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XCOM: Enemy Within Interview – The New and the Improved

By on October 11th, 2013 9:34 am

XCOM: Enemy Within by 2K and Firaxis Games

We already knew a fair amount about XCOM: Enemy Within, Firaxis’ new expansion pack to XCOM: Enemy Unknown released roughly a year ago. We know that it promises to bring new maps, new weapons, new soldier types, new skills and new aliens to the table. Basically, new toys and possibilities to enhance the tactical layer. But, what about the strategy layer? What sort of new, or improved things can we expect to see in the expansion pack regarding the high-level decisions that you make towards dealing with the alien invasion, and the overall game progression? So, I asked Firaxis about this and other things that I think were lacking in the original version to see if those have been improved. Here’s what the expansion’s lead designer Ananda Gupta had to say about it.

SS: Being XCOM: Enemy Within an expansion pack, it’s inevitable to ask what main features does it bring new to the table. So, what can people who already played XCOM: Enemy Unknown expect to find in EW to justify going back to XCOM?

AG: We’ve added a lot of content to refresh the basic gameplay – new maps, new items, new foundry projects – and then some big new systems, like MECs and gene mods. EXALT is a new adversary that has a huge effect on both the strategic and tactical layers of the game. In XEW the crisis-management feel of the game is increased, but the player also has new ways to feel even more powerful on the battlefield.

SS: If I’m not mistaken, you’ve announced that there will be around 50% more maps in EW than in EU. 47 was the number thrown around. You also mentioned that some, or even many of the original maps, were touched somehow to incorporate the new EW resource, Meld. What would you say was the extent of those changes on the original maps? And, on the entirely new maps, would you care to give a few examples of the new locations, and perhaps talk about the size of those new maps?

AG: The new maps vary a lot in size; we have some smaller ones, like a new take on the construction site map, and then we have some bigger ones like the Farm and Urban UFO Crash maps. Urban UFO crashes were a big priority for us, since like the fans we felt that always having UFOs crash in forest areas was a little repetitive. We’ve also got a tire shop, a bank, and a rural highway under construction, among others. We added a new terror mission set on the original game’s Pier map, and one in the Paper Office as well.

And of course, as you note, Meld went on all the original game abduction and UFO maps. And then there are the covert ops maps. These are maps that we adapted from both EU and the new maps in EW for covert ops play.

XCOM: Enemy Within | CovertOps

SS: One criticism of EU, that I saw being done in some of the game’s community, and I include myself in that group, is how much linear XCOM:EU feels in terms of progression with respect to its 1994 predecessor, X-COM: UFO Defense. Particularly, and more evidently, right after the game starts, where the initial sequence of missions is almost always the same. The type of missions, I mean. In other words, the progression feels a bit too scripted. What’s your take on this matter? Was this aspect considered in EW? So, will there be more variety, or even randomness, in terms of game progression now?

AG: I think the invasion in Enemy Unknown feels about right; you’re like a goalkeeper in soccer, trying to block shots. The aliens are an overwhelming and implacable enemy, so your control over the tempo of the invasion is limited (except for some key moments, like the raid on the alien base).

But EXALT is a different story; covert ops missions don’t happen unless you want them to, although you have other ways of at least slowing EXALT’s operations down. EXALT complements the alien invasion gameplay really well, and I hope players enjoy the greater flexibility they have in dealing with EXALT.

SS: One area where X-COM veteran players are always very vocal about is with respect to the inventory management, and its flexibility. The equipment that is brought to the missions seems a bit too limiting in EU, at least for some. I understand that there’s a foundry project now that will let all soldiers carry an extra item in EW? Is that correct? And what about new equipment, what sort of new goodies can people expect to play with in this new expansion? And, what other changes were made regarding inventory and inventory management that you’d like to talk about?

AG: Yes, Tactical Rigging is now available from Experimental Warfare; it’s expensive in terms of credits but will enable a 2nd inventory slot for all soldiers. We wanted to make sure players had a chance to play with the new items while not feeling like they had to give up their favorite items from EU to do so.

In terms of inventory management, we’ve added a new button in the Squad Selection interface; this allows players to return to the locker all gear equipped on soldiers who are not in the current mission lineup. It eliminates the problem of “Who has the Arc Thrower?!”.

XCOM: Enemy Within | Covert Extraction Free Aiming Ghost Grenade

SS: I love XCOM:EU’s music. To the point that even after 350h of play (says Steam) I still prefer to hear it over anything else. Are there new music soundtracks in EW? And, as we’re on the aesthetics subject, were there improvements to the graphics in some way? Perhaps a few innovations on the animation aspects, new cutscenes, others?

