Home Guest Article XCOM Elite Squad Composition Guide by JRoche

In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, surviving is your top priority–you want your soldiers to survive so they level up and become stronger. Be warned: if that process doesn’t occur, it will become unbearably brutal later in the game.

The best way to accomplish this goal is to keep your team together. You’ll want every squad member within reach of at least one other soldier. In my own experience, I see many people spreading their squad out too far. Other players commit one of the worst offenses–leaving their sniper behind or sending him off to the side to get a better vantage point, only to have him gunned down or rendered unable to fire on enemies threatening the other soldiers. Remember, there’s no reason to give your sniper a good vantage point if he can’t use it effectively.

In order for all your soldiers to make it out alive, they must be able to help each other and fire on the most pressing threat. That’s why survivability and team tactics are my main focus when picking  soldiers’ abilities. There are numerous tactics you can use in XCOM, but if you’ve already jumped into the fray, you know you can’t always choose which soldiers are going to be available to you when heading into battle.

You’re going to hell and back with your men, so I suggest you get to know them well.


Assault Abilities

For the assault, I focused on defensive abilities to keep him alive. With the right shotgun, the assault already does major damage, so critical hit abilities aren’t overly important.


1. Run&gun: Allows firing or Overwatch after dashing. Comments: The bread and butter of the Assault class. You’ll be using this to flank the enemy countless times. Run&gun is the skill you’ll use when sending your soldier into a fog of war covered area. Plus, this skill allows you to set up Overwatch or take out any nearby baddies that are unseen before your move.


1. Tactical Sense: Confers +5 defense per enemy in sight (max +20) Comments: This makes your Assault class a serious tank when it has four enemies in sight. However, getting the max benefit from this ability will be rare. You’ll probably see an average of around 10 defense, which is still pretty good. Twenty defense is as much as the smoke grenade that the support class uses, so that should give you an idea of how effective it is.

Even though it’s rare to have four enemies in sight, your Assault is going to be the soldier closest to the enemy, so it’s not so unlikely. What are you going to be more worried about when there are four enemies around you–surviving or getting critical hits? I think you know the answer. (Recommended)

2. Aggression: Confers +10% critical chance per enemy in sight (Max +30%). Comments: First of all, 30% isn’t even that good, and it’s required that you have 3 enemies in sight to even get it. You’ll probably only be graced with a 20% bonus on average, which is rather paltry for an ability. If you’re up close, as you will be with this class, then the critical hit chance is already going to be decent. With close proximity to the enemies, defense is going to be far more important than critical hit percentage. (Not Recommended)


1. Lighting Reflexes: Force the first reaction shot against this unit each turn to miss. Comments: Adds that extra layer of survivability that makes the Assault just that much more of a tank. (Recommended)

2. Close and Personal: Confers +30% critical chance against adjacent targets. The bonus declines with distance from the target. Comments: Even though this class gets close to the enemy, it’s rare that you’ll be adjacent to them, especially in classic or higher difficulty. Again, I choose survivability over critical hit percentage. (Not Recommended)


1. Flush: Fire a shot that causes enemies to run out of cover. The shot is easy to hit with, but it does reduced damage. Comments: This is actually a great skill and probably extremely underrated. It has a very high hit rate, so it’s almost a guaranteed 2 damage hitter depending on your weapon, with a strong ability to boot. Getting a tough enemy out of cover so your teammates can mow it down is highly effective. Also, I believe if you have a guy set on Overwatch and you use this ability, the guy on Overwatch will fire as the enemy runs out of cover. If you have two Assaults, you might fancy putting this on one of them. (Not Recommended)

4. Rapid Fire: Take two shots against a single target in quick succession. Each shot carries a -15 penalty to Aim. Comments: Fits this class more than Flush. It can be a huge problem if you’re up close to an enemy and you miss a shot that’s a 90%, which will happen at least once. Rapid Fire can eliminate the risk of missing once by shooting two shots instead. Keep in mind that shooting twice is also an effective way of taking out big enemies.

Bottom line–Rapid fire is a flexible skill that fits the overall goal of the Assault class. If a shock trooper class like this is meant to destroy the enemy before they can react, Rapid Fire will do the job.


