Wot I Think – XCOM: Enemy Within

By Alec Meer on November 11th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.

Enemy Within is a proper expansion – like in the olden days – for last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which was a very different reworking of 90s ultro-classic X-COM: UFO Defense. This time around, we get robo-folk and genetic modification, and one giant leap further away from XCOM’s parentage. Good idea/bad idea? Let’s find out!

Saving the world with a big, pink, French cyborg: this perhaps isn’t the XCOM expansion we asked for, but I think it’s the one we needed.

It’s probably worth reading my recent preview of Enemy Within before embarking on this wall o’words, as the code I had then was so close to complete that both details and my take on it was pretty damned clear there. While I will cover the key points again here, that and this are really two halves of one mega-verdict. To reiterate though, this sizeable expansion for Firaxis’ speeded-up, more action-focused XCOM do-over adds cyborg soldiers, genetically modified soldiers, a rival human faction and a smattering of new setpiece missions into the game. Its purpose is to have you replay the campaign again (in my case, that meant for a fifth time), with new abilities and fewer repetitive missions, rather than to provide a brand new campaign. That means existing savegames and troop rosters are no use: you’ll start anew, rookies, no satellite coverage and all.

I admit I was grumbling at that before I went in. Much as I’m extremely fond of XCOM, I didn’t fancy playing the meatgrinder and glacially slow tech-up early phases all over again. It’d be like having to reintroduce myself to an old friend: no thanks, let’s just get straight to the drinking and the in-jokes, please. Fortunately, Enemy Within doesn’t waste much time before dropping in the new stuff. So much so that it’s incongruous in fact, as you’re so under-researched and ill-equipped in terms of the XCOM basics that being able to build mechs or gene-slice so soon makes little sense. I’d rather it this way than have to wait five hours for my first pink robot, though.

Here’s how it happens, which I didn’t mention in the earlier piece. Many ground missions – primarily standard UFO and Terror ones – add a new element to the map, a resource called MELD. That probably stands for something, but I can’t remember what and would be lying if I said I cared. I call it Magic Upgrade Juice. It’s used to modify soldiers either mechanically or genetically, and there are two cannisters of it on each map. Like the occasional timebombs in existent XCOM missions, MUJ crates have a turn-timer on them. If you don’t manage to get a chap next to them before that timer runs out, they evaporate or teleport or, well, I don’t know, it’s blatantly contrived but it does work as a mechanic nonetheless. One of the deep-in-the-bones problems with XCOM is that there’s not much call to fan out your soldiers – you creep everyone forwards in broadly the same direction, save for putting snipers on roofs and, if you use them, sending a SHIV ahead as a scout/hat-on-a-stick to draw fire1.

With MUJ in play, and often far from the heart of the action or sometimes dangerously close to a lurking pack of Xenos, I’d usually split one guy from the pack to try and grab it before the timer ran down. It’s a fascinating, multi-faceted risk-reward mechanic – you’re possibly sending a lone soldier into danger, you’re making less firepower available to your main team, and you’re potentially choosing to defer shooting at hostiles because you want to spend the turn double-running someone over to the MUJ. Repeatedly, I’d end up with someone dead because I played the latter odds, and even more repeatedly I’d stir up a hornet’s nest of previously unseen enemies. I often had far more visible foes on-screen2 than in Enemy Within, thanks to a combination of reckless MUJ-chasing and the fact that the hitpoint-heavy Mechs can’t use cover and thus tend to stride right into the heart of the action. The game became highly stressful at times, because I was so often outnumbered and outgunned, forcing me to make far more use of running away and Hunker Down than I had in the parent game. That is what I needed an XCOM expansion to be: a complacency-buster.


An additional complication/strategy for MUJ is that it can be destroyed by anything from a pistol upwards, so stray fire (e.g. a near miss on an enemy standing near it) or excessive use of area-of-effect explosives will wipe it out. Sometimes, it’s brutally necessary to sacrifice MUJ, due to the aforementioned tendency for more baddies, and it hurts to do so.

If you do obtain sufficient MUJ, it’s good for both adding gene mods to soldiers, who otherwise retain their existing abilities and armaments, or for having their arms and legs chopped off and replaced with big stompy metal ones. Additionally, it’s used to upgrade Mech suits with extra abilities and more hit points. Money is required for all of these things too, both per-upgrade and for the initial cost of building two new relevant rooms in the base, but it’s not vast sums so usually doesn’t interfere with the bread’n'butter building of satellite nexuses and power stations. But in cash-poor months it can tip the balance, and the initial construction of the gene and mech lab rooms particularly can cause a problem as you run out of space, money, time, engineers and power needed to throw up new Satellites as fast as possible.

I’ve said this before, but I think the need for rapid, expensive and slow satellite coverage is the weakest part of XCOM. It requires too much, and obtaining those things is too convoluted – for instance, each new nexus requires more engineers than the last, but those can only be obtained in anything like a hurry by building new Workshops. Which takes ages still, and is expensive, and usually requires a new power station, which usually requires excavating. And in any case some countries will give you bonus engineers in the end-of-month council report, so clearly extra engineers are not dependent on extra workshop space, so why can’t you just directly recruit new engineers and aaargh.

It’s deeply illogical, it involves dependency upon dependency upon dependency, and it means that not prioritising satellites over everything else early in the game can lead to an inescapable early game-over later on. This is due to the still-aggravating fact you’re not allowed to carry out all Terror missions when they come up, but instead must choose one of three, and thus have no choice but to increase panic in not just the nations whose missions you couldn’t do, but every nation in the same continent. Too much panic means a nation drops out of funding you, and as well as this limiting your teching up, if enough nations drop out it’s game over. A mess, and not a hot one at that.

