The lights are on
Unknown was a surprise hit for me. After reading lots of glowing reviews last
fall I took a chance with it and never looked back. Nearly 100hrs later I still
haven't tired of the awesome tactical gameplay, and it's one of the few games
single player games that I've played enough to improve my game immensely. It's
a good thing to as the higher difficulties are absolutely brutal and
unforgiving, and Ironman mode strips away your ability to reload when things
get well and truly bad. After my first successful Classic Ironman playthrough
I've decided to put down my own thoughts and feedback on how I was able to
survive the alien invasion. I've broken it up into four parts: Base
Management, Squad Management, and Combat Tactics; each area is vital to
success, with base management easily being the most un-intuitive.
Note that I
played the Xbox 360 version.
assumes that this is not your first time with XCOM. Only venture into Classic
once you've mastered Normal, and only venture into Ironman mode if you're
willing to start over if things go horribly wrong. Also it should go without
saying, but definitely turn off the tutorial. It helps explain some aspects of
the game but really screws up your early game.
first begin the game you get a choice of five starting locations:
just too sweet not to pass up. Sure the bonus isn't that big in the very early
game, but by taking Africa you can lose the other two countries within the
continent and still get the bonus. If you don't take Africa, I'd recommend
North America and go after satellite coverage for Africa immediately. North
America's bonus isn't all that useful until you need Firestorms in the late
game, but USA alone gives a huge chunk of money that's useful in the beginning.
Classic mode you WILL lose some countries to panic, so it's important to know
which bonuses are crucial and which countries you can lose. Africa and North
America are critical, South America is completely worthless but it's only two
countries. Out of Europe and Asia I would always try and get Europe's bonus.
Not only are the countries generally better payouts but reducing the cost of
Workshops will help immensely in the long run. You don't need to build
Laboratories at all, and I'll get into that later. If you manage to get Asia's
bonus as well, good on you, but by the time you've got it covered you've
probably already got plenty of money to use on the Officer Training School
upgrades and Foundry. For some reason I end up losing Australia in every game
initial mission (which you should be 100% perfect on, otherwise just start over
now), check your base layout. You need at least one steam vent that's not on
the bottom row. If you have two near each other, great, but only one is really
necessary. If it's too close to your initial uplink, i.e. within the 2x2 grid
you're going to build of satellite buildings, just start over.
incredibly important that you build your base correctly, and the game doesn't
emphasize this enough. The adjacency bonus you get for many building types is crucial;
specifically your Satellite, Power, and Workshop buildings should all be
adjacent to each other. Since you start off with only a Satellite Uplink to the
left of your initial access lift, this means creating a 2x2 block right there.
To your right you can eventually build some one-off buildings like the OTS,
Foundry etc. On the second level you'll want a 3x3 grid of workshops. Yes, 9
workshops in total. Why? Well they reduce the cost of damn near everything,
they give you more engineers which you need for additional uplinks, and their
adjacency bonuses gives you money back from building stuff. On the third level
you'll want to start your power generators, ideally beginning with a thermo
generator over the steam vent. Eventually you'll have a 2x2 grid of Thermo,
Elerium, and Power Generators. However, you'll need more power just to tunnel
that far down so you will need to build a power generator or two at the top.
They can be removed later for late game buildings like Psi Chamber and Gallop
As you can
see, you never need build Laboratories, which is an odd bit of imbalance in the
game. Labs and scientists will reduce research time, which seems great but you
need money to build anything you research anyway, so it's pointless to research
faster when you can't afford to build the new items. This is where getting
Europe's bonus comes in handy, as the Expert Knowledge bonus really renders any
The Fist Months
first four months of the game go will ultimately determine whether or not your
brave men and women of XCOM come away as heroes, or coffins.
ignore the storyline and the terribly annoying Dr. Vahlen. Don't even worry
about building an arc thrower or Containment Lab for the first few months,
you've got enough to worry about. Only after you've got a decent economy going
and some promotions should you even think about capturing aliens alive. I waited all the way until I had full
satellite coverage on each country that hadn't pulled out before I ever
captured an Outsider.
priority every month should be to build a Satellite Uplink and 2-6 satellites
depending on which month it is.
you can purchase satellites even while the Uplink is still building. This is a
critical piece of information that the game does not telegraph. It warns you
that you cannot launch them, but you can still build them and have them ready
to go once the Uplink is finished. Be very aware that Uplinks take 20 days to build, and satellites take 14. Excavating takes five. Timing is everything!
until a few days before the end of month Council Report to launch any
satellites. Especially in Months Three and Four when you're going to be worried
about Panic Levels, you could always get a mission that could reduce the panic
level. Since launching a satellite automatically reduces a countries panic
level by two, you can use satellites to save a country before the end of the
month, but only if you don't get a mission there first.
if you lose less than two countries, it would be better to build 2 Nexus, but
you would have to be really lucky with panic levels, and frankly you're
probably screwing yourself on getting continent bonuses. With three Uplinks and
one Nexus you can cover up to 14 countries, which should be plenty. In my most
recent Ironman run I lost three countries so just the one Nexus worked out
difficult part of the initial few months is that you'll be spending about 80%
of your cash on satellites, uplinks, and the necessary preqs for them
(workshops for engineers, generators for power). Do not waste what little money
you have on expensive upgrades. Getting on OTS in month two or three is fine,
as the Squad Size upgrades are obviously huge and incredibly cheap.
