I am an Ironman idiot and XCOM proves it

As predicted, I spent most of the weekend playing XCOM 2: War of the Chosen [official site]. It’s good to be back, fighting against the faux-benevolent burger-making overlords of future Earth, but I haven’t actually made a great deal of progress in my new campaign. That’s because there have been several new campaigns, and that’s because I’m an idiot who can’t resist the lure of an Ironman mode, while secretly hating the reality of an Ironman mode.

There must be others like me. I suspect, in fact, that many of you are like me. Death and its consequences feel integral to the very nature of XCOM (and X-COM). My strongest memories of the original game, back in the nineties, all focus on the heroic deaths of my favourite soldiers. Firaxis’ XCOM games have gradually made characters less disposable, thanks to their specialisations making them integral to success and marking them out more strongly as individuals, but it just isn’t XCOM if nobody dies from time to time.

And, to my mind, it certainly isn’t XCOM if I can reload after a crappy mission or a stupid decision and magically resurrect the soldier who caught a stray stream of super-heated air right in the neck, or bring an entire squad back to life if I sent them too willingly and carelessly into a Muton meatgrinder.

And that’s why Ironman mode is the only way I play.

And that’s why I’ve restarted the War of the Chosen campaign three times in two days.

I tell myself that throwing the towel in after a few in-game months and starting over is somehow more noble than simply restarting a botched mission, but really it’s just a waste of my time and I’m effectively resurrecting the entire resistance movement every time I restart, so it’s not as if my way of playing is somehow more honest. If I really wanted to play Ironman rules, I’d play once and then delete the game when I inevitably failed.

The good news is that War of the Chosen respects my time. There are lots of monologued introductions and lengthy missions to introduce new concepts, but like the base game’s tutorial and introductory voiceovers, they can be toggled on or off at the start of a campaign. And I don’t feel like I’m repeating my previous steps because there’s enough variety in mission and map types that I’m not watching my squads bleed out on the same streets every time. Sometimes they bleed out in tunnels now, or in diners, surrounded by not-zombies.

I started a new campaign this morning. It’s an Ironman campaign, of course, but I’ve knocked the difficulty down to Veteran instead of Commander. This is despite experience telling me that I enjoy the game more on Commander difficulty, and that the price of that is probably walking back a few turns if I lose a soldier to an unlucky critical hit or miss a point-blank shot, the result of which is a chain reaction of events ending in the death of everything and everyone I’ve ever cared about.

The price of Ironman, for me, is restarting later rather than sooner. I don’t have the endurance to pull back from a losing position in the early stages so I’m not going to tough out an entire campaign when I lose my best soldiers trying to rescue one of my worst soldiers, and I apparently don’t have the willpower to resist the possibility of save-scumming if the option is available.

And that is why I am an Ironman idiot. I tell myself that all of this failure is character-building but in reality, I’m probably just ensuring that I’ll never see the end of a campaign in the expansion so this is a habit I should probably break.

Maybe next time.

74 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    I played the first Firaxis XCOM, as my first time, on Ironman and normal (having barely played any previous XCOM) – and it significantly contributed to my enjoyment of the game. But that was ONLY because, when I had really screwed up and everything was futile, I committed to continue playing the game till I flat-out lost rather than starting over.

    And then it turned out that I was able to make a stellar comeback and I never actually lost and it’s the greatest rebound I’ve ever had in a strategy game. It was fantastic.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      I once played a co-op game of Shogun 2 in which I suffered a defeat so catastrophic that my co-op partner suggested rolling back to before the battle. I declined and proceeded to play out a classic feudal samurai revenge tale that culminated in my new daimyo shattering the clan that had slain his father and humbled his family, on the walls of the very fortress his father had fallen so hard defending.

      That kind of dissolved any desire to save scum even in games where it’s a quick tap of F9 away.

      • GomezTheChimp says:

        I`m so old that I remember when `save scumming` was known as `quicksaving`; a feature that was more than just desirable, it was obligatory.
        My, how we mocked those damned console ports and their bloody checkpoint saves only.
        Now the very term now used for quicksaving sounds somehow dirty and shabby, something I should only be doing in a darkened room when nobody`s looking.

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          jssebastian says:

          I don’t think quicksave/load are the same as save scumming. Save scumming is overusing the (essential IMO) ability to save and reload at any point in a game to reload every time something goes wrong instead of trying to make it work anyways.

          I finished today my first xcom 2 campaign (on veteran) and overall there were 2 missions where I did a reload in the middle, and 1 mission that I replayed from the start (not because terribly important things had been lost, but because I felt bad about how I had played it and wanted to do better). That’s it, the other 34 missions I played through without reloading. So while I don’t get to brag about beating the game on ironman, I don’t think I was savescumming either.

          BTW, I don’t know how it is on PC, but on PS4 there is nothing “quick” about either saving or loading in this game, loading takes literally minutes and saving is not fast either.

          • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

            At least in some cases(in XCOM: EU this was made explicit by the ‘save scum’ option checkbox) ‘save scumming’ is [i]specifically[/i] using save/load to force some roll of the proverbial dice into going your way; whether it’s saving before taking a 50% shot and reloading until that shot is a hit; saving just before the end of a mission where a rookie levels up so you can get your preferred soldier class; anything that involves using save/load to ‘re-roll’ until you get what you want.

            Looser uses of the term can still significantly change the balance of play; in that you don’t have to live with your failures; but re-playing an entire mission because you don’t want to try to come back from a wipe of all your veterans halfway through a campaign is a different sort of effect than pounding on the PRNG so that every shot you take is a hit.

            The major ‘cheat’ in re-playing missions is that they don’t appear to get re-seeded if you reload; so you can effectively get the advantage of some foolishly dangerous scouting during the first run; then actually position troops competently to take advantage of concealment and avoid triggering pods ahead of time.

            If restarting a mission randomized that stuff; it would still be pretty powerful in terms of campaign-level performance; but require you to be able to perform ‘correctly’ on any given mission.

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            jssebastian says:

            (no reply button on your post fuzzyfuzzyfungus so replying to self instead)

            Given the minutes it takes to reload an xcom 2 save on PS4, one would have to be really dedicated to save scum just for single shots!

            ..but even just knowing that if you step beyond a certain corner to flank an enemy a whole new pod of advent will be activated can be a huge advantage. Re-randomizing missions if you restart them would be an improvement IMO, but I can’t help thinking that the whole mechanism of how groups of enemies are activated is a bit archaic and could use a redesign. E.g. enemy is right next to another enemy I am shooting at and a building that’s been half-destroyed by explosions, but they won’t do anything until you step beyond some invisible line? There’s got to be a better way! That’s at the top of my wish list for XCOM 3… that and better conceal ambushes, where you can tell individual squaddies what to do when the shooting starts instead of having them overwatch fire on the wrong target with 5% hit chance…

          • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

            Also can’t reply to you jssebastian(maximum thread depth for RPS comments, I assume):

            I agree that ‘true’ save-scumming(in situations where it even works; not 100% sure about XCOM2; but in XCOM1, things only got re-seeded if you enabled ‘save scum’, so my understanding is that you couldn’t just brute-force an X% shot until it hit, even if you wanted to) though I think that there may have been some other ‘random’ things that could be forced to re-roll.

            I’d agree that, by a substantial margin, the most powerful aspect of even ‘bronze man’ mission reloads is the ability to either get away with sloppy scouting; or deliberately play fast and risky; then apply what you’ve discovered to your second play-through; and that is vastly increased by XCOM’s somewhat rudimentary ‘pod’ system.

            I can’t really call a turn based tactical game that I’ve had so much fun sinking tons of time into “bad”; but that particular aspect of XCOM’s AI/game mechanics feels jarringly primitive(even compared to the original X-Com, which probably cut all sorts of corners in other respects; but if it had ‘pods’, it hid them).

            I’m not sure what the correct answer would be, given that(for story purposes) all the hostiles are jacked in to some sort of real time command and control network; but having your squad rushed by all the hostiles on the map the second any of them saw you would(while being ‘more realistic’) result in either a wildly lopsided duck-shoot, if you had excellent position and appropriate skills; or a total massacre, if not.

            The ‘concealment’ mechanic, while somewhat limited(basically everything except sneaking around breaks concealment; except sometimes hacking a turret or robot right in front of its buddies? Nobody has ever heard of a suppressor or intrustion detection system?) is a welcome addition vs. XCOM: EW; but the ‘pods’ still make the missions revolve around “can you manage a series of set-piece battles to effectively balance fitting within the time limit and ensuring that enemies are outgunned and overwhelmed at point of contact with XCOM?”

            Given how hard good AI is; I suspect that ‘pods’ were deemed the lesser evil when testing against various more fluid, but trickier, options; but the pod/’triggering’ mechanic really gives an outsize weight to ‘good scouting’ vs. ‘you have discovered too much and now you die’ since (outside of concealment) it is impossible to see them without them seeing you.

          • Zandolar says:

            To add to this, proper bronzeman, i.e. The only loading allowed is a complete mission restart, should be done by loading back to the Skyranger, not just using the Restart Mission button when you hit escape. This DOES randomise the mission so that you can’t just fix what went wrong the last time.

          • AngelAtTheTomb says:

            RE: FuzzyFuzzyFungus, they’ve actually *sort of* solved this already in the expansion, with however the triggering for Lost groups works. The talking head VO tells you they’re drawn to the sound of gunfire and explosions, and it really does seem to work that way; the more intense firefights get, the more often the Lost seem to show up in the middle of it. This is a) More dramatic and interesting, as no matter exactly how it works under the hood I started playing to the mechanic and being tactical about when and how to attack, and b) Seems a more organic way of bringing other units into the fight piecemeal and unpredictably, rather than random groups of dudes happening to stand just outside camera range. It’s not a perfect solution (the Lost still seem to pod sometimes), but it’s a step in the right direction.

