Have You Played… XCOM: Long War?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Oh no! XCOM 2: Be The Baddie has been delayed until next February. If you’re anything like me that wait is agony. There is no stronger recommendation I can give to get through it than XCOM 1 mod Long War.

Somehow, they found a way in to a system which was tragically closed, digging their into XCOM’s guts and profoundly rewriting the rules of its meta-game, even if the basic action loops and the visual side of things were harder to interfere with. To play Long War is, at first, to feel as though you’re experiencing a full-fat X-COM sequel, albeit with XCOM’s slicker, simpler combat systems.

To keep playing it is to realise quite why it’s called ‘Long War’, and quite possibly to feel beaten into the ground by its unrelenting, unforgiving difficulty. But that’s the joy of it, right? You don’t just keep steamrollering through even as the bodies pile up, but instead get that meaningful sense of having survived an onslaught, or at least progressed through it to some degree.

Yeah, for my personal tastes Long War – at least at its default settings; it can be toned down somewhat – goes too far into hardcore willy-waving, but I forgive it that because it how much it has and how much it does. I love XCOM, but it rapidly ceases to be surprising. Long War, on the other hand, sustains the ‘Oh god you’ve got to be fucking kidding’ moments. And, most preciously, I’ve got this sneaking suspicion it’s informed what we’re going to get in XCOM 2 quite a bit.

33 Comments

  1. klops says:

    I have played some, and it was too long for me. Running million-and-one forest gigs was not very fun, and I prefer the rather short lenght of the unmodded XCOM.

    Then again, I’ve heard that you can play shorter long war, which does sound very interesting. Have to try that one out when I have time.

    • wonboodoo says:

      I remember tuning into a professional Twitch streamer’s (TorNis) run on beating Long War on Impossible. I can’t remember the exact numbers but I think it was forty to sixty-something 5-8 hour days playing & beating one game of Long War. Sheesh.

    • -LiQuiD- says:

      In the recent updates there have been many new options to tweak the difficulty and duration. An option called Dynamic War can scale (in %) the overall length of the campaign.

      • klops says:

        Tweaking is all nice and fun

        BUT:

        I don’t like it. In order to tweak the game, like the overall lenght of the campaign and the squad sizes, rocket scatters etc jonahcutter mentioned, you need to have an idea how everything affects to everything. You need to play the long war first to understand how much a 40% shorter campaign would take, you need to get familiar with the blast radius of rockets and the whole tactical combat in order to decide how balanced the game is when making the rocket scatters, squad sizes bigger or smaller or whatever. Then getting to play the game I want means I have to test and retest the game I’m supposed to play.

        I don’t enjoy that. Many do, which I understand, but give me a compact pack that works well (JA1.13) that I don’t have to tweak (Long War) or fight to get to work (mods for Bethesda games) and I’m happy. Perhaps I’m just lazy or not enough engineer-oriented, but tweking and balancing and re-installing and tweaking again just isn’t my cup of tea.

  2. Wowbagger says:

    For me, there isn’t enough willy waving in games.

    • Mr Ogs says:

      This…

    • Robslap says:

      I once waved my willy in Game… it’s not the same.

      • NonCavemanDan says:

        You have the police report to prove it and everything.

    • Henas says:

      I feel ‘Hardcore Willy Waving’ should be the name of a new series of articles. Maybe exploring the reasons behind playing games like the Long War or Dark Souls without levelling up.

      We can call such players H-Dub-Dubs.

  3. Ufofighter says:

    I’ve tried it two times, both of them I quit because of the WTF moments like full squads failing +95% shots, veteran snipers on high ground not hitting a damn thing during a whole mission, etc.

    The amount of tricked percentages to create a false difficulty is infuriating.

    • Aetylus says:

      Reading this post immediately after Robslap’s post about waving willes in the Game shop is a real treat.