1. Close Combat Specialist: Confers a reaction shot against any enemy who closes to within 4 tiles. Does not require Overwatch. Comments: A free Overwatch move–how can I say no to that? Even though it’s only within 4 tiles, it helps cover up some of the holes in defense caused by being so close to the enemy, while adding offense. This ability goes well with the class. (Recommended)

4. Bring ‘Em On: Adds 1 damage on Critical hits for each enemy the squad can see (up to 5). Comments: Since it is a 1 damage increase for how many enemies the squad can see–and not just your one Assault guy–reaching this skills max potential isn’t so farfetched. However, you won’t get critical hits that often, especially if you didn’t choose the critical hit skills earlier in this class’s tree. This ability is situational and doesn’t go with my build. (Not Recommended)


1. Extra conditioning: Confers bonus health based on what type of armor is equipped. Heavier armor increases the bonus. Comments: Extra tankage? I’m not complaining. (No, tankage is not a real word.)


1. Resilience: Confers Immunity to critical hits. Comments: The most notorious killer in XCOM is lucky critical hits, and this gets rid of that. It’s icing on the cake for an already hard to kill elite.

2. Killer Instinct: Activating Run&Gun now also grants +50% Critical damage for the rest of the turn. Comments: You won’t always be running and gunning, and you won’t always be shooting someone when you run and gun. A situational skill: if you didn’t choose the critical hit perks earlier, definitely don’t choose this ability now. (Not Recommended)

Overall Performance of the Class

If there is one guy that will survive a mission, it will be this guy right here. You could have gone the critical hit abilities route, but think of how this class could play out if you did. You’d be over-killing most of the small enemies and then just getting yourself killed when you run into a group of baddies. This Assault trooper will be the one still alive at the end of the game. He’ll be constantly flanking enemies and using rapid fire to make sure they never get up. Thanks to Run&Gun, this class can always get to where you need him to be. Believe me, if those aliens could sweat, this class would make them.

Heavy Abilities

For the heavy I went with a balance of support and offensive abilities. It’s like a support on roid rage.


1. Fire Rocket: Fire a rocket using an equipped launcher. This ability cannot be used after moving, no more than once per mission. Comments: ffffffffffwwwweeeewwww Bbbbbraoommmm…. It’s 6 damage un-upgraded, which starts to show its weakness on tougher enemies in the later game. Fire Rocket has many good points though. It almost never misses, and it has long-fire range and a wide area of effect. When some baddies need to die and you can’t afford to miss, this is the ability to use.


1. Bullet Storm: Firing the primary weapon as the first action no longer ends the turn. Comments: This is pretty darn great. If you need to take two shots in a row, you can do it. If you want to shoot at a target and then suppress, you can do that too. If you wish to try and kill a baddie, but then miss and decide you need to run away, you can do that as well. This skill has numerous applications that help your guys stay alive. (Recommended)

2. Holo-Targeting: Shooting at or suppressing enemies also confers +10 Aim to any allies’ attacks on those enemies. Comments: This has some use later in the game, when enemies need many of your allies shooting at them to take down. I might consider this skill if playing Classic or Impossible, when you’ll be carefully engaging small pods of enemies at a time and will need every shot to count. Generally though, Bullet Storm has more uses, and +10 aim isn’t that much. If you’re playing a higher difficulty, consider putting this on one of your heavies. (Not Recommended)


1. Shredder Rocket: Fire a rocket that causes all enemies hit to take +33% damage from all sources for the next 4 turns. However, this rocket has a weaker blast compared to a normal one. Comments: It’s an extra rocket, but I find it’s not as useful as the original Rocket ability. Getting extra damage on tough enemies can be nice, but I’d rather suppress the enemies so my men don’t die.

