THE GAME AWARDS | Follow our coverage Thursday, December 7th at
For Your Eyes Only: 22 Tips For Surviving In Phantom Doctrine
Phantom Doctrine released earlier this week, and while it clearly draws inspiration from Firaxis’ snappy and streamlined reboot of XCOM, running your own international spy agency is far more complicated. Phantom Doctrine is loaded with complex game systems and progression paths, most of which are as confusing as a heavily redacted government document. Luckily, you’ve got an inside man on the job. Not only did I write our review of Phantom Doctrine, I also compiled a top-secret list of tips I learned (and wished I would’ve learned sooner) while playing the game.
Here’s a smattering of tips and advice that should help you stay one step ahead of the evil Beholder agency. Just make sure you burn the list after reading it, okay? We don’t want it falling into the wrong hands…
Combat in Phantom Doctrine is particularly punishing – once the enemy is alerted to your presence, they will continuously bring in reinforcements until your agents are killed or escape. As such, you should do everything in your power to remain in Infiltration mode. Disable security cameras, stay out of restricted areas if NPCs can see you, and don’t leave bodies all over the place. Aside from a few story missions, all of Phantom Doctrine’s missions can be completed stealthily, so stick to the shadows whenever you can.
Don’t just go barging through doors willy-nilly. Like any good turn-based tactical strategy game, Phantom Doctrine won’t show you what’s in a room unless you’ve got a direct line of sight. Instead of gambling that there won’t be a soldier in the next restricted room (Murphy’s Law dictates there will be), park your agent to the side of the door instead. A prompt will pop up allowing you to open the door and get a sneak peek. Unlike most actions in the game, this one doesn’t cost anything, so you can swing that door open and closed to your heart’s content. Ending one of your agent’s movement turns early to scope out a location is a lot better dooming your entire crew. There isn’t a turn limit in Infiltration mode either, so quit rushing already!
Grab Those Goodies
Any mission you undertake will also feature two different types of collectibles: loot, which is stored in safes and lockers, and secret documents, which take the form of blueprints and computers (though they are sometimes included in loot containers as well). Unless you’re in the middle of a firefight (you charged through another door, didn’t you?), you’ll want to track those collectibles down. Both are extremely valuable to your cause: The loot is the primary way you’ll get new weapons, armor, and mods to outfit your agents with, and the secret documents will supply you with a host of valuable intel, recruit candidates, chemical compounds to upgrade your agents with, and more. Scooping up these collectibles is more important and rewarding than the main objective, so stay hidden and scour those locations for goodies! Also, unlike NPCs, you can see these collectibles even if your agents don’t have a direct line of sight, so do a flyover of the map when choosing your insertion point and plan accordingly. Finally, if you ever find yourself unable to find that last secret document, take an extra-close look at desks and tables with bright lights; these can sometimes overpower the telltale yellow highlights, making them hard to spot.
Get Outta Dodge
Phantom Doctrine’s dodge mechanic is an important yet easily misunderstood component of combat. Basically, there are no dice rolls in Phantom Doctrine – every single shot hits its intended target, and the damage it inflicts depends on a variety of variables. While some factors like cover and distance are familiar to turn-based strategy fans, the dodge mechanic is an entirely different beast. Each player has a pool of awareness points (usually around 100), which can be used for a variety of actions and will partially replenish every turn. These points are also automatically used for dodging shots. How many awareness points it takes to dodge is a stat conveniently called Dodge Cost, and it’s different for every agent – in other words, you won’t know if your enemy can dodge your shot unless they are out of (or very low on) awareness. No other factor affects dodging – not cover, not distance, not the amount of potential damage – so keep this in mind when analyzing potential shots. Also remember that dodging a shot doesn’t mean you get off scot-free – you are simply taking the minimum damage (listed in brackets) instead of the maximum damage. One final note: Normal guards and soldiers don’t have any awareness when you’re still in Infiltration mode, making them much easier to pick off. Agents do have their full awareness allotment, however, so assume they can dodge at least one of your shots.
