Digital Gaming

5 Big Changes in XCOM

Well, apparently the Demo is up. True story! But I haven’t had the chance to play it… YET. I will definitely be playing the heck out of it and reporting my findings to you, my wonderful alien afficionados when I do so. But mainly the playing the heck out of it part.

Meanwhilst, I’ve had some time to sit around and stew about the changes we’re seeing in the new XCOM from the old. It’s no secret that X-COM is a hugely classic game. It constantly pops up in ‘best of all time’ type lists, and has figured in the developmental psyche of most (if not all) of the gamers of a certain age group. But at the same time what worked in 1990 is not going to work in 2012 (we’ve got goddamn apple tricorders for crying out loud), so what changes have been made for this generations’ players, and does it work?

1) No Time Units

Well, not just no time units, but generally a move from very fine granularity to a much more generic move-shoot system. Instead of your ubiquitous time units now we have a much more streamlined move-action way of managing time and turns in the tactical combat system. Some people have been railing about it, but I’m perfectly happy with it. Sure, we no longer can choose between snap fire, aimed fire, and teabagging corpses by repeatedly toggling crouch, but the tactical system of XCOM has always mirrored a RPGs and tabletop games quite a bit, so I don’t see why a system that has been considered perfect for D&D, Warhammer, Warmachine and more would be considered ‘too abstract’ by anyone but the most die hard of X-COM neckbeards.

In the same vein, some people have been annoyed with all the information being displayed on the UI. Cover, half cover, whether the enemies have gone into overwatch, etc etc. ‘In my day we never knew if we were gonna get shot and we LIKED IT THAT WAY!’ While it is true that the old X-COM did not give you that kind of information, I don’t see why it is conceivable that a trained military soldier would be able to see their ‘tells’, and thus why that information would be available to us.

2) Class Levelling System

The same people who don’t like the loss of the Time Unit system seem to also be railing against the class levelling system. Which is (again) something I don’t get. The soldiers in XCOM will be trained to be a better Assault of Heavy, but how is that different from training your old X-COM grunts to gain strength so they can lug around the rocket launchers? There is some sort of pigeon-holing going on, where a heavy is forced to be a heavy, but I feel as a commander you would want to make sure your troops are being used in the way that they were trained to be used. It’s possible that there may be a time where you just end up with 6 Snipers and no Heavies, but I think in the end that’s less a problem on the gaming side, but part luck of the draw (which is something every Commander needs to face) and part poor planning.

3) Inventory Management

Carrying over from Class restrictions, this one is a little bit of a mixed bag. I think we don’t need the crazy flexibility of the old X-Com system. I’m ok with Primary Weapon, Secondary Weapon, 1-2 pieces of equipment and all the clips I can carry (effectively making ammo in combat infinite). It makes sense that special task force blokes have a clear guideline on what equipment to bring to establish tactical roles within a combat, but I think a soldier would bring more than one rocket/grenade. Also, I heard that Snipers suddenly forget how to use an Assault Rifle in favour of a pistol. I don’t get that. If a Sniper starts off using rifles when he’s classless, I don’t see why he would lose that ability when he levels. It may be a poor tactical decision to give him an assault rifle, but it’s a bit of freedom I would have appreciated. That and the grenades issue are probably for balance in the tactical map, and I’m cool with that, but I think a bit more options would have helped it make sense in my head.

4) Glam Cam Graphics (?)

This one is also a bit iffy. I’m generally a proponent of the glam cam. I love the isometric view, but being able to get some sort of personal connection and ‘getting your hands dirty’ in the trenches really makes me connect with my soldiers more too. The only problem I have with it is if the glam cam is the thing that is making the XCOM soldiers (and maybe the aliens) take really bizarre overwatch shots through walls and floors. I don’t know if that’s a bug of the glam cam, but if it is I hope it can be ironed out. Otherwise amazing!

I mean… this is kind of a no brainer, right?

5) One Skyranger

Four tactical points, one strategy point. It’s to be expected considering the fact that a lot of the previews out there are related to the tactical screen. Sadly though, the one strategy point is the one thing that I’m the least of a supporter of.

In the old games, the endgame tended to escalate pretty drastically. You’d have two, three maybe even four UFOs circling the globe wreaking global terror and sending annoying alien diplomats to convince governments to pull out, and you’d have to be on your game in bringing them down. Even then, unless you had multiple away teams to tag and bag the grisly alien scum it usually meant that they would repair and fly out with nothing more than a ding against their UFO-insurance rating. Times that that it was imperative that you have at least two skyrangers running interference on the crashed UFOs.

Fast forward to now. Apparently to ramp up the OHGODOHGODWEREGONNADIE factor the multiple missions is something that starts right from the getgo. I get that if the aliens were to successfully land it makes more sense for them to attack on multiple fronts and force us to choose to react to only one thing. What better way to play us out than ensure that we cannot beat back the incursion on all fronts?

Unfortunately, unlike the classic we’re stuck with only one Skyranger throughout the game. There could be a really good reason for all of this; the Skyranger has VTOL capabilities, holds 4-6 people and travels farther (and quite possibly even faster) than combat interceptors. It’s a possibility that the bleeding edge human tech needed for the Skyranger has made it impossible to build more than one. Heck, we don’t even know if we can get a non-Skyranger transport (the original had the Firestorm and the ultimate craft the avenger), but the current iteration of the Firestorm looks to be purely interceptor. And unfortunately, story and plot aside, the ‘one Skyranger’ policy seems to be more of a gameplay decision to enforce decision making. Which saddens me.

Still, that’s only one small nitpick in an ocean of very very awesome looking stuff. The changes look great, and I’d be much happier with a reimagining than a remake with better graphics (although Xenonauts is still looking pretty yummy). If the Skyranger quibble is the only thing that I’m not a fan over, I am definitely going to be one happy camper.

XCOM releases October 9 for the US and October 12 for the sad chrysalid zombies everywhere else in the world. Demo however is OUT NOW.


Singapore’s resident Press Ganger, that is, the man to go to for Privateer Press’ WARMACHINE, and HORDES. Kakita also dabbles in Games Workshop’s WARHAMMER FANTASY and WARHAMMER 40K lines.

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