Troy Goodfellow

Episode 190: The XCom Review Show

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Dave Heron and Jon Shafer return to the show to talk about XCom: Enemy Unknown with Julian and Troy. They talk about the streamlining Firaxis has done to the franchise and how it has paid off. How do the strategic and tactical levels meld? Is the voice acting any good? How replayable is it? And listen to their inevitable list of nitpicks.

Troy's thoughts on XCom, Rob and Joe Robinson talk XCom and Rob argues in favour of its simpler design

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Because we do love to complain, I'll shake my fist at the PC controls like everyone else. I'll also mention that the sound design is wrong. This isn't an issue of voice acting, or the character barks' getting tedious, but the triumphalism of both music and those barks. XCOM should not be a game of cool, professional, "Negative damage" but instead a "Oh God, it's still up!" in quaking tones. Launching avalanche armed interceptors shouldn't make them sound so mighty, as they are so inadequate to the task. The background tunage should be weird and atonal and scrape my nerves the wrong way.

But I'm giddy I'm playing a great reboot of a great game.

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Great cast all. Long time listener, first time poster. I echo some of the concerns but feel like I need to get at least halfway through on Classic before I can render a verdict. (Just now finished on normal to learn the system)

X-COM is the TBS bible, and was a big part of my gaming education - perhaps most people here will have similar levels of attachment. But for all the simplifications I don't like (more limited earthly weaponry "how dare you take my autocannons!"), there are more things that I thought I'd miss, but are in fact blessings (not micro managing viewing angles and stances).

Anyone else get the feeling that Snipers are a touch OP? I feel like Classic REQUIRES 2-3 snipers with squad sight.

Anyway, this has blown away my cautiously optimistic expectations. I can only hope that this helps get more Squad level TBS/TBT games greenlit.

Thank you 3MA - you're like my only strategy gaming friend [shivers].

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Obviously the design philosophy for XCOM was "give the player difficult decisions to make." However, looking at peoples comments is it possible they put in too many difficult decisions? At least for the less hardcore audience, I know some people might get frustrated when they do well in the battles but the strategic layer crumbles around them.

I'm glad the game is doing well... what 90's strategy game do you think should be redone next? Alpha Centauri perhaps?

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Anyone else get the feeling that Snipers are a touch OP? I feel like Classic REQUIRES 2-3 snipers with squad sight.

I've felt like a couple Assault squaddies are the real sine qua non. I wouldn't be half as far in my Classic Ironman campaign without their ability to get easy flank shots with Run-and-Gun.

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I've felt like a couple Assault squaddies are the real sine qua non. I wouldn't be half as far in my Classic Ironman campaign without their ability to get easy flank shots with Run-and-Gun.

Same. Give me some assault run-and-gun people and I am set for a while with a single sniper in the back. But I think every class has its role. A support with medic powers has saved me more than once. And yeah, snipers with a super kill shot can winnow down the enemy pretty damned fast.

But you never want all assault, or all sniper. There are enough other skills for the other classes to make a full complement of one or another a recipe for disaster in the long run, and I think that is a testimony to XCom getting it right.

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I completely agree with Dave(Jon?), the initial move that the enemy gets is one of my biggest quibbles with the game. I understand why they did it, because if you don't have it then you either A)Always stumble on enemies out of cover and they automatically die or B)enemies are always in cover and they get an easy overwatch shot on your soldiers (who die, because they are most likely not in cover).

I also really don't like the inability to control the path that your soldier takes to get to a certain point. One of the worst parts of losing time units.

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Same. Give me some assault run-and-gun people and I am set for a while with a single sniper in the back. But I think every class has its role. A support with medic powers has saved me more than once. And yeah, snipers with a super kill shot can winnow down the enemy pretty damned fast.

But you never want all assault, or all sniper. There are enough other skills for the other classes to make a full complement of one or another a recipe for disaster in the long run, and I think that is a testimony to XCom getting it right.

