Author Archives: The Bro

We Need More D&D in MMORPGs

The RPG genre first sprouted when Gary Gygax (and lesser known Dave Arneson) created Dungeons and Dragons. It’s evolved and splintered quite a bit since that day in 1974. This advancement has been unequivocally positive for gaming as a whole. We now have more options than we even know what to do with, as evidenced by places like Humble Bundle selling AAA for as cheap as one dollar. But maybe it’s time for one genre, MMORPGs in particular, to go back to its deep roots.

Top MMOs have spent so much time wondering what they could do, they never stopped to ask what they should do. For as much fantastic content, features, and innovation as MMORPGs have brought to the world, they’ve taken a lot of things too far. In the midst of all of this progress, they’ve forgotten a lot of what it even means to be an RPG in the first place.

As a handy dandy guide to developers, I offer these six ways D&D can improve your next MMORPG:

1. Reduce Number Bloat

Easy enough to start here since I wrote about lowered health pools not too long ago. To sum it up, it’s easier for humans to mentally calculate lower numbers, they’re easier to read, and it makes for more intense combat.

2. Actual Role-Playing

Not everyone likes full on role-playing. I get that. But I’d say that most people playing RPGs enjoy it on some level. They may not enjoy the creative aspect of pretending to be someone else on the spot. Give them a few guidelines to follow though and everything else naturally falls into place. D&D is great for role-playing because character creation itself makes role-playing more accessible. Attributes such as alignment, backgrounds, deities, and motivations offer up a reason to choose certain actions. Now just give us some actual choices besides which spot to grind in and BOOM – role-playing!

3. Fewer, More Meaningful Levels

In D&D level 20 is basically demigod status. In most MMOs, level 20 is a scrub newbie that toxic veterans laugh at. I’m on board with more frequent small advancements (something Dungeons and Dragons Online does well), but I want a level to really mean something. I want new abilities and new ways to play my character. What I end up with is +100 damage to magic missile. Levels are too much about buffing an arbitrary number and too little about impacting game play.

4. Game Masters

game master

Not too long ago MMORPGs used to hire GMs to organize impromptu quests. In D&D, a good GM is the difference between a campaign that spans several years and one that lasts a few sessions. So too can a similar impact be felt in MMORPGs. To facilitate a quest-driven approach to leveling, a lot of quests are needed. This need for quantity doesn’t leave a lot of room for quality. While some games manage some pretty impressive storytelling in their AI-led quests, they lack the ability to incorporate other players into the story. This is where GMs can completely alter an MMORPG experience and constantly deliver value to the game’s customers.

5. Drop the Trinity in Favor of the Quadrinity

Most MMORPGs balance abilities around tank/DPS/healer roles. D&D balances abilities around the roles of controller/defender/leader/striker. Defenders tank and shut down melee movement. Controllers kill large groups and crowd control. Leaders buff, debuff, and heal. Strikers deal massive damage to one target. This isn’t a massive difference, but in D&D terms facilitates a broader potential group of encounters that can be fought and overcome.

6. Add Challenge Ratings

D&D assigns a challenge rating to every enemy and monster in the game. This in turns allows for a programmatic approach to create balanced encounters. A balanced adventure results from a certain number of easy and hard encounters. Instead of MMORPG developers hand crafting encounters in raids and forcing us to beat the same things over and over to advance, a challenge rating based system could create near-infinite content to challenge us at every level. I’m not saying we need to abolish hand-crafted content, but saving time in one area frees it up for use in another.

While You Wait

If you’re looking for something like this to play now, there is an obvious choice. Dungeons & Dragons Online implements more of these features than other MMORPG. Of course, because of the focus on dungeons and instances, it does lack the massive feel other MMORPGs provide. Still, it does D&D better than any other MMORPG on the market. Maybe that’s a good enough reason for you to give it a spin until digital gaming seizes the opportunity to learn from classic tabletop gaming.

Console vs. PC: Best MMO Gaming Device

PC gaming does it all.

PlayStation is the ultimate gaming device.

Switch to a Switch anytime, anywhere.

XBOX is more than just games.

Since the dawn of time that mattered (i.e. when we could play video games at home), wars have raged to determine the best gaming device. Whether it was Atari or NES, Genesis or SNES, or the more recent war between the three current-gen consoles and PC, we love to debate the best gaming device.

