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XCOM: Enemy Within

By breadbitten27-11-2013
StuntmanLT (editor)

The Defence

Firaxis Games
2K Games
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Dual Core 2.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 9800
AMD Radeon HD 3850
4 GB
20 GB

The Case

Last year’s excellent XCOM: Enemy Unknown proved that Firaxis had a deep understanding and respect towards the storied legacy of the original X-COM: UFO Defense. That didn’t stop some of the more impassioned fans from crying foul at the game’s more simplified systems when compared to MicroProse’s games. With the expansion Enemy Within, Firaxis have decided to build upon the original framework they’d established in Enemy Unknown. Does the studio manage to successfully quell the complaints of long-time diehards by adding more or do they botch the job and repel newcomers by making the game more complicated?

The Trial

I will never forget the day I lost my favorite soldier in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Corporal Fanny ‘Teh Bitch’ Changstein. I always made it a task to fit her with the toughest armor, equip her with the most powerful weapons and pore over hours choosing just the right upgrades to fit her “fierce Irish girl” personality. She was the envy of the rest of her squadmates and the literally red-headed step-daughter that I’ll never have in real life. A moment of silence for Fanny...

Right then, the new expansion. While Enemy Within is an expansion to Enemy Unknown, it’s also an entity of its own. The base game remains the same but any existing saves you had (and in turn any soldiers/squads you’d grown accustomed to using) for EU are incompatible with it. It means you’re required to start a new game from scratch. I can hear you moaning now, I know, I can sympathize. EU’s mind-numbingly slow early-game research-a-thon isn’t something I was very keen on re-experiencing going into EW either, but it makes up for that my making all the newer bits and bobs ripe for plucking from the get-go, I wasn’t even in the three hour mark before I had a giant red, French-speaking robot and a spliced-up Guile-wannabe in my fledgling army.

Fanny?! Is that really you?!

Fanny?! Is that really you?!

Speaking of new bits and bobs, by all accounts I should hate EW. Firaxis have managed to screw over my carefully calculated strategy of playing XCOM where I move my squad from cover-to-cover, always on Overwatch until the nasties present themselves and (hopefully) get blasted in the face, with one simple addition: MELD. Big ass canisters full of delicious alien orange juice (which always come in two, curiously) randomly strewn about in every map, and are tied to a specific number of turns before they expire. Because of this, I found myself spreading my soldiers around in tighter groups of two or three and in a radius wider than anything I would’ve been comfortable with in EU, leaving them highly vulnerable and at certain moments without any cover. For an impulsive save-scummer such as I, this can be quite problematic you see.

MELD alone changes up the very way one approaches combat in XCOM in more than one way. It bleeds into two of the expansion’s major new additions, MECs and Gene Mods. At any given point in the game you can nominate up to three simultaneous soldiers into being morphed into either a hulking cyborg or a bastardized human being with Xeno-genes crawling inside him/her, processes which require MELD as currency. It’s an ingenious way to get complacent players like me to crawl out of my comfort zone and employ abilities and tactics that I’d never have used had I adhered to my old ways.



MEC the thousand-ton elephant in the room. If you’re seeking further validation into how awesome they are, then I shall comply. Yes, they are indeed awesome, they’re lethal and surprisingly fast for being such massive units, but they are also incredibly exposed because of that very reason. Deploying a MEC plays into that risk/reward dynamic that is ingrained within XCOM, you have to be smart about which situation to bring in your massive friend to, at least in the initial stages of its development, especially given the fact that a MEC unit gains some extra abilities depending on what class of unit he/she may have been prior to its mechanical-grafting. Gene-modded soldiers on the other hand are a much safer bet, essentially enhancing specific skills such as aim, reaction, etc. while some mods offer new abilities altogether such as the ability to blend into cover. The abilities for gene-modded soldiers can be respeced mid-game without any penalties other than the process requiring a few days to complete.

While MELD and unit modification are the biggest additions, Firaxis have also made sure the meta-game gets an appropriate kick in the chassis as well. The crux of those changes lies within EXALT, which is fundamentally an anti-XCOM organization with misguided beliefs towards the alien invaders. After the initial encounter the EXALT can do much to hinder your progress, from draining funds to inciting terror within countries/continents that were perfectly stable mere days ago. You can tackle them by sending in covert operatives to infiltrate EXALT cells that are being harbored by certain countries. During direct confrontations, there’s a certain sick pleasure that comes from killing human enemies as opposed to the regular gallery of creepy-crawlies, human enemies who happen to deploy tactics similar to your troops. I’m pretty sure there’s some deep philosophical observation tucked away somewhere, but unfortunately I’m not smart or observant enough to pick at it.

Mmmmm, my sweet sweet Meld...

Mmmmm, my sweet sweet Meld...

There are numerous changes made under-the-hood that further refine the game and goad players into taking a different approach, be it in combat or the meta-game. I felt like the game was throwing combat opportunities at a more inconsistent and unpredictable frequency than in EU, often seeing weeks pass by without anything popping up on the geoscape while sometimes being bombarded by a triathlon of a terror mission, covert-ops mission and alien abduction in the same day.

