My Adventures in XCom 2

I got myself a new computer. I didn’t want to. I was perfectly happy with my old one. But you can’t always get what you want, so here I am, new computer in hand. Lap. There you go.

One of the important things to do with any new computer, of course, is to find out just how much it can handle. After all, if you’re going to be investing into any games for it, you need to know just how leet it is, else you could buy something above your system. And also, you get the hackerz casting hardz as to the spex of your system. You can’t have people hardzing your spex. Sure, you can just look at the system requirements, but that doesn’t give you anywhere near the knowledge on frame rates and specific graphic quality that a practical test does.

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That drew me to XCom 2. A current gen game I actually wanted that I could get for cheap with a bunch of mystery gems on top through the recent Humble Monthly Bundle. If it worked on my system, and actually played well, I could comfortably get other modern games. If not, well, at least I got some other games I could play.

So when I started XCom 2 up, I really wasn’t planning on playing for long. My gaming schedule is rather full. Like, I need games to make reservations to get themselves in my immediate playlist. I played it for an hour, was satisfied with my system’s performance, and shut it down. But I couldn’t get the game off my mind. So I figured, you know what, Time? You can’t tell me what to do. I still have this super packed gaming schedule, so I wasn’t going to commit to a full runthrough, but given the nature of the game, I thought I’d give it an ironman run until it wasn’t possible for me to continue anymore.

To the uninitiated, the closest analog to modern XCom is Fire Emblem. So imagine something like that with guns and aliens. It’s a turn-based strategy game where everything is based on managing resources, positioning, and probability, character deaths are permanent, and there’s a really heavy emphasis on the good old Random Number God. The game’s also hard. It is blasted hard. It is hard like my gloriously sculpted muscles. You are always outnumbered, and 80% of your enemies are stronger than any single one of your soldiers. Not only that, you’re constantly given objectives that complicate your encounters beyond just ‘shoot all the dudes a lot’. It takes wit and judgment and luck to be successful. You can have everything going for you, but if any one of those elements fails even for a moment, and they will, you’re doomed.

I’m not good at it. That’s how I knew an ironman run, even on normal difficulty, would come to an end. A horribly bloody one. I was looking forward to it.

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The original (-ish) XCom was a good game. So’s XCom 2. My characters quickly picked up the new classes the game had to offer, we got a good tour of the new mechanics, and they all fit into the same old XCom gameplay seamlessly, as if they were designed together. The strategy gameplay requires thinking on multiple levels, can get very complex, and it’s just so satisfying when you pull things off successfully.

I do really have to appreciate how the game’s tutorial mission takes you through a series of horrible deaths and necessary sacrifices. You don’t have any choice in the matter, which makes sense from a story perspective at that point, but still, sets the tone nicely. The original XCom did that too, and I remember having the first mission leave some bodies on the floor made it a bit easier for me to accept that not all my plays would be perfect.

Usually, when faced with a game like this where consequences for mistakes are severe and yet errors can occur by pure random chance, I compensate but playing meticulously defensive. XCom 2’s prepared for that, though. It throws time limits all over the place, prompting you to get through the mission in a much faster pace than would seem natural to me. I’m not the biggest fan of artificially enducing time limits on, well, most any gameplay feature, but the way it’s implemented here does at least induce some changes to playstyle rather than just inducing a challenge for the sake of making things harder. That said, I’m still not good at, whatever style they’re asking for there, and moving through the missions faster than my exacting pace just isn’t comfortable for me.

I did do a lot better in the missions where they instituted a more organic time limit, however. Where it wasn’t just “finish in eight turns” but “kill of them before they kill all of these other guys”. When the limiting factor was something I could effect myself, things just flowed better for me, and I fit into the designers intended gameplay much better.

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And that’s how it feels often times. You’re given a lot of tools and a lot of possibilities, but it still often feels like the developers have an intended route for you to get through it, however loose that may be. Granted, I’ve only played the earliest of missions, and even then, I saw a few opportunities where it was ripe to open up, but at least at the beginning, you’ve got some tracks, and you don’t have much honest chance if you go off of them.

