Making the Game Harder
This page is intended for players who finish the game frequently on the highest difficulty and would like to keep the challenge alive.
Making the game harder is done in two ways: one can accept handicaps (not use some of the options the game puts at your disposal, or use them only under certain circumstances), or modify the game files via utilities or direct editing to make things harder.
This page contains a list of simple handicaps to get you started. It may be worth also examining these sub-pages:
- Making the Game Harder/Scenarios - More complex scenarios, by assorted UFOpaedians.
- Making the Game Harder/Modding - Scenarios that require third-party tools or direct hacking of game files to set up.
Mix and match these handicaps as you like, or invent your own variations. Note that certain combinations may make the game very difficult. Within each section, challenges are generally listed from least to most difficult.
Refrain from using exploits
The most obvious way to make the game harder is to avoid "cheating" by using the various exploits discovered over the years. A full list, and instructions on how to use the various exploits, are in the link above, but the most egregious and game-breaking are listed here for convenience.
- Free Wages and Engineer/Scientist overflow - The majority of X-Com's expenditure consists of salaries and hiring engineers and scientists; removing these expenses trivialises financing.
- Free Manufacturing - Building items for free makes Elerium management trivial (as you only ever need it to fuel advanced craft) as well as making manufacturing about 7 times as profitable.
- UFO Redux - Multiplies the score and most of the loot (including Elerium) from a given UFO by a factor of 2 (or potentially even more).
- Collision Detection exploits - Turns breaching UFOs from a nightmare into cake and allows risk-free extermination of aliens on higher levels than your troops.
- Avoiding night missions - Removes one of the advantages aliens have on the Battlescape, and the use for incendiaries and flares.
- Unarmed Avengers - Do not mount weapons on Avengers (which are otherwise clearly the most effective interceptors).
- No Advanced Interception - In addition to the above, do not build any Firestorms or Lightnings. (This makes it almost impossible to shoot down Battleships.)
- No Plasma Beams - Do not build any Plasma Beams. As these are, by far, the most effective craft weapons, you will have great difficulty shooting down Large and Very Large UFOs.
- No Interception - The most extreme interception restriction is, of course, to never shoot down UFOs at all. Most UFOs land in one fashion or another, so you can still win the game.
These challenges reduce the ways X-Com can obtain money.
- No commercial manufacturing - Don't manufacture items for profit. Only sell items that you bought, or recovered from missions (and don't manufacture more of the latter yourself).
- Council income only - Don't sell any advanced technology (recovered and manufactured items) at all. Your revenue is to come solely from the Council of Funding Nations.
These challenges involve restrictions of one kind or another on how X-Com builds its bases. These are all independent and can be combined, though in some cases this may make the game extremely difficult.
- One base - Simply don't build any more bases after the one you start with. Note that you will lose if all your bases are destroyed, so keep a garrison in case aliens come calling while the Skyranger is out. For a much harder challenge, build that single base in Hawaii.
- Limited base size - Limit the size of your bases to 4x4 or (for the truly skilled) 3x3. Your starting base is larger than this, so you'll have to scrap significant parts of it.
- No-base start - Start without a base at all, by selling everything and then scrapping your initial base. Then construct a new base from scratch and play as normal. The difficulty here comes from the extra cost and time taken to rebuild your base.
- No advanced base modules - Do not build Hyper-Wave Decoders, Psionic Laboratories, or the researchable defence systems (Laser Defences, Plasma Defences, Fusion Ball Defences, Grav Shield and Mind Shield). None of these are actually necessary in order to win the game, although the lack of Hyper-Wave Decoders and Psi-Labs makes the task much more difficult.
- No Mind Control - Do not mind-control aliens with Psi-Amps. (This ability turns missions into boring cakewalks.)
- No Psionic Training - Do not train soldiers in Psionic Laboratories. (This means you will not learn your soldiers' Psi-Strengths, or be able to use Psi-Amps.)
(Note that these handicaps are designed for use with No Mind Control, above; there is no point otherwise, as mind-control is by far the strongest available "weapon".)
- No heavy alien weaponry - Do not use the Heavy Plasma Gun or Blaster Launcher, the most devastating armaments available.
- No alien equipment - Do not use any alien weaponry or devices at all (Plasma weapons, Small Launcher, Blaster Launcher, Alien Grenade, Mind Probe).
- Conventional equipment only - Use only weaponry that is available for purchase at the beginning of the game (no lasers or alien weaponry, no armour, no Medi-Kits, Psi-Amps or Motion Scanners).
- And beyond... - Theoretically, one can restrict one's equipment even further and still have a chance of victory. The two actual requirements in terms of weaponry are these:
- You must have a weapon capable of inflicting stun damage (Stun Rod or Small Launcher), in order to reliably capture the required aliens.
- You must have a weapon capable of damaging the Alien Brain in Cydonia (40 tile armour). HC-AP rounds, Large Rockets, High Explosives, Laser Rifles, Heavy Lasers, Plasma Rifles, Heavy Plasma Guns, Blaster Launchers, Alien Grenades and all HWP weapons can do this; other weapons cannot.
- Skyranger capacity only - Bring only 14 spaces (14 soldiers, 10 soldiers + 1 HWP, etc.) worth of troops into battle. This restriction only becomes relevant when you obtain Avengers, and has the main effect of making Cydonia much harder.
- Maximum HWPs - Bring the maximum number of Heavy Weapons Platforms on each mission. This means only 2 soldiers on a Skyranger, which makes missions harder due to lack of firepower. This becomes much less of a restriction when Lightnings and Avengers become available, so consider combining it with Skyranger Capacity Only.
- Commando missions - Use very small squads, or even a single soldier, to complete missions.
- No Battlescape saves - Do not save while on the Battlescape. This makes it impossible to save-scum through missions and essentially gain prescience.
- Iron Man - Save only when you quit, and overwrite your save every time you quit. This means no reloading from mistakes at all.
- One-mission X-Com - Beat the game with only one mission before Cydonia. This mission must be a UFO Ground Assault on a Battleship, in order to obtain all the necessary items (including captured aliens) to reach Cydonia.
- Speed run - Beat the game in as little time as possible (either in-universe clock time, or real-life time; note that the two approaches differ dramatically). The current record for the latter is 1:02:21.