XCOM: Enemy Unknown Impressions

XCOM Enemy Unknown AssaultXCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based tactical strategy game with sim elements.  That’s really the best way to classify the game because I don’t necessarily agree with using the RPG or Action labels.

The player is given a static base of operations to manage resources and research upgrades.  You can expand the facility with new types of buildings, monitor where alien attacks are happening around the world to know where to focus defending, and manage your teams that you send out.

Gameplay is turn-based tactical as I mentioned before.  There is fog of war keeping you from seeing the map.  Units can move a certain distance, perform an action, or dash to move much further but that ends the characters turn.    Once a rookie unit levels up he gains a ‘class’ like Sniper, Heavy, Support, and Assault.   As each guy ranks up they have a skill tree that allows you to choose one or between two abilities.  For example, when assault ranks up he an dash and shoot in the same turn, and the next time he ranks up you can choose something defensive or offensive.  So there are a lot of ways you can choose to specialize your units depending on the tactics you want to focus on in your gameplay.

Read more after the break.

Purchase upgrades, research tech, monitor deployments, and launch into missions from the base.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown really requires thinking before taking action.  A RNG (random number generator) is affected by elevation, kind of cover the enemy is behind, accuracy of your unit’s aim stat, the weapon in use, and any sort of items that unit has to enhance his aim.  I don’t know what to think of the RNG.  A lot of people complain that it isn’t fair and that you miss 97% shots, but some super low percentage shots are made easily.  The best thing you can do is set up your units in the best possible way to give them the best shot, and use tactics that make sense.

Gameplay happens in ‘missions’ that you are sent out on.  I’m fairly certain that an element of randomization is at play here; The missions you go on and where aliens are at the start aren’t always the same.  So if I’m monitoring activity and see a UFO flying over my territory I can intercept it with one of my aircraft to shoot it down, and from there I can deploy my team to the wreckage to go on a mission.  There are missions where my troops have to escort and/or save civilians, missions to stop enemies from destroying things, and missions where the goal is to go out and capture aliens alive to bring back to the base for interrogation and research.  When going on out missions, alien tech and resources can be used to upgrade back at the base.

XCOM Sniper takes cover
Choose your cover carefully because it can be destroyed. Cover also affects the RNG determining if you hit or not.

I don’t know how hard it is on easy or normal, but I’m playing on classic mode with iron man mode so I can’t save and reload if I make a bad decision, and if my people die they are dead.  The game can be extremely difficult, and I haven’t won the game yet.  I’ve started three or four times, but I’m eventually wiped out or enough nations leave the XCOM to cause me to fail.  While difficult, it’s still a ton of fun.

There is also a multiplayer mode where you get a pool of points.  Purchasing a unit may cost points, equipping him costs points, and you can even use alien units.  Once you’ve used your points you can fight someone else who has done the same thing.  It’s not my thing, but I can see a lot of people enjoying this sort of multiplayer battle.

I’ve streamed a lot (check out this 4h 30m stream I did), and plan to play a lot more.  I highly recommend XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and I hope we see a lot more games like it in the future.

  • I am loving the game. I loved the original to death so many years ago and for the most part 2k/Fraxis has stayed true to the original. Sure the RNG portion gets a bit old but then again life is random so I can over look it. I wrote a piece about how attached you get with your soldiers and how it sucks to lose one that you have had with your group for a long time. Great review as always.

  • Great Review. This game is fantastic. I’m playing with my brother and friend of mine that has never played before. We started NORMAL, Autosave, Ironman and so far it’s mostly easy. Ironman with Autosave is the ONLY way to play IMO. It’s the part that makes the game damn scary. We have had quite a few times where a move too aggressive almost cost us some lives. But I think we need to pump it up to CLASSIC. We still haven’t lost anyone yet after 6-8 hours of gameplay.

    As far as the RNG. My understanding was that your % to hit is the chance BEFORE the enemy’s defense is calculated. So if two different aliens were standing right next to each other, YOUR guy may have the same % chance to hit them, BUT one may have more defense therefore harder to ACTUALLY hit. Maybe I’m wrong, but how the RNG mechanic is working hasn’t bothered me.

    Such a great game to play on the sofa!

  • I used to love the original XCOM games. I decided against buying it after reading that it had been “dumbed down” relative to the original ones.

    I have had a similar love/hate feeling for CIV5 that some reviewers describe for this game. Although CIV5 is very polished as compared to its earlier iterations, it is extremely disappointing to have eliminated many features. In this case CIV5 felt de-evolved, albeit easier to play with less micro-managing.

    “Streamlined” is often used by devs to describe the evolution of a game franchise, but it can feel overly simplified if they get rid of too many game play options. I assume that in addition to eliminating unnecessary features, this process is also used to gain a more general market appeal or “accessibility”.

    I see you guys like it in an absolute sense, but does it meet your expectations for the improved next-gen version of this franchise, other than for graphics of course?

  • Absolutely loving this game. So tense and exciting playing on Ironman, and very rewarding when you pull off a difficult mission well. I also get pretty attached to those random generated little soldiers.