Also, it usually seems to take the same amount of turns to kill an enemy when you use this ability. What’s the point of using it then? You’ll just save the actions of a couple of your allies, but if you’re playing right, you shouldn’t have many enemies in sight to finish off. Plus, some of the toughest enemies are robotic and if you pick HEAT Ammo later on, you’ll probably want your heavy shooting or suppressing the enemy. (Not Recommended)

2. Suppression: Can fire a special shot that grants reaction fire at a single target. The target also suffers a -30 Aim penalty. Comments: Suppression is always great against tough enemies. Be careful though, as enemies with grenades with likely choose to throw them if they’re suppressed. Also, the heavy has some of the worst aim, so unfortunately he usually misses the reaction shot. (Recommended)


1. HEAT Ammo: Confers +100% damage against robotic enemies. Comments: Very effective later in the game when you have things like robotic Cyberdiscs floating about. Not the greatest ability, but you’ll usually get more use out of this than Rapid Reaction. (Recommended)

2. Rapid Reaction: Confers a second reaction shot if on Overwatch and the first reaction shot is a hit. Comments: Sounds like a cool ability, but the heavy has to hit the first time, which is rare. In addition, there won’t be two enemies to fire on most of the time. You normally won’t get much use out of this ability. (Not Recommended)


1. Grenadier: Allows 2 grenades in a single inventory slot. Comments: +1 grenade isn’t that great. You usually won’t be equipping grenades later in the game. Don’t pick this unless you know for sure that you want your heavy to use grenades for every mission. (Not Recommended)

2. Danger Zone: Increases AoE on Suppression and all rocket attacks by 2 tiles. Comments: Much better than two grenades. The 2 tile increase is actually a lot when you see it in action. Rockets can hit several enemies even when they’re decently spaced. The Suppression side of this is a nice touch too, and it works well with Holo-Targeting. However, you usually won’t have enemies close enough to actually suppress more than one target at a time. Also, if one enemy moves in suppression, the rest of the enemies become unsuppressed. (Recommended)


1. Will to Survive: Reduces normal damage taken by 2 if in cover and not flanked. Comments: Once you get to this ability, this is the guy you’ll want to send if you need to go into half cover.


1. Rocketeer: Allows 1 additional standard rocket to be fired per battle. Comments: Standard rocket means no extra Shredder. Rocketeer provides some extra firepower, but Mayhem brings so much more to the table, and rockets are usually for rare emergencies. (Not Recommended)

2. Mayhem: Confers additional damage based on weapon tech level to suppression and all area-effect abilities. Comments: Believe it or not, Mayhem allows suppression to do couple damage when used. Combine the suppression damage with HEAT Ammo and you have a nice bit of guaranteed damage. From my experience, it also makes your rockets do 8 damage. Since rockets are usually used in emergency situations, you’re going to want one rocket to get the job done. (Recommended)

Overall Performance of the Class

In most situations, you’ll be firing on the first action, then using suppression or firing again on the second action. This Class lets you do high damage while helping maintain control of the enemy. At his final rank, the Colonel will have one powerful rocket to help soften those tricky situations in which a bunch of ground units threaten to overrun you. My heavy is a flexible class that can provide support in offense or defense.

Sniper Abilities

I based my class on what the XCOM level designer recommended for going through the campaign on impossible difficulty. I focused my build on flexibility and team support. Once this guy starts leveling up, he becomes a true marksman.


1. 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 cool down. Comments: Allows for consistent massive damage when the sniper’s aim is good enough.


1. Snap Shot: Removes the sniper rifle’s restriction on firing and Overwatch after moving. Any shots taken suffer a -20 Aim penalty. Comments: My build emphasizes the use of the pistol when the sniper moves, and Squadsight has too many good uses. -20 aim is also a bit much. (Not Recommended)

2. Squadsight: Allows firing at targets in an ally’s sight radius. Comments: As long as there isn’t a huge obstruction in the way, squad sight allows you to fire on anything your squad can see. Being able to put accurate firepower on any enemy is quite useful. This also allows the sniper to stay in the back and survive until it has its defensive ability. (Recommended)

Sergeant (same format)

1. Gunslinger: Confers 2 bonus damage with pistols. Comments: Makes the pistol as good as an assault rifle, which is pretty effective for the sniper. (Recommended)

2. Damn Good Ground: Confers +10 Aim and +10 Defense against enemies at lower elevation, in addition to the usual elevation bonuses. Comments: Not good unless you’re planning on archangel armor. However, archangel armor is super risky on higher difficulties unless you’re on the right map, and the upgraded Shiv is much more effective as a flying tank. (Not Recommended)


