips for getting the most out of your base, and details on each room you can construct (in rough order of suggested build priority):
- Make sure all of your engineers are always busy. Shen reminds you when they are totally idle, but be mindful of ones that might be staffed in inactive rooms like a proving ground with no project or the advanced warfare center with no injured soldiers.
- Exposed power coils are randomly distributed with (as far as we have seen) two in the lower half of the grid. These either reduce the power cost of rooms built on them, or increase the output of power relays. The latter is ideal for getting the most use out of them. Similar to Steam Vents in Enemy Unknown, plan your base accordingly.
- Unlike in Enemy Unknown, adjacent rooms of the same type no longer confer any bonus to efficiency, and thus should not factor into your layout decisions. In general, you will rarely want to build more than one of any given facility, upgrading those you have instead of redundant expansion.
- Clearing out rooms comes with the added bonus this time around of giving you valuable supplies and alien resources for your trouble. Barring anything in particular you need them to do, this is the best default task for your engineers to be doing.
Guerrilla Tactics School
The guerrilla tactics school serves two functions. First, it allows you to purchase new Combat Tactics, which unlock bonuses for your whole squad, such as bonus experience from kills, extra item pickups, and — critically — increasing the size of the squad you can deploy on missions. For this alone, the GTS should be an early priority to build. Its secondary benefit is also extremely useful, however. Rookies can train here to take on a new class of your choosing, rather than by random assignment from leveling up in the field. This lets you proactively fill any staffing holes by training whatever class you need the most. Be sure to always have someone training if you have rookies, because it’s essentially free experience.
Advanced Warfare Center (Removed in War of the Chosen)
The primary effect of the advanced warfare center is that it decreases the healing time of your injured soldiers when staffed, which can be critical for maintaining a viable, field-ready squad at all times. Its second function is a little less clear, but can be game-changing. After the AWC is built, every soldier is secretly assigned a rank at which they will acquire a random out-of-class skill along with their standard choice. Soldiers already past this rank will not retroactively acquire the additional skill, so building the AWC as early as possible ensures that the maximum number of soldiers will receive their bonus. Like the GTS, the AWC offers two useful functions that you want to utilize early and often to get the most bang for your buck, so it should likewise generally be a priority to build.
The workshop essentially gives you two engineers for one. Staffing it provides two engineer drones that can be assigned to rooms adjacent to the workshop. To ensure the most flexibility, we recommend building it in one of the two central rooms. Note that it only works with vertical and horizontal adjacency, and not diagonal. You also can only have one Workshop at a time, so you can’t build two and then have them staff one another, unfortunately. You can, however, upgrade it to allow another engineer to operate two more gremlins. This is the one facility where position really matters, so be sure to surround it with rooms you will want to staff with Engineers, such as resistance comms, the psi lab, power relays, and the infirmary.
Unlocked early in the course of the story, this is a critical facility that lets you maintain more regions on the map as part of your rebellion, which in turn increases your monthly income. Accordingly, you will want to build this early to expand your network as quickly as possible, because that early income will add up in the long run. Upgrade and staff it proactively so you aren’t stuck unable to contact a new region with an important Avatar facility to raid, for instance.
A straightforward and essential function of expanding your base, each facility has a power requirement that, in total, must stay within the limits of the Avenger’s capacity, which is boosted primarily by building relays. Your starting power capacity will only support a few facilities, so an early power relay is almost always essential, barring a lucky continent bonus or random event reward to boost your capacity. Mind your resources, plan ahead, and build relays proactively, rather than in response to your need, in order to avoid a situation where a lack of power acts as a bottleneck to your overall progress. Build on top of exposed power coils whenever possible for maximum efficiency.
Unlike the four standard classes, the psi operative can only be trained in the psi lab. Classless rookies can be sent there to train, mastering one new ability at a time, chosen from a random sampling of all possible abilities regardless of level. Building the psi lab is expensive, and requires completing the time-consuming psionics research, so it can’t be one of your first priorities. Psi operatives can be very powerful, however, and only level up through time, so building it earlier will ensure you the most powerful telepaths by the endgame. Upgrading allows for two to be trained at once.
