I play modern games (XCOM: Enemy Unknown)

Oh hey there. I write about video games sometime. Not yesterday. Yesterday I was at a funeral.

Video Games

Borderlands 2 is pretty great. Have I said that before? I must admit, rather guiltily, that I never finished the first one because I got bored of it. That has yet to happen with Borderlands 2, and that probably comes down to tighter pacing and enemies that aren’t totally dumb. You aren’t going to get a full blog about it, but it’s a cool enough game that I will most certainly finish it, since I’m also like 17 hours in… which means I’ve probably played more Borderlands 2 than XCOM. Huh. The humor is super hit and miss for me, with some of it being pretty cringe-inducing. Oddly enough, the use of the term "Bonerfart" was not one of those moments.

I decided against writing a whole blog about the bizarre Russian mod for Heroes of Might and Magic III that just straight up adds another town, mostly because I’m pretty sure that’s all that it adds at the moment (with another two towns on the way at some point in the next decade and maybe some other things), though I’m not quite sure because I can’t read Russian. Thus, if I am going to write anything about it, you can be assured it will also include me talking smack about the other batshit insane Russian mod for Heroes of Might and Magic III (thus proving that Russians are crazy): In the Wake of the Gods. Because man. I would have field day writing about that.

With Icewind Dale II no longer my RPG white whale, I’ve decided that World of Xeen fits that role quite nicely. It is my intent to finish it before the end of the year, but let’s be realistic. Have I ever told you that, much like the rest of Might and Magic, World of Xeen is pretty awesome? Because it is. It’s surprisingly accessible for an RPG of that era and doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with difficulty the same way Wizardry VII does. Other candidates include the unfortunate “I’m still playing and planning on finishing it even though it is clearly not a good game” Might and Magic IX, Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, Legend of Grimrock and The Witcher 2, though a few hours of play probably isn’t enough for it to earn “White Whale” status yet. It certainly gave off a good first impression and I want to play more. That game is probably the most intimidating of all of these though. It's clearly as dense, if not moreso than the first game. Just be assured that Inquisitor is not and will never be on this list. Because eff that game. Yes, I'd rather play Might and Magic IX than a game that is only getting the attention it is from enthusiasts because it exists, and not because it's any good.

EDIT: Oh right. This looks balls crazy. 17 years? What. That's more than Duke Nukem. It also looks way better than Duke Nukem. I am not endorsing throwing money at this project (I haven't and will not, at least for a while), but I am endorsing looking at that insane pitch video.

But enough about that, onto the aliens!

The Aliens

A strong candidate for Game of the Year, despite my qualms

It’s fair to say that I was a pretty vocal advocate of the original XCOM when I played it for the first time two years ago. Since then, I’ve messed with other, similar games (including the “Holy shit this game is hard” stylings of Terror from the Deep, and the “This is actually not very good” stylings of the UFO franchise.) and it remains pretty clear that UFO Defense is the best, despite being an old game with a horrifically inefficient UI and some major balance issues. I think my opinion on it has lessened somewhat in the interim (whereas I can tell you with a straight face that Wizardry 8 is still totally rad and awesome and such). There are certain aspects of it that aren’t so much entertaining as they are tedious or frustrating, though I still probably consider it one of my favorite games of all time (as the near 50 hours I have logged onto steam can attest), just maybe… less so than when I wrote about it at that time. Thus, you can imagine I was decidedly pumped for this new one. And you would be right. Thus, you cannot imagine how I felt when I realized that the game is complete and total garbage. Ha! Just kidding. It’s awesome, as many of you can attest. Thus, to avoid redundant information, I am going to assume that you know most of the details about this game and focus on what I think about all of it. Because I want to. And because you want me to?

I understand why the base is the way it is, and it certainly forces you to make tough choices, but that doesn't mean I think it's better than how the original handled it.

If there is something that needs to be spoken on the outset, it’s that Enemy Unknown does a frighteningly good job of being a lot like the first game, for as much as is different. I am of the opinion that most of these changes were justified, inasmuch as they’re making a game in 2012 is concerned. Class designations are great, as it forces soldiers into individual roles rather than the army of psychic flying heavy-plasma-wielding monsters that the end game of the original eventually turned into. It’s still raw in a way I can get behind, with your soldiers being incredibly vulnerable, especially at the beginning. The controls for mouse and keyboard are fine, though clearly still optimized with a controller as priority. The gameplay still rewards patience, reaction shots still always miss when you don’t want them to and Chrysalids are still total jerks. The base is probably one of the less enthralling changes, though I understand why it was made, even if the result is a less important geoscape and far less UFO shooting down. It’s a different enough game to be its own thing, which is good. Xenonauts, for as cool as it looks, has yet to convince me that it isn’t just taking every single page from the playbook of UFO Defense, though obviously I will find out for myself soon enough.