If you follow
this schedule, you should reach Month five with about $1500 in monthly income
and you can really start digging into Foundry Projects and OTS upgrades. Many
Foundry projects are superfluous but taking a SHIV along once you reach a six
man crew can be quite useful.
In terms of
items, always go after armor first and weapons second. Research alien materials
in the beginning and get carapace armor for everyone when you can. Remember
that the vests take up a backpack slot and many times in the beginning having a
grenade is the difference between life and death as they can one-shot the
little grey Sectoids.
only buy what you need for any one mission. Although the game makes it kind of
a pain, you can and should strip down any soldiers you're not taking on a
mission (the game does do this automatically for any injured troops). In the
beginning every dollar counts, so never buy more than what you need for a
single mission; it's pointless for someone to wear carapace armor if they're
sitting in the barracks.
you keep up with building interceptors along with your satellites. One
interceptor per continent is really all you need. I like to upgrade them with
laser weapons then plasma as they become available (though once you have plasma
you should be fitting them onto your Firestorms) but it should never take
priority over your own troops or economy. The one-offs you can purchase for the
little aircraft minigame vary in usefulness, but the dodging one is way too
expensive to ever bother. The tracking one can come in useful for the later
game scouts, and the target one I usually have a few of simply because they're
very cheap and can sometimes make a difference.
Missions and Panic Level
you'll get three country locations for abduction missions, the most common type
of mission in the early game. Whichever country you choose will have its panic
reduced by two blocks, while the other country's panic will go up two blocks.
Also, every other country on the same continent as those countries will raise
one block. It won't take long before you're staring down the barrel of orange
and red panicked countries, so managing panic levels becomes extremely
choosing missions based on rewards, always prioritize engineers early on. It's
a boring reward, but since each progressive uplink requires more engineers to
build, it's absolutely vital. Look into what your monthly engineer bonus is,
and calculate how many more you'll need to get your next uplink. Remember that
workshops provide five engineers each as well.
doing well on engineers I would go money next, as $200 goes a long way in the
early game. Getting an early high ranking soldier can help a lot as well,
especially if you only have one of that class. I usually get offered mid-rank
Assaults and always grab one. Since research speed is your lowest priority you
should never take scientists if you can help it.
especially in the third and fourth months, panic levels will dictate which
missions you take rather than rewards. Remember it's perfectly normal to lose
some countries, but be selective. Try not to lose any countries that pay $100
or more, and be mindful of which bonuses you want. Also remember that whichever
country you start in you automatically get the bonus, so you can ironically let
the other countries on your continent withdraw. This is easiest starting in
Africa or Asia where the other countries don't pay very well. You can and
should also manage panic via launching satellites at the end of the month as a
last resort. Regardless you're going to launch them anyway, and it's up to you
whether you want to use them to save panicked countries or to get your
continental bonuses earlier.
the major early-midgame mission assaulting the Alien Base reduces panic
worldwide, so it could be useful to try and time your Assault until the end of
the month to save additional countries if needed. Also, frequently check the
Grey Market after any UFO missions and especially the Alien Base mission. You
should end up with a ton of damaged or useless items that you can sell. Why the
game can't automatically sell these at the end of the mission I don't
understand, but remember to dig in there and get yourself a few hundred bucks
as a nice reward.
bring on any given mission is largely a personal matter depending on what is
your preferred play style. That being said, I will run down each class's
strengths and weaknesses, as well as which skills I prefer and finally the team
combinations I like for each mission type.
The Run 'N
Gun class is your classic risk reward archetype. Think of them like a Rogue:
they have to get up close and require some maneuvering, but the payoff can be
huge. Interestingly, the Assault is the only class that can equip two different
weapon types: the shotgun and the assault rifle. For this reason I enjoy
eventually running two assaults once I reach a six person squad, one a kamikaze
style with a shotgun while the second more of a tactical flanker with the
is typically getting shot at the most, as Run 'N Gun gives you a huge advantage
with running around the map, flanking enemies, and scouting ahead. Always give
them the health boosting items: Nano vest at first then chryssalid armor. They
should always have the best armor, and eventually I like to give my close up
shotgun wielder ghost armor, further reaffirming my Rogue analogy. Assaults can
be amazing, but don't risk their lives unnecessarily, and always be wary of
what they could reveal ahead.
favorite class by far. Heavies have poor aim and poor movement and try to make
up with that by having a one-time use rocket launcher. Ignore Dr. Vahlen's
comments about using explosives. By all means, use them! If you can kill two or
more aliens with a blast, whip that rocket launcher out but be wary of
civilians on terror missions. I never roll with more than one if I can help it.
