Welcome to Phoenix Point (PP). Odds are that you are playing this because it’s billed as ‘The spiritual successor to XCOM’ by the man who invented the genre. While that’s true, there are significant differences in the way that PP plays compared to XCOM which can (and do) trap the unwary. Which is what this guide is all about.
This is not a comprehensive guide. If you want that, I highly recommend you go to the excellent Getting Started - wiki.phoenixpoint.com which will tell you everything that you need to know in great detail. This guide is more a list of the key mistakes that will trip you up if you try to play this game the same way that you approach XCOM.
Full disclosure: I am a critical fan of this game and have been an active contributor to the Snapshot Forum and its Community Council since BB1. I have also been paid a nominal sum by Snapshot to update this guide for new players; but all opinions expressed here (both positive and negative) are my own.
As part of that update, I have included sections on each of the DLC, including the new DLC4, and incorporated some supplementary sections which were added into the discussion of the original thread.
I hope it helps – and my first piece of advice is…
DON’T START ON LEGENDARY
The learning curve for new players on PP is steep, and if you start your first game on Legendary you have no room for errors (which you ARE going to make). So I strongly recommend that you try your first game on Veteran.
This will start out fairly easy, but as Pandoran Evolution kicks in and the game develops, you will find the mid-game a serious challenge until your squad gains the high-level skills that can make the endgame a bit of a cakewalk – if you’ve figured out how to use them properly, that is.
If your macho pride simply can’t cope with the idea of being a mere Veteran, then try starting on Heroic, but don’t say I didn’t warn you
DON’T TRY TO DO EVERYTHING
Unlike XCOM, this game doesn’t hold your hand on the strategic layer - it doesn’t present you with a list of 3 options and say ‘but you only have the capacity to do one.’ Instead, it presents you with a myriad of possibilities and leaves YOU to make the strategic calculations about what is most important. But if you try to defend every Haven, explore every POI, hold every Mine or complete every Special Mission, you will fatally overstretch yourself and ultimately you will fail.
This is especially true in the Endgame, when you simply cannot defend every Haven that gets attacked. You need to keep your eye on the prize - which is researching an ultimate solution with the help of whichever Faction you’ve tied yourself most closely to - and defend just enough Havens to keep the Human Population from tanking while you do this.
I have been told by the Devs that they have listened to feedback and made the Endgame less mind-numbingly endless, with much fewer HDs than before. But you still need to pick your battles wisely: don’t try to do everything, and never forget that your ultimate goal is to Research the maguffin that will trigger the Final Conflict. Everything else is secondary.
FIRING DOESN’T END MOVEMENT
PP uses an Action Point (AP) system, where nominally each Squaddie has 4 APs to play with. In fact, it’s much more granular than that. For instance, in PP, you can expend 1.25 APs on Moving, fire your weapon for 2APs, then continue to spend your remaining 0.75 of an AP Moving some more.
When your Squaddies start getting skills that give them back APs in various ways, they can add these to their Actions, enabling them to Move/Fire, Move/Fire, Move almost ad infinitum if you get it right.
But the important thing to remember is that Firing your weapon doesn’t end your turn , and that opens up a whole host of tactical possibilities that simply weren’t available to you in XCOM.
And talking of tactics…
HIGH COVER IS NOT FULL COVER
A BIG mistake that XCOM players make is assuming that if they are hiding behind a wall or a tree, they are almost fully protected. That is simply not the case. It’s a tiny distinction that really catches out XCOM players the first time they come to this game.
Atmo, the game uses the same Cover Icons as XCOM (which is only fair since Julian Gollop coined them for the original X-com). However, a full Shield Icon simply means that the cover obstacle is higher than your head, NOT that it will give you 90% Cover.
Because of the way PP’s ballistic system works, Cover in PP is simply an obstacle along the trajectory of the bullet. If the bullet’s trajectory doesn’t cross that obstacle, the Cover gives you no protection at all.
In practical terms, this means that Low Cover (Half Shield) will protect your legs and lower torso, but leaves your head and upper body completely exposed. High Cover (Full Shield) can block everything up to your full height, but only if the shooter is within the front 30 degree arc of the cover! This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but anything flanking you by more than around 30 degrees can see round your cover and can shoot at you freely. In addition, since there is no Hunker Down facility currently in PP, any part of your body that is sticking out from behind that cover is fair game.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that once you’ve got a handle on how cover works, you can make it work to your advantage.
For instance, if you’re standing one tile back from the corner of a building, nothing can see you and you are in completely Full Cover. When it’s your turn, you can use the AP system to simply step up to the corner of the building, take a shot, then step back into Full Cover again.