        • Ergates_Antius says:

          The term originated with old Rogue-likes (when that term used to mean something), that used to delete your save on death. It referred to the practice of making a copy of your save file to circumvent the permadeath. Definitely cheating.

        • Josh W says:

          Yeah, I still love playing games that are to some extent balanced by their quicksaves, where it’s less about scouting an optimal play, and more about experimentation. There’s a kind of play where randomness is not something you try to mitigate with particular strategy, but something that is on your side, at least, that’s how I tend to play a lot of otherwise immersive games, trying to find edge cases where you can do something ridiculous.

  2. Sandepande says:

    I’m guiltlessly power-tripping in WotC; easiest difficulty, save-scumming, with doubled mission timers and the Avatar counter.

    It’s superbly heroic.

    • pipja says:

      Wahahaha, so did I :p

      Except I didn’t do the double timers. Save scumming is already plenty enough :p

      • Danarchist says:

        I started with a harder ironman game, played for about a day that way, and went full jellyfish myself =P I simply do not get enough consecutive, uninterrupted minutes in a row in an average day to really think through my strategy and winge over whether or not my ranger should stick her head around that corner. Sometimes I feel an urge for challenge, sometimes I just wanna mow the alien lawn a bit ;)

        • Sandepande says:

          One of the better parts of XCOM (2) is that we can all have the game we want…

    • abomb76 says:

      I keep thinking, ‘What the hell has Wizards of the Coast got to do with any of this?’ whenever I see that acronym.

  3. Hoot says:

    I’m doing a Veteran – Ironman run right now, gonna bump it up to Commander – Ironman for the next one.

    Even in this run I messed up twice early and lost both a Skirmisher and a Templar across two consecutive missions. Didn’t let it discourage me though, losses are inevitable, it’s XCOM. Now I’m decked out in Powered Armour, ready to take down my second Chosen (the Warlock) and am setting about constructing a Shadow Chamber (if you don’t know what this is, don’t Google it, just play the story missions) with Plasma Weapons currently being researched.

    This is the reward moment, after struggling through 20 hours or whatever of dicey missions (yeah, it was dicey for me on Veteran cos I was a bit of a noob, I’ve improved now though) and now I feel the tide turning :) I’m not as scared. I can take the occasional hit without losing a dude or having him at risk of bleeding out and when I fire my boomsticks, now they really hurt those alien bastards.

  4. Phantom_Renegade says:

    I recently got WotC for both myself and my roommate. We both play on Veteran (challenging enough for us:P) but he plays Ironman and I don’t. Since last week, he’s started and discarded about 5 campaigns. He’s constantly moping around the house, bitching about how unfair the game is. On the other hand, I’m having a blast. I don’t usually go back a turn unless I’ve suffered a ridiculous loss which I thought wasn’t due to my own stupidity. 1 or 2 deaths a mission seems about fair considering my capabilities. If I’ve done something stupid and lose someone, I figure that’s fair.

    I’m not saying one or the other is playing it ‘right’ and Ironman is a good way to keep yourself honest when you don’t trust yourself not to savescum. All I know is, I’m enjoying the game and he isn’t. I feel like if he’d just reload a save from a few turns earlier every now and then, he might lose out on ‘authenticity’ but he’d be less obsessed with playing flawless.

    As always, whatever works for people. Losing people is a big part of this game, but for me it’s easier to let go if I knew I could go back and save them. But at the same time the question is, ‘At what cost?’. If I save one soldier from a bullshit grenade, am I then setting up another to die in their stead?

    For me XCOM is about knowing that you can do everything right and still end up with casualties. And nothing hammers that home more then trying desperately to save a specific soldier over and over again, failing and eventually letting it go.

    I might have inadvertently created Groundhog Day for my favourite soldier, Samus ‘Metroid’ Aran, wearing an exoskeleton who got murdered by the Nightwitch(Assassin), then a turret, then an Archon, and then the Assassin one last time.

    Ahem, I had a point. My point was, I think Ironman puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on the player to play ‘perfectly’ which means restarting and agonizing too much over moves.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Not just perfectly, while I haven’t got into the new Xcoms an awful lot of games with an ironman mode require foreknowledge of systems and gameplay to have much hope to win which means an awful lot of time on a wiki or replaying over and over neither of which seems much fun to me.

      • Hoot says:

        Ironman is more than fine when the mechanics are good and the game generates little mini-stories that you can nerd out over with your fellow gaming brosephs. Replaying it as a learning experience is great :)

        It’s the same with games like Darkest Dungeon, Crusader Kings and EU4.

