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XCOM 2 - choosing the best Soldier Abilities

Every single Soldier Abiltiy in XCOM 2 in one clear reference guide, with build advice and gameplay tips for every combat character in the game.

The Soldier Abilities in XCOM 2 represent your squad's most valuable weapons in the fight against the aliens. Each of the four standard soldier classes has two distinct upgrade paths that offer unique and mutually exclusive builds, or that can be customised by cherry-picking abilities from each specialisation. Meanwhile, the Psi Operative offers a more randomised approach to promotion.

In all cases, advance knowledge of each soldier's skill tree can offer a distinct advantage in understanding how earlier abilities might interact with later ones. Here, you'll find full reference guides for the skill tree of each soldier class, in addition to pointers on particularly powerful ability combinations, and how their canny tactical use can turn the tide of battle.

To find out how the XCOM 2: War of the Chosen expansion's new Ability Point system affects soldier abilities and builds, check out our War of the Chosen Ability Point page. You can read more about the expansion in our XCOM 2 War of the Chosen guide


XCOM 2 Tips: Top 5 Tips to Dominate Mission Combat (How to Guide for Tactics)

Ranger Abilities and tips

  • Initial Ability: Slash - Attack any enemy within movement range with your sword
RankScout AbilitiesAssault Abilities
CorporalPhantomBlademaster
When the squad is revealed, this soldier remains concealedDeal +2 extra damage on all sword attacks
SergeantShadow StrikeShadowstep
When concealed, gain +25 bonus aim and +25 bonus critical hit chance when attacking enemiesThis soldier does not trigger overwatch or reaction fire
LieutenantConcealRun and Gun
Immediately enter concealment once per missionTake an action after dashing
CaptainImplacableBladestorm
If you score one or more kills on your turn, you are granted a single bonus moveFree sword attacks on any enemies that enter or attack from melee range
MajorDeep CoverUntouchable
If you did not attack this turn, hunker down automaticallyIf you score a kill during your turn, the next attack against you during the enemy turn will miss
ColonelRapidFireReaper
Fire twice in a row at an enemy. Each shot suffers an Aim penalty of -15. There is no cooldown on this abilityA devastating chain melee attack where the first melee attack cannot miss. Each melee kill in Reaper mode grants an extra action, but further melee attacks deal reduced damage

Ranger class tips

  • The Ranger's default ability, Slash, can be used even after dashing. This makes the Ranger an invaluable inclusion in your squad in early missions to help finish off weakened enemies, or dispatch those that have taken up flanking positions against allies.
  • Deep Cover doesn't sound like a particularly proactive skill until you realise that it pairs wonderfully well with Overwatch, turning a passive defensive action into an exceptional offensive play.
  • The extra actions granted by Reaper are a welcome bonus, but the guaranteed hit really comes into its own when you absolutely cannot afford to miss the killing blow on a formidable enemy who's on their last legs.

Grenadier Abilities and tips

  • Initial Ability: Launch Grenade - The Grenadier uses a grenade launcher to fire grenades rather than throwing them. This allows for greater range and grenade capacity.
RankDemolitions ExpertHeavy Gunner
CorporalBlast PaddingShredder
Your gear includes layers of extra padding and blast plates, granting a bonus point of Armour and 66% less damage from explosive attacksYour cannon attacks shred armour
SergeantDemolitionSupression
Unleash a volley of bullets at your target's cover, significantly damaging or destroying it. Deals no damage to your targetFire a barrage that pins down a target, granting reaction fire against it if it moves, and imposing a -50 penalty to the target's aim
LieutenantHeavy OrdnanceHolo Targeting
The grenade in your grenade-only slot gains a bonus useAny directed cannon shot, hit or miss, will mark the target, increasing your squad's aim by +15 against this target
CaptainVolatile MixChain Shot
Your grenades have an increased radius of 1 tile and deal +2 damageTake a shot with an aim penalty of -15. If you hit the target, you take another shot on the target automatically
MajorSalvoHail of Bullets
Launching or throwing grenades, or using heavy weapons with your first action, will not end your turnUnleash a hail of bullets that is guaranteed to hit your target, but uses a lot of ammunition
ColonelSaturation FireRupture
Fire a cone shaped barrage of bullets at every enemy in an area. In addition, the cover of those enemies can be damaged or destroyed. Uses three ammoA Rupture shot deals critical damage and ensures that the target takes an additional +3 damage from all attacks in the future