    Gankatron: I have personally never played the original. I know that I’m missing out on a classic, but I haven’t. So I just know that, for me, going into XCOM blind it has enough tactical depth to stand on its own as a good strategy game.

    If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend reading Rock Paper Shotgun’s take on the game. They specifically address that issue and even though there were some gripes they still came out recommending it in the end.

  • I’ve been looking at it online for a while and I think it is, above all, not like the original game at all.

    In the original game, you can lose guys, indeed, you can lose guys every mission, and still complete on impossible. This is because experience doesn’t change a soldiers power that much, except PSI power, and you should always protect your PSI soldiers anyway. Yes, a very experienced soldier is clearly more powerful than a rookie, but the differences is far, far less than between a rookie and a Colonel in this game. In the new game an elite is twice as powerful as a rookie. Maybe more.

    In the new game, soldiers have frigging levels and they gain ALOT of power with level. So you can’t “take losses” and move on. Each, and every, single soldier lost is a big hit. I remember all the time in the original X-Com losing 1-2 soldiers storming a UFO and going, “that went pretty good”. Lose two soldiers, permanently dead, storming a UFO in this one and you’ll be crying or reloading.

    This means the ACTUAL difficulty of the fights is pretty low. You are simply fighting the RNG generator. Do the RNG numbers favor you? Well, your Assault Colonel survived, mission won! RNG gods hate you? Your assault Colonel is dead, you will now have one less Colonel in your final squad in the final fight! Congratulations!

    Second, the difficulty of this game is because of bizarre rules and absurd non-logical complexities.

    Why can you only carry one backup item? I have no idea. Why do aliens ignore you launching a rocket at their friends but if they see your assault trying to circle them they kill him? Who knows. Why is there never any lone aliens waiting in ambush but they all come in groups that announce themselves? Whatever.

    For example, the Heavy starts out the Deity of the Battlefield, slaying all those who dare to defy him with his Doom Rockets. 4 rockets from 4 heavies are almost enough to complete entire Ironman Impossible missions by themselves. Maybe 2-3 lone aliens would need to be gunned down. Or even just rockets and only rockets. However, as time passes, enemy hit-points go up, your units gain powers that make regular weapons more powerful, and the regular weapons themselves become more powerful. Rocket damage stays the same till the soldiers very last promotion. The AOE increases slightly in one late promotion. Which is not nearly enough. Why don’t you get better rockets when every other weapon upgrades? I have no idea.

    Your sniper starts with a 4 damage bullet rifle and ends with a 9 damage plasma rifle. Up until the level of Colonel, your Heavy starts with a 6 damage AOE and ends with a 6 damage AOE. The snipers aim also goes way up. So the regular damage output of a sniper in end-game is way, way closer to that of a rocket than in the beginning. This makes the rocket A LOT less awesome. Also, the number of enemy groups go up, so the “once per battle” limitation on the rocket hurts a lot more.

    However, what about the humble medic? Well, up until his second to last promotion, the medic is a humble healer. He heals about 12 hp. A non-medic with a med-kit would heal about 4 hp. The hitpoints of a soldier start at 4 on impossible and relatively quickly rise to about 8-9 with your first armor upgrade and a few promotions. The second to last promotion jumps his healing up to 20 points better than another soldier with a med-kit. With foundry upgrade, he suddenly, on his second to last promotion, heals 36 hp total. At a time when the average solder on impossible will have about 12 hp. On his last promotion, he declares himself a God and his total healing rises to 60 hp. A non-medic would heal 6 hp at that point.

    So, with Foundry upgrade, his healing stats are like this:
    Rank 1:6 hp
    Rank 2:6 hp
    Rank 3:6 hp
    Rank 4:18 hp
    Rank 5:18 hp
    Rank 6:18 hp
    Rank 7:36 hp
    Rank 8:60 hp

    Very even, eh?

    And the craziness is in many other things as well. Officer Training School raises squad size from 4 to 6! But only after ONE SPECIAL LITTLE BOY has reached a certain level! So you need to make sure one of your guys is fed kills and not hurt so he can be the Magic Soldier who lets you bring 6 soldiers on a mission instead of four. How stupid is that? I don’t know, but pretty damn stupid.

    So people who say it is hard? I have no doubt because the rules are so f* stupid that it is difficult if you miss some of Firaxis illogical nonsense. If you don’t miss it? Then not so much.

    For example, you can permanently cripple your medic by making the wrong choice upon his promotion to Sergeant. But you won’t discover that, unless you read ahead on the promotion list, till a dozen hours later! Isn’t that clever! Isn’t that CUTTING EDGE.

  • I am loving this game as well. So addictive, just one more turn! I dont find a problem with RNG as your guys lvl they have skills to help this % in your favor. You can see exactly what is causing your % in the more info so you see elevated position , or partial cover, or you are being suppressed with fire, or your panicked whatever its ll there to work with. Get 100% shot rating.. solves all your problems.. Assault class with the run and gun.. boom dead meat!

