‘XCOM 2’ Director Says Mankind Is ‘Always The Underdog’; Expands Upon Firaxis’ DLC Plans

XCOM 2 is poised to be one of the biggest games of 2016, thanks to a ravenous audience that just can’t get enough of the sci-fi strategy game, but there’s still much we don’t know about XCOM 2 ahead of the game’s Feb. 5 release date.

To prepare for the launch of XCOM 2, iDigitalTimes spoke with XCOM 2 game director Jake Solomon about the ways his team is expanding upon the existing XCOM formula while pushing the franchise forward. Solomon knows his XCOM, having stepped up from creative director for Enemy Unknown to fill the director’s chair for the upcoming sequel.

Over the last few months, there’s been considerable discussion about the ways XCOM 2will improve upon the systems and mechanics introduced in Enemy Unknown, along with the various changes Firaxis is introducing to the game’s strategic layer. We’ve met new enemy units, seen new tile sets Firaxis will use to procedurally generate missions inXCOM 2 and even been given a tour of the scavenged alien supply ship that will serve as XCOM’s base-of-operations in the upcoming sequel. No one in their right mind would accuse Firaxis of taking shortcuts when creating content for XCOM 2, but it might be hard for fans to find a common theme amongst the changes. But that’s not the case for Solomon.

“I think that for me personally, and I think for a lot of the developers, what I wanted to see was a game that’s more replayable,” Solomon told iDigitalTimes. “Enemy Unknown, it’s a replayable game certainly. But I think there were some elements that didn’t make it as replayable as it should have been. So I think that kind of stuck…kind of stuck with me as a designer. And I just think that was behind a lot of the changes we made. We wanted to make a game that was really, really replayable.”

It helped to have a bit of outside inspiration. After all, Firaxis isn’t just known for its revival of XCOM. The Civilization franchise has been a household name among PC gamers for literal decades. Fortunately, the two teams share a building and, as a result, share ideas.. Particularly when XCOM 2’s top priority, replayability, is arguably the greatest strength of the Civilization franchise. But it also creates a bit of pressure for theXCOM team. Nobody wants to be the team that ruins the Firaxis reputation.

“If you’ve been around for a while, you have sort of a personality as a developer,” Solomon said. “And one of the things our audience values, so we have to prioritize it, is that we offer a lot of gameplay per dollar. And, in some senses, it sounds really dry. But it’s just one of those things that our players know to value from the games we make. And we need that loyal audience. We’ve got a pretty big audience. But it’s not like we’re making Call of Duty or something. So our audience is really important to us.”

That desire to appease its audience likely had something to do with Firaxis and 2K reaching out to Long War Studios, the team behind Enemy Unknown’s popular Long War mod, to create new content for the game’s upcoming sequel. But it’s also one of the reasons Firaxis is doing everything in its power to make XCOM 2 the kind of game you want to restart right after watching the credits roll. Less rigid campaigns give players the freedom to tell their own stories, particularly as the modding community begins to create new content for the game, and should keep XCOM 2 feeling fresh longer than many games.

“Games are expensive…If you pay all that money, we want to be able to turn around and say ‘Yeah, but…we’re in the top echelon of games’,” Solomon told iDigitalTimes. “For every dollar you spend, we’re going to give you hours and hours and hours of enjoyment.”

XCOM 2 - SniperXCOM 2 Photo: 2K / Firaxis

Some of the most obvious changes to the XCOM formula are evident when players lead their soldiers out onto the battlefield. Solomon and the rest of the team are aware many of the mechanics that made Enemy Unknown difficult for some players didn’t always leave players ready to continue trudging forward. In some cases, it felt like valuable information — like which tiles could/couldn’t be seen by opposing forces — was being intentionally withheld from the player, forcing players to wander into alien ambushes or leave themselves exposed to flanking without ever realizing they were in danger. That lack of information frequently derailed players’ missions, in a manner that many felt was unfair, but it won’t be an issue in XCOM 2. Now, players know when their hiding spots will/won’t allow them to evade enemy detection. But that doesn’t mean Firaxis hasn’t found other ways to keep the XCOM community on its toes in the heat of battle.”

