Thanks to that not-Pandora virus everyone is talking about that is in process of changing our world as we know it, I have been working on this guide for the past few weeks. It’s not finished yet, but I have decided to go ahead and post it so that it can become a communal project. If you have anything to correct, or to add, just post your comments and I will edit this post quoting them, until this is finally the comprehensive guide it is intended to be.
- Hints and tips on handling specific mission and enemy types
- Explosives, melee, special weapons
As I tried to post it, it turns out I exceeded the character limit per post by around 100%, so I’m breaking this into three parts.
Last updated on
2020/5/22 added Melee A comprehensive guide for playing Phoenix Point (or an attempt at one)
2020/5/5; corrected for changes from Derleth patch, replace “alpha-strike” for “First Turn Strike”
There are many ways to play Phoenix Point, though this doesn’t emerge until past the early game. If you understand the fundamental mechanics, you can approach it in a number of ways. Some play it as a fantasy tactics game, relying on skills as powerful spells fueled by the mana of willpower. Others play it as something akin to a tactical puzzle game. Of course, many play PP (or at least try to play it) like a classic tactical turn-based game.
There is one thing that must be said right away: the game continues to suffer from poor balance and uneven difficulty. It’s improving, but whichever way you play it, you may find yourself at times absurdly over, or underpowered.
Having said that, and to be honest, in my experience all tactical situations that seem impossible to deal with, can be successfully navigated in multiple ways and using different play styles, provided one understands the rules of the game. It’s not so much that the game is impossibly difficult (that it most certainly is not), but rather that the difficulty is uneven, and that often players encounter challenges for which they are not yet prepared.
The purpose of this guide is to help the reader understand the mechanics of the game as they currently are, without interjecting any opinions as to their merits or demerits. Hopefully it will also serve to inform the ongoing discussions about balancing, changes and features requests.
I. THE STRATEGIC LAYER - WHAT TO DO IN THE GEOSCAPE
The strategic layer in PP is currently fairly simple, with one overriding imperative: always be doing something, because time is the main resource in the game.
So, when it comes to
At first the most critical buildings are training facilities (TFs). You want one base with as many of these as possible. Each TF provides experience points to each soldier at the base (at a rate of 2XPs per hour). Experience points unlock levels, which give 20 Skill Points (SPs) and access to skills (more on that in Character Progression). You want to have a base where you put in rookies to train them to make new squads/draw replacements for casualties. This is generally referred to as “stables”.
You may also want to consider food production plants, as food (or “apples” as they are commonly referred to) are the only resource you can steadily generate and use the excess to barter for other resources.
Don’t bother with research facilities, or manufacturing plants, or living quarters, at least for now. Never ever even think about building elevators, generators, or stores. At some point you might want to build a second satellite uplink (to do two area scans - see Exploration - simultaneously) if you don’t find a base with one already.
Over the course of the game you will find many abandoned PP bases with some facilities that only need some repairing (see exploration).
Later on you might want to build at those bases labs, factories, medical facilities, living quarters and other facilities that will become available after research.
Just start with the only available option. Always be researching something. When it comes to reverse engineering items, be aware that:
The process destroys the item you are reverse engineering.
You will obtain the tech anyway once you reach 50% with the faction (see diplomacy for more).
One important idea to bear in mind is that tech progression in PP is mostly horizontal: most of the stuff you will research will be different, not necessarily better. One of the most effective weapons throughout the game is the hellcannon (HC), which is one of the starting weapons.
However, there is some verticality - some items are actually just better (for example, there is a 2.0 medkit) - and also the new different items open up new tactics. For example, the grenade launcher, or the shotgun, while not replacing any of the starting weapons, are not less useful because of it.
You can build vehicles, armor and equipment. Some equipment, like ammo and medkits can be made instantly. Everything else takes time. At first there is little reason to manufacture any equipment - on rookie and veteran difficulty levels recruits will come with their own armor and weapons.
