I completed a game of XCOM -Enemy Within last night, so I figure it’s time to try and wrap up my thoughts on the game.

When I finished the Temple Run mission, and watched my heroic survivor Grace Kelly (my first support, sole survivor from my starting squad, crack shot with the carbine, and possessor of the cutest Italian dialog) pilot the alien mothership to its end, I felt relived as much as anything.  Finally, it was done.  Others have commented on the late-game slog in XCOM, when your squad is powerful enough that anything other than a total tactical fuck-up is a piece of cake.  I was feeling it, but I was also committed to the mission this time.  I’d played XCOM Enemy Unknown to the end, but lost my whole team in the final room due to mind-control.  I wasn’t playing on Iron Man, but I still hadn’t felt like replaying that whole mission AGAIN, especially since I didn’t think my squad would be able to deal with the 3 Etherians very well.  I uninstalled the game, to make my decision stick.  This time, though . . . it would be different.

The biggest differences were in my squad, and the options I had at my disposal.  The most important of these was my MEC.  The MEC kicks ass, and that’s all there is to it.   I ran with a single MEC trooper, and she was absolutely deadly.  I got the fist, the grenades, the EMP, and the Particle Cannon, and she just killed everything.  Seriously, when my MEC showed up the enemy just died, so much so such that my MEC trooper was seriously hurt only twice in the entire game – once by double Mechtoids at long range, and once in the Temple Run by the double Sectopods.  My MEC trooper had originally been a sniper, and a rather crappy sniper at that.  I already had two better snipers, and I was tired of old Gobuleva always missing her damn shots.  So, off with her limbs.  Gobuleva Mk. II walked right into a lv. 2 MEC with a Railgun, as I was pretty slow in getting my MELD facilities up and running.  From that point on, the game changed.  MECa-Gobuleva killed pretty much anything in one hit.  Pretty soon, MECa-Gobuleva got the ability to fire twice in a round – now that’s two kills a turn.  MECa-Gobuleva could get up on building roofs easily, could fire grenades beyond line of sight, was faster than my other soldiers and thus a killer scout, and was protected from high-damage crits by various damage reducing abilities. MECa-Gobuleva ran up and punched things to death, even Mechtoids.  MECa-Gobuleva ran out and disabled both Sectopods with EMP, allowing my other troops to take them out before they recovered.  MECa-Gobuleva punched the final Etherian to death.  MECa-Gobuleva was bad-ass.

In fact, MECa-Gobuleva kinda broke the game.  Even on classic, my squad just had too much firepower for the aliens.  The only situations that gave me pause in the mid or late game were the occasions I was faced with double-Sectopods, because they had so damn many hit points.  I wish I’d realized the real power of the EMP earlier, because with that ability even double-Sectopods aren’t all that dangerous.

Enemy Within gives your operatives so much new firepower, yet adds so little to the alien aresnal.  Seekers are cool, in theory.  I even lost a trooper to them, a squaddie who was already badly hurt.  My heroic support, Grace Kelly, stayed behind lines on overwatch quite often just to deal with them.  Mechtoids are great, a little tougher and nastier than Cyberdisks, and always deployed with Sectoid support.  The problem is that the game rarely throws enough at you at any one point to really make a high-level squad sweat, and if you play smart you’re not going to trigger too many enemies at one time.  Sure, on Classic they will advance up on you here and there – but it’s never quite enough.  Most enemy groups were dispatched the turn they were revealed, often before they even had a chance to fire.

The game really shined early on, before I got my MEC – when it was XCOM Enemy Unknown, more or less.  There were swarms of enemies, more than it felt like I could handle, and the outcome of each attack was critical.  One very early mission, before I even had lasers, my squad of 5 was confronted by 16 or more Sectoids.  That was tough.  The Council Mission in Newfoundland, versus the endless waves of Chrysalids – that was fun.  The last Terror mission I fought before my MEC came on line, with 9 Chrysalids and two Cyberdisks, was the hardest mission I played – and replayed, and replayed, and replayed.  As you get the new MELD tech online, though, the balance really shifts in your favor, in a way that the Alien forces just can’t counter.

