Learning To Love Failure In XCOM 2 & Darkest Dungeon

The year is young but we’ve already had the pleasure of welcoming two gruelling tactical slaughterfests into the world: XCOM 2 [official site] and Darkest Dungeon [official site]. We’ve written a great deal about Firaxis’ latest already and our ongoing diary has just hit the point where the alien threat starts to chip away at our beloved squadmates. Darkest Dungeon is more obviously punishing, every element built to communicate a sense of hopelessness and despair.

But how do the games compare, in their treatment of failure and death, both mechanically and thematically?

My first ten hours in XCOM 2 were some of the hardest I’ve ever muscled through in a video game. No, it wasn’t that my alien adversaries were willing to punish my every move with a barrage of laser fire that cut down every single member of my squad who I had, in a moment I now severely regret, named after the people in my family (sorry, Dad). It wasn’t the harrowing struggle of winning back Earth from an overwhelming force, either. It was that paralyzing reality that I had no clue what I was doing, let alone if I was even doing it well. When Central Officer Bradford resuscitated me and handed me the keys to the resistance, I desperately wanted to crawl back into the cryotube he found me in while screaming “I’m not who you think I am!”

Admittedly, XCOM isn’t a series that I’ve had much experience with, but after reading such positive praise, I couldn’t help but dip my toes into the water. The thing is, while XCOM 2 is an incredible game that I am now loving, getting started was a vicious cycle of anxiety, indecision, and then shameful ‘save scumming’ as I desperately tried to save my father, Jim, from being disemboweled. I couldn’t. And when I reloaded an even older save that generated a new mission altogether, he still died. It would seem that, no matter what alternate future I created for my father, his fate was sealed.

Coming fresh from Darkest Dungeon, a game that wears its brutality on its sleeve, this sudden shift in my composure was puzzling. In Darkest Dungeon, I was a calculating mastermind, efficiently increasing my bottom line while handling the chaos and its needling effect on my adventurers in a calm and decisive manner. In Darkest Dungeon, Jim is alive and well (that is, if you ignore his fascination with corpses), but in XCOM 2 he’s a plaque on a wall that I can’t bear to look at.

On the surface, XCOM 2 and Darkest Dungeon are incredibly similar games. Both feature turned-based combat with a big emphasis on positioning, both frequently force decisions to be made that can permanently kill your soldiers, and both have base-building systems that punctuate their combat. So why was it that I felt like such a badass in Darkest Dungeon while XCOM 2 turned me into a quivering puddle of anxiety?

The easiest distinction to make is that Darkest Dungeon is much less shy about what it expects of you. Every time I booted up the game, the same message always appears to somberly remind me that failure is to be expected. “Heroes will die”, the screen reads. “And they will stay dead.”

That message is much more than an intimidation tactic; it defined my expectations from the very first step I took. I knew from the outset that losing a valued soldier is unavoidable, something to be treated much like a restaurant manager would handle a broken plate. But XCOM 2 makes no such claims. Though the dire struggle to win back Earth sets a similar tone, XCOM 2 is a game that never seems to give that kind of clarity. It places you in command and then corners you by introducing uncertainty and indecision.

Where most strategy games attempt to arm you with everything you might need, not only walking you through how to play the game but also showing you the proper way to play it, XCOM 2 is more than happy to drop you into the commander’s seat with only a loose idea of what you’re up against. Larger objectives, such as the need to build a specific facility in your ship, might provide you with a general sense of direction, but getting from point A to B is all up to you. Just about every decision doesn’t just risk serious consequences, it also closes doors to viable alternatives. Nothing is binary. Instead, you always feel forced to choose from one of many possible paths or ignore the decision altogether.

Contrasted with how Darkest Dungeon approaches its problems, the two couldn’t be more different. Darkest Dungeon pushes you forward whether you would like it or not, and in doing so, removes a large sense of responsibility over those decisions. Each week, you send four of your adventurers into the dungeons for some inexplicable reason. The prevalence of random chance in every action you make also works to divorce you of the responsibility of making a decision.

