January 8, 2013, marks the release of the second bit of downloadable content for XCOM: Enemy Unknown, called Second Wave. The first DLC, Slingshot, added three new missions in addition to other tweaks that brought some variety to combat scenarios, but was easily disregarded given how little it actually impacted the experience at large. Second Wave is a very different kind of add-on; it doesn’t offer new missions, but rather, it allows you to tweak various aspects of the game in ways that give it a notably different feel, and in some cases, make it much more challenging.
Just what kind of XCOM fan is Second Wave for? Let’s take a look at the three types of players most likely to enjoy this free slice of downloadable content.
Sure, you like XCOM: Enemy Unknown well enough, but you also fondly recall the good-old days of UFO Defense and wish you could make XCOM even XCOM-ier, if you will. You miss the randomness of the older games. If you’re one of these folks and long for the thrill of the unexpected, some options are just for you, and all but one of them are available whether you have beaten the game or not.
New Economy: Randomized council member funding.
Not Created Equally: Rookies will have random starting stats.
Hidden Potential: As a soldier is promoted, stats increase randomly.
Damage Roulette: Weapons have a wider range of damage.
High Stakes: Random rewards for stopping alien abductions. (Only available once you have completed the game.)
All of these options are meant to give you those “holy s***” moments that can be either super-frustrating or highly satisfying. XCOM: Enemy Unknown becomes even more dynamic and procedural, and you may become even more attached to your soldiers because they are even more individual.
Ironman in Training
You like the idea of Classic and Ironman modes, but you feel like they’re a little more unforgiving than you’d like. You wish there were ways to manipulate the difficulty level without biting off more than you can chew. If you fit that description, then you’ll enjoy several of Second Wave’s optional tweaks. You must have completed the game at least once to access these options.
Diminishing Returns: Increased cost of satellite construction. Every time you build a satellite, the next satellite’s cost goes up. Lead designer Jake Solomon originally wanted to include a similar mechanic in the original game, but couldn’t find a good way to explain it within the narrative.
Absolutely Critical: A flanking shot guarantees a critical hit. This option makes combat a little dicier, because a flanking alien is sure to kill you. On the other hand, you’ll kill any alien you flank, so you need to be extra careful with positioning when activating Absolutely Critical.
More Than Human: The psionic gift is extremely rare.
Results Driven: A country offers less funding as its panic level increases--but if the panic level is zero, you get a funding bonus.
The Greater Good: Psionics can only be learned from interrogating a psionic alien.
Red Fog: Combat wounds will degrade the soldier’s mission stats.
Impossible mode is for pansies. If every turn doesn’t hold the possibility of crushing defeat, then you feel that you aren’t truly living.
If this sounds like you, then four modifications that you unlock after you beat the game on impossible difficulty are right up your alley. Separately or together, they practically turn the game into a roguelike, in which you don’t expect to win as much you just want to see how long you can survive.
War Weariness: The funding levels of the entire world drop with every month that passes.
E-115: Elerium gets a really short half life, so it disappears from your inventory if you don’t use it.
Total Loss: If your soldiers die, everything they were carrying is lost.
Alternate Sources: Power requirements of all facilities increase dramatically.
Maybe you fall in a fourth class of player, The Addicted, in which case you can extend each game of XCOM: Enemy Unknown with Marathon, which makes the game take much longer to complete, and is unlocked once you have beaten the game at least once. Of course, almost anyone interested in Second Wave fits into that player class, so you’ll probably find at least a few of these updates intriguing in some manner. The options can be activated from a separate Second Wave menu. One nice touch: the game knows if you have already completed it, so you don’t need to complete it again to unlock the majority of these toggles.
Still not sure if Second Wave is for you? Consider this: it’s free. And it seems fairly certain that these options in various combinations could greatly change the feel and flow of a game of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Whether you play on the PC, PlayStation 3, or Xbox 360, XCOM’s newest DLC is available on Tuesday, January 8.'