Many Mechanized Minutes Of XCOM: Enemy Within

By Nathan Grayson on September 5th, 2013 at 11:00 am.

Like T-Rexes, sectoid mechs can't see you if you don't move. No, wait, the other thing: they will murder you no matter what.

For flimsy flesh beings such as ourselves, fighting aliens is rarely a good idea. For instance, Alec hasn’t posted in ages because he attempted to single-handedly stave off an invasion and nearly died but then had to postpone to go help raise his new baby. But thanks to XCOM: Enemy Within, I realize that the solution to our easily fried human organs and tendency to give birth at the most inopportune moments was obvious all along. We just need to replace Alec (and all other would-be extraterrestrial terrorizers) with a really big robot. No, not that one. Mechs, silly. See them punch sectoids over waterfalls after the break.

See? Right over that waterfall! Did that move make any sort of tactical sense given that sectoids have all the fortitude of a bag of rotten peaches? Nope. But it sure did look cool.

More importantly, both mechs and gene-modded soldiers are extremely useful in the right situations. Mechs are natural tanks given that a) they have tremendous armor and b) are literally walking tanks. Gene mods, meanwhile, offer all sorts of handy abilities via new progression trees, including but not limited to defense against mind control and leaps that have the grotesque, terrifying dark future side effect of making trampolines not as fun anymore

I got to play a little of Enemy Within last week, and the net effect of these new units was that aggressive strategies felt much more effective and satisfying. I usually turtle so hard that people want to turn me into soup, but mechs’ ability to essentially function as mobile cover and a nice helping of active camouflage for weaker units made me feel like I was better able to control the battlefield. However, to balance that out, aliens have mechs too, and I nearly ingested my Adam’s apple every time a sectoid gave one a near-impregnable shield via mind merge. The short version? It wasn’t necessarily better or worse than the way I usually play XCOM, but it was certainly different.

Personally, I really enjoyed it. Not quite as much terror and uncertainty as Enemy Unknown, but more potential for strategic variation. Enemy Within will be out in November. Given, however, that we are, er, us, expect a whole, whole lot more about it before that.

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42 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    lowprices says:

    It would definitely be an interesting experiment to replace Alec with a robot. Posts that are nothing but: “REVIEWTRON 3000 IS EXCITED ABOUT UPCOMING SPACE HULK GAMES” and the like…

    • The Random One says:

      10 SPACE HULK
      20 GOTO 10

      • Premium User Badge

        lowprices says:

        Game Diaries as well:

        “THEN SECTOIDS KILL ONE OF REVIEWTRON 3000′s PUNY HUMAN SOLDIERS. REVIEWTRON 3000 WILL NEVER FORGET YOU, PUNY HUMAN.”

    • Mr Squints says:

      This is perhaps the single most appropriate spambot reply I’ve ever seen.

      They’re learning.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Makariel says:

    Go ahead, Mech my day…

  3. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    So is that robot alien in the first shot a Within? Or are the Withins the overlord race, controlling the other races from behind the scenes? And are there friendly Withins you can talk to, or just enemy ones you have to shoot at?

  4. Vojta Kolar says:

    It seems that they finally made aliens move like in the old UFO and not as spawn points. Thumbs up! I hope it s not just for the demo…

    • mike2R says:

      I can’t watch the video at the moment, but I’m really hoping that this, and Nathan talking about more aggresive tactics working, means they’ve changed the way that enemies activate somehow?

      I really liked X-COM, but it drove me nuts that I had such fun tools to use like a shotgun-wielder with run and gun, but the game made it stupid to use it in 95% of cases since you ran the risk of pulling another squad down on you.

      • Mokinokaro says:

        Firaxis has confirmed the teleporting aliens are gone.

        There’s supposed to be a patch for the vanilla Enemy Unknown around the launch of the expansion so I hope that’s one of the things they patch in.

        • ViktorBerg says:

          Wait, so they will be pre-activated?

