XCOM: Soldier FAQs
This particular FAQ is devoted to the soldiers within your squad. They’re the backbone of your offensive
against the aliens and it’s important to understand what kinds of perks that they’ll have access to early
on so that you can help plan your squad’s overall development. So what this guide is going to show are
the perk trees for the different classes along with some recommendations for perk selections. Next
there will be some general squad builds to toy around with that can be very effective in the field. But
first we’ll start out with a couple questions that should be addressed first?
I’ve heard this game is tough. When do I need to be on the lookout and on my guard?
All the time! Never let your guard down, because that’s XCOM cruel trick in many cases. You may
think that a mission is going great, and that your squad is cruising along. Suddenly you find yourself
overextended when an Ethereal, Sectapod, or Cyberdiscs come out of nowhere bringing missiles, beam
weapons, grenades, and mind control. If you aren’t sure what lies beyond within the darkness of the fog
of war move slowly, and keep your character’s second turns in reserve in case something should come
Which enemies should I focus on first?
This is a tough question as it can vary on a case-by-case basis. However, in most situations you’ll want
to focus on Chryssalids first. These guys can be very, VERY troublesome, and if they infect and kill your
soldiers they can spawn more Chryssalids for you to deal with. Ethereals are bad too with their mind
control abilities. Finally, there are the Sectopods which look like the ED-209s from Robocop 1. Basically
imagine a big mech, armed with beam weapons and missiles. Usually these guys come backed up
with drones too so be sure to take them out before dealing with the Sectopod as they have a terrible
tendency to heal the mech when it takes damage.
Now that those are out of the way we’ll look at the soldiers. As you are probably aware, each soldier has
a class assigned to them when they level up for the first time. Each level grants different perks which
play to different strategies and ideals. We’ll recommend some skills here, but really you should mess
around with different builds on your own to find out which fits your particular playstyle.
The Heavy is a great frontline unit. They tend to have the most life of anyone on your crew and are
heavily armed to boot. They come equipped with LMGs by default and also gain the use of a rocket
launcher at first level. The rocket is particularly useful as it can get your out of a bind quickly should
something terrible arise or if the enemies are clustered together.
Squaddie: Fire Rocket – Exactly what the name says. This grants one rocket for use during a battle. Be
careful though as it can’t be fired after moving, and will end that character’s turn after being fired.
Corporal: Bullet Swarm or Holo-Targeting – Bullet Swarm is a great skill as it lets a Heavy fire as a first
move without it ending their turn. This is nice if you happen to be close to multiple enemies and can
take them out before they return fire or close distance. Holo-Targeting gives your squadmates a +10 Aim
bonus when they are attacking the same enemy. It’s nice if you want to put your Heavy into a support
role, but later on when your teammates are one-shotting enemies it kinda falls by the wayside. For this
level we recommend Bullet Swarm.
Sergeant: Shredder Rocket or Suppression – Much like Holo-Targeting, Shredder Rocket is more of
a support move. This causes a target to take 33% more damage from any source. Again this can be
nice in the early game, but here we would recommend Suppression. Suppression is a fantastic skill
that can lockdown a tough enemy with a -30 Aim penalty. Better still, if the target moves, the Heavy
automatically gets a reaction shot against the target.
Lieutenant: HEAT Ammo or Rapid Reaction – This level becomes more of a tossup than the previous
choices. HEAT Ammo doubles basic damage against any robotic enemies. This can be very useful later on
when going up against Sectopods or Heavy Floaters. Rapid Reaction gives the Heavy a second reaction
shot on Overwatch if they manage to hit the target with the first one. This may sound awesome, but
remember that Overwatch shots are taken at an Aim penalty. Worse still, Heavies aren’t the most
accurate class under normal circumstances, so here it’s recommended that you take HEAT Ammo.
