Oh my goodness, XCOM 2 is hard. Harder than Enemy Unknown and wholly unfamiliar to boot. So hard, in fact, that you may need an XCOM 2 guide to help you. Because while you’ll want to save the surprise of which alien does what to the spleen of your colonel for the battlefield, it can’t hurt to know the particulars of the soldiers fighting on your side.
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Each new class has a direct analogue in Enemy Unknown, but can be turned to utterly different ends. Here’s the advice we would have given ourselves before starting a campaign for the first time. Before all those awful mistakes etched in the memorial wall.
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. The Sharpshooter can pull from the sniper and gunslinger skillsets; the Ranger from scout and assault; the Grenadier from demolitions expert and heavy gunner; and the Specialist from battle medic and combat hacker.
XCOM 2 Sharpshooter guide
- Squaddie - Fire Pistol; Squadsight: You can target enemies within squadmates’ sight, provided there is line of sight to the target.
- Corporal - Long Watch: Allow Overwatch to trigger with Squadsight.
- Sergeant - Deadeye: Take a shot with a small aim penalty for a significant damage boost. Two turn cooldown.
- Lieutenant - Death From Above: Killing an enemy at a lower elevation with your sniper rifle costs only a single action and does not end your turn.
- Captain - Kill Zone: Take a reaction shot against any enemy that moves or attacks within a cone of fire. Three turn cooldown.
- Major - Steady Hands: If you didn't move last turn, gain +10 aim and +10 critical chance.
- Colonel - Serial: Each kill made with your sniper rifle completely restores your actions. With each consecutive kill you get a critical chance penalty. Four turn cooldown.
- Corporal - Return Fire: When targeted by enemy fire, automatically fire back with your pistol once per turn.
- Sergeant - Lightning Hands: Fire your pistol at a target. This attack does not cost an action. Three turn cooldown.
- Lieutenant - Quickdraw: Firing your pistol with your first action no longer ends your turn.
- Captain - Faceoff: Fire once at every visible enemy with your pistol. Three turn cooldown.
- Major - Aim: Hunker Down now confers +20 aim to the first shot on the following turn.
- Colonel - Fan Fire: Fire the pistol 3 consecutive times at a single target. 3 turn cooldown.
Bide your time
Most missions start in stealth mode, allowing your squad to get into position around an unsuspecting ADVENT patrol and take them out in two turns flat. Or that’s the theory. When you're not fighting against the clock, exploit the luxury of a spare turn - settle in to enjoy the extra aim endowed by Aim or Steady Hands.
Make like U2 and get excited about elevation
A rooftop vantage point has always been important in XCOM, and that’s doubly true for the sequel’s snipers. Acquire Death From Above early and you can follow up a rifle kill with a good pistoling. If all goes to plan, you could be shooting twice as often in a turn. Speaking of which...
Pick the right mods (and we’re not talking about the Long War)
Have you seen what Kill Zone can do? When you could be making four or five headshots per turn, the number of bullets in your clip becomes a matter of paramount importance. Mod your finest sniper’s weapon with an expanded magazine, readily available as a battlefield drop, and it might mean another yellow-blooded ragdoll splattering against the tiles.
Bring up the rear - but don’t fall behind
Squadsight was considered essential by veteran commanders of Enemy Unknown, and in apparent recognition of that fact Firaxis have granted it to sharpshooters as standard. But bear in mind that many missions require you evac your squad in a hurry. If your crack sniper is perched in a tower on the wrong side of an ADVENT base, it doesn’t matter how many hit points she has - she’ll be left behind.
XCOM 2 Ranger guide
- Squaddie - Slash: Attack any enemy within movement range with your sword.
- Corporal - Phantom: When the squad is revealed, this soldier remains concealed.
- Sergeant - Shadowstrike: When concealed, gain +25 bonus Aim and +25 bonus critical hit chance when attacking enemies.
- Lieutenant - Conceal: Immediately enter concealment once per mission.
- Captain - Implacable: If you score one or more kills on your turn, you are granted a single bonus move.
- Major - Deep Cover: If you did not attack this turn, hunker down automatically.
- Colonel - Rapid Fire: Fire twice in a row at an enemy. Each shot suffers an Aim penalty of -15. There is no cooldown on this ability.
- Corporal - Blademaster: Deal +2 extra damage on all sword attacks.
- Sergeant - Shadowstep: This soldier does not trigger overwatch or reaction fire.
- Lieutenant - Run and Gun: Take an action after dashing. 3 turn cooldown.
- Captain - Bladestorm: Free sword attacks on enemies that enter or attack from melee range.
- Major - Untouchable: If you score a kill during your turn, the next attack against you during the enemy turn will miss.
- Colonel - Reaper: A devastating chain melee attack where the first melee attack cannot miss. Each melee kill in Reaper mode grants an extra action, but further melee attacks deal reduced damage. 4 turn cooldown.
