XCOM 2 Analysis: Difficulty Levels

XCOM 2's four difficulties are Rookie, Regular, Commander, and Legendary. That's in order from easiest to toughest.

The first three are largely the same at the strategic scale. Item costs are the same, resource intake is the same, time taken to construct facilities, scan Rumors, etc etc, is all the same or only slightly tweaked. The majority of the differences in these difficulties are in the tactical elements, with your soldier HP lowering as you go up in difficulty, enemy stats rising as you go up in difficulty, soldiers leveling slower, etc. I won't be covering most of these points in this post, as most of them will be covered incidentally in the enemy analysis posts and whatnot.

There are two notable exceptions I will cover.

First of all, the Avatar Project. As you go up in these first three difficulties, the pace at which blocks fill in accelerates, Rookie difficulty gives you twice as many days before a game over if the bar completely fills, and Avatar Project facility placement changes: If you're playing on Regular or Rookie, every Facility is placed exactly 2 contacts out from your current contacts, ensuring that if you wait until your first Facility is placed before contacting new regions you'll be able to reach it with your initial Contact count, and also making Avatar Project Facility placement pretty predictable in general. On Commander difficulty, the general placement range is now 1-6 contacts out, potentially creating a punishing distance to cover with one Facility followed by the next being directly adjacent to a region you're already in contact with... except that the first Facility is always placed exactly three contacts out, ensuring it's impossible to reach it without raising your Contact limit. Legendary difficulty instead has the general Facility generation 2-6 contacts out, refusing to let you luck into a directly adjacent Facility, but it also has the first Facility always generate exactly two contacts away like the lower difficulties, instead of Commander's three out.

Commander is also anomalous in that a newly-constructed Avatar Project Facility has a 25% chance of generating with 2 blocks. Legendary will only ever generate with 1 block, just like Rookie and Regular. Legendary difficulty also slows the rate at which Facilities generate new blocks of progress if there's more than 1 Avatar Project Facility on the map, almost doubling the time between new blocks being generated by Avatar Project Facilities.

The overall result is that Commander actually has the most luck-based, potentially intense strategic layer, as the game dangles the first Facility just out of your immediate reach and is perfectly happy to plunk down a series of 2-block Facilities unreasonable distances away. (This is admittedly unlikely, but it's possible, and I've had runs where two 2-block Facilities spawned 5 contacts out) This is particularly killer in the base game, where you have no access to Sabotage-the-Resistance-Order nor Sabotage-the-Covert-Op. Legendary isn't babying you like Regular and Rookie are, but it's a more stable experience where your planning skills are much more important than the RNG's results, compared to Commander.

Notably, destroying a Facility always delays Avatar Project block generation for a fixed period of time, with this delay unaffected by difficulty. It's thus more useful to be able to steadily hit Facilities and knock them out, rather than eg suddenly making contact with and destroying two in a row. This contributes to Legendary's Avatar Project Facility generation actually being less menacing than Commander's.

The second point I'm covering is Aim Assist. On every difficulty except Legendary, the game secretly cheats for you in tactical combat, with the cheating being more intense on lower difficulties. The prior game did this too, but only on the lower two difficulties. This is one of the adjustments I'm not a fan of: in the prior game, playing on Classic was an honest iteration of the game, and Impossible was True Hard Mode. In XCOM 2, Commander is clearly meant, like Classic was, to be the default representation of the play experience, and Legendary is not merely True Hard Mode but is honestly basically a whole different game as I'll be getting into more later... but Commander is still cheating for you? That's just obnoxious.

As for the specifics of this cheating and how it changes with difficulty...

Firstly, with any shot with a greater than 50% listed chance of hitting the enemy the game starts being willing to cheat in Aim bonuses for you. On Rookie, it flatly multiplies your final Aim by 1.2: a 50% chance to hit will become a 60% chance to hit, for example. Regular reduces this to a 1.1 multiplier, and Commander finally reduces it to listed accuracy being correct-by-default. But wait! There's more! On Rookie and Regular, every time one of your soldiers misses, your entire squad is secretly given +10 Aim until someone finally lands a hit. On Commander, this boost for missing actually rises to +15 Aim! That basically means a missed shot is Holo Targeting the enemy!

