First before starting I should note a disdain for turn based combat games such as the Men of War series and Omerta City of Gangsters.
I find these games to be silly, a waste of time, and too over complicated for anyone to ever understand what it is exactly you’re supposed to do. Despite this these games have millions of fans around the world… something I’ll never understand.
So when XCOM Enemy Unknown was released I wasn’t all that excited. After all this is the B-release for the XCOM series. The actual AAA title was going to be a first person shooter which is still not out. This was supposed to be the thing they released as a warm up. People actually demanded for this game upset that XCOM was becoming a shooter franchise and Firaxis made this game (rather hastily).
So when it released and everyone was like ZOMG XCOM ENEMY UNKNOWN IZ SOOOO GOOOOD…. I just didn’t care.
I honestly did not want to believe anyone. People always tell me that Men of War games are really good and I play them and they end up being so complicated and poorly explained that I just quit them before I can get “deep” into the gameplay.
So I waited for it to go on sale and then I bought it.
And then I didn’t play it for six months.
Really, I don’t even know why I bought it. It’s not a game I was excited about and it just wasn’t a priority in my life.
So I’m on a cross Canada vacation with no access to the Internet and I decide HAY NOW IZ THA TIME!!!
So I do.
I plop this game in and see what happens.
So I load it up and I find a heavily scripted Men of War type game. Wait… heavily scripted? Dear God, someone figured it out. One of the biggest weaknesses of this genre is that it’s just so bloody hard to figure them out. This one actually lays it out very easily.
I followed through the heavily scripted opening when I completely screwed up and was losing very slowly. Instead of reaching a defeat screen I thought I’d do the painful thing, restart.
To my surprise the tutorial was gone. It just threw you right in there knowing full well you completed some or all tutorial information. I was honestly kind of impressed.
So as I’m playing through my second attempt at it I get to the Alien Command and lose every single one of my highly vetted units without completing the mission. I begin to swear and realize I didn’t save….. for a long time.
So I start the game up a third time and this time I’m saving more often than not. When I get to the ship I’m saving almost every single turn.
By this point I realize that I have spent 20 hours playing this game and I’m not likely to stop.
By God, Firaxis has done it again. They did it with Civilization and they’ve done it with XCOM: Enemy Unknown… they’ve made a game I can’t put down.
Just like Civilization it’s not exactly the addiction factor. Yes there is the “Just one more term” syndrome going on there, but it’s also an enjoyable game to play in which you care for the survival and growth of your people.
The first step to make you care is by having your squads have ranks and levels. This means your perfect squad (composing at least one support, one assault, one sniper, and one heavy) it is important to maintain at least one of each type throughout the game. When you lose all of your supports, or assaults, or snipers, or heavies it becomes absolutely brutal to finish anything. To this extent you really care strategically about keeping them alive in every mission as death is perma death.
This can be compared to Omerta City of Gangsters in which after your gangster dies he is either arrested or goes to a hospital and gets better.
Each hero evolves throughout the campaign in a very meaningful way. Trees are bi-laterally designed so that you choose one thing or another. Science and research is very important in the game and you have to carefully balance progressing your forces with progressing the storyline.
To make this have a larger meta story you have to balance off relations with nations. It is disastrous to the long term to lose a group of countries and immediately you feel the consequences.
There’s also this kind of on going battle between funding your science and getting those advanced techs and funding your engineering and being able to build them.
I was insanely surprised by just how good this game was. It was definitely a game that beyond the post launch hype… was better than the hype.