How does this debate play out in the MMO space though? Well, clearly PC is better. The selection of games absolutely dwarfs the console selection. So my question for this article isn’t simply which one is better now. It’s which one has most potential for an MMO gaming device.

Case for PC

pc gaming mmo

MMORPGs first started on the PC with the advent of text based MUDs. Keyboard input was critical for these games because they lacked any sort of graphical interface. Keyboards still provide an immense advantage – for one thing it expands communication. What are we doing in these games if we’re not interacting with players in at least some capacity. Whereas most console MMOs use microphones to communicate, PC gamers generally prefer keyboards. I’d argue talking to strangers via keyboard is vastly superior. It’s a lot less grating to see NOOB rather than hear NOOB.

The benefit of keyboard input doesn’t stop there though. More buttons means more abilities. More abilities mean more potential for strategy. All of this amounts to more flexibility for developers to create unique experiences for us as players.

Barriers to entry are in no short supply for would-be MMORPGs. It’s an expensive type of game to create. Consoles add yet another barrier. Though engines like Unity have made it easier to port between console and PC, it’s still smoother to code a game for a computer than a third party platform that will age and dies within six years. What this means is that the MMO options for PC gamers will always supersede those of console gamers.

Although graphics are usually limited on PC games to appeal to the lowest common denominator, the most visually appealing MMOs remain on PC. No matter how powerful a console may be, a PC can always be more powerful. That affords more options to make games pretty. Yay pretty.

Third party tools can be installed alongside a game to enhance the experience. Usually this amounts to voice chat for use with a guild/clan. Mods for games like Elder Scrolls Online can also greatly enhance the playing experience, offering up in Wiki-level depth of resources without ever leaving the game.

Case for Consoles

console gaming mmos

Graphics for an online PC game must always be limited to a degree. Not everyone has a beefy computer. MMOs rely on maintaining a minimum population level and playing with friends to thrive, so developers are reluctant to push out potential customers with high system requirements. Since consoles all run the exact same specs (which are usually pretty powerful for non-Nintendo consoles), this isn’t a problem. In most cases this raises the bar, even if the potential for the best graphics will always be on PC.

Since console players use a controller as their primary input, developers must work with less buttons. This cuts out a lot of the excess abilities that don’t add anything to gameplay. For example, what’s the need for six abilities that apply six different buffs when one ability will suffice? Button bloat has long been an issue in the PC MMO space. Controllers inadvertently solve button bloat and is a point towards consoles.

Accessibility is really the beck and call of consoles. When you buy a game on a console, you know it will run well. When you buy a game for PC, all sorts of compatibility issues may arise. Designing a game for a console specifically forces a “pick up and play” game plan. With less options for things to go wrong, it’s more likely things go right. Finally, consoles are cheaper than equivalent PCs. That’s always been a point for consoles in the broader “which is a better gaming device” debate. For someone that only wants to play a couple games a year, this is a major consideration. It’s an even bigger deal for MMO players because of the lifespan of such games.

Console vs PC MMOs: Who Wins?

Overall, it has to go to PC. Other than price and compatibility, everything else is potentially better on a computer. Button bloat doesn’t have to exist. Graphics don’t have to be downgraded. They can be just as accessible. Still, I have to say that the growth and mere existence of console MMOs and MMORPGs is still a boon for PC gamers. It showcases problems that have been largely swept under the rug in PC development and mandates their solutions. So as a whole, the genre will rise with both offerings available.

MMO Blogging Dead? No, But…

“blogging about them [MMORPGs] doesn’t appear to be a thing any more.”

Tobold, MMORPG blogger turned general gaming blogger, created waves with this statement. It’s a testament to his legacy in the community though that he is able to create such ripples for a community he doesn’t really place himself within any longer. It sparked defense from several bloggers and a handful of readers. Many clamored that MMO blogging is far from dead, citing a wealth of posts composed every week.

The quantity of posts originating from self professed MMO blogs doesn’t necessarily point to the trade’s life or death. After all, everyone shifts their attention away from MMOs here and there. Tobold points to single player game articles on as evidence of a decline in this niche field. Here at MMOBro, we too touch on single player games. Does that make this less of an MMO site? I don’t think so. Rock, Paper, Shotgun has had board game articles, but they’re still squarely a PC gaming site. The focus of topics here is still on MMO(RPG)s.

