“Hentzau, how are we supposed to play XCOM and not fail horribly?” is a question that precisely nobody has asked me during the last week, but I thought I’d tell you anyway. I’m currently crawling through a Classic Ironman game using exactly these tactics and I’ve reached the point where only a string of mission failures is going to lose me the game, so they do work. Some spoilers if you haven’t finished the game yet, obviously.
Where to start?
- Africa: Conventional wisdom says this is the best place to start. I’m not convinced, but there’s no denying that +30% bonus funding from Council members for the entire game is very useful and probably the best regional bonus if you’re not going into the game with a particular strategy in mind. Money is probably the number one limiting factor on what you can accomplish in base management and equipping your squad, and so more of it is always useful.
- Asia: 50% reduced cost and research time for Officer Training School upgrades and Foundry projects is insanely great if you have any intention of going down the robotics route with SHIVs. Otherwise it is merely very good.Asia’s always the second continent I try to pick up because the Foundry and pricier OTS upgrades are more of a midgame thing.
- North America: I thought this was hands down the best until it was pointed out to me that the 50% discount on ships and ship weapons Air and Space gets you doesn’t actually apply to satellites. It’s still pretty sweet, though, and takes the pressure off of rolling out Firestorms and Plasma Cannons to every continent with satellite coverage.
- Europe: I started here for my first game. Cheaper laboratories sounds great until you realise that you never actually build laboratories, so you’re taking this for the Workshop engineer bonus in getting your satellites off the ground early and nothing else.
- South America: The only genuinely stupid choice as this covers only two member nations and has the worst continent bonus to boot; instant autopsies/interrogations will save you barely a month of raw research time, and it’s likely it won’t even manage that as autopsies tend to be what you do when you’re waiting for new alien tech/materials to come in.
What base facilities to build first.
Satellites. For the love of god, satellites. Satellites get you monthly funding. Satellites reduce panic. Satellites get bonus scientists and engineers at the end of the month, and if you have complete coverage over a region you get the continental bonus for that region. Satellites are probably the key to winning the base management side of things and it’s puzzling that the game doesn’t emphasise this more.
Unfortunately the game only gives you one satellite uplink to start with which lets you build a grand total of one new satellite, so this isn’t an easy thing to get off the ground; you start with bugger all engineers and will either need a workshop or an abduction mission reward to bump you up to the ten required for a second satellite uplink. Then it’s likely you’ll need a power generation facility to be completed before the game will let you start your uplink. On the plus side you can build satellites whenever you want despite the red text telling you not to – you just can’t launch them without uplinks – so you can work on the uplinks and the satellites in parallel, but you’re still doing pretty well if you have more than two satellites up by the middle of the second month. Try to get adjacency bonuses for your uplinks as each one grants a bonus satellite; it’s for this reason that I prefer to build uplinks as soon as possible rather than waiting until I have the money and materials for a satellite nexus, as adjacency means uplinks are only slightly less efficient and you get the satellites much earlier.
Just make sure that you expand your interceptor coverage to include newly-launched satellite regions, as detected UFOs that you don’t shoot down will increase panic.
After you have 4-5 satellites up (or at least in the process of being built) you should definitely look into an Officer Training School for the extra squad slots. Past that is a matter of personal taste. Vahlen complains a lot but it’s not absolutely necessary to build an Alien Containment unit until you think you can cope with the challenge of taking down a live one, while a Foundry is probably not required until month three or four. If there is a steam pocket on the second level then excavate it ASAP and build a thermo generator there, as this will provide all the power you need for a good long while. Trying to struggle by on basic power generators is miserable, expensive and time-consuming, so it’s worth beelining for steam.
What to research first.
Above is XCOM’s tech tree (not mine, credit in bottom right hand corner of image).
