Top 10 XCOM2 Tactics for Beginners

XCOM2 title card.

I love XCOM.  I came to it via the iPad, and played XCOM: Enemy Unknown on the couch, watching TV, on a plane, basically everywhere.  It is, in my opinion, the best game available on the iPad except for the expansion, XCOM: Enemy Within, which significantly enriches its predecessor.

In the original XCOM, you manage a secret government military strike team dedicated to combating a slow alien invasion.  The game has two dimensions: tactical, turn-based combat and team/base management, where you determine what facilities to construct, how to manage your budget, garner the  support of critical allies, and balance your strategic goals against urgent missions, all against the backdrop of a ticking doomsday clock.

The drama, of course, comes from the customization, the leveling-up, and the difficulty.  As characters survive missions,  they are promoted through the ranks, given new abilities and stats.  You grow attached to them, you choose thier weapons and upgrades, their color palette, psychic or cybernetic abilities, their name, codename, even their hairstyle (or hat/helmet).  You come to rely on them, understand which are fast, which are lucky, which are good or bad shots, and which should close the deal with a sword.  You come to rely on them.  Then, in moments of high drama, they are inevitably killed, to be replaced with the next up-and-coming rookie.  This can be heart-wrenching, especially if, like me, you try to keep the number of saved games to a minimum.  (For you stalwarts, the Ironman mode disables the ability to save games entirely, but I don’t think I could take it, emotionally.)

XCOM operatives saddened by an empty chair on the ride home.
XCOM operatives saddened by an empty chair on the ride home.

So, I’ve followed it closely and was thrilled when XCOM2 became available for XBox One (not yet on iPad, of course.)   And now, XCOM2 has its own expansion  advertised on social media: War of the Chosen.

One thing that wasn’t available when I first started playing XCOM2 was a tactical guide for beginners.  I’m at best a very part-time gamer and don’t have a ton of experience with turn-based strategy, but XCOM is less about ground strategy– moving heavy units around a board, but more about small unit tactics.  So I wrote this for people like me, bearing in mind that I expect these rules to continue to be perfectly serviceable to War of the Chosen.

Obviously, this guide will make no sense if you don’t play XCOM.

Here are the Basics, for new players:

  1. Thou Shalt Protect Thyself First.
    A Ranger opts for full cover.
    A Ranger opts for full cover.

    That means the primary goal of each turn should be to make sure the character is provided with the best cover available.  That means even if you have a kill-shot lined up, take care of protecting yourself first, otherwise you’re just lining up someone else’s kill-shot.  If it takes a few turns to put down the enemy, fine.

  2. Seek the High Ground, Seek the Flank.
    An enemy heavy MEC is successfully flanked by a grenadier.
    An enemy heavy MEC is successfully flanked by a grenadier.

    Look, your odds can increase by as much as 50%.  Snipers should always be seeking high ground and should be as far away from the battle as is practical– use Spider Armor to help with this.  Everyone should always be seekeing the flank.  Seriously, the main point of the game is to flank your enemies.  That’s really it.

  3. Don’t Follow Turn Order.  One of the great features of XCOM’s turn-based combat is that anyone on the team can go first or last, there is no fixed order.  That means although Frank is set to move next, you can defer Frank, and have everyone else move first, coming back to Frank’s move last.  This is your single most important move.  Your most powerful weapon is your ability to determine when a turn is used, when a special weapon is deployed, when a movement is made, who gets the kill-shot.  Always give kill-shots to rookies, where possible, so they can level up faster.  Turn order is tyranny, and you don’t have to follow it.
  4. Watch Your Loadouts.
    Preparing to choose the best loadouts for a mission.
    Preparing to choose the best loadouts for a mission.

    Loadouts should be catered to the objectives of the mission, and anticipate the enemies you expect to find.  If you think there will be a Sectopod, a decoy will save your life.  If you anticipate Vipers or Arachnids, you will be poisoned.  Lots of robots?  Heavy armor?  Armor-piercing rounds.  Pack accordingly.

  5. Stick Together.
    A tight squad grouping as the team moves toward the action.
    A tight squad grouping as the team moves toward the action.

    When you are moving across the board, keep the group tight.  The single worst move you can make is to unintentionally reveal an enemy squad that you aren’t ready for.  This can be avoided by moving tightly (and using battle scanners!).  If you encounter enemies, stop moving.  DO NOT press on beyond that point!  Remember what the Navy SEALs say about swim buddies: two is one, one is none.”