1. 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, and the shot cannot inflict a critical hit. 2 turn cooldown. Comments: I think the accuracy is about the same as a regular shot, so it’s not as reliable as it should be. The disabling shot also doesn’t work on Sectopods. Since the sniper does so much damage, if I can hit a shot, I’d rather use it to do damage. If the disabling shot’s accuracy was better, it would garner much more consideration from me. (Not Recommended)

2. Battle Scanner: Scanning device that, when thrown, creates a new source of vision for 2 turns. Can only be used 2 times per battle. Comments: Battle Scanner really helps out in higher difficulties in which running into too many enemies ends up being the death of your whole squad. It has quite an impressive range as well. (Recommended)


1. Executioner: Confers +10 Aim against targets with less than 50% health. Comments: I’m on the edge with these two abilities. This is one of those rare moments where I could go either way. Executioner requires the targets to have less than 50% health and I find you’re going to want the sniper shooting at enemies with full heath since the sniper can do so much damage. Also, the sniper’s aim should already be pretty good late game, so +10 on occasion isn’t a big deal. (Not Recommended)

2. Opportunist: Eliminates the Aim penalty on reaction shots, and allows reaction shots to cause critical hits. Comments: In classic or higher difficulty, you will often be waiting for the enemy to come to you, so this can be a nice ability to help with that aim in mind. Also, if you chose the pistol skill earlier, you can move and set up Overwatch with the pistol to great effect. (Recommended)

Major (only one here)

1. Low Profile: Makes partial cover count as full. Comments: Sweeeet… Helps the sniper survive, which seems to be a problem for them…


1. In The Zone: Killing a flanked or uncovered target with the sniper rifle does not cost an action. Comments: Flyers, melee enemies, and dumb AI that don’t go into cover all fall prey to In The Zone. Double Tap is more reliable, but this is far more devastating and can free up a lot of the action points of your other squad mates. The survivability this skill adds goes far too unnoticed. Pesky flyers can get right behind your guys in cover, and being overrun by weak melee enemies seems to be a constant threat. (Recommended)

2. Double Tap: Allows both actions to be used for Standard Shot, Headshot, or Disabling Shot, provided no moves were made. The second shot must be taken immediately after the first. One turn cooldown. Comments: This is a great ability, but it has nowhere near the life saving power of In The Zone. (Not Recommended)

Overall Performance of the Class

A marksman with the skill to bring major hurt wherever it’s needed. The Sniper has a wide array of abilities to support your squad, a pistol that acts like a rifle, and one of the most damaging main weapons in the game. Maxed out, the sniper becomes your grim reaper.

Support Abilities

Healing, healing, and healing. I focused my support build on healing if you couldn’t guess.


1. Smoke Grenade: Deploy a smoke grenade once per mission. The smoke confers +20 Defense to all units, and lasts through the enemy turn. Comments: Helps keep a desperate soldier alive.


1. Sprinter: Allows the Support to move 3 additional tiles. Comments: Greatly assists the support in moving to apply medikits or smoke grenades. It also has the added benefits of increased range to find better cover and making the support the most flexible Arc Thrower. (Recommended)

2. Covering Fire: Allows reaction shots to trigger on enemy attacks, not just movement. Comments: The most benefit from Covering Fire will be bestowed when using Suppression. However, most of the time the enemy you will be suppressing will be in good enough cover or high enough in the air that you will likely miss any reaction shot. (Not Recommended)


1. Field Medic: Allows medikits to be used 3 times per battle instead of once. Comments: This is the only ability that really allows medikits to be something worth taking into battle. Three medikits allows one support to keep your team fresh and alive. (Recommended)

2. Smoke and Mirrors: Allows 1 additional use of Smoke Grenade each mission. Comments: One extra smoke grenade doesn’t really seem worth it compared to two extra medikits. Smoke Grenades don’t last but one turn, and they’re really only effective in specific situations. (Not recommended)


1. Revive: Allows medikits to revive critically wounded soldiers at 33% of max health, instead of just stabilizing them. Comments: If you have a soldier critically wounded, then you probably wont’ want them back in the fight anyway. You’ll want Rifle Suppression, and Revive just doesn’t do enough to consider it worthy of a spot in your arsenal.

