XCOM 2 Advanced Combat Strategy Guide – Missions Tips, Turn Limit, Civilian Rescue, Squads

By   /   Feb 10, 2016
XCOM 2 update

What you do in XCOM 2 between missions is highly important to your success, but your field operations make the heart of the game.

XCOM 2 as a turn-based strategy game is brutally unforgiving, but there’s absolutely no such thing as an impossible mission in the game. All you need to do is think a little, become tactically astute, and apply what you’ve learned on the ground.

Of course, saying all that is easier said than done. The game’s tutorial behaves more like a story prologue than an actual tutorial. For experienced XCOM players it’s a healthy reminder of the ultra-basics of the game.

For more help on XCOM 2, read our PC Console Commands, Class Builds Guide, Avenger Base Building and Commander Difficulty Walkthrough.

XCOM 2 Advanced Combat Strategy

For newcomers, no way in hell does it ever prepare you for what’s up ahead. That’s why this guide is here!

Combat in the game isn’t simple, and it tends to become tougher as your progress, even if you’ve been researching weapons and upgrades to make life easier for you.

Towards the later stages of the game, it becomes very difficult to carry out a mission without getting someone at least injured. Then there are timed missions, and there’s enough being said about those.

Both beginners and veterans can take use of this combat guide. If you have anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments section below!

Squad Formations

Increase Your Squad Size
This is something not many talk about. At the start of the game, your squad will have a limit of four, which can later be increased through the Guerilla Tactics School (GTS).

Build the GTS as soon as possible, and use your supplies to increase the squad size – first to five, then ultimately to 6.

Balanced Formation
Assuming you’ve managed to get 6 squad members, it’s important to field a balanced squad for majority of the mission. This means having a squad that has enough versatility to face every situation possible.

Notice there are 2 distinct paths to level one specific type of class (except Psionic Operative, which we won’t discuss in too much detail because of the randomized leveling and the fact that it’s optional).

For example, a Specialist can be a dedicated Medic if you choose to build them that way, or they can be a dedicated hacker, giving you a massive advantage against robotic enemies.

It’s important to have a set of soldiers with mirroring builds, and you should always have one or two backup soldiers in case your primary ones are sidelined for an extensive period with injury (which happens a lot in XCOM 2).

When you have unlocked the fifth and sixth squad slots and increased the overall squad size. I recommend the following:

  • Sharpshooter – A pure marksman who will stay back and pick off enemies with great precision.
  • Grenadier – A demolition’s expert who can also shred armors of tough enemies.
  • Specialist – A Medic Specialist whose job will be to heal allies and provide aid with the Gremlin.
  • Specialist – A Hacker Specialist who will scan the battlefield and attempt to hack robotic enemies.
  • Ranger – A stealthy Ranger who stays concealed for long periods and can flank enemies.
  • Ranger – An aggressive Ranger who gets up close and personal to finish off weakened foes.

This type of squad formation will give you the tools and firepower to combat any and every type of enemy, and is especially useful for Blacksite Facility missions and Alien Retaliation missions where one must rescue at least 6 civilians.

Keeping this formation will grant you a lot of balance overall. Try it yourself and you’ll see just how well it works.

Exceptions
There are some exceptions to this balanced formation rule though. Certain types of missions will force you to prioritize a specific class because of the way it’s set up.

For example, you may want to ditch the Sharpshooter altogether in certain timed missions where your squad will have to extract a VIP within a limited amount of turns.

Sharpshooters are given the least amount of grids to move in the battlefield, and because of their function to stay back and do damage from a distance, there’s a chance they will make you lag behind.

On the other hand, Rangers can move the farthest, which makes them excellent for turn-limited missions and also the challenging UFO Dark Event mission.

Rangers combine especially well with Sharpshooters as they can stay concealed and provide the Sharpshooter ultra-long vision without having to compromise their cover.

Try experimenting with 2 Snipers, 3 Rangers, and 1 Specialist for certain turn-limited missions. You won’t regret it!

On-Field Strategy

Okay, so you’ve now understood how you want to build your squad. You’ve selected them, and you’ve landed on the battlefield. Cool. Now, it’s time to get into the real tactical stuff.