Captain: Grenadier or Danger Zone – This one is another good tradeoff. If you find yourself using a lot
of grenades or relying on them to some major appreciable extent then go with Grenadier which grants
the Heavy two grenades instead of one. On the other hand, if you want to try and take aliens in alive
or would favor moves that won’t make you miss out on weapon fragments for upgrades then go with
Danger Zone which increases the AoE of Suppression and any rocket attacks. This can be very nice if the
AI has placed multiple enemies close together or you want to suppress multiple hostiles at the same
time. Again in the early game Grenadier is nice, but later on you get better rockets and the enemies
start to have more health than even two grenades. Plus suppressing multiple enemies can let you flank
enemies much easier so you can score critical hits on them with relative ease. Therefore, it’s best to take
Danger Zone as it aids Suppression, and is more useful than grenades later on.
Major: Will to Survive – At major level you aren’t given a choice (something that is true of every class).
Will to Survive is a general -2 damage reduction to the Heavy if they happen to be in cover and aren’t
flanked. All the more reason why you should move slow and deliberately place Heavies so that they
have good range on targets downfield, and aren’t out in the open.
Colonel: Rocketeer or Mayhem – At the final level, Heavies get access to Rocketeer which allows them
to carry another rocket while Mayhem increases the damage of AoE attacks and Suppression based
on weapon level. This is a really tough one. In most playthroughs, having Mayhem is going to do you
fine (especially if you have Suppression and Danger Zone). This is especially true later when you unlock
plasma rockets. Having a higher damage for AoE attacks can stack really well with Grenadier or with
rockets. Meaning that the real choice becomes would you rather have two rockets or one rocket that
does a lot of damage? We recommend Mayhem, but again if your playstyle is to have a Heavy armed
with as many explosives as they can carry then you can’t go wrong with an extra rocket.
Assault soldiers are the spearhead of any squad usually they are frontline tactical units that need to be
up close and personal to do any damage. This is especially true since they are armed with shotguns.
However, the range of their shotgun improves as you gain better equipment.
Squaddie: Run & Gun – This ability allows the Assault soldier to activate an Overwatch or fire their
weapon if activated before their second move. This is nice if you think you can eliminate an enemy up
close or if you want to provide a forward firing position that will damage hostiles moving forward to
Corporal: Tactical Sense or Aggression – At this point you have to make a decision regarding whether
your want to provide extra defense or offense to the Assault. Tactical Sense grants +5 Defense for all
enemies in sight (up to a max of 20). Meanwhile, Aggression provides the Assault with a +10% critical hit
chance for every enemy in sight (up to a max of 30%). For this level we recommend Tactical Sense since
you can’t really go wrong with it at any point in the game. The reason for this is because if the soldier
gains a +20 to defense that’s equivalent to being in partial cover even if out in the open and exposed.
This defensive bonus stacks with any bonuses granted by armor or items which can mean your Assault
soldiers can wade into some hairy situations with a passive buff. Aggression on the other hand isn’t as
nice since shotguns increase their critical percentage based on proximity to the target. Later weapon
upgrades can confer the Aggression bonus without having to take the perk. Assaults do a lot of damage
anyway so go with Tactical Sense for the defensive bonus. This will be especially helpful on higher
Sergeant: Lightning Reflexes or Close and Personal – Close and Personal confers a +30% critical chance
against adjacent targets with that bonus decreasing with the range from the target. Meanwhile,
Lightning Reflexes allows the first reaction shot from Overwatching enemies to miss. Here we
recommend Lightning Reflexes, if only because it never becomes less useful at mitigating damage.
Moreover, there will be many times where your frontline Assault units are locked down due to
Suppressing fire. With Lightning Reflexes you can run through it without having to worry about being hit.
Plus with the guaranteed miss it will increase the survivability of your Assault units especially if multiple
Overwatching enemies are taking pot shots.
