It hurts so good.
I was a huge fan of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It had the depth of a giant strategy game along with a fun alien invasion story and aesthetic that really worked in its favor. Add to it just enough difficulty to make players play every single thing cautiously, but make the successes so much more rewarding, and it sparked a love I didn’t know I even had. Now, after four years, we finally get the full sequel to that amazing game. With it comes the same brutal difficulty, new looks, new story, and that same rewarding gameplay.
XCOM 2 takes place 20 years after the first game. The alien invaders have taken over Earth and XCOM is a shadow of its former self resulting in resistance guerrilla warfare as the aliens have given humans a false sense of security while enslaving them in a somewhat They Live style. Players take on the role of “The Commander” who has been missing for the past 20 years in a secret alien facility. After being busted out, the player, along with some of XCOM’s surviving members, build the team back up in hopes to stop this new “Avatar Project” from being established. We don’t know what it is, but we do know that if it is finished, humanity is finished along with it. Time to kick some alien ass.
Price I’d pay: $59.99
Much like Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 ‘s gameplay is split into two main parts – base building and management and strategic missions. The base building is much like the first game, where players will unlock new areas of the base using resources as well as faculty members to accomplish certain things. Along with the command center, the research and development area is back, as well as a new proving grounds area where experimental items like weapons and armor can be tested and produced. Much like the first game, building certain facilities in areas can grant bonuses to overall production. Players can also assign people to different station to maximize the speed of research and other productions.
The base of the future.
The command center has been completely overhauled. No longer are players just scanning the world for events, now players will travel the world searching for events as well as gathering help from other resistance groups. I started off in Africa travelling to different areas looking for both resources as well as possible resistance help. On top of that, players will eventually start to find missions that can affect the incoming missions and must choose what to do. Two missions will pop up. Scans have shown that the aliens are creating a new type of armor that will up their soldiers defenses for the next month, another mission may further the Avatar Project. Players must choose what would be the best thing to do. They really don’t want buffed up enemy soldiers, but at the same time, if the Avatar Project finishes, it’s game over. It gives off this really nice fly by the seat of your pants feel, as if XCOM is on the run from the big bad guys, which they actually are, and this sense of urgency that goes along with these big decisions, especially when most of the decisions are a difficult choice of “I’m kinda screwed either way.”
The second part of XCOM 2 is, of course, the turn-based battles. Much like Enemy Unknown, players will command their squad of XCOM operatives around a map while trying to take out alien forces. Moving characters around the battlefield takes some careful consideration. Much like the first game, no one is safe. Staying in full cover is a must, flanking enemies rather than an all out attack is advised, and utilizing soldiers’ powers depending on their class can make or break a situation. The new classes add much needed variety and versatility to the battles. The Ranger can be a deadly soldier with a sword, but comes at the cost of having to get close to enemies. The Grenadier has the power to blow up enemies from afar, but may destroy well needed cover in the process. There’s a give and take with every single thing in XCOM 2.
Be like the ninja.
The biggest improvement to the combat in XCOM 2 is the inclusion of a concealment mode. When first beginning a battle, many times the player’s soldiers have not been spotted by the enemy yet. This allows them to move in concealment. This allows the player to move their units while not engaging in the enemy, setting up choke points, and getting the drop on enemy soldiers for a nice sneak attack. Set up three soldiers surrounding a group of unsuspecting aliens, set them into Overwatch mode, have my Sharpshooter take a shot on one of the enemies, see them all scramble for cover while getting shot by my units who were in Overwatch. There’s nothing more satisfying that taking out a group of enemies before they can retaliate. It feels and looks awesome.
Of course, that is only one side of the same coin. While it feels amazing getting those ambush attacks off and breezing though each mission, it also feel devastating to get demolished by the enemy forces, and this will happen, without a doubt. It can be a bit of a heartbreak since the game does run on dice rolls for everything. Attacks that have an 85% chance to hit will still miss and while in any other game that would be a non-issue, in XCOM 2, that can very well mean life or death. Also, in case you haven’t heard, this series has permadeath. That means that awesome Sharpshooter I had been leveling up and working on for hours can die in any mission and never come back. If that doesn’t break even the most hardcore of players, I don’t know what will.
The amount of variations in XCOM 2 over Enemy Unknown is vast. There are far more environments to battle through and seeing them all will take time. The game really doesn’t even get started until well past the seven hour mark, and that’s merely the beginning of the game. Apart from the main missions that progress the story, it could easily be said that no play through will the similar to the next.
I got my Editor-In-Chief killed.
While it is a minor thing, the one thing I absolutely loved in XCOM 2 was the character creation pool. This allowed me to create my very own characters and have them appear randomly in my games either as VIP’s soldiers and other types of characters. I could even upload them so that my friends can pick them up and add them to their pools. It’s a small touch, but it adds just enough customization to keep me making characters just for fun.
I will say while my rig is a bit underpowered nowadays, I was still experiencing a number of slow down issues as well as some performance hiccups here and there. At least once in each battle, I would experience a hitch that for a split second, I though the game had froze up on me, but after a few seconds it would pick right back up. Currently, there is no native controller support, and while that doesn’t bother me, I know there are some people who really wanted it. Although Firaxis has said it will be coming soon.
XCOM 2 does everything Enemy Unknown did and improved on it with more variations as well as some very interesting game mechanics. Anyone who enjoyed the first game has no reason not to pick this one up. It has a few performance issues here and here, but it is still a challenging yet rewarding game that made me have every emotion from joyous to devastated. One of the early game of the year contenders for me, and a fine game any strategy fan should own.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.