What we want from XCOM 3

Will there be an XCOM 3? I have no idea. All I know is: the first two games, and their expansions, were brilliant, and the XCOM formula is just too good to fade. Whether you preferred the sedate, sandbox pace of Enemy Unknown, or the tough guerrilla fightback scenario of the second game, the differences in the two show how flexible the XCOM format can be. There's surely another great game or five in the series, right? Here are a few things we'd like to see in a sequel.

A new setting

We have saved Earth a few times now. Paradoxically we have both saved Earth from being invaded and then liberated it post-invasion. We have broken the alien threat in city streets, sewers and green fields. Could you face doing that all over again, even with a different alien threat? It is time for a change.

The original X-COM games went to the ocean for variety. A modern take on Terror From the Deep could be interesting, but I need something bigger to really get excited. Could XCOM take the fight to the alien threat on their home ground? Would XCOM work on a solar system scale? It's a dangerous move. The transition from defender to unstoppable aggressor is an important part of XCOM's fantasy, and you risk losing the personal touch that you get managing a small group of elite soldiers. Maybe a move to a smaller city-scale game in the mould of X-COM: Apocalypse would work.

In this regard the series is a victim of its own success. XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2 are so replayable XCOM 3 would need to be bold to tear me away.

Even more squad customisation

Firaxis' XCOM has loads of squad customisation, and War of the Chosen added bonds and a surprisingly great poster-making tool to better capture the successes and cruel deaths of our favourite soldiers. XCOM does plenty to let me turn my soldiers into heroes with backstories and relationships, but I cannot get enough of this sort of thing. The squad bonds system in War of the Chosen is a great example of the sort of feature allows the game to tell more complex stories. An outstanding array of hairstyle options is also a must, of course. 

Clearer campaign mechanics

Chances are you've loaded an earlier save in XCOM to undo a horrible turn, or take another shot at a mission because you got wiped by an enemy you'd never met before. 

In the first few playthroughs of a campaign trial and error is an essential part of XCOM. The game wants to tell a story, with surprised and twists, which means holding back information you need to make sensible decisions. I don't mind being surprised by enemy reveals that kill a bunch of soldiers. I enjoy the horror of first contact, and the pleasure of learning how to deal with them—besides, you're supposed to lose soldiers in XCOM. However I wish that the games were clearer about campaign-level mechanics, where ambiguity can waste a lot of time. 

Take the Avatar project. The game very strongly implies that XCOM is screwed if it maxes out, but I found myself wondering what would really happen, and I was unsure about how fast it would grow and how easily I could bring it back down. Likewise the necessity of satellites in Enemy Unknown came as a surprise to a lot of players. These uncertainties can lead to five-hour rollbacks on an opening campaign, or an outright restart.

A changing story

The worst thing about restarting an XCOM campaign is the static story. You can skip cutscenes and breeze through all of the exposition, but you are locked into a series of story missions linked by periods of compulsory research. I like XCOM's characters, world and art style, but I wish that there was a way for campaigns to branch or change to keep the surprises coming after several campaigns.

I think XCOM benefits a lot from the inclusion of a story, beyond the entertainment value of the Chosen's delightfully cheesy intro scenes. Story creates impetus, and on the strategy layer level XCOM is a game about racing the campaign's beats. I'd love an XCOM 3 campaign that allows those beats to change to keep me in a state of terror and despair for longer.

Better base building

The rooms look cool and I like being able to see XCOM members working away in the hive, but hollowing out the Avenger never really felt like I was building a base. The long excavation and build times made it feel as though the base was denying me cool stuff rather than unlocking it for me, and the layout never seemed to matter hugely, even with adjacency bonuses. The base functions felt as though they were spread out over too many rooms. Whatever shape an XCOM 3 base might take, I'd room placement to involve more interesting decisions with less waiting around.

Continued mod support

Another 'more of this please' entry. The Steam workshop has been great for XCOM 2 and The Long War campaign—a must play, comprehensive redesign of XCOM 2—adds dozens of hours of value to the game. There are loads of new enemies and weapons out there, but my favourite mods are the ones that make small UI tweaks to meet my preferences. Here's a selection of our favourite mods for War of the Chosen.

Malleable classes

Firaxis' XCOM tends to give you a choice of two upgrades when you level up. The left and right skill columns represent different builds of that class, which ultimately encourages you to come down one way or the other to hit the best synergies. 

War of the Chosen introduced training that let you unlock a few extra abilities in each class. The introduction of just these few extra options made the classes feel deeper and more flexible. I appreciate XCOM's determination to keep levelling simple, and to carefully define class roles to keep them distinct and interesting, but a degree of class cross-pollination could encourage more build-tinkering and squad experimentation. We'd want to see some new classes too, of course.

Factions, rivalries

War of the Chosen introduced several organisations that existed beyond the remit of XCOM. The resistance factions had their own tactics and fashion sense, and you had to work to earn their trust and get their cool toys. 

It worked great, and there are many ways to expand upon factions more broadly in a sequel. It's easy to imagine mercenary factions that could join the aliens or the humans, for a price. Firaxis experimented with EXALT in Enemy Within, so there's precedent for these shady, ambiguous factions.

I can't ignore how effective the Chosen were in War of the Chosen either. In fact, we reckon they are some of the best gaming villains out there. Having powerful villains that taunt you face-to-face creates great rivalries, and if a new XCOM didn't have a take on this, I think I would seriously miss it. Whether the game generates alien bounty hunters to hunt you down, or adopts a Shadow of Mordor style nemesis generator (a wronged Sectoid ties a bandana around its forehead comes back with a vengeance), I want strong antagonists whose defeat I can truly savour.

A new threat

XCOM's aliens are too familiar to be the sole focus of another game. The second game smartly revamped Sectoids and turned the skinny poisonous men in black into giant orange Cobras. Ultimately, though, Sectoids are going to mind control stuff and Muton's gonna Muton. For a third game I want to face enemies that feel alien again. I want the thrill of watching a unit's intro animation play in a battle and thinking 'what on planet Earth can that thing do?'

The return of shadowy "Hello, Commanderrr" guy

Other than the G-Man, is there a more ambiguous and intriguing figure in PC gaming than the mysterious silhouette guy who phones up to judge you once a month? I don't even know why he's in charge in XCOM 2, but I'll always pick up the big man's calls to hear him say "well done, commanderrrr", or "you suck, commanderrr". If there is to be an XCOM 3, he must reprise his role, and nobody tell him where the light switch is.