So yes, the new upgrades do complicate that fudged system further, but not dramatically – just be mindful that your resources will be stretched more thinly, and try to concentrate on getting more satellites up before you succumb to the temptation of super-soldiers.

MUJ seems plentiful early on, and I found myself spending it willy-nilly simply because it was exciting to so quickly grant my soldiers new powers, but late in the game the costs of the higher-end upgrades (especially the third and final tier of Mech suits) was so much that I had no hope of maxing out everyone unless I started grinding for the juice. By that point in the game, that wasn’t a lot of fun because, despite changes to the first ‘half’ of the campaign, in its later stages it’s the same as Enemy Unkown. Disappointingly this means the game’s basically just waiting for you to hurry up and build storyline-critical rooms such as the Gollop Chamber and stops throwing many missions or UFOs at you. Despite this I was determined to grind my way to another 100 MUJ4 so I could finish up another tier-3 Mech. After watching the in-game clock burn through an entire month without anything of note happening, I reminded myself that I’d only really be using that guy for the final mission, which I knew from quadruple experience wasn’t particularly bloody hard anyway. So why bother? So I didn’t.

The first ‘half’4 of the game is brimful of new stuff, though. This remixing of XCOM’s campaign had me back hook, linker and cyber-sinker all over again, which I hadn’t expected. Despite a degree of anticipation for the add-on – I truly believed I’d exhausted this game. The Exalt / covert operation missions are one part of this (again, more fully documented in the earlier piece), as they mean you have two over-arching objectives at once now. One is, still, to respond to every alien attack while gradually teching up so you can bring the fight to them, and the other is slowly locating the secret headquarters of the mad, bad, alien-sympathising humans who staff Exalt, aka the anti-XCOM. Each successful covert op eliminates one or several nations as possible home to Exalt, so there’s a certain tension-thrill to slowly tightening the net, and if you’re a gambling sort you choose to accuse a nation of housing them before you have proof. Get it right and you get to invade Exalt’s base, get it wrong and that nation is never speaking to you again, let alone giving you cash on a monthly basis. Trouble is there’s no real need to accuse anyone before you’ve definitively narrowed it down to just one place, unless you’re desperate to put an early end to Exalt missions, to stage the base invasion and/or come back with a wodge of stuff to sell, but I like that the option’s there.

The Exalt base invasion itself isn’t anything particularly special, though it is an opportunity to see new in-game environment, and because it’s interior-set, a whole lot more stuff gets blown up. It’s nice to have the added micro-campaign and a different sort of foe (one who tends to hunt you rather than wait for you at that), but there’s no real pay-off to speak of, and while it might sound like I’m spurting spoilers with wild abandon, there isn’t really anything to spoil: it’s more variety on the same journey, is all. Stop and smell the flowers, there’s no hurry.

There is another base invasion, however – that of aliens into your own. Here I will be more spoiler-averse, and elect to write more about this later, if ever. All I’ll say is that it’s a big, satisfying and more challenging mission than the XCOM norm, and while it was pre-fab rather than being ‘my’ base, with my carefully/chaotically-chosen layout and whatnot, it does do new stuff, busts complacency and it’s impressively relentless. I’m glad it’s there, but I’d have loved for it to have been a forever-looming threat rather than a mere one-off.

Added to that is smattering of new missions. One involved Infinite Chryssalids and a whole lot of running away that I’d name XCOM’s best scripted mission, and there’s a small arc centring around a rescue effort which offers some dramatic new scenery, a couple of tweaked objective types, and a guarantee of psychically-able soldiers by the end of it. It’s comparable to the earlier Slingshot DLC in terms of content, and in its slightly odd focus on named characters with special dialogue, but as part of the overall Within package it’s a worthwhile bonus and again makes yet another playthrough of XCOM’s campaign feel entirely worthwhile.

Which brings me back to the main event, the new soldier types. Honestly, I really say all I wanted to about the Mechs in the last piece, but I will say here that they’re my favourite new thing. They really change the game, both by shaking up the traditional move’n'Overwatch formula, and because having soldiers right in the thick of it – and with the right equipment even punching Sectopods and Cyberdiscs and Beserkers straight in whatever passes for their kissers – alters the dynamic. They’re a long way from invincible, but they do lend a strong sense of taking the fight to the enemy rather than simply trying to survive them. The Gene mods are a little less interesting and certainly less immediate, but I think they’re ultimately the more powerful addition to the XCOM arsenal.

Bar some choice of skills, a Mech is largely a Mech, but with Gene mods you’re tailoring your soldiers, amplifying their existing abilities and setting up elaborate stat multipliers, as the right mods coupled with the right kit and the right allies results in a team who actually grow in capability during the course of a mission. As I’ve said before, it’s something of a Civilization mentality, where you’re really tracking what alters what and spending/equipping carefully, rather than simply making everyone as buff as possible. Buff-e-nuff is not enough! Brains and brawn! Quite a lot of numbers!

For that reason – i.e. because I am a bit stupid and lazy – I enjoyed the Mechs more. They were like having my home re-decorated, whereas the Gene mods were like getting loft insulation done. A more sensible decision for the long term perhaps, but it doesn’t have the immediacy, or the lurid paintwork (as mentioned in the intro, the option to change soldier’s armour colour and headgear really comes into its own when you’re fielding 8-foot roboguys. “It’s the end of the world!” “Whatever, check out my massive lime green robot bottom”).