That said, it is true that there are less (if any) pure MMORPG sites out there. The answer as to why is as clear as it is subtle. The proliferation of MMO and MMO-lite games has blurred the distinction between MMOs and MMORPGs to the point where that line has all but faded away. Distant cousins of the genre like MOBAs have embraced growth and achievement mechanisms that made the genre popular in the first place. Now that players don’t have to inhabit a persistent world, nor necessarily grind for growth, MMO populations have fallen.

The reality is that it only seems that way to MMORPG purists and veterans. To everyone else in the world, Destiny occupies the same genre as World of Warcraft. And that means the genre is as healthy as ever. It’s just not restricted to PC anymore nor does it require a hundred players to occupy the same space. MMOs have always been about achievement/progression, online play, and persistent characters. Maybe that wasn’t the intent of developers – but that’s what kept people playing and led to the genre’s massive growth. Without progression, people quit and move onto something else. All of this is why our MMO games list includes a myriad of online options. MMO means different things to different people.

mmo blogging shadow of war

It may not be an MMO, but Shadow of War really feels like one.

All of this trickles down to single player gaming as well. MMOs continue to lay the ground work for addictive feedback loops. Only playing players pay, so developers focus on creating content that keeps players busy without drifting into boredom. You can see these loops implemented into AAA single player titles like Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War. The developers for those games spent so much time copying those loops that they even added loot boxes, but that’s another discussion entirely.

This trickling effect isn’t a one way street though. Features from single player games regularly make their way into MMOs. Perhaps the most compelling of such features is rich, linear stories. Final Fantasy XIV arguably boasts the best storytelling in series history. Most of the game’s story can be experienced without any other players. Despite this solo focus, we don’t look at Final Fantasy XIV as less of an MMO. To many, it’s the best of its kind on the market.

This is why we can’t assess MMOs in a vacuum anymore. Gaming genre definitions have and will continue to blur. What makes an MMO an MMO, an RPG an RPG, and so forth no longer applies in any strict sense. Genre names are only starting points for us to find a product that will fulfill that which we’re seeking. Many video games can provide the same sensations as MMOs and vice versa. Because of that, I think it’s critical that MMO bloggers in fact do not wholly focus on MMO content. The only way bloggers, journalists, and writers can fully explore the genre is by stepping outside of it.

MMO blogging isn’t dead. It’s just evolved.

Lowered Health Pools – More Fun?

I have some strong feelings about (most) MMORPG health pools. And like any good opinion, it can be summed up with a meme:

mmorpg health pools meme

MMORPG health pools have grown to absurd propositions. DPS meters clear a million easy. More precisely, World of Warcraft’s top damage dealer serves out 1.5 million damage per second. World of Warcraft’s DPS currency resembles a country suffering from hyper inflation, and like a such a country, it’s hard to take seriously. High health enemies require monotonous ability usage to down. High health characters negate any semblance of combat intensity. Simple calculations give way to mandatory use of online tools to decipher true net effects. Gameplay starts revolving around bigger and bigger numbers, leaving little room for anything else.

The benefit of large health pools is that it’s easier for developers to balance. Boiling everything down to a few numbers rather than fine tuning systems takes a lot less effort and allows for more fractional balance changes. That’s noteworthy – so I’m not saying smaller health pools is easy to implement.

I’m simply suggesting that there’s a lot to be gained by taking the path less traveled. D&D has balanced around small health pools for decades. Some of the positive side effects of such a system can be found in games like (not surprisingly) Dungeons & Dragons Online.

5 Reasons to Lower Health Pools

1) Easier to understand and mentally calculate the effects of abilities, talents, items.

2) More room on the screen for things that aren’t ten digit numbers.

3) Forces developers to move into damage mitigation, which opens up more diverse play styles.

4) Ramps up intensity and sensation of danger (whether artificially or not) when every hit point actually means something.

5) Higher hit points tend to result in longer, repetitive fights. MMORPG battles stay interesting until you “solve” them. On average, I would expect lowered MMORPG hit points to lead to faster battles and fewer slogs.

If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Do it

The main reason high health pools are “in” is because it’s simply less time consuming for developers. This frees up man hours to create more content, which is the current big selling point for maintaining active players. Personally, I’d rather see more time devoted towards a better base system. The content gap can be filled by procedural generation and emergent narrative structures.

Expansions and DLC are usually the primary culprits for numerical inflation. It’s easy to grasp that higher damage, healing, health, etc. is better. Sticking to a low health pool system necessitates developing less obvious character progressions. Horizontal progression is one option (pick the right tools for the fight), but damage mitigation is absolutely paramount regardless of the progression type. Unfortunately, most damage mitigation systems devolve into an obtuse Diablo style resistance system.

