So XCOM 2

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Samuel Tow
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So XCOM 2
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So I've been wining and dining on news of XCOM 2 for a few days. You know the one - sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within. I shit on Enemy Unknown when it first came out 2012 (apparently talking some of you out of buying), and I stand by my criticisms. Enemy Within was a frikkin' mess lacking in content, marred by bad balance and mired in suspect decisions. It was a good core concept for a game, it just didn't have much meat attached to it. As we've all seen, Enemy Within - the "expansionalone" for Enemy Unknown - fixed a lot of that. With the introduction of genetics and cybernetics, secondary objectives, many more maps and a major rebalance and retooling of the entire system, Enemy Within finally put the meat on the bones that Enemy Unknown put together.

Don't get me wrong - Enemy Within wasn't perfect. While it fixed a lot of issues, it DIDN'T fix many others and created plenty of its own. I was able to fix most of what was left on my own through a mod I made myself. Mostly stats tweaks and gear rebalancing. However, the process was clumsy as hell - I had to hex-edit the executable, mess with ini files and generally do a lot of extra work just to bypass the game's own integrity protections which exist for... No real reason that I can determine. And even then you had issues of XCOM logic, such as why I'm defending the entire world with five guys and one jet. Oh, no! A city is being terrorised by 6 Sectoids and a Chrysalid, but our five guys with laser rifles are unavailable. Never fear, France. Here are 10 000 soldiers armed with M16s. I'm sure you can manage without us. Yes, the entire world's combined pool of budget is enough to buy me three sniper rifles. Stuff like that.

XCOM 2 appears to solve... Pretty much all of those issues, at least based on what we know about it so far. Narratively, it explains the small scale. Near as I can tell, this tells a parallel story where the aliens overwhelmed XCOM in the first few weeks after the invasion, forcing the Council to pull its support and sending XCOM itself into hiding. It's 20 years later now, the aliens control the world and XCOM consists of one refurbished alien transport ships, five soldiers two engineers, a scientist and the few "named" characters with speaking lines. You no longer gain "10 Engineers," you gain Joe Schmoe, the engineer whom you can set to work making you explosive ammo to speed up the process. You can't just call up the recruitment centre and order 10 soldiers - you have to go recruit them yourself. You have one jet, few people, few resources and little support because... That's all you have. You're the ragtag resistance and you have only what you can gather. You don't have the support of the whole world, you're on your own.

I've often said that XCOM would work better as a sort of adventure game, where a small party of fighters travel the land, living off of drops and managing their own inventory, rather than this feign at a grand strategy. That's what the gameplay makes sense for, and this is precisely what XCOM 2 appears to have embraced. Eveny Within and Enemy Unknown both suffered from ludonarrative discobiscuits in that they played like Baldur's Gate while pretending like you were playing a Civilisation game. Even back in the old days of XCOM where you could make a dozen bases and field 100 agents, you were still not actually behaving like a world-wide armed force. This is the gameplay we have and the gameplay we love. Now the story actually conforms to it, and I'm pretty happy about that.

Speaking of gameplay, a lot seems to have improved. I'll attach a metric crapton of reference videos at the end of the post, but let me explain what has improved for now. A major complaint with XCOM was that it had about 30 maps you'd cycle through endlessly, about 20 of them being "a forest." XCOM 2 has semi-random maps, instead, the so-called "procedurally generated" ones. Excellent! More varied environments is always good, just so long as the cover is decent. Another complaint was game's simplicity - you drop into an area, you run around until alien spawns trigger, they get a free move to go into cover and you plink away at each other until one side dies. Not any more. XCOM being a guerilla force, they get to fire the first shot, set up ambushes and get a limited degree of stealth. Maps don't revolve around killing all the things, but rather offer objectives. Enemies can be looted for supplies since - again - ragtag resistance.