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Concealment
During majority of the missions, your squad will be concealed at the start of the mission. This means the enemy is not aware of your position. Use this to your advantage.

As you move forward, red grids with eye icons on them will start to show. These are grids which would break your concealment if one of your squad members steps on them.

It’s important to spread your squad out during Concealment, and discover the first set of enemy. Enemies in XCOM 2 almost always move in packs or mini-squads, usually comprised of 3 to 4 different enemies.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call each mini-squad an enemy unit. At the time of concealment, it is extremely important that you do not discover more than one enemy unit.

If you do, there are huge chances of you to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers, because the moment your concealment breaks, on the next turn both enemy units will get a chance to move in.

The objective should always be to outnumber your enemies, and doing so against two enemy units is impossible.

When to Break Concealment
The moment one of your squad members discovers an enemy unit, you should spread your squad to attack from different directions. Be careful when you do this though – you do not want to discover additional enemy units.

Do not break concealment on the same turn you discover an enemy unit!

This is extremely important! If you discover an enemy unit on one turn, do not break concealment on that turn. Instead, make sure your entire squad has line of sight on the unit, and can attack on the next turn.

Keep all your squad members on Overwatch, wait for the enemy turn to end, then break concealment with the first move of your next turn by attacking. This is because the moment you break your concealment with an attack, the enemy will disperse.

If you had your team on Overwatch the turn before, they’ll take a shot as the unit runs around. Many times you’ll be able to completely annihilate an enemy unit in a single move by doing this.

Even if you don’t, chances are you’ll lay in one or two hits, which can make life a lot easier for you. Once you’ve broken concealment this way, you’ll have the all but one of your entire squad members to control and attack the enemy unit as necessary.

Spreading Out
In order to cover maximum ground and give you good angles, spread your team out well.

Don’t jumble them up closely together. A narrow team is easy pickings for enemies who wield explosives, and the intelligent AI of the game will take advantage of this poor tactic.

While spreading out, stay true to a specific formation. If you’re using a balanced squad like the one recommended above, use your Rangers as the two forward-most players, the Grenadier just behind the Rangers, two Specialists wide of the Grenadier, and the Sharpshooter at the back.

Make sure all of these players are facing towards the enemy unit in general, and that all of them have line of sight to at least one enemy in the unit.

Choosing the Correct Cover
Without any cover, your soldiers are as good as dead. Cover is shown by a shield icon, and it determines how well guarded your soldiers are in a specific direction.

A half-filled shield shows half cover, a fully filled shield shows full cover, and a red shield shows cover which will leave you exposed against enemies.

You should almost always try to position your soldiers behind full cover. Make sure the cover is directly between you and the enemy to give yourself a defense bonus.

A full cover greatly reduces the hit chance for an enemy. This is true also for enemy units, who are significantly harder to hit when in full cover.

Often though you’ll be forced to take cover behind objects that provide only half cover. In such cases, you’ll have to brave it out and hope the enemy misses.

Half cover becomes a much better option than full cover when you’re taking cover behind a car. It’s perfectly fine to do so for one turn, but know that cars blow up if they catch fire.

You should also be extremely careful about inflammable objects. Organic objects such as trees, wooden houses, crates, barrels etc. can catch fire. Heck, even grass can.

Immediately move away from a location if it catches fire, even if it’s providing full cover! Fire tends to grow, and will eventually begin to burn any soldier near it. The burn mechanic in XCOM 2 is relatively new and adds unnecessary DoT damage if you’re not careful.

Certain times you’ll come across large walls or buildings that over full cover for multiple soldiers. It’s highly tempting to get multiple soldiers behind it, but you have to remember to spread out!

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Enemies like Mutons, Elite Troopers, Andromedons, Mechs, and several others will take advantage of your poor positioning by throwing explosives, which can damage multiple enemies at once.

For this reason, never have two players take cover behind the same object, especially when you’re facing enemies known to have explosive arsenal.

Attacking
Once you’ve established your cover and an enemy is in line of sight, it’s time to attack. The game uses a calculation based on certain variables to determine the success chance of your attack, which is displayed as a percent. We’ll term this as accuracy.

