Fear Of The Unknown: What We Want From XCOM 2

Here at RPS, we like XCOM: Enemy Unknown so much that we named it the 12th best strategy game of all time. When Firaxis announced the sequel, the entire RPS team smiled, simultaneously for the first time since 1992. That doesn’t mean we’ll be happy with more of the same though and when we asked strategy expert Rob Zacny to contemplate the best possible XCOM 2, he made some bold suggestions. Bring back the fear, he says, and if your game is about insurgency, learn from the best.

A few months ago, before he got his copy of the XCOM boardgame, my friend and I were bullshitting via IM about what it would be like.

“You’re gonna have a great time,” I said. “Just picture it: you and all your friends, sitting around the table. Putting every single character into Overwatch for the whole game.”

“Moving like five steps to the next piece of cover,” he said.

“Just parking there.”

“Until you finally lose your mind and say, screw it! I’m moving out. Then you get insta-capped by a Thin Man. Game over. Earth is doomed.”

When I think about what I want from XCOM 2, I have to admit that Firaxis have already addressed my top-of-the-list concerns. Procedural map generation means that the battle for humankind will no longer hinge on the exact same gas station, warehouse, and train station again and again. Improved and expanded mod support, along with an interface that doesn’t keep trying to reinterpret my mouse commands through the lens of a gamepad.

But then there is the fact that one of my most enduring impressions of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of routine. Methodical, step-by-step crawls across the map, dropping into Overwatch at every new cover position. Getting a glimpse of aliens milling around in quiet reflection, like guests at a friend’s farewell party, and knowing just how to prod them into activity so that they’d get massacred by my Overwatch-positioned troops. Using my fast-moving assault troops to move into point-blank flanking positions to clear out alien positions. Everything by the book, from the first encounter to the alien mothership.

That’s also a function of an alien menace that didn’t always feel menacing so much as pest-like. When the alien invasion’s first waves are massacred by a bunch of rookies wearing Kevlar and sporting shotguns, you know you’re not exactly re-enacting the marine-massacres of Aliens. XCOM’s invaders never really felt like they caught you unprepared, even when they rolled out heavy mechs and Mutons for the first time.

Compare that to those missions in the original X-COM when the first soldiers down the ramp died before they could take five steps away from the Skyranger. The shots coming in from God-knows-where as your under-equipped, under-trained, and under-funded soldiers waded into the darkness shrouding a low-res rural farm. You couldn’t do things by the book because the book hadn’t been written. You didn’t have the tools you needed to get the job done, except maybe warm bodies. So you spent those.

What I want from XCOM 2, above all else, is a sense of menace. And that means making a game that won’t be quite so gentle if I stick to the standard-operating procedure. I want more missions like that doomed fishing village in Enemy Within, where I go from thinking, “It’s quiet. A little too quiet,” to finding myself in a desperate fight as the map gets overrun with aliens and my supply of ordnance begins to run low. In XCOM, those moments mostly arrived via the game’s scripted levels. I want them to come via the ebb-and-flow of random encounters, so that I don’t know what I’m in for the moment the level finishes loading.

That might also require a rethink of some of the compromises that Firaxis made with the first XCOM: Enemy Unknown design. And here’s where I get ambivalent about some of my own suggestions. Enemy Unknown was very good at staying in a “sweet spot”. It was never too-slow paced or too sprawling. It was never overwhelming, and very rarely felt unfair or capricious. All of that probably explains why it was so easy to keep playing, and so difficult to put down. But in chopping away some of the valleys of the X-COM experience, Firaxis also leveled the peaks.

I thought at the time that it was the right move, but three years later, I don’t feel the need to repeat the experience with a slightly new set of clothes. I’ve still got Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within, and if I want that experience I am happy to reinstall them. For XCOM 2, I’m ready for something a little less orderly and predictable.

Of course, the premise of XCOM 2 demands something less orderly and predictable. In XCOM you were the Rainbow 6 of alien extermination teams, zipping from one landing site to the next to fend off the latest incursion. XCOM 2 positions you as insurgents against a quisling government and their victorious alien overlords. This is the stuff of Red Dawn or Falling Skies. Perhaps more appropriately, it’s the stuff of Jagged Alliance 2.

Jagged Alliance 2 remains the king of Third World Late Cold War Mercenary Conflict Simulations (or TWLCWMCSMs as genre aficionados call them). One of the great things about it was that you didn’t steadily accumulate power and resources. Instead, the evil queen you were trying to overthrow would hit back hard once you started making significant gains against her territory. Early in the game, when her elite divisions showed up, you needed either one hell of a great ambush or a swift exit before their superior firepower, armor, and training steamrolled your ragtag band of paramilitaries.

But with each raid, with each successful sneak attack, you started to accumulate the gear and experience you’d need to take them in a stand-up fight. World War 2-surplus weaponry gave way to the finest in modern assault rifles, body armor, and optics. When it came time for the final assaults on the enemy, your team was loaded-out like Neo and Trinity at the end of The Matrix. But getting there required tons of scavenging, raiding, and retreating.