The Heavy also has the hardest choices to make when assigning class skills.
mentioned, equip your heavies with SCOPEs to help alleviate their terrible aim.
Never move your heavies first as you never know when you need to fire off a
rocket. With their terrible movement you can let your supports and assaults get
around enemies while your heavies typically park behind some full cover and
take potshots. Bullet Swarm can give you two shots/turn if you park them in a
good spot. Don't save those rockets: as soon as you get a good chance to damage
or ideally kill multiple aliens, take it.
sniper. The elite assassin of any XCOM outfit. Any time spent playing the game
will quickly familiarize you with how much of a killing machine a sniper can
be. Your highest ranking sniper is almost always your most decorated soldier in
terms of kills, and since they should always be in the back, they also have the
highest survival rate. Still, my games always seem stingy about giving out Sniper
designations, and you definitely want 1-2 on every mission you go on,
regardless of type, so it's important to have backups in case of injury and
are your true killers. Each rank up gives them better aim and better perks. A
Colonel ranked Sniper is practically a one man army, especially with archangel
armor. Like the heavy, never move your sniper before other troops, you never
know when new enemies get revealed and a squad sight sniper can easily kill at
least one of them. Should be obvious but your snipers should always have
SCOPEs. You can roll with skeleton armor if you really want to get some height
advantage, but I don't like moving my snipers all that much. With archangel
armor and a plasma rifle, you've pretty much already won the game. Just be wary
that they are exposed up there, never just fly them around. You should always
have at least one sniper on every mission, but remember to rotate at least two
to have a backup. Protect your snipers, and they will win you the game.
is easily the most important class, as most of the perks involve making your
medkits do more and get more uses. In ironman mode you'll want two supports in
your squad with medkits at all times; ideally you want three so you can rotate.
your most important class to rank up, as those healing perks (especially field
medic) are absolutely vital to your squadmate's survival. Your supports will
probably have your worst kill-to-missions ratio, but you should run with two in
every mission and rotate in backups when you can.
beginning you have only a paltry four person squad and a bunch of rookies. Much
of your initial composition will depend upon your early promotions and
designations, but usually the game is pretty good about spreading out the
classes. Despite my general disdain for the heavy class, their rockets can
easily kill the little grey sectoids, thin men, and floaters with one blast.
You'll high ranking members of each class, so go ahead and run with one of each
until you get that magical fifth slot. Classic difficulty means you don't
automatically start with an Officer Training School, but luckily it's not that
expensive. Try to squeeze it in AFTER you've built your uplinks and satellites
for that month, then go after the cheap and incredibly useful Squad Size
members I like to use 2 Supports and 1 each of the rest. Since you're ignoring
the main story don't jack around with the arc thrower. Give your sniper and
heavy a SCOPE, your supports medkits and your assault the vest. You'll take a
lot of injuries and need to rotate in rookies a lot during the early game, so
feel free to use those grenades as they can offer some easy kills.
At a full
six member squad your options really open up. I'd still roll with the above
members, but the sixth slot could really depend on the mission. If it's a
terror mission, a second assault could help your team move around better. Small
UFO missions could use another sniper as there's a lot of open space to work
with. Council missions full of Thin Men could use a SHIV to absorb a lot of the
hits, scout ahead, and it's immune to their annoying poison. Of course it's
always idea to rotate in rookies when you can, as your goal should be to have
at least one backup to every member of your Alpha squad (your best team). Once
you get the Rapid Recovery upgrade at the OTS (which should be the third one
you buy after the two squad size upgrades), you won't have to worry about
injuries near as much.
kind of spiffy, but they require a foundry, are reliant on upgrades, and don't
gain experience. Useful in certain situations or when you're really reeling
from injuries, but I never purchase more than one or two in any give game. If
it's a hard mission and you're between a SHIV and a rookie, go with your robot
buddy, but don't neglect your rookies completely. SHIVs do make excellent
scouts as they can't use cover (and they actually provide cover for your other
soldiers) and are more expendable than people. Sorry robot buddy.
perfect base building, detailed squad managing, and panic reducing will be for
naught if you get all your soldiers killed every mission. I'm going to list a
lot of general tips as with random maps and enemies the individual tactics will
vary greatly from mission to mission. Remember that once you've accepted a
mission you can still back all the way out to purchase another medkit or check
panic levels in the situation room, etc.