As to vehicles, you can build a Scarab, which in the early game is very powerful - it has a lot of armor and shoots devastating rockets. However, it occupies half the slots in the Manticore, meaning you can only bring 3 soldiers on a mission. The main problem with that is that soldiers gain 10SPs per mission, so you want to bring as many of them as possible and the Scarab and other vehicles take too much space. Still, it is not a bad investment in the early game and there are ways to use it successfully later on.
Sooner rather than later you will want to build a second Manticore, to field two teams simultaneously. Why build and not steal? See diplomacy below.
There are three factions that have an attitude rating with the Phoenix Project and with each other. You can achieve a 100% (allied status starts at 75%) with the three factions even as the three of them are at war with each other.
You increase (or decrease) the rating by completing mini text quests on the geoscape during exploration, depending on your response to certain prompted choices, defending havens from attack (see Pandoran bases for more info) and stealing/raiding/sabotaging at the havens.
When you reach a certain threshold, the faction gives you a special mission, and you can’t increase your rating beyond that until you complete it.
This means that you should complete all special missions ASAP.
Once you reach 25% (supportive), the faction reveals to you the location of all of its havens. At 50% you become aligned, and the faction gives you for free (i.e. instantly researchable) all the technology it has researched so far. At 75% you are allied and you can research faction technology that the faction itself hasn’t researched yet.
You can also trade at the havens and get new recruits, after researching the corresponding technologies.
So the problem with raiding (to obtain resources produced at the haven), sabotaging (to obtain favor with the other factions), or stealing (to get faction research, or a flying craft) from havens is that it dramatically decreases your rating with the haven (preventing you from trading with it) and with the faction.
You should particularly be aware of how warring with a faction complicates obtaining its technologies. To steal technology you have to assault a research district, where you win by activating 3 specific tiles. It is entirely possible to do this in one turn without firing a single shot, these missions being all but broken.
However, what you get is the next technology in the research tree of the faction. So for the first raid you will get the weapons tech, for the second the armor tech, and so on and so forth. Even if you have already reverse engineered all the factions weapons and armors, and want to get some specific research (like something that provides a major boost to the output of some of your facilities) you will still go in the same order, getting research that you don’t need.
You can do these tedious missions one after another to harvest experience and SPs until you get all the tech researched by the faction up to now, or reach the aligned status with the faction (50% rating) and get everything for free at once, and keep getting new research as the faction obtains it.
You can go the entire game without attacking other factions and become allied with all of them, regardless of the relations between the factions.
Conclusion: unless someone is able to make the opposite case, warring with factions is entirely inadvisable.
Someone does make the oppposite case (and thank you for that, @David):
You use “area scans” to gradually reveal locations in a circular area on the world map. You can do as many area scans simultaneously as you have satellite uplinks. Each area scan costs some resources.
The locations appear as question marks. You have to travel to them with a flying craft carrying at least one soldier to explore them. Exploration can yield the following results:
It can be a faction haven (which is a good reason to reach supportive status with all the factions even if you are planning on fighting them later on, because then they will reveal the location of all their havens, see diplomacy above), or an independent haven that gives a side quest.
It can be a short text adventure that yields resources, diplomacy rating changes, damage to the craft/soldiers, new recruits, nothing at all, etc.
It can be a scavenging mission (you can choose to do it later)
It can be an old PP base that gets reactivated. It will come with some facilities, some of them damaged.
It can be an ambush (you can’t choose to do it later, nor prepare your troops adjusting their equipment, spending excess skill points, etc.) The ambush missions work as a deterrent, to prevent exploring the whole map using a craft with only one untrained and unarmed soldier.
In addition, sometimes other locations will appear on the map, which are:
story missions that drive the main narrative about the Phoenix Project.
special missions from factions to achieve higher diplomacy rating (see diplomacy).
side quests, given by independent havens.
Pandoran bases (nests, lairs or citadels), which only appear after a successful haven defense (and much later after a research).
