The war to save humanity in XCOM 2 is a tough one, and victory is impossible without your soldiers. They are your first and only line of defence, sabotaging ADVENT activities in guerrilla raids, protecting civilians from retaliation, and acquiring intelligence regarding the alien threat. This game is considered a poster-child for turn-based strategy for a reason, but it’s by no means a walk in the park.
Each soldier in XCOM 2 can specialise in one of four classes (plus some advanced builds from the War of the Chosen expansion and the psi-ops class), and it can be hard to navigate the nuances of each individual class given the options you have. Each new class has a direct analogue in Enemy Unknown, but can be turned to different ends.
For each of the four fundamental classes, there are basic abilities your soldiers are given as soon as they leave rookiedom behind and become squaddies. Then, with every additional rank, you’re given a choice between two skills from parallel disciplines. Luckily for you, we’ve put hundreds of hours into the game at this point, so we’re here to share with you some of the best strategies and biggest no-nos of each XCOM 2 class build.
Ranger Build Guide
The Ranger serves as the primary reconnaissance unit, capable of moving independently in concealment while engaging enemies at close range using firearms and melee weapons. Definitely the most versatile class in the game, Rangers can either be a devastating spectre of death striking from the shadows, or a swift ninja capable of cutting enemy hordes down.
Rangers can attack adjacent enemies with their sword even after using both actions to move or dash, extending their attack range. Different aliens react in different ways to melee attacks; Sectoids take +3 damage from all sword/melee attacks, while some enemies like Mutons counter Ranger melee strikes, fully avoiding damage and hurting your soldier instead. A couple more things to keep in mind:
- Due to the Rangers’ unique ability to recon and flank enemies even after the squad is engaged, there is always a strong possibility that he/she may get caught out by a roaming patrol. Units with ‘Phantom’ begin the mission in concealment even when the squad doesn’t, so watch out they don’t get caught alone behind enemy lines.
- If an enemy attempts to attack a Ranger that has ‘Bladestorm‘, and is within melee range, it will activate before the enemy attack. Further still, when ADVENT reinforcements drop next to a Ranger, Bladestorm activates before they can react. It will also activate upon a Viper successfully using its Constrict ability after pulling the Ranger, and allows them to kill the Viper even while constricted. However, a Ranger with Bladestorm that panics will attack allies as well when they come into melee range, so keep that in mind when things go south to prevent friendly fire.
- A Ranger is the only soldier capable of reaching or even surpassing a 100% Critical Hit chance. Other classes cannot use shotguns and only have a small chance of getting the Shadowstrike skill from the Advanced Warfare Center, giving the Ranger 45% more chance to Critical Hit.
- Nearly all missions with task and evac goals can be solo’d entirely by Rangers using the Conceal Skill and some simple, stealthy hit and run tactics.
- Implacable can activate after ‘Run and Gun’, granting a total of 4 moves in a single turn.
- A Ranger may seem like a good choice to carry a Skulljack as it naturally fits with the Ranger’s normal skill set, but its lower hack score compared to the Specialist means you should look at Skulljacking instead of Skullmining.
Grenadier Build Guide
The first and most important decision when it comes to Grenadiers is which role you want them to have. If you’re going the offensive route, we advise you take ‘Shredder‘ instead of ‘Blast Padding‘. Shredder is a proactive skill which allows you to dictate the terms by which you attack, while Blast Padding is a reactive skill, softening the damage when you are forced to take it. It can still be highly useful for tanking when combined with a high dodge stat, but Shredder is particularly effective for taking down armoured targets quickly. Shooting with the Grenadier first to knock out armour before opening fire with other units is a great way to kill armoured enemies, and it can pair with ‘Holo-Targeting’ as well, knocking out armour and providing an aim bonus for other soldiers to finish the enemy off.
As you decide which role your Grenadier is going to perform, you must also choose their tool of trade. If you’re going the heavy weapons route instead of explosives, you might need some terrain shaping skills like the ‘Demolition’, which is a good alternative to grenades for destroying cover. It is more risky than the same level skill ‘Suppression’; if the enemy whose cover is destroyed can’t be killed in the same turn, they will just move to different cover and fire back. In addition, some cover is indestructible or can only be damaged instead of completely removed, rendering Demolition useless in some situations. Also keep in mind the accuracy calculation of this skill adds +10% to hit chance but ignores any scope mod, so hitting might be a problem.
