Well, there it went. X-Com’s stricken from the rotation now, thanks to what I can only call extremely poor scaling. In two play sessions, I went from dominating the game – dominating as in I didn’t lose a single dude on any mission and achieving all my objectives in keeping panic down to losing a guy almost every mission, losing a satellite and a country to panic, to having a total party wipe.
Scaling is very important in a game. Each level should be a little harder than the last, and so it was with X-Com for the first 80% of the game. I made it through all the missions – even the alien base – without a single casualty. Then the purple UFO showed up, destroyed an interceptor, causing an opportunity kill on the local satellite. That caused me to lose a nation. Fine. It’s scaling up, I get it. Be more careful.
So I was, and I was doing all right, having some wounds but few deaths. I let the purple UFO escape while I researched the better ship, the Firestorm. Then I shot the purple UFO down, geared up, and went in.
That mission had three new alien units I’d not encountered yet, each one stronger than anything – anything – I’d seen before. One of the new units was a heavy mech that apparently got to shoot three times in a single turn. My entire unit was eventually wiped out.
This is on the normal difficulty, mind you. Despite being an X-Com veteran, I decided since it was still a new game I’d better play it safe, but even so, I got absolutely destroyed. I’ve edited out all the profanity this post first had in it, because I’m frankly disgusted by how the game went.
Extra Credits recently did a show on fun difficulty vs. frustrating difficulty in games. I’ve talked a lot about the same balance in education to various people at various times. There’s several factors, but the two that I’d identify as the most important are consistency of rules and perception of success. If you’re going to ramp up the difficulty, fine, but don’t change the rules in the process. Every unit in the game gets to shoot once per turn, then I hit a unit that shoots three times a turn with no warning and no intermediate two times per turn unit. That is, formal editing notwithstanding, bullshit.
The second factor in fun difficulty is the perception of success; you see, if I fail but know I’m making progress, I can grit my teeth and push through. But if I’m just going to keep banging my head into a difficulty wall, being constantly surprised by new situations that cause me to have to completely start over (iron man or bust), then there’s just no reason to go on. I’d rather go play a game I enjoy, not one that seems impossible because it repeatedly changes the rules with no warning.
So I uninstalled X-Com. I just about got my Ed value out of it (a dollar an hour), but honestly, I’m deeply disappointed.
Stubborn (and tired of being frustrated by games)