When I asked Jim to scavenge a corpse, thus triggering his life-long obsession with dead people, the outcome of that choice felt independent of the fact that I had made it. XCOM 2’s soldiers are tools that I use, agents for my plans, while the recruits of Darkest Dungeon often seem to be doomed thanks to their own weaknesses rather than the orders I give.

But the bigger difference is that, in Darkest Dungeon, it is impossible to lose. There’s no true failure state, and, at worst, all you can suffer is a major setback. Even if you manage your estate and heroes terribly, at best you will just tread water before quitting the game or learning how to play better. There’s a sense of safety behind this and the fact that, as imposing as the denizens of each dungeon may be, they’ll never crawl from their desecrated homes to wage war on yours.

Your heroes might represent a serious time investment, but when they die new ones are always ready to pick up where they left off. In fact, the only real sense of overarching consequence in Darkest Dungeon is seen in the mental and physical well-being of your heroes. In the end, Darkest Dungeon is a game that preaches the severity of its consequences but then shields you from the most fatal blows. Heroes may die but they can be replaced, and the estate is moving from ruin to a state of quiet efficiency.

As a result, I was well aware that the only true currency was my time. Consider how different that is from XCOM 2, where every decision represents a potential loss of valuable and finite resources. Darkest Dungeon is about maximizing efficiency, while XCOM 2 is about spending wisely.

As someone who obviously struggles with this type of decision making, XCOM 2 was total hell for me. I would stare at the screen, contemplating the best allocation of resources for minutes at a time, and there was always that ‘ignore’ option tempting me. When a soldier died, there wasn’t any pre-game warning for me to hide behind while I washed my hands of the matter and said “that’s just the way it is!”

I’m not saying Darkest Dungeon isn’t a great game — it is – but next to XCOM 2 there’s a definite lack of responsibility behind the decisions it forces upon you. It compensates for that by creating characters who feel human, so we sympathize when they suffer from their various afflictions. But compared to the decisions in XCOM 2, which are all framed by the looming threat of total defeat, there’s no washing your hands of the consequences of your actions. Each one is etched into the story you create of humanity’s crucial final moments.

And in some small way, XCOM 2 made me come to terms with the indecisiveness I’ve struggled with for years. The decision to reload a previous save might tempt me when things go badly out in the field, but it doesn’t save me from all the decisions that contributed to the moment when Jim was flanked by an unseen turret and literally spilled his guts.

There is no scaffolding to support you in XCOM 2: just you, the decisions you’re making, and the tortuous lack of foresight as to what end those decisions might lead. And as I learned to accept this, feeling the sting of defeat again and again, I also learned how to trust in my ability to make and learn from them.

Sometimes it’s not about making the right decision. Sometimes it’s just the fact that you made one in the first place.

For more on XCOM 2, visit our XCOM 2 guide hub.

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39 Comments

  1. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Yes. I’m failing so bad at Xcom but loving every minute of it. Even as it piles catastrophe after loss on you, it always feels there’s a way out. I’ve contemplated restarting my campaign a few times but every time I stick with it I get a morsel of hope and survive a little longer.

    More games should be like this, I enjoy surviving in a tough world more than becoming more powerful than anyone around me. Something strategy games are good at on a tough difficulty session. Civ, Crusader Kings, stuff like that. Great underdog simulators if you want them to be.

    • Premium User Badge

      teije says:

      Agreed. Civ, CKII, EUIV – all get very boring once you’ve become top dog. The tenseness accompanying each significant decision (especially if playing on Ironman in CKII/EUIV) just vanishes. Sometimes it’s still fun to play for achievements or personal goals (e.g. pretty borders), but usually its when I quit and start again as a lowly count or OPM (one-province minor).

