XCOM 2 Was Made More Difficult Late In Development: “There Were Definitely Moments Of ‘Is This Too Much?'”

XCOM 2 was made significantly more difficult late in its development cycle after playtesting suggested it was too easy, says the game’s lead designer. “I remember saying ‘you know what, we’re going to make the game a lot harder. We’re going to go back and make the game a lot harder on every level, because this game is not engaging people the way it should,'” Firaxis’ Jake Solomon told RPS. “Of course it triggered a fairly mad rush to balance things out, but I think when the game got more difficult then you started to see people engaging, you felt that spark of life.”

However, he acknowledged that some players might be struggling with the game as a result. “There were definitely moments of ‘is this too much?’ and how do we cater to people that maybe don’t want that experience?”

Solomon also felt that the presentation of the game’s difficulty settings might be to blame for this frustration. “I made a mistake, I think, by calling the lowest difficulty Rookie”.

“The difficulty’s actually one of those things that can be traced to a particular conversation pretty late – very late, actually – in development,” project lead Solomon revealed in an interview to be published in full tomorrow.

“I had been pushing the mantra for a long time that we need to make Normal or Veteran difficulty basically an ‘I want to see the cinematics’ mode, an ‘I want to see the story’ mode, and the player can get through it and it shouldn’t be that difficult. But very, very late in development all the team was playing the game and they were coming back saying “yeah… it’s fun. But it’s pretty easy.” And I started to get kinda worried.

“On the one hand you’ve got all these developers who are super-hardcore XCOM players, but then on the other hand I was ‘if we don’t make the game hard, a lot of the design systems don’t engage.’ If the player isn’t put under pressure, then on the strategy layer a lot of things don’t kick in. The player just doesn’t have to engage with the systems.

“Let’s say the cost of recruits – that’s a very small example, but there are a lot of things where the player was just breezing through the game. So I remember thinking ‘wow, actually this game would be improved if everybody had a much more challenging time of things.'”

Solomon acknowledged that XCOM “is definitely more difficult” than its predecessor XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but felt that some criticisms of its challenge stemmed from how players approached the game.

“Some of them think that the right way to play is to beat the mission without losing anybody,” said Solomon. “That’s fine, it’s certainly fine to think that’s the way you want to play the game, but that I think has led to some frustration in people if they view XCOM as a puzzle – that there is an optimal path so that if you do things right nobody dies. XCOM is not actually a puzzle, it has all these much more unpredictable elements to it. There are cases where it’s difficult to imagine getting through a mission without somebody dying.”

“Obviously some people respond really positively to the difficulty and others say ‘it’s too much’, and that’s something we’re thinking about. Personally as a designer, my experience is that all feedback is factual, so when you do hear feedback like that my instinct is not to say ‘you are incorrect.’ My reaction is always to say ‘ok, does that have to be at odds with the other people who are enjoying the difficulty, and if not, how do we find a way to make both people happy?'”

The base-management aspect of the game has been singled out by some as particularly unforgiving, with its high costs and apparent hard choices related to unlocks and upgrades. “If you’re not spending more than you’re bringing in… it’s a standard strategy design, it’s in XCOM particularly but Sid [Meier] does this too. You give the player five options, all of which seem viable and seem cool and seem necessary, but you only let them pick one. Then by the time they buy that one, we’ve added two more which are also cool. You’re trying to offer the player things that are all beneficial things that the player wants, they just can’t afford all of them at once.”

“We had a very big audience for Enemy Unknown, and it’s a strategy game. And you’ve got to assume that a really big portion of your audience is gonna come back and they’re going to be familiar with Enemy Unknown. You couldn’t possibly just give people the same difficulty as Enemy Unknown if they’re experienced with the product, but at the same time how do you cater to people who have never played an XCOM game?”

The concerns some have expressed about the game’s challenge (and, for the record, this correspondent does not share those concerns) may stem from how its difficulty settings were communicated. “I made a mistake, I think, by calling the lowest difficulty Rookie,” admitted Solomon.

“I should probably have put in a fake difficulty below the lowest difficulty. As I get older I give less of a shit about my ego as I play games, but there is something about clicking on the bottom difficulty in a game that purportedly is about challenge. I think that maybe that is a hard pill for people to swallow. ‘I’m not going to take the easy way out’, but then I called it ‘Rookie’ which is, y’know. All these other difficulties have awesome names, and then you’ve got that… ”

“Actually, after that I realised that why on Earth did we do only four difficulty levels? Civilziation has six or something like that. We just need more difficulty levels, that’s what it is. There’s nothing like coming up with the answers after you ship. Genius at work here, people!”

Our full interview with Jake Solomon, in which he also discusses its links to the original X-COM games, its move towards more story, its art and tactical design and complaints about the strict turn-timers in missions will be published tomorrow.

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

126 Comments

  1. amateurviking says:

    The psychology of naming difficulty levels is fascinating. I feel like more games should spend the time to really explain what each one is and the rationale behind them: invisible inc does that really well.

    FWIW I thought Veteran was pretty bang on in terms of difficulty, but I played something like 300hrs of the first one.

    • frenz0rz says:

      Couldn’t agree more. Virtually every modern strategy game still requires you to Google the detailed descriptions of their difficulty levels instead of explaining them.

      Take Attila: Total War for instance. I went to start a new campaign a few days ago and had to search online to find:

      “Very Hard – Enemy battle has a lot more stats than they should in base. – 6 Public order globally. Enemy CAI has less upkeep, more gold.

      Hard – Enemy battle AI has a few more stats than they should in base. -4 public order globally. Enemy CAI has slightly less upkeep, slightly more gold.

      Normal – Enemy battle AI has the same stats than they should in base. -2 public order globally. Enemy CAI has barely less upkeep and barely more gold.”

      Now why on earth would you not make that information easily accessible to the player? Name any great modern strategy; Total War, Civilization, Paradox games, XCOM and Endless Legend are all guilty of this.

      • klops says:

        The description is vague because it makes it too real that the enemy cheats. Which does not sound that good. Also detailed stats like “-4 public order globally” tells nothing to a rookie.

        I don’t remember how the difficulty was described in XCOM 2 but I remember to have liked the descrition. Veteran was something like “You know your XCOM”, which told me enough and worked better than “The enemy has 2 more hit points and the Advent timer moves faster” since I had no idea how to put that into perspective of the game I had not played yet.

        • gwathdring says:

          That’s not much of an excuse. If you think the information wouldn’t be useful to all players, you set it off to the side. Have a little help button that explains the difficulty settings in more detail for those interested.

        • gwathdring says:

          I like it when games do stuff like that even when I don’t have the context to properly assess it. It still does a better job telling me what kinds of balance elements are changed by the difficulty settings. That way, if I’m playing and I’m unsatisfied with the level of difficulty … I can think back or re-read the explicit settings descriptions and figure out if it’s worth bothering to switch up or down!

