Jan 20, 2014

XCOM: Hidden Potential and Not Created Equally

We got ourselves XCOM: Enemy Within, and we've been enjoying it. I really like the new options for "modifying" your soldiers, and the Exalt missions are an interesting change of pace; what I'm disappointed in is that the main story still centers on the hugely boring alien base and the frankly appallingly tedious final mission. Would it really have been too much to ask for those to be improved? Preferably improved a lot?

I do also have to mention one particular gripe: the random soldier specializations. I'm currently playing a game where I have two heavies, one support and ten snipers. Ten. It's fucking ridiculous, and makes the game much more difficult than it should be. XCOM snipers are exactly like wizards in most tabletop RPGs: they're useless and vulnerable at low levels, but once you get them going they're incredibly powerful. Only how do you fight with a squad that consists entirely of low-level snipers and rookies? It's not impossible, but it is frustrating, especially when the rookies level up...into snipers. Which, by the way, makes it really hard to get your hands on enough Meld to turn them into mechs, too.

Surely it wouldn't be impossible to weigh the odds of a given class being rolled up based on your existing roster. It would stop complete stupidity like my current lineup from happening.


One of the things we really liked in the new Enemy Unknown were the Second Wave options. I never got around to really giving Not Created Equally and Hidden Potential a proper shot, but now that I'm playing Enemy Within, I was considering whether they're worth it or not. I have to admit that Not Created Equally scared me, because the average XCOM rookie is so completely useless as it is, and I had visions of getting soldiers with even worse stats. So I did a little math, and because I couldn't find these numbers with a quick Google search, I thought I'd share.

Not Created Equally

The basic rookie has an Aim of 65 and a Will of 40. With Not Created Equally, these values are rolled randomly, with Aim being somewhere between 50 and 80, in five-point increments, and Will between 25 and 59. So basically your average Not Created Equally rookie will have an Aim of 65 and a Will of 42, meaning they're ever so slightly better than the cookie cutter guys. There's also a 1/3 chance they'll have slightly lower movement, and a 1/6 chance it'll be one point higher and another 1/6 for two more points, so that also averages out better than normal.

So based on that, Not Created Equally is theoretically worth taking, if only for the slightly higher Will and Movement. The real benefit, obviously, is the chance of getting rookies with a significantly higher Aim than normal, which is really the only way you're ever going to get a heavy who can hit anything smaller than a building. So I guess I'll have to start picking this option.

Hidden Potential

This one I'm a lot less sold on, to be honest. Hidden Potential replaces the normal stat progression with a random increase per level, so I calculated the average increases for Aim and Health per class and level in the defsult system and Hidden Potential. Will increases are unaffected.

For the assault class, their average Aim and Health increase per level are normally 3.4 and 0.6 points, respectively. With Hidden Potential these change to +3 and +0.5, so the assault class guys get screwed.

Heavies have a dismal average Aim increase of +1.4 per level, which drops to an average of +1 with Hidden Potential, while health progression is unchanged. So heavies get screwed too.

Snipers benefit slightly, replacing an average Aim increase of +5.7 with +6 and bringing their health progression in line with the non-heavy classes at +0.5 rather than the default +0.4.

Support soldiers get better Aim (+4 vs +3.6) at the expense of lower health (+0.5 vs +0.6). MEC troopers clearly benefit, getting +3 Aim per level rather than the old +1.4, but their health progression has dropped as well.

What makes this slightly more complicated is that Hidden Potential also gives each soldier a 20% chance of increasing their Movement stat by 1 per level (10% for heavies). So the average soldier will have gotten an additional point of movement by the time they make Captain. Without Hidden Potential, movement never increases.

So to sum up, Hidden Potential gives you faster troops and better snipers, at the expense of your heavies and assault guys. In my opinion, this comes down to playing style and the vagaries of class generation. Personally, I don't like it. Although my current game would be better off for it!


One area where I think XCOM could do with some more depth is injuries. Right now, being wounded just takes your soldiers off missions for a while, unless it's a critical wound, in which case they lose Will permanently. I'd prefer a more nuanced injury system, where badly hurt or critically wounded soldiers would get a randomly assigned injury rather than the automatic Will penalty. Arm injuries could affect Aim, leg injuries Movement, head injuries Will and torso injuries Health, for instance. This would tie in excellently with MEC troopers, as augmenting a soldier would obviously remove any limb injuries, and in my opinion could remove most other injuries as well. The idea of MEC suits as a badly injured veteran's way of getting back into combat would make them much more interesting.