It gets better - character customisation. Let's be charitable here and say that neither soldier appearance nor customisation in XCOM was very good. Not so any more. These aren't soldiers, but random individuals you pulled off the street, so you have a lot of opportunities to make them unique. Tattoos, scars, lots of colours and props, names, accents, even basic personality archetypes exist, determining how your character holds himself. Twitchy characters look around nervously, casual characters display a smile, brutish characters hunch over and so on. It's not quite City of Heroes (of course not), but it's a HELL of a lot better than the old XCOM. The classes are also expanded, relying more than ever on skills. There's melee combat with some weird skills like getting a free move on a melee kill (anyone remember "In The Zone" skill for snipers?), you can hack enemy machines, you have a ton of support and control skills...

If Enemy Within took the Skeleton of Enemy Unknown, all signs point XCOM 2 taking the idea of a game that XCOM presented us with and making it into an ACTUAL, legitimate game. Not that XCOM itself was bad, mind you - with the official tweaks and mine, it became pretty good. But it was - let's face it - a tech demo for the underlying game design ideology. Many games stole XCOM's turn-based combat system because it was so damn good, but yet so little was done with it. No games ever stole the strategic system from XCOM because it sucked. The XCOM 2 developers appear to realise this, and have tried to make every part of the game compelling... At least based on marketing material.

And, as a capstone, the game will have full mod support with Steam Workshop integration, if not at Launch then very soon thereafter... And with a free full suite of SDK tools. Oh, so you realised making your game a pain in the ass to mod was a bad thing? No shit! So the funny thing is that even if the game stumbles in design, people can fix it. Hell, I can fix it for myself. I learned this lesson well from playing Payday 2 - bugs, issues and bad design can often be solved by mods LOOONG before the developers ever get around to fixing them themselves. The other thing I picked up from Payday 2 is you want to support mods in such a way that players don't have to reinstall them after every patch.

I generally don't do hype, I generally don't buy into preorders. In this case, I'll make an exception. XCOM: Enemy Within showed me that Firaxis can look at their own prodcut, look at player feedback, stroke their chins and admit they fucked up. They fixed many, many of their mistakes and continue to do so. XCOM: Enemy Within was already a solid foundation. I can't wait to see what this sequel brings. But you shouldn't take my word on that. Instead, please peruse this mess of promo videos, interviews and discussions on the matter:

XCOM 2: Welcome to the Avenger (a look at the strategic layer)
XCOM 2: Strategy Layer Deep Dive (discussion on the above video)
XCOM 2: Why Impossible Ironman is canon (discussion on the broad-strokes storyline)
XCOM 2: Welcoming Our New Alien Overlords (more storyline stuff)
XCOM 2: Gameplay Footage discussion (discussion about the old E3 gameplay trailer)
XCOM 2: Angry Interview (Angry Joe's not-actually-angry interview with I believe the lead developer)

Never trust my word, draw your own conclusions, look for more videos on the matter in the related/recommended video links.

Peregrin
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I liked the personnel and base management of the first one.
It does make more sense as a special research operation rather than the sole protector of earth, especially when all of the member nations should still have their own standing armies, etc. That's a minor change in the narrative that would plug some plot holes but not affect the original game play, which I still enjoy, even without any expansions. I'm not sure if I like the wandering adventure idea or not..... we'll see....

Samuel Tow
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I actually like the "wandering adventure" aspect of XCOM 2 a lot - obviously in theory since the game's not out yet. In fact, I've been talking about this since XCOM came out. I like the tactical aspects of that game, I don't like the strategic busywork and I HAAATE the aerial combat, so I thought... Wouldn't it be cool if I could play a small team of people adventuring together, surviving against the aliens and upgrading themselves from drops? Lo and behold, someone at Firaxis either read my mind or felt the same way I did.