  4. Captain Joyless says:

    I liked it, although I tend to agree that it was just a little bit too slow (at least in the most recent version). Things like 5 day fatigue and 25 credits and 50-100 credits to build basic was just too much. In the first month or two you simply won’t have any credits to do anything or make any choices at all.

  5. Horg says:

    I highly recommend that anyone wanting to get into Ironman Long War set up a game in the following way:

    Chose your difficulty and starting bonus, any 2nd wave options you want but make sure to pick Save Scum. Play through the first month and try to get as close to prefect spread of mission completions and promotions as you can. With a bit of luck it is possible to have all 40 rookies promoted when month 2 starts, but anything above 32 is decent. You should also try and get at least on soldier to Corporal to unlock the OTS. At the start of month two, go into your save directory (users/name/my documents/my games/xcom – enemy within/xcomgame/savedata) and make a copy of your save. Play on from there. If / when you wipe, you can revert to the back up starting at month two and skip the irritating rookie month. With save scum on, which normally doesn’t do anything for Ironman, you will get a new roll on what missions will be generated.

    Due to the high probability of campaign ending events on Ironman impossible, I was getting thoroughly sick of having to repeat the first month of nothing but sectoids, drones and paint licking rookies. Once I discovered you could set up a restore point with a randomised reload, starting at a point where your dudes actually have some skills to play with, wiping became a lot more tolerable. I’m hoping that’s something XCOM 2 can remedy. Give us soldiers with skills (therefore tactical options other than shoot and duck) from the start instead of making players go through another tedious rookie month.

  6. bee says:

    Could the article have perhaps explained what it is that the mod does or why I might be interested in it? It feels like this article is a long winded way of saying “Long War is hard”, but not why or what it is.

    • wonboodoo says:

      Check out .

    • AyeBraine says:

      Long War takes the Enemy Within base game and delicately adds to it.

      1. Your game tempo slows. You have to win much more missions to get an upper hand on aliens: they happen more often, and rewards are less substantial.

      2. Your soldier mechanics respond to that: troopers get fatigued, you have to rotate a roster to keep enought soldiers in the fight, and promote and nurture the best of them. Considering there’s always emergencies and sudden opportunities, this becomes an exciting game of risk and reward.

      3. There are twice as many soldier classes, each exquisitely tailored to have irreplaceable tactical utility. Their perk progressions is a whole game in itself (so much that build analysis approaches that of an RPG). The flexibility and complexity these classes add to the battle is unrivaled.

      4. There are at least three times as many technologies to research, with a complex interlocked science tree that creates a long-wanted strategic layer to the game. Also, air combat is way harder, which forces you to develop aerospace technologies. To get new technologies, a series of prerequisites are added, so you need to put in an effort to capture things and creatures to unlock them. And, of course, you get thrice as many nice toys to play with.

      5. Tactical layer is made “harder” in terms of enemy numbers and their abilities. Yet, with you squad enlarged to consist of 6-8 (up to 12) people, and their inventory greatly enlarged, the difficulty comes in form of tactical decisions. It’s not Nintendo hard, it’s wargame hard. With the right tactics, you can pull off incredible, epic campaigns of destruction against literal hordes of enemies (compared to vanilla). With bad tactics, you get stomped.

      In the first missions it’s most extreme – playing carelessly wipes your squad like mildew on a windshield in a few turns. (BTW, there is indeed a difficulty spike in the very beginning of Long War.)

      6. Finally, the MEC and bionic features that livened up the Enemy Within are explored thoroughly in Long War. Especially MECs – they also get 8 classes, creating a whole new late-game tactical layer with complex builds.

      All in all, Long War is an ultimate nerd game. In regular games, only the power players discover synergies, winning strategies and super-efficient combos. In Long War, synergizing your pair of MECs and a meticulously leveled half-dozen of treasured soldiers into insanely complex battle combos is the base requirement.

      • Borsook says:

        This is what the article should have listed, good job and shame on rps.