As I was writing this, I kept on at my campaign, and now have two heavies and a support soldier, and will get a cybernetics lab next month, so maybe some MEC troopers are on the cards. When trying to play with a lopsided roster like mine, two particular problems stand out. First of all, recovering any Meld at all starts to get unreasonably tricky as the game goes on. One is simply not inclined to dash off into the scenery to find the Meld containers, what with Mutons and Cyberdiscs lurking around.

Also, some of the maps are still just inhuman, especially when trying to get your rookies some experience. I took three of them along to raid a landed small scout, and we ended up on the river valley map, smack in the middle of a river with no high cover anywhere. As we were deploying on the first turn, we spot a Mechtoid. Thanks to a timely Disabling shot, we didn't lose anyone there, but we were barely done with the Mechtoid when along come three Mutons and a Cyberdisc. With all three rookies dead and my best sniper badly injured, we had to get the fuck out of there. Maybe if everyone had dashed into the trees on the left on the very first turn, we could have dealt with the situation. Or maybe we would have run smack into the Cyberdisc. Note that the reason I had three rookies was that I desperately needed other classes than snipers. No way am I assaulting the alien base without a medic. But with only low cover available, we just got slaughtered.

In the situation I find myself in, with the RNG constantly sticking me with snipers (I lost a bunch, only to get new ones instead of classes I'd actually need) and little or no Meld to go around, even without excessive gene modding, it's incredibly difficult to level up rookies. Thank Yog-Sothoth for EXALT. I'm in no hurry to raid their base.


Anyway, there's a bunch of random XCOM thoughts for you. Remember: pick Not Created Equally but give Hidden Potential a miss, and give your covert operative Mimetic Skin. If not for how incredibly boring both the alien base and especially the final mission are, this would be an incredibly good game. At least they've got things to fix for the sequel.


Leon said...

X-Com was a game I (mostly) enjoyed on my first playthrough. I rage-quit on my 2nd. I picked up the Slingshot DLC and took the 1st of those story missions where you rescue a triad member carrying secret info (da fuq?)- why does he have this info? That's never explained.

The next mission started throwing Mutons at me... in the 3rd month when I still only had assault rifles. Immediately after that they threw me into a mission with Mutons, Cyberdiscs, Chryssalid's while I only had laser weapons. By the end my entire experienced team was dead or wounded. The next mission to come up was a Chryssalid terror mission and I had 5 rookies. I ended up replaying again and skipping the DLC missions so I just paid $7 for a texture pack.

There's a lot of good in that game but plenty of stupid. The random class mechanism frustrated the hell out of me. I'd end up with so many heavies but be down to a single support medic.

Plus we're supposedly picking the best of the best for this "elite paramilitary organization" (so the website claims) yet we get rookies who wet themselves when some one dies. And nobody's specialized. X-com seems more militia than Seal Team 6.

It's a decent game but it could have been so much better.

Michael Halila said...

Mutons and Chrysallids show up in the third month regardless of DLCs, sez UFOpaedia, and Cyberdiscs the next month, so it isn't Slingshot. I've never really struggled with Slingshot, but I just had my team wiped out in Portent. Really tempted to skip that one altogether in the future.

I was going to mention this notion of how shit your soldiers are. It really is kinda stretching credibility when you're supposedly fielding elite soldiers and they can't hit a thing and panic when someone shoots at them.

One particular annoyance I didn't mention is that the RNG really seems to fuck you over at times. I had three instances in that campaign (which ended in Portent, so we're talking what, month 2?) where one or none out of five 70-80% shots hit. For example, I was fetching General van Doorn, and the first Thin Man to drop in took three overwatch shots and three shots in my turn. Only one of these hit, and that one only did two damage. Scratch one Assault.

Now, if that happens once or twice, them's the breaks, but when in every second mission I play I lose troops because 80+% shots only seem to hit <20% of the time, it starts to get really frustrating. XCOM is supposed to be difficult, even unfair, but when it feels like the RNG is against me, it's doing it wrong.

I've been trying to work out what it is that makes Portent so tough, and I think it's the fact that you can either have elevation or high cover but not both. If you're on the street the thin men kill you with the elevation bonus, if you're on the roof they kill you because you're in low cover.

What makes Portent particularly annoying is that the aliens drop in fixed locations, at times you can control. So technically the mission should be amazingly easy, because you can memorize where and when the aliens show up, and prepare accordingly. And that's a fucking stupid way to play a game.