Tips For Playing XCOM 2

Tips For Playing XCOM 2
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It’s a long, grisly war out there, commanders. These alien occupiers are tough bastards, and you’re gonna lose a lot of good men and women. We’re here to help you keep casualties to a minimum.

My colleague Nathan Grayson and I (Kirk) have been playing a good deal of XCOM 2 over the past week or so, and we’ve put our heads together to come up with a list of things we wish we’d known before we started.

We’ll start with ground-level combat tips, then move to bigger-picture development and global strategy. Lets do it.

First Thing You Do, Feel Out The Battlefield

XCOM 2 has a “Fog of War” effect that keeps you from seeing the full battlefield, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a sense of how things will play out. Zoom all over the map and you’ll get a feel for the bounds of the map, your objectives and where enemies may be lurking.

ABC: Always Be in Cover

This is a very basic tip, but: Under no circumstances should you leave an XCOM soldier out in the open. Unless you’ve done a last-ditch Hail Mary to kill the last of your enemies, every turn should end with all of your soldiers behind some sort of cover. Preferably with that cover between you and your enemies.

Tips For Playing XCOM 2

ABS: Always Bring a Sniper

XCOM 2 offers a variety of different classes you can bring with you into the field. Among them are Sharpshooters, AKA snipers, and they are absolutely crucial to battlefield dominance. You can mix and match the other classes, but you should always bring at least one sniper. If you can, put ’em on a high vantage and leave them there. They will save your bacon more than once.

IF,BMS: In Fact, Bring Multiple Snipers

Have one well-versed in sniper skills, another with a mix of sniper and pistol skills (lightning hands is awesome) and frequently put both on Overwatch. As long as you keep them well-positioned, they work as both a versatile offence and a defensive shield against ambushes, all while mostly staying out of harm’s way. Be sure to give them weapon upgrades that increase their accuracy.

Stop, Wait, Reload

On missions that don’t have a timer, there is one important strategy we recommend. Enemies aren’t “activated” until someone on your team sees them. Once you finish one firefight, take a turn and allow everyone on your team to reload. It’s very easy to run out of ammunition at a crucial juncture, especially in the early goings. Reload even if your soldier has only fired a single time. There’s no real penalty for waiting an extra turn to re-engage, and you never know when that bullet will be the one that saves your whole squad.

Tips For Playing XCOM 2

Move In Waves

As you progress through a level, try to keep everything orderly and move in groups. Think of it as your back line and your front line. Your front line pushes forward, and your back line follows more slowly, keeping Overwatch on. That way everyone’s covered and you can fall back if we need to. Speaking of Overwatch…

Overwatch, Overwatch, Overwatch

The “Overwatch” move is one of the most valuable in XCOM 2, just as it was in the first game. It lets you set up a character to react to enemy movement by attacking, which is crucial for defending against flankers and setting up ambushes. It’s technically a defensive move, but it should be a part of any good offensive strategy. At first, try to end every turn with at least one of your soldiers on Overwatch. You’ll almost always be glad you left someone watching the back door.

Suppress, Suppress, Suppress

Teach your grenadiers the “suppression” skill. It lets them pin down an enemy with fire regardless of any aim penalties. If the enemy moves, your grenadier will then take a normal shot, and if you combine that with the “holo targeting” skill, it will mark the enemy so your grenadier and the rest of your squad will have a much better chance of landing a hit. Bonus: Suppression also knocks enemies out of Overwatch. Putting jerk-arse enemies in unfair situations is delicious.

Tips For Playing XCOM 2

Practice Your Ambushes

Lots of missions in XCOM 2 will start out out with your squad hidden, and will give you the opportunity to set up an ambush on an unsuspecting enemy patrol. Practice working these out so that you can kill every enemy in a single turn. That usually means setting a variety of Overwatch vectors and having a single character rush in and go weapons-hot. The more skilled your soldiers get, the more Overwatch shots they will land and the better your ambushes will work.

