XCOM Big Picture Part 5: Unbreakable

I should start off by noting that I think the original XCOM overly punished the player for things going wrong, particularly as things will often go wrong through no particular fault of the player. Good play makes a marked difference, but skill only goes so far, and several mechanics -such as how Aliens see more twice as far as you in dark missions- are heavily biased toward costing the player even in 'perfect' play.

However, a critical part of the entire XCOM dynamic is the intertwining of the tactical and strategic elements. Ammo burned during a mission must be replaced, which costs money and potentially eats up Workshop time. Weapons and other forms of gear that are destroyed have to be replaced, which again costs money and potentially eats Workshop time. Losing all your elite soldiers in Mission 3 means you don't have them for Mission 4. Shooting down a UFO and attacking the crash site is different from having the Skyranger hit a UFO that landed under its own power, in terms of the tactical battlescape.

This intersection of tactical and strategic layers is unusual, a big part of what sets the original XCOM apart from most games.

Unfortunately, while the remaquel strictly incorporates this intersection, it takes many steps to reduce the import of it.

One of the bluntest examples is the indestructibility of player equipment. Once you have six Plasma-tier copies of each given weapon, you've set the minimum bar on weapons quality forever, and will never fall behind due to problems occurring in the tactical combat. It would almost be more honest of the game to give the player infinite copies of advanced weaponry after a one-time Foundry project. A particularly good illustration of this is how the game does, in fact, have a Foundry project for upgrading your infinite Frag Grenade access to infinite Alien Grenade access -said Foundry project being a waste of money in Enemy Unknown because you'll capture plenty of Alien Grenades just in getting all the Interrogations, and the project remains pretty questionable in Enemy Within even though Item capacity has doubled and it has the additional perk of providing an exclusive benefit to Mecs now.

In other words, the indestructible gear is so effective at setting a minimum bar that a project that explicitly raises your minimum bar is a waste of resources!

This cuts out one of the ways the strategic and tactical intertwine -tactical combat cannot impose setbacks regarding equipment that require a shift in strategic goals.

It's everywhere, at that. 'Consumable' gear -eg grenades- is not consumed on a strategic level, only used up for the duration of a mission. The majority of the Meld you dump into a Mec goes into their suit, which you keep even if the soldier dies, making it fairly trivial to bounce back from Mec deaths. In fact, even though Mecs level at half speed, a Mec dying doesn't necessarily set you back on Mec level at all, since converting a soldier simply ports forward their current level: if you have a Colonel and make them into a Mec, the game doesn't recalculate their level and reduce them to Lieutenant-about-to-reach-Captain. (UFOpaedia numbers: Colonel requires 2550 experience. Half that, and you have 1225. Lieutenant requires 925, so you meet that easily, while Captain requires 1380, which you're short by about 150 points) Nor does it force a converted soldier to restart at Squaddie. No, your Colonel Assault becomes a Colonel Mec, meaning experienced Mecs are no more valuable than any other soldier!

Which leads nicely into gift soldiers. Since gift soldiers will occur as rewards for Council Missions -which are so easy you really ought to do them every time- and can also be a reward for Abductions (where you might choose to lower the Panic for, say, Canada, and thus get a gift soldier regardless of your actual preference regarding the rewards), it's essentially a guarantee you'll get some gift soldiers over the course of play. A gift soldier is always at least Lieutenant, with this being upgraded to Captain if you have a Major and Major if you have a Colonel. (Exceptions: Zhang will always starts as a Lieutenant, while Annette will always starts as a Sergeant)

Now, in the original XCOM, soldiers draw a paycheck every month. Soldiers you're not getting active use out of are money you're flushing down the drain. If it had a gift soldier mechanic, a player would have incentive to trim their numbers down to something closer to the Skyranger's capacity. This is the remaquel, however, and its soldiers are perpetual motion machines who only require an initial cash injection to join you, if that. As such, if you accumulate a pile of Majors in the form of gift soldiers, you might as well just leave them in the base, maybe bring them out to get them to Colonel rank.

In numerical terms, treating Rookie as level 1, that's basically a minimum of level 5 in a system that caps at level 8. Combined with how it's essentially guaranteed you'll get at least some gift soldiers, even if you dislike picking them as a reward, it requires fairly catastrophic play to actually be set back to an early-game level range on your entire squad.

So that's another way the remaquel buffers you against strategic consequences.

The Skyranger isn't anything the player has to pay for, ever.

Scientists and engineers also draw no paychecks.

You never have to spend money (Or anything else) on ammo. Period.

Then there's more abstract changes -the process of running down a UFO has gone from a nuanced, complex, and admittedly unwieldy system to a fairly one-dimensional system in which the game randomly alerts you to a UFO, and then you send a fighter craft and play a minigame and then launch the Skyranger afterward. You don't have to worry about ammo for your interceptors, there's no option to have aircraft patrol for enemies...

... in general, the strategic layer in the remaquel has been substantially defanged. The game is closer in many respects to a more typical linear campaign than to classic XCOM, in this regard.

Individually, most of these changes aren't a problem. It's unrealistic, but I don't mind the player getting to ignore paychecks, for example, and I've said before I actually overall approve of how Alien Grenades are handled. Collectively, they cut out a major element of what makes XCOM XCOM.

It's particularly disappointing how some of these changes intersect with others -the combination of indestructible gear and having to put effort into acquiring Alien gear is actually something I'd love to see in the original XCOM. It's annoying how trivial it is to 'upgrade' to Heavy Plasmas in the original game, and this is a nice solution. Buuuut the remaquel so dramatically slashes squad size, gets rid of secondary bases, and otherwise renders it trivial to be Fully Equipped, and it's disappointing instead.


Next time, I talk in more detail about the remaquel's plot.


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