XCOM: Enemy Unknown Refresher – Part 1

Xcom Enemy

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based, squad-based tactical strategy game with elements of base and crisis management. Available on PC, console platforms and iOS, this game was released to extremely positive reviews from reviewers and fans alike, and has gathered many Game of the Year awards since its release.

With the huge expansion, XCOM: Enemy Within, due for release in Novemeber this year, it’s about time you went back to (or invested in) XCOM: Enemy Unknown. If you’ve never played it before, or are returning to the game in anticipation of Enemy Within, here’s Part 1 of our XCOM: Enemy Unknown Refresher Series designed to equip you with all the tactics and information vital to surviving the main game.

Watch out for Part 2 which will go in-depth into the alien species you will face and the class builds you’ll use against them.



[Classified Communication – Decrypting]

Welcome, Commander!

There’s a new type of warfare rapidly approaching the XCOM Initiative and our member states wish to know that you’re fully up to date on all the key XCOM combat tactics.

Part 1: The Essentials

Is the role of Commander at XCOM a daunting one? Does the User Interface seem to be just a load of confusing symbols? Do your soldiers keep dying because you cannot grasp the concept of Cover and Reaction Fire? What the bloody hell is that purple wavy line thing and why is the unit at the end of it slaughtering me?!

Well what follows is an exhaustive list of tips and tricks alongside some important lessons that will help you and your troops survive their first month fighting against the Alien threat.

  • First time playing XCOM? Enable the Tutorial!
    • When enabled the Tutorial changes the way the first few hours of the game play out: instead of being left to your own devices the game guides you through a series of semi-scripted missions and base-management tasks  in such a way that you will quickly grasp all the important mechanics.
  • Full Cover, Partial Cover and No Cover.
    • There are two different types of cover behind which your soldiers can be positioned; Full and partial. Cover reduces the potential damage taken and obscures the unit from view, reducing the chance of actually taking damage at all.
    • When in battle your soldiers must NEVER BE OUT OF COVER at the end of a turn. When choosing a spot for your solider to move, a full shield indicates Full Cover while a half-shield indicates Partial Cover.
  • Hit Chance and Critical Hits
    • When you are choosing which enemy a solider should fire upon, take note of the Hit Chance and Critical Chance that gets displayed. Both are represented as percentages, and both need to be paid close attention to.
    • The Hit Chance shows how likely it is that your shots will hit the chosen target. As a rule, don’t take a shot that is less than 50%, and even think twice when the Hit Chance is between 50% and 85%.
    • Just because the Hit Chance says you’re 95% likely to hit the target doesn’t mean you will; your soldiers WILL MISS shots of 80% likelihood and greater.
    • Critical Chance shows how likely it is that this shot will inflict Critical Damage when it hits; high tech weapons and Sniper Rifles in general will have increased Critical Chances.
  • Flanking
    • Always be aware of where enemies are in relation to your solider and the cover they’re in or intend to take; if they are in cover and flanked, their cover icon will become a yellow shield. If they’re about to move to a position that will lead them to be flanked, the cover icon at that location will appear as a red shield.
    • Flanking dramatically increases accuracy, damage done and increases the chance of inflicting Critical hits.
  • Elevation.
    • Always take the high ground! When a unit is occupying cover at a higher elevation to their hostiles, that unit gains bonuses to defense (making them harder to hit), bonuses to their accuracy and in some instances their critical chance.
    • While Snipers gain the biggest benefits and should always take the best vantage points, all soldiers should seek a height advantage where possible.
    • In urban maps, rooftops and the tops of buses, trucks and trains are all viable locations. When engaging foes in the countryside, always seek to occupy cover on the side of/on top of hills
  • Destruction and Terrain Manipulation.
    • Shots that miss their targets, Suppressive Fire and explosives are all capable of destroying the environment. Almost all cover can be partially or totally destroyed, meaning that even Full Cover can be stripped away with one well-placed explosive or a rain of suppressive fire.
    • Should a stray shot hit a vehicle, it’ll catch fire and burn for a turn before exploding, causing severe damage to units taking cover against it. Hit a power core and the resulting explosion can annihilate anything near it.
    • Using a rocket launcher or a well-placed grenade can be an effective way of creating an escape route or a shortcut; want to flank a target with his back against a wall? Blow up the wall. Your Sniper can’t see a priority target? Clear his line of sight up with a few grenades.


Part 2: General Combat Tips

The Bunny Hop.

