One of my favorite games of 2012, XCOM: Enemy Unknown got me back into strategy games. The make or break difficulty gave the sense of accomplishment, and the way management was handled both in and outside of combat was rewarding and complex. I absolutely loved the experience. Finally, Firaxis has released their expansion to the game titled Enemy Within, which changes up the well known dynamic of the game while adding a ton of customization options.
Unlike most modern day DLC’s, Enemy Within adds upon the main game of Enemy Unknown. Meaning, this content is spread throughout the original. Players will choose to start a new game with either the vanilla experience or with the new content. Right away, they will begin to see the new additions. Then, throughout their play through, will come across new missions, upgrades, and enemies that all forms the Enemy Within.
The first big thing is the introduction of a new type of currency called Meld. This substance is housed in containers spread throughout each level. Meld is used to upgrade soldiers with the new modifications that I will discuss a little later. Players want Meld. It is on the battlefield and there for the taking, but it comes at a price. Each container of Meld has a timer on it. When that time runs out, the container self destructs and all the precious Meld goes along with it. Players will have to break the very foundation of what they ever knew of XCOM; they will have to move fast and take chances in order to find the canisters and open them before the detonation.
This changes up the entire experience. I had conditioned myself to slowly make my way around a battlefield because, as anyone who has played Enemy Unknown can tell you, if the player starts to rush, their soldiers are as good as dead. Now, I have to hurry to grab the Meld before it explodes, all the while trying to stay out of the line of sight of my enemies. It was a strange transition, and it did get numerous soldiers killed, but when I did get that wonderful Meld, it was all the more helpful.
The big bad guy of Enemy Within is no alien at all. It’s a human organization called EXALT. These guys are basically the anti-XCOM. They want to do anything in their power to bring them down while cooperating with the invaders. These guys feel more like spies and espionage villains than what people would come to expect from a villain of a military force. The missions players will take on against them change up accordingly. One mission would have me fighting them in an open area with full-on machine guns and grenades, while the next mission would have me sending in a single operative to infiltrate their base with a pistol and a more stealthy approach.
The new upgrades added to Enemy Within are the most satisfying and fun to see in action. Players will unlock very early on the ability to create mechanized soldiers as well as augment current soldiers with spliced alien DNA. The mech soldiers can be equipped with powerful physical attacks as well as better mobility parts, not to mention flamethrowers and giant mini guns. These guys are the tanks of the group. They can’t use cover, but have increased health while not sacrificing movement speeds.
The genetics augmentations upgrade player’s soldiers without changing their class. These can include regenerating health, better accuracy, invisibility and many others. A great example was I augmented my best sniper to have better vision at higher grounds as well as special leg muscles so she could jump right on top of a building rather than having to find something to climb. The possibilities are almost endless and researching new things through the main game unlocks even more upgrades. Of course, these all cost Meld, and they don’t come cheap. That’s why I always had to tempt fate and try to get as much Meld as I could before the containers self detonated.
With new upgrades and new ways to kill the aliens come all new enemies to take on. Not only do we have to worry about a rogue human organization trying to foil our plans, but we now have to worry about aliens in mech suits and these squid-like creatures that can cloak themselves and sneak up behind my soldiers and strangle them to death. It’s always a tense battle no matter how badass my soldiers may be.
Add in new tweaks and bug fixes along with new maps to explore and battle on, and the package comes full circle. It’s good to see I’m not going back to the exact same gas station or construction yard yet again. Small adjustments like the “make all items available” button really cuts down time shifting through menus to find the one soldier that has that one gun I want on the guy in my squad, and the fact they added multiple languages to the customization options just adds that little extra touch to it. Now my German assault guy doesn’t sound like he grew up in Colorado. It’s the small things like that that always get to me.
Now before I say this is all kittens and alien rainbows I need to mention this: this is still XCOM. It will not hold your hand and it will not apologize for killing every party member you had. It is still one of he most brutal games I have played in a very long time and it is one that is not for the casual player. Even with the additions from Enemy Within, the experience can be one of joy and accomplishment; or one of sadness and failure. It’s all up to how the player wants to play it, along with a little luck and a roll of the dice.
Any fan of Enemy Unknown should pick this up without a doubt. The new upgrades are awesome and the new missions and maps keep things fresh well into the 20 hour mark. Fans of strategy games should look into this as well, as it has something for everyone. Firaxis has done it again, and when I thought after losing an entire squad of my best soldiers was enough to make me quit the game forever, I realized I still had enough Meld to make another mech trooper. Yeah, I had to keep playing. If you’re looking to get back into XCOM, you just found the one reason to.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.