XCOM: Enemy Within

XCOM: Enemy Within is an expansion to last year’s excellent XCOM: Enemy Unknown, bringing the usual bevy of features one associates with a competent expansion. There are new story beats, new units, new technology, new maps, new resources, new weapons, and on and on. In fact, the thing that strikes me as interesting about this expansion is how, for as many new things Firaxis has thrown into the mix, Enemy Within still feels almost exactly like Enemy Unknown.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Enemy Unknown is an outstanding game, and at times the concern seems well founded that the new tools and toys of the expansion might unbalance the expertly crafted game. Early on as I began to gain access to the new whizz-bangery of Enemy Within, I genuinely worried whether those toys might outpace the natural curve of the game. Fortunately, my impression didn't match my concern, or at least no more or less so than I got with the original game.

Enemy Within feels fundamentally like a classic Firaxis expansion. In Civilization, Firaxis' signature franchise, the developer has always done an admirable job of walking a fine line between bringing enough new mechanics to make their expansions like Beyond the Sword and Brave New World feel like solid evolutions, if not genuinely new experiences, without losing the soul of what made the game great in the first place. Firaxis pulls off that same light touch here, creating an expansion that justifies itself consistently as worthy of your dollars and time without ever sacrificing the core soul of the game.

However it is worth noting that Enemy Within can burn slowly. It doesn’t really announce itself in the way that a lot of other expansions do, by immediately unleashing its arsenal of features at you. To understand Enemy Within you have to think of XCOM more like you would a game of Civilization than a narrative-driven game.

In a Civ game, the expansion simply asks you to restart a new game, and then exposes you to the new concepts as they become relevant to the structure of the otherwise familiar game. Enemy Within does the same. It puts you right back at the beginning of the original game, follows the same general path of progression, and just delivers the new story beats as they become appropriate. To be honest, it was a full fifteen minutes or so after starting into the expansion that I was confident I had not just accidentally started a new non-expansion game.

However, as the new features and elements become more pronounced, the game increasingly deviates from its original experience. You are quickly exposed to the new resource of MELD, which drives your ability to research the key new areas of squad development in genetic enhancement and MECs, which are a kind of powerful exoskeleton you can equip your soldiers into. Fortunately, you can dive into these technologies very early in the game, permanently enhancing the skills, stats and abilities of your squad with everything from grenade launchers and flamethrowers in MECs to automatic healing and better vision with genetic manipulation.

In addition to scientific breakthroughs that allow you to craft the perfect alien-fighting super-soldier, the expansion also delivers a new mechanic that allows you to award medals to your team members, each medal conferring a certain stat boost. It’s just another cool way that you can specialize your sniper into an aim-boosted killing machine, and your shotgun-crazy assault guy into an effective bullet/laser sponge.

The game also delivers new story elements, including more council-driven missions that introduce unique mission goals beyond simply landing in the woods and shooting aliens. For example, one mission asks you to set an elaborate trap for an incoming alien battleship. Another sees you calling in an airstrike and running for the extraction points as waves of aliens spawn and close on your position.

Along with an expansive library of new maps upon which to fight the alien menace, what this expansion delivers in spades is diversity. The occasional drudgery and familiarity of the Enemy Unknown experience — where more than once I wondered what the alien’s obsessive fascination over this one gas station was — is dramatically less here, though not entirely absent.

As you move through the game, you also come face-to-face with a new threat that gives the expansion its name, a mysterious counter-organization working in opposition to XCOM and known as EXALT. The rogue enemy is an occasionally interesting diversion, and allows for even more diversity in both the enemies you face and the kinds of missions you send your teams to accomplish, but somehow these encounters tended to feel more like distractions than engaging firefights to me. It is where the expansion seems to run the furthest afield, and where I more than once wished I could just go back to shooting down alien spaceships and firing lasers at Sectoids.

Overall, the easiest thing to say about Enemy Within is that if you’ve had any inkling to go back and replay Enemy Unknown and you’ve just been waiting for a good excuse to make it a priority, then this is your chance. While I did encounter a few game-crashing bugs, overall the actual experience of playing synthesizes smoothly and effectively into the familiar game. Enemy Within reminded me what an excellent game Firaxis had made in their XCOM reboot, and a trip back into the role of the Commander was a welcome diversion.