Lieutenant: Flush or Rapid Fire – Rapid Fire allows an Assault to take two shots against a single target
in succession, but the shots carry a -15 penalty to Aim. Considering how inaccurate Assault soldiers can
be from range, that -15 Aim penalty can be devastating. Plus in the later game getting close to some
enemies is enough to send your soldier home in a box. Flush on the other hand allows you to shoot
at an enemy and make them run out of cover. This move is very useful when multiple troops are on
Overwatch. As a result you can setup a nice chain of free attacks on enemies that have to sprint from
cover. Plus the shot has a high hit percentage at the cost of reduced damage. Therefore, Flush is what
we recommend for this level.
Captain: Close Combat Specialist (CCS) or Bring ‘Em On (BEO) – BEO adds 1 damage to critical hits
for each enemy that your squad can see (up to a max of 5) while CCS allows the Assault to have a
free reaction shot on any enemy that closes to within 4 tiles of their position even if they aren’t on
Overwatch. We recommend taking CCS as it can give your Assault a chance to do some damage when
you don’t have access to Run & Gun or you find yourself overextended.
Major: Extra Conditioning – This perk grants an Assault bonus health based on their armor with heavier
armor increasing the bonus. It’s nice, but don’t feel obligated to outfit your Assaults with Titan or
Archangel armor especially since Ghost armor confers better bonuses. Still it’s a nice perk to have if you
want to experiment.
Colonel: Resilience or Killer Instinct – Killer Instinct grants a critical damage bonus of +50% after using
Run & Gun that lasts for the rest of the turn. This is nice, but you’ll only have access to it every two turns
when Run & Gun has recharged. Plus once an Assault is that close to an enemy anyway the chance that
they critically hit is going to be pretty high already. By contrast, Resilience grants complete immunity to
critical hits for the Assault. For this one we recommend resilience as it can be extremely useful on higher
difficulties and can mitigate the damage done to an Assault to a weapon’s base damage. Plus the benefit
from Killer Instinct is moot if the Assault is placed into Overwatch as successful Overwatch shots aren’t
able to critical.
Snipers as their name would suggest are the masters of distance combat. Even before they get their
maxed out plasma sniper rifles they will be the ones dealing enormous amounts of damage from long
range. Their perks also give them the ability to hang further back than the rest of your attack force
while attacking the same targets. This is all a good thing since being up close with a sniper rifle incurs
an aiming penalty. If the terrain of a level has higher points of elevation consider moving your snipers
to that location as a nest. Of course unlike the other classes, snipers cannot go into Overwatch or fire
their rifles after moving. This means that they have to have a pistol out if you want to Overwatch them.
Luckily the game has many different pistol improvements and snipers can also pick up perks relevant to
pistols or negating their move penalty.
Squaddie: Headshot – Throughout the game Headshot will be a skill you fall back on constantly. Later
when your squad’s Snipers have the ability to hit very consistently from range turning on Headshot
will allow you to one shot even the game’s toughest enemies. Headshot fires off a round with a +30%
critical hit chance that also adds extra damage depending on the level of the gun being used. Again it’s a
great skill that you’ll come back to often.
Corporal: Snap Shot or Squadsight – This is a really tough trade-off! Snap Shot allows a sniper to fire
after moving which is something that a sniper normally can’t do. Unfortunately shots taken suffer a -
20 Aim penalty. Squadsight on the other hand allows the Sniper to fire at any target within an ally’s
sight radius. This allows a Sniper to say nice and safe, while also being able to contribute significantly to
combat. While Snap Shot increases the convenience of Snipers, Squad Sight is a better skill for providing
long distance support while at the same not keeping some of your units out of harm’s way. Therefore,
we would recommend you take Squadsight unless you really know what you’re doing.
