It can be hard to bring back a classic – just look at all the failed reboots in all mediums – but 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a reimagining of the classic 1994 classic X-COM: UFO Defense (aka UFO: Enemy Unknown in Europe, managed to do it. Firaxis stayed true to the franchise’s turn based strategy roots, while updating the technology, aesthetic, and game design to not only fit modern audiences, but to improve upon the game design of the original. Before people come out of the woodwork and claim that Firaxis ruined XCOM, here are some samples of Julian Gollop, the lead designer of the original XCOM, pointing out the flaws in the original and where the new one was better.
But with every game, there’s plenty of room for improvement, especially with a game that spent five years in development. For all its improvements over the old game, there are a few spots where the old mechanics were better, plus there are new problems totally unique to this game. Now that we know there’s definitely a follow up coming (although whether it’s just an expansion or a true sequel is unknown), it’s time for a serious discussion of how Firaxis can make XCOM even better.
Here are 10 things that Firaxis could improve upon for the next XCOM.
10. Better Weapon Animations
When people think of things to improve on for a turn based strategy game, weapon animations probably don’t even make it into the top 20 items worth thinking about, especially when we’re talking about Firaxis’ XCOM. But weapon animations are pretty crucial when you look at the big picture, where players are trying their luck against a random number generator (RNG) that determines whether or not their assault soldiers will be able to hit that Thin Man several meters away. Imagine their frustration when they take an 80% chance shot – and the beam or bullets fly off into the sky at a 45 degree angle.
There’s a word for that. It’s called “bull…”.
Turn based strategy games, more than any other genre, rely on the player’s faith that the computer controlled AI is playing by the same rules as the player. Because each decision is boiled down to discrete choices, instead of instinctual reactions as you face a situation in real time, a player is far more likely to see that they’ve made all the right choices and then gotten screwed by the RNG. That perception gets reinforced when the aliens rarely get such terrible shots – sure, they’ll miss, but their beams will usually be passing by the target, instead of flying off in random directions.
Simply giving the XCOM soldiers the same kind of consistent close misses would do wonders for the players’ immersion in the game. When a player sees an XCOM soldier’s 90% hit miss a Floater, Muton, or Sectoid Commander by a few inches, he or she won’t think that the RNG screwed them over. They’ll just think the aliens got lucky. And that’s how it should be.
Will that mean the death of hilariously impossible shots, like bullets hitting a target 45 degrees behind a soldier? Maybe, but it’ll be worth it to have the game look and feel as fair as it should be.
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This article was first posted on April 10, 2013