Accuracy is largely based on three things: your soldier’s rank, your soldier’s position relative to the enemy, and the enemy’s cover. A soldier’s rank generally tends to improve their accuracy, but the most important two factors are positioning and enemy’s cover.

The non-melee enemies in XCOM 2 are very smart, and will almost always look for the best covers. There isn’t much you can do to influence an enemy’s movement decision, but once an enemy is behind a wall or object that provides full cover, you can try to expose them.

This is best done with a Grenadier who can attempt to destroy an enemy’s cover. Not only will this do great chip damage, it would also allow other soldiers in your squad to target that exposed enemy with greater accuracy.

For example, if there is an enemy ADVENT Captain in full cover behind an object, try and use the Grenadier first in your turn to destroy the cover. This way, the remaining soldiers will be able to target the highly exposed Captain, getting additional accuracy.

In addition to this, you should also try to close space between your soldier and the enemy. This isn’t necessary for a Sharpshooter, who can shoot from long distances, but for Rangers, Specialists, and Grenadiers, try a medium range (yes, Shotguns were exceptionally well even at medium range).

This will also improve your accuracy well. As you progress in the game though and upgrade your soldier’s equipment through research, you’ll notice distance becomes a less important factor in determining your accuracy.

Enemy cover and your positioning relative to the enemy are the two major factors, while distance is a minor factor.

Flanking
Flanking is a classic tactic in just about every combat game, and in XCOM 2 it gives you a huge number of benefits. Whenever you flank an enemy, your percent chance of hitting them greatly increases (this is where your positioning plays its part).

In addition to this, you also get a significant boost to your Critical Hit Chance. This leads to excessive damage beyond the standard damage range of your weapon.

Additionally, enemies who are flanked have a greatly reduced percent chance of hitting the soldier who is flanking them. This is also true for your soldiers. When your soldier is flanked by an enemy, they can take additional damage and also suffer penalty to their accuracy.

Be sure to carefully read the moves of an enemy unit, and adjust your positioning accordingly. Keeping a marksman Sharpshooter at the back can be extremely useful for countering flank attempts by enemies.

Rangers are absolutely fantastic flankers, and are almost entirely dedicated to that art. Use the stealth and melee combination of your Rangers to get behind enemies that pose the biggest threat to deal additional damage.

Make sure your Rangers are equipped with shotguns (or equivalent upgrades), as shotguns have very high Critical Hit Chances during flanking, as well as an incredibly high accuracy.

Shotguns in general have been greatly buffed in XCOM 2 when compared to Enemy Unknown, and are capable of dealing immense damage even from a distance, so it’s not necessary for your Ranger to get excessively close.

Prioritizing Enemies
There is a large variety of enemies in the game. Most units will comprise of two to three different types of enemies. You’ll have to prioritize which ones you want to take out first, and which ones you wish to leave for last.

This is extremely important, as often certain enemies can become excessively dangerous the longer they stay in battle. A good example is the Andromedon. Andromedons will hit you with dangerous acidic attacks as they attempt to get within melee range to your soldiers.

Once they die, their armor will still remain mobile, and will leave an acid trail that can burn whoever walks through it for over 2 to 3 turns. If you do not dispatch of the dead armor in time, your team is going to suffer gravely.

Generally, the game makes it easy for you to determine which enemy you should prioritize in a unit. Often, it is the lone unique unit that one should take care of first, though this is not a rule of thumb.

Exceptions are especially important for enemies who tend to get within melee range, such as Chryssalids, Archons, Berserkers, and Stun Lancers.

Hacking Robotic Enemies
Robotic enemies can be hacked by a Specialist who has the Haywire skill. This is an extremely important skill, and should not be underestimated.

It may seem like a waste at first considering you’ve faced turrets and Mechs – both relatively simple to deal with, but you’ll have an extremely tough time if combating a Sectopod without hacking.

Sectopods are the biggest, meanest, and toughest enemies in the game.

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All strategies are thrown out of the window when these giant bipedal mechs appear, as they have immense height advantage (can nearly double their height, completely negating any cover advantage; are granted two actions per turn (yes, they can hit you twice in one turn); and can walkthrough buildings, destroying everything as if it didn’t exist.

