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OT--Thoughts on the New XCOM Enemy Unknown

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If you're like me, you are a huge fan of the original couple of XCOM games from 20 years ago or so. In fact, you've gotten them from Steam so you can still play them. And so, you've probably regarded the new Firaxis version of Enemy Unknown with a mixture of hope (from memories of the past and the Firaxis/Sid Meier brand) and fear (given the sordid history of the franchise since the first couple of games and then the various knock-offs). If you're still on the fence here, I can say at this point that you should really give it a try. This new thing is a very good game.


Is it the original game with new, modern paint? NO, the new game is its own thing. But it's a variation that remains true to the original theme and the changes from the original I've seen so far are all to the good. I mean, when you played the old games, you expected things to be difficult, well-nigh impossible, but there were a bunch of things that were far worse than necessary. And while I haven't played far enough yet to see if the advent of psionics is as much of a bitch as it was in the original (which was probably the worst thing ever in any game), so far things are quite acceptable. Your troops die a lot and you never have enough money, scientists, or enginers, or troops to cover all the bases at once. So you face the same challenges as in original. They just play out differently and on the whole, better.


For instance, in the original, despite XCOM supposedly being the best of the best of the best, 75-90% of all your new recruits were totally unacceptable, so you were always wasting tons of money hiring large batches of recruits and then firing most of them to get the 2 or 3 qualified noobs you needed. In the new game, your recruits are pretty much all what you'd expect if Earth's nations pooled their resources and sent their best guys to fight off the alien menace. And they come with Earth's finest current technology instead of being naked and you having to pay for everything that should be standard issue. To compensate for this, you don't have as much money to play with. So, financially, it's pretty much a wash while eliminating all the unrealistic and totally aggravating micro-management. Bravo!


At the same time, you still have the same old (and realistic) problem of not always getting the type of troops you want and need at the time. In the originals, after going through the mass culling process outlined above, the guys you had left often didn't have the traits you wanted, but you had to keep them because you'd just blown all your money on the mass hiring. The new game keeps this frustration going by randomly assigning soldier classes to noobs once they've survived a mission or 2, so you might end up with too many of 1 type and too few of another. But that's XCOM :).


Anyway, I could go on but in general, the other parts of the game are similar. Where the original was needlessly tedious, that's been removed and something more streamlined and believable has been put in its place, with the same overall result. So far, I'm thinking the changes are all to the good and really like the new game.

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Thanks for the brief on this as I loved the original games as well... might have to splash out on this one... now just to figure out if Carrier Command is the same deal...

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After playing a few more hours, I've got some more observations.


1. New Movement System

I really like this. It's a lot simpler and more intuitive than the old "time units" thing while accomplishing pretty much the same result. There are a couple of difference that might seem important at 1st glance but are no big deal in practice. I really haven't found myself wishing I could specify the exact path my guys follow between thier current positions and their destinations. This is because they mostly go the way I'd send them myself. The biggest difference is that you can't creep all your guys forward in the same turn using "interrupted moves" (i.e., moving Guy A a few steps, then Guy B, then back to Guy A). The new game only lets you move each guy 1 time per turn, regardless of how far he does. I actually think this is a change for the better because the new system is more realistic, leap-frogging your guys with fire and maneuver elements. So, I never did much "interrupted moving" anyway because I considered it a great way to get all your guys caught in the open at once, and don't miss it now :).


Another nice thing about the new game is that there are no more "gotcha" missions. You know, where aliens just outside your ship toss grenades in as soon as the door opens. That happened all too often and always infuriated me because my ship should have seen the aliens before landing. Thankfully, in the new game, your guys start outside your ship and can get into cover before making contact. Yay! Life in XCOM is hard enough without such unrealistic and game-ruining events.


2. Time and Money

The old games were rather frenetic. From Day 1 and every day thereafter, you could expect at least 1, usually several, alien actions to confront. This high-intensity warfare ALWAYS meant your monthly paycheck from the world's governments was nowhere near sufficient to cover 1 week's combat expenditures, let alone build up your force. So, you were FORCED to devote a huge amount of effort into becoming financially independent, building factories just to make items you could sell for a profit. Only then did you have enough money to both cover operating expenses AND get ahead in the game. But the result of this was losing focus on the whole purpose of XCOM as Earth's defenders. When you no longer needed the world's money, national panic levels ceased to be a strategic consideration. As long as you preserved the bare minimum number of countries to keep the game from ending in defeat, you could, and usually did, let the rest of the world burn. At this point, the war became a personal contest between XCOM and the aliens with Earth losing either way and you not caring about that.


