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Availability Considerations for Laser vs Plasma Weapons
Availability is one of the first things to consider when considering laser vs plasma weapons.
Laser weapons may be researched and manufactured very quickly early on in the game, but cannot be found on enemy corpses. Similarly, plasma weapons can also be researched relatively fairly soon, and found on enemy corpses.
One hindrance to utilizing plasma weapons early on is that ammunition production requires Elerium-115. Eventually you will scavenge enough ammunition and Elerium-115 to acquire a stockpile of usable plasma firearms. However until this point, laser weapons will likely be instrumental in fighting off the alien menace.
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Damage Attributes of Laser vs Plasma Weapons
Damage is another important attribute to consider between these two weapon types.
Heavy Plasma is the most damaging weapon in the game besides the Blaster Launcher, and is the winner in this category. However, most enemies early in the game will die relatively easily, and using Heavy Plasma to take out small threats can be quite wasteful.
Taken into this context, laser weapons and smaller plasma weapons will remain useful throughout a large part of the game. Laser Rifles in particular do enough damage to handle most threats faced early on. You will likely need to eventually transition to more Heavy Plasma weaponry for the extra damage, but do not underestimate the other weapons in the lineup.
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Economic Tradeoffs of Laser vs Plasma Weapons
X-COM: UFO Defense is not just a game about tactical battles; the economic tradeoffs of laser vs plasma weaponry must also be considered.
Laser weapons can be researched and produced for relatively little cost and do not require any Elerium-115. Researching laser technology will also allow you to produce and sell laser cannons which are the most profitable item in the game. Pursuing laser technology can be a very economical choice.
Plasma weapons and ammo can be found on enemy corpses in relative abundance, but producing ammunition requires Elerium-115. Elerium-115 is arguably the most precious resource in the game, and using plasma weaponry can be quite costly in comparison to the alternatives. There is a relatively large opportunity cost for using plasma weapons.
When money is in short supply, it frequently will make more sense to sell the spare plasma weapons you have looted rather than use them. All plasma weapons sell for relatively high prices, and equipment sales can function as an additional source of income.
Due to these attributes, laser weapons are frequently favored for the initial months of the game and at times when money is tight. As time goes on, money and Elerium-115 limitations will be less of a concern, and you should consider more widespread adoption of plasma weapons.
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Choosing Laser vs Plasma Weaponry in X-COM: UFO Defense
The choice between laser vs plasma weapons is not always clear cut. Laser Rifles often make excellent early game weapons due to their well-rounded attributes, low cost, and infinite ammo. However, Heavy Plasma is a mainstay of both human and alien alike due to its versatility and overwhelming stopping power. In the end, you should pick the weapon type that is most suited to your in-game situation and preferred style.