Last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a near-perfect experience for strategy fans. It modernised a 90s PC classic with terrific results, and goes down as one of the single greatest experiences of its genre to come around this generation.
In light of this, XCOM: Enemy Within is a risk. It aims to tamper with something that many perceived to be flawless, expanding on Enemy Unknown by adding several new tactical layers to gameplay instead of just adding a few bells and whistles. As an expansion, Enemy Within also has to prove its worth in terms of value. Why, after the countless hours spent with Enemy Unknown, should you fork out for something that doesn’t claim to be a proper sequel?
Squished Bugs And New Bugs
With an update as large as this one, fans are surely within their rights to expect 2K to iron out some of the technical imperfections which plagued Enemy Unknown. Whilst the infamous ‘teleportation bug’ appears to have been removed, frustratingly lag, frame-rate dips and sound cutting out seems to have increased in this expansion.
These problems aren’t as detrimental to a turn-based strategy game like XCOM, but are nonetheless hugely disappointing.
Shiny New Treats
Thankfully, Enemy Within is spring-loaded with new content in the gameplay compartment which revolutionises the experience. Sure, it is the same base game as Enemy Unknown in concept, but with everything from new maps, classes and mission types Enemy Within feels, if anything, more like a sequel than an expansion.
A lot of what’s new revolves around a new resource – meld. This valuable substance is found in canisters dotted around the game’s maps, and its very existence brings us to the first instance of change in XCOM’s strategic gameplay. Since this substance comes in ticking time-bomb canisters which expire after a set number of turns, I found myself making rash, risky movements in order to obtain it instead of settling into the usual defensive patterns which I opted for in the last outing.
Why, you ask, was I willing to take such out of character risks obtain this shiny new resource? Because it acts as the building-blocks to genetically enhance your soldiers and, a lot more excitingly fit them into imposing, heavily-armed mechs. Rest assured, a purchase of Enemy Within will significantly increase the level of awesome possessed by your squad.
Sticking your soldier into a mech is a risk in itself, because you’re committing to giving a soldier a new character class and thus losing all of the unlocks you had previously obtained. From there you have to start from scratch, not simply in terms of unlocks but in tactics also. Mechs have heavy armour, can use powerful weapons and destroy cover with ease, but their inability to use cover means they require a completely different approach to be used effectively.
Changing The Tide Of Battle
This is where Enemy Within becomes a proper expansion rather than just new content. It’s not merely the fact that you have new toys to play with as such, but that by using these new classes you have to radically adapt your play-style. It’s easy to be drawn in by the mechs shiny suit, larger-than-life weapons and commanding power, but it’s inability to use cover changes the dynamic of how fire-fights play out.
Genetical enhancements are less revolutionary than the new engineer class. They give the option of using your meld to grant new perks to your soldiers, such as health and aim boosts. As one would expect, these perks can be chosen tactically to suit the type of solider they’re being given to, thus adding a new strategic layer to XCOM’s base management gameplay.
With all these enhancements to your XCOM squad, the aliens have to play catch-up and this comes in the form of new enemy-types. Most are simply upgraded versions of pre-existing foes, but the one inspired new addition are seekers. These devious so-and-so’s can turn invisible and sneak up on squad members, strangling them to death if they’re not dealt with in one turn. This makes it a lot riskier to split your squad, and adds an interesting level of tension if you don’t have sufficient fire-power to deal with their threat.
The last big new addition is new mission types, which see your XCOM squad protect certain locations, find surviving citizens and take out human enemies as well as aliens. These missions do offer a refreshing chance to the normal mix of UFO, Council and Abduction mission-types, although their difficulty perhaps doesn’t scale perfectly.
On Ironman Classic, my chosen difficulty and, in my opinion, the best way to experience XCOM, these new missions felt overwhelmingly difficult in comparison to those that existed on the original game. I’m all for more challenge, but rest assured a few of these missions can ruin you’re entire campaign if a fire-fight doesn’t go your way or you make a stupid mistake.
Overall, however, I would recommend XCOM: Enemy Within for both fans of Enemy Unknown and those people who have yet to take on the gruelling task of saving the earth from impending, alien doom. Somehow, Firaxis have managed to improve and innovate upon XCOM: Enemy Unknown without ruining its tactical mastery, and this can only be described as highly commendable.
The imbalance in the difficultly can be frustrating and quite detrimental to the XCOM experience, and whilst it’s disappointing that the game still suffers from the odd technical flaw, this is certainly the best way to play XCOM to date. It may not be a fully-fledged sequel but it certainly feels more than an expansion.