That said, a sixth playthrough where I double down on Gene mods very much beckons. It does feel as though that’s where new tactical depths are yet to be plumbed, now I’ve scratched the itch for most ostentatious alien-bashing. Although, having gene-fiddled soldiers super-jump onto rooftops and automatically turn invisible isn’t exactly pizazz-free. Throw in the assorted new grenade types too, there are a lot of new toys to play with: this is a big, meaty expansion with plenty of flexibility, which remixes the game without sacrificing its nature, and it goes very big while remaining very well thought-out. This is most reflected in how the soldier mods complement rather than outright replace existing classes; you’re going to need Snipers, Assault et al as much as ever, but there are now new tactical combos and complexities to bear in mind, at least some of which are entirely necessary to deal with more and tougher enemies (most specifically the new Sectoid alien mech, which arrives early early on and regularly, packing equivalent power to a Cyberdisc at the point where you’ve probably barely made it to Laser Weapons).

Such a shame that the endgame remains such a damp squib, with all those exciting new toys and all those hours of planning and sacrifice still resulting in a fairly routine mission and a shrug of an ending. If there’s ever another expansion, that’s what it needs to address. Much as XCOM is a game about personal challenge and victory rather than a happy ending, you’ve got to have a worthwhile destination. This time around, the repeat journey was absolutely worth it, and I’m glad if surprised to end 2013 finding that XCOM was my greatest timesink for a second year running. It won’t, naturally, change the minds of anyone who felt XCOM was a betrayal of X-COM, but if like me you’re contented by the Gollop and Firaxis efforts co-existing and doing their own thing rather than replacing each other, this really is an excellent add-on despite a few pulled punches.

Footnotes

1. However, I found SHIVS to be all but redundant now, as Mech troopers tend to occupy their bullet-sponge shoes. That is presuming you build Mech units, of course – you can always double-down on gene mod guys. Of course there are those situations where all your best warriors are in the sick bay or Psi-lab too).
2. My as-yet unproven suspicion is that the game is simply fielding more foes than before too, to reflect the surfeit of stronger units and super-powers now available to Team XCOM.
3. Each mission, presuming you get both cannisters, tends to yield 20, for reference. Making a soldier Mech-compatible costs 40, building a mech costs similar, and individual gene mods cost anything from 15 to 50. While maxing an out an entire squad’s mods is certainly possible, again it’s likely to involve a degree of grinding in the late game.
4. The reason I keep writing ‘half’ is that you could in theory keep playing a campaign somewhat indefinitely if you so choose, though not a lot would happen as the virtua-months wore one. Alternatively you could experience a near-total wipeout of your best guys partway through and find yourself spending ages getting a bunch of rookies up to speed, delaying the completion of storyline-critical missions.

XCOM: Enemy Within is out tomorrow on PC as an update for the original game, costing around the £15-£20 range.

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89 Comments »

  1. BobbyDylan says:

    Steam seems to think it’s available Friday:

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/225340/

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      bills6693 says:

      Tomorrow for america. Friday evening for the UK & Europe. Because they need to put all the spare copies of the game onto a ship and send them over here so they can sell them in Europe.

    • Unrein says:

      Digital seas, ahoy!

    • Ravenholme says:

      Internet Oceans at work, friend. Savour that feeling of being second class because you happened to live across the Atlantic in Europaland.

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        welverin says:

        You’re not second class citizens, your physical retailers just hate you and thus choose to make you wait to get your games.

      • Synesthesia says:

        I live just south of the us, and i still get the friday launch date. Bullshit. Origin tried to charge me in euros too, just because i speak spanish.

      • SnowCrash says:

        At least your not in Australia

    • Bull0 says:

      I’d managed to convince myself that the game wasn’t out here until tuesday the 19th, so I’m opting to treat this as good news – in my head, at least, I’m getting it early!

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      welverin says:

      I like this bit:
      Enemy Within is a proper expansion – like in the olden days – for last year’s XCOM: Enemy Within, which was a very different reworking of 90s ultro-classic X-COM: UFO Defense.

      I could have sworn that it was Enemy Unknown that came out last year.

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    bills6693 says:

    Just want to say – for those of you who may be looking for a more ‘true’ sequel/re-imagining of the original XCOM games, there is always the early-access game Xenonauts (here http://store.steampowered.com/app/223830). It is, as I said, in early access so not finished yet, but looking more and more like a good remake of the original games that keeps their formula and idea, but in a newer engine, newer graphics, etc. Of course not as high-budget as the Firaxis version but looking good anyway!

    Still, I’m very ectited to get to play this on friday. Kind of annoyed that the yanks get to play it several days early. And not only do we wait till friday, but we wait till friday evening (because, you know, the european release has to wait for the US to get to midday)

    • Ravenholme says:

      Yep, Xenonauts is my nu-X-COM.

      XCOM is my damn fine game that nods heavily to old-X-Com and does it’s own, magnificient things.

      I too cannot wait for Friday.

    • BobbyDylan says:

      Maaan, They really taking their time.

    • Drakale says:

      Eeeh, I was quite underwhelmed by Xenonauts, at least the latest stable version. The engine is terrible, the mechanics are not always working as they should and the alien AI is absolutely terrible. There is also a lot of bugs, but it’s still technically alpha so I’ll wait and see on this front.