Hm, they yeah I need to do a better job of keeping my assaults alive then, I've just found from my first playthrough that they were the one class I didn't get to colonel - thanks for the pro-tip. I was using them just a bit too aggressively perhaps. I presume lightning reflexes is a must then, to keep them alive when flanking?

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Of course, one of the great challenges of this games is that you don't have carte blanche to choose your squad make-up. I just ran 1 assault, 2 snipers, and 2 support, not because I find this group particularly effective (it's not) but because they are the only guys that are healthy!

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Of course, one of the great challenges of this games is that you don't have carte blanche to choose your squad make-up. I just ran 1 assault, 2 snipers, and 2 support, not because I find this group particularly effective (it's not) but because they are the only guys that are healthy!

Normally I'd prefer to choose classes - but having it automated in addition to the inevitable wound attrition really do force you to improvise - truly one of the more brilliant aspects of this game. It really compensated for the somewhat linear level designs.

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Normally I'd prefer to choose classes - but having it automated in addition to the inevitable wound attrition really do force you to improvise - truly one of the more brilliant aspects of this game. It really compensated for the somewhat linear level designs.

I agree, I love the choice to take class choice out of the player's hands. As Rummy said, you go to war with the army you have.

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I so agree with the critique of the economy. It seems like you should be able to see what sort of alien tech/corpses you have available in the engineering screen, but instead you have to wander over to the gray market area. Totally inelegant.

However I had the opposite reaction to everyone's feeling re: inventory and leveling soldiers up. Where Troy & co. found the inventory not an obvious choice to make, I did. And where they found they stuck to the same choices for leveling up, I didn't. There are a few choices that I always go with (always give the support squad members the ability to use medkits three times), but for the most part I find it provides interesting ways to develop specialization within the squad. For example, a squad member with lots of defense bonuses is better suited for scouting out ahead, whereas one with lots of critical hit bonuses better for taking down high HP enemies.

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I so agree with the critique of the economy. It seems like you should be able to see what sort of alien tech/corpses you have available in the engineering screen, but instead you have to wander over to the gray market area. Totally inelegant.

There are a couple of blindingly stupid interface oversights like that, sadly. Foremost for me is that abduction missions only show terror for the region where the mission is located, even though ignoring or failing them affects the entire continent. I lost a few regions before I realized I need to quit out of the mission select, go to the "situation room", check the terror levels for all regions affected, then go back to make my decision. It's shockingly inelegant, and a real statement to the game's quality that I don't quit in frustration over stuff like that.

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I am wondering why the cover and simplification isn't really mentioned that much. Bruce mentioned it in the first podcast, but just the presence of the system itself and not "how" it works, which I find extremely surprising. Also in this new episode the core of combat system wasn't really mentioned that much.

My main problem with it is, that it's calculations work with a completely own logic, which is neither to be compared with real life, nor with older Tactic Games like the old Xcom or Jagged Alliance. Of course the reason for some of the changes is the new movement system and some other mechanics had to be crippled in order to make the new movement system work at all. But let's take a detailed look.

Line of Sight and Cover:

Let's say that your soldier takes cover behind a wall. The enemy is some tiles away, so that the wall is in one line right between them:

XXXXXX

SWXXXA

XXXXXX

(X= empty, W=Wall, S= Soldier, A = Alien)

In any other tactic game it would mean that the alien can not hit the soldier, because the soldier is not in line of sight of the alien and vice versa. In Xcom however the soldier is taking cover behind "high cover", so he is harder to hit for the alien. In addition the tiles next to him also count as line of sight for shooting at him:

TXXXXX

TWXXXA

TXXXXX

(T=If the Alien has LOS to this field it can shoot the Soldier)

That way it's extremely hard to get into absolute safety on the one hand (in addition to the calculation but more of that later) but on the other hand it also becomes extremely difficult to guess the line of sight, especially with these 3d graphics (while they look nice, they are not very helpful in terms of overview). I guess this is because "fine tuning" with shooting and taking cover thereafter is hardly possible within this movement system.

So it becomes hard to guess if the alien can actually shoot at your soldier.