        I failed my first 3 XCOM campaigns (on the first game) and I’m pretty sure I failed my first XCOM 2 one.

        I expected to fail my first WotC game, but I dropped the difficulty down to Veteran as I heard it was a big expansion and wanted to see all the new stuff.

  5. Shinard says:

    Also “alt-tabbing out and closing the game in the middle of a turn”. I do that far too often, theoretically just because I misclicked. But if I’m honest, a “misclick” can mean anything from forgetting about that Sectoid on Overwatch to accidentally triggering a new squad of Mutons. I had enough of myself and did a non-Ironman campaign – excellent decision. I mean, I’m probably reloading slightly less, and it’s definitely taking far less time. Don’t force yourself! Be free!

    • LW says:

      I had the same realization about playing Ironman-but-not-really, and decided to just force myself to commit to my failures. End result for me is that I’m actually enjoying it more, because I feel like I have proper stakes this time. Also the Assassin is genuinely my nemesis now, instead of just narratively, due to the squad-wipe she causes on a tunnels mission.

      Luckily, the game is happy enough to allow for various styles of play, with all the bits and bobs you can turn on and off.

    • Herring says:

      Semi-official “Bronzeman” is good for this (no save / loading, but can restart a mission). That’s already in place in _real_ Ironman for a few of the missions too.

  6. LagTheKiller says:

    Yeah. U thought that those pesky turna-after-every-ur-action-point overlords were hard? U know nothin Jon. On commander its all out apoplexy skillcheck where chosen can wipe ur squad while the mission timer is ticking. After 4th encounter ive learned that if u let a dude stunned she will drain his memories and run. Nonetheless The stronghold mission result by some miracle was 5 gravely wounded (3 of them bleeding out by the end of mission) and one lightly injured. (Templar just deflected back 5-6 times). It was satysfing af.

  7. Kefren says:

    I’ve only played UFO and XCOM TFTD, but can’t imagine any other way of playing them than continuing to the bitter end no matter what happens. I see them as a story, and it needn’t have a happy ending, though I have completed both multiple times.

    Then again, I only played Doom and Hexen as ironman mode.

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  8. MegaTiny says:

    There’s a good middle-ground mod called Bronzeman, it let’s you save outside of missions as much as you like. But in mission saving is off (even the auto-save).

    So if you get a complete wipe of all your top soldiers, or the game bugs out and prevents you completing a mission (the doors to the prisoner van refusing to open being my most infuriating Ironman moment) you can still go back and retry the mission without being completely boned. But at the same time you can’t just reset a turn because you dashed your soldier into half cover out of laziness and revealed seven pods.

    • Premium User Badge

      jssebastian says:

      I was wondering: does the RNG for mission layouts reset if I load a save from right before missiong start? I kind of like the idea of being able to replay the mission if I really want to, but get a different layout every time, so I can’t exploit my knowledge of layout and enemies to cheese it…

      • MegaTiny says:

        I actually don’t know what happens if you load the auto-save from when you pick the mission. But if you load a save from before you’re even offered the mission you get presented with completely different ones.

      • barelyhomosapien says:

        I can confirm that if you reload from the point where you pick your squad and launch, it rejigs the map entirely.

        This was a relief when my second or third mission into a campaign involved getting to and destroying something on the other side of a really long and internal map.

        No way I could reach it in time with a couple squaddiesand rookies.

        I reloaded and got a mission I could actually potentially beat.

  9. DodoSandvich says:

    Really it is a question of balance. If you get squadwiped, or something almost as bad, you might as well restart. But if you save-scum every time a soldier takes a hit, you are taking the XCOM out of XCOM and then you are left with .

    Personally, I only recently started ticking off ironman, but I think I have only really savescummed a couple times myself when the game bugged out and shot me through a wall.

    • Sandepande says:

      WotC makes hard-core savescumming quite easy, as the loading times have improved tremendously. But you’re right, reloading to avoid hits is perhaps a bit much. I don’t like losing people, so my current campaign is effectively a breezy action flick with a lot of “flesh wounds”.

  10. Samudaya says:

    I like games like XCOM. I don’t enjoy XCOM itself. I hate that the real hit chance isn’t visible. I hate that producerally generated maps can result in facing an overwhelming amount of enemies by chance. If want to play a game dependant on luck with no control on my part I’d play a slot machine.

    • klops says:

      Can the procedurally generated maps really result in facing an overwhelming amount of enemies by chance?

      • Hoot says:

        No, not really. The terrain and enemy squad placement is random but effective scouting on the part of the player is not.

        Sure, there are gonna be times when you’re engaged with one squad of enemies and another patrol happens upon you and engages. This is the game. Adapt. Overcome. Or die and continue anyway.

