X-Com 2: The Dark Souls of Strategy GamesFeb 8, 2016 · peterb · 4 minute read
This weekend I dove into many engrossing and painful hours with X-Com 2, the sequel to the reboot of the venerable turn-based strategy game.
This game does not pussyfoot around. It is hard.
There’s a lot that one could say about the game and how it differs from its predecessor, but I’m going to stick to the big picture. The tactical game is massively improved from the first outing, adding more options and complications for both your soldiers and the enemies. They managed to do this in a way that makes it still feel sensible and authentic. The tactical game feels like it gives you options. The strategic game, on the other hand, is complicated in a way that feels like instead of giving you options, it gives you obligations. This is further compounded by some terrible UI in the strategic game; there’s a lot of clicking to accomplish very little. For me, this is a miss.
I have three separate games running at the same time now, and I’m in various states of slowly-succumbing-to-the-alien-hordes on each of them. Every time I think I’ve seen everything the game has to offer, it throws some new evil at my face and encourages it to chew on it for a little while.
My biggest problem with the strategic game (apart from the UI, which is in places embarassingly bad) is that it’s largely interrupt driven. How many interrupts? More than you can possibly imagine.
OK guys, here’s the plan. We’re going to make contact with the resistance in this region. Ngome, you search the eastern sector. Valdez, you’re on comms - monitor all radio chatter, look for anything that looks like a pattern. Sabelli, you’re second shift C&C, this is our most important operation so don’t get distracted by
COMMANDER, WE’VE DISCOVERED A CACHE OF SUPPLIES IN MEXICO WOULD YOU LIKE TO INVESTIGATE OR IGNORE THEM?
OK, we’ll pick this up later. Now that we’ve arrived in Mexico, it’s critical that we collect these supplies, which are essential to our remaining sharp so that we can continue to take the fight to the invaders. Jefferson, you start searching the old factory, Anderson, set up a picket and start watching for incursions, Guttmansdottir, I need you to
COMMANDER THESE PEACEFUL PEOPLE WHO WERE JUST HANGING OUT WASHING THEIR CLOTHES HAVE BEEN ATTACKED WE HAVE TO HELP THEM
For fuck’s sake.
OK, Sabelli, you lead Bravo team to evac these civvies. Jefferson will run clean and sweep through the compound. Run this by the num
COMMANDER THE LADY WHO WAS WASHING CLOTHES JUST ATE SABELLI’S FACE.
I feel like I respect what they were going for, which I believe is the Dwarf Fortress “losing is fun!” vibe. But the strategic game has a few problems. The three things that jump out at me are:
(1) Because of the way the difficulty ramps, I think that the losing-is-fun restarts fail a bit because the very early parts of the game are gonna play out samey-same. The divergences from weird mission types only start coming online a bit later, in my experience. Not sure how i would fix this but I’m thinking something like a “quick start” restart - e.g., “In the game you just lost, the highest rank you had was lieutenant, so we’re starting the game with you having a lieutenant, 2 sergeants, and 3 squaddies, and the difficulty is higher out of the gate. OK GO.”
(2) Building out your base is too much of a slog. Everything takes too long, especially excavation, even with multiple engineers. I respect/accept the idea that I have to choose between multiple useful things and I can’t have everything, but at least in my games the big problem is that I’m going for long stretches without being able to build anything useful at all, and that doesn’t feel like fun to me.
(3) Somewhere in an early design meeting the idea clearly jelled that having constant interrupts all the time while scanning was going to introduce tension and drama into the game. For me personally, I just find it irritating. Surely I can’t be the only person who feels that way.
On the other hand, I have absolutely no complaints about the changes to the tactical game. I feel like they stuck that landing like Nadia Comăneci.
In all seriousness, the strategic game is a bad enough experience for me that I almost wish there was a main menu button that was basically “Generate some random soldiers with random skills and start a random tactical scenario with no strategic game THANKS.”
So after a long weekend with the game, that’s where I am: possibly one of the best games I’m likely to play this year, yet also suffering from a number of frustrating flaws, some of which are purely due to the UI. Wild horses could not drag me away from this game. But I also have the profound sense that there is work still to be done to make it what it should be.
It’s a conundrum.