Beyond the simple use of cover to help protect against enemy fire, there are a number of deployment strategies, as well as movement and fire tactics, which can be used to optimize the chance of success.
The squad leader is the first soldier to take action in the firing order. With a fully expanded squad (Squad Size I and II required), the initial firing order is roughly front to back (from left to right on the Squad Selection screen: 5, 2, 1, 3, 4, 6).
Axis of MovementEdit
The squad's axis of movement is the general direction the squad is moving within the mission's Area of Operations (AO). The axis is one of the main factors to consider when moving a squad in formation. It can be useful to set the game camera pointing upwards in line with the axis to remember the main route the squad is following. When deciding which axis should be set for a unit or the whole squad, there are different types of areas to consider.
- Safe areas, recently scouted and clear of aliens: It is necessary to keep track of the squad's safe areas since they can provide concealment and avoid activating additional alien pods. Safe areas with full cover are best, since they allow soldiers to set Overwatch traps, conduct flanking maneuvers, reload their weapons, heal themselves, or fall back.
- Unexplored and out of sight areas of the map where aliens might be present, either dormant or active: As the squad moves away from the Skyranger soldiers start revealing more of the map and risk either activating dormant alien pods or ambushed by their Overwatch traps.
- Danger zones where aliens can target allied units and hit/kill them during their turn: As the aliens move during their turn, or are activated during XCOM's turn, they'll create new danger zones.
Rules of EngagementEdit
When moving or firing a unit the player should always consider the same principle defined in the Scouting section (below): the squad should move and fight as one. There are exceptions to this rule, but the key aspect is that all moves should be coordinated, and a unit's two actions shouldn't be used one after the other. The following is a basic example with a four-soldier squad (Heavy, Assault, Sniper, Support):
- 1st action:
- Assault moves and spots enemy, stops moving
- Sniper (with Squadsight) fires
- Heavy (with Bullet Swarm) fires or launches rocket if necessary
- Support moves to a position with full cover but has a low Aim probability
- 2nd action:
- Assault either fires, goes on Overwatch, or tactically retreats
- Heavy advances to a better position for the next turn (if did not fire rocket 1st action)
- Support either Overwatches, or uses a Smoke Grenade to cover the Assault and/or Heavy
- Turn ends
Always consider retreat when several aliens are encountered at once, or if suffering casualties. To evaluate the situation, the player should consider how many enemies will be left standing after XCOM completes its turn, according to the the following guidelines:
- A single alien that needs two shots to kill a soldier is a nuisance.
- Two or more aliens that need two shots to kill a soldier are a threat.
- One alien that needs only one shot to kill a soldier and has a soldier in sight is a threat.
- Two or more aliens that need only one shot to kill a soldier is risking disaster for the entire squad.
When a squad faces a seemingly impossible situation to which there is no reasonable firing solution that won't result in one or more dead soldier(s), immediately fall back. Unless the squad is at the edge of the map just after deploying (there is only one city map where this is likely to occur), this is a very practical and easy option to avoid casualties. Many videos of Impossible difficulty mission failures could have been avoided by simply disengaging and moving to a better position.
Deployment Strategies refer to the methodology employed in determining how troops are grouped and sent into battle. There is no one universal strategy; their use depends on squad structure, weapon loadouts, and combat environment.
Force Recon is for a highly mobile unit to use one action to advance for scouting purposes then be joined by the rest of the squad, with all units ending their turn in Overwatch for reaction shots in case an alien wanders by.
The key is to coordinate the squad's movement as one. All members use an action to move, one by one, then the whole squad Overwatches together.
Units that are well suited for this role include:
- Support class soldiers with the Sprinter ability.
- Heavy or Support class soldiers with Suppression or Rifle Suppression, to restrict a newly discovered enemy's movement and reduce their Aim.
- S.H.I.V.s due to their durability and the S.H.I.V. Suppression Foundry upgrade.
- Sniper class soldiers with the Battle Scanner ability.
Taking Point (Middle English phrase "in point", which meant "in immediate danger or peril") means a designated soldier assumes the first and most exposed position in a squad formation. That is, the leading soldier/unit advancing through hostile or unsecured territory. A "point-man" soldier on point is frequently the first to take hostile fire and/or be killed. The inherent risks of taking point create a need for constant and extreme operational alertness.
Units that are well suited for this role include:
This strategy revolves around keeping the squad together and as compact as possible. For smaller or ill-equipped teams, this may be the only means of survival and effectiveness, as no one soldier is capable of bringing significant force to bear on an aggressor. While keeping the squad together is the driving force behind this strategy, it is important to keep the squad from bunching up unnecessarily; while cover availability may require several soldiers to come together, keeping a minimum spread of two meters (tiles) between troops helps to minimize the risk from grenades and other area of effect attacks.