Comments

XCOM: Enemy Within is a standalone expansion

According to both Steam and GamersGate, it requires Enemy Unknown. Maybe just the console versions are stand-alone?

What I really like about MELD is that it pushes you to move through the map more quickly to find the canisters before they blow up. Where the original XCOM is a pretty methodical experience for me, Enemy Within forced me to constantly balance between protecting my super valuable units and pushing up to get resources. Really adds a freshness to some of the old maps that pop up.

MeatMan wrote:
XCOM: Enemy Within is a standalone expansion

According to both Steam and GamersGate, it requires Enemy Unknown. Maybe just the console versions are stand-alone?

Correct! Technically the new console release comes with both games, so it's standalone rather than something you download. PC requires the original version for sure. I've updated the article.

I've updated the article.

Don't you touch my precious words!

Though, yeah that is correct.

Yeah, on PC it's DLC, but on consoles it's sold stand-alone because it is too big to fit under PS3/Xbox360's DLC download limits.

EDIT: Certis/Elysium-hausered!

Something that was not mentioned in this article that I'm most curious about for EW is the new Save Scum feature. Did you use it, and if so, does is work as advertised?

The reason I'm interested in this feature is because I didn't finish EU due to the frustration from so many misses by my guys on shots of 80% or higher, and so many hits from enemies on shots of 20%. If Save Scum truly resets the RNG seed, I may eventually get EW and revisit XCOM.

Something that was not mentioned in this article that I'm most curious about for EW is the new Save Scum feature. Did you use it, and if so, does is work as advertised?

I didn't try this. Good or bad, I took my turns as they came, so there was no reloading for me.

That said, I didn't experience frustration with misses on high percentage shots. But, I didn't feel that in EU either.

Anyone else have today off and pray that they opened the game up to preorderers (it's a word now) early?

I bought Enemy Unknown on the 360 when it was launched - it got put on the backburner about half finished. I then downloaded it when it was part of the PS+ free game and was able to work my way through the whole game and really loved it. So I'm looking forward to this... but I just ordered a new gaming rig and want to move my gaming to the PC... and lo and behold to pick this up on the PC it's going to set me back nearly $80! C'mon Firaxis - this has to be a mistake and you just forgot to mention that Enemy Unknown is included in the expansion... or something...? Kind of crazy and it just sets a barrier to PC gamers that want to jump on the bandwagon with the new DLC, they're basically telling people to buy it on the console or to wait for a future Steam sale. What am I missing here - why charge $80 for a PC version and $40 for the console version...?

I wouldn't be surprised to see that XCOM: EU gets a price drop/sale soon. Unless you really want to play it right now, I'd hold off and see if its part of this weekend's sale, or the upcoming Thanksgiving/Winter sales.

Grazen,

New Egg has the base game for $13.59 right now and Green Man Gaming has the expansion for $20.25 (just enter GMG25-C5729-7SY25 as a coupon code) if you are looking to purchase asap. But yeah, you will probably be able to get both a little cheaper during the upcoming Steam sales.

EU has been on sale constantly for as little as $10 and has also been given away as a preorder bonus for other things multiple times. It's super easy to get cheap. Now that the expansion is out... guaranteed in the next steam sale for like $7.

I had a spare key but gave it to someone in the game thread already.

Hang on a sec... I'm looking at Steam and it says Enemy Within is Windows only. But there's XCOM: Enemy Unknown sitting in my OS X game library. What are they changing that would require extra development for the Mac?

I'm quite excited for this, maybe even more so than I was for Brave New World, and that's saying something.

I'm interested to see how the hunt for MELD tempts me out of my usual, cautious, Overwatch-heavy style of play (which got me through a Classic Ironman run, but I would be a very annoying MP opponent).

Thin_J wrote:
EU has been on sale constantly for as little as $10 and has also been given away as a preorder bonus for other things multiple times. It's super easy to get cheap. Now that the expansion is out... guaranteed in the next steam sale for like $7.

I had a spare key but gave it to someone in the game thread already.

Sure, Paradox loves putting their games on sale.

Pursuing MELD definitely requires you take a few additional risks. They are only available for so many turns, but they have tech payoffs that make it worth risking injury in the hopes of getting enough to get that next MEC or genetic upgrade.

Vargen wrote:
Hang on a sec... I'm looking at Steam and it says Enemy Within is Windows only. But there's XCOM: Enemy Unknown sitting in my OS X game library. What are they changing that would require extra development for the Mac?

