Wednesday, February 1, 2017

X-COM: Enemy Within Multiplayer: Case Study of an Opponent's Squad

I recently purchased X-Com 2 for PS4 and have been spending a lot of time with the single player campaign (would definitely love to try out X-Com 2 multiplayer, although it sucks that I'll have to get a Playstation Plus account first...I really hope X-Com 2 will come out for mobile eventually). I still am playing X-Com Enemy Within multiplayer on my phone whenever I get a chance. Even with all of its annoying bugs and balance issues, X-Com: Enemy Within's multiplayer mode is still great fun. Though there aren't many people who play consistently, I've had some really good strategic battles against some quality opponents. I'll detail one of these opponents in this post.
As of 2/28/2017, I'm in first place of the X-Com Enemy Within Android multiplayer matches leaderboard,
but probably only because I've been playing this game too much and way more than everybody else.
It doesn't even keep a record of losses so I don't even know what my win % is.
The second place guy (anass498)'s build is what I will be analyzing in this post

The Build

Here's #2 ranked player's build (more or less) which he (or she) doesn't seem to deviate from. And why should he, since it is a solid build and is balanced enough to handle almost any squad you can throw at it?

Seeker - 2200 points
Dead eye arch angel plasma rifle sniper with watcher gene mod and scope - 6400 points
Smoke jumper with laser rifle + alien grenade - 1600 points
Sectoid commander - 2700 points
Assault Commando with titan armor, alloy cannon, bastion gene mod, and combat stims - 7100 points

Let's take a look at why this build is so potent:
  • He uses his seeker to scout out the enemy and snipe away at any exposed units with his arch-angel sniper. The plasma rifle can do up to 18 critical damage, which can one-shot most units and soften up higher hp units for his follow-up attack. In some situations he'll strangle one of your units to take it out of the match for at least one turn or if you leave a vulnerable unit too far away from the rest of your group.
  • His follow up attack usually involves the rest of his crew, although not necessarily in this order: The Sectoid Commander (SC), the Smoke Jumper (SJ), and his Assault Commando (usually stimmed). This is where it gets devastating.
  • The Sectoid Commander is a versatile unit because of his psionic attacks and alien grenade. He can choose to mind control one of your weaker-willed units, panic a unit to take it out for one turn, or mindfray a unit to reduce its mobility, will, and aim on the next turn, He can also choose to throw the alien grenade at your units, and when combined with the smoke jumper's alien grenade, that can be at least 10 damage--more if your units happen to be too close together.
  • The Smoke Jumper's primary use in this build is for his alien grenade and for doing decent damage with the laser rifle, The opponent isn't concerned about protecting this unit, and usually this unit dashes as fast as he can across the map so he'll be in a position to lob the grenade. The grenades are great because they usually destroy cover, leaving any exposed units wide open for the archangel sniper to pick off. The SJ's smoke grenade can be used to cover his SC after he's mind-controlled one of your units.
  • And the most dangerous unit of the bunch, the combat-stimmed Assault Commando. It wasn't until after I faced this opponent that I learned that the Assault Commando variant is generally much better to have than the Assault Psi Warrior. Why? Because the commando has the resilience ability, which means you can't do any critical damage to this unit. So even a plasma sniper rifle won't be able to do more than 10 damage to the commando. To make it worse, if this unit uses combat stims, then he only takes half-damage for two turns, making it nearly impossible to kill this unit before he lays waste to your strongest units. With the alloy cannon, run-and-gun, and rapid-fire (double shot), he can do major damage (think 18 critical damage times 2 for up to 36 damage on a single unit.. enough to kill anything in the game except maybe another Commando with stims). And if your strongest unit is somehow still standing after this onslaught, he can finish you off with his sniper or with one of his alien grenades. Using psionics against this unit is also a risky option, because the bastion gene mod gives this unit the neural feedback ability. The Commando already has 75 Will, so your chances to mind control are decreased unless you have an ethereal or unit with a mind shield, but the neural feedback will do 7 damage to your psionic units and put all of your psi-powers on cooldown if they try any kind of psionics against the commando (except the ethereal's rift, which is an area effect ability)

