When XCOM: Enemy Unknown first came out, it became a big hit from out of the blue as no one expected it to play so well and be so affective to the players’ emotions. It wasn’t just a good turn-based tactics game that did everything just right, but it also made you feel for the soldiers, especially if you decided to customize them then leveled them up from mission to mission. If you lose one, you can feel it in your soul since that soldier is gone forever, which is similar to other games like the Fire Emblem series. It has since been released on consoles and even mobile platforms, and it seems like Firaxis is not done just yet.
XCOM: Enemy Within is the expansion to the first game, in which you now not only have the aliens to worry about, but also human paramilitary cultists that are siding with the aliens called EXALT. With this new threat comes new enemy types, new resource, new classes and technologies, new ways of fighting, and so on. The game that had captivated gamers in 2012 has now become even better and much deeper, as if it wasn’t hard enough before. Playing this game in Ironman Mode is perhaps right there near the pinnacle of what you can experience in turn based games. It’s merciless in punishing even the slightest lapse of judgment, and that’s why it’s pretty good.
This was perhaps going to be a slippery slope since Enemy Unknown turned out to be excellent, so whatever they add in had to be complementary to the core game mechanics. There are now a lot more things to research and make use of in the battlefield, making for more strategic and tactical possibilities that result from planning and development prior to missions. There is also a greater variety in maps, as well as more incentive for risky decisions courtesy of the new MELD resource, so the old strategy of inching your way through a map and using overwatch in every turn won’t be as effective and rewarding this time around. Finding MELD in battle means that you have to explore the map more and get things done much faster.
Upon acquiring enough MELD, you can then genetically modify your soldiers and turn them into cyborg super soldiers called MEC Troopers. Using them is perhaps one of the most awesome experiences that any XCOM player can ever have. There is no feeling equal to that after killing an alien by punching it through a wall with Kinetic Strike for the first time, which makes jaws drop, eyes go wide, and brain cells explode. The aliens also have their own MECs called Mectoids to accompany the Sectoids, Thin Men, and all the other enemy types to do their best in ruining everyone’s day. It also doesn’t help Earth that there are humans who herald their coming with militant activities of their own.
The existence of EXALT adds more missions to the campaign, and you have to take them out in order for them to not be able to assist their alien overlords. Seeing fellow humans root for the alien invaders juxtaposes the XCOM Project, and perhaps there could have been moral choices in the gameplay to add more to the conflict, but it seems like it was a wasted opportunity. Firaxis could have done something like Deus Ex: Human Revolution with making MEC Troopers, wherein making them would have people protesting and endangering support on the XCOM Project, which would then decrease your monthly income and so on. Unfortunately, the rabbit hole doesn’t go that deep in this case.
Most of these new additions affect the early and midgame, but not much in the endgame. The endgame hasn’t really changed that much in terms of the storyline, but it does get a bit easier due to all the swag you get earlier. Perhaps that does make for a more rewarding experience when players have gotten so far and want to see the result of the whole build-up. Of course, all those upgrades and the soldiers leveled up and ready for the challenge, so having the final mission play out more easily than expected can be quite a letdown for some players. It could be 50/50 for the masochists who are playing it in Impossible difficulty and Ironman mode.
If you enjoyed XCOM: Enemy Unknown, then you should get this Enemy Within to enhance and diversify the experience more. As one of the best tactical games ever with excellent gameplay and a good storyline, adding more replay value without making it too drawn out makes it much better as a whole, even though it doesn’t add as much to the latter parts of the game. If you played The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and was disappointed, then this should bring faith back into the XCOM franchise for you.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 8.5/10