XCOM Enemy Within Preview
XCOM Enemy Within is an expansion to the award winning XCOM Enemy Unknown, released by Firaxis Games in October 2012. For those unfamiliar with this franchise, XCOM places you in the role of a commander of an elite multi-national task force, whose mission is to defend the earth from alien invasion.
In order to do so you must recruit and manage your soldiers as they gain experience on the battlefield, design and evolve your base to your own strategic needs, assign research and development to create new weapons and armour for your troops, and balance the needs of the funding countries to ensure the XCOM project prevails.
In short XCOM is, as Shrek once said ‘like an onion, it has many layers’ and in XCOM’s case you will find that more than once it will bring you to tears as it mercilessly punishes you for your mistakes. It is tough and I mean incredibly tough; it’s like climbing Everest, in the dark, with no oxygen, whilst on fire tough.
But my god the payoff is worth it, growing your team to an unstoppable force and watching them stomp through the enemy is so satisfying. It is like that first time you beat your dad at chess, watching his face crumble as he realises his countless rounds of victory are over and that you, like a baby-faced Borg, have been learning and adapting to discover the key to his undoing. It produces a wonderful flow to the game and makes each play-through unique.
So what is XCOM Enemy Within? Well, it’s not a sequel – it’s an expansion and sits within the timeline of the existing story. Think of it like the director’s cut, a good one… like Aliens: The Directors Cut, yes think of it like that.
Enemy Within features new weapons such as the well publicised Mech Troopers and Cybernectic soldiers for XCOM and alien foes like the Seeker and Mectoid. New maps are included (over 40) with tweaks to originals, a new resource ‘MELD’ – used to create your super units and only found on the battlefield and a whole host of new customisation options for your troops, including regional accents for those who like to add that extra special touch. There are also numerous tweaks to second-wave options and skill trees that address balance and feedback from the community.
Then there is EXALT.
EXALT are an entirely new faction you will come up against through your campaign; a clandestine group with their own agenda, whose ultimate goal is unclear. These guys are tough. EXALT forces are not aliens but in fact humans determined to undermine your every move and steal the alien technology for themselves. These enemies also effect the state of play away from the tactical maps, infiltrating countries and turning them against you; finding and eliminating EXALT activity in funding countries becomes a priority, forcing you to dispatch agents on missions to take down cells and bases.
In order to discover these cells you must dispatch an agent to the suspected location and await their report. Of course these agents are then not available for use in other missions and can only be equipped with pistols, meaning when you go to extract them they are starting behind enemy lines with very little firepower. This in turn makes extraction missions beautifully challenging and tense, as often keeping these agents alive is key to the mission’s success.
EXALT forces are also incredibly tough to fight against, with Firaxis coding new AI routines for them and it shows. Their troops work together to take you on and are aggressive in their approach; heavies will target XCOM personnel that are grouped together with rockets and grenades, snipers will seek high ground and try to flank you and they will actively try to heal each other. They are a real game-changer – attempt to take these guys on with normal tactics and you will wind up spending all your money on body bags.
The new resource, MELD, also changes how you play. When on a mission MELD appears in canisters that are set to self-destruct after a number of turns; failing to reach them means you recover less or in some cases none of this precious material, which you will need in order to create you Cybernetic and genetically enhanced troops. If like me you ‘only move in the blue’, keeping your team in over-watch, this presents a huge challenge as you simply cannot do that on these missions.
MELD is all about risk vs. reward – now, where rookies had it tough before, they’re now pretty much on a suicide mission. No longer being your standard point man or woman they now become the lucky few who must dart forward and secure the canister, often putting them straight into harm’s way. If they make it back… well, I guess they have earned their wings. However the reward means you can plough this resource into creating your special units such as the Cybernetic and genetically enhanced troopers.
There is so much new content that when playing Enemy Within you would be forgiven for thinking it was a sequel. If you follow me on social media you will know I play a huge amount of XCOM, so if you’re worried about all the changes and additions in Enemy Within, don’t be. Crucially it ALL works – clearly time has been spent balancing and play testing the units. Every unit has its benefits and drawbacks, while the maps have been adjusted to take into account the new abilities your Cybernetic troops posses. Throw into the mix EXALT as a new and very demanding faction and you have one hell of a challenge.
There is a real touch of passion to Enemy Within, from the obvious additions like new units to the really subtle touches like listing cause of death on the memorial wall. As always the art and animation are superb, be it the Seeker stalking and then preying on your soldiers, or the thunderous punch delivered by your Cybernetic trooper to a hapless sectoid, they are all finished with cinematic aplomb and it’s these moments that help create ‘your’ story.
If you own XCOM Enemy Unknown and were in two minds about picking this up, please rest assured there is more than enough here to keep you busy for a very long time.
So saddle up Commander, XCOM still needs you.