As the Grenadier naturally has low aim, you need make sure to focus on aim bonuses and mods if you plan to hit anything with your weapon. ‘Hail of Bullets’ can help offset Grenadier’s naturally low aim, and it offers a counter to enemies with high innate defence (such as Gatekeepers) who can often be very difficult to hit. It also goes well with Shredder — as a guaranteed armour hit is usually reserved for grenades only — and quite useful when dealing with entrenched enemies. And since many Grenadier abilities consume two or three shots instead of one, make sure to equip expanded magazines or speed reload mods to counteract:
- Suppression is effective for stopping dangerous enemies from attacking the squad, and multiple Grenadiers can effectively lock down an enemy with an aim penalty of -100 since the ability stacks with itself. In addition, Suppression is guaranteed to remove Overwatch and can be paired with Holo Targeting for an aim bonus on top of its basic effects.
- Heavy Ordnance is great if you use your Grenadier primarily for their… well, grenades. It works well against enemies who like to fight from cover, and allows you to worry less about rationing explosives. It also gives you a good tactic to get rid of those pesky high Dodge targets, against whom guaranteed damage is often more important than raw hit probabilities.
- Holo-Targeting‘s aim bonus triggers on every shot and is applied regardless of whether the attack hits or misses, which is quite useful as an opening attack against high-defence targets like Archons. It can be combined with Shredder and either Hail of Bullets or Rupture for an absolutely devastating opening salvo which gives the squad a much better chance of killing dangerous targets like Sectopods or Gatekeepers on the turn which they are encountered.
- Volatile Mix‘s bonus to each grenade is substantial, and when combined with the Advanced Grenade Launcher often allows you to hit multiple packs of enemies with a single grenade. It is specially interesting when combined with speciality grenades such as Flashbangs, due to their low/non-existent damage.
- Salvo is extremely useful at times, since it allows Grenadiers to fire two grenades in one turn, or one grenade and then act. it’s a slightly more defensive ability, as it requires the Grenadier to remain stationary in order to have any use of the ability, but synergies very well with ambushes. If you open with this, it guarantees enemies will be in the open for follow-up or Overwatch shots.
- Rupture is a crucial skill for Grenadiers who want to be able to take down single targets. When combined with Shredder and/or Holo-Targeting, Rupture also guarantees a critical hit (but keep in mind the extra potential damage is not shown during previews).
- Saturation Fire‘s cone of effect is extremely narrow, limiting use against multiple targets unless they are almost in a straight line from the Grenadier. In addition, it doesn’t trigger Holo-Targeting and is not even guaranteed to hit enemies or destroy cover in the cone of fire.
Specialist Build Guide
Operating some of the most advanced equipment XCOM has to offer, Specialists deploy robotic drones on the battlefield that can be outfitted for combat or field medic duty, and are capable of providing amazing support to the rest of the squad. In addition, their unique ability to hack robotic units helps deal with those overpriced tincans that plague the late game.
The Specialist is especially adept as a support role, able to enhance the capabilities of the squad and provide amazing covering fire. If you use Threat Assessment on a Specialist with the ‘Guardian’ skill, this will usually grant you three or more overwatch shots in a single turn. Besides that, giving another soldier Threat Assessment before they open fire as part of an overwatch ambush will result in said soldier firing again after the squad loses concealment. That’s two shots from one person in an overwatch ambush! Some other notes:
- Due to their naturally high hacking score, Specialists make good candidates for carrying Skulljacks. The extra hack boost from Skullmining also benefits them greatly.
- Hacking an ADVENT Network Tower or a mission objective only consumes one action point and will not end your turn. However hacking a robotic enemy with ‘Haywire Protocol‘ does end the turn, as does ‘Combat Protocol’ and ‘Capacitor Discharge’.
- Combat Protocol and Capacitor Discharge both bypass armour. They do not apply a damage bonus to robotic enemies that are hacked with ‘Haywire Protocol’, either.