    • w0bbl3r says:

      I came really close to restarting, especially at one point when the avatar timer bar went over the top and the clock started ticking.
      I just managed to get through to the next map location to unlock the resistance there, then build a comms tower in time to get the last place where the main story objective was, with less than 1 day left on the timer.
      Fine, I thought, I’ll try this mission, but if this game screws me any more (this is my mindset in this game, it screws me constantly, and this makes me feel better about blowing it) I will have another go from scratch.
      I just managed to get through the mission with minimal losses and then I found that it took the avatar timer back to before the clock and gave me 3 blocks left on the timer.
      I have managed to unlock 2 out of 3 of the next mission area’s, and they are ready to go as soon as I feel ready now.
      But after having just taken massive losses while saving stupid civilians (I want to kill that guy who keeps interrupting to tell me “it’s a massacre” every turn), it might be a while again before I build up enough courage to give a main mission a try.
      Amazing, frustrating, infuriating, terrible, awful, brilliant, fantastic, clever, insane, crappy, nonsense, awesome game.
      The worst amazing game ever made I reckon. Or is that the best awful game ever made?

      • Ufofighter says:

        WE ARE LOSING CIVILIANS LEFT AND RIGHT, COMMANDER!!!!

      • ElementalAlchemist says:

        “I want to kill that guy who keeps interrupting to tell me “it’s a massacre” every turn”

        You should try the “Stop Wasting My Time” mod. It incorporates the “Shutup Bradford Mod” which, as well as other tweaks, will stop Bradford from whining in Retaliation missions until at least a few civilians are killed first.

    • BorgiaCamarones says:

      That is, I believe, what Solomon et al. call the “Struggle Fantasy”, as opposed to the more mainstream “Power Fantasy”.

      Although the former might just be the latter in disguise…

      • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

        It probably says a lot about me that I prefer the former then. Don’t want to know what, though!

  2. Ufofighter says:

    I love permadeath/ironman games.

    It started with Dwarf Fortress some years ago when I lost a giant fortress after a chain of events apparently unrelated resulting in a tantrum spiral of epic proportions. I love Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis for the same reasons, I always have both installed and at least a campaign running, and I’m currently in the middle of a Legendary/Ironman run in XCOM 2 after at least 7 failed attempts.

    That said, I despise Darkest Dungeon, each time I started a new campaign it felt like if the sole purpose of the designers was wasting my time and patience. The stress mechanic, the RNG, the grind. All the game feels like a middle finger firmly erect towards the player.

    No thanks, I play to enjoy, not to end the day cursing about some random bullshit resulting in dozens of hours of more grinding.

    • Cerzi says:

      It’s great that Ironman/permadeath has made a comeback over the last bunch of years, but yeah there have been a number of games that have misused the mechanic. Darkest Dungeon feels – in this regard – very similar to Rogue Legacy, in that yes, while hard, the more you grind the easier it gets. Permadeath technically exists, but the context has been shifted so much that it’s not really permadeath any more. It’s lives, or something else entirely. It’s not like these games are not difficult, or punishing, but if there’s not even a lose condition then you really can’t say there’s permadeath.

      Still, it’s generally a good thing that punishing games are making a big comeback. I remember reading an article by Chris Taylor a decade ago in which he claimed games should “seldem, if ever” be punishing (link to engadget.com). And that was at a time when the Worlds of Warcrafts had stomped out all love for the Everquests, and casual mobile gaming was about to explode.

  3. Hobbes says:

    XCOM 2 is a superb tactical and strategic game with a mechanical issue concerning its’ RNG – namely it lacks an RNG right now, the seed is generated during pre-mission load and then it rolls down the numbers like a checklist, even using the save scum mod only forces the checklist to move incrementally at this stage.

    Darkest Dungeon is an excellent RPG marred by a few crazy decisions which seem inspired by attempting to insert more filler into what was already a killer experience.