I want that kind of interplay between the “big picture” of the battle for the fate of the Occupied Earth and the tactical battles you fight along the way. There should be a feedback loop between them, so that I’m not just dealing with the binary outcomes of succeeding or failing at a mission, but have to be thinking about whether a battle is still worth winning. I don’t just want major missions to appear on my command screen, but to have some agency in driving the war effort.

One of the things I love about Jagged Alliance 2 is that everything is shown to you at the start. You have a map of the country and a pretty thorough intelligence report on it so you know where the crucial pressure points are, it’s just a question of knowing when the time is ripe to attack them. That’s the kind of calculation I want to be making in XCOM 2.

This would also be a good time to bring back direct alien attacks against XCOM. If I’m running an insurgency against the aliens, then there should also be a return to the base attacks of the original X-COM. Not just a pre-made scenario, but an ongoing threat that I have to guard against.

There’s one other factor I’d like to see in the new XCOM: winning hearts and minds. Even if I’m fighting to liberate humanity from the alien scourge, that’s still going to necessitate killing human forces in their service, and conducting attacks in civilian areas. How will humankind feel about this new guerilla XCOM if each battle in my war of liberation turns into the opening of The Wild Bunch?

This wishlist comes with a couple of concerns. XCOM was an accomplished game and I wonder how much you can mess around with the formula before you start running into problems with the game’s difficulty and sheer randomness. If the aliens are more aggressive once they know you’re around, and no longer wait around in piecemeal clusters, does XCOM become too hard? If you have more freedom and variety in playing the campaign, and in how missions are resolved, is it possible to enter a death-spiral and not know it until it’s too late? You always knew where you stood with XCOM, and why things were happening. The same couldn’t always be said for its predecessors.

Still, we already have XCOM. It did a great job of introducing a new generation to this particular form of alien invasion, and its brand of tactical combat and consequences. If Firaxis are going back to it, then they can’t take the conservative approach that led to Beyond Earth. This is the time to take risks and remind people that X-COM wasn’t just a fun game. It was a game to be feared.

66 Comments

  1. Darkheart says:

    I haven’t tried Xenonauts yet, but recently started a game of UFO: Extraterrestrials with the Ease of Use mod and I must say it’s pretty close to X-COM quite hard on normal difficulty (with some of the mod extras, which you can switch on/off and tune via a nice in-game menu).
    Worth a try if you feel that itch…

    • Azhrarn says:

      You should give X-COM Terror from the Deep a try, it makes UFO look like a walk in the park in terms of difficulty, even if you compensate for the buggy tech-tree (there are a few techs that you need to get in a very specific order or the game won’t be winnable, and you’ll lose access to quite a few critical technologies).

      • aircool says:

        TFTD had maps that were way too large, although I loved the vibe of the whole game, even if it was a bit yellow.

        • Azhrarn says:

          True, there was a lot of yellow in that game. Probably had something to do with all that blue under water. :D

          The maps were indeed enormous, but the tension and fear felt so real, especially because it was so much harder than UFO. Not to mention that at the start half your most potent weapons wouldn’t work at all if you were on land, rather than under water. It made getting upgraded technology so vital. Terror missions were horrific things until you got access to Gauss and Sonic weapons that all worked well on both land and sea. :)

      • hjarg says:

        You know, it was all fun and games until i spent hours trying to find the last bloody alien in cruise ship terror mission. The poor bugger was hiding in one of the cabins, terrified.
        Not so much fun…

        • MrPyro says:

          Yeah, the Lobsterman hiding in the walk-in wardrobe that I found around turn 36 after scouring the map was frustrating. Especially when after killing him the game said “Well done! Now on to part two of the mission!” and then took all of your ammo away.

          I don’t miss TFTD one bit.

          • aircool says:

            Yes, the two part bases were annoying. I think that’s why I never finished it.

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        The difficulty of TFTD is extra face kickingly bad if you were super proud to complete the first game on one of the higher difficulties and didn’t know about this bug:
        “The DOS version has a problem where no matter what difficulty level you choose, it will revert to “Beginner” level after the first mission. This is caused by one incorrectly set bit in all DOS versions of the game (1.0 through to 1.4). The Collectors Edition Windows port (also commonly known as UFO Gold or CE) does not have this problem.”

        I’d suggest waiting for for the OpenXcom version of TFTD, they’ve made some progress but no release yet.
        I managed to complete TFTD on Beginner for the first time a year or two ago. It took almost 20 years to get to a playthrough that didn’t end in rage quitting. :P

  2. Shadow says:

    My deduction is the human forces XCOM will be facing in the sequel are an evolution of Enemy Within’s EXALT. The term ADVENT has been mentioned a couple of times so far, and it sounds like that’s the name of the human yet puppet global government. The one with the funky red logo.

    And yeah, it’d be nice to see some mechanic dealing with the public perception of XCOM in this insurgent context. ADVENT will surely keep the population content and “informed” via heavy propaganda, likely painting your freedom fighters as evil terrorists. No mind control necessary, save for perhaps key individuals in the governmental hierarchy.

