X-COM: Enemy Unknown strategy notes

by panglott

X-COM: Enemy Unknown is a fantastic game where, over the course of about 30 missions, you confront an alien threat to humanity. It was the first game I bought for Xbox360 in 2013. Completing the storyline is enough practice at turn-based tactical combat for me for a while, but it has fantastic replay value after putting it down for a year or two. Which is what I just did.

  • The “economy” isn’t exactly straightforward, but there is an economic component to X-COM base management. Countries with satellites give you money; money and captured alien resources give you advanced technology for your soldiers; sending soldiers on missions lowers panic (if successful) or raises panic (if failed or aborted); launching satellites in a country lowers its panic; high panic causes countries to withdraw from the X-COM project. Send up lots of satellites early to build your economy, then recruit engineers to construct advanced equipment and build out your base, and recruit scientists to research new technologies.

  • If there’s one key to X-COM, it’s protect your soldiers. If your experienced soldiers die, your rookies won’t be able to complete tough missions on their own; if you abort or fail missions, your panic levels will shoot up; if the panic level shoots up, countries will withdraw from the X-COM project; if countries withdraw from the X-COM project, you lose the funding to hire and develop experienced soldiers. This is how you lose the game.

  • Soldiers are very fragile, at least until you tech to Titan Armor and Chitin Plating, and even then things can go south with undisciplined tactics, especially on a long mission. Don’t dash your soldiers out: this will trigger new groups of of hostile mobs and the soldiers not have any actions to take them out. Don’t send soldiers out to new areas of the map without clearing currently active mobs: newly triggered mobs will swarm your flanks and your dudes will die. The correct method is to slowly, cautiously move the soldiers out one move, then Overwatch to kill any hostile mobs with reaction shots. Save actions to deal with any triggered hostile mobs. Set up ambushes. Keep your squad together so they can focus fire and protect each other with Overwatch.

  • Alien weapons explode when their wielder is killed, but capture the alien with an Arc Thrower and you capture its weapon. Capturing alien weapons opens up plasma weapons technologies (rather than through the default tech tree). Sectoids use plasma pistols, but Thin Men use light plasma rifles, which opens up research on the game’s best weapons—plasma rifles and plasma sniper rifles.Skipping laser weapons to go straight to plasma is one viable strategy, just don’t take too long. Lasers for ship weapons are cheaper than plasma, and might be sufficient.

  • Snipers are the best, and mobile snipers are the best of the best. I was long a fan of Squad Sight, but this is useful only on open maps with long, clear sight lines. On crowded urban or UFO maps, it forces the sniper to rely on his pistol while moving.

  • Support may not rack up the kill count of Sniper, Assault, or Heavy soldiers (usually less than one kill per mission). But they are still fine riflemen, and Medkits to stabilize or heal are essential. Always take one, two if you can.

  • With the Heavy, take the extra Shredder Rocket, but be careful about the rockets of the Heavy. Nearly the worst mission in my current game happened when assaulting a downed UFO. My squad was clustered around a log, the Heavy missed with his rocket and blew up the log. This only killed one soldier outright, but weakened the squad enough that Mutons tore through it. Only two soldiers survived the mission, it was my first major setback in this game.

  • Sell items with no research benefits, such as damaged UFO computers and components, on the grey market. Other components are really useful for later production, save them up.

  • Engineers are more valuable than Scientists in the early game, since they’re needed to unlock the building of so many things while a lack of Scientists simply slows research. However, your need to research a variety of techs to finish the storyline and expeditiously get advanced weapons and armor (Arc Thrower, New Fighter Craft, &c.). So don’t neglect Scientists and Laboratories.

  • The tutorial is fun, but it kills all but one of your starting rookies on the first mission. Protect your rookies, don’t play the tutorial if you can help it ;)

  • Don’t merely develop new talent, save your existing talent. Once your soldiers become Colonels, save them for when you really need them, and put them through psionic testing rather than risking them on missions. I learned this lesson the hard way in my current game, when my best sniper (and only psion), Col. Pieter “Xeno” Meek (65 kills over 20 missions), and my only other skilled mobile sniper were randomly killed on a very difficult cargo ship UFO mission. I had to spend extra months training new psions and snipers for the final mission, which came with the appearance of a huge orbiting battleship.

  • Spoilers! The story has three critical junctures: capture an Outsider to start the Alien Base Assault, develop new fighter craft then build the Hyperwave Relay to assault the Overseer Ship Crash Site, then send a psionic soldier in psi armor into the Gollop Chamber to end the game and begin the final mission. This halts all research, engineering, and other events, so be prepared. Sending a psionic soldier with psi Armor into the Gollop Chamber maxes out his psionic skills, and this soldier must survive the final mission. So don’t send a rookie!

  • IIRC new, more difficult alien types arrive every month.

  • Key technologies: Xeno-Biology unlocks the Arc Thrower and begins the storyline tech line. Alien Materials leads to Carapace Armor. Other techs: Arc Thrower (Xeno-Biology > Arc Thrower); Carapace Armor (Alien Materials > Carapace Armor); S.C.O.P.E. (Weapon Fragments); Firestorm aircraft (UFO Power Source > New Fighter Craft); Titan Armor (Carapace Armor + UFO Power Source > Elerium)

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