- Robotic enemies (such as MECs) hacked with ‘Haywire Protocol’ cannot act on the first turn of being hacked, but they can act on the first turn after hacked ends. However, ADVENT Turrets can act on the first turn of both situations. Keep in mind robotic enemies hacked with ‘Haywire Protocol’ do not need to be destroyed to complete a mission that requires all enemy units to be eliminated, but you don’t receive their wrecks if they are still in operating condition.
- Aid Protocol, Medical Protocol and Scanning Protocol each only consume a single action and will not end your turn. However, Restoration does end the turn.
- Aid Protocol cannot be used twice on the same target.
- Ever Vigilant will trigger so long as you do not consume an action point with an action other than moving; it will trigger from skipping your turn, moving once, moving 3+ times, opening/closing as many doors as you like, or moving twice after using a free reload.
Sharpshooter Build Guide
Just like it sounds, sharpshooters engage enemy targets with pinpoint accuracy from extreme range. They’re also trained in pistol marksmanship for the occasional close encounter. A staple of any squad, a good sharpshooter can finish off powerful enemies or take out aliens before they get close enough to hurt your soldiers.
Curiously, sharpshooters can also excel at close range when following the Gunslinger tree, which includes abilities that help the squad clear a whole block of enemies in one turn. Quickdraw has no cooldown, and Faceoff grants a pistol shot on every visible enemy and has no upper limit on the total amount of shots it can make, and it’s an excellent way to use special ammo due to the sheer amount of targets available. Lightning Hands is a free action/pistol shot against anything within range, working well for both specialisation trees; for a Sniper, ‘Lightning Hands’ allows the sharpshooter to weaken or finish off a nearby enemy before sniping them, or even shoot another target altogether.
Related: The best sniper games on PC
Giving ‘Gunslingers’ special ammo types severely augments their usefulness, with ‘Faceoff’ acting as an effective crowd control skill, limiting enemy actions and — in the case of Dragon rounds setting them on fire — stopping enemy melee attacks altogether. Using ‘Lightning Hands’, shooting normally with ‘Quickdraw’ and finishing the turn with ‘Faceoff’, allows a sharpshooter to potentially clear a whole screen of enemies alone.
Regardless of which tree you pick, in most cases one should pick Steady Hands instead of Aim. ‘Steady Hands’ does not take this turn’s movement into account, making it useful for all sharpshooters. And unlike ‘Aim’, which only affects the first shot of a turn, ‘Steady Hands’ affects all shots, and it does not require the sharpshooter to not have made an attack last turn. Besides that, keep in mind:
- Deadeye‘s aim penalty is 25%, not a direct -25, meaning it differs per target. As such, this powerful skill is not very reliable until the drop can be compensated. Like ‘Deadeye’, Fan Fire scales up very well with upgraded equipment,as it can potentially deal up to triple normal damage to an enemy. Unlike ‘Deadeye’, however, ‘Fan Fire’ is a pistol skill and only requires one action point, allowing it to combo with Death From Above and Quickdraw and makes it more viable for both full Gunslingers and mixed sets. ‘Fan Fire’ can also benefit heavily from special ammo, just like ‘Faceoff’.
- Kill Zone activates once every movement, meaning it activates once if the enemy dashes, but twice if the enemy moves twice, or move and attack. Melee attacks, however, count as part of movement and only trigger one shot. ‘Kill Zone’ also does not require Long Watch in order to take reaction shots against enemies in squadmates’ line of sight, giving you two skills for the price of one.
- Serial returns the sharpshooter’s actions when they make a kill with their sniper rifle, rendering it very useful when snipers have multiple enemies in sight at low HP. While it does allow you to take them all down, when using the skill one should keep in mind that every kill made by the sniper effectively results in wasted experience from killing enemies.
- Long Watch allows you to activate enemy pods during the enemy turn, when the Sharpshooter is not concealed but a phantom Ranger can see the enemies.
