XCOM 2: Value and enjoyment in failure

Soldiers are dying in my XCOM 2 game. A lot of them. Missions are being failed, the Avatar project is dangerously close to finishing, and the Chosen are getting stronger and more aggressive. I think I’m losing, the situation is pretty dire, and it’s awesome.

One of my general complaints about most games is either you are winning or you lose. When winning you are building up and getting stronger, likely increasing your lead. When you lose, that’s it, game over. Very few games manage the feat of having you struggle or fail, but not have that be an instant game over situation, or a situation you really can’t come back from (tons of Civilization games are like that, where if you fall behind, you can still struggle along, but you won’t pull victory from the jaws of defeat).

XCOM 2 originally was like that as well. If you failed a mission and had some key soldiers die, you might not see the ‘game over’ screen, but it basically was. The War of the Chosen expansion fixes that, mostly in requiring you to have a larger roster of soldiers, so any one death isn’t as bad, and by also having missions where you can fail the main objective but still get your soldiers out in one piece.

The larger roster need is due to the fact that in addition to the missions soldiers go on, they can now also be sent on covert operations that also reward xp, and the addition of soldiers being tired after a mission even if they didn’t take damage and become wounded. Also the three new factions also providing you recruits means a deeper and more diverse roster.

Losing soldiers is now a bigger part of the game as well. In addition to losing and having to replace any gear they might have had, soldiers who share a bond also get impacted when their friend dies, thus doubling how many soldiers you need to replace short-term for the next few missions. This also makes losing a soldier a bit more painful, because those bonds take time to form and you really need to plan ahead to make them happen (not send one soldier into a mission when his buddy is healing, for example).

I’ve lost missions in a variety of ways. On one, I had to defend a relay node, but I wasn’t able to get to it in time because of some Lost swarms. As this was a counter mission to the Dark Events and I failed it, on future missions the enemy had more armor than normal, which made things a bit more challenging. When I originally played XCOM 2, I don’t think I ever failed such a mission, so while I saw those consequences, I never actually had to deal with them. Now I do, and it makes for a more spicy game.

On another mission, this time to capture or assassinate a target, it took too long to fight through the enemies before I got to the target, so in addition to having to assassinate him rather than the more optimal capture, I also could only get four of my six soldiers to the exit point before the timer ran out. This resulted in those two being captured, and so far I’ve only been able to rescue one of them on a later mission. Technically the mission was a success (target died), but it was certainly not a complete success.

Finally, I just killed one of the Chosen, and while I don’t want to spoil anything, I’ll just say that the mission to do that is awesome, and feels like an appropriate and epic boss fight. There is a good bit of cinematics around the whole thing too, which again makes it feel like a major event. Success was a little bittersweet here too, as I brought my six best soldiers, and only four walked out alive (and heavily wounded at that). The loss included breaking a maxed-out bond, as well as losing a special faction character.

Obviously I’m playing Ironman mode, which is really the only way to play XCOM in my opinion. Otherwise it’s just way too tempting to reload when bad things happen, and if you do that, you never have to struggle to overcome the many obstacles failure places in front of you, which I think is a huge part of the game.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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