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XCOM: Enemy Within's new balance makes it a more aggressive game

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XCOM Enemy Within's meld rush

The introduction of the meld resource and its limited availability in XCOM: Enemy Within will make the game more aggressive as players rush to claim it before it self-destructs, according to lead designer, Ananda Gupta.

During a hands-on demo with the game at PAX Prime 2013, we played through a level of Enemy Within where we had to collect meld and fight the alien invaders at the same time. Meld, which is a new resource that has been added to both new and old maps, is used to create mecs and to give soldiers genetic mutation (g-mod) abilities. The introduction of meld means that players don't need to dig into their other resources in order to create mecs and g-mods, allowing them to allocate resources like alloys to other projects.

Meld has a limited life out on the field before it self-destructs, so players need to reach it within five moves or lose it. According to Ananda, this changes the way people play because now there is the initial rush at the beginning of each round to get to the meld, and this will likely lead to more aggressively playstyles.

The addition of g-mods and mecs offer a new way of playing XCOM, giving players more choice in how they build and balance their squad, and also giving them new ways to play on the battlefield. On the squad-building front, players can choose to turn any of their soldiers into mecs — which are a new class of their own — thereby creating a soldier that can match the force of the alien mectoids, or they can give their soldiers g-mod abilities. The mods can be applied to a soldier's skin, heart, brain, chest or eyes, and a player with enough meld can augment every part of a soldier with a different ability. This means that players can customize their squad even further than they previously could.

On the strategy front, mecs serve as high cover for other soldiers, which means players now have more flexibility when it comes to finding cover. G-modded soldiers — depending on which ability they have — can also scale higher walls, sense invisible enemies within a certain radius and become invisible themselves, so this adds another strategic layer.

"We're also rebalancing some of the old abilities," Gupta told Polygon. "It's not just that we're adding a whole bunch of new tactical stuff that's shiny and cool. We're also trying to go back and improve the base game now that we've seen player feedback and we've seen what people are doing.

"So there are two abilities you can choose from at the sergeant level — Close and Personal and Lightning Reflexes — and they're not equivalent. One of them is always better, so we're going to rebalance that," he said.