    Both games are great, but the developers need to stop repeating the mistakes of games past. In XCOM’s case, that means stop with the fixed-list method of number resolution, as that was not exactly the most popular feature in the original and it’s not getting any MORE popular now it’s being exposed in XCOM 2. Using an honest to god RNG would be a much better option because then it would mean 75% would actually be truthful as opposed to “Well, we say it is but we’ve already got the list here and on the list it’s already a miss sooooo….”

    As for Darkest Dungeon, the sin there was merely to try extending the experience, it was great and had already found its’ ideal lifespan, it didn’t NEED extending, and now they’re trying to smooth the grind out they’re making new problems in place of the old because by cutting down certain things (like XP) they’re leaving gold grinds in place and that just makes things elongate elsewhere.

    People need to look to Dark Souls, THAT is the series where failure is done right. Fail, fail and fail again, but it’s like the teacher that watches you like a hawk and whacks you over the knuckles with a ruler. When eventually you do pass the test, it rewards you with a single, satisfied nod. It doesn’t act unfairly (or specifically so), it doesn’t act in ways you cannot comprehend or learn, all the systems are visible and can be mastered, it will take you time and effort and knowledge, but with that time and skill, you’ll become able to go from someone who dies LOTS to someone who can slay the bosses easily.

    That’s where I look if I want to discuss “Learning to love failure”, not XCOM or Darkest Dungeon.

    • Xocrates says:

      Two things:

      1) how is rolling a list of random numbers before hand any different from rolling a number whenever it’s needed?

      2) Computers are incapable of “true” RNG, which is why pretty much every RNG there is uses some form of seeding. The only difference on XCOM is that it saves the state of the seed in an attempt to prevent save scumming.

      • Hobbes says:

        1) Two differences – Firstly, by knowledge of the fact that the numbers are in no way “random” (they follow the checklist) you end up with some absurd situations where you can very quickly assess when the checklist is going to dole out streaks and when it’s going through low phases. It doesn’t conform to probability norms except over a -very- large sample set, where it re-normalises (due to overall noise forcing things to look like the RNG is working).

        Secondly – Whilst you do not know the checklist, the AI -does-, and therefore can assess what percentage it needs in order to get the shot to land. If the roll was performed “on shot”, the AI wouldn’t be able to predict whether it would be able to land (ever wonder why the AI sometimes seems so uncannily accurate?).

        2) Whilst that may be true, there are better options than the one Firaxis has used, and ones that would prevent the AI from abusing the fact it knows what numbers are in the checklist. That is my issue right now. The AI knows more inherently than the player does, and has the benefit of knowing -exactly- what percentage it needs to succeed at a given shot, not just what percentage chance it has to hit.

        There’s definitely better ways to handle that, hell, even having a big block of pi and then having the computer just pick two numbers out of the block would be “more random”.

        • mike2R says:

          I’m afraid you’re inventing a problem where one doesn’t exist. Why would you assume that the AI is making its decisions based on the next number in the sequence?

          The only way it would know about it, is if the program had already taken that number, and purposefully used it into the AI decision making process. If its been deliberately programmed to do that, it doesn’t matter what method of pseudo or otherwise random number generation its using – it will just give the number to the AI. Which I sure it isn’t – there are better ways to cheat, after all.

          “There’s definitely better ways to handle that, hell, even having a big block of pi and then having the computer just pick two numbers out of the block would be “more random”.”

          It would be pseudo random in exactly the same way – give the algorithm the same seed, and it will always generate the same sequence of numbers.

          The only problem, if problem it is, is that XCOM preserves the state of the random sequence in its save file. So you get the same sequence of random numbers when you reload. If they wanted to change that behavior they don’t need to try and implement some exotic true-random number generation. Just use a new seed (the current value of the computer’s clock for example) on reload.

        • froz says:

          “Firstly, by knowledge of the fact that the numbers are in no way “random” (they follow the checklist) you end up with some absurd situations where you can very quickly assess when the checklist is going to dole out streaks and when it’s going through low phases. It doesn’t conform to probability norms except over a -very- large sample set, where it re-normalises (due to overall noise forcing things to look like the RNG is working).”

