Due to Firaxis’ overall success with the reimagined XCOM series, the XCOM name has become a catchall term for tactical role-playing games in general, which is unfair to the entirety of that subset of games. It’s arguable that XCOM-like games refer to a specific subset of strategy games that skew far closer to the strategy and tactics side of the game’s design over the role-playing found in games such as Baldur’s Gate, Pillars of Eternity, or Divinity: Original Sin.
XCOM-like games are an incredibly popular subset for developers and players due to the merging of challenging combat systems with plenty of personally investing customization options. As a result, there is a huge range of settings, themes, tones, and mechanics found across this subset of strategy games. We’ve picked out ten of the best strategy games like XCOM, one entry per franchise, for fans of the series and the strategy genre at large to check out.
One thing humans love doing on a regular basis is tell stories based on their experiences from solving problems. One of the best games to have the player’s imagination run wild with tales and stories is Overhype Studios’ masterpiece of an indie game, Battle Brothers.
One of XCOM’s prominent features is the presence of a lengthy narrative that anchors the player’s resistance against the aliens, whereas Battle Brothers flips this around and basically gives the player a complete blank slate to make their way in the game’s well-realized low fantasy setting. The tough life of a mercenary is always worth telling and indeed there will be plenty of material for memorable epics within Battle Brothers’ challenging and deep combat system.
In addition, Battle Brothers sets its focus on the player’s characters they hire, be it some burly peasant farmers or experienced sellswords, experts in their craft of death-dealing and earning money, which gives plenty of potential for players to get attached to their characters and feel every impact of their decisions that may affect their company. Battle Brothers is a master class in well-balanced systems that invite the player to explore themselves and the game’s world to their fullest.
9. Darkest Dungeon
Developer: Red Hook Studios, Sickhead Games Publisher: Red Hook Studios, Merge Games, Degica Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, PS4, PS Vita, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, iOS
Some ideas and philosophies will always be just out of reach of human understanding, which maddens the mind from fear and incomprehension, something that is deeply explored in Lovecraftian horror. Darkest Dungeon takes this aesthetic and thematic choice and runs with it to create one of the most memorable dungeon crawler war simulators in recent memory.
Darkest Dungeon evokes XCOM in two main components: combat and long-term planning. Though its combat isn’t quite as complex as XCOM, Darkest Dungeon has a character and ability driven combat system, which lets players experiment with different builds, tactics, and approaches to tackle the various horrors they will inevitably face. Player success will also come from effective long-term planning and formulating schemes that will ultimately bring them closer to reaching the heart of the Darkest Dungeon.
XCOM and Darkest Dungeon’s narrative themes may differ, but both share many features and design philosophies that it’s hard not to recommend these two games as great companion pieces for those interested in expanding their strategy game library.
8. Phoenix Point
Developer: Snapshot Games Publisher: Snapshot Games Platform(s): PC, macOS, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia
Not only did Firaxis’ reboot of XCOM carve out its place as a timeless classic series, it also reignited interest in the original 1993 installment. The original designer of the very first XCOM, Julian Gollop, recently took a stab at modernizing and innovating on XCOM’s formula with Phoenix Point.
You wouldn’t be remiss in saying that Phoenix Point looks and works exactly like Firaxis’ games. However, there are a few key differences that make it worthy of its own attention, most notably the horror-themed visuals and narrative giving light to issues of climate change and pandemics, as well an expanded and flexible character customization system, detailed inventory management, and a fresh, albeit a bit janky, weapon free aim feature. All this leads to a challenging and rewarding game with plenty of engaging strategic and tactical decision-making.
Diplomacy is another area Phoenix Point excels in, giving the game a healthy dose of replayability and an added layer of depth to the campaign. Just like the insectoid Pandoran enemies, Phoenix Point isn’t without its ugly bugs and janky systems, but they’ve mostly been squashed and the game is now a worthy cousin to the main XCOM series.
Developer: Goldhawk Interactive Publisher: Goldhawk Interactive Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
Before Phoenix Point, Goldhawk Interactive were the first to attempt to modernize and refine the original XCOM in their aptly titled Xenonauts. The premise of Xenonauts is virtually identical to its spiritual ancestor with the player having to defend the Earth from an alien invasion, all the while learning about the threat and discovering new ways to fight back.
The developers chose to forego quality immersive graphics for barebones functionality and added depth to the game’s systems, including a highly detailed inventory and base building systems. The turn-based tactical combat is as challenging as ever and maybe even went a little too far with an overreliance on RNG making each engagement both tense and at times exceedingly frustrating.
Xenonauts is definitely not a game for everyone as it has a steep learning curve and stacks many levels of complexities on many of XCOM’s established features, with a clunky UI not exactly helping in learning the game. Nevertheless, Xenonauts serves as a curious attempt at revitalizing the more hardcore roots of XCOM’s legacy.
6. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo Games Publisher: Nintendo Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Though many XCOM-like games tend to emphasize the strategic and tactical components, there are some that maintain such a focus while also adding extra depth by leaning into more involved role-playing features. Fire Emblem has a long and storied history of its own and while it may not have been borne out of XCOM’s influence, it still shares many sensibilities that definitely warrant a look.
The immediate highlight of Fire Emblem is of course the colorful cast of characters that are integral to both the narrative’s progression and the game’s solid combat system. There’s so much players can do to cultivate meaningful relationships, while at the same time improving abilities and stats to be better prepared to face whatever challenge may come their way.
