Difficulty (EU2012)

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The choice of difficulty levels is the very first step taken when you play an XCOM game, and it will heavily define how the game will operate by adjusting what resources you start with and most importantly what sort of handicaps or advantages are given to the enemy forces.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown allows you to change the difficulty level as you play if you are finding the game too easy, or too hard. Previous games in the series did not allow this. The change takes effect immediately, but not retroactively. For example, if you change difficulty level in combat from Classic to Impossible, enemies will immediately gain respective health and aim bonuses, however no new enemy packs would be spawned corresponding to the difficulty change.

Starting Funds

For a more detailed explanation of how starting funds are calculated see Finances.

Difficulty North America South America Europe Africa Asia
Easy §465 §285 §315 §412 §315
Normal §375 §245 §265 §347 §265
Classic §300 §170 §190 §242 §190
Impossible §275 §145 §165 §210 §165

Easy

Strategic

  • 150% of monthly funds income.
  • A free satellite from start.
  • Ignored UFOs will only generate a Destroy Satellite mission if there are 3 or more satellites deployed.
  • Ignored UFOs will generate a Large Scout on a Destroy Satellite mission until May. On June the Large Scout is replaced by a Battleship.
  • Overseer UFOs will be generated preferably over countries in continents where Firestorms are deployed.
  • A maximum of 1 country can leave the Council per month.

Panic

  • Global panic starts at 0.
  • Satellites deployed over a country with a panic level of 5 have a 100% chance of reducing panic at the end of the month. With a level 4 the chance is 50%, and for all other panic levels the chance is 25%.
  • Unchecked abductions raise panic by 2 points.
  • Failed or ignored Council missions only raise panic on the country they take place.
  • On the Enemy Within DLC, EXALT Propaganda operations raise panic in the country by 1 point.

HQ

  • Soldiers cost §10.
  • XCOM HQ starts with 42 power units.
  • XCOM HQ starts with an Officer Training School.
  • Arc Thrower cost is §10 per unit (§35 on higher difficulties).
  • Skeleton Key manufacturing requires 5 Alloys and 5 Elerium per unit (10 for each on higher difficulties).

Missions

There are limits on the number of specific aliens that can be encountered during a mission - see Alien Deployment.

  • First mission has 2 alien pods and a total of 4 aliens.
  • Abductions have the following alien numbers, based on their difficulty:
    • Easy - 2 pods, total of 4 aliens.
    • Moderate - 3 pods, 6 aliens.
    • Difficult - 4 pods, 8 aliens.
    • Very Difficult - 4 pods, 10 aliens.
  • First Terror site has 3 alien pods and a total of 6 aliens.
    • Following Terror missions have 3 alien pods, 8 aliens.
  • Council missions have the following totals of aliens: 5 (March), 6 (April), 8 (May), 11 (June), 13 (July), 16 (August).
  • UFO missions have the following totals of aliens:
    • Small Scout: 5-7 (Crashed), 10-12 (Landed).
    • Large Scout: 10-12 (Crashed), 11-13 (Landed).
    • Abductor: 11-12 (Crashed), 14-15 (Landed).
    • Supply Barge: 11-18 (Crashed), 18-19 (Landed).
    • Battleship: 22-23 (Crashed).
  • The Alien Base has a total of 22 aliens.
  • The Overseer UFO has 3 pods, total of 7 aliens, consisting of Heavy Floaters, Muton Elites and 1 Sectopod, in addition to the Ethereal command pod.
  • UFO and the Alien Base missions will give an extra 20-25% salvage of Alien Alloys and Elerium.

Tactical

  • XCOM soldiers have +1 bonus Health Points (HPs), starting with 6 instead of 5.

Aliens

  • Aliens use the Easy/Normal AI package, and aren't as numerous.
    • Consequently: Research/Foundry subjects that require Weapon Fragments may actually take longer, as you will not be able to even start them without the requisite materials.
  • No more than 5 Aliens at a time may engage the player in tactical missions.
  • Aliens hesitate to use special abilities and throw grenades.
  • Mutons switch from Light Plasma Rifles to Plasma Rifles on July.

Several aliens have their stats reduced. See Alien Stats for a complete listing of the alien stats.