The Bunny Hop is one of the most important tactics a squad can employ to advance across a map. When you first select a unit, their movement range will be indicated by a thin blue line. Moving outside this line will cause your solider to dash, sacrificing their ability to perform any other actions on that turn

Depending on how you are moving your squad (whether you’ve spread them out, split them into pairs or are keeping them together), make sure that any unit who dashes does not dash into a position which will reveal new parts of the map. You will inevitably rush into a group of aliens that will promptly take cover, and that unit will be unable to react until their next turn, assuming they survive that long.

This is where the Bunny Hop comes in. It ensures that your designated vanguard always has the support of their team, and can often draw revealed aliens into devastating reaction fire from an entire squad.

It involves moving over half your squad to forward cover that lies within their initial blue-line movement area. When they reach that cover, initiate Overwatch for each solider. This will allow each solider  to cover the one or two units whose job it will be to reveal the rest of the map

If the area revealed is clear, the units who were on Overwatch should move to cover in line with the scouts. If the Over watch units had to dash to reach the forward scouts, place those scouts on over watch while the rest of the squad catches up. If not, repeat the Bunny Hop as needed.

Units on over watch will engage in reaction fire against targets that are revealed by the scouts. This reaction fire may not hit, but it may weaken or kill the aliens, and most importantly the Bunny Hop ensures that your scouts are always within safe reach of the rest of their squad.

Dashing into unrevealed areas of the map without close support is suicide! Remember the Bunny Hop!

Soldiers First, Salvage Second.

The game will constantly discourage you from using explosives to kill aliens, and when assaulting UFO’s you will always be reminded to take care when engaging in a fire fight around the valuable alien tech.

This is good advice as recovering intact alien materials is essential to keep your forces well informed and well equipped, and explosions can destroy weapons and weapon fragments that allow you to build powerful equipment.

But this constant nagging can discourage players from using grenades and rockets, and sometimes players can forget about them entirely.

However, grenades and rockets are incredibly useful tools of destruction. Not only can they destroy terrain in a wide radius, but they can seriously injure entire groups of enemies, as if stripping them of cover was not enough of a bonus.

Grenades are weaker and have a smaller range than Rockets, but they can be carried by any solider.

Rockets are much more powerful and can hit targets at longer ranges, and the Heavy class that has access to them can upgrade them in a couple of powerful ways.

Make sure your squad always has access to explosives. Never forget about them and be liberal in their use; use grenades to destroy cover and soften up targets, and use rockets to seriously injure one or more dangerous foes at once.

One rocket can save the lives of your entire squad, so don’t be afraid to lose out on salvage because the lives of your soldiers are far more important to come away with at the end of a mission.


Part 3: Base & Crisis Management

Outside of the combat, it is essential that you manage your XCOM HQ well. This includes organising your base facilities, scanning for and responding to threats, hiring soldiers and researching new tech. You need to keep your income high, your troops equipped and the countries that back the XCOM project confident in your ability.

  • Air Dominance:
    • You need to be deploying Satellites over almost every country; aside from the initial panic drop off and source of funding it will allow you to respond to UFO threats before they become abductions.
    • You need to focus on getting satellites up over three or four countries a month, building the required Uplinks to increase capacity and making sure that they are up before the end of the month, otherwise you’ll have to wait even longer for that vital funding.
    • In addition to this coverage, you’ll need at least one Interceptor per continent, and do your best to equip them with more powerful weapons to take down threats as quick as possible.
  • Workshops over Lab’s.
    • Sure, researching that new tech is great but it’ll always take time. Any tech can be researched by a single scientist, but you’ll need many engineers to build the best tech, upgrades and additional base facilities. Plus, more workshops mean bigger rebates in funding and materials from completed projects.
  • Base Layout.
    • Planning the location of your facilities is essential, as rooms of the same type  gain an incremental bonus to their stats when built next to each other.
    • This is essential for reducing the cost of engineering projects, power production and the amount of satellites you can deploy.
    • Drill down for the steam vent and build the Themal Power Generator there as soon as possible, and build all future power generators next to it for the adjacency bonus.
    • As mentioned earlier, only build one Lab; more labs are useful but not nearly as essential as multiple workshops, Uplinks and Power generators.
  • Crisis Management.
    • Alien abductions will often occur in two or three places at once around the world, and you will only be able to respond to one. When choosing which country to respond to, you must first take into account the panic levels of the countries involved; countries with higher panic levels should be a priority. However, the rewards offered are also important.
    • The general level the reward value, from lowest to highest value, is as follows: Engineers, Money, Scientists, Skilled Soldiers. The Skill level of the solider will vary, as will its class, so this reward can actually vary in value depending on your situation.
    • The Difficulty of an abduction mission, or any mission for that matter, should be taken with a pinch of salt. The game is difficult at every turn, especially in the early/mid game, and each mission is a huge risk anyway. Even the simplest mission can end in disaster.


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