Tuesday, October 13, 2015

XCom - Enemy Within Multiplayer Strategy(Android)

Better late to the game than never. Since I can't wait for XCom 2 to come out (and since it's PC-only and I haven't had a decent gaming computer in over 10 years), I'm starting to play multiplayer XCom again. I last played XCom Enemy Unknown (EU) on iOS and it was one of the funnest and most addictive games I've ever played. Enemy Within, the expansion, is even better. As you will probably discover as you read through this post, I've spent way too much time thinking about XCom strategy. Way too much time for a game that nobody seems to play anymore (at least on android). See my thoughts on original EU multiplayer strategy here.

In the original, ranked multiplayer matches were limited to 10k. While it forced you to be judicious with your points, people soon realized that the most cost effective units at that low price point was smoke jumper + light plasma rifle soldiers. So it turned out that you'd see the same boring squads over and over again. In EW, the limit has been bumped to 20k, and the prices of some units have been adjusted, which opens up all kinds of new strategies and possibilities. You have more points to spend on different types of units, gene mods, and now MECs. Mutons and muton elites are now viable units and all-alien squads can be competitive enough to hang with human soldiers (IMHO). The Exalt soldiers, however, are predefined with what kind of guns and abilities they come with, without any customization. With the exception of exalt elite medics, the rest of the exalt units are extremely disappointing. Exalt elite medics, on the other hand, cost only 1500 points and are a pretty good deal for 2 dense cloud smoke grenades 3 heals, and the regen pheremones gene mod (which heals the medic and nearby units for +1 health each turn (and supposedly can make your units immune to explosive damage?? Although I've never seen or tried that yet)). 

One thing I've learned is that you need to be a LOT more careful with your units in 20k matches. There are definitely a lot more points that can be spent on explosives, snipers, stealth, psi units... things that can quickly take out that expensive unit you just poured 7000 points into. You need to be prepared for anything and everything, which means scouting is even more crucial than before. If you're packing all of your points into a few super units, then leaving 400 for a drone isn't a bad idea. Other good scouts are stealth units like seekers or soldiers with mimetic skin or ghost armor. If you can't get one of those units, you could scout with a chrysalid or a high hit-point unit like a psi-shielded mechtoid or a berserker. Just know that you're risking losing that unit to whatever your opponent will throw at it (which could be anything and everything).

One of the toughest squads I've seen in multiplayer is made up of heavy floaters backed by squadsight snipers with a seeker as the scout (Another potent variation of this is heavy floaters + dual squadsight archangel snipers). On a wide open map like Boulevard, Trainyard, or the Grand Cemetery, this team is deadly. The seeker will quickly find your squad and the sniper will try to take out a few of your units. The heavy floaters can launch in behind you or flank from the side, then easily overwhelm your units with multiple grenades/flanked shots. Even if you mind control one or two floaters, they still have a good shot of taking out your psi units before you can do anything with them. To counter, you need to break line of sight with the sniper and eliminate the seeker/spotters ASAP. This is where it would help to have a soldier with bioelectric skin or a hunter/deadeye sniper with battle scanners to detect cloaked units. You also need high accuracy units to take down multiple flying units and you should spread out your team so multiple units won't get caught together in a single grenade blast. 5 damage from a single alien grenade isn't too bad, but multiple grenades hitting two or three of your units clumped together quickly multiplies the damage and can quickly be the end of your team. Another strategy would be to have multiple mind control units and control at least two or three of the floaters in one turn so that he won't have enough firepower to retaliate and kill all of your psi units.