    Base defense-like missions… yeah, I’m not sure they fit all that well in these circumstances. If the world government ever got a fix on XCOM’s mobile base’s position, they’d likely hit it with overwhelming force. It’s safe to assume they have vast amounts of resources, and that XCOM needs to rely on evasion and raiding ADVENT’s vulnerable spots while denying the enemy the chance of a frontal assault, like any guerrilla.

    • aircool says:

      I’d put my money on EXALT as well. The EXALT missions were a nice change of tack, along with a few facepalm moments when you realise you’ve bought along an Arc Thrower, and that harmless looking dude on one hit point has a rocket launcher.

      • Shadow says:

        Arc Throwers aren’t exactly useless against EXALTs. You can’t capture them, but a successful stun makes the guy commit suicide by some kind of syringe.

        • aircool says:

          I know… but you may as well just shoot them. I suppose if you’re out of ammo and can’t trust your pistol.

          Then again, you could just be a bastard and make them commit suicide for a laugh :)

  3. Banks says:

    I loved Xcom but It had some flaws that hurt replayability a lot. The scripted missions, the nonsensical wandering around, the shallownes of the base layer and the dull endgame put me off from playing as much as I’d like.

    But, like you, I don’t want to play a more refined version of the same game again. I want a completelly new take on the XCOM formula.

    • Everblue says:

      Can I recommend the Long War mod then? Much harder, more maps, revamped air game, two more tiers of weapons, more subclasses of weapons (each tier has 4 different kinds of assault rifle, for example). You also get ‘unfair’ fights much more often and the game will deliberate throw things at you that you can’t beat.

      It’s much closer to the original experience.

  4. BloatedGuppy says:

    They need to fix their difficulty pacing. XCOM started fair, peaked abruptly early due to Thin Man accuracy, and fell off a cliff once better armor/energy weapons come into play. By end game, with a well groomed crew of veterans, it is a cake walk.

    If they allow multiple teams and place less priority on the same 5-6 soldiers, they can allow for higher casualties and more brutal missions. They need to get it to a place where a single failed mission won’t derail an entire campaign, and you can be on the ropes and claw your way back to comfort, and visa versa.

    • Shadow says:

      Spot on in all regards.

      XCOM is most exciting near the beginning, but the game gives too much importance to single soldiers and makes them nigh-irreplaceable in the higher difficulty settings. It’s a cakewalk with well-trained soldiers after a while but 2-3 significant casualties can cripple you. Enemy Within only made it worse with the genetic enhancement mechanics.

      I loved the originals but I’m not that much of a purist. That said, the old gameplay choice of having more numerous, more generic, more expendable soldiers worked better than the remake’s superheroes-in-the-making concept. Let’s hope XCOM 2 takes a step in the right direction: you don’t need to make each individual trooper invaluable to make losses meaningful.

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        Andy_Panthro says:

        This was my biggest issue with the new XCOM, a single mission failure or losing a veteran soldier could really make things difficult. With the first UFO, you could suffer a total mission failure but be able to fight your way back. It would set you back, but not completely cripple your efforts (unless you lost a base defence, but those were very much late-game).

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        Really good point about the soldiers. Both have their merits I think – the focus on a tight team of specialized super heroes in the new where you probably remember a few soldiers even a few missions after you lost them.
        I don’t really pay attention to most of my soldiers in the old game (except the bravery stat, the UI doesn’t exactly allow for snappy comparisons) but there are always a couple of soldiers that manage to survive the darwinistic selection of battle for most of the game and ends up with super stats, also the ones most likely to get Psi/MC training.

        • ShinySpoons says:

          I imagine with the new games emphasis on guerilla fighting it would make a lot of sense to divide your soldiers/bases into “cells”.

          This would allow losing whole bases/teams without leading to a gg. It would suck, but you still have more cells to pickup the slack.

      • arisian says:

        I think this was a big part of what lead to the slow, boring, overwatch-creep; the “optimal” strategy alluded to in the article. It wasn’t *just* that the “optimal” strategy was a really boring one, it was also that you *needed* to play using the optimal strategy, because you couldn’t afford to loose anyone. In XCOM, you’re essentially in sudden-death overtime for the entire game; one bad screwup could completely derail a game, regardless of how well you had played previously. This was particularly problematic because there was so much non-determinism in the game. Yes, the stakes were always high, which made for a lot of tension, but they wound up being *so* high, and so much of success was based on a roll of the dice, that you basically had to play really conservatively all the time, which actually tended to sap tension as encounters became long, slow, and predictable.

        The fundamental problem here is that the badass super-soldier squad can be really fun, but doesn’t mesh well with the anyone-can-die mentality. I think for this next game, they really need to decide between an RPG-style squad of heroes, where the emphasis is on leveling and building up skills and really getting to know your team, or a perma-death, cannon fodder model more like the original, in which your soldiers aren’t really unique, and their long-term power growth is small enough that nobody becomes irreplaceable.

        I appreciate that fear and tension are a critical part of the XCOM experience, but I really think that perma-death doesn’t mesh well with the RPG-squad. What you need is a method of introducing fear/tension that allows the threat level to ramp up slowly and smoothly with failure, rather than in giant, sudden-death events.