AG: We’ve cleaned up the UI a lot; there’s more consistency to spacing, typeface size, and other elements that should provide a smoother user experience with the game. Roland Rizzo, our in-house composer, has done a lot of great new soundtracks for the covert ops missions, to reflect their subtler nature. And the new cinematics have new music from Michael McCann, whose work speaks for itself.

SS: One generalized criticism made to XCOM:EU was the number of glitches and bugs present on release. Many were indeed fixed with patches, but a few others still remained to some extent, the most important ones being the infamous “Teleport” and “Flanking” bugs. I would say that the teleport one, where groups of aliens would seem to suddenly “teleport” and appear right in front of you, has been addressed for PC players. But, the “Flanking bug”, where occasionally you should get a flanked enemy and you don’t, although a very rare bug, still seems to endure. Were these and other important bugs addressed in this new expansion?

AG: We did make a strong effort to address bugs in XEW, although of course new ones arose since we added so many new systems to the game. The teleport bug should be put to rest, and we hit the flanking bug very hard as well. I should say that in our press demo, we used code from July, so any players who spot flanking bugs in the footage needn’t worry; we’ve addressed that stuff.

XCOM: Enemy Within - EXALT Covert Ops

SS: The Second Wave options are a very important element in XCOM:EU regarding having more replayability. I understand that there will be new SW options in EW. What will those be? And, will those be unlockable straight away, or only after you finish the game on a certain difficulty level like in XCOM:EU? And speaking of difficulty levels, I remember reading that you expect Normal difficulty to be slightly easier now and that Classic and Impossible should be slightly harder? Could you please elaborate on that?

AG: We have five new Second Wave options in EW. My favorite is Training Roulette, which when active causes soldier training options to become random (mostly – only abilities not directly linked to specific weapons are included, since those are still class locked. No rocket-firing Snipers!). This really increases the game’s replayability, especially combined with other Second Wave options like random stats and random stat progression.

I think Normal is slightly easier in EW because the power of MECs and Gene Mods will help the player a lot, even against the new EXALT threat. On Classic and Impossible, EXALT is very dangerous; for example, barring the flanking bonus, it’s very difficult for EXALT to cause critical hits on Normal. This isn’t true on Classic or Impossible.

SS: Most of what I read about EW points to an increase of things you can do in the game’s tactical layer. New types of soldiers, new abilities, new weapons, new enemies, new maps. That sounds great, but what about the game’s strategic layer, like base management, tech progression, UFO tracking and combat system, the game’s storyline progression and the game’s goals themselves. Were there any significant changes made on that front, or only to the extent of what needed to be adapted to satisfy the tactical layer changes?

AG: The Covert Ops system is a major new add for the strategy layer; it involves new threats (EXALT operations) that can complicate the player’s management of both resources and global panic, and new tools to combat EXALT (the Intel Scan, which reveals all EXALT cells, causing them to suspend operations until they can hide again). We’ve added a lot of new Foundry projects as well.

We didn’t add a lot of new tech because we didn’t want to bloat the playthrough time of the campaign; hence Foundry projects, which pose new research dilemmas but don’t add total research time (since Foundry projects don’t consume your research project choice). We’ve also added Operation Progeny, which is a new narrative subplot that players can complete, with some extremely cool rewards and some neat story background on events in the Security Breach trailer.

XCOM: Enemy Within | Data Recovery Covert Cover

SS: I understand that you may not want to spoil everything for players, being we only about one month from release now and all. But, people are eager to know if certain important rumors are basically true or not. So, a new faction besides XCOM and the Aliens is confirmed as being the EXALT, a paramilitary secret organization. But, can you confirm if there will be or not XCOM base defense? And, are there new Alien enemies besides the announced Mechtoid and Seeker units? What can you tell us about this?

AG: As for base defense, I’ll let the Security Breach trailer answer that one for me. The Mechtoid and the Seeker are the only new alien enemies, but as our announcements this week indicate, EXALT is a major new source of opposition, comprising eight new enemy unit types and plenty of tactical AI adjustments. EXALT uses squad tactics and ability combos in a new way, so I think players will have fun figuring out how to deal with them on the battlefield.

SS: Thank you for your time.

The XCOM: Enemy Within expansion pack is slated to release on 12th of November 2013 in the US (15th Nov worldwide) for the PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. For more information, including new features, check out our XCOM:EW announcement post or the XCOM official website.