The Verdict

I realize there’s been some moderate amount of doubt and cynicism amongst some concerned individuals about EW’s rather steep price point. If you’ve been following developer Firaxis’ previous exploits into the land of DLC and expansion packs then you’re already rather knowledgeable how their minds operate when it comes to content. Enemy Within brings a smorgasbord of changes and refinements into the base game while adding on more and more features, both obvious and subtle, to justify calling Enemy Within an expansion pack.

Case Review

  • Bang for your Buck: It’s an expansion from Firaxis, what were you expecting?
  • Leaner and Meaner: Strikes an even finer balance between accessibility and complexity.
  • Shaken and Stirred: Effortlessly shakes up players into adopting a wider range of strategies and skills.
  • A Drag: The initial hours are still mired in prolonged bouts of completing basic-research and satellite-hoarding.
  • Artificial Unintelligence: While solid for the most part, enemy AI is still quite inconsistent in its lethality and oftentimes just plain dumb.
  • Interfacing Problems: The UI is definitely much less prone to glitching out than before, but some problems linger on.
Score: 4.5/5
Enemy Within will not help established fans in rebuilding their social lives and is the perfect entry-point for newcomers.


The most obvious addition to XCOM: Enemy Within is the Meld substance and you will never forget it, as every random mission contains retrievable, timed Meld canisters. This is kind of annoying (and why would the aliens bring that stuff everywhere), but also introduces a sense of urgency that's lacking in the usual XCOM outings. If you want Meld (and you do want it), you can't just Overwatch your way to victory – you have to rush forward. Kudos if you manage to kill enemies faster than the Meld containers kill themselves.

The stuff is useful for making Genetically Ehanced soldier or MEC cyborgs. GE powers are less flashy and applicable to every trooper you field, but some don't work well with armor. MEC, on the other hand, is awesome. You make MEC troopers from Assault Squadies (they have the best bonuses), give them rocket punches and reap the benefits. MEC make awesome recon troopers, point magnets and bullet sponges. Of course, on higher difficulties it might not be so, but on, Normal, they tank so hard, you don't bother making a SHIV. Also, Firaxis are a bunch of great guys for not meme-ifying the rocket powered punch. And while the rocket punching is awesome by itself (as it lets you punch a zombie through a building), it's even better when the custom animations for attacking Mutons and Sectopods play.

Now the other big thing about the game is Exalt, the human enemies. You can collect their guns to have firearms of different colors (unlike the XCOM rifle, the Exalt rifle is „built for terror“, despite just being a copy of G36C). Their missions, especially with infiltrations, shake things up and are interesting in their own right. The spy game of “which country houses Exalt base” is tense, with clues being uncovered bit by bit.

Score: 5/5


This expansion adds a lot of great combat to XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Meld containers having a countdown timer means that collecting it speeds up gameplay a lot. You'll find yourself playing through missions like you did the first time, yet much more quickly because you're rushing to get the Meld before it self-destructs. After that you can use Meld to alter your soldiers into two distinct soldier types, and both work really well. MEC's are great at storming enemy lines and drawing fire, as well as being generally badass looking while genetically modifying soldiers make your super-tough bug-hunters even more super-tough and bug-hunty. All of the upgrades for both classes are only unlockable through research, which means there's more to be gained down the lab.

The Exalt missions are also a lot of fun. Tracking down locations and sending the operative out is a nice diversion from hunting snarling aliens all day, yet this side of the expansion could have done with a bit more development. Bringing the operatives home again involves only two mission types available which you will have to repeat for every country on the map. It also would be better if the knowledge gained from the exalt operations carried over into your fight against the aliens rather than just being for finding new Exalt cells.

Enemy Within is a great expansion to what was already a great reimagining of the classic Enemy Unknown. It is not perfect - your squad will still shout "X-Rays!" or "Alien spotted!" while staring at a group of humans - however, in the end the faults are so minor in comparison to what the expansion adds that they are easily overlooked. Enemy Within makes the base game a lot deeper, with new squad options, missions, research and enemies. It also brings back the idea that not all humans are on your side, something that was sorely missing from Enemy Unknown. It is definitely a worthy addition to the original game and manages steal your time while eating up more of your life. And who doesn’t have more life to be eaten when it’s such good fun?

Score: 4.5/5
Comments (5)
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Posts: 596

I don't know why but this game just doesn't interest me. Maybe because I've never played a single XCom game, don't know why or how that happened. It just did and now I don't want to spend any moneyz on the game. Perhaps needs better marketing/better game demos/etc...

Posts: 124

XCOM treats me like a bitch...and I comply like one.

Posts: 1317

YOU'RE ALL SCUM! The game deserves a 0/5! I haven't played it myself, but I'm already sure of it!!!111

Posts: 1548

I still have to finish my EU run. Also the Meld thing actually doesn't look good for me as I am the person who likes to play it carefully.

Posts: 3290

Well, that scored higher than I expected. i almost actually want it now