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XCOM is the Extraterrestrial Combat project, founded by the Council of Nations to fight the aliens.
- Airborne Aircraft Carrier: XCOM's mobile base of operations in XCOM 2, the Avenger is this. Though technically, it's an old alien transport ship extensively modified with human technology.
- Badass Army: Eventually, XCOM soldiers can become this, so long as they get back alive after each mission.
- Due to the Dead: XCOM makes a point to always honor those who've sacrificed their lives against the alien threat.
- Elaborate Underground Base: XCOM's main HQ is this in general, no matter where on Earth it's located. In X-Com: UFO Defense, X-COM can have more than one.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Over the course of the various games, XCOM goes from being constantly at the ropes to becoming mankind's premier military force against the aliens.
- He Who Fights Monsters: A recurring concern among various XCOM personnel, especially as its scientists - and the soldiers their findings - incorporate more and more advanced alien technology.
- It's Up to You: In just about every incarnation. Justified in that XCOM is stated to be humanity's first and last line of defence.
- La Resistance: In XCOM 2, it becomes an underground network and eventually, a vanguard for the Resistance.
- Multinational Team: It's comprised of scientists, engineers and military personnel from various Council nations, though not exclusively from those countries.
- NGO Superpower: XCOM is nominally funded by several governments, but if it can get on a roll of looting UFOs and selling their technology, it can earn enough money to become fully independent.
- Even without achieving monetary independence, XCOM is permitted extremely broad license with only modest oversight — they launch fighter craft and deploy soldiers around the world, entirely outside of any nation's chain of command. The only unforgivable offenses that XCOM can commit are ignoring terror missions (in Enemy Unknown and Within, or the equivalent "Retaliation Missions" in XCOM 2) or incorrectly accusing a country of being the location of EXALT HQ (EW).
- Terror from the Deep meanwhile portrays X-COM, while still nominally funded by governments and corporations, as being a private enterprise.
- No Such Agency: Save for the Council and select groups within the sponsoring countries, no one's really aware of XCOM's existence in general.
- Redshirt Army: The HQ's security personnel, aka the ones not sent into combat against the aliens are effectively this.
- Retroactive Continuity: XCOM's backstory as of XCOM 2 reveals that the "present" organization was established in 1993 by the Council of Nations. While this may be seen as a partial Mythology Gag to the original X-COM it's also hinted to be an in-verse Retcon erasing XCOM's origins in the Bureau.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: XCOM 2 reveals that despite having lost the war against the aliens, XCOM refused to disband in order to fight another day, even it took decades.
- Spell My Name with a "-": In the original series (UFO Defense through Enforcer), the organization's name is spelled with a hyphen ("X-COM"). It is spelled without in the reboot ("XCOM"), although the game logos retain a "negative space" through the "COM" suggestive of a dash.
In most of the XCOM games, the player takes on the role of the nebulous "Commander" of XCOM.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: It's implied that the Commander has quite the resume before taking up the position in XCOM.
- Featureless Protagonist: In some of the cutscenes in XCOM 2, the player is addressed by the other characters, and the camera appears to be the player viewpoint. In the finale, the Commander takes the field personally, with the appropriately-named "Avatar" unit, which is also featureless.
- Legendary in the Sequel: The Commander in XCOM 2, given the awed comments from various characters.
- Non-Entity General: In most of the XCOM games, the player is referred to by in-game reports and characters, but otherwise has no presence in-game. Averted towards the end of XCOM 2, however. In which you control the Commander's Avatar.
- The Strategist: The commander is (i.e. you are) the strategic mastermind behind humanity's defense against the aliens. Without you, Earth is doomed. Most of the years leading up to XCOM 2 were apparently spent trying to find you and rescue you from alien captivity where the aliens were using you as their own strategist.
- Video Game Caring Potential/Video Game Cruelty Potential: Depending on the player's actions, the Commander can come across as either a Benevolent Boss or a Bad Boss.
Central Officer John Bradford
Central Officer Bradford is the main character that XCOM players interact with. He tracks the status of soldiers, missions, and the XCOM agency itself, and reports it to the player.
- Audience Surrogate: Bradford is not a brilliant scientist like Vahlen, either of the Shens, or Tygan, so they get to explain things to him while we listen in.
- Badass: We don't get this shown in the first game, but considering he spent almost two decades outrunning and surviving the forces of ADVENT by XC2, he'd have to be one to survive that long.
- Badass Baritone: Has acquired one since the first game, partially due to age, and partially due to a lot of Drowning My Sorrows in between games.
