A Working Man’s Guide to XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Part 1:Beginnings

Welcome to the first update in my quest/self-help guide to unlock 100% of XCOM:Enemy Unknown’s achievements. I’ve set myself the task of doing it all (the hard way) and posting regular journals with my progress. At the same time, I’ll be discussing hints and tips to guide others through this oft-torturous game; discussing the good, the bad and the ugly of its design; and poking fun at myself and the game in general.

It’s been a good/bad week. On the one hand, I’ve fallen in love with a flame-haired wonderbeast and unlocked two whole achievements. On the downside, though, my task just got a LOT harder: my completion percentage actually went DOWN.

Thomas Thomas

Working Man’s Guide to XCOM:Enemy Unknown
Thomas Thomas is sad because, in the genial surroundings of the XCOM barracks, he has 0% chance to kill

Sometimes, there’s a man. I won’t say a hero – ‘cause what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. A man who-

Aw, hell. Like The Big Lebowski’s mysterious, omnipresent cowboy narrator, I’ve rather lost my chain of thought. I have become infatuated with a single man, a man who bucks the tide of convention, hurdles the, erm, hurdle of destiny, and laughs in the face of flying plasma bolts.

The man is Thomas Thomas, AKA “Wardog”. As of this moment, he has completed four missions and recorded eighteen kills.

He’s an assault-class killing machine, tearing around the battlefield with his shotgun in a crazed hunt for fresh blood. His hair may be as orange as carrots, but his armour (and heart) is black as betrayal. He alone, of all of my unfortunate, loyal soldiers, has had the gumption, the bravado and (admittedly) the fortune to face up to the invading alien scum.

Everyone who plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown ends up with a favourite soldier; everyone discovers a hero at some point in the campaign. Wardog has been mine for the previous half-dozen missions. May the dice always be kind to you, Thomas Thomas!

Working Man’s Guide to XCOM:Enemy Unknown
Thomas Thomas lines up for a medium-range kill with his prized shotgun, who is probably called Martha.

The Achievements

I’ve decided that a sort of primer would be an appropriate way to start this journal: something to help those who either haven’t played XCOM, or who just don’t obsess over its achievements. Like most modern games, XCOM comes bundled with a set of so-called ‘achievements’, which are rewardless objectives you can complete for prestige. They are at once a ubiquitous marketing gimmick and an essential mod-con of modern gaming. And, occasionally, they can be the worst nightmare for the many obsessive gamers who see a rating and just have to max it out. I’ll talk more about achievements, about what they add and remove from modern games, in a later article.

Most of XCOM’s achievements are pretty straight-forward: playing through the single player campaign on normal difficulty should bag you around 50% of them. Given a decent run of the main storyline, most of them are outright inevitable. Indeed, with my single campaign victory I managed to unlock 60% without evening thinking about it (although the many restarts and mishaps on the way will have added a nice chunk to that total).

To really make this journal interesting, I’m going to proceed with Classic difficulty as my standard for the remaining achievements. Anyone with sense would try to unlock as many achievements as possible on the lower difficulties – for example, I have yet to complete the achievement for completing the game from each of the five continents, or to research the entire technology tree. These are trifling matters on Normal, requiring little more than a time commitment. But that’s not my style: I’m in this for a challenge and to hopefully produce some interesting stories. This is XCOM, the hard way!

Here’s a rundown of some of the more difficult tasks I’ll be trying to achieve:

No Looking Back

I know I’ll be able to crack this one: beating the game on Classic (or impossible) Ironman difficulty. This is my current short-term goal, completed by just 1.5% of players. It’s worth noting that beating this should bag me the Earth First achievement for free, for completing Classic without Iron Man (also working noting that just 5.22% have got this far. Ouch)


This is an example of how achievements can actually tangibly change a gameplay experience. The goal is to mind-control one of the game’s toughest aliens: the psionically gifted Ethereals. These spooky, graceful creatures are the masterminds of the alien invasion, and have very high psi-defence. This is a challenging achievement on normal difficulty – but on classic? Sheesh, it’s going to stretch me.

Our Final Hour

This is one of the least-obtained achievements: complete the game on Impossible difficulty, unlocked by just 0.7% of players. I’ll permit myself to disable Ironman for this one (I may repeat the occasional important mission, but I’ll take care not to abuse it and avoid the dreaded ‘save-scumming’).

Ain’t No Cavalry Comin’

The final achievement which gives me cold sweats is to keep a soldier alive through every mission in a full game. EVERY MISSION? That’s a huge ask on Classic difficulty. Not only does my chosen soldier need to survive each mission he plays – they also can’t afford to miss one due to injury.

The Other Achievements

In exciting news for most XCOM fans (but rather daunting for myself), rumours are swirling about the imminent announcement for a new expansion (or possibly DLC) for XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Various leaks have been cropping up of late, but none more conclusive than the addition of (a frankly terrifying) 30 new achievements. Precisely what these achievements are, or how they can be unlocked, remains a mystery. I’ve got quite a bit of work to do before these extra mysteries become a problem – but I think it’s fair to assume that my road just got longer.

[Update: as of today, 21st August 2013, XCOM: Enemy Within has been officially revealed. Stay tuned for next week’s Journal, where I’ll share my thoughts]

Progress Report

I’m only a week into a very long road, but with each update I want to post a set of stats which show how I’m getting along. These may or may not be interesting, but might provide some interesting analysis for regular readers.

In this first report, I’ll explain what I mean by each stat, and link back to this section in future journals for the sake of clarity.

Almost immediately after last week’s success, I blew my way through several single-player campaigns with a notable lack of dignity. I did manage to make a breakthrough in the multi-player game, however, unlocking two new achievements in the process.

Hours Played: 9
This is the approximate amount of time I’ve played the game, judged crudely against the clock and usually totalled up in half-hour intervals. I did consider using Steam’s “hours played” statistics – but that’s even cruder, counting time idling in menus and not including play while offline (which is surprisingly often at the moment, given a spate of connectivity issues).

Operations: 16
By “operations” I mean any time spent on the single-player battlefield. These include abduction missions, hostage rescue/escort, terror missions and UFO raids.

Aliens Killed: 84
Simple as: the total number of individual aliens (including robots) that I’ve killed. Aliens killed on a failed mission still count. As I’m playing ironman, there are no re-loads, so there’s no chance that any of these count twice. It’s worth adding that Thomas Thomas has accounted for 21% of these kills.

Soldiers Lost: 31
The shocking truth of how many XCOM soldiers are killed during operations. Thomas Thomas has yet to be counted among these statistics.

Flawless Victories: 3
These are are, despite last week’s success. I count a flawless victory as a mission where no soldier is killed or wounded. If a soldier is hit but only takes a single point of damage and is not wounded after the mission (ie, has to take time out to recover), I’ll count that as a flawless victory, thankyouverymuch

Total Wipeouts: 5
When things go wrong, they really go wrong. A total wipeout is a mission which I not only fail, but from which no soldier comes home alive.

Achievements Unlocked: 2
This is why we’re all here, right?

Overall Progress

Achievements Unlocked: 41% (35 /85)
Confirmed Kills: (500*) + 84
Campaigns Started: 13
Campaigns Won: 1
Hours Played: 79

* As I suggested last week, I’ve unlocked an achievement for killing 500 aliens – but beyond that, I have no way of knowing how many hostiles I’ve killed. I’ll assume 500 as my base for statistical analysis, though.


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