“We really want things to stay unpredictable in combat. We want the ability for combat to turn from great to a big challenge, or from a sure-lose situation to snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. That’s important. But I don’t want to be a game of information warfare,” Solomon said. “I think that it can be perceived as unfair if the information exists in some form but the player has to either understand how the aliens work or some more-esoteric way of finding that information. I think what the game is saying is that the best way to play is to do things that are difficult to get your information. Instead, we want to be transparent with information and make the aliens behaviors themselves unpredictable or add other elements to combat to make it unpredictable.”

Solomon pointed to two previously revealed enemies, the Viper and the revamped Sectoid, as examples of this new pressure. Both have abilities that can instantly neutralize a member of your squad and, in the Sectoid’s case, can even turn one of your own against you. And there’s no steady build-up to these problems, either. Solomon says players can expect to have issues with mind control as early as the game’s second mission. And alien abilities aren’t the only new source of battlefield stress.

XCOM 2 - ADVENT SoldierXCOM 2 Photo: 2K / Firaxis

Dark Events will also provide a new, horrific challenge in XCOM 2. At random intervals, players will be made aware of two current ADVENT — humans who support mankind’s alien oppressors — research projects. Each will have a corresponding mission that, if completed, will prevent the Dark Event from transpiring. But you can’t stop them both. No matter what you do, ADVENT’s operational capacity will continue to grow throughout the XCOM 2 campaign. And some of the Dark Events can get pretty nasty.

One in particular, called Infiltrator, sounded particularly infuriating when described by Solomon. If the player fails to stop the event, ADVENT will begin replacing civilians with sleeper agents. Should you try to rescue one of these compromised civilians, players will instead find their soldier standing face to face with “huge monsters.” There are also Dark Events that improve ADVENTs ability to reinforce its troops, improve enemy armor ratings and a variety of other alterations designed to make life harder for the player.

“Those things may come at really unpredictable [times],” Solomon says.  “But, at the same time, it’s not an unpredictable that feels unfair. It’s not that we’re trying to hide information from the player. Instead, [the game is] unpredictable in its behaviors.”

Solomon says finishing the XCOM 2 campaign will be similar to trying for a science victory in Civilization. In the same way your success (and completion order) building a spaceship will vary from campaign to campaign, the order in which players complete the pillars of the XCOM 2 campaign will change based on a variety of factors. Yes, there are certain events that you’ll encounter in every run. But the path you follow to victory (or defeat) is entirely up to the player.

Interestingly, despite our own fears, Solomon also confirmed Firaxis is interested in producing more XCOM 2 DLC after releasing the three add-ons covered by the Reinforcement Pack. Each content drop planned for early 2016 includes material that differs wildly from the base game and the other confirmed XCOM 2 expansions. But, when I asked whether the combined expansions would offer as much content as we’d seen in Enemy Within, Solomon explained that I had it all wrong. The XCOM 2 director says the Reinforcement Pack content is great stuff, which is why Firaxis is releasing it, but Solomon assured us the currently announced XCOM 2 DLC “doesn’t take the place of anything.”

XCOM 2 - ConcealmentXCOM 2 Photo: 2K / Firaxis

As someone on the outside looking in, it’s hard to know what to expect from an Enemy Within sized expansion for XCOM 2. A few days ago, it would have been easy to assume an XCOM 2 expansion might return to an Enemy Within-esque atmosphere, where a resurgent human organization is now charged with wiping out the last pockets of alien sympathizers. But Solomon saidfans shouldn’t expect humanity to gain the upper-hand during the XCOM 2 campaign or in the game’s post-launch content. And it turns out there’s a pretty good reason for that.