Knock ‘Em Out…
One of Phantom Doctrine’s most powerful moves is the takedown ability, which allows you instantly incapacitate an enemy. There are a few caveats to this move: Your agent needs to be standing right next your target, and needs to have more hit points than they do. Takedowns are especially powerful against enemy Beholder agents – their 100+ health bars and ability to dodge shots even in Infiltration mode make them formidable foes, and if you can’t take them out with a single shot you’ll trigger an alarm. Save yourself the hassle and go for the stealthy judo chop instead.
…And Pick ‘Em Up
So, you took my advice and knocked out a guard. Good job! Now make sure to clean up after yourself by using the Dispose Body ability. Unlike other stealth-oriented games, you don’t need to find a place to stash the unwanted corpse – your agent will automatically disappear the body while the camera conveniently fades to black (I assume you eat them, but have no proof to verify this claim). Moving your agents around in pairs is a powerful combination: One agent can knock out the enemy and the other can dispose of them in a single turn, leaving no one the wiser. The only wrinkle is that enemy agents can’t be disposed of so easily – knocking one out initiates a turn timer that will count down to their eventual death. In those cases you’ll need to pick their body up and manually stash them in an unsupervised corner the old-fashioned way – unless you want to abduct them…
Dis guy’s Disguise (sorry)
Here’s another one-two combo that will greatly up your stealth game. If you perform the Recon operation before going on a mission, a few of your agents will be able to don disguises. In addition to dressing up all fancy, those agents will start behind enemy lines, and can walk through restricted areas and breeze past guards without raising the alarms. The only caveat is that while normal soldiers will be fooled by your cosplaying, enemy agents will see right through the charade. Which brings us to…
It’s All An Act
One of the many random perks your agents can unlock when leveling up is called Actor, and sports an icon of a tuxedo. You should definitely pick this perk. Why? It ensures even those pesky agents will be duped by your new duds. The result is pretty much complete immunity to continue your search for collectibles (you have been doing that, right?!). Just don’t do something foolish like crack a safe – or another soldier’s head – right in front of an enemy. They’re not that stupid.
Now Forget Everything I Just Said
I realize I’m probably confusing the heck out of you right now, but here’s the thing – shuffling around fully disguised agents and methodically taking down enemies one by one is certainly effective, but it’s also repetitive. You’re better off experimenting with Phantom Doctrine’s more creative options and taking some risks with your plain-clothes agents as well. After all, what’s the point of being a spy if you can’t have a little excitement? The game won't punish you for sticking to the same dull script the whole game, but you'll be punishing yourself if you don't branch out.
Go Easy On The Abductions
Abducting an enemy agent opens up an array of exciting opportunities. You can convert them to your cause, bug them with a locator beacon to expose enemies cells – or even blow their compounds up by implanting a brainwashed prisoner with explosives and then releasing them. Just don’t go crazy right away with the abductions right away. Every enemy agent you bring back to your safehouse will increase your danger meter by one point every hour, which adds up faster than you might think, and even executing will cost a pretty penny (gravediggers are well-paid in Phantom Doctrine's universe). You’ll eventually be able to unlock a faraday cage to negate this danger penalty, so until then only abduct enemies when you have a specific need for them, and release them as soon as possible.
A.K.A. – Always Kill Agents
Usually when you go on a mission, one or two (or even more) enemy agents may be present on the site, and are generally a pain in the butt to deal with. While you can usually avoid them and still finish your mission, you shouldn’t – taking out an enemy agent has a real effect on their larger organization, and will slow down enemy operations while they groom a replacement. Letting too many enemy agents run amok will light up your world map like a Christmas tree – well, if you only put red lights on it, at least. Either way, thin their ranks whenever you keep the enemy at bay.
Dude, Where’s My Car?
After you complete your primary mission objective, you’ll still need to evacuate your agents from the map. You do this by calling in a getaway van, but it will take a few turns to actually show up. Factor this into your plans: Make sure to check out potential evac locations by highlighting the option early in the mission, and call it in advance when you’re close enough to make the run back – if things go pear-shaped, you don’t want to be dodging fire in the evac zone for three turns waiting for the van to show up.
