In my review of “XCOM 2,” I mention how the game frequently feels unfair, mostly due to the random number generator that determined whether a given attack would even hit the target. Fans of the series vigorously defend this system, reciting the old credo, “that’s XCOM, baby!” But today I want to make the case that “XCOM’s” random number generator discourages tactical thinking and encourages frequent saving, otherwise known as “save scumming.”
Now, I’m not saying that the random number generator is a bad gameplay mechanic, nor does it make “XCOM” a bad game by any stretch. However, I will argue that it is a significantly flawed system. For those who haven’t played an “XCOM” game since the reboot, the random number generator system takes a number of factors into consideration to determine whether a given action, such as firing a weapon at an enemy, will succeed. Although this is a sound idea in theory, in reality it often creates situations where your trained soldiers will miss a shot that the game claims will hit 80 percent of the time. Although the alien enemies that you fight in the series are subject to the same system, those enemies receive a number of bonuses that make it easier for them to exploit the system, such as being able to take two shots per turn.
There’s no denying that the random number generator is a unique gameplay mechanic, but my real issue with it is that the player is always at the system’s mercy. All the abilities, training and technology mean nothing if your soldiers can’t reliably hit a target. The reality is that you’re never far away from having all six of your heavily armed colonels missing ninety percent shots and getting subsequently wiped out.
If you’re a serious “XCOM” player, or if you’re playing it for something like a Youtube series, then you can play on ironman mode, which limits the number of saves that the player can make. It makes for an entertaining challenge, but for everyone else, there’s nothing to discourage players from lowering the difficulty and saving after every single turn and reloading if, or when, everything goes awry. This is even truer in “XCOM 2,” which introduces several new ways for the random number generator to control your game. Several new gameplay mechanics are introduced in “XCOM 2,” including the ability for some soldiers to hack robotic enemies, which is also dependent on a percentage and penalizes the player for failure. In addition, a plethora of new “psionic” powers are introduced, most of which are also dependent on the random number generator.
This is all compounded by the sheer difficulty of “XCOM’s” campaign, even on the normal difficulty. In a game where recruiting and training a rookie to even serviceable levels can take hours of real time, the loss of a well-trained soldier can be disastrous. One unlucky mission is basically all it takes for you to lose your entire team and doom your chances for success, considering that the enemy won’t hold back its most powerful units just because your squad consists of a bunch of losers fresh off the street.
For all my complaints, and the frustrated swears of millions of “XCOM’ players around the world, the random number generator system is probably not going anywhere. As I said, die-hard fans are gluttons for punishment and love to exchange stories of how they were utterly destroyed or saved by the random number generator. But the unfortunate reality is that “XCOM” does not encourage tactical thinking from the majority of the people who play it. Rather, it encourages players to save and reload at every opportunity, lest they be left at the mercy of a random number generator that often feels as malevolent as it does random.
Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.