Second, on Rookie and Regular suffering casualties boosts your squad's Aim by +10 per downed soldier (Starting once you drop below 4 soldiers) and subtracts -10 Aim from all Aliens, limiting the ability for things to go tremendously wrong, particularly early in the game when your squad size is small. Since enemy Aim is also lower on lower difficulties, this can rapidly lead to enemies having a 0% chance to hit soldiers who are in High Cover, or even Low Cover.

Third, on Rookie each time your enemies successfully land a hit, they all suffer -10 Aim for, as far as I'm aware, the entire rest of the mission. As far as I'm aware this stacks infinitely, too. This is slightly mitigated by how many enemies have ways to do damage that don't check Aim, but still.

One subtle detail that's not Aim Assist per se but is the same secret-cheating-for-the-player dynamic: when a shot misses a target standing in Cover, it's possible for the shot to destroy the Cover. If you're not playing on Legendary, the game cheats for you and ensures Cover currently in use by your soldiers will never be destroyed by these missed shots, making it a mechanic that can only ever benefit you. In fact, missed shots can destroy the ground a soldier is standing on, dropping them down and causing fall damage! This makes taking high ground in the form of buildings more of a double-edged sword on Legendary, because the ground your soldiers are standing on is included in this 'randomly destructible unless player is using it' cheating.

There's a limit to the game's willingness to cheat for the player, with the secret Aim boosts being unable to push the final number further than 95% chance to hit, but... yikes, that's a lot of cheating, and a lot of lying.

Fortunately, XCOM 2 is a lot easier to mod than its predecessor. Want to play a lower difficulty without the game cheating for you? Open up DefaultGameCore, ctrl-F 'aimassist', and you'll be taken right to the relevant values. Change everything to match the 'Legend' entry, then scroll back up to 'XComIndestructibleCoverMaxDifficulty' and set its '3' to a 0, then save your text file. Boom! Legendary-level lack-of-cheating without Legendary's statlines. That makes the cheating a little less painful, somewhat, even if I'm pained to learn that it doesn't completely go away on the third difficulty like in the prior game. The lower two difficulties actually present themselves as training wheels difficulties, so that's vaguely appropriate, but it's incredibly frustrating to learn that the difficulty that presents itself as a real challenge is still babying you.

Anyway, that pretty well covers everything below Legendary I'm going to discuss in detail in this post.

Legendary is going to be most of this post because it's basically a completely different game. Resource relationships are different. Time pressure relationships are different. How soon you expect to get a given thing online relative to enemies is different. It's not 'Commander, but longer and harder and minus the secret cheating'. It's just... a radically different experience.

This is slightly less true in War of the Chosen, as one of the big things Legendary does is to so dramatically extend injury times -having made it a lot harder to avoid injuries, keep in mind- that it's not feasible to constantly field the same six soldiers throughout the campaign... which the Fatigue system has already busted. Thus, in the base game you have to hire soldiers on Legendary, treating injury time somewhat like Fatigue in War of the Chosen in terms of forcing you to build a more broadly experienced squad, whereas in War of the Chosen the game already expects you to have a large stable of soldiers you're training up simultaneously, to the point that War of the Chosen outright has you start with more soldiers than the base game.

But Legendary is still a very different experience even in War of the Chosen.

Strategically, in addition to the many Item and weapon costs I've been listing in other posts, you have several other strategic resource considerations changed. First of all, Intel:

Intel: 50/40/30/60

The above is how much Intel you start a run with on Rookie/Regular/Commander/Legendary difficulties. It goes down until you hit Legendary, at which point it doubles. This might seem curiously generous, but the vast majority of Intel costs are doubled compared to Commander. Doubling your starting amount is, for most purposes, effectively just your Intel staying the same. By a similar token, you actually get twice as much Intel from researching ADVENT Datapads and their Alien equivalent... though they also take longer to research, because every research takes longer on Legendary, so in practice they're still less efficient.

I'm not going to list off the Instant thresholds for every enemy, but Legendary does, in fact, raise the Instant requirements on Autopsies, enough so that even though Legendary crams more enemies into missions and has you doing more missions relative to most forms of progress you will still tend to take longer in multiple senses to hit a given Instant threshold than on the lower difficulties.