The War against the Pandorans
You will see red blobs of mist in several parts of the world. They grow. Missions that take place in areas covered by mist are harder. One of the first items you research is the ODI, commonly known as the “red bar”. It increases. If it reaches 100%, you lose.
To slow down the progress of the red bar you have to destroy Pandoran bases - nests, lairs and citadels. It goes thusly:
Every once in a while, a Haven, usually inside, or close to an area covered in mist, will get attacked by the Pandorans. The attack will have some numeric value, and so will the defense. If the defense is higher than the attack, the attack will fail even if the player doesn’t come to the rescue. If the attack is higher than the defense, the attack will succeed unless the player sends a squad and wins the haven defense mission. A successful haven defense mission will reveal the location of a nearby Pandoran base. The player can then send a squad to destroy it. If the player procrastinates, the base will evolve to the next stage (a nest will become a lair, a lair will become a citadel) and will continue attacking nearby havens and PP bases.
Interestingly enough, currently there is ample consensus that citadels are the easiest missions, in any event much easier than lairs. Thus there is a school of thought suggesting to wait until lairs evolve into citadels, instead of attacking lairs.
However, in the Derleth patch the Lairs were redone and are now much easier and fun.
II. THE TACTICAL LAYER - WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE BATTLES
The biggest difference in gameplay between PP and similar games is that PP is quick.
By the end of the first turn of each mission you should usually know where most of the enemies are, perhaps kill a couple of them. You can also do a “First Turn Strike” (FTS), i.e. put out of action (kill, or cripple) most of the enemies on the first turn (see First Turn Strike).
Maintaining an enemy engaged for more than one turn is usually a bad idea. Once you are shooting at the enemy and the enemy is shooting at you, one of you is going to die very soon. You must either kill, disable or disengage. The most common mistake is putting your soldier behind what looks like a solid cover, taking a couple of shots at an enemy within range, and ending the turn while your soldier remains within the range of an uncrippled enemy.
Missions are usually over in a few turns (with First Turn Striking, sometimes in 1 or 2. But even without FTS it usually doesn’t take more than 5 turns). However, in the rare longer missions, that can last 10 or more turns, it’s important to understand that strategic decisions are made each turn. For example, Lairs (a type of Pandoran base) take place on larger maps, with infinite enemy spawning and architecture that creates choke points. On these missions you may be tempted to take a wait and see approach, because enemies take a while to reach your troops, but of course you shouldn’t. Bottom line: don’t waste turns in PP. Overwhelm or disengage. Stalemate = you lose.
Now, on to some basic concepts/mechanics in Phoenix Point:
Action Points (APs)
In PP all characters have, under normal circumstances, 4 action points each turn. They can be used to move, shoot, or use abilities or skills. Different weapons, abilities and skills have different AP costs. For example, it costs 3 APs to shoot a sniper rifle (SR) but only 1 AP to shoot a pistol. There is no prescribed order in which actions have to be taken (that is, you can move and shoot, or shoot and move, and shoot or move again afterwards, if you have the APs) and discrete movement is allowed (that is, you can spend part of your AP to move, then use the remainder to move some more, or even take a shot, or use a skill, and then spent the remainder of the AP to move).
Certain skills give the ability to refund spent APs, and certain abilities can be used to reduce the number of APs available to enemies.
Will Points (WPs)
All characters start with some WPs that are used to power skills and abilities. They also decrease when a teammate (or an ally) dies, certain body parts are disabled (normally head), or due to receiving a viral, or a psychic attack.
They can be recovered by giving up one whole turn (recover), killing enemies, opening crates found on the battlefield, one of the PP operatives reaching specially designated locations on the map, or through certain skills of other squaddies.