Your early game priorities should be better armour and better weapons for your soldiers. Getting carapace armour is a huge deal as it more than doubles the HP of a basic rookie soldier, making it that much more likely they’ll survive to be promoted, so I’d recommend researching this first of all even if it’s highlighted in red with a big SLOW in brackets next to it. It’s well worth the extra time spent to get it early. Guns you have a little more latitude on as the basic Earth weaponry does okay against Sectoids, Floaters and Thin Men, but you should definitely have laser weapons of some description by the end of month two when tougher enemies start showing up; don’t forget the heavy/cannon variants for craft armament either.
Past this you have some latitude.
- You will want to research the Firestorm at least by the midgame as even interceptors with Plasma Cannon will not cut it in the mid-to-endgame. Having Firestorms around really takes the pressure off of interceptions, too.
- Titan armour is also a good one to get nice and early as it remains on the upper limits of affordability for the early-to-midgame, and means an armoured trooper will easily outclass any opposition they encounter until the alien base. Having even one suit of Titan armour on an assault class gives you a sizeable advantage on the battlefield.
- Much of the autopsy research should only be done when you can’t research anything else, with the exception of the Muton and Chyssalid autopsies; the former unlocks Ammo Conservation in the Foundry and the latter gives you Chitin Plating for manufacture.
- Plasma weapons are probably not worth researching early. They’re the best weapons in the game but they are also sodding expensive and very definitely overkill for anything up to and including a Muton. Lasers are cheap and do the job nearly as well, so plasma should only be tackled once you have the resources to produce it.
Capturing live aliens.
Is not necessary this time around except for one very obvious plot-sensitive one. Capturing live aliens is very dangerous, not to mention tricky; you have to reduce them to 3hp and then hit them with an Arc Thrower, which might miss and leave the person firing it high and dry. The 3hp requirement is irritating as laser and plasma weapons do 5-9 damage and more on a crit, meaning you’ll spend a lot of time chipping away at your target’s health with pistols trying to get his health down below the magic number, and then one of your soldiers will panic or the alien will run into some reaction fire and get wasted. You can just target aliens that have their health reduced to three or below naturally, but this means soaking up fire from the alien while you get your Arc Thrower guy into position. Like I said, it’s risky.
And what do you get for your efforts? Every alien you capture and interrogate gets you a research bonus in a certain area; for example the Muton Berserker will give you 50% to all Armour research. If you ask me this isn’t worth the effort of specifically trying to stun one since I have never found slow research speeds to be a problem so long as you’re managing the aliens’ progress properly. You should have plenty of time to research everything, bonus or not, and the main bottleneck separating you from that lovely high-tech weaponry will be on the manufacturing and supply side, not the research side. It’s certainly not worth getting XCOM troopers (who aren’t raw rookies) killed over. Only go for the low-hanging fruit; if you happen to have an arc thrower guy standing next to a vulnerable alien and somebody else nearby who can step in if things go wrong, then go for it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t risk it. All it means is that your research will be a little slower and you won’t be locked out of any items by not bothering.
The Grey Market.
The Grey Market is a source of much confusion about precisely which items it’s a good idea to sell and which you should be keeping hold of. Certain items recovered from UFOs will have a YES YOU CAN SELL THIS sign in green text, but everything else has some application to the research/manufacturing side of things. At the same time you probably don’t really need those forty Sectoid corpses in your meat locker – certainly not as much as the cash you’d get for selling them.
Things you should never, ever sell:
- Weapon Fragments, Elerium, Alien Alloys. These three resources are required to build pretty much every single item in the game, and the quantity of Alloys in particular will be the main thing limiting how much equipment you can build at any one time.
Things you should only sell if you absolutely have to:
- UFO Flight Computers and UFO Power Sources. You need one of each of these to research the Firestorm, two flight computers and one power source per Firestorm you build, and then the Stealth Satellites project in the Foundry and the Satellite Nexus improvement both require flight computers as well. Your only way of getting computers and power sources is from downed UFOs, so you shouldn’t part with them unless you’re in particularly dire need of cash. If this need does arise, get rid of the flight computers first as they’re easier to find than power sources.