This allows the squad to protect itself very well by concentrating fire. However, troops will begin to get in each other's way when it comes to getting into cover. Additionally, unless care is taken to stagger reloading, the entire squad is prone to running out of ammunition at the same time, leaving them vulnerable for a turn as they reload. Clearing an Area of Operations (AO) this way can be very time consuming.
Point and PunchEdit
(A modification of the take point and the single squad doctrine [See Above]).
Point and punch breaks the squad into two elements: a pair of rifle scouts, usually Assault class soldiers with Run & Gun (and possibly Lightning Reflexes), out front to detect enemies (the point) and trigger Overwatch, followed by heavier weapons in the hands of the rest of the squad (the punch).
This is a risky approach, and should only be employed if a small squad is facing a well-armed and entrenched enemy. The soldiers on point are exposed to danger should they encounter a large enemy force or a small number of tough enemies. Dashing is discouraged, as the point soldiers should have a movement point remaining to either open fire or Hunker Down to avoid as much damage as possible. Point troops should never end movement out of cover.
Care must also be taken to ensure that the punch element retains adequate cover, and staggers reloads, as the point soldiers will be exposed should the entire punch element run out of ammunition at the same time.
The Blaster Launcher gives this doctrine a new lease on life as Heavies can blow major targets away without having line of sight on them, sparing an extra turn of getting into position.
This strategy should be intermixed with the above when using a Sniper with Squadsight and Damn Good Ground. It consists of simply posting the Sniper at an elevated position with good line of sight, and keeping them there while using any of the above tactics. Buffs can increase a Sniper's Aim to 100%, and Opportunist can make life hellish for any would be ambusher. Since few alien teams roam the battlefield, the Sniper is unlikely to be discovered, and even when discovered is a difficult target (with or without Low Profile). Should the Sniper be discovered by anything they can't kill themselves, they can just dash away to the rest of the team.
The Sniper should be equipped with a Skeleton Suit or Ghost Armor to grapple up to a rooftop or another high place. In XCOM: Enemy Within, this ability can be preempted/superseded by giving a Sniper the Muscle Fiber Density gene mod.
This tactic requires a highly mobile and offensive squad. Fielding a squad where every member has high movement, grappling hooks/jumps, and/or the ability to deliver high non-stationary damage is key to this strategy. Nearly all members of the squad use medium-ranged weapons and Skeleton Suits or Ghost Armor (that grant movement & defense bonuses plus grappling hooks). This mobility allows all members to easily bridge cover gaps, storm objectives, flank enemy troops, and duck out of danger if wounded.
Assaults (with Run & Gun and Rapid Fire) and Supports (with Sprinter) form the backbone of this strategy. Assaults should be offensively built (except perhaps for Lightning Reflexes), and carry rifles. Supports should take Sprinter and Rifle Suppression. For long-term payoff include Snipers in the squad, making sure to get the Gunslinger perk to improve their on-the-move damage potential; however in XCOM: Enemy Within once a Sniper is a Colonel and has 105 Aim, the player may want to augment them to a MEC Trooper with Kinetic Strike Module, Jetboot Module, Advanced Fire Control, Reactive Targeting Sensors, and the Advanced Servomotors Foundry upgrade to create a devastatingly mobile Hunter-Killer MEC. Including one rocket-spec Heavy in the squad, while not central to the theme, can often help diffuse the occasional swarm situation.
This tactic is well suited for time-sensitive objectives such as saving civilians in Terror Site missions, defusing bombs, or capturing Meld. This tactic provides a fast-paced dynamic combat experience which some players may prefer over slower and more conservative tactics. However, the strategy requires a good understanding of positioning, and can be challenging for Impossible difficulty.
Note that the hunter-killer squad, like the point and punch squad (above), becomes much safer and more viable in XCOM: Enemy Within due to the immense synergy of these tactics with the Mimetic Skin gene mod. Scouting Assault/Support/Snipers can aggressively advance and efficiently identify alien pods without the danger of activating them, allowing fully-informed decisions on the best time and position to sweep-and-clear them with the rest of the squad.
This strategy allows for a diverse squad and is useful for linear objectives and battlegrounds (such as UFO Crash Sites) where the enemy approaches from a single direction and has little chance of flanking the squad. The strategy revolves around the use of all specialist classes with Assault soldiers slowly but consistently moving forward, and items such as S.C.O.P.E.s or Nano-fiber Vests to heighten either accuracy or survival. A pair of Heavies follow with S.C.O.P.E.s to heighten accuracy from both normal shots and reaction shots, ideally using abilities such as Suppression and Holo-Targeting to buff fellow units and offer an escape route for the Assaults. A Support can be used as either a bridge to provide Overwatch between the Assaults or Heavies, or stay back and be used as a medic with Rifle Suppression. The final slots can be used either for a Sniper to kill priority targets or have additional Supports/Heavies/Assaults based on the map layout.