I feel that the smaller scale of XCOM (without a dash) vs. the older-style X-Com (with a dash) games lends itself much better to a small party with persistent equipment and a strong emphasis on scavenging and experimentation vs. a standing army like we were in XCOM. The tactical system is - simply put - a much better fit for an RPG than it is for a grand strategy game in my opinion. Firaxis seem to be going that route with XCOM 2, creating a pseudo-RPG in a strategy game's clothing, a sort of rogue-like game where every character's run is tied together into one unifying gameplay and narrative system.

This is part of why I wanted to preorder XCOM 2 despite swearing off preorders... But then I went and spent that money on Mad Max Smile

Of all the things I've lost,
I think I miss my mind the most.

 

Samuel Tow
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I've been meaning to post more XCOM stuff since I keep seeing videos here and there, but there were never any really good ones. Just yesterday, I watched TotalBiscuit's video of the XCOM promo build - I forget what he calls it. This reminded me that I'd seen a bunch of videos on the subject, and so we may as well do another round of hype. God damn it! I preordered this thing so you WILL be hyped with me! It hypes about the game or it gets the hose again!

As before, reference videos will be attached at the end of the post (meatier ones this time), but I just want to cover a few really, really cool aspects of the game that I feel will make a world of difference. Keep in mind that the closer we get to release, the more spoilery the videos become, but I don't have any actual spoilers for the game in this post. I'll focus on mechanics since we don't know anything new about the story over what we knew pretty much when this was announced. As such, let me list a few of the minor gameplay changes which make a HUGE difference.

Overwatch is much better now! I don't know if I mentioned this already (I probably did) but your soldiers will take turns to fire on Overwatch. No more nonsense where six guys unload their rifles on one dinky Sectoid with 3 HP while everyone else runs around unimpeded. If the enemy dies, the other soldiers on Overwatch will wait for something else to shoot at. We also have line of sight indicators before moving now. If you move your mouse over a space your soldier can move to, all of the aliens he would be able to see get a little indication next to their health bar. No more wasting moves! Yes! Oh, and you can now target terrain hazards - usually stuff which explodes if you shoot it, though I'm not entirely sure how that works. You can retrain (basically, respec) your soldiers' skills within their class at the cost of time, which - in addition to being able to train Rookies (and Rookies only) in the specific class you want at the cost of time - gives you a lot more control over your own men, but also a lot more responsibiltiy.

Hey, let's play a game of bad thing / good thing. Bad thing: Your soldiers can suffer psychological damage from just being wounded in combat, not even necessarily severely. They can lose Will simply for getting shot. They can't lose it repeatedly, but rather they become "Shaken." Good thing: Your soldiers can recover from being Shaken by doing well on missions - not getting shot and killing enemies - or even just over time chilling at your base. More danger, but more chance of recovery! Good thing: There are no more simultaneous abduction missions. You're no longer given three missions and told to choose one. You can theoretically do all of them. Bad thing: You can still act against only SOME of the nasty things the aliens are doing. They're constantly trying to upgrade their troops and push you back. You can stop some of it, but not ALL of it. Good thing: Your soldiers are more badass than ever - ranged medikits, hacking enemy mechanised units, melee, super-cool skills. Bad thing: The aliens are more badass than ever. Snake Women can pull you out of cover, they can call for reinforcements, civilians can blow your cover, all sorts of nasties can mind-control you. More power, more responsibility.

Classes are mostly the same... But also kind of not even remotely the same. Superficially, you still have Assaults, Heavies, Supports and Snipers, only under different names and they all do most of what they used to, but there's a lot more choice now. Each class can mix-and-match skills from two thematically different trees. Assaults can pick from melee-focused skills to do with their shotguns and their cool badass machete or stealth-focused skills. Supports can pick between healing/team support skills and hacking/debuff skills. Heavies can focus on explosives or bigass machineguns. Snipers - now Sharpshooters - can either focus on pure long-distance sniping or on a ton of close-range pistol skills. Yeah, pistols are worth a crap right from the get go and Gunslinger snipers are frikkin' scary! They also all get Squad Sight right from the start. There's some kind of Psi-Op class that nobody knows anything about, but chances are psychics may also no longer be completely random.