Know Thy Enemy
Sectoids - Killing the one doing the
mind controlling will result in a double kill, as the one being mind controlled
will always die from the feedback. That can be tricky though, as the controller
likes to stick to the back. With such low health, the grays are perfect for
Thin Men - That poison can be awful,
and what's worse it tends to set off a chain of panic. Don't underestimate
them. You'll continue to see Thin Men even into the late game as they appear en
masse as the exclusive enemy during council missions. They tend to bunch up and
usually spawn in threes, perfect for a rocket.
Outsider - Only found in UFOs early
on, the outsider is important to the story as you need to capture one "alive"
with the arc thrower. Don't feel pressure to do this any earlier than you feel
comfortable. You should already wait a few months to even build the arc thrower
and containment lab. Since you know where they are in any give map, take care
to not approach the UFO until you're ready to deal with it, ideally as the
final enemy left.
Floaters - They have an annoying
ability to magically float up into the air and reappear right behind your
sniper, but thankfully it takes them a full turn to accomplish. Murder them for
it. They get a constant elevation bonus but don't use cover, so quickly kill
them before they can flank you.
Chryssalids - Ugh. UGH. Chryssalids
can absolutely ruin your day, and your playthrough. If you get a terror mission
early on with nothing but chryssalids, I think you're just screwed. Hopefully
you only ever have to deal with a handful. Do not under any circumstances let
them get near you, and realize that they can always move much farther than you
think. Retreat and use overwatch, or if you can kill them in one turn, rush
them and plant some shotgun shells into their chitinous body. Rockets can work
wonders as well, but as you usually encounter them on terror missions, be wary
of friendly fire.
Zombies - Kudos for Dr. Vahlen for
actually calling them what they are - that always bugs me in every zombie
fiction ever. Anyway, where there's chryssalids there's bound to be a zombie or
two as they transform the civilians you're supposed to save into a whole new
enemy. Despite the slow animation of their gait, zombies can move surprisingly
far and do a ton of damage. Treat them just like chryssalids, but prioritize
their progeny first to prevent more zombies from rising.
Mutons - The first real game
changer, the Muton comes equipped with a plasma rifle, alien grenade, and blood
call ability. The first time you encounter them expect to take heavy damage and
probably some losses, as they usually come in groups of three and have enough
health to take a couple successful hits to down. If you group your soldiers up
they will use their grenades, so make sure your troops always have more than
five health. Flank them when you can but don't risk your soldier's life doing
it, and whatever you do, don't reveal any new areas to add new enemies to the
Drone - Small and weak, the drone's
real threat is as a healer to nearby Cyberdiscs and sectopods. You can try to
capture them yourself using an arcthrower, but seeing as how they're usually
near these formidable enemies I never mess around with that. Should target them
first unless you can kill their bigger ally in one turn.
Cyberdisc - A frightening enemy when
you first see it transform, the CD has impressive flying movement but doesn't
seem to move around near as much as floaters do. They do come equipped with an
alien grenade, and up close can perform a powerful AOE attack. Perfect fodder
for snipers and HEAT heavies. Try not to use a shotgun assault to deal the
final blow, as they create a small explosion when slain.
Berserker - You might be wary of their beefy health, but they don't move near as much as the dreaded chryssalid. You'll quickly learn that every time you attack, it gets some bonus steps to close in on its attacker. Use this to your advantage to draw it into your waiting troops. Perfect for finishing off with the arc thrower as well.
Sectoid Commander - Kill as quickly
as possible, as they will mostly mind control one of your squadmates on their
first turn. Luckily you usually encounter them at the end of a UFO, in their
own little room, so you should have everyone ready to burst into that room and
unleash hell. There is no excuse to let them live long enough to use your own
troops against you.
Muton Elite - Beefier but otherwise
unchanged from normal Mutons. You should have high ranking troops with plasma
weaponry, so they should be much easier than when you first saw Mutons
Heavy Floaters - Same as the Muton
Elites, just a straight upgrade healthwise. Double Tapping snipers should down
Sectopod - The first new alien
threat to give you pause in the late game, the hulking bipedal sectopod can
fire two shots in one turn, including an AOE volley attack and a devastating
laser blast that if it misses, will destroy any cover you're cowering behind.
They are classified as robotic enemies, though, so make sure your HEAT heavies
are firing on them and racking up the damage. I believe Classic mode allows
them to fire twice without having to first paint their target like on Normal
mode, as I'm pretty sure they weren't nearly as devastating on normal. Like the
CD, kill any drones first or they'll just heal it.
Ethereal - Pretty much an upgrade to
the Sectoid Commander, as these mysterious beings will also like to mind
control your troops. Like the commanders, you'll typically encounter them in
their own room in a UFO, but they could easily have a Muton or two along as
guards. Feel free to be overly aggressive in these final rooms and take out
that Ethereal before it can wreck havoc with mind control.