It’s true, I’m one of those people: a save scummer. And I’m not ashamed of it.
XCOM was a difficult game, and XCOM 2 is even harder. Missing shots is the least of your problems in the early hours, moments filled with enemies capable of wrecking teams in a single turn. It makes sense, as XCOM 2 is about humanity’s back against the wall, but how players approach that adversity differs.
As for me, I save scum. Chances are you’ve save scummed before, even if you’re unfamiliar with the concept. It’s when things go poorly — like, say, a critical hit against your best squad member — so you load a save and change the outcome.
(Or, as happened last night, when you fire a weapon at the wrong enemy.)
I’m not talking about having a sniper take the same shot over and over, in hopes one of them will connect. (The original XCOM got a patch that let people do that.) It’s really about modifying a whole approach to a mission, based on knowledge of how it might play out. I still have to flank, I still need to deploy my shots carefully, but I’ve merely reduced the punishment for a mistake.
Some people are OK with spending 10 hours working your way through the game, only to find out you’re screwed, and it’s back to the start again. But I don’t have the time or mental wherewithal to put up with that, and yet, I don’t want to make XCOM 2 a cake walk. For me, it’s about finding a careful balance.
I have my limits, of course. I’m not saving every turn or the moment someone gets injured — that’s a line, even for me — but if two members of my squad are wiped out because I ventured one tile too far and triggered six enemies, I’m gonna save scum back a few minutes and come up with a new set of tactics. And XCOM 2 even balances for save scummers, as wounded squad members have to sit out upcoming missions while they recover. A perfect run isn’t really possible.
In this sense, I’m treating XCOM more like a puzzle game. It’s not about reacting to how things go wrong, it’s about trying to ensure things go right.
XCOM 2 designer Jake Solomon called out this practice in an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun earlier this week:
Some of them think that the right way to play is to beat the mission without losing anybody. That’s fine, it’s certainly fine to think that’s the way you want to play the game, but that I think has led to some frustration in people if they view XCOM as a puzzle — that there is an optimal path so that if you do things right nobody dies. XCOM is not actually a puzzle, it has all these much more unpredictable elements to it. There are cases where it’s difficult to imagine getting through a mission without somebody dying.
We’re on the same page, actually. XCOM isn’t a rigid puzzle, it’s an evolving one. That’s why it’s so thrilling to play. Even if I’m able to avoid one screwup, there’s another one waiting around the corner. What save scumming allows me to do is play the game the way I’d like — my elite, alien killin’ squad overcoming adversity over and over — while still getting my arse kicked every so often.
I play Fire Emblem the same way, actually. I flip permadeath on, but start missions over if one of my characters dies. In both scenarios, I’m still having to earn my way to the victory screen, I’m just making sure it’s with everyone alive.