I wanted to like the Gene mods, but when it comes down to it there was only one that really mattered at all – Neural Dampening.  I put that one on all my guys, and it payed off big time when the Etherians showed up.  I played around with reactive pupils, which helped occasionally, a little, I guess.  I put jumpy-legs on a few others.  That was kinda nice, I guess.  Double-Heart is nice in theory, but it’s only worth paying for it on high-level soldiers, and high-level soldiers usually survive critical hits and can be stabilized or revived.  I suppose if you’re playing on Iron Man it’s more useful, when you really have to scrape and claw to turn around even the worst situations and avoid a TPK.

But in the end, I only wanted to run one MEC, and I didn’t wanna bother with most gene mods, so I ended up with a great big pile of unused MELD at the end.

In a number of ways, the designers tried to force players to move a bit more.  I gather many XCOM players used very slow, very cautious tactics to prevent danger and maximize long-range sniper kills.  I was never that kind of player, and found it very easy to deal with the timed missions.  I always want to be moving forward anyway, and the enemies on those maps rarely spawned in terribly dangerous spots.  I’d always be able to kill them off the very next turn, and move on.  In fact, the only one that was even close was the Newfoundland Chrysalid mission, and that wasn’t a problem with getting back to the ship, but rather getting onto the boat and back off without losing anyone to the endlessly spawning Chrysalids.

My aggressive playstyle really fit the EXALT missions.  I found that if I was quick in moving up to the target zones on the very first turn, those missions were never terribly hard.  The EXALT forces would spawn and flank from all directions, but if I was already in a good position it was easy to deal with them – often as they spawned.  They were of average difficulty at first – as I already outgunned them by the time they first showed up.  When I got my MEC and my first few plasma weapons, EXALT became a joke.  It was like playing whack-a-mole in a shooting gallery.  Due to the speed at which you get EXALT data, I wasn’t able to smash their base until I was almost done with the game, but that final mission was a fun romp.  These guys were annoying pests, and I finally got the chance to smash them with an iron fist.  The mission was pathetically easy, but very fun.

However, one thing must be said.  I played with the ability roulette option activated, and this gave me a big, BIG advantage.  I had an assault with Field Medic, my sniper had Revive, and my Support had Saviour.  Grace Kelly, and my Heavy, and one of my Assaults – they all had Bulletstorm.  Enemy Within gives you extra tools to play around with, sure – but Ability Roulette makes things even sillier.

Overall?  It was more XCOM, so that was cool.  I was happy to play it again, just to see all the new stuff.  I enjoyed killing stuff with the MEC, even as I realized it was making everything way too easy.  I played it consistently for many hours, which is a positive vote all on its own.

Highlights of the Game

The Newfoundland Chrysalid mission.  That was really cool.  It shows up early, when Chrysalids are seriously dangerous.  It allows you to move up slowly, but then forces you to make a dangerous dash past their spawn point – and then to dash back, but this time with a time limit.

The second mission from the Slingshot DLC, where you have to advance along the train.  That showed up in my second month, and dealing with those Thin Men and Mutons despite the awkward angles and the difficult cover was a lot of fun.

The early Terror Attacks which heavily feature Chrysalids.  I feel a strong responsibility to save civilians from zombification, which forces me to move up much more dangerously than I would otherwise, as my units are still pretty vulnerable and are lacking in serious firepower.

The different special animations when you punch enemies to death with the MEC.  I only saw the Mechtoid and Berzerker animation, but I wonder if there’s one for the Sectopod or the Cyberdisk.  There really ought to be one for an Etherian.

Fighting Sectopods.  Those buggers are tough.  They always get reaction fire, they can use indirect fire to mangle your units that hide out of sight or in strong cover, and their double-shot fusion cannon is dangerous even to the toughest soldiers.  I always had the firepower to deal with them, but it was still a tense and challenging experience.

Finally getting to use psychic powers at the end of the game, long after it really mattered.  I got perverse enjoyment from killing weakened enemies with Mindfray, and from finishing off the two final Muton Elite in the last room of the Temple Run with a Mind Rift.