      I can see the AI and mechanics getting better in the future, but the shoddy engine will really hold this from becoming a good sequel ultimately.

    • Lemming says:

      I don’t like the nuXCOM much, but I have to say Xenonauts leaves me pretty cold. The art direction is just dull as dishwater apart from the alien ship designs. I own both, but I haven’t touched XCOM since finishing it once and Xenonauts bored me after a couple of hours.

      Xenonauts may be great for some, and I wish them all the best of luck, but it’s not the X-COM I’m looking for.

      • lofaszjoska says:

        How about UFO: Alien Invasion, the extremely detailed free nu-X-Com with fancy retro 3D graphics?
        Me, I can’t wait for Quake aesthetics to replace shitty ‘pixel art’ as the new retro.

  3. Moozla says:

    That is one very stylish cyborg

  4. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Goodbye, 120 hours of my life

  5. Ravenholme says:

    Anand Gupta has specifically referred to XCOM Enemy Within as “XCOM’s Gods and Kings expansion” – it focuses on adding features to the early and mid game.

    I hope he chose that particular reference because any Civ V player knows that BNW came along and tied G&K into the game properly and shook up the endgame. I, too, hope that we will see XCOM’s Brave New World, Alec.

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      bills6693 says:

      Same. I sincerely hope for a BNW that shakes up the late-game. I have to say, BNW really ignited my love for Civ V. I enjoyed my playthrough with BNW much more than I even enjoyed it the very first time round.

      I think that this expansion is throwing bits and pieces in all over the place. Hopefully next year we’ll see another expansion that ties everything neatly into one package and really makes the whole thing a new experience from start to finish, and much better than the original (which was, frankly, fantastic already).

    • almostDead says:

      Well for me, G&K didn’t work at all well until BNW tied everything up into a decent game.

      • Burius1981 says:

        BNW was a terrific expansion for Civ5 but I had already burnt myself out on it. It would be out of this world if they did another expansion similar to BNW.

  6. Squirly says:

    A bit sad to hear they haven’t changed the base building dynamic of the early game, but I’ll get this anyway. The rest just sounds too awesome to deny myself this because of one little annoyance.

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      Gap Gen says:

      I think in general the modern XCOM doesn’t feel like a simulation, more like working through a choose-your-own-adventure. You don’t really lose anything by taking it slowly and waiting to tech up, and the missions are quite formulaic rather than feeling like you’re facing off against an unpredictable foe across a strategic map. In some ways this means the developers can control how likely it is you’ll fail and to what extent you can claw back from defeat (rather than forcing you to play through a situation you don’t yet know is unwinnable), but on the other hand this can feel a bit staid. Even the battles feel a bit like you’re just walking through a level and cleaning up the enemies one by one as you encounter them, rather than fighting a deadly skirmish with a clever foe. Perhaps I should try Xenonauts, although there’s a lot to like in XCOM as it is.

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    Harlander says:

    I seem to recall reading somewhere that ini tweaks will let you fight all the terror missions/abductions instead of having to pick one. Anyone try that?

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      c-Row says:

      As far as I remember it allowed you to intercept UFOs on their way to terror missions but didn’t allow you to fight all three of them, though I might be wrong on that.

      On that topic, the Long War mod looks pretty interesting as is apparently reduces the terror missions to only one at a time and – more important – seems to allow you to retake control of countries who left XCOM again. Plus a whole lot of other stuff. Be advised that this mod probably won’t work with Enemy Within in its current form.

      • Ravenholme says:

        It’s also terribly broken balance wise. Which is a shame, because the concepts are wonderful, but it’s marred with no idea of how to balance it.

      • WrenBoy says:

        Terror Missions only ever come one a time. You are thinking of Alien Abductions.

        Will buy this once it comes down to 15 euros. Until then ill try and manage a 0 casualty classic ironman.

  8. Viroso says:

    I remember a mission in XCOM where I first met a Sectopod. It was sending air strikes giving me hell and I hadn’t even seen it once. Rushed the squad inside the crashed ship hoping to be safe. All my soldiers out of formation at the entrance hall, I thought I was safe when suddenly the Sectopod materializes in the middle of everyone.

    It then destroyed whatever was left of what I understood about the game. Attacking twice in the same turn, counter attacking, unflankable. It was so unfair. The mission got even more insane after that but I’ll keep the story short.

    Anyway, so unfair and so awesome. The best thing about XCOM were the curveballs enemies would throw at you. The WIT barely mentioned new alien enemies. Will there be only the mecha sectoid and the flying squid? Or are there more new alien enemies?

    • Ravenholme says:

      I love it when the Sectopod AI decides to use airstrike inside a UFO. The rounds actually detonate on the roof right above it.

    • mouton says:

      Well, that Sectopod materializing was an old “teleporting” bug they never managed to fully fixed. Hopefully they did it in the expansion, will laugh maniacally if they didn’t.

  9. thesisko says:

    I’m a bit reluctant to play this considering how easy (and thus boring) Enemy Unknown became in the latter parts, even on Classic Ironman. Judging by several other reviews, this happens even earlier with the expansion installed.

    • Leb says:

      40-50 hours in game and I’ve only had one playthrough where I survived the first terror mission on classic-ironman… and then lost my entire veteran squad of 6 in a UFO crash gone horribly wrong. Teach me your ways

      • almostDead says:

        Even though I don’t recommend ironman to anyone, with the bizarre line of sight guessing in this game, I think classic and impossible are the only worthwhile difficulties in this game. And I agree, even impossible can get silly easy late game, with the right tactics.

