Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

XCOM: Will it RPG?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 4, 2012

XCom: Enemy Unknown – Could it be classified as an RPG? Maybe as a hybrid? Why, or why not?

Previously, I dismissed its predecessor on the (admittedly weak) criteria that the game didn’t encourage you to identify with your group of squaddies. That hasn’t changed much in the remake, but I also think that it feels more “RPG-like” than its predecessor. I mean, many earlier titles (mainly Wizardry and its spiritual descendants, like Might & Magic and The Bard’s Tale) let you maintain a roster of  player characters that could be rotated in and out (or even go on rescue missions to recover the remains of your previous party).

XCom has an interesting (short, but reasonable for the length of a campaign) leveling system, loot, equipment, narrative, and even some very interesting non-combat decision-making.  If you were to throw fantasy trappings around it, convert battlefields into dungeon levels and the home base as a home town, would it be clearly distinguishable from all of the other rich and varied legacy of titles that have been considered straight-up role-playing games?

I’m not so sure. It feels like it’s only a matter of emphasis.  What’s your take?

Filed Under: Mainstream Games - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Craig Stern said,

    I think it’s debatable. You make a pretty decent case here for it just barely being an RPG. Still, there is so little focus on leveling (it occurs very, very slowly) and improving a persistent character or group of characters (combat is lethal and character turnover is incredibly high) that I tend to regard it more as “strategy with some RPG elements” than a proper RPG.

    Notably, most games that let you create new characters also give you the option to resurrect dead ones: you’re encouraged to keep improving the same group of characters, even if you have the option of discarding some of them. XCOM definitely does not take that tack.

  • Craig Stern said,

    Oh, sorry–we’re talking about the remake here! My bad. My comments about lethality stand, though.

  • Tesh said,

    I never played the original as an RPG. It didn’t fit that mental space in my head. It’s a beauty of a tactical/strategic game, but not an RPG. I’m OK with that.

    I haven’t played the new one, but I suspect it would fit a similar mental niche.

    Final Fantasy Tactics makes more strides toward being an RPG… but even there, I’m mostly just playing it to play it. The story and roles and such are good, but incidental to my enjoyment of the game.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I dunno, compared to many older RPGs (I think Ultima IV only had 8 levels you could progress), leveling is arguably not that slow. And resurrection is more of a genre-specific thing… and the early Wizardry games had a chance (far too likely, IMO) that a failed raising from ashes culd result in your character being “Lost” and their file deleted off the disk. So it’s not without precedent.

  • Craig Stern said,

    There’s also exploration to consider. I don’t consider exploration a mandatory characteristic of an RPG, but the fact that XCOM is *just* battles and menus, to me, distinguishes it from games like Wizardry and Might and Magic. It’s single-mindedly focused on tactical battles, and whether your characters are new or leveled-up is sort of an incidental thing, not a core part of the experience.

  • McTeddy said,

    The only role I played in those games was bumbling boss. I did feel like I was sitting in my office reading reports, ordering missions and regretting those stupid budgeting choices I made last week. I felt that role played very well.

    But I would hesitate to call the soldier aspect role playing simply because of your distance from the characters. Everything seems to be designed around making characters feel like assets to allocate rather than living people.

    – With an RPG you build your characters, but in X-Com they are randomly assigned to you.

    – Their stat growth is hidden unless you go deep into menus.

    – Character’s are expendable and can be replaced by ordering new shiploads of recruits.

    – A character’s role can immediately be changed by giving him a different gun. No matter how many swords you give a mage, he’ll still be a mage at heart.

    I don’t want to argue that it has RPG elements… but it just doesn’t FEEL like an RPG. Everything feels like too much business more than personal.

  • Matt Barton said,

    I think it is just a matter of emphasis. It wouldn’t take much to make it a CRPG. Wasteland had that rotating roster idea. The main thing that makes X-Com feel different to me is the idea of a home base and returning to it after each mission, rather than longish campaigns.

  • Verdisian said,

    I watched a lets play of X-Com where the player named the characters after his viewers who volunteered to post combat logs and journals in character on a forum. So that was a pretty cool way to increase the RPG aspect of the game.