Tag Archives: Tactics

XCOM 2 review

Remember that alien invasion in 2012 and the creation of the XCOM organisation to fight back under your command? Well, as it turns out, you lost. However, this feels thematically spot on. Based on your average playthrough of XCOM Enemy Unknown, with the countless soldiers you lost and retires required to win, losing the war overall makes sense and sets up this sequel rather nicely.

Now with XCOM 2, the enemy is no longer unknown and 20 years have passed since Earth was conquered. Humanity now lives alongside the aliens, seemingly benefiting from their advanced technology, but of course the aliens have their own agenda. XCOM has been reduced to a small resistance force, but once they rescue you and place you back in command, as well as secure a power core, they have the means to fight back. This time around your resources are even more limited and engagements take up a guerrilla war style; flying all over the world in a modified alien ship to search out support and aid pockets of resistance, whilst gathering the evidence needed to prove to the rest of the world that the aliens are not as benevolent as they seem.

It feel pleasantly familiar. Your home base – the modified alien ship – acts very much like it did in the previous instalment, allowing you to research new technology, upgrade and promote your troops, and build new rooms to accommodate and fulfil the advancements you need to step up your fight against the aliens. Moreover, thanks to the passing 20 years, there’s now more history involved. It’s a more personal story this time around. In fact there’s a great deal more storytelling. There’s been logical improvements to base-technologies that are easier to accept. Meanwhile, the reason for your capture by the aliens makes the fight more emotional, enhanced further by any knowledge you have from the previous title.

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Your engagements with the aliens are much different as well. You’re fighting a more tactical war this time. Rather than taking the alien menace straight on, you’re attacking strategically important targets and locations, striking from the shadows. This manifests itself in a new stealth mechanic. The majority of you missions start you concealed from the enemy, strongly encouraging you to sneak up on your targets, scope out the area as much as possible, and place your troops in the best position to attack. This is further driven home by just how effective the alien forces are.

Enemy AI is excellent. They’ll look for opportunities to flank you, they call in or wait for reinforcements so to face you with superior numbers, and their weaponry can decimate your troops in a shot or two. It’s staggeringly difficult at first, however, once you figure out all the mechanics and how to best use each class of soldier you have, things get a little easier.

Using the terrain to protect yourself and draw the enemy to you is a big part of the strategy, with elevation playing an even bigger part than in Enemy Unknown. Setting a Sharpshooter up on overwatch a fair distance from the battlefield whist your Grenadier flushes enemies out of cover can be a recipe for success. Meanwhile, Staying hidden but allowing your Ranger to get in close and slit some throats whilst your Specialist is flying a drone around to scope the area and complete the primary objective, is another sound strategy. However, XCOM 2 uses procedural map and objective generation to provide a different mission each time you leave the dropship, meaning no campaign playthrough is the same, extending XCOM 2’s longevity a great deal and putting the ownness on you to devise the best strategies. The terrain, your available units and their upgrades, your mission object, how long you can stay concealed, and the countless choices you make each turn can all add up to very different encounters with your enemy; figuring out how to deal with the hand your draw is part of the fun.

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And it is fun, hugely so. Much like its predecessor it’s tactically compelling and rewarding to figure out the puzzle that is the battlefield. This is also the case for upgrading your soldiers. Each class has two upgrade paths that benefit different styles of play, and developing enough soldiers with a diverse set of skills to help in different missions is a criticle and involved consideration. It involves you sending rookies out to gain experience, giving you the risk/reward consideration for mission success verses soldier experience. And of course, XCOM 2 is hugely challenging and your will lose countless troops, but often this is an inevitable cost to complete the objective, making the story even more personal and gripping and gives the risk/reward even more weight.

Fortunately, you can opt to retreat if an objective is too risky or difficult to complete, saving your precious squad. You can also save anywhere and reload to your heart’s content, but with no checkpoints in-mission you better remember to do so. Unfortunately, however, loading times when reloading a save are a little on the long side, which isn’t much of a surprise when you see how beautiful XCOM 2 looks.

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A varied colour palette and densely packed environments makes each mission a visual treat. Meanwhile, cinematic camera angles during the action phase of a turn builds the tension whilst superb sound effects from the weapons makes a critical shot all the more exciting and rewarding, if it hits. Of course actually hitting a target is sometimes unfair, with occasions where point blank shots on enemies miss and unobstructed lines of fire have an entirely arbitrary percentage to hit. Incidentally the aliens will also sometimes shoot straight through walls and nail impossible shots on your soldiers. Further bugs also hamper the experience slightly, with characters sometimes freezing in place and not executing commands for 10-15 seconds, and cutscenes occasionally hit frame rate problems.