Things it is perfectly okay to sell as long as you have enough to be getting on with:
Corpses. Of course it can be hard to gauge just how many corpses is “enough” so I’ll break it down a bit. All corpses should be autopsied as they open up new items and Foundry projects, but autopsies do not use up a corpse so as long as you have one in your inventory you can do the autopsy and then sell it.
- Muton corpses – Six required for Ammo Conservation in the Foundry.
- Thin Man corpses – Four required for Improved Medkits in the Foundry.
- Floater corpses – Three required per Interceptor dodge boost. I’d keep a dozen or so of them around since Floaters are replaced with Heavy Floaters in the late game and so this particular brand of corpse can become rather hard to find. Sell the rest.
- Sectoid corpses – Three required per Interceptor aim boost, four needed to research Alien Containment. Ditto Floaters; keep a dozen, sell the rest.
- Cyberdisk wreckage – Two needed for Advanced Flight in the Foundry, two required per Interceptor speed boost. I’d actually keep all of these if you can; the Cyberdisk is a fairly rare enemy.
- Drone wreckage –Four needed for Improved Arc Thrower in the Foundry, four needed for Drone Capture in the Foundry, two needed for Advanced Flight in the Foundry. Fortunately you tend to run into a lot of drones and they’re not required for any equipment, so once you have 9-10 you can sell the rest.
- Chryssalid corpses –Four required per Chitin Plating. Keep them until you have enough to make two Chitin Plates.
- Berserker corpses – One needed per Combat Stims. Depends on how much you like Combat Stims; personally I’d dump the lot.
- Heavy Floater corpses –Two needed for Advanced Flight in the Foundry, four needed for Advanced Repair in the Foundry.
- Sectopod wreckage – Two needed for Advanced Construction in the Foundry.
- Ethereal corpses – Required for the Mind Shield, keep them.
- Elite corpses, Sectoid Commander corpses – Useless, sell them off.
Manufacturing and Equipment.
Largely this is done on an ad-hoc basis of “What do I need right now?” and arming and armouring your troopers obviously takes priority, but it’s good to know how much of each item you should be building. The most important thing to know is that you don’t need more of a thing then you can use in a single squad of six troopers; equipment is never consumed in the XCOM update so you don’t need to mass-produce medkits or grenades or anything.
- Nano-fiber vests – Don’t bother. Two more HP may seem like a lot in the early game but any soldier who is wearing a vest isn’t carrying a frag grenade, which are absurdly useful for guaranteed hits and removing cover, not to mention free.
- Medkits – No more than two unless you really like the idea of a squad full of medics.
- SCOPE – One or two depending on how many snipers you have in the squad.
- Chitin Plating – Four bonus HP sounds awful considering what I said about nano-fiber vests; however Chitin Plating also reduces any incoming melee damage to five, which basically lets your assaults laugh off Chryssalid and Berserker attacks (bonus if they’re immune to Chryssalid poison through Titan armour). You want at least one, possibly two depending on how you like to roll with your assaults.
- Interceptor Powerups – These are only required in very specific scenarios, like when you send your Firestorm out to attack an alien Battleship. Laser-armed interceptors do fine against all smaller UFOs. Plasma-armed Firestorms can take out anything that isn’t a Battleship and survive. Have a couple around for the rare occasion when you really need to take something out with the guns and aircraft you have (and you will need them if you go after a Battleship) but if you’re obviously outclassed then the big red ABORT button will be far more useful to you.
- Combat Stims – I never found a use for them.
- Mind Shield – REVISED OPINION Eventually you will have a Support running around in Ghost armour as your recon unit. He will have two equipment slots. Put the Mind Shield in the second one; Ethereals like to MC the nearest trooper they can see, which will inevitably be Mr. Recon if his ghost field isn’t up. I don’t rate it taking up the only equipment slot on a trooper, but if there’s a spare going then why not?