With that being said, I have no clue where Ryan Davis is coming from when he says on the Bombcast that Normal difficulty is crazy hard (other than the obvious: he’s bad at strategy games). I’d go as far as to say it becomes a bit too easy by the end, even with Elite Mutons, Sectopods and Ethereals messing you up. The final mission in particular is noteworthy for being simultaneously underwhelming and hilariously easy. Keep in mind that I am referencing Normal here. I’ve started messing with Classic, and the jump in difficulty is… significant, to the point where I feel like it actually succeeds in being the sadistic monster the developers claimed it would be. Obviously I will have to play more at some point, but my academic situation is such that I can’t really afford to spend much time with games until I get things sorted out. Wait, why did I spend time writing this again? Oh yeah. Easier than homework. Crap. Theoretically you can also expect a bit less of a presence on the forums from me, for aforementioned reasons.

XCOM is pretty great, and Firaxis is probably the best developer it could have had. For all my praises though, I feel like I burnt out on it playing the way I did (I beat it on Thursday, which is to say that I beat it after about 2 days of not doing much else. ) and classic is intimidating enough that another look will not be for a while. It's a fantastic game, though I would be hard-pressed to say if it is better than the original. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some spreadsheets to spreadsheet!

22 Comments
23 Comments
Posted by ArbitraryWater

Oh hey there. I write about video games sometime. Not yesterday. Yesterday I was at a funeral.

Video Games

Borderlands 2 is pretty great. Have I said that before? I must admit, rather guiltily, that I never finished the first one because I got bored of it. That has yet to happen with Borderlands 2, and that probably comes down to tighter pacing and enemies that aren’t totally dumb. You aren’t going to get a full blog about it, but it’s a cool enough game that I will most certainly finish it, since I’m also like 17 hours in… which means I’ve probably played more Borderlands 2 than XCOM. Huh. The humor is super hit and miss for me, with some of it being pretty cringe-inducing. Oddly enough, the use of the term "Bonerfart" was not one of those moments.

I decided against writing a whole blog about the bizarre Russian mod for Heroes of Might and Magic III that just straight up adds another town, mostly because I’m pretty sure that’s all that it adds at the moment (with another two towns on the way at some point in the next decade and maybe some other things), though I’m not quite sure because I can’t read Russian. Thus, if I am going to write anything about it, you can be assured it will also include me talking smack about the other batshit insane Russian mod for Heroes of Might and Magic III (thus proving that Russians are crazy): In the Wake of the Gods. Because man. I would have field day writing about that.

With Icewind Dale II no longer my RPG white whale, I’ve decided that World of Xeen fits that role quite nicely. It is my intent to finish it before the end of the year, but let’s be realistic. Have I ever told you that, much like the rest of Might and Magic, World of Xeen is pretty awesome? Because it is. It’s surprisingly accessible for an RPG of that era and doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with difficulty the same way Wizardry VII does. Other candidates include the unfortunate “I’m still playing and planning on finishing it even though it is clearly not a good game” Might and Magic IX, Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, Legend of Grimrock and The Witcher 2, though a few hours of play probably isn’t enough for it to earn “White Whale” status yet. It certainly gave off a good first impression and I want to play more. That game is probably the most intimidating of all of these though. It's clearly as dense, if not moreso than the first game. Just be assured that Inquisitor is not and will never be on this list. Because eff that game. Yes, I'd rather play Might and Magic IX than a game that is only getting the attention it is from enthusiasts because it exists, and not because it's any good.

EDIT: Oh right. This looks balls crazy. 17 years? What. That's more than Duke Nukem. It also looks way better than Duke Nukem. I am not endorsing throwing money at this project (I haven't and will not, at least for a while), but I am endorsing looking at that insane pitch video.

But enough about that, onto the aliens!

