How to beat XCOM: Enemy Unknown on Impossible Ironman mode

Lead the war effort

If youre one of the many that picked up XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you likely noticed just how punishing the amazing turn-based strategy game can be–even on the easier settings. Those who bumped things up to Classic or Impossible were met with an even more impenetrable wall of pain. And if you tried playing on Ironman mode (which autosaves after every action and turns off the ability to reload earlier progress), you’re likely still nursing wounds after pounding your fist through your screen.

But at least one man has done the impossible–that is, completed the game on the hardest difficulty mode with Ironman turned on. That man is Ryan Impossible Iron Man McFall, who, conveniently, also worked on the game as a level designer. So it’s a win with an asterisk. Regardless! Hes still a bastion of information, and has agreed to share some tips so that you, too, have a chance of winning where so many others have failed miserably.

Dont try to save every country

Before you can win on the battlefield, you need to make sure you have all of your ducks in a row–and since ducks cost money, youre going to make sure your finances are taken care of. McFall says, You can lose funding council countries in your home continent without losing your continent bonus there. Take advantage of this and let some of the home countries go before you start losing them abroad, since once you lose a country abroad their continent bonus is gone forever.

Keep the skies covered in satellites

This is actually a fairly important tip no matter what mode youre playing on, but its even more important when youre playing on harder difficulty modes. Focus on putting satellites up over an entire continent early since this will cause abduction attacks to be much less common over the entire continent, McFall explains. This helps to limit the panic caused by abductions since future abductions will be focused on fewer continents.

Decide on your continental plan early

Sure, its tempting to play things fast and loose, letting countries rise and fall depending on the whims of the alien invaders, but thats Normal mode talk. On Impossible you should make a plan and stick to it. McFall explains that you should decide which continent bonuses you want, and by extension which countries you are willing to lose. Always have at least one satellite in production at all times until all countries are covered.

Favor engineers over scientists

Weve always believed this to be true, both in and out of video games, and McFall agrees (at least when it comes to XCOM). Engineers are better than scientists, he said, confirming our years of prejudice against lab coat-wearing, glasses-having eggheads. Having too few scientists will slow research, having too few engineers will make building new buildings and gear impossible. The $200 abduction reward can be used to build a workshop and get engineers, and with money to spare.

Get guns–lots of guns

Though you might be pressured into spending your hard-earned money on armor or training, thinking your American Made Awesome Guns will do all the killing you need, youre actually sadly mistaken. Prioritize leveling up weapons especially on the harder difficulties. On Impossible, earth weapons cannot consistently take down even the weakest type of alien in one shot so developing your soldiers’ weapons is paramount to survivability, McFall explains, rewriting everything we know on alien anatomy and the gun manufacturing industry in a single keystroke.

Don’t gamble with your soldiers’ lives

Now that youve finished preparing your soldiers for war, its time to actually head out into battle. The first rule, though, is to be careful not to let your soldiers die, even if it seems like its for the greater good. The safest soldier is the one that the aliens can’t see–break line of sight against the aliens until you have a decisive tactical advantage against the aliens. If you must leave a soldier in line of sight, use “Hunker Down” to buff your defense–but be aware that this will make your soldier a magnet for alien area of effect attacks such as grenades and poison clouds.

Stay away from the center of the map

Thinking of heading towards the middle of the level and hiding? Bad call, says McFall. Generally, treat the center of the map as ‘no man’s land.’ You want to divide and conquer against the aliens: methodically probe deeper into the map to pull out individual aliens pods for engagement. This rule also applies to mosh pits, where the center is actually the opposite of a no mans land.

Always have a plan B: High Explosives

No matter how powerful your soldiers are, they still have a chance to miss horribly, throwing all of your well-laid plans to the wind. Know what doesnt miss as much? EX-FREAKING-SPLOSIVES. Grenades never miss and rockets rarely miss (95%), so these attacks are great to use when everything else has gone wrong and some enemies need to die immediately. They are also invaluable on the smaller maps where triggering too many alien pods at once is unavoidable.

Upgrade the hell out of your snipers

XCOMs snipers can change the course of a battle, but only if you use them correctly. McFall suggests upgrading your snipers into super-accurate warriors. Turn your squad sight sniper soldiers into hyper accurate riflemen that can move and shoot with the Gunslinger perk. The flat damage bonus from Gunslinger turns the sniper’s pistol into the equivalent of an assault rifle, and snipers have the fastest aim stat progression in the game.

Take advantage of how awesome Ghost armor is

We knew how awesome Ghost armor was–its armor that turns you invisible, obviously its baller–but we didnt know how many uses it has. McFall explains that there are several ways to take advantage of these awesome, expensive threads. Ghost armor is expensive for a reason: it’s awesome. Although it takes almost an entire UFO worth of Elerium, the ghost armor suit is very useful. Applications include: 1. Rookie training suit – rookies have trouble landing a hit on end game aliens. Let them close the distance with ghost armor and get those rookies some kills. 2. Heavy Rocketeer survival – heavies have to get into alien line of sight to fire their rockets but this can be a deadly proposition. Use the ghost armor’s invisibility to let the heavy set up their shot without being in danger. 3. Terror missions – Ghost-armored soldiers can run around the map freeing civilians without alerting the aliens. This is a straightforward way to get the “As a Scalpel” achievement (earn excellent in every category on a classic or impossible terror mission).

So, did you beat it yet?

We figure after reading this guide you immediately booted up your copy of XCOM, started a new game of Impossible Ironman, and cruised through the game, right? No? Oh, well then. Hopefully you were at least given the tools you need to give it a good, earnest try, slaughtering your foes and getting humanity one step closer to not being extinct.

And if you’re looking for more XCOM: Enemy Unknown articles, check out XCOM: Enemy Unknown squad name ideas and XCOM memes.

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