          Insible Inc is great for this!

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          Carra says:

          You’re right, in Civ 5 I just took the highest difficulty where the AI does not cheat. Just feels bad if you know the AI is cheating.

      • AyeBraine says:

        Actually, aside from moderate tweaks to HP pools (that are to be expected and the biggest difficulty multiplier in tactical game), tweaks between difficulty levels on tactical levels are rather subtle.

        Enemies don’t get prodigious buffs on higher diffs, nor great debuffs on easier ones. The hardest diff just turns off the enormous aim bonuses / enemy maluses that all the other diffs add invisibly.

        The most brutal thing Legend adds is actually the strategic layer: everything is basically twice as long and expensive to get, and soldier are twice as slow to promote. So it’s just pressing you against the wall in terms of management. This raises the stakes greatly. I guess they could write “Everything, from resources and upgrades to soldier promotions, is much harder to get” in the description =)

    • Zelos says:

      This is something I’ve been discussing a lot recently in regards to the recent Fire Emblem game.

      There’s a “casual” mode that disables permadeath. In practice, this is essentially cheating. It breaks the game in such a way that it no longer really functions, even at the highest difficulties.
      But because Casual is presented as an actual difficulty, as if it’s a legitimate option that the game is designed around(which it is certainly not), the players don’t realize it.

      • Hobocannibal says:

        Whilst I haven’t played the new fire emblem (fates, released in NA on the 19th feb). I’ve been playing through Awakening which also has the casual option. It being my first fire emblem game I opted for Hard difficulty on Casual.

        I’m around story mission 18 and at this stage, my units either kill things in one turn or do no damage, there is no inbetween.

        From what i’ve seen about the game there is no option to leave casual mode. Which I feel I should do. Side story 17 was brilliant in that in order to successfully defend the defenceless objective I had to use little to no pair-ups in order to cover the angles enemies could attack from and I pulled it off without losing anyone and my units were in varying states of hurt by the end.

        It was amazing, abilities and support blocks going off all over the place, feeling as if any one thing happening or not happening could break the phalanx. link to d3esbfg30x759i.cloudfront.net

        But most importantly it made me think “I want to turn off casual mode”… but i can’t.

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    Wisq says:

    I actually played my first campaign through on Rookie, mainly just because I wanted to play pseudo-ironman — being able to reload if the bugs or the UI screw me over, but otherwise, always pressing forward no matter what. I wanted a difficulty where I could make mistakes, small (“oops I moved too far with my last soldier”) and huge (“oh god I screwed up my base layout”), and still make it through to the end without a bunch of loading saves.

    Aside from an early incident involving a Faceless and an exploding car, I didn’t lose a single soldier. That was actually a bit disappointing, since I was doing one of those “my soldiers are my Facebook friends” (with daily reports on Facebook for their amusement) and was hoping to go through a lot more of them, not just see the same ~12 of them over and over.

    Still, it wasn’t un-fun. There were a lot of close calls, a lot of very epic moments, and up until the end (where we were swimming in supplies) we were pretty strapped for every resource and had to make hard decisions about what to do, when.

    So yeah, I think they nailed the difficulty, and I agree it’s unfortunate that Rookie has the stigma of that name, and of being the lowest difficulty.

    • zarthrag says:

      Actually, I’d love to see an Ironman- mode with some kind of Invisible Inc-style extremely limited undo to account for both tactical and UI screwups.

      …sounds like a decent mod…

      • FLoJ says:

        Not a bad idea that

      • CrispyLiberty says:

        Already exists! Just hit ‘alt+F4’ to crash-close the program. The game only saves at the very beginning end of your turn, so you’ll reload to there. The only difference from Invisible Inc is that there’s no limit on the number of times you can use it. Since you have to wait around while the game and level reload it works out about the same. I used it in my commander/ironman playthrough for misclicks. No fun in living with having a ranger run to the square next to an enemy without actually trying to slash them.

        • FLoJ says:

          I actually discovered that for myself with a ragequit in the last Xcom and then really really struggled to not remember to use it from that point on.

          Kinda wish it auto saved after each move rather than at the end of turns.

          • gwathdring says:

            I was very glad that was possible. Sometimes stuff happened that didn’t feel fair. It didn’t really matter if I could keep playing or if it was “actually” fair. It wasn’t valuable or fun to let that stuff happen in the name of a pure Ironman run. Having that de-facto undo button was really nice. As an added bonus, if I was so frustrated I felt I needed it … it got me out of the game. Forced me to come up from air. Sometimes, I’d walk away, come back and a similarly bad thing would happen and I’d let it ride. Sometimes I’d walk away, come back, and this time things would go perfectly and it wouldn’t feel right.

            But the key there is that despite sometimes wanting things to go wrong–and sometimes really, really wrong!–when I made mistakes, it still wasn’t always going wrong in ways that felt valuable or interesting to me. It would be lovely to have a game with adjustable undos like Invisble Inc. You can set how many restarts and rewinds you get. You can really customize the experience of the game’s difficulty. That’s important in a game like this.

      • Shadow says:

        On Commander difficulty, a single reload is plenty to fix any gruesome mistake, and said errors don’t come around often once you’ve accrued some experience.

        As for crashing the game on Ironman, this is about the meaningless achievement, isn’t it? What’s the point in playing Ironman if you’re going to cheat yourself out of it like that? Might as well find a cheat to unlock the achievement(s) without earning it. Same deal.

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          DelrueOfDetroit says:

          They said it is about fixing mistakes the game makes and not you. I’ve had things happen in games such as units disappearing when they are right next to one of your soldiers or not falling when the floor below them is destroyed.

          Not to mention the numerous times I’ve accidentally moved because I hit right-click….

          • CrispyLiberty says:

            This.

          • CrispyLiberty says:

            I think my personal favorite is when the game shows a valid launch circle for a rocket attack against a target at extreme range but then won’t let you actually fire. Then you have to hunt for the exact pixel that will hit the target while taking care not to bump the mouse too far in the act of clicking. I don’t feel at all bad about reloading that kind of misfire on ironman. That glitch has nothing to do with tactical intent.

            This comes up a lot since I try to outfit my entire squad in war suits.

          • popej says:

            Crispy – Use the space key instead to execute the command instead. Means you can hold the mouse still on the correct point.

        • gwathdring says:

          Wow, you’re judgy.

          Consider in addition to the things others have said like it being useful when you make a UI error or there is a system-side bug, it’s a way of getting a difficulty *in-between* Ironman and non-Ironman. You aren’t literally stuck with every single thing that happens … but you also can’t go back very far and it’s very inconvenient compared to just going Menu->Load Game->Earlier Save.

          The combination of the mental barrier created by both the exploit-y feel and the extra work of booting the whole game back up as well as the very real restrictions that Ironman + alt-F4 puts on you compared to non-Ironman means you can get a custom difficulty mode that fits your personal style or ability level more accurately than the built-in difficulty settings.