        Especially in this new game setting, I don’t think this would be too unreasonable; all you need is to have the important thing be accomplishing specific mission objectives, rather than just “wipe out all enemies without dying”. The tension would have to come from the fact that you might not be able to completely succeed; (partial) failure of an objective would lead to bad consequences (at least some of which should be clear, short-term consequences). You might also have missions with multiple objectives, and the tension would come from trying to decide which objectives to pursue and which to abandon, or trying to decide if you still have time to complete one more secondary objective before going after the primary, or if doing that will cause you to fail the primary objective.

        Alternatively, keep perma-death for squad members, but drastically curtail the RPG element for soldiers.
        That way, you still have some tension from the fact that your elite soldiers are hard to replace, but they’re not so much stronger that can’t succeed without them, and it might only take an hour of play to train up a new “elite” soldier, rather than the dozens of hours it took to get a max-level soldier in XCOM.

        Of course, I’m sure they’ve already decided what they’re doing at this point in development, and I doubt it’s either of these options. But if someone wanted to make a mod based on one of them, I’d be happy to help ;)

        • Rikard Peterson says:

          Try playing on a lower difficulty level, maybe? I play on normal, occasionally lose people but can keep playing and have fun.

        • ProjectXenocide says:

          Regarding the debate on super soliders vs perma death I think the solution is in assigning special abilities to specific squads and roles within those squads. That way if a squad member dies another soldier with that role can take their place with those abilities and it allows you to lose soliders. After all platoons train together and train multiple people with the same skills to pass on training.

          • rmsgrey says:

            One of the biggest differences between X-COM and XCOM is the squad size – in UFO, you could take along enough soldiers that you had trouble fitting their gear on the transport (stupid 80-item limit…) and it was routine to have 2-3 active squads later in the game too, so you could have as many as 60 troops in active service. In that situation, where your active force is expanding naturally, it’s only sensible to take some rookies along on most operations. In XCOM, you can expand your active squad to a whole 6 people and only ever take 1 squad out at a time, so pretty much the only times you’ll take out less experienced troops are when someone’s injured, killed, or being upgraded – a dozen troops in active service is borderline overkill.

            The nature of the tactical game exacerbates this – in UFO, the tactical game was all about finding the enemy, meaning you wanted a significant scouting element; in XCOM, the tactical game is all about engaging the enemies rather than about finding them (in fact, the teleporting alien patrols mean that there’s no point even trying area-control tactics – your only option is to keep the squad operating as a unit) so you’ve got no room for weak or ineffective soldiers.

            And then there’s the rank structure – UFO has a rank structure – you get to Squaddie just by seeing combat (you may have to kill an alien) but promotion beyond that requires two things to be true: there to be enough troops of your rank or lower to justify another officer, and there to be no-one else more qualified. If some disaster wiped out all your high-ranking officers, it would only take a handful of missions to promote troops to fill in the holes. In XCOM, the “rank” structure isn’t really rank and doesn’t have much structure – a soldier’s “rank” is purely an experience level, and replacing losses takes just as long as training the originals did (okay, you can recruit sergeants sometimes as mission rewards, so it’s only “almost as long”)

            Transferable role templates would get around the replacement time issue, but would also be a body blow to soldier individuality. It stops being “Frank, who carries the team” and becomes “SquadSight Sniper, played this week by whoever”.

            Me, I think the key thing would be to redesign the tactical so that there is a role for less experienced troops without their inability to leap tall buildings in a single bound (or kill a Chryssalid from across the map) becoming a critical liability…

          • ProjectXenocide says:

            I disagree, if you have multiple squads you can have a few favorites in each squad so if they are irreplaceable then don’t let them die. So your favorite can still carry the team but multiple squads still allows for expendables. It would allow for a realistic tension starting with all rookies and many deaths to a a few irreplaceables with genetics and psionics and eventually most become unique and you have more gravely wounded and few deaths. It solves the skill loss problem, allows you to try more aggressive tactics without having to do overwatch creep, allows you to suffer loses without endless reloading turns, and the devs can crank up the deadliness or quantity creating tension and panic. After all if they have an army/numbers isn’t is it strange that every single critical landmark has only 6-18 aliens guarding it? I want situations like the fishing village where you are completely overrun to be occasionally common. For example a mission in the city where they are your squad is in the center of the map accomplishing some objective or ambushed with aliens and 2 other squads at different points in the map send in as reinforcements. There should be rare doom stacks ambushes by aliens but there should be some benefit you can achieve even if your entire squad is whiped out to make it worthwhile such as losing your team to demo a building or air strike but retrieving several high end weapons or Mech cores as consolation. Or better yet building X generates certain alien soliders or certain number or aliens but you can face heavy resistance and lose many soliders and blow it up resulting in facing fewer aliens or certain type in future missions in that region a real tactical sacrifice/benefit decision.

  5. Robert Post's Child says:

    The human cost of the insurgency might be at its most relevant when it comes to recruitment – do you sacrifice a few civilians for a key strike, knowing that it will lower your funding and recruitment pool, if only for the next turn? Do you allow the aliens to retaliate violently against innocents, knowing that this might motivate more people to side with you? And as for the people already on your team, does having your entire squad die on a mission necessarily equal failure anymore? A mobile base means tactical retreats could easily be the norm. The ‘you are the aliens now’ route seems likely, anyway, where you essentially play as the unknown things scurrying in the dark. Terror Missions are inverted, that sort of thing.