Again, tabletop RPGs like D&D offer a neat outline for engineering these solutions. Tabletop games are forced to work with smaller numbers, and there are some pretty cool lesser known RPGs out there like Iron Kingdoms. I know if I had millions of dollars to develop a new MMORPG, I’d spend a few hundred of that on tabletop player handbooks for market research.

At the end of the day, it’s about creating a product that maximizes fun. When choosing between high health pools and low health pools, the latter exhibits so much more potential.


Emergent Storytelling Reigns Supreme

This is a collaborative post debating merits of emergent storytelling vs. static storytelling between yours truly and Roger from Contains Moderate Peril. After reading this, make sure to check out his side of the debate!

When it comes to MMOs, emergent storytelling is king.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good static story. The choice driven narrative in The Witcher series is as compelling as the linear experience of The Last of Us. For a single player game, it’s still the way to go. Emergent storytelling is improving for single player games like future XCOM-like releases, but they still pale compared to a hand-crafted story. The reason for this is single player games lack the human component. We’re still not close to AI that can mimic humans. But if there’s one thing that existing MMOs don’t lack it’s people. It makes the genre what it is.

Think about the most memorable stories in MMORPG history. Lord British’s assassination in Ultima Online. Felling the Sleeper in EverQuest. World of Warcraft’s Corrupted Blood plague. Eve Online’s heist (and basically everything else in that game). For MMO-lites, Rust has long been a source of entertaining stories. These events are so special that they transcend the worlds from which they originate. The common denominator between them is players using (perhaps abusing) the game system in unforeseen ways.  You literally can’t make this stuff up. That’s the potential of emergent storytelling.

emergent story eve heist

It’s true that to fully experience emergent stories, you need to be there when the event occurs. For the regular person, that’s not feasible. Gamers also work or go to school and can’t be available for something cool that’s happening in a video game. Fear of missing out affects a lot of people, given how many choices we have for entertainment. Playing a game where that’s a constant threat can be stressful. The flip side is that every login, it’s possible you will experience something memorable and unique. Maybe you’ll even be the one to initiate it. There’s no end to the storytelling in an open-ended system. Contrast that with a static story that will eventually end, and I think it makes the risk of “missing out” completely worth it.

Most of the events also tend to revolve around loss of some kind. Eve Online makes news based on espionage or massive wars, leading to the loss of property for players. Even the family friendly World of Warcraft’s most newsworthy happenings revolved around a nasty plague and disrupting a funeral. These are the things that make headlines – but I think that’s because MMORPGs have largely relied on PvP for emergent gameplay thus far. Non-MMO multiplayer games, like Minecraft, have demonstrated that players can impress us with cooperation as much as with conflict. Unfortunately, MMORPGs in that realm (like Landmark) haven’t made it very far. And in terms of PvE gameplay, public quests in games like Guild Wars 2 and Rift have been too predictable.

Ultimately, there is a lot to be gained by emergent gameplay. The point of the above is to show that thus far developers haven’t gone far enough with it. World of Warcraft blew everything up with its focus on solo play and quests. MMORPGs are expensive to produce so that’s been the blueprint for a decade. Thanks to the beauty of crowdfunding though, developers can now take risks to differentiate. MMORPGs like Star Citizen, Crowfall, and Chronicles of Elyria will (hopefully) deliver some exciting emergent options.

star citizen emergent gameplay

The core element is focusing on freedom of choice. I realize that’s easier said than done. The balancing element that also narrows the scope is consequence. Everything is possible, but everything has a price. It’s from this choice and consequence that people create these memorable narratives. Whether MMORPG developers like it or not, people play pivotal roles in storytelling both by their absence and their presence.

1) Absence – AI is predictable. Predictability does not lead to good stories. Good static stories circumvent this through scripted events to weave their tale. The problem is that these events work in isolation. When players are running around the world, that changes the experience in unseen ways. The absence of real players is usually critical for the storyteller to deliver their goods as intended. But MMORPGs are not solo affairs. Why focus on stories best experienced alone when the medium itself is built around multiplayer?