          Do you have any evidence of that? Of course you don’t. Even if there is “checklist”, it must be generated from randomly generated numbers. There is completely no difference between generating numbers before game starts and during it. As far as I know, the game doesn’t make any list, but its random number generator is feeded with one specific seed which is saved when you save game. I’m not sure why Firaxis does that, I think they even had it as an option in Civ. In any case, it doesn’t change anything unless you want to save scum.

          “Secondly – Whilst you do not know the checklist, the AI -does-, and therefore can assess what percentage it needs in order to get the shot to land. If the roll was performed “on shot”, the AI wouldn’t be able to predict whether it would be able to land (ever wonder why the AI sometimes seems so uncannily accurate?).”

          That’s simply BS. AI is not uncannily accurate in my game and let me just remind you that the game doesn’t even show us enemy hit chance. And since this is not a symetrical war game, enemy could very well just have better base accuracy and better weapon range stats (though to be honest, I don’t think so, AI misses a lot if you use high cover).

          • lagiacrux says:

            also, unless you play on legend difficulty the game cheats in YOUR favor. it tries to prevent miss streaks and other stuff, to HELP the player.

        • Cederic says:

          On your two differences..

          1 – the checklist is generated (pseudo)randomly. If I have an algorithm to generate a random number based on a seed then it’s going to give me the same random number whether I calculate it today and store it in a list or calculate it tomorrow when you need it.

          That means that streaks you’re spotting are entirely unconnected to the prior generation of the list. It’s the same set of random numbers, with the same level of randomness, with the same random streaks of low or high rolls.

          2 – You’re basically accusing the AI of cheating. If the AI cheats then pre-generation of random numbers is irrelevant anyway, because the game designers chose to cheat.
          The AI is perfectly capable of calculating the chance of a hit using the same skill/range/cover/target/size/etc factors that are used to display a hit chance to a player. It’s also very easy to give each alien or the AI controlling the aliens on a given map or the AI overall a simple or complex ruleset along the lines of “always take a 90% shot”, “only take a 60% shot if it will kill the enemy”, “only take a 5% shot if the shooter is going to die next turn”. None of those rules need to lookup the list of randomised numbers to determine the success of applying that rule for it to be an effective AI implementation.

          Could I suggest considering the situation like this:
          A – hit chance is based on known factors (for players and AI)
          B – hit success is based on a comparison of hit chance to a randomly generated number (for players and AI)

          At no point during the simple logic of A and B does the time at which the number is generated (prior or post step A) make any difference whatsoever to the outcome.

          1

        • Joshua Northey says:

          You totally have let the RNG get in your head. Just stop thinking about it. You are seeing things where there is nothing.

          I had a mission recently where I missed several 92+% shots. Yes it is very frustrating, but if I look back in retrospect I am positive my % chance on such shots is more or less 92%, which is why it is shocking and frustrating when you get a string of misses.

          I mean I regularly have missions where I shoot 100%, and certainly not every shot I take is 100%, so I definitely benefiting on a lot fo missions from not missing any of my 60s-90s.

        • Hobbes says:

          @ The above posters : Don’t take my word for it, this stuff is trivial to test. Take one autosave of a fight in progress, take the save scum mod (which is great for running RNG tests by the way), and destructively test various shooting scenarios. Make notes of exactly what number is required to get shot A to connect, then reload, run the save scummer, test for shots B, C, and D in sequence. When you’re done, then simply pass your turn and let the aliens run the numbers instead.

          It’s an eye opener.

          • Xocrates says:

            I just came out of a mission where a sectopod, a trooper, and a stun lancer attempted to take out a mimic beacon completely in the open. Only the stun lancer hit, and the sectopod missed point blank.

            If you’re right, then not only does the AI cheat in a pretty stupid way, but it cheats pretty badly as well.