  • Sectoids have their HPs reduced by 1 compared to Normal.
  • Thin Man aliens' damage is reduced by 2, and their HPs are reduced by 1 compared to Normal.

Player Bonuses

The game will cheat for you on Easy difficulty.

  • If you have precisely 4 soldiers during a mission:
    • Chance to hit is 120% of displayed value
    • For hits that have at least a 50% chance of hitting, chance to hit is increased by 15% (absolute) per consecutive miss, with no upper limit.
    • Alien chance to hit is reduced by 10% (absolute) for each consecutive hit.
  • If you are down to 3 or fewer soldiers:
    • Chance to hit is further increased by 15% (absolute) per missing squad member, under 4 (if you only brought 1 soldier, he has +45% chance to hit).
    • For hits that have at least a 50% chance of hitting, you receive another 15% (absolute) chance to hit per consecutive miss (up to 30%).
    • Alien chance to hit is reduced by 10% (absolute) for each consecutive hit.
    • Alien chance to hit is further reduced by 25% (absolute) for each squad member missing under 4.

See When The Game Cheats... for an complete explanation of this mechanism.

Other Notes

Easy is just that: Easy. It's relaxing, it's not going to break you, and it's not going to stress you out too much. Because of low increase on panic levels, it takes numerous boneheaded decisions, combined with atrociously bad luck to lose even a single country, let alone lose the game because of too many countries pulling out. Furthermore, with higher monthly funding rates, it shouldn't be too hard to be rolling in satellites. Tactically, there are fewer enemies, as well as a cap on how many you can be engaged with at once and a shackle on their intelligence. Enemies will make silly mistakes like run out into the middle of the map with no cover, and even forget to take their turn! That being said however, the enemy is still dangerous, and will make you pay if you make a stupid decision, such as staying out of cover, or clustering your soldiers up together when a grenade enemy is on the loose. In fact, on Easy, that's about the only situation in which the enemy will use a grenade is if you've clustered several troops together. It's not remotely out of the question, even on Ironman, to go through Easy and not lose a single soldier, or country.

Easy is for Commanders unfamiliar with the genre, as a platform to wet your feet a little bit before moving to the bigger leagues, or for a relaxing, easygoing time.

Normal

Strategic

  • 100% of monthly funds income.
  • A free satellite from start.
  • Ignored UFOs will only generate a Destroy Satellite mission if there are 3 or more satellites deployed.
  • Ignored UFOs will generate a Large Scout on a Destroy Satellite mission until May. On June the Large Scout is replaced by a Battleship.
  • Overseer UFOs will be generated preferably over countries in continents where Firestorms are deployed.
  • A maximum of 2 countries can leave the Council per month.

Panic

  • Global panic starts at 0.
  • Satellites deployed over a country with a panic level of 5 have a 100% chance of reducing panic at the end of the month. With a level 4 the chance is 50%, and for all other panic levels the chance is 25%.
  • Unchecked abductions raise panic by 2 points.
  • Failed or ignored Council missions only raise panic on the country they take place.
  • On the Enemy Within DLC, EXALT Propaganda operations raise panic in the country by 2 points.

HQ

Missions

There are limits on the number of specific aliens that can be encountered during a mission - see Alien Deployment for detailed information.

  • First mission has 2 alien pods and a total of 4 aliens.
  • Abductions have the following alien numbers, based on their difficulty:
    • Easy - 2 pods, total of 4 aliens.
    • Moderate - 3 pods, 6 aliens.
    • Difficult - 4 pods, 8 aliens.
    • Very Difficult - 4 pods, 10 aliens.
  • First Terror site has 3 alien pods and a total of 6 aliens.
    • Following Terror missions have 4 alien pods, 10 aliens.
  • Council missions have the following totals of aliens: 5 (March), 6 (April), 8 (May), 11 (June), 13 (July), 16 (August).
  • UFO missions have the following totals of aliens:
    • Small Scout: 5-7 (Crashed), 10-12 (Landed).
    • Large Scout: 10-12 (Crashed), 11-13 (Landed).
    • Abductor: 11-12 (Crashed), 14-15 (Landed).
    • Supply Barge: 11-18 (Crashed), 18-19 (Landed).
    • Battleship: 22-23 (Crashed).
  • The Alien Base has a total of 22 aliens.
  • The Overseer UFO has 3 pods, total of 7 aliens, consisting of Heavy Floaters, Muton Elites and a Sectopod, in addition to the Ethereal command pod.

