Phoenix Point is a brand new turn-based ways recreation designed by Julian Gollop, the driving drive behind the unique XCOM, launched again in 1994. In 2019, he’s again to construct on the expertise he helped pioneer all these yr in the past.
Slight drawback, although: he’s not coming in to repair something that’s broke. XCOM 2 did a lot proper that, fairly than throw the whole lot out and begin over, Phoenix Point is content material at first look to stroll intently in Firaxis’ footsteps, so intently that from the unit design to the over-the-shoulder firing animations you’d be forgiven for pondering this was an XCOM 2 mod.
And in some ways Phoenix Point will likely be immediately acquainted to anybody who has ever performed any form of XCOM recreation. The fundamental premise is strictly the identical: there’s an existential menace looming over the planet, and you must fight this by managing bases, researching tech, constructing weapons and fascinating in seemingly infinite rounds of tactical fight.
My first hour with the sport, then, was a little bit disappointing. Was this all we have been going to get? Extra XCOM 2, solely now the dangerous guys appear like fish?
After all not. When you’ve bedded in and obtained your head across the recreation’s setting—humanity has barely survived a Lovecraftian assault from the seas, rebuilt from the ashes and is now threatened as soon as extra—it turns into clear that Phoenix Point’s world map has a lot occurring.
On this climate-ravaged future Earth, with a lot of the inhabitants both lifeless or mutated into hostile sea creatures, there are a number of factions of survivors. There’s you, Phoenix Venture, the plucky science nerds forged in the identical mould as XCOM again within the day, however you’re a small and fledgling drive. A lot of the remaining sources and inhabitants on the market are managed by three extra teams of individuals, who all have completely different views on how humanity ought to react to the disaster it finds itself in, and who largely hate one another as a lot as they hate the creatures crawling out of the ocean.
These factions exist as separate entities, every with their very own analysis bushes, manufacturing functionality and political motivations. And taking part in Phoenix Point is as a lot about juggling your relationship with every of them as it’s defeating the seaborne invasion. The three factions might be traded with, raided for provides, assisted in fight and can even provide customized story missions, so travelling world wide interacting with them provides a component to Phoenix Point’s strategic aspect that sits someplace between Civilization’s diplomacy and Skyrim’s faction quests.
And I beloved it. At the least at first. The faction’s relationships with one another are natural, continuously ebbing and flowing relying on world occasions (and your individual actions), and it’s potential to at any time to be sitting anyplace on the diplomacy scale between “all-out battle” and “finest associates”. Phoenix Point’s default items, weapons and armour are fairly generic, and it’s fascinating allying with one in all these teams and seeing your tech and arsenal evolve to incorporate their gear as effectively.
In earlier XCOM video games, the fixed dread of getting to face the alien invasion alone obtained a bit mundane, however right here, having a number of fronts to combat and allies on the sphere alongside me saved the whole lot a bit spicier. It’s all very sprawling and free-form, and it’s a breath of recent air in a style (I believe there have been so many official and unofficial spinoffs that it qualifies as one) so obsessive about the identical ol’ strategic problem each time.
Quickly, although, the unguided nature of the entire thing got here again to chunk me within the ass. See, Phoenix Point has a really huge drawback: there’s so much occurring, and it does a poor job explaining the way it all comes collectively. There’s nothing main that it overlooks, simply an infinite laundry listing of stuff it under-explains or simply leaves it as much as you to determine, affecting the whole lot from shot percentages to analysis pathways.
I’m on the level now the place I’m 15 hours right into a marketing campaign, and utterly caught. I’ve simply been launched to a brand new kind of enemy that’s not solely closely armoured, however has thoughts management skills as effectively, which is simply kicking my ass. And I can’t get previous it, as a result of 15 hours in I haven’t been capable of improve a single piece of my armour, and have solely a handful of latest weapons.
XCOM’s development and overworld could have been linear, however that linearity meant it was simple to know the best way to get higher tech. Right here, I’ve obtained no concept. Typically it’s by means of faction missions, typically sidequests, typically it’s simply mendacity round, however the vagueness with which it’s communicated, and the haphazard nature with which you’ll be able to transfer forwards, implies that after an preliminary honeymoon I’ve been working into continuous and extreme problem spikes which I’m struggling to beat.
One other instance of this marketing campaign weirdness is your soldier recruitment. You’ll be able to’t simply get recent blood from a central pool like in XCOM. Right here, you must journey world wide visiting the bases of the sport’s different factions, and typically (it’s fairly uncommon!) they’ll have a single soldier accessible for recruitment. Who it’s and what gear they’ve is randomised, which utterly sucks, as a result of I misplaced my solely heavy weapons man just a few missions in and actually haven’t discovered a single substitute since, which is partly responsible for among the aforementioned problem spikes.
This has left me on this horrible limbo the place 15 hours is an excessive amount of funding for me to need to trash the sport and begin over, however I’m caught in so many areas that I’ve stopped taking part in.
Perhaps the opaqueness of the sport is intentional, to higher simulate the thought of humanity’s final survivors stumbling about within the mist, and I’m right here in search of readability and goal in a world the place these issues are in brief provide. However within the precise world, which hasn’t fairly fallen so far as Phoenix Point’s, that interprets into an expertise the place a lot of what the sport does effectively is, like a missed shotgun blast at close-range, undone by remoted acts of utmost frustration.