It's been almost a year since Xcom: Enemy Unknown was released to a deafening roar of critical acclaim and commercial success. Perhaps a little bit strange then that publisher 2K Games and developer Firaxis haven't talked about any expansion until now.
Sure we got some extra missions and a couple of DLCs with your typical cosmetic changes, super soldiers and exclusive weapons, but other than that Xcom: Enemy Unknown has remained untouched. This when story DLC and multiplayer expansions for other titles are typically being announced even before the main game is out on store shelves.
The explanation lies with another successful franchise belonging to developer Firaxis. They have had a lot of success with Civilization V expansions Gods & Kings and Brave New World, and that in turn has inspired the Xcom team. Instead of just adding more missions and scenarios to the pre-existing game, they have decided to shake up some of the fundamentrals, expand other areas and add brand new concepts, and like Civilization before it, Xcom: Enemy Within has been designed with the same approach.
As the title imples, Enemy Within does not only revolve around making use of alien technology, but also assimilating alien genes in order to enhance your soldiers with new abilities.
Thanks to the new Genetics Lab you can augment soldiers and gift them new abilities, like camouflage skin - that allows them to move around unseen as long as they start from behind cover. Another augmentation gives soldiers vastly improved leg strength so a soldier can jump from the ground up onto roofs - something that could prove useful for snipers. Immunity to psionic attacks is another ability you can splice into your troops.
Another new feature are MECs - Mechanised Exoskeletal Cybersuit - or a mech if you will. These heavyduty metal monsters gain no bonuses from staying in cover, but they are armed to the teeth and can be equipped with grenade launchers and flame throwers. They also possess a colleteral damage skill that deals out area of effect damage in a small area while also destroying all cover in said area. Additionally they pack a literal punch with a close-quarters attack that naturally features a rocket-powered fist that will send sectoids flying and teach Muton Berzerkers a lesson about picking a fight with someone their own size.
As opposed to the psionic powers in the original game, all soldiers can be equipped with genetic augmentations - you don't have to be born with the potential. In the demo we played we were given two MECs, two augmented soldiers, and two grunts, a team more than capable of mopping the floor with the alien troops on the map.
This is not to say that Xcom: Enemy Within is a walk in the park compared to Enemy Unknown, we're assured by senior producer Garth DeAngelis in our subsequent interview. The demo was tuned to allow us the chance of trying out new abilities and troops, and the actual game will present us with a far greater challenge.
One of the reasons is that these new abilities aren't free. The developers have added a new resource, called MELD, that players will need to collect during missions. MELD degrades over time, so you only have a set number of turns to collect them or you will have lost it, and the aliens aren't exactly the giving kind.
A more realistic squad in the complete game is perhaps a MEC, an augmented soldier or two, with the rest of the slots made up by grunts. Xcom is meant to be a challenge after all.
We're also treated to a couple of examples of new weapons, including the Needle grenade that scores extra damage on enemies that aren't in cover. The aliens are also stepping up to the plate with their Mechtoids, and a new type of enemy we have yet to see.
Naturally there will be new maps and environments. The demo level we played took place on a farm with tractors, bales of hay, and a barn, and before that we were given a presentation of a level set on a dam. Multiplayer will also see new maps, abilities and units.
Enemy Within does not offer a new campaign that adds to the exisiting one. Instead, as with the Civilization expansions, it layers all the new additions and systems on top of the exisiting game from the first mission onwards. So with proper planning you could potentially bring along augmented troops and MECs as you take on the key missions of the campaign, such as the attack on the alien base a third into the game and so on.
Xcom: Enemy Within launches on November 15 on PC and Mac as downloadable content, and as a disc-based expansion on PS3 and Xbox 360.