Also, because Cover obstacles block bullet trajectories, you don’t have to completely hug a Cover obstacle to get cover from it. All you have to do is make sure that it is positioned between you and the Shooter and that you are close enough to the obstacle for it to block the shot.
Which brings me on to…
CLEAR LINE OF SIGHT IS NOT NECESSARILY CLEAR LINE OF SHOT
A common complaint from new players is that PP’s LoS aids often don’t give them a clear shot. This is because (despite what it says in the Tutorial) the aid is triggered by sightlines, not firing lanes. The aid will trigger even if only the little toe of the target is sticking out from the undergrowth, because as far as it’s concerned, if you can see that little toe you can see the target.
But just because you can see the target doesn’t mean you can see enough of it to shoot at (unless you’re a badass Marksman who can shoot off a little toe from 10 miles away).
My advice? Be cautious. Don’t rush out in the open to blast the target unless you are absolutely certain that you are going to see enough of it to get a clear shot. Frankly, don’t rush out into the open EVER, but that’s just me.
And that brings me on to…
WHEN IS A 100% SHOT NOT A 100% SHOT?
One key difference between PP and XCOM is its firing mechanics. PP uses a ballistic system, where it calculates the trajectory of each bullet from a burst, which randomly traces a straight line through a circle in the target area. The size of that circle is based on how accurate the gun & shooter are.
This means that if you press ‘Free Aim’ on the firing menu of the Tactical Display, you can pull up the circle, known as the Targeting Reticle, and target specific locations. There is a 100% chance that every bullet in the burst will pass within the outer circle of the Targeting Reticle and a 50% chance that each individual shot will fall somewhere in the inner circle.
This is a ballistic system, and once it has fixed its trajectory, the bullet traces a straight line from your gun. So even if only the tiniest sliver of the target is not within the reticle, it is possible that the shot’s trajectory will pass through the outer edge of the circle at a point where there is a gap. When you are shooting at a target with lots of dangly bits, or which is holding a weapon, it is equally possible that the shot will pass through the gaps between those dangly bits or under its armpits. There are also some really annoying edge cases, where it looks like you have a solid target in your sights, but in actual fact you don’t, for no readily apparent reason.
So even if it looks like you have a 100% chance to hit, you will miss on occasion. It’s not as bad as the old 99% chances missing 9 times out of every 10 in XCOM, but it is just as frustrating.
It is also worth noting that the algorithm which targets the bullets tends to cluster most shots around the outer edge of the inner circle, so if you place the centre of the Targeting Reticle on a target’s head, with the inner ring surrounding its head like a halo, you actually have less chance of hitting the head than if you aim at its chest with a portion of the inner ring intersecting its head. Don’t ask me why – it’s just the way the system works.
And talking of how things work…
OVERWATCH IS DUMB (BUT BRILLIANT)
Unlike XCOM, where your Overwatching Squaddie will fire at the first thing that moves in its line of sight, PP has an OW Cone which you can direct to fire at only the area that concerns you, ignoring anything outside that cone - but it has its foibles which drives some people mad.
When OW triggers, the shooter goes into an animation that shows them taking aim and firing. If you’re not careful, in the split second between the animation triggering and the shot going off, the target can move behind an obstacle and the shot hits the obstacle rather than the target. Also, OW is triggered by LoS & Perception, so if your Squaddie spots something moving behind an obstacle, the old ‘LoS isn’t Line of Shot’ rule can kick in and you shoot the obstacle rather than the target behind it.
There are a couple of simple ways to fix this. If you’re trying to stop a Nasty from getting to you, the simplest thing to do is adjust the length of the cone so that it stops in front of any big obstacles along the route. That way, OW will only trigger once the Nasty has gone round that pesky obstacle, rather than sheltering behind it.
Sometimes, however, you will want to take a long-range shot against something like an approaching Siren, but you don’t want to waste your OW on the lesser Crabbies around her. In that case, you can narrow the cone (on my laptop I pinch-in the trackpad, I think you use the mousewheel on a PC), creating a long, thin cone about the width of the target which will only trigger if that specific target moves. Of course, you can’t prevent another Nasty from crossing in front of the target and triggering the OW shot, but if you’re lucky the ballistic rules can work to your advantage here, with shots from the burst of an auto-weapon missing the triggerer and continuing along their trajectory to your target – though tbh that is extremely rare.
Personally, I really like the Overwatch system – I think it’s one of the great strengths of PP. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can adjust the cone to be pretty damn specific about when & at what you want to take that shot.
