Skipping Laser Weapons

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Skipping Laser Weapons is the strategy of skipping research on laser weapons entirely, and instead immediately researching plasma weapons (usually the Plasma Rifle, for reasons discussed below). Veteran players of UFO: Enemy Unknown typically consider this a suboptimal choice, but there is at least one well-known challenge which makes it worthwhile. This page will explain why skipping laser weapons is generally a bad idea, but also describe the situations in which it's worthwhile and how best to employ the strategy.

Article written by magic9mushroom.

Why lasers are worthwhile

Skipping laser weapons appears, from a naïve perspective, to be a great idea. If you're eventually going to abandon the Laser Rifle in favour of Heavy Plasma, why bother getting the former at all? Well, there are several reasons, most relating to the first few months of UFO.

  • First and foremost: until you assault your first UFO and get your hands on some alien artefacts, there's not much else worth researching. The Motion Scanner isn't particularly useful, and the Medi-Kit is less effective early on, because unarmoured rookies usually die in one hit and don't cost much more to replace than a Medi-Kit costs to produce. Lasers also get your ten starting engineers doing something productive early on.
  • Plasma weapons need ammunition, while lasers do not. This is rarely a problem in a tactical sense - all plasma weapons have large clip sizes - but unless you deliberately conserve ammunition, it can be difficult to recover more clips of your chosen type than you use in every mission. This goes double if you're shooting for the Heavy Plasma, because only a small proportion of aliens will carry the weapon early on.
  • Lasers are researched very quickly - you receive the Laser Pistol after a mere 150 scientist-days, and the Laser Rifle 300 scientist-days after that (450 total). Unlocking the Plasma Rifle takes 1100 scientist-days (700 for the weapon, and 400 for the ammo). As such, researching plasma weapons early on will delay other important projects such as the Hyper-Wave Decoder, and you're on the clock to develop some form of energy weapon, because of...
  • Cyberdiscs. Your first Sectoid Terror Site will probably occur somewhere between January and March, and if you don't have energy weapons deployed, it's going to suck. Cyberdiscs have significant armour and a resistance to both Armour Piercing and High Explosive damage, making the standard Rifle nearly useless and even the Auto-Cannon and Heavy Cannon quite underwhelming. The Rocket Launcher and High Explosive will work on Cyberdiscs, but both are heavy, unwieldy weapons; energy weapons fire much more quickly and can be handed out to the whole squad. Plasma weapons inflict even more damage than lasers, but it's a smaller improvement compared to the enormous gulf between conventional weapons and lasers (for a single soldier with 100 Firing Accuracy, it takes on average 2/3 of a turn to kill a Cyberdisc with Heavy Plasma, 1 turn with a Plasma Rifle, and 1.5 turns with a Laser Rifle... but a bit over 4 turns with a Heavy Cannon, and almost 8 with an Auto-Cannon).
  • There's also a significant opportunity cost to using plasma weapons, because the weapons themselves fetch very high prices when sold. A 14-man squad equipped with Plasma Rifles is using over 1.8 million dollars worth of equipment, not even counting the ongoing cost of clips; a squad using Laser Rifles only carries $500,000 worth. The difference could buy you 15 more scientists and their first month of pay, or a new radar base. Heavy Plasma Guns are even more expensive.

Between all these reasons, it's generally considered standard to immediately research and deploy the Laser Pistol and Laser Rifle. After a few months, when you've amassed a large stockpile of Heavy Plasma ammunition (and the aliens are employing it more often), money isn't as tight, tougher aliens are showing up, and you've got a little more freedom in your research, it's certainly worthwhile to switch over, but not right out of the gate.

There is one notable exception...

Council Funding only

One of the more well-known challenges, the rules of the "Council Funding only" scenario are that X-Com may not sell any manufactured or looted items. This immediately obviates the opportunity cost of plasma weaponry - because you can't sell it anyway - and makes the manufacturing cost of Laser Rifles much more noticeable. The Medi-Kit is also slightly more relevant. As such, Skipping Laser Weapons is actually a fairly-good idea.

Which one?

There are, of course, three plasma weapons to choose from, and each has to be researched separately from the others. With fewer scientists in this challenge (due to the expense), simply researching all of them is not feasible.

  • The Plasma Pistol is the quickest to research, at 1000 scientist-days, but does not unlock Plasma Beam research and is quite weak (only 52 power, less than a Laser Rifle!). The Plasma Pistol also becomes very rare after April.
  • The Plasma Rifle takes 1100 scientist-days to research, unlocks the Plasma Beam and is the most accurate Snap and Auto weapon in the game. It deals an average 80 damage. The Plasma Rifle is seen regularly until August or so.
  • The Heavy Plasma Gun is the most damaging weapon (average 115), but is subject to the aforementioned limited availability for the first few months. It also takes 1200 scientist-days to research, but unlocks the Plasma Beam.

Generally, the Plasma Rifle is the best choice early on, though it may become necessary to switch over to Heavy Plasma when the supply starts to dry up.