Phoenix Point Behemoth Edition Review: X-COM Who?

The X-COM 3 We Deserve

Phoenix Point has some very big shoes to fill. X-COM 2: War of the Chosen is one of my all-time favorite games. I have eagerly awaited even a sliver of news about X-COM 3 and have only been met with disappointment. From the release of Chimera Squad, which carries the X-COM name without anything that makes X-COM great, to the reveal that Marvel’s Midnight Suns “won’t share a single mechanic with X-COM.”

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An action shot of a Phoenix Point Soldier firing a rifle at an insectoid like Chiron.
Don’t be fooled by appearances, Phoenix Point makes serious changes to the X-COM formula

Well, after playing Phoenix Point, I’m not sure I care about X-COM anymore. In fact, I doubt I can go back to it at all. Not because Phoenix Point is necessarily better, but because it takes that formula and molds it into a game that is definitely not X-COM, but everything I wanted X-COM to be.

Phoenix Point is a deep game. The Behemoth Edition drives that point home with the inclusion of several DLCs that can be overwhelming at first, but adds undeniable value and enjoyment to the game. An experience of truly behemoth proportions.

Emptying Your Cup For Phoenix Point

When looking at Phoenix Point, saying the game definitely isn’t X-COM might sound ludicrous. They clearly have a lot in common with turn-based combat, geo-scape, base building, and research trees all culminating in fighting off a worldwide hostile threat.

However, to get anywhere in Phoenix Point, I had to unlearn everything I thought I knew. My cup was full from hundreds of hours in the X-COM games, but the mutant crab men had no problem at all shattering it into my face, over and over again.

Phoenix Point is much slower-paced in tactical combat, faster-paced on the Geoscape, and a more grounded and gritty game. An attack’s accuracy is not percentage-based, or at least not in the same way. Accuracy determines the size of a soldier’s reticle when aiming. All shots are guaranteed to land within the circles and have a 50% chance of hitting the inner circle.

The targeting reticule in Phoenix Point placed over an Arthron Shield Bearer.
Bullets always land within the targeting circles

There’s no such thing as missing a point-blank shot. You can reasonably predict what shots are worth taking rather than rolling the dice. Additionally, you have complete control over a soldier’s aim, and different body parts can be targeted. This matters because different units have various amounts of armor on different limbs, and you can even disable certain attacks or abilities. On the flipside, that all applies to your soldiers as well.

The fact that every projectile is modeled drastically changes how the cover works compared to nearly every other game. The shape of the cover matters, as does the angle of your attacker. A railing might technically count as cover, but bullets will pass right through the gaps in the bars.

“A squad member dying genuinely feels like it happens from a bad move on your part or an overwhelming force rather than a run of bad luck.”

Your soldiers use action points to dictate their movement and abilities, but attacking doesn’t end your turn. Sometimes it makes the most sense to manually step into the open, shoot, and move back. Special abilities are governed by spending willpower that also doubles as the soldier’s morale. You have to strike a careful balance of using it to win, with the fact that your soldiers can panic, or worse become mind-controlled with a low will.

The combat feels meaningful and granular. A squad member dying genuinely feels like it happens from a bad move on your part or an overwhelming force rather than a run of bad luck. The manual aiming, cover system, and full-body targeting add such a degree of control and satisfaction to the game that I can’t imagine going back to abstracted RNG-based combat.

Crab Battle

The monstrous threat known as Pandorans appear as mutant hybrids of sea life, insects, and humans. Their designs are equally creepy and terrifying, and one particular thing I love about them is that they never lose that monstrous presence, even when they inevitably adapt firearm usage.

Fighting the Pandorans never feels like taking on humans with an alien skin. They constantly evolve all game with new species and several variants of existing types. Those variants matter a ton and must be fought in different ways as different limbs or body parts will have new abilities or various amounts of armor plating.

An intelligence report on the massive spider like Scylla Xenagos
The Pandoran’s have a really great monstrous feel to them.

Your tactics will have to change alongside them and an interesting thing to note, is that the variants don’t necessarily mean they replace the previous versions. You will often encounter a variety of enemies pulled from the entire roster of evolutions that the Pandoran’s have reached and that keeps battles against them fairly fresh.

I would’ve liked to have seen a few more front-running types but Pandorans are far from the only foe you have to contend with in Phoenix Point. It never truly becomes stale, even after multiple playthroughs.

