How XCOM 2’s Save System Creates Flexible Difficulty Levers
I Have Cheated Death
Two months into 2016 and XCOM 2 is already being hailed as a GOTY contender. It is a smart, tough, visually impressive follow up to 2012’s well-regarded XCOM: Enemy Unknown. A worthy, well thought out sequel that improves upon its predecessor and corrects some (but not all) mistakes.
From the first missions, I realized that the most important feature for me isn’t the amazing tactical gameplay, customization features, or challenging campaign.
It’s the unwieldy, needlessly wordy save system.
Save Me EX COM
The game auto-saves often, with each save creating a new file. This quickly leaves you with multiple save files per mission. When loading, the menu consists of a giant wall of text presented with multiple dates and other needless information. It doesn’t show much regard for how the player will use the menu effectively.
Still, I love it because it allows me to play exactly how I want. It allows me to cheat death. And it allows me to do it whenever I want.
Scrub Dem Saves
If any of my soldiers die, I can simply go back to one of the plethora of save files and try different tactics. It also allows me a quick way around some of the egregious randomization that has been immortalized all over Reddit and 4chan. Because of the frequency of saves, I never have to manage it myself; I could always find one that satisfied my desire to go back in time.
From a design standpoint it’s a very cheap, and simple way to allow players like me; players who love the idea of XCOM but really don’t want to lose any of the soldiers, a way to enjoy the rich, tough, tactics the game offers. I have spent hours customizing and growing attached to my squad of soldiers based on hollywood celebrities, from both past and present. I just can’t let Emma ‘Eight Ball’ Watson die can I??
It’s really up to the player’s own sense of gameplay ‘morality’ to use this system. One can use it at will, or one can play ‘pure’ and never load within missions. Use it only on death maybe? Only when a particular soldier dies? It is completely open for the player to use as they wish.
It gives the player a very flexible and customizable difficulty lever.
For me, this single feature is the one that has added 20+ hrs to my playtime with the game.
When designing your own games, the more flexibility and customization your offer your players, the better the result. The more friction you can ease, the better. Always try to let them loose within your systems rather than leading them down a rigid path.