The only way you have a chance against Sectopods without facing severe casualties is through hacking. While Sectopods aren’t as simple to hack as Mechs and turrets, they can be disabled or even taken control of just like them.

Disabling a Sectopod renders it useless for 2 turns. This is an absolute life-saver, and the biggest reason why the Haywire skill is absolutely essential in the game.

A two turns window gives you ample time to destroy the Sectopod with concentrated fire from the entire squad. Use this tactic whenever you see a Sectopod, especially if you’ve grown fond of your soldiers.

Using Mimics
There are times where you’ll encounter certain scenarios in the game where you wish the enemy would simply skip its turn and give you some breathing space. XCOM 2 isn’t forgiving like that, but there is one amazing item that can greatly aid you in the battlefield.

After conducting an autopsy on the Faceless, you’ll unlock the Mimic utility gadget. This is an absolute lifesaver. This tool can be used once every mission by the soldier who has it equipped to deploy a decoy hologram on the battlefield.

Once it is deployed, all enemies will concentrate their fire on it, provided it is within their range and line of sight. This can get you out of near-impossible situations, especially in missions with turn-limits.

The Mimic will disappear after the enemy’s turn is over even if it survived. Throwing a Mimic behind cover can yield even better results, as it will get all the benefits of cover a normal soldier would.

There are less chances of your decoy ‘dying’ within the first few enemy actions. If the decoy ‘dies’ in the middle of an enemy turn, the remaining actions will be towards your soldiers, so make sure to deploy it in a place where it will last.

Mission-specific Tactics

Everything in this guide is meaningless if not with context. The various types of missions in the game provide the context, and you should choose your tactics accordingly. There are five major mission types you’ll encounter:

  • Guerilla Ops – Missions with turn limits that have you destroying/protecting/hacking, after which you must neutralize enemies.
  • VIP Extraction/VIP Execution – Missions with turn limits that have you extracting/executing a VIP, then having to reach the Extraction point.
  • Alien Retaliations – Missions in which you must save at least 6 citizens, then eliminate all hostile threats.
  • Blacksite Facilities – Missions in which you must destroy alien facility to reduce the progress of the AVATAR doom counter, then extract safely.
  • Story Missions – Unique missions that are somewhat similar to Blacksite Facilities.

We’ll go across specific tactics for each mission.

Guerilla Ops
Guerilla Ops will have you doing various things to counter Dark Events. The main objectives of the mission vary, but it more or less involves going towards an object and eliminating all hostile threats on the way.

These missions are timed, but the turn limit is only restricted to till you complete the first objective. After that, the turn limit is lifted, and you can take as many turns as you wish to eliminate remaining enemies.

The tactics for these missions is fairly simple. You’re often provided enough turns to move forward at a steady pace and kill aliens on the way.

The key though is not to be an Overwatch turtle. Take two or maximum three turns to set your team up against the first enemy unit that you spot, then up your pace in getting to the objective.

Using Rangers to rush towards the objective can be quite useful, especially those who can become concealed again with the associated skill. You’ll usually come across three to four units of enemies in these.

Make sure you can get to the objective immediately after eliminating two units. This should be your main rule for these missions, and something you should keep in mind.

VIP Extraction/Execution
These are arguably one of the hardest types of missions in the game, especially later on.

VIP Extraction will have you leading an Engineer or Scientist to a designated Evac point, after which you’ll be able to extract. VIP Execution will have you either executing or capturing a specific VIP, after which you must make it to the designated Evac point and escape.

The true challenge in both these types of missions comes from the insanely limited turns that are provided to you. The differ greatly from Guerilla Ops’ turn limits because you have to make it to an Evac point, which is often fairly distant.

The key aspect of these missions though is that it is not necessary to kill all the enemies. You can greatly benefit from this by staying concealed for as long as possible, and only breaking it when it is utmost necessary.

Mimics can be the difference between mission success and fail. The most important thing to do during these missions is to have a concealed Ranger take the lead.

Having equipment like the Spider or Wraith armor helps a lot – equip it on your Ranger and make him/her take the rooftops and spot the locations of enemies between you and the extraction point.