World At War

Phoenix Point is not the only faction attempting to repel the Pandorans. The world is populated with other groups and factions that operate with or without you. They research tech, build bases, and launch attacks against the monsters, and eventually each other.

These factions make up the world’s population, and you have to help protect them otherwise there won’t be a world left to save. The three main factions are completely unique, with their own philosophy, combat styles, and technology. New Jericho takes a military approach with destructive weapons, heavy armor, and cybernetics. Synedrion wishes to learn to coexist in the new world and has a focus on long-range, status ailments and laser weapons.

The Anu see the Pandora virus as an opportunity to evolve, adapting mutations on themselves and even creating monstrous pets known as mutogs. Phoenix Point has several endings, some of which are tied to each faction if you choose to align with them. The entire game is gray in terms of morality, with no true right or wrong choice in how you deal with the Pandorans.

“It’s really awesome to know that while the Pandorans will eventually win unless you intervene. The other factions are trying in their own way.”

However, you can utilize each faction’s unique classes, vehicles, tech, and gear by allying with them so that they share their research with you. Conflict with some factions may be unavoidable, and stealing their resources and tech is also an option for you, since allying with all three while possible, is extremely difficult.

The diplomacy system itself is a bit underwhelming. How much a faction likes you is almost entirely linked to the missions you choose to do, and your dialogue choices in random events. But interacting with the factions does have a profound effect on the game.

The soldier menu in Phoenix Point.
You can hybrid classes and customize soldiers have ever you want.

Phoenix Point has a very sandbox approach to your tactics, and two playthroughs never truly feel the same. Each of your soldiers starts with a class but is also a blank slate. You can hybrid them in the way you choose. A sniper wearing heavy armor so they can jet pack to rooftops? You got it!

Your options constantly change depending on who you’re allying with and what you’re researching yourself. That kind of freedom feels truly refreshing. The game is incredibly challenging, but you’re free to tackle that challenge in any way you choose, and it makes each playthrough feel unique.

The fact that you never truly feel alone in the war is a great feeling. It’s really awesome to know that while the Pandorans will eventually win unless you intervene. The other factions are trying in their own way.

Two Sides of Conflict

In Phoenix Point, your actions on the geo-scape are every bit as important as your performance in battle. The whole world is in your hands, literally. You will never have the resources and manpower to cover it all. While you can pause the geo-scape, it’s fast-paced, and you will be pulled in many directions at once. It’s up to you to choose what to prioritize, and you can’t save everyone.

Resources aren’t granted passively in most cases. You have to conduct trade with the factions, complete missions, and can find it while exploring. At the same time, you will also need to attempt to protect faction havens that fall under attack, take out Pandoran nests, form a research plan, build bases, and otherwise juggle tons of priorities, on a worldwide scale.

A view of the Phoenix Point Geo-scape.
You have to manage several factors and be ready to react if havens come under attack.

It’s a lot of fun, but very intense. I actually recommend taking notes because every choice you make on the geo-scape is important, but the intensity of it all can make it easy to forget. I might be planning a trade route, or have an idea of what gear to manufacture and then engage in three to four battles with totally different squads in between those things happening making it easy to forget what my plan was to begin with.

Phoenix Point does a great job of handing you a massive war effort to manage and not only make it meaningful but also tie it into the combat. Completing missions feeds the war machine, which then opens up new gear and tech for your squads. You can lose the game by mismanaging either one. The geo-scape is so fast-paced that you’re never just waiting on things to happen.

The inventory management is a mess, however, with very few ways to properly sort items and a clunky interface. Managing gear for your squads is an important part of the game. I like the micromanagement, but it is bothersome to constantly have to fight the interface to do it.

Behemoth Additions

Most of the DLC included in Phoenix Point Behemoth Edition could be worthy of its own review given the scale of things that they add. Blood and Titanium adds the ability to turn your soldiers into robotic cyborgs and forces you to contend with two sub-factions. The Pure, a group of unstable fully robotic enemies, and the Forsaken, unhinged mutants that split from Anu. Cybernetics gives you another potential option and the sub-factions further help the gameplay variety, which is great.

Legacy of the Ancients introduces yet another sub-faction as well as a new resource to manage, for the construction of artifact weapons. Both of which deepen the game further.

An armed manticore ship takes on a Pandoran flying mutant in air combat.
Festering Skies adds air combat.