Tactical

  • XCOM soldiers have standard 5 Health Points (HPs).

Aliens

  • No more than 5 Aliens at a time may engage the player in tactical mission.
  • Mutons switch from Light Plasma Rifles to Plasma Rifles on July.
  • Alien AI is limited (aliens can skip their turn, run away or take suboptimal moves for no reason).

A few aliens have their stats reduced. See Alien Stats for a complete listing of the alien stats.

  • Thin Man will inflict less 2 points of damage and have their HPs reduced by 1 point.
  • On the Enemy Within DLC, Mechtoids have +4 HPs and +10 Aim than on Easy. Seekers have +1 HP and +2 Movement.

Player Bonuses

The games will cheat for you on Normal difficulty, with 4 or fewer soldiers:

    • Chance to hit is 120% of displayed value.
    • For hits that have at least a 50% chance of hitting, chance to hit is increased by 15% (absolute) per consecutive miss, with no upper limit.
    • Alien chance to hit is reduced by 10% (absolute) for each consecutive hit.

See When The Game Cheats... for an complete explanation of this mechanism.

Other Notes

The major difference between Normal and Easy is on the Strategic end of the game and not the Tactical. Unchecked alien activity will raise panic more than on Easy, and with less power to start, you'll either need to get very lucky on your Steam Vents or build some regular Generators. You'll need to pay more attention to things like continental panic when dealing with Alien Abductions for instance, as it won't take as much for a country to hit a level 5 panic as it would on Easy. Furthermore, with less funding, you'll need to be more conservative with your funds in the early game. Tactically however, the game is very similar to Easy. With a shackle on the enemy's intelligence as well as caps on how many enemies can be engaged, aside from one less HP on your troops (not that huge, even in the early game), you won't find much difference between Easy and Normal in this department.

Normal is for Commanders who have been around the block before and know what to expect, but still want an easily controlled game.

Classic

Strategic

  • 100% of monthly funds income
  • You do not start with an extra satellite.
  • Satellite coverage bonuses over continents such as scientists and engineers are smaller. As an example, full coverage over Europe grants 4 scientists on Classic but on Normal it grants 8 for full satellite coverage.
  • Ignored UFOs will always generate a Destroy Satellite mission, regardless of the number of satellites deployed.
  • Ignored UFOs will generate a Large Scout on a Destroy Satellite mission until April. On May the Large Scout is replaced by a Battleship.
  • Overseer UFOs can be generated over any countries with sats regardless if Firestorms are deployed or not.
  • A maximum of 4 countries can leave the Council per month.

Panic

  • Global panic starts at 8 (half the nations start with 2 panic, the rest start with 1).
  • Satellites deployed over a country with a panic level of 5 have a 50% chance of reducing panic at the end of the month. With a level 4 the chance is 25%, and for all other panic levels the chance is 10%.
  • Council missions have the following totals of aliens: 7 (March), 9 (April), 11 (May), 16 (June), 18 (July).
  • On the Enemy Within DLC (EW DLC) assaulting the Alien Base only reduces panic by 1 point, instead of the 2 points from Easy/Normal difficulties.
  • Also on the EW DLC, EXALT Propaganda operations raise panic in the country by 2 points.
  • Unchecked abductions raise panic by 2 points.

Air Combat

For a detailed list of changes, see Craft & Armaments Stats

  • Firestorm's speed and armor penetration values are reduced.
  • Phoenix and Plasma cannons are less effective.
  • Abductors, Supply Barges and Battleships can take more damage.
  • The Battleship's UFO Fusion weapon has been increased from previous difficulty.
  • Overseers have less armor but the effect may be minimal since Firestorm stats have been reduced.