Fortunately, the fun outweighs the occasional frustration; no matter how often you fail a mission there’s always plenty of alternative actions you can take to try and find success, and exploring them is joyous. Despite its steep difficulty this is a turn-based strategy masterpiece with a wonderfully engaging story to compliment it, although it is a shame that the DLC from the PC version isn’t bundled with it as standard and is instead available separately.

Thanks to Xbox and 2K Games for supporting TiX

Battle Worlds: Kronos review

Battle Worlds: Kronos taps into the nostalgia of games such as Battle Isle and Advanced War, with its turn-based unit control, vast maps and strategic options, and challenging objectives. And whilst the challenge is truly testing at times, there’s a lot of fun and satisfaction to be had finally conquering the AI.

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As a brand new commander, you are tasked with taking command of a wide variety of land, sea and air units in order to complete a selection of military campaigns against other organisations across multiple battlefields on the planet. Narratively this is set up as a form of entertainment for the general populous, with each organisation testing out their military hardware and fighting it out for glory, victory, and TV ratings. It’s a fascinating concept that is often reflexed upon by your soldiers, fellow commanders, and TV anchors, bringing in to question the morality of it all and its purpose.

However, the story fails to go as dark as you might expect or as deep as you might hope; keeping you entertained enough to continue against the harsh AI, but not immersing you enough for you to really care. Fortunately coming up with tactics on the fly to deal with your enemies is more than engaging enough to make up for the narrative.

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Missions typically start with a simple objective that cascades into multiple levels of complexity as you try to complete it. It’s a fairly predictable ebb and flow of trying to get to one point on the map or destroy a specific target, new enemy units or bases appear, or new, more challenging terrain is uncovered on the way, and your primary objective takes a back seat as you fight and manoeuvre around the many obstacles thrown in your path. It’s a fun a slow-paced affaire that can feel horrendously frustrating if you make a mistake but excitingly intense and enjoyable when your tactics pay off.

You move units individually one at a time, with each possessing a certain amount of actions they can perform in a single turn. Often these actions will include a single move action – allowing you to move the unit up to a maximum distance within a circle – and an attack action. Depending on the unit and its upgrades, you may have additional actions or entirely different ones, such as the Bandit which has two actions that are nonspecific, allowing that unit to move twice, fire twice, or perform one of each. Understanding and managing your unit’s actions, movement distance, attack distance, and vulnerabilities, is key to victory. Artillery units and ranged attack vehicles are better left behind a strong frontline, heavy tanks should form the frontline, and the smaller faster units can be used to mop up severely damaged opponents with hit and run tactics.

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Figuring out how to use your units is an interesting challenge and where a great deal of the strategy comes in. Infantry units, for example, can travel through forests to help flank enemies, meanwhile large artillery units need to be deployed before firing so some forethought is required in where to set them up and how to keep them safe. Meanwhile, the AI is aggressive and savvy enough to come up with tactics of their own, frequently engaging you with the right units for the job and testing your resolve. It can be great fun.

Automatic checkpoints are generated during missions to give you the option to re-load if things go wrong, however, they aren’t the most generously generated checkpoints so manually saving is a much better idea, and getting into the habit of saving often is strongly advised. This is especially important because each mission will play out in a specific way, with the first time you tackle it often being reduced to an expedition just so you can figure out what to expect before a re-load and a proper attempt. Continually failing because you can’t figure out precisely how to beat the AI during a mission can be frustrating, and it’s unfortunate that you’re often challenged with scenarios that appear to only have one way of surviving. Overall the missions allow you to use whatever tactics best suit you, but these skirmishes and events within missions are far less flexible.

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With units requiring individual control, the pace is slow and methodical, this suits the actions just fine for the most part, allowing you to plan your attacks and carefully micromanage every engagement, however, when it comes to simply moving around the map it can become tedious. This is especially evident when you gain access to buildings and can build additional troops. Moving them to the front line to join your main force one at a time is a frustrating distraction when you’re more interested in concocting grand strategies to conquer nearby foes.

Beyond the lengthy campaign are a small selection of challenge maps that test your skills as a commander even more. However, there’s no sign of the multiplayer component the PC version has, which is very disappointing.

Battle Worlds: Kronos is hugely challenging but a great deal of fun once you understand your unit’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s wonderful to see strategy games like this finally hit the Xbox One, with the turn-based nature of the title making the controller a perfectly viable option. The slow pace and the micromanaging of units may put some people off if they’re more familiar with C&C rather than Battle Isle, but if you can stomach the odd tactical restriction in-mission then this turn-based beast is certainly for you.