But beware: OW is based on Perception. If you have a Squaddie with low Perception, it is perfectly possible for a Nasty to run through his cone without the dumb **** ever noticing.
The cone also sizes differently depending on the weapon being used. The most dangerous example of this is setting an OW cone with a Heavy Weapon at a doorway. The unwieldiness of the HW means that the cone only starts about a square away from the firer. So unless you are very precise about how you set the cone, you can get the nasty surprise of an enemy stepping through the doorway behind your killing zone, preventing your hapless soldier from firing at it.
And be aware…
SOME NASTIES SHOOT BACK!
MG-toting Arthrons and Human Assaults have the Return Fire ability, which means that they will fire back at you if you shoot at them within approx. half their Perception Range. Frankly, this is nowhere near as powerful as it used to be before it was nerfed (stupidly in my opinion, but don’t get me started), but it is something you should be aware of, especially when the Arthron Gunners start evolving truly badass weapons.
Because of this, my advice to new players is to delay attempting the first New Jericho Mission: ‘The Dreamers Awaken’ until you have some experience of how the game works, since the RF’ing enemy can pose a bit of a challenge to inexperienced players.
And there is one other crucial thing you should know about firing:
SHOOTERS STEP OUT OF COVER
It’s a very annoying foible of PP that when firing from behind High Cover, a Squaddie will take a step out into the open, fire, then wait until any RF’ing enemy who’s survived takes a pot-shot back at them. So shooting from High Cover is fairly useless if you are expecting it to give you some shelter. Shooting from Low Cover is generally ok, in that it will give you the kind of coverage that Low Cover always gives you, but shooting from High Cover is essentially the same as shooting from no cover at all where Return Fire is concerned.
That’s the bad stuff that can get you killed. Now here’s one of the great strengths of PP that for my money makes it stand head & shoulders above other games in this genre:
THERE ARE NO LIMITS
PP is a true sandbox. With a few annoying exceptions [let me take my guys’ helmets off in the main squad screen, Snapshot!!!], it doesn’t limit your squad choices in any way. So if you want to recruit a Heavy, arm him with an Assault Rifle and dress him in a mixture of Sniper and Infiltrator armour, you can. In fact, this is actively encouraged by the personal Perks that come inherent with each Squaddie.
The only limitation is that if you equip a Squaddie with a non-proficient weapon, their accuracy goes down – and they have a chance to fumble when using it in melee (or trying to Jet Jump if not a Heavy). But that’s what the perks are for.
What this means is that you can mix & match your Squaddies to your heart’s content. A simple no-brainer in my book is to give all of your Heavies Technician helmets, once you have them, which negates the Aim penalty of their headgear with very little downside in armour.
The only real downside is that it is very easy to make your soldier look like a complete twonk if you’re not careful. Try marrying a Heavy Torso’s Body Armour with Sniper Legs and see what I mean. I personally prevent this by having a self-limitation which says that you can’t used a Heavy Weapon or Jetpack without wearing the Heavy or Tech legs that provide you with the bracing needed to absorb the shock: but that is purely a personal limit – there is no rule which enforces that.
Of course, the other side of the coin is that you used to be able to mix and match skills using multi-classing etc to create some game-breaking Terminator combos capable of literally taking out an entire mission on Turn 1 with a single soldier. While this is technically still possible, it is much more difficult nowadays – which in my book is a very good thing.
These last few entries aren’t necessarily XCOM-related, but are worth knowing:
A QUESTION OF AMMO
When you give a weapon to a soldier, it is auto-loaded if you have the ammo in store. It only consumes the number of shots you fire on the mission and the ammo icon on the weapon will slowly fill with red from the top down as it empties. At the end of the mission, you get the option to partially reload any weapon you’ve fired (and have reverse-engineered if it’s not a PP weapon) – I advise you to take this, as it is by far the cheapest way to buy ammo because it only buys the ammo you need rather than a full clip.
The thing you need to know is that if you return a half empty weapon to the stores, the depleted mag disappears and it looks like you’ve lost that ammo. But actually you haven’t. The depleted mag stays hidden in the stores and will be used to do the partial reload at the end of a mission as long as it still contains ammo. So you don’t lose it, you just can’t swap half-empty clips around.
A recent discussion on the CC made me realise that not everyone is aware that you can use Vehicles as kit transports. To do this, access the Backpack of any Squaddie who is inside the vehicle. Any kit they dump on the ‘ground’ inside the vehicle is actually dumped into the vehicle, which will carry it around until someone picks it up.
