Firaxis and 2K Games have announced that XCOM: Enemy Unknown will live on thanks to a new expansion pack known as XCOM: Enemy Within. We spoke with lead designer Ananda Gupta, who told us that this new expansion will come to be known as the “definitive” version of the game.
When XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 last year, it took a lot of people by surprise. The original game was 18 years old and PC-only, plus it was a strategy game awash in a sea of shooters, sports games, and puzzle offerings. It was a difficult sell to some gamers, and yet developer Firaxis did just that.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown went on to be a major hit for publisher 2K, both commercially and critically. It won several Game of the Year awards (check out our own glowing review), and even spawned an impressive iOS port. The just released game The Bureau: XCOM Declassified also owes a huge note of thanks to the success of Firaxis’ game, although The Bureau was in development long before Enemy Unknown was released.
So with the success of the game, it was really just a question of how the series would continue. Firaxis and 2K could create a traditional sequel for PCs and the next gen (and they likely are still), but that would mean it would be years before more XCOM content was released. They could release a standard DLC, perhaps as an epilogue or a side story to the main game. Instead, however, they decided to stick to the game’s PC roots, and offer an expansion pack that overhauls the original game, adds a ton of additional content, and will eventually replace Enemy Unknown.
Enemy Within is an expansion that affects the original game in the same way that a Civilization V expansion does. Rather than just adding new content on the side, it retroactively changes the original game, adding new features to the old content and breathing life into a game that the player likely already experienced. Sometimes that means simple changes like tweaks to the UI, other times that means radically expanding the amount of content.
“When we plotted out the original, when we scoped out how many maps we wanted to do for the original game, we definitely had this idea of what the typical playthrough would be, and we were kind of wrong about that,” Gupta told us. “We kind of underestimated how many missions people were going to be going on before they finished. So when we had the chance to add a lot of new maps, we jumped at it.”
One major change is the addition of a new class of soldier called a “Mec Trooper.” This class begins after you build a cybernetic lab in your base and begin to convert soldiers. They can then wear a mech-like power suit into battle. You will also be able to create a genetics lab in your base and implant genetic modifications to your soldiers thanks to the alien autopsies you complete. These modifications give soldiers “otherworldly” powers.
To pay for these upgrades you’ll need to find a new resource called “meld,” which is different from any of the other resources. Meld will appear in the battlefield in both new and original maps, and you’ll need to recover it from the enemy… quickly. Each canister has a self-destruct timer, so if you are playing conservatively and trying to keep your players alive you may miss out on meld, while others that are more aggressive may benefit from that strategy – assuming they survive.
There have been a few major tweaks to the multiplayer map too – nothing that will alter how people play, but instead Firaxis listened to the fans and responded with two specific changes: Eight new multiplayer maps will join the original five, and you’ll now be able to edit and save configurations offline.There will also be plenty of new maps, so many that the total map count will go up nearly 50-percent. Along with the new maps will be a handful of new enemies and a few new customizable options. Your soldiers, for example, will have the option of sounding international through a language option in the soldier customization – specifically: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, and Polish.
“Those were the two biggest things that multiplayer players wanted,” Gupta said, “more maps, and the ability to mess around with squad loadouts without a time crush or without an imminent game.”
The multiplayer won’t have a wide beta, but the good news is you won’t have to wait long. XCOM: Enemy Within will be out on November 12, or more stylishly, 11/12/13. If you purchase the expansion on PC, it will function like a standard expansion and work with the original game, just bigger; it will run you $29.99. If you want to check it out on either the PS3 or Xbox 360, it will be a standalone game that will be on sale for $39.99.
Firaxis has been working on the expansion since last summer, months before Enemy Unknown was even released. Part of it will answer the demands of fans, while some of it will include things that Firaxis wanted to experiment with, but either didn’t have time or just elected to hold it for later. It will also fix things that the developer didn’t think worked quite right. We’ll also see new story elements, including a few Easter Eggs relating to The Bureau, along with some other narrative twists Firaxis is keeping quiet about for now.
If you are a fan of XCOM: Enemy Unknown that has hungered for more content, then Enemy Within will tide you over – at least long enough for the sequel to be release blow us all away, just like its predecessor did.