        There is a wonderful let’s play of ironman impossible on youtube by beaglerush, which will show you the strategy for this game. The production values are fantastic.

        Basically, anyone finding this game too hard is generally being too bullish in their approach. The only fundamental rule is to trigger one pod of enemies at a time. It doesn’t sound like it applies to EW, which might be a good thing.

        You need to treat half-cover as a death sentence, unless you kill the enemy that same turn. In fact, any time your soldiers can see an enemy is a death sentence. Each turn should have no soldiers in line of sight with enemy. They should be dead, or not in line of sight. There’s loads more tips, but the let’s play is delightful.

        • Viroso says:

          I was super careful, for me it still wasn’t easy. My strategy was assault doing the survey, I had two, a sniper with in the zone, a heavy and a support. Sniper did most of the killing, support existed to prevent deaths and some other useful things and heavy was for the occasional enemy cluster or destroying cover.

          Late game, I had things under control during battles, it wasn’t as tense as mid game, (playing normal Ironman btw) but there was still room for things to go extremely wrong. Once this Etheral took over one of my soldiers, the bastard reflected every single attack and got lucky every time. It was a late game battle, I almost lost everyone. Nobody died but most of the group came really close.

          What tactics are sure fire?

          • WrenBoy says:

            Well Etherals can’t deflect area attacks for starters and a high level sniper will have a high chance of hitting them. Getting double tap rather than in the zone is better in my opinion.

            In general I use two snipers, two supports, a heavy and an assault for classic but for impossible I sacrifice a support for a heavy. The only trick is not to trigger more than one mob at a time. Dont flank unless you know you won’t trigger new mobs and use explosives to destroy alien cover as much as the aliens themselves.

          • almostDead says:

            Well, I’ve seen and experienced lots of success with this game.

            Strategic: Satellites. There is nothing else to say. Make and launch more than one your first month. There’s nothing more to this layer at all. EW seems to make things more complex with an embarassment of riches with respect to things you must research.

            Tactical: Use 1AP on all your men to probe before ever expending the second. Don’t trigger more than one batch of aliens at a time. Sod the advice, early game, you must use explosives to guarantee kills. Don’t finish in partial or full cover line of sight with an enemy. Unless you hunker down. He must die that turn, even if it means someone ends up in the absolute open. Use cover more wisely- don’t be in line of sight. If you watch pro players, they often skirt the map as a group rather than even cover hopping- all to get the enemy trigger somewhere where they want it. Later game you will just flush out enemies and one-shot them with your hovering sniper, so there’s nothing really more to this part.

        • mouton says:

          Tactics on impossible aren’t about avoiding half-cover – they are about avoiding line of sight altogether unless you can focus fire and kill an alien. That is why some open maps on impossible are a death sentence.

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      phuzz says:

      Later on is when it begins to get playable for me. I’ve yet to manage a single playthrough on Normal where I didn’t loose at least a couple of countries early on, and that’s with save scumming.

  10. almostDead says:

    Multiple references to EW when I am sure you meant the first one EU.

  11. almostDead says:

    I am absolutely Jonesing for this like a fucking addict. But as Alec alludes to, there’s a lot of frontloaded flash here, and I suspect, not much behind the curtain.

    But that initial high will be worth it. Even if the come-down will be a bitch.

    I suspect that Impossible will be the new classic to be honest. I’m pretty sure I’ll start with impossible. The game drops off a difficulty cliff if you can get enough satellites up, early. I watched Totalbiscuit play this a few weeks ago, inexplicably, he was playing on normal, but it was a total cake-walk.

    • Burius1981 says:

      I read in some early previews that Easy and Normal difficulties are easier while Classic and Impossible actually got tougher. Research takes longer in general but more so in Classic and Impossible and the new toys still cost credits which are already scarce in the early game.

      I’ve never managed to beat the game on Classic; I refuse to save scum so I always play ironman. The closest I got was at some point after the completing the alien base assault. A string of bad luck/bad choices one mission lost my entire team of vets. The rest of my soldiers were whittled away in the next few missions until all I had were squaddies and at some point it was just too bleak.

  12. Vegard Pompey says:

    I’m a bit baffled that they’re prioritizing the early game with this expansion when the early game was already the most stimulating part of EU. The late game is what needs expanding, if anything. Nonetheless, I am psyched as hell for this expansion and upset as hell that I have to wait until Friday evening because retailers are living in the past.

    • almostDead says:

      Perhaps this is just the way Firaxis does things, whether they are most appropriate or not. It seems like the lead guy is talking about this being the Gods and Kings expansion for XCOM, the way they did for CiV. And that was all about early game, with brave new world addressing the late game for CiV, but actually finally making the whole game feel decent.

      I agree, the first few missions of an XCOM campaign are wonderful, and then it all goes ho-hum.

  13. moocow says:

    Second footnote heavy review in one day.

    May I desperately beg for minor improvements the footnote handling, in this order of preference:
    1) In-line footnotes appear when you click on them (as in http://what-if.xkcd.com/)
    2) Alt text of footnote on hovering the footnote link
    3) at least a little clickable link at the end of the footnote back to whence you came.

    Still: I love footnotes! More please! (Everyone go read some David Foster Wallace now!)

    • Viroso says:

      If you click return or press backspace you go back to the text.