I do this with the bespoke Tecchie I allocate to each of my vehicles - I overload them with extra ammo for my Heavy’s weapons, hop them inside the vehicle on turn 1 and unload all the extra kit into the vehicle. Then, when my Heavy runs out of ammo, the vehicle can bus it over to them and the Tech hops out of the vehicle with a spare ammo clip.
Be aware, that if you recover a vehicle on a scavenging mission, its hold isn’t technically enabled until the first mission you run with it. Anything you put in the back will be locked in there until you start that first mission (though it won’t be lost, just inaccessible till then).
INVEST IN RESEARCH & FABRICATION
Since most research gains in PP are incremental and weapons advancement is more dependent on Diplomacy than Research, there is a temptation for new players to use their scarce resources on things other than Labs.
Then you get to the Endgame and discover that the Research hoops you have to jump through are tediously endless if you haven’t invested in enough Labs earlier. So do bear in mind that you will need a good Research infrastructure to get through the endgame without constantly twiddling your thumbs.
I have been informed by the Devs that they have listened to our feedback and the Endgame is now considerably more streamlined than it was. None of us have had a chance to playtest this yet, so I take it on trust. That said: I’d still invest in R&F if I were you.
TRAINING CAN BE FUN
Training Facilities are imho another brilliant innovation of PP. They enable you to pump XP into your new recruits without risking them in the field – but the tradeoff is that they don’t get the Skill Point Bonus that taking part in a mission gives you. This generates a fairly realistic system, whereby a facility-trained Squaddie at any given level has fewer combat skills than a grizzled vet who has fought his way up the chain; but is still capable of surviving in the current combat environment.
It’s much better than having to nurse your new Lvl 1 recruit through half a dozen missions just to get them combat-ready. I tend to Train my new recruits to Lvl 4, then kit them up and let them out into the Big Bad World. Works for me! ;0)
DON’T START LotA TOO EARLY
DLC 2: The Legacy of the Ancients is hard, especially for inexperienced players. There is a temptation to launch straight into it the minute you trigger its first mission. My advice is: don’t. Wait until you’re Aligned on 50 Dip with a Faction and your A-Team is at Lvl7 and fully kitted-up before you even start attempting it.
LotA’s Ancient Sites are among the hardest and most deadly missions in the game, and the risk-reward ratio is such a punishing drain on resources (and manpower) that until you have a good, strong infrastructure and a way of replacing losses quickly, it’s a sure-fire way of dying a death of a thousand cuts. So I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole until the late game. [EDIT: The Devs tell me they’ve streamlined this some too; but it’s still a drain on resources].
Also, the LotA storyline only makes sense if you trigger it after you’ve discovered what Symes’ Grandfather uncovered, so for both narrative and practical reasons, I would urge you to wait.
In fact, my serious advice is don’t even install it for your first playthrough.
Personally, I don’t like LotA. It requires you to invest a huge amount of time and energy to make super-weapons that trivialise the game. I play these games for the buzz of beating insurmountable odds with inferior forces. If I’m fielding a team of supermen with definit-kil-cannons, it takes all of the fun out of the challenge for me.
So if you get your kicks out of building super-heroes and wiping the floor with all the lesser mortals around you, knock yerself (and them) out. But if that kind of thing bores you, think twice about LotA.
FESTERING SKIES [WITH MINOR SPOILERS MARKED – this is a long one]
DLC 3: Festering Skies is… odd. Once you’ve triggered it, you get this big beastie called the Behemoth stomping around trashing Havens all over the place. And the ridiculous thing is, you can’t interact with it: you can’t attack it, you can’t rescue the civilians from the Havens as it approaches – it’s just there.
Personally, I’d like the Big B to trigger an Evac Mission – a bit like the old XCOM Terror Missions – which lets us rescue the civilians from its next target. At least then we’d feel like we’re actually interacting with it in some way: but as things stand it feels like there’s nothing you can do about it.
But that’s not quite true.
Every Pandoran Flyer you shoot down adds to the Big B’s Dispersion Score, along with every Haven it trashes. Once that DS hits a certain level, the Behemoth retreats into the sea and emerges on another continent to begin the cycle again. So while it’s in your Zone of Control, it’s worth investing in aircraft weaponry and taking enemy flyers down. Tbh, if it’s on another continent I ignore it in line with my ‘you can’t protect everything’ mantra. Other than slightly reducing the HPI, it’s not like it’s actually doing anything bad to you. Frankly, it’s just a pointless mess and I ignore it.
Sometimes in the early game you will find that you cannot intercept a Panda Flyer because it is attacking a Haven that you haven’t discovered yet. There are 2 ways of dealing with this. In the long term, get yourself to Supportive Status (25 Dip) with every Faction as fast as possible, which will mean their Havens appear as you get close to them. In the short term, Explore the nearest POI you can find to the Haven under attack – if you’re lucky, it will be another Haven that can give you its coordinates and make it appear on the map.