Mostly, at least. It's... applied a bit unevenly. Most enemies have their Instant threshold raised by roughly 50%. Some of them are far outside this range, though, such as Gatekeepers jumping from needing three corpses to needing nine. In the other direction, Chryssalids go from needing 15 bodies for an Instant Autopsy to... 20. A 33% increase. You're actually notably more likely to unlock Hellweave in a Legendary run than on lower difficulties, bizarrely enough.

... actually, Rookie also has lower counts required for Instant Autopsies than Regular and Commander, but, again, I'm not going to list off individual cases. It's mostly on the order of 75~% of the numbers needed on the middle two difficulties, and it's really just one more way Rookie is babying the player.

Anyway, returning to Intel...

Revealing a hidden Dark Event: 30 Intel on Legendary, instead of 25 on lower difficulties

... Legendary does raise the cost of revealing a hidden Dark Event, but only marginally, and it's easily drowned out by how much more Intel you get from Intel rewards and all. If you're normally reluctant to spend Intel on revealing a Dark Event, consider actually doing so on Legendary.

Or, you know, cheat by revealing and then immediately reloading so you know what it was without the game charging you Intel. This... remains one of the dumber mechanics in XCOM 2...


Making contact with a new region: 80 Intel on Legendary, as opposed to 40 on Commander and 30 on other difficulties

Yeah, the lower two difficulties are even babying you when it comes to expanding your regional reach.

Legendary, meanwhile, isn't actually making things particularly harder compared to Commander due to the aforementioned tendency for Intel to be doubled all-around. Furthermore, your ability to spend Intel on expansion has been slowed, as contacting new regions has gone from taking 3-5 days on other difficulties to 6-8 days on Legendary. That's doubling the minimum contact time, though only a 40% increase to the maximum contact time. This has the side effect of making RNG a lot less swingy a factor to the strategy layer, weirdly, which is consistent with the Avatar Project Facility stuff being made less swingy on Legendary than Commander.

Contributing to the point is that radio relays have their progressive cost increase go up faster on Legendary. On lower difficulties, it's a 25% increase per radio relay. On Legendary, it's a 66% increase per! (Note: the game has radio relay costs increment solely in units of 25 Supplies, so the 50 Supply cost for your first radio relay is followed by 75 Supplies for your second below Legendary, not 62.5) They also take longer to build, going from 2-4 days to 5-7 days. So more than doubling the minimum build time and increasing the maximum by 75%... and making RNG notably less influential, again.

Between contacts taking longer and radio relays taking longer, on Legendary your ability to spend Intel on contacts is slowed dramatically in real terms because you take forever to actually get from one contact to the next. Especially since you should be building radio relays to not only save on Intel costs but to pick up continent bonuses, especially in War of the Chosen where most continent bonuses are solid-to-great. (The base-game continent bonuses range from 'game-changers that shouldn't have been continent bonuses because they're that good' to 'who cares?')

Also, all these delays are quite obviously why Avatar Project progress has been slowed down so much. On Legendary, it'll take you an average of 50~% longer to reach a new Facility, given the same number of contacts needed to reach it. If the Avatar Project progressed at its Commander speed, Legendary difficulty would be basically impossible.

On the topic of Avatar Project progress, Legendary also makes it so that plotpoints that undo progress undo more progress. Completing the Blacksite removes 2 blocks instead of 1, while the Forge and Psi Gate missions each remove 3 blocks instead of 2. Killing your first Codex removes 2 blocks instead of 1. Killing your first Avatar is special, because they screwed up the code. The config file has minimum and maximum values for how much can be removed: normally this doesn't matter because they're in lockstep (ie killing a Codex has, on Legendary, a minimum value of 2 and a maximum value of 2, producing no randomness whatsoever), but for your first Avatar the Commander difficulty entries only specify minimum 'doom' to remove and the Legendary difficulty entries only specify maximum 'doom' removal. As such, on Legendary difficulty it's completely possible for killing your first Avatar to remove no blocks whatsoever. (Not just hypothetically: I've literally had this happen to me) If you want to fix this, open up DefaultGameData in a text editor, ctl-f search for