This tactic, although requiring some degree of consistency, is highly versatile as teams can be split into pairs or trios and can move down separate sides of the map. It is also highly inclusive to Rookies as they can be used in a similar way to the Support troopers and can get the trickle of experience needed to become Squaddies. The main drawback to this tactic, however, is that it depends on Assaults to lead the way. If the squad is flanked, they can end up pinned down in the center of the map.
Movement and Fire TacticsEdit
Maneuvering is more crucial to combat than firepower.
Initiative is life. Capturing the momentum of the battle, dictating enemy action on your terms, and using it decisively to keep the enemy off balance while maintaining an advantageous position and field of fire. Remember that the tide of a battle can turn instantly due to a few lucky shots from the enemy, particularly at higher difficulty levels, so minimizing risk while maximizing potential is key.
Base of Fire Edit
Base of Fire is a supporting force that provides Overwatch and covering fire to other advancing units while they are executing fire and movement tactics. A base of fire can be a platoon during company fire and movement, by individual MECs or SHIVs sections, or even by fireteams, in the final stages of an assault.
Two-by-Two formations involve the squad being broken down into small parties for searching an area, maintaining interlocking fields of fire and staggered movement point use. Two-by-two movement is used to cover blind spots, allowing each soldier to reinforce the other, and ensures that if an advancing soldier runs into enemies, at a minimum his or her partner can fire at least one shot.
Two-by-two is an inadvisable strategy for primary combat, as it does not bring enough firepower to handle possible threats. Instead, it is best employed as a mop-up approach for hunting down stragglers.
Advancing cover is used by a fire team to push forward into an unknown area without exposing itself to unnecessary risk, while giving itself the opportunity to respond to threats. For this tactic, a fire team is divided into two elements which work in tandem. Element A advances as a point scout, using only one movement point (never dashing) and always ending movement in the best cover possible. Element B moves up into the cover vacated by Element A. When resistance is found by Element A, it can either engage immediately if appropriate to the risk, or retreat to its previous cover, whereupon Element B enters Overwatch to hit the enemy should it pursue the retreating point unit.
Advancing cover provides protection and the ability to take down an enemy for a small fire team. However, it risks stagnation if the enemy force cannot be routed within two turns. At that point, combat becomes a game of probabilities, and a matter of who gets a lucky shot first.
As with other strategies, keep the teams spread out. Elements A and B should always maintain the same spacing: one full movement point. This prevents a bombardment shot from a Cyberdisc or other units from affecting the entire fire team. Additionally, take care to scout hallway branches lest the team be hit on the flank by a bypassed enemy.
Bounding Overwatch (also known as leapfrogging) involves an unbroken stream of covering fire. While a common and valuable tactic for real-world militaries, bounding has a single, specialized use in XCOM: capturing live enemies.
The main objective is not to inflict damage but to cover ground in relative safety. The squad must have at least two soldiers capable of laying down suppression fire, as they form the cores of two elements. The process begins with enemy contact. The forward element, which we will call Element A, immediately lays down suppressing fire to pin down the hostile and reduce its Aim. Element B moves up by rushing to the next viable cover and sets up. This way, when the turn is resolved and the suppressing fire ends from Element A, it is immediately resumed by Element B, which is now rested and much closer to the hostile. This process is repeated until a soldier equipped with an Arc Thrower is able to close the gap and effect the capture.
Note: This is not a viable strategy for the capture of Outsiders; their weak health means that should the suppressing fire connect for damage, they will almost certainly be killed.
Mobile fortress is a blitzkrieg tactic without a conventional analogue. It involves using two (or four) Alloy S.H.I.V.s as "tanks," a MEC Trooper with One For All as a mobile barricade, and a soldier using its bulk for cover. This tactic can be particularly useful when surprised by a heavy alien unit. The S.H.I.V.s and the MEC Trooper draw fire and bombardment, so unless suppressing fire is used to deter enemy counterattack, both are likely to take damage during the enemy's turn.
The advantage to the mobile fortress is that when used properly, it enables an unbroken stream of suppressing fire, as both the S.H.I.V.s/MEC and the soldier are able to suppress for two turns each; so long as their engagements are staggered, there should be no reloading pause.
