Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform: Windows, Linux, Mac OS
As a gamer, I have never been a big fan of the tactical games genre. I personally find the learning curves to be incredibly steep and I find I have little patience to explore and learn the deep, and often complex mechanics of the genre. It’s not that I don’t think they’re bad – they’re just not for me. That said, there are two tactical series that I absolutely adore. One being Fire Emblem (which I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Fates later this year) and the other being the XCOM reboot (which a friend convinced me to buy, and I surprisingly loved it!)
So, disclaimer up front – I’m not a big PC gamer. My laptop (I can already hear PC gamers screaming at me) is used solely for The Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights. Hardly graphic card breaking. So I was a little nervous upon hearing that XCOM 2 would be forgoing a console release and be PC only. Luckily, my laptop is able to run it, but for an accurate review of frame rates and graphics, I might not be the best bet.
Having lost the war against the Aliens in the previous title, XCOM 2 is set 20 years after the alien invasion. As the Commander of the now underground resistance force XCOM, you lead the fight against the new ADVENT administration that have taken control of the Earth. Through the use of propaganda, ADVENT have managed to ease most of the concerns and changed the opinion of aliens but XCOM soon uncover that not everything is as it seems with your new alien overlords. Admittedly, the story isn’t that complicated but I don’t think it needs to be. There’s enough going on to keep you interested and it does a great job of keeping you invested in the campaign.
The main strength of the game though is definitely in it’s gameplay. As I previously stated, I often struggle with the learning curves of tactics games and find they often throw a lot of information at you at once. With XCOM 2, I never found that to be an issue. It introduces new features and elements of gameplay at a steady pace, making sure you grasp the basic concepts and giving you something to keep it interesting. There are two main sections of gameplay – the Ship and the Missions. In the Ship sections, you essentially manage your resources and team inside your moveable base, deciding what revenues to research and where you want to focus your time. It’s also how you keep track of your squad’s progress; levelling them and building up their equipment reserves. Every choice you make is a vital tactical decision. Do you want to focus on recruiting more personnel, or push more of your supplies into researching your enemy to form better equipment? I quite enjoyed these parts of the game, though I always feel like I’m probably making all the wrong choices…. You have to keep an eye on what everyone’s up to to maximise your resources potential. There’s nothing worse than realising you’ve had an engineer doing nothing when you’ve got rooms to be cleared and projects to be building.
The missions make up the combat sections of the game. Here, you take command of your squad of soldiers on the field, and direct them across the map to fulfil objectives and take down enemy troops. It’s a turn based system, with each soldier having a possibility of two actions per turn. Ordering your troops around is quite straight forward; you are given a mapped area to show where your soldier can move to in one turn, and then an extended one if you want to use up both turns for movement. There are various options available per turn, most of which are class specific (more on that later) but every move is vital. It makes for tense gameplay, encouraging you to think very carefully before making any choices. Moving your solider into the fray might seem like a good idea at the time, but the amount of times I’ve been flanked by other enemy troops has been too many to count.
A cool new feature in XCOM 2‘s combat is concealment which, in some situations, makes your team invisible at the start of a mission. This is especially useful for setting up ambushes, so long as you avoid walking into an enemy’s line of sight. Hacking consoles and doors is also new, meaning you can disable traps and complete objectives from cover, though the further away you are, the more difficult it is to pull off. You are also able to carry wounded troops, or even hostages, out of the fray and can now call down a Skyranger for extraction on the field. These new elements serve to make the gameplay more in depth in comparison to Enemy Within, giving you more control over the field. I found the missions to be a lot more fast paced as well, with timed objectives really forcing you to act as quickly and efficiently as possible. There are new enemies as well, with some creepy additions such as the Faceless and my least favourite, the Viper (so irritating…) Each enemy has a completely different approach in combat, making you have to think carefully on how to approach each threat in the field. And they all are dangerous. There are no easy kills this time round – you have to be incredibly tactical about every move you make.
My favourite thing about XCOM is the fact that you can create your own squad, with unique personalities and appearances. For some reason, I feel like it makes the fight more personal when it’s your guys out there. The creation system is an improvement on the previous instalment, but I still find myself wishing it had a few more options available to tweak appearances. Giving your squad nicknames is still quite fun though, giving you that uniqueness to each member of your team. That aside, the levelling is very similar to the first game, in that each squad member starts as a Rookie, and then through experience gains a randomly chosen class. These four main classes (and extra Psi Operative) have been overhauled and create vast tactical differences on the field now. My favourite class is the Ranger, which involves close up sword abilities and shotgun are particularly useful at covering vast distances on the field, making them useful for finishing time based objectives. Levelling up includes choosing one of two perks at each rank, making your characters quite different despite sharing the same class type. Choosing the right team members is vital to the mission, and I find myself being extra careful on the field to avoid the penalties of injuries.
Overall, I think XCOM 2 is a well polished, rounded and incredibly fun sequel. It easily accessible for tactical newbies like myself, yet still providing an in depth challenge that will really get you thinking. I do have a few gripes with it, though most of those are probably due to my poor gaming set up. I find the transition from playing it on console to PC easy enough, but I kept on doing stupid things like right clicking on the Geoscape and endlessly looping myself between both screens. Also, the chance factor of shots, whilst mostly pretty solid, sometimes drove me to frustration when I repeatedly missed despite having a good hit percentage. The game is difficult but it’s not enough to put you off and it’s gradual increasing of challenges keeps you on your toes and keeps you engaged. I’ve really enjoyed taking my team through hell and high water, combating the alien threat. It feels like a personal journey and I’ve loved every second of it.