Shooting in PP
In PP the trajectory of each projectile (bullet, pellet, etc.) is individually calculated independently of other projectiles fired from the same weapon. If it hits something, be it the targeted enemy, another enemy, a friendly, or a piece of scenery it will do (or fail to do, depending on armor/strength of the scenery material) the damage per projectile of the weapon. For example, the basic assault rifle (AR) fires 6 projectiles that do 30 damage each (shown as 6 x 30). If the 6 projectiles hit an unarmored target, it will receive 180 points of damage that will be subtracted from its HPs.
To understand fully what happens we need to look at several different elements like accuracy, body parts, and armor, but for now the most important is to realize that there are real (though not very realistic - firearms buffs beware!) ballistics and there is no RNG (random) element in the damage calculation of direct fire weapons (explosives and melee work somewhat differently).
This means that with enough accuracy a shot can be guaranteed to kill, or cripple an enemy, without any random chance that it will miss, or that it will hit but not do enough damage. What’s more, the game will tell you when a shot is certain to kill a target (that’s the flashing red skull & crossbones next to the enemy’s HP bar).
Each weapon has an inherent accuracy depending on its effective range, defined as the range at which the weapon is likely to hit a human-sized target 50% of the time. The range is calculated in tiles. So, a weapon with an effective range of 20, will hit a human at a distance of 20 tiles 50% of the time.
Still not clear, right? Where are the hit chances expressed as a percentage?
There aren’t any. Usually you manually aim the weapon using the free aiming mode (though you have the option to shoot at the center mass of the target more often than not it will be a suboptimal shot). In the freeaming mode you use an aiming reticle, which is a small circle inside a big circle. The small circle is one quarter of the size of the big circle. Each projectile fired from the weapon will hit somewhere inside the big circle and there is a 50% chance that a projectile will land inside the small circle.
This means that
The aiming reticle is static. It doesn’t change when you move it around or zoom in/out. That means that as your soldier approaches the target the chances to hit it increase, as she/he moves away, they decrease. The increase/decrease in accuracy is linear, for each tile distance the accuracy (i.e. the percentage of the target covered by the aiming reticle) changes by the same x% for every weapon, regardless of type.
In addition to the inherent accuracy of the weapon, the soldier who wields it can buff it through skills/perks, armor, or augmentations (mutations or bionics). Firing the weapon using certain skills also reduces its accuracy. Increasing or reducing accuracy means that the aiming reticle gets smaller, or bigger by the % of the increase or decrease.
For example, a soldier with Marksman (LVL5 Sniper passive skill, increases accuracy with proficient weapon +30% provided there are no enemies within 10 tiles) will see the accuracy increased by 30% (provided there are no enemies within 10 tiles), which means that the aiming reticle will be reduced in size by 30%. Conversely, a soldier firing a weapon using Rage Burst (LVL7 Heavy skill, fire 5 times with a proficient weapon at a single target with 50% accuracy penalty for the number of APs required for regular shot + 5 WP) will have accuracy decreased by 50%, which means the aiming reticle will grow 50% in size.
Another way of looking at it is that each weapon comes with an aiming reticle of a certain size. For example, a sniper rifle has a smaller reticle, a heavy weapon a much bigger reticle, and an assault rifle is somewhere between the two, and then that the size of the reticle will vary depending on the perks, skills, armor, and augmentations of the soldier.
The big takeaways from this are that the closer you are to a target the more likely you are to hit it and that a heavy weapon can be as accurate as a sniper rifle with the right accuracy modifiers derived from skills, perks, armor, and augmentations.
Another thing to bear in mind regarding the freeaim vs the auto-target (snapshot) mode:
All characters in PP have hit points (HPs) depending on their Strength attribute (10 HPs for each point of Strength). When a character’s HP reaches 0, he/she/it dies. In addition, all characters have different body parts, and each body part has a certain number of HPs and may be protected by a certain amount of armor. The damage done to a body part also reduces the total number of HPs of the character. Once the HPs of the body part is reduced to 0, the character is crippled in some way, suffering some negative effects, and starts bleeding (losing 10 HPs per turn per each disabled part - or more for some Pandorans [thx @Yokes], until healed).