It’s also to Fire Emblem’s benefit that the anime style aesthetics help give the world a distinct setting and the characters definition and life. It may be exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, but Fire Emblem is absolutely worthy of an inclusion for anyone interested in strategy games like XCOM.
5. Renowned Explorers: International Society
Developer: Abbey Games Publisher: Abbey Games Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
Speaking of a colorful cast of characters, not every XCOM-esque strategy game exclusively focuses on violence or desperate last stands against a superior enemy and Renowned Explorers from Abbey Games plays with the idea of encounters and skirmishes in an intriguing and innovative manner. The game has the player lead a group of explorers with the goal of becoming the most famous and successful team in the world.
The premise lends itself to a refreshing experience as players aren’t tasked with destruction and weapons of war, but instead discovery of the unknown and to embrace the exhilarating experience of dealing with unique puzzles. Renowned Explorers’ engagement system may be reminiscent of other tactical role-playing games, with individual characters using a variety of abilities to overcome tactical problems, yet the game invites players to think creatively and flexibly for each challenge as character abilities aren’t simply limited to whacking an enemy with a club and can involve deception or diplomacy as well.
The small size of Renowned Explorers does hamstring the game somewhat in that playthroughs can quickly start feeling repetitive and samey. However, its vibrant artstyle and creative approach to the XCOM formula make it one of the best indie strategy games out there.
Developer: Lightbulb Crew Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Platform(s): PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Sometimes the deliberate omission of color can give a game a striking and notable appearance and create an aura of dread and wonder. Othercide takes this approach resulting in a horrifying and oh so satisfying strategy experience.
Unlike many of the other games on this list, Othercide taps into the roguelike genre to enrich its XCOM-inspired tactical gameplay with players engaging in a meta-game that will improve their performance as the game progresses and help against the terrifying threats of Othercide’s universe. XCOM is usually known for its difficult AI and complex tactical engagements and Othercide takes this a step further, with each engagement easily feeling as nightmarish as the game’s visuals, if may be a tad too difficult.
Othercide’s difficulty can also lead to a feeling of hopelessness and a grindy pace, as players slowly make their way to get the necessary modifiers to get the upper hand. This, in fact, ends up playing in Othercide’s favor as legitimately hard strategy games are uncommon and seeing one is a treat in itself.
Developer: Harebrained Schemes Publisher: Paradox Interactive Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
If there’s one thing people can’t get enough of in sci-fi, it’s giant battle robots and BattleTech, originally a tabletop miniatures game, has this in spades. In the grand scheme of things, BattleTech is essentially Battle Brothers in space with giant mechs armed to the teeth with futuristic weaponry.
Though realistically combat walkers may be almost entirely impractical, BattleTech does a great job of modeling mechanized warfare as a compelling and complex form of warfare with a wide range of factors affecting tactical decision-making. XCOM prides itself on great customization that lets players tinker around with squad composition and weapon complements, but BattleTech dials this up to eleven and easily overshadows the former.
BattleTech can get quite grindy and repetitive as players trudge from contract to contract due to unevenly paced gameplay sections. The game’s modding scene does wonders to alleviate many of these issues of grind by adding more content and giving more control to the player in approaching the game’s parameters, which gives BattleTech an incredible level of longevity unseen in many equivalent strategy games.
2. The Banner Saga
Developer: Stoic Studio Publisher: Versus Evil Platform(s): PC, macOS, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
The Banner Saga takes the Fire Emblem approach in its XCOM-inspired gameplay by focusing the action on the huge cast of characters from a tactical and role-playing design standpoint. The game’s narrative is broken up into a trilogy with every entry being an integral part to the entire experience.
Speaking of the narrative, The Banner Saga’s story takes place in a one-of-a-kind Norse-inspired fantasy world with the world facing an apocalyptic cataclysm and it’s up to the player to survive amidst the ensuing chaos. The trilogy’s real quality lies in its story, characters, and art design, which are some of the best of any strategy series in recent memory and can even give some of the higher budget role-playing games a run for their money.
The first entry in the trilogy may have the weakest combat due to excessive repetition, but the latter two installments refine and update the combat into a distinct chesslike methodical experience with plenty of opportunity for variation due to the sheer number of characters. Ultimately, The Banner Saga is an incredible story of perseverance, love, and adaptability that easily makes it stand out even when compared to XCOM, despite the game’s humble budget and size, which only make the game’s quality all the more impressive.
1. Warhammer 40000: Mechanicus
Developer: Bulwark Studios Publisher: Kasedo Games Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
The core of the Warhammer 40000 universe lies deeply within strategy gaming and it was only a matter of time before a game set in this vast universe would take XCOM as inspiration. Mechanicus is not only unique for being one of the few Warhammer games to take the XCOM route to its design, but also for its representation of an often overlooked faction, the (barely) human Adeptus Mechanicus.
Just like the knowledge-hungry cyborg tech-priests of the eponymous organization, Mechanicus is quite the beast of a game with built-in replayability warranting the player to try different paths and missions to learn more about their characters, develop new strategies from unique weapons and items, and discover news bits of lore. This solid core of a game is topped with incredible presentation and an absolutely fantastic soundtrack that captures the universe perfectly.
Mechanicus does suffer from balancing issues, graphical jankiness, and some grindy repetitiveness, but there’s enough in the game to mask most of these issues and minimize their impact on enjoyment. For a Warhammer take on XCOM, Mechanicus shows how even a small developer can approach this subset of strategy games creatively and with love, resulting in an incredible game to check out along with XCOM.
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