          Oh boy, that’s going to make the game much more interesting and dynamic. I just hope this doesn’t mean we’ll have to chase a pack of stray sectoids for an hour on UFO retrieval missions.

        • mike2R says:

          I *think* the teleporting is something different though, isn;t that just how they patrol around the level prior to being activated?

          What I dislike is the whole activation thing itself. Where some alien is blasting away at you but his mates a few feet away haven’t seen you and are therefore inactive. If you try and move someone in to take the first guy out, these aliens suddenly realise there is a fight going on and join in. Hence you are nearly always best not advancing into new territory during a firefight, even when logically the danger is from aliens who should already know you are there.

          Resolving this would actually make the game a lot more difficult, so it would have to be considerably rebalanced. Just typing it out makes me think its unlikely to happen given the scale of the changes. Which is a shame, its my one real beef with the game

          • Mokinokaro says:

            They are revamping a lot of character skills so it could be that way.

            The reason this is standalone on consoles is it changes a lot more than what a console can patch.

    • horus_lupercal says:

      I’d take that video with a pinch of salt mate. The yellow arrows telling you where to place your troops makes me think it’s a tutorial video of some kind or a demo as you said.

      If you’re not averse to modding check out the Long War mod at nexus. There’s still stationary pods but there’s a lot more movement from the aliens in my experience. It’s a bloody good mod too!

  5. Robot_Joe says:

    Can’t wait to have a squad of robo cops. SO PUMPED

  6. VCepesh says:

    Actually, when I first heard the title, I expected some kind of traitorous humans and collaborators as the new antagonists or even a third side. Also, made me wait for the announcement of XCOM: Enemy Beyond.

    • Mokinokaro says:

      Human enemies are not out of the question. Firaxis has been rather coy that there’s a lot they’re keeping secret.

  7. Dariune says:

    This seems like such a waste of potential.

    Enemy Unknown had potential to be a really good game. But due to simplified parts and a serious case of being too repetitive it just about managed to scrape through being average (IMO obviously)

    I kind of hoped they might make some meaningful changes in an expansion/DLC instead of adding a bit more “Awesome” to the only part of the original game which already worked well (Once again, IMO)

  8. Vegard Pompey says:

    Coming from someone who found Enemy Unknown one of the best games of recent years, from what has been revealed so far this expansion sounds a bit underwhelming. It seems they’re doing a Civ-style expansion; same basic experience, but with added content and tweaks throughout.

    This works great for Civ, but I have to question if it’s really appropriate for EU. Civ is designed to be played over and over again, each game a new permutation of civilizations, map types, playstyles and what have you. It’s designed for replayability, so all an expansion really needs to do is add more elements for permutations without upsetting the game balance. EU, on the other hand, isn’t all that replayable. I’ve played the game a number of times and it’s always roughly the same sequence of abductions, UFOs, council missions, terror missions, story missions, etcetera. The strategic part of the game is too scripted and narrow to offer any surprises on repeat playthroughs. Difficulty settings and second wave options offer some replay value, but with the game’s current lack of emergent developments, what I feel it needs is not an expansion that adds nice but extraneous content like new maps, enemies and technologies to play around with. What it needs is either a) an expansion of the narrative or b) an expansion of the game’s strategic layer into something more simulated and unpredictable.

    According to the recent Kotaku preview, the strategic layer is not being overhauled in any way. And it also sounds to me like they are not expanding the game’s story in any significant way, merely including a mission pack that was originally designed as DLC, similar to Slingshot. Hopefully I’m wrong on that one.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love to play with these new technologies, get killed by these new enemies and lie dead and forgotten in these new maps. I’m also really looking forward to them FINALLY FIXING THE TELEPORTING ALIEN BUG. And as much fun as I’ve had with EU, I’ll be getting this expansion day one no matter how underwhelming it seems. But it could be so much more, you know?