        1 or 2 failed missions are hardly the end of a campaign. If shit is going really pear shaped and you know you can’t fight your way out, then you might have to just pull your team out and take the fail but keep your soldiers.

        I watched ChristopherOdd play a Legend – Ironman mission and he had 3 separate squads and the Chosen Hunter engaged simultaneously. He came out of it with 4 wounded, 1 captured and a mission complete.

        Absolute boss.

        • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

          The one random mission roll that is brutally annoying is the ‘defend the device’ missions where you start a fair distance away and an enemy pod starts right on top of the resistance network widget.

          I’m OK with having to scramble, rather than do a leisurely risk averse overwatch fest, to reach the target; but the time pressure just gets ridiculous if a couple of hostiles are firing on the thing starting with the very first alien action. Extra credit if the opposition right on top of the target includes a sectopod to explode and finish off the transmitter even if you get there in time to take it down.

          That’s just annoying; and since you don’t control the transmitter you can’t scout or maneuver your way out of the problem, it just sits there sponging damage.

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            Mungrul says:

            I had one of those Sunday night, and on top of which, it had a 3-man limit. Thankfully, I had the cards enabled for random rookie and double agent, so my squad was five total.
            However, what made it harder was that I’d chosen to go in with a Skirmisher, Templar and Reaper as a sort of learning experience.
            And then I got bumrushed by a huge amount of enemies, two of which were those nasty new nanotech soldiers.

            Thanksfully, I wasn’t playing Iron Man, so was eventually able to get through, but it was an incredibly unfair set-up, made worse by how much shitter the Skirmisher is than a Ranger.

            The Reaper barely scrapes by with being a Sharpshooter + extra bits, and the Templar is an interesting new way of playing, but the Skirmisher really has no place in your squad once you’ve got a couple of Ranger colonels.

        • Josh W says:

          Thanks for mentioning this, that guy is incredible at the game; loads of stuff about knowing exactly when he can just dump all his guys in the open, because directly setting up in high cover would trigger a pod, but overwatching instead means they come to him, and almost constant manipulation of the sectoid ai for them to do essentially pointless things. (Oh no, my guys panic and take the shots that were obviously set up for them to take, no problem, moving on)

          That he does it without smugness or much of the usual youtube voice is even better.

          • Josh W says:

            Actually, listening to it again, there is quite a lot of youtube voice, but despite it being my current pet hate, his version seems fine. Regardless, nice examples of xcom2 in action.

    • beleester says:

      XCOM’s hit chance is pretty close to real – far more accurate than many comparable games like Fire Emblem, in fact. The game only cheats in your favor, and only in a few situations on lower difficulties.

      And as other people have pointed out, scouting is a thing. XCOM 2 made it much easier to pick your battles. Get a Phantom Ranger and be a little more patient when exploring the map.

      • Samudaya says:

        It’s not really close. Everytime you load or reload a map XCOM generates a string of numbers. Every action is rolled against this seed. Hence why 95% shots miss so frequently.
        XCOM deliberately uses this to effectively create good and bad luck. I understand this leads to exciting emotions for most players. I simply don’t appreciate this aspect of gambling in a tactical game.

        • RuySan says:

          What????

          XCOM pregenerates the results just to prevent save scumming, but 95% is still 95%. And no, you’ll not fail often with that hit chance, maybe you just remember the misses better.

        • ooshp says:

          Eh? The string of numbers are randomly rolled 1-100’s from the start of the missions, a 94 is still a success if it’s a 95% chance shot. The only time the game cheats and the on-screen % is wrong is after a bunch of misses in a row when it will adjust upwards in the player’s favour. This only happens on Veteran and easier I think, and isn’t shown on screen.

          You’re going to miss 1 in every 20 shots at 95%, even missing two in a row will happen reasonably often.

        • FunkyB says:

          This is not the case. You miss 95% shots so frequently because 1 in 20 feels frequent if you’re reading “95%” as “certain”. If it says 95% it means 95%, not 100%.

          This isn’t Invisible Inc. Guaranteed damage is very rare in XCOM, and you have to plan and mitigate. Once or twice per mission you *will* get hard fucked by random chance, so you better be able to handle it.

          Mimic Beacons and Frost Bombs are an awesome mitigation to throw out when it all went wrong. Also Aid Protocol, Stasis, and Hunker Down. These are all in the game so when your Ranger misses the sitting duck you don’t get killed.

        • Herring says:

          As the other peeps said, this is not true.

          It’s _tiny_ bit true in LW2 with the graze mechanic.

    • stringerdell says:

      Struggling to think of a game ‘like XCOM’ that doesn’t include chance as a significant factor in terms of enemy placement, hit percentages etc.

      Also the procedurally generated maps only result in facing an overwhelming amount of enemies if you get greedy and cover too much ground.