I think that Firaxis typically launches on the PC and then ports it over using a different developer don't they... isn't that the way it works for Civilization? In any case good catch - I typically play on both PC and Mac depending on which machine I'm on at the time and it would be nice to get this on both platforms.

Elysium wrote:
Pursuing MELD definitely requires you take a few additional risks. They are only available for so many turns, but they have tech payoffs that make it worth risking injury in the hopes of getting enough to get that next MEC or genetic upgrade.

I look forward to my impending squad wipes with clenched teeth.

The other question is: what naming convention to go with for my troops? I've already done friends & family, AFL players, musicians.

Felix Threepaper wrote:

The other question is: what naming convention to go with for my troops? I've already done friends & family, AFL players, musicians.

I only re-named troops the first game, and it was problematic. I went with friends and loved ones.

1: Firstly, I made the mistake of naming one solider after my girlfriend. This, of course, led to guilt-induced rage-quits whenever she got wasted by errant plasma fire. Simply couldn't let her die.

2: Secondly, the wife got every so slightly butthurt that she didn't make it into my squad, whereas the girlfriend did. The obvious reason is that I'd already named a soldier after myself, and the wife, of course, shares the same name as me, and having two soldiers with the same name would be confusing.

Since that first run, I've just accepted the stock names. It's less hassle, and leads to your soldiers ultimately being more disposable. Because it's XCOM, so folk die. Disposability is an asset.

Jonman wrote:

Since that first run, I've just accepted the stock names. It's less hassle, and leads to your soldiers ultimately being more disposable. Because it's XCOM, so folk die. Disposability is an asset.

But I used to have great fun messaging my friends when they died, with descriptions of their heroic (or careless) deeds!

My solution to the loved-one death issue was just to make a junior version if version 1 got croaked. I think I went into the last mission with a Wife XI.

Strangely, I never named a squaddie after myself.

I would feel so bad when Cpt She-Ra didn't make it back home to Sgt He-Man

Not falling for that one, Mr Smythe

[quote=Jonman]

Felix Threepaper wrote:

1: Firstly, I made the mistake of naming one solider after my girlfriend. This, of course, led to guilt-induced rage-quits whenever she got wasted by errant plasma fire. Simply couldn't let her die.

2: Secondly, the wife got every so slightly butthurt that she didn't make it into my squad, whereas the girlfriend did.

[quote=Jonman]

If you're juggling a wife and a girlfriend, mate, you've got more troubles than just what you name them in X-Com ;).

Seriously, though, I've been dying for this expansion to come out. I'm glad to hear that it's got the Sean stamp of approval. Can't wait to play it.

Oh, you must be new here

Options:

Name them all after yourself.

Name them all after NFL players. You know, like real football players—with a running game and defense.

'80s cartoon characters.

MTV VJs of the 90s.

Felix Threepaper wrote:
Not falling for that one, Mr Smythe
Honestly, when I see "AFL," I think "American Football League," the flashy runt of a football league that eventually joined the big kids in the NFL.

Second thing I think of is the AFL-CIO.

I always use the names of the marines in Aliens for my squads. I have a particular soft spot for Wierzbowski, as that was my very first online handle way back in my college days playing Quake on the LAN.

Have they added Triarii yet?

Sorry, still waiting for a turn of Rome 2: Total War to finish.

Vargen wrote:
Hang on a sec... I'm looking at Steam and it says Enemy Within is Windows only. But there's XCOM: Enemy Unknown sitting in my OS X game library. What are they changing that would require extra development for the Mac?

The Mac port was outsourced and sucks (much like every other Firaxis Mac port, which are all outsourced and all suck). I'd be a little surprised to see EW ever come out for it. And normally I'd be annoyed that I have to boot up my desktop to play a game, but oh my god it's so awesome glee glee glee.

wordsmythe wrote:
Felix Threepaper wrote:
Not falling for that one, Mr Smythe
Honestly, when I see "AFL," I think "American Football League," the flashy runt of a football league that eventually joined the big kids in the NFL.

Second thing I think of is the AFL-CIO.

So I don't have to defend the honour of the Greatest Bloody Game in the World* (Crack a Tube)? Phew.

I was going to go super niche and run with Russian generals executed in the purge of 1941, but I like 80s cartoon characters better. Keeps it breezy.

*Australia