It’s no secret that I love XCOM, Firaxis’ revitalized turn based strategy series. I nearly fell out my chair in excitement when XCOM 2 was first announced in 2015. I finally have it, the “One Ring” in my hands as I admire it above the fiery lava of Mount Doom. Will I call it “My Precious”? Or will it betray me at my peril?
XCOM 2 is not a direct sequel to it’s predecessor XCOM: Enemy Unknown (EU). Instead, this game takes place in an alternate universe where XCOM Forces in the previous game lost. The Alien Faction, Advent, has taken control of the planet and has built Mega Cities in order to attract the human populace. Their intentions are to make peace with their human brethren and join in holding hands and singing song. Sorry this isn’t Who-ville. If that alarm in your head hasn’t started ringing yet, then spoiler alert: It’s a trap! But hope for mankind isn’t all lost, as the once defeated XCOM Project has resurfaced after years of hiding underground in order to stop Advent from their insidious plots. You, the Commander, must take control of not only your soldiers on the ground, but the research, facility building, and resource management of your mobile helicarrier headquarters, the Avenger. Much has changed since the old days of EU, and Firaxis has (almost) pulled out all of the stops to make the sequel bigger, better, and more soul crushingly difficult.
“Graphically XCOM 2 looks great. Though not next gen quality, it is still several steps above its predecessor in both graphical prowess and style.”
XCOM is a turn based strategy game that can divided into two separate but equally important strategic parts: base management and combat. XCOM 2 overhauls the base management on so many different levels. First is the removal of the hologlobe, which previously served as the turn timer when moving forward. In its place is a holomap where you move your ship around to gather resources, access the Blackmarket, select regions to make contact with and select mission to carry out. The game wants to give you a sense that you have some control in what you do. Though some of that sense of freedom is diminished by the ever ominous “Avatar Project”, the alien win condition that almost takes precedent over any other threat. In order to counter the win condition, you must assault key structures on the map, halting the aliens progress to victory. This serves as a replacement for country panic, which was more terrifying in EU, but almost made you feel helpless and at the mercy of the game RNG. Facility building has also seen an overhauled; there are fewer building slots and you don’t have to worry about adjacency bonuses as they can be upgraded. This change could be considered “dumbed down”, however in EU you were left to the RNG gods to give you a good tile make up. It certainly straddles the line between “streamlined” and “dumbed down”. However, overall I believe strategy layer benefits from these changes and may be more fun for newer players to get in to. A veteran player such as myself is still trying to figure out the optimal build path, so there is still much depth in the system.
Combat is the biggest change in XCOM 2. This installment adds “Concealment” to some missions, where your soldiers are invisible to the paroling enemy and it is up to you engage. Pulling off a successful overwatch trap is very satisfying and is a welcome addition to the series. However there are more mission types that involve timers, which for an XCOM veteran made me very uncomfortable. I was so use to the slow, methodical one tile at a time push that I kept failing mission in the beginning. For example, one mission involved capturing a VIP and taking him and my squad to the extraction zone. I had enough moves to get the VIP extracted, but because the enemy had me pinned down hard, I left all my soldiers on the ground past the timer. Tragic.
XCOM 2 also revamps the soldier classes. The soldiers classes include the Blade wielding Ranger, the sniper and gun slinging Sharpshooter, the medical-robot hacker Specialist, the armour shredding Grenadier, and the mind bending Psi Operative. Everyone will find their favourite composition and your soldiers feel more like hero units, offering more crazy and game changing abilities than EU. It seemed just one single special ability a high ranking soldier could change the game to your favour on a dime. My favourite abilities came from the Specialist, which allowed him/her to take overwatch shots from any action. Combined with another ability to have a chance to take multiple reaction shots, it could be devastating against an advancing enemy, wiping out an entire squad of enemies before they can even move to cover. With the improved skill trees, weapon mods and armour upgrades, XCOM 2 makes your soldier super powered Swiss Army knives, capable of handling most situations on their own.
“XCOM 2 succeeds in making a more cinematic experience for the story and adds a little bit more personality to the supporting characters of Officer Bradford and Proffessor Tygen.”
Its not like having super soldiers is unjustified; however, the enemies are even bigger, badder, and scarier than before. The enemy is very strong, having game changing abilities of their own. In XCOM 2 you really have to prioritize which enemies you kill first. In the beginning of the game, though not appearing as much of a threat over a skulking Sectoid or Viper, stun lancers became a priority target as they can more very far and disable your soldiers in the same move. Firaxis has raised the stakes for combat and one wrong turn can really spell the end for your mission. Note to any player: Seeing a Faceless jump on top of a roof to attack your Sharpshooter will send your heart out of your chest.
Graphically XCOM 2 looks great. Though not next gen quality, it is still several steps above its predecessor in both graphical prowess and style. The sleek, futuristic look of the aliens and the rag tag costumes of the resistance are very fitting for the theme of the game. Characters are less “cartoony” and more realistic; cutscenes are top notch and the environment design is greatly improved. Though vastly improved, graphical hiccups are one of the only knocks on the game. Soldiers clip into walls, bullets flying in weird directions, running on top of buildings is still a problem, and aiming grenades can still be a challenge. Some of the running and aiming POV camera angles are a little too low to the ground, not allowing you to see what’s ahead or what your shooting at. Hopefully these issues can be fixed in future patches.
The story of XCOM is straight forward and many of the story elements are easily predicable. There really is no secret to the story: Aliens doing bad things, go kill them. XCOM 2 succeeds in making a more cinematic experience for the story and adds a little bit more personality to the supporting characters of Officer Bradford and Proffessor Tygen. The weakest character was Lily Shen, nothing personal, just not an interesting personality. For myself, the ending battle was epic, going down to my last couple of soldiers to destroy the enemy. I felt, however, the ending cinematic was a little rushed and contrived, even in comparison to EU. There is one part in the end, however, that will make Xcom veterans jump in excitement, which I will not spoil.
One side note that I want to talk about the fact XCOM 2 is PC only. Now that I have played the game I can see why it is PC exclusive and how controller support may not come to the game. Using tactical view to get line of sight, the number of abilities to use, the amount of text for tactical information and the waypoint system make it easy to see why a mouse and keyboard are suited for the game. It’s a game made for PC and a console port would really hinder the design choices.
The number of mission types along with the randomly generated tile sets and varying enemies will keep XCOM 2 feeling fresh even through your 4th or 5th playthrough. With mod support and multiplayer in tow, the replayability just keeps on giving. Everything is bigger and better, XCOM 2 exceeds expectations and spawns new hope in future sequels. Future 2016 games have been served notice, XCOM 2 is an early contender for game of the year.
***A PC review code was provided by the Publisher***
- more replayabilty
- improved graphics, combat, story & strategy
- terrifying enemies
- graphical hiccups
- lack of controller support