It is important that you try to keep one Ranger concealed through their skills. Aggro one enemy unit, take them out, then get the Ranger to move forward (while concealed) to the next one. Do this with haste, and do not take more than 3 turns per enemy unit you come across.

It is entirely possible to avoid an entire enemy unit if you know it’s position. All you have to do is not spot it at all. This can be challenging, but if you come across a VIP Extraction/Execution with a Sectopod, you’ll be able to hear its footsteps.

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Use this noise to your advantage and avoid that area altogether, and rush from the other side to the Evac point. I’ve done this several times, as Sectopods can take an insane number of turns to take down, not to mention they are extremely deadly.

Often, when you’ve eliminated all enemies in these missions, additional enemy backups will arrive as well. This is the perfect opportunity to use your Mimics and make a run for it. Don’t waste your time fighting a backup unit, as more will keep arriving when you kill the previous one.

The toughest part of these missions is when you decide to capture a VIP instead of executing them.

Not only will this greatly reduce one soldier’s mobility, it will also restrict them. Be sure to analyze the map, the distance of the Evac point, and the type of enemies you’ll encounter before deciding to capture a VIP.

Alien Retaliations
Alien Retaliation missions are attacks by the ADVENT forces and aliens on resistance camps across the glove. They occur almost once per month, and can be extremely challenging if not done right.

There are no turn limits in Alien Retaliation missions as such, but every turn the enemy will attempt to kill a civilian. On average, each mission has 13 civilians, and you only need to rescue 6.

Rescuing additional will get you bonus Supplies, but it’s not necessary, and tactically it’s not recommended.

In order to carry out these missions in the best possible way, you’ll need a Ranger with the Conceal ability. These missions start without concealment, so having a Ranger who can conceal is vital.

It is possible to do it without Conceal (and you will certainly have to before anyone reaches the rank of Lieutenant), but towards the later stages some excessively powerful creatures start to occupy the battlefield (like the Gatekeeper), and it can become extremely overwhelming to aggro all of them as you attempt to save civilians.

That’s where the Ranger with Conceal comes in. After activating the ability, you can silently rush to save all six civilians, spotting the unit.

Your remaining squad can then move in to eliminate that unit while your Ranger stays concealed (does not participate in combat) and moves on to the next set of civilians. Be careful not to step on any red tiles though.

You can keep doing this until you’ve rescued at least six civilians. After that, it’s time to abuse Overwatch, as enemies during Alien Retaliation missions are on the assault, and will move around quite a bit.

Certain ‘civilians’ during the rescue mission are actually decoys, and will transform into the Faceless enemy. This can occur when you’ve killed all the enemies, or when one of your soldiers gets close to the decoy civilian to save them.

Initially, there’s no way to determine which civilian is a decoy and which one is real. However, your Specialist can gain an ability called Scan Protocol which scans the battlefield, and will immediately force the decoy civilians to reveal their face (or the lack of).

Another alternative to this is the Battle Scanner, which can be acquired after carrying out specific autopsies.

Use Scan Protocol or Battle Scanner after you’ve rescued the closest first couple of civilians, as often decoys are placed deeper in a map. With these tactics, you should be able to make what is otherwise an extremely difficult mission fairly simple.

Blacksite Facilities
Blacksite Facility missions are necessary as they take off points from the AVATAR counter. These missions have no turn limits, so you can take as much time as you like with them.

Because of no turn limits, you should progress slowly but surely in these missions. Take your time with each enemy unit, making sure not to aggro more than one unit at a time. With this steady process, you should be able to get to the objective’s location.

Once you are close to the objective, make sure your soldiers are relatively close to each other. This is because after you place the X4 explosives, enemy backup will arrive.

In Blacksite Facility missions, you’ll get to decide where to place the extraction point (save for the first mission).

Place it immediately outside the facility, and have your soldiers make way to the Evac point. This is also the perfect time to use a Mimic, in case a few soldiers need an extra turn to make it the Evac point.

Although they are extremely important, Blacksite Facility missions are one of the easier mission types because of no constraints and arbitrary Evac points.