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XCOM: Enemy Unknown Tips for Newbies

Updated on February 24, 2015

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Tips for Newbies

If you've just gotten or are about to get XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I've put together this SPOILER-FREE newbie guide that will get you on the right track -- saving you time, money and precious resources as you begin your first playthrough.

Some of the tips here could be considered "minor spoilers" since they talk about technology you'll get in the game, but no plot elements will be revealed!

Overall Tactics

  • Always schedule a "reload round" when all appears to be quiet. Spend the entire round reloading their weapons. Usually, a few soldiers will already have a fully loaded weapon -- stick them in Overwatch to protect the others in case of a freak incident. Unlike in previous XCOMs, there are no weapons in this game that DON'T require a reload.
  • Regardless if you have a team of 5 or 6, it's always best to split the team in half and either scout one area while the other team Overwatches, or have both teams enter the same room from opposite sides. This is especially important once aliens start using grenades against you, or you stumble upon the feared Sectopod.
  • A "red" country will drop out of XCOM the instant you get your end-of-month report card. You can time a satellite launch for that country some time before report card day, to save that country from leaving you.
  • Lose your 8th country, and the game is over.
  • From time to time, a random country will try to make a deal with XCOM for the barter of goods with either cash, additional scientists, or additional engineers. Some of the deals offering cash simply don't "add up," always do the math and choose the ones that are worthwhile.
  • When you're just short of the cash needed to buy something, you could always go to the situation room's "gray market" and sell off some excess stuff until you have the cash required.
  • Always have one soldier at least within a 2-move (run + shoot) distance from your sniper(s). Nothing is more devastating when a floater or thin man pops up near your sniper after their move has been used up.
  • If you've given your Support the skill to move three additional spaces, have him or her be a "scout" to run ahead as far as possible (just before it is considered "dashing") to open up the unseen map. If that Support sees a cluster of enemies, make them run back to where the rest of the team is. Use this strategy only in safe scenarios.
  • In a terror mission, you can save civilians by running into their "radius." This is misleading, though -- you'll have to practically run one square next to them, or the rescue won't trigger. So, don't run and stop into a square that is in the "lip" of a civilian's radius, or it will do nothing.
  • Sometimes, it makes sense to 'fall back' rather than take that risky shot. Fall back, regroup and use your teammates -- you'll save a life.
  • S.H.I.V. robots don't suffer the fallacies of humans. However, they also don't level up in any way. They can also be used as full cover by another soldier...or alien! Decide if it's worth sacrificing a soldier slot in your Skyranger for one of them.
  • Cyberdiscs and sectopods explode when destroyed -- make sure your soldiers are more than a couple tiles away before this happens. Also, never take cover by a car that is on fire because it will explode during the next round.
  • Sometimes, it is extremely dangerous for two or more soldiers to be within 3 tiles of each other. Aliens who use grenades will almost always use one in these situations. Also, beware of Thin Men ranged poison attacks.

Managing & Training Soldiers

  • In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it's all about a well-balanced team. Everyone has their own opinion of one. Mine includes two heavies, one sniper, one support and one assault. When a 6th soldier slot is unlocked through Officer Training, I personally prefer to fill it with a 2nd sniper.
  • The instant your soldiers get promotions, visit the Officer Training room (it's available through your barracks). Complete each training that becomes unlocked as soon as you possibly can. They give immediate, permanent boosts and special features. Beyond the feat that gives you a 6th soldier, the most important one of all is Iron Will, which boosts all team members' Will. It is NOT retroactive, so, it only applies to whomever exists on your team after you've initially gotten it.
  • Lightning Reflexes is an incredibly important skill you won't want to pass up when it becomes available to some of your soldiers. It will allow you to survive reaction fire from aliens, and perform better than normal in dealing a reaction shot while in Overwatch.
  • Never underestimate the Support class soldier. He or she will eventually be able to get a skill that adds an additional 3 movement blocks, which is vital. They also get a skill called "deep pockets," allowing them to carry one additional item, making them a perfect candidate for the stun gun and medkit.
  • The Assault class soldier is the only one who is able to get a weapon above plasma-grade. Get this special shotgun as soon as you have the money and resources - it's worth it.
  • Heavies are special because they're the only class that gets a second main weapon - the rocket launcher. Later on after shooting down battleship UFO, it can be upgraded to a vastly more powerful version that creates a devastating explosion.
  • For Sniper class soldiers, you'll kick yourself if you don't take the incredibly important and advantageous skill called "Squad Sight." Also, "battle scanner" is a very underrated, extremely powerful skill that lets your sniper "open up" an unseen area of the map, revealing hidden aliens. "Opportunist" is another wonderful skill for snipers. Lastly, "In The Zone" will let your sniper complete kill after kill as if his or her turn was never used up.