  6. Recover friends and weapons.  An advancement in XCOM2 is that wounded or unconscious friends can be carried.  While it’s not usually useful to carry dead operatives, if it is possible in the constraints of time and distance, this is the only way to recover armor, weapons and utilities, which are otherwise lost for good.  Carried soldiers limit the amount of actions you can take, but they don’t restrict your movement.
  7. Use the element of surprise.
    A Viper and an Andromedon are caught in a trap.
    A Viper and an Andromedon are caught in a trap.

    When attacking an unsuspecting enemy, the attacking move should be the last move in the round.  All of the previous turns should be to set-up the position of your squad (ideally a mix of flanking and elevated positions) and set their moves to “overwatch.”  When the final shot is made, usually by a sniper, the enemies will run– triggering overwatch fire.  With enemy squads of three basic enemies, this will often take out as many as two enemies, sometimes all three!  Other enemy units are not necessarily notified, so if you kill all three, you are still concealed.

  8. Watch the Clock.
    A ranger sets the explosive charges to complete the mission.
    A ranger sets the explosive charges to complete the mission.

    Each game type (set the bomb, rescue/assassinate, retaliation strikes, protect the device, hack the device, etc.) have different rule constraints.  Some types have a turn clock: 10 turns to accomplish this task, or something similar.  You live and die by this clock.  You should know how you plan to move, every single turn.  However, do not let this feeling interfere in other game types: if you aren’t on the clock, take your time and position yourself as advantageously as possible.

  9. Know when to fight, know when to run.
    A grenadier opts for the better part of valor by evac'ing from the combat zone.
    A grenadier opts for the better part of valor by evac’ing from the combat zone.

    Another typical rookie move is to think every battle has to be fought.  Many battles will make obvious that this is not the case: look for time clocks or enemy reinforcements, which often signal that the point is not to win by killing all opponents– if you try, you will be killed.  In many cases, reinforcements will keep coming every three turns or so.  Get the message and complete the actual objective.  A critical point is: learn how to call for evac.  A good trick is to call for evac if a squadmate is certain to die within a few turns, such as by poison, or acid, and to just evac them.  Come back to that planted evac point when the objective has been completed.  Another good strategy is to send back wounded rookies who have been promoted but are likely to be killed.   They will keep the promotion!  Many objectives can be completed without securing the area.  While the Mission is considered a “Failure,” the Objective is considered completed, and usually that’s all that is needed.  (The Chairman will still be pleased.)

  10. Protect Your Veterans.  This is so, so important.  Rookies come and go.  Squaddies come and go.  But veterans represent a substantial investment of time and energy, they have significant battlefield advantages that Rookies can’t match, and they unlock squad bonuses in the Guerrilla Training School.  So give the rookies the shit jobs. Put them in front.  Make them prove themselves.  And do your best to get your veterans off the field alive.  You can’t do this all the time.  You can’t even do it most of the time.  But consider it a priority.

What are your best tactics? Share in the comments!

SKYRIM! 10 Rules for survival.

You are in the back of a horsedrawn cart, being pulled along a wooded road, but to where?  There are two other men– prisoners, like  you– bound at the wrist and seated in the car with you and an armored, helmeted guard.  Why?  Where are you going?  To die for the crime of opposing the empire. Wait, what empire?

The executioner draws his axe… And?  What’s that in the sky?


First there’s the breadth of the thing.  An unmistakable sense of place, a lush forest, individual sounds, a rolling horizon that draws nearer and further, pickable, ‘edible’ plants, fully open and free.  By the time you’ve escaped the execution, having fled the garrison to follow the road up to the mountain vista and hear the rousing strings play as the camera surrounds you, you approach at the summit to

(take it all in)

You’re hooked.  This isn’t a game.  It’s a world.

And it’s big.  If you’re like me, overcome with your newfound freedom, you just tear off and run!  You’ll pass through pine forests, birch, swamps, mountains, gorges, barrows, treefalls, snow, sun, moon (an extra planet) all the seasons (newly named), the days of the week.  You lose track of time.  (Freidas already)?  Everything somehow leads to a dramatic waterfall.

It’s also interactive.  The plants can be picked.  Animals can be hunted, meat extracted.  With some of the aforementioned plants, food can be cooked, eaten, even sold.   Alternately, the plans can be mixed to create poisons, healing potions, or other items.

