Just when you thought you were out... they pull you back in! Into another war against an invading alien menace, that is. This November, Firaxis' fantastic strategy game XCOM: Enemy Unknown is getting its first major expansion, titled XCOM: Enemy Within.
Here's a teaser, featuring everybody's favourite faceless guy in a suit:
Vital stats first: The expansion will drop on November 12 for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. On PC it'll work just like Firaxis' expansions for Civilisation V, in that it'll fold onto and replace the original game. On consoles, things are a bit trickier: Enemy Within will release as a standalone boxed game. It will cost $US29.99 on PC and $US39.99 on consoles. The console version will also come bundled with the previously released Elite Soldier and Slingshot DLC for Enemy Unknown.
Last week I spoke with Enemy Within's lead designer, Ananda Gupta. Let's bullet-point the things I learned.
- The overall thrust of the campaign will be similar to Enemy Unknown. Most of the details Gupta was talking about involved the ground game, and enhancements to the troops in the game's turn-based combat. Gupta did say that there would be changes to the larger global war-game, but didn't elaborate on them.
- The endgame will remain largely unchanged, though the new alien units will now appear aboard the alien ship. Generally speaking, the "arc" of the story will remain about the same, provided you get to the endgame.
- The humans will get two new types of soldiers — MEC soldiers and genetically enhanced soldiers. (Yes, the MEC soldiers will wear cybernetic mech suits.) They'll be developed in either a mech lab or a genetics lab that you'll build in your base. (Also: Hmm... the soldier in that screenshot's last name seems somehow familiar...)
- Both MEC troopers and genetically enhanced soldiers won't function quite the same as psionic soldiers — you'll have to send your soldiers to their respective lab to get "converted," but there won't be a test for aptitude.
- There's also a new resource called Meld, which is instrumental in building both of the new labs as well as some other aspects of Enemy Within that Gupta wasn't talking about. Meld will be located in canisters strewn around the maps, and each unit of meld will be attached to a timer. If the timer runs out before a soldier reaches it, the canister will self-destruct. Gupta described Meld-gathering as a way to liven up the established maps, since you'll have to play less cautiously in order to collect meld containers.
- There will be two new alien types as well, one of which is a "Mechtoid". That's is a Sectoid wearing — you guessed it! — a mech suit. Sweet.
- There are going to be a whole lot of new maps as well (47 of 'em according to press materials), as evidenced by some of these screenshots. (Check out that barn!) Gupta said that the new maps will be mixed in with the old ones, but that behind the scenes, the game will heavily weigh the new maps so that players see them more often in their new Enemy Within playthroughs.
- There will also be a bunch of new multiplayer maps, and Firaxis is adding offline squad editing, meaning you can set your squad up before doing anything else. I haven't played a lot of Enemy Unknown multiplayer, but Gupta says this is a much-requested feature.
- In a really cool touch, you can now customise the language spoken by each of your soldiers. Gupta said that they'd heard a lot of feedback from players that despite the lovely international flavour of each XCOM squad, it was distracting that all the characters spoke with American accents. They've unlocked their already recorded audio files to let your characters speak any of six languages: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Italian or Polish. No Japanese or Chinese, but hey, I still really like this approach.
- There are currently no plans to bring Enemy Within to iOS, despite the recent release of Enemy Unknown on Apple devices.
- The title, "Enemy Within", refers to the fact that thanks to Meld and genetics, the soldiers are now taking part of the enemy into themselves. It's unclear whether that will have ramifications for the soldiers down the road, but given how generally cut-and-dried XCOM's fiction tends to be, that's probably not all that likely. But you never know!
- There will be new music (hooray), some composed by Michael McCann and some by Firaxis sound designer Roland Rizzo, the guy who made the first game sound so very, very good.
- Unfortunately, unlike Civ V's expansions, there won't be a new opening cinematic for Enemy Unknown. Gupta said that they were extremely bummed out about that, but that they just didn't have the budget to make it happen. That said, whatever, I don't care half as much about an opening cinematic as I do about the game itself being fun. I'm guessing most XCOM fans agree.
- Generally, Gupta sounded confident that a new Enemy Within playthrough will feel fresh. I mostly get that sense because when I asked him how fresh a new playthrough would feel, he said "It'll feel pretty damn fresh."
- Still no randomly generated maps, and from the sound of things, we won't be getting randomly generated maps in the future, either. It sounds like randomly generated maps were just too difficult to get working, and the idea was scrapped early on in development of Enemy Unknown.
- Fortunately, Enemy Within will open the door a bit more for modders. Gupta said that they've put more of the game in the easily editable .ini file that modders often tweak, and less in the harder to access Unreal script. While he couldn't say much about future plans to open the game up further (nor about the potential for Steam Workshop support a la Civ V), the sense I got was that it'd take a significant amount of work to re-jigger things and make the game as moddable as some (including me) would like.
And that's about that. I'm happy to hear we'll have a new reason to play through XCOM again, and the new elements Firaxis has announced sound strong. So far the expansion seems to be missing that one "Holy shit!" addition that elevates the whole thing from a solid add-on to something more exciting, but that could well just be something Firaxis hasn't yet talked about. And hey, when the base game is as good as Enemy Unknown, a solid add-on is more than enough reason to suit back up. Regardless, I'm looking forward to hearing more about Enemy Within.
I leave you with a few more screenshots that 2K sent over.