Festering Skies introduces air combat and a ton of tech and research to support it. As well as corrupted haven missions and a new enemy type. The air combat is simple compared to the rest of the game, but it adds a whole new layer to managing the geo-scape.

Corrupted Horizons introduces a highly challenging new type of Pandoran, the ability to create Mutoid soldiers with Pandoran abilities and a new corruption mechanic to contend with. Another experience enriching addition.

One side effect of having such a deep game is a steep learning curve

I found myself enjoying every DLC, but take the advice I was too stubborn to follow. Disable them at first and then enable them one by one as you learn the game. The game is intentionally overwhelming as it is, and every DLC gives you something new to manage.

I was still trying to come to grips with managing the geo-scape, when suddenly I had a new resource to track. There was a giant Behemoth stomping around crushing havens and spawning flyers, and I had no idea how to cure my soldiers of corruption. It’s all great, but one side effect of having such a deep game is a steep learning curve, but the trade-off is worth it.

Phoenix Point Verdict

Phoenix Point is an incredibly deep game that feels like a true evolution of the X-COM formula. It has some rough edges, a clunky inventory interface, a few janky animations, and some bugs that definitely made it clear that Phoenix Point isn’t as polished as it could be. Thankfully, most of the bugs I encountered were fixed while I was reviewing the game.

Phoenix Point Behemoth Edition is huge, however. To the degree that I could easily make this review three to four times longer if I wanted. It’s a deep, complex, and incredibly satisfying game that has yet to grow even a little stale for me. The combat is a step up compared to almost any other tactics game out there, and it entwines with the strategical layer beautifully.

A top down shot of the New Jericho armadillo APC in Phoenix Point.
Vehicles are one of many tools at your disposal

The sheer variety of playstyles and its sandbox nature to combating the alien threat is glorious, and it’s largely due to the fact that the tech in Phoenix Point expands your options, rather than strictly upgrading what you have. You aren’t going from dinky bullets to lasers and then plasma. Instead, you get grenade launchers, mutant war beasts, and shoulder-mounted weapons to add to your armory rather than replace what’s already there.

The incredibly detailed combat, deep strategic layer, living world, and immense variety didn’t just fill the void in my heart left by the absence of X-COM 3, it replaced it entirely.

My Perspective On Phoenix Point

If I could have handpicked what X-COM 3 would be, it would have looked a whole lot like Phoenix Point. While the game is by no means flawless. It does so much so well that while I could definitely nitpick it to death, I don’t feel the need to. It’s everything I hoped it could be and more that I didn’t know I wanted. Its flaws, the clunky inventory screen, for example, simply pale compared to how much I enjoy everything else.

I’m not trying to knock on X-COM either, it was one of my favorite games for a reason. Phoenix Point just replaced it by being closer to my tastes and feelings on how a game like that should play. I know Phoenix Point has at least one more DLC on the way, and I can’t wait for it. I sincerely hope the game is successful enough to see continued support because it’s not leaving my top list for the conceivable future.

Phoenix Point Behemoth Edition is the magnum opus of game design when aligned to the things I care about. It’s deep, complex, challenging, and replayable. It should be no surprise at all that I am happily awarding it my Golden Shield.

A review copy of Phoenix Point Behemoth Edition was provided for Gideon’s Gaming for the purpose of review.

You may also enjoy my review of Age of Wonders: Planetfall

Pros

  • Exceptionally Deep Game
  • The realistic cover system, manual aim and full body damage modeling is fantastic.
  • Sandbox approach allows you to define your own playstyle
  • Incredible replay value
  • Difficulty Settings Present
  • A perfect meld of large scale strategy and combat tactics
  • A large variety of enemies split between factions
  • The Pandoran’s never lose that monster feel

Cons

  • Clunky Inventory Interface
  • Some unpolished animations
  • A few bugs persist
  • The Diplomacy system is a bit binary
  • The air combat is simplistic

Who Would Like This Game?

  • If you like complex strategy games
  • If you like X-COM, but not the randomness of shots
  • You enjoy an intense Cerebral challenge
  • Multitasking is one of your strengths
  • You want a game you can spend hundreds of hours on
  • Losing after several hours doesn’t bother you

Who Wouldn’t Like This Game

  • You reload games if something bad happens
  • If a steep learning curve is intimidating
  • You don’t want to manage 12 to 20 custom soldiers
  • You get stressed out and overwhelmed by many tasks at once
  • Dedicating a lot of time to one game Doesn’t appeal to you