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  1. Alien JD says:

    So they’ve added super exo skeleton mech suits of death but an extra slot on a belt is still “experimental”? And why call it tactical rigging? Why not “Pocket” or “Belt”? How about adding tactical pockets and tactical rigging? Then we could carry two extra things.

    I’m going to pick this up but I’m going to wait for a sale. Overall it sounds pretty good but $8.99 good rather than $29.99 good.

    • Elethio says:

      ^ Yeah thats about how I judged it, good but not for that price.

      There is still a list of other things that I’d like the devs to address though, linearity, aliens not moving around the map until you meet them, and multiplayer is still way too bugging.
      Also after fixing the above, I’d like to see more game types for multiplayer maybe along the lines of the campaign missions i.e. protect the vip.

  2. zigzag says:

    XEW? This acronym needs to be discouraged.

  3. Serge says:

    After watching Security Breach trailer I really want to play for Exalt!
    Playable Exalt faction would really add something new – stealing and infiltrating instead of research, synchronizing action with alien attacks, be eeevilll…

    Hopefully diversity of new maps will compensate for not quite dramatic increase in number (50%?)

    • Adam Solo says:

      Yeah, around 50% more yes. 47 was the number thrown around in other interviews I read. However, Ananda didn’t confirm that in this interview. But, Ananda did confirm a few new maps. The urban UFO crashes and Farm maps sound really cool.

      But, the holy grail would be random maps of this sort of quality. Wow, that would be really awesome. Perhaps in XCOM 2.

      • Serge says:

        Destructible environment would be no less important. I’m going through Silent Storm 2 now and they had perfectly working destructible environment in 2004 with DirectX based engine. XCOM EU not having it inexcusable. What it has is *not* destructible environment – just blowing off windows. In SS2 you blow up walls, floors and trees, like in original XCOM.
        Could EW possibly have it? There are holes in the wall on the screenshots…

  4. Mark says:

    “One area where X-COM veteran players are always very vocal about is with respect to the inventory management, and its flexibility.”

    He he he, Nice question Adam. As one of those “vocal” players, I know you don’t always feel the same way about EU, but I certainly do appreciate that fact that you are expressing the concerns and feelings of your readers. Well done :)

    • Adam Solo says:

      Yes, I do my best to take all the feedback I get on the site to make the questions. You certainly were one of the more “vocal” XCOM fans I had in mind when I made that particular question ;) But, it’s definitely one aspect I have a few issues with myself.

      It’s nice to see that they’ve improved inventory management in EW by letting you take more equipment with you. That and other improvements, like the Squadsight sniper and Heavy heat ammo nerfs or the new second wave options that increase replayability, are proof that they listen and care.

  5. Keith Turner says:

    “AG: As for base defense, I’ll let the Security Breach trailer answer that one for me.”

    Has it been determined if the XCOM base can be assaulted? I watched the trailer again, and based on that and other interviews, it still isn’t clear to me. What is clear is we will be able to assault the Exault base eventually, should we choose to pursue the Exault.

    Regarding the question about linearity, it seems like nothing will change other than the addition of the Exault missions. I’m curious to see if this is enough to keep someone interested who has many hours already invested. I haven’t completed a playthrough yet (shame on me), so it’d still be fresh for me.

    • SonyaUliana says:

      “Has it been determined if the XCOM base can be assaulted? I watched the trailer again, and based on that and other interviews, it still isn’t clear to me.”

      If the scenes with XCOM’s mission control being assaulted, Dr. Shen being knocked back by an explosion, and the Skyranger being destroyed in its hangar doesn’t tip you off to an XCOM Base defense, then I don’t know what will.

    • SQW says:

      Given Firaxis’s approach to the campaign, the base assault would most likely be a scripted mission triggered after X condition is met, much like the 1st Alien base invasion and ending, rather than AI adapting organically to your progress.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I’m not convinced myself that there will be a base defense mission. Ananda did point out that the Security Breach trailer would speak for itself, and we do see lots of bad stuff happening in the base, like the Skyranger exploding and other things.

      But, we also know that the EXALT will perform sabotage operations on the XCOM base. These can be very abstract in the end. Maybe it’s something that gives you a nice cinematic and you may lose tech progression, lose funds and such but if there will be an actual base defense tactical mission or not is yet to be clearly confirmed.

      My feeling is that there will be some sort of base defense. A real tactical mission. I got that feeling from an interview with Jake Solomon (XCOM:EU designer) where he hinted heavily on how cool that would be. Ananda also seems to hint that way, but it’s still not clear. Probably we’ll only know when we play. I have no problem with that since I enjoy the surprise factor.

