originals\ Oct 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm

10 tips for dominating the alien threat in XCOM: Enemy Unknown


It was no easy task but completing my first play through of XCOM: Enemy Unknown felt like an incredible accomplishment.  I think I’m going to venture into IronMan Mode (the game autosaves after every major decision, not allowing you to go back and change your mind) my second time around.  The game is rough… so many choices, heartache, frustration, and exploring what the game has to offer.  In the review, I mention that I like to blindly play and figure out what works for me.  I’ve compiled that knowledge and I’m sharing it with you guys to help guide you to a successful run through.  There are certain aspects of the game that are intensely important that you just learn through trial and error.

10) Archangel Armor

Get this for your snipers; you will not regret this decision.  I only started using it late game because I didn’t realize its potential.  At first I thought by sending a soldier high into the air that he / she would just get shot by every alien on the map.  While this can happen if you’re not careful, the distance you are from the aliens actually makes it difficult for them to hit you.  Once you have the height advantage, you can almost 100% accurately hit any living thing in sight.  Lastly, you can also use the Archangel Armor to just boost yourself to high up platforms where you can still use cover and have the height advantage.  This armor opens up so many tactical possibilities.

Archangel Armor

9) Ammo Conservation foundry upgrade

For the most part, after a big fight you have down time until you start exploring and find the next group of hidden aliens.  During this down time, you should have everyone reload their weapons except one or two people to be on overwatch.  There will be a handful of times where you don’t have the luxury to reload before another wave or an alien with a sh*t ton of hit points busts around the corner or one of those kill disks just hovers on in.  You may not have a move to reload before it gets hot and heavy.  The Ammo Conservation upgrade helped me multiple times in this scenario, I strongly suggest you learn it.

8) Time is infinite (I think)

I’m not 100% sure time is infinite, but there is more than you’ll ever need.  How the game works, is that there are a series of “main quest” type missions have you have to complete for the game to move forward.  These missions aren’t hidden, your three main base characters make a fuss about each one of them.  So until you commit to these missions, the game will keep generating random abductions, UFO sittings, council missions, etc.  While these can generate you more credits, scientists, and engineers… it also increases panic.  Ultimately if you kept trying to play forever, I would imagine the world would eventually drop XCOM.  I always feared that I would lose the main story missions if I didn’t do them in a certain time.

Tall Men

7) Don’t neglect air defense

I put an interceptor in every region pretty early then didn’t touch air defense for a long time.  Interceptors just don’t cut it mid to late game.  They aren’t fast enough so you have less time to shoot down certain UFOs.  Slap an EMP Cannon and maybe you can shoot them down.  Build a Firestorm and slap an EMP Cannon on it and you can take down anything.  For the most part, having more than one ship in a region hanger is a waste of money.  Planes have upkeep.  If you damage a UFO and pull out, there is a chance a second plane can get there in time to shoot it down.  Most the time when I tried this, the UFO would fly away before my second ship got there though.  Why can’t you send two at once?  No idea, but I’m sure it’s the same reason you can’t have more than one transport.                

6) Rush to get Psionics

This is more so based purely on your playstyle, but I loved the Psionic aspects of XCOM.  Not only did it add a whole new level of sci-fi goodness, but the story and game mechanic really did it for me.  On my squad, I had two psionic members; one was full defense and the other was full offensive.  The shield you can make raises defenses with a huge AOE godsend.  The offensive power is either guaranteed damage or kills on weaker minded foes at huge range.  Hint, there is an achievement for mind controlling an Ethereal – good luck with that though.


5) Use crowd control

If you are purely running and gunning… you are doing it wrong.  If you are setting up choke points and using the hell out of crowd control, you will have a generally safer and more productive experience.  While overwatch may not seem like CC, it is.  I’ve have many aliens not attempt to move because a sniper or heavy had their eye on them.  Even better, is when the aliens ignore your overwatch and get murdered.  Suppression will take a shot at an alien, lower its stats, and give you another free shot if they move.  Psionic powers like psi-panic and mind control are extremely good CC tools.  Mind control not only takes a foe out of the battle, but the enemies will attack it.  Often I’ll control a Muton and have it run at the nearest alien and grenade itself and its former allies.  This hurts the aliens and takes pressure off your team.  Psi-panic is good CC when you don’t have mind control or when mind control is on cooldown.  Lastly, kill the aliens that CC your team with squad mates that aren’t CCed, that will free them up.          

4) Get snipers into position

If you have to take a turn or two setting up a breach or an ambush… do it.  Snipers do ridiculous amounts of damage but at time they can be difficult to use because they are not in position.  Early I mentioned to get Archangel Armor for this purpose but Skeleton Armor is similar, cheaper, and earlier in the game.  The grappling hook can get snipers into places they may not be able to walk to or will just get them there faster.  If you agro a group of aliens and your snipers aren’t where they need to be, they may literally do nothing for that first turn depending how you speced them.  Starting a round with two snipers with double tap is essential. 

Ghost Armor

3) Put a leash on your assaults

Through reading this top ten list, you may think I’m a sniper fanboy.  The truth is, the assault is my favorite class - Run and Gun is my baby.  The ability to move crazy amounts and rapid fire any alien in the face with a shotgun is unstoppable.  Besides putting your assault in potential danger, having your assault run all over has a high chance of aggroing unwanted attention that you either weren’t ready for, not set up for, or don’t have ammo for.  One to two extra alien groups can easily wipe your team.  I’m not saying never use Run and Gun (it’s my favorite ability), just be more cautions when chasing down that foe in the way back.

2) Take it slow

I understand this is mostly a generalization of #4 and #3 but it is so much more.  Double moving (dashing) is extremely dangerous when you don’t know where the aliens are.  If you don’t have a sniper scanner or hear the direction the aliens are in, don’t dash.  Move from cover to cover and overwatch.  It sounds slow and overly cautious, but I can’t stress how important that is.  Having one person out of position can easily get him / her killed.  Never forget that aliens can do critical damage.  If you have a character with ghost armor, there is a little more leeway, but not much.  Safety and positioning is key to success.


1) Satellites

Yup, #1 thing is satellites; freaking satellites.  These things are ridiculously important.  Ultimately everything you do in your base should have one end goal in mind, to get more satellites up and to protect those satellites that are already in orbit.  The more satellites you have up, the more money you make each month, more scientists, and more engineers.  If you cover a continent in satellites, you get that continent’s base bonus.  They allow you to trace UFOs to shoot down.  Lastly, when you put a satellite up, it reduces the panic a lot.  Success revolves around satellites.  Hell, there is even a foundry upgrade to make them less attractive to the aliens to shoot down.  The kicker here is that satellite nexus' are expensive, cost a lot of power, each satellite has to be bought individually, and satellites take 15+ days to construct.  Get them though, trust me.  You won’t succeed without them. 

Historian, teacher, writer, gamer, cheat master, and tech guru: follow on Twitter @AndrewC_GZ           

About The Author
Andrew Clouther Human, historian, teacher, writer, reviewer, gamer, League of Pralay, Persona fanboy, and GameZone paragon - no super powers as of yet. Message me on the Twitters: @AndrewC_GZ
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