    • Reapy says:

      I agree with tou except I won’t be purchasing it unless the strategic layer is overhauled.

      • Mokinokaro says:

        It’s not going to be. Knowing Civ V, that might be the next expansion.

        You know what the weird part is, though? The strategic layer is actually a lot more complex than it appears according to modders. There is an enemy AI at work that’s hidden to the players. Every mission is preceded by a UFO travelling to it that the player cannot see.

        It would open things up so much more if you saw the UFOs more (but not always so ground combat isn’t eliminated by super-interceptors.)

        • ViktorBerg says:

          That makes a lot of sense. Once you get all them satellites up, instead of getting abduction missions, you start detecting recently landed UFOs, which indicates that you start intercepting alien assaults before they go into the worst-case scenario abduction mode.

          Only thing I don’t understand is why they stuck with the whole “3 abductions at a time” thing – possibly to make the early game more interesting and tense (and also frustrating). At the same time, once you launch enough satellites and remove the threat of abductions, the game becomes much easier, as you respond to one threat at a time instead of having to choose one out of 3 victims.

          If they only overhauled the late game strategic layer and made it more exciting…

          • mouton says:

            Yup, “3 abductions at a time” is obviously a design choice intended to raise tension and create an impression of being overwhelmed. Like it or hate it, that’s what it is.

    • opticnurv says:

      I really wish they would listen to the fans about overhauling the enemy encounters, in the original it was better, huge square maps, enemies are random and patrolling. Not you walk into a trigger area they spawn then you move to cover, more spawn and so on untill they kill you.

      also the teleporting alien bug could really use a fix, why don’t people who get to interview these guys ask these sorts of things.

      • Goldeneye says:

        I really don’t get how people still say that XCOM: EU is -only- made up of such “spot then discover” encounters. Yes they make up the bulk of the game, but from my experience enemies can and have moved to engage your troops even before you spot them, mostly by moving out of the fog of war on their own volition and then engaging the discovery cutscene. An example in my most recent C/I playthrough was me not seeing any aliens on my first turn, then when I ended it a couple of Sectoids suddenly walked out of the fog of war. Or in my previous C/I, where to my surprise a Sectopod I never uncovered before suddenly walked right unto my camping Archangel Sniper at the very back of the map while most of my squad were inside the UFO.

        And then there are the instances where you break a door one moment, then two turns later Mutons or Ethereals show up to ruin your day, or countless times when Floaters and Chryssalids came out of the FoW to flank me while I tried to camp. These and more on a game I’ve never installed mods for, so they’re clearly not new behaviors added by third-party programmers.

        • Mokinokaro says:

          Teleporting alien bug is fixed in Enemy Within (and hopefully in an upcoming patch for Unknown.)

          As for the size of the maps? I have to disagree. The bigger maps of the original were also a lot blander due to being procedurally generated. They also made more sense due to the larger squad size available.

          Maps the size of the originals would be extremely tedious with only a six man squad.

      • mouton says:

        Aliens move around in XCom EU. I have seen them join a firefight countless of times.

    • Goldeneye says:

      “Not overhauling” the strategy layer doesn’t mean they’re not adding or changing stuff to it. There are already several other interviews where they mention that they are indeed adding and changing stuff to the strategy layer (Like the PC Games N article). My understanding is that they’re going to be doing additions and improvements to the strategy layer, but not really overhaul it to be different. See the MECs and Gene Mods: they don’t turn XCOM’s tactical layer into a completely different game with completely different game mechanics, they’re add-ons that stack on top of the existing game mechanics. And yet, the additions of the MECs and Gene Mods apparently make the tactical game different enough from the vanilla game.

      I’m assuming the strategy layer changes are the same way: they shake up the game not by virtue of completely changing the underlying mechanics (aka “overhaul”), but simply by adding and changing some stuff on top.