          When I play chess with my friends, we’ll often let players take back certain moves. Why? Because sure, Chess is a game about making mistakes and endurance and all that. But it’s not interesting when your friend throws away the entire game on one stupid move just because you’ve been at this for 6 hours of back-to-back games. The loss is as meaningless as the win.

          Perhaps it is you who are too caught up on the concept of Ironman as a mark of honer. :P

      • Nice Save says:

        There’s a mod called Bronzeman, that does something like this. I forget the details, but I think it removes all autosaves but keeps the Restart Mission button in the menu.

        • popej says:

          It lets you save in the strategy layer so you can start a mission again from the beginning. I haven’t used it yet but I do have it installed. It’s seems like a happy medium.

          Will probably play my first legendary run using it once I’ve finished this C/I game.

  3. hurrakan says:

    I’m only playing on Normal, on my first playthrough. I’m just about at the late game, but it’s actually a bit too easy now. I even got a Flawless victory after one mission recently. There are still a lot of aliens but they can’t deal with my stratagems!

    I was thinking there should be attacks of opportunity (like in D&D).

    • thetruegentleman says:

      That’s what flanking with overwatch is: an attack of opportunity for people with guns.

      The Devs can’t give such attacks for everyone automatically because: 1. attacking everything that moves into melee is actually a skill for the Rangers, and 2. it would bog down the game too much, as melee characters would need even more health/armor to remain useful (to compensate for all the shots they would take) and everyone (Advent and Xcom) would need to keep more distance from enemies, resulting in even larger maps and longer battles.

      • hurrakan says:

        It feels a bit cheap when an alien melees a squad member and you can simply move that solider away unchallenged.

        Although I’ll probably change my mind about that when I try Ironman mode!

        • TillEulenspiegel says:

          It’s important to recognize that all turn-based strategy is necessarily an abstraction. It’s like that screenshot floating around with a soldier standing right in front of an alien with less than 100% chance to hit. Well, yeah. Because that’s not literally what’s happening in the “real world”. Your opponent is not actually standing still.

          Attacks of opportunity can make sense, but what if you’re distracted and/or they’re moving really fast? Then it doesn’t make sense. Abstractions.

          • gwathdring says:

            Sure, but where’s the abstraction of grappling or tackling an enemy, lashing out or otherwise catching them in a proper melee scuffle? Attacks of opportunity are nice for that. They make sure that getting in close is dangerous because it puts you, well, close to the enemy. Sure, it’s all abstractions, but I think it’s a nice addition to the system of abstractions in many TBS games.

      • gwathdring says:

        I’m with Hurrakan, AoO for melee would make a lot of sense. There’s plenty of precedent for that in strategy games, too, wherein moving around doesn’t trigger range fire without special abilities, but disengaging from melee costs an AoO. Divinity: Original Sin does this, for example.

  4. Germansuplex says:

    Impeccable timing, RPS. My veteran/ironman campaign just came to a grinding halt because XCOM 2 decided to steamroll my A-team in glorious fashion. I played EU and EW on normal/ironman and had a great time, challenging but fun. XCOM 2, however, kicks my ass every time.

    Oh well, time to switch to easy.

    • Germansuplex says:

      Post needs more uses and variations of the word “time”.

      • Beefenstein says:

        It’s time to implement an edit button.

        • deadly.by.design says:

          It’s time to implement an edit button.

          We can rephrase it. We have the technology.

        • Papewaio says:

          Apparently RPS replies are all in Ironman mode

    • JFS says:

      Veteran on XCOM2 is like Classic in XCOM 1. Rookie is like Normal. There is no Easy in XCOM 2.

  5. Sleepery says:

    It wasn’t the difficulty so much as the unforseeable moments of unfairness that put me off. The “Ha! Bet you didn’t see that coming!” abilities of many of the enemies that kill you off in spectacular fashion the first time you encounter them. It might be realistic, but it also wasn’t much fun.

    • Xocrates says:

      This was true of EU as well though. Even something as simple as realizing Muttons had grenades was a big “oh crap” moment. And let’s not even talk about Chryssalids.

      • onionman says:

        I don’t think either of those compare to Mutons’ melee counter or the first encouter with a Codex

        • Sleepery says:

          Or the Avatar, the Andromedan, the Gatekeeper. The first Avatar encounter in particular was an insta-kill of one of my best guys, half way across the map in full cover.

          • Coming Second says:

            Ah, the Andromedon. I am sure everyone who didn’t spoil the game for themselves uttered variations of the phrase “Oh that is utter bullcrap” the first time they encountered one of them.

            Then you discover how easy they are to dominate, and then the real fun begins.

          • LexW1 says:

            I didn’t think any of those were that bad, playing on Veteran, but I think I got lucky when I encountered most of them.

            With the Andromedon, the only people near it were two snipers across a street and on a rooftop, and it didn’t get close to them even in it’s second phase.

            With the Avatar, I had no idea what was coming, but that something was and when he appeared, he got hit by Killzone or Overwatch fire and then just killed dead by the next shot (lucky I suspect). So I never even knew what abilities an Avatar had until er… no spoilers so “later” I guess we will say.

            Gatekeeper scared the living daylights out of me, but I just hit it with so much heavy ordnance that it didn’t get to do much. Pretty much every later one met the same fate or got mind-controlled.

            First Codex I met got totally murdered too.

            Second one though OH GOD THE BULLSHIT WITH THE MAKING YOUR WEAPONS HAVE NO AMMO AND THEN NEXT TURN YOU TAKE HUGE DAMAGE STILL MAD. Lost a couple of good people that mission, just no way out of it.

        • Xocrates says:

          A mutton melee counter is a error you do once and it likely won’t kill you. And a Codex while annoying is not actually a huge threat, particularly because he’ll rarely shoot at you in its first turn.

          By comparison a Chryssalid in EU is fully capable of insta-killing one of your guys when they first show up, and the zombie that shows up is not exactly weak either.

          • Gorncaptain says:

            But a chrysalid in XCOM 2 is far more devastating than in EU/EW. Sure, they can’t make zombies anymore, but being able to dash-attack you on your turn and turn your dead soldiers and civs into near-unkillable gelatinous blobs that shit out multiple chrysalids is very, very scary. Especially if you don’t know what their abilities are beforehand. Strolling across a map and suddenly stepping on chrysalid landmines can be catastrophic.

          • Leiska says:

            Mutons melee counter doesn’t kill? It’s like 7-8 damage, is it not? That shit kills anything and everything with basic armor, which you should still have when you first encounter Mutons.

        • Xocrates says:

          To clarify, I’m not necessarily arguing that in XCOM 2 the “surprises” aren’t often worse than EU. I’m pointing out that the fact they they exist isn’t new.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      For me, that’s actually part of the fun and the theme – you truly have no idea what the aliens are capable of. In the end, all those ‘sudden abilities’ enemy types surprise you just once, so even if you lose a soldier or two or fail a mission because of something unexpected, there’s great satisfaction in getting revenge next time.