    • SQW says:

      Just tell Jack to release a modding tool, observe how people really like their XCOM, release XCOM II in a similar vein and receive more money than God.

      While you are at it, also tell them stop trying to make movies out of video games and just give player the freedom to act and feel without having to follow some game designer’s idea of a ‘good’ story.

      • Adam Solo says:

        But the thing is, would a game like XCOM work without a story? I mean, what would the aliens plan be? What were their motives? And, if there was no plot, how would a game like XCOM end?

        In other words, would you prefer to have a completely sandbox XCOM-type game instead of the current aliens invade because they want to perfect human-kind due to some master plan kind of story? But again, what would the end be in that kind of completely sandbox XCOM?

        \Edit: Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if the original 1994’s X-COM had a story at all. I mean, it has a background story but not really a plot of why the aliens are invading. They just are :)

        • Gunlord says:

          If you lost in the original XCOM (DOS version, I think, with the text), it says they turned Earth into an alien colony, and when you win, the alien brain says there used to be civilization on Mars a million years ago. For the versions with win/lose cinematics, like the Playstation one, though, there’s even less of a plot. Still, there is a lot of flavor text in the alien descriptions and stuff.

        • Adam Solo says:

          Yes, but why the scattered abductions? Why not bring an overwhelming force and strike in full strength while the Earth is still unprepared? I think Firaxis tried to find a way, a story that could answer this question. In XCOM:EU there’s a story behind the alien invasion progression (starting slow and then start to press harder) while in the 1994 X-COM I don’t think (or can’t remember) of any particular story besides the intention to turn the Earth into an alien colony, as you say.

          But if the intention was to turn the Earth into an alien colony, why not strike hard and in one go? Not that it matters much anyway, since the 1994 game was great without that sort of explanation, or plot hole if you like. So, I’m inclined to believe that a story isn’t really a strict requirement in this particular type of game. I mean, you can come up with one yourself if you need that, right? And I think that’s what SQW was trying to say a few comments above.

        • Gunlord says:

          Yes, I think you’re quite right. Indeed, some of the appeal of the original XCOM and this new one, to an extent, is how you can build your own stories about your soldiers. Aside from I think one character in the Slingshot DLC, you can make up your own backgrounds for the common soldiers to your heart’s content, which is part of the fun. I suppose it would also be fun to do that for the alien invasion in general.

          Still, perhaps the EU guys felt obligated to add some plot to live up to the expectations of gamers nowadays. It’s very rare to see games without any kind of plot, or even a minimal plot, at the moment. Back in the 90s there were many games (even strategy games aside from XCOM) with almost no story to speak of. Now, though, I think almost everyone, or at least a good portion of the gaming audience, expects some sort of overarching narrative with actual characters.

        • Adam Solo says:

          I completely agree with you. I also feel that the XCOM:EU guys tried very hard not to look “silly” when someone would ask them these types of questions: “Why don’t the aliens invade the Earth in full strength and in one go? Why give Humans time to react? After all, they do have all this amazing superior technology, right?”.

          So, I’m totally with you on your assessment regarding the strange need to have a strong and foolproof story in games these days, otherwise gamers (today’s gamers) would not forgive game devs for “being lazy”. I think devs fear the ridicule. That, or gamers are more picky or demanding than before?

          And, in the end, I guess nobody really cares about having a good story behind a strategy game. An RPG, Adventure or even a good FPS, sure. It’s almost a requirement to have a story, because those games are much more about characters and character progression. But, in strategy, what we really want is to have great mechanics, freedom, meaningful choices and the story we can make up ourselves.

          Moreover, I think the story helped shape XCOM:EU’s gameplay to a good extent. And, I’m not sure that was for the best. The lack of XCOM base defense is one example (since the Alien’s plan is not to wipe XCOM out). Another, is the fact that the final mission isn’t a “boss” mission, but mostly a plot explanation device mission. I would prefer 100x more to have XCOM base defense, more alien bases, a real invasion plan and a final boss mission showdown.

    • Osito says:

      There are some new achievements that point towards a base defence mission, such as:

      All Hands on Deck
      Get at least 4 kills with XCOM Base Security personnel

  6. Gunlord says:

    The Exalt stuff seems pretty cool, but I’m with the other commenters…real random maps woulda been nice ;_;

  7. ashbery76 says:

    I am disappoint that the only thing they seemingly added to the strategic game is this theme breaking Cerberus thingy.I wish they just expanded the Alien invasion gameplay instead.

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