            And what exactly are you even testing? The player and the AI have different stats and different abilities. Even if you know the value of the rolls, you have no idea what the AI actually needs to roll – or even if the roll calculation is the same.

          • froz says:

            That doesn’t confirm anything from what you’ve said.

            We know the game saves RNG seed when you save game (that’s why if you reload and do the same actions in the same order, you will always get the same results).

            It seems to me you have you have your helmet + 10 defense versus knowledge on you.

            I give up, some people are just stupid, I don’t even know why I cared.

      • khamul says:

        Computers aren’t incapable of true RNG. Kinda. On a desktop PC, there’s loads of places to draw real randomness from (network jitter, mouse movements, HDD noise). Yeah, you could probably spoof these things, but… it’s a game. There are probably easier ways to break it. On Linux at least these are captured by the OS, and made easily available for applications to use – I assume it’s the same on Windows, and there’d be no reason not to do so.

        Typically, you take some real randomness from this source, feed it into a pseudo-random-number-generator (PRNG) to get a string of values that are very hard to predict.

        These days, you can also get USB sticks that generate real randomness, and True RNGs are also turning up in integrated chips for systems that need real randomness (for crypto), and don’t have much external randomness to draw on.

        None of which is relevant to your point, as other commenters have noted: the only real impact of picking your list of numbers in advance is that you can’t save scum. For a game’s purposes. For crypto, there’s other factors to consider.

        The big problem is that human instincts are rubbish at dealing with randomness. Playing the is a good, if sometimes painful, way to learn this.

        • froz says:

          Well, there’s a problem with “real randomness” definition. I’m not sure if you could say mouse movements or HDD noise are random factors. However, they certainly appear random enough. This is of course an academic discussion for games. For games the exact same result could be achieved even if the game came with a big list of numbers that were written down by Firaxis employees as a result of them throwing dice (or whatever else). They could even make it use each number only once even if you reload save and the list could in theory be so big that it would be enough for playing the game thousends hours (yeah, that would be one big, ugly list). It would change nothing for each single player (it would be noticable only if several players did exactly the same actions since installing the game and they would compare results). It really doesn’t matter.

          Recently I read similar discussion in Tharsis steam forum. Someone was angry, because he thought the dice results in that game were generated by RNG, as opposed to “real throws”. Turns out, the game actually simulates real throws with physics and all. But it’s making completely 0 difference, either way the result is generated randomly.

        • Joshua Northey says:

          Hehe, I put a lot of time into Wesnoth, it will make you crazy regarding random numbers :)

    • popej says:

      It is for all intents and purposes mathematically identical to a random number generator. It only ceases to be so if the player doesn’t accept the result first time.

    • Dominare says:

      The pre-rolled list is only a problem if you’re save-scumming, and as I’ve said already elsewhere, if you’re going to do that you might as well just install a mod that gives you a roll of 100 whenever you want one.

  4. Perry Noid says:

    My two favorite games of 2016. Darkest Dungeon early access is what pulled me out of my video game slump last year, nothing was holding my interest when I tried playing (exception being Alien: Isolation, but after that, nada) and XCOM 2 is like Blade the vampire hunter, all the strengths and none of the weaknesses of EU/EW (my personal experience of growing up biracial has inclined me toward the mentioning of Blade and the Cher song “Half-Breed” even in circumstances where better comparisons can be drawn).

    DD and XCOM are wonderful, punishing games. It’s like in that Cher song “Half-Breed” where she sings, “Both sides were against me since the day I was born.” If’n you know what I mean

  5. Velox says:

    That last sentence! As simple as it may read and as obvious it might be for some (lucky) ones, it is quite a life lesson. Being able to make decisions, even if they are bad and live with the consequences isn’t easy, but it’s a big part of what freedom really means. It’s also what makes being a decision maker such a well paid job.

  6. haldolium says:

    On the other hand though, Darkest Dungeon feeds of my SSD bits and bytes since EA release, while XCOM2 came and went within 3 days.

