I am a huge fan of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and with XCOM 2 due to launch on February 5th, I wanted to play this modern classic again, but there’s a problem; after multiple playthroughs, the replay value of the game has greatly diminished.
However, there is a popular community mod called “The Long War” which aims to do something about that, so I decided to give it a try.
XCOM’s (Minor) Faults
The problem with XCOM: Enemy Unknown (XEU) is that, while the game has a lot of ‘random’ elements, there are only a limited number of maps. After a few playthroughs, you find yourself in familiar scenarios, knowing instinctively where the aliens and objectives are likely to be, and so the game loses some of the tension that is such a core part of the initial experience.
The Long War
The Long War mod changes a surprising amount of stuff. There are new classes, extra soldier slots, more weapons and items, and it mixes up the gameplay a bit. It also extends the length of the campaign, changes the aliens’ stats and powers, and adds extra depth to some of the games features, such as the UFO interception mini-game. All of these things succeed in changing the feel of the game, although I’m not sure if it is always a change for the better.
What I Liked
The mod does some simple things that I really felt added to the XCOM experience. For example, each soldier’s health meter is now colour-coded to distinguish between armour and health, so you know when a solder is actually injured or when their armour has just been damaged. It also presents you with more information about how factors like height, cover and injuries affect your soldiers’ chance to hit or evade enemy attacks. This stuff is not essential, but its good to know in order to understand how the game’s mechanics work and the implications of certain actions.
The other thing it does is to mix up the gameplay a bit. There aren’t any new maps, but your squad (and the aliens) can now start in a wider range of places. This change in perspective can make the maps feel a little fresher, and the fact that you no longer know where the aliens are likely to be makes you a little more cautious, restoring some of the game’s tension.
What I Didn’t Like
However, there are also lots of things about the mod that I don’t like. One thing is the item management; you start with multiple types of weapon, grenade and accessories, plus each soldier has more item slots, plus you start with six solders (instead of 4) and can boost squad size up to 12 (instead of 6). This means lots of micro-management to make sure that each soldier has the most suitable equipment. For me, this is too fiddly and it quickly became tedious, especially when you consider that most of them are probably going to die anyway!
It may not be fair to expect lots of polish from amateurs, but there are a lot of little things that bug me. Its kinda nice that there is a wider range of soldier voices, but the delivery of the lines can best be described as ‘mixed’. Also, the mod introduces a lot of bugs – makes load times longer, causes models and textures to load late, causes the camera to jump randomly around the map during the aliens’ turn and causes animations to frequently stall… – all errors that rarely appear in the core game. I know that modding the files of a game that wasn’t designed to be modded can’t be easy, and technically none of these bugs actually break the gameplay, but it’s hard to look past so many niggling little issues.
The other major problem is the lack of fairness or balance. I appreciate a challenge, and love that they’ve mixed up the types of enemy you will encounter, but it is too random and there are scenarios that seem cruel and unfair. One example happened during one of my very first missions. I got to the bridge of the ship, expecting a fight with an Outsider. These aliens normally have three or four points of health and just basic attacks. A nuisance, but not a serious challenge. Instead, I found three Outsiders, each of whom had 10 health points AND regenerated 3 health points each turn. This is a scenario that they actually try to defend on the FAQs page on their site, and I was able to beat them (though I lost four of my six soldiers in the process), but (particularly compared to the excellent balance and difficulty curve of the proper game) this just feels unfair. Its madness to expect a squad of rookies with the most basic weapons and armour to overcome obstacles like these, even under an experienced commander.
I wanted to like the Long War, but I just don’t. There are some positive changes and additions here, but a lot that makes the game tedious or which damages the experience for me. I don’t mind the war with the aliens lasting longer, but the mod makes each battle (and the preparation for it) such a long, drawn out and tedious affair, that I just lose interest. It could be argued that the changes make the game ‘more realistic’ but ‘realism’ rarely equates to ‘fun’! If I could be bothered, I would probably like to try to alter the mod to keep the good and lose the bad, but I probably won’t. Especially since, at time of writing, XCOM 2 is nearly here anyway!
I realize that it is largely a matter of personal taste and I know there are lots of people out there love the mod. Maybe I’m just not good enough at the game, maybe I don’t have the patience or enjoy micro-management, or maybe I just don’t have the time to adapt to the changes. But, whatever the reason, The Long War is not for me!
On a more positive note, stay tuned for a First Impressions review of XCOM 2.