      XCOM is also very highly replayable, so the surprise factor really drops to 0 once you know what you’re up against. To be honest, I wish playing on new difficulties unlocked new abilities from the aliens too, to keep things interesting.

      • Weed says:

        I love that idea and would love to see it in regular rotation for DLC or a patch or a mod or all of the above. Whether it be new aliens or old aliens with new abilities. In fact, having the aliens have an abilities tree like the XCOM soldiers would make them more interesting. If there are a possible 12 abilities a particular alien could have, but you are guessing which ones THIS PARTICULAR alien has with him. That alone makes each mission somewhat of a surprise.

        Discovery is half the fun. Adapting to what the game throws at you makes it memorable.

      • Baines says:

        That can be something of a problem.

        The games aren’t balanced for “Wait, it can do THAT?!” moments. They are balanced for players who already know what the enemies are capable of doing. You are only surprised the first time, and afterward it is just another thing to remember and account for.

    • Weed says:

      I love those moments. The game throws you a learning moment. If you had no intel on a type of alien, you have to realize they can surprise you. You can bet they won’t surprise you with that move again though. It’s a very powerful teaching mechanic. And sometimes, learning like that, is difficult. But almost always effective.

      It’s also a good reason to avoid all info about this type of game before it comes out. Spoilers are everywhere, even if they aren’t meant to be spoilers. So much of my original X-Com experience was discovery. XCOM 2 has some of that again.

      • klops says:

        I’m with you and Cpt_freakout and some other commenters. Part of the charm. I think I’ll remember my first contact with Andormedon for some years from now.

        • JFS says:

          Only time I’ve had to evac so far. The first Andromedon halted my whole offensive and led to casualties. On my first Codex, I luckily got lucky.

      • ooshp says:

        Totally agree. First time I see a new alien (I didn’t spoil any for XCOM 2 which was nice) it’s obviously a priority target, and almost always goes down or gets bashflanged before it can unleash its mystery death move. Second time: same thing. Third time: my brain tells me they’re not a threat and I don’t need to worry about them. THIS is the moment I discover why everyone else on the internet hates them so much.

        I think I’d nailed a few codices before one of them lived long enough to use its purple wobbly bubble. I ran my guys out of the purple fire (duh) and killed it. Due to the mega-shitty camera in the aliens’ turn i didn’t see it explode. Next time it happened, I happily stayed put in the purple fire, reloaded my weapons, and fired back.

        Whups. Definitely didn’t miss THAT explosion.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I think it works for the gameplay, because you’re only going to be surprised that first time, and surprise is a good thing in games.

      It doesn’t feel very realistic though. If we’re an insurgent force, rising from the ashes of defeat, then why wouldn’t we have intel about the current alien types roaming around? Did these new aliens magically appear at the same time we started fighting back? They were hidden until then? It doesn’t feel quite right that they’d be such a surprise.

      • Coming Second says:

        The aliens took control of Earth in a two month shadow war, and most of the relevant information about their troops got kerbstomped along with XCom. At the start of the game they have been ruling Earth for twenty years with only scattered and poorly armed resistance to oppose them, and have thus packed their heavy duty weaponry away and are policing the streets with only-moderately-alarming modified human troops and mechs. It’s only when XCom start becoming a real pain in the arse again that they start deploying the big guns – all of which either haven’t been seen before or have been modified to suit new circumstances.

        There’s a lot of completely ludicrous story elements in this game, but XCom not immediately knowing what every alien unit can do is not one of them.

    • gwathdring says:

      I kinda like it, though. As long as I’m not playing on save-restricted difficulty levels, I can always reload once I encounter something surprising. And whether I choose to reload or not, it’s really nice to encounter new abilities in context. Chrysalids were difficult to fight and that made them scary. The animation made them scary. But you know what made them terrifying? Remembering that first encounter. I still remember the first Chrysalid encounter. I remember several whole turns almost blow-by-blow of a strategy game in which I played thousands of turns over several years.

      And I like that.

  6. Xocrates says:

    The XCOM case is particularly tricky because the first playthrough is very different from the following ones.

    Playing on Veteran, the first playthrough was kicking my ass, and caused me to reload often, while the second one went pretty swimmingly (though I still did a couple reloads to keep people from dying).

    Based on the second playthrough, the game while visibly harder than EU is not unreasonably so. In fact, in many cases it allows you to get away with stuff that you’d be punished for in EU.

    There is this large difficulty gap in EU between Normal and Classic, which the Veteran difficulty in 2 fits in nicely, so I have to agree with Solomon when he says they probably should have made more difficulty settings.

    • StarkeRealm says:

      To be honest, it probably needed a more customized difficulty set. Not just the normal, “easy, medium, hard, ohgodwhyme” settings. Instead settings for stuff like allied unit health scaling, enemy health scaling, accuracy adjustment, resource availability, research time, campaign tempo (how fast the aliens get their act together), tiered tempo (where the aliens only get upgrades when you clear certain story thresholds), gear being unlocks vs. single items, (IE: everything is one of a kind, you need to buy every piece of gear, most gear is unique, but standard equipment is unlocked, all items are unlocks, once purchased), ect.

      • Shadow says:

        I fully agree. A Custom difficulty setting with multiple sliders would be extremely interesting, and beyond conservative use, it could be a tool to create wild/bizarre scenarios.

        • JFS says:

          Amen to that. Exactly what XCOM 2 needs. Difficulty in this game is based on two dozen constituting factors (e.g. resources, tempo, prerequisites, enemy health, enemy number, …). When switching up one difficulty, ALL those elements go up one notch, which in sum leads to a overly big step up in overall difficulty rather than a gradual increase.

        • 2lab says:

          It’s all there in the .ini files.

      • gwathdring says:

        Yeah, I was really hoping they’d take Second Wave to the next level and go full-on Invisible Inc with the difficulty level. They did not. :(

  7. GallonOfAlan says:

    I haven’t played it – I own the first one, played about 3 missions, realised turn-based *still* isn’t for me after 30 years.

    I definitely have the ‘lose no team members’ mentality, so I don’t think this one is for me either. But good luck to them.

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      Wisq says:

      See my comment above — on Rookie, I lost a couple team members early on in the campaign due to one silly mistake on my part, and then went the entire rest of the campaign with nobody dying. And that’s _without_ reloading when things went badly.

      Once they get armour, and especially if you’re keeping a medic-oriented Specialist on hand each mission, you can do a no-deaths XCOM2 campaign just fine.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I was in a very similar mind-set before playing this. I also don’t play a lot of turn-based games (other than JRPGs back in the day) and I bounced off of EU hard. Once the crysalids showed up I was done, it stopped being fun.