Early in the game you will likely find yourself strapped for cash; even with a few upgrades, your forgers won’t be putting out nearly enough money to purchase all the other base utilities and improvements you want (much less the hefty fees for reprogramming Beholder agents). If you find yourself in a tight spot, it’s probably because you’re overlooking one of your main revenue streams: selling unwanted weapons, armor, and mods. Unlike many games, Phantom Doctrine is quite generous with its selling rates for lightly used spy goods – hocking just a few weapons is all it will take to buy a new safehouse in a pinch, for instance. So what should you prioritize selling? It shouldn’t take long to identify weapons that you don’t use very often (I hardly touched any shotguns and sniper rifles during my playthrough), so there’s no need to keep stockpiling duplicates of them. However, before you start giving up firepower, take a look at your armor – virtually all of the heavy-duty options will kick you straight into combat if you wear them into a mission, making them pretty pointless. Lots of vests also impart a mobility penalty as well – feel free to sell those off for the extra cash you need.
A Few Of My Favorite Things
Always pack some grenades and lockpicks when you go on a mission – while you can find an alternate path around most locked doors, giving up an inventory slot to ensure you’re never backed into a corner is worth it. Same goes with grenades – when reinforcements show up, they tend to spawn in a cluster, and can show up right behind you if you’re at the edge of the map (and unlucky). In those cases having a Plan B is a lifesaver…the “B” stands for “Bomb.” Duh.
Silent But Deadly
They take a while to start showing up, but once they do, you should outfit all of your agents’ weapons with silencers. Silencers come in two types: one for pistols, and another that covers LMGs, SMGs, rifles, and sniper rifles. While pistol silencers don’t have any downsides, the rifle silencers will confer a slight damage penalty that is totally worth it if it keeps the entire damn Beholder army from bearing down on your location. Keep in mind that your agent will have to be proficient in a weapon in order to apply mods to it, but the universal nature of rifle mods makes that less of an issue.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself facing a Beholder agent who has more hit points than all of your agents, and thus can’t be subdued with a takedown. If you’ve got some silenced weapons on hand (which you do because it was the previous tip and you’re taking my advice seriously, right?!) you still have one more stealthy option at your disposal. Phantom Doctrine features a surprisingly robust breach mechanic, which allows your agents to storm a room simultaneously and take out any and all enemies in a single turn. To do it, just line up your enemies outside the doors and/or windows of a room – you don’t need to be right next to an entryway, just around the general vicinity. Selecting the breach option then gives you several options: You can select which weapon each agent uses, remove agents from the fire team (in case they were just accidentally hanging around in the same area), and even pinpoint which enemy each agent targets if they’re visible on the map (again, open those doors beforehand). That last ability is particularly useful against enemy agents – you can ensure your hardest hitters team up to mow them down while the weaker crew members mop up any remaining guards.
Yes, an overwatch ability is included in Phantom Doctrine, and yes, it’s even called overwatch. For those who are unaware, this defensive ability allows you to forgo shooting on a turn to be on the lookout for enemy movement – if a guard or agent steps into their line of sight, they’ll get shot, and since they’ll be out in the open, you don’t have to worry about any cover penalties sopping up damage. Phantom Doctrine’s overwatch works similarly to other games, with some slight differences – you’ll actually drag out in the direction you want to watch, which paints the ground you’re covering. Setting up a nearby perimeter results in an omnidirectional circle around your agent, while panning out far enough restricts you to a directional cone (which can be improved via a number of perks). Like the breach ability, you can also pinpoint specific enemies to keep locked down. One last thing to note: Overwatch is extremely powerful in Phantom Doctrine, and acts as a major deterrence to enemies. If you paint up the alleyways with several agents while waiting for your evac (shoulda called it sooner!), enemies will likely hang back and let you leave.
