So I skimmed through the AMA with Julian and had a bit of a nostalgia burst with the mention of them having considered jagged alliance 2 as a source of inspiration. Now the real time movement/exploration mechanic might not entirely fit the game or game budget...BUT! How about a compromise?
The idea of sending out troops on nice, thematic operations is one that I think could be really explored in this game and designed a nice distinguisher from the other xcom games out there. I know XCOM 2 had a sort of mission, were soldiers could be sent out on non-combat missions...but here's were it could be different in pheonix point.
Idea: Have an option to create small, make shift outposts in which you can send personnel out to scavenge/gather intel/find research materials/artifacts/main objectivesetc. The interface could have 2 phases.
1) You occasionally find a suitable location on the strategic layer to place one of these outposts and receive a message indicating this.
2) You click the 'yeah, cool, let's check this out!' button
3) You see the details of what resource you can mine and decide whether to plunk resources/personelle into it.
4) New base, that generates persistent resources or just sets a timer for some major finding that could indicate some cool mission/quest/TV episode that your soldiers went on.
5) If interupted by invaders, you could initiate some sort of special combat mission scenario (evac/base assault/alien swarm/infection/etc.)
Facilitating that sort of RPG flavor from the likes of fallout 1/2 and jagged alliance 2 could go a long ways in distinguishing this from the crowd. Especially considering you've got Allen Stroud on board! (Still waiting for the 2nd chaos book btw! lol)