Weapons & Weapon Progression

  • In the beginning of the game, it's a race to start acquiring laser weapons. Do everything in your power to research them as fast as possible, and with priority above all else. If you have the rare opportunity to get plasma weapons (what the aliens use from day 1) quickly, make those be a priority over laser. Keep in mind, there is no weapon above plasma, it is the third and final weapon tier.
  • Don't forget, each soldier can carry a sidearm (pistol). It's always a good idea to give everyone a laser pistol, followed by a plasma pistol, simply as an extra option in close combat situations. Later on, you'll be able to make pistols become significantly more powerful.
  • Don't underestimate the power of the S.C.O.P.E -- it adds significant aim to weapons for all classes (exceedingly important for snipers!) at the cost of taking away an item slot that could be used for other worthwhile items like chitin plating or a med kit.
  • Use explosives (grenades & rocket launchers) only in the most dire situations during a UFO raid. Remember, if you damage certain background items, it means you won't be able to recover them as usable parts.


  • You'll probably be stuck with the same armor for quite awhile, mid-way through the game. During this time, everyone can be equipped with Carapice or Skeleton armor (whichever best one is available to you at the moment with your available money or resources). Having your snipers be able to grapple is immensely important, though.
  • Here's the armor strategy I personally prefer in the long-run of the game: Titan Armor for heavies, Ghost or Psi Armor for Assaults & Supports, and Archangel armor for all Snipers.
  • Archangel armor and snipers go hand-in-hand. You'll want them up in the air as soon as possible for a good view, although they will not get a height bonus as they would on a hill or roof top. Just beware of the limited fuel -- even after you upgrade them in the Foundry.

Regarding Aliens

  • Try to have your first stunned alien be a sectoid, and then a regular floater. As the game progresses and the enemies get harder, sectoids and plain floaters will quickly disappear from the game, and you may never be able to see/stun them ever again.
  • Unlike in previous XCOM games, even though you have only one alien containment unit, you can technically store multiple aliens. Only one will appear in the chamber, but the rest will be in a queue, considering they are also next up to be interrogated. You'll also get to keep their weapon.
  • Don't underestimate alien autopsies or put them off as low priority. They're not just for fun, and you can get significant rewards as a result.
  • You can't hide from certain enemies just by being on the roof. For instance, floaters, cyberdiscs and drones can all levitate to any level. Chrysallids can (and will) jump any height to get to you, and so will Thin Men.
  • Cyber Discs, Chrysallids, Sectopods can't be stunned...don't even bother trying!

Base Facilities

  • You get a bonus for building base facilities of the same kind next to each other. They'll display a green plus sign when properly linked. Don't forget, this counts both vertically AND horizontally! So, if you have a workshop on the top level and build another workshop under it on the 2nd level, it will also count for the bonus.
  • Build new base facilities as early in the month as possible. If you build one near the end of the month, you'll get charged in full for it when it's report card time.
  • Pure and simple, never build anything but Satellite Uplinks from day one of the game. No other base facilities! These are critical from preventing your game from ending, because they allow you to launch a satellite in a country that doesn't have one, reducing their panic level. They take a godly amount of time to build, so you won't want to waste a second. Don't forget, you'll also have to build an actual satellite, too, which also takes a very long time to make. You can stop worrying about Satellite Uplinks (and the later Satellite Nexus, allowing for 4 additional satellites) once every country in the game now has a satellite over it.
  • By researching UFO energy sources, you'll be able to upgrade your base with a better power source. This is something you'll have to build a little before mid-game, because your base will run out of sufficient power to build any more rooms.
  • When it becomes available to you, build the Foundry the instant it is available. It allows you to permanently upgrade certain weapons and items, and it retroactively upgrades everything you already own, too.
  • While some may not agree, I found it nearly pointless to ever build a second workshop or research lab. At some point in the game (much like in previous XCOM games), the research lab will have served its purpose, and will sit stagnant for the rest of the game. Neither facility has an occupancy limit, anyway.
  • Later in the game, after doing some scientific research, a Psi Lab will become available to you. Build it immediately! But, don't be disappointed when I tell you that the probability of your soldiers qualifying for Psi training will be like winning the lottery (tip: it is NOT based on high "Will," contrary to popular belief). Also, it will take your soldiers out of the game for 10 days just to find out if they qualify. Plan accordingly.
  • Although it is tempting after you've completed all training, never demolish the Officer Training room even though it seems to waste a space in XCOM HQ. The instant you demolish it, you'll lose all of the trained bonuses it gave.


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    • Tim Bader profile image

      Tim Bader 

      5 years ago from Surrey, UK

      Wow. Great lens, thank you.

      I have not been playing the game long and I'm already behind on my satellite coverage and wondering whether I will make it through with 4 countries at level 4 panic!!

      Maybe I should start again (but then I'm already attached to my soldiers)?!

    • Pixelrage LM profile imageAUTHOR

      Pixelrage LM 

      6 years ago

      @Gigmoo: hah, I hear you!!! :)

    • Gigmoo profile image


      6 years ago

      Wish I read these before trying my first game on Ironman. That did not go well. :)


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