  6. RedViv says:

    I hadn’t even considered that the scenario change might get it closer to JA2. This… yes. I would like that very much.

  7. Horg says:

    The Long War mod did a great job of putting THE FEAR back into XCOM, and unlike the base game it didn’t suddenly fall off in difficulty. Long War had no problem presenting an ”impossible” mission in the first month, leaving the player to either risk the entire campaign for an enormous resource boost or leave the aliens to harvest and tech up in peace. It had no problem with accelerating the appearance of the more powerful aliens, sometimes even in the form of a premeditated ambush. As an example, one campaign on the 4th month had mission after mission containing nothing but Sectoids and Drones, but then a landed scout (usually a trivial mission) delivered the doom stack of 3 Mectoid pods who all engaged on the same turn. The Alien campaign AI had saved all its resources in the month for that one mission designed to kill as many XCOM as possible, showing off one of the AI strategy variants that replaced the predictable 3 mission selection from the base game.

    Those sorts of missions put the highs and lows back into the campaign. Beating a fully crewed landed harvester ship on Impossible / Ironman with nothing but the starting equipment and a handful of Specialists and LCs was one of my gaming highlights of the decade. Escaping from the ambush mission with only two dead put urgency into the campaign, even just being able to choose a tactical evac and fail the mission yet still continue the campaign was a great feeling. There is a lot that Firaxis can learn from Long War, and even if they don’t take it all on board at launch, if they deliver the mod support they promised there are fans willing to devote years to building the best XCOM possible.

    • EhexT says:

      Yup. It’s really amazing that Long War managed to mod an entire game that Firaxis left completely absent (the whole strategic layer) into something that was never intended to have mods, without mod tools.

    • BloatedGuppy says:

      My only complaint about Long War was that the strategic layer retained its “zero room for error” mentality. If anything it was even exacerbated by the mod. So you COULD over-extend on a nearly impossible mission, but if you botched it, it was basically game over.

      Games on XCOM rely on emergent storytelling in order to remain compelling, and one of the keys to emergent storytelling is allowing for potential failure or catastrophe without it functionally ending the game. I’d like to see the tactical layer increased in difficulty, Long War style (with the same variable difficulty, not just a gradual ramp up, which is tedious and predictable) and the strategic layer reduced in difficulty and made more forgiving to compensate.

      • Benkyo says:

        Yeah, Long War is so close to being great. The problem is that dramatically losing anything except the scripted “out of depth” missions, and especially losing with heavy casualties, is way too punishing. When I found myself reloading failures on a regular basis just to avoid re-starting the campaign I realised I wasn’t really enjoying the experience any more.

  8. Eddy9000 says:

    Please no more satellites. In fact the whole game progression was really off. Much as I liked the base building and resource management in the first ones I’d rather they just got rid and focussed on the combat than repeat it from the last one. Also I want to set corn fields on fire with incendiary rounds to burn idling aliens.

  9. Gap Gen says:

    One of my least favourite things about the XCOM battles was training the enemy bit by bit so that you didn’t bite off more than you could chew, and then when you did accidentally trigger the whole enemy side for some reason they utterly stomped your fully tooled-up plasma squad. It meant that there was less scope for tactics and maneuvering because you didn’t want to spread out too much lest you drag unwanted enemies into a fight you weren’t done with yet.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Dorga says:

    “The shots coming in from God-knows-where as your under-equipped, under-trained, and under-funded soldiers waded into the darkness ”
    This is why every time I try to pick up Xcom, I just stop and play Xenonauts instead.

    • wengart says:

      That is why I love X-Com.

      After my “veteran” soldiers were mostly killed in an ill chosen attempt at capturing a large UFO I recruited a hoard of rookie soldiers to replace my losses. Quantity has a quality of its own, and all that jazz..

      The very next battle was a terror mission in Germany. My men, loaded down with assault rifles, flak jackets, and grenades, poured out of the Skyranger, and fought a brutal battle that left most of them dead, and the city in ruins.

      The newer X-Com games are a lot slicker and friendlier to play, but they they don’t reach the thematic heights that the original was able to. X-Com is one of the few games where the mechanics match up so well with the thematic elements and it’ll always be one of my favorites because of that.

  11. mattevansc3 says:

    They could handle the base attacks with a Mass Effect 3 style danger system. The longer you stayed in a solar system the more likely it was that you would alert the Reapers to your presence and have them come after you. Couple it with a GTA stars system to add an extra threat. So for example when you first start you are a minor threat and local forces are given instructions to hunt you down. As you spend time in a territory local forces slowly start to narrow in on your location. If they find your location they’ll launch an assault on your location. Now as you complete missions and become more of a threat the enemy progresses from local security forces to veteran/elite units until you get to a hunter class which is actively searching for you following you from territory to territory.

    Instead of the choice of three missions you had in XCOM you now have to weigh up whether you stay in a territory that extra day to tackle more missions or flee to another territory and start again.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      These are all good ideas.
      Depending on where they’re going with the plot, it could escalate from you being attacked by cops, to the actual army and then onto the aliens, with Exault style upgraded humans coming in there somewhere.
      Would the military have MEC suits? I think they probably would.