Grenadier class tips

  • Although only useful against enemies with armour (depicted by yellow segments next to their health bar), Shredder really comes into its own early in the game when your soldiers' weapons are relatively weak and every point of damage counts. Used as one of the first actions against an imposing enemy, it helps maximise allies' future attacks against the target.
  • As well as providing the additional explosive power of an extra grenade, Heavy Ordnance also makes shrewd economic sense. This is because it applies not only to standard-issue grenades, but also to constructed, specialised explosives that must be paid for at the Proving Grounds, granting a bonus use to otherwise limited-use items.
  • Chain Shot combines particularly well with gun modifications that help negate its aim penalty, effectively offering two full-power shots for the price of one.

Specialist Abilities and tips

  • Initial Ability: Aid Protocol - Command your GREMLIN to move to a friendly target. It grants that target a bonus to Defense until the start of the next player turn
RankBattle MedicCombat Hacker
CorporalMedical ProtocolCombat Protocol
The GREMLIN can perform healing actions remotely: GREMLIN Heal and GREMLIN Stabilize. The GREMLIN has a single charge. If a medikit is equipped it has two chargesSend the GREMLIN to an enemy to jolt them, dealing guaranteed damage, which is increased against robotic enemies
SergeantRevival ProtocolHaywire Protocol
Send the GREMLIN to an ally to remove any negative mental status effects: Disoriented, Stunned, Panicked, or UnconsciousYou may target robotic and mechanical enemies with your GREMLIN, attempting to hack them and seize control
LieutenantField MedicScanning Protocol
Equipped medikits have 2 extra chargesThe GREMLIN can trigger an instant scan of the area, increasing the Specialist's sight radius substantially for one turn, and revealing any hidden or disguised enemies
CaptainCovering FireThreat Assessment
Overwatch shots can now be triggered by any enemy action, not just movementAid Protocol now grants the target a Covering Fire Overwatch shot, but the Aid Protocol cooldown is increased by 1 turn
MajorEver VigilantGuardian
If you spend all of your actions on moves, you are granted an automatic overwatch shot at the end of the turnWith every successful Overwatch shot, there is a 50% chance that another shot will be taken
ColonelRestorationCapacitor Discharge
The GREMLIN flies to each squad member, healing or reviving them as neededSend the GREMLIN to a location where it emits a substantial electric discharge, damaging and potentially stunning all nearby units. Robotic units take more damage

Specialist class tips

  • GREMLIN abilities used as the first action do not end your turn
  • Field Medic and Medical Protocol gel well, providing a total of four charges from a single equipped medikit and enabling remote healing of allies in combat hot-zones.
  • Haywire Protocol allows the seizure of an enemy turret for an entire mission
  • Scanning Protocol sounds mundane but is particularly useful during ADVENT retaliation missions, where it can help locate helpless civilians and expose the dangerous, shape-shifting Faceless enemies that may be hiding among them

Sharpshooter Abilities and tips

  • Initial Ability: Squadsight - You can target enemies within squadmates' site, provided there is line of sight to the target
RankSniperGunslinger
CorporalLong WatchReturn Fire
Allow Overwatch to trigger with SquadsightWhen targeted by enemy fire, automatically fire back with your pistol once per turn
SergeantDeadeyeLightning Hands
Take a shot with a small aim penalty for a significant damage boostFire your pistol at a target. This attack does not cost an action
LieutenantDeath From AboveQuick Draw
Killing an enemy at a lower elevation with your sniper rifle costs only a single action, and does not end your turnFiring your pistol with your first action no longer ends your turn
CaptainKill ZoneFaceoff
Take a reaction shot against any enemy that moves or attacks within a cone of fireFire once at every visible enemy with your pistol
MajorSteady HandsAim
If you did not move last turn, gain +10 Aim and +10 Critical chanceHunker Down now confers +20 Aim to the first shot on the following turn
ColonelSerialFan Fire
A powerful chained shot ability. For every kill made with your sniper rifle, your actions will be refundedFire the pistol three times at the same target