- SHIVs – Oooh, this is a tricky one. SHIVs are not the Heavy Weapons Platforms from UFO. SHIVs will not babysit your rookies until they transform into big beefy alien-killers. The only reason you want a SHIV on your squad is for the same reason bomb disposal robots exist: to take the hits and die first, sparing an XCOM trooper a messy death. The big problem with this is that having the SHIV in the squad means booting a leaving, breathing human squaddie out of it, and SHIVs don’t accrue experience like they do. SHIVs will never get better at killing aliens except through a line of weapons upgrades to lasers and then plasma. Having a sixth human on the squad is a better idea in almost every situation I can think of, with the sole exceptions being a) you’re doing something particularly dangerous, your sixth squad member is dead and you don’t have time to train up a rookie, and b) as an anti-psi measure. Certainly I never stopped during a mission and said “Man, I really wish I had a SHIV on the squad.” They have their uses, but if you play the tactical side of things properly you should never run into a situation where you have to.
- Skeleton Suit – Most troopers can climb up ladders/drainpipes just as easily as they run along the ground, so this is only useful when there’s a spot of high ground with no easy access. Still, I’m not going to tell you not to put one on your sniper; the only reason I never used them was because there was always something more important to research, and by the time I got around to them they’d been superceded by…
- Archangel Suit – Yes. Get this for your Squad Sight sniper. It will turn them into the fist of God. As with UFO’s Flying Suits this is not for general issue, but it’s excellent for snipers.
- Ghost Suit – Can work well in tandem with an Archangel sniper, as the Ghost Suit lets you sit in the middle of a bunch of aliens without them ever being able to shoot you. It’s basically a piece of recon equipment, but since it only has four charges you have to be careful not to exhaust it before the end of the mission. Get one, stick it on a support with Sprint, everyone else gets Titan.
- Psi Suit – Boosts Will and the likelihood of psychic attacks connecting. Whether you go with this or Titan on your psionics will largely depend on how many you can make before the end mission.
If you’ve gone for satellites this shouldn’t be too hard, but you have to accept that you will lose countries, especially during the first month or two. There’s too much going on at the start of the game and you don’t have the capability to deal with it all yet. Later on things will stabilise as you start to get more on top of things, so don’t worry if everything looks like it’s going to pot in month two. You’ll bounce back. Probably.
As far as tricks for managing panic go there isn’t a huge amount you can do aside from expanding satellite and interceptor coverage. Completing terror and council missions will provide a panic reduction but you don’t get to control where those crop up. Otherwise, these are the main panic factors:
- Abduction missions – Almost always crop up in threes. The country and region you select will experience a reduction in panic. The countries you don’t will gain two panic points, and the rest of the continent they’re located in will gain one. You should always pick the abduction mission with the highest panic rating as it’s by far the easiest way to tip a country into panic level five; you should also have a mind as to the continental panic levels due to the knock-on effects.
- Unopposed UFO overflights – This is why you need to expand your interceptor coverage along with your satellites: if you can see a UFO and you can’t do anything about it it increases panic. Always shoot them down, if you can.
- Failing missons – Try not to do this.
Shooting down UFOs and clearing the wreckage will reduce panic in the host country. Storyline missions will reduce panic worldwide. It’s a good idea to save the assault on the Alien Base until you really need to do it; not only will this give you more time to prepare but you’ll get more benefit from completing it if worldwide panic levels are high overall. Launching satellites will reduce panic in a country by two, so try to do that in the last week of a month (while the panic reduction is instant they take 4-5 days to reach orbit, and if they’re not in orbit they won’t get you your funding bonus at the end of the month) and try to save them until the panic level is three or more. It’s always a good idea to have spare satellites on hand regardless, especially since you can build more than your launch limit. Apparently the aliens attempt to shoot them down but I’ve never seen them try.
Managing alien progress.
Dr. Vahlen shouts at you to move the plot onwards by doing whatever the objective of the moment is. Ignore her. Don’t do plot-critical stuff until you’re ready. All alien types will show up eventually if you just leave the plot stuff forever, but doing it too early will bring very strong aliens into the game you might not have the ability to cope with. For example, assaulting the alien base will replace all Outsiders in UFOs with a brace of Sectoid Commanders, who are much tougher. Shooting down the Overseer UFO will introduce Ethereals, Muton Elites and Sectopods into your game whether you’re ready or not. Believe me when I say that trying to take on a Sectopod with laser weapons is not something you want to be doing. It’s perfectly possible for you to sit back and research Titan armour and plasma weapons before assaulting the alien base, making the subsequent stages of the game far easier.