2) Presence – Humans are anything but predictable, especially when relatively minor consequences and internet anonymity gets thrown into the mix. MMORPGs should use this to their advantage. I’d argue that playing Eve Online is boring at best, but experiencing Eve Online’s multiple PvP systems is thrilling. Give players the tools, and they’ll create history. Again, just look at the massive success that is Minecraft and all of its copycats. Whether it’s building and destroying or cooperating and conflicting, it’s the people that make the MMO genre what it is.

Even language itself changes in unintended ways thanks to the players. MMO first timers might be overwhelmed by all of the genre’s jargon. It can feel practically like a foreign language. What’s cool is how this language naturally evolves to create terms or abbreviations that didn’t exist prior. Language may not be flashy, but altering the way we communicate fascinates me. And we have MMO players to thank for that.

I’ll close saying that games like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars: The Old Republic offer good stories, but I’ve never seen them talked up besides from those who have experienced them. By contrast, I do see single player stories talked up. That’s all because it’s a strength of that focused medium. I say leave static storytelling to those single player games and push MMOs to invest in systems that allow players to tell their own stories and build their own legends. MMOs were built for emergent storytelling.

Like any good debate though, there’s always another side to the story. Check out Roger’s discussion in favor of static storytelling at Contains Moderate Peril.

Nine Upcoming Games Like XCOM

EDIT: I reached out to the developers of all of the below games for comments and corrections. I will update this article as I receive responses. So far the teams for Fort Triumph, Forged of Blood, Phantom Brigade, and Zodiac Legion have added their own quotes.

You may not be aware of this, but I love XCOM. The tactical choices, the randomized characters I grow attached to, the progression, the feeling of triumph, and the despair of defeat. For someone that enjoys with high replayability, strategy games, tactical RPGs, and atmosphere, it’s simply fantastic. It’s not massively multiplayer but sometimes we can enjoy MMORPGs by playing non-MMORPGs. Now that XCOM is it’s own genre I dug around to see what titles were coming to it in 2018/19. In my opinion, the four defining factors for the XCOM genre are:


Characters can and will die. Players can lose a campaign, either through an official “Game Over” moment or an unwinnable state.

Tactical, Turn Based Combat

No real-time nor twitch based elements. Players in XCOM games control a small squad of units in instanced missions.

Strategic Layer

Outside of combat, there must be options for expanding one’s base/army. These draw inspiration from the 4x genre, but are not limited by it. Traditionally, this has included research, building structures, and creating items.

RPG-like advancement

Characters need progression mechanics. Their growth over the course of several missions/quests is imperative to the emotional attachment XCOM games create when paired with permadeath. Additionally, this makes for interesting long term strategic choices in how to build an army.

Jake Soloman, creative director for XCOM 2, agrees on three of these at least. The only XCOM trait of his that I didn’t include was the need to play as humans. That’s fair enough for XCOM proper but the human vs. alien fight is certainly not a genre requirement. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see so many people asking for a fantasy XCOM game. Like Souls games, this burgeoning subgenre is not beholden to the setting from which it originated. Other features such as cover or reactive attacks like overwatch influence a similarity score but don’t negate any games from their rightful place on this list.

Alright, so what are these 9 upcoming games XCOM-like games? And how many can you name? I’ll put the over/under at 2.5.

Phoenix Point

phoenix point game like xcom

So many strategic options in Phoenix Point

Phoenix Point is the brainchild of original X-COM progenitor, Julian Gollop. (For those unfamiliar with the series, X-COM refers to the 1990s games and XCOM to the 2010s games.) Like XCOM, players will be tasked with eradicating an alien threat against Earth. Their campaign raised $765k towards their $500k goal. Players can expect core gameplay with a mixture of both old X-COM and new XCOM. A good example of this is its hybrid 2-action system where soldiers will halt their movement upon spotting xenos with the option to continue forward. Squad sizes can also reach 16 soldiers, but that seems like it might be a rarity with injuries and death.

Unique features include boss battles, mutating aliens based on player tactics, Lovecraftian enemies, vehicles, and multiple human factions to interact. Phoenix Point’s factions will demand even more juggling and input from the player than War of the Chosen’s system. The strategic geoscape pushes the genre forward with more impactful choices of where to explore and expand.  The Cthulian style enemies look downright scary. I think this game will end up most appealing to XCOM players who want more balance between strategy and tactical combat, but every XCOM fan should keep their eyes peeled on this.

Release Date: Q4 2018

XCOM Similarity: 90%

Price: $30, you can pre-order Phoenix Point here.