- Badass Grandpa: At about the right age for the trope by XC2. He even proves it by leading the initial mission himself, which involved him not only fighting on the front lines, he earlier went as a defenseless civilian to serve as a distraction to set the mission up.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: He definitely didn't earn his rank by kissing posterior. By XCOM 2, not only does he personally help in rescuing the Commander but also leads the squad sent to look for Dr. Vahlen's whereabouts personally in the Alien Hunters DLC.
- The Chains of Commanding: He takes the responsibilities that come with leading and sending soldiers to danger - and possible death - very seriously.
- Drives Like Crazy: Some of the Avenger chatter in XCOM 2 paints him as this, but he says that anyone who has a problem with his flying is welcome to take the helm...
- Drowning My Sorrows: How he spent a good portion of his time in hiding between XCOM: EU/EW and 2
- Eagleland: He's very much an American officer. Which is further confirmed in XCOM 2, revealing that he's from Kansas.
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: As second only to the Commander, aka you, he's effectively this.
- Memetic Outfit: His green sweater. He even remarks on missing it in the second game.
- The Men First: He makes a tremendous effort to make this trope paramount, especially by XCOM 2.
- Not So Above It All: In one piece of base chatter in XCOM: EU, he has this to say:
Bradford: Are you really using our tracking terminal to play Civilization?! At least I hope you're planning for a military victory.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: His real name is mentioned on occasion, especially his last name, but he gets called "Central" (his nom de guerre/codename) so often you'd think it was his actual name.
- Older and Wiser: In XCOM 2, given his more sober and grounded composure.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Bradford shows signs of this in XCOM 2, which given his failure in stopping the alien invasion back in XCOM: EU/EW is rather justified.
- Stop Helping Me!: In XCOM 2, he constantly expresses concern whenever the Avatar Project moves closer to completion.
- Suicidal Overconfidence: He's so gung-ho he's almost manic at times in XC1. He not only lost this by XC2, he even bitterly remarks on his former foolish optimism.
- Team Dad: By XCOM 2, he's become this to XCOM and implied to be one for Shen's daughter especially.
- The Watson: In XCOM: EU/EW, much of his dialog is asking one of the doctors to explain what something is.
Dr. Vahlen is the chief scientist of XCOM in XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within. She's quite enthusiastic about getting to research aliens and their technology, and not terribly concerned about the human cost of the missions to retrieve them.
- Herr Doktor: Dr. Vahlen's a German scientist with a rather brutal streak and a knack for "interrogating" captured aliens. And she's one of the good guys.
- Hot Scientist: Downplayed, but she's rather easy on the eyes while staying completely professional.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: The peculiar method that's used to "interrogate" captive aliens is of her design. Notably, the interrogation consumes a captive from XCOM's inventory. A line from Bradford after "retrieving" a VIP (implied to be an EXALT operative) implies that she has experience handling humans as well:
Bradford: Excellent work, Commander. Our friend here might be uncooperative at the moment, but I have a feeling a talk with Dr. Vahlen will change his tune."
- Last-Name Basis: We know the first names of the other officers of XCOM, but not hers. The backstory of XCOM 2 however reveals her first name to be Moira.
- Mad Doctor/Mad Scientist: She's primarily a research scientist, but she is also apparently responsible for overseeing the operations to gene-mod soldiers and turn them into MECs, so she must have some medical background. The Alien Hunters DLC for XCOM 2 meanwhile implies that she might have gotten a bit more obsessed in the years following the Alien Invasion.
- Memetic Molester: Her "interrogations" have helped give her this reputation among fans.
- Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate: Hard to say which end of the morality scale she's on most of the time. She does have standards even she won't cross and shows clear revulsion at the cruelty and barbarism the aliens will and EXALT (In EW) will sink to to achieve their goals, but at the same time is almost fanatically encouraging about using alien tech to improve your forces and her interrogation techniques are implied to be so brutal Josef Mengele himself would cringe.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The Alien Hunters DLC reveals that she underwent this upon realising what her attempts to reverse-engineer the aliens themselves have wrought.
- Pet the Dog: Occasionally, she'd comment approvingly if soldiers return from a mission unscathed.
- Stop Helping Me!: She will "helpfully" chide players who use explosives on aliens that she hasn't dissected or interrogated. Presumably, she'd rather sacrifice a few troopers to get the corpses in better condition.