Calm the flip down
You’re going to struggle to keep your rangers alive to begin with. That’s because Firaxis have taken the mad dash of XCOM 1’s run-and-gun assault skill to its logical conclusion: a high-damage melee attack you can pull off even after a sprint. Administered using an actual sword. It’s all terribly exciting, but that’s going to make you careless. Just remember the fundamentals: you still want to be behind some semblance of cover whenever possible, and you still don’t want to wind up flanked.
Tactics 101: Minimise risk
There are things you can do to help your ranger’s odds of seeing the debrief screen. Where in Blood Bowl it’s best to save your riskiest actions ‘til last, here it can make sense to do the opposite. If there’s even the slightest chance your sword-swinger might end up exposed at the end of their turn, ensure your sniper has the intended stab-ee in their sights too. Especially since...
Do the maths
The chance of failure might be higher than you think. It should be obvious, but the way it’s presented means it isn’t: percentage-to-hit isn’t the only dice roll you need to consider. If your enemy has six hit points remaining and your arc blade slices away four-to-six with each hit, you’re looking at a 66% possibility they’ll still be standing afterwards. When a standing ADVENT soldier can mean point-blank disaster, you don’t want to leave too much to fickle fate.
They’re called scouts: use them as such
Phantom and Conceal are invaluable lower-level skills that allow you to retain a degree of stealth even after first blood. Many missions in XCOM 2 offer you the option of an early evac, leaving you weighing up the objective against the potential for heavy losses. Scout ahead with a concealed ranger and you can see exactly what you’re up against before making the call.
XCOM 2 Grenadier guide
- Squaddie - Launch Grenade: The Grenadier uses a grenade launcher to fire grenades rather than throwing them. This allows for greater grenade range and grenade capacity.The grenadier gains an extra inventory slot that may only be used for grenades.
- Corporal - Blast Padding: Your gear includes layers of extra padding and blast plates, granting a bonus point of Armor and 66% less damage from explosive attacks.
- Sergeant - Demolition: Unleash a volley of bullets at your target's cover, significantly damaging or destroying it. Deals no damage to your target. Uses two ammo. Three-turn cooldown.
- Lieutenant - Heavy Ordnance: The grenade in your grenade-only slot gains a bonus use. Affects support grenades, not just offensive ones.
- Captain - Volatile Mix: Grenades gain +1 tile to their radius and deal +2 damage. Does not increase environment damage.
- Major - Salvo: Using the grenade launcher or a heavy weapon as your first action does not end the turn
- Colonel - Saturation Fire: Fire a hail of bullets in a cone damaging every enemy and all cover within. Uses 3 ammo, 5 turn cool down.
- Corporal - Shredder: Your cannon attacks shred armor. Higher rank weapons shred more points of armor. The shredding effect applies before damage.
- Sergeant - Suppression: Fire a barrage that pins down your target, granting reaction fire against it if it moves, and imposing a -50 penalty to the target's aim. Suppression is cancelled if the Grenadier takes damage. Suppression penalties stack. Uses two ammo. No cooldown.
- Lieutenant - Holo Targeting: Any directed cannon shot, hit or miss, will mark the target, increasing your squad's aim by +15 against this target. Applies to standard attacks and single-target abilities, including suppression.
- Captain - Chain Shot: Fires a shot with a penalty of 15 to aim. If it hits, immediately fire another shot at the target. Uses two ammo. Three-turn cooldown.
- Major - Hail of Bullets: Fire a shot that is guaranteed to hit. Uses three ammo. Five turn cooldown.
- Colonel - Rupture: Fires a shot that deals critical damage. The target, if hit, will also take 3 additional damage from all sources. Uses 3 ammo. 3-turn cooldown.
Eat shreddies for breakfast
Armour is a serious new consideration in XCOM 2. Rather than simply beefing up enemy hit points, it’s now a separate bar that reduces all incoming damage until it’s specifically stripped away. Grenades will do the trick, but once you’ve run out of those, you’ll be grateful for a soldier who can ruin a chestplate with one, well-placed shot.
A little bomb goes a long way
The common characteristic all grenadiers have over XCOM 1’s heavies is range. You can now punt a plasma grenade onto a muton’s lap from a considerable distance - and you’ll want to, especially once ADVENT start calling in reinforcements to whittle down your already-weakened troops. Smoke bombs and flashbangs can save the life of a faraway comrade in a fix, too.
Befriend the engineers
If a grenadier really wants to increase their chances of battlefield survival, they’ll make a cuppa for Chief Shen and friends down in robotics. The advanced launcher is within easy reach from the off, and you can ask engineering to develop experimental explosives in the Proving Grounds. It’s pot luck which you’ll get first, but you might just land an incendiary or acid grenade and be laughing as the hit points slide off those sectoids. Best of all, those kind of improvements are transferable should your beloved demolitions expert be, er, not making cuppas anymore.
Obliterate the objective
Occasionally you’ll be tasked with destroying an information relay before deadly intel is passed to ADVENT’s superiors. On a good day, you’ll get a clear shot at it from concealment. With a couple of well-placed plasma grenades, you could be ready to evac before the enemy have even unholstered their laser weapons.
XCOM 2 Specialist guide
- Squaddie - Hack: Attempt to breach security on a network access point with your GREMLIN; Aid Protocol: Command your GREMLIN to move to a friendly target. It grants that target a bonus to Defense until the start of the next player turn.