Sergeant: Gunslinger or Damn Good Ground (DGG) – Gunslinger adds 2 bonus damage to pistol attacks
that are successful. At first this sounds kinda lame, but then you remember that by default Snipers
have to Overwatch with a pistol after moving to a location. This bonus damage also stacks with some
upgrades for the pistol that are available in the Foundry later on, and also stacks with the base damage
based on the weapon being used. By contrast, DGG provides a +10 Aim and +10 Defense bonus against
enemies from a lower elevation. This can be nice, but then you may run into problems maneuvering
your Snipers into a position where the buff kicks in. Moreover, enemies that can fly or hover will
immediately negate a height advantage, and some maps do not grant a significant enough elevation
difference in the terrain to be of help. Therefore, Gunslinger is a better choice overall as a plasma pistol
with Gunslinger can be very deadly in the hands of a Sniper on Overwatch.
Lieutenant: Disabling Shot or Battle Scanner – Disabiling shot can be a great way to shut down a major
enemy as it causes a target’s main gun to malfunction. This can be nice if your squadmates have found
themselves in a middle of a suppression or overlapping fields of fire. Battle Scanner on the other hand
allows the Sniper to throw a projectile that expands their vision to the area where the orb is thrown for
2 turns. That perk can also be used up to two times per battle. While Disabling Shot has its advantages,
you’ll probably want to go with Battle Scanner since it caters more to a carefully managed playstyle.
Additionally, Squadsight stacks with Battle Scanner and when thrown it doesn’t cause the enemies
to trigger. This can allow a Sniper to pick off targets before they become a problem and make things
significantly easier for your squad.
Captain: Executioner or Opportunist – Executioner confers a +10 Aim bonus against targets that have
less than 50% health. This is nice as it will allow you to finish off most weakened enemies. Opportunist
on the other hand removes the Aim penalty from reaction shots. Better yet, it also allows reaction shots
to critical. For this level we recommend Opportunist as being able to critical on Overwatch and fire
without Aim penalties is just too good to pass up. This is especially useful if you have Squadsight as it
will allow you to reach a position with a good line of sight much earlier which will allow the Sniper to
Overwatch with their rifle instead of a pistol.
Major: Low Profile – Low Profile allows partial cover to count as full cover for the purposes of damage
calculations and will saves. It also stacks with defensive bonuses from armor which means that keeping
your Snipers in an area where they won’t get flanked becomes even more of a bonus to the squad.
Colonel: In the Zone (ITZ) or Double Tap – ITZ provides an unusual bonus. If the Sniper kills a flanked
or uncovered target then the shot does not count as an action. This can be very nice against enemies
that are unable to take cover such as Floaters or Ethereals as multiple shots could be fired in a single
turn. Double Tap is basically the Sniper equivalent of Bullet Swarm in that it allows for two shots to
be fired in a single turn provided the Sniper did not move as a first action. Unfortunately this can be
problematic when trying to take an alien alive as the second shot of a Double Tap must be used to fire
something. In these situations it’s nice to have Disabling Shot to minimize damage to a potential capture
target while also making it safer for your squadmates to approach. This one is tough to offer a concrete
recommendation for so it will entirely depend on playstyle. However, if you have two Snipers, it’s nice
if one has ITZ and the other has Double Tap. Then you just have to remember which one is which when
Support class soldiers are Jack of all trades characters. They are armed with assault rifles which give
them good range and nice damage with ample opportunities to critical. They’re basically a good cross
between a Heavy and an Assault. Depending on the route you decide to go they can act as a medic for
your team or act as a full support gunner. As such, for this class we won’t offer any recommendations,
but general pros and cons of the different perks at each level.
Squaddie: Smoke Grenade – Smoke Grenade, as its name would imply, allows the Support class to throw
a smoke grenade that at base level offers a +20 Defense to all units within the cloud. Notice how we
said all units? That’s because this tactical benefit can also go to the enemy if they find their way into
the cloud. Given how fast some battles can shift this skill has its uses, but can be problematic if used
Corporal: Sprinter or Covering Fire – Sprinter allows the Support class to move an additional 3 tiles on
the battlefield. This can be very nice if you decide you need a frontline gunner in a hurry or have to get
a medkit to a soldier that’s about to bleed out. Covering Fire allows the Support class to have reaction
shots to enemy attacks as well as movement. Covering Fire can be nice later on in the game when you
have equipment that can minimize the Aim penalties from reaction shots, but Sprinter is a good skill to
have for a party medic or if you want a long range recon unit that can retreat quickly if necessary.
