With Phoenix Point, I always find myself in the curious position of recommending a game for the very thing that most other people dislike about it: the stuff between the battles.
Phoenix Point is a turn-based tactics game designed by Julian Gollop, creator of the original X-COM – and it shows. Designed to be a sort of spiritual successor to the original X-COM and an alternative to Firaxis’ XCOM reboot, Phoenix Point brings many of the same narratological and mechanical beats: an alien-esque threat is hellbent on taking over the world, and you must build up your base(s) and squad(s) and embark on turn-based missions to thwart your enemy and hopefully keep up with their escalating power. It attempts to set itself apart from the pack with novel approaches to certain aspects of the X-COM formula, including an aiming and hit detection system which tries to do away completely with percentage-based success.
Phoenix Point definitely has its flaws, including myriad bugs (some game-breaking), sharp spikes in the difficulty curve over the course of a campaign, and unbelievably long waits while the AI figures out the right move for its twenty different enemies. All this was enough to make the battles the least enjoyable part of the game for me. And yet, strangely, I still find myself recommending this turn-based tactics game for the stuff it does besides the turn-based tactics stuff. My time spent on the world map, bouncing from point of interest to point of interest, making hard decisions about the future of humanity and learning more about this darkly compelling world, was sublime. As was the gradual expansion of my influence and capabilities as I reactivated bases across the world, recruited more soldiers, researched new technologies, and forged alliances with powerful factions. It was all rather thrilling – so much so, in fact, that I found myself quietly resenting the moments where I’d be sucked into a mission and away from the real fun.