XCOM: Enemy Unknown classes and abilities guide

XCOM: Enemy Unkown’s customization system means you’ll likely form deep bonds with the units you send into battle. That’s why it’s so important you be ready to train them properly as they rank up and support each other in the most effective way possible. This guide explains every ability at every rank for every class in the game, allowing for that extra preparation that may mean the difference between proudly leading Saint ‘Claus’ Nick into the heart of battle and weeping over his name on the KIA list.

General Information

How Classes Work

Soldiers begin with no class assignment. There is no way to determine which class they will assume until their first promotion. Luckily, it does not take long for a solider to reach Squaddie rank, and purchasing the “New Guy” tactic from the Officer Training School in the barracks automatically promotes all new recruits to Squaddie, which allows you to see their class before ever taking them into battle.

Once a soldier’s class is determined, it cannot be changed. If your new recruit doesn’t turn out how you wanted, don’t feel bad about dismissing him or her. Hiring soldiers is cheap, and your barracks can hold up to 99 units.

Mix it Up

It should go without saying that variety among a squad of six is important – especially as you bump up the difficulty level. If there are no Support classes in your party, you can’t heal; no Snipers, and you’ll be taking more front-line fire than is necessary. But there are only four classes and six open spots, so you’ll obviously have duplicate classes. Thankfully, each class has a branching skill tree, so even if you have two Support classes, they could play very different roles depending on how you allocate their skill points as they rank up.

Ranks and Promotions

Soldiers who kill or capture enemies earn promotions; it’s that simple. There are no xp meters to fill (at least that we can see) and when a promotion is earned, you’ll be notified immediately. After battle, you can choose which ability to unlock with the new rank.

There are seven ranks, with Squaddie being the lowest and Colonel being the highest. If your entire main squad has reached Colonel rank, consider bringing in some rookies for training because eventually you’ll be…

Dealing with Injuries (and Having Backups)

When soldiers take damage on the battlefield, they’ll have to recover for a while after returning to base -- even if they were healed by medkits. The number of days that takes varies depending on the level of damage and the research you’ve done, but chances are you’ll encounter a situation where not all of your main squad is ready to stop an urgent UFO abduction.

Which is why -- unless the difficulty is set to easy -- having more than six main units is important. If you have a class configuration that works well in battle, try to create duplicate soldiers that can stand in for your main units. For instance, if your favorite Colonel sniper is knocked out for a few days, having a backup unit with the exact same skill set can be very convenient. Note that once a unit reaches Colonel rank, they no longer gain practical experience on the battlefield.

S.H.I.V. Units

These robotic units are a great alternative to having trained backup soldiers. However, creating the most powerful S.H.I.V. units requires Laboratory research and Foundry projects, not to mention cash for each one. So even though you won’t feel it in your heart when a S.H.I.V. gets blown up, you’ll feel it in your wallet.

Assault Class

The two greatest strengths of the Assault class are an ability to wield a shotgun and the “Run & Gun” ability, which allows for an attack after dashing. For this reason, Assault classes will be dealing tons of damage but likely taking more than any other class.

However, you don’t always have to use an Assault class purely offensively. The Overwatch skill can be used instead of attacking during a Run & Gun, meaning this class can run forward and provide cover as the rest of your team moves up the field.

We used two Assault units in our squad of six – one with a shotgun and one with an assault rifle.

Squaddie Ability

Run & Gun: Allows firing or Overwatch after Dashing on the turn Run & Gun is activated. 2 turn cooldown.

Corporal Abilities (choose one)

Tactical Sense: Confers +5 Defense per enemy in sight (max +20)
Aggression: Convers +10% critical chance per enemy in sight (max +30%)

Sergeant Abilities (choose one)

Lightning Reflexes: Forces the first reaction shot against this unit each turn to miss.
Close and Personal: Confers +30% critical chance against adjacent targets. The bonus declines with distance from the target.

Lieutenant Abilities (choose one)

Flush: Fire a shot that causes enemies to run out of cover. The shot is easy to hit with, but does reduced damage.
Rapid Fire: Take two shots against a single target in quick succession. Each shot carries a -15 penalty to Aim.

Captain Abilities (choose one)

Close Combat Specialist: Confers a reaction shot against any enemy who closes within 4 tiles. Does not require Overwatch.
Bring ‘Em On: Adds 1 damage on critical hits for each enemy the squad can see (up to 5).

Major Ability

Extra Conditioning: Confers bonus health based on which type of armor is equipped. Heavier armor increases the bonus.

Colonel Abilities (choose one)

Resilience: Confers immunity to critical hits.
Killer Instinct: Activating Run & Gun now also grants +50% critical damage for the rest of the turn.

Support Class

Support classes serve mainly as medics, but their ability to equip assault rifles, throw smoke grenades, and run further than any other class make them valuable fighters as well.

The abilities you choose greatly determine whether your Support class will focus more on healing or defending. This is why we used two of them in our squad.

Squaddie Ability

Smoke Grenade: Deploy a smoke grenade once per mission. The smoke confers +20 defense to all units, not just allies, and lasts through the enemy turn.

