A Way to Play: Go Ahead and Cheat in XCOM 2

I love me some modern XCOM. Until very recently, this love was helped a bit by the noticeable dearth of aliens in pop culture. XCOM: Enemy Unknown seemed to come out at just the right time, and I won't lie about the state of my arousal when I realized XCOM 2 was releasing in the same month as the rerun of X-Files to TV. At the same time, I understand that XCOM 2 feels a bit too soon for some players who based on the series history expected to take another decade+ off from the franchise. This wasn't a problem for me, because despite my adoration for Enemy Unknown, I actually didn't make it very far in that game. Now, I'm not saying I didn't play a lot of it, I'm just saying progress was slow... because I'm stubborn and restarted too many times to count.

In certain games my completionist traits match up with my perfectionist traits and completely paralyze my ability to make progress. I stalled and failed Enemy Unknown. I wanted the perfect run. Every. Time. XCOM owned me and would own any gamer without a lot of experience playing that particular game. The way I played never allowed time for me to learn how to play the game. Sure, I'd make it a couple of missions without a character dying, but, inevitably, I would run into a new enemy that I didn't know how to strategize around and I was toast. If my entire squad didn't survive that meant I had to restart the entire mission and try again.

Is this the only way? Is this the only way?

The perfect run didn't sound that crazy to me at the beginning, but replaying some missions 6+ times eroded my confidence and patience down to sinew. My cowardly exit was inevitable. I wasn't mad at XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but I couldn't convince myself to play it in any way that wasn't fundamentally conflicting with the core of how the game was designed. I resolved to respect it from a distance and chose to ignore the release of Enemy Within.

In the time since, that itch for aliens started coming back. I remembered highs from XCOM: Enemy Unknown like the satisfaction of the kill cam or pulling off a low percentage headshot to shift the momentum of an entire mission. I also started frothing at the mouth at stories of the XCOM: Long War mod and became jealous of the players that could push through an experience like that. One of these articles mentioned that the developers of XCOM 2 were well aware of the success of the mod and wanted to apply some of its design choices to their game. I wanted more XCOM and I knew then that XCOM 2 was going to be even more difficult for me to play than Enemy Unknown.

However, I didn't think too much about my dilemma before purchasing XCOM 2. I wanted to shoot (at least) some aliens and I enjoy supporting this franchise. Purchase decision complete. Game start.

XCOM 2 immediately put me in my place:

That reality check altered my entire approach to XCOM 2. Something had to change or I was doomed to repeat my failures of the previous game. It wasn't a conscious decision, but I think I knew I had to save this experience. So save I did. Correction. So quicksave I did.

After surviving the first mission (after 2 more attempts), I limped forward with only 3 out of my 4 soldiers alive. In the past, this would mean a restart, but I was so thrilled with just surviving that I pressed on. The next mission though, I wiped. No survivors. I started thinking about my replays of the first mission, but anxiety overwhelmed me so I did the unthinkable - I started over from a save in the middle of the second mission.

I stalled and failed Enemy Unknown. I wanted the perfect run. Every. Time.

For my own personal standards and for this particular game, this was like cheating. It didn't actually feel as dirty as I expected. It kinda felt good. It felt like I could actually put up a fight in XCOM 2 now. I had options. I could learn from my mistakes and apply them to a save from 5 minutes ago instead of save from 30 minutes or an hour ago.

There was even a point where I survived a mission with just 1 soldier and I panicked. I started thinking back to my perfect run dream and wondering if I had done everything wrong to get here. I also worried that I'd screw the rest of my game over if I moved forward with just this 1 soldier. I was overthinking it, but it helped me establish a rule that has allowed me to already finish more missions in XCOM 2 than I did in Enemy Unknown. I will move onto the next mission as long as half or more than half of my soldiers survive. I will load up a quick save if I wipe or have less than half of my soldiers alive.

I won't lie about the state of my arousal when I realized XCOM 2 was releasing in the same month as the rerun of X-Files to TV

The world is a lot more manageable now, even if Enemy Unknown Justin doesn't fully understand this weird future where I "cheat" to make progress in XCOM. I think he would appreciate that the war must go on and we must see this through. Not only for us, but for our fallen squaddies like Jonathan Seenah, Nic Kayge, and Larra Kroft.

After all, if we survive this, there's always Iron Man Mode.

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