Phoenix Point – It Came From the Sea

When Julian Gollop announced he would be making a spiritual sequel to X-com, there was much rejoice. Unfortunately, the game that followed was lined with controversies like – changing the art-style from gritty post-apocalypse to nuXcom inspired science-fiction with oversized shoulder pauldrons. Dumping the open platform release for EPIC store exclusivity, while simultaneously insulting the Kickstarter-base that their investment meant nothing now with EPIC backing them financially. Yeah, it was not a great start, that even had me cancel my pledge…

Years later though, when feelings had cooled off, they released Phoenix Point: Year One Edition on Steam, and GOG. It was here, I once again opened my eyes to the game which ended up with me buying it, plus the expansion pass. Compared to what we have now, this was the best version of the game, according to me at least. The “aliens” still had mystery to them, and this would be changed in later versions. I personally think this change goes against the X-com genre as a whole. With this I mean, the first release of the Year One Edition had the aliens dynamically change their appearance, armor, and weapons depending on how effective you were in your game. This wasn’t told to you anywhere, and you had to discover these things for yourself on the tactical missions – which works exactly in line with the original X-com, and the newer ones for that matter. However, for some weird reason they changed this aspect, and now each time the aliens upgrade something you are presented with what in full statistical detail. It takes away a lot from the game.

Other major changes comes from the DLCs that mostly seems to be total misses. They expand the game, but makes it actively harder, and annoying with little pay-off. Let’s go through them all.

Kaos Engines

The only DLC I have not played because it was released fairly recently. But looking at what it does, I’m not sure how much this DLC would affect me since I don’t use the vehicles much except as base defense. I can’t really comment on it.

Corrupted Horizons

This is one of the newer DLCs. It adds another worry to the game in the form of corruption that will affect the willpower of your men. Which effectively mean that your soldiers will eventually become useless since they can’t use their special abilities, and will panic easier. There is also a new class added, the “mutiod”, which works as cannon fodder of some sort. Depending on how you run the company, I guess this could be a good addition. This DLC also adds a new form of alien that use debuffs as an offensive ability, this creature can also call in reinforcements. Which, like most of the DLCs, increase the stress factor with little pay-off. Just the thought of endless reinforcements makes at least me sleepless at night.

Festering Skies

An absolute pain in the ass in the form of DLC. It adds flying creatures which increases the stress of running Phoenix Point by 300%. I’m not kidding. These biological living ships make the geoscape aspect of the game a true horror, for both good, and bad I guess. For those that like to punish themselves it’s great, but there is a limit to my own masochism. This DLC also adds a new bug like creature to the tactical part that I feel is over-tuned. It can jump incredible far, and when upgraded, their stings do amazing poison damage that can take down even the strongest soldier in a few turns.

Legacy of the Ancients

Horrible DLC from a gameplay-standpoint. Lore-wise it is interesting, but beyond that aspect this DLC will make you suffer. While the lore as mentioned is fine, the enemies do feel out of place thematically. They are also horrible to face in battle, as being machines they do not suffer wounds like organics. Most of their units also have some kind of plasma shield, which will negate most of your damage. They also do hilariously high damage, easily killing, or crippling your men, making them useless for the remainder of engagement.

Everything blue, and slimy must die!

Blood and Titanium

Adds a new faction to the game in the form of cybernetic warriors. This is probably the DLC that actually don’t feel like they added pure pain. While they are tough to fight, they are not impossible to kill. Being augmented, and mostly robot-like they can take a lot of damage, yet, they do suffer from crippling damage attacks. This DLC also add cyberware for your own soldiers, if you now feel inclined to augment them.

Living Weapons Pack

Small DLC that adds a couple missions for you to collect weird looking insect-like weapons. Minor, inoffensive DLC, except that the weapons, and armors look pretty disgusting, but that is purely a personal opinion – the design is fine.

So, while the DLCs do add to the game, most of the added content are made to make the life of the gamer harder with very little in form of rewards. There is no real balance made either to the general pace of the campaign, most of the DLCs increase the speed of the demise of humanity without any way to alleviate it, except finishing the quest-line in question. As you can see, this just add stuff to do on top of an already stressful game, since from the start you are already working against time.

