I don’t know about you, but stories involving cataclysmic events suddenly feel much more relevant in the age of coronavirus. What was once a distant science fiction prospect doesn’t seem all that far away anymore. And Phoenix Point is arguably one of the more standout stories that has been told. Its tale of a virus outbreak when it originally released in 2019 felt like a pipe dream then; now, it almost feels reflective as the Behemoth Edition releases onto consoles.
From Julian Gollop, the creative designer behind the original X-COM games, comes Phoenix Point, the spiritual successor to his earlier titles. In Phoenix Point, global warming and the melting ice caps have uncovered an alien virus unlike anything else on earth. It is named the Pandoravirus and mutates any animal that comes into contact with it. As it has melted from the ice caps, the oceans are a hotbed of mutated sea creatures. And now the virus has gone airborne too with a disturbing mist that infects anyone it comes into contact with.
25 years have passed from this initial outbreak, and unsurprisingly, humanity is left on the brink of extinction. A secretive organisation known as the Phoenix Project gets called in to help oversee the survival of humanity. You are in charge of Phoenix Point, a cell of the wider project. Players must face up to the ongoing threat of the Pandoravirus, the various factions that have sprung up since and also investigate what has happened to the rest of the Phoenix Project.
This introduction is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the lore in Phoenix Point. There is an extensive in-game ‘Phoenixpedia’ that contains all the information you could ever need. There is also the Phoenix Point website where you can read around 30 short stories, all connected to the events in the game. It is quite spectacular considering it is just the one game so far; the amount of lore suggests a lot more.
This being the Behemoth Edition though, there are numerous expansions contained within. The base game is included, but there are currently four DLC packs available also, with more to come. If you purchase this at the very beginning of your playthrough, the DLC additions feel almost seamless. Packs such as Blood and Titanium and Legacy of the Ancients feel more suited for mid-game as opposed to being purchased afterwards. Festering Skies and Corrupted Horizons do have the post-game feel to them, from both a gameplay and lore perspective.
Gameplay in Phoenix Point is split into two major components. After completing the understandably lengthy tutorial, you will encounter the Geoscape. This is a dynamic map of the world post-Pandoravirus and where you will spend a fair old amount of time. Here, you can visit your main base of operations, any unlocked bases of factions you have encountered and various other points of interest. It works a lot like scanning in Mass Effect; you pilot your various modes of transport across this world scanning the various locations that appear on the map. Some may contain nothing; whilst others contain useful resources. It is all procedurally generated, so locations between playthroughs may differ completely. Crucial story missions all appear to be the same location as each other however.
You can also see the spread of a new wave of the Pandoravirus occurring as you progress time. If the remaining population dips below 10%, it is an instant failure on your save game.
In this respect, Phoenix Point feels very old-school. Scanning locations will tend to bring up only text detailing your discoveries, which is fine, but perhaps not the most cutting edge. In fact, the entire game has this old-school vibe to it, which can also mean that sometimes things feel a bit too basic.
The other major gameplay component is the turn-based strategic stuff that you encounter when you arrive at an explorable destination. You can have a team of up to six soldiers, and permadeath is a factor here. Each soldier also has a Willpower bar, along with the standard HP and Stamina bars. Willpower is a very interesting mechanic as it can fluctuate depending on the situations a soldier finds themselves in. Seeing a new monster, a comrade dying or receiving an injury can reduce your overall Will. Likewise, killing an enemy or saving a comrade can increase it. It isn’t so important to keep track of it during the first few hours, but as you progress it becomes essential. Soldiers that drop below zero can start to lose their mind and become panicked on the battlefield. It’s a really clever tool that helps demonstrate the mental exhaustion these soldiers can feel as well.
Other than this though, Phoenix Point is very much your standard turn-based strategy game. It does employ a Fallout V.A.T.S.-like system where you can target specific limbs of an enemy but the benefits of doing so are minimal. As with any post-apocalypse your time will be split between defeating mutated crab-like enemies and human enemies. Some soldiers have special abilities such as counterattacking or doubling movement speed briefly that can be unlocked, but there isn’t anything here you won’t have already seen before.
For as good as the lore and worldbuilding in Phoenix Point is, the generic – and sometimes tedious – gameplay doesn’t back this up properly. Clearly, a lot of time and effort has gone into creating this world, but the turn-based gameplay could have been ripped from a number of existing titles. Procedural generation and multiple endings have been added in to offer some replayability but the gameplay remains the same. Science-fiction fans shouldn’t pass this world by though, but at least much of the lore can be found outside of the game.
Save the world from the Pandoravirus in Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition from the Xbox Store