      This game is much much better for newbies than the last. Rookie is very easy to get into. I never felt like the game was just going to give me the middle finger and tell me I lost because of something I should have done 200 turns ago.

      I’ve lost only 2 soldiers in my play-through but they were still big moments. There is no loss of impact when you lose a soldier you’ve had since the beginning because of your mistake. In the end I found other ways to challenge myself by going for perfect missions. This game assumes you know what you are doing so you may as well play on the difficulty where it accepts that you might not.

  8. onionman says:

    Coming straight off a Classic/Ironman run from EW I found Veteran a tad on the easy side, Commander tough but mostly fair. I’m trying to go through Legendary/Ironman and I don’t find it fair at all. I could probably get through it on a non-Ironman, but there’s something in the back of my mind that would feel like I was cheating. Interesting how that works.

  9. klops says:

    I’ve enjoyed the veteran difficulty on tactical maps. It is doable without save scumming but still tense. Perhaps it is starting to turn a bit too easy but I still lose experienced soldiers from time to time and have lots of people gravely wounded all the time. It feels there’s a real possibility to fail big time, although that hasn’t happened yet (thanks evacuation). At first every mission felt really exiting since I always managed to complete them at the last turn while still managing to keep the people alive.

    The strategic map with the timer does not work in my mind. The tension is not real on it and everything you do there feels silly. “Scout for 7 days to find a scientist.” Blrgh. At first I was sure I’d lose the game since I the timer was almost at the end, then it just started to unwind without ever coming back up – at least yet. The world map was not good in the first XCOM either, but the interaction and link towers on XCOM 2 is so silly, I almost liked the first one more. It was bad too but simpler bad.

    The misleading difficulty level names Solomon mentioned sounds a bit strange. The description of the difficulty levels was informative and accurate, so there’s no reason just to choose a difficuty level by the name.

    • JFS says:

      Rookie said it’s for people who’ve never played tactical games. I’ve played plenty. Veteran was still too hard for the first playthrough.

      • klops says:

        Mmh. I don’t see it as a problem if you need to start over. Had to do that in the first. But different tastes and such

  10. onionman says:

    The problem I have is with the evac mechanic. On paper it’s great, and in those few instances where it fits, it’s so cool. The problem is that on lower difficulty settings you basically never need to evac, whereas on Legendary you can’t really afford to fail any missions. There’s a disconnect, in other words, between the difficulty setting’s tolerance for failure and the macro-level systems which allow you to mitigate the consequences of failure.

    • klops says:

      You have a good point. I still like it. I’ve used it only once and it was a really pleasant experience. 2 dead and 2 unconscious thanks to the newly found muton’s super rifle butt. Mission failed and 2 soldiers dead, but 3-4 soldiers alive.

      It gives you a _possibility_ to end a failed mission deep inside enemy lines and save your soldiers without save scumming, which is why I think it works very well. You can advance aggressively since you know there’s that possibility to save your team members if mission goes south. It would be also silly that you can evacuate after completing mission objective but not before.

      • Gorncaptain says:

        Not to mention it’s useful even if you’re not abandoning the mission. If you have a badly wounded soldier (especially if they’re about to die from poison/acid/fire damage) then evacing them can save their life and let you continue the mission. It’s not something you need very often, but when you do it’s literal life-saver.

        • klops says:

          Never even thought of that! I try to keep at least 3x medkit support on every mission, so those things usually won’t happen, but have to keep that in mind. Will the final evacuation place change, for example after bombing a factory, or stay the same after early evacuation?

        • Shadow says:

          In my experience, it also saved a guy or two during my first encounter with Chryssalids. They got slashed and my medic Specialist wasn’t available for the mission, so I figured the only way to save them (and the rest of the mission, really) was to evac them.

          Thankfully, that didn’t lead to Chryssalids on my motherfucking plane the Skyranger.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      I agree with this completely.

    • Horg says:

      ”whereas on Legendary you can’t really afford to fail any missions”

      Oh you can. I had to bail out of a guerrilla op today with an evac. The squad was close to the hack objective and we had 5 aliens up in front of us, which was tolerable, but a reinforcement marker came down behind us as those 5 took down the mimic bacon. Faced with being stuck between two fronts, and needing at least one more turn to hack the loot box, I called an evac. The campaign has not suffered at all apart from a bollocking from the Spokesman. I could have failed one or two more missions and still been on course to win.

      • Shadow says:

        That’s good to hear. Haven’t tried Legend yet, but it sounds similar to Commander. Good or bad, XCOM 2 frequently leads you to believe you’re on the verge of defeat, particularly during the earlier parts, with the significant losses, resource shortage, Avatar timer, etc.

        There were a couple of times during my current Commander playthrough (my first one) when I thought the campaign was lost. But I pressed on and soon things were reasonably manageable again.

        It takes a good deal of knowledge and experience to know you can recover from many things. Just how many depends on the difficulty, I suppose, but seemingly pressing gear concerns aren’t usually so pressing, the Avatar project can be significantly slowed down with one facility hit, resource opportunities aren’t uncommon, etc. Even well-trained soldiers can be replaced with mission rewards, not really common but not really rare either. In fact, I recently got a full Grenadier Colonel from a guerrilla op.

        • AyeBraine says:

          Thing with Legend is that it stacks the odds against you in several ways at once. All strategic timers, resource requirements and XP progression are twice as long / large or more, and tactical missions are significantly more difficult. That means you level soldiers up much slower, and lose much more if they die; and also you struggle greatly with resources and tech. All in all, Legend really has you on the edge of a knife – unlike Commander.

      • DrollRemark says:

        I was hoping this was the case, but didn’t have the experience to state it confidently, since I’ve only played on Veteran. But yeah, from that level I found there was a lot less punishment to losing a mission than there would have been in EU/EW, where a loss could mean a country leaving, meaning less money (and no continent bonus), meaning a slower climb up the tech tree, meaning your soldiers being undermatched in battles. A loss really snowballed in that game.

  11. buzzmong says:

    For me, I find the difficulty to be pretty much spot on what I was expecting Veteran to be. I’m on my third retry of an iron man campaign.

    My only gripe is that the timed missions really are a cliff-like ramp up of difficulty in the tactical missions, as they often require you to either sacrifice someone or give up doing any form of tactics.
    They’re a good idea in general, but the 8 round timers are *far* too tight.

    • Shadow says:

      Timers are a divisive issue, but from my point of view, they’re only really punishing in the early game, coincidentally when you can take the most losses. Once your troops gain sufficient experience, they become more adept at dealing with enemies quickly, and therefore reach the objectives in due time. Eventually with plenty of time to spare.

      Plus, as a player your skill develops and you can better gauge what you can do in a single turn, and how much time you really need.

      • Cross says:

        On the flip side, the missions where you have to defend a device are cakewalks early game, but damn near impossible later on.