Two important things to bear in mind:
the total HPs are not distributed among the different body parts - the body part HPs don’t scale with Strength, so it’s as easy to cripple a character with high Strength as it is to cripple a character with low Strength.
even once a body part is disabled, its HPs reduced to 0, further damage to that body part will continue to reduce the total number of HPs of the character.
Each direct fire weapon projectile does a fixed amount of damage minus the armor covering the body part diminished by the penetration strength of the projectile and, depending on the weapon, may shred a fixed amount of that armor, the shredding being applied after the damage is calculated.
An assault rifle does 30 damage, has 0 penetration strength, shreds 1 armor per projectile and fires 6 projectiles per shot. Bob shoots at Tom and 3 projectiles hit the target: two in the torso, and one in the head. The body armor Tom is wearing has 20 armor, and the helmet 18. Tom received 30 - (20) + 30 - (20 - 1) = 21 damage to the torso and lost 2 points of armor for that body part, and 30 - (18)=12 damage to the head, losing 1 point of armor for that body part.
Alice then shoots Tom with the Piranha armor piercing assault rifle that does 40 damage per projectile, has 10 armor penetration strength and shoots 5 projectiles. 3 of them hit Tom in on one of the legs that have 30 armor. Tom received 3(40 - (30 - 10)) = 60 damage to the leg, but he did not lose any armor points [Thx @MadSkunky]
Finally, Clive shoots Tom with a sniper rifle that does 110 damage per projectile, has no armor penetration and doesn’t shred armor. It hits Tom on the left arm, that has 20 armor, doing 110-20 = 90 damage, which are subtracted from the total HPs remaining. The arm has 60 HPs, so it is disabled. Disabling an arm also reduces a human character’s max HPs by 10 (which means that this health cannot be recovered by healing during the mission*). Tom is now bleeding and can’t use any two-handed weapons, but he did not lose any armor points.
*Sometimes disabling a body part can result in a reduction of the total HP pool:
Disabling body parts is also useful when paralysing enemies:
The damage per projectile can be increased through various skills and perks (according to my calculations, up to +350% per projectile) so that armor becomes less relevant (e.g. an assault rifle with a 100% buff to damage will do 60 points of damage per projectile, easily overcoming all but the hardiest of armors).
So, what does all this mean?
1) To do damage most of the time you need to do something about the armor
Weapons with armor penetration (like the Piranha) or high damage per projectile (like the sniper rifle) can overcome the armor, but they don’t remove it. Weapons that shred armor (cannon, heavy machine gun) have poor inherent accuracy, but they destroy armor making the target vulnerable to high damage dealing weapons with low damage per projectile (assault rifles and shotguns).
Explosives are also very effective at shredding armor. (See Explosives [pending])
With sufficient buffs to damage output, assault rifles and shotguns can overcome armor by brute force.
Melee weapons do enough damage to overcome armor. (See Melee [pending])
There are also skills that allow to easily shred armor, and then there are special weapons (fire, poison, acid and paralysis) … (See Special Weapons [pending])
In conclusion, there is a lot of freedom in how to deal with opponents’ armor in PP, especially once you start using accuracy and damage buffs. (Remember: a cannon, which shreds armor like it was paper, can be made extremely accurate with the right armor/perks/augmentations, and even without accuracy buffs, accuracy is all about the distance to the target, so running up to a target and shooting them at close range with a cannon, or an HMG is always a sure way to get rid of that pesky armor, if not kill the target outright).
However, deal with the armor you must.
Shooting with assault rifles, or shotguns at an armored target is pointless unless you can get close enough to accurately target some exposed body part, or your soldier has some serious damage buffs.
2) Sometimes crippling an enemy is as good as killing it. Enemies need both hands to shoot two-handed weapons. Enemies nasty abilities often need specific body parts to work. Disabling heads makes enemies lose a lot of WPs (more on that later), which can be used to break the enemy’s morale