Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus
I have read descriptions of Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus (Mechanicus) as being a cross between Warhammer 40K and XCOM. The short version? Sure, close enough. The long version? Not at all.
At the base level, Mechanicus is a unit-turn-based RPG set in the Warhammer 40K universe following the Adeptus Mechanicus branch of the Imperium of Mankind. This already sets it apart from the dozens of its licensed peers, who typically follow the overdone Space Marines. I am a general fan of the Warhammer 40K setting, so the implicit lore taking place (and overwrought dialog) were pure bonuses. If you are not similarly inclined, or find the glorification of Imperium problematic, then you may want to sit this one out.
The reason I say this is because the gameplay is rather simplistic. When I think XCOM, I think about cover and missing 95% accuracy shots seven times in a row. In Mechanicus, there is no cover and no accuracy – if you are within range and have Line of Sight, you hit your target. The combat wrinkle is Cognition (Cog): a persistent, spendable team-wide resource needed to fire larger guns and utilize abilities. In the beginning, your primary source of Cog is from the expendable Servitor redshirts you bring along with you to soak up enemy fire. Deploying Servitors costs 1 Cog, but they grant 1 Cog each time they take damage. Enemies that are downed also grant 1 Cog if a Tech-Priest is nearby to extract it. Aside from that, there are usually several structures around the battlefield that grant 1-3 Cog per turn if a Tech-Priest walks nearby, or if they send their Servo-Skulls (drones on a cooldown) to go collect it.
There are technically other tactical considerations. Ranged weapons cannot be used when in melee range, and there is an Attack of Opportunity when you move out of a threatened square. Units can block each others’ Line of Sight. Necron units will come back to life after a few turns unless you spend time attacking their downed forms. There is an Armor system of sorts that reduces the damage from either Physical or Energy attacks by a flat amount. Necron unit HP/Armor is unknown unless they are scanned by Servo-Skulls or attacked with specific weapons that indicate that said info is captured. Spending time to Scan computer consoles will award you more “Blackstone,” which is an upgrade currency for your Tech-Priests.
But honestly? Heading into the mid-game none of that really matters. Once you have figured out a combination of abilities to keep your team loaded with Cog, you can just blast every enemy out of existence with relative impunity. Indeed, it gets amusing once a character or two unlocks the “Immune to Attacks of Opportunity” skill, as it allows you to freely traverse the map. See, your units can move X spaces normally, but they can spend 1 Cog to extend that range another X spaces. And another, and another, as long as you have Cog to spare. Which means one Tech-Priest can run around the map collecting all the Cog from structures as he goes, scanning all the consoles, and then end up where he started with a full Cog gauge, depending on abilities.
One such ability? Fill your entire Cognition gauge, on a 5-turn cooldown.
Outside of combat, you are basically playing a Visual Novel with a series of frustratingly Blind Choices. Decide which icon room to enter next, decide which of three choices to pick, and then act surprised when they are terrible outcomes. Within each mission there is an Awakening Meter that increases for each room you enter, increases per turn of combat, and also depending on the Blind Choices you make. As the meter fills, more Necrons join the fight and otherwise things go more badly for you. Once you successfully complete a mission, the Awakening Meter gets added to your overall Awakening Meter (e.g. 3 Awakening = +3%), which leads to a Game Over at 100% if you haven’t unlocked the final boss yet. There are usually a few ways to reduce the Awakening Meter within a mission, but it’s otherwise a race against time and actively discourages you from exploration. Which is necessary, because your units get god-like pretty quickly if left to their own devices.
Overall, I did have a good time to the tune of 20 hours. Then I played another 8 hours in order to finish the game, which was pure slog. If you picked up Mechanicus as part of a bundle and you can tolerate the Warhammer 40K setting even a little bit, it is worth installing and giving it a whirl. But if your interest starts to wane, go ahead and drop it within guilt. The game stays exactly the same the whole way through, and nothing about the final battle or ending moves the needle.
I am (Not) Ironman
With my dead 970 graphics card just now reaching the RMA warehouse, I am having to seriously sort through my gaming library for titles that will boot up on a 560ti. WoW runs fine, for example, but 7 Days to Die maybe pushes 20 fps if there isn’t anything going on.
