The journey to completing XCOM 2 is rife with plenty of expletives, and even more heartbreak.
If you’ve ever played a turn based strategy game such as XCOM, you might think that you have a solid foundation in this genre, but this sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown is larger in scale and the turn-based tactics are now just one small piece of what XCOM 2 actually has become. Developer Firaxis has packed an incredible amount of content into the sequel, and it would possibly take one close to 70 hours to complete the game on normal mode, and that includes several restarts.
As far as the story goes, the first XCOM project has failed and you are now part of the resistance fighting the ADVENT Corporation (the Aliens). 20 years after they have taken over the world. This lends a major treatment to how missions in this game progresses.
Gone are the days of easily merely picking off alien aircraft. In the first iteration, you could get away with wading into the thick of the action to a certain extent but now, stealth is a major part of the game. And players are encouraged to exploit and master it as much as possible, because no matter how developed your technology is in XCOM 2, setting up killzones are crucial in order to get through the game in one piece.
Tactical combat remains the same, if it ain’t broke, it makes little sense to fix it. We still have the tried and test move and shoot style that you might be familiar with. Please feel free to grenade-spam for nagging Dr Vahlen from the first XCOM no longer exists extolling the values to keep environmental damage to a minimum for research purposes.
The lives of the XCOM personnel depend on it.
While the game might scream tactics, which takes time, XCOM 2 seems to be always in a hurry. Depending on the map and mission, there will often be a timer , for players to complete an objective by a set number of rounds.
Timers are not only found in missions, but on the overworld as well.
The overarching story would have us eliminate a secret Avatar project developed by the ADVENT. Being a resistance force, there’s only one team available to shuttle around the world. There’s little time to waste and XCOM 2 forces you to make plenty of decisions you might eventually regret.
As each month passes, the resistance will have to make hard decisions to delay the Avatar project from progressing, or opting to remove one of the many ‘debuffs’ which might plague you for an entire month. Some of the nasty tricks the ADVENT have up their sleeves might range from hitting your monthly supply payout, to even beefier enemies on the battlefield. As the month rolls on, you will be given the opportunity to remove the ‘debuffs’ as a mandatory mission. More often than not, you will only be able to remove at most one ‘debuff’ per month. Thankfully, such negative traits do not roll over to the next cycle.
I’ve not seen the Avatar project being completed but I’m certain that’s the hard deadline for the resistance. Slow and steady would not work here.
In this sequel, all your favourite classes have returned and have been streamlined a fair bit when it comes to the skill trees which players get to customise.
Looking at the skill trees for each class, there’s a big emphasis on blowing things up which is awesome no matter how you look at it. The new Grenadier class, which replaces the Heavy class, can pack a maximum of 4 grenades and a rocket launcher on a mission. More boom means more dead aliens.
The other significant class rework would be the Ranger class, which is a sword wielding close range unit. There’s just something so satisfying about slicing your enemies into half. Tactically, they are a high risk, high reward unit, serving as a clean-up crew after all the grenades have been launched.
The Ranger class stood out the best to me up until the point I went all The Sims on choosing to recreate Scarlett from G.I Joe as seen above.
When it comes to character customisation, the options can be rather thin but with a few tweaks, it gets the job done. There are only 5-6 set number of faces to choose from and no sliders to tweak aspects of each preset.
I could write an entire review based on each class but I’ll leave it to you for most of the fun is in the discovery. That moment where a player goes “Wow, my soldier can do that now?” is priceless.
When it comes to combat, one significant change which deserves kudos is the new overwatch system. To the newcomers to XCOM, overwatch is how the game allows players to hold a defensive by staying in place and shooting any Aliens who enter your arc of fire.
Every soldier takes their turn at gunning down an enemy and this helps by not wasting any precious ammo and turns. In a nutshell, no enemy can be overkilled in XCOM 2. If one Alien gets eliminated, your soldiers will move on to the next available target.
How well your soldiers performs on the battlefield is totally dependent on your play style.