Is actually not that big a deal just so long as you’re super-cautious. Keep the following points in mind at all times.
- Dashing into the fog of war is really dumb. Really dumb. Moving into the fog of war with your last move of the turn is likewise really dumb. Most alien groups will not attack you until you activate them by moving into line of sight, and if a patrol stumbles upon you during the alien turn they’ll scatter to cover first and won’t start shooting immediately. If you dash into the fog of war and activate a group of aliens your trooper will be left high and dry wherever he is and he’ll have to take a turn of fire unless his squadmates can kill them all first. If you activate aliens with your last move they’ll start shooting immediately upon the transition to the alien turn. You always want to take the first shot in a fight if you possibly can, and XCOM is remarkably accommodating in this regard so long as you play it right. Advance slowly and cautiously, even if it means moving only a couple of squares at a time, and try never to dash if you can help it; you always want your guys either Hunkered Down or on Overwatch if possible.
- Cover is very important, but it’s not magical protection against alien attacks. Low cover in particular becomes useless as soon as you start fighting Thin Men, so your only real options are to a) be in high cover or b) be somewhere where the aliens can’t/won’t shoot you (this means out of LoS). Only use low cover if there are absolutely, positively no other options. Never get caught out of cover or flanked if you can help it, as this will massively increase the chances of a critical hit and a one-shot kill on your soldiers. If you’re flanked and you can’t be certain of killing the flanker before the next alien turn, retreat. If you know you’re going to be taking some fire next turn, pop a smoke grenade if you can even if you’re in high cover.
- Use explosives liberally to remove enemy cover. This is why frag grenades are so useful at the start of game; not only are they one of the few weapons that will go exactly where you aim them, but they’ll strip aliens of any nearby cover and make them much easier to kill. Heavies are similarly very useful for precisely this reason. Vahlen will complain because you’re destroying alien artefacts. As with everything Vahlen says, do not listen; getting kills and keeping your troops alive is far more important than getting some extra weapon fragments at the end of the mission.
- Having to take cover next to cars is inevitable, but always keep your ears and eyes out for cars that are on fire because they’ll explode the next turn, dealing severe damage to anything within a one tile radius. That goes double for petrol pumps – literally, as they have a radius of two. I once saw a berserker get killed from full health because he was standing too close to a petrol pump. Don’t take cover next to petrol pumps.
- Stunned aliens can be killed by explosions. Don’t stun them next to cars.
- Pistols. Don’t forget they exist. Low level assaults and snipers should advance with their pistols out as default as shotguns and sniper rifles are specialty weapons that are only good at short and long range respectively. Pistols won’t kill aliens, but they’ll let you do at least some damage. And if you’re out of ammo and in serious trouble, switching to pistol can sometimes get you out of it.
- Never assume there’s a shot a Thin Man can’t make. Not only do they have a high base accuracy but they use Light Plasma Rifles which confer a +10 bonus to the hit roll. If they think your cover is too good they’ll hit you with their poison attack instead, which always hits and is perfectly capable of killing a wounded soldier unless they’re treated with a medkit. Their only weakness is their extreme fragility; kill those assholes as soon as you see them otherwise you’ll be in for a world of pain.
- Remember that Chitin Plating turns Berserkers and Chryssalids into a joke as long as you can bait them into attacking the person wearing it. They’ll one-shot anyone without it, mind, so try not to let that happen.
- If someone gets critically injured kill the threat first before getting them back up, as they’ll be standing out in the open on sod-all health once they’re revived.