KillAvatarMinDoom[2]=3 ;Classic

and replace the bottom four lines of 'KillAvataretc' with

KillAvatarMinDoom[2]=3 ;Classic
KillAvatarMinDoom[3]=4 ;Impossible

This will give the correct behavior for killing an Avatar on both Commander and Legendary. (Note that the above is for War of the Chosen: in the base game, Legendary difficulty is supposed to remove 6 'Doom', but the same error is still present)

Another related topic is that the Dark Event that accelerates Avatar Project Facility construction by 2 weeks on Legendary difficulty instead accelerates it by 4 weeks. That makes New Facility Construction slightly more of a priority to block on Legendary than on lower difficulties, at least prior to the late game.

Many other strategic activities take longer on Legendary while being a bit boring to talk about. These include:

Rookie training at GTS: 10 days instead of the usual 5 to reach Squaddie
Resetting a soldier's skills at the AWC/Training Center: 10 days instead of the usual 5
Removing a Phobia at the Infirmary: 10 days instead of the usual 5
Bond Level advancement at the Training Center: 6 days instead of the usual 3 for Bond Level 2, and then 12 days instead of 6 for Bond Level 3
Core Psi Operative training value: 25 days for an at-level skill, to the usual 10 days
Excavating Avenger rooms: Takes 3 times as long as on other difficulties. (Caveat: Clearing the top row takes one-third normal time on Legendary. Normally it takes half the normal time. As such, clearing the top row only takes twice as long on Legendary as on other difficulties, not three times as long)
Soldier wound recovery: Uses a 2.5 modifier instead of a 1.5 modifier, which should mean it takes around 40% longer for soldiers to recover on Legendary.
Tech rushing: Modifier is .25 instead of .50.

In the extreme long haul, most of these aren't terribly important because the overall campaign length is longer as well. The significance of them is instead in the mid-term, as the rate at which missions are foisted onto you isn't any different on Legendary. So for example Bond training on lower difficulties is often basically free because it tends to finish before a new mission is thrust upon you, where on Legendary it's much more likely that a mission will hit you while a given Bond pair is in training. Similarly, Psi Operatives you bother to send out before they're fully trained will do more missions at their lower levels of training than on lower difficulties, but relative to overall campaign advancement a Psi Operative you stick in the closet until they're finished will still come out well before you're ready to launch the final mission. (Assuming you broadly prioritized Psi Labs at the same rate and all)

Avenger excavation and wound recovery are the most interesting ones here. Wound recovery because of the point I noted before that in the base game Legendary forces you to have a much wider stable of soldiers to offset the greater tendency for soldiers to be out of action. Excavation because it actually has a fairly notable impact on how you prioritize excavations: in the base game, it's useful to clear the top row first, but not that useful, and I tend to much more heavily prioritize going for the nearest Exposed Power Coil, especially in the base game where your initial power is only enough for two facilities anyway. On Legendary it's much more worth considering prioritizing the top row to speed up initial facility construction, especially in War of the Chosen where you have three facilities of power to spend right out the gate and so want three rooms opened up as fast as possible.

I still heavily prioritize getting to the first Exposed Power Coil on Legendary, but it's not uncommon for me to clear out the top row before making progress in that direction due to the dramatic shift in what matters.

'Tech rushing' is a Black Market feature I personally literally never make use of, where each month the Black Market will randomly select some of your currently-available researches to be rushable. Below Legendary, there will be two such technologies chosen, and purchasing a rush will halve the time it takes to perform that research. On Legendary, there will be three such technologies chosen per month, and the modifier is instead .25. I assume that means it only shaves off 25% of the research time, because it seems exceedingly unlikely that the devs would let you shave off 75% of research in the difficulty level that's all about making things take longer, but I've never personally tested it so I suppose it's possible I'm wrong and rushing technology is actually amazingly broken on Legendary in specific.