For example I had a situation like this:

XwXXXXX

XwXXXAX

SwwwwGw

XXXXXXXX

(G= Window)

The alien is standing inside a house behind a window. My Soldier is standing outside, behind the wall on the same height as the window. But as the "hitbox" of the soldier is extended by one tile (as seen in the other example) he was also "standing" on the tile below which counts for the LOS. That way the alien could shoot out of the window, around the corner of the house and hit my soldier.

But the whole thing gets even more absurd if you take the tohit-chances into account.

To Hit Chances and Cover System:

So there are the following modifications:

Base tohit chance for a rookie: 65%

High Cover modifier: -40% toHit

Low Cover modifier: -20% toHit

Flanked modifier: +50% ToCrit

Exposed modifier: +50% ToCrit

The game mostly works with these fix values. If you have two enemies somewhere in your sight, the one behind three cars, the other one behind a vase, both will have 45% for low cover as only the object next to them counts. For this reason it is also absurd, if you logically think like "I need to get closer to him so that there are just two cars in the way instead of one" – this is completely and utterly irrelevant for the game.

In addition you have the completely illogical calculation of the angle. Either the cover next to you counts, or not. And if it doesn't count, the shooter in addition also gets a bunch of extra crit bonus.

So let's say we got the following situation:

S

X

W

A

(X= empty, W=Wall, S= Solder, A = Alien)

The alien is behind a wall, so it's covered with a -40 to hit penalty.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXX

WXXXXXXXXXXS

AXXXXXXXXXXX

While with common sense the soldier would have no problem hitting the Alien, in Xcom the situation is unchanged. There is a minimal degree here the wall still covers the alien, so it's still -40% penalty.

And now at:

XXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXX

WXXXXXXXXXXX

AXXXXXXXXXXS

the situation changes dramatically. Instead of 25% Hit and 10% Crit chance, you magically get 65% Hit and 60% Crit chance.

Together with the ignoring the other covers like said before (3cars = 1 vase) this makes the search for cover completely absurd. It's not important anymore if your character is "logically" covered and there are obstacles in the way. The only thing which matters now is: "Does the solder have a wall next to him?" And out of this reason Xcom indeed becomes to Xcover as Bruce indicated in the last podcast. The first look on the battlefield becomes a "shit, only low cover...need walls!"

But there are other bad combat mechanics.

Line of Sight and the interruption System:

While in Jaggd Alliance your soldier could only look onto one direction, a soldier or alien in Xcom always look in all directions as there is also no action to turn the character because it wouldn't fit into the new two-action-system.

That again has a critical negative impact to all tactics involving sneaking up to an enemy. It becomes a complete lottery. While in the Old Xcom games and Jagged Alliance you had an separate interruption move and could use any remaining points in it (afaik automatically in the old Xcom), in Xcom you have a separate overwatch option you can use instead of shooting which has a similar function.

Now if the alien activated overwatch, you hardly have any possibility to surprise it from behind, as it looks into every direction. You might be able to get into a spot where you are out of direct sight but in shooting sight (first and second example) but lots of options are eliminated here. In Jagged Alliance you had very tactical movement here. I agree, that these were somewhat complex and probably not even all players were of aware of them, but it opened up a lot of additional tactical options. I am not quite sure how the old Xcom games handled these situations though, as far as I remember throwing grenades was the only valid option there.

In Jagged Alliance however it was all about "who sees the other one first". If you blindly run into a room where an enemy is watching the door, the enemy will get the interruption. But if you go to the spot next to the door, and then take a sidestep, you minimize the difference of the enemy seeing you first to a very low value which then again you might be outweighed with the experience of your soldier. But of course you also had the possibility of sneaking, getting him from the side and so on. In Xcom half of that isn't even possible also because the levels are so incredibly small (special abilities set aside, they may lighten some of these interruption issues).

Pulling Aliens:

The next thing is the "pulling" of aliens, also a very strange mechanic, which is probably a result of the other weird mechanics.

When a group of aliens discover you they stop their (or your) current turn and get a "movement turn" instead.

