The Amazing & Astonishing RPS Advent Calendar: Day 13

They could rebuild it. They had the technology. Better, stronger, faster.

It’s XCOM: Enemy Within!


Some of you – especially the pillocks who can’t stop themselves believing that someone really enjoying a videogame must be for sinister or corrupt reasons – may be relieved to hear that, having written a small novel’s worth of words about XCOM over the past couple of years, I now can’t think of a thing more to say. XCOM is good. I like XCOM. The XCOM expansion is good. I like the XCOM expansion. Good. XCOM. Good. Expansion. Um.

(It is safe to say that I’d probably be a candidate for having my arms chopped off and my torso stuck into a tin can were I an XCOM operative, rather than one of the guys who gets selected for augmentation with amazing brain powers. I’m OK with that.)

Part of me’s slightly uncomfortable that I close out a second year running with XCOM as my most played game by far – I hate to be a stick in the mud. Most of me, the celebratory part rather than the cynical one, is absolutely delighted to have been given more of a good thing, this smart-yet-boisterous remix that breathed dozens of hours of new life into a game I thought I’d exhausted. I must admit that the proposed changes and additions sounded chaotic and excessive on paper, but in practice they make so much sense, and wring a new game out of the same structure.

Another, greedier part of me, fervently hopes that same thing happens again next year, that there’ll be a second expansion which does for XCOM’s sadly flaccid late-game (and that bloody satellite mess) what Enemy Within did for the early/mid stages. Then I worry about what the hell I’m going to find to say for a third year running.

Adam: XCOM: Enemy Unknown could have been eviscerated, dissected on the internet’s butcher’s slab. As a reimagining of one of the PC’s most beloved properties, there was always the danger that it would attract packs of angry fans, furious at every change. All things considered, it managed to avoid that fate and the Enemy Within expansion takes it farther away from its source material. XCOM is a distinct thing now, a sort of superheroes vs monsters sci-fi spectacular, where augmented humans bound from rooftop to rooftop, and monstrous mechanoids clash in a whirlwind of sparks and fire.

Enemy Within doesn’t simply add bulk to the game, it adds definition. The multiple routes that soldiers can be ushered along make the smaller squad a more sensible choice, with every individual capable of changing the tide. They are still vulnerable and the game can still be cruel, but moments of triumphant heroism are more frequent, even if I still worry about the fate of my soldiers when the war is won.

I worried that fighting against human enemies would distract from the invasion but EXALT are a fine check to the bravado that can infect a commander leading a squad of mechanised warriors. Infiltration missions strip away advanced armour and weaponry, and caution is always necessary when fighting the flank-hungry bastards during an extraction.

Even Meld requires changed tactics. I say ‘even Meld’ because I initially found the idea of a disintegrating, timed resource extremely silly, fearing it would be clumsy way to force daft and daring dashes across the battlefield. It does provide a prompt push into action but, again, it’s a necessary one, making even the older maps seem new when plans sometimes shift so dramatically.

Firaxis, as they’ve proved with Civ V’s evolution, are good at making expansions that are both content-rich and relevant. Enemy Within has allowed their designers to make this XCOM a distinct and challenging piece of work that very much stands on its own two (heavily augmented) feet. In an odd way, it feels like a zoomed in focus on the skirmishes of a larger war – a feeling that I never had with the original X-COM – but that’s not to the game’s detriment. Wisely, a great deal of Within’s work is concentrated on the agents themselves, ensuring that no matter how loud and complex the battle becomes, it has a human heart.

And, finally, a diverse set of voices. I’m still waiting for the expletive-sitting British language pack though.

Back to the Calendar!


  1. Meat Circus says:

    It’s a great pity they didn’t really fix the frankly creaky satellite-heavy base building game at all, since it was the weakest part of XCOM and now looks even weaker.

    • Teovald says:

      I think the ET IA is the biggest weakness of the game.
      It works a lot like a proximity trap : you get too close to an alien position & boom ! They appear.
      So :
      – you don’t really feel like you are fighting a cohesive force, it is more a collection of encounters on the map
      – without meld, it affects your strategies way too much, discovering aliens at the beginning or end of your turn dramatically changes things so you tend to plan your moves way too much around that mechanic.

      Base construction is indeed poor, but you don’t spend that much time planning your base.

      • Blue_Lemming says:

        unlike the parent title where base building was an essential area if you were planning on not investing heavily in base defense tech. As they all came in through the hangers and the entry hatch you could create choke points.