- Volcano Lair: Apparently, this is where she spent her time between XCOM:EU/EW and 2.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Dr. Vahlen's "missing" in XCOM 2, though there are scattered in-game hints that she's still out there. The Alien Hunters DLC confirms that she's still out there, but had unwittingly unleashed her experimental "Rulers" upon the world.
Dr. Raymond Shen
Dr. Shen is the chief engineer of XCOM in XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within.
- Actor Allusion: Downplayed, but Shen is pretty much a foil to his voice actor's previous role as the man seen in the Dharma Initiative films.
- Admiring the Abomination: Initially, he's astounded by the advanced knowledge and technology possessed by the aliens. It doesn't take long however before he becomes outright afraid of wanting to know more. At one point even muttering with a mix of dread and disgust, "I've seen enough."
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: He's not much fond of automated robots, let alone armed ones. Though his titular final gift in the Shen's Last Gift DLC shows that he got over that in creating the SPARK instead of the MECs in EU/EW.
- Cool Old Guy: Dr. Shen might not be a grandfather, but he definitely exhibits this trope.
- I Did What I Had to Do: The tone in his voice when XCOM starts deploying MEC troopers suggests this; he doesn't take pleasure in the procedure, but knows it has to be done to fight the aliens.
- The Heart: He somewhat takes up this role in XCOM, at least compared to Dr. Vahlen.
- Heroic BSOD: After a while, he loses all interest in acquiring more alien technology, after "seeing enough" of what they're capable of.
- Heroic Sacrifice: The Avenger in XCOM 2 is implied to be his final masterwork. It's up to the Commander's actions however whether his efforts would be vindicated or all for nothing.
- The Shen's Last Gift DLC however reveals that he left behind one more piece for XCOM. The robotic SPARK class.
- The Men First: In contrast to Dr. Vahlen, he's much more adamant in insisting that human lives come first.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The lengths that XCOM is willing to go to — splicing humans with alien DNA, or chopping them up into cyborgs — inspires this feeling in him.
- Nothing Is the Same Anymore: Dr. Shen brings up how, even if humanity succeeds in fighting off the aliens, there's no going back to the way things were before the invasion.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: His accent is vaguely Chinese, though XCOM 2 confirms that he's Taiwanese.
Big Sky is the (callsign of the) Skyranger pilot in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The Alien Hunters DLC for XCOM 2 reveals that he's alive, alongside Dr. Vahlen.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Nobody ever calls him anything but "Big Sky."
General Peter Van Doorn
Peter Van Doorn is a VIP who needs rescuing from a Council mission in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. He is very grateful for the rescue and provides some resources as mission rewards.
The mission was not particularly well-liked, but he won some fans with his can-do attitude, even under fire. Popular XCOM streamer Beaglerush named one of his recruits after Van Doorn, and after said trooper became a valuable member of the squad, the Long War developers modified the mission rewards so that he will actually join XCOM after being rescued.
- Ascended Extra: He not only becomes a playable member of XCOM in Long War, but also returns as a powerful recruit in XCOM 2.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Generals usually don't go to the front lines, but Van Doorn sure can wield a gun.
- Bald of Awesome: He's got one.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Even when pinned down by aliens and unarmed, he shouts one-liners like "Get down here! Not fair if I have all the fun!"
- Determinator: "Come on! I won't go down without a fight!" In Long War, he comes with the "Implacable" perk that grants immunity to chain-panic.
- Fearless Fool: In XCOM 2, Bradford gets this impression of him:
Bradford: "We're picking up an unsecured transmission from some clown calling himself 'Van Doorn'. Doesn't sound like the kind of recruit we're looking for."
The Council of Funding Nations (X-COM: UFO Defense), Funding Organizations (Terror from the Deep) or "The Council" (XCOM: EU/EW) is a collection of 16 nations that funds the XCOM project.
- The Alliance: The Council generally comprises major countries from each continent.
- Black Market: XCOM can discreetly sell alien corpses or scavenged tech to interested Council nations for additional funding. In addition, some Council nations may make requests in exchange for additional funds or staff.
- Cosmopolitan Council: It includes countries from all inhabited continents.
- Godzilla Threshold: Such is the urgency of the alien threat that the Council in general is incredibly lenient when it comes to collateral damage. So long as XCOM gets the job done.
- Government Conspiracy: A rather benevolent example. In its Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within incarnation at least, the Council makes an effort to both conceal the full extent of the alien threat and XCOM's existence from the public. This is largely to maintain some semblance of stability and allow XCOM to do its job.
- La Resistance: Takes up the Council's role in XCOM 2, being comprised of various resistance movements against ADVENT.
