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XCOM 2 Ironman mode tips and tricks

Here's how to survive and thrive with just a single save.

Welcome back, Commander. You're about to play XCOM 2 as it's meant to be played.

Enabling XCOM 2's Ironman mode when starting a new game means that you will only ever have a single save file. More than that, the save file will be overwritten with every action you make during a mission. Think about that. If you run into a group of aliens at just the wrong moment, you won't have the option to reload an earlier save. If you wipe your entire squad after making it 10 hours into your campaign, you just have to live with that.

This mode is absolutely brutal, so think carefully before you begin.

As well as the advanced pointers below, it might also be wise to get up to speed on the essentials first; you can read our pages on XCOM 2 best Soldier Abilities, XCOM 2 best early research, XCOM 2 base building techniques and how to unlock the PSI Operative Soldier in XCOM 2. And if all else fails, there's XCOM 2 cheats, too.

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

XCOM 2 Ironman guide

With all that in mind, here are some Ironman-specific tips you might find useful:

  • Play aggressively. More than ever, you can't afford to be exchanging shots with enemy units for multiple turns. A lucky crit, especially in the early game, and you could permanently lose a soldier you've invested a lot of time and resources into. From the moment you trigger a group of aliens, you want to be destroying cover and moving for flanking shots. Every action you allow in the following enemy turn should feel like a failure.
  • Protect your assets. Sometimes, things are going to go south. This is an XCOM game after all. You'll run into multiple groups of enemies and it's clear you're about to start losing soldiers. At this point, you do still have one more option: evac. This is available in most mission types and allows you to immediately call in a new evac zone and escape, ideally within the same turn. There will be consequences on the world map (losing contact with a region etc.), but you can usually recover from that. It's better to take that hit than losing an entire squad of high level soldiers.
You could see this screen yourself one day.
  • Destroying the floor underneath a turret will, in turn, destroy the turret.
  • Don't put all your eggs (soldiers) in one basket (squad). As much as you'll want to rely on a single team of high-level soldiers for each mission, this isn't the smart way to play. Ideally, you want at least two full squads of soldiers to pick from, so that when a soldier is killed or injured, you're not completely handicapped. Keep rotating different soldiers with each encounter and in doing so, you'll eventually build up a much more reliable roster of troops.
  • Don't forget to hack. Almost every mission will have some freebies up for grabs, if you've brought a decent specialist along. You may not need to disable that Advent scanner to avoid detection, but it's worth having a look all the same. If you can afford to take the risk, there's intel, supplies and temporary bonuses to unlock. Also, looking is free! If you take a peek and decide that hacking an object isn't worth it, this doesn't use up any actions.
  • The Grenadier class is your best friend. Eventually, you'll be able to run a squad of six soldiers, which means that unless you have a SPARK unit (Shen's Last Gift DLC), you'll likely need to double up with at least one of the classes. The Grenadier is a fantastic choice here. The reasoning is simple: being able to reliably destroy enemy cover will make your life so, so much easier.
  • And finally, you're probably going to mess this up. Sorry, but it's the truth. Ironman mode is incredibly punishing and it can feel pretty bad when you lose a campaign after multiple hours of playtime. Our best advice to keep your morale up? If you like to name your soldiers after your favourite characters from Battlestar Galactica, or play around with their armour sets and colour schemes, make sure you do that in the Character Pool on the main menu. There is nothing worse than restarting a campaign, only to then painstakingly recreate each of the soldiers you've just lost.