Having recently completed a Commander Ironman playthrough (proof here Img 1), and having followed this sub for a while, I felt that there was a need for a general “first few months” or “getting off the ground” guide for people trying Commander, and especially for those doing Ironman. So this is that guide.
Disclaimer: this is a guide on how to survive Commander Ironman. It is not the One True Path or Only Way. This serves only to help people get started down the path of a successful Commander Ironman campaign. There are other ways to be successful too!
Ground rules / guidance to follow through entire game:
- Never use Dashing (both turns spent moving at once, or “yellow moves”). It never pays, and only leads to bad things. As far as you’re concerned, Dashing isn’t actually an option in this game. Never, ever use it (with few exceptions like dashing onto the evac pad and then evacuating, or Run & Gun skill). Note that I define dashing as making a yellow move when you have 2 actions left. It’s often OK (such as when you’re Concealed) to make a blue move, assess your newly discovered map, and then make a second yellow move. This is better than an outright Dash because you can adjust what you do based on the outcome of the first half of the move.
- Always use cover. Full cover is best, partial cover is good. Never get caught in the open or flanked (this is why you don’t use Dashing). If you’re screwed or out of position, use a Flashbang, use a Psi Operative to stasis your guy and move in, or put Specialist’s Aid Protocol on your guy, which gets OP late game.
- Use all of your grenades, every mission. Blow shit up. Kill aliens. Destroy cover. Use them. You’ll destroy loot here and there – who cares as long as soldiers don’t die.
- Take a Flashbang on every mission. Baddies got the jump on ya? Bang them for instant Disorientation. Makes them mostly useless on their next turn and buys you time. Also, Flashbangs turn off psychic powers (like Sectoid Mind Control or PSI Zombie). Bang that Sectoid and the Mind Control is off / Zombie is dead. Snake grabbed your soldier? Bang ’em and they’ll let go. Never leave home without them.
- Use the Black Market. Everything there is pretty insanely cheap. Sell gun mods you won’t use for money (and turret wrecks, screw the Defense Matrix). Buy PCS and gun mods here for cheap. Buy Scientists and Engineers here for cheap too. There’s plenty of Intel to go around, spend it.
- Don’t sweat the Avatar timer. Expand until you have a facility on land you own that you can raid, wait for the timer to reach 12 and the countdown to start, do useful things until the countdown hits 1-2 days, then go hit the facility and turn off the countdown. Next time it maxes out, it’ll reset to the starting count all over again.
- Battle Scanners and Scanning Protocol (Specialist skill) are king. Have one or both on every mission, pop them off before you encounter enemies, and never be surprised or ambushed by an unlucky horde of 2+ pods again. Bonus: you see them, they don’t see you, nade those buggers.
- Put a sniper on every mission, ideally with Serial. Keep them in the back and shoot people with Squad Sight. Don’t bother with the Gunslinger perks, except for Quickdraw which is way better than Death From Above. With the right PCS and ammo, they get to a point where they have 100% chance to shoot almost everything, even when it’s behind partial or full cover, and even with Deadeye activated.
- Again, don’t use the Sniper’s stupid Gunslinger skill tree. I know this is very controversial, but trust me. Here’s why: 1. Serial is OP. 2. Your experimental ammo applies to your sidearm, but Squadsight doesn’t work for your sidearm. 3. You have to be at close range to use the gun, which means you’re gonna get hurt. Why give up your best advantages to shoot a crappy pistol? My sniper regularly takes out 1-3 enemies per turn from a good safe distance.
- Get PSI Ops and train them. Berserker surprised you? Insanity it for Rupture (if you have Schism) + Panic (where it does nothing next turn and even runs away from you, to attack its pals. Problem solved. Void Rift is a great alternative ambush opener to grenades, especially when the operative has Schism and can panic / mind control / disorient everything hit by the rift and do extra damage per cast on top of the rift damage. It rivals the best grenade openings.
- Prioritize Engineers. You need at least 5 of them by late game, or you’re pretty boned. They’re very cheap on the Black Market, but can be bought from HQ as well. If you’re running low, build a Workshop in the middle of 4 rooms (think plus sign) and that basically turns 1 Engineer into 2 Engineer Gremlins which are Engineers. An upgrade can turn 2 Engineers into 4. Very useful.
- Try and get 5 Scientists ASAP. They are usually pretty easy to come by (easier than Engineers I find) and speeding up research is really important. If you can’t find them, build a Laboratory that turns 1 Scientist into 2. Upgrade turns 2 into 4.
- Never hack anything unless 1. there are no consequences, 2. you have 100% chance, or 3. you’re really desperate to shut down that Sectopod / MEC before it takes its turn and grenades your whole team. A failed hack can end your Ironman run. Failed hacks are responsible for my only 2 soldier deaths in the Commander Ironman playthrough I linked above.
- Never use Ranger Swords to move toward anything that would reveal more map. Bad guy in the middle of your team? Sword ’em real good. But don’t EVER rush out and sword someone ahead of you where you can’t see the coming map; $5 says you reveal a second and maybe even 3rd pod (+ turret if you’re really unlucky) and really screw yourself.