    My only gripe is the wonky camera at times with elevation and buildings.. the clipping that happens but other than that the game is awesome.

  • Played the first 3 X-com games.

    I own and play this new xcom game and it is great.
    Nothing to add. Just that good.

    I’m glad this game seems so popular and sells well.
    That should give us a promising future for quality turn based games.

    Been a long time good turn based games came out.

  • I haven’t played many turn based games at all and I must say XCOM has me completely hooked on the style of gameplay it has. I haven’t played the older games but this one is fantastic and I couldn’t recommend it more.

  • I find it very odd that so many people complain it’s not like the original. I spent a great deal of time playing the original. This new version is close to identical in every way except graphics and sound (which are modern versions but similar in theme).

    I really think people are mis-remembering the original. It was exactly like this.

  • [Moment of Silence]

    We regret to inform you that Howdy Doody has been killed in action on 10/17/2012. He was “one-shotted” from a flying transformer frisbee while trying to assault the enemy base.

    He was a great Medic, great warrior, but more important and great friend. Unfortunately he had a dumbarse leader that felt like he was a better front line fighter than our heavy!

    Rest in Peace Howdy. You will be missed…..that is until I rename another guy “Howdy Doody”! heheheh.

    [/Moment of Silence]

    Loving the hell ata this game. I missed an insane amount of college classes because of the original and I personally like this version better.

    Does it have some issues? Maybe, but nothing stated above has bothered me enough to even notice it.

    I believe there is an xbox demo along with the Steam one now. Give it a shot.

  • I will give it a try, thanks guys, although I will likely wait for a Steam sale, which will also help to debug it and maybe some bonus DLC.

    @Stabs: Here is one of the user reviews that made me leery given my CIV5 disappointment:

    “For the most part, this attempted resurrection of the classic turn based strategy game is a step backwards in all of the most important categories. Even if you put aside the massive number of bugs plaguing this release and the hideously bad camera, the designers opted to remove what were some of the best elements found in the previous games. The inventory system we all loved from the original now gone, and now the crack team of elite soldiers you command are limited to carrying a single item in their inventory!!! Want to carry a med kit, guess you’ll have to get rid of your frag grenade. Even weapon scopes take up your one and only inventory slot (seriously if you want to put a scope on your sniper riffle you have to drop your grenade or med kit). Gone are action points, now your warriors are limited to two actions each turn. Gone is the terror you felt as the aliens hunted you as you hunted them; now the aliens wait for you in predetermined locations waiting for you to enter their kill zones (which you have to do in order to complete the mission). However in some escort missions there are scripted events where aliens will spawn in your path after you’ve rescued your target (and yes they basically stand there until you approach). The only thing this game improves on is the graphics and sounds, but even then it’s not that good by today’s standards. Wait for this game to be heavily modded and patched before spending any money on it. “

  • I have always like the turn-based games, and feel that there is a new generation of gamers that have missed out due to the current heavy emphasis on RTS games.

    I miss my Alpha Centauri and Mission Cyberforce games. These turn-based games are great for the micro-manager tactical/strategic minded player.

    I am nearly always disappointed at RTS games as so much of the time I spend nurturing units is wasted as they mindlessly run out into kill zones while I am looking at a distant part of the map. I would rather have the pause functionality intrinsic to turn-based games, rather than having to repeatedly hit the space bar to pause and whip around to multiple parts of the map; people who are not such control freaks likely enjoy the RTS experience to a greater degree than my play style allows.

    Right now I am having fun with the DLC improved Warlock: Master of the Arcane, an inexpensive fantasy CIV clone; I came back to it after initially finding it fun, albeit generic, only to discover that it was greatly improved with the addition of patches and DLC that put in features such as terrain building bonuses and heroes with weapon slots. It is another turn-based game worth purchasing.

  • I am loving X-COM thus far as well. One issue I have with the combat though is sometimes the line of sight of a soldier is hard to determine. When the soldier is only a few inches away from the target it is easy to determine, but many times I have moved a sniper to what I thought was a great perch for a shot only to not having any targets in sight 🙁 That bugs the hell out of me. That coupled with not knowing what actual range the target is at to best pick a weapon. Sniper rifles become less effective at close range… but just what is close range? Based on some experimenting it seems to me that the ‘to hit %’ does not change gradually as distance expands/closes but instead at set distances… short/medium/long. I say this because I have had 90% to hit on a target at the start of a round… moved with my first action and closed the gap considerably and still have a 90% to hit when I take my 2nd action. Not sure the formular yet but would love to see how it is determined.

  • Gank, a lot of those criticisms are pretty valid. It’s not perfect. However, it is still really goddamn awesome and a great change of pace. I’d recommend picking it up regardless.

  • I also just read this article about the modding of X-COM that has already begun. The article mentions that a lot of options were cut out of the final build but have been unlocked now making the game much more difficult or technical.

    Based on this article and just past experience with modders I think X-COM might have a hell of a lot of life in it as a game. New weapons… advanced armor abilities… lots of possibilities. Once again… why I always go PC if there is a choice.