In an era where games ship with implied nickel-and-dime additions that add new functionality or game modes, 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a refreshingly complete experience. From the tactical combat to base management, *Enemy Unknown* did not leave players wanting. Being perched comfortably atop several best-of 2012 lists didn't give developer Firaxis Games reason to rest on their laurels, though. XCOM: Enemy Within is an expansion pack that adds a glut of new mission types, maps, enemies, and soldier types to reinvigorate one of the best games of 2012. The full package is more than enough reason for players to ease back in to defending the earth from an alien invasion, but ultimately I wish *Enemy Within* was its own standalone package.
Enemy Within's largest contribution to the XCOM formula is a new resource: Meld. Meld is found in canisters scattered throughout UFO crash and alien abduction missions. Stumbling upon a Meld canister starts a countdown timer: if a soldier can't make it to the canister in time, the Meld contained within is lost. Before I even knew what Meld did, my completionist tendencies made me rethink my approach to XCOM battles. With time-sensitive optional objectives, turns spent reloading weapons or waiting for aliens to stumble into an ambush became a luxury of the past.
Once players acquire enough Meld, they are able to outfit soldiers with gigantic mechanical warsuits, or augment them with genetically modified limbs. The mechanical warsuits (MECs, in XCOM terms) tower over most enemies, wielding a minigun and optional flamethrowers, rocket-powered punches, grenade launchers, and other high-impact weapons unlocked through research. While MECs are a complete overhaul of existing soldiers, genetic modifications are more subtle.
MECs can't take cover and can soak up a lot of damage, leading to some head-on charges that I never would have attempted in the Enemy Unknown days. I got less mileage out of the augmented soldiers, though. I play a sniper-heavy style of XCOM, so I made them my guinea pigs for genetic modification. My top sniper received an eye enhancement that increased his accuracy, and superpowered legs so that he could jump to higher ground quickly. They were nice upgrades, but it didn't make totally new styles of play possible like the MEC soldiers did.
Besides the soldiers you bring in to combat, Firaxis has also added around fifty new maps, plenty of new council missions, and a new set of "covert operations" to keep players busy. The covert operations occur when players discover EXALT: humans who sympathise with the alien invaders. When XCOM command receives a tip about EXALT activity, players choose their best operative and send them away to gather intelligence. Around a week of game time later, the covert operation will end and a squad sent in to rescue the lone operative. These missions get progressively more difficult until the player discovers EXALT HQ's location, which brings about a climactic final assault.
The beavy of storyline missions from the council and EXALT is a boon to players wanting to spice up the campaign they know and love, but they become unwieldy when tacked on to *Enemy Unknown*'s campaign, which already felt like precariously spinning plates at times. The path to "win" XCOM remains unchanged: capture an alien, find out more about the UFO's navigation system, find the mothership, you know the rest. However, it is incredibly difficult to balance these responsibilities with the new conflicts that Enemy Within hurls at the player with blinding speed. The story told by the EXALT and Council missions in Enemy Within deserves its own campaign but, when tacked on to a strategy campaign already stuffed to the gills, it inspires a lot of frustration.
It doesn't help that the difficulty curve on the Enemy Within missions fluctuates between "walk in the park" and "please save me from this nightmarish hellride." I enjoyed completing Enemy Unknown’s campaign multiple times, but this expansion broke my resolve on more than one occasion. After one mission required me to kill dozens of Chryssalid creatures, another would throw just a few thin men and basic aliens between me and success. Sometimes, EXALT soldiers would waste several turns in a row reloading their weapons, regardless of the fact that they never fired in the first place, while other missions would rain rocket-launcher bearing soldiers down on to my position.
No doubt, the addition of mechanized soldiers creates a problem when it comes to gameplay balance. But players should know that, in its current state, XCOM: Enemy Within isn't just an expansion pack for Enemy Unknown. It's a white-gloved slap of a challenge to anyone who beat the original game and dares to want more. The problem with Enemy Within's difficulty is that it evolves without rhyme or reason. It frequently made me feel that the fate of my squad, and the earth at large, was out of my hands. It’s true that this sense of helplessness is integral to the XCOM experience, but Enemy Within doesn't always feel fair.
Players who enjoyed 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown already know whether they will enjoy Enemy Within. For devotees still playing, or folks who want to pick XCOM back up after focusing on other things for a while, Enemy Within introduces compelling new ways to combat the alien invasion that are well worth the asking price. Just be ready for Firaxis to throw a dozen Chryssalids, a handful of flying disks, and a few Mutons in mechanized suits in your direction.