- Fight one pod at a time. If you’re in a fight, never move forward / explore more map. Running around during the fight means you’ll likely activate… another pod, which won’t end well for you. Kill the single pod, then move on (without Dashing!).
- You’ll get unlucky a few times and 2+ pods will spawn adjacent and be activated and attack you at once. Deal with it. This is why Battle Scanners / Scanning Protocol are important. Know it’s coming, grenade the hell out of it and set your people up for successful shots.
- Shred before you shoot. Armored baddie to take down? Shred it with nades / Grenadier cannon BEFORE you shoot it with everyone else, to do the max damage.
- Defer most autopsies. If you collect enough of an alien’s corpse, the autopsy becomes free (only triggers at end of a research project). This saves you time, so focus your research on other stuff.
There’s probably more, but those are a great start. Now, your best team comp per squad size (in my opinion):
Squad Size 4
- 1 Ranger
- 1 Specialist
- 1 Grenadier
- 1 Sniper
Squad Size 5
- 1-2 Rangers
- 1 Specialist
- 1-2 Grenadiers
- 1 Sniper
- 0-1 PSI Operatives
Squad Size 6
- 1-2 Rangers
- 1 Specialist
- 1-2 Grenadiers
- 1 Sniper
- 1-2 PSI Operatives (Magus)
Bottom line: always bring a Ranger, Specialist, Sniper, and Grenadier. Period. End of discussion.
Now, here’s what to do for the first 2 months:
- Start the game, complete the first mission. If anyone dies or gets Shaken as a result of injury, restart
- Immediately start research on Modular Weapons. You just picked up some loot in that first mission unless you blew it up with a grenade
- Immediately build a Guerrilla Tactics School. This is room #1 for you. Get it now. When it’s done, buy Vulture immediately for 75 supplies. It doubles the loot you pick up, and is ridiculously useful. The GTS also enables your people to use PCS. Finally, always have a Recruit training in the GTS – free Squaddie level up in 5 days. Just rotate the classes (train 1 of each until you run out of recruits).
- Your Modular Weapons research is likely to complete before your next mission. Now you can equip mods on guns. This will also unlock Magnetic Weapons. Lots of people advocate immediate research of these, but don’t do it yet. You need to optimize your unlock rate, and 28 days of research blocks a lot of “quick gains”. So instead, research Alien Biotech.
- Do some missions while stuff builds / researches. Use the tactics I explained above to not die or get shot. Bring that damned Flashbang and use it (I equip on specialist).
- As soon as you get a Corporal (or Lieutenant on Legendary), get Squad Size 1 at Guerrilla Tactics School. 5 soldiers is better than 4, and the aliens don’t really scale to adapt to it yet. Also buy Wet Work for 25% more XP which means faster promotions and future GTS unlocks based on ranks. Note that Wet Work is retroactive, so you may get some immediate promotions when you buy it (will have a “!” under Armory tab if so).
- Alien Biotech is done, autopsies for everybody! Not only that, but Advanced Warfare Center. This is your key to victory. Start building it NOW. When it’s done, you can staff it to increase healing rate by 100%, but also retrain soldiers. Even more important, your soldiers now have a random chance to unlock extra skills from other class trees every time they’re promoted. Get this early before you go beyond Corporals. It can be insanely game-changing. My last playthrough I had a Ranger with Blast Padding: free 1 armor and 66% less explosive damage. I also had a Sniper with Rupture. Ridiculously useful. Sectopod shows up? Rupture shot for crit, take it down easily. Get the AWS ASAP.
- Now that the AWS is building (takes about 15 days), fire up the ADVENT Officer autopsy research. This unlocks a ton of fun, but most notably the Proving Grounds
- Autopsy finishes, start Magnetic Weapons research and work on building a Proving Grounds ASAP so you can fire up experimental ammo / grenades. You want to roll Dragon, Tracer, Talon, and AP Ammo. Poison is a meh. You really want Incendiary Grenades, like now. They’re amazing.
- Magnetic Weapons take forever, so do some missions, get some loot, apply PCS and weapon mods. At this point we’re doing stuff in parallel (instead of waiting 28 days for Mag Weps that you can’t actually buy yet and then doing the other side of the tree for Advanced Warfare Center and Proving Grounds).
- Retaliation mission 1: gonna happen right before or right after Supply Drop 1, so be ready. Should be a cake walk. Don’t run after civilians trying to catch them all Pokemon-style, instead move toward the places that aliens are heard / seen killing (BUT NO DASHING). Trigger a pod to get it to mostly stop executing civilians, and kill it. Bonus: Scanning Protocol or Battle Scanners reveal which civilians are Faceless too (and unburrow Chrysallids).
- Magnetic Weapons finish, and you either can afford them (have found Alloys) or cannot. This timing will have them finish right around the first Supply Raid mission, which gets you the Alloys you need to build them. If you haven’t encountered that mission yet, you can wait a few days or buy Alloys on the Black Market (isn’t it rad?). Either way get those damned guns built. Don’t sweat the pistol yet, buy the Mag Rifle and the Storm Gun (or whatever that magnetic Ranger gun is called), in that order.