HQ

  • Soldiers cost §15.
  • XCOM HQ has 30 units of starting power.
  • XCOM HQ has no Officer Training School at the start; a soldier must reach Sergeant to unlock the OTS base facility.
  • On the EW DLC, Research times are increased by 40%.
  • Also on the EW DLC, the cost of building plasma weapons is increased by roughly 50%.

Missions

There are limits on the number of specific aliens that can be encountered during a mission - see Alien Deployment for detailed information.

  • There are more alien packs per mission and bigger chance of a pack having more aliens (up to 3).
  • First mission has 3 alien pods and a total of 6 aliens.
  • Abductions have the following alien numbers, based on their difficulty:
    • Easy - 2 pods, total of 4 aliens.
    • Moderate - 3 pods, 6 aliens.
    • Difficult - 4 pods, 8 aliens.
    • Very Difficult - 4 pods, 10 aliens.
  • First Terror site has 3 alien pods and a total of 6 aliens.
    • Following Terror missions have 5 alien pods, 12 aliens.
    • Failed or ignored missions only raise panic on the country they take place.
  • Council missions have the following totals of aliens: 7 (March), 9 (April), 11 (May), 16 (June), 18 (July).
  • UFO missions have the following totals of aliens:
    • Small Scout: 5-7 (Crashed), 10-12 (Landed).
    • Large Scout: 10-12 (Crashed), 11-13 (Landed).
    • Abductor: 11-12 (Crashed), 14-15 (Landed).
    • Supply Barge: 11-18 (Crashed), 18-19 (Landed).
    • Battleship: 22-23 (Crashed).
  • The Alien Base has a total of 22 aliens.
  • The Overseer UFO has 4 pods, total of 10 aliens, consisting of Muton Elites and 2 Sectopods, in addition to the Ethereal command pod.

Tactical

  • XCOM soldiers have -1 Health Point (HP) from Normal (4 HPs total).

Aliens

  • Mutons switch from Light Plasma Rifles to Plasma Rifles on June.
  • Alien AI is unshackled (aliens can still run away in fear or put themselves in bad position sometimes due to AI not cheating and having to guess where your units are, but will never take a suboptimal move intentionally)
    • In fact, you may find that the aliens play more defensively, and be more likely to retreat in this difficulty, if their squadmades have been killed (though this may be more due to the fact that they'll have enough HP to survive long enough to run away).

Several aliens receive bonuses. See Alien Stats for a complete listing of the alien stats.

  • All aliens receive a +10 Critical Chance bonus.
  • All aliens that use ranged weapons receive a +10 Aim bonus.
  • Chryssalids and Zombies receive a +2 damage bonus.
  • Berserkers receive a +1 damage bonus.
  • Thin Man has damage reduced by 2 points and Health Points (HPs) reduced by 1 point.
  • Mutons, Heavy Floater, Drones, and Outsiders receive a +2 HP bonus.
  • Sectoid Commanders and Cyberdiscs receive a +4 HP bonus.
  • Sectoid Commanders and Ethereals receive a +25 Will bonus.
  • On the Enemy Within DLC, Muton Elites have 18 HPs on Classic, instead of 14 on the vanilla game.
  • Also on the EW DLC, Mechtoids have +2 HPs and +10 Aim than on Classic. Seekers have +10 Aim and +10 Defense.

Other Notes

Classic is when things start to pick up. Gone are the caps and shackles on your foes. They will no longer skip their turn for no reason and run into the middle of the street for equally no reason, nor will they hesitate to toss a grenade at you if they don't like their chances to hit. To make matters worse, enemies are far more dangerous, and your troops are down another HP. As if that wasn't enough, panic increases at greater levels than before, making it even more paramount that you consider the entire continent as well as country in question. With lower satellite coverage rewards, research is going take a bit longer and your equipment is going to be a little more costly.

Classic is for Commanders who have been around the block several times and are ready for a greater challenge.

Impossible

Strategic

  • 100% of monthly funds income.
  • You do not start with an extra satellite.
  • Satellite coverage bonuses over continents such as scientists and engineers are smaller. As an example, full coverage over Europe grants 4 scientists on Classic but on Normal it grants 8 for full satellite coverage.
  • Ignored UFOs will always generate a Destroy Satellite mission, regardless of the number of satellites deployed.
  • Ignored UFOs will generate a Large Scout on a Destroy Satellite mission only on March. On April the Large Scout is replaced by a Battleship.
  • Overseer UFOs can be generated over any countries with sats regardless if Firestorms are deployed or not.
  • A maximum of 8 countries can leave the Council per month.

