Managing the Item Limit
Working with the 80 Item Limit in 7623 easy steps
The game limits you to only using 80 items, and this is a rich source of concern for many players that like employ a lot of soldiers and equally as much equipment.
To understand why the 80 item restriction in place, one must understand that at the time the game was made, most IBM PCs and Compatibles did not come with a lot of RAM. At the time the game was first released, most common household computers had less than 4 megabytes of RAM. Mind you, that was a lot of memory back in those days. Due to the limited memory available, programmers had to be very frugal with what they did and got the most out of what little resources were available to them.
The item table for the Battlescape in X-COM UFO can only hold 170 objects on the map at any given time. The object table holds everything that a soldier can pick up, such as weapons, Elerium and corpses. If the table is too full, items start to vanish off the map. This typically happens with corpses as they are created on demand.
With only 170 possible items to work with, the game shares this space with the player and the aliens. Assuming an even split, each side only has 85 slots that can be used for weapons, ammo, tools, etc.
So if you only get 85 slots, why is the limit 80? The game needs to reserve some space for generating Elerium pods, which can number between 0 to 4 units. Yes, if you didn't know, Elerium comes in a physical form, a pod that converts into 50 Elerium units when it is put in base storage. In the battlescape it's a small purple box in appearance, often seen at the base of a UFO Power Source. In the inventory it looks like orange crystals. Also some space needs to be set aside for bodies (corpses and unconscious units).
The aliens don't really use up the whole of their 85 slots, except during Alien Retaliation missions on Superhuman, so there's usually sufficient room for corpses and unconscious units to be generated in most missions.
Section 2: How?
So we're stuck with only 80 items. Isn't there any other way? Short of obtaining the source code and fixing this, no. Using an editor to add equipment onto the troop transport will work, but again you must remember that the aliens need some space as well.
Is there any way around it? Yes! The hard way. Take the time to revise your equipment and start pruning your inventory by removing unnecessary items that are redundant or never used.
Section 3: Summon the Bean Counter!
So what needs to go and what stays? As everyone has their own preferred weapon kits and styles of play, it would be impossible to say exactly what should go and what should stay. Here are some suggestions that you can think about. Also consider seeing the Spring Cleaning article for more ideas.
How many soldiers you are bringing along will drastically alter how you are able to equip them. Choosing to specialise or standardising equipment will also be affected by how many troops you have.
For a large squad, standardising everyone with the same gear can lead the problem where you have enough weapons to arm everyone with the same weapon, but you must make do without items like grenades and useful kit such medi-kits or psi-amps that you can't loot from enemy corpses. A full Avenger with 26 soldiers for example can see each soldier armed with a Heavy Plasma and a clip, but will not a lot of space to bring other useful gear along.
A smaller squad can carry more ammunition and equipment per man, and makes it easier to keep track of where every unit is and what they are supposed to be doing into the bargain. Standardising gear is easier and everyone can be armed with the same set of equipment.
Note also than a Heavy Weapons Platform are worth 4 soldier slots, but count as 1 item on the transport.
Many commanders prefer to have each soldier carry a Medi-Kit at all times. It makes perfect sense, as it's very convenient to have them. However, for a team of 8 soldiers, that's already 10% of the item limit. So how do we remain just as efficient but with a smaller number of medi-kits? Teamwork.
Rather than 8 medikits for 8 soldiers, consider using 4. If soldiers go off in pairs or smaller squads, make sure each group is has someone with one or they are near a group with a medikit.
If the wounded soldier and the nominated field doctor do not have a medikit, the nearest soldier can pass the medikit to the field doctor. If the doctor is too far away, it can be relayed forwards by throwing it between soldiers to rapidly move it along the field in the same turn.
Electro-flares are handy light sources that last longer than incendiary rounds. However, each flare takes up one slot, while a single belt of 6 or 14 incendiary shells only takes up one space. If, like the medikits, each soldier has one, this will use a big chunk of the 80 item allotment.
You don't need many flares to be efficient. You only need to use a few smartly. Once the flares have served their immediate purpose, they can be picked up and redeployed as needed.