Scientists, rather than engineers, can be staffed here to boost Dr. Tygan’s research. Scientists currently have no other use, so building and upgrading the Lab relatively early can accelerate your research quite a bit in the long run.
This engineering facility lets you build special projects and unique equipment, sometimes with a bit of randomness. It becomes available early in the story to facilitate constructing the skulljack, and allows you to also build things like specialized armor or randomized special ammo and grenades that are unique, rather than being available to all soldiers at all time like primary weapons and armor once constructed. These items are extremely useful in the long run, but require materials that are not plentiful early on, and their effects don’t snowball as much as other early infrastructure like the AWC and GTS, so it shouldn’t be quite as high a priority unless you’re especially eager for powered armor or the robotic SPARK units (which are admittedly cool).
This is primarily for story-related research projects that bring you toward the endgame, so when you choose to build it will largely be dictated by how advanced you’re willing to let Avatar get. It has a useful secondary effect, however, of letting you know what enemies you will face in upcoming missions, which allows you to kit your team out accordingly. You can load armor piercing ammo or EMP ammo if you will be facing a lot of robotic foes, for instance. Note that conducting shadow chamber projects suspends any other active research, since Dr. Tygan can’t multitask.
This is the most niche room available, and thus shouldn’t be a priority unless you know a UFO chase is imminent from dark events. Even then, the best course of action might still be to lay low and continue building what you would otherwise.
‘War of the Chosen’ tips
The eponymous chosen are the headline feature of the new expansion, and accordingly you will want to prioritize dealing with them very highly. They will start to show up during random missions early in the game to mess with you, but their harassment quickly extends to the strategic layer as well where they will clamp down on regions you control, steal from you, and eventually hunt you down. The longer they go unaddressed, the more powerful they become, so it’s in your best interest to handle them as early as possible.
You proactively take on the chosen with a series of three covert actions with each of their respective rival resistance factions (which are randomly assigned each game), where completing the final action unlocks a conventional mission to raid their stronghold and destroy the regeneration device that keeps them coming back. In addition to the reward of no longer having such a powerful enemy bothering you, each Chosen also rewards unique and powerful weapons when defeated, which will give you a major leg up for the rest of the game.
Lost and gone forever
A zombie by any other name would smell as putrid. The Lost are another new and interesting threat that can seriously change up how you approach missions. They show up in large groups that, in some missions, will simply spawn endlessly until you leave, making last stands a futile, losing proposition.
Fortunately to deal with them you get the added bonus of any conventional, ranged kill shot giving you a free action, which lets you chain Lost kills for as long as you have targets and/or ammo. Although it’s generally important in any mission, keeping your formation tight and not over-extending is crucial in Lost missions, where it’s possible to get swamped by unexpected pods.
Melee works in a pinch, but note that it will not trigger the headshot free action, so save that for when your ranger has run out of ammo/actions otherwise and won’t be left too exposed. Explosives can be helpful for dealing with large mobs, but keep in mind that they similarly do not trigger the free action, and that the sound will draw more Lost, so use them only as a last resort, if you’re already close to your objective, or if there are also Advent troops to soak up their attention.
When chaining Lost headshots, be sure to take note of their health pools: Regular Lost have 2-4 health, and thus can be one-shot by most of your troops without too much problem, but the Brutes have a larger health pool that often takes two shots, so don’t accidentally end your turn early by failing to finish the job if you don’t have an ally to help mop up. Once your squad is securely at the evac zone, within reason you can stick around an extra round or two to mop up XP from endless Lost waves, but don’t get cocky.
In addition to worrying about your soldiers’ physical health and ensuring you always have enough in active rotation, War of the Chosen now adds their mental health to your concerns. Soldiers can be “tired” after missions even if they were not physically injured. As long as they are otherwise in good health you can always bring tired soldiers along on missions, but it gives them a much better chance of developing negative personality quirks that can become a real headache for you down the road. These include phobias of particular aliens, causing them to sometimes panic at the sight of sectoids or mutons, for instance, or compulsions that might cause them to act out of turn, like an obsessive-compulsive need to keep their ammo topped off, or a paranoia that leads them to hunker down sometimes on their second action.