I mean, just imagine that all aliens would stand around, not moving and being in overwatch. That would mean certain death and frustration in lots of situations. Or imagine that the aliens would just walk around in the open and not directly jump into cover when you see them. Due to the cover calculation that again means almost instant death for them.

Aliens which are not "activated" however ignore you. So your task is to use the smallest space possible to kill the current group and try not to activate an additional group. Which would then come from a different side and probably crush you because of the impact of cover.

The whole thing feels like "pulling" in MMORPGs, where you go into a room, see 4 clusters of 3 enemies, and pull one cluster after another and kill it.

So while you could consider Jagged Alliance and the old Xcom games being “symmetric” in some way, the new Xcom is asymmetric. The Aliens play with different rules and exist to be shot.

In addition you have the issues I mentioned in another thread: It's hardly possible to estimate the LOS of your soldier and from where he can hit the alien. If you move him to the wrong tile your turn (and often his life) is over. Other games had a better overview (naturally if they are 2D) but you could also correct LOS issues by moving another tile. Cover is the most important thing in the game, and due to it's cover system it becomes very luck based itself.

Unfortunately the "learning" of this system feels horribly wrong. Personally I have the feeling that I become stupid playing the game. I need to accept a different logic-system which has nothing to do with reality or logical systems in other games. Of course you could learn it, because it is logic in itself. But that is like learning to turn on both directional lights and your handbreak each time you get onto an straight road in a racing game. It might be logical in this specific game, but beware of getting used to it. You might die horrible deaths in games with a more realistic logic behind them because you embraced it too much.

So if you should ever play Jagged Allance 2 again, get shot and think "But I had a wall next to me!" - You can thank Xcom for this.

Personally I didn't want to get into this situation and stopped playing it after just a couple of hours. It has it's attractions for sure, but the combat system feels so revolting, that I just can't get along with it. And It really surprises me that it wasn't really mentioned before.

Last but not least, I uploaded two screenshots to demonstrate the absurdity:

http://ndnw.net/no-hp-stuff/xcom1.jpg

The Alien on the left picture takes cover behind the green car and therefore is flanked. This gives you a 65% hit and 60% crit chance. The alien on the right picture takes cover behind the yellow car and therefore is covered with “low cover”.

http://ndnw.net/no-hp-stuff/xcom2.jpg

The alien is perfectly covered with “high cover” as it is standing next to a wall. It doesn't matter if this wall blocks 1% of it or 100%, one degree or 180 degrees. It will count as -40% to hit penalty no matter what.

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I'm not going to get into the weeds of what Kordanor posted, but I will just note that pre-PC patch I noticed a fair amount of visibility and weird cover bonus issues he described above, but, with a single exception I can think of, haven't seen them post-patch. Some of the issues described (what direction the aliens are looking/how much someone moves around while under cover) strike me as a disagreement about how much agency a player should have in a game.

Luckily for people that weren't too into the changes Jake Solomon made to the game it seems like Xenonauts will end up being the type of X-COM-type game they are looking for.

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I guess you are talking about the patch at the 11th of october. As I had to wait for the EU Release, my observations are all from post patch.

And yesss...looking forward to Xenonauts. :)

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I'm only 10-15 missions in to the game but loving it so far. The only part of the design that has me seriously worried is the point that Kordanor pointed out about 'pulling' the aliens. The optimal approach for all missions but perhaps terror missions seems to be to advance at a glacial pace, advancing maybe one or two soldiers per turn, with the rest on overwatch. For the time being, I am still finding that fun to work through, but I can see this getting old.

Otherwise, I am having a blast. I figured it had a 50/50 chance of being worth playing through great, and a 1/4 chance of being really fantastic - I'm upping the chances of the latter to even odds at this point.

Thanks to Jake S and the Firaxis team for a great game!

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The optimal approach for all missions but perhaps terror missions seems to be to advance at a glacial pace, advancing maybe one or two soldiers per turn, with the rest on overwatch. For the time being, I am still finding that fun to work through, but I can see this getting old.

