A comprehensive guide to weapon classes, their associated tactics, and loadouts to use with each weapon. Largely for new players, but also contains in-depth information intermediate players may appreciate as well.
This guide is open to discussion, and I will edit my post if I see convincing arguments about how weapons should, or shouldn’t be used. I will avoid using hyperbole, unlike a lot of guides I have seen, and attempt to give each weapon class a fair assessment and analysis, as through experience I have determined that every weapon has a situation that is useful, and the question will be whether or not the situation in which a weapon is useful is common enough or relevant enough to warrant taking the weapon, and how many.
Essential Combat Mechanic Information
1. TUs AND WEAPON ATTACKS– Weapon attacks use a percent of TUs to shoot, often trading TUs for accuracy. This means TUs are functionally movement speed and re-equipping speed, and thus TUs are useful for any weapon class. However, some weapons function just fine with low TUs, which I will discuss in their respective classes.
2. HEAVY WEAPONS AND RECOIL– Heavy weapons, namely LMGs and Rocket Launchers, use Accuracy for their base aim, and the difference between Strength and the weapon’s Recoil (70 for both weapons), to determine accuracy. A soldier with 60 Accuracy, and 55 Strength, shooting an LMG will have 60-(70-55) = 45 base accuracy, before applying the LMG’s natural 35% accuracy, so this soldier would only have a 16% chance to hit roughly with these stats. I will talk more about these weapons in their respective sections. Finally, Heavy Weapons suffer a -25% additive penalty to hit chance when attempting to move+shoot in the same turn.
3. REACTION FIRE– Reaction Fire is determined by a “Reaction Score” calculated from the following: (Unit’s Reaction stat)x(Weapon Reaction Modifier)x(% remaining TUs). Thus, a soldier with full TUs and 50 Reaction using an Assault Rifle (x1 modifier) would have a Reaction Score of 50. A Shotgunner (1.5x modifier) with 30% remaining TUs and 70 Reaction would have a Reaction Score of 31.5. When a unit acts, if they are within range of an enemy unit with a higher Reaction Score, they will receive a reaction shot. If the moving unit’s Reaction Score is higher than the defender, they can freely move without fear of reaction fire until their TUs deplete enough that the defenders can take a reaction shot. Thus, if you want your soldiers to reaction fire, don’t move them more than 10-20% of their TUs. A good breakpoint as well is to have enough TUs that the unit can fire two shots if approached by an enemy.
4. ACCURACY AND PROXIMITY– All weapons have different fire modes with multipliers on accuracy. Thus even an 80 Accuracy soldier can run into situations where their accuracy is far less, such as a Shotgun only having a 70% accuracy modifier even on an aimed shot, meaning that soldier within 6-8 tile range would still only have a 56% chance to hit. Each tile starting at 5 tiles and closer to the target a unit is with Rifles, Shotguns, Pistols, and LMGs, the shooter receives a flat 12% bonus to hit for each tile closer the unit is. Thus, with a 56% shotgun shot, at 5 range you have an additive +12% chance to hit for 68% total, while within 2 tiles that same shotgun shot would have a +48% chance to hit, equalling 104% but thereby hitting the softcap of 95%.
5. DAMAGE VALUES– You can check these in-game; I’ve listed instead their relative damage output so you can understand when using the weapon what to expect.
Recommended high stats in order: Accuracy, Reaction, TUs
Acceptable low stats: Strength, Health
Side Equipment Synergies: Medkit, Smoke Grenades, Flashbangs
Reaction Modifier: 1x
Accuracy: Snap 45%, Aimed 80%, Precision 130%, 3 Shot Burst 45%
Shot % TUs: Snap 28%, Aimed 40%, Precision 55%, Burst 60%
Damage: Low, same as pistol
Range: 20 tiles
Tactics: I thought I would start with the most basic weapon type as a baseline to discuss weapons tactics. Assault Rifles are what most people call a generalist weapon, but in Xenonauts it isn’t quite clear what is meant by this. In my experience I have found Rifles are really good at one thing compared to other classes: holing up behind cover and readying reaction shots against incoming attackers. They excel at this role more than any other class due to the range at which they can execute reaction shots, and the cover they can afford to hide behind due to that longer range. As such, with planning a Rifleman can be posted behind cover with low TUs but a good Reaction/Accuracy setup and be of value to you. This is because a unit with full TUs will almost always get a reaction shot against an enemy moving in, so if a unit is stationary and covering, the lower TUs don’t matter, and 20 range is long indeed for reaction shots.