Panic

  • Global panic starts at 16 (all nations start with 2 panic).
  • Satellites deployed over a country with a panic level of 5 have a 50% chance of reducing panic at the end of the month. With a level 4 the chance is 25%, and for all other panic levels the chance is 10%.
  • Unchecked abductions raise panic by 3 points.
  • On the Enemy Within DLC (EW DLC) assaulting the Alien Base only reduces panic by 1 point, instead of the 2 points from Easy/Normal difficulties.
  • Also on the EW DLC, EXALT Propaganda operations raise panic in the country by 3 points and 1 point on the rest of the continent.

Air Combat

For a detailed list of changes, see Craft & Armaments Stats

  • Firestorm's speed and armor penetration values are reduced.
  • Phoenix and Plasma cannons are less effective.
  • Laser Cannon is more effective when compared to the previous difficulty modes.
  • Abductors, Supply Barges and Battleships have been even more increased than on Classic difficulty.
  • Overseers have slightly more armor than on Classic but the effect may be minimal since Firestorm stats have been reduced.
  • The Battleship's UFO Fusion weapon has been increased from Classic, along with the Overseer's Plasma II weapon.

HQ

  • Soldiers cost §15.
  • XCOM HQ has 30 units of starting power.
  • XCOM HQ starts without an Officer Training School; a soldier must reach Sergeant to unlock the OTS base facility.
  • On the EW DLC, Research times are increased by 70%.
  • Also on the EW DLC, the cost of building plasma weapons is increased by roughly 50%.

Missions

Unlike the previous difficulty levels, the aliens don't have limitations on the number of specific aliens that can deploy during a mission. It is possible to see 5 Sectopods during the same mission is pretty common, unlike the limit of 2 units on Classic or lower. Check Alien Deployment for detailed information.

  • There are even more aliens per mission than Classic and even bigger chance of a pack having more aliens (up to 3).
  • First mission has 3 alien pods and a total of 8 aliens.
  • Abductions have the following alien numbers, based on their difficulty:
    • Easy - not available on Impossible.
    • Moderate - 3 pods, 8 aliens.
    • Difficult - 4 pods, 10 aliens.
    • Very Difficult - 4 pods, 12 aliens.
  • Unchecked abductions raise panic by 3 points.
  • First Terror site has 3 alien pods and a total of 9 aliens.
    • Following Terror missions have 5 alien pods, 15 aliens.
  • Council missions have the following totals of aliens: 7 (March), 9 (April), 11 (May), 16 (June), 18 (July).
    • Failed or ignored missions only raise panic on the country they take place and the rest of the country.
  • UFO missions have the following totals of aliens:
    • Small Scout: 5-7 (Crashed), 10-12 (Landed).
    • Large Scout: 10-12 (Crashed), 13-15 (Landed).
    • Abductor: 11-12 (Crashed), 14-15 (Landed).
    • Supply Barge: 12-21 (Crashed), 23-24 (Landed).
    • Battleship: 28-29 (Crashed).
  • The Alien Base has a total of 29 aliens.
  • The Overseer UFO has 4 pods, total of 10 aliens, consisting of Muton Elites and 2 Sectopods, in addition to the Ethereal command pod.

Tactical

  • XCOM soldiers have -2 Health Points (HP) from Normal (3 HPs total).

Aliens

  • Mutons switch from Light Plasma Rifles to Plasma Rifles on June.
  • Alien AI is unshackled (aliens can still run away in fear or put themselves in bad position sometimes due to AI not cheating and having to guess where your units are, but will never take an suboptimal move on propose).
  • Aliens use special abilities frequently, and are 40 times more likely to throw grenades when compared to Easy and Normal.

Several aliens receive bonuses. See Alien Stats for a complete listing of the alien stats.