- Les Collaborateurs/The Quisling: Countries will defect if they think XCOM isn't doing a good enough job, and in XCOM 2, it is revealed that every member (save the Spokesman) is subsumed into ADVENT.
- NGO Superpower: In TFTD, the Council includes some corporations (which still correspond geographically to the countries they replace).
- Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: When XCOM does poorly and panic mounts, the response of the Council nations is to cut funding, leaving XCOM even less capable of tackling the alien threat. Should panic get high enough, nations will leave the Council, and if enough of them leave, it's game over.
- United Nations Is a Super Power: Averted. The Council is independent of the UN. In UFO Defense, it was said to have been founded during a secret meeting in Geneva.
In XCOM and XCOM 2, the "Council Spokesman" is the specific individual who provides XCOM's evaluations and funding reports.
- Catchphrase: "Hello, Commander" and "Remember, we will be watching."
- Defector From Decadence: Unlike the rest of his peers in the Council, he refused to give up on XCOM and has been working behind the scenes to help it and the budding Resistance.
- Do Not Go Gentle: He makes a point to encourage the Commander and XCOM to keep up the good fight against the alien threat, and later on, ADVENT. When ADVENT catches on to him mid-transmission, he all but says this before proceeding to take as many of his would-be-killers down with him as he could.
- The Faceless: He is always lit from behind, to shadow his face. We know that he's bald, and that's it.
- Guttural Growler / Badass Baritone: He upgrades to the latter when ADVENT comes after him mid-transmission, and he stays on the line and draws a pistol.
- La Résistance: He's a central figure of the Resistance in XCOM 2, the only member of the Council still loyal to humanity.
- Mysterious Backer: The whole Council are mysterious backers, but he's the only one the player sees. He's also the only one who sticks with the Resistance in the 20 years leading up to XCOM 2.
- OOC Is Serious Business: In XCOM 2, he normally contacts the Commander very discretely. Late in the game, when he sends a rather open transmission implying that ADVENT has caught on to his activities, Bradford surmises that something's terribly wrong.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: He consistently demonstrates how incredibly forgiving and understanding he can be, given the nature of the alien threat and later on, helping the Resistance. XCOM would have to really screw up for him to even express disappointment.
- Reverse Mole: In XCOM 2, he's also serving this role within ADVENT. It's strongly implied that he holds a relatively high position, given how he could funnel off aid to the Resistance with little difficulty until ADVENT finally catches on to him.
EXALT is a mysterious organization added as part of XCOM: Enemy Within. They are a rogue human faction dedicated to causing trouble for XCOM and using the alien invasion to forward their own goals.
- Ancient Conspiracy: They certainly dress the part in HQ, with decadent art and artifacts all over the place.
- Cyanide Pill: When stunned, EXALT operatives will stab themselves with some sort of poison syringe. (Their grenades and laser guns can still be retrieved, if they have any.)
- Faceless Goons: In addition to business suits, all EXALT operatives wear a regulation orange bandana over their faces.
- Fallen Hero: It's implied that EXALT either absorbed or is comprised of XCOM's 1960s Cold War incarnation, the Bureau.
- Fan Nickname: "Eggsalt." In vanilla, they're less of a threat than the aliens, and their ragdolling gives them a sense of clumsiness.
- Foil: To XCOM. They've got a headquarters with a hologlobe, but they're seemingly composed of businessmen and civilians rather than military personnel.
- Heel Face Turn: XCOM 2 implies that some EXALT operatives eventually wound up joining up with XCOM. Which is further highlighted by how a number of soldiers retain the orange bandana of their former organization.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: How EXALT largely manages to elude detection. Even its HQ can pass for a corporate executive office, albeit a rather decadent one.
- Not So Stoic: EXALT operatives drop the radio-garbled noises when they panic.
- Les Collaborateurs: It's hard to say. The Council introduces them as harboring "misguided sympathies" for the aliens, but they later steal Annette from the aliens. In Long War, alien pods can include EXALT operatives.
- Ragdoll Physics: EXALT operatives tend to ragdoll pretty spectacularly when killed, often getting flipped over whatever they were using as cover.
- Take Over the World: What EXALT hopes to achieve, especially with governments around the world and the Council busy dealing with the alien threat.
- Took a Level in Badass: Long War makes them even more of a persistent threat in the late game, making it even more imperative for XCOM to take them out.
- The Unintelligible: To further dehumanize them, EXALT speech consists of growly radio-static noises. The exception is when they panic: they'll yell "I'm losing control of the situation!"