This can be utterly devastating in later game missions where every action counts. You can mitigate this by avoiding bringing tired units along if you can. Sometimes you need to bring a sleepy soldier along for a crucial mission, however, and even fully rested troops can develop neuroses. When that happens it’s worthwhile to stick them in the infirmary for a few days, Darkest Dungeon-style, to purge the negative trait.
Believe in the power of friendship
Your soldiers can now form relationships from fighting alongside one another, called Bonds. Every member of your team has a compatibility rating with every other. Sending them out on missions together causes their Cohesion meter to fill, the rate at which it does depending on how compatible the soldiers are.
In addition to just going on missions together, soldiers grow closer for doing things like reviving one another from debilitating mental states, or surviving when the rest of the squad is wiped. Bonds lets them do things like lend their actions to one another once or twice per mission, reduce the time spent on covert actions together, or eventually take simultaneous attack actions. Level one bonds can be established instantly as soon as both soldiers’ cohesion meters are full, but advancing the bond to levels two and three requires both soldiers to spend several days in the Training Center, so you’re going to want to have that up and running by the mid-game.
Note that bonds are monogamous and “’til death do us part,” so don’t lock in those level one bonds if you are hoping to pair them off differently.
Maximize your AP
Rather than unlocking new abilities once per level, your soldiers now purchase them with a system of earned ability points. In practice this works out the same in that you still pick one of several potential skills at each new tier, but now you can also go back and spend points on abilities from previous tiers as well, fundamentally changing the need to specialize your soldiers. Furthermore, where building the advanced warfare center in the base game gave you a chance for each unit to pick up one random off-class ability, now you have a selection at random levels available for buying with points, opening up even more customization options.
Every soldier has an individual AP count earned through experience, which scales to a new stat called “Combat Intelligence,” but there is now also a shared XCOM pool that can be spent on any character. These shared points are earned through several in-mission actions. Your soldiers taking shots from high ground, from a flanking position, or from concealment all have a chance to grant a single point to the shared pool, which increases in likelihood with higher combat intelligence.
Taking out the chosen during a mission will also net you five points for the organization. We recommend holding onto these for a little bit until you have a stand-out squad in which you are ready to start investing.
A Priest, a Purifier, and a Spectre walk into bar
Beyond the chosen, Advent has also introduced a few new types of minions to complicate your missions. The priest is primarily a support class, similar to sectoids in that they like to hang back and manipulate the battle with psychic powers such as mind controlling, freezing your troops, and buffing their allies. Prioritize taking out priests early to make it easier for you to take down their allies — they’re not too tough, so it shouldn’t be hard if you get the drop on them.
Purifiers wield flamethrowers to blast out arcs of flame that seem particularly well suited for taking on hordes of Lost. The most important thing to note is that they explode on death, so don’t finish them off with melee attacks unless your rangers are expendable.
Spectres are a highly mobile pain in your butt that look like lithe humanoids but are actually an amorphous cloud of nanobots. Their most obnoxious ability is called “shadowbound,” which instantly knocks out one of your soldiers at melee range and then creates a shadow clone of them for you to fight. You can revive them either by killing the clone or the Spectre itself, which will also take the clone down with it. You can also bring them back while both Spectre and clone are still up if you have a Specialist who can Revive.
Resistance Faction Classes
Countering the new threats of the Chosen are your three new resistance faction allies: the Reapers, Skirmishers, and Templars. All three of them are extremely powerful, so you will want to make sure that they are all recruited as early as possible. During your first playthrough of the expansion with its narrative missions that introduce the new content, you will get hooked up with the Reapers early on, have to rescue Skirmisher Mox, and then locate the Templars in order to recruit them. During subsequent plays you can start with any of the special faction soldiers in your ranks. Covert actions in the resistance ring will let you contact the other two factions, which will give you one of their powerful soldiers.
While it’s possible to recruit additional faction soldiers later in the game through covert actions, but these are rare and require very high influence with the faction in question. Accordingly you will want to treat these soldiers like precious resources, breaking them out to tip the scales on crucial missions, especially when their rival Chosen is likely to be involved, but don’t throw them around like any regular recruit, since they are highly useful and hard to replace.