  • Chryssalid, Zombie and Beserker receive +2, +3 and +4 bonus damage respectively
  • All aliens using ranged weapons have +10 Aim except the Outsider and Muton Elites who receive +20 Aim.
  • All aliens have +10 Critical Chance and the Uber Ethereal gets +20 Critical Chance
  • Outsiders get 5 extra Movement points (about 3 more tiles) per turn than in Easy, Normal, or Classic.
  • Sectoid Commanders, Ethereals, and the Uber Ethereal receive bonus Will, with the first two getting +35 and the latter getting +10.
  • Muton Elite, Outsider and the Uber Ethereal receive +10 bonus Defense.
  • Sectoids receive 1 bonus HP; Floater, Muton, Thin Man and Outsider +2 HPs; Cyberdisc, Sectoid Commander, Zombie, Heavy Floater and Drone get +4 HPs; and Ethereal, Berserker and Uber Ethereal 5 bonus HPs.
  • Compared to Classic, most notable change is +1 HP of Sectoids, and +2 HPs of Thin Men and Floaters, which provides for a huge difficulty increase on the first months of the game.
  • On the Enemy Within DLC, Muton Elites have 20 HPs on Impossible, instead of 18 on the vanilla game.
  • Also on the EW DLC, Mechtoids have +2 HPs than on Classic. Seekers have +1 HP.

Other Notes

Impossible will break you. It exists to destroy you. It will feast on your tears and mock your very soul. To prepare yourself for the trials ahead, go here.

Be warned: Impossible is for tactical geniuses, strategic masterminds, demigods, masochists, and/or fools.

Good luck, Commander. You WILL need it.

Sub Options

In addition to the standard difficulty levels, the game offers two sub options that you can select before starting the game. Once set they cannot be switched off.

Tutorial Mode

Tutorial Mode puts you through a short series of guided missions and tasks done to teach you the basics of how to play the game. It also acts as a Prologue to the story, making it worth trying at least once even if you are already familiar with this game.

  • This mode grants you one more satellite than you normally will start with if it is disabled.
  • Only 2 of the 5 starting continents are available for choice to your HQ's location in the Tutorial. They are otherwise available if you start without tutorial mode selected.
  • This mode is disabled when starting the game on Impossible.
  • The timing of missions is predetermined during the 1st month.

Ironman

The Ironman game mode is a sub difficulty level that can be applied to any of the difficulty levels. This mode disallows you from saving the game manually and can not be disabled once the game has commenced. The mode makes the game more difficult since you cannot undo catastrophic mistakes or turns in combat.

Ironman originates from an unofficial method of play that harkens back to the earlier X-COM titles where players wanting a challenge would self-impose a rule on their save/reload habits. This is traditionally done by manually disallowing the use of the save/reload facility to recover from mistakes, losses, and cheating. Regular saving is still encouraged to lock down progress or to avoid game bugs. This can still be done manually in XCOM Enemy Unknown, however the Ironman mode is provided to automate this process and is a requirement for certain Achievements.

The game saves when:

This mode can cause problems if you encounter bugs that cause non-progression, since you cannot go back to an earlier, hopefully more functional save state. Accidental right-clicks now mean dead soldiers and lost bomb defusing missions.

Ironman can arguably 'save you from yourself' if you are the kind of player who would otherwise tend to reload any decision, combat, or turn that did not go well. While you are likely to do better as a result, overall gameplay may not be as fun as simply figuring out how to go on with the consequences.

  • You can still easily "cheat" by making backups of the save files, or closing the game application after something unwanted happens but before your next turn begins in combat, however, this ruins the whole point of playing Ironman. These methods can also be considered a perfectly legal way to counter most of the bugs, however, including abilities doing nothing, enemies teleporting on your head, etc.

The Second Wave

There are more options that adds flavor or challenge to the game, check The Second Wave page for details.

Achievements

While not a difficulty option, the game offers a series of set achievements that you can earn by performing certain actions. These are either obtained automatically as you progress, or require you to perform task under difficult conditions such as winning the game on Classic/Impossible with Ironman enabled, or winning several full games from each of the starting base locations.

These goals do not offer any direct in-game benefits but can be collected at your leisure. For a full breakdown of the challenges, see: Achievements.

See Also