The new game is just the opposite, at least so far as I've gotten to date. You often go a week between alien events, so your monthly paycheck goes a lot further. Also, it doesn't seem possible to sell gear on the open market; everything I've made so far goes into my arsenal and I can only sell alien corpses and such. This provides a little beer money but the vast bulk of your funds come from the world. So now world panic levels are VITALLY important, meaning XCOM HAS to be the defender of as much of the Earth as possible. I think I prefer it this way.


BUT, this (IMHO desirable) state of affairs comes with a big catch: you can't hire scientists and engineers directly. Instead, you only get them as rewards for completing missions. This adds a lot to the decision-making complexity because you're often presented with 3 or more simultaneous threats in different parts of the world, and you can only respond to 1. Each offers a different reward (combinations of money, leveled-up soldiers, scientists, or engineers) and they often have different difficulty levels. So, IF you succeed, you get the reward of the chosen mission, but the panic levels in the countries you ignore will increase. Thus, do you pick missions based on your short-term needs (the reward), what you think you can handle (the difficulty), or long-term income and game longevity (panic levels)?


On a related note, the fast pace of the old games meant everything happened in unbelievably short periods of time. The whole war only lasted a couple of months and saying you'd survived the 1st month was a major accomplishment. In the new game, however, things happen much more slowly. I just lost my latest "Classic/Ironman" game (see Difficutly below) 6 weeks in and my guys didn't even have lasers yet. IOW, I was roughtly equivalent to being 5-10 days into the old games.


3. Difficulty Levels

I've only tried the "Normal" and "Classic" levels so can't comment on the others. There's a HUGE difference between them, at least when starting out, but I haven't played "Normal" long enough to tell if this changes as the game advances. I started my 1st game on "Normal" just to get the hang of it and, when I thought things were going too well, I restarted in "Classic", quickly getting my ass kicked ;).


According to the game menu, "Classic" is "an extreme challenge for experienced XCOM players only." And it's pretty much what its name implies: much like the original. You start with a totally inadequate, bare-bones base and your troops (those few that survive a mission or 2) don't level up very fast at all. Also, the world panics very easily, seemingly in chain reaction to neighboring countries being attacked. IOW, it's like XCOM was an idea that was kicked around for years but nothing substantial had been done to get it up and running before the aliens showed up. Research is slow, fabrication is slower, and in each mission there are more aliens and the more powerful types show up earlier in the game.


"Normal" is described as "for players familiar with tactical games, challenging but fair". Here, XCOM is ready and waiting when the aliens appear so you've got a fairly decent starting base. Research and production are thus much quicker and your troops also level up with fewer missions and kills than in "Classic". There are also fewer aliens, the stronger types take longer to show up, and they don't seem as tactically adept. Finally, the world in general has much more sang-froid about the aliens; individual countries don't seem to be bothered if their neighbors are attacked.


Bottom line: "Normal" gives you better troops with better gear sooner, facing weaker opposition with more of a financial safety net. I found it rather easy, at least in the early going. But I'll go back to it, having been quite humbled by "Classic". See, I THOUGHT I was an "experienced XCOM player". Guess I'm not :). Here's a comparison of results obtained:


In my 1st game on "Normal", it's 9 April, 5 weeks in. The body count is 40-4 in my favor, but 3 of my losses were the unavoidable, scripted ones in the tutorial mission at the start of the game. Since then, it's been 37-1 in my favor, although I usually have 1 or 2 guys wounded. Still, only 7 of my starting 13 guys (I get a free one from a pre-order deal) have seen any action at all. So all my active guys are getting up in rank and perks and are all about to receive lasers, even though I haven't yet considered myself out-gunned. The world is pretty much calm and I'm doing well enough to get bonus money.


In my 3rd (and longest-lived) "Classic" game, I conceded on 17 April, 6 weeks in. The body count is 48-12 with my only surviving initial trooper in the hospital for 2 weeks. While I've researched better armor and lasers, I can't build either due to a lack of engineers and money. Several nations have already bailed on XCOM and several more are on the verge. My highest-ranking guy WAS a sergeant; I had a lot of guys who remained rookies even with 3 each kills and missions. Brutal! But still quite fun :).

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I am enjoying this game a lot with about 30 hours of playing time. Bullethead is completely right in everything he says about the game. It is as enjoyable as the first two. Just different.

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I heartily agree, it's a great remake. As to selling gear, BH will have found out by now that you can only sell it to nations that ask for it, e.g. Nigeria might ask for a half dozen laser rifles and offer you $200 say. The change of emphasis re defending the planet vs. just defending XCOM is great, giving you the added need to build satellites and uplinks to improve coverage and lower panic levels plus generate income.


Oooh, Carrier Command, I'd forgotten about that one.

Edited by Dej

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