With higher TUs, Rifles can be used to breach UFOs, but they should never be the first ones entering due to how rapidly their Reaction Score will dwindle when entering a room. Rifles can also be used to suppress aliens that resisted your MG’s attempt to suppress, or when working in a team of 3 can be used to suppress one alien from a safe distance using burst fire. When breaching, only count on an Assault Rifle to kill an alien if you are able to hit all 3 rounds of a burst; otherwise, attempting to suppress with burst or throwing a grenade may be a better option than closing to short range when breaching for a Rifleman. Assault Rifles are also quite useful for covering doors in alien bases, allowing patient players to score free kills on aliens who blunder through the door you’re covering. It’s worth noting that at closer ranges, Assault Rifles can burst reaction fire, sometimes instantly killing or suppressing enemies–quite useful against Sebilians, and blessedly lethal against enemies like Reapers.
In the late game, Riflemen are usually overshadowed by Predator LMG users, which is fine, but Riflemen still have a niche for when you need fast reaction fire, or someone equipped with Buzzard/Sentinel armor to climb buildings and hunt Harridans on rooftops. As they are often not getting shot themselves, I tend to run Medkits and Smoke Grenades with Riflemen, playing into their strengths as a defensive class, although most turns I usually reserve their TUs for Reaction Shots unless I desperately need someone to throw something, usually when breaching UFOs. Their 130% accuracy shot can be quite useful for finishing off wounded enemies as well, even late-game.
Their shot TUs allow them a lot of flexibility; two aimed shots at incoming enemies, and the ability to move 40% TUs before firing a burst gives a surprising amount of power in CQC or in suppressing enemies when moving as a squad. The Precision shot is perfect for executing wounded enemies as well.
Recommended high stats in order: TUs, Reaction, HP, Strength
Acceptable low stats: Accuracy (within reason; don’t run 35 acc guys ever)
Side Equipment Synergies: C4, Flashbangs, Medkit, Heaviest Available Armor
Reaction Modifier: 1.5x
Accuracy: Snap 38%, Aimed 70%
Shot % TUs: Snap 28%, Aimed 40%
Damage: Very High, 3 pellets per attack each with damage only slightly less than AR/pistol
Range: 8 tiles
Tactics: Probably the biggest killer of units for new players and early on, Shotguns are difficult to utilize properly and can be powerful in certain situations, but overall are a very situational weapon. As it happens, however, the situations in which these weapons are useful are common, and you will want to bring shotguns on most missions up until the late game, where they are arguably replaceable with Predator LMG users. The ability to shoot two aimed shots with 80% TUs is fairly powerful though, especially with the shotgun’s high damage output, making them especially deadly in fortified positions or situations where they don’t have to move very far.
While the offensive value of Shotguns at close range is obvious, what is less obvious is how powerful these weapons are at defending close-quarters entry points such as doors. If you do not want someone to enter a room, post 2 shotgunners at that door with full TUs and I guarantee that anything walking through will be instantly mulched. This offers flexibility in base assaults and UFOs, allowing you safety when setting up rockets and C4 in case you fight enemies like Sebilians that love to attack you despite being the defenders of their base/UFO. You can even put a crouched shield in front of your shotgunners, giving them safety in case they do take shots and allowing them to return fire if they only have 50% TUs.
As for attacking with Shotguns, there is a temptation to run into an alien’s face and pull the trigger, which I understand, but you must resist this, even against suppressed aliens. When clearing rooms, it is much safer to attack from a distance with assault rifles, LMGs, rockets, and frag grenades, than to close in with shotguns. In truth, Shotguns usually want to work in pairs against enemies that have already been suppressed in order to kill them, as suppressed enemies only get one shot in return and can’t throw grenades. However, even this is dangerous unless you can find good cover for your shotgunner to hide behind in the room itself, but then the alien might just move up to you and shoot anyway, so no matter how you slice it being a shotgunner is generally a very dangerous job for a soldier.
