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XCOM Beginner Guide: Tactical Combat

by Adam Biessener on Oct 10, 2012 at 12:32 PM

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In a game where you can play perfectly and still lose soldiers to the aliens’ burning plasma, avoiding easy mistakes is crucial. Let us help.

Don’t forget to check out our strategy-layer tips to make sure your soldiers have the organizational support they need to kick alien butt once the Skyranger touches down.

Slow down
With rare exceptions, charging forward to get a slightly better shot is just going to get your soldiers killed. Particularly in the scouting phase when you’re sweeping the map for aliens, pushing too hard leaves your squad exposed more often than not. Dash sparingly, and cover your advance with overwatch – it’s the difference between finding a group of Sectoids and having them tear apart two of your soldiers and blowing up two of them with reaction fire only to have the third panic and run away.

Concentrate fire
This should go without saying, but wounding an alien does nothing to reduce the amount of flying death coming your way on the enemy’s turn. Finish them off, even if it means “wasting” potential damage by firing a heavy plasma cannon at a two-health muton.

Be smart about capturing
Taking aliens alive is a huge coup: Not only do you get to interrogate them for a massive boost to research in certain areas, but you steal their weapons (which you still have to research in order to actually use, but manufacturing plasma guns yourself is massively expensive). It’s also a great way to get your squaddies killed. To mitigate the risk, try the following:

  • Give the arc throwers to rookies. If they die, no big deal -- I’ve been known to send the new guy to near-certain death in an exposed position for a shot at capturing a mission-critical alien.
  • Bust out the pistols to whittle down enemy health. Above three HP, your capture chance takes a nosedive, but you’ve got a 90% shot at a one-health alien.
  • Give yourself an out. Try to capture first, then paste the alien with another soldier if the attempt fails. Unless you’re following the “suicide rookie” strategy, letting the bad guy take a point-blank shot is almost never worth the risk.

Ignore Dr. Vahlen’s whining about salvage
Oh boo-hoo, Doctor, you lost a few weapon fragments when Cpl. Vedder saved Sgt. Gossard by fragging a trio of sectoids with the last XCOM action of the round. You know what’s more important than six weapon fragments? Our soldiers’ lives.

Most of the time.

Shotguns, shotguns, shotguns
Once you start fighting enemies with more than a handful of HP, taking them down with assault rifles becomes a chore – especially until you get better weapons. Assault soldiers with shotguns are the great equalizers. Between the amazing Run & Gun ability and the extremely high damage and critical chance shotguns have at close range, a single assault squaddie can often blast the face off of a muton or worse in a single shot. Just make sure you have her covered for the alien retaliation, by a smoke grenade if nothing else.

Unless they've got Close Combat Specialist (free reaction shot against anything moving within four tiles), decent armor, a defensive accessory like Chitin Plating, and Tactical Sense (bonus defense for each enemy in sight). Then they'll probably just murder everything anyway.

I love the assault class.

Don’t sell out for high ground
High ground is awesome – you get bonus aim and defense for being above the enemy, plus you can often ignore their cover because of your superior line of sight. That said, the defensive bonus isn’t so significant that the aliens won’t blast you into pieces if they have a shot on you. A sniper with Damn Good Ground (double bonus for high ground) can sometimes survive outside cover when above the aliens, but it’s still an awfully risky roll of the dice.

Which is why you have Squad Sight (shoot at any target within any ally’s line of sight) on the sniper parked in the back corner of the map, headshotting a new bad guy every turn. Or two, once they reach Colonel rank.

I love snipers.

Have a few tips of your own? Do your part to defend everyone else’s Earth by sharing them in the comments below.