      • PikaBot says:

        coincidentally when you can take the most losses

        Not really. In the late-game even a colonel is semi-disposable – you can straight up buy one every month, maybe even two if you’re lucky with the Black Market. If you lose a soldier or two, you can roll past it no problem, even on Legend.

        The problem is getting to that point and surviving the midgame – the part where you’ve – if you’re lucky – just finished researching Magnetic weapons and plated armor is a distant dream, but the game’s already throwing waves of stun lancers and mutons at you. To survive that shitstorm, you need a robust roster of ranked soldiers. You don’t have the firepower to drop these tankier units quickly, so you need sergeants and lieutenants so you don’t miss as many shots and you can compensate for your shitty peashooters with soldier perks.

        It feels comforting in the early game to say ‘oh well, only a rookie, no big loss’, but that’s not really true: a rookie’s death is no big loss, costs 25 supplies to replace them, but losing them means one more mission with a useless rookie before you can get a more useful soldier.

        A loss-free early game causes you to snowball through the midgame and become extremely powerful in the late game. This is especially pronounced on higher difficulties – on Legend, anything less than a flawless rating on Gatecrasher is setting yourself up for a miserable first half of the campaign.

  12. Edgewise says:

    Good article…it’s very interesting to hear about the thought process of a game designer, and Solomon in particular sounds very thoughtful. I hope they go ahead and patch those difficulty levels in, because it sounds like a good idea. Maybe not the most cost-effective thing for them to work on, when there are still crippling bugs and slowdowns out there, but maybe they’ll get around to it.

  13. Katar says:

    I’ve taken a break from XCOM 2, it has lasted about two weeks so far. Damning the game with faint praise it’s more XCOM and I was getting bored.

    I was quite close to the end of the campaign when I stopped. On the default difficulty, I can’t remember the name of that setting, and I save scummed a fair bit mainly because it is my first playthrough. There were some hard bits depending on the layout of the map you spawn on achieving the objective can vary wildly in difficulty. When you first met an enemy there is normally a spike in difficulty just due a lack of knowledge.

    I’d be pretty confident of being able to get through a higher difficulty even with Ironman, just because a second playthrough you have far more information available to you. Just as an example I initially thought building Predator armour was the same as building a Nanoscale vest and you only got them one at a time when I now know everyone gets it. If I had of known that I would have built the armour a lot earlier and in fact completely skipped Predator armour as I thought it was too expensive. I also know what the stats for the armours and weapons are which the game doesn’t tell you until you build it for some reason. A lot of the lack of information frankly smacks of the UI was designed for a console using a controller so parts of it has to be enormous and you can’t fit any useful information on the screen.

  14. SanguineAngel says:

    I actually just started blogging my ironman run on Commander difficulty. I’m using a character pool composed of friends and family.

    I picked this difficulty because I specifically wanted things to go haywire. I’m not expecting to actually /win/ but perhaps I’m a bit concerned my camapaign will be all toooo brief.

    • C0llic says:

      Commander is a good difficulty for a lot of people with XCOM experience. It is tough at first and I certainly failed my first campaign, but it doesn’t feel overly punishing once you adjust your playstyle and get used to the new strategic layer.

      I had a lot more fun failing and playing again with some lessons learned, than I think I would playing a level below.

    • ooshp says:

      I went straight into Commander/Ironman. Figured it wouldn’t be too hard after finishing I/I in the first game, I was very wrong.

      I’ve only just finished it on my 5th campaign – the first was lost to not adapting to the timer mechanic very well, next 2 were lost in the first couple of months to RNG nightmares and a couple of concealment LOS bugs, 1 was lost to the avatar timer.

      It was much more rewarding that way IMO, I’m really glad I was tempted to nerf the timers with a mod – the untimed missions are pretty boring by comparison, with the final stage of the end mission being the exception. I highly recommend going into the final mission blind, BTW, though I’d probably have thrown my PC out the window if I’d managed to lose. Didn’t get a scratch as it turns out… just too many tricks up the sleeve by end game.

  15. Joshua Northey says:

    I thought the difficulties made sense and worked as a long time X-COM and XCOM veteran. Playing my first couple veteran ironmanesque I had some early wipes, and just quit (stupid reliance on ambushes because I thought the game “wanted you to use them”). On my third try I completed the game with one death (no ambushes this time).

    Now I am slowly doing a commander ironman (I think 2 deaths), but I have started playing other games.

    Anyway one thing about this that really gets me is the psychology and silliness around people’s egos and difficulty naming.

    I almost feel they should just be numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, or maybe no names just a description of the differences.

    Or name them “default”, harder, hard as intended, and hardest or something.

    Part of me hates how people with fragile egos and no self-awareness can drive these decisions while complaining about difficulty levels. Then again I used to work at a 20 person company where 15 of us were “managers” or “directors”.

    Humans are silly. Maybe just give the difficulties color names.

    Umber
    Burgundy
    Vermillion

    • Kolyarut says:

      Diablo 3’s system pretty much works on these lines these days – their lowest difficulty is Normal, then builds up to Torment 1, Torment 2, Torment 3, etc, and the expectation is that you’ll rise through those as you progress until you find a level you’re comfortable with, which I think makes so much more sense than effectively encouraging people to start on Normal then watching them sink or swim. I don’t think it’s a matter of “fragile egos”, I just think you’re already setting the player up to have a bad time when you tell them they’re sub-normal. It’s frustrating enough to be struggling with a game, without the game basically taunting you for (potentially sensibly) dropping the difficulty.

      • Shadow says:

        Diablo III has a pretty weird concept of difficulty. The various levels are mainly aimed at maintaining “normal” challenge in relation to your character’s rising mechanical power, with little concern for actual player skill (whose ceiling isn’t very high, admittedly).

        So therefore a difficulty level becomes a mere progression stage, never significantly increasing the challenge because the game has given you enough power to keep it down just enough.

        I really don’t think that’s how game difficulty should be handled.

        • Kolyarut says:

          See, it’s true that Diablo’s difficulty is kind of an arms race, but that same progression still works if you don’t ratchet up the player abilities. With several different difficulties you’re still letting the player pick the level they feel able to succeed at, be that an easy one or a brutally difficult one. In Diablo it actually preserves the player’s ability to retain an easy or hard experience as they gear up, which is fantastic. In the context of XCOM, it adds more replay value (“okay, Commander 6 was hard but doable, let’s see if I can manage Commander 8”) – which is essentially what he proposed at the end of the article.

  16. Kolyarut says:

    “…I think has led to some frustration in people if they view XCOM as a puzzle – that there is an optimal path so that if you do things right nobody dies. XCOM is not actually a puzzle…” This is the most interesting quote from the article to me, because I’ve literally described it in these terms (which is why I’m happy to crank up the difficulty but not afraid to save scum). Happily, the game still generally works well enough when played on these terms, which is good as far as I’m concerned – a random brutal loss simulator is far less appealing to me. Never touching Ironman in a million years!