      • Premium User Badge

        jssebastian says:

        Invisible Inc has no hit chances (there are no missed shots, and no hit points, when a guard shoots you you just die), and is a fantastic game. It does have randomized levels and enemy placements of course.

  11. Papageno says:

    I could see doing the Bronzeman thing. Ironman is way too hardcore for me. The game’s already hard enough, sheesh. One or two deaths during a mission I can see, but party near-wipes? [Expletive] that noise, sorry (not sorry).

  12. Sin Vega says:

    This is why I dislike roguelikes in a nutshell. A super high stakes game is dramatic and terrifying and very fun… once. But after that, you’re just replaying the same boring opening 200 times in a row while any progress only comes from meaningless luck or trial and error. Plus having it enforced through the game instead of through your own choices leaves even good games vulnerable to bugs or distractions or spiteful cats jumping on the keyboard.

    also the battle is long since lost, but I hate the phrase “iron man” because saying it would obligate me to punch myself in the face for being such a bellend.

  13. latedave says:

    Personally I like Veteran but allow myself to save the game outside of the missions. That way if a mission bugs out I can restart it but should it be through my own incompetence I can suffer appropriately when I get carried away with run and gun.

  14. termit says:

    Ah, Ironman… Finished XCOM on Ironman Classic once, I think on my 6th or 7th attempt. There is a lot to be said for the mode: the sheer tension of creeping around slowly every turn, leaving everyone at overwatch and being punished for the slightest mistake with no chance for take backsies. The challenge in trying to calculate the worst possible outcome from every tactical situation and to prepare for it. Getting the satisfaction of actually managing to somehow beat the campaign after a mission where I lost my alpha squad (6 colonels dead on turn 3, in the aptly named “Operation Bloody Terror”). Simply awesome.
    Don’t plan to repeat the experience for XCOM 2.

  15. mgardner says:

    I am using Ironman as an “in between” difficulty setting. I find Veteran is too easy for me and Commander is too punishing for me. But Veteran Ironman is a great compromise and forces me to stand by my decisions even when I lose valuable soldiers. On Veteran, if something goes wrong and I lose most of a squad, I can usually can see what I did wrong and learn from it. By turning on Ironman, I keep myself from save scumming and more focused on learning how to play well instead of just reloading when things don’t go my way.

  16. PhilBowles says:

    I usually run a full Ironman-less campaign before going onto Ironman, but set myself rules about when I can reload – mission losses if they’re squad wipes or story missions, or especially stupid individual actions on my part, but I won’t reload just to save individual soldiers.

    I have to play on Commander because I dislike some of the decisions make on Veteran – the reduced health of most aliens in particular – but War of the Chosen is much harder than vanilla X-COM 2 in my experience so far. I’ve had to restart the campaign once after going off-track to an unsalvageable extent the first time round, and that’s without Ironman. I’m certainly not ready for this game on Ironman.

  17. 91Bravoh says:

    Ironman…Ironman in itself isn’t necessarily something that makes this game terribly difficult, Ironman + higher difficulty makes it difficult.

    It does create a narrative for sure. Once War of the Chosen came out I decided that I would take the plunge for the first time in XCOM history. I played XCOM and XCOM 2 extensively already but Ironman didn’t really hold much appeal. I thought…meh, why not? So I opted in for Commander difficulty (never tried above Veteran) on top of Ironman. For the majority of the game, probably the first 10 or 20 hours, I felt a lot of stress. You end up playing as close to perfection as you can get. You sweat everything. You see shadows around every corner. Every civillian is a Faceless. Every patch of dirt hides a Chryssalid.

    It isn’t that you’re shooting for a “flawless” rating but more or less trying your best to survive mission after mission. When the screen changes back to the avenger and every soldier is wounded you end up scratching your head and thinking “oh thank God nobody died.”

    After 30 hours of Ironman/Commander I decided that I was finally going to take on the Assassin Chosen. The initial room clearing was fine and I made it to the portal realtively unscathed. What ensued after was such a !@#$show it was unbelievable. 4 hours it took me to kill the assassin. 4 HOURS! I crawled, bled and cried to clear that dungeon but I did it, but not before 4 hours of my life was over.

    I lost my first soldier there. A sharpshooter. She’s been memoralized forever in a poster.

    5 hours or so later I decide to take on the Hunter Chosen. Everything was going great until a lancer knocked out my Skirmisher and I didn’t have revival protocol because I forgot…in this moment I realized how much I screwed up. I’m down a guy and I barely made it through the Assassin’s lair. Now I’d love to sit here and tell you all about how I prevailed…how after nearly 40 hours of trudging through the muck and yuck of Ironman/Commander I made it. No. At this point of my playthrough I decided I couldn’t spend another 4 hours making this work being down a guy. I did something more shady, more humiliating and more revolting then “save-scumming”…I changed the difficulty, swept that hunter up like he was dirt on the floor and then kept trucking on Commander like nothing ever happened.