The Aliens

A strong candidate for Game of the Year, despite my qualms

It’s fair to say that I was a pretty vocal advocate of the original XCOM when I played it for the first time two years ago. Since then, I’ve messed with other, similar games (including the “Holy shit this game is hard” stylings of Terror from the Deep, and the “This is actually not very good” stylings of the UFO franchise.) and it remains pretty clear that UFO Defense is the best, despite being an old game with a horrifically inefficient UI and some major balance issues. I think my opinion on it has lessened somewhat in the interim (whereas I can tell you with a straight face that Wizardry 8 is still totally rad and awesome and such). There are certain aspects of it that aren’t so much entertaining as they are tedious or frustrating, though I still probably consider it one of my favorite games of all time (as the near 50 hours I have logged onto steam can attest), just maybe… less so than when I wrote about it at that time. Thus, you can imagine I was decidedly pumped for this new one. And you would be right. Thus, you cannot imagine how I felt when I realized that the game is complete and total garbage. Ha! Just kidding. It’s awesome, as many of you can attest. Thus, to avoid redundant information, I am going to assume that you know most of the details about this game and focus on what I think about all of it. Because I want to. And because you want me to?

I understand why the base is the way it is, and it certainly forces you to make tough choices, but that doesn't mean I think it's better than how the original handled it.

If there is something that needs to be spoken on the outset, it’s that Enemy Unknown does a frighteningly good job of being a lot like the first game, for as much as is different. I am of the opinion that most of these changes were justified, inasmuch as they’re making a game in 2012 is concerned. Class designations are great, as it forces soldiers into individual roles rather than the army of psychic flying heavy-plasma-wielding monsters that the end game of the original eventually turned into. It’s still raw in a way I can get behind, with your soldiers being incredibly vulnerable, especially at the beginning. The controls for mouse and keyboard are fine, though clearly still optimized with a controller as priority. The gameplay still rewards patience, reaction shots still always miss when you don’t want them to and Chrysalids are still total jerks. The base is probably one of the less enthralling changes, though I understand why it was made, even if the result is a less important geoscape and far less UFO shooting down. It’s a different enough game to be its own thing, which is good. Xenonauts, for as cool as it looks, has yet to convince me that it isn’t just taking every single page from the playbook of UFO Defense, though obviously I will find out for myself soon enough.

With that being said, I have no clue where Ryan Davis is coming from when he says on the Bombcast that Normal difficulty is crazy hard (other than the obvious: he’s bad at strategy games). I’d go as far as to say it becomes a bit too easy by the end, even with Elite Mutons, Sectopods and Ethereals messing you up. The final mission in particular is noteworthy for being simultaneously underwhelming and hilariously easy. Keep in mind that I am referencing Normal here. I’ve started messing with Classic, and the jump in difficulty is… significant, to the point where I feel like it actually succeeds in being the sadistic monster the developers claimed it would be. Obviously I will have to play more at some point, but my academic situation is such that I can’t really afford to spend much time with games until I get things sorted out. Wait, why did I spend time writing this again? Oh yeah. Easier than homework. Crap. Theoretically you can also expect a bit less of a presence on the forums from me, for aforementioned reasons.

XCOM is pretty great, and Firaxis is probably the best developer it could have had. For all my praises though, I feel like I burnt out on it playing the way I did (I beat it on Thursday, which is to say that I beat it after about 2 days of not doing much else. ) and classic is intimidating enough that another look will not be for a while. It's a fantastic game, though I would be hard-pressed to say if it is better than the original. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some spreadsheets to spreadsheet!

Posted by Claude

XCOM is in my future. I can see it. But I'm too busy playing modern games. Always great, always water in the arbitrary.

Posted by Tennmuerti

WoG is where I drew my personal line on HoMM fan shenanigans.

Even tho it seemed very competently put together and super beefy, all the various new units smelled of a fan wet dream gone wild, instead of a measured quality and control of a professional development. Which it's hardly to be faulted for. So I trolled their website some many years ago (back around HoMM4 expansoins came out I think) and left it at that.

Xcom is great, so much so that after finishing it and starting to play Dishonored I still started another game of Xcom this time on classic ironman. Well actually I started about 3 new xcom games :P cause of early fuckups on ironman, and also realised that the tutorial actually helps out with resources a lot at the start (like a free satellite for one)

Online
Posted by Morrow

@ArbitraryWater:

Thanks for the insight :)

I have a question though: Can you play XCOM in an RPG-like fashion? Meaning, if it turns out I should suck at strategy games (:D) can I replay missions to collect exp points and boost my units before attempting the harder missions? Or do I only have one chance to get the most out of a mission and then move on, like in Alpha Protocol?