Enter XCOM 2, which I purchased for $12 whole dollars in a recent Humble Monthly Bundle.
I started my first game on “normal” difficulty with Ironman enabled, as I did with the prior title almost four year ago. A few hours later, I abandoned that game and started anew without Ironman.
On the one hand, the decision was easy. XCOM 2 is filled with such crazy amounts of bullshit that I didn’t even feel bad for opening the door to save scumming. The third enemy type you face in the game, a Sectoid, has the ability to Mind Control your units through walls. And create zombie troops from dead bodies. Which is great when your squad consists of only 4 people and you lose one of them to Mind Control off the bat, and that one ends up killing another (who then turns into a zombie). Killing the Sectoid breaks the Mind Control and (re)kills the zombie troops, but that gets a little difficult when one of your guys is Mind Controlled.
Or how about that mission with the Faceless ones? Rescue six civilians… oh wait, one of them morphs into a putty creature with claws and you just ended your turn in melee range. Hey, six damage to your 6 HP dude, that’s convenient. Then you have the snake creatures that can move, then grab a sniper off the top of a train 30 feet away with their tongue, then instantly coil around them, permastunning them and dealing 2 damage per turn. I mean, I suppose I should be grateful there isn’t a chance I could shoot my own coiled guy when I shoot the snake, but I was absolutely expecting that to be a thing. Because fuck you.
None of these things are insurmountable. They just happen to be inane, “gotcha!” bullshit that artificially increases the difficulty of Ironman games. And not even permanently, as once you (the player) know about the existence of these abilities, you can play around them in the future. Which is the point, of course, but I see no reason to structure a game this way while also punishing you long-term for these same blind pitfalls.
On the other hand, after playing a few more hours in non-Ironman mode, I started to wonder about the philosophical ramifications of Save Anywhere.
Fundamentally, a Save Anywhere feature makes eventual success a forgone conclusion. Even in extremely skill-intensive or luck-intensive sections of gameplay, any incremental progress is permanent progress. Some tactical games have RNG protection, e.g. all dice rolls are determined in advance, to dissuade save scumming a 15% chance attack into a critical hit, but that doesn’t prevent you from simply coming in from a different angle or using a different ability.
The other problems with Save Anywhere are the player behavior ramifications. If you can save the game at any time, there is an advantage to doing so, which means there is an incentive to. Tapping F5 is not onerous, but I consider the mental tax of “needing” to remember to do so… well, taxing. It’s not that saving after every attack ruins the game (it does), it’s that I now have to devote constant attention to an out-of-game mechanic. Is there anything worse than thinking you hit Save before turning the corner, but realizing later on that you didn’t, and now you’re stuck with a poor outcome “unnecessarily?” Feels completely different than if the designers make that decision for you.
I feel like there is a middle way, especially in games like XCOM. Specifically: saving inbetween missions. This lets you avert complete disasters like the mission that eventually scuttled my Ironman attempt – a total squad wipe one square from the extraction point – while still disincentivizing save scumming inside each mission. At least then you can weigh the option of losing an elite soldier to some bullshit versus 30-40 minutes of your time.
I Come Bearing Time-Sensitive Gifts
First, the US Playstation Store is having a “flash” sale on PS1 classics. There are 28 total games going for $0.99, but here are the ones I picked up:
- Legend of Dragoon
- Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
- Wild ARMS
- Wild ARMS 2
Given my pirating travails, I decided on principal to put my dollar(s) where my mouth was and purchase the above legitimately. Plus, since those four activated on the PSP, I got to test out whether it was a memory card issue or what. Turns out it might have been a memory card issue because they became corrupt files too. However, the eBay’d PSP came with a 4gb card that successfully transferred my legally-acquired goods so… yeah.
As for the rest of the games not listed, you might find something worth something. I hope you do, actually, because apparently the Playstation Store has a $5 minimum buy-in, so you can’t just pay your dollar; the rest will sit around as store credit for the next sale. Which is kind of good to know that they are willing/capable of putting those older games on sale in the first place. Alternatively, Twisted Metal: Black is pretty good if you enjoy the series at all, but I already own the actual game.
