Before we start, I think it’s important to share with you the following bit of military philosophy.
“No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
No matter what I say here, no matter what you try, no matter how prepared you are, you might turn a corner and run into a pair of sectopods on a “Small Scout” class UFO. You will marvel at how they do actually fit in those corridors, but then you will need to figure out how to deal with them.
That said, “How do I kill a sectopod” is a pretty popular search term, so I thought I’d share my advice for dealing with them. I’ve killed quite a few, but the only times it was really exciting were the times when I encountered them before getting Heavy Plasma and HEAT ammo on a pair of Heavies with a deadly flying sniper to back them up. So let’s talk about that awful sectopod that you can’t possible be prepared for in the context of general tactics.
This post will necessarily have spoilers in it…so if you want to figure out how to take these things on by yourself (like I did) then stop reading here. 🙂
They make a very particular sound: very loud, stompy, mechanized sounds that echo distantly. If you hear any reverberating mechanical sounds, just assume it’s a sectopod, then be relieved if you’re wrong later.
Know thine enemy.
Sectopods have a big buffer of health, do not take cover, and have – so far as I’ve seen – three attacks: their big bad laser beam, plasma spit, and their missile salvo. They can fire twice a turn and can set one of those shots to Overwatch. (I think I’ve seen them fire two overwatches in a turn, but not recently, so I may have imagined that in my nightmares.) The laser beam will one shot virtually any cover you are hiding behind and will do a ton of damage. If a soldier is not in Titan armor, it can very easily one-shot him. They fire a missile barrage that also clears out cover and does respectable damage; they most often fire this when you are bunched up. They very often have drone support.
In general this is a good idea, but it’s especially true for fighting a sectopod. They can fire a missile salvo which can be horrific: I’ve seen it one-shot soldiers and obliterate whatever cover they were under. It’s especially dangerous if your soldiers are already wounded and bunched together. Do NOT bunch up. Do not. Under any circumstances. Bunch up.
Know the terrain.
This won’t always be possible (e.g. when the first enemy you encounter is a sectopod) but try your best. Before you move a single soldier, examine your surroundings and pick a close high point: a place with good visibility and heavy cover – like a tree – for your sniper(s). Now, move very slowly and carefully to take that point.
I treat moving a sniper as a very big deal, because they are so deadly if they don’t move. If I can help it at all, I move the team or the sniper. Move slowly to that position, then advance just as slowly, leaving your sniper in that position. If you find another high point with good cover that you’d rather fight from, take the same steps to move your sniper there. (The core idea here is that I only move my team in parts, so that there’s at least some Overwatch to cover the others as they move.)
As you move around, take mental notes on the kind of cover available and how far it is between solid cover; the best lanes to move along are ironically the worst firing lanes for snipers, because they have a lot of tall, solid cover that your troops can move between with single moves, shifting then to Hunker or Overwatch depending on whether you’re flanked (or worried you may be). You want to keep the terrain in mind because when you run into that sectopod, you’re going to be back-tracking through it.
Your sniper is your ace in the hole.
The times I most handily bagged a sectopod outdoors were the times I was able to sneak forward with a soldier to spot, took a shot with my sniper, then pulled the soldier back further than he advanced. In cover is good, but out of range of the sectopod is better. He can’t vaporize your cover and then your face if he can’t see you at all. If you don’t have serious fire power, this is your game: back up slowly towards your sniper, nipping at the sectopod’s heels.
Kill those annoying drones.
These should be the first targets for your snipers, or for any soldiers you have that can fire on them safely – from heavy cover – and are out of the sectopod’s reach. One rocket is beautiful for this; it may not hurt the sectopod at all (which makes me sad) but will brush that pack of drones aside like so much dust.
Suppression is kingly.
If you can’t keep out of range (i.e. if he’s in range of your heavies and supports and you can’t get them far enough away) then stack up suppression on the sectopod; ideally two of your soldiers can suppress while the others reposition (allowing them to flat-out dash if they need to) even allowing you to move your sniper. It can’t hurt to Smoke Grenade them, but I save that for when I only have one guy to suppress…because that guy is going to take a lot of fire.
Two things to keep in mind here. First, I always try to have two or three soldiers with suppression in my strike teams, so I recommend that; it’s fundamental to my own anti-sectopod strategy. Second, if you can throw smoke and cover more than two of your soldiers, they are probably going to get hit with a missile salvo. Spread out.
Fall back slowly but surely, having your one brave scout (whoever has the best armor in the group, either due to defense or having ghost armor cloaking) inch up so the sectopod is in view then falling back again. Let me be clear here in case you are not aware: you do not have to give a soldier both of his or her commands at a time; you can tell the scout to step up, switch to the sniper and fire, switch to everybody else to continue falling back as is necessary, then finish off by telling the scout to fall the heck back.
Keep your bravado in check.
Unless your assault trooper is sporting Titan Armor, Chitin Plating, an Alloy Cannon, and Rapid Fire, don’t charge anybody in to finish the thing off. That’s a risk that might cost you a soldier…one that you only take when you really have no other choice. If you fall back steadily and wear the thing down, Robby the Robot will go down without firing a shot. That’s your goal.
If I keep getting hits or if I get some questions, I’ll go into how I handle close-quarters combat with a sectopod. (Spoiler: it gets hairy.)
Addendum: How the missile salvo works.
Not 100% sure here, but it seems like the sectopod actually hunkers down (skips firing for a turn and makes a lot of clunky noises) to prime it’s salvo of missiles. Might be a good idea to fall back and spread out when he does this (if you aren’t already at safe distance and positioning) moving your Lightning Reflex soldier first to soak any potential Overwatch. (Special thanks to Goopa for pointing this out.)