Xenonauts 2

xenonauts 2 game like xcom

The first Xenonauts is closer to original X-COM than XCOM. There’s less overall character to the game and fewer RPG elements. It feels more like a board game when playing. The Xenonauts overworld map encourages more proactive responses whereas XCOM feels more reactive. The biggest difference between these two though is in the tactical combat. XCOM uses a simple 2 action system with turns ending on almost any attack action. Xenonauts uses time units so there’s a lot more flexibility for planning. Whether or not this flexibility is worth a slower pace is up to you. Xenonauts 2 will be more evolution than revolution and plans to improve on the core elements of Xenonauts with new features such as psionics, deeper air combat, a deeper research tree, and a bigger emphasis on plot.

Release Date: 2018

XCOM Similarity: 85%

Purchase: Unknown. Currently unavailable for pre-order.

Fort Triumph

fort triumph games like xcom

I’m pretty excited about Fort Triumph. Their feature list reads like “Fantasy XCOM + Divinity: Original Sin”. As in Original Sin, there’s a big tactical emphasis on using the environment to gain advantages, with possibilities like burning a tree to topple it onto an enemy. Characters come with their own personality traits and look like they’ll be fairly unique. The visuals are certainly more cartoony than XCOM. I’m sure it’ll turn off some but the quality of the art style is definitely high. Despite a more family friendly look, Fort Triumph isn’t straying from stressful gameplay or permadeath that makes it an XCOM like game. The campaign itself challenges players to overcome a dynamic series of events and quests that change each playthrough based on randomness and player action. The depth of long term strategic options Fort Triumph remain unclear but exploration is poised to play a big role.

Developer Quote: “These are exciting times to be a turn based tactics lover, for sure. Looks like we’ll have a double challenge in 2018 – developing on schedule AND playing all of these great titles.

As for Fort Triumph – all adventurers are welcome to try a fresh tactical demo (0.6.3) going live later today on Steam and give us your feedback and suggestions!”

Release Date: Q4 2018

XCOM Similarity: 80%

Price: $20, you can pre-order Fort Triumph here.

Zodiac Legion

zodiac legion like xcom

Repel invading enemies until you can take the fight to them. Use small parties of soldiers to infiltrate, scout, explore, and sabotage the enemy. Deploy covert op squads alongside primary military forces. Research magical powers and technologies to equip your parties with the strongest of weapons. Does this all sound familiar? Zodiac Legion feels the most conceptually similar to XCOM of the fantasy games. The only thing it’s really lacking is a cover system. However, the game makes up for that on the customization side with artifacts imbued with the power of the zodiac. I expect conquering these sites of power to act as a late game challenge necessary to felling the opposition. Legendary equipment is something I miss in base XCOM (though Grimy’s Loot Mod adds it to XCOM 2) so these artifacts an exciting prospect. Unfortunately, the developer has only tweeted out a handful of times since the last blog post in May. I wouldn’t expect this until 2019 at the earliest. It’d be better late than never though.

Developer Quote: “We definitely want the strategic layer to have the organic feel of the older X-COM, where aliens would launch missions according to an agenda that the player had to adapt to. X-COM also made setbacks more common, but much easier to recover from. Still, we also think that the abilities and varied objectives of the recent XCOM add a lot of variety and tactical nuances to the formula.

The combat system itself is also inspired by games such as Mordheim, Heroquest, and Descent: Journeys in the Dark.”

Release Date: 2019

Similarity: 80%

Price: Unknown. Currently unavailable for pre-order.


kingsmen game like xcom

You could probably tell from the screenshot, but Kingsmen is not related to the movie franchise. Assuming the game actually gets released, they really should really consider a name change. It’s been in development for 4 years now, which initially had me worried. Luckily, when I reached out the developers, they were quick to answer that development is moving on schedule. Kingsmen revolves around ruling a medieval kingdom and sending out patrols to keep your citizens safe as you expand into untamed regions. In addition to expansion, diplomacy with nearby kingdoms will play a critical role in succeeding. This game will be much more grounded in reality than any of the other games like XCOM listed thus far. No psi ops or magic here. Combat will make use of cover, elevation, positioning, and buildings. Some features will read too much like a 4x for an XCOM game, but the developers keyed in on X-COM as a primary influence early on. Now we wait to see if they’ll release a finished product.

Release Date: Q4 2018

Similarity: 75%

Price: Unknown. Currently unavailable for pre-order.