2. Rifle Suppression: Fire a barrage that pins down a target, granting reaction fire against it and imposing a 30 penalty to aim. Comments: The Support is definitely a class you will want to be suppressing with. Since the Support lacks offensive power, you’d rather use him to support, and that’s what suppression does.


1. Dense Smoke: Smoke Grenades have increased area of effect and further increase units’ Defense by 20. Comments: When you throw down smoke grenades, you throw them down to protect your men. Dense Smoke doubles the protection and increases the area so you can get your whole team in it more easily. (Recommended)

2. Combat Drugs: Smoke Grenades now contain powerful stimulants that grant +20 Will and +10 critical chance for all units in the cloud. Comments: Having a will bonus just for one turn doesn’t seem worth it at all. The will bonus usually won’t stop a mind control attempt by the enemy, and, even if it did, the baddie would just wait and do it next turn. Also, since panicked troops usually only last for one turn, you can’t use it effectively to cure them. +10 critical hit chance is pathetic and won’t do practically anything to change the outcome of battle. (Not Recommended)


1. Deep Pockets: Confers an additional item slot in inventory. Comments: This is a very nice ability. You can use the inventory slot to make your support the official carrier of the Arc Thrower, and you can combine it with sprinter to make him the best man for the Job. You could do any strategical combination you want, though you can’t do two of the same item.


1. Savior: Medikits restore 4 more health per use. Comments: Doubles the effectiveness of medikits and easily brings your troops back to full fighting status. This is a must-have ability. (Recommended)

2. Sentinel: Allows two reaction shots during Overwatch instead of one. Comments: You will usually be suppressing or healing with this class, not going into Overwatch. Since I’m going for more a healer Support, Savior is a much better choice. (Not Recommended)

Overall Performance of the Class

What this class lacks in offense, it makes up for in medikits…lots and lots of medikits. The support shines in suppressing and healing. Its aim also isn’t bad either, which makes for a fairly reliable shot. Have no doubt–this is the field medic of the XCOM battlefield.


11 replies to this post
  1. I find Close & Personal incredibly effective for a shotgun Assault. A Run & Gun up to unload 2 point blank shotgun blasts with almost guaranteed criticals will drop just about anything in the game and is the perfect way to take out a hard target after you’ve mopped up it’s support.

    • 1 close and personal is only really good in xcom ew.
      2 lightning reflexes saved my sorry a*s because of the sectopod going on over watch every fu*king turn.

  2. The way you use Snipers is interesting but I’m not sure I agree with it.

    In the intro you say leaving your Sniper behind is a mistake, and you take In The Zone over Double Tap but I don’t follow the reasoning. With Squad Sight a Sniper doesn’t need to be near the front line and any flyers that gets behind you can’t attack or overwatch the same turn so you can always reposition or just drop them with the Sniper. Sending a Sniper out on their own on the flanks is fine as long as you’ve scouted it first and aren’t sending them into the unknown, getting the best LOS and height is crucial.

    Having a Sniper in the frontline where they can take advantage of In The Zone seems like it would expose them to a lot more risk than having them hang back.

  3. Combat Support is also a viable and powerful build, I often use both a combat Support and a healer Support in my squad.

    2 smoke grenades and the Overwatch perks make them amazing at holding forward positions and the 2 items gives them a huge range of powerful possibilities; stacked armour, SCOPE, etc.

    • 1 In the zone is really useful with explosives like grenades and rockets because it destroys the enemy’s cover and do some damage so the sniper can finish it off.
      2 Double tap I also like but I find it annoying how it activates when I don’t need it but it a more safe option if you don’t build the heavy class like I do. I usually have 2 heavy’s one with less powerful rockets with 2 grenades and one with one really powerful rocket. (or I use a mech with mines,grenades plus cultural damage in ew)

    • Now for this comment I have no problems with in fact it’s a really good strategy with having 2 support but in eu I usually have 2 heavy’s 1 support 2 sniper 1 assault, In ew I usually have 1 mech 1 hover s.h.i.v (because they are even more op now with more foundry upgrades and one of every class from the original 4 classes.

  4. From playing in Classic, I can mostly confirm what is written here. Once you get to the point where your soldiers no longer oneshot everything out of full cover while being lifted from the status of being basically immune to enemy fire themselves, things get really tough if you don’t know what you’re doing.

