Best Starting Weapons (EU)
"What's the best weapon to start with?"
This is a question that is often asked, and one that is not always that easy to answer due to the varied selection of weapons you can start with. Some are fast but clearly too weak to use against some aliens, while others are powerful but cumbersome to carry. Everyone will have their opinion of what is best and what isn't. This article will attempt to make logical comparisons of the weapons you start with, explain their roles and let you decide which weapon will suit your needs the best.
Weapons will be discussed with their closest partner such as the pistol vs rifle, heavy cannon vs. auto cannon, grenade vs. high explosive. Merits of the weapons that don't have immediate pairings will be discussed on their own, such as the Rocket Launcher and Stun rod.
For now, as this article is "under construction", please refer to the original discussion on this page's talk page.
Pistol vs Rifle
The pistol and rifle are low damage weapons. They deal 26 and 30 average Armour Piercing damage respectively. They are reasonable weapons for dealing with aliens with low armour such as Sectoids and Floaters, but are otherwise highly inadequate against heavily armoured aliens such as the Mutons and all the Terror Units. These weapons will want to be replaced or supplemented with stronger weapons to counter the stronger aliens.
Since the damage difference is negligible between the two weapons, the best of the two weapons depends entirely on which of the three shot types that you will want to be using the most.
The pistol is the king of the snap shot. It is fast and has the same accuracy as the Rifle, allowing for 5 shots from a standstill. Though not having an auto mode, the relative speed and moderate accuracy of the snapshot makes up for it. This makes the pistol the better of the two for picking off targets from mid range. The speed provides better mobility and makes it an excellent weapon for reaction fire. The size of the pistol makes it a decent backup weapon until better pistols are available. The one hand grip allows you to carry an alternate weapon such as a grenade to deal with situations where the pistol may not be the best solution.
The Rifle works reasonably well at all ranges. It is the better of the two for close range combat thanks to its auto fire mode, allowing for three uninterrupted shots. The Rifle's aimed mode is on par with the Heavy Plasma and Small Launcher. However, sniping with the rifle is difficult because it is extremely slow and deals low damage. Given time or enough soldiers training their rifles on the same target, the rifle is the better of the two weapons for accurate long range aimed shots.
In summary, if you plan to use snap shots a lot, the pistol is better. For all other firing modes, the rifle is better. Replace them with their laser or plasma counterparts as soon as possible.
Heavy Cannon vs Auto-Cannon
Autocannons have one great use during night time missions. Equip a rookie with incendiary ammo and use autoshot. If his aim is bad enough (yes lower is BETTER) then he will spray light-giving fire across a large portion of the map. Unfortunately the HE ammo isn't quite good enough to use and there is no point to using AP ammo. It frequently takes more than one blast to kill a target, and another hit may accidentally destroy valuable loot. That's no good.
Heavy Cannons are decent against early game Sectoids and Floaters. Use explosive rounds all the time because they have less damage variance and can strike underside armor. Since explosives deal quadruple hits against large units they will pulverize Reapers and be good against Cyberdiscs. Compare them to grenades and you have a launcher which can be fired with decent aim 2 or 3 times a turn.
The Heavy Cannon is moderately outclassed by laser weapons. You may find the explosion effect makes them slightly easier for rookies to use, and they are useful for removing active proximity mines. They are nearly harmless against XCOM agents with alloy armor so they are safe to place on PSI weenies.
Rocket launchers are an excellent weapon that can serve you the entire game. They flatten terrain, have excellent accuracy, and deal reliable 1-hit kills on nearly anything. One of their most powerful attributes is the smoke from the explosion. Enemies check their vision after taking damage, so if the smoke suddenly blinds them, you will not get hit with reaction fire. The large explosion range means that even a near miss will frequently kill its target. Kneeling aimed shots are nearly guaranteed kills even with rookies.
The rocket launcher is not a weapon you take one of. To truly understand how it works, take 6 or more with 2-4 large rockets each. Flatten everything in your way and liquify everything that moves. Any time you see an alien, flatten ALL the terrain around him. Chances are you will not only kill the targeted alien, but will get a bonus kill as well. Keep 2-3 agents ready to fire and you can snipe down any problem that comes your way.
Rocket launchers are effective against all terror units and will crush Reapers/Cyberdiscs. They deal moderate damage against Sectopods but a few large rockets can do the job in a pinch. Launchers are VERY dangerous with psi weenies! Be careful when giving rockets to a low quality agent because one panicked or mind controlled shot can wipe out even an alloy armor squad. As a side benefit the explosions will also cause some object types to catch fire, giving you free light sources at night.
Stun rods nearly mandatory to get the key research topics needed to beat XCOM. If not used, all capturing must be done with a small launcher or from extreme luck with weaker weapons. While small launchers can stun at range, they need ammo and have only 1 shot per clip combined with a low dual-wielding accuracy.
Grenade vs High Explosive
Grenades are generally supplanted by the heavy cannon, which is simply easier to use in the early game.
High Explosives stay useful the entire game if you desire scorched earth tactics. They are difficult to throw but stay stronger than alien grenades and are super cheap to replace. OpenXcom lets you prime grenades before starting a mission, so load down a grenadier with 6 or more primed HE and clear out a huge chunk of map in one turn. If you can not throw HE the distance, then alien grenades are an excellent substitute.
Remember that aliens do not take reaction fire if they can not see the agent throwing the grenade, even if it lands in their face. This makes grenades excellent for throwing around hills or corners, or against aliens that are simply facing away from your group. HE deals reliable 1 hit kills against just about anything before Mutons and Sectopods.
Proximity grenades are difficult to use even when they are not glitched and you know how to use them. They depend on you being able to anticipate alien movement. Place them as an early warning system on corridors where you expect trouble, or one tile away from UFO doors to blast aliens that walk outside. Despite their good damage they are not to be trusted as a killing solution. Expect the alien to survive and have a backup plan to take it out.
Smoke is quite possibly the most powerful grenade type in the game. Aliens can not attack what they can not see! This means you can effectively remove the two leading causes of agent death in the game- 1) Aliens walking up and shooting you and 2) Aliens taking reaction shots at you. This benefit is not restricted to daytime either. Smoke is the great equalizer at night, causing XCOM and aliens to have nearly equal vision range (aliens have one more vision range). Bring smoke to EVERY mission and drop a minimum of two- one to cover the ground and one to cover agents inside the Skyranger. Spread more smoke anywhere your agents have to move and use rookies to scout out potential targets. Keep snipers inside the smoke and shoot with impunity.
Smoke will deal stun damage if your agents stay inside it too long. Generally this is not going to cause any trouble as long as you keep doing the mission at a good pace. Agents that get injured will probably pass out, but that can also save them from getting shot a second time.
If you know how to use smoke in this game, then you are god in alien killing form.