Strategy for Countering the Build

When I first ran up against this opponent, he regularly wiped out my squads and exposed many weaknesses in some of the squads I listed in my previous X-Com strategy posts (links below). The nice thing about X-Com though is that there's generally a counter for everything if you know what you're up against. Here are some strategies I've used against this particular build. I haven't always been successful but I think following these general ideas gave me a fighting chance.
  • You need to keep your units out of his sniper's line of sight when possible. This means knowing the maps well and guessing where you can position your units so he can't snipe you. Watch out for destructible walls and cover--he can use his grenades to expose you if you're not careful. Try to throw out your sniper's battle scanner, which can reveal his cloaked seeker and also scouts the area ahead of your squad. Don't worry too much about the seeker, though, its main purpose is to scout/spot for the sniper and annoy you. I prefer to give the lurker gene mods, which include mimetic skin for my sniper, so that my sniper usually can get in the first shot once I have visibility on his sniper. The mimetic skin is important even if it means giving your sniper less armor and a laser sniper rifle instead of the plasma sniper rifle. The laser sniper rifle is much cheaper and can still do a decent amount of damage, especially with the headshot ability, against his airborne sniper (usually a 78% chance). Just don't rely on mimetic skin forever as he can use his grenades to reveal your unit, and the opposing commander of this squad is usually good at knowing where your sniper and cloaked units are.
  • When you see the Assault Commando, and he's not stimmed yet, if you can do any damage without compromising your squad, do it. If he is stimmed, though, you should strongly consider running away until the combat stims wear off. This is easier said than done because the opposing commander will use clever positioning to try to surround you into a corner where he can either pick you off with his sniper, grenade your position, or rush in with his assault without any regards for its safety since it's unlikely you'll be able to kill it in one turn. If you have a ton of firepower, like a mechtoid squad, MECs, berserkers (although who's still using those things these days?), or your own alloy cannon Commandos, you can focus all of your attacks on this unit to try and kill it in one turn but it's still very risky. If you have an ethereal, a psionic soldier with a mind shield, or even a sectoid commander, you could go for the risky mind control play. Just watch out for the neural feedback mentioned above and make sure your unit won't be easy to kill in retaliation during the next turn, as he can just lob grenades or snipe your already-weakened unit
  • Use very hard-to-kill units like commando MECs supported by Drones to repair it or Assault Commando. Mechtoids with psionic shields given by a sectoid commanders greater mind merge tend to be able to survive the commando's initial assault because the psionic shield not only adds 5 more hit points but it halves incoming damage until the shield is gone (just keep your SC as far away from his Commando as possible and watch out for mind control on your mechtoids). Any other high hp units will probably be a waste of money because he can kill them so easily with his sniper or his Commando. Spreading out your points will make your squad less susceptible to being irreparably weakened from losing a single unit. If you don't think you'll be able to kill his commando in one turn, taking out his SC and the SJ should be your next priority as you try to keep out of his Commando's range (which is huge because of run-and-gun). If you can kill his support units, especially before they do major damage with their grenades or with mind control, you'll be in a better position.
  • Use high density smoke grenades from XCOM medics or elite exalt medics. If you hide behind high cover with +40 defnese from a smoke grenade, it will make it that much harder for his sniper to hit you. Using smoke grenades on your MECs gives them a better chance of surviving sniper fire or Commando rapid-fire. Be aware though that the assault can still flank your other units that use cover or he can use grenades to completely bypass the dense smoke.
  • Use Heavy Floaters who, because they're airborne, are more difficult for his assault to take down. Heavy Floaters can also launch farther ahead so you can grenade his units before he sees your main squad. Two alien grenades can take out either his Smoke Jumper or Sectoid Commander. MEC grenades are good too, although they only do 4 damage so you can't easily kill his Sectoid Commander like with alien grenades. However, softening up the SC and destroying its cover is usually enough for you to take him out with one of your other units.
In this match, I have a squad  3 xcom medics, an elite exalt medic,
a laser rifle sniper, and a MEC. This is a good example 
of how quickly your units can get killed and how to run 
away from a combat-stimmed comando

Counter Builds 

I always try to vary my builds to keep opponents guessing, although by now most of the people I play against regularly on Android can probably guess what my squad will generally look like and what my strategies usually are. Here are a few of the more recent ones I've used to counter the squad above:

