I was a huge fan of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It is an impressive accomplishment. Tasked with reimagining an obtuse, cult-classic strategy game from the mid ‘90s for a modern audience, the developer managed to both honour and streamline the complexities of the source material. Now, nearly four years after Enemy Unknown’s release, its sequel, XCOM 2 has finally returned to form almost entirely in the best of ways. With it comes the same brutal difficulty, new looks, new story, and that same rewarding gameplay.
XCOM 2 takes place 20 years after the initial invasion and war in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. In the aftermath, the aliens found a way to turn the tide. Ultimately, humanity was forced to come to peaceful negotiations with the invaders, by which the aliens established a puppet human government and new order known as Advent. You take on the role of ‘Commander’ who oversaw the original XCOM project and prior war years, and are tasked with leading the last remnants of un-brainwashed humanity in guerrilla resistance against Advent and the Earth’s new alien leaders.
Much like Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 ‘s gameplay can be split into two main parts, base building management and strategic missions. Building and managing the base is a matter of choosing priorities. There are a number of specific rooms covering science research, weapon production, and so on, but each can only work on a single project and you’ll always have a big list.
It makes every decision an important one, and comes to define your tactics in a wider sense. If you just race up the weapon and armor tech trees as fast as possible, you’ll be ignoring soft buffs to the base’s efficiency and capabilities which may have a bigger payoff in the long term.
Similar to the first game, building certain facilities in certain areas can grant bonuses to overall production. Players can also assign people to different station to maximise the speed of research and other productions.
However, the scarcity of resources and your decisions will affect you over the campaign. Supplies and personnel really are precious, and making bad calls like setting your scientist to work for 14 days on magnetic weapons, when you have other projects that will come to fruition much quicker, can leave your operation feeling lopsided for weeks. As a result, you might mismanage your base and it will go under by degrees and collapse.
Players can now travel the world with the new renovated command center searching for events as well as gathering help from other resistance groups despite scanning the world for events. On top of that, players will eventually choose what to do on two missions. The first mission is that the aliens are creating a new type of armour that will enhance 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 a game-over scenario. This give a sense of urgency that goes along with these big decisions, especially when most of the decisions are a difficult choice of “I’m kind of screwed either way.”
BATTLE WITH CARE
The next part of XCOM 2 is the turn-based battles. Similar to XCOM 2’s prequel, 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 thorough consideration as no one is safe out there and thus it is a must to stay in full cover. Besides, flanking enemies rather than an all-out attack is advised, and utilising your troops’s powers depending on their class can provide different strategies for different situation.
There are also new options to help you in the game. Troops begin as raw rookies before drifting into one specialism or another, but the grenadiers and sharpshooters of the first game are now joined by a stealth and close-quarters combat operative, the ranger, and a new specialist class with support capabilities and a customisable drone.
For instance, the grenadier has the power to blow up enemies from afar and the ranger can be a deadly soldier with a sword. Even within the different classes, you have choices to tailor the specialist for combat support or medic roles or the ranger for infiltration or melee attacks. Combine these with a steady drip feed of new alien-derived equipment, and there’s scope for a huge range of different strategies.
The biggest change in combat in XCOM 2 is the inclusion of a concealment mode. Concealment acts as a sort of ‘fog of war’; at the beginning of every mission, your squad will go unnoticed by enemy operatives, and they won’t be discovered until you send them out too close to an alien, or if you open fire. By moving under the cover of ‘concealment’, you can now initiate ambushes and takedowns, which is just a fancy way of flanking and putting your soldiers into ‘Overwatch’ mode, and then firing on a target.
If all goes well, your team will respond to the alien’s reaction, mowing down a sizeable chunk of the enemy force in one fell swoop. Of course, it’s not always as easy as it sounds, as occasionally an alien will flee and warn his/her comrades. And every now and then, if your ambush should fail, the enemy might be able to launch a counterattack, or trigger special abilities, making the remainder of the battle a tad more difficult.
In term of graphics, the game looks terrific. It’s not a huge step up from XCOM, but it’s definitely prettier and will strain your PC a lot more, especially if you max out the game setting. The added customisation options and prettier graphics make this a more visually satisfying experience all around.
ALIENS OR BUGS?
Bugs are as rampant as aliens in XCOM 2 right now. One time the game just went black. Other times, the animation freezes for an agonisingly long time when ‘Overwatch’ is triggered.
Sometimes animation goes all haywire for no reason. I’ve heard of people having an even worse time such as aliens can’t be killed and thus missions can’t be finished, resulting in a game that can’t be completed. Basically, right now, XCOM 2 is a buggy mess. It may be small stuff that’s just annoying like I’ve experienced or it may be much worse. It’s hard to say. Hopefully patches and mods will shore up the bugs, because they get in the way of some really terrific gameplay.
If you’re anything like me, and are willing to look past some assortment of technical issues, XCOM 2 will undoubtedly surprise and draw you in, whether you’re a series greenhorn or a XCOM veteran. There’s no other game quite like this on the market. It’s top of the class when it comes to turn-based tactical gameplay, and I honestly can’t get enough.