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Back to the Grindstone

January 8, 2014

Dear Reader,

Today was my first day back at work, “thanks” to the two snow days we had due to the “polar vortex.”  What that functionally means is that instead of 5 light days of work, I instead have 3 heavy days of work.  Yay.

Enough griping, though, because the life of a college professor is pretty easy.

So I went back to X-Com this week, after being gently chided by Tobold about a month ago.  I was carrying too much baggage about the old game, and while this is based on the old game, it’s far from – far better, in some ways.  Additionally, since some of my frustration was due to my arrogance of starting with an Ironman (no saving except when quitting) game, I had to be honest that I’d sort of dug my own grave.

So I went back.  I really did enjoy the game play, character development, and base-level meta game.  Things were going really well for quite some time, and then something struck me (or re-struck; I don’t remember if I noticed it before).  I really like the game, but there’s one really irritating mechanic.  In X-Com, when you first spot a group of monsters, they immediately get to move.  So there’s no “stealth” as far as I can tell; once you can see them, they can see you, and they get to respond in the middle of your turn.

My belief that this is a problem is this: snipers can throw cameras into other parts of the map and reveal creatures who don’t get to respond to the camera.  That’s great, of course, and very important to keep from getting ambushed.  However, the second I move my rocketeer into a place where he can blow up this nicely clustered group of enemies, nice and far away where they shouldn’t really be able to see him but they’re JUST within his firing radius, they all move and spread out.

Now I understand that it’s the game’s way of saving resources.  Those monsters basically don’t exist until they’re “spotted,” so they make sure they spread out right away to prevent the kind of preemptive strike that I’d like to sneakily launch.  And to be frank, I’m not even particularly upset about not getting to rocket them into oblivion; I can handle them one-at-a-time just fine.

What bothers me has to do with melee monster packs, packs that don’t spread out, they charge you.  Spreading is a defensive action to prevent players from using “good” tactics to blow up clustered groups of enemies.  Fine.  Charging my characters, though, is an offensive action taken on my turn that can have really grievous consequences.

Not only that, but if your final soldier in his final action moves into a position that reveals an enemy group that didn’t previously even exist in that spot, they get to move and then get another turn.  This means that units that are limited to being melee only but are very dangerous if you let them get into melee with you get to move twice and attack before you get a chance to respond.  That would be impossible to deal with in Ironman mode.  I can make the mistake and reload, mentally noting that the enemy pack is there, but, to be fair, that’s cheating on my part.  I don’t like having to do that, but I don’t like being swarmed and killed in a single turn by enemies that got an extra move action, either.

I’m not sure why the devs decided to design combat this way.  I get saving resources by not having to decide every enemies action every turn, but why not just have them spawn spread out so they don’t have to move?  Allowing every enemy group essentially to get a surprise round (though they can only move, not attack) is silly.

Some might say, well, then only move your units once, then put them in overwatch, and I’d love to do that, but since there’s no way the enemy team that hasn’t even spawned yet is going to move into my field of fire because they don’t exist, what those people are really suggesting is to just take half a turn every turn.  And that’s a perfectly practical suggestion, but it reveals a design problem if the best move to make is to only take half a turn.

So I did go back to X-Com, and I am enjoying it just like I was last time, but I am again irritated by some of the seemingly foolish design decisions I’m coming across.


Stubborn (Y-Com?)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2014 5:10 pm

    Actually the bad dudes are there on the map, moving about even when you don’t see them – not just for Terror missions either. Some actually patrol so you run into them when you least expect – and when you are on over watch they get nailed. ^_~

    Well… 1 out of 4 times anyway. Stupid soldiers can’t shoot straight sometimes.

    • January 8, 2014 7:53 pm

      I’ll give you terror missions, of course, since many of them are running around murdering civvies. And I don’t doubt there may be roaming packs of mobs. But I simply can’t believe that the packs that my scanner sees all bunched up, who I then reveal either during a reload or with a soldier in that same session, are “actually there” prior to being revealed. In fact, it would make even less sense if they were already active and THEN got to have another round of movement. Perhaps later boards have more roamers and less stationary packs that seem to get a free surprise round, but in the early boards, they’re all over the place. Why would they NOT respond to a thrown camera they can’t see and get to respond to a sniper who JUST moved them into his range and LoS?
      Thanks for the comment! (:

    • January 11, 2014 9:28 am

      It seems I owe you an apology for doubting you (;

      Thanks for your input, even if I did wrongly dismiss it. More in the response to Percy’s comment.

  2. Percy permalink
    January 9, 2014 8:42 am

    Aliens do exist on the map all the time. Some move, some don’t. UFO Crash site/Landing site missions always has at least one group of patrolling aliens that can run across your team for example.

    To play around the aliens automatic movement reaction phase you just need to only explore new ground with your first couple of troops. Supports are good for this since they can get the extra movement squares perk. After your first few troops move and explore the map some don’t push the rest of your troops into new ground and risk “activating” a new pod of stationary aliens at the end of your turn.

    Just an X-Com lesson that I imagine nearly every player learns the hard way. But you can 100% play around it.

    • January 11, 2014 9:27 am

      Well, it seems I owe an apology to you and Joseph; I just couldn’t fathom such a – from my perspective – stupid mechanic existing in conjunction with the aliens already being placed. I think I’m just getting tired of learning lessons “the hard way,” which in X-Com terms usually means restarting from scratch. I found myself able to do the alien base, too, and found it quite literally impossible because I have no weapon upgrades yet and no armor upgrades, so I was being massacred by aliens I could barely scratch. I’m not sure why there wouldn’t be more emphasis on “gearing up” prior to doing it; I followed the instructions and “prioritized” what I was told were “priorities,” and I ended up in an impossible mission. From an educator’s standpoint, that’s like telling someone to work really hard on skill X and then grading them solely on skill Y.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. January 12, 2014 3:20 am

    I would be really interested to read what do you think about Xenonauts.
    Personally, I really hated how dumbed down the last X-COM remake is, but found Xenonauts to have kept the immersion and complexity, and upgraded upon them somewhat.

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