Corporal Abilities (choose one)

Sprinter: Allows the Support to move 3 additional tiles.
Covering Fire: Allows reaction shots to trigger on enemy attacks, not just movement.

Sergeant Abilities (choose one)

Field Medic: Allows medkits to be used 3 times per battle instead of once.
Smoke and Mirrors: Allows 1 additional use of Smoke Grenade each mission.

Lieutenant Abilities (choose one)

Revive: Allows medkits to revive critically wounded soldiers at 33% of max health, instead of just stabilizing them.
Rifle Suppression: Fire a barrage that pins down a target, granting reaction fire against it and imposing a 30 penalty to aim.

Captain Abilities (choose one)

Dense Smoke: Smoke Grenades have increased area of effect and further increase units’ Defense by 20.
Combat Drugs: Smoke Grenades now contain powerful stimulants that grant +20 Will and +10 critical chance for all units in the cloud.

Major Ability

Deep Pockets: Confers an additional item slot in inventory.

Colonel Abilities (choose one)

Savior: Medkits restore 4 more health per use.
Sentinel: Allows two reaction shots during Overwatch, instead of only one.

Heavy Class

Heavies are great for one main reason: rocket launchers. Not only do launchers have incredible range, they can blow away cover, have a large splash radius, and deal heavy, assured damage. Unfortunately, Heavies burn through ammo quickly and can’t move very far.

Heavy is the only class that can equip the LMG, too. Though not very accurate, this weapon deals high damage. We had one Heavy in our squad.

Squaddie Ability

Fire Rocket: Fire a rocket using an equipped launcher. This ability cannot be used after moving, no more than once per mission.

Corporal Abilities (choose one)

Bullet Swarm: Firing the primary weapon as the first action no longer ends the turn.
Holo-Targeting: Shootingat or suppressing enemies also confers +10 Aim to any allies’ attacks on those enemies.

Sergeant Abilities (choose one)

Shredder Rocket: Fire a rocket that causes all enemies hit to take +33% damage from all sources for the next 4 turns. The rocket’s blast is weaker than a standard rocket’s.
Suppression: Can fire a special shot that grants reaction fire at a single target. The target also suffers a -30 Aim penalty.

Lieutenant Abilities (choose one)

HEAT Ammo: Confers +100% damage against robotic enemies.
Rapid Reaction:Confers a second reaction shot, if on Overwatch and the first reaction shot is a hit.

Captain Abilities (choose one)

Grenadier: Allows 2 grenades in a single inventory slot.
Danger Zone: Increases area of effect on Suppression and all rocket attacks by 2 tiles.

Major Ability

Will to Survive: Reduces normal damage taken by 2 if in cover and not flanked.

Colonel Abilities (choose one)

Rocketeer: Allows 1 additional standard rocket to be fired per battle.
Mayhem: Confers additional damage based on weapon tech level to Suppression and all area-effect abilities.

Sniper Class

Snipers are excellent in XCOM: Enemy Unkown. Their accuracy actually increases the further they are from their target (within reason), putting them out of danger for most battles. Their rifles have high damage output and high critical chance, though unless you unlock a certain ability, Snipers cannot fire their rifles and move in the same turn. As such, it is recommended that you equip this class with the best pistol you can get your hands on so that your unit will always have an offensive option no matter the circumstance.

Either Colonel ability for the Sniper class makes turns this unit into a death machine. If positioned correctly, a Sniper can turn the tide of an entire battle in one move.

Unfortunately, not all levels are suitable for a Sniper class. Sometimes they’ll fall behind the group, too, due to the aforementioned movement restriction. So as awesome as we found them to be, we only had one Sniper in our squad.

Squaddie Ability

Headshot: Fire a shot with +30% critical chance and extra damage on critical hits, based on the tech level of the sniper rifle. 2 turn cooldown.

Corporal Abilities (choose one)

Snap Shot: Removes the sniper rifle’s restriction on firing and Overwatch after moving. Any shots taken suffer a -20 Aim penalty.
Squadsight: Allows firing at targets in any ally’s sight radius.

Sergeant Abilities (choose one)

Gunslinger: Confers 2 bonus damage with pistols.
Damn Good Ground: Confers +10 Aim and +10 Defense against enemies at lower elevation, in addition to the usual elevation bonuses.

Lieutenant Abilities (choose one)

Disabling Shot: Allows the Sniper to fire a shot that causes the target’s main weapon to malfunction. The target may use Reload to fix the weapon. The shot cannot inflict a critical hit. 2 turn cooldown.
Battle Scanner: Scanning device that, when thrown, creates a new source of vision for 2 turns. Can only be used 2 times per battle.

Captain Abilities (choose one)

Executioner: Confers +10 Aim against targets with less than 50% health.
Opportunist: Eliminates the Aim penalty on reaction shots, and allows reaction shots to cause critical hits.

Major Ability

Low Profile: Makes partial cover count as full.

Colonel Abilities (choose one)

In The Zone: Killing a flanked or uncovered target with the sniper rifle does not cost an action.
Double Tap: Allows both actions to be used for Standard Shot, Headshot, or Disabling Shot, provided no moves were made. 1 turn cooldown.

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