Forged of Blood

forged of blood like xcom

One thing you’ll notice the fantasy XCOM-like games aim to accomplish is including more story impacting choices. The plot of XCOM always plays out the same, but the strategic and tactical options offer such a level of variation that there’s a ton of replay on the gameplay level. Forged of Blood is no different, with a three-axis personality plot measuring moral choices. If this game (or another on this list) can actually merge gameplay variance with story variance then that’s really going to eat into my MMO time. Players in Forged of Blood start as the son of a murdered king. The goal is to reclaim the kingdom’s stolen territories. Players must contend with monsters and rival nations equally, choosing where to send their limited parties. In tactical combat, expect magic and positioning to play a large role in snatching victory. Like in XCOM, it will be difficult to have success in one area without the other.

Developer Quote: “Forged of Blood is a game that favors complexity and mechanical mastery. The depth of mechanics we’ve developed is one that thrusts decisions onto the player at every layer of the game. From the grand strategic layer all the way down to just how much power to add to the spells they want to use, and even the personality shifts that come from their actions, Forged of Blood is a game of choice and consequence.”

Release Date: Mid 2018

Similarity: 75%


Phantom Brigade

phantom brigade mechs like xcom

The designer describes the campaign as “XCOM” style so that’s a good start, right? In the strategic layer you’ll be presented with a number of missions, each with different rewards. In missions themselves, you’ll command a small squad of mechs with a variety of potential objectives. Phantom Brigade adds even more decisions when it comes to permadeath. Pilots can be ejected at any time to save their lives, but you may opt to continue fighting in their mech until the potential bitter end. You can even turn this against the opposition by forcing enemy pilots to eject and commandeering their mechs. A nemesis system like Shadow of Mordor/War and XCOM 2’s War of the Chosen add flair both to your own pilots and to your enemies’. Another appreciated XCOM feature is destructible buildings. Nothing says battle like turning a city into rubble. Finally, the best reason to support Phantom Brigade is that it’s built to be very mod friendly. Mods have been huge for XCOM 2, and this is a big plus for any XCOM like game.

Developer Quote: “In regards to our inspiration, we’re aiming for something more along the lines of classical X-Com, and games like the Front Mission Series.”

Release Date: Q3 2018

Similarity: 75%

Price: Unknown. Currently unavailable for pre-order.

Iron Oath

iron oath fantasy like xcom

Iron Oath promises players the ability to oversee a medieval fantasy guild’s finances, alliances, and members in a world filled with over 50 cities. Permadeath is so ingrained in Iron Oath that guild members can even die of old age. Perhaps the most compelling feature is that each randomly generated character comes with their own backstory, alignment, beliefs, and traits that legitimately impact your choices. For instance, stealing will negatively impact your more honorable guild members.

The turn-based combat is a deviation from the other XCOM-like games on this list. Battles take place on a relatively small 2D grid. There are no alien pods to alert with a wrong move. Instead, you’ll run through the areas in a manner similar to Darkest Dungeon and then engage opponents on a Heroes of Might and Magic type battlefield. Resource management will play a critical role in defeating missions/dungeons. I’d describe Iron Oath as as fantasy XCOM meets Darkest Dungeon resource management with more potential personality than either of them.

Release Date: March 2019

Similarity: 70%

Price: $15. You can pre-order Iron Oath here.


battletech like xcom

Oh, my. Another mech game? Yes, that’s right and one based on a very popular franchise made by a studio who successfully adapted another tabletop game in Shadowrun. The initial funding didn’t call for any sort of strategic overlay, but their $2+ million on Kickstarter enabled BATTLETECH to qualify for this prestigious list. I think the strategic overlay will still pale compared to most other titles on this list, but the tactical combat and unit advancement options are potentially copious. Not only do pilots level up and learn new abilities but mechs can be customized six ways to Sunday. Still, BATTLETECH is first and foremost about operating a mercenary troupe. How the overworld changes isn’t as big of a concern to success or failure like the other games on this list.

Release Date: 2018

Similarity: 65%

Price: $35. You can pre-order BATTLETECH here.



Which Game Like XCOM Will Be Best?

XCOM walks a fine line when it comes to balance. Despite four difficulty levels, I’m not sure it’s ever gotten it quite right. It’s very snowbally so players will typically lose by the mid game or roll through the end game. That said, there’s always a good deal of challenge in overcoming an XCOM campaign.