Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Quicksave is my friend

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

In one of the Steam sales last year - I think it was around Thanksgiving? - I finally got around to grabbing XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I'd been on the fence about it initially, but with the almost universal praise it was receiving, even from diehard fans of the originally who'd previously been wary, and my long-dormant turn-based strategy itch returning, I couldn't resist.

I'm still kind of amazed at how much time I spent playing Advance Wars when it first came out. There were nights I'd start at 9, playing for what felt like an hour or two, and when I had to stop because my forearms were numb from being held upright I'd discover that it was 3am.

Turn-based strategy got its teeth in good and deep, dragging me onto Final Fantasy Tactics Advance in due course. It's weird that I 'only' spent 108 hours with FFTA (I never managed to complete all the side missions); it certainly feels like a lot longer. I've played XCOM for 33 hours as of writing this, but I'd have sworn FFTA took a lot more than three times that to finish. Maybe I restarted missions more frequently than I'd care to admit.

That's certainly true with XCOM, where I rotate between three save games in fear of losing a mission (or soldier): a save in the base, which I update after every mission, research project or room construction is completed; a save that's overwritten at the start of every mission so I can hit a reset button if the whole thing turns Charlie Foxtrot; and the quicksave slot, updated before any potentially risky moves (or if the PC starts chugging, as it has a tendency to BSOD on me at the worst moments).

Every so often I'll catch myself feeling quite pleased with my all-top-rank squad's survival rate and their consistent performance in missions, and only two names on the Memorial Wall. I have to remind myself that I've also lost five members of the Council (including South America in its entirety), I've regularly restarted difficult missions when they weren't going my way, and to top it all off I'm still playing on Easy1.

But even on Easy the difficulty curve is far from gentle, and I've started rotating lower-ranked teammates into the active squad on non-Terror missions so I have a bit more of a fallback in the event that my go-to guys are out of commission.

I've become very attached to my guys - particularly Kazumi 'Twitch' Shimizu (Assault), Cali 'Deadbolt' Mehra (Sniper) and Molly 'Cobra' Collins (also Assault). I think I could probably live with losing one of my Support units and probably a Heavy or two, but those three are deal breakers - if any of them goes down, it's a guaranteed reload.

I favour Assault units over everything else; my typical squad consists of at least three Assault soldiers and my (worryingly only) Sniper, with the two remaining slots taken up by either two Support units or one Support and a Heavy if I have some new tech to try out. This does tend to leave me with clusters of units around doors, operating quite far ahead of my (frankly, awesome) Sniper. Deadbolt might not be terribly useful in some of the urban maps, but with Squad Sight, Double Tap and a plasma rifle she is a force to be reckoned with and has a kills:missions ratio of nearly 3:1.

I'm not sure how far through the game I am (I've just started encountering Ethereals); the story has been progressing in fits and starts as I've been holding back on some "urgent" research and interrogations at various points in order to get experience and materials for levelling up my squad or building and launching satellites.

I have a feeling I've not got far left to go, so I'm hoping the Earth (or what's left of it) will have been saved before too long. It's going to be weird going back to the start again - I fully intend to play it on a proper difficulty level at least once - with new people and the horribly basic weaponry you start with, but hopefully my experiences saving the world before, even against a lesser enemy force, will stand me in good stead.

And when it all inevitably goes to hell, at least I'll have a save game or three to bail out to.

1 I originally started on Normal, but was getting slaughtered. I restarted on Easy to get to grips with the mechanics, but have now become too attached to my squad to wipe the slate clean again.

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