As with all XCOM soldiers, there is no one correct way to build these special classes. The wealth of new abilities added in War of the Chosen makes it more viable than ever to explore vastly different (but still viable) soldier builds and squad compositions, so take these pointers as inspiration for your own experiments rather than hard and fast rules, since we ourselves have still only scratched the surface of what’s possible.
Step aside, rangers, because the reaper is the best stealth unit in the game, bar none. In addition to being faster and being able to get substantially closer to oblivious enemies, taking actions that would normally break stealth now only provoke a chance to do so, allowing your reapers to scout and flank from the shadows for potentially the entire mission if you build them for it, which can give you a huge leg up. Pairing this aggressive mobility with a sniper rifle makes them a great counterpoint to the sharpshooter, who tends to hang back from the squad, providing a lot of coverage if you use both. Although their damage output isn’t ever quite as high as a comparably leveled ranger or sharpshooter, the added versatility of their stealth, plus their ability to take sniper shots on the second action, more than make up for it.
- Stealth skills do what you would expect, enhancing the reaper’s ability to maintain and go back into concealment while being increasingly aggressive the more you invest here. “Target definition” is their most useful support ability, giving you permanent vision on anyone the reaper sees, which can be most or all of your enemies if you focus on your reaper as a stealth scout.
- Saboteur skills enhance the reaper’s destructive capability as a stealthy grenadier-lite, buffing their claymore mine and letting them carry an extra. “Remote start” can be a particularly brutal weapon of mass destruction on levels with a lot of cars, but be mindful of civilians.
- Marksman enhances the reaper’s sniping capabilities, substantially increasing the amount of damage they can put out. “Soul harvest” is especially devastating on maps that feature both the Lost and Advent, since you can charge up your chance for a critical hit to the max on Lost in a turn or two, making you a much bigger threat to the more dangerous Advent enemies.
- Let reapers lead the charge and scout ahead whenever they’re on a mission, since they are least likely to kick up trouble from an unexpected Advent pod. Within reason you should be aggressively positioning your reaper to get maximum information and provide flanking cover that other classes couldn’t.
Once the genetically engineered puppets of Advent, the Skirmishers have thrown off their shackles and accordingly have a lot of anger to work out with Advent. Highly mobile and able to take as many shots as they have actions, skirmisher units excel at flanking and adapting to unexpected situations. Their grapple lets them zip around the level, particularly to high ground, without using an action, making them perfect for swooping behind a troublesome enemy and chewing them up quickly. Their individual shots are not quite as damaging as those of comparably leveled standard soldiers, but that doesn’t matter when they can take 2+ shots in a turn, let alone the added utility of their ability to traverse and control the battlefield. It’s often a good idea to hold back your Skirmisher’s actions until later in the turn, because their flexibility is great for responding to new, complicating threats (which come up a lot more frequently in WotC). More than the other two, skirmishers benefit from picking complementary abilities across different trees, rather than just honing in on one, so assess your options thoroughly.
- Hussar skills are the core of why skirmishers can do so much on a single turn. Extra actions can be extremely powerful in the right circumstance, so both “reflex” and “combat presence” are clutch skills. “Manual override” is always useful for your “grapple” and “justice” starting abilities, but it really sings if you take additional cooldown powers like “wraith.”
- Judge primarily enhances your “ripjack” melee attacks. Wraith and “retribution” pair nicely, pulling your skirmisher into the middle of a pod for a melee attack, then retaliating with melee strikes as they attack you. Justice can also be a great way to open engagements, pulling enemies from out of cover into the waiting fire of the squad. “Whiplash” does substantial extra damage against robotic foes, so take that if you don’t otherwise have combat hacker specialists handy to deal with powerful mechs. “Battlelord” is particularly powerful, granting extra actions in response to enemy moves like the elite units of the Alien Hunters DLC.
- Tactician offers a grab bag of skills to complement both reactive and damage-focused builds. “Interrupt” is particularly potent, granting an off-turn action like battlelord, which can turn the tide of battle.
- Because firing their bullpup rifle does not end their turn, skirmishers are particularly good at taking advantage of additional actions, which can come from their own abilities (such as reflex) or from other squadmates, through combat presence, soldier bonds, etc. The “zero in” ability and weapon upgrades that expand the bullpup’s magazine or provide free reloads are particularly useful if you want to focus on maximizing their multi-shot capabilities.