        Still enjoy the new one, but i can’t help missing this aspect, now its just a case of building satellites from day one, or you’re effectively boned(as i found on my first play through).

      • Synesthesia says:

        I think that’s not how it goes. Get an invisible soldier to watch them in the fog of war. The boom! effect is them simply entering line of sight. The animation that runs when that happens is the game telling you exactly that. If you follow them with an invisible soldier, maybe with mimetic skin, you can see them moving around the map and looking for you. I think there was a dev blog about this idea?

        • mlaskus says:

          They can also teleport on occasion, which can be extremely annoying. I’ve once spent over an hour hunting for a group of aliens that kept getting teleported around the map. I could have split my team into a few groups and cover all of the locations they teleported to, but I was playing Impossible Ironman and that would probably end my run. :)

      • mouton says:

        The AI is much better than in the original game, where it was essentially random. Sure, they shot at you if they saw you, but outside of that they wandered the map randomly and never even pretended to work in groups. EU AI is a vast improvement.

  2. lowprices says:

    Agreed. If it weren’t for my current Spelunky obsession this would be my Goatee. It’s also good to see Firaxis finally get scripted missions right. The final mission and the DLC missions were a bit rubbish but


    The pitched battle against the endless Chrysalids on the ship


    Is one of my gaming highlights of the year.

    Also hats. A giant mech with a fedora has not stopped being funny yet.

    • mangrove says:

      I got my ass kicked on this one. Only 2 people made it out. I had to sacrifice one to call in the airstrike, lost another withdrawing from the ship, and the third bought it surrounded by Chrysalids one turn away from the extraction zone.

    • Highstorm says:

      It was a great mission. Unfortunately there is no reward beyond “Panic Reduction” and, in fact, it doesn’t increase panic if you ignore it. Due to its potential difficulty, I just ignore it now that I’ve done it once, as there is no benefit (beyond some XP I guess). Sad really.

  3. Lambchops says:

    Hoping this gets a discount in the sales, keen to have an excuse to replay XCOM, as it is indeed a fun time.

    • bills6693 says:

      Keep an eye on GreenManGaming, they run good deals on Firaxis stuff. Generally, they run the same % off as steam, PLUS an extra 10-25% off with another voucer you’ll find on the site, making it often very cheap. I’d expect it to be 50% off sale, and with the extra off you could get it down to about 66% off base price :)

  4. Nim says:

    I am boycotting this due to forced sleeveless armors on augmented soldiers. No soldiers of mine are going into battle in incomplete armor. In all seriousness, I am waiting for the next expansion pack where they hopefully modify the general progression, base building and satellites towards something more robust and varied. I’ll get them both at that time. If enemy within turns out to be the only expansion I might pick it up in some years when I can be bothered.

  5. SanguineAngel says:

    I can’t wait to tuck into this. I have been putting it off because I never actually finished XCOM:EU – insisting on playing classic and impossible ironman I just had so much fun losing! Anyway, I am well on my way to an ironman victory, at which point I intend to pick up this delightful sounding expansion and do it all again!

  6. Laurentius says:

    When it comes to XCOM and Mr Meer I’m that pillock allright, though I don’t think corruption or anything sinister at all, more like teenage crush.

  7. Jonfon says:

    Such a great expansion. I’m also in the “well this is my most played game for the second year” camp as well.

    I was just about free of it when I found the Training Roulette option in the Second Wave new game options which randomises the powers your soldier can pick from when levelling. Coupled with the other random character generation options all of my soldiers suddenly started being all individuals with different pros and cons (“We are all individuals”. “I’m not”. “Shut up Hicks”).

    End game expansion would delight me as well. Hopefully that’s the next step (better late game and maybe a resurgent, more challenging Exalt with more back story (at the moment it’s just “Some dudes are nicking our stuff”)

    • Svant says:

      Yeah the second wave stuff for random soldiers really helps in making the soldiers unique and valuable. A high aim high will recruit is worth its weight in gold and will quickly become a key member of the team, and thus hurt even more when he dies to a surprise plasma plast to the face.

  8. Sorbicol says:

    Having been playing this pretty much constantly since it was released, all the changes that have been made don’t feel particularly balanced – especially at classic level. That’s not to say that I don’t really enjoy the game but now the strategic level is just a complete mess instead of being a slight one.