XCOM Enemy Within is the equivalent of a master blacksmith creating the perfect mace, then deciding to transform it into a sword. It’s unorthodox, it’s unexpected, and it’s sharp – but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t have a fine edge.
The tactics we became accustomed to from XCOM Enemy Unknown consisted of turtling behind buildings, living in overwatch mode, and traveling as a tight knit pack. These are no longer an option. Enemy WIthin forces a change of tactics where you have to dash, split your squad into two, and take risks that otherwise you might have avoided – all in the pursuit of Meld.
Meld is the new game changing material that will generally appear in two random locations on most missions. It is time sensitize, random, and valuable – at times you only have two rounds to make your way to it and grab it, sometimes up to nine. This might force you to risk the life of one of your soldiers to dash past enemies, or into the midst of a warzone for a minimal amount of payout which is not only essential over time, but it’s also the only way to benefit from the new features Enemy Within provides.
This meld technology provides two new sigils within the XCOM branch of services, “Mutare Ad Custodiam” and “Bellator In Machina.”
Bellator In Machina loosely translates into “Warrior in the Machine,” an apt phrase for warriors that literally sacrifice their arms and legs in exchange for mechanical limbs. In exchange for Meld you can transform your soldiers into mechanically augmented warriors, fitted with cybernetic war machines (mechs). The price of these mechs can be steep, particularly if you haven’t risked all for that precious Meld during missions.
These mechanical warriors can be upgraded in the Cybernetics Lab up to three times, resulting in war machines that would make Iron Man jealous – each adding a new layer of abilities that focus either on defensive of destructive capabilities. At the expense of being able to use cover these warriors will dominate the battlefield, but they come at a price.
Some abilities might range from turning into a defensive structure, to a long-range grenade launcher, to an area effect electromagnetic blast. You might not be able to use cover anymore, but you’ll be a damned fine war machine.
The second branch lives under the sigil “Mutare Ad Custodiam” which loosely translates into “To Change Custody.” The interpretation of this represents a biological assimilation of organic and biotic superpowers enabled by Meld technology. Enhancing ocular, tissue, or neuronal interfaces to make Wolverine jealous. These enhanced warriors retain the presentation of traditional soldiers while being enhanced for combat and survival.
One invaluable ability comes in the form of tissue regeneration which consistently heals the soldier, while reducing the time spent in the infirmary after severe injuries or wounds. Building the Genetics Lab permits the genetic modifications (which will take a few days for each upgrade – fair warning).
Other abilities might increase the soldiers ability to jump or prevent permanent death upon losing all their health once.
The Second Wave feature also provides changes for veteran players which range from randomized damage output, randomized character stats and more. This is a slick new feature that’ll make renewed games of experiences diverse, random and fun. The best part? It’s entirely optional … but you have to start a new game to enable these features.
If aliens weren’t enough to keep you busy, you’ll need to prepare yourself for a new faction that is out to destroy XCOM. This battle is no longer exclusive to humans versus aliens because a terrorist cell is out to destroy your operation. Covert operations will consist of sending off one soldier around the world to engage in operations you cannot control (it will queue to your mission control, similar to how research or production is completed).
Once the covert operation is a success then you get involved with exfiltration. It’s your job to go in and find your soldier, engaging in some minimal hacking, and fighting off enemy reinforcements. These humans known as Exalt come with their own arsenal, abilities and pesky battle tactics that will break up the monotony of battling aliens.
They look like they came straight out of the Bureau, and their ominous masks make them look like 1920′s gangsters blended with wild west bandidos, but their technology does not lack for destructive power. THeir technology will parallel your own and their soldier types are similar to what you have in your arsenal (sniper, heavy, support) so be wary of this new foe.
They’re powerful, and hellbent on XCOM’s destruction.
The blacksmith metaphor is a representation of how XCOM has evolved. Enemy Within is a testament to a successful shift in gameplay while retaining the core mechanics that made the original title so enjoyable.
If you loved Enemy Unknown then Enemy Within is its natural evolution. You’re going to keep coming back for more, charging through the campaign, and toying with the new features you’ve come to expect from XCOM.
This isn’t a game that disguises what it is, it’s exactly what you want. It just makes you change the way you play along the way.
Save humanity, Commander. Rejoin the battle.
This title was reviewed using a review code provided by 2k Games for the PC version of the title. You can learn more about the game by visiting the official website at http://www.xcom.com/enemywithin/us/ and you can read more about our review policy here.