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XCOM Beginner Guide: Strategy Layer

by Adam Biessener on Oct 10, 2012 at 12:33 PM

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You’ve probably already lost a few countries to panic, and the alien threat is just getting worse. Let us help you with a few tips to get your paramilitary organization humming along smoothly.

Be sure to check out our tips for the tactical combat portion of the game too - all the credits in the world won’t save the Earth from panic if XCOM’s soldiers can’t succeed on their missions.

Satellites uber alles
You may be tempted to spend your money on seemingly critical things like armor for your soldiers, laboratories to speed up your research, and interceptors to shoot down more UFOs. Resist the lure of these secondary goals, and do everything in your power to get more satellites up and running as soon as possible. More countries covered means more money every month, less panic, and more opportunities to splash bogies. Losing a few soldiers because their equipment is slightly behind the curve is a price well worth paying for that list of crucial advantages.

To increase your satellite coverage, you need power generators (to supply your satellite uplink facilities), workshops (to bring in more engineers to unlock additional uplink facilities), satellites (obviously), and the uplink facilities themselves (duh). Don’t dawdle; uplink facilities take two weeks to build once you’ve ordered the construction and each satellite is a whopping 20 days to fabricate.

Workshops before laboratories
Many strategy games reward faster research more than any other infrastructure investment. XCOM isn’t one of them. By the midgame at the latest you’ll find yourself far more constrained by available resources (credits, alloys, fragments, and elerium) than by your research rate. More workshops means more engineers, which make everything dramatically cheaper in the first place before you even get into the workshop material-rebate adjacency bonus. You’ll need labs eventually, but especially early on when money is tight, workshops will serve you much better. What’s the point of researching laser rifles if you can’t actually build the dumb things?

Don’t dig too deep
Each access lift you build costs progressively more money and power, not to mention monthly upkeep cost. Unless there’s a steam sector you badly need a single level below your current depth, fill up existing levels with facilities before digging down. Adjacency bonuses are nice, but not worth screwing up your balance sheet for -- with the exception of satellite uplinks, which you should make a priority to grab the adjacency bonus for.

Train those officers
The officer training school comes for free on normal and easy difficulty, but you have to build it on harder starts. In either case, make sure to prioritize it for the absolutely critical Squad Size I and II upgrades. They’re cheap, and improve your combat capabilities more than any other upgrades in the entire game. The OTS is usually my second priority after getting a second satellite uplink functioning.

Don’t forget the Foundry
The Foundry is expensive, but so very worth it in the midgame. I wouldn’t bother with it until you’ve got laser weapons and carapace armor for your entire squad, but at that point a few smart investments into global bonuses like upgrading everyone’s ammo capacity and stronger medkits can go a very long way.

Be smart about continental bonuses
The continent bonuses for full satellite coverage are powerful, but they’re not the be-all and end-all of XCOM’s strategy layer by any means. Even on normal difficulty, you’re unlikely to get sat coverage of the entire globe. Prioritize one or two additional bonuses (aside from the continent you start on, which you get automatically) to gun for, and pick them up as you can. Saving a country from panicking and withdrawing from the XCOM project is almost always better than getting a new bonus, unless you are already stretched so thin that its panic level is likely to shoot right back up.

Know when to cut losses
Countries abandon XCOM when they’re at high panic level as the end-of-month council report comes in. There will come a time when trying to save everyone means you save nobody. If you have too many pots boiling over, don’t be afraid to abandon one or two to save the whole kitchen from burning down.

Want to help your fellow players? Share your own tips in the comment section below!