By: Michael Dao
In the days that came before PAX Prime 2013, Firaxis announced that there would be an expansion pack to their critically acclaimed turn based strategy title, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It will be titled, XCOM: Enemy Within. The theme of the expansion centers around a new way to progress your soldiers in the game. In addition to giving the troops psionic abilities in the original game, there are two new progression paths in this expansion. One of the huge concepts in the original game is how humanity takes alien technology and then integrates it with existing human gear to enhance it. Enemy Within takes this further, and starts to modify the soldiers themselves. The first progression path available is the Mech Trooper, which cybernetically augments soldiers, replacing their body with a giant robotic body which also mounts heavy weaponry. The second path is enhancing soldiers genetically, giving them new superhuman abilities.
The demonstration we were shown took place on one of the new maps, a hydroelectric dam. Firaxis states that the map pool has been increased by fifty percent, and there are also 8 new multiplayer maps. Several abilities of the mech trooper were showcased. They’re initially armed with a minigun, which can then be replaced later on with a railgun. They have an ability called collateral damage that will destroy cover in an area and do some damage to units behind it, but the most fun was a new ability called Kinetic Strike that can only be described as a rocket powered fist. In the demonstration level, this ability was shown off with the Mech Trooper quite literally punching a sectoid off of the dam.
The contrast to the cybernetically enhanced Mech Troopers are the genetically augmented soldiers now available. How this mechanic works is that these genetically enhanced soldiers receive super powers by spending a new resource, called Meld. Meld can be found on certain maps in semi-random locations. The canisters of Meld scattered across the map have a timer on them and will explode, damaging everything around them. This is meant to encourage players to play more aggressively, rather than the quite passive and safe move and overwatch method. Some of the powers available are muscle fibers, which allow the soldier to leap to high points without the need for ladders, neural feedback, which severely damages Sectoid Commanders which attempt to psionically attack them. Finally the last ability shown was one called bioelectric skin, which essentially gives a soldier a short range radar, allowing them to track enemies that are unseen.
Humanity, doesn’t receive all of the new toys, however. The aliens receive two new units which can change gameplay drastically. The designers, having added a Mechanized soldier to the Humans, wanted to do the same for the aliens to complement the existing mechanized units. They considered doing a mechanized Muton, sort of a ranged Berzerker, but realized that the Muton was already a fairly strong ranged unit. Their thinking went down the path of wondering which species in the game would probably be the most keen to develop this technology, and the answer was the Sectoid. Thus was the Mechtoid born. Its a large mechanized unit with twin plasma cannons. What makes it especially deadly is that when paired up with a regular Sectoid, the regular Sectoid can mind meld with it as in the original game, but here, the mind meld doesn’t just add to the Mechtoid’s health – it adds a pretty powerful psi shield, really requiring the player to take down the regular Sectoid before engaging the Mechtoid.
The second alien unit is the stuff of nightmares. Quite literally one of the developers’ nightmares. They combined the two things they feared the most – sharks and spiders, into this flying mechanized shark-spider hybrid that can also cloak. It is terrifying. Their one regret is that they were unable to make it shoot laser beams, as aliens only use plasma-based weapons. So yes, there are flying robotic shark-spiders called Stalkers, that can cloak and which look like one of the machines from The Matrix. They roam the battlefield looking for lone soldiers, such as a sniper on a perch, and will literally strangle them. While strangled, the soldier is unable to perform any actions, and receives an amount of damage which ramps up over time. Should the Stalker be destroyed, the soldier is put into a “Catching Breath” state, and they will not be effective for a little bit.
This expansion will be a downloadable DLC on Steam, but for console, will be sold with the original game and all current DLC in a Commander’s Edition which will be priced lower than the original game was at launched. Commanders can expect a call to action on November 12, 2013.