Another thing to watch out for are lurkers (soldiers with the mimetic skin gene mod). The only way to counter is to have some sort of detection (snipers with scanners, the hypersenses/bioelectric skin genemod, trying to find where they are by look for places your unit can't move into), You also need a way to break their cloaked status. Once you locate them, use your abilities that can destroy cover or that do area effect damage to reveal them. Otherwise, you need to try to surround them so they can't escape and wait for them to make the first strike. Hopefully your units are numerous and strong enough and you've positioned them in such a way that you can survive their initial attack and retaliate swiftly and decisively. An annoying, yet surprisingly effective squad I've tried consists of three squadsight snipers with mimetic skin. I spread them out to different parts of the map and try to catch the enemy in the middle. When the enemy tries to find the sniper, hide the sniper that's being targeted and position the others to get good shots. I wouldn't use this tactic too often though, since if the opponent can anticipate what you're doing, this can be easily countered by getting units with stealth detection and area effect attacks to root out your snipers (and it also makes you feel cheap for using this camping strategy).

Another recently popular squad is the sectoid commander (SC) + greater mind merge with 5 mechtoids. For the unprepared, this squad will easily overwhelm even the toughest units since with the psi shield, your attacks only do half damage until the shield goes down. The secret to beating this team is to find the sectoid commander and kill him first (removing all the shields and doing 3 damage to each mechtoid). Easier said than done, but you should be able to locate the SC by following the purple trails caused by the mind merge. Hopefully you have a way of quickly getting to the SC, either by launching with multiple floaters to the SC location or sneaking over there with a cloaked unit. Even a normal run-and-gun assault should be able to kill off the SC once you determine its location. The enemy of course will try to counter this by hiding his SC in a hard-to-get-to location and leaving some mechtoids to block the path and defend the SC.

I've been experimenting with using muton elites on my squad, which I never used before because of their high cost and susceptibility to psi attacks. However, the price was reduced in EW and they're suddenly one of my favorite units. They come with heavy plasmas, an alien grenade, 14 health, and have 80 accuracy and built-in 20 defense.. that's a pretty darn impressive offensive/defensive package for only 2900 points. Paired with a regular muton who can do a blood call gives them +10 aim, +10 will, and +4 movement for an even more deadly attack. Just watch out for mind control and other psi units. For this reason, muton elites pair well with an ethereal.

Speaking of ethereals, watch out for ethereals! Might be worth it to equip your humans with a mind shield and/or the bastion/neural feedback mod. The mind shield is for upping your unit's will and the neural feedback damages the psi unit and puts all of his psi powers on cooldown. Ethereals are so dangerous that even the thought of your opponent using ethereals at all should scare you into preparing for them. Rift is devastating to your low will units (even one-shotting flying cyberdisks and other low willed units with seemingly a lot of health) and an ethereal can mindfray/mind control most units without any problems. Their ability to reflect shots and +40 defense makes it hard to take them down, but with mind shields, neural feedback, snipers, explosives, and overwhelming numbers, you should be able to prevail. Be careful out there soldiers.

Extra notes for multiplayer:

Support classes are still extremely cost-effective units in 20k matches.. Medics and smoke jumpers remain my top choices, but with the higher points available to spend, you could mix things up with different gene mods, armor, or items. With plasma rifles (vs the weaker light plasma rifles typically used in 10k matches), they suddenly become accurately powerful offensive units who can also back up other units with smoke grenades. Psi guardians are also fun to use too for their telekinetic field, which can turn the tide of a match if used at the right moment. In one game I played, it was powerful enough to deter two close range alloy cannon blasts from an assault class (I got lucky though.. that won't happen very often).

Assaults - stimmed assault units with close-combat weapons and sometimes in ghost armor were deadly in Enemy Unknown, but with Enemy Within, stims lose some of their effectiveness since squads will have more units that can do huge amounts of damage. Even if they only do half damage due to the stim effect, they can take out a unit with only 12-15 health pretty quickly. For this strategy to work, I think you'd at least need some titan armor (stimmed units in EU were effective even with just skeleton suits or chitin plating).

Snipers - expect to see more plasma rifle snipers (are you prepared to take 18 crit damage out of no where when you're just minding your own business?) with the higher points limit how could you not have at least one on your team? I've learned the value of agents (the deadly double tap and their crazy high accuracy) as well so don't be surprised if your opponent is taking two or even three snipers along. Even with laser sniper rifles, they're still a major threat.