Sergeant: Field Medic or Smoke and Mirrors – Smoke and Mirrors allows for the use of an extra smoke
grenade while Field Medic allows the Support class to use an equipped medkit 3 times in a single
battle. While an extra smoke grenade can be nice in some situations later levels in the game due to the
extreme lethality of combat will call for medkits for resuscitating/reviving downed soldiers. Usually,
Field Medic is a good way to go especially if your support gunner is in the back too far to engage well
Lieutenant: Revive or Rifle Suppression – Rifle Suppression is the Support class’s version of the Heavy’s
Suppression perk. It can be nice, but usually your Heavies will have Suppression which can make this
perk kinda redundant. Revive on the other hand allows you to revive a critically wounded soldier at
33% of their max health. This allows you to bring a soldier that would otherwise be unconscious for the
remainder of combat back into the fight.
Captain: Dense Smoke or Combat Drugs – Dense Smoke adds +20 Defense and increases the AoE of
Smoke Grenade. Combat Drugs adds a +20 Will bonus and also adds +10% critical chance to the smoke
from Smoke Grenade. Both are good perks, but generally Combat Drugs takes it. The bonus to Will can
mean the difference between a missed shot or a critical hit on one of your people. Again though…make
sure that the enemy isn’t inside the cloud!
Major: Deep Pockets – This is perhaps the best perk in the whole game. Supports gain the ability to have
two inventory items equipped instead of just one. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that you can equip
two medkits and then have six kits (assuming you picked the Field Medic perk). However, it does allow
you to get the best of both worlds by being able to equip a S.C.O.P.E and a medkit. Improving accuracy
and allowing the use of 3 medkits per battle. Really the possibilities are endless. So try out a combo that
works for you.
Colonel: Savior or Sentinel – Savior increases the healing power of medkits by 4 HP. Sentinel on the
other hand allows two reaction shots per Overwatch instead of just one. Of course, the standard Aim
penalty applies to the reaction shots so it might be best to stick with Savior, especially if your Support
class already has Field Medic and Revive.
General Squad Builds:
Now we can talk about some general build strategies. It goes without saying that these builds assume
that the increases in squad size have been unlocked. To start with one particularly useful build is to
have 2 Heavies, 2 Snipers, 1 Support and 1 Assault. This is a nice build because your Heavies can have
overlapping fields of fire while being in Overwatch positions. This is a great move if you want to back
up a forward unit. Here the Assault acts as a forward recon unit that can encounter enemies. Since it
has Run & Gun it can be placed into a forward Overwatch position or can take out an enemy before the
rest of your squad takes their turns firing. Sighing the enemies with an Assault also gives your Snipers
a chance to use Squadsight. Provided they have a line of sight to the target, this can be invaluable in
taking out targets quickly and without much fuss. As for the Support, in this scenario you can have either
a gunner or medic, but always place them in the rear either near the Snipers or between the Snipers and
the Heavies into an Overwatch position. That way if the enemies should spawn to either side of you and
attempt to flank you can have a gunner ready to help prevent a problem.
Another useful build is to have 2 Heavies, 2 Assaults, 1 Sniper and 1 Support. Having two Assaults is
nice when you want to make sure that your forward troops have adequate backup. Of course, this build
can run into problems when enemies rush in. That’s why the Heavies should, again as above, take up
forward Overwatch positions to help protect the Assaults. Meanwhile, the lone wolf Sniper could be
placed anywhere with a good line of sight while the support can again be used to prevent flanking.