- Sectopods have a super-duper Overwatch ability that lets them shoot at anyone who moves in their LoS; you’ll know when they’re using it because they’ll spend a turn activating a weird scanner-type thing. You have two options once this happens: either shoot it till it dies, or get a sniper to hit it with Disabling Shot. Disabling Shot is similarly quite useful against other HP buckets like Cyberdiscs.
- When you’re on a terror mission don’t bother trying to rescue the civilians. A good terror mission rating is not worth sacrificing your XCOM troopers for. Just treat it as any other mission, but with added zombies.
And finally: Blaster Launchers are in the game, but you need to shoot down a Battleship to get them. Have fun with that one!
Thanks to the weapon/skill limitations every class in XCOM is insanely specialised at one role and useless at others. Here is what you should and shouldn’t be doing with them.
Snipers – Two viable builds here; either you take Squad Sight and Double Tap and park them at the back of the map to provide long range supporting fire on hard targets, or you go more combat oriented with Snap Shot and In The Zone, flanking and wiping out entire groups of aliens at once. The problem with the latter build is that unless you’re working with a heavy that can remove cover or fighting melee aliens that can’t take over, what you have most of the time is a gimped Support/Assault trooper. In The Zone is very situational while Squad Sight/Double Tap is such a great combination that on outside maps the rest of the squad basically exists to provide LoS for the sniper. I dislike having more than one sniper on the team anyway since they’re very kill-greedy and keep everyone else from levelling up.
Snipers are less great indoors. In fact they’re practically useless if they can’t shoot into a building/UFO from outside, as they get a to-hit penalty if they fight at close range. Keep your sniper outside, keep them back, and keep them safe, and they’ll get you out of dozens of tight scrapes. It’s comforting knowing that if your Heavy fails to kill a bad guy you can always call in a round from your sniper that has a 100% chance to hit and 65% chance to crit with Headshot. Disabling Shot is also excellent for mechanical enemies, although using it against Mutons often just prompts them to chuck a grenade in your direction. Give them Archangel armour as soon as you get it, as it will give them ridiculous line of sight as well as a bunch of height bonuses to every shot.
Supports – The underappreciated heroes of the team, Supports are bloody awful at killing anything because they lack the accuracy or the punch to do so reliably. What they’re great at is keeping everyone alive. The triple-medkit skill is so useful I don’t even know why they gave you a choice as it lets you soak up so much more damage. Sprinting gives them the mobility to get to wounded/critically injured troops and patch them up. And smoke is useful for discouraging attacks, especially when you get the wider area of effect/more bonus defence skills. I wouldn’t build a Support around throwing multiple smoke grenades since the missions don’t last long enough, but boosting the one they already have is very worthwhile, especially since your alternative is Rifle Suppression. *spits* Keep Supports slightly back from the front line where they can provide a little extra fire without being a target, and never send them in first. That job goes to…
Assaults – Assaults are the only class with an actual choice of weapon, being able to pick between a shotgun and a rifle. This along with their default skill of Run and Gun makes them flexible; either you can build them as riflemen with Flush for the outdoor maps, making them more generally useful while diminishing their specific utility, or else you hand them a shotgun and Rapid Fire. All Assaults should have Lightning Reflexes as it will save their lives sooner or later.
Now, shotgun Assaults can be tricky to use as a lot of the time they’re just sitting around with a pistol unable to really contribute to any long-range combat. That’s fine, though; that’s what you have everyone else in the squad for. Shotgun Assaults have three jobs:
- Taking out hard targets.
- Taking out melee aliens.
- Storming UFOs.
Your rifle-armed troopers will not be able to kill the late-game aliens effectively. Hell, they’ll be lucky if they can even hit them most of the time. If a rifle-armed trooper does manage to score a hit/kill you consider it a happy bonus; if you absolutely, positively want something dead this turn you either call upon the services of a sniper (if available) or else you send in the Running and Gunning, Rapid-Firing shotgun Assault. They can take out anything that isn’t a Sectopod with near total reliability. If you have two of them even the Sectopod isn’t safe. Just make sure not to expose them when getting them close for the killshot; you don’t need to be standing right next to your victim to get a decent hit percentage for the shotgun since it’s good out to four or five tiles or so. Try to get the rest of the squad to clear out some of the chaff so that they’re not exposed to too much return fire, and have a sniper standing by in case it all goes Sectoid-shaped.
