So I’ve played my entire first campaign now, and it was enjoyable.
I play as though the game is Ironman. I do not load previous saved games unless it is to continue an existing game. So I accrue casualties along the way and no matter who dies, I continue.
I had my squad totally wiped out in the later stage of the game by crabmen with machine guns and a strange white carapace. Every crab man had this. Prior to this, I was defending havens just fine and two factions were at war. I had picked a side in that war and was defening the havens of my chosen faction successfully, so was pretty confident. However, the Pandorans had developed about 10000 hit points and armour that could easily soak up shotgun shots, so the squad was totally destroyed. Incidentally this was only in a ‘get the resources from the crates mission’, which I could have retreated from, but these were men used to winning and would never surrender.
Not to worry, I picked up the pieces and dutifully carried on. I had 2 spare soldiers back at base and through a little trading I aquired enough resources to make a basic 3 man team. I then did some exploration to find some more resources and found another resource site. Alas, this 3 man team was then wiped out, though interestingly there was only a single crabman this time in the attire from before, I was still unable to take him down even with the funky little turret that gets deployed, putting down decoys and using those spider drones (which most often got shot to pieces before they could do anything, but was nice when one actually did do its job properly and blow up).
So now I have thousands of food and need some soldiers, so I trade it all away and get another tiny 3 man team in place. This time, I won’t be able to proceed if I lose the squad. So it should be fun. The game will recognise that Phoenix Point needs some time to recover from these two losses and go easy on me in the mission, I felt, because I’m doing nothing at all to stop that bar of theirs from advancing. Wrong. Entire mission of super crabmen with the white shells and the team is wiped out again.
Now there is no way to advance because there’s no way to get any more soldiers, the havens are falling (should we even care about this anyway as there are hundreds of them and it doesn’t really affect the game too much if they do) and I would have thought the game would detect it had check mated me and say ‘game over’. But it does not and I have to keep advancing time to see what happens. I’m told my soldiers are losing Stamina and Health (what soldiers - there aren’t any - why are you telling me this irrelevent stuff?). The red bar keeps advancing. What will happen, when it reaches 100%, will the game recognise game over? Luckily it does. I get some nonsensical cut scene about how the earth is overrun but ‘we will keep fighting on’… with what… I have no soldiers… the earth is overrun… surely this should be the ‘humanity has lost ending’?
So I’m left with a feeling that the game is assuming the player reloads any time there are any casualties and is built with that assumption in mind. I also feel that simply adding masses of hitpoints to the starting enemies, colouring the shells a kind of white colour and adding masses of armour points to them, seems kind of disappointing. I thought they might evolve huge tentacles, not merely machine guns that destroy crates in one shot (so you cannot possibly save them… why is this a good idea?). Also, losing health & stamina seems to be a way to kick the player in the gut and laugh about it knowing you’ve slowed them down… but if they’re already at 3/6 (3/8 in the UI, for some reason) capacity, what’s the possible justification for doing this?
Anyway, just some thoughts. If the game wasn’t enjoyable there’s no way I would have stuck it out for so long. It is, but some of these game design decisions feel very strange to me. So long as the aliens red bar is advancing, who cares if the game gives the player some easier missions to get back up to speed? They’ve probably already lost the campaign, but really, you do not want to lose the actual player in the process.