    Those major flaws and issues I am supposed to bypass by mods… nope. For DD it was clear what I can and cant expect. For XCOM2 expectations have been kicked while laying on the ground.

    • Goldeneye says:

      Most of the things that the existing mods for XCOM 2 “fix” are either small quality of life niggles that are nice to have but not exactly central to gameplay (ex. the Evac All and Stop Wasting My Time mods), or rebalances that are pretty subjective, and not something every player will want to have (like the Additional Tactical Dark Events). The base game as it is is quite good, but if players have a problem with it they’re free to mold the game as they wish, which is something I wish more SP games allowed. There’s a reason that games that enable modding tend to be very long-lived, ex. Half Life, Counterstrike (which itself was a mod of Half Life), the Civilization games, Bethesda’s various RPG’s like Skyrim, etc.

      As to performance problems, I had them too – the Avenger low framerate, the long loading times, the occasional stuttering etc – until I installed the latest Nvidia driver update, and now my game runs smooth as silk. Not sure if said solution would work for everyone, but would suggest doing so anyway.

    • froz says:

      Funny, it is completely the opposite to me.

      I just refuse to grind in games, it’s not fun and I don’t want to waste time to do that. Of course one person’s grind is another person’s great fun.

      For me DD is just not that fun, almost all important elements feel like work, because there is little strategy behind decisions you make after the first time you made them. For example, if you have several heroes with high stress level and you need to put them into different slots in different buildings to heal that stress, you have to remember or check who can go where (or who can go only in one specific place). Moreover, if you forget something, you can’t rearange them without paying extra money. I really hate that part.

      Then you have party arrangement element, which I guess is a meat of the game and something many people will like a lot. However, I simply didn’t find that part all that fun. The game actively disencourages experiments (you have to pay to unlock half of the skills, separately for each hero, same with skill upgrades, same with items and you cannot sell them back).

      And then there are dungeon expeditions themselves, which take the most time I guess. And that part is really repetetive and doesn’t offer a lot of strategy. I mean, sure, you have to set up party correctly, but once it’s done, you just approach each combat in a very similar way (also because your options are limited and predetermined). For me the problem is that your decisions during this phaze matter much less then what you’ve did earlier. If some enemy forces you to change tactics, that means you have to change party composition, their skills etc. Things that you can’t do during the dungeon run. Dungeon layouts for a roguelike game are simply a joke, it’s been done better in free flash games. The goal is always pretty much the same, you always have to explore as many rooms as possible. Then you have light management, which would be nice if it wasn’t so f… repetitive and boring. Why can’t I set up a specific light level and then torches would be autoused to keep that level? Another terrible aspect – hunger. From what I’ve seen, it’s just random. It ends up being just one another mindless management task.

      And the UI is bad as well, cramped like it would be created for a tablet, not a proper PC monitor.

      But of course the game is very atmospheric, I don’t want to say it’s completely bad, I did try to get into it several times, spent several hours, but it’s just not for me.

      I don’t understand why people act as if XCOM2 was super-buggy. It’s not, it’s working pretty well. The UI is not the best and I don’t quite understand why they put so many pauses in game (this is probably what you are referring to as “mods that fix the game” – well, it’s not about bugs, it’s about settings, the game was just set up to have all those pauses, for me it’s just a bad design decision).

      The problem with framerate is overblown, this is a turn based game, 30 FPS is plenty enough.

  7. ooshp says:

    I agree with the main sentiment of the article. I’ve been using DD as a stress relief tool after my XCOM failures.

    After beating the EU on Impossible/Ironman, I’m now on my 6th C/I campaign in 2 and have only just got to tier 2 armour. The negative feedback systems in XCOM just make it so much more stressful: DD heroes start with all their skills, and they’re free. If you lose soldiers in XCOM, lose the mission, get no resource income AND have to spend what you have left on rookies with absolutely no skills beyond a single 100% grenade hit for sod-all damage per mission, all the while knowing the intel you just failed to bring in could lead to a Geoscape failure state… DD just doesn’t have anything like it.