- Transhuman Treachery: EXALT goes much further in enhancing its operatives that even Dr. Vahlen is disgusted.
- Weaksauce Weakness: Hacking their radio towers causes them to be unable to fire their weapons. Elite and Heavy operatives can still throw grenades or shoot rockets, though, so don't get too cocky!
Formally known as the Bureau of Strategic Emergency Command, it is the titular organization of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. A covert paramilitary and intelligence force set up by the U.S. Government in 1962, it's the first organization to use the name "XCOM."
- Cold War: The Bureau was originally set up to counter Communist activity and sustain "continuity of operations" in the event of a Soviet invasion. As the 1960s alien invasion went underway, its Director, Myron Faulke quickly retooled it to combat the threat.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Site X, the Bureau's Elaborate Underground Base is rife with cigarette smoke.
- Enemy Mine: Eventually, the Bureau brings in a Soviet infiltrator on the belief that the aliens pose a mutual threat. This in turn foreshadows XCOM's later Multinational Team aspect.
- Necessary Evil: Some of the shadier actions done by the Bureau are justified as this.
- No Such Agency: Only a handful of people in the U.S. Government even know of the Bureau's existence. In addition, the Bureau also tries to mask the alien invasion (and keep the public calm) by passing off the aliens' communications jamming efforts as an emergency test.
- Origin Story: It's the predecessor of XCOM. And implied to be of EXALT as well.
- Orwellian Retcon: In-verse. Nearly all traces of the Bureau's exploits and existence were erased from the records by the end.
- Renegade American: With the chain of command disrupted thanks to aliens' interference, the Bureau increasingly behaves independently while still purportedly serving the U.S. Government.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Bureau operatives are either this or donning Vietnam-esque fatigues.
- Start of Darkness: Given some of the shadier and murkier antics done by the Bureau, this could be foreshadowing EXALT.
- Unperson: The Bureau's M.O. In addition to fighting the aliens, its operatives were tasked with erasing civilian casualties from the records. Even burning entire towns attacked by the aliens if necessary. Ultimately, the invasion itself was purged from the records by the Bureau, the events of the game retconned into an attempted Soviet invasion. This could explain why by XCOM:EU/EW, only scattered, redacted records on Elerium from the 1960s are all that remain.
Annette Durand is a pre-made recruitable character introduced in XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within, who's rescued in a Council mission. It's gradually revealed that she's been sought after by both the aliens and EXALT for her latent psionic abilities. Abilities that she can willingly use for XCOM.
- Action Survivor: Annette is initially presented as this. Once she joins XCOM however, she graduates into being a potent soldier relatively quickly.
- Blood Knight: She seems to really enjoy killing aliens.
- Everyone Looks Sexier If French: Downplayed, but she's pretty and French.
- Gratuitous French: Averted. Even as part of XCOM, she still prefers to use English, albeit with a noticeable French accent.
- Heroic Resolve: Seeing an XCOM squad wipe out a whole mass of aliens upon rescuing Annette convince her that the aliens could be beaten.
- Mauve Shirt: She's a "hero character," but is otherwise killable just like everyone else.
- Mildly Military: Justified in that unlike most other XCOM personnel, she was just a civilian before getting involved in the whole alien and EXALT mess. As a result, she tends to be less formal and occasionally complain about military protocol.
- Squishy Wizard: She's shown to be a very powerful psi-user. But is otherwise an ordinary human.
Shaojie Zhang is a pre-made recruitable character introduced in XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within, who's rescued in a Council mission. He was a member of the Triads, but contacted the Council when his boss started dealing in alien technology.
- Asian Speekee Engrish: Averted. He has a noticeable Chinese accent but has no trouble speaking English whatsoever.
- The Atoner: He hopes to make up for his antics as a Triad in the face of the alien invasion.
- Badass: He manages to headshot a Sectoid with a conventional pistol in his intro cutscene.
- Enemy Mine: He turns on the Triads and joins XCOM after realizing that his cell's latest "merchandise" is alien technology.
- Magic Knight: His high Will makes him a good psionic soldier, and he's got higher aim and health than the average soldier as well.
- Mauve Shirt: He's a "hero character" with better-than-average stats, but is otherwise killable just like everyone else.
- The Triads and the Tongs: The Triads, to be precise.
Dr. Richard Tygan
Dr. Tygan is the chief scientist by XCOM 2, taking the place of Dr. Vahlen. He had previously been an up-and-coming researcher for a pharmaceutical corporation before ADVENT took over.