Break Everything

It sure is annoying when an enemy flanks you and still manages to cover up like a turtle. When that happens, remember that pretty much every object in XCOM 2‘s environment is destructible. If an alien’s giving you hell from behind nigh-impenetrable cover, blow up their cover with a grenade or heavy fire. (Grenadiers are great for this.) With cover gone, you’ll likely see that 33 per cent hit-chance rocket to 80, 90 or even 100. It’s glorious.

If Enemies Are Standing Near An Explosive Tank Or Canister, Blow That Motherfucker Sky High

This tip seems self-explanatory.

Watch That Timer

A lot of the missions in XCOM 2 are on a timer, and it’s very easy to lose track of time and lose the mission. When the counter hits zero, you’ve lost — there’s no “bonus” extra round at zero. Be absolutely sure you can get everyone to the evac zone (or otherwise achieve your objective) with time to spare. Sometimes that means making a dangerous run straight past an incoming alien dropship. Grit your teeth and go for it.

Focus On Puppet Masters, Not Puppets

One type of early alien in the game is able to mind-control your soldiers and reanimate dead enemies, among other things. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t shoot your own people even if they are mind controlled, but we also recommend skipping the reanimated enemies. If you kill the alien behind it all, the zombies will become re-dead and mind control will wear off. In fact…

Tips For Playing XCOM 2

AKS: Always Kill Sectoids

Let’s just get specific: We’re talking about Sectoids. The Sectoids’ reanimation ability is a pain, and so is mind control. Don’t let them do either of those things. As soon as they show up, shoot ’em dead. (Failing that, make sure your frontline characters are equipped with mindshields, an item you can research fairly early in the game.)

Increase Your Squad Size ASAP

One of the first facilities you can build is the Guerrilla Tactics School. You can use it to produce a number of upgrades for your troops; go with an increased squad size off the bat. Five soldiers are much more dangerous than the four you start with, and will give you the opportunity to advance your soldiers more quickly.

Be Liberal With Weapon Upgrades

As you play, you’ll collect various upgrades that you can immediately apply to your weaponry. The more refined your A-Team gets, the more of an idea you’ll have about which upgrades you want to apply where, but at first, be liberal with upgrades. Use ’em or lose ’em.

Get To Know Your Soldiers

Soldiers in XCOM 2 have randomly generated names, appearances and backstories. You can change all that, however, by going in and fully customising each character. We highly recommend doing so: Name your characters after your friends and roommates, or your coworkers, or random celebrities, or your exes. Putting a distinct name and face on each of your characters makes it much more fun when that person pulls off a clutch save or, sniff, sacrifices themselves for the greater good. Change the colour of their armour, too; it makes it easier to tell who’s who at a glance.

Tips For Playing XCOM 2

Get Creative With Naming Your Saves

You can name your saves in XCOM 2, which can be useful for keeping everything organised. Keep one save for in between missions, one save for the start of a deployment and a few named “shitshitshitshit” and “ultimate failure”. Those ones will come in handy.

Consider Playing On Ironman

While it’s sometimes nice to be able to load a save and undo a particularly tragic turn of events, consider playing the game on Ironman mode, which removes the ability to save and reload. It’s a tougher experience, but also a truer one, and it can be thrilling and fun. It makes it harder to “win”, but “winning” isn’t really the point of XCOM 2.

Build Resistance Comms ASAP

The aliens’ secret doomsday project won’t stop itself, and you’ve got to make contact with resistances in multiple countries in order to delay the project’s progress. It’s easy, though, to reach a point where you’re ready to take on an important mission, but you haven’t made contact with the country it’s located AND your communication capacity is full. Don’t let that happen. Build a couple Resistance Comms early.

Upgrade Armour ASAP, Too

Gobs more HP and another item slot? This is a godsend for troop survivability, and it applies to your entire character roster. Focus on armour upgrades early.