I place a lot more value in the Shotgun’s defensive value than offensive. They can kill the last alien in a breach situation but otherwise it often is a waste of life to send shotgunners to close range to kill an alien unless it’s the last one alive. I imagine some might disagree with this assessment, but Assaults were my most-dead type of soldier by far in almost all of my runs, and I think it’s almost entirely because I expected them to clear rooms, rather than defend them. As weird as that probably sounds. Even with good tactics, I also find Shotgunners take more damage than any other class, so high HP and the best available armor are both a must.
Recommended high stats in order: TUs, Accuracy, Reflexes
Acceptable low stats: Strength, Health
Side Equipment Synergies: Smoke, Medkit, Buzzard/Sentinel Armor
Reaction Modifier: 0.5x
Accuracy: Snap 60%, Normal 105%, Aimed 165%
Shot % TUs: Snap 38%, Aimed 49%, Precision 65%
Damage: Moderate, good Armor Pierce
Range: 30 tiles
Other: Does not receive close range +% hit bonus
Tactics: I’ve seen some players say they prefer to bring Precision Rifles instead of Assault Rifles. On certain missions like Terror Missions, or early on when everyone has low accuracy, this might even make a little bit of sense. However, due to their low reaction score (meaning they both don’t reaction fire as often, and take more reaction fire) the sniper rifle is pitiful when faced with entrenched enemies, and the weapon relies almost entirely on being able to outrange enemies.
Thus, you want high TUs for snipers so they can move and shoot with full accuracy, and keep out of line of sight of enemies. High Reflexes makes Snipers more interesting, as with full TUs they can offer reaction fire against sprinting enemies, which due to their high accuracy can be quite powerful. Sniper Rifles can fire two times with their Normal Shot if the enemy walks into their cone of fire during their turn, too, allowing for high damage during those turns specifically, but otherwise you’ll normally be moving and doing your fully aimed shot with this weapon.
I would only ever recommend bringing 2 sniper rifles and only to open maps like the Farms or to Terror Missions where the extra line of sight and defensive utility is more valuable. Otherwise, I find the sniper rifle an inflexible weapon that I often bring only because I tell myself I need it, rather than because I want it.
Recommended high stats in order: Varies wildly depending on intended use, but most Shotgun logic applies to Pistol users as well, meaning high Reflexes, okay Accuracy, and good TUs
Acceptable low stats: Strength, unless using Shield build
Side Equipment Synergies: All Grenades, C4, Shield, Wolf/Sentinel Armor, Medkit
Reaction Modifier: 1.5x
Accuracy: Snap 45%, Aimed 80%
Shot % TUs: Snap 28%, Aimed 40%
Range: 10 tiles
Tactics: Pistols are ultimately a utility weapon meant to finish off enemies; they come in a variety of different uses, but the three primary ones are the Shield user, Grenadier/Scout, and backup weapon for MGs and Snipers.
Shield users generally use the pistol when covering doors due to the high Reflexes modifier, but usually otherwise want to leave their hands empty to be able to throw grenades without the 8 TU penalty normally associated with doing so. Pistols at full TUs can sometimes fire 3 shots, but usually will get 2 off on approaching enemies with Reaction Fire, making shields competent at the defense but nowhere near the power of shotguns when it comes to covering doors. Pistols are a tactical necessity rather than a powerful weapon in their own right; for shield users, it’s the only weapon available apart from grenades, so you’re stuck using it unless you’re willing to drop the shield and draw a different weapon later, or swap to said weapon after the shield breaks, which isn’t a bad idea actually if your soldier has the Strength to do so.
For low Strength characters with high TUs, using a “Grenadier” loadout with a pistol in one hand and a bag full of grenades can be surprisingly effective, able to deploy smokes, frags, and flashes whenever, and wherever you need them. I need to use characters like this more often, although I find Strength is such a useful stat that I don’t often have recruits without it.
As a backup weapon, you can consider putting pistols on your LMG and sniper wielders to help breach UFOs. This gives these characters higher reaction fire, able to help cover doors, preferably from a safe distance while the rest of the squad does the heavy lifting. It’s better than leaving them outside the UFO, in my opinion, at least until you get Predator armor for LMGs.