  12. aircool says:

    Ahhh, that fishing village.

    – So far, so routine.

    – Shit, **********

    – That’s looks highly suspicious.

    – Shit, more **********

    – FUUUUUUUCKKKK

    – Fall back… covering fire from the roof – agghghghghgg -, MEDIC!

    – Reload or switch to pistol? Reload or switch to pistol.

    – You’ve got to be fucking kidding me….

    Yeah, it was a good one that. After having XCOM and EW since release, I can comfortably say that I do prefer the reboot to the original. The original was my favourite PC game (and still is in a way), but the reboot is much slicker and refined without any dumbing down.

    I do remember in the original having aliens shoot at me when I couldn’t see them. I think that instead of XCOM mobs waiting to be triggered, some sort of set/random patrol pattern would make things more unpredictable.

    • WiggumEsquilax says:

      I beat that fucking mission, blind, on the first try, primarily with ballistic weapons supplemented by a handful of lasers, on classic ironman difficulty, while my #1 and #3 people were in sick bay, without loss.

      Then, during the outro screen, after mission complete, the game bugs out, and the lead enemy chryssalid rushes forward and kills my top sniper in the scant second before the loading screen.

      Still haven’t finished Enemy Within. That glitch-induced ragequit permeated my very core.

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      Sihoiba says:

      Try it once with an all SHIV team (or if you can manage it a full Hover SHIV team), it’s quite cathartic,

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      The first time I played that level, I encountered it early and only had conventional weapons. No one-shot kills for the chryssalids. By the time I realised what was going on, I knew that the team of my best soldiers was doomed. A sniper stayed behind to give the others a small chance of escaping – he died surrounded by aliens. Only one of my team made it back alive.

      It was nice to get a map that felt quite different after hundreds of hours with Enemy Unknown, even if it still was basically the same thing. (No new aliens on this map, and my people were still the same too.)

      My second time, I had plasma weapons and a sniper specialized in chryssalid shooting. (Really good aim, and the skill where killing an enemy who’s not behind cover doesn’t take a turn.) Add to that the fact that I knew what I was doing and it’s not that surprising that the whole team made it (but it was on the last turn of the counter). Not as tense, but still fun.

  13. Keymonk says:

    I honestly don’t want a game to be feared. I just want more of neo-XCOM, with new interesting twists and the like.

  14. rodan32 says:

    I know it’s going to be said, so I might as well: I hope these guys are playing a little Invisible Inc. on the side. The crazy, panicky, weird escapes (and non-escapes) are loads of fun. So that for the combat phase. I also thought the strategic phase was a little shallow; I want a bigger tech tree and more ways to play, really. I want a squad that’s just guys with a laser pistol and 4-5 grenades, or one guy and 3 SHIVs, or whatever. More options.

    But again, looking at Invisible Inc. again, that game benefits so much from not trying to be too much. Too many choices and you wind up with stupid hats in TF2 all over again. (Seriously. I was content with the Backburner, cheap jerk that I am).

    I wish I could avoid getting my hopes up for this. I was glad XCOM was so decent, because X-COM was such an amazing game. Here’s hoping this XCOM 2 gets even better.

  15. Hebrind says:

    I’d like to see something that melds XCOM’s turn-based strategy and resource management, and Frozen Synapse’s “What Will The Other Guy Do Next” psychology, try to stay one step ahead of each other all the time, fine-tuning your attack or defense as to how you think your opponent will proceed.

    I’d also like to see more inter-relationship stuff from your squad, not just ranks. I’m not talking Mass Effect levels of character development or interaction, but something that makes you genuinely care for your soldiers and something that hints at them caring for each other. Soundbites when their best buddy gets nailed in the chest by a Thin Man, or something like in CoD/CoH where they yell instructions at each other and help each other out. (“Comin’ up on your right!”, “Jesus, Conrad, tie your fuckin’ laces!” and “Duffy! What’s the hurry? You lookin’ to get dropped?”, that kind of thing)

    • aoanla says:

      Yeah, I agree on both points… but in particular on the second point, I’d actually like a bit of squad morale management in the base section as well, something I thought was missed as a chance with Enemy Within as well (if you’re operating on your soldiers with invasive medical techniques, one imagines they’d need some psychological support before and after) – and perhaps your soldiers don’t all get on perfectly/have the same tactical preferences etc.

  16. Michael Fogg says:

    I’m pretty certain the return of old xcom style of unpredictable attrition warfare and ruthless sniping is out of the question for the sequel. The charachter based approach with skill unlocks was too much of a central feature of the reboot to seriously shake it up IMO.

    I was quite relieved when I read in one of the IGN interviews about the approach to procedureal map generation – basically a patchwork model with pre-made buildings connected randomly with extra clutter in between.

  17. tehfish says:

    “But then there is the fact that one of my most enduring impressions of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of routine. Methodical, step-by-step crawls across the map, dropping into Overwatch at every new cover position.”
    I found the Enemy within DLC fixed most of this, and i find the game now unplayable without it as a result.