- Corporal - Medical Protocol: The GREMLIN can perform healing actions remotely: GREMLIN Heal and GREMLIN Stabilize. The GREMLIN has a single charge. If a medikit is equipped, the GREMLIN will gain an additional charge.
- Sergeant - Revival Protocol: Send the GREMLIN to an ally to remove any negative mental status effects. Disoriented, Stunned, Panicked, or Unconscious.
- Lieutenant - Field Medic: Equipped medikits have two extra charges.
- Captain - Covering Fire: Overwatch shots can now be triggered by enemy actions, not just movement.
- Major - Ever Vigilant: If you spend all of your actions on moves, you are granted an automatic overwatch shot at the end of the turn.
- Colonel - Restoration: The GREMLIN flies to each squad member, healing or reviving them as needed. Once per mission.
- Corporal - Combat Protocol: Send the GREMLIN to an enemy to jolt them, dealing guaranteed damage, which is increased against robotic enemies. Twice per mission.
- Sergeant - Haywire Protocol: You may target robotic and mechanical enemies with your GREMLIN, attempting to hack them and seize control.
- Lieutenant - Scanning Protocol: The GREMLIN can trigger an instant scan of the area, increasing the Specialist's sight radius substantially for one turn and revealing any hidden enemies.
- Captain - Threat Assessment: Aid Protocol now grants the target a Covering Fire Overwatch shot, but the Aid Protocol cooldown is increased by one turn.
- Major - Guardian: Grants 50% chance during Overwatch to perform an additional shot if the previous Overwatch shot hits. There's no limit as to how many times Guardian can trigger.
- Colonel - Capacitor Discharge: Send the GREMLIN to a location where it emits a substantial electric discharge, damaging and potentially stunning all nearby units. Robotic units take more damage. Once per mission.
Find a good spot
If you can get behind cover that’ll serve you well for a few turns, your specialist can contribute plenty to the fight. GREMLIN actions don’t automatically end the turn - so it’s possible to bolster the health or defence of an ally while firing off a few rounds of your own, so long as you don’t also need to move to a better position.
Give them the medikits
Traditionally, XCOM first-aid has been a messy business. You’re asking one soldier, usually with problems of their own, to run over and revive another, always in a compromised position. As soon as your specialist has Medical Protocol, however, you’re away - sending your robot whizzing above the battlefield to where it’s needed. Upgrade to the nanomedikit early on to get the highest possible number of hit points for your inventory space.
Have fun with the shiny, new hacking...
XCOM 2 has a fancy new mechanic whereby you send your drone to a nearby turret or CCTV station and it brings up a hacking screen. You’re given a percentage chance of success, and often a slim chance of unlocking extra goodies for the global map. You’ll want to make use of it where possible: the very best rewards include turret takeovers and control of a randomly-picked enemy unit on the map.
...But don’t get carried away
The most alluring rewards are locked behind some seriously unfavourable percentages. Fail your 49% hack and you’ll at the very least lose concealment, and with it the element of surprise that enables those dramatic patrol takedowns. Rule of thumb: don’t accept any percentage you wouldn’t take as a shot.
Okay, let’s get this gear packed up - there’s a war to fight, you know. But wait - what’s that? Two purple eyes, glowing out from the shadows at the back of the barracks. It’s XCOM 2’s psi-operative. The fifth Beatle. The green power ranger. The one with all the spells.
XCOM 2 Psi Operative 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.
- Initiate - Soulfire: Does guaranteed psionic damage to an organic enemy, ignores cover and armor; Stasis: Completely stuns the target for 1 turn, but renders them immune to any damage or attack.
- Acolyte - Insanity: Disabling telepathic attack that can inflict different negative conditions, including mental control of the target.
- Adept - Soul Steal: Using Soulfire now heals you for half of the damage dealt.
- Disciple - Solace: The psionic is immune to all mental status effects as well as removing all mental status effects for friendly units within a small radius around the psionic. Passive.
- Mystic - Schism: Insanity now does a small amount of guaranteed damage, and applies Rupture to the target.
- Warlock - Fuse: If an enemy is carrying explosives, they can be remotely detonated by the Psi Operative.
- Magus - Null Lance: Project a beam of psionic energy that damages every target it passes through.
- Acolyte - Inspire: Grant a bonus action immediately to a nearby squadmate.
- Adept - Stasis Shield: Stasis can be used on friendly units.
- Disciple - Sustain: Once per mission, when the psionic soldier is reduced to zero hit points, he is instead reduced to one hit point and put into stasis for one turn.
- Mystic - Fortress: The Psi Operative is immune to fire, poison, acid, and explosive damage.
- Warlock - Domination: Permenantly mind controls an enemy. Only one successful Domination can be performed per mission.
- Magus - Void Rift: A large AoE ability dealing moderate damage and a chance to inflict insanity on all targets in the storm.
N.B. 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.
And that’s it! All our advice. Please direct any complaints about lost squaddies to the ADVENT administration - but do share your own tips in the comments.