    Especially in the early game, the game really is nothing more than a bitch to you. My solution? Put down a manual save at the beginning of a mission and whenever you need to take a big risk. You can’t afford any deaths (except for rookies, I suppose) and while every event will always have the same outcome no matter how often you reload, (although I’ve seen aliens be reloaded with more health than they had before. WTF?) you can shift the variables to make the outcome more favorable.

    I have to defend In the Zone and Squad Sight. First, Snap Shot completely sucks. Yes, you get to move and shoot, but -20 aim is a LOT, so you’d preferrably whip out your (laser) pistol and use that instead. With Gunslinger of course. You would not believe what damage a sniper can do with their pistol. Seriously. Since they also have the highest accuracy of all classes, they are most likely to hit and deal their full damage. You would not want to encounter Major Nur in a dark alley at night, let’s say it like this.

    Okay, what I actually meant to say is that almost all the dangerous types of aliens late-game don’t use cover, so its condition is always met. Also, the enemy only has to BE flanked, your sniper doesn’t have to be the one doing it. Yes, I tested that, it works. Run an assault by, kill one of the flanked, leave the other to the sniper for a five killstreak. If you’ve never seen a sniper pick off sunsabitches until his (ammo upgraded) Plasma sniper goes click, you can’t appreciate the true value of this perk.

    Close and Personal might be an option, if it didn’t have to compare to Lightning Reflexes. Seriously, take that perk on every Assault you have. Enemies on Overwatch can be an extreme hindrance to movement, so being able to bypass that Muton to let him smell your shotty (and then pull the trigger) is very helpful. Not to mention that every alien can only do one reaction shot, so the rest of your squad will be able to safely move on as well.

    From my experience, Holo-Targeting is eh. It sounds great in theory, but either you use it without hopes of hitting the enemy, in which case suppression or overwatch would’ve been better (killing enemies in suppression is a waste of ammo), or you do hit the enemy, in which case, why would you need additional aim if even your Heavy can hit it?

    Same for Rapid Reaction. Firstly, HEAT Ammo makes those blasted cyberdisks more deader approximately 50% faster, secondly, if you’re on overwatch and can trust to hit the enemy twice (both reaction shots will likely be fired into the same alien if it still stands after the first), you’re probably already close enough that you could’ve just shot them accurately. And you know what they’re going to do? Just that! Why should they move when you’re within range for them to hit you?
    That being said, this and Close Combat Specialist are awesome for killing Chryssalids. Did I mention that they can also infest your own guys on higher difficulties?

  5. So I’m done with my rant on this mess with what abilities are better when it depends on what type of player you are hear are some advises on telling what suit you best

    Like blowing sh*t up? use 2 or 3 heavy’s and make sure one of them is quality over quantity and one of them is quantity over quality with explosives

    Like sniping? use 2 sniper one with in the zone and one with double tap

    TIP! never move your heavy’s or your snipers first because you never know when you need the head shot or rocket

    Like tanking and doing things fast? use 2 or 3 assault mark sure one is using and built well with the assault rifle

    Like being buffed? use 2 or 3 supports and have one of the suited for combat

    Like S.H.I.Vs and mechs? Use one mech and a hover shiv do not use normal or the cover shiv (sorry I forgot what the shiv that you can use as covers name is)

    • My style is blowing sh*t up and sniping because this is a good combo for me in xcom eu and hear is how I build my squad.

      Run n gun
      Tactical sense
      Lightning reflexes
      Rapid fire
      Close combat S
      Extra conditioning
      This build with ghost armor you can dash your assault out in the open.

      Smoke G
      F medic
      Combat drugs
      Deep P

      Heavy 1
      F rocket
      H targeting if the heavy can’t hit sh*t with low aim (I usually have not created equally and hidden potential on)
      Suppression if ^
      Heat ammo
      Danger Z if ^
      Will to S
      Ricketier if ^

      Heavy 2 with better aim
      F rocket
      Bullet swarm
      S rocket
      Heat A
      Will to S

      Sniper 1 + 2
      1. 2.
      Head S
      Squad S
      Gun S
      Battle S D shot
      Low P
      In the Z D tap

      Now I’m done.

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