A Soldier is the primary combat unit used to execute missions in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Soldiers are managed and recruited through the Barracks. Between missions soldiers can be seen participating in a variety off-duty activities on the various levels of the Barracks facility while in the "ant farm" view.
As Earth's first and last line of defense against the Alien invaders, the soldiers of XCOM are the most important units in game; they are the primary and the most versatile units who can be deployed by The Commander (player character) to engage in combat. Initially soldiers are fielded in squads of up to four units, but you can purchase upgrades from the Officer Training School to increase the squad size, to a max of six.
You start out with a group of 12 soldiers, all of whom are Rookies. New soldiers can be purchased through the Barracks and will arrive three days later. New soldiers cost different amounts based on the game difficulty; on Easy and Normal they cost §10 and on Classic and Impossible they cost §15. An additional soldier can also sometimes be received as a reward from a mission by The Council.
Each soldier is given a random name, appearance, and nationality when they join you. Later, when they reach the Sergeant rank, they are also given a random nickname. Each of these options may be changed through the Barracks, customizing any soldier's name and appearance how you wish to look like. The only things you can't customize are their nationality and gender. A soldier obtained as a mission reward will be from the country where the mission took place.
Additional appearance options (such as armor appearance and tinting) are available through purchasable downloadable content, such as the Elite Soldier Pack.
Ranks and ExperienceEdit
Soldiers start out as a Rookie and only have access to the most basic abilities. As soldiers accrue experience during missions, they will gain new ranks, allowing them access to new abilities based on their class (see below). The ranks soldiers progress through are Squaddie, Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major, and Colonel. The upgrades from the Officer Training School all require you to have a soldier at a particular rank before you can purchase them. A Soldier obtained as a mission reward will already have a Squaddie or higher rank.
Soldiers have several specializations available to them known as Classes. Upon receiving the promotion to Squaddie rank, soldiers are randomly assigned one of four Classes that determine the weapons and abilities they can use as they rank up:
- Assault: Specializes in close combat.
- Heavy: Specializes in using explosive weapons on your enemies.
- Sniper: Focuses on taking enemies out from afar.
- Support: Helps allies by using smoke grenades or healing them.
Additionally every Soldier has the possibility of gaining the following sub-class:
- Psionic: Every soldier has a random chance of possessing a set of psionic abilities, based on their Will. If unlocked, a soldier gains the abilities from this sub-class in addition to those from their original class. To unlock them, a soldier must spend 10 days being tested in the Psionic Labs.
Soldiers have access to a variety of general abilities and class related abilities in combat. Abilities allow soldiers to perform actions ranging from the essential actions of placing a Soldier on Overwatch or tossing an equipped Frag Grenade to the specialized actions of having a Heavy pin down a dangerous enemy with Suppression while protected by a Smoke Grenade from a Support or a Sniper performing a Double Tap on an alien an Assault has just Flushed into the open.
Every soldier has four attributes:
- HP: How much damage the soldier can take before dying.
- Will: How resistant the unit is to psionics and being terrified.
- Aim: How accurate the unit is.
- Defense: How much harder the unit is to hit.
Rookies start with 40 Will, 65 Aim, 0 Defense, and an amount of HP determined by the game difficulty chosen. As soldiers gain ranks they will receive predefined bonuses to their HP and Aim based on their Class. Soldiers also gain a randomized 2-6 point Will bonus for each rank; if the Iron Will upgrade is purchased this bonus is increased to a possible 4-12 points.
The Second Wave add-on can change some of these attributes if the appropriate modifier is selected; for instance selecting the "Not Created Equal" option randomizes the starting Will and Aim for Rookies. On one hand a Rookie can start out with a Will stat of 59 and Aim of 80 which is significantly better than the standard stats while on the other hand you can also end up with one with a Will of less than 30 and Aim less than 60 which is substantially worse than standard. Note that this setting does not affect HP.
Every soldier has four equipment slots available to him and his gear loadout can be managed in the Barracks or while selecting your squad for a mission:
- Body Armor: The primary armor worn by the soldier. Some armors grant additional abilities.
- Primary Weapon: A primary weapon based on their class.
- Secondary Weapon: A Rocket Launcher/Blaster Launcher for Heavies or a pistol-type weapon for the other classes.
- Item: An extra item such as a Frag Grenade, Nano-fiber Vest, or Medikit that is unavailable in the previous slots.
Soldiers involved in combat are susceptible to injury and death. Wounded soldiers will be unavailable for missions while they recover in the Infirmary; purchasing the Rapid Recovery training from the Officer Training School greatly reduces the amount of time injured soldiers are out of action. Whenever a soldier is killed or bleeds out during a mission, that soldier is permanently removed from the unit roster and their information is recorded on the memorial wall in the Barracks. This information includes the soldier's name, total kills, total missions performed, the name of mission they died on, and the in game date they died.
- Soldiers "level up" as they progress through missions based primarily on how many aliens they kill. So in certain missions, where you feel your squad can safely take out a cornered alien, you may want to weaken it with a few hits and then bring in a soldier you want promoted to take the killing shot.
- One useful way of improving your soldier roster is to take all Rookie teams on the initial few missions, to ensure you have a large number of soldiers with a few kills and consequent promotions under their belt. The diversity of classes and a slightly inflated soldier count which you can potentially obtain from this method is extremely useful as an injury to a particular class soldier no longer means you will have to take a different team composition into the next mission requiring a complete shift in strategy and play-style. A choice of many adequate soldiers as opposed to a few highly trained ones may pay off in the long run (and is essential on harder difficulties) as a strategy focused on training a handful of vets can unravel very quickly with the death of even one key soldier. An inflated roster with promotions and kills evened out over the squad is thus recommended.
- Soldier roles and team composition often define the ideal play-style and tactical approach in-mission. Your Sniper should be in the back in cover and with a clear line of sight towards the enemy. Your Assault (or an assault team consisting of two or more Assaults) should be deployed on the front lines with heavy armor so they can sweep in for the kill, or should be kept on the flanks so they can use Run & Gun and sweep in to take out weakened enemies. Your Supports are multipurpose and can be used for more than just healing, especially if you take the extra movement perk, as they can quickly positions themselves to take a shot, or move in with an Arc Thrower to stun and capture an alien. Your Heavies should be in the core of the team, either lighting up targets with Holo-Targeting so as to ensure their squad mates can kill the targeted alien, or positioned in a manner to enable them to fire a rocket at a concentration of enemies.