- Now get Plated Armor. Adds 4 health to everybody, and stops those unlucky hits / crits from killing you.
- Roll every Elerium Core into experimental Ammo and Grenades, at a ratio of 2 ammos per grenade (buy nade, ammo, ammo, nade, ammo, ammo) Get the Incendiary Grenades, and get the Talon / Dragon / AP / Tracer Ammo!
- When you find and kill your first Muton (probably Retaliation mission 2), halt whatever research you’re doing and Autopsy it ASAP. It unlocks Proving Grounds project for Plasma Grenades, and the Advanced Grenade Launcher which is so money. Prioritize them in the Proving Grounds (move them up ahead of all other things). Get them NOW and enjoy additional nade dmg + range on that Grenadier.
- Plasma Grenades unlock Advanced Explosives Proving Grounds project. Get it ASAP. Huge buff to grenade damage.
- Congratulations, you just survived the first 2 months, hopefully with nobody dead
- Get Squad Size 2 at your first Captain
- Get each class specific Guerrilla Tactic (ESPECIALLY the Grenadier one that lets nades crit) at Captain rank
- Upgrade Gremlins and Swords as soon as you can. Swords are Stunlancer and Archon autopsy, Gremlins are MEC and Sectopod autopsy
- Mindshield is a great, cheap way to block Sectoid Mindspin effects (like Panic or Mind Control) as well as Stunlancer Stun and Disoriented hits.
You should be able to Flawless the entire first 2 months of missions. If not, re-evaluate your cover and movement tactics, or read this guide again, or try harder.
Classes and Other Recommendations
Now, class specific Skill / PCS / Gun Mod / Loadout recommendations:
- Loadout: Cannon, Nade Launcher, Regular Grenade, Incendiary Grenade (in slot 2 because one skill unlocks double that nade), Dragon Rounds or Stasis Vest or Plated Vest
- PCS: Give the tank health. Lots of health. +4 near end of game. Bonus: if Stasis Vest is on, will auto heal 2 per turn up to 8.
- Gun Mods: Hair Trigger (nothing beats a free double armor shred), Stock, Repeater, Scope if you like it
- Skills: Shredder, Suppression, Heavy Ordinance, Volatile Mix, Salvo, Rupture
- Loadout: EXO/WAR Suit, Shottie, Sword, Your fave Grenade, either [HELLFIRE VEST (ridiculously OP), Plated Vest or Heavy weapon], Talon Rounds
- PCS: Conditioning or Agility. Dodge is good, health is also good. Your call.
- Gun Mods: Laser Sight (get that crit % UP + with Talon rounds gets nuts), Repeater, Hair Trigger
- Skills: Blademaster, Shadowstep, Run & Gun, Bladestorm, Untouchable, Rapid Fire (Reaper sucks, trust me)
- Loadout: Gun, Gremlin, Skulljack (get Skullmine for Hack boost + can instakill a Shieldbearer), Plated Vest or Stasis Vest or AP rounds
- PCS: Perception or Agility. Dodge is good, aim is also good. Depends if you shoot more or get shot at more – your call.
- Gun Mods: Repeater, Stock, Hair Trigger, Scope
- Skills: Combat Protocol (ignore armor, dmg goes up with Gremlin level, kill machines!), Haywire Protocol (shut things down!), Scanning Protocol, Threat Assessment (cast on Ranger after Ranger’s turn for free overwatch that procs on attack and move, sick), Guardian, Restoration (your “oh shit” button when things go bad / you get AoE’d for damage to everybody)
- Loadout: Sniper Rifle, Handgun, Tracer or AP rounds, your favorite Vest or Grenade
- PCS: Perception. There is no other option. Perception + Scope + Tracer can mean 136 base aim, which is near 100% chance to hit everything, ever.
- Gun Mods: Scope, and either [Expanded Magazine (especially for Serial), Auto-Loader (OK for Serial if only choice)]
- Skills: Long Watch, Deadeye, Quickdraw, Kill Zone, Steady Hands, Serial (ridiculous skill, my record is 5 kills in 1 turn!)
- PSI Operative
- Loadout: EXO/WAR Suit, Gun, PSI Amp, pretty much whatever you want is fine (recommend Plated Vest + Dragon Rounds)
- PCS: Perception, Conditioning, or Agility. Dodge hits, hit more, or have more health to tank. Whatever works for you.
- Gun Mods: Whatever makes you happy. You won’t be shooting much.
- Skills: All of them, get Dominate ASAP and Insanity + Schism + Void Rift is sick combo. Dominate is permanent Mind Control of 1 unit per mission, use it on Andromedon or Gatekeeper or Shieldbearer for tanking, nothing else.
Thank you for reading this wall of text. I hope this guide helps you survive Commander Ironman. Feedback welcomed!
NOTE: ammo does apply to Sniper sidearm. I didn’t think it did but I was wrong, hah. Also clarified Dashing.
Original Link – Continuation of discussion