If you always wanted to mod Protoss Zealots from Starcraft into XCOM, templars are for you. They wield two wrist-mounted blades of psionic energy and cause havoc up close. The templar might be the most nuanced of the three new classes to use because of their unique “focus” mechanic. Killing enemies with their primary “rend” attack gains them one point of focus, up to a maximum of two (or three if you choose the “deep focus” ability when reach Captain rank). Focus increases the Templar’s stats and damage, but can also be spent on powerful abilities. When to spend your focus vs. hold on to it is situational, and also depends on how you’ve built your Templar’s abilities, so it can be tricky to feel like you’re getting the most out of them. “Momentum” gives them an additional move action after a rend kill, making Templars great for rushing in to deal with high-priority targets with a guaranteed hit that doesn’t leave them exposed.
- Psiblade skills enhance the Templar’s melee powerful capabilities, and taking these skills straight down the line is a solid, straight-forward build. “Reflect,” “deflect,” and “arc wave” are all good reasons to hold onto your focus, saving it for a well-placed ionic storm (another Starcraft nod to the Protoss High Templar’s Psionic Storm?) that will hopefully refund its own focus cost if you catch a group that’s already been softened up by the squad.
- The Dynamo tree makes the Templar the closest XCOM has to a straight-up spellcaster, giving him or her support abilities that let you spend focus to manipulate the battlefield. Because positioning is so important in XCOM, “invert” and “exchange” are very flexible and tactically interesting abilities. You can use them to aggressively position your templar for an attack, bring an enemy into the open for their teammates to mow down, or save an ailing ally.
- Sage is another support and focus ability tree. “Amplify” is a great ability in concert with the rest of the squad, letting them mow down targets with large health pools quickly. It works nicely with the “aftershock” ability from the dynamo tree. “Deep focus,” which increases your focus maximum to three, is useful no matter how you build your templar.
- Templar are great in a lot of situations, but are not especially well-suited to dealing with the Lost, as their primary rend attack does not trigger the headshot free action benefit that most units get. The templar’s secondary autopistol can be used to chain Lost kills, but like the sharpshooter’s pistol, using it is risky as it’s low damage makes it hard to one-shot the tougher Lost. The general low health of Lost makes them good for farming Focus, but be careful not to let your Templar be overwhelmed, since they’re not as well-equipped as the other classes to handle an encroaching mob.
The most crucial new facility, which you will want to build as soon as possible, lets you coordinate covert actions with the three resistance factions. Send your soldiers away for several days in exchange for a whole plethora of rewards like equipment, intel, and recruits (eventually including the more special resistance class soldiers), in addition to experience for the soldiers involved. Most importantly, this is how you track down the Chosen in a series of three missions with each faction to track down their respective rival’s lair, unlocking the mission to kill them once and for all. This also nets you influence with the faction, unlocking new resistance orders and slots for you on subsequent months.
This adopts half of the functionality of the advanced warfare center, since staffing it with an engineer doubles the recovery speed of your wounded soldiers. You can also put soldiers here for a few days to remove any negative traits they have acquired, much like the Sanitarium in Darkest Dungeon. Adding the Hypervital Module lets you bring wounded soldiers up to full health just for a single mission, returning to their previous state afterwards, though you can only do this once per game, per soldier. This is a medium priority to build, but becomes more important in Ironman mode, or if you’re focusing on cultivating a smaller, more elite squadron instead of a wide, rotating cast.
Expanding upon the advanced warfare center’s ability to give your soldiers bonus skills from other classes, the training center utilizes War of the Chosen‘s new system of individual and shared ability points to buy upgrades from any level in the class, including a random selection of a few out-of-class powers.
You can also take soldiers out of commission for a few days to retrain their abilities instead of learning new ones, which will refund their personal AP (but not any XCOM AP) you spent on them. This is also where you train soldiers to upgrade their bonds past the first level. Since it takes a while before your soldiers reach level two bonds, and it’s not necessarily worth investing a lot of points in additional abilities until you have a more developed squad, this is a lower priority build, but you will definitely want it by the mid-game.
Updated on September 5, 2017, by Will Fulton: Added War of the Chosen tips
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