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XCOM: Enemy Within Afterwords

Firaxis recently upgraded its alien-hunting strategy title with an expansion that added more nail-biting decisions to players' plates. We spoke with XCOM: Enemy Within lead designer Ananda Gupta about how the team built off the XCOM system without breaking anything.

Game Informer: After you released XCOM Enemy Unknown did you have a list of things that you wanted to go back and address with the expansion?
Ananda Gupta: The two main things we wanted to add in Enemy Within were some new ways for soldiers to improve, and some new gameplay on the strategy layer that gave more control of the pace to the player. The Enemy Within theme fit both of those very well, so the game felt very integrated from the beginning.

Where did the idea for Meld come from; did you specifically want something that would force players out of their move/overwatch strategy?
We knew we had to add a new resource as a control on how fast the player can build the MECs and gene mods. It was important that these things get unlocked very early in the game, but a cost to that is the risk that players will over-adjust and build the new stuff too fast. So we knew we needed a new resource. Then the problem became: How does it unlock? Everything else already has a niche: corpses allow autopsies; weapons are their own reward unless they blow up into fragments (and even then they’re useful). Adding Meld as a sort of treasure recovery made a lot of sense. The timers then came into play because we didn’t want Meld to be the focus of missions, and if Meld isn’t the focus of the mission the pressure to recover it has to be separate from the pressure to do the other things the mission requires. Time pressure made a lot of sense. When we saw how it altered playstyles, we knew we’d hit on the right mechanic.

The MECs are a great new unit. Did you have trouble developing a new class that could offer something new without making one of the other unit types irrelevant?
The class design in Enemy Unknown actually left the door open for a new class focusing on area control; while this isn’t the sole purpose of MECs, it was a neat active role. Also, a class that doesn’t use cover was a natural add, since cover is so fundamental to the rest of the XCOM lineup. Given these differences, we were able to come up with a lot of different abilities, and pick the best ones.

The Seeker is an interesting new enemy. Were they mostly a response to players who like to camp snipers on one side of a map?
They were mostly a response to my desire to have an invisible enemy that strangles fools. The fact that they make snipers scared is a bonus. But there’s a lot of counterplay to Seekers; with the right kit, even snipers will learn to fear them less.

Conversely, the Mechtoid seemed like a lighter version of the Sectopod. What niche did you feel they filled?
I think he makes Mind Merge a lot scarier in the mid-game. Mind Merge didn’t offer any kind of improved benefit as the game went on in Enemy Unknown; letting the Sectoids get a better unit that benefits a lot more from Mind Merge helped round out the alien lineup. The Mechtoid is also a bit more flexible than the Sectopod since he can split his dual attacks.

Covert operations were a fun addition to the game, did you ever consider letting players control the missions where a single unit infiltrated Exalt?
We did consider that, but the missions simply took too long and were too dicey. The pace of the game is really different with only one soldier, especially if he or she is under-armored and lightly armed. It just made more sense to bring in the full squad.

It seems like there is still some issues with line of sight, in terms of enemies being awarded cover even when it looks like they shouldn’t have it. Did you think this complaint was fair, and how did you address it?
Flanking bugs are super irritating to us as well as to players, not just because they are an instance of the game breaking a basic combat rule, but also because they have many causes – offset terrain objects, bugs in the line-of-sight code, etc. This large number of causes makes it very hard for me to promise they are all gone, since I can’t point to a specific place in the code and say, “Okay, that’s where the problem was, and now it’s fixed.” I really appreciate our fans’ patience on stuff like that, and we’ve made a huge effort to eliminate them.

What issues were you hoping to address in this expansion, but didn’t have time to accomplish?
The biggest time crunch we faced was on cinematics, and we’d have really loved to do a new opening movie. Unfortunately, given all the other movies and camera sequences we wanted to do, we had to shelve plans to expand and re-shoot it. But in general even I was surprised at the number of areas we were able to “touch up” – we even fixed up the panic system some, so friendly fire is less common, and we simplified the “streak buster” logic in the random class selection system, so players will always be protected from a total shortage of a given class. I think we were able to strike a great balance between all the different kinds of new content we added and incorporating fan feedback and experiences into a second round of polish and I hope XCOM Commanders enjoy the new challenge.

If you haven't played XCOM: Enemy Within, read our review to find out why you're missing out, check out the game's interactive trailer to get a sense for the difficult decisions the game throws at you, and check out our online hub to learn all about the original XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

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  • I skipped right to the italics. Great italics. The interview needs some work though.
  • Great interview and I really loved Enemy Unknown and would love to have it on PS4. I haven't played any DLC or the expansion so I'll make my way back to it as I finish up the available PS4 titles.

  • I got Enemy Within a week ago, but I haven't had much time with it yet. I like the of this article that mentioned the cinematics in the Expansion. In the one new cutsence I have seen so far (When you finish researching Meld) I noticed how much more cinematic it was then just watching a video of Dr. Vahlen telling you you need to capture a sectoid alive like in normal EU. The different camera angles and intense visuals of the Meld molecules kinda made me feel like I was watching an anime. (I love anime). It made me really excited to start messing around with meld and seeing what I could do with it. Much cooler than, "Look, a crystal that came from an alien, let's make a satellite."
  • Finished my play through yesterday... pretty good expansion. Much better than most of the dlc crap that comes out lately. Adds a lot to the game, worth the price and definitely worth getting on a steam sale. Then again it's firaxis... need I say more.

  • Is Enemy Within available as add on content, or do I have to buy the game all over again?
  • So good so good so good

  • I really want to get this, but I think $40 is a little steep for DLC (at least that is the price on PSN). I'm guessing because it includes the original game, Enemy Unknown along with this expansion. If that is the case I don't feel like purchasing the game again just to play this DLC. It should be cheaper for people that already own it. Of course I may be wrong about this, and the DLC alone is $40, which again, is quite steep for DLC.

  • Gotta play this. . .

  • Good interview Ben. I'm really loving this new expansion its great.

  • "But there’s a lot of counterplay to Seekers; with the right kit, even snipers will learn to fear them less."
    Yeah like using hyper sense which costs a MEASLY 400 points which prevents strangulation, not to mention they only have 5 actions of invisablitly rendering seekers nearly useless in multiplayer
  • Looking forward to playing this soon. Multiplayer especially is so much fun.

  • I love hearing about this kind of material of what the creators wish they could of done or why they did it a certain way.

  • Great interview. I just started playing XCOM: Enemy Within after i finally beat R&C: Into the Nexus and i loved the new additions and the new improvements to the system is always welcome

  • I want to play this but I just cant justify paying 39.99 for DLC. Dafuq out of here with that price.

  • I love more XCOM, but it feels really weird getting super powerful mechs pretty much right off the bat. I haven't felt like I've been in much danger, and only a few hairy spots, and I'm halfway through a classic ironman play through. A single mech out front or patrolling between fire teams has totally put a fear of humans into the aliens.
  • I still need to play this game.  Black Friday maybe?