XCOM: Enemy Within
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
Genre: Turn Based Strategy
Release Date: 11/12/2013
In case you didn’t know, Enemy Within is the expansion to the best game of 2012. As such, it might behoove you read Mark’s review of Enemy Unknown before reading further. If you’re all caught up on how this all works, feel free to read on, as this review will cover only the new stuff. Granted, there is a LOT of new stuff to talk about here, and I’ll also mention the differences between the PC and console versions. That’s right. I’m so nuts over the series that I’ve bought and played it on multiple systems. I love me some XCOM.
So right away, it’s important to note the biggest difference between the two versions of Enemy Within. On PC, EW is an expansion. As such, you must have EU installed on your computer in order to play it. You’ll have the option of playing EW or EU when you boot up the game, so you don’t have to worry about losing your save file or not being able to play the original game without the new content. On consoles, the only way to get EW is to buy a new copy of the. This comes at a forty dollar price tag (ten dollars more than the PC expansion), but the console version includes the DLC from EU as well. Basically, you’re paying ten bucks for EU and it’s DLC. That’s not a bad deal by any stretch.
Either way you go though, you’re in for one hell of a good ride.
There’s actually a decent amount of new story content to work though. While the core story arc of Enemy Unknown remains unchanged, there are some new kinks wrinkles to distract you as you make your way through the game. For starters, there’s meld. Meld is a new miracle substance that allows for all kinds of shenanigans involving biological and/or mechanical structures. Basically, you can use it to genetically modify your troops or augment them to be able to pilot MECs. Either way, you’ll need to find more meld in the field in order to finance these upgrades.
Also new into the fray is a human group known as EXALT. They’ve decided to do all they can to sabotage XCOM’s efforts so that they can basically take over the world using alien technology. You can ignore them, but they’ll constantly pilfer your cash, slow down your research, and raise panic in your countries until you deal with them. In order to do that, you’ll need to send one of your troops on covert missions and then extract said trooper later on in order to get information. That information will help you locate EXALT’s main base, and end them once and for all. If nothing else, fighting humans with similar strategies to your own is a nice change of pace from the aliens.
If that weren’t enough, there’s also Operation Progeny to consider. This arc was originally meant to be released as DLC for EU, but has been re-purposed to fit with EW. The basic outline is that both EXALT and the aliens are after a woman named Annette. While you’re not sure what they want with her, it becomes obvious that rescuing her would put a major dent in both of those organization’s plans. All but the first of these missions come in the latter half of the game, so they won’t interfere with your early strategy one bit. Completing the last one will even grant you some bonus soldiers to replenish your ranks. The ultimate prize is that you’ll get four soldiers guaranteed to be able to use psionic abilities. That’s huge.
As for the presentation, there have been upgrades there as well. To go with the new content, there are a host of new cut-scenes, radio chatter, and even some new songs to bolster to already impressive package. It’s still not a visual powerhouse by any means, but the look is solid throughout. New maps add a greater sense of diversity to missions, such that you’ll battle on farms, building tops, and even a dam. It’s definitely an upgrade.
Let’s talk more about meld. Meld can be found on abduction and/or UFO mission. There will be two meld canisters on the battlefield. All you have to do is find them and collect the substance. However, the canisters on a countdown. The meld will be lost if you don’t collect it time. In addition, you can’t simply forget about the aliens on the map either. Thus you’ll have to make a big decision each mission. Do you risk your soldiers in order to get the meld, or do you play it safe and risk losing the precious substance? I can assure the rewards are great if you can get them. This adds a fun new layer of strategy to these missions.
Once you’ve researched meld, you can start playing around with it. From early on in the game, you can build MECs and add gene-mods to your troops. MECs are powerhouses that can give as much damage as they dish out. The costs are prohibitive though. First, you’ll need to augment a soldier. This causes a soldier to lose their class and all associated abilities. If they had gene-mods, they lose them. However, the soldier does keep his/her rank. Then, you need to actually build the MEC, which costs money and meld as well. The suit can be worn like armor. It isn’t tied to a specific soldier. While a trooper will learn new abilities by leveling up, the suit can only be upgraded by spending resources after appropriate research has been done. Still, MECs are tough. Properly upgraded, a MEC can take multiple shots from the toughest of enemies without a hitch. They can use an ability that allows them to demolish cover, which comes in handy a lot throughout the game. Each new upgrade allows you to chose between two different attachments. For example, when you first build a MEC, you’ll have to choose between a melee attack and a flamethrower attack. The flamethrower can hit multiple targets at medium range, but it only affects organic targets. The kinetic strike can only be done up close, but a MEC with this upgrade can move further each turn. On top of that, the strike does incredible damage that will instantly kill most enemies in the game. At the next level, you’ll have to choose between being able to launch grenades at long distances or the ability to generate a AoE healing mist. It’s a tough choice to be sure.