Congratulations, you’re getting a two-fer with this tip. The first is probably pretty obvious: Don’t bunch your agents up too close to one another during combat, or you’re likely to get half your crew wiped out by an enemy grenade. However, spreading out also applies to the world map (shown below). Like in XCOM, various suspicious events will pop up around the globe, and it’s your job to investigate them. Well, actually it’s your agents’ job – you’ll be sending them out individually to check each event, and you’ll need to be quick about it. As such, you should seed the map with your agents – ship them as evenly as possible across the globe, and leave them there. That way when an event pops up you’ll have an agent nearby to handle it. North America and the eastern parts of Russia are the biggest problem areas, and require lengthy flights to get to (which can be sped up with upgrades via the workshop), so plan on having dedicated agents there all the time. Also, keep in mind that when one of these events turns out to be an enemy activity, you’ll need two agents to pull off a scouting operation, and the clock will be ticking. While one crew member can pretty much cover all of the U.S. by themselves, you’ll want to send over a second agent (and maybe a third when you can swing it) to keep them company.
Take The Red-Eye
Here’s a minor but important note that the game doesn’t explain. As mentioned in the previous tip, if you’re going to perform the recon ability before undertaking a mission (which you ALWAYS SHOULD), your agents must be present at that location. When it comes time to launch the assault, however, your agents can be located anywhere – as long as they’re not midflight or currently assigned to another mission, you can assign them to your strike team, even though their status is listed as “Away.” After the mission is complete, your agents will be instantly transported back to the safehouse, so you can use this to your advantage to quickly regroup everyone. More importantly, however, don’t waste precious time on the world map flying everyone in before an assault. You don’t need to.
Analytics Ain’t Worth It
One of the first facility options you’ll unlock is the Analytics department, which allow you to assign agents to work the investigation board. Don’t bother – doing so simply ties up one of your agents to do the exact same thing you would do manually when you click an investigation. Scanning redacted documents for keywords and then connecting them altogether with strings on the corkboard is a surprisingly satisfying minigame that I enjoyed doing anyway, so you can divert the money and manpower to better upgrades for things you can’t do yourself.
Mod Those Bods!
Phantom Doctrine has a strange but intriguing method for leveling up your agents – you basically pump them full of drugs, each of which permanently raises and lowers some of their stats. This mechanic is surprisingly complex: You’ll constantly be discovering new chemical compounds, many of which have prerequisite compounds that need to be taken first, and ban other compounds from being used later. I’m sure someone will eventually make a helpful wiki detailing the best drugs and orders to take them, but you’ll generally want to keep an eye on three important stats. Max Hit Points is what you’ll be relying on to perform silent takedowns on strong enemy agents, so you’ll want to keep at least one agent beefed up as much as possible. Max Action Points dictates how many times an agent can move during a turn – just keep an eye out for how it interacts with your movement range, which may dip as a result of some drugs. And finally Max Fire Points determines the number of times an agent can shoot per turn. I’ve yet to get Max Fire Points above two, but even so, doubling the number of shots you can take makes a huge difference.
Save Like There’s No Tomorrow
And finally, I saved the most important tip for last (consider it your reward for reading this far). XCOM popularized the concept of an Iron Man mode in turn-based strategy games, which removes the ability to manually save in order to make you own your mistakes. Phantom Doctrine also offers an Iron Man mode – but you’d be insane to choose it. Phantom Doctrine simply throws too many wild variables at you, including surprise story prompts that affect your agents at random. These prompts can include everything from an agent turning out to be a mole for the enemy (you WILL be forced to execute one of your own agents during the course of your playthrough, and that agent is chosen randomly), to agents going AWOL because of depression. If that’s not enough to scare you off, you constantly have prompts popping up on the world map, and the button to dismiss them is also the button used to pause time – I can’t count the number of times I’ve accidentally clicked through a story decision or just missed an information window because I was trying to pause the map, which is super frustrating when you're trying to manage your agency as efficiently as possible. Throw in a number of story missions that thrust some frustrating twists at you, and you’ll at least want the option to revert to an old save. Owning your bad decisions is one thing, but suffering from an honest mistake is a whole different story.