You’ll find that some Flyers are too strong to take down with just one strike mission. So you need to set up a one-two punch with multiple aircraft. I tend to install long-range missiles on my First Strike aircraft and Disengage this before I get into close range; then follow it up with a Second Strike craft using closer-range weapons that pack the killer punch.
Personally, I find most of the aircraft modules you can research a tad pointless. Since you can only install one Support Module per craft, I tend to limit myself to the Dodge Module (whatever it’s called) or Fire Suppressors, with the best Missiles or Railguns I can install at the time into the Weapons Pods. Others may disagree.
One thing to bear in mind when you’re going up against the Flying Pandas is that most of them have weapons that can inflict DoT – Fire, Acid or Biological. This explains why your weapons might suddenly disappear on you after you’ve been hit. Take a look at the top left corner of your screen, and if there is a red, green or purple circle cycling round up there, you’ve been hit by DoT which will inflict damage on you every time the icon goes full circle. At that point, the only thing you can do is Disengage.
As I say, the Big B is just a pointless blundering beastie until you can finally research the Masked Manticore. This enables you to trigger a Special Mission which lands on the Big B’s back and takes you into a very enjoyable mission which allows you to take it down. Be aware that the mission will split your forces, so you want to make sure you take soldiers that can be fairly self-sufficient regardless of who they’re teamed up with.
MINOR SPOILER: If you really want to ace the mission, give each of your soldiers the mutant head that negates Stomp effects.
The one truly good thing to come out of FS is the Corrupted Havens . These are Havens that have been infested by a Corruption Node, and they’re a lot of fun to fight.
MINOR SPOILER: The thing to realise about the Corruption Node is that its ability is restricted to the zone around it and limited by LoS. So the way to fight it is to run in, fire, then run back out again. If you do that, it’s fairly easy to take down. But if you just stand there like a dumb**s and blast away at it without moving, don’t blame Snapshot when it hands your **s to you on a plate.
For my money, DLC4: Corrupted Horizons is by far and away the best DLC in Phoenix Point. It has a good enemy in the Acheron (though it does have a tendency to jump around pointlessly for no readily apparent reason), and the new Soldier type, the Mutoid, is a fabulous addition to the game.
The thing to be aware of with the Acheron is that on the rare times it uses it, the Corruption Spit it can deploy uses the same algorithm as the Destiny III. So it’s on a rope and it never misses. This means you should make sure you are either out of range or out of LoS when it activates. You also want to stay out of its Corruption Radius.
That said, Corruption is in itself an interesting mechanic. While it reduces your starting Will for each point of Corruption you take, it also increases your damage output by 2% per point. So there’s an interesting tradeoff to be made if you are inclined to go that way.
The GFX for Corrupted Squaddies is good too – though because they won’t let us take Squaddies’ helmets off in the main Squad Screen, it is utterly pointless. What’s the use of having a nice visual cue for how corrupt your peeps are getting if you don’t get to see it?
But the best bit of Corrupted Horizons is the Mutoid . This is a hybrid soldier with a mix of Pandoran and Human skills which makes it really interesting. Be aware that the Mutie cannot be Healed by conventional methods, so at early Levels it has a glass jaw. You’ll definitely want to use the ‘hide out of LoS then pop out to fire’ trick. At higher levels, it can look after itself, if you choose the right skills – but you don’t want me telling you what to do there: the whole beauty of this game is figuring that out for yourselves.
The Mutie can only be healed by Mutagen, so I’d advise you not to blow all your Mutagen on a Mutie-building frenzy when you get them. Keep around 100 in reserve for emergencies.
That’s it. I hope this helps you to enjoy this game without making some of the classic mistakes I have seen so many XCOM players make.
I unashamedly love this game – it has effectively retired XCOM in its current iterations for me. But I can understand how frustrating it can be for seasoned XCOM players when they first encounter it, because so many of the things you take for granted in XCOM simply don’t work the same way here – and if you’re not careful, those differences can get you killed.
For what it’s worth, I’d advise you only to enable DLC 1 & 4 on your first playthrough. Then enable the remaining DLC once you’ve figured out how the game works. At that point, I also highly recommend Mad’s ‘Assorted Adjustments’ from Nexus Mods. You’ll need to install Sheepy’s Modnix from Nexus to make it work, but when you do it opens up a whole host of Second Wave Options that are well worth working your way through.
Have fun, and as they used to say in Hill Street Blues: “Be careful out there.”