When deploying flares, use a leap-frogging system where new flares are deployed ahead of old flares so that the light areas overlap each other, and there is never a patch of darkness that could be hiding aliens in between them.
The alternative is of course to use a cannon with incendiary shells.
Mind Probes are useful information gathering tools, but certainly not a device you need to arm everyone with. Limit your supply to a reasonable number. Most commanders can make do with only one or two mind probes per transport by having their Rear Commanders operate them. Others don't use it at all.
The motion scanner is a useful tool for monitoring alien movement when traversing through a UFO wreckage, or when deploying at dangerous landing zone. However, like the mind probe, it's not a tool you need to arm everyone with. One or two tend to be sufficient.
Stun Rods are useful but hard to use early weapons for capturing aliens. Unless they feature in your general combat strategy, they can quickly become a source of redundancy after they have served their purpose.
Like the Medi-Kits, don't arm everyone with Stun Rods. Bring a smaller number in, but use them efficiently. Consider halving your usual number of Stun Rods, or bring a set number such as 4.
Be patient, share the Stun Rods and use them smartly. Watch where they so that you can quickly get them to the places where they are needed the most.
If you have access to the Mind Probe, use it tandem with the stun rods to identify aliens you want to abduct to make the capture attempt worthwhile. Use it also to determine if it's safe to approach the alien.
Finally, once you have no more use for the stun rods, or it is superseded by the Small Launcher, clear them out.
Smoke Grenades are handy devices especially if you know how to use them. Like many other devices, they are nice to have on everyone but can be used in smaller supplies with careful use and planning.
Many commanders get by without Smoke Grenades, however those that do should remember to only use them in moderation. Not just from the item limit perspective, but more due to a game engine limitation that only allows so many smoke particles at any given time.
A quick alternative to smoke grenades are other explosives, like grenades and rockets. They can kick up a dust cloud that can be used for concealment. They will never be as effective as a Smoke Grenade smoke screen, but can still do in a pinch. They may even be able to take out the threat you want to conceal yourself from.
Psi-Amps are speciality devices that can only be used soldiers that have earned some psi skill. You will never need more than one per soldier.
If you have a few really powerful psi troopers, you can even get away with just 1 ~ 3 psi amps for the entire squad. You can get away with bringing less weapons, as you can get the aliens to shoot each other, or provide your soldiers with the tools needed to complete the task.
The following can apply to rockets too.
A common reason to go through the exercise of making space in your 80 item slots would be to bring more grenades along. From the standard Grenade to the Alien Grenade, to High Explosives and proximity activated mines. It's always great to have a few more of these.
In general, you should typically adjust your grenade numbers based on how heavily they feature in your strategies. If you don't use them at all, don't bring any. If you use them on every once in a while, then consider only one per soldier. If you use them all the time, then bring as many as you can fit in.
Laser weapons are the best space saving weapons in your arsenal because of their unlimited ammunition supply. Where each soldiers will need two to three item slots for other weapons, a laser weapon will only need one.
While not the most powerful, lasers are fast and can defeat almost anything the game can throw at you.
If you plan to use Heavy Plasmas as your primary mode of offence, you can significantly cut down on your item usage by simply not bringing many (or any) Heavy Plasmas along at all. Heavy Plasmas are guaranteed to feature quite predominantly amongst the alien forces once they become their main firearm. This means you can replace what weapons you have with them as you find them in battle.
Consider substituting a few or all of your Heavy Plasmas with laser weapons. See previous section.
Alternatively, if you cannot live without the Heavy Plasmas, you can make some space by only bringing one clip per gun. With 32 rounds, the bullets in each clip are plentiful.
If you don't use all your soldier spaces, tanks are a great way to bring in more firepower at a cost of 1 item slot and 4 soldier slots for each tank.
The Tank/Rocket Launcher for example is an excellent way to pack 8 medium strength rockets for 1/80th of the item limit. To carry a similar number of rockets for the hand held Rocket Launcher would require 9/80 items.
The advanced Hovertank/Plasma can also match if not exceed a veteran soldier with similar armament. Even with finite ammunition, it carries tons of plasma rounds that allow it to last a very long time in battle by itself.