It’s been more than a hot minute since the last installment of content for XCOM 2 and even longer since the game’s initial release in 2016. The series is due for another installment, even if the story from the first two entries has all but wrapped up. There are plenty of similar games available of course, but none of them have yet managed to create the emotional roller-coaster that is an XCOM campaign. It’s like that for a reason of course though, one that is every bit as frustrating as it is elating. So, where is XCOM 3, and even more importantly, what (if anything) should change from XCOM 2?
So where is XCOM 3? Well, to put it plainly, it likely doesn’t exist just yet. Firaxis, the team behind the recent XCOM games, has only just launched their most recent game: Marvel’s Midnight Suns, so it’s highly likely that the studio is only just now starting to seriously consider its next project. This isn’t to say that it hasn’t said anything about a potential XCOM 3, though. In fact, Firaxis’ senior franchise producer for XCOM, Garth DeAngelis, is on record as recently as June of this year saying that the team still very much interested in the IP. So that’s encouraging.
Okay, so XCOM 3 is likely going to show up sometime in the next few years, great! Fans everywhere have something good to look forward to in that case. That said, though, what should an XCOM 3 look like? XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within had players repelling an alien invasion, while XCOM 2 had them expelling the already installed invaders as a guerilla force. Perhaps a new XCOM game could have players attempt to defend new, colonial worlds from their alien neighbors rather than defending Earth yet again. In this way, fans could see the XCOM universe’s version of humanity take a step forward while still being at a disadvantage against other older and more established species. It’d be a scenario that’s both new and familiar, and that’s probably the best one could hope for.
What about gameplay, though? As unfair as it undoubtedly feels at times, XCOM’s unforgiving nature is a large part of what makes it fun. Its commitment to punishing both actual mistakes and plain ol’ bad luck is what makes actual success and crazy blind luck feel as wonderfully rewarding as they do. That said, though, there’s something to be said for possibly dialing things back from XCOM 2 just a bit. It’s not so much that the game must be made easier for the sake of all those out there who can’t make it through an encounter without save-scumming, but rather offering a option to play it more like XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within.
See, with XCOM 2, the game doesn’t come into its own until one has at least a couple campaigns and many more attempts under their belt. It takes several completions to really get a handle on how best to handle one’s base, how to correctly upgrade their soldiers, how the enemy will react, when to expect reinforcements and how best to move about each map. In other words, players need a lot of hard-won experience in order to get the most out of XCOM 2. For the series’ most hardcore fans, that’s probably the best possible way for it to be too. Must that be the only option, though?
Part of the fun of XCOM: Enemy Unkown/Within is having the ability to suffer a critical miss or get surprised by the sudden reveal of a new alien squad and realistically expecting to be able to handle it. Sure, the squad likely wouldn’t get out unscathed, but the new situation would still at least be somewhat manageable if one had been playing carefully up to that point.
Sure, cascading failures would still often follow such happenings, but they weren’t guaranteed in the same way that they tend to be in XCOM 2. At least, they weren’t on standard difficulty or lower. That’s something that would be great to see again in XCOM 3, that is: being able to be surprised and still manage to squeak out a victory or even just a successful withdrawal. Sure, it might be easier, but those sorts of moments are still fun to relive and share with friends.
Whether XCOM 3 winds up being even tougher than XCOM 2 or something closer to XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within, fans are almost certain to be happy with it. Firaxis delivered superbly with both entries so far, so there’s no reason to think that it couldn’t manage it again. While it might be rather nice to play through an experience that doesn’t require quite so much hard-won experience, the game will likely be satisfying so long as there are still plenty of “That’s XCOM, baby!” moments to be had. After all, XCOM just wouldn’t be XCOM if it wasn’t always ready to flip the table at the worst possible moment.