I did have one big problem with the game, though. Information is a little tricky. Sometimes it tells you things. I trusted that information. Yet that information seems to be a bit less than complete. One mission had a “Turns until forced extraction” time limit. With that phrasing, I figured that meant that the mission would end and my dudes would automatically come home once I reached that time limit. I completed the mission goals, found my route to the extraction point cut off, so instead I had my team take a defensive posture and hold off the enemy until the “forced extraction” sent my boys home.

Instead, the ‘forced extraction’ meant that their ride home was forced to bail, leaving the entire team high and dry. Sure, that was my misunderstanding, but would have been nice to have a little clarity on it.

The one that really killed my mood though, and made me end my journey before I had come to the glorious failure I was looking for, related to the stealth mechanic. The game lets you see where your enemies have their eyes on, so you know not to break your concealment by going there. I had one unit, that was completely concealed, moving to a space that wasn’t marked as being within a sight range, along a path that did not cross any sight ranges. Imagine my surprise when he was found out, and a force literally four and a half times the size of my own started descending on their locations.

I found out searching the internet since that you can’t see the sight ranges of enemies that you can’t see. Which I don’t believe the game ever mentioned. It may have, but it really doesn’t do a good job of illustrating its gameplay concepts, so nothing stuck. Either way, I could swear that I had every enemy nearby me within sight. Certainly no new nearby enemies appeared within the next couple of turns. Deliberate or not, it felt like a glitch to me. It didn’t feel fair, like I stumbled into something that I wasn’t given proper warning might be fair. I was expecting to lose, and lose hard, at some point. But I had always figured that would be due to being outmatched, not tricked or failed by the developers.

In any case, that wouldn’t normally be a problem in a normal run. Give yourself room to reload a save when something goes so unfairly sideways, and you’ll be set. It killed my run for me, though, and I felt cheated because of it.

Aside from that moment, though, I did really enjoy my slow descent into utter, humiliating failure in XCom 2. I fully expect to give it a more dedicated playthrough when I get the time. Just, you know, with the saves handy this time.

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8 responses to “My Adventures in XCom 2

  1. In theory I should like the X-Com games. For example I loved Ghost Recon on 3DS, which is often described as being X-Com like. I never finished the previous game though because enemies would magically hit me through cover. Like you, it made me feel cheated.

    • Yeah, XCom has a very… unique… take on a lot of things. Like cover is only a stat boost. And then, only if you’re directly behind it. Cars and stuff in the way of you and the enemy? Don’t slow them down any. The first step in getting good at it is figuring out where the logic just falls apart. As long as it does so consistently, you can still make a good game out of it, which they did, but still. Really painful getting there.

  2. I’ve heard this before about the X-Com games, but they seem to have a large following, anyway! Sounds like it was fun, either way, and I’m glad that you allowed it a pass on making a reservation, too. Hopefully your next playthrough will be just as fun without any more “cheap” shots.

    • Yeah, they are really good, and really demanding, and really deep. They’re good games. They just have this difficulty cliff that they don’t help you with, and the game’s logic is not always, you know, logical, and with the Random Number God able to twist things so much, it can easily lead to a lot of just straight unfair situations. I still have fun getting up to it, though, just not so willing to fight through it this time.

  3. I’ve heard of X-com but don’t know much about the games. I love Fire Emblem so this looks like something I’d enjoy too, even though I’d be horrible at it. The almighty gaming Random Number God has forsaken me though.

    • Yeah, if the Random Number God has forsaken you, this just isn’t a game that’s doable. Chance and probabilities are everything in XCom too. But yeah, assuming your enjoyment of Fire Emblem doesn’t hinge on the story and characterizations, and you’re up for a game that hates you and wants you to die, some of that love may transfer over.

  4. I’ve always been a big fan of the turn based strategy games, and I have XCOM Enemy Unknown installed, but just havent made the push to play it just yet. I know its on iPad which seems kinda crazy. I do like my strategy games on portable.

    • I find you do have to be in a certain frame of mind to really enjoy it. In a place where you can be patient, where you’re able to deal with failure, and where you can methodically sort out your options. Not all games require you to wait until you’re in the right mental state, but this is one of them.

      But when you do get there, it’s pretty excellent. May be worth giving it a try, when the time is right.

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