    With the DLC, apart from a few pre-DLC scripted missions, you’re always balancing speed+reward vs safety, and the game is much better for it.

    All they really need to fix, IMHO, is the cakewalk the game becomes relatively in the final stages once you’ve teched up.

  18. Cross says:

    In agreement with Mr. Zacny, i hope XCOM 2 takes a page out of Incognita’s book and wipes the binary between complete success and complete failure. The ability to infiltrate a location well out of your reach, sneakily taking out a core objective, and then beating a hasty retreat would be immensely satisfying, and add to the guerilla feeling the game seems to be going for.

  19. Rindan says:

    I want two things:

    1) Stealth. No, not invisibility. Actual stealth. I want it so that you can sneak a guy around in a dark area without predator like invisibility armor and flank. Light makes you visible and easy to see, darkness let’s you sneak around. It can work both ways with aliens doing the same. Toss in flashlights and you now you can manage the balance between going in dark to ambush your enemy, and going in bright to keep from being ambushed. Aliens with heat vision, night vision and heat vision goggles for your guys, cold suits to help you stealth from heat vision seeing aliens, and all that jazz will give you a little more to think about. Toss in silenced weapons and close combat kills, and you can off a few aliens without alerting everyone in the area.

    2) A plot that makes a little god damn sense. Honestly, I always found the XCOM plot to not make any sense. Why the hell am I sending 5 guys to this crash site instead of the entire fucking army? Why shooting at this guy with my M16 instead of calling in a artillery strike? Sure, sometimes you might avoid using overwhelming power to preserve technology and samples, but if your guys they won’t be squeamish in calling for the area to be carpet bombed. It makes no sense for the humans to ever be out numbered by the aliens.

    Thankfully, this new XCOM I think has already solved this. Why are you not calling in the army to deal with that crash site? Because there is no army to call. You are just what is left of human resistance and you can’t field an army. You can’t even field 20 guys because you couldn’t safely sneak them and if the aliens catch you red handed, they are going to give you the space boot rather than bother to sending groups of three and four aliens to shoot you in the face. In fact, I would kind of like to see some missions have effective time limits in that once you are discovered, you need to get the fuck out because the alien army is going to show up or, even worse, they are going to drop a space boot on your heads and damn the collateral. This would also give you a nice incentive to go back to #1 on my wishlist and be sneaky.

    • varangian says:

      Both good points and I’ll use your (1) when I add my own pet peeve:

      3) Make rookies useful all the way through. In the base game and Enemy Within once I’d got 2 of every class fully trained up then I hardly needed to use a rookie for anything as even with a couple of wounded I could always make up a squad that could deal with anything. EW changed that slightly as sending a low ranking squaddie on covert ops or chopping them up for MEC duty made some sense but by and large I’d have 20 guys in the barracks of which half had nothing more arduous to do than congratulate the other half on their latest successful mission.

      Stealth based missions and the promised procedural maps might be a way to make rookies useful again. Sneaking in to plant a bomb and then ideally sneaking out unseen might be a job for a veteran, though you might send a lesser talent if it looks like a one way trip. But if things went pear-shaped your operative should have a choice of escape routes each of which will need cover from an extraction team. So you’d need to set up, say, three teams to cover each possible exit. You’d only fight one battle depending on what way out was chosen but as alien reaction might close off some routes you’d have no guarantee of being able to send your guy down the corridor covered by your ninja snipers. So you’d have an incentive to keep training up rookies and they’d be occasions when you’d be thinly spread so you’d have to draw on your pool of squaddies and corporals instead of sending the A-team out for every mission.

  20. AngusPrune says:

    They can do anything they like with the base game, literally anything and I’ll still buy it as long as there is expansive modding support. I’m talking being able to get in to the nitty-gritty of AI and being able to completely replace the ruleset, UI elements and suchlike. Starcraft 2 levels of modding.

    Sadly I probably won’t get that, but here’s hoping that PC exclusive means a lot less streamlining and a lot more of the fine detail control seen in past squad tactics games.

    • SgtStens says:

      They can do anything they like with the base game, literally anything and I’ll still buy it as long as there is expansive modding support.

      So much this. If I can have an XCOM game with the moddability of Civ IV or TES I won’t have to buy another game for the next ten years.

  21. Rufust Firefly says:

    All I know is that the final class better be another giant robot. MECs punching Thin Men across the map never got old for me.

  22. Baal_Sagoth says:

    Well put! I liked even vanilla XCOM and due to Enemy Within I continue to enjoy the game quite a bit. Haven’t even installed The Long War if you can believe that.
    What little information we have about XCOM 2 (love the straight-ass title btw) sounds potentially very exciting. If there’s a fair amount of deep gameplay integration of the propaganda war side of things that’d be incredible! Never really played guerrilla fighting TBS games aside from JA2 (obviously, my god that game continues to be excellent) and Silent Storm if that counts. The other big game with that theme is the glorious Freedom Fighters of course. I should probably replay that now that I think about it.

  23. chopsnsauce says:

    “XCOM’s invaders never really felt like they caught you unprepared, even when they rolled out heavy mechs and Mutons for the first time.”