    I came close to installing a timer-nerfing mod or taking off Ironman, but I’m so glad I didn’t. My failures so far are just going to make eventual victory so much more delicious.

  8. Premium User Badge

    caff says:

    Darkest Dungeon. Here’s one experience I had, only an hour or so in:

    I didn’t really know how to play so I took a huge amount of food on each mission as a healing aid. After some nasty encounters, I fully healed all my team, by munching on my huge food mountain until they were all “full”. No food left. The next move, I get a “hunger” event whereby all my characters lose health because they are “starving”. Bullshit. I’m sorry, but what a terribly designed event that is in no way fair or comprehensible to me as the player.

    Despite this, I still adore the game’s grim, desparate atmosphere, and I’ve gone on to play another 10+ hours of it. It’s just a shame that something like the above could ruin my experience.

  9. Goldeneye says:

    Having just lost my latest attempt at Commander Ironman difficulty, XCOM 2’s really kicking my ass in ways that Enemy Unknown/Within never did. And the way my campaign happened in hindsight is actually marvelous: after an initial string of deaths every mission, even a complete squad wipe and mission failure (aka a “Code Black” in player terms), I persevered and got the tech necessary to begin playing my tactical missions better and keeping my men safe… but all the while I was forgetting my obligation to the strategy layer and found myself out of resources to get to a blacksite mission since I had previously used said resources to give my men some better gear. Had I saved my resources my game – in fact, if I had been a bit more thoughtful in my resource spending – I wouldn’t have lost that game.

    And it’s a wonderful feeling in a game losing so badly knowing that you really could’ve done better, knowing that every action has a consequence down the line beyond what the game mechanics offer.

  10. Sunjammer says:

    I’ve been save scumming in XCOM2 a good bit more than I ever did in XCOM:EU, but last night I figured ok, this is biting into my actual skill at the game, let’s limit ourselves to one save at the beginning of each mission and force me to be more considerate.

    Well, in the middle of my best run, a stun lancer teleports across the map, whiffs a hit through a wall, gets a delayed overwatch reaction shot on him that puts him on fire, then glitches back to his original position and gets ANOTHER free turn and shoots at one of my other guys. That kind of stuff, this general sensation that the game under the wobbly graphics is even wobblier and might spin out at any time, is why I don’t deal well with failure in that particular game. Time and time again it feels like it simply wasn’t my fault, and thus it wasn’t my failure. Arbitrary failure just doesn’t fly for me in a game with stakes.

    • Thurgret says:

      When the game plays like this (it does play like this), forcing reloads to see if the game will behave itself, the way numbers are generated becomes painfully clear. At least they do appear to be rerolled if you quit the game entirely.

  11. Greg Wild says:

    I played through XCOM 2 in Ironman – which I struggled to do in XCOM:EU due to the way you had to have such a razor-balanced early game to stay ahead. I really did enjoy it more because of this, and learning to live with failure.

    I particularly realized this during the last mission. A number of men down, wounded, and maybe two turns from being overwhelmed completely, I conceded I would probably lose, and have to go from the start. The rush on managing to get supremely lucky to landing the final shot on a 45% chance was immense.

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    alms says:

    Strangely this made more interested in DD, rather than XCOM2.

  13. amateurviking says:

    WHO ARE ALL THESE NEW BYLINES: I FEAR CHANGE.

    (but seriously I am digging the fresh perspectives and (I presume) young blood)

  14. laser-gods says:

    I think a lot more games should integrate a permadeath mode, at least as an option.

    I’ve always thought the GTA series could do with it. A permadeath mode where you just try and scrape through earning the hard dolla, knocking over 7-11’s, nicking cars, until you inevitably meet your maker on the end of a police 9mm.

    And maybe just maybe, with enough deaths under your belt, one day you’ll get lucky and make the big score, and while away your days on a luxury yacht in the South Pacific.