Differing types of ore can be mined, and with a smelter found in any large city, converted to metal ingots you can use to hammer into armor and weapons.  These can also be sold, or worn.  And the act of creating them increases your blacksmith skill, of course.

Weapons, armor, clothing, and jewelry can be enchanted to make flaming swords, electric hammers, rings that help you draw a bow, and boots that help you carry more.  The combinations that can be achieved here are amazing, and the reason why you can spend hours just outfitting yourself to your satisfaction.

The depth and breadth of this game beats anything else I’ve ever played.  Thematically, my favorite remains the Fallout series, but this has so much of Fallout’s DNA, and has improved on so much of it, that I don’t feel bad making the comparison.

So this is my warning: you will lose days of your life in here.  Hopefully this list can make some of that time better spent.

1.  Find a companion as soon as you can.  Companions are a great advantage in combat, mainly because they provide something else for your enemies to shoot at.  Sometimes they are going to get stuck, or killed, or lost, so plan on this, and switch companions regularly.  You should also outfit them with homemade armor and weaponry that you smith yourself– this gives you the opportunity to improve your blacksmith and enchanting skills.

2. There is a bug in the game that allows companions to carry items with no weight limit so long as they pick them up off the ground. You have to ask them to do something, and then point to the item you want them to pick up and carry.  There is no upward limit using this method, but any other way will hit the weight limit.

3. Collect flowers, roots, mushrooms, etc.  Eat everything you find, early in the game; there’s plenty of it to be found later.  Eating the items gives you insights to their alchemical effects so there’s less guesswork involved in alchemy.

4.  Get into blacksmithing as soon as you can, and build everything available.  This will increase your skill.  I didn’t get into this until much later, and the benefits of good material (with good enchantments) are immense.  Improve weapons and armor at sharpening wheels and workman’s tables, respectively.  When you find the Skyforge, do as much work as you can there.

5.  Archery and poisons should form the basis of your combat strategy.  Remember: stay hidden!  Bonuses from sneak attacks can be immense.  Also, there are poisons that create vulnerabilities, which can be played off your companion’s strengths.  If your companion shoots electricity, and you have the “weakness to shock” poison, shooting your enemy with a poisoned arrow early in combat is a good strategy.

6.  By default, you can conjure 1 ally at a time.  Conjuring is one of the most effective tactical moves you can make,  because while the ally may cause limited damage, they lure enemies away.  Likewise, you will often be in the dark or poor visibility.  Conjured allies provide an excellent poor man’s radar, as they will charge any nearby enemies, often times illuminating them with fire.  Any magic items you find based around conjuring, save.

7. Hoard soul gems and watch the charge on your items.  Remember magical weapons run dry and must be recharged.  Load the gems with souls for better charge and sale price.

8. Read any book worth more than 50, as that’s a good way to tell if it contains any skill bonuses.  Then, sell it.  Spend the money to train with anyone that can teach you anything, especially smithing and magic.

9. You don’t have to explore everyplace the second you discover it, but a filled map means you can fast-travel more effectively.  So roam as long and far as you can, in order to rack-up fast-travel places.

10.  Dragons are wounded and slowed at a distance, but they are killed most effectively with heavy weapons up close.  Have your companion carry the scales, and make your way to the nearest store to sell them.

That ought to do it!  What are your best tips?

Top 15 Rules for Modern Warfare 3 Multiplayer

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - MultiplayerFull disclosure: I SUCK AT THIS GAME.  However, recently I’ve begun to improve at a, er, clip– all by following these tips, and I wish someone had calmly explained all this when I started, because these are the basics, the fundamentals. Which means you get nowhere if you aren’t following them.  Moreover, these tips really do work for any multiplayer first-person shooter, excepting the specifics around kit selection and specific weapons.

This advice only applies to ‘hardcore’ mode.  Hardcore mode basically means it is much more likely that any direct hit will kill or seriously would you.   Non-hardcore mode is, in my opinion, a noisy mess, and it takes three times the number of bullets to bring someone down.  This ruins a lot of the subtleties of the available weapon selection, and some weapons, such as pistols, don’t even work.  By contrast, hardcore mode is much more interesting.

Anyways on to the rules.