- Admiring the Abomination: Dr. Tygan is most impressed by some of his findings regarding ADVENT technology and the aliens. As times passes however, it starts giving way to horror as he realizes just how far the aliens are willing to go.
- Badass Bookworm: He performed a surgical procedure on himself in order to remove a brain chip ADVENT implanted before joining XCOM.
- Defector From Decadence: He used to work for ADVENT and enjoyed the creature comforts that came with being a researcher in the Gene Clinics. Until the true nature of ADVENT finally began dawning on him.
- For Science!: Dr. Tygan doesn't particularly approve of Dr. Vahlen's more brute methods. But even he admits that there's a thrill in working under the tense conditions XCOM tends to operate under.
- Heroic BSOD: As much as he tries to downplay it, he's unnerved and disgusted by the revelations of the Avatar Project. As well as his own unwitting role in it.
- My God, What Have I Done?: His veneer starts breaking once it becomes evident just how much his work in ADVENT is being used to forward the Avatar Project.
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Subverted. His knowledge and expertise is wide enough that he can conduct research into various fields, but knows well enough about his own limitations to leave certain autopsies and finds for Shen to tackle.
- Red Herring Mole: Although more than a few in XCOM still harbor some concerns on whether he's really defected to the good guys, he never goes traitor.
Chief An-Yi "Lily" Shen
Lily Shen is the daughter of Dr. Shen from XCOM, filling his role as Chief Engineer.
- Badass Bookworm: She's shown to test new weapons like plasma guns by firing them herself. The Shen's Last Gift DLC also shows her as being able to handle herself in the field, too.
- Beware the Nice Ones: She's one of the nicest members of XCOM. But given what she does in Shen's Last Gift which includes lobotomizing the hostile Julian AI by the end of the DLC, she can be hard as well.
- Break the Cutie: Lose too many soldiers in combat, and she'll start breaking down over not being able to do more to protect them.
- Daddy Had a Good Reason For Abandoning You: Justified in her case, as she was still a student during the events of Enemy Unknown/Within and Dr. Shen wanted to keep her away from harm.
- Deadpan Snarker: Her dialogue shows signs of this.
- The Engineer: Much like her father, she's very handy with creating various equipment and weapons.
- Generation Xerox: She's taken quite a bit from her late father.
- Legacy Character: Twenty years after XCOM, there's a new Chief Shen in the workshop. Though her conversations with the Commander reveal that she still misses the long-dead Dr. Shen.
- Missing Mom: We have no material whatsoever on Mrs. Shen.
- Robot Buddy: She's created one in the form of a customized GREMLIN. When she and Dr. Tygan try using said GREMLIN to test an alien portal, she's none too happy to see the results.
- The Workaholic: Lily's shown to be constantly working, believing that time not spent doing something productive is time wasted. It's also implied to be her way of coping with all the death and chaos around her.
In the original X-COM and in XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within, Sectoids are the basic grunts of the aliens. They're not particularly strong, but their plasma weapons are no joke against rookies and they do have some psionic talents, which develop as the game progresses. In XCOM 2, they've been made much tougher with the addition of human DNA.
- Boss in Mook Clothing: Sectoid Commanders look nigh identical to regular Sectoids, save for a different color. But they have significantly more hitpoints and more psionic power, making them a challenge for even a veteran squad.
- Fan Nickname: "Ayys." After their more muscular forms were revealed for XCOM 2, they were also nicknamed "Pectoids."
- The Greys: Sectoids are basically these — in fact, if the Roswell incident really was an extraterrestrial UFO encounter in the XCOM universe, they might actually be the Grays of conspiracy lore.
- Mooks: They're the alien equivalent of these.
- Powered Armor: Mechtoids, which are essentially Sectoids fused into these. While significantly tougher and with much more potent firepower, they lack their brethren's psionic capabilities.
- Took A Level In Badass: The Sectoids become significantly more powerful in XCOM 2, thanks to genetic enhancements.
Introduced in XCOM 2, Vipers are the "true form" of the Thin Men deployed in the initial invasion. Now that the aliens openly run the world, there's no need to blend them with human DNA to infiltrate; they can just strut (er, slither) in their full reptilian glory.
- Demonic Spiders: Very much so in the early game. They can dodge attacks (thus taking reduced damage), yank soldiers out of cover and bind them in their coils, and spit clouds of poison, making them considerably harder to handle than ADVENT troopers.
- Ensemble Darkhorse: Once she slithered into the gameplay demo, players were smitten.