Second, there is a Humble Bundle going on featuring 2K games. What’s amusing about it is that someone fucked up which games get hidden behind the beat-the-average and flat-amount paywalls. At least, that is what I imagine is going on. For example, they put XCOM and Bioshock Infinite behind a $20+ lock… despite the fact that XCOM was like $3 in May and Bioshock Infinite was about $7.50 in March. Meanwhile, a cool Washington (that’s $1 USD for you foreigners) gets you Bioshock, Darkness 2, and more importantly The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. The beat-the-average is filled with filler that has likely filled your Steam library from a dozen similar sales already.
Now, perhaps The Bureau is as bad as they say (66 on Metacritic), but seeing as how it’s the only item on that list that I haven’t seen already in a bundle, I would say that it is worth the risk. I’m not usually so cavalier with my dolla dolla bills y’all, but the first step is recognizing how utterly insane I come across most of the time, and thus take steps to remedy the affliction. Unless the affliction is in fact buying games I likely will never play, in which case fuck that.
Review: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Recommended price: $15
Metacritic Score: 89
Completion Time: 22 hours
Buy If You Like: Relatively simple but slick Tactical Sci-Fi games
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a reboot of the 1990s cult-classic tactical title of the same name. In this game, you take charge of the XCOM project, which is a worldwide military response to what appears to be an alien invasion of Earth. You engage in a series of turn-based tactical battles, which is then broken up by periods of base building and resource management inbetween alien incursions.
Combat is “team turn-based,” which means that you can move all of your own units before giving the floor over to the aliens to do the same. Individual unit turns boil down to “Move + Shoot/Ability,” while trying to make an effort to end your turn next to some cover. As units earn experience, they gain levels and can unlock new abilities/bonuses in their class’s (limited) talent tree. There are a number of different weapons and armor types available (including special items like Grenades and Medkits), but for the most part they are limited to the class they are designed for.
If this all sounds pretty simple, that is because it is. While XCOM won a number of accolades and serious blogging goodwill for its tactical combat, its primary accomplishment is simply existing as a tactical offering at all in a desert of similar titles. At no particular point did I find myself especially challenged tactically, at least in terms of historical titles like Fallout Tactics, Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, Suikoden Tactics, and so on. While I did “only” play on Normal Ironman mode (Ironman meaning you cannot reload a saved game to avoid a team member death), I simply do not see enough moving parts to justify some claim to XCOM’s tactical brilliance. In particular, I have a problem with team turn-based gameplay leading to “dogpile tactics” (maneuvering units so as to unload a full turn’s worth of damage without recourse), combined with an enemy that almost always waits patiently for you to discover them before taking any initiative at all. And then there are a few of XCOM’s uniquely questionable design decisions, such as not showing the range on, say, Sniper Rifles.
Some of the lack of complexity in the tactical segments is made up in the planning stages. Character growth and equipping is straightforward, but trying to juggle base expansion, e.g. building more research centers vs power plants vs ect, with the other demands like satellites for XCOM member states or research into better weapons can get a little dicey. While I got a handle on things by the end of my first playthrough, I was not particularly sure whether the complexity was via the underlying systems or if it were just random chance that, say, China kept getting bombarded by UFOs.
All of this is not to suggest that XCOM is a bad game. It is, in fact, a fun game that I think is an auto-buy at $15 or below. I just want to distance myself from the blogging narrative that XCOM is some kind of superstar in the tactical gameplay arena. It certainly wins the “best tactical game in years” award, but it does so due to an utter lack of competition. If you enjoy this subgenre you will enjoy XCOM, but you will likely find most of your planning taking place outside of the tactical battles rather than in them.
I am officially back in action, having successfully moved all my shit across town and (more importantly) getting the internet hooked up at the new place. During the transition, I took the opportunity to indulge in my baser whims, and ended up purchasing the Playstation 3, a very decent TV to play it on, and… games. All of the games.