1.  Two words: Sight Lines.  IRL we have a thing called peripheral vision, which allows us to see simultaneosuly in front of us, to our left and right.  In a first-person shooter, you can see  in front of you, period.  This means you will get shot, regularly, by someone you can’t see from your left, right, or behind you.  The thing to do here is extremely simple: keep moving.  When you do stop, make in in a place where you have the maximum number of directions visible to you and the maximum number blocked to your enemy.  Corners are essentially ideal, but everyone is always looking there.  This strategy of moving from cover to cover will get you called a camper, which is what players call someone who doesn’t move.  You are moving from cover to cover, not camping, sprinting.

2.  Watch your back.  The only way to protect your back is to run or to have it against a wall.  See above.

3.  Be Still.  Crouch.  If you are not crouched, it’s because you are running.  To put it another way, you should be CROUCHED AT ALL TIMES.  Learn to be still when you are not explicitly doing something, because you can always see someone moving, no matter how far away threy are, and the sound quality of the game is excellent as far as hearing people running nearby.  Conversely, someone still can creep right up on you.

4.  You should probably slow down.

5.  Use custom classes to support your strategy of play.  You should have a favorite weapon and sidearm that you level-up with most rapidly, and set them aside in a class you can fall back to when things aren’t going your way.  Take note of challenges to level-up your weapons faster.  Focus on getting maximally good at one thing, then experiment around, like in college.

6.  Choose the right tools for the map.  Here are the general rules: Assault rifles work best on variable terrain with some close-quarter fighting and some distance fighting, and can do the work of a sniper rifle when outfitted with the right scope.  Sniper rifles are completely useless at anything but a medium to large distance, but outfit you with excellent camouflage. Shotguns and pistols work best up close, indoors or in confined spaces (alleyways and corridors).  Notice how the different shapes of the weapons obscure your view, and how quickly they can be drawn and reholstered.  Submachineguns and shotguns excel at putting a ton of lead in a small area very quickly, but shotguns also tend to wound on any but a direct hit.  Some sniper rifles and shotguns have the additional disadvantage of being pump-action or bolt-action, which can be unforgiving in a tense moment.

7.  Use traps.  Traps, like claymores and bouncing betties, do the killing for you when you aren’t even there.  Use them to up your numbers.  Augment them with advantages like Hardline Pro to get faster access to bigger and better weaponry that– you guessed it– does the killing for you.  You can be two places at once!  As you improve, learn to flush enemies into traps.  Also, don’t be afraid to pick them up and move them somewhere more effective.  And note that traps covered in smoke can’t be seen and are easily tripped.  Finally, traps, when ripped, make an audible sound– you can hear your own and your enemies’ traps when they are set off.  You can use this not only as a gauge of danger but also as crude radar– it will tell you where an enemy was– or is.

8.  Watch.  Observe your enemies’ style of play in-between matches (observer mode).  They’ll almost always show you a new place to hide, to stick a trap, or a better overall approach.  Also, it tells you where they are.

9.  If you are wondering if he saw you, he did.

10.  Grenades go where you don’t.  If there’s a bad guy in there, toss in some Semtex or a Frag.  This goes double for upstairs or downstairs areas.  Even non-lethal grenades (including, nay, especially, smoke) are almost magically effective at making an enemy flee his position.  Likewise, if you have time, they are excellent at covering your escape, especially smoke.  There is a caveat here: don’t throw them in front of you, or at an enemy who knows you are there or (this goes without saying) can see you.  You’ll still be pulling the pin out while he brings you down.

11.  Flank.  That means if the enemy sees you in one place, fall back and come around the other way, catching him off guard.  If you think this can be done inside of three seconds, you’d be shocked how often it works.  This does not work over large areas because you’ll be shot before you ever get there.

12.  Did I mention you were going too fast?  Seriously, slow down.

13.  You are most vulnerable right after you shoot someone.  Everyone heard it, the guy who was just about to shoot him saw the bullets come from somewhere, someone on the other side of the map saw the tracer fire, and two other guys just happened to be in the area anyway.  Fall back and go the other way, because you’re about to get shot.

14.  Stop holding down the trigger so hard.  If you have a problem with this, focus on one of the guns that do 3-round bursts.  If you can learn to pop off quick, small bursts manually, your accuracy will improve.

15.  Play a lot of Free-for-All first, to improve your skills and unlock weapons and equipment faster.  Your number of kills on team games will necessarily be smaller since a lot of other people will be involved, so free-for-all is the most efficient way to unlock new guns.