  14. Shadow says:

    Despite enjoying XCOM Enemy Unknown as its own game, I’m close to on the fence about Enemy Within. I’m worried they’ve taken further steps into gameyness, insisting on grounding certain (many) game mechanics in abstract balance as opposed to logic and common sense. Stuff Alec touched upon, originally things like the whole deal with satellite construction and weird requirements for things, and now the Meld substance, which is found inexplicably lying around anywhere and everywhere.

    In addition, I’m not sure I like the turn to the superhero-y, when soldiers in XCOM:EU were already almost unacceptably unexpendable. I want competent soldiers that may feel less expendable because I like them, as opposed to becoming close to absolutely essential because I’ve spent a billion dollars, meld and experience on them. In the original game, even rookies were acceptable if they were equipped with decent gear. The new game’s strict class/level-based RPG system makes rookies next to useless after, say, May, given the new dynamic is “handful of super-blokes against the countless alien hordes” as opposed to a grittier fight for survival against a superior foe.

    X-COM was a strategy game with light RPG mechanics, but XCOM:EU instead is a strategy RPG with some management elements. And Enemy Within seems to take even more steps towards RPG, when the game would benefit considerably more from increased strategy.

    • mouton says:

      “I’m worried they’ve taken further steps into gameyness, insisting on grounding certain (many) game mechanics in abstract balance as opposed to logic and common sense. ”

      Frankly, the whole series, including the old games, is very much guilty of this.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Morph says:

    I’d never played any of the originals and when I got Enemy Unknown the base building, upgrading, shooting down UFOs etc. were completely baffling to me. I ended up at a point where the UFOs always escaped my jets, all the countries were pulling their support and it all just went to hell without me having an idea how to salvage things. I just quit in confusion which was disappointing because doing the missions was completely ace.

    But I want to like it. So I guess what I’m saying is… does this expansion make things better for idiots like me or is there even more emphasis on base building?

    • iN5OMANiAC says:

      Two golden rules for Xcom -

      Build lots of satellites (make satellite uplinks first)
      Get lots of engineers.

      Satellites will not only provide you with a lot of money they will also allow you to lower terror levels. Then you can go about upgrading your aircraft with better weapons or aiming/dodging tactics or building the better UFO style aircraft.

  16. Cooper says:

    Does anyone know if the Slingshot DLC works alongside this expansion? I got slingshot ages ago on the sheap but never got around to playing an XCOM campaign with it. I will likely get this expansion at some poin in the future.

    Can I hold off until I get this expansion to play the Slingshot missions?

    • Shadow says:

      The Slingshot missions are integrated to the campaign, so I don’t have any reason to believe they’d be somehow incompatible with Enemy Within.

    • Grygus says:

      Yes, it works just fine; in fact, it’s slightly better.

      Instead of getting the first Slingshot mission in place of your very first Council mission, it’s now delayed a bit, which fits better with the difficulty of the subsequent missions. Additionally, both this and the new Slingshot-like set of missions are now checkboxes in the campaign setup, so if you want to skip them altogether for some reason, you can do so without having to refuse missions.

  17. Lagwolf says:

    Have they fixed the bugs and the “gotcha” movements that made the original game such a pain in the arse to play? New stuff, like mechs, sound great fun, but without cleaning up the faults of the first one I am not sure this is worth my time.

    • SillyWizard says:

      Please try to accept that those things you don’t like about the game are actually how the game is intended to work. If, operating under that understanding, the game doesn’t appeal to you, then you might want to just move on instead of hoping for an expansion to “fix” the intentional gameplay mechanics which the developers included — on purpose — and which fans of the game wouldn’t want to see removed.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        A bit of a patronizing response there. He didn’t bother detailing the “bugs” he was referring to, but you went ahead and assumed he really meant was “gameplay mechanics”.

        Whether that was Lagwolf’s intention or not, there’s no denying that EU has some serious glitches that many suspect are being fixed with the release of EW, instead of being patched into the vanilla game. I won’t be surprised if that’s the case, because 2K pulled the same crap with Civ V.

        Anyway, as a fan of XCOM, I’d love to see some of the more underhanded mechanics get removed completely, like the rigid necessity for multiple satellites or the teleporting baddies. Not every fan looks at the game the same way as you.

        • SillyWizard says:

          By his mention of the “gotcha” moments, I’m pretty sure he’s talking about the fact that aliens scurry for cover whenever they’re discovered. It’s something that’s already been hashed and re-hashed on this site, and I’m sure many others. It’s part of the game, it works, if it’s that unbearable to you, your best bet is to stop playing the game.

          RE: bugs — Okay. Bugs are bugs. Hopefully they get fixed. Do they really bear mention? In my several plays-through I’ve yet to encounter the teleporting bug. Still, I hope for everyone’s sake that all of the everything gets fixed yay.

          • WrenBoy says:

            Given that roaming enemies move via teleportation you got the bug everytime you investigated a noise only to find nothing there.

            Its hard for me to believe you didn’t ever encounter the bug where the teleport and activate in the same round but maybe you encountered the clipping bug which allows enemies standing near walls to stick their head through them and activate or maybe you only encountered the line of sight bug where you can’t target enemies directly in your line of sight unless you quit and reload.

          • SillyWizard says:

            Well sure, the aliens teleport before being discovered, so you can hear something in one place and then uncover a squad on the opposite side of the map. I chalk that up to fog of war, though. The game isn’t particularly taxing of one’s tactical planning skillset, so having opportunities to react to something unexpected adds more fun, doesn’t it?