- Fan Nickname: "Snek."
- Non-Mammal Mammaries: To be fair, the Vipers are not from Earth, so they could be mammals after all. Their breasts might not necessarily be mammary glands, either.
A foe from the original X-COM as well as XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within the humanoid Mutons are the aliens' shock troopers and heavy infantry. Genetically modified for military purposes, they make up for their lack of psionic abilities with heavy firepower, keen intellect and a fierce zeal to their masters. They also serve as a basis for other alien types, like Floaters and Berserkers.
- BFG: They generally wield heavier firepower compared to other alien types, in part to compensate for the lack of psionic abilities.
- Proud Warrior Race: It's suspected that the Mutons or their original predecessors were this before being genetically modified and enhanced. Elements of this can still be found, however, through their "blood calls" and tribal markings.
- Elite Mooks: Muton Elites, powerful, heavily armored guardians who are generally around whenever there's an Ethereal on the battlefield.
- Evil Counterpart: Mutons in general have been described by Word of God as akin to an alien SEAL Team Six.
- Retroactive Continuity: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified reveals that the Mutons involved in the 1960s alien invasion were mercenaries.
- Took a Level in Badass: By XCOM 2, Mutons have become more streamlined, but no less dangerous.
Introduced in XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within, the Thin Men are aliens intended to be infiltrators and scouts for the invasion. As such they're meant to look, dress and act like humans from a glance. XCOM 2 reveals the Thin Men as heavily modified Vipers, and it's implied that "perfected" versions of them are still around working with ADVENT, such as the Speaker.
- Acid Bath: Their guns seem to be loaded with this. In addition, killing a Thin Man results in an explosion of corrosive acid.
- Demonic Spiders: Compared to Sectoids, they can come across as this for a good portion of the game.
- Face Death with Dignity: Unlike the other alien types, the Thin Men refuse to cower before their impending demise in Dr. Vahlen's "interrogations."
- Glamour Failure: Bits and pieces of their original, reptilian selves are still visible in their snake-like eyes (hidden by shades) and the scales on their necks. Not even the "perfected" version seen in XCOM 2 managed to remove those flaws entirely.
- The Men in Black: Their general appearance is based on this, complete with shades, dark suit and tie.
- Smug Snake: Their general demeanor. Something that the Speaker in XCOM 2 has taken to perfection as well.
- Uncanny Valley: While a Thin Man can pass off as human from afar and can speak in different Earth languages, it doesn't quite work. Especially given their size and unnaturally fluid movements.
The Ethereals are the leaders of the alien invasion force. They are masters of genetic manipulation and psionics, and have already brought several species under their control. Humanity is their next goal. They're also referred to as the "Elders" in XCOM 2.
- Big Bad: They're this in the original X-COM and Enemy Unknown/Within as well as XCOM 2 under the guise of the "Elders."
- Blue and Orange Morality: The Ethereals are revealed to follow motivations, principles and morals that fittingly come across as alien and abhorrent to mankind. In both EU/EW and XCOM 2, they generally believe that the invasion of Earth and all they do is supposedly for humanity's own good.
- Dying Race: For all their psionic talent, the Ethereals are physically frail. XCOM 2 also reveals that their bodies are decaying to the point of no longer being able to sustain their psionic abilities. Humanity has the potential for psionic powers and physical strength, so they want to use our genes to improve themselves.
- Man Behind the Man: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, which involves a different alien invasion in early-1960s America reveals the Ethereals to be the true masterminds of it, foreshadowing their more direct hand in Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within.
- Not So Stoic: They try to act like they're above it all, but even they show fear when being interrogated by Dr. Vahlen.
- Squishy Wizard: Their psionic powers are incredibly powerful, but are so physically weak that they can get gunned down with relative ease once they're targeted. Which is why they tend to come with a group of Elite Mutons to protect themselves.
- The Gloves Come Off: Towards the end of XCOM 2, the Ethereals drop whatever pretensions they still had left and just go all out. Including trying to kill the Commander.
Introduced in XCOM 2, the human forces serving ADVENT are a common sight and willingly follow their alien masters' diktats. Even if this means turning on their own compatriots. It's revealed however that not only have they undergone significant genetic modification, but they're also by and large manufactured rather than comprised of "volunteers."
- Alien Blood: One of the first signs that something's off about ADVENT soldiers in general is that they bleed orange.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: ADVENT Officers are noticeably more competent than the rank-and-file.
