XCOM: Enemy Unknown was one of 2012′s gaming triumphs; an obsessively playable sci-fi epic that injected new life into the turn-based tactics genre.
As the commander of the counter-extraterrestrial agency XCOM, you faced impossible choices on both a macro and micro level. Send aid to China and risk upsetting Africa? Send a trooper into harm’s way to save a high-level comrade, or eat the loss and regroup from a stronger defensive position? XCOM is at its best when the stakes are highest.
With XCOM: Enemy Within, legendary developer Firaxis is expanding on the foundation of the original with tons of new maps, new equipment, new aliens, a mechanized soldier class, and new genemods that can transform your troopers into superhuman killing machines. We caught up with Lead Designer Ananda Gupta to get the inside scoop, and we sent him some of your questions.
@BVAidan: Is this a new game or an add on? I’m new to the series and don’t know much about XCOM. (source)
Ananda Gupta: It’s an expansion to last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and on PS3 you’ll be able to get all of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, all the DLC that was released for that game, and all of the cool new stuff for Enemy Within, in the Commander’s Edition.
PlayStation.Blog: Enemy Unknown went on to achieve critical and commercial success — does the team feel vindicated by that accomplishment? Did Enemy Unknown’s success open the door for Enemy Within?
Gupta: We’re very happy with the reception the game received, and grateful to everyone who played it and helped make it a success. When we were looking at things we could do after release to support the game, we had a ton of ideas. We’ve wanted to add some story-driven ideas, and make some gameplay-based changes as well by adding new soldiers, weapons, equipment, and aliens.
In that context, it made more sense to do something like an expansion pack for a PC game, and we worked with our publisher, 2K Games, to come up with a way to share that on the consoles as well.
PSB: How will Enemy Within be distributed to PS3 owners?
Gupta: It’ll be a new, retail edition of the game.
PSB: Tell us about the flagship additions to Enemy Within. What were your goals at the onset of the project?
Gupta: What we heard from players is that they wanted new maps, soldier abilities, equipment, and enemies to fight. So that’s what we focused on! We’ve added almost half as many maps as we shipped in the base game, and we’ve added new gameplay elements to all of the maps with the inclusion of Meld.
Meld gives players a new resource they can use in the strategy side of the game, and new abilities for their soldiers. We’ve also added some new grenades, and the MEC troopers have a special suite of weapons on their exoskeletons — including flamethrowers and mine launchers. Then we’ve added enemies that fit well into the progression of the invasion, including the Mechtoid and the Seeker, which fit very specific tactical roles for the aliens.
PSB: How did the team approach Meld design? What can players do with Meld, and how important is it in the long run?
Gupta: You can certainly beat the game without using Meld, but it does give you an edge. We heard players saying that the easiest way to go through missions was a very conservative “move-overwatch-end turn” strategy, which was slow, but safe.
By putting Meld in containers with self-destruct mechanisms, we’re giving you an incentive and a reward for pushing your rate of exploration a bit more. We’re hoping that benefit gives players a bit more of a reason to break out of the safest tactical moves.
PSB: How does the new MEC Trooper fit in with the other soldier classes? What are some of their abilities, and how do they differ from non-mechanized units?
Gupta: MEC soldiers are definitely valuable and costly troops to develop. Start by taking one of your existing soldiers of at least Squaddie rank. They’ll go through the cybernetization process, and then become a MEC class with a brand new skill tree. Depending what class they were when they became a MEC soldier, they’ll get a baseline passive bonus in addition to their skills. For example, a Sniper who becomes a MEC soldier gets “Platform Stability,” which gives them an aim bonus if they don’t move before shooting.
MEC soldiers build out in two ways — either incredibly hard to kill, or capable of dishing out amazing amounts of damage. Then when you combine these skills with different modules on their armor, a single soldier can have a huge amount of tactical flexibility.
PSB: What tactical options do gene mods open up in Enemy Within? How do they interact with psi abilities and class skills?
Gupta: Gene mods are a way to let you use your Meld across a wider range of troopers, and are designed to make them better in specific ways. Muscle Fiber Density allows you to leap huge distances, like a Thin Man. Bioelectric Skin allows you to detect nearby but unrevealed aliens so you can set up an ambush for them. Mimetic Skin allows you to cloak.
You’ll want to use the gene mods to improve soldiers’ already formidable abilities. For example, Assault soldiers tend to end up in the teeth of the fight, and tend to take the brunt of the wounds. An Assault soldier with the Second Heart genemod has a better chance of surviving a wound that would have killed a lesser soldier, or you might add Adaptive Bone Marrow as well, to let him regenerate during combat.
PSB: Tell us about the new grenade types. How do they impact your combat strategies compared to the original versions?
Gupta: I really like grenades in XCOM because they’re a real choice point. They can save you if you get into trouble (although then Dr. Vahlen yells at you), and they have some unexpected tactical uses as well, like opening up cover. So we looked at all the ways you can use them in the game and we found there were some neat possibilities.
There’s a gas grenade, which copies the AOE poison spit of the Thin Man (so you can pay them back when they cluster up), there’s a needle grenade which has a huge blast radius but respects cover, and there are some non-damaging tactical grenades like the ghost grenade, which cloaks soldiers in its effect radius, and a mimic beacon, which calls aliens towards it so you can ambush them. I really like the options they give players in combat now.
PSB: Enemy Within adds many new maps. What can we expect from them? Do they accommodate new mission types or new features?
Gupta: Yes, we’ve added a lot of maps, and they do support some of the new mission types we’ve added, as well as work for the abduction missions. We’ve got some new terror and crashed-UFO maps as well (my favorite crashed UFO now is one that is in an urban area).
PSB: How do the new enemy units change the battlefield? How have the old units been tweaked, if at all?
Gupta: We found two tactical roles the aliens were lacking. One was for a stealthy alien that would hunt out distracted and isolated units, and the Seeker fills that role perfectly. He’s going to make players paranoid, I’m sure. The other was for a heavier hitter than the Muton, and we went with up-armoring a Sectoid and having him become the Mechtoid.
Because a Mechtoid’s a pretty tough opponent, he actually has the added advantage of making Sectoid corpses easier to acquire late in the game, so players may end up appreciating him in the long run. In the short run, however, they won’t. He can fire twice in a turn, and those plasma rifles do a lot of damage.
PSB: It appears the team has made many refinements to the core play and feature set, such as reducing the impact of panic. For veteran XCOM players, what are some notable changes/balance tweaks that have been made, and how do they improve the experience?
Gupta: We’ve extensively adjusted the game to add a lot of quality-of-life features that players have asked for, including easier access to equipment when getting ready for a mission, more clarity in the user interface, and some improvements in multiplayer squad creation and saving. The list of “small” changes is about two pages long, and most of these are things players have asked for.
@Reaper_Media: Will there be an option to turn off the “priority” research items and more research branches? (source)
Gupta: There’s a lot more research in the game now, and projects like autopsies unlock more Foundry projects than previously. There’s certainly more to do.
@jerror45: Will there be extra Trophoies with the expansion? (source)
Gupta: Most definitely!
@JamCap1: Is there any chance I could see the franchise on the Vita? I’d love this game on the go. (source)
Gupta: We don’t have any plans to develop for the Vita at this time.