            I have a hard time understanding the appeal of a game like Xcom if that kind of thing doesn’t strike you as a plus.

          • WrenBoy says:

            I think its a great game actually and suspect that I’ve either played it more than you have or you are just really lucky. I wish other games learned a lot from it’s good and bad points. The bugs are definitely one of the bad points.

            I don’t think the movement by teleportation is a good thing. Until you learn to ignore it you can waste several moves trying to trap an alien which is not there. One of the best things about the game is how it is so rare to have a turn in which nothing happens. This creates multiple turns in which nothing happens.

            Also as an aesthetic point I think its more interesting when the AI plays by the same rules as you do. I can understand the activation move the AI gets but the teleportation is just bad.

            Finally the main problem is that they can teleport into your line of sight and then activate. Also they can teleport just within your line of sight but not in activation range. When this happens they remain visible even when they teleport to the other side of the map. This is kind of funny but I doubt it was intentional.

          • SillyWizard says:

            You have very likely played more of the game than I have. I really wonder about this bug not impacting my games, despite putting enough hours into the game to complete the campaign twice, plus the beginning of a third run-through.

            I’ve always tended towards a conservative-aggressive play-style. I get bored too easily to inch along. I try to win in as few rounds as possible, while being careful enough to keep (most of) my guys alive. (Unless they’re rookies, in which case — go scout ahead redshirt. You’ll be fine….)

            Anyway I’m wondering if pressing forward more consistently makes it less likely that aliens will have an opportunity to teleport awkwardly into the open.

          • WrenBoy says:

            I completed it the first time on Ironman Classic having lost 19 guys. And then a second time with 3 losses. 3 being close to 0 I figured I’d go for a perfect play through. Many many hours later…

          • Philotic Symmetrist says:

            I’ve encountered the teleporting bugs several times; a group will be ‘spotted’ on the other side of the map, sometimes then relocating to a different other side of the map for their scatter animation and then I’m left with knowing that there’s a group of aliens now activated but I don’t know where they are (on a side note, it feels odd that given that the best strategy seems to be to ‘manage’ what aliens are active, then when they act like they should and extra aliens join in a fight even when you’re being careful to stay in that ‘zone’ to avoid activating them it then feels ‘unfair’).

            I’ve also had issues with having clear line to an enemy (against and on the same side of the wall) but not flanking, being at point blank with nothing between them and them still getting high cover, and being at point blank with nothing between a soldier and a muton and not even being able to shoot at him…(the last one was involving this precise truck here http://i.imgur.com/1Tgoi.jpg standing on the back of it just breaks things [I have a screenshot of the exact situation but don't know a convenient way to upload it]).

            Oh, and all of these were in the last couple of weeks so no they haven’t fixed them.

        • Lagwolf says:

          I meant things like random teleporting. The firing through solid walls and taking accurate shots at angles that really aren’t there. That is what I mean by “gotcha” moments.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      Nope. Enemies still teleport around instead of patrolling, they still get a free turn when they encounter XCOM and the entire strat layer is still reduced to “build satellites – profit” with nonsensical pick-1-out-of-3 “choices” with no chance to use spare soldiers or resources to get more missions.

      It’s really sad that Dawn of War 2 had more depth in it’s campaign than the XCOM remake, but that’s how it is.

      • ScorpionWasp says:

        Enemies don’t get a free turn when they make contact with X-Com. It’s the other way around. Regardless of who bumps into whom, enemies are prevented from doing anything aggressive until X-com has had a turn head start on them. Which leads to further idiosyncrasies, like it never being a good idea to move more than one unit a turn until you make contact, because that way you get to have all units act before the aliens do. Or not having to actually worry about keeping your units in cover for as long as no enemy units are “active”. Or keeping people in overwatch and hoping alien patrols actually stumble on you being a more sound strategy than seeking mobile alien pods out. “Skillful” tactics in this game actually consist of cheesing, abusing and exploiting the AI rather than having a fair fight you can be proud of with them. For all the talk about it being modeled “like a board game”, this is a game that wouldn’t (and does not) work if both sides were human controlled.

    • Bobtree says:

      Same here. I was incredibly underwhelmed and disappointed by Firaxis’ poor support for X:EU.

  18. SillyWizard says:

    I am desperate for an expansion to include multiple bases, meaning multiple teams. Sure, your primary base should be the only one with research/construction going on, but each continent’s hangar should also have a barracks, with its own team of Xcommies.

    The potential for awesome is pretty limitless. Your Australia unit got wiped? Oh no, there’s a terror mission! Hopefully your Asia team can make it in time.

    If you had multiple capable teams, you’d be able to react to simultaneous missions; your more capable soldiers would be more spread out, meaning squad-wipes aren’t the end of the world, and you can cobble a replacement team from other units around the world; lots of stuff!

    I’m already super paranoid about losing important soldiers, so I tend to level up new recruits/squaddies a lot as it is. By the time I finished my last play-through (and I went through it pretty quickly) I must have had a dozen colonels or more, and a lot of captains and majors, as well. It was great because there were a number of times that much of my A-Team got wounded, so have plenty of subs was vital.

    However, 80% of the time or more, I had all these highly capable soldiers that weren’t really seeing any action. Splitting them off into separate units with their own areas of responsibility would have been awesome.

    (Also it would lend itself to having a mechanic in which soldiers who’ve fought a lot of battles with each other perform better than a cobbled-together team thrown into the fray at the last minute, but that’s just my Fire Emblem lust spilling out everywhere.)