I tend to agree here, it seems as though a good deal of the difficulty comes from not a reliable means of dealing with specific situations, most notably running into a pack of aliens after having spent most of my squad's action points, or when a squad member panics. Thinking back on all the missions I've failed, that failure seems to always be a result of my inability to act as opposed to an action I've taken. I've completed a playthrough on normal, and am a few missions into a classic campaign now, and seem to be favoring strategies that avoid these situations as opposed to finding new ways through them.

One mission stands out in particular, where my entire squad was killed in due to all of them being in a constant state of panic over the course of 3 turns. While I very much enjoyed this experience, I haven't as of yet found a reliable means of lessening the chances of this taking place, or countering it directly on the tactical or strategic levels. Regardless of this, I am still very much enjoying the game.

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Obviously the design philosophy for XCOM was "give the player difficult decisions to make." However, looking at peoples comments is it possible they put in too many difficult decisions? At least for the less hardcore audience, I know some people might get frustrated when they do well in the battles but the strategic layer crumbles around them.

I'm glad the game is doing well... what 90's strategy game do you think should be redone next? Alpha Centauri perhaps?

A rather protracted "discussion" I've been having on another forum centres around this, after I pointed out that the strategic layer in this reboot actually matters to the game, unlike in the original where the only strategic decision was where to locate your first base.

The main complaint seems to be the randomness of panic control, which a lot of people regard at the moment as "too difficult". I don't agree with that though, I love the balance Firaxis have bought to this level of the game - when do I build another uplink, where shall I locate my satellites, do I leave a country with high panic levels to its abductions if I only have rookies available and it's a very difficult mission? It certainly added to the atmosphere of the game although I do tho k having to build the uplink, make sure it's powered, then build the satellite(s) and the interceptors to defend them is at least one step too far. I would link satellites directly to uplinks personally, so once the uplink is built the satellites are immediately available.

It is such a good game on its own terms and I'm enjoying every minute of it. It's deeply satisfying to play a game that doesn't treat you like and idiot and leaves you having to make meaningful decisions, no matter how unrelenting they are!

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Well, besides that I don't make it through the tactical layer much as mentioned before, I'd consider the strategy layer more of a matter of taste whether you want to be "guided" from mission to mission, almost if it was a linear strategy game and you have to make some decisions now and then which alter your path (you could compare it to the SC2 campaign I guess), or play more of a sandbox game, where most of the options are lying infront of you on a table, where you might screw up the same way, but where you might not realize it as fast, more like in civilization, where your little wodden ships suddenly face steel battleships.

You can prefer the one or the other. But if they wanted to stay closer to the original, the sandbox approach probably would have been the better choice. Of course the current approach is more "natural" with storytelling.

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I agree with Sorbicol that the satellite/panic element makes for some very difficult decisionmaking (in a good way). I find myself agonizing over my satellite capacity and location. At the end of the last month in my current game, I had three satellites come available at the end of the month. Do I grab a continent bonus, or do I spread the satellites to the three "in the red" countries about to withdraw from the project (all on different continents, and two on continents that had already seen a country withdraw)? I went with the latter choice, but not before chewing my nails for a while.

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Some times this game just kicks you in the nuts as hard as it can. A mission where not one single reaction fire shot hit, I still managed to kill 8 mutons, 1 cyber disk and 2 drones. In the my last remaining soldier got one shorted by the final muton who was on 1 health. End if that campaign when the next mission was a terror mission that had me facing 9 chrysalis and 1 cyber disk on the 3rd turn. Didn't see their turn out

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I got the full "to the nuts" treatment this weekend. Several times, in fact. My Grand Squad got wiped, which lead to a succession of wipes on missions populated by ill-trained replacements. I'm struggling to recover.

One huge gripe - I'm awfully sick of panicking soldiers blasting each other. I can see having this happen maybe once in a great while. But it happens way too frequently, and when it happens it just seems stupid. I'm okay with losing, as long as I'm losing for the right reasons. Having my team panic and decide that shooting friendlies is the answer to their predicament does not feel right. Rather, it makes me feel like launching my controller through the TV.

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