In the world of XCOM, much has changed by the time XCOM 2 begins. Most notably, the aliens won. XCOM is now an underground movement that wages guerrilla warfare against humanity's not-so-benevolent oppressors, and with a new approach comes new kinds of soldiers, and new kinds of skills. A few weeks ago, I sat down with XCOM 2 lead producer Garth DeAngelis to uncover the details of the sharpshooter class, which functions as somewhat of a sniper--but with a twist.
GAMESPOT: First, give me a rundown of the basics. What is a sharpshooter's role in battle?
DEANGELIS: The sharpshooter is an evolution of the sniper. The sniper was a very powerful unit in Enemy Unknown. As you know, it was the long-range, high damage dealing unit. They could become demigods by the end of the game, when you're flying all over the place, and using [skills like] In The Zone and Double Tap and all that good stuff, where you're chaining shots together. We said we still want the player to still be playing with a sniper rifle. They're great. There's a lot of fun there. You need that class there to balance across the different mechanics of each class. But now we have an appealing second perk tree that was not just purely, 'let's max out our sniper, and make them this long-range, high damage dealer.
That's why they're not called a sniper. You can choose to specialize in the sniper rifle or you can actually specialize in pistols. Pistols now have become this very appealing weapon that the sharpshooter can use in new and interesting ways, unlike any ways that you used in Enemy Unknown. The perk tree is broken up in that way. There's some pretty interesting decisions early game where it's not a no-brainer to just go down the sniper path.
Is there a danger in spreading myself too thin? Could I find myself too weak by endgame to really deal with the things coming my way?
No. The designers do a great job of making sure that the classes are as flexible as possible, and that's what I love about them so much. There isn't a wrong choice, and it's also not a binary choice. You don't have to be a sniper or a gunslinger. You can mix and match the abilities similarly to Enemy Unknown, but each path now has a more discrete definition of what you can become. Mixing them, I personally love doing. Some people like going full sniper. Some people like going full gunslinger. I really do like mixing them and becoming this hybrid sharpshooter. It's pretty cool to be able to wield both a sniper rifle and a pistol effectively, and then you can combo abilities from each tree together in these pretty unique ways.
There's a new sniper ability called Death From Above, which allows you to get an extra action when you kill an enemy at a lower level than you. That's on the sniper tree. Then if you have the pistol ability, Fan Fire, you can then use that free action to use Fan Fire with your pistol after using your sniper rifle. What Fan Fire does is it lets you shoot three times at a single target. Those are relatively early, mid-game abilities that you can already see how you can have these really powerful chain attacks, mixing and matching going down both trees.
As you mentioned, in the last game, if you were a sniper, you could became a demigod by the end of it. What have you guys done, if I continue to go down that path and just have my pure sniper, to alleviate that particular issue?
It's funny. We've talked about that internally on the surface as an issue. When you purely talk about late-game balance and that victory lap, but it's not as black-and-white as it seems. In XCOM, you want the player to feel like they have surpassed the enemy by the endgame. While design is doing a great job in making sure that that's balanced and tighter by endgame, we don't want the player to feel like they're always step behind.
At some point in an XCOM campaign, we want you to feel like you are running wild. You are overrunning enemies. It can be debated that with some of the late-game sniper abilities that happened maybe a bit too easily by endgame for Enemy Unknown. At the same time, it was damn fun, and it's a great reward for the player to build up to that point as well.
I'm curious about the cinematic camera aspect of mixing together these various abilities. Have you guys taken the opportunity to make things that sound really acrobatic when you talk about them actually look acrobatic on the screen?
You're not going to have perfect line of sight relative to what you're seeing in geometry, but the system is very accurate with respect to which unit should see which unit.
It's a big challenge with such an open ended game. It's a similar problem with Fallout. We're not a linear corridor shooter where you can have placed cameras and you know exactly where this thing is going to happen at this time. When you have those constraints, because the foundation of the game is driven by the mechanics and the design and wanting to give the player an open ended experience, you're going to have to sacrifice a little bit with cameras.
I think the team did a fantastic job with those constraints to still make them feel very cinematic. There's a lot of blending between our placed cinematic cameras and programmatic cameras because the game is so procedural. It's a big challenge because XCOM 2 is even more procedural. We have procedural maps now, procedural objectives. We have no idea where the geometry is going to be in a map because you'll never see the same layout twice. We did have to have a very flexible camera system. We have our cinematic artists paired with a few engineers to try to account for scenarios where there would be collision in the way or the camera does feel a little bit more dry, to still make it as impactful as possible. They did a really great job with that. We have now seamless cameras from over the shoulder targeting into this glorious final kill sequence. We have these awesome cuts similar to Enemy Unknown, but with even more variety.
We have way more ability cameras, so when the aliens do their terrifying things, in Enemy Unknown, they didn't cut down that often. Now, we have art-placed cameras. If the Sectoid does a mind wipe, for instance, you will see the Sectoid in all of his glory up close, with an art-placed camera so it's framed really well. Those sorts of things, we're pretty excited about.
When I think about something like the sharpshooter, I think of line of sight, especially when you have procedurally generated maps. In the previous XCOMs, there seemed to be a little bit of disagreement about whether this was actually working, this true line of sight, or whether there was actually a little bit of clipping or cheating going on. What have you guys done to address any concerns that we might have regarding the true line of sight that a sharpshooter might be engaging with?
That's a big can of worms with line of sight. That's obviously a crazy complex system, and just very naively, the way it works is that there is a ray trace from the head of the unit that's shooting at you. If that trace hits where the enemy unit can peek from out of cover, then you have line of sight to them. Mechanically, we need that because that allows the most targets when they're within your fog of war.
However, sometimes that would lead to some visual collision issues where it doesn't look like real line of sight because it looks like an enemy is behind a wall. In fact, when he steps out, he's targetable. Again, it's this fine line where when we toned back on that, it might have looked more realistic with respect to one-to-one for what is physically in the world, but then you would not have as many targets onscreen as once, and there wouldn't be as many choices. We're working on improving that for XCOM 2, again, because it's such an open ended game with all these building interiors and all these different levels, and so much collision in the world. Some of it is cover. Some of it is [decorative]. You're not going to have perfect line of sight relative to what you're seeing in geometry, but the system is very accurate with respect to which unit should see which unit.
Can you share a moment when using the sharpshooter in particular where your plan came together in a memorable way?
That stuff happens all the time. We have a weapon upgrade system that we've just talked about super high level. Now, you can actually modify your weapons back at base with these specific attachments. You can find something on the battlefield. It's a tangible item. Then you bring it back. You have to do some research with your scientists, just in pure XCOM fashion, to be able to have the capability to do this. Once you do, you can customize your weapons to your heart's delight, not just how they look, but then also how they behave.
With the sharpshooter, you can use things like expanded magazines, which implies more ammo. You have more ammo capacity, and there's other attachment points. I've used expanded magazines and autoloaders, which is basically free reload. Then when you combine that with something like Death From Above, and basically the equivalent of something like Double Tap from Enemy Unknown, where you're chaining these abilities together, then you get a sense that you can get those moments of these awesome kill streaks closer to mid-game if you choose to focus on that rather than other tech. That sort of stuff, I wasn't expecting with the weapon upgrade system, but it's been pretty pleasing to play with.
Come back to GameSpot tomorrow (5amPT, July 28 2015) for another XCOM 2 exclusive class reveal.