2016 has swung its high profile titles early with the release of XCOM 2. The sequel to the 2012 hit, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, was met with great adoration and extreme joy over its announcement in the middle of 2015. At least that’s what most people felt, I felt dread over the tiding addiction and nightmares I’d be having losing my dear squad members again.
XCOM has been a cult classic of a franchise since its earliest iteration, XCOM UFO Defense. Being one of the more renown tactical, turn-based strategy games in gaming history, it’s no surprise that the game would become so well received when it was remade in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Despite its warm reception, extreme fans of the original found the remake had simplified the experience. While the original was absurdly brutal and had a great deal of complex subsystems in terms of troop management, the remake brought the game into the modern world where such systems were a tad outdated and not viable for the current demographic. Due to this, Firaxis has successfully recreated the magic that offered challenge yet accessibility to newcomers such as myself. XCOM 2 is XCOM: Enemy Unknown but it’s so much more and so much better in every way.
XCOM 2 takes place in a reality where the Commander (the player) failed to repel the alien threat in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. In that timeline, the alien threat revealed to humanity that they were trying to offer a vast improvement to their livelihood. The council, who supported the original XCOM project, were eventually swayed by the aliens and turned against the Commander, who in turn was taken away for 20 years. Central Officer Bradford, the Commander’s right-hand man went into hiding with the rest of the remaining XCOM members to create a resistance against the totalitarian aliens who formed the ADVENT Administration.
In the tutorial mission, you play as a small squad of XCOM resistance forces breaking into a facility to secure a VIP. This ends up being the the Commander from the original game, with Bradford’s reveal as the mastermind behind the rescue mission. From there it’s back to business, the mission is now to find the real reason for the alien occupation on Earth and turn the whole system upside down. The resistance slowly regains their foothold and support from the rest of humanity as they uncover the dark secrets hidden away by ADVENT.
I mentioned previously that XCOM 2 was more of the same but better, which means that core concepts from the original remake return with some added changes. Of the list of returning features include base management, research, class-specific skill trees, two-point action systems, psionic powers and customizable characters. What XCOM 2 has on top of this are new classes to replace the classic old variants, evolved enemy types from the original game as well as brand new enemies, loot drop from certain enemies and a hacking subsystem and a brand new ‘stealth’ subsystem at the beginning of some missions.
Let’s talk about the stealth system first; in a game that is about the resistance’s fight to reclaim Earth from the alien overlords, it’s inclusion into the series is thematically sound. As for how it plays; it adds a bit more strategy for certain levels where your troops are ‘concealed’. It also adds a level of risk/reward which allows players to set up their troops in advantageous ambush formations or to progress through a level without having to encounter an enemy, something that wasn’t possible with the previous game. The risk comes from trying to pull off the latter but failed because of an enemy hidden from ‘line-of-sight’, allowing the opposition to counter and even catch your troops in a crossfire. The mechanic is a welcome addition to the series.
I also mentioned the hacking system – in a new approach to taking down the aliens, the team will be able to hack into terminals, robotic alien enemies and more. These hacks adds even more ways to mess with the enemies through various buffs, should the hack succeed. Should the hack fail, the result could very well make matters worse for your already struggling team. Some of these debuffs include short-circuit feedback that severely damages the hacker, or sends signals to reinforcements to appear on the battlefield. There’s some added bonuses both in battle and out of battle if you do succeed, so it’s sometimes worth checking out what results a hack job can do.
Now, there is one more feature I want to briefly mention: True to their word, Firaxis have released XCOM 2 with Steam Workshop support. This has opened up the game with the creative community now able to add mods. Some mods provide optimizations to the game, while others are cosmetic and some are just downright unnecessary. Two of my favorite mods have been the ‘Rogue’ class addition and configurable mission timers. The reason why I like the latter (despite not really using it) is because of a new feature within the missions that have grated some players: Turn timers.
In XCOM 2, most missions will have a timer ticking down before you either lose or undergo a forced retreat. The reason why this grates some people is that it adds a sense of urgency that interrupts and alters decision making. While I understand this thought, I also believe it moot due to the fact that the timers are reasonably lenient and had it not existed, the missions would essentially become the drawn out ‘overwatch’ matches that XCOM: Enemy Unknown enabled. Having a mod allows players to customize the timers also helps alleviate this issue.
One of my only actual complaints about the game has been the way in which damage and some hit numbers have been calculated. It’s nice to see a breakdown into what affects the percentage, however there have been far too many instances where a guaranteed hit should have secured, only to have a strange miscalculation that nullifies certain bonuses. In terms of damage, I actively dread whenever members of my squad lose even a segment of health. It adds a realistic element I suppose, but it stings to have an operative out of duty for nine days for two segments of health lost in a battle – especially when a forced battle occurs mere days after the previous battle. At the very least, XCOM’s brutality is in full swing.
The final issue with the game so far has been the rampant glitches, bugs and unreasonably long load times. While the glitches and bugs haven’t exactly been game-ruining, there are some silly ragdoll effects that have broken the immersion because of the hilarious interaction between a Viper’s stretchiness and a chain-linked fence. There have been bugs that have rendered the game unresponsive but they have been scarce. Issues are being addressed by Firaxis, including long wait times, along with several other mod fixes is the loading times, of which there are a plethora to sit through.
XCOM 2 is a step up from the previous game in terms of gameplay, mechanics, sound design and obvious graphical improvements. While hindered by bugs, glitches and the tiring miscalculated RNG, it only takes a spit-and-shine in order to see what a golden wonder Firaxis has produced again with the XCOM franchise. Some people have reported performance issues and fortunately Firaxis has been quick on the uptake in order to fix this.