The war is over. The Marathon complete. Earth, is saved.
Marathon mode was by far the most fun I’ve had playing the game. I had high hopes going in, and the game didn’t fail me. There were, however, a number of expectations and experiences that I was sure wouldn’t make a difference, yet changed in significant ways from the start of the play through to the end. One of my favorites, is how the games Marathon moniker makes sense, but not in the way you really feel it should.
Be Forwarned. This Article about Video games contains spoilers… duh!
The Long Haul
The Marathon option title should give someone a very specific image. One in which the whole way you grind and grind, until there is no possibility of going forward again and yet you push through to eventually win. An experience that tried the body and soul to the very end. Marathon mode both delivers on that, and in my experience, does not.
What Marathon mode really does is take the game’s early stage difficulty and pushes the scale past any normal and reasonable conclusions. Research projects crawl forward for months at a time as the scientists struggle to gain an understanding of the befuddling and bewildering alien technology. The Foundry strains to keep up with the booming demand that XCOM places on it to manufacture new and improved technologies for the Soldiers, but above all the Medical staff is working constantly to ready injured soldiers for the battlefield once again, to fight alien beings with technology far superior to our own in a battle that is sure to be lost.
But, slowly, the staff improves. The Scientist understand and are able to integrate the new staff easily. The Foundry rings throughout all hours of the day with productive knowledgeable workers stacking up piles of the newest technological breakthroughs. The medical staff becomes proficient in sealing up plasma burns, removing alien shrapnel, and working through the distress of mind control. Eventually, the tide turns, and in marathon, it turns very sharply.
The games difficulty has always been during its initial phases. Marathon simply compounds those early troubles into game breaking catastrophes, but by doing so, it can rearrange priorities and solve those problems much earlier than in a games normal life.
For example: In a normal/classic game, I used to use the Alien Base mission as a kind of stop-gap to make sure that I was going to be able to deal with the situation that was going to be posed to me and keep my soldiers alive in order to move forward with the game. With Marathon, that had already been solved by the time the quest line came about. I did take a long time in getting the Outsider Shard and initiating the quest line, but I know I wasn’t ready to take an outsider alive. With this knowledge, I was able to push through to the end in what felt to be a more natural conclusion, and the end game was fast paced. I quickly transitioned from the Exalt Base Assault, to the Alien Base Assault, to the Hyperwave Relay, to the Overseers ship to the Gallup Chamber to the Temple Ship. During that time I also build my first Mech, discovered Psionics, tested three team members for Psionic potential – one passed,found the volunteer, and completed operation Progeny.
Writing that sounds like a significant investment, but it all comes together simply enough that I was able to progress from one objective to the next and complete the side projects without a great deal of interference from the game itself. Don’t get me wrong, though. There were abductions and Council missions and Terror sites enough for me to be busy and to get soldiers killed if I wasn’t paying attention, which happened a few tragic times.
I really liked the change in pace. Ballistic weaponry lasted much, much further, and I only encountered the rare elite aliens toward the end of the game where previously the sectoids, floaters and thin men had all vanished by the end of the game, they were both still prevalent and, if I wasn’t careful, still an offensive threat, as simply letting two of them live could cause the death of my forward lookout. This changes the whole tenor of the game. Instead of fighting a rapidly escalating war against alien invaders who you are desperately trying to keep up with, you are fighting a long, brutal war of attrition against an alien enemy who only at the last moment realizes that they need to bring their most powerful troops to bear against an enemy that refuses to loose.
Let me close with two things.
First, I love Ironman mode, but it can be extremely unforgiving when it does not need to. I made three blinding mistakes in the game. and each one had strong consequences. Two were player induced , and I get that, but the final one could have cost me the game on the slip of a finger. One was running a Colonel through a poison gas cloud when they were at one Hp. Poisoned and with no way to heal them (I don’t use medkits often, and forget to bring them even more often), she bleed out on the ground due to my own stupidity. I had just spent nearly 300 precious credits and nearly the same amount – almost half – of my meld to make her awesome. Another was not leveling the Volunteer to the maximum soldier level before going on the Temple Ship run. This gave her a lower defense, lower HP and easier to kill profile than any of my other troopers, and made her a prime target for some of the most powerful guns in the game. Somehow, she was able to survive an onslaught of Sectopods, Thin Men, Floaters and Muton Elites to get to the end.
The big grievance, through, was my slip of the thumb. a council mission had presented itself, a simple escort quest, so I loaded up my secondary unit with all the awesome gear they could carry, and went to send them on their way. Instead of hitting launch, though, I hit scan, which took me after a couple seconds, into the Base Defense mission, where nearly all of my soldiers were without armor or proper weapons. Fighting off wave after wave of Cyberdisks, Sectoid Commanders, and Mechtoids with only ballistic weaponry took its toll. over half the XCOM security detail and 25% of my Colonels were dead by the end of the mission. The key to the game, though, was Eros. I gave all my soldiers nicknames after culture based gods, and this one was a sniper named after the Greek God of Love. She was, somehow, still able to blow apart enemies from miles away, one-shoting Mutons and a sectoid Commander, both much to my surprise. only two members of the whole base defense mission were armed with plasma weaponry and good armor, but I made it through.
Finally, they were kind enough to leave me with screen upon screen of detailed and insane stats of the game. I found some of them to be very enlightening and interesting, so I’m just gonna share. Let me know what you think of the run, of XCOM or if I should do Long War Mod or Impossible next!