XCOM: Enemy Within, a substantive DLC packaged for XCOM: Enemy Unknown, promises to reinvigorate the XCOM experience with the addition of new soldier types, new enemies, new maps and generally a whole bunch of other “newness”.
Given that the author of this preview argued in favour of XCOM: Enemy Unknown as Game of the Year 2012, it is safe to say there was a certain amount of pants-wetting excitement when it was officially announced while we were at gamescom 2013. Thankfully, we had the chance to go hands-on with the new title, and we were not disappointed.
Enemy Within will be the second DLC package for XCOM: Enemy Unknown, following on from the Slingshot expansion released at the back end of 2012. Slingshot wasn’t bad, it had a couple of unique and challenging missions, which gave you the chance to unlock a powerful soldier early on as a reward, along with a good supply of resources and a chance to unlock good technology options early.
Where Slingshot ‘failed’ was in its lack of new content. The new soldier wasn't much different than a standard soldier, the new missions didn’t contain any new enemies, the rewards were earlier access to already existing technologies. While an enjoyable package, it wasn't the game expansion that XCOM enthusiasts were looking for. Enemy Within seems to be the product of fan feedback on Slingshot; the long awaited package that looks to change the XCOM experience substantially with the introduction of lots of shiny new features.
The biggest change that Enemy Within brings to the table from vanilla XCOM is the addition of two new XCOM units and two new alien threats.
The first new XCOM unit is the MEC Trooper, a cybernetically enhanced soldier that pilots a huge, heavily armoured exoskeleton suit into combat. MECs are so large that they are unable to use cover, but can absorb plenty of damage and really dish out the hurt with their giant miniguns and abilities, which range from being able to selectively destroy cover, to deploying area-of-effect flamethrower bursts.
Also new to the XCOM arsenal is the ability to create genetically engineered troops. Unlike MEC troops, which are a class in themselves, genetically altered troops retain their existing specialism. They do, however, gain access to a number of traits that make them something a little more special than your average soldier. A number of ‘Gene Mods’ are available to choose from, each assigned to a body part. Modding a soldiers legs may result in them being able to leap onto tall buildings, similar to Thin Men, whereas modding a soldier’s skin can grant the the ability to become partially invisible with a chameleon-like effect.
Of the new enemy types, the one we encountered in our demo was the Mectoid, a large mechanical suit piloted by a Sectoid. These enemies were particularly dangerous, combining a large amount of firepower with a significant amount of health, while retaining the ability to mind-merge with their regular Sectoid brethren, which let them soak up even more damage before they were knocked out of the game.
The second new enemy, the Seeker, was not part of our demonstration, but has since been announced. This flying squid-like enemy cloaks itself and patrols the battlefield, looking for an isolated unit, which it will attach itself to and damage over time with a strangling attack. Lone Squadsight Snipers before of this fearsome foe.
As well as the introduction of the new unit types, Enemy Within seeks to address one criticism of Enemy Unknown - the variation in maps. A few playthroughs of Enemy Unknown will see players repeating the same maps several times, and it is not too uncommon to repeat a map on a single playthrough. Enemy Within will add 47 new single player maps to the game, as well as a smaller number of multiplayer maps, to increase the variation and reduce the risk of repeats.
Another way in which the maps are changing is the introduction of Meld, a new collectable resource which appears on the map during any mission. Meld is used to unlock new soldier abilities and research options and will prove invaluable to advancing the XCOM cause. Meld will be placed on the new maps, and integrated into old maps, and must be captured within a limited amount of turns to be utilised. This time limit changes the dynamic of play by forcing the player to choose between slow and safe gameplay, or taking a risk based on the promise of potential reward.
Our time with the game really served to demonstrate how the introduction of these new features creates a very different tactical experience than in the core game. Our mission was a UFO crash site in a farm location, in which a mix of regular, genetically modified and MEC troopers faced a powerful alien force, including a number of Mectoids.
All of the elements mentioned above factored into the gameplay - the rush to secure Meld points, the game-changing abilities of the MEC troops and genetically modified soldiers, the dangerous and powerful Mectoids and a new-feel map all contributing to a unique experience.
Probably the highlight of the demonstration was exploring the abilities of the new MECs, who have their own divergent skills tree like any other class. There were two MECs in the group, one focused on pure power, with damaging abilities such as the flamethrower and kinetic strike; a powerful close combat attack that knocks smaller aliens like Sectoids flying. The second of the MECs was build more as a support unit, with the ability to destroy enemy cover and to deploy a medical ‘mist’ that heals all nearby troops.
Our short time with XCOM: Enemy Within revealed how a few changes and additions can substantially change a gaming experience. Since our time with the game, further reveals and rumours have cropped up, some confirmed and some to be taken with a pinch of salt. Game balance tweaks, changes to existing skills and the introduction of some new items have been confirmed, while rumours of new mission types and even potential base invasions are circulating. It seems that the final product may have more to offer than the substantial content already revealed. Keep your eyes on this one, as Enemy Within may have a few more surprises in store for us yet.