I personally view rushing technology as a neat idea in theory but a waste of Intel in practice, as there's not really anything you can rush that you'd want to rush. It's not like you can rush Shadow Projects to hurry up the endgame. Rushing weapons technology or the like sounds nice in theory, but in practice resource burdens tend to much more delay your ability to leverage such researches than the actual research time. Compounding the issue is that the game is perfectly happy to pick Autopsies for rushing, when many of these should just be allowed to hit their Instant threshold, reducing the odds of the Black Market offering to rush a research you actually care about. Not helping is that some of the more appealing researches to rush in theory are fairly quick ones; Chosen loot, for example, costs nothing except lab time to unlock, and even the Disruptor Rifle is a pretty big leap in soldier performance. If they took a late-game lab 20-30 days to unlock, rushing them would be seriously worth considering. In practice they tend to take 5~ days, and it's not really worth the bother unless you're rolling in Intel and just trying to hurry up and finish the game while still wanting the cool toys.

On the topic of the Black Market, personnel bought from it cost about 11% more on Legendary, most items cost about 30% more, and there's a 'techpointspercost' value I have no idea what it means that's 82 instead of the usual 66. I would guess it has to do with the research rushing mechanic, but I'm not sure. Regardless, as I noted earlier multiple Intel intake sources are doubled on Legendary so in practice it's generally actually easier to justify buying something from the Black Market on Legendary, especially since the overall lower time pressure/longer time to make contacts and whatnot means it's a lot more likely you'll get more Intel out of a mission or the like before you next need it if you eg spend enough Intel you can't initiate another contact.

An Intel-related difference where I'm not sure what precisely it refers to is...

IntelBaseReward[3]=90 ;Impossible

... on lower difficulties, this number is only 80, suggesting that on Impossible you get a slightly larger Intel reward on... something. My best guess is this means Legendary only gives 12.5% more Intel from Neutralize VIP missions where you successfully capture the VIP, but I'm honestly not sure.

Returning to research for a second, Inspirations and Breakthroughs have longer timers for the minimum time until they're allowed to occur again and, in the case of Breakthroughs, the maximum time until they occur. (Yes, this means the lab is guaranteed to offer a minimum number of Breakthroughs over a given period of time, ignoring the part where researches take longer in general and so your opportunities for Breakthroughs are spaced farther apart by that. Regardless, Inspirations don't have an equivalent change, oddly) This barely matters overall since research time is so much longer in general, but it does mean that if you do have eg an ADVENT Datapad you can crack in 1-2 days it's slightly less worthwhile to consider doing so for purposes of fishing for Breakthroughs/Inspirations.

A related effect is that on Legendary what the game considers to be 'fast', 'normal', and 'slow' Research speeds is adjusted: normally Research is labeled 'fast' if it takes under 4 days and 'slow' if it takes more than 20 days. On Legendary, these values are doubled so that fast research is classed as taking less than 8 days and slow research as taking more than 40 days. This doesn't have any mechanical relevance, but is a nice touch for quickly communicating that you should expect everything to take longer on Legendary. It'd be discouraging and potentially confusing if basically everything was perpetually classed as slow or at best normal speed, potentially leaving players wondering what they're doing wrong.

Another opaque concept is the 'alien headquarters force level interval'. Legendary in specific raises the number used from 252 to 360. I suspect this is actually defining the rate at which the Force Level is raised, with Legendary being slower, as I know Legendary actually has a different, slower schedule in that regard, but it's possible this actually does something like define how dangerous the Alien HQ will be when you attack it. I'd be surprised, but it's not like I've tested this chunk of code extensively. If it does relate to Force Level, that would imply that Legendary takes 40~% longer to advance from one Force Level to the next. This is roughly consistent with my own play experience, where enemies take longer to update, but are overall updating faster relative to stuff like my research advancement and region contacting.

(What the heck is Force Level? That's for another post)

Additionally, the game has some opaque internal modifiers unique to Legendary regarding 'mission difficulty' (Legendary either adds 2 to the value or doubles it, I'm not sure which; adds seems most likely, but I'm not fully certain) and also has a maximum 'campaign difficulty' of 6 instead of 5. I'm not sure what these mean.