    • Horg says:

      Yeah, that’s basically Legend summed up. You do it right and nobody dies. make one mistake and everybody dies.

    • AyeBraine says:

      I am just now trying to tackle Legendary with “Honestman” (meaning no reloads to stack things in my favor), and I must say that I haven’t felt this level of performance anxiety since most brutal exams on piano or university entrance exams on subjects I just learned to get into a specialty.

      It’s thrilling, but also a venomous mix of Fear and Anger. And that’s why I still don’t have the balls to turn Ironman on for good. On Commander – maybe. Not on Legendary, NO.

  17. mpk says:

    I found Veteran to be challenging and tense, but eminently completable. That said, I’m very definitely one of those who refuses to complete a mission where I lose a soldier. I’m actually frustrating myself on a Commander playthrough with the amount of save scumming I’m doing. AND YET I CAN’T STOP.

  18. Jimbo says:

    What they really wanted is a setting where the difficulty can’t still vary so wildly depending on luck. Arguably a difficulty curve which doesn’t place the second hardest mission in the entire campaign in the tutorial would be a good idea too.

    The truth is that, despite what he says, for the vast majority of the campaign (certainly on Veteran at least) once you are far enough ahead of the difficulty curve, if you do play ‘optimally’ you aren’t going to be getting hit let alone losing anybody. This can make the very early missions where you often have to cross your fingers and hope for the best quite frustrating in comparison.

    It explains a lot that they were basically just winging it when it came to what they wanted the balance and difficulty to be like.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      This is a good point. The difficulty is really front loaded. Those first missions are so dicey, later on you can afford many more mistakes without actual losses, but early on one missed 95% shot can lead to a death.

      Basically for me the game was kind of hard until I got the better armor, then mostly quite easy until the very last part of the final battle. Which is too bad.

  19. Ugeine says:

    I’m nearing the end of the game on ‘normal’ difficulty and I think it’s got a tiny bit easier in the last 5 – 6 missions. Because there’s such a wealth of different weapons and ammo type it feels a bit unbalanced in places, more so than EU was, and you can exploit this to your advantage. Mimic beacons seem to be a get out of jail free card and a grenadier with ‘salvo’ and EMP grenades can take out a sectopod in one turn.

    Having said that, VIP missions are still tough as nails, and usually descend into a mad dash for the exit sign. I’ve lost six people so far; three rookies have died and three of my A-team have been captured in one of those missions.

    • onionman says:

      There is a sudden, brutal spike in difficulty on the last fight of the final mission (which is, up to that point, hardly more difficult and possibly easier than most things you’ve faced in the lategame). I hate hate hate hate HATE the final fight.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        Hehe I nearly lost my game on the last mission…due to one pair of bad teleports that were both directly away from the action and on the other side of the enemies. Luckily a run and gun nader saved the day.

        Literally if there was one last alien turn I think I lose 4 or 5 guys, maybe all 7.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I am pretty sure I have yet to see a Sectopod attack because after reading all the horror stories on here as soon as I see one I put all my armour piercing, circuit destroying eggs into that two legged bastard.

      • ooshp says:

        That is precisely the correct response. Shut it down, hack it or kill it. Or watch your guys get torn to shreds. These are your options.

  20. Zenicetus says:

    I’m interested to read what Solomon says about the timer, because that’s still my main gripe about the game design.

    I understand the need for pressure on the player, and for nerfing the creeping overwatch that was the default tactic in the first game. But too often it feels completely arbitrary, like the heavy hand of the designer omnipresent in the game, instead of something organic that arises from the situation.

    For example, The Retaliation missions (and the similar ones from XCOM EU) have a built-in motivation for the player to move quickly and not just creep through the map. Bomb defusing is another high-pressure way to motivate the player. But adding timers for things like hacking and some of the other objectives just feels gamey and ridiculous. I’m fighting the game designer, not the aliens.

    And yes, I know there are mods to alleviate this, but then you’re screwing up the game balance. The design won’t change at this point, but I’m wondering if some of these timed missions were last-minute additions to make things harder. Because they just don’t feel right to me.

    • onionman says:

      Relatedly, why on earth do I have to “neutralize all enemy targets” once I’ve done the hacking or whatever? Having to kill every last alien makes sense for some objectives (defend the relay, retaliation) but once I’ve blown up or hacked the MacGuffin why do I need to stick around?

      • ooshp says:

        You’d give up all the possible loot drops, XP for your soldiers and leave ALL the precious alien corpses behind when the pressure of the timer’s been taken off and you can mop up the survivors while eating sandwiches? You’re crazy.

        • onionman says:

          Loot drops are on a 3 turn timer, chances are I already collected it (or can collect it and then evac without too much hassle).

          As for corpses and XP, a) shouldn’t this be up to me? b) (more importantly) I am especially referring to the mid-late game, when I already have a bunch of Colonels and all the corpses I need.

          I mean what exactly do you need corpses for anyway? 1 of everything to autopsy, 6 troopers for armor, a few sectoids for psi… and that’s it. You need Faceless corpses for mimic beacons but since those come from Retaliation missions anyway they don’t apply to the point I’m making, which is that non-retaliation non-defense objectives should let you evac after completing the objective without failing the mission.

        • onionman says:

          Also, you should be able to pick up ayy corpses (or at least advent corpses) the way you pick up XCOM bodies, precisely for this reason. One time I tried to do this and was surprised it wasn’t already in the game.

    • klops says:

      Arbitrary? You’re operating a terrorist group, which means you have two options to harm the enemy:
      1. Hit-and-run
      2. Suicide attack

      2. Wouldn’t be fun and 1. is implemented by the timer. Works fine in my mind. I agree with Onionman’s comment.

  21. Horg says:

    The biggest weakness in XCOMs (both games) difficulty is the fact that a 4 man squad is too brittle and the AI is stupidly (not effectively) aggressive. Firaxis have said before that they develop on a cycle of ”33% the same, 33% improved and 33% new”, so that would explain why they kept the 4 man team, but they could solve so many of their balance concerns if they took a page from Long Wars play book and gave you more soldiers and abilities from the start. The AI could be greatly improved if it used tactics like suppression, hunker and over watch more intelligently, and played as if it was trying to keep it’s men alive instead of running them into your guns.

    Larger squads can tolerate a couple of misses without the entire team being put at risk of multiple deaths. Having access to more skills, like suppression from the start, lets you control the fight if you do go on a miss streak. The AI playing more conservatively makes engagements both more tactically interesting and less of a RNG pot shot fest where a bad hit streak through heavy cover can wipe your team.

    Firaxis did a good job of making larger maps which would allow for both larger XCOM squads and alien pods, but then just copy pasted a lot of the balance from XCOM without giving it much thought. Modders will almost certainly fix it this time, but to get the experience right from the start in the next game, Firaxis could do a lot worse than look at Long Wars balancing to create an early game experience that feels more fair and less ”praying to the RNGeesus”.

