XCOM and Story
I finished my first campaign on Tuesday. So I experienced the story now, I guess. I already got into “it” a little bit when talking about Enemy Unknown/Within, that the story was the sole major disappointment for me. Sure, similar to StarCraft II, XCOM is a game that is maybe more about its gameplay than a deep and important story. And yet I think they have chosen the least satisfying method to handle these matters. In general, I think it is perfectly acceptable, to make a “story” that’s just “Aliens attack Earth and that’s why/then we fight them” and there is nothing more to it. The other end/extreme would be a deep and well thought-out story, which one could enjoy on its own merits, a story which might even make players just go and play XCOM again to experience this story.
Now, the reason why I find XCOM’s story so unsatisfying, is that its story doesn’t fit into either category. It likes to act as if it’s more than just category one, but it still never reaches category two. I was really hoping the story in 2 would be better than in the first game, but they seriously did the exact same thing again!
The alien leaders are absent for pretty much the whole game except for the last mission. And when they show up, they spout all kinds of almost esoteric crap, which is cryptic at best and without context absolutely meaningless. If there is one big lesson to learn from Mass Effect 3, it’s that no major/main villain should ever only show up in the very last scene of the game – especially not if it’s for the very first time. There is a “special”/unique (?) Ethereal in the very last mission, which also marks its first appearance. While this is most likely the worst aspect of the XCOM story, it shows its flaws quite prominently in other parts of the game too.
When the Viper aliens are introduced, they are accompanied by the explanation, that they were the Thin Men in Enemy Unknown/Within, but the aliens now no longer need infiltration units. And which unit is introduced in the next mission? The faceless, the alien infiltration unit (which reminds me of Clayface from Batman)! It’s really jaw-dropping, how ill-thought-out it all is. They can’t even stop poking at these flaws, to stick with this example, the aliens use a spokesperson, which is a Thin Man. Why keep this Thin Man when they don’t need infiltration units anymore? Why isn’t an undisguised alien openly addressing the humans? Why are the Advent soldiers wearing helmets to hide their true faces? None of it makes sense and all these flaws are glaring mistakes, almost as if they wouldn’t want us to miss them.
Their lore (and the book XCOM 2: Resurrection) states that no one can use Advent weapons (which is why XCOM has to develop their own instead of just grabbing what the soldiers leave behind), because they are bound by tech to their owners and different people, who would try to pick it up, would… even be killed? The final cut scenes however show resistance members picking up Advent weapons and nothing happens to them, whereas they should be triggering the Advent security measures.
Remember Dr. Vahlen from the first game? She’s not in XCOM 2 and other than Dr. Shen, it is not explained what became of her. This is yet another prime example why the story doesn’t fit into either satisfying type of storytelling. They didn’t just have her vanish, never to be mentioned again AND they don’t reveal her fate. What they do is, they have “clues” all throughout the campaign, where something having a connection with Vahlen pops up and then there is no pay off, no resolution, no nothing. No one should ever do this, unless they were actually setting something up for later! The game simply ends, leaving the player behind without any kind of closure or any other type of meaningful message. It’s not even funny, which would have been one of the few possible tricks to save such a mess.
Enemy Unknown/Within ended without me knowing what the aliens plan was and what was going on, XCOM 2 does the exact same thing BUT, as if this wasn’t bad enough, bundles it with something, that is apparently supposed to be a cliffhanger… Seriously dude…