Heavies - rocket launchers can be game changers. you can destroy enemy cover and punish opponents who leave their units too close together, but they are still expensive enough that I don't see them too often in multiplayer. I once got demolished though, by a team of heavies with heavy lasers. They blasted away all my cover and took out half my team before I knew what hit me.

MECs - With an ifrit-class mec, you can now use proximity mines in multiplayer! What fun! The best value though, is probably the demolisher-class, which gives you two grenades. Don't underestimate their kinetic strike, which can do 12 damage in one hit. So if you're thinking of getting a berserker, for about a 1000 more you can go for a MEC soldier that can launch grenades and is not limited to melee attacks. I once took out an ethereal in one turn after rushing him down with two MECs. He popped like a balloon.

Cyberdiscs - Another team that gives me a hard time is 3 Cyberdiscs + 3 drones + sectoid commander. While you're trying to take out the cyberdiscs, the drones keep healing them. If you go for the drones first the cyberdiscs will lay waste to your team with their grenades or flanking your units with their high movement stats. The SC is there for psi attacks + an extra grenade. The only way I was able to counter was to focus fire on cyberdiscs one at a time and kill it before the drones have a change to repair them. This means you need high accuracy, high damage units to take them out: plasma rifle snipers. Having an agent to weaken the cyberdisc with double tap or a squad sight sniper to safely attack from long range is your best bet, then finishing them off with high accuracy units like support soldiers. As mentioned above, Ethereals can also take out cyberdiscs with one shot by using rift.

Berserkers - Berserkers are still useful even though they're not as versatile as MECs. They're slightly cheaper and have higher will. The bull rush is useful but not always reliable (at least in my experience) but I've seen it used with great effectiveness by other players. One such squad that constantly gave me trouble was 4 heavy floaters + 2 berserkers. The berserkers would rush across the map and then the heavy floaters would launch in near to your starting point. While you're dealing with the floaters, the berserkers come in and clean up your squad. To counter this you need flying units. Archangel snipers, heavy floaters, or cyberdiscs could take on the floaters without worrying about being melee attacked by the berserkers. Having a berserker or MEC of your own to deal with the berserkers helps as well. If you have soldiers with skeleton suits, you can try grappling to a location where the berserkers can't climb to. However, any grounded units will still be in trouble from heavy floater grenades. I've always wanted to try out the MECs with flamethrowers. Especially against stealthed units (won't work against titan armor, but still would be fun and satisfying to set enemy units on fire).

Lastly (again), watch out for bugs, and I don't mean Chryssalids (they're still too expensive and easily countered to be effective, although you may be able to catch someone off guard). Bugs? Oh yeah, multiplayer is full of them. I've had units transport to unseen areas of the map where they're stuck forever. I've lost multiplayer matches where I was about to win but something happened to the state of the game where neither player could move and I had to forfeit. I've had games where I was about to win and the computer ended the match and said I lost when I still had more units than the opponent. Also, if the opponent quits the game early, you also don't get a win. Crappy, right? Don't get too mad if you're unable to make your turn or your unit gets stuck somewhere off the map. It's just a game. Speaking of annoying things in multiplayer, I wish they kept better stats for multiplayer matches. On Android, they currently only list your wins (no losses). It would have been nice if they kept your win/loss stats for each map, stats about which units you use the most or other trivial info like number of one-shot kills, flanked shots, missed shots, made shots, number of mind controls, number of units killed with explosives, etc. I think that would have been interesting stuff to know.

Another bug to watch out for.. I've noticed some multiplayer games in android get stuck in a state where neither player can make a move and that it has to do with players that have lost all their health but are still slowly bleeding to death. The easiest way to avoid getting stuck is to throw a grenade or use an area effect attack on the downed soldier. Not the nicest thing to do, but this is war.

Now that I've revealed all of my secrets, I'm sure my opponents will be able to track down this page and come up with strategies to make these all obsolete, forcing me to come up with new ones. I'm looking forward to it, and it's the reason XCom Multiplayer continues to be so compelling to play.

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