In the last XCOM, the enemy was unknown. Now, they’re known only too well. In the last game, XCOM was fighting a war against the invading aliens. A war that you lost. XCOM 2 picks up the pieces twenty years after those events. A small resistance has managed, against all odds, to avoid annihilation for twenty years, and in the game’s opening act, you, the Commander, are rescued to lead the resistance in its quest to overthrow alien domination. It’s a nice touch, if a bit ego-inflating.
That’s all of the story you need to know, though the setup allows for interesting new combat mechanics and tactical capabilities.
The series continues its tradition of turn-based combat where you control a small team of specialists. Combat remains tight, and each tactical decision that you make retains its ability to define strategic decisions hours down the line. You will be kicking yourself for that small thing that you did that now, in a completely different combat scenario that you couldn’t have foreseen has destroyed what you were building up to.
Instead of a multinational force defending Earth against invaders, the tables have turned in XCOM 2. Instead of aggressively hunting down the enemy the focus is now on guerrilla warfare, taking the fight to the enemy in limited engagements with specific objectives. The new Concealment mechanic plays into this situation, allowing you to sneak up on the enemy and strategically place your team around the battlefield before commencing your attack. It really adds to the feeling of being in control of the underdog and in feeling sneaky setting up the perfect ambush. It also lets you scope the field before going all in and risking your precious troops.
The enemy types are of the generic nature and will be familiar to anyone who has played previous games in the series. However, identifying and triaging the different enemies in any given situation is critical. For example, I found it was always worth targeting the sectoids, who can cause teammates to get confused and run away, or, worse, attack their fellow soldiers.
Overwatch makes a return and is critical in scoring extra damage against enemies. Essentially it works as hiding in cover and waiting for an enemy to walk into the team mates line of site for a free fire turn at the expense of accuracy. I found it absolutely necessary in damaging enemies while keeping my team safe.
XCOM 2 also features procedurally generated maps. In place of playing through the same mission was already a new experience due to the effects of terrain, the random number generator and the various team member skills and specialities, but these additions vastly increase the repeatability of the game.
XCOM 2 retains one of the key characteristics of the series – permadeath for your fireteam. You become quite attached to your team, picking favourites to use time and again, just like in Pokemon. Your attachment can become even more complete due to the huge number of ways to customise each team member, with armour, colours, skills, weapons and more. Unlike in most games in this genre, it is perfectly sensible to take in two fighters in the same class, as their loadouts can make them behave entirely differently.
Further, each death is normally a strategic nightmare. While quicksave and quickload are available, the game is best enjoyed not continually re-evaluating each move and repudiating it immediately if it goes wrong. Instead, the game is best enjoyed when you carefully consider the consequences of your actions before you move.
In this sense, XCOM 2 plays much more like a game of chess, with each part playing its role, capable of immense power but at the same time vulnerable to your miscalculations, the RNG of a percentage shot going awry, or simply your impatience.
While this could lead to boring games of attrition or defensive play, XCOM 2 gives you a number of timed objectives to try and achieve. These range from getting to VIPs, destroying specific objectives, hacking terminals and more.
There is already great mod support for the game. Steam Workshop integration is built right into the game on launch, and it will be exciting and hilarious to see what the community. The UI is excellent and I was never confused about what each button did or what I needed to do next. Knowing what you can and can’t do is easy to understand – which is so critical in planning and (hopefully successfully) implementing that plan.
At the moment XCOM 2 is only available on the PC. While I’m sure that a future console or even mobile version will make an appearance in the future, at the moment the only way to experience this game is on a PC. Strangely, the PC supports the Steam Controller but not any others, so if you normally play hooked up to a large TV then you will have to find another solution, which is somewhat disappointing.
Unfortunately, at review time XCOM 2 is experiencing widespread bugs and framerate issues. This is a shame particularly as the game has only come out on PC. The frame rate issues aren’t particularly troublesome given the type of game it is, but nevertheless it is disheartening to see.
This second go at the new XCOM absolutely nails everything about what this sort of game is. Tight, tactical gameplay that will keep you engaged for dozens of hours. With the built in mod capabilities this is one of those games that is likely to become a platform in the future. While it is disappointing to see another major unpolished PC game there is hope that Firaxis will continue to support and refine it with patches to come.
If you’ve ever wanted to get into tactical turn based shooters there is now no peer to XCOM 2. While not perfect it is certainly hard to beat. Percentage to recommend? 100%.
Released: February 2016
Platforms: PlC (Windows 7 or higher)
Genre: Action, Action, SciFi
Publisher: 2K Games