Posted by Rohok

@Morrow said:

@ArbitraryWater:

Thanks for the insight :)

I have a question though: Can you play XCOM in an RPG-like fashion? Meaning, if it turns out I should suck at strategy games (:D) can I replay missions to collect exp points and boost my units before attempting the harder missions? Or do I only have one chance to get the most out of a mission and then move on, like in Alpha Protocol?

One chance. But there's a lot of missions inbetween story missions. In fact, there's an infinite amount as long as you don't complete the story objects that trigger the next mission. So you can get the most of out as many random missions as you want, provided you keep your countries happy, before progressing to the next part of the story.

Posted by Morrow

@Rohok: Ah, sounds cool. I never played a game like XCOM but most people seem to like it a lot, so I might give it a try. Thanks! :)

Posted by Anund

@Morrow said:

@Rohok: Ah, sounds cool. I never played a game like XCOM but most people seem to like it a lot, so I might give it a try. Thanks! :)

I wouldn't recommend dallying too much before progressing the story though :) Each abduction mission you have to choose one of three locations to "save". The saved location gets reduced panic, but the panic rating of the other two increase so it's a losing game in the end!

Posted by Morrow

@Anund said:

@Morrow said:

@Rohok: Ah, sounds cool. I never played a game like XCOM but most people seem to like it a lot, so I might give it a try. Thanks! :)

I wouldn't recommend dallying too much before progressing the story though :) Each abduction mission you have to choose one of three locations to "save". The saved location gets reduced panic, but the panic rating of the other two increase so it's a losing game in the end!

I see, so of those random missions, you cannot just leave those abduction missions out I guess? Is increased panic really such an issue, even with good units?

Posted by Anund

@Morrow said:

@Anund said:

@Morrow said:

@Rohok: Ah, sounds cool. I never played a game like XCOM but most people seem to like it a lot, so I might give it a try. Thanks! :)

I wouldn't recommend dallying too much before progressing the story though :) Each abduction mission you have to choose one of three locations to "save". The saved location gets reduced panic, but the panic rating of the other two increase so it's a losing game in the end!

I see, so of those random missions, you cannot just leave those abduction missions out I guess? Is increased panic really such an issue, even with good units?

If you don't do a mission it basically counts as a "fail", so you get increased panic in all locations :) Panic... I guess it depends on the difficulty settings. In my "Normal" difficulty game I didn't have a terribly hard time maintaining global panic, but experiences will vary. You need to maintain panic to prevent countries from withdrawing from the XCOM project, which reduces your funding.

Posted by Morrow

@Anund said:

@Morrow said:

@Anund said:

@Morrow said:

@Rohok: Ah, sounds cool. I never played a game like XCOM but most people seem to like it a lot, so I might give it a try. Thanks! :)

I wouldn't recommend dallying too much before progressing the story though :) Each abduction mission you have to choose one of three locations to "save". The saved location gets reduced panic, but the panic rating of the other two increase so it's a losing game in the end!

I see, so of those random missions, you cannot just leave those abduction missions out I guess? Is increased panic really such an issue, even with good units?

If you don't do a mission it basically counts as a "fail", so you get increased panic in all locations :) Panic... I guess it depends on the difficulty settings. In my "Normal" difficulty game I didn't have a terribly hard time maintaining global panic, but experiences will vary. You need to maintain panic to prevent countries from withdrawing from the XCOM project, which reduces your funding.

Wait... so panic is acually a good thing? I thought when your soldiers panic they die more easily? o.O I guess I haven't read enough about this game ^^;

Edited by Anund

@Morrow said:

@Anund said:

@Morrow said:

@Anund said:

@Morrow said:

@Rohok: Ah, sounds cool. I never played a game like XCOM but most people seem to like it a lot, so I might give it a try. Thanks! :)

I wouldn't recommend dallying too much before progressing the story though :) Each abduction mission you have to choose one of three locations to "save". The saved location gets reduced panic, but the panic rating of the other two increase so it's a losing game in the end!

I see, so of those random missions, you cannot just leave those abduction missions out I guess? Is increased panic really such an issue, even with good units?