Tips For Playing XCOM 2

Learn Skills That Let You Break The Rules

In XCOM 2, Characters get two big actions per turn, which usually consist of moving and attacking. Some of the game’s best abilities break the hell out of that rule. For example, the Ranger has an “implacable” skill that lets her/him move again any time they get a kill. “Run and gun” is another great Ranger skill that lets you have an extra action after you’ve moved twice in the same turn. If you combine those skills, you can theoretically take four actions in a single turn. That’s huge.

More good rule-breaking skills:

  • The Specialist’s “ever vigilant” ability automatically puts them on overwatch at the end of a turn where they used both actions to move.
  • “Lightning hands” lets Sharpshooters take a free pistol shot.
  • “Chain shot” lets Grenadiers take a second shot at an enemy if the first is successful. It’s got a pretty steep aim penalty, though, so it’s best to use this one only when your grenadier has an alien flanked, or in times of serious desperation.

Don’t Be Afraid To Start A New Game

Sometimes you look at your roster, look at the challenges facing you and realise you’re completely outmatched. If this happens, there is zero shame in simply quitting your game and starting over. Each subsequent time through the first few missions will give you a chance to reprioritise and figure out which upgrades are most useful to you, and restarting doesn’t make the game any less unpredictable and fun.

Tips For Playing XCOM 2

Hope those tips are helpful. If you have more tips of your own, please do share them in the comments below. Vive la résistance!


  • Another tip is to play X-Com Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within, they are both dirt cheap now.. it’s a great game to brush up on your skills and the backstory.. it’s, in my opinion, an easier campaign, so you can progress further and faster and with less timed missions, meaning you can take your time more often and learn the mechanics of the combat.

    • I cannot upvote this enough. Great advice. Absolutely great advice. Don’t dive into 2 straight away without playing 1. It’s like smearing yourself with blood and diving into a tank of great whites.

      Dive into that tank of pirhanas first lol

    • Especially since all the tips listed in the article are things you definitely should have learned in Unknown and Within.

  • Finished it last night. I concur that the most important thing you need to do is build resistance comms in your base. If you don’t start branching out, when alien facilities pops up you can’t reach them and the Avatar countdown will go off the chain. I’d say getting better weapons is more important than armour. Usually I’d go a mission without any of my dudes even being wounded if you plan and move around correctly. Also something worthy of note is the Advanced War School thing (forget the exact name – you can build it shortly after you’ve done the GTS) – If you have this thing early all your troops get a free random skill from another class when they level up. I didn’t realise this until most of my main guys were max level so it was wasted in my game (the 100% extra healing helps though). But if you can (somehow) manage to get this thing out early in your game, your soldiers will be OFF THE CHANIZZLE!

    Also get a Psionic soldier going asap. Just shove a rookie in there and fully train him up (dont even have to bring him on missions if you want). The Mind Domination ability is complete hax (take over any organic alien for an entire round – having a Gatekeeper accompany my troops for the entirety of the final mission = hax) and Void Rift is an amazing AOE ability.

    Oh and something I didn’t realise, when you research new armour and you can do new armours in the Proving Grounds, they’re actually entirely different new sets of armour. Since the Nanoweave was just equippable I didn’t bother with the Exo or Spider suit till later on but they’re very useful. ALSO with the proving grounds do Plasma grenades ASAP because this will upgrade all your nades to plasma.

    • I’ve raided two of the Avatar buildings now, and had only realised last night that I was yet to upgrade armour even once. I currently have plasma weapons.
      Armour isn’t as important as shooting stuff dead instantly. That said, I’d probably be mourning less soldiers with armour upgrades.

  • Flashbangs are also your best friend against Sectoids.

    And; Two rangers with the Conceal ability makes saving civilians relatively pain free.

  • Have a box of tissues and a punching bag close to your PC.

    This will take care of two of the possible responses to playing X-Com2 (anger and tears), as for the other responses your on your own…..

    But if you could let me know when you find out that would be great.

