It’s been over a year since I was first tasked with saving the Earth in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Back then, I was a fresh faced commander who knew he would be able to stave off the alien invasion and bring my men back alive. We Got This Covered editor Chad Goodmurphy died on the first mission. But that was then! With XCOM: Enemy Within I knew what I was getting into! I was more prepared, and understood the necessary precautions needed to bring my men home alive.
Chad died on the second mission.
XCOM: Enemy Within is the first true expansion to Enemy Unknown we’ve seen, and offers new maps, enemy types, missions, and customization options. I was a bit worried when I first sat down that I’d be playing through the same game with a few offshoot missions added on, and the occasional new enemy thrown in for good measure. Much to my delight, within an hour I was thrust into a new narrative and realized that I would have to rethink my entire approach to the game.
As the title implies, in XCOM: Enemy Within you won’t just be tasked with stopping an invasion of unknown aliens. Instead, you’ll now have the additional challenge of dealing with the EXALT organization on Earth desperately trying to stop the XCOM program. At first glance, this may not seem like a massive change, but the fact that you’re now dealing with an enemy who understands your tactics drastically changes your strategic approach.
EXALT feels like an organization ripped straight out of a James Bond film. While you’ll still have the traditional confrontations with them on the battlefield, they really shine with their use of technology and mind games. It won’t take long before they start hacking your mainframe and increasing panic across the world, making it much harder to keep countries invested in the XCOM program. To put a stop to them, you’ll have to devote valuable resources to tracking them down across the globe before finally accusing a country of harboring them. If you end up accusing the wrong country, they’ll back out of XCOM, leaving you that much more depleted. You can ignore EXALT completely and deal with the repercussions of their actions, but that’s a pretty big risk to take.
On the battlefield, EXALT prefers a much more stealthy approach than you’re probably prepared for. You can expect small groups using sneaking equipment to attempt to flank your exposed troops with pistols in order to take them out quickly.
Trying to take down EXALT consistently feels like a cat and mouse game in which you’re constantly one step behind at any given moment. Even if you take the risk and attempt to ignore them to focus on the invasion, it’s impossible to ignore the resulting drastic effects on the world around you. Simply put, their inclusion is an absolute game changer.
EXALT isn’t the only new challenge you’ll have to face though. New alien enemies have been introduced into the mix, and quite frankly they’re terrifying. The Seekers are a flying enemy that vaguely resemble the Sentinels from The Matrix, and quickly became my most feared enemy. Seekers will cloak themselves before flanking a member of your party and strangling them. If you don’t happen to have someone close by to shoot them off, it’s all but certain you’re going to lose a valuable team member. Seeing one of them on the battlefield instantly meant I had to abandon my strategy of spreading out and huddle the team into consolidated groups, leaving them wide open to a well-placed grenade.
Luckily, your enemies aren’t the only ones who’ve upgraded their technology. Early in the game, you’ll start finding a new substance called ‘Meld’ strewn across the battlefield that can be used to upgrade your troops in two dramatic ways.
The first option is to genetically modify your troops, making them “a little bit alien.” You can modify a troop’s brain, eyes, chest, skin, and legs with two different implants after unlocking them via autopsies. The alternative is to turn your soldiers into something more machine than man by ripping away their flesh and offering cybernetic replacements. These troops will become a new MEC class complete with their own skill tree and weapon sets.
These implants not only make a substantial difference to a troop’s combat readiness by giving them a significant boost to aim, damage, or health, but it also emphasizes just how hopeless this situation is for the people of Earth. Simply put, being human isn’t sufficient enough to survive anymore, and for our species to have any chance we have to remove what makes us human in the first place. It’s a jarring mentality to have to accept, and really hammers down just how bad the situation truly is.
There are a myriad of other small changes to be found here too, including outfits for your troops and (my personal favorite) accents based on your home country, which really help emphasize the global nature of the conflict. A brand new tutorial is present as well to help get you caught up with the new features, and the AI seems to have been given a significant boost, making this already tough game a bit tougher on the higher difficulties.
Simply put, if you enjoyed XCOM: Enemy Unknown, XCOM: Enemy Within is a fantastic expansion to what was already a fantastic game. There’s enough new content here to keep veteran players engaged for another playthrough, and newcomers now have the definitive XCOM game at their fingertips. This may not have been the most hyped game of the season, and is unabashedly more of an expansion than a brand new product, but Enemy Within has become one of my personal favorite experiences of the year. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
This review is based on a PC version of the game given to us for review purposes.
XCOM: Enemy Within is the definitive XCOM experience. There's enough here to keep veterans of the series engaged for another playthrough and it's a perfect launching point for newcomers to experience what may be the best turn-based strategy game on the market right now.