    XCOM is a unique game. You can play it for fun, or you can even play it to strengthen your mental fortitude (you may have some gray hairs after this though).

    For you legendary/Ironman players…you’re the real heroes of XCOM. Viglio Confido.

  18. Rituro says:

    I’ve grown soft in my old age. These days, I’ll play quasi-Ironman where I save before each mission (and ONLY before each mission), restarting if I feel the campaign has been lost. For example, say a squad-wipe takes my top troops without any backups — that’s worth a restart. I lose one or two mid-to-low-level troops? Too bad, so sad, put their picture on the wall and move on.

    This strategy evolved out of a survival tactic from XCOM1, where early builds on my PC were crash-prone and saving before each mission meant not losing hours of work on a whim.

  19. Saboera says:

    If you somehow manage to accept your losses and keep on trucking, XCOM just transcend into masterpiece territory in my opinion. The comebacks are real, and it’s even better in WotC since it forces you to rotate your rooster, eliminating the A team just got wiped and I’m stuck with rookies problem. I have to strongly disagree with those who say making a mistake means its over and here’s why.

    I’m still on my first Commander Ironman attempt and I pondered a restart 2 or 3 times but man am I glad I didn’t because my current game is EPIC in caps. Nine soldiers died, two were left behind and captured, one got kidnapped, my brand new spark got blown up on its first mission, I failed about 5 or 6 missions, the avatar project timer reached the countdown twice, the Avenger was assaulted by the Assassin, I didn’t get an engineer before the 3rd month because of botched missions. If I’m still alive and well at the moment, anyone who say one mistake and your game is over is full of bull. XCOM thrives and transcend into a whole new game when you make mistakes. The player narrative in XCOM WotC is so good.

    To share some of my craziest moments.

    1 – Being forced to abandon a mind controlled Elena Dragunova because I’m overrun. Yea I left my reaper behind to save the bacon of my entire squad.

    2 – Losing a retaliation mission and losing my opportunity to assault an Advent base while my Avatar countdown is ticking down, only to retake the country and do the mission, saving my game.

    3 – Following that retaliation disaster and Advent base assault, the Assassin launches an assault on the Avenger while my entire rooster is wounded or tired. Most stressful mission of my life. Barely succeeding and having 7 soldiers developing negative traits and having to choose between my templar and grenadier who are both bleeding out with my single medkit left.

    • Troubletcat says:

      This. It’s always weird to me when people talk like “If you lose an entire squad or fail an important mission you’re screwed and may as well restart.” I wonder if they’ve ever actually tried playing on.

      Because it’s simply not true. You can lose your A-Team and keep on trucking. Although in WotC I don’t really have a single A-Team anymore – by mid-game the avenger is stuffed with Lts and Cpts with a handful of Majs and a Col or two, rather that 7-8 Majs and Cols and everyone else is a Cpl or below. I really like this.

      I’m a similar boat on my current game. I’ve lost quite a few people, had a squad wipe, failed a handful of missions, had the Avatar count get super high, had the Avenger shot down… And yet now, approaching the late game, I have the tech I need, I’m starting to take out the Chosen in their strongholds… Despite going way behind, it seems like everything’s going to be tea and biscuits by the end, and there was so much more drama and colour to the thing than if I’d quit after losing most of my highest ranking soldiers a few months in.

      • icecoldbud says:

        Yup, all of the above lost my A-team my avatar count is hi and im ready to head in. Scared, yes, but man is this fun!

        • icecoldbud says:

          …..and it did not go well my B-team just wiped….egads! Plenty of poster material

    • Rizlar says:

      Yeah, and the benefits of ironman are further emphasised in WotC by the photos recording characters and events. It’s sometimes been easy in previous games to forget about heroic badasses that died, your old awesome grenadier eventually gets replaced by a new one. This time every twist of the story will be recorded for posterity in your blood and sweat stained poster collection.

  20. Babymech says:

    “The good news is that War of the Chosen respects my time.” I cannot disagree more. Or, let’s put it this way – WotC respects your time a little more than the original XCOM 2, but it’s still the most godawful clunky engine at heart. Iron man makes this somewhat easier, because you don’t have to sit through the same interminable alien posturing, avenger trips, and base personnel jabbering too many times.

  21. JKree says:

    I’m a total save scummer. I have accumulated 331 manually saved games at this moment and every time the save and load menu opens XCOM 2 gets sluggish as hell.
    But I can’t help myself, it’s like I’m addicted to save every step. It’s really annoying and I don’t like it.
    I tried Ironman several times but the desire to do everything the perfect way is too big…

    • RuySan says:

      I took Ivan Drago’s rules (“If he dies, he dies”) when playing Fire Emblem and XCOM games.

      You should do the same.