    I often find myself staring at the screen wondering what my soldiers must think of their totally incompetent captain. No wonder they cant hit the side of a barn with their guns. I certainly wouldn’t have my heart in the training program if I knew I was going to more than likely bite the bullet before I make it outta sqaudie rank.

    sincerely yours,


    Commander of the most unsuccessful XCom2 play through ever and voted most likely to cause the last flicker of human hope to be extinguished in his high school yearbook!

    P.S Thanks for the tips.

  • Just finished the game like 30 mins ago, the sniper tip is pivotal in actual combat. You need a sniper, they damage they can provide is insane. It’s a shame (but also a relief) there’s no archangel armour in the game this time around :'( cos in the first game, that shit was BROKE AF, literally start any mission with your sniper going as high as possible with the jetpack then just rain death with your members acting as pawns to expand the reach of your sniper of doom. Always position your sniper in good spots, if preferable, in high ground since they will get aim and critical chance bonuses, often negating the squad sight penalties.

  • I’m personally enjoying my 4 Rangers backed by 2 Specialists cowering in a cupboard while their drones throw out heals or disable mechs.

    I mean stacking a few high level Assaults was pretty great at times in EU/EW, fantastic at dealing with Chryssalids on terror missions for one, yet Run ‘n Gun only took them so far… But 4 Rangers being able to stab something every turn at max movement is phenomenal.

    I will say that the new weapon upgrade system probably benefits snipers most of all though… Increased magazine size + a few free reloads is an absolute godsend for snipers.

  • Tips for Playing XCOM 2

    1. Try not to get shot on the way out of the skyranger.
    2. Try to not run into that research bug that ruins the game completely.
    3. Pray that you never have to do those Cruise Ship missions. Finding the last alien can take hours.

    • I lol’d at number 3. I was never able to finish a cruise mission due to NEVER BEING ABLE TO FIND THE LAST F**KING ALIENS!

  • The most important thing about the avatar counter is to not waste time taking out facilities to reduce the timer until the clock has actually started. Once the clock starts, the bar can’t progress any further than it already has, and that’s like… 20 days worth of time.

    As long as you have access to a red blacksite, to knock that timer back, take some time.

    Complete some supply missions, research tech, finish training, contact new regions, etc, etc, to run down that timer.

    If you spend all your time fighting to keep the progress bar down, you’re not just fighting against one timer, you’re fighting against ALL the sites which are being progressed individually. In one week I had the progress bar go up by three pips as different facilities came online on different days in that week. And that’s not including the Dark Event cards which can progress the bar even further. If those go off while the doomsday timer is up, the aliens effectively waste that card. Which is satisfying.

    Let the timer run down. It’ll buy you literally months of extra time.

  • I tend to agree with all the recommendation given except for always bring a sniper.

    they are needed for every mission apart from retaliation missions, in those i find its better to swap them out for an extra grunt, something like a ranger that can cover ground faster.

    i would also recommend bringing a second specialist on every mission, having one devoted to being a medic and a second as a devoted combat hacker is a life saver especially when facing robotic enemies

    • Couldn’t agree more with having a specialist solely for anti-mech duty… Not only can drones disable mechanical enemies temporarily, but they do extra damage to such targets. On top of that their attacks completely ignore armour and are guaranteed to hit.

      As such, they might actually be the single most potent thing you can attack a mech with. Especially once you get higher level Gremlins.

      • I’ve found giving a grenadier bluescreen ammo and rupture is a sure-fire way to guarantee a one-shot of anything other than a sectopod. And even then… still possible. Final mission I was getting 27 damage crits which were shredding armour.

    • I dunno, the retaliation missions seem to be where the Chryssalids turn up most, and by god am I glad for Kill Zone when half a dozen spider-monsters roll up on my advance specialists who are trying to grab civilians.

  • Just finished the game. My standard crew consisted of Grenadier, Medic, Sword Ranger, Range Sniper, and 2 anti-mech specialists.

    My only wish for the game is that I wasn’t pressured into ending it – I had everything unlocked/resistance connected and just wanted to play war with my elite squad for a while. There doesnt seem to be a way to keep the clock from completing even though I had all the facilities taken care of. (Did I miss something?)

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