There don't appear to be any SHIVS, to which I say GOOD! While a piece of mobile cover was fun to play around with, I'd rather take soldiers to the field. There also don't appear to be any Mecs, but hold your horses! There actually ARE exosuits in the game which can mount "heavy" weapons and other gear to the shoulder slots, but you don't have to castrate your soldiers for them to wear those suits, and they can still take cover in an exosuit. To my eyes, that's kind of... A lot better. The cover system really is the strongest part of XCOM.

Lots of character customisation, though I talked about that before. What I haven't talked about is the game appears to keep a pool of characters that you've built. You can create them, name them and store them just as you would your characters in an MMO, and they will turn up in the game at random. Maybe as soldiers, maybe as VIPs, maybe as traitors. I'm not entirely sure. Apparently there's a way to share your creations and populate your game with characters others made. That's how Angry Joe ended up with Snake Pliskin. No joke!

The maps are gorgeous, too, and pretty big. I had a huge issue with the terrain in XCOM. Abduction and Terror missions were kind of OK with standing buildings, but forests, ruined cities and alien bases were just blah. A lot of dead space as you dash across open ground to get to the interesting part where things are happening. Here they're packed with content! A shop across the street from a church where your objective is. An abandoned gas station stands opposite a heavily-fortified bunker separated by an overgrown six-lane highway with an alien checkpoint in the middle of it. I've seen a ton of videos so far, and I've not seen the same map twice, or even much of the same setting. GOD I hope they give the alien bases better interiors than we used to have...

Yeah, I'm hyped... And there's a full month left until the damn thing releases. So, in the meantime, I leave you with my collection of cool videos about XCOM:

TotalBiscuit's early look at XCOM 2
Chris Bratt of Eurogamer plays XCOM 2
Angry Joe plays XCOM 2

Of all the things I've lost,
I think I miss my mind the most.

 

marqaha
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I am so fucking hyped for this game I can't even express it properly. Sadly, I have no money so now I'm avoiding seeing things about it because its torture knowing I can't get it for a long time. I haven't wanted a new game so bad in a l9ong time. Even Fallout wasn't as bad as this. Sad

 

Samuel Tow
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I'm in the same boat, Marq. Last time I posted a bunch about XCOM 2 was in October when I thought it was coming out, and was crushed when it got delayed. Well, understandable - I want the game done right since the prior XCOM was pretty bare-bones when it came out. I ran into a random video on it recently apparently from when the embargos timed out, and I hyped myself all over again. Now I'm counting the days and holy hell! That's still at least three weeks.

On the plus side, essentially everything I've seen about XCOM 2 reassures me that it's going to be at the very least pretty good. Damn near every single feature I've seen in the videos either expands gameplay considerably, improves over the original or else removes busywork and crap design. We'll see how it turns out when the game actually ships, but at this juncture, I can't remember a developer who's learned more from their experience than Firaxis have. It may be because a lot of what they've done is the same stuff I was suggesting back in Enemy Unknown and people were telling me about an XCOM baby, but it seems like these guys went through the game and the feedback with a fine-tooth comb and considered everything.

The game can still flop - I was very pumped for the original XCOM and found that to be a massive letdown until Enemy Within fixed most everything which was fixable. But this time, I'm keeping a much, much closer eye on the game and its mechanics. I don't foresee another disappointment. Not this time.

Of all the things I've lost,
I think I miss my mind the most.

 

marqaha
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Holy fuck, I'm a lucky bastard. A good friend gifted me a copy. I'm in shock. I'll guess I'll be playing it soon after all. I can't believe it.

Samuel Tow
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Congratulations, Marq Smile I hope you enjoy it, and don't spoil it for those of us who get it on the 5th! I have the following week off, after all Smile

Of all the things I've lost,
I think I miss my mind the most.