- Due to the fact that the Sniper Rifle requires both actions to fire, reloading will be a heavy burden on snipers, often making them have to skip an entire turn of combat. Weapon mods such as expanded clips and the Auto-Loader are invaluable to sharpshooters. Similarly, ‘Kill Zone’ only activates as long as the sniper rifle has ammo, making it more effective in conjunction with expanded magazine mods. Similarly, Squadsight reduces it’s accuracy with distance and the Sniper Rifle gets less accurate at close ranges, so consider using a Scope weapon mod.
- Death From Above activates only on kills, and then only if made from higher elevation. In addition, it doesn’t allow the second action to be another shot with your sniper rifle, meaning you can only relocate, reload, or use the pistol.
PSI OPERATIVE Build GUIDE
“Let’s be honest,” says Firaxis’ Jake Solomon of the psi-op. “They’re wizards.”
XCOM 2’s only extra-curricular class, the psi-op is made available once you’ve murdered a sectoid, cracked its skull open, splashed out on an expensive psi-lab facility and then put a soldier through a gruelling training process. But since you’ve gone to all that effort, Firaxis have compensated by making the psi-op ludicrously overpowered as compared to its peers.
Abilities are unlocked through training in the psi-lab, not by gaining XP. They appear in randomised batches, unrestricted by rank.
Mech peace with your limitations
Some of XCOM 2’s enemies are robots. Robots don’t have brains you might twist to your own purposes. They’re therefore resistant to most of your psionic advances, and best left to somebody else on the squad. Perhaps that grenadier you equipped with armour-shredding gear? Having said that…
Don’t waste your own explosives when you could use somebody else’s
Should you be lucky enough to have access to it, Fuse is a frugal way to deal with a gaggle of enemies. Without the psi-op, squads can all-too-easily run low on grenades as battle wraps up – leading to lethal consequences if a shipload of ADVENT troopers arrives unexpectedly. Better to remotely detonate the grenade attached to a muton corpse, or the rockets strapped to a mech’s steely back, and save your bombs for later.
Even in a soup of intensely powerful spells, Domination is an alphabetti A-grade ability. The psi-op picks one enemy on the battlefield and turn it into an ally, controlling its moves and attacks for the duration of the fight. Unlike turret hackings, there’s no possibility of the victim awaking from their stupor. Use them as scout and scourge, taking the risks you never would with your own soldiers.
Every psi-op is the product of intense training. There’s no limit to the number of abilities they can learn, if you’re willing to spare the time to learn them. By the time you’ve got a magus with a brainful of spells, they represent a considerable investment by the world’s premier anti-alien military force. So for Central’s sake, keep them out of unnecessary trouble. You’ll never forgive yourself.
Templar Build Guide (War of the Chosen)
This melee-focused class is War of the Chosen’s buffed up version of the Ranger, able to quickly weave through the battlefield and upend enemies with a Psi Blade.
Templars are damage dealers in nature, capable of dealing with most threats at close-range and affecting the battlefield with their unique abilities.
Rend attacks give Templars the Momentum ability, allowing them to perform an extra move, allowing you to dash towards an enemy, melee them, and them move again.
Because Templars gain Focus on ‘Rend’ kills, players should let them deal killing blows on weaker targets in order to boost their ‘Focus’.
A Templar with the Reaper chain-melee skill from the Training Centre can gain multiple refunded action points when killing enemies with the Arc Wave area of effect skill.
Rend is a guaranteed hit, but it still can be partially dodged by Vipers and and Stun Lancers and cause less than full damage. It also doesn’t prevent a Muton’s counter, which can leave your Templar stunned and open to an instant execution.
The autopistol can perform headshots and does not need to be reloaded.
The Parry ability negates all damage from a shot or melee attack, but it does not block area of effect damage or skills.
The Training Centre’s Fortress skill makes Templars immune to nearly all environmental damage, giving them more mobility and allowing them to melee kill even enemies that might explode upon death, like Sectopods or ADVENT Purifiers.
The Bladestorm melee counter Training Centre skill synergises well with Parry, allowing Templars to easily dispatch groups of melee enemies. Templar melee attacks always hit, except the target is a Spectre with ‘Lightning Reflexes’ (in which case, you’re screwed). However, while the damage dealt is still affected by Focus, Bladestorm on a Templar won’t activate the Arc Wave nor generate Focus on kills.