  22. Premium User Badge

    Big Dunc says:

    I managed to complete XCOM: Enemy Within on Classic Ironman, despite a couple of missions where I had full Colonel squadwipes. But that was back when I had a lot more time to play. So I think I’ll stick to veteran non-Ironman for this playthrough.

  23. lesslucid says:

    Ironman / Rookie, dude. Easy enough that you can come back from any setback, no matter how serious, but because it’s ironman, it still feels like your decisions all really matter.

  24. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    I was playing last night and ended up reloading a mid-mission save about five or six times, trying to get a hacking attempt to succeed.
    Personally I got much more satisfaction from working out exactly how the RNG interacts with saves* and how to utilise that, than I would from watching my entire squad get wiped.
    Medium difficulty and save-scumming all the way!

    * If you load a save and perform the same actions in the same order, then you will get the same results, however, if you make a change, then the RNG rolls after that are unknown, so with enough back-tracking you can get a ‘perfect’ turn.

  25. Herring says:

    There’s a reason I have almost 600 hours in XCOM 2 and have only completed 3 or 4 campaigns (Classic Ironman, Legendary Ironman, Ironman LW2 (can’t remember the diff, not the hardest though)). I think I did Classic Ironman twice though.

    The last time I started a campaign one of my friends sent me a message on Steam saying “Why do you do this to yourself?”

  26. Coming Second says:

    My main issue with difficulty in XCom is that the first few months are decently challenging/extremely rough, after which it becomes a boring breeze. Firaxis have dealt with the problem of always relying on an alpha squad well, but have doubled down on the plateauing difficulty with the introduction of the ludicrously powerful Chosen weapons AND ability points used to craft super soldiers.

    Fiddling around with mods, I found a great sweet spot with A Better Advent 2 and the LW class pack, introducing much larger and varied pods alongside a larger suite of combat classes to deal with them. I really hope the modding community are willing to port across stuff like that. I’m playing WOTC on Vet/Ironman, and once again after a thrilling/nailbiting opening, I’m back to kerbstomping late game with total ease.

    • tur1n says:

      The first 6 weeks are just extremely random. Enemies will get the chance to shoot at you, and if you’re unlucky, you lose people to crits, while at full health, in full cover.
      This can snowball into having to restart.

      The balance could be better.

    • Herring says:

      LW2’s mechanic of permanent Dark Events cures this to a degree; it’s pretty easy for Advent to advance into (practically) unbeatable combinations if you leave them long enough.

      Your own advancement can plateau and then it’s just a downward slide.

  27. Geminigod64 says:

    The key is to skip over commander difficulty level if doing ironman. It turns out commander is harder on ironman than legend because there is less forgiveness. Legend missions aren’t that much more difficult, but the campaign is long enough to allow time for deeper roster and recovery from a few bad setbacks. I recommend Veteran ironman and then jumping to legend ironman once you are settled in with the new game mechanics.

    Also, a few key mods and ini tweaks to make the game more strategic like the old xcom long war will help your ironman games out. Skill-based strategic tweaks are fun, realistic, and help your team in ironman. Silly nerfs like in the new advanced options menu suck (although you may want to consider doubling the timer or getting a mod for the timer on legend ironman mode).

    The most important of these strategic tweaks is BG’s mod EU Aim Rolls. There are lots of fun things you can tweak in that mod’s ini besides just showing the actual odds of each shot. It can make rolling for crits properly rolled. It can make overwatch and suppressing fire shots actually useful. (Right now the enemy gets rewarded for breaking cover. This can be further tweaked in the defaultgamecore.ini war of the chosen file. I tweaked REACTION_FINALMOD to 0.15f and REACTION_DASHING_FINALMOD to 0.3f.) It can make height advantages more useful (I recommend a z-diff 3 to be 15% offense boost as well as defense boost and a z-diff 6 to be 25% offense boost as well as defense boost. With those settings a sniper at the top of a tall building is especially deadly just as we would expect in real life.)

  28. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I like Ironman, I do, but the AI in XCOM2 straight out cheats.

    I found this out playing non-ironman. If my concealed people took one step further than normal, the aliens would walk right around the cover to spot them. They didn’t know they were there, but the game told them so they could go. If I stayed another tile back, the aliens would just stand there idle.

    This sort of utter bullshit cheating is why I can’t play ironman, as much as I want to.

    Game’s still super fun though.

  29. Rikard Peterson says:

    I have not yet played War of the Chosen, so my comment here applies to the earlier Firaxis XCOM games, XCOM2 in particular.

    I like the idea of playing as if I had iron man enabled, but in practise I always end up reloading if I fail a mission or maybe even if a soldier dies. Any single mission failure will inevitably lead to game over. There’s probably some optimum research path to take and things like that to make it work, but I definitely find the non-mission parts of the game way too difficult to allow for any errors at all during the missions. The doom counter just maxes out and the game no longer is any fun for me.

    So I have never tried the Ironman mode, and I never will.