XCOM: Enemy Within is the first expansion to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 2K’s 2012 Game of the Year (Ed: it was Mindless Diversions’s game of the year too!). In addition to the usual stuff you’d expect to see in an expansion (new enemies, weapons, classes, maps, missions, yadda yadda yadda), X:EU introduces MECs (Mechanized Exoskeletal Cybersuits) and genetic modification. Enemy Within also introduces a new resource which must be collected from the battlefield: Meld. Meld is a new strategic resource which is necessary to unlock new research paths and new technologies. Meld, from a gameplay perspective, is also problematic.
On the tactical screen during ground missions, a number of small indicators will appear in the upper right portion of the screen. These indicators reveal the number of Meld canisters on this particular map. When one of your soldiers gets close to a Meld canister, you’ll be given a signal revealing the canister’s location. Once the canister comes into view, the clock starts and you’ve got somewhere between 3-5 turns to recover the Meld before it self-destructs.
I’m a player who prefers a slow, methodical advance across the battlefield, sticking to some simple rules which have proven time and again to keep my soldiers alive: Advance from cover to cover; prefer full cover to half; hunker down if half-cover is all you’ve got; never run blindly into an area you haven’t revealed yet; flank, flank, flank. Meld and it’s limited life span will force me to race across the battlefield, eschewing the strategy which has proven to be so effective at keeping my soldiers from getting dead.
Recovering Meld isn’t so different from bomb disposal missions, in which you have a limited time to find the bomb’s power nodes and deactivate them, gaining your team more time to locate and defuse the bomb. So why does Meld feel so gimmicky and contrived? Meld is a powerful resource which I must collect in order to win the game. Why would the aliens bring a few cases of Meld along with them and just scatter it willy-nilly around their drop zone? It would have felt more organic to me to make Meld something you could recover from capturing a particular alien, or something you could only recover by overcome alien resistance around a well-defended position. Why introduce a mechanic so obviously intended to force me to sacrifice soldiers by racing them across the battlefield?
To be fair, these are only my opening impressions of Enemy Within. I’m only two missions in so I clearly haven’t given the game a chance to convince me. But in those two missions I’ve felt artificially pushed to rush rush rush, and that impression hasn’t been favorable.