      • Vegard Pompey says:

        The important difference between the strategic and tactical layer of EU is that the tactical layer is already plenty stimulating and emergent. I have heard players tell plenty of stories of interesting/unusual/miraculous/disastrous things that have happened during a mission. I have never heard a player tell a story that took place in the strategic layer, because no interesting things ever happen in it. The mechs and gene-mods may offer refreshing twists on the tactical combat, but they are added onto a solid foundation that was already exciting in EU. The strategic layer is sorely lacking and it’s going to take more than a few gimmicks to make it intriguing.

        I don’t know exactly what they’re doing with the strategic layer, but it’s sad that an overhaul has been ruled out. Hopefully the additions will turn out more substantial than two new structures and a new resource.

  9. theblazeuk says:

    This is meching me excited.

    • The Random One says:

      But not me. I find it too gene-ric. But I don’t want to robot you of your excitement.

  10. The Random One says:

    Now I want a tee with a drawing of a mechanized space marine standing inside a broken trampoline and crying.

  11. FriendlyPsicopath says:

    Oh look thin man out of thin air!!! I hate that bloody mechanic, so cheap and lazy, ” hey let’s just drop a enemy from the air right next to your soldiers, players will love that, specially on impossible ironman” the fact that they allowed something like that and they keep it, made me mod the game so hard that i managed it to a playable state, probably will do the same to enemy within after it goes on sale.

    By the way you can mod the enemy cheap first move out, it was the only way i could finish impossible ironman, but since you be killing 20+ enemies in missions to get one down before they can get to cover is not game breaking,

    • Premium User Badge

      PikaBot says:

      …you mean the mechanic that only occurs on council missions and almost always results in the new thin man immediately exploding in a hail of overwatch fire? Or immediately dying next term because they spawn out of cover ?

      • Phendron says:

        Poison cloud is a pretty big issue when they drop right next to you.

  12. fredc says:

    Like many other readers (it appears), I thought the tactical implementation – sans teleporting aliens – was a major improvement on X-Com and TFtD and loved the look and feel of the game overall, but honestly thought they killed the strategic game dead, and with that the re-playability.

    Yes, the more narrative-driven approach is great the first time you play, but after you’ve gone through it once why replay the game? EU would have been better grafting the tactical game, tech and bells and whistles onto something very close to the original x-com globe. Or like the prologue/tutorials in Total War games, let you play a very directed, narrative-based game the first time out and then let you loose in the sandbox.

    • Mokinokaro says:

      The strategic layer as it stands is a decent framework to build upon.

      I would love to see some more variation on its structure, though. If there were even 2-3 variations on each beat the campaign must hit, it would increase replayability immensely.

      I sure hope there’s some decent additions to that side in Enemy Within. Remember that it took two expansions for CiV to really get the depth of its predeccssors. I’m hoping XCOM:EU will be similar in time.

  13. Bahlof says:

    Im not sure I could remain sane if my fellow soldier’s head was placed on top of a mech with grasshopper legs

  14. Ernesto says:

    The mech looks extreme. Just a soldiers head on top of a metal monster. I can’t do this to my troops. Never! I just decided, that this is a last resort when anything else fails *shudder*

    And a rocket powered fist? Come on! As if a ‘normal’ metal fist wouldn’t hurt enough ;)

    • Premium User Badge

      xao says:

      Heh, Plasma Sniper Rifles? Come on! As if a .50 caliber bullet travelling at 1000 meters per second wouldn’t hurt enough.

      In the world of X-COM there’s no such thing as overkill.

      There’s plenty of room for leftover meaty bits inside the mechs: they could have partial torsos, dangling spinal columns, even limb stumps! I’m sure they’re perfectly happy inside their shiny new metal bodies, and won’t turn on their meatsack compatriots, demanding the whereabouts of John Connor so they can uphold the law in order to better serve the Emperor.

      Yeah. It’ll all be fiiiiiine.

  15. Phendron says:

    Send in the redshirts first, otherwise we’ll have no idea how badass our well-equipped soldiers really are!