Tag Archives: firaxis

Replay: XCOM 2 – Long War 2

lw2_fire

I’ve not dabbled with mods for many years. That might sound a little strange considering the high volume of PC games that I get through, but it’s partly because of the high volume of PC games that I get through: I usually play games with an eye to reviewing them, you can’t review them fairly if they’re plastered in mods, and over the last few years I’ve had little time to revisit games I’ve already played to see how they change. With the slightly more relaxed (or less obsessive, anyway) attitude I’m taking this year, though, I have the opportunity to do ridiculous, time-expensive things like reinstalling XCOM 2 along with the recently-released Long War mod for it to see what all the fuss is about.

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Thoughts: Civilization VI

civ6_scythia

God help me, but I was actually looking forward to Civilization VI. After experiencing both Civilization V and Beyond Earth at launch I really shouldn’t have been; both were eventually patched into a decent state and after two expansions Civ V even went on to surpass its predecessors, but at launch they were flawed, buggy messes with plenty of basic functionality missing. Given Firaxis’s previous track record here it seems foolish to have expected great things from Civilization VI on launch, but after peeking at the development videos I just couldn’t help myself. The lead designer is the guy who pulled Civ V out of the muck. As a headline idea I can’t exactly call unpacking city management onto the world map inspired since Endless Legend got there first, but it’s potentially completely game-changing and Civ VI looked like it was going to explore the concept in far more depth. And in a departure from previous Civs they weren’t going to leave trade, espionage and religion for the expansion packs and instead integrated them into Civ VI as core features, essentially making it a Greatest Hits version of Civ V post-expansions. How could this possibly go wrong?

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Thoughts: XCOM 2

xcom2_grenadier

About six months after my glowing review of the original XCOM reboot I wrote a followup piece that comprehensively laid into the game for flaws that had become apparent on subsequent playthroughs. The aliens’ completely passive presence on the geoscape. The introduction of new, tougher enemy types being linked to your completing plot missions that had no time factor involved, allowing you to game the system by researching endgame weapons and armour before tackling any of them. An inverse difficulty curve where the first three months of the game were by far the hardest as you desperately tried to keep your rookies alive with only basic weapons and equipment. A whole host of paper tiger systems (such as panic), where the various NPCs screamed at you to play the game in a certain way in an attempt to mask the fact that playing slowly and cautiously — and liberally vomiting explosives anywhere in direct contravention of Vahlen’s instructions — would result in flawless completion of 95% of missions. The Enemy Within expansion pack alleviated some of these flaws, but it couldn’t fix the worst of them as they were baked into the very structure of the game itself. Any trulycomprehensive cure would require a complete restructure of XCOM’s systems that only a sequel could provide.

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Thoughts: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide

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Firaxis are a developer with a reputation for releasing expansion packs that dramatically improve their base game. Yes, you can say that this is partly because the base games tend to be broken, unbalanced or otherwise underwhelming in some way, but there’s no arguing that Civilization V was a much better game after Gods and Kings, and while Enemy Within added some flab in the form of Exalt it did wonders for the pacing and balancing of the XCOM campaign as a whole. They’re commendably committed to improving and expanding on their games post-launch; even so, the existence of the Rising Tide expansion pack for Civ-V-In-Space ‘em up Beyond Earth surprises me more than a little. There was so much wrong with Beyond Earth that I was convinced that this time around Firaxis would just tie a rock to it and let it sink rather than send good development money after bad.

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Thoughts: Sid Meier’s Starships

starships_shoot

Sid Meier’s Starships. It’s not a name that sounds particularly promising, is it? Sid’s a fan of pithy one- or two- word titles, and he’s used them to great effect in the past. What else would you call a game about the progress of human society through the ages except Civilization? They are usually appropriately descriptive; in Railroad Tycoon you play the part of an 1830-era railroad tycoon. Even the simplest ones were jazzed up by the addition of an exclamation mark: Pirates! is a little muddy as a descriptor, but you can at least tell Sid is very excited about it and thinks you’re going to have a lot of fun playing it. (And he was right.) Even the worst of his games, Railroads!, was saved by the exclamation mark and by the fact it did somewhat signal the transition from meaty business sim to playing with a virtual toy railway set.

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Thoughts: Beyond Earth

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Beyond Earth is a doomed-from-the-start attempt to shift the familiar Civilization empire-building action into the future. It’s doomed because no matter how good Firaxis made this game, by setting it around the colonisation of an alien world it draws inevitable comparison with one of Firaxis’ very first products: Alpha Centauri, a game that’s rightfully regarded as one of the genre’s absolute classics. Beyond Earth was never going to live up to Alpha Centauri’s better qualities, both real and imagined, and I’ve tried to take this into account when playing the thing; Beyond Earth should be judged on its own merits, not the nostalgia-fuelled remembrance of a sixteen year-old predecessor. What surprises me, however — and especially so for a Firaxis title — is that even if you take SMAC out of the equation, even when you compare Beyond Earth to the modern Civilization franchise that spawned it, I think it fundamentally still isn’t a very good game.

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Thoughts: Enemy Within.

prophet

Enemy Within is the first expansion to the XCOM remake, a game which was pretty well received on here over a year ago but which in the long run turned out to suffer from some fairly deep-seated structural issues – the aliens’ completely supine geoscape presence and an inverse difficulty curve  being amongst the most prominent. A good thing, then, that it was made by Firaxis, since if there’s one thing Firaxis excel at it’s fixing critical flaws with comprehensive and well-designed expansion packs. After the success of Gods and Kings and the well-designed additions Brave New World made to Civ V (even if I didn’t particularly agree with them all that much) I had high hopes that Enemy Within would do the same for XCOM.

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