    • Shadow says:

      In all likelihood, as this expansion seems to have proven, future expansions will only build upon the vision of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I really don’t see them going back on their core design decisions, such as having a single base or a very reduced number of troopers per battle.

      The whole game revolves around those fundamental concepts, and changing them would require rethinking the entire design to accommodate for a completely different scale, balance and dynamic.

      It wouldn’t be the same game, and at the very least, such changes are sequel material.

      • SillyWizard says:

        I dunno how having artificial constraints meaning you can only select soldiers from one of several pools (determined by location) would really change the game that much, in terms of balance. Keep your 4-6 man teams, keep all your research/engineering in one location. I guess you’d have to ship fancier weapons around to the other locations, but that’s no big deal, really.

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        I agree, but I think there’s room for them to do sequels that mix up the formula. I suspect that they will do Civ-style sequels that are basically the same thing with mechanics that differ to some degree.

        • Shadow says:

          Actually, each incarnation of Civilization plays quite differently from all the others, so let’s hope for that kind of redesign. I really wish XCOM:EU spawned sequels like a Chryssalid spawns zombies, but it seems unlikely in this day and age…

          • SillyWizard says:

            Speaking of Chryssalids and Zombies: Firaxis — pls make a game mode involving either escaping or stopping a massive wave of chryssalids + zombies kthxbai.

  19. Michael Fogg says:

    A good deconstruction of the economic layer in the WIT – the ‘race for the sattelites’.

    It would have been great if they introduced some proactive way of managing the panic levels, too.

  20. Solrax says:

    I would love to know if they’ve changed the mechanic of you being unable to choose the specialization of your troops upon their first promotion. It drove me crazy that I, the supposed commander of the unit attempting to save the world, could not choose the training my troops received. I don’t need 8 snipers, I need some support dammit! My only reloads were due to losing irreplaceable soldiers because my recruits ended up being redundant.

    • SillyWizard says:

      Ah ha ha ha ha I had the exact same problem. My support guys were the best, and the 3 of them that I got in my first 30 hours of play all died heroic and unavoidable (without scumming) deaths. Meanwhile I had 8-10 snipers who never saw action upon being assigned that class, and 4 snipers who I promoted to Major or Colonel.

      Seems like a silly thing to leave out.

  21. JoeX111 says:

    How are the new maps? Do they add enough variety to where you aren’t seeing the same convenience store, highway, forest and cemetery all the time?

  22. kopema says:

    Sounds about right to me. I haven’t played in quite a while, and this expansion provides enough new content to make replaying more interesting.

    (Actually all this talk was enough to make me want to replay the game as-is, but I’ll wait ’till tomorrow.)

  23. belgand says:

    Talk about a flat ending on my last playthrough I got to the end chamber and, after carefully positioning my squad sent a mind-controlled Muton through to scout things out for us. Next round one of my snipers Double Tapped the ethereal and everyone died. I was just standing around wondering if something terrible was going to happen until my control of the Muton ended and, with him, the game.

    It’s rather poorly-designed when one character can beat the final boss alone on a single turn.

  24. the_fanciest_of_pants says:

    I still think it sucks that A) aliens never move until they’re spotted and B) they get a free move (usually right into cover, often flanking you) when you DO spot them.

    It completely eliminates that glorious tension of the older games, the pants-shitting moment when you turn in a doorway to see a silent and still Chrysalid RIGHT FUCKING NEXT TO YOU, and guess what, you only have the AP to pull the pin on that grenade..

    Also you can never catch the aliens off guard. The cat and mouse is replaced with nothing but cover-to-cover bounding overwatch.

    I really feel like a mod or option to turn off the “Activation” stuff would really punch up the gameplay.

    That said it was a great remake/sequel and better than I could have hoped, just a major niggle I still have with it. Definitely playing this.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      “I really feel like a mod or option to turn off the “Activation” stuff would really punch up the gameplay.”

      I tried so hard to do this but it is integral to the engine. There are some groups who move before they’ve been activated but it is impossible to prevent that reaction dive to cover, even if you make every group spawned move around the map – though making every group move largely addresses the major problem that you feel the aliens are just hanging around for you – you can’t retreat knowing your back is safe and you have to defeat groups quickly because it’s only a matter of time before the next group wanders into the combat area and activates. That they immediately dive to cover is somewhat mitigated by them losing their first turn – it turns the first turn into a dive to cover, so they can’t wander in, get a free dive into cover then gun you down from a direction that you were previously safe in, which could happen if your last soldier activated them without you ever getting to react to the revealed groups activation!

      Check out mods like Long War, there are others but I feel like this is a mod you would really enjoy, from what you’ve written!

      • the_fanciest_of_pants says:

        The rant was half in the hope that someone would point me to just such a mod, thanks!

        • Dave Tosser says:

          http://xcom.nexusmods.com/mods/79//?

          ToolBoks lets you fix it so that your soldiers go first when they spot an enemy. I’d far rather have an initiative based system or even something like Prelude to Darkness, but this is the best you can get. ToolBoks also allows you free camera rotation (fucking hell, Firaxis!), animation delays, no startup movies and configurable hotkeys. It made FiraXCOM tolerable for me, a gibbering lover of the original.

  25. Lagwolf says:

    Don’t mind it when I have something dumb, but do mind it when it is just the game screwing me over. It has just done that again…

  26. Carlos Danger says:

    No mention about how Exalt is racist and sexist? Fun expansion, but made by bigots.