I recently returned to my underground command centre somewhere beneath the Himalayas, and once again took control of the XCOM project – a global initiative activated in times of alien invasion, with one goal: preserve the survival of the human race, by any means necessary.
Like my need to read The Lord of the Rings at least once a year, and sit through all three Star Wars movies (what, there’s six? No, there isn’t…), I return time and time again to play XCOM: Enemy Unknown on my gaming PC, sinking hours into a two-year-old title just because it kicks so much ass. However, this time – and for the first time – I didn’t finish the game. I’d grown bored of watching my sniper miss that 99% hit-ratio shot, or that alien berserker pull off a completely improbable, long-range headshot through a window from half a mile away.
I’d had enough of the game.
Once my surprised passed – I’ve loved this game since 2012 – that got me thinking. What’s next for XCOM? Will the developers look backwards to move the series forwards? Or are we doomed to suffer a series of cheap, badly-implimented side-story shooters forevermore (The Bureau, I’m looking at you…). Although no sequel to Enemy Unknown has been announced, one can only hope the owners of such a trend-setting series will have something in the pipeline before too long.
So, here’s four key things I’d like to see make it into the next true XCOM game. Spoiler alert.
Previous games in the series had a scope far beyond the single operating base of 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Although I personally never played 1993’s X-COM: UFO Defense, I know that the action was spread across the globe, and XCOM operated from a number of different bases.
Over time, the organisation branched out into space, reverse-engineering alien technology to create space-based weapons, and even starfighters to take on the alien menace. You weren’t just fighting from one corner of the globe, putting out fires one at a time – you had to think globally, moving resources around from pillar to post, fighting the foe on all fronts. I’d like to see this dynamic return to the fore.
Perhaps the player could have a base on every major continent, and hundreds of trained, battle-hardened soldiers to command. Every combat operation could be directly controlled by the player, or you could set your equipment options, and let the computer battle it out for you, with only a percentage meter telling you the odd of success – much like the Total War series. This means you could fight every battle yourself, or only those you choose to, allowing the gamer to play XCOM more like a strategy game, with the world at stake.
While 2012’s Enemy Unknown thrived on the feeling of being a small, elite team facing the enemy largely in secret, I always felt that there was more to see and do – f the aliens had turned up in more superior numbers, XCOM would have been destroyed entirely. Of course, the ending of Enemy Unknown leaves this possibility open – but more on this later.
One of the key problems with XCOM: Enemy Unknown was the extremely repetitive nature of the missions. Each engagement with the enemy essentially equated to the same, hackneyed mission: land, disembark, kill everything in sight. While the excellent DLC add-on pack Enemy Within added a number of new missions – as well as the alien-loving EXALT militia – these special events and missions were largely few and far between.
Enemy Within’s infiltration missions – which saw a single soldier act as a Trojan horse to bring down an EXALT cell – were a nice touch, but grew repetitive fast. Aside from this, the DLC added a couple of special story missions – including one excellent operation that saw a team clearing out a chryssalid hive, before needing to escape the site and nuke it – but again, these were one-offs.
I’d like to see vastly improved mission variety, and it’s not that difficult to come up with new scenarios and locations to battle on. Perhaps the aliens have a number of secret bases XCOM needs to locate and destroy – could one be on a ship that you need to scuttle and escape? Maybe EXALT have seized a military air base and are preparing for a massive alien troop transport’s arrival, and XCOM needs to infiltrate the site, take over the anti-aircraft batteries and shoot it down before it lands, unseen and unexpected?
The options are endless – and it only takes a couple of developers to come up with them.
One of the delights of XCOM‘s play style is being forced to adapt your tactics to those of the enemy. Throw in a mission objective beyond ‘kill everything in sight’ and you’ll be on to a winner in terms of tension, challenge and enjoyment.
Improved statistics management, classes, gear and research items
While Enemy Within added a number of new classes, perks and abilities – including genetic modification, and the ability to have a soldier’s limbs chopped off and a massive, hulking battlesuit soldered on – there’s so much more that could be offered to the gamer in terms of operation team micromanagement.
If Firaxis Games are looking for inspiration, you need look no further than the excellent Long War mod. The team behind this nifty little add-on put a lot of time and effort improving XCOM‘s basic statistics management, as well as lengthening the game’s tragically short campaign and making everything more difficult. If you like your XCOM so hard it makes you cry, then I’d fully recommend it – although I’ll freely admit I gave up on Long War after a while. It’s just too hard for me; hard and unfair and great fun for it – if you have the time and patience.
I’d like to see some Long War-inspired skill trees, alongside more weapons and armour and abilities that aren’t so obviously one-sided choosing anything other than the awesome skills you can’t live without would be folly. I don’t think any other XCOM player would have taken the sniper’s ‘run and shoot’ skill over the ability to snipe any enemy that a fellow squadmate could see, anywhere on the map.
Enemy Unknown appears shockingly shallow compared to Long War – and I for one would like to see the depth that the Long War team worked so hard to implement make it into the next game in the series.
Branching storyline with multiple endings
In an age when stories can be directly influenced by the player, having only one end-game for XCOM seemed really rather shortsighted. It may be true that the XCOM games are more about the journey than the outcome, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want a final mission other than ‘go to alien mothership, blow it up, win’.
A good gaming plot should be influenced by the action of the gamer enjoying the experience. If Firaxis were to adopt the tenets of the ‘global strategy’ gameplay I outlined earlier, each gamers’ experience would differ exponentially by the end of the game. Giving the gamer choice as to what tactics to adopt would give the game improved replayability, and build a closer bond between the people of Earth and the commander of XCOM: nuke a city, killing millions of people, or allow an immense alien hive to fester, and possibly overrun an entire continent?
Forcing the gamer to make hard choices like this would offer a considerable enticement to play a game again, to ask ‘what if I’ – and that’s what makes games like Mass Effect 2 so successful – your choices matter (and yes, I’m ignoring the choice at the end of Mass Effect 3. That was an insult).
Also, I’d move fast on a sequel, Firaxis – Xenonauts is muscling in on your territory.
Remember. We will be watching.
So that’s what I’d like to see in the next ‘proper’ XCOM game. Do you have any ideas for Firaxis? Leave a comment below.
Article originally published on 6aming.com