It’s time to talk about XCOM 3. Back in 1994, game designer Julian Gollop launched the legendary turn-based strategy game X-COM: UFO Defense. In case you’ve somehow missed it (seriously, what have you been doing!?) it’s a unique and unforgiving strategy game that depicts a secret organisation fighting to stop an alien invasion. It was pretty iconic and inspired Firaxis Games’ Creative Director Jake Solomon to become a game designer in the first place. Many years later, he spearheaded the team that launched XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a spiritual remake of Gollop’s UFO Defense.
The reboot achieved unprecedented heights in the turn-based strategy genre, marrying a tale of humanity and military heroism to the original’s unforgiving gameplay where any of your elite soldiers can be killed in a mission, permanently removing them from the campaign. 70% of players failed their first campaign, but it didn’t matter: XCOM’s second coming was a hit.
2016 saw a sequel in the form of XCOM 2, but it required a couple of hefty DLC drops to really shine. Since then, news about a third game has been sparse, and nothing since February 2019. There are still hints however that Firaxis might be planning XCOM 3.
We did get a surprise spin-off game in the form of XCOM: Chimera Squad, but it’s not what many hardcore XCOM fans wanted. Interestingly, Jake Solomon’s social media account still strongly teases that a third main game is in production. Luckily, there is a very active community over on the XCOM Discord and its subreddit who have been tirelessly talking about the game and what they would like to see in XCOM 3.
Best life: Read our XCOM 2: War of the Chosen review
So, we put it to the community: what would your ideal threequel wishlist include? No, you can’t have more “sexy sneks”.
A Better Geoscape
The geoscape is one of the most important parts of XCOM, but it doesn’t get the love it deserves. While the original UFO Defense iteration in 1994 let you build extra bases, control staff, and ultimately fight the war on a planetary scale Firaxis went for a smaller approach in XCOM and turned the geoscape into a monitoring tool for satellites.
XCOM 2 was a bit more ambitious with the Geoscape, letting you travel around the globe in the Avenger – a starship turned flying headquarters – but it kept Enemy Unknown’s reactive philosophy by constantly interrupting research and scans with unskippable events.
For XCOM 3, the overwhelming majority of fans we spoke to hope Firaxis will expand on the geoscape’s functionality. Aside from returning to XCOM’s global view and bringing back its air interception game in a more complex capacity, players hope it will include the ability to build forward bases around the world, the option to act preemptively in tactical operations instead of always reacting to what the enemy does, and a deeper control of XCOM operations, including its staff and assets.
Back to the roots
XCOM at its core
At its core, XCOM is the tale of humanity coming together to face a stronger foe, fighting very hard towards a standstill before eventually turning the tables. However, another important aspect of the franchise’s identity that many felt missing in recent entries was the idea of the ‘unknown’.
Ever since the 1994 game and its Terror from the Deep sequel, XCOM has had a strong emphasis on the spooky as well as the heroic, and many hope that XCOM 3 manages to capture that ‘fear of the unknown’ from the 2015 entry while retaining the heroics it already does so well.
While everyone loved XCOM 2’s gameplay and graphical improvements, the resistance angle left a lot of people feeling flat. XCOM: Enemy Unknown charged players with being mankind’s last line of defence, but XCOM 2’s assertion that humanity lost was a somewhat controversial move for the series. Likewise, the tonal shift from military strategist to flying around the world doing guerrilla strikes was considered less enticing by a big parcel of the player base.
There is a strong desire among the players we spoke to for a direct sequel of Enemy Unknown with a return to the series’ military themes, with a bigger and better funded organisation after it successfully stopped the 2015 invasion. Many players look back fondly on the ability to give soldier’s medals in Enemy Within, and the base game’s Situation Room, where you could keep track of the Council of Nations’ trust in the XCOM Project and monitor a real-time world news feed.
As a result, expanding on the organisation’s military capabilities and the player’s role as the Commander is high up the fanbase’s wishlist.
A significant reason behind XCOM’s enduring success is the attachments players make with its randomly generated characters. Thanks to permadeath, it’s hard not to make it your personal mission to ensure your favourite sniper survives the entire campaign. However, there’s also a lot of love going around for named characters like Central Officer John Bradford, Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Moira Vahlen, and Chief Engineer Dr. Raymon Shen. These named characters act as the heart and soul of the campaign, grounding the player and providing a natural way of getting feedback.
The team at Firaxis know this, and XCOM 2 brought all those characters back in some capacity alongside newcomers like Dr Richard Tygan and Shen’s daughter, Lily. Curiously, opinion polls run on the XCOM Discord indicate a unanimous preference for the return of these characters (especially from XCOM: Enemy Unknown) instead of introducing us to new people. I know for a fact I wasn’t the only one that cried at Raymond Shen’s emotional message in the Shen’s Last Gift DLC, and the community is hungry for more of that.
Oh, and let’s not forget the Councilman. XCOM isn’t XCOM without the sultry, dulcet “Hello, Commander” greeting you at the beginning of every Council report.
The Avatar Project in XCOM 2 is a bit of a hit-and-miss mechanic among the fans we polled. Firaxis made it more manageable in War of the Chosen, adding the ability to constantly delay and reverse its progress, but many fans agree that arbitrary timers are not fun.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown had some unavoidable timers like the infamous bomb missions and the finale of the brilliant Newfoundland’s chryssalid infestation operation. XCOM 2, however, took it to another level by making almost every level feature some sort of timer. While players appreciate the concept of having some urgency in certain missions, XCOM 3 seriously needs to consider dialling down on the artificial rushers.
More, more, more
It’s a simple one, but it’s clear players mostly just want more XCOM. More character customisation, more of the same brilliant tactical gameplay, more levels to battle through – in essence, more of the same things we love, with some tweaks to make it all feel fresh and evolved.
XCOM is what it is thanks to the synergy of its style and gameplay, and its ability to unite the strategy genre with a human element not found in many other strategy games.
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While we’re waiting for XCOM 3, there’s still plenty of life left in XCOM 2 thanks to the great selection of XCOM 2 mods available. Need help getting to grips with the game? We’ve got some class and tips guides to help you out.