Developer: Firaxis Games
Twenty years have passed since the conclusion of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and we lost. The alien menace has convinced the XCOM council to join them, now calling themselves Advent. Advent has completely taken over the world promising advanced tech, medicine and world peace. The biggest problem is they rule with an iron fist. The XCOM program lives on in the form of a resistance. Welcome back Commander.
Welcome back to the world of XCOM. Enemy Unknown was released in 2012, and a lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same. XCOM, for those unfamiliar with the series, are military strategy games that have always been about decision making. Whether the decision is one about what equipment to build, what tech to research, or giving orders to soldiers in the field; your decisions make the game. This series was one of the first to use permanent death for squad mates. If one dies, they do not come back. This made players very cautious on how to use their squad, or even which squad mates to send in. Do you send in your most experienced? Or do you take a chance and send in a couple veterans and a couple of rookies? Keeping in mind that, of course, the veterans are better and have more skills, unfortunately, if they die you lose access to all their training and skills. It was also one of the first series to introduce recovery time for injured characters. If a soldier got injured in the field, they need time to recover. Hope you have some reserves.
XCOM 2 is no different. Where XCOM 2 really shines are with the improvements they made over the last game. In the previous game, players picked where they wanted their base to be. Different locations gave different bonuses. In this game your base is mobile, making you harder to detect and capture. In the command room is a holographic map of the world, and when looking at the it several choices are available at any given time. Should you make contact with a resistance cell in another part of the world? Go steal the supplies from Advent forces nearby? Or should you take out that black site in hopes of securing more soldiers, scientists or engineers? This is a massive switch from the previous game where players really couldn’t move around and all they could do is scan the world for trouble until trouble presented itself.
This is a great change as it really makes the play feel like they are doing something and making important decisions instead of sitting there waiting for something to happen. This is probably my favorite change between games. In the previous game when the enemy did something players always had to make a choice between one of three missions, in three different zones. Doing one mission meant keeping that XCOM member country happy. Not doing the others made the other countries worried and could pull out if they felt you were not doing your job, and taking their funding with them. In this game there are many choices to make on what to do and were to be. The way this is handled feels much more organic than the last game, making the player believe that there really are choices happening at different times. Rather than throwing a couple of member nations under the UFO landing gear.
Traditional base building is still around. There is a three by four grid to build rooms in your base. However, engineering and research both have their own sections outside the regular grid, so players don’t need to waste resources and time building those facilities right away. The Guerilla Tactics School is a great choice. This is where you can train soldiers to be any one of the four basic classes, Grenadier, Ranger, Sharpshooter, or Specialist without sending them into combat. Each has their own skill tree. When they level up, you get to pick out of two different abilities that they could get. Choose wisely, once picked, the choice cannot be undone. There are combat tactics that you can choose from as well that affect the whole team. For example, the stay with me tactic gives a soldier a better chance that instead of dying when they run out of hit points, they start to bleed out. Thus giving the player a chance to rescue them before they die.
There are other notable changes to the XCOM series in XCOM 2. Soldiers can call for extraction unlike in the previous game where once engaged in a mission it’s all or nothing. In XCOM 2 if at any time players feel that the mission is a bust, or you need to cut your losses and run, they can. There are a couple of missions where there is an exception to this rule. Story missions and missions that already have an extraction point in play cannot be extracted from. The specialist class comes with a handy drone that can be used to buff players, or remote hack stations. Normally in order to hack a station, door or watchtower, a soldier needs to be right next to it. Not so with the specialist, send that drone into harm’s way and hack, or heal a squad mate. Rangers get a melee weapon, in case they need to get up close and personal with a soldier who is flanking. The Sharpshooter can get a little ridiculous when you have the squad sight ability. This allows the sharpshooter to see, and shoot any enemy that their squad mate can see, as long as they would have line of site to that spot regardless of how far away. A big change to the game is the ability to carry people. Whether it be a critically wounded squad mate, to get them to evac, or someone who is stunned. Soldiers can even carry their dead with them back to base. The advantage being, if you bring a stunned or critically wounded solder back, they survive and can fight on. If a dead soldier is returned to base their equipment is returned to inventory.
One of the biggest changes to the game is the concealment mechanic. Since this is more of a guerilla war, and the numbers aren’t on your side, the resistance needs to stick to the shadows as much as possible. Most missions the squad starts in concealment. This means Advent doesn’t know that you’ve been dropped off and the enemy troops act as though nothing is wrong. There are a few things that can break concealment. First is if a soldier passes through or stops within line of sight of a unit. The good news is the game shows red tiles on squares where concealment can be broken. Secondly, firing a weapon will break concealment. Last but not least, smashing in a door or window will break concealment. This mechanic is pretty handy for setting up ambushes as once concealment is broken, usually the enemies move into a defensive position. The ability overwatch allows a soldier to take a free shot at a moving enemy. This ability does not trigger while in concealment. Breaking concealment makes enemies move for cover and allows solders using overwatch to take free shots causing massive damage. The ranger is really handy as they can keep concealed even when the rest of the squad breaks concealment. This means the ranger can continue to move around the battlefield without Advent forces know where they are.
Graphically XCOM 2 is very similar to the previous game. This is not a bad thing as this game still looks pretty good. A couple of small complaints, this is basically a dice rolling game, not an action game. Meaning that everything that happens in the game is based on probability, not on a player’s skill to shoot a virtual gun. This being said, these two items in the game are problem areas. First, point blank shots can be missed, even with an above 80% chance of success. When this happens the animation just looks dumb. The other issue with this is that even if players think that their soldier can see the alien, they might not be able to or vice versa. Soldiers have been able to, what looks like due to the animation of the character, shoot through walls to hit enemies that they are supposedly able to see. This also works the other way; they can shoot you through things even if you think your soldier is hidden. I have lost many soldiers thinking that they could not be shot at and they could.
XCOM 2 is a wonderfully deep turn based strategy game that scratches the sci-fi itch. The decisions that need to be made feel more real in this game than in the last. My complaints about this game are far outweighed by what XCOM 2 brings to the table. This game could easily last you 100+ hours and far beyond as with each play through is a whole new experience. XCOM 2 is a must have for any fan of this genre.