The Pillar cover-summoning ability can be used as the first action without ending the turn, and lasts for a number of turns equal to the Templar’s Focus level when activated.
Stun Strike can be used to knock enemies out of cover or high places, causing fall damage.
The Channel skill is squadwide, meaning even kills by other squad members can generate Focus. This gives a 20% chance of enemies dropping Psionic energy when dying (Psionic enemies have a 50% chance).
The Ionic Storm ignores armour, and deals double damage to Psionic enemies. It also generates focus with kills, so it can refund all Focus spent if it kills enough enemies.
Unlike ‘Stasis’, units trapped by the Void Conduit can be attacked. The stun lasts for a number of turns equal to the Templar’s Focus level when activated.
The ‘Ghost’ duplicate has the exact same abilities as the Templar, except for the autopistol. Movement and Hunker Down do not cost Focus to use, nor do reflexive abilities like Bladestorm, Deflect, and Reflect. The Templar Ghost does not share cooldowns with the Templar, and temporary boosts and debuffs are copied when the Ghost is generated.
Skirmisher Build Guide (War of the Chosen)
This War of the Chosen ranged class is all about damage, being able to fire its gun twice on every turn.
Skirmishers are better suited to hit and run tactics, able to deal a lot of damage before quickly moving position again.
Whiplash is a free action, and deals double damage against robotic units.
All Ripjack attacks and abilities only cost one turn and do not end the turn if used as the first action. Reckoning allows Skirmishers to dash attack an enemy with the ‘Ripjack’, but still only costs one action.
Like armour grapples, the Skirmishers grapple doesn’t cost an action and can be used to escape enviromental hazards like fire or gas.
Retribution works exactly like the Ranger’s ‘Bladestorm’ ability, allowing the Skirmisher to automatically attack any enemies that enter melee range.
The buffed-up overwatch skill Battlelord does not trigger on movement or reloading.
Opening an ambush with Justice or Wrath stops the targeted enemy from moving when concealment is broken.
Reaper Build Guide (War of the Chosen)
As the special sniper/scout build introduced in War of the Chosen, Reapers allow players to scout enemy positions and take them out without ever breaking concealment.
They are perfectly suited for sabotage or infiltration missions, as they can only be detected from close range and can remain concealed even when shooting at enemies.
Shadow Concealment’s reveal chance starts at 0%, increasing to 50%, 80%, and 100% on subsequent shots. Reveal chance is reset if re-entering ‘Shadow Concealment’ through the Shadow or Distraction talents.
The Silent Killer skill makes the first shot undetectable if it kills the target. As changes to Reaper concealment chance take place after a shot is fired, the skill allows a Reaper to stay concealed indefinitely as long as it kills all its targets with one shot.
Firing the Claymore only costs a single action, and does not break concealment. Claymores can be detonated by any type of damage, so throwing a grenade on top of one can be a great way to deal extra damage or start an ambush.
Units hit with the Homing Mine will always be hit when shot at, regardless of percentage.
The Homing Mine does not replace the Claymore, but they share the same charges.
Using the Remote Start skill on large objects such as buses produce a very wide explosion that’s stronger than most other explosive (watch out for civilians or friendlies).
The Soul Harvest skill helps offset the Reaper’s natural +0 critical chance.
Banish can be combined with Extended Magazines and Superior Repeaters for maximum effectiveness. The skill reveals the Reaper before any shots are fired, so negating any bonuses from the ‘Silent Killer’ or ‘Needle’ talents.
Reapers cannot carry any equipment by default, but the Tactical Rigging talent from the Training Centre allows them to carry a single item.
The Training Centre’s ‘Shredder’ ability can be used in conjunction with the ‘Needle’ skill, bypassing and shedding armor at the same time.
Thanks to its unique form of stealth, it is very easy to use a solo reaper to deal with any mission requiring you to go in, interact with an objective, and get out. A good example of this is missions that require you to sabotage alien facilities.
Hopefully the above gives you some new ideas on how to assemble your squad in XCOM 2, whether you’re playing War of the Chosen or the vanilla game. Don’t forget to check out these excellent XCOM 2 mods to spice things up further.
Additional words by Jeremy Peel.