I do know, as I alluded to earlier, that Legendary raises the overall number of enemies you fight fairly drastically. As a concrete example to illustrate the point, let's talk about Gatecrasher, your first mission if you have the tutorial disabled. (By the way, you can't have the tutorial enabled on Legendary. You can have Lost And Abandoned on, though, even though it's pretty tutorial-y)

If you're playing on any difficulty below Legendary, Gatecrasher always has exactly two pods: one pod is three basic ADVENT Troopers, while the other pod is a basic ADVENT Officer and two basic ADVENT Troopers. If you're playing on Legendary, a third pod is wandering about, which is another Trooper led by a Sectoid! That's a 33% increase to how many enemies you fight in the very first mission, not to mention nearly doubling the HP of enemies on the map (Legendary Sectoids have 10 HP by themselves, which is only two less than a pod of three Troopers has between them), and is loosely representative of how Legendary scales up enemy counts. (Consistent with what I noted earlier that Instant Autopsy thresholds are mostly raised by roughly 50%; this is clearly to offset the increase in how many bodies you're collecting)

This has the odd side effect that Legendary difficulty has more reliable access to Psionics, since it's literally impossible to start a run without killing and looting everything in Gatecrasher. I mean, your very second mission is always guaranteed to have a Sectoid on it and if you accept failing it you really should just restart your run, and you can't complete a Sectoid Autopsy until you have your first Scientist and you can't research Psionics without some Elerium Crystals, so it basically doesn't matter... but it's still a bit interesting to me.

So let's wrap things up with some stuff pertaining to your soldiers. First up: costs.

Rookies: 40 per head.

Rookies cost around 40% more than on lower difficulties. This makes bonus soldiers a bit more valuable, which is a subtle example of War of the Chosen having less stark a contrast between Legendary and other difficulties: in the base game, gift soldiers exist exclusively in the form of being a possible reward from Guerrilla Ops, and take a while to even be possible, and are perpetually rare even once they're possible. In War of the Chosen, there are two new forms of VIP Extraction, both of which will have Squaddies of random regular classes (ie not Psi Operatives, Resistance classes, or SPARKs) that you can potentially extract and have permanently join you, with one early mission being guaranteed to be one of these two VIP Extraction types. Thus, in the base game you basically have to suck up the Rookie cost increase, where in War of the Chosen you not only have a larger initial set of soldiers but are guaranteed to pick up more intermittently if you bother to try to rescue them when the mission types crop up.

Shaken chance: 20/25/25/30

The Shaken mechanic in the base game has its chance of triggering slightly affected by difficulty, with Rookie having a slightly lower chance for a wounded soldier to end up Shaken and Legendary having a slightly higher chance. (I think this is for being just Wounded, as I'm pretty sure Gravely Wounded soldiers are guaranteed to end up Shaken)

And... as far as I'm aware, that's it! (For stuff that I'd want to put in this post, anyway)


So that's a reasonably complete summary of what Legendary difficulty does to assorted things I'll not be covering in other posts. (Or have covered elsewhere, but still felt worth repeating here)

Now, on the face of it, one might feel it's a bit pointless how Legendary makes a lot of things take longer but then makes other things also take longer by similar amounts so it's all the same thing in the end. This is a reasonable notion to jump to, but the thing is Legendary is very much not uniform in its time-altering effects.

First of all, the monthly Supply drop and, in War of the Chosen, associated opportunity to adjust your Resistance Orders is completely unaffected by difficulty. This means you get roughly the same amount of Supplies per month (Particularly in the base game, where Covert Ops and the Chosen don't exist to complicate your Supply intake), yet Legendary has drastically slowed down your ability to acquire new ways to spend Supplies. This is partially offset by Radio Relays and many assorted Items being more expensive, but overall on Legendary Supplies are actually a considerably less precious resource than on the lower difficulties. The only truly significant caveat here is the massive spike in how much you'll be spending at the Guerrilla Tactics School, and in practice enough of those bonuses are minor enough it's easy to justify putting them off in favor of buying other stuff, with minimal impact on your near future. Sure, +10 crit chance on your Sharpshooters isn't worthless, but it's not exactly crucial to have it in a specific timeframe.