Sharpshooter class tips

  • Although it doesn't specify upfront, Deadeye's "small aim penalty" is -25%, while its "significant damage boost" sits at +50%
  • Kill Zone works to effectively create a deadly sniper alley, allowing you to specify a large cone of vision in which you'll automatically gun down enemies. It is particularly effective when used in combination with a weapon magazine upgrade to ensure a plentiful supply of ammo. Kill Zone also combines well with the Grenadier's ability to destroy cover using grenades or Saturation Fire.
  • The Sharpshooter's Gunslinger build offers some of the most effective combinations of abilities in the whole game. With effective battlefield positioning and upgraded weaponry, a veteran Gunslinger can take down multiple enemies in a single turn.

Psi Operative Abilities and tips

  • Initial Ability - Randomly selected from one of four: Stasis* / Soul Fire ** / Insanity / Inspire
RankTelepathResonant
AcolyteInsanityInspire
Debilitating telepathic attack that can inflict different negative conditions, including mental control of the target.Grant a bonus action immediately to a nearby squadmate
AdeptSoul StealStasis Shield
Soul Fire transfers half of the damage done back to the Psi Operative as healthStasis can be cast on allies, rendering them immune to any attacks, and stunned, for 1 turn
DiscipleSolaceSustain
Psi Operative is surrounded by an aura that immediately extinguishes or blocks any mental impairments for themselves and any nearby squadmatesIf the Psi Operative takes enough damage to be killed, they are immediately put in Stasis for 1 turn and their health is only reduced to 1 HP. This can only happen once per mission
MysticSchismFortress
Insanity now does a small amount of guaranteed damage, and applies Rupture to the targetThe Psi Operative is immune to fire, poison, acid and explosive damage
WarlockFuseDomination
If an enemy is carrying explosives, they can be remotely detonated by the Psi OperativePermanently mind control an enemy. Only one successful Domination can be performed per mission
MagnusNull LanceVoid Rift
Project a beam of terrible power that damages every target it passes through. This attack can penetrate multiple enemies and obstaclesGenerate an explosive field of Psionic energy that damages everything within. Organic enemies have a chance to suffer Insanity.
  • *Stasis completely stuns the target for 1 turn, but renders them immune to any damage or attack (useful for removing a powerful enemy from the fight for a single turn while you deal with its back-up troops).
  • **Soul Fire does guaranteed Psionic damage to an organic enemy while ignoring both cover and armour values.
  • Unlike other soldiers, Psionic abilities are not mutually exclusive so you can, theoretically, learn every ability in the tree if you have enough time and resources to do so. Furthermore, Psionic abilities are not unlocked in order. Instead you are offered three randomly selected abilities from the table above and must select one to train in. This training can be interrupted if you wish to take your Psi Operative on a mission, and they can pick-up where they left off once they return.
  • Fuse wins the award for most amusing ability in XCOM 2 thanks to the comical manner in which you can detonate explosives on both living and previously terminated enemies. The amusement factor is furthered if you've been able to Mind Control an enemy, stand them near a group of their former friends and then detonate their explosive.
  • For tips on how to unlock the Psi Operative class, see the How to unlock the Psi Operative page of this guide.

- Keep reading for our guide to planning the best early research in XCOM 2.

- Head back to the first page for the rest of our XCOM 2 guide.

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About the Author

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Stace Harman

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Stace Harman is a freelance writer and zombie survivalist. He writes mainly about video games but has also reported on topics ranging from airline security to Claudia Winkleman’s shoes.

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