If you don't do a mission it basically counts as a "fail", so you get increased panic in all locations :) Panic... I guess it depends on the difficulty settings. In my "Normal" difficulty game I didn't have a terribly hard time maintaining global panic, but experiences will vary. You need to maintain panic to prevent countries from withdrawing from the XCOM project, which reduces your funding.

Wait... so panic is acually a good thing? I thought when your soldiers panic they die more easily? o.O I guess I haven't read enough about this game ^^;

Oh wow, communication fail on my part :) No, panic sucks, hehe. The countries who are funding the XCOM project have a panic level which gradually increases. You need to keep this panic rating as low as possible by launching satellites and completing missions in their territory. If the panic levels get out of control in a nation they will withdraw from the XCOM project and take their funding with them which means less money for you to spend on equipment, your base and your recruits.

Aside from this, your soldiers morale can fail which will cause you to lose control over them and they will behave irratically. Often they will fire at the enemy (at much reduced accuracy), hunker down in cover or, at worst, shoot at their own squadmates. So this is a bad thing too. It usually happens if a squadmate gets killed close by and is more likely to have an effect or rookies.

Edited by Morrow

@Anund:

Oh, I got it all wrong, lol :D Well thanks a lot for the detailed explanation. I think I'll give this game a try as an inbetweeny :)

Posted by Anund

@Morrow: Do it. It's amazing. Made me late for work two days last week, hehe.

Posted by endaround

Just to be clear the abduction missions reduce panic in one country and increase it on two continents, so between 5 and 12 countries depending on the continents involved.

Posted by Anund

@endaround said:

Just to be clear the abduction missions reduce panic in one country and increase it on two continents, so between 5 and 12 countries depending on the continents involved.

Oh yeah, true that :)

Posted by Shirogane

Heh, classic difficulty the sadistic monster? You sure they weren't talking about impossible, where even the first mission you're practically guaranteed to fail.

Posted by Nekroskop

X-com is easy. Ryan is just a scrub.

Posted by GetEveryone

@ahaisthisourchance said:

X-com is easy. Ryan is just a scrub.

Is your avatar Baroness? Well, the cover art for the Red Album?

Sick, if so. Never seen much recognition for them, so seems fairly crazy seeing it here.

OT: XCOM is great. The multiplayer kicks ass, but really needs more maps.

Posted by Nekroskop

@GetEveryone:

It's not from a Baroness album, it is however the same artist and the singer of Baroness(Baizley) doing the coverart for a Norwegian band called Kvelertak.

Posted by Ravenlight

@ArbitraryWater said:

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some spreadsheets to spreadsheet!

Where can I sign up for your newsletter?

Posted by Forderz

@ArbitraryWater: I think I made the correct decision in playing it on Classic from the start. Cyberdisks are terrifying if my sole Heavy is out of range. Those things are monsters.

That said, the game follows the formula of the first to a T. You start off with absolutely garbage, but once you hit that first base and get psionics, the game gets pretty breezy. That's not a bash against it, just an observation.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Claude: That was pretty profound. What are you playing nowadays?

@Tennmuerti: WOG is basically the equivalent of a ROM hack doing things to Heroes III that shouldn't have been done, Street Fighter II Rainbow Edition style. Whereas the Heroes IV mod Equilibris makes the base game better by making the AI less stupid and tweaking the balance, WOG is an overstuffed grab bag of scripts that barely work together and several extra unnecessary layers of gameplay on top of that. It's also kind of hilarious. And yeah, I've already messed up on my Classic Ironman game, which is part of the reason why I am taking a break from XCOM for a bit.

@Shirogane: The way Jake Solomon talked about Impossible suggests they just made everything balls hard and set the QA guys on it to make sure it was possible to win. Whereas I know I can do alright in classic, except for the part where I'm not.

@Ravenlight: You can sign up for my newsletter at Giant Bomb dot Com! AOL Keyword "China Don't Care"!

That's probably something I should have been a bit more clear about, because I agree with you entirely. The game doesn't get breezy the way I feel the original XCOM does (mostly because Psionics and Blaster Bombs are really good and really broken), but it certainly does get easier as the game goes on. Where I was on my classic ironman playthrough (that I will probably restart, already) I was getting wrecked by Thin Men, who are basically jokes later on, even when they throw like 20 of them at you.

Posted by Claude
@ArbitraryWater: In the middle of Dishonored and the Walking Dead right now. Both very cool games in their own way. Played Mark of the Ninja, but haven't finished it yet. Same goes for Dust: An Elysian Tail.