  22. aircool says:

    I’ve completed the game on normal difficulty and actually found it just right. Easier in some ways than XCOM, particularly on my second playthrough when I’d knocked the Avatar Project down to one square, giving me plenty of time to train a Psi-Op to full strength.

    Of course, there were quite a few reloads, but that was mostly due to the interface being over sensitive and my soldiers doing stupid stuff like reloading when I swear I pressed shoot etc… Also, on the first play through I saved the game to test stuff like opening doors etc… (I spent ages trying to work out how to open the doors on a truck… the right click doesn’t work so I had to use the shortcut instead).

  23. Coming Second says:

    I’ve worked my way up the difficulty ramp of XCom 2 in exactly the same way I did EU/EW: Started at Veteran, then done a Veteran Ironman with a view to do Commander next, before finally, if I’ve got the balls, Commander Ironman.

    I cannot speak for the comparison between Classic and Commander, but Veteran feels healthier all round than Normal mode was in EU. It’s tighter and much more tense, yet feels slightly more forgiving in terms of failing missions. This is partly to do with the much more successful strategy layer; in EU, managing member state panic was an impossible ball-ache for the first few months unless you followed a very specific build, after which it simply ceased to be any kind of concern at all. The Advent Calendar meanwhile is an ever-present threat, but one that can be managed if you think about what you’re doing and plan your moves out.

    This is somewhat carried over into the tactical gameplay, although not quite as successfully. Similarly to EU/EW, once you get past a certain point at Veteran the game ceases to be much of a challenge, because you are handed so many ways of shutting the enemy down in one turn. Still, timer missions, which force you to think on your feet and take risks, keep things interesting, as do a number of enemy abilities specifically aimed at making you move your team around much more than in EU.

    Overall it feels like a much more successful “Normal” mode than Normal ever was – tenser, more forgiving of failure, but not quite as mindlessly easy in the mid-late game.

    • Coming Second says:

      The other thing I wanted to say was that the randomly generated maps and modability of XCom 2 has made me much more likely to want to start another campaign after I’ve finished one. By the time I’ve finished a run a whole new batch of mods have landed, and even if they don’t change the core gameplay the fact I won’t be running into the same council missions again and again makes it much more addictive and fun.

  24. AyeBraine says:

    I must say that as a “veteran” player, this game definitely managed to kick my ass like Long War did – meaning, like an insanely difficult mod for veterans did.

    I am one of the “puzzle” players, in that I always aim for perfect or near-perfect runs, with few deaths. And I’ve managed it everywhere save for Long War’s “Impossible” setting.

    But transitioning to the “Legendary” setting in XCOM2, it’s just brutal. It is definitely a right thing to do – provide a difficulty that never ceases to be challenging even for the best players. You get overwhelmed. Almost without fail. And this is good.

    The only thing that is missing is difficulties less bruising for the ego, like the article said; and maybe a transitional difficulty between Commander (which I more or less aced) and Legendary.

  25. TheAngriestHobo says:

    “Personally as a designer, my experience is that all feedback is factual”

    I like this. A lot.

    Facts don’t have to be objective things. I can find a food too spicy for my tastes, and another guy can find it too bland, without either of us being definitively incorrect. And yet so often, as gamers, we descend into flame wars when people describe experiences which are fundamentally different from our own. It’s as if we feel that by giving credence to other perspectives, we are weakening our own – and that’s just silly, because it’s inevitable that everyone will come to a game with different experiences and goals.

    • Coming Second says:

      The problem isn’t about acknowledging that there is no such thing as a single absolutely right opinion, it’s making sense of a whole bunch of opinions you’ve collected all at once. Forums are very often echo chambers, and feedback organs are easily co-opted by the loudest, most aggressive and agenda-driven.

      This is one of the reasons why having an actual test bed made up of different people you’ve screened yourself, instead of relying entirely on what the internet is saying about your game, is incredibly useful. Unfortunately, most indie devs don’t have access to such a thing.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Objective has seemingly become a meaningless word over the last couple of years that basically means “I’m right and you are wrong. I’m going to sing the I am right song.”

  26. DrDraxium says:

    I heard from a lot of people that in order to fully enjoy Witcher 3 that you had to play it on at least the second to highest difficulty.
    I must say, using the right oils, decoctions and signs, getting the right gear and having a real need to read the beastiary and research all the foes you go up against – it’s made the game fantastic. And you really like a witcher because you’re engaged in gameplay mechanics like this. In easier difficulties you’re apparently allowed to just chop your way through most of the game without so much as looking at your necrophage oil bottle. I feel like that would be a huge detriment to the experience. Even at level 18 I still get my ass handed to me by a group of level 9 Nekkers if I’m not paying attention.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wholeheartedly applaud these kinds of design decisions, especially if easier difficulties mean you’re not having the “full, intended” experience as it were.

    • DrDraxium says:

      So many italics, I obviously can’t XHTML -_-

    • Joshua Northey says:

      This is probably why I had so much trouble liking the Witcher. SO much lore about stuff I never used.

  27. NephilimNexus says:

    If they wanted to be honest they’d call the highest difficulty setting “Otaku.”

  28. Bull0 says:

    I dunno. I lost a lot of men at first, but now I’ve got the lay of the land the game feels easier than the first one. The Mimic Beacon and Flashbangs just make a mockery of anything the aliens will do. Hacking and mind controlling enemies also seems too easily accomplished. Generally not feeling the complaints about the difficulty at all.

  29. Zetura says:

    They said it’s difficult to make difficulties for everyone : XCOM Fans, old players, new players, etc.
    Well, it’s really easy, write descriptions!
    Easy : If you’ve never played XCOM
    Medium : If you’re familiar with XCOM, but don’t want to much challenge
    Hard : You’re good at XCOM!
    Insane : Good luck!

  30. ElrosTiwele says:

    I would agree that the naming of the difficulty levels was a mistake. I’ve been incredibly frustrated at the barrage of Steam reviews rating the game down for difficulty when they could easily play on an easier difficulty if they weren’t too proud. To complain about a game’s difficulty is fine, but when you’re given the option to lower the difficulty and refuse that’s on you, not the game.

    • Jimbo says:

      The game advises you which difficulty to choose. If someone follows that honestly and the difficulty is still badly inappropriate for that player then it’s on the game.

      Tbh I think a lot of this stems from the huge luck factor built into the design. There are so many random factors throughout that you can quite easily have a lower difficulty (setting) campaign turn out to be harder than a higher difficulty campaign. This again is on the game.

      All of the random factors are great for replayability, but it might not have been a bad idea to include the option of a ‘fixed’ campaign which would have been a lot easier for them to balance and ensure it didn’t have any broken missions / ridiculous alien facility placement / region connection issues etc.