Thanks to Xbox and Nordic Games for supporting TiX

Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires review

The Dynasty Warriors series revels in its adrenaline fuelled, hack ‘n slash, arcade action. Large battlefields act as your playground to brutally and spectacularly stab, slice, smack and subdue hundreds of on-screen enemies. It’s a very pleasant and satisfying experience. You wield unparalleled power and can decimate troves of enemies with a single swing. Add to that the over the top special moves and magical techniques and the whole thing turns into a wonderful spectacle based on the unification of China in the second century BC.

The Dynasty Warriors Empires spin-offs take this same hack ‘n slash experience but adds a layer of big-picture strategy to it, incorporating more mechanics, thought, and customisation, to expand the concept beyond mindless combat. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, many prefer the more simplistic experience, but if you’re itching for a more personalised and immersive genocide simulator, the Empires versions are certainly worth a try.

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Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires is Omega Force’s latest entry, however, the Warrior titles are frequently criticised for their repetitive nature and lack of evolution: does this one finally do enough to shake that reputation? Unfortunately it doesn’t.  Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires certainly makes some smart changes over its predecessor but the experience remains much the same.

The primary mode follows the adventure of your chosen character, or custom-built character, as you join a ruler, or rise up against one and attempt to bring China under the rule of a single kingdom. Both historical and fictional scenarios crop up and challenge you to strategically plan your invasions, raids and missions, purchase and train troops, build facilities and obtain goods and gold. Then, of course, are the battle themselves, which sees you take to the battlefield with your forces and generals and hack ‘n slash your way through countless soldiers and enemy generals and commanders, to control points on a map, defend the ones you have and conquer specific individuals.

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Indeed then it’s a game of two halves: the battlefield combat and the strategic ruling, each offering drastically different experiences that pair together surprisingly well. The combat is fast paced and immediate, while the strategic planning and crafting of your kingdom is much slower and drawn-out. The result makes for some interesting and compelling scenarios. For instance, you may have a high enough rank to organise your own raids of territories, weakening them ready for an invasion force, but your ruler may have other ideas and invade somewhere you hadn’t expected, throwing you into a difficult battle that could have been made significantly easier if you’d softened it up instead.

The strategy portion is also highly varied. Your rank determines what you have influence over and what option you can choose between battles. A low rank limits you to following orders from your ruler and their generals, and fighting in battles. Meanwhile, a high rank will allow you to influence your ruler’s strategy, keep you own forces and perform raids independently and also get more involved with the politics of your kingdom. You can also take control of kingdoms and become the ruler, giving you ultimate power. Furthermore, you can complete missions for generals to increase your friendship with them, help with diplomatic relations and even marry and have a child to further manipulate alliances. With all these options and decisions you can make within a campaign, you can create a highly personalised narrative for yourself and experience something very different every time you play.

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The combat is far more predictable, but undeniably a lot of fun, initially at least. It does still suffer from repetition, with battles, regardless of objective, all coming down to hacking up the troves of enemies and their key commanders, but Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires makes a few good changes to help alleviate this. Stratagems can now be earned and unleashed on the battlefield, these cards offer things like random lightning strikes against enemies, or wave after wave of incoming arrows. You can even change the weather with some stratagems, which can improve or limit the usefulness of others.

Additionally the fame system from the previous game has been replaced with a traditional levelling system, so your character improves linearly and doesn’t fluctuate like before. And defence battles now require you to protect your points on the map for 5 minutes rather than the previous 15, making them far less tedious. However, the biggest change to the combat side is the different default weapons and move-sets for the characters. There’s been a reshuffling that will give veterans new techniques to master for their favourite characters, a move that is likely to displease more than delight the fan-base.

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Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires hasn’t changed much from its previous iteration but the changes and new additions do improve the experience for the most part. Things like the new customisation options for your horse, banner and troops are great for personalising your experience, but unfortunately poor visuals with low detail, ugly textures and objects/enemies popping into existence, are off-putting and disappointing. However, the series has never been visually stunning and a smooth, fast frame rate despite the hive of on-screen activity is perhaps worth the visual banality. And It is still fun but if the strategy aspect doesn’t appeal to you then the fun is going to dry up fast. Otherwise it’s another good but predictable entry in a series that hasn’t evolved enough.

Thanks to Tecmo Koei for supplying TiX with a download code

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