- Demonic Spiders: While in general not as powerful as their alien superiors, they remain dangerous opponents even towards the late-game, especially in numbers. In addition, they can also call in dropship reinforcements.
- Elite Mooks: Later on in XCOM 2, Elite variants of ADVENT forces start getting deployed, with considerably more armor and aim.
- Evil Counterpart: To XCOM after a fashion. They even come in different classes like Lancers and Shieldbearers.
- Keystone Army: Subverted. While wiping out the Ethereals/Elders does cripple the ADVENT forces' psionic-based capabilities, there's still enough of them around for the Resistance to mop up.
- Les Collaborateurs: ADVENT soldiers seem to be this, given they're apparently human volunteers. It's averted however, given how, in addition to their extensive alien genetic modifications, they're not even "volunteers" to begin with. They're manufactured.
- Magnetic Weapons: Unlike the actual aliens, ADVENT forces exclusively use these.
- Mecha: ADVENT MECs, which are completely automated or at least remotely controlled.
- Mooks: They're the XCOM 2 equivalent of them.
- More Than Mind Control: While ADVENT soldiers are generally loyal to a fault, the aliens augmented them with certain psionic-based enhancements to further coordinate them.
- Sincerest Form of Flattery: In addition to being based on the aliens' Sectopods, ADVENT MECs are suspected to be also derived from XCOM's MEC Troopers in Enemy Within.
- Starfish Language: They all speak in an alien language, making it difficult to discern what they're going to do.
- Transhuman Treachery: ADVENT soldiers are extensively enhanced with alien genetic engineering to the point of looking more Sectoid than human. Which is cleverly disguised by their face-concealing helmets.
First introduced in the original X-COM, Sectopods are the aliens' main Humongous Mecha, being large bipedal AI robots bristling with various weapons. They're also heavily armored and a single one can wipe out whole squads by itself. By XCOM 2, they've been given even more upgrades by the aliens and are also used by ADVENT to keep the populace in line.
- Boss in Mook Clothing: Though they're not technically bosses, they come across as one thanks to their firepower and armor. Especially if a squad's unprepared.
- Demonic Spiders: Not necessarily the Sectopods themselves, but the enemies that tend to accompany one. Whether it's robotic Drones in Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within or ADVENT Shieldbearers in XCOM 2.
- Humongous Mecha: In all its incarnations; they can even bypass if not outright destroy cover just by walking. XCOM 2 takes this further, with Sectopods having extendable legs, making them even taller.
- Interface Screw: In XCOM 2, it's almost guaranteed that a Sectopod is nearby when the game's interface starts glitching up due to its movements.
- Made of Explodium: Destroying a Sectopod will damage if not kill anyone/anything close to it when it explodes.
- More Dakka: Sectopods come with a variety of weapons, from close range lasers to squad-killing missiles.
- Retroactive Continuity: An earlier version of the Sectopod, which is "piloted" by a Sectoid mind in contrast to the fully automated robots found elsewhere in the series, is used during the 1960s invasion as seen in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.
- Shout Out: By XCOM 2, they're more reminiscent of the Tripods from The War of the Worlds.
The Chryssalids are the aliens' archetypal "terror units," deployed against civilian centers to sow discord and panic. Their sole tactic is to race up to humans, savage them in melee, and then implant eggs in their corpses. This results in a zombie (X-COM: UFO Defense, XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within) or a cocoon (XCOM 2), which then results in more Chryssalids...
Every X-COM game has had enemies which can multiply from humans, but the Chryssalids were the first.
- Bizarre Alien Reproduction: Chryssalids require large host organisms to incubate their eggs and gestate. Large fish and whales are suitable as well as humans...
- Demonic Spiders: Chryssalids are "only" capable of making melee attacks, but their extreme mobility more than makes up for it. They're especially horrible on Terror missions, where they can quickly multiply from the civilian population.
- Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: The fate of those killed by Chryssalids.
- Fan Nickname: "'Lids." The oversized boss "Chryssalid Queen" from Long War is sometimes nicknamed "Queen Sally".
- Retroactive Continuity: In XCOM 2, Chryssalids don't lay eggs in corpses or spawn zombies; instead, their attacks leave a "Chryssalid Venom" status ailment, and anyone who dies while subject to that debuff will produce a cocoon, which will produce three Chryssalids if not destroyed. Bradford refers to the zombie phenomenon as a rumor from the early days of the invasion.
- Zombie Apocalypse: In Enemy Unknown/Within, they can spawn zombies from dead humans, which burst into new Chryssalids if they're not taken out quickly.