Gene-mods are significantly less expensive than MECs, but still offer major tactical bonuses. For example, giving a soldier the adaptive bone marrow ability allows them to leap up onto high surfaces without the use of ladders or special suits. A sniper can use this to gain height advantage and ensure a good hit. Another ability allows a player to boost the stats of all near allies whenever he/she gets a kill The crème de la crème is mimetic skin. A soldier with mimetic skin can actually cloak themselves to a degree. As long as they’re not in sight of an enemy, they can remain invisible my moving into high cover. Used properly, you can scout the entire level with just one person. This will help you time your attacks, scout out patrolling patterns, find meld, and flank enemies. I’ve used it on my support, had said support scout ahead, and then used a squad sight sniper to take out enemies before they even knew I was there. It’s insanely helpful.
The kicker is that the new upgrades can almost make you feel too powerful. It’s easy to forget that your MEC trooper can still die, or that your gene-mods will be lost if an enemy manages a lucky critical at the wrong time. While your troops will be stronger, than ever, it is now even more painful to lose them. And rest assured, the aliens are still more than capable of taking your troops down.
The aliens get two new allies as well. First up are seekers. Seekers are mechanical units that can cloak themselves in order to sneak up on troops that have separated from the pack. Then they’ll gladly strangle one of your soldiers. If you can’t free the soldier during one turn, they’re toast. These guys show up in the early stages of the game, but aren’t really too hard to deal with once you get used to their tactics. More imposing are the new mechtoids. A mechtoid is basically a sectoid in his own cyber-suit, and is capable of ruining your day. If they don’t move, they can take two shots per turn. Sectoids can still merge minds with them in order to give them a powerful shield. In this case, killing the initiator of the merge doesn’t killed the mechtoid, but does damage them slightly. The good news is that you’ll receive meld for every mechtoid you kill, which is a definite plus.
As for those EXALT missions, they bring something new to the table. When you send an operative out on a covert mission, they go alone, with only a pistol to protect them. After a few days, you’ll need to go out on an extraction mission. If you don’t, you lose the operative. However, you can still take out a full crew on these missions, meaning you’ll actually control up to seven soldiers for one mission. You’ll have one of two different goals in these extraction missions. Either you’ll be protecting computer equipment from being hacked, or you’ll need to take your operative around the map in order to hack communications array.
While EXALT might not have the sheer firepower of the aliens, they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Like your troops, they have different classes that act in different roles. This includes a medic who’ll gladly heal up injured allies, and a heavy that will ruin your day with rockets if you get too bunched up. EXALT will also start using gene-mods later on, and they will attempt to overwhelm you with sheer numbers. Just when you think you’ve tipped the numbers in your favor, they’ll deploy more troops around the map.
However, you’re far from defenseless. Since you can’t use EXALT corpses for study, there’s little to no penalty for just going all out with explosives. Also, your operative can hack various arrays around the map, which will force each enemy to reload on their next turn. That basically gives you an extra round to take them out, and you’ll be able to play a little more recklessly. It’s perfectly fine to run out of cover when you know there isn’t going to be any reprisal.
In the end, Enemy Within is a fantastic expansion that adds enough content to essentially double the length of the game. This new content starts pouring in on the very first mission, and all of it either offers new tactical considerations or even just new way to customize your troops. The new missions will keep things fresh and never leave you long without some sort of mission. The game is bigger, smarter, and even more fun than the original, while losing none of the challenge that made it so enthralling in the first place.
Short Attention Span Summary
XCOM: Enemy Within is a fantastic game from top to bottom. New missions, soldiers, maps, enemies, and options expand the game in a number of interesting ways. There’s more variety, more options for creating your squad, and simply a heck of a lot more content to work through. If an expansion is capable of winning game of the year, I’d say this one wins it hand down. If you’ve played EU (and you should), you’ll definitely want to play this. If you’ve somehow missed that game, then make it your cause to not make the same mistake with this one.