    Really? Did we play the same game!?

    I’m just finishing an Ironman Impossible run, I’ve had 2 near complete squad wipe outs and 20+ dead in total.

    When things go wrong you can be VERY UNPREPARED INDEED.

    Also, am I the only one who finds this game scary? Approaching a petrol station at night with an understrength squad facing an unknown enemy shits me up everytime.

  24. Apprehension says:

    Not deleting/corrupting my saves on classic … that was worst horror of my life. My poor pimped out team.

  25. Crazy_Gweilo says:

    I love XCOM, I played the original as a young kid in the 90s (well terror from the deep). Maybe I’m not as hardcaw as you lot, but XCOM did kick my arse several times. I mean now I’ve played long war, and its not so hard, but the first time you drop into the alien base and see chrysallids, I found it terrifying. And whenever I get a council mission for Newfoundland I’m all NOOOOOPE. Sorry Canada.

  26. rmsgrey says:

    One of my favourite memories from the older games is the time in Apocalypse where the aliens had infiltrated a parking garage or something belonging to a corp I didn’t care about, and holed up on an upper floor somewhere, while I had the infinite ammo alien guns so, rather than sending my men into an obvious ambush, I just spent an hour or so methodically demolishing the pillars that supported the upper floors while a couple of troops covered the stairs, then completed the controlled demolition and killed the aliens (and the framerate) that way…

  27. Michus says:

    Firaxis devs should play a bunch of Invisible Inc. if they want to see a modern exploration of a turn-based game focusing on a ragtag squad trying to get the mission objective and bail before the heat turns up and the vastly superior enemy starts to slam the pain down.

    They just need to play the game, I don’t care what kind of inspiration or mechanic they take from Invisible Inc, they just need to play it. XCOM2 could really take some of those ideas and fly with them.

  28. ProjectXenocide says:

    Here is what I would like to see in in the next Xcom after Xcom 2. I want a massively multi-player world that uses Google Earth. I want to see the 3D buildings and streets that the aliens control so I can actually see the progress or setbacks the aliens are making. I want to work with the people around me in that geographic location to battle the aliens. I want to see XCom/Alien progress in the rest of the world I case I want to play in other areas. Let me work together with my fellow players and make me feel like the world is big not just some holo globe.

    • ProjectXenocide says:

      A massively multi player world based on Google Earth could have every XCom fan all battling on the same world globe. After all who wants to be on a different map than their friends. You can have more players than other mmo and easier to have tens of thousands of players because the Google Earth map would just show the results of battles and showing the areas of land controlled by aliens much like the Command & Conquer™ maps showed the areas controlled by the enemy after victories and setbacks. Xcom battles are still done single player vs alien AI, but it is cooperative in the sense that all players are fighting to push back aliens controlled territory on the global world map each player is battling street by street, building by building, with occasional landmarks. I want to defend the streets of Pittsburgh or Prague or wherever on the globe I choose to help other players battle for territory. Players could choose which strategic missions they do while other players choose others and as the aliens lose control of an area and regain control ofthat area the missions could be done multiple times. Examples defending/attacking a water treatment plant the aliens are trying to contaminate. Attacking a capital building to free the politicians the aliens control so the aliens lose civilian support and have to resort to martial law. Attacking an alien clinic/hospital to gather data on the unconscionable experiments the aliens are conducting so the public no longer trust them. Taking control of a TV station to air evidence collected and spread propaganda. Give modders full featured scripting support and assets for a generic hospital, church, police station, movie theater, supermarket, baseball stadium, suburban home, apartment complex, harbor, beach, gas station, office building, airport, store, mall, bar, etc so XCom fans can create scenarios and real life locations to defend in their hometown and around the world that you don’t have the manpower to do.

  29. Shake Appeal says:

    Most of the complaints in this article can be addressed by installing Long War and kicking it up to Classic/Ironman or higher.

    Also, if I hear one more person complain about the lack of TUs in the Firaxis games…

    As someone who’s played thousands of hours of X-Com and XCOM (and Xenonauts), the two-move system Firaxis implemented is probably their greatest gift to the series. They didn’t entirely figure out all the interesting permutation of it — although Long War, again, goes some way toward addressing that — but it was a stroke of genius.

  30. wererogue says:

    A lot of that fear from the original was borne from the unknown – if I go back and play UFO: Enemy Unknown now there’s no way I lose my first squad, and some of those tactics and those of a lifetime of playing strategy games carry over into XCOM: EU. Both EU and Xenonauts will occasionally put me in situations which I don’t understand well enough to make the right calls, but I learn from them and the next time, I’m not afraid.

    Which is to say that if XCOM2 wants to recreate that feeling, I think they’re just going to need to put new units in the first few missions that act in unexpected and deadly ways. The Seekers in EW did this really well for me – they turned up looking weird, disappeared and then started strangling people to death. Later in the game I’d learned how they behave, and now they’re just another factor to consider.

    I’m super psyched for XCOM2 – it looks like they’re going in amazing decisions, and my disappointment in the ongoing non-arrival of Terror From The Deep is nowhere near enough to dampen my excitement.

  31. lampuiho says:

    official long war mode please