        • albamuth says:

          I disagree, because I read RPS for their witty insights and thought-provoking tangents; video-game meta-discussions. I don’t care for a didactic rundown of information/features that can be easily gotten directly from the source.

      • Everblue says:

        Is it worth mentioning the two extra tiers of weapons (gauss and pulse) each with their own bespoke art and animations? The additional armour types? The different gun types (there are about 6 extra different types of gun per tier of weapon – SMGs, SAWs, carbines, blasters, marksman rifles and battle rifles)?

        The fact that the AI conducts research, which you have to prevent to win? Unless you do so the aliens ‘level up’, getting perks such as lightning reflexes (immunity to overwatch)?

        The fact that the aliens plan their missions and have an overall strategy?

        It is utterly brilliant and utterly unfair.

  7. jonahcutter says:

    Anyone feeling put off by the difficulty, there is actually quite a lot you can mod to your tastes. There are starting game tweaks with various Second Wave (overall game length, choosing main class upgrade, all manner of randomizations) options, and a large number of .ini edits that make even more drastic changes. A lot of values (say rocket scatter, starting squad size, or fatigue time) can be easily changed to your liking as easily as text-editing one file.

    There is even a tutorial on how to edit the actual code for some more difficult changes.

    Just check out the Nexus forums and you’ll likely find someone has already made the same tweak you want to make.

  8. CrazyMoai says:

    I personally “loved” The Long War not for the added lenght or difficulty but for the fact that it removed the “there are three landing points you that have several aricrafts and troops to fill them can only land in one of them and the other two will be left to panic” mechanic, that always felt absurd and unfair.

    • Stillquest says:

      Yeah, that was very annoying. One of the brilliant things about the original X-COM is how… Well, emergent it was, back when nobody used the term. Alien missions would happen whether you knew about them or not, and not stopping them in time would result in alien bases being built and countries defecting.

      I liked the new, vanilla XCOM, but I recall thinking “it’s almost like X-COM: The Board Game”. A lot of meaningful decisions, but they tend to feel contrived and/or overly scripted. “It’s time for your Terror Mission now, draw 3 zone cards, choose one, increase Terror by 5 for the other two zones”. “Now comes the Base Attack stage of the game, roll a die to find out where The Base is”.

      Long War certainly goes far towards bringing back the reactive, organic feel of the original’s campaign.

  9. JFS says:

    I like the unmodded game with 2nd Wave. Anything else is too time-consuming and frustrating for me, even though the original game has flaws that the mod irons out.

  10. TigerWolfe says:

    Enjoyed it a lot, until I hit a game breaking bug. Couldn’t save the Yakuza character on the DLC mission (forgot the relevant names). Every time the game would freeze, and I didn’t have a save outside of the mission (nor did I want to skip it). Was pretty bummed out.

  11. AyeBraine says:

    There is nothing like Long War that I had the opportunity to experience in gaming. I never finished even a single playthrough (having finished XCOM vanilla several times) in Long War – but it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Endgame was always a power trip in the vanilla. In Long War, it’s the painful, unrelenting series of being hit in the face, barely coping with all the accumulated knowledge and technology to obtain an edge.

    But more important is the start-game: the all-too-realistic wartime struggle of holding your ground and turning the tide. And this part of the game (which, in the vanilla, feels a little rushed and fleeting) is the actual meat. I was a heroin addict of Long War for months at a time. And I never regretted it.

    It’s so impeccably honest and fair. It’s so cruelly fair and honest. It has so much to offer, and it dispenses it in such logical, hard-won, excrutiatingly slow ways.

    It is the sort of Real Chess (TM) that I gladly sacrificed 500 hours of my life to learn (on top of 300+ hours of vanilla). To find, watching Beaglerush later, that it never ceases to surprise and delight.

    Yes, I’ve never even came close to beating XCOM: EW: Long War. And I’m OK with that. It is one of the few games that is always bigger than my abilities, yet still clear in what I might have accomplished. Its “upgrades” still feel substantial to me, even after learning all the mechanics inside and out.

