I’ve been excited about Phoenix Point, which launches today, for a very long time. And while I still very much am, for the last few months I’ve kind of been forcing myself to not be excited for it, all because of a fiasco that happened back in March. A fiasco called Epic.
But before we get into any of that, let’s talk about what Phoenix Point is. It’s a turn-based tactical strategy game by Snapshot Games and Julian Gollop, designer of the original X-COM games of the 1990s. After an alien virus wipes out most of humanity and mutates all remaining life on Earth, the player is tasked with saving what remains through research and holding back the Lovecraftian horrors born of the disease. If you’ve played the original X-COM series, or the more recent XCOM remakes by Firaxis, you know the drill. You control a group of soldiers on a battlefield, hunting down and fighting enemies who are themselves hunting you down. You get to move each one on your turn, use their specific specialties, and hope they don’t die so they can level up and you can use them again. In between battles, you research and expand your base to strengthen your team, the Phoenix Project. Because the enemies are doing the same, and you don’t want them to get ahead of you. It requires short-term planning on how to beat the baddies directly in front of you, as well as long-term planning on research and strengthening your team. Phoenix Point, however, has a lot more to it than that.
In XCOM, you get two movements for each of your soldiers per turn. Different types of soldier can go a different number of tiles per turn, and you can use both movements or any fraction of a movement per turn, but you only get to move twice, no matter how far that was. In Phoenix Point, you still get two movements, but you can do any number of smaller movements within that large movement you’d like. Let’s say that you can move five tiles per movement. In XCOM, that means you could move up to ten total tiles, doing five twice. If you move three tiles to get behind cover, and then move four more to get behind some more cover, you’re done. Even though you can go up to ten tiles, you’re finished at seven.
In Phoenix Point, however, you can move as many times as you want until you hit that ten tiles. If you want to move a soldier one tile at a time in order to slowly go forward and keep them safe from the bad guys, you can do that. The soldier will eventually get that ten tiles ahead, through ten different movements. Not only that, but if a soldier runs into the vision of an enemy along the way, they’ll stop what they were doing, even if they hadn’t gotten where you had told them to go quite yet. Instead of being out in the open like they would be in XCOM, or you having to go reaallly slowly in order to not get stuck out in the open, you can use that as an opportunity to retreat to a safe place. Not only that, but the enemies in Phoenix Point are really cool. You can’t just keep using the same soldiers over and over, or fighting the same way, because these horrors will learn and mutate to stop your strategies. Again, beyond the short-term planning you need to do on the battlefield, there’s a lot on long-term planning you need to do to take out the bad guys.
These and a lot of other things got me super excited about Phoenix Point back when it was announced and set for crowdfunding in spring of 2017. I could go on and on about how fun this game looks. And while I fully oppose pre-ordering games, I’m more okay with doing some crowdfunding on games I have faith in. Phoenix Point was one of those games. It looked fun and had Julian Gollop working on it, who’s done good work in the past. It looked promising to me. Then, this spring, the Epic Games Store stuck its nose it.
If you don’t know the Epic Store, it’s a digital video game storefront operated by Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite and the Unreal Engine. They’ve set out to do something I honestly fully support: create a competing PC gaming storefront to Steam. Now, I don’t dislike Steam, but I will say that competition is good, and with Steam being the big fish by quite a bit, it’s pretty good to see other things springing up. Epic also takes a smaller cut of game sales than Steam, which is pretty cool, and beneficial to developers. And…they kind of buy their success. Epic is notorious for giving developers big swaths of money for exclusive access to games, albeit generally just for a year. Which, again, I don’t particularly care about too much. Will the developers lose sales from this exclusivity? Probably, there are a lot of people who are quite mad about it. But overall it’s more than likely going to be monetarily beneficial to them, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. Plus, PC exclusivity is a lot different from console exclusivity. If a game is exclusive to a storefront, you can still play it as long as you have a PC. That’s however not my big problem.
When I first supported Phoenix Point, I was given an option of two places to download it: Steam or GOG. I chose Steam, because that’s where I do my PC gaming. This spring, when it was announced that the game would be exclusive to Epic, I was not happy. I was told, and I gave my money, believing that the game would be on Steam. Then is wasn’t. Once again, I don’t have all that huge of an issue with Epic. Yeah, it feels a bit bare bones, launching without some things that have become pretty standard, like achievements or cloud saving. Achievements…meh, I’ve said before that I’m not that crazy into them, but they would be pretty nice. Cloud saving though, that seems like a big oversight for a system that launched at the end of 2018. There are some other things as well, but that’s not the big thing I have an issue with. While I don’t particularly mind exclusivity, I really don’t like exclusivity gained by taking away a former lack of exclusivity. And when I financially support a game after being promised that lack of exclusivity, I really don’t like it. They did give supporters who wanted their money back a refund after this fiasco, myself included, but it feels a bit insulting that it happened in thte first place.
Overall, I don’t hate Epic as much as some people. And while I’m mad at Phoenix Point developers Snapshot for saying I could use Steam or GOG and then taking that back, I can understand it. If that’s what they think is going to be the most beneficial, good on them. It’s kind of a jerk move, but I don’t think it’s even 5% of some of the jerkiest jerk moves that some developers or publishers do. Still, it’s made me not want to support Phoenix Point, a game that I’m still insanely excited about, and really want to play. It will be out on Steam and GOG in a year, and while it’s exclusive to Epic on PC, it’s on Xbox One for any console players that want to play it. I could be playing the second after I publish this, but I don’t think I’ll be getting it. As insanely fun as it looks, and as much as I’d love to be playing it, I’m going to have a hard time supporting it after my former support was subverted. Will I purchase it at some point? Maybe, but I can’t see it happening. For now, I’ll just play some XCOM, and miss some point-blank shots against sectiods. Oh, did I mention Phoenix Point has a not stupid aiming system? Okay, I need to shut up before I give in and buy it.