- Demon Souls
- Journey Collector’s Edition (Journey, Flower, flOw)
- Final Fantasy XIII
- Heavy Rain
- Metal Gear Solid 4
- ICO & Shadow of the Colossus bundle
- Red Dead Redemption: Game of the Year Edition
- Valkyria Chronicles
- Uncharted 1 & 2 (came with PS3)
- Infamous 1 & 2 (came with PS3)
In fact, I might have gone a bit overboard, even though all of them were less than $20 apiece.
Scratch that, I know I have gone overboard, because this also happened:
The funny thing is that I have so much choice at the moment, that I have chosen not to play anything just yet. The only game I have booted up in the last 48 hours has been XCOM (it was $28 at GMG over the holiday), and that was just because it was one of the few Steam titles that I could play in Offline Mode. I only played XCOM until the end of the tutorial (difficulty Normal Ironman), but so far it has piqued my interest. Then again, I should also probably get back on the WoW train if for no other reason than to actually use the last few remaining free days. And then there is some PlanetSide 2 things I want to talk about. Nevermind the fact that I should probably finish hooking up my PS3 and pop at least one disc in the tray…
So, yeah. Overboard.
Since I am already in for a penny, might as well get all the pounds: if there is some PS3/console exclusive title that I should be on the lookout for come Xmas sale time, let me know in the comments. For example, I almost overlooked Bayonetta until I saw it on eBay last night.
Posted by Azuriel
By the time this gets posted, I will probably be done with my first play-through of XCOM: Enemy Within after ~20 hours.
Taking the advice of many others, I started out with Normal Ironman difficulty which turns the game into a sort of roguelike. While I have lost quite a few agents, the majority of them were rookie redshirts I tasked with carrying around the stun gun to take the aliens alive. A sort of morbid hazing ritual, if you will. An unfortunate few were grizzled veterans who got one-shot by new alien types before I had a chance to realize the danger. Or simply victims of poor planning when the only guy with a Medkit is the one bleeding to death. Too bad all the people standing around him cannot, you know, take the Medkit from his pocket and spray him, but I suppose knowledge of medicinal nanomachine application is only imparted at the character select screen.
I always find it interesting how I start developing relationships with the randomly generated characters though. Name, gender, nickname, nationality, and even class are all randomly determined, but you can customize some of those qualities. One stun gun redshirt managed to beat the odds and survive the bagging of two new alien species… and suddenly I am taking Chloe Dupont the saucy German Assault trooper with me everywhere. Mechanically, Chloe is indistinguishable from any of the other max-level Assault troopers, but I have had more fun
ordering herwatching her aggressively breach UFOs armed with a shotgun and the same stun gun she has carried since her initiation than any of the others. Just yesterday there was a rather hilarious moment when I put her on Overwatch mode, and during the enemy turn one Muton Elite turned a corner only to get an Alloy shot in the face, while a second Muton triggered her auto-reaction shot when it climbed a ladder I didn’t realize she was standing next to. It was practically a scene out of an action movie.
Other times, I sorta feel bad bringing, say, any new sniper because that entire class is cursed. “Sorry, Yoshio Saito of Japan. You’re probably going to die.” Sure enough, that is the mission when the aliens start using grenades, a redshirt bites the dust, my other redshirt panics and, in defiance of his accuracy rate for the entire goddamn mission up to this point, shoots Saito in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
Anyway, game is pretty fun thus far and the full review will need to wait until A) I finish, and possibly B) I try out Classic Ironman. The only negative I have is the slight impression that the game isn’t really all that deep for a “tactical” game. A lot of times I feel like I’m playing a turn-based Dawn of War 2, or one of those WW2 squad-based cover games. Also, the game is terrible when it comes to indicating at which locations (and elevations!) you can actually see/shoot at the aliens someone else sees before moving there. If you have already committed your game to having grid-based movement, give me grid-based weapon ranges and Line-of-Sight indicators.
XCOM is no Final Fantasy Tactics, or Tactics Ogre for that matter, but it is pretty good nevertheless.
Posted in Commentary
Tags: FFT, Ironman, Medkit, Redshirt, Roguelike, Tactics, Tactics Ogre, XCOM