    It is the only game I’ve ever played, where I stopped and said to myself: “Hey, stop steaming. You have made a mistake. You have to fine-tune your gut feeling, work out new operating procedures, and be less reckless. You have to be more humble.” It’s the only game where I came close to real-life feeling of mastering a complex skill, like playing a piano. I’ve passed a good number of piano exams in my day – and it always came down to a whole host of factors: amount of training and practice, prepared routines, mood, determination, boldness, irrational gut feelings that drive you to capture the audience and go with the flow.

    Long War is a weapon that is always better than the shooter – an instrument of pure craft that punishes you for failing, but never ceases to reward for trying hard.

    • Stillquest says:

      This.

      I think Long War is more faithful to the memories 90’s children have of X-COM than to the game itself. If that makes any sense.

      I played the original game to death, and while I’m pretty sure it wasn’t as unforgiving as Long War it sure felt like it – at least to my 12 year-old self.

      The mod is the very definition of “not for everyone”. You need to have a strong masochistic streak, I guess, and more tolerance to repetition than most. But you’re rewarded by a dramatically tenser experience.

      Each time I feel like I’ve finally got the edge on the aliens, they field some new insanely powerful unit or dramatically upgrade an old one. I don’t think it’s a case of rubber-band AI either – the aliens are doing their own thing, at their own pace, you’re doing yours. Fall behind by a bit too much, and it’s practically game over.

      You understand the implications? The way the mod is set up, it’s possible to actually LOSE. If that sounds in any way attractive, you should try Long War.

      • Everblue says:

        I am about 80 hours into my current campaign and the aliens have just started to field rapid fire fighters. All of a sudden I’m about to lose the air war, which will be game over. It’s a frantic race to get to firestorms in the next couple of months.

        • Stillquest says:

          Same just happened to me. The larger alien ships also started using some horrible new weapon – with white helix-like shots – that downs a non-Firestorm fighter in two hits. Fortunately I already have 4 Firestorms fielded. Won’t feel safe until I have 10.

      • Little_Crow says:

        I think you’ve nailed it, Stillquest, with that first paragraph.

        Huge kudos to Firaxis, they took a game with a seriously fanatical fanbase and made a lot of huge changes which could easily have alienated fans of the original and yet managed to do quite the opposite.
        So much so, that the original fans decided that though they really liked the game it just want long or hard enough (fnarr fnarr), and modded the hell out of it, despite it having no mod support.

        If the original game didn’t win back doubters of the reboot, the long war mod has gone a very long way to doing so.

        One of the Devs of the game said “We’re basically a 20-hour tutorial for The Long War, and that’s okay.” and that speaks volumes for just how brilliant it is.

    • Disseisitus says:

      I agree with a lot of what you said but I can’t agree that it’s fair. They took a lot of shackles off the AI which I like but they also let it realise things it really shouldn’t. An entire terror mission populated by chrysallids that never come near your troops until every civilian is dead is not fun or fair. I hit the mission I mentioned just after laser weapons and it was a tpk because the chrysallids moved faster than my troops and when they charged it was mathematically impossible for me to kill them all even if I had 100% hit chance. I’ve failed missions before but this was the first one where it felt like I lost because the RNG said so.

      It was the sensible strategy for the aliens but if they were going to be perfectly sensible then every muton or floater you see would make a suicidal charge and grenade your troops – guaranteed damage, they’d wear you down by attrition.

      I like a lot of what they added, but it’s not a fair mod. Granted fairness isnt the point of X-COM but missions like the chryssalid one are taking it a little too far imo.

  12. Szarrukin says:

    Long War is the perfect example how to turn good, casual game into title for narrow group of gamers, almost unplayable for everyone else. Some people like, when after few hundred hours game tells you “go f*ck yourself, you lost. Yeah, I’ve cheated, cry me a river.” I guess, I’m a filthy casual, than.