XCOM – Redux

I picked up XCOM – Enemy Within during the winter Steam sale and finally took the time to install/play it.  I had played the base model, Enemy Unknown in 2012 for a few weeks, maybe a few dozen hours.  I played the original, back in high school, for a few hundred hours.

In the original, there was a significant level of randomness though there were certain patterns.  The game ratcheted up in difficulty and death was constant.  Once you breached a certain tech level though (namely Blasters) the game became much easier.  I’ll always remember Cydonia and half my team panicking and bombing most of the zone.  Huge battleship ground battles were a ton of fun.  Good memories.

The update from 2012 was pretty good too, if not simplified.  Where the original put more emphasis on strategy than tactics, this new version attempted to balance it through 2 gameplay modes – base building and battles.  Base building was simplified in that you had one base but added complexity based on juggling priorities (satellites, research, engineering, etc…).  Pick the wrong thing early on and you were guaranteed disaster.  Pick the right thing and get a lucky roll on the missions and you were coasting from then on.  Battles were an odd one.  Most fights have some RNG to them but missing 4 shots at 75% accuracy was infuriating.  Saving didn’t help as the numbers were pre-rolled for your turn.  Didn’t matter how many times you reloaded, your sniper just was not going to hit that guy 2 feet away.  This portion of the game got harder as you increased in levels – especially if you wanted to capture someone alive.

The expansion added a few new twists.  A few more settings at the start allowed for more variables in the game (like true RNG).  It added Meld, a time sensitive resource that pushed you forward or you lost it.  It added player customization through genetics or building mechs, through the Meld compound.  It added medals too, which gave bonuses to players of your choosing.  It also reworked the skill choices to provide more balance, which is great.  It’s rare that I find DLC worthwhile (Civ5 and Borderlands2 are the only ones that come to mind) in that they actually change the way the game is played in a positive light.  Too often it’s just a re-skinned re-hash of existing content (Assassin’s Creed 4).

Back to the game.  When I had played originally, I had restarted a few dozen times to get a more optimal strategy working.  I tried that same strategy here and so far, it’s working.  It seems like more countries are in a panic but none are freaking the heck out.  That means more chances are more money through satellites.  Engineers are always the preferred task option, given that Panic won’t go overboard.  Research enough to get laser weapons and carapace armor out quickly, which should get me to mid-game.  Strategically, the game is someone similar, with a few tweaks.  Injuries seem more common, which impacts roster choice.  Skill selection is tweaked where some skills that were previously useless now have actual value.  It makes for a much more diverse skill set and that means I can play my way, rather than the only way.

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Battles are where the tactics have changed.  I mentioned Meld before.  You have 5-10 turns to find the 2 canisters per map.  They usually have a group of enemies around them.  Where previously you would play defensively, if not outright turtle, this Meld resource is used for character upgrades – so you want it.  More enemy types also makes a difference as a stealth enemy appears early on and can cause havoc on back lines.  Where some maps I split the team up, when I see these buggers I have to keep everyone tight knit to avoid ambushes.

The pew-pews are more fun but I don’t know if that’s related to a more accurate RNG (75% actually means 75% now) or just past skill in making choices.  Understanding terrain, destructible items, AE attacks and skill synergy from past games makes a repeat attempt more fun.  I guess it’s like experience from raiding in MMOs then restarting a new character.  Combat flow is natural, you understand patterns and it isn’t just keyboard mashing.  Having 4 squaddies take out 7 bad guys in a single turn is a LOT OF FUN.

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I’m about 2 months out from my Meld integration strategy, with an immediate focus on money and more satellites.  Once I hit 1 per continent, I should be more than capable of refocusing on squad development.

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