XCOM works best when the player is under pressure. In Enemy Unknown, at a certain point, the difficulty kind of inverted, to where you were kind of mopping up every mission,” Solomon said. “We really want to make sure that in XCOM 2 it never really flips like that. We want the player to be under pressure the entire game. It kind of fits, thematically, the idea of you being a resistance group. You never actually rise to the point of taking back the governments, necessarily. Instead, you’re always the underdog. Even when you build up a lot of support around the globe, you’re always an underdog.”

“We really want the players to never feel like they’re entirely on top of the situation,” the XCOM 2 director added.

It’s certainly an attainable goal, up to a point, but the XCOM 2 team realizes it’s only a matter of time before the game’s community unravels its many secrets and figures out the most-effective strategies for battling ADVENT in any given situation. That reality was a driving motivation behind the decision to build extensive modding tools for the XCOM 2 community. Rather than try to keep pace with the breakneck speed of the gaming community, Firaxis is more than content to let those same fans create the content they feel is missing from the core XCOM 2 experience. That includes voice packs for the handful of nationalities, primarily African and Asian, Firaxis wasn’t able to package in time for launch.

And the community has responded with as much excitement as you’d expect. One team is already building a mod to make XCOM 2 a cooperative game And there’s thepartnership between Firaxis and Long War Studios; a relationship that will undoubtedly yield some of XCOM 2’s most popular mods. Sadly, we’ll have to wait until Saturday’s Firaxis Megapanel to get more specifics.

With Firaxis placing so much faith in modders, it only made sense to ask about a potential integration with Valve’s paid mods program. Granted, we haven’t heard much about Valve’s desire to create a for-pay section of the Steam Workshop; however, the company has always been open about its desire to revisit the issue some day. Fortunately for XCOM fans averse to the idea, it doesn’t sound like Firaxis has much interest in seeing paid mods for XCOM 2. In addition to having his own reservations, Solomon acknowledged the many, many gamers vehemently opposed to the idea.

“There are some questions that still need to be answered,” Solomon says, “It’s not something that we’re thinking about right now. I want to say it’s just like everything else. I think you keep an eye on it and you keep an eye on what people are open to, what other people are able to do with it, I guess…but it’s not something that we’re standing here saying we’re going to lead the charge.”

XCOM 2 - Hack ScreenXCOM 2 Photo: 2K / Firaxis

Solomon also spoke to those concerned that Firaxis has been a bit too vocal about all of the content and mechanical changes coming to XCOM 2 when the game hits PC, OS X and Linux on Feb. 5. Where many fans are typically lamenting the lack of information being distributed about new projects, some fans are worried there won’t be any secrets left by the time we reach the XCOM 2 release date. The XCOM 2 director acknowledged those concerns, admitting that the game’s most devout fans have likely seen a fair amount of the Enemy Unknown sequel ahead of launch. But Solomon says fans shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking early chatter will ruin the moment to moment experiences once XCOM 2 is out.

“There are some enemies we haven’t talked about,” Solomon told iDigi. “We don’t want any talking about the story, which is a bigger part of XCOM 2 than it was in Enemy Unknown…there are environments and things like that we haven’t talked about. But a lot of the game has been shown. A lot of the game has been shown. But with a game likeXCOM, I am still very confident that when people sit down –watching videos is one thing but when people sit down and have the experience for themselves – and get to see the story of the game, get to see some of these environments and some of these enemies we haven’t talked about, it’s going to be night and day.”

It can be a difficult line to walk, between sharing too much/little, but it’s a line the XCOM 2 director said Firaxis feels increasingly comfortable walking down. Sure it can be frustrating when it feels like you’re seeing things you shouldn’t be seeing until you’re running through the XCOM 2 campaign yourself. But that very same information could be helping someone make a better-informed purchasing decision. And that’s just as important to the studio.

“We definitely err on the side of sharing more,” Solomon admits. “We’re really excited about the game we made. And I think that we feel comfortable putting it in people’s hands early, allowing all the preview codes to go out and showing people as much as possible because we also want people to be able to look at what we’ve shown…we want them to be sure that the product they’re getting is one that they want and they can be excited about.”


[Source:- n4g]