Yes, yes, please line up like this

Going back to the game, and a huge positive thing about it – is the story, and setting. Unlike X-com, it’s not exactly a classic tale of aliens attacking humanity this time, besides the initial threat coming from outer space. A thing landed in the sea, and from here on – in true lovecraftian manner something spread among the humans, slowly driving them mad, and eventually mutating them into sea creatures of horror. Those that were not affected by the virus formed their own factions; Disciples of Anu, New Jericho, and Synedrion – all with their own ideas how to survive, and defeat this menace, in addition to how to continue mankind after this cataclysmic event, if at all winnable of course. You, being the fourth faction – known as Phoenix Point, can either ally with these factions, or take them out. It’s all up to you. Discovering new aliens, and secrets, especially things to do with Phoenix Point will push the story forward, and it’s all very interesting. It has the flavor of a secret Templar order, working from the shadows for the betterment of humanity – secretly studying this event, and virus for decades. And while this is well done, the actual narrative of defeating the creatures, depending on faction alliance, is not that engaging. It’s more to the point – either we die, or we do this thing that don’t have much mystery to it – to not spoil anything.

How about the gameplay? It’s a strange mixed between nuXcom, and the classic X-com, based on true line of sight, and time-units. So while the game have time-units for movement, and shooting – movement, and cover still works a bit according to the more abstract way of nuXcom, as in your men can’t crouch down without having a wall next to them. And even so, a wall will usually not protect you, except a full corner one since that actually blocks line of sight. Lower walls still expose your men – I guess they have not learned to take cover effectively. The game uses true real line of sight, and simulated projectiles, but thanks to this hybrid system it never feels like you are in full control like for an example the original X-com, or Silent Storm, and more often than not it’s a crapshoot taking cover behind something that does not block the view 100%. Regardless, the combat is enjoyable, at least in the beginning until you hit different “walls” in the form of extreme health-point bloat. If you ever fall behind damage wise, the game, especially in combination with the DLC monsters, will make your time a real misery.

This is fine

Unsurprisingly enough, the same goes for the geoscape aspect. If you ever fall behind in money, ships or bases, you are in for a very bad time. While I do appreciate difficult games, Phoenix Point might actually be a little too hard for its own good, since it often reach a point of frustration in more ways than one. On the geoscape, you hire men, build bases, and discover “event-points” on the map, that all give different kind of missions beyond the story-quests. Frequently they come down to resource gathering, or agent rescue, and it’s up to you to pick what to do, what is worth it, and what is not. On this aspect of the game, you also do all your diplomatic needs – talking, trading, or attacking factions. Becoming an ally with a faction will give you access to their research, but, you can also decide to steal their research, if you rather take a violent way to diplomacy. And it might actually be necessary in some cases, since the factions themselves don’t like each other, so when you become buddy-buddy with one, another faction might not appreciate that fact.

Graphically, the game looks okay, the armor, even if a bit much on the American football spectrum is fine – the same goes for weapons, and crafts. But for some reason the game is really heavy on the performance, and even my new beast of a computer struggle with base-defense missions. And mind you, this is a turn-based game, so there is no real excuse for it to run this badly. The sound design is passable, with a few good songs, and a few that after a while becomes grating to the ears. It’s a bit of a mix here. Some weapons sound good, some will make you ponder: why?

Now I can finally watch discovery channel

Do I recommend the game? This is a tough one. The initial Steam release I found was pretty good, even if thin when it came to end-game stuff. I almost finished the game when I played it back then, sadly I got stuck on the final mission. Now when trying to replay – I’m getting chewed up, and spit out without coming very far. I have tried playing it a couple of times, but the game just seems to be way too much work for too little enjoyment. Phoenix Point also seem to lack a clear vision, and stuff are added haphazardly without any real clear thought what it will do to the main campaign, to the balance or pacing. I would say, if you are desperately itching for an X-com-like game, go for it on a sale, otherwise, it might actually be a sane thing to pass this one up, since the frustration will get to you eventually.

Thanks for reading.

/Thomas

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