Recommended high stats in order: early game–strength, accuracy; high TUs and Reflexes helpful but not necessary; high Reflexes might be a liability. Late game: high accuracy, high TUs
Acceptable low stats: early game–Reflexes, Health, Accuracy (suppression-only) ; late game–Strength (Predator armor)
Side Equipment Synergies: Smoke Grenades, Pistol, more ammo; late game, can carry anything from C4, more rockets, and more to be dropped for other soldiers
Reaction Modifier: 0.5x
Accuracy: 10 Shot Burst 35% (-25% if moving and shooting)
Shot % TUs: 10 Shot Burst 80%, Predator Burst 53%
Damage: Very High
Range: 25 tiles
Tactics: The use of machine guns varies between the early and mid game, to the late game, so I will describe this in two separate sections. Recoil is described in detail earlier, but basically the difference between Strength and the Recoil of 70 is subtracted from your accuracy when using this weapon, and you take a 25% penalty to accuracy when moving and shooting in the same turn.
Early-Mid game: The Machine Gun is a powerful tool, useful for suppression and killing targets in the open. At 80% TUs to shoot, and a penalty for shooting, your squad tactics will likely revolve around this weapon as its ability to suppress targets is invaluable for clearing enemy entrenched positions with rifles and shotguns, and they do a great job against Androns and Drones as well since those enemies don’t take cover. However, if you bring more than one MG to a mission, you may regret it as these weapons are immobile, usually only able to move 1 or 2 tiles before not being able to shoot anymore. MGs are also dangerous to use due to their spread, which can easily hit friendlies in a wide cone in front of the MG, meaning not only do you have to mind where to use the weapon offensively, but reaction fire from a friendly MG can also murder your own troops. I only bring one during these early missions, upgrading to a max of 2 once I upgrade the dropship to 10 soldiers.
Late game: Combined with Predator Armor and good soldier ACC, the MG becomes a capable primary weapon you can equip to most of your soldiers to make mincemeat of enemy troops, provided you can afford it. They functionally replace both Shotguns and Assault Rifles at this point for every role except covering doors, which can still be done with high Reflexes, and Predator Armor means only TUs and ACC matter on anyone you want to give an LMG. As far as actual tactics, you can largely just move forward, crouch, and shoot anything in your path with these weapons; this is due to how Predator Armor removes the moving and shooting penalty, and the maximum Strength from Predator Armor eliminates any worries of a recoil penalty. As a side note, once you’ve reached this stage in the game and start fighting Caesans, you should drop these weapons every turn so that their destructive power isn’t turned against you–you can easily pick up the weapon next turn and shoot again. Tedious, but effective.
Recommended high stats in order: Strength, Accuracy, TUs
Acceptable low stats: Reflexes, Health
Side Equipment Synergies: Assault Rifle or Shotgun, C4, Smoke Grenades
Reaction Modifier: Weapon cannot reaction fire
Accuracy: Snap 75%, Aimed 100%; -25% accuracy when moving and shooting
Shot % TUs: Snap 60%, Aimed 80%
Damage: Very High
Area of Effect: 2.5 tiles, except for Stun, which has a 4 tile radius
Range: 25 tiles
Tactics: Their use seems obvious on the surface, but Rocket Launchers have a few distinct roles that you should be aware of when using them.
First is remote door detonation. Breaching the front door of a UFO or its Bridge can allow your snipers and MGs to shoot inside safely, and the splash damage often causes collateral damage.
In the open field, the rocket launcher can be used to initiate fights, destroying vital cover for the aliens who can then be killed.
Finally, you can shoot rockets at high value targets you really don’t want to miss, provided your rocket was already in position a turn earlier.
All of the rocketeer’s jobs can be done from a safe distance, but you need both high Strength and Accuracy to use them to their fullest potential, both due to the weight of the launcher itself and the recoil of the weapon of 70, meaning if you don’t have 70 Strength you take a penalty to shot accuracy equal to difference between Strength and Recoil. Unfortunately, this can never be remedied with Predator Armor like with MGs, and neither can the shot accuracy penalty when moving before shooting.