Second of all, and related to the above, is that the majority of mission timetable considerations are completely unaltered. You still get one trio of Guerrilla Ops offered per month, the Spokesman still hurls a mission your way each month, you still get Supply Raids at the same rate. (Every other month, specifically) This is another contributor to Supplies being relatively high, since VIP-related missions always provide Supplies, as do Supply Raids.

Third, plot missions are still occurring at your discretion, and while they're affected by all the contact mechanics being lengthened, it's still the case that eg the Blacksite is something you'll have access to very early. All three plot missions -the Blacksite, Psi Gate, and Forge missions- provide a notable injection of Supplies, further contributing to Supplies tending to be vastly more abundant on Legendary.

Other timetable stuff also has uneven, different handling, like how the Chosen-hunting Covert Ops all take twice as long on Legendary as on lower difficulties. Notably, Knowledge gain on Chosen is not significantly affected by Legendary: on Commander, it's actually pretty easy, if you know what you're doing, to finish off every single Chosen with them never having an opportunity to perform an assault on the Avenger. On Legendary, it's extremely likely that your initial and/or second Chosen will manage such an assault before you manage to kill them, simply because it takes you so much longer to hunt them while their Knowledge gain is more or less the same. Maybe even higher in real terms since you're more likely to end up letting them Extract Knowledge or even Kidnap someone.

This kind of stuff is why I say Legendary is basically an entirely different game from the lower difficulties. On Commander, Supplies will frequently be one of your most limiting resources because you're perpetually picking up ways to spend them, faster than you can bring them in. On Legendary, it's not unusual for you to spend a solid month sitting on 200+ Supplies because all the things you actually want to spend them on are waiting to be unlocked and it's not really worth spending them on what things you can buy right now, at least not so much as to wipe the entire stock. (That is, you might buy a couple of Medikits or something, but not 200+ Supplies worth)

The tactical combat is less dramatic in its differences -if we ignore the cheating, at least, which I do since I disabled it pretty much immediately after I learned it was a thing and so when I'm talking about Commander difficulty's tactical combat I'm talking from the perspective of someone who has had cheating off for 99% of their Commander difficulty play- but it's still pretty notable, particularly in the early game. Below Legendary, your first Overwatch ambush is often basically a guaranteed wipe of an entire pod, when 3 pods is the norm for a long time. On Legendary, Concealment still often lets you wipe out your first pod very safely, but it's less reliable and since there's more pods you're spending more time on Real Fights instead of on one-sided stomps.

But the strategic game is seriously just plain different. If you're a big fan of XCOM 2, you should give Legendary a try at least once even if you're not looking to push yourself. In some ways it's actually easier than Commander difficulty, in fact, particularly in War of the Chosen.

Caveat: if you have Alien Hunters, for the base game I'd strongly recommend you enable the Nest and then never go there. Base-game Legendary difficulty is simply not tuned with the Alien Rulers in mind, and their tendency to unavoidably and unexpectedly injure your entire squad is vastly more punishing on Legendary than on lower difficulties. With the Nest enabled, Alien Rulers simply refuse to spawn until you've hit it, and so it functions as a way to essentially disable them.


Next time, we get started on Resistance Orders by covering the Reaper ones.

See you then.


  1. Isn't Gatecrasher on legendary 3poded with 8 enemies (3 grunts+officer and 2 grunts+sectoid and 1 grunt)?

    1. Hmm. I'll definitely be paying attention the next time I boot up a Legendary run, to check.

    2. Yeah, corrected. Think I was being thrown by how their huge HP makes that still comparable in overall durability to the Officer+2 Troopers pod.

  2. I'm in the lategame of my first Legendary campaign, and overall I think I like it. In War of the Chosen in particular, the amount of time it takes to do Covert Ops actually forced me to do some strategic thinking as to which ops I actually want to get done on a particular month. On lower difficulties, it's almost a no-brainer for me to be able to do everything you want from the month's offerings, unless all of them were *really* good or something, it was just a matter of which one I wanted first (which was typically Reduce Avatar Progress). Overall, the strategy layer was indeed easier - I've never felt any pressure from the Avatar project whatsoever compared to when I was playing on Commander. In fact I've managed to knock *all* the pips off the Avatar Project for the first time, and went and did the Codex Brain mission anyway because there was nothing else left to do lol.