Customisation is a key cornerstone to XCOM 2, from soldiers to your base. Players can now outfit mods on their weapons and stat buffs on themselves. Ever wished your Sniper rifle could have an additional two more shots and reloading was a free action? In XCOM 2, this is all possible. While we did see this to a certain extent in the first game, the sequel changes it up further and makes it more meaningful. Each weapon can be modified with only two attachments, so prioritsation is key.
The beauty of Destruction
One of XCOM 2‘s greatest departure from the original is the variety of maps and layout. I didn’t get to see a single UFO until I was halfway into the game. Environments are fully destructible, and blowing up a floor causes a unit to take fall damage of sorts as comapared to the original where they would get shifted to the next available space.
This is pretty handy when breaching a building filled will turrets on the roof.
Not only has the number of maps in the game increased, the variety of missions have had a significant boost as well. One could go from snow covered forest to blowing up a building to the heart of a cityscape to rescue a VIP. When it comes to such escort missions, there’s no getting from point A to B and back, as missions take place in a linear fashion. This helps raise even more tension, as the fog of war keeps suspense high as you rush for the extraction zone after a daring rescue.
But if you take too long, this happens (see above). In this particular instance, I simply took too long to perform an extraction, and my guys were captured. What happens when units get caught? I honestly have no idea, as this was my A-team. With my B-team injured, I sucked it up and this resulted in my very first restart of the game. But such is XCOM.
After that, I restarted the game twice before it was plain sailing towards the mid point. The real meat of XCOM 2 lies in the meta game itself. This means plenty of flying around, to link up with other resistance cells around the globe for supplies, intel and parts, to fund your progress.
It is in this area players will actually spend most of their time. This feels almost like a simulation game and there is a significant increase in resources to manage, as compared to before. Depending on where your tastes lie, the new overworld does give the game more depth in comparison to the first XCOM. Once again, resources on the world map are timed and more often than not, opting for one means giving up the other.
Due to the amount of resources to juggle, players might find themselves restarting more often than did I. The lack of supplies and engineers for early in the game is detrimental, and it shows when your ill-equipped soldiers start facing down Aliens who are packing even more defenses than your weapons can pierce.
Towards the middle of the game, things stabilize by quite a significant amount, and there’s more breathing room to tweak things about.
Up to this point, everything in XCOM 2 screams customisation, customisation and even more customisation. Tough decisions have to be made but it’s just the process of discovery which makes XCOM 2 so enthralling.
Would you want to research better weapons ahead of grenades first or build more facilities to help in the long run. Time and limited supplies will keep you constantly pondering otherwise. There is never a right decision, only the best option depending on the circumstances at a point in time.
Sheesh. This sounds almost like real life.
But wait, there’s more!
Visually and performance wise, things could not have been more impressive. As XCOM 2 is a PC only release, I’m certain Firaxis had plenty of time to polish things up.
When it comes to graphics and audio, there is a polished flow and every aspect of the game just fits in nicely together. This is by far the most bug-free game I’ve played on the PC thus far. Yes, some bugs do exist when it comes to the action cam and hacking mini-games (which is one of the weaker aspects of the game), but they are hardly deal breakers, and will have little impact on the actual game experience. Even the story for XCOM 2 is decent though I was wondering why technological development seems to have stagnated. The top tier weapons still feel very much similar to the ones that one could have researched successfully in the first XCOM.
It’s all the small things found in XCOM 2 which make it so endearing. If you see your troops on wanted posters in the city, there’s all the more reason to create a custom character to show off. The best part of XCOM 2 would be the game does not end with the first or subsequent playthrough.
In a big departure from most game developers in the modern era, Firaxis has wisely decided the mod community would be the folks who would continually breathe new life into XCOM 2. One need only look towards how far the first XCOM had gone, to see how much potential the sequel has. I’m pretty certain months down the road, we will be witnessing plenty of scenarios made by the community and endorsed by the developers. Have we reached PC gaming utopia already?