The skill which lets them take a free reaction shot at anything closing inside four tiles is compulsory, as it means bumrushing Chryssalid/zombies/Berserkers usually don’t even make it to melee range. And if they do? Well, that’s what Chitin Plating is for. Assaults should take the brunt of the hits for the squad, as they can have up to 30 hit points with Titan armour and Chitin Plating. They can afford to. Others can’t.
Heavies – The utility of a heavy will largely depend on what they’re equipped with and how late in the game you are. The main thing you should know about them is that the huge gun they carry around is basically a less accurate shotgun; never rely on it for kills. Bullet Swarm improves your odds slightly and makes kills on close-range targets more certain. I wouldn’t build a heavy around suppression/targeting as it’s so ammo-hungry (at the start of the game, anyway) and it would mean ignoring the Heavy’s raison d’etre: rockets. Lots and lots of rockets. Shredder Rocket and Rocketeer are things you absolutely have to take on your heavy, as having both of them will give you three rocket shots per missions, and rockets are so good for breaking up hard clusters of aliens in high cover, especially if you can boost their radius. It’s the cover destruction you want; six damage sounds like a lot but it becomes trivial during the lategame unless you can get your hands on Blaster Launcher tech. If you can, then having two fully-levelled heavies on the squad is arguably more overpowered than a Squad Sight sniper as everything single piece of terrain the aliens could conceivably occupy is obliterated in a 100% accurate fusion holocaust.
Oh, and the HEAT ammo skill works with rockets as well. Blaster Launcher heavies are your answer to Sectopods. They’re your answer to everything. If you don’t have Blaster Launcher then it’s worth having them take potshots at Cyberdiscs and Sectopods anyway; a successful hit will do anywhere between 18-30 damage with Heavy Plasma. Not even snipers hit that hard.
Psionics – Are so rare that it’s probably worth going over how to build them right, which basically means “Psi Inspiration and Mind Control”. Remember all those times where a Muton used Intimidate, and one of your soldiers Panicked, and took a free shot straight at the Muton killing it stone cold dead? That’s what the aliens will do to you if you try and use it on them. Psi Inspiration is very situational but it’s a damn sight better than Panic. As for Mind Control, it’s not that Telekinetic Shield is bad, it’s just that a successful Mind Control basically kills the alien you use it on. MCed aliens can be sent to scout out enemy positions, draw reaction fire and – if necessary – suicide into aliens with primed grenades. It’s a disposable extra trooper for the duration of the ability. The only problem with this is that losing the MCed alien can send your squad into panic, which has to be a bug of some kind.
The exact number of each class you have in your squad is down to personal preference, but you should have at least one of each. An extra support will cover you in case you need to do a lot of healing, while an extra assault will give you more hitting power. I wouldn’t take an second sniper purely because you don’t need more than one, while a second heavy is game-breaking after you get Blaster Launchers and a waste of space before then. The good news is that thanks to their ridiculous blast radius a Blaster-equipped Heavy is absurdly easy to level if paired with a second, more experienced one; the veteran weakens up a group of aliens with a Shredder Rocket, then the rookie blasts them to kingdom come, getting 3-5 kills in one shot and their promotion for the mission. I experimented with a lot of setups during my Classic Ironman game, but I found the most efficient one – the one that resulted in a string of eleven missions where nobody even went to the hospital – was three Assaults (one rifle, two shotgun), one Heavy, one Support and one Sniper. Once I got Blaster Launchers the second shotgun assault was replaced with a second Heavy, and I ran with that till the end of the game.
Ah yes, the last thing is the thing that I forgot to mention all through this guide: when you have an alien targeted, pressing F1 will give you a complete breakdown of everything affecting your chance to hit/crit. This is invaluable for understanding what will and will not work when trying to kill things.