    The biggest flaw of Legendary for me is that it makes the late-game even more boring, just because everything is longer. I suppose this depends on playstyle, but I like taking some time to get all the tech and kill all the Chosen and not rush through the story. The tactical game in the early to mid-game is a huge challenge, but even in Legendary lategame XCOM basically curbstomps all the aliens. And while waiting for the Chosen stronghold covert ops and Shadow chamber reaserch etc. the generic missions are still coming in. So when a Guerilla Op or whatever triggers I've just been messing around with the squad composition and such. What if I bring three sharpshooters? What if I bring Colonel, Major, three Sergeants and a Squaddie? Regardless of what squad I bring at this point I could trigger half the map and clean up with no damage.

    I've actually seen XCOM 2 streamers/LPers online just skip missions in Legendary lategame until they get the Network Tower to show up. After spending five real-world hours just waiting for the mandatory endgame stuff to progress (including playing all the offered missions in the meantime) I kinda understand. I've also seen people say they basically restart the campaign once they get all the tech and kill all the Chosen. I mean, boring endgame has always been a flaw of XCOM 2/WotC (and EU/EW I presume) but Legendary just makes it even more apparent by the way things take more time.

    1. The endgame being tedious is a problem that goes all the way back to the Gollop X-COMs; I've strictly never beaten Apocalypse, for example, because I've gotten into the endgame state where it's obvious I'm GOING to win, but I'll have to slog through several more hours to get the game to credit me it. (And my original run had the computer it was on die before I could scrape together the motivation and time to actually do it) Even Chimera Squad suffers from this, even though it puts you a lot more on rails; once I got a handle on the strategic scale and all, it became normal for me to have absolutely no room for improvement before I was even halfway through the third Investigation, leaving a long stretch of kinda-empty gameplay to work through.

      I actually think Legendary War of the Chosen is the least bad about this, though. Firstly, the Chosen give the late game something to do other than filler missions that don't matter; in the base game, below Legendary, I've had multiple runs end up rapidly getting access to and clearing the Forge and Psi Gate, at which point the run is suddenly left with more than a month of Shadow Projects to wait on and only the Avatar sneak peek fight to break up things. Between Fatigue forcing me to pace out plot missions to avoid overloading my squads and the Chosen adding important challenge missions with nice rewards for the late game, in War of the Chosen I've never had such a severe 'hurry up and wait' experience, and Legendary's tweaks making it basically impossible to start attacking Chosen before you're solidly in the late game cements the point by ensuring all three Chosen missions occur late in the run. (Where down on Commander it's not unusual for me to take out one of the Chosen before I've even researched Elerium)

      And to be fair, I'm not sure how one would fully fix the issue; part of the problem is balancing keeping the game accessible to first-time players against keeping it interesting for experienced players. My first run of base XCOM 2 was horribly inefficient and cautious and ended up with the pacing close to perfect -I ended up waiting a week to unlock the Network Tower, but that just meant one more mission, which was fine. It was only later, as I knew what I was doing, that I got ahead of the metaphorical curve and then running into having to seriously wait on Shadow Projects and so on. This progression is probably more or less universal in broad terms.

    2. Lol, it's a running joke in the XCOM community that if you get good/lucky enough to start winning, the game will bork your save and thus the entire campaign. In your case, the entire computer! Well, that's XCOM, baby.

      On a more serious note, I can only imagine how much more tedious Legendary would be in the base game. I did one Rookie run of base XCOM 2 (with Alien Hunters and Shen's Last Gift, since they all come together on console), went WotC on my next campaign and never looked back. I do like that the Chosen got to shut me down more often in Legendary; on my current campaign the Warlock and Hunter assaulted me twice apiece before I got rid of them. The Assassin never had a chance, but that's because it took me until I contacted literally half the world until I discovered her (exactly on my eighth contact). I think on Commander the Chosen Avenger Assault happened just once. The only drawback is that the Avenger Assault missions (both versions) are a real dog on the Switch thanks to the size of the maps and number of enemies.

      Since I recently got X:EU/EW and X2/WotC as a package during a Steam sale my next run will probably be on PC, though I think I'd be focusing on Long War Rebalance for now.


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