Border advance's premise is simple: stay out of the center of the map. Proceeding through the center of the map leaves open the "worst case scenario" – the possibility of activating 3-5 pods of hostiles all at once and being flanked from multiple directions. This is especially true of UFO crash and landing site missions which have wandering patrols.
Whenever possible, move the squad along the border (edge) of the map. When advancing in this manner they reveal less territory per turn, thus activating fewer alien pods, and have fewer hostile patrols stumbling upon them. It also makes flanking difficult for enemies when the squad's backs are turned to the edge of the map.
On the other hand, following this strategy frequently means failing time-sensitive objectives (Meld) or rescuing civilians on Terror Site missions. It also creates a slower gaming experience which some players may find tedious, especially on larger maps. Nevertheless, it is extremely effective at ensuring the safety of a squad, and is therefore recommended for Ironman mode and/or Impossible difficulty.
Center Peel is a type of retreat practiced by modern-day infantry. This particular tactic is more specifically designed for situations where smaller groups of infantry withdraw from an engagement of a much larger force. In general terms, it is a sloped or diagonal retreat from the enemy. The slanting motion of the tactic is designed to deter the opposition and gives the impression of increasing numbers of infantry joining the battle. The slanting motion also has the benefit of keeping open one's field of fire. Retreating directly backwards would severely limit a soldier's field of fire.
Center Peel begins with the squad facing off with a larger force of enemies. Soldiers implement a battle line formation facing into the enemy's midst. The soldiers then begin, or continue, to use suppressing fire to delay the enemy's attack and advance. Depending on the direction of the retreat, the second to last soldier on the farthermost end, opposite the retreating direction, calls out, "Peel one". Next, the soldier adjacent to him/her, on the end of the line, ceases fire, works their way behind the line towards the other side, takes a position one-tile diagonally back from the farthest soldier on this side, and resumes suppressing fire. Then, the process repeats, and continues until the squad has safely disengaged the target.
Mouse-holing (also known as breaching) is a tactic used in urban warfare, in which soldiers create access to adjoining rooms or buildings by blasting or tunneling through a wall. This tactic is used to avoid open streets where advancing infantry, caught in enfilade, are easily targeted by machine-gun and sniper fire. With mouse-holing, soldiers are able to move around an urban battlefield under cover, without needing to expose themselves to enemy fire or observation. Large, unrestricted holes can compromise the structural integrity of the building, and offer little cover from opposing forces.
Tips & Tactics: Sniper as a CarryEdit
At impossible/classic difficulty, the sniper class is your carry. Like carries in other games, he starts off as one of the most useless, weakest classes, and by the end carries the team to victory. Highly promoted snipers with elevated positions (or in flight at high altitude) can pick off targets in complete safety, without alerting additional packs of aliens, while your squad only has to not die for a couple turns. Before Squadsight, you have to do everything you can to get kills and promotions to your snipers. Keep them in the safest cover, have them take first crack at any enemy that will be focus fired, have them use grenades to get the last hits if you have to. Sniper promotions > Alien Research, weapon fragments, everything. From there, build the right side of the sniper promotion tree. The must-haves are Squadsight, Damn Good Ground, and Opportunist. Keep soaking up the XP on the snipers, because with proper positioning they will rarely ever be at risk and so the XP they pick up will never be wasted. Even if everything goes wrong and everyone dies except your snipers, they are generally so far away from the battle that you can just return to the LZ, evac, and the squad can still function, rookies in front as bait instead of vets and snipers still picking everything off. At this point, begin every mission by getting the highest ground; not only is there bonus visibility, huge sight lines, a natural defense and accuracy bonus, but 'Damn Good Ground' increases many of the bonuses further. If you Overwatch here, you can engage patrolling aliens at great advantage, then after they are dealt with, your squad can move through all the sight lines of the snipers to clear the stationary groups. Now you can clear the camping aliens inside UFOs and buildings without any fear of alerting additional packs, meaning your assaults can dominate in CQB using run and gun liberally without fear while they flank around. Furthermore, you can also use explosives to give snipers sight lines to support the cleanup operation in a pinch.
In the Sniper as a carry method, the Colonel promotion is a tough choice. Double tap allows you to wound multiple high health enemies without always killing them outright. As EXP would be wasted on your Colonel sniper, this is ideal to rapidly dole out promotions to the rest of your squad. In The Zone is safer as it prevents being overwhelmed, especially in terror missions or when paired with explosives, but every time In The Zone triggers it is a waste of EXP, unless a vet on the battlefield would die without such help. It is also less effective against large targets. Once you grant Double Tap to your one Colonel sniper (generally your first), and In The Zone to another Colonel sniper, you have won the game no matter what the rest of the squad looks like. The carry technique is the secret to how players emerge victorious in Ironman/Impossible runs despite 30+ XCOM soldiers in the memorial.