2 commando demolisher MECs, 
one exalt elite medic
support medic with chitin plating  and light plasma rifle
one deadeye sniper + laser sniper rifle + mimetic skin + scope

The MECs have good mobility so you can counter the opponent's rush by rushing them back, and launching grenades from out of sight to soften up their units. If you can grenade his assault commando before he can activate the combat stims, even better. Throw a dense smoke grenade to cover your MECs after the attack and then snipe one of his units if you can or set your sniper on overwatch. If the assault commando has been weakened with grenades, you can go in and finish him off with the MECs kinetic strike melee attack, which do 12 damage normally but even if the commando has combat stims activated, kinetic strike will still do 6 damage. The melee attack can also kill his SJ or SC in one shot. The sniper is for doing long range damage and for scouting using the battle scanner. The drone is for healing or scouting and the exalt elite medic is for his 2 dense smoke grenades with the possibility of extra healing (but don't count on it).

two assault commandos with alloy cannons + titan armor + (chitin plating or combat stims)+ bastion gene mods
elite exalt medic
smoke jumper with light plasma rifle
deadeye sniper + laser sniper rifle + mimetic skin + scope

This is a variant of the first build except instead of MECs, you have two assault commandos with chitin plating or combat stims. It's basically a variant of the opponent's build, except I put less money into my sniper and remove SC to leave enough points for an extra Assault Commando. It's fighting fire with more fire.

assault commando with alloy cannon + titan armor + chitin plating + bastion gene mods
commando demolisher MEC
elite exalt medic
smoke jumper with light plasma rifle
deadeye sniper + laser sniper rifle + mimetic skin + scope

This is a combination of the first two counter builds I described. Instead of two MECs or two assault commandos, I take one of each.

3 heavy floaters
1 floater
2 deadeye sniper + laser sniper rifles + mimetic skin + scopes

This build relies on good sniper positioning and getting your floaters to launch to safe positions on the first turn. Then on the next turn hopefully you can overwhelm the opponent with grenades/flanking shots and get off a shot from each of your snipers

5 heavy floaters
deadeye sniper + plasma sniper rifle + mimetic skin

Same as the 4 floater, 2 sniper build except you're focusing more money on the heavy floaters, you get more grenades and although you only have one sniper, he deals more damage with the plasma sniper rifle. Lack of the scope though means 10% less accuracy that you'll have to live with. Here's a match with this build on the extremely unfair (for the player who doesn't move first) Boulevard map.

Another battle with the 5 floater + psr sniper. This time he got the jump on my sniper

6 heavy floaters

The Floaters' Gambit, as I like to call it...  this is really going all-in with the floater strategy. Basically you need to hide your floaters for a few turns then launch them behind or to the side of your opponent. Hopefully even if they spot and/or kill one or two of your floaters, you'll be able to grenade them to death or take some high probability elevated/flanking shots and take out most of your opponent's units. You should probably only do this if you're joining a multiplayer match on mobile and not the one initiating a game, otherwise, your opponent will see that you've only spent 18,000 points and could guess what you're planning to do. There's an short example of this build here (my opponent quit after 3 turns but the match could have gone either way):

4 mechtoids
sectoid commander
deadeye sniper + laser sniper rifle + mimetic skin + scope

This build is the often derided by players (myself included) for being cheap. It's definitely not an elegant build as you basically try to rush and overpower your opponent, relying on the mechtoids' high mobility, their psionic shields when paired with a Sectoid Commander, and also their ability to fire twice in one turn if they don't move. Some players go with 5 mechtoids + SC, but I usually favor removing one mechtoid and adding a sniper for long range attacks. This mechtoid/sniper rush has enough firepower to take out a combat stimmed Assault Commando in one turn if you're lucky

2 mechtoids
1 sectoid commander
1 mec commando
1 exalt elite medic
1 drone
deadeye sniper + laser sniper rifle + mimetic skin + scope

This build combines the defensive powers of the mechtoids with mind shields and the durability/toughness of the mec commando being healed/covered by a drone/medic. Plus you've got the sniper for long range attacks. I used this build and recorded the game here:


Despite having thought about this X-Com strategy way too much, there's still no guaranty I can beat this build. Sometimes it just comes down to lucky shots, the map and which side of the map you start on, but the most you can do is put your self in the best position possible and hope the dice will roll your way.

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