With Stationary Snipers (obviously with Squadsight), always move last. That way you can ensure you can react and potentially save teammates who discover aliens but have missed their shot or ran out of actions to be taken. After everyone else took their turns, it's up to you to decide whether to choose Overwatch or to move the sniper to another position.
These formations are used on open maps where there's ample freedom of movement. Some sort of cover is usually required but that depends on the tech disparity between both sides – it is quite possible to deploy soldiers out in the open and not risk KIAs, depending on the battlefield circumstances.
This is the initial squad positioning, and is commonly used as the squad moves away from the Skyranger and starts exploring the AO at the beginning of a mission. The soldiers advance together and kill alien patrols with combined Overwatch shots.
This formation can be used as long as there aren't any active enemy pods (i.e. enemies that have seen a soldier, resulting in the "run for cover" animation). It is also possible to use this formation against one or two active aliens if the soldiers have sufficient HP to prevent being killed by one or two alien shots.
After contact with the enemy is established, a line formation is used to secure the squad's location and prevent the aliens from advancing or flanking units. Soldiers are spread in a line behind cover, with sufficient space between them to avoid several units being hit by Alien Grenades or a Thin Man's Poison Spit.
The line formation allows flexibility to deal with threats from multiple directions and to perform frontal assaults. However, it may not be possible to establish a line if the whole squad finds itself on the middle of a danger zone or if the aliens are threatening to outflank it. In those situations the squad may switch into a file formation (below). If frontal advances are too costly, the file may instead break itself into two semi-independent fire teams.
A file formation is used to retreat from a bad position or to quickly reach a map position. The main emphasis of a file is to avoid contact/engagements with the aliens, by moving/dashing through secure locations, with one or more units moving ahead of everybody else to scout the path to the rest of the squad. A squad can usually quickly switch between file and line formations.
Assaults can be one of the best units for this role since their Run & Gun ability allows them to respond to any threats found within the axis of advance. Assaults are also typically found on the flanks of a squad to try to outflank the aliens, and can quickly switch to this role.
This formation becomes a viable option once the squad has been improved with the Squad Size I and II upgrades. Fire teams are composed of two soldiers equipped with rifles (Assault or Support classes), supported by a Heavy trooper armed with a heavy automatic weapon. A full size squad can be broken into two very effective fire teams.
Fire teams allow for high flexibility, but require that each individual soldier be capable of delivering an appreciable amount of firepower. Only larger squads armed with at least laser weapons should be deployed as fire teams.
There are distinct advantages, however, which should not be overlooked. A proper fire team can take down a Sectopod on easier difficulties, and at least keep it pinned down until reinforcements arrive on higher difficulties. This is done by using the fire team elements in concert: the heavy gunner uses Suppression to keep an enemy pinned down and reduce its Aim while the rifle element flanks and destroys the enemy. When fighting tougher enemies, flanking should be limited in favor of delivering maximum firepower in the shortest amount of time. The added advantage is that should the enemy still be a threat when suppressing fire ammunition is exhausted, the Heavy can unleash a rocket, although this shot should only be taken if there is no chance for the rifles to take down the target, when they have already fired to soften up extremely tough robots such as Cyberdiscs or Sectopods when they are near full health (HEAT Ammo is especially helpful in such circumstances).
Converging two fire teams onto a single room (e.g. a UFO's main room) from different entry points is an extremely effective strategy. Revealed aliens will tend to take cover against the fire team that first opened the door/ blasted a hole, often leaving themselves flanked when the second fire team enters from a different entry point. Strongly consider explosive or Collateral Damage entries that are most likely behind where the aliens would take cover. Ideally the second fire team should have more firepower/ more shots.
Fire teams also prevent the entire squad from being caught in an ambush's kill box.
Note: Substituting a Sniper for a Heavy soldier in one of the fire teams can also add increased flexibility to the squad (particularly at long range) by adding some of the interesting and highly valuable skills that can be learned by a Sniper (such Battle Scanner, Squadsight and In The Zone) in addition to the obvious benefit of precision fire from a sniper rifle versus distant targets. Further augmenting the Sniper with mobility-enhancing body armor such as a Skeleton Suit, Archangel Armor or Ghost Armor can enable him or her to reach difficult if not impossible to reach locations to set up a firing position and gain height bonuses in the process. Ghost Armor also enables active camouflage further opening up new tactics that otherwise wouldn't be possible.
MEC's can also replace the Heavy, and are amazing when dealing with high health units.