After the resounding critical and commercial success of XCOM: Enemy Within, it came as no surprise that Firaxis Games were given the go ahead on a sequel. Huge efforts were made to cut out the inconsistencies and to modernize the gameplay without straying too far from the core mechanics of the series. While the advancements are obvious, the game crippling bugs, that XCOM is known for, remain.
The game is set roughly 20 years after Enemy Within. Despite your best efforts the Aliens have managed to take over the planet. The Council of Nations turned its back on the XCOM project and surrendered the fight when the Aliens brought a promise of a new found age of peace and security.
The XCOM project faded away into the shadows, records were destroyed, and members silenced. Soon it was little more than a small pocket of resistance fighters. This small pocket of resistance, led by Officer Bradford, launches an audacious rescue mission to save “The Commander”. This plays out as the game’s tutorial. Once rescued you resume your leadership role once more and begin the task of taking the fight to the Aliens.
You are starting out fresh again and everything you built, researched, or learnt from the last outing has been erased. From humble beginnings you must rebuild your base, recruit new blood for your army, train them up in the latest military tactics, and equip them with the best earth and alien weaponry.
Your new base is a massive alien aircraft. Rebuilding involves clearing out the currently debris filled rooms and equipping them with your choice of equipment. You have your standard power and communications build outs. But you also have training facilities, research labs, and engineering bays (to name a few) giving you new options to train new recruits, develop new skills for existing recruits or work on designing some space age weaponry.
Unfortunately all the research from the first game has been lost and you need to start this process all over again. It follows the same pattern though. You kill aliens mid mission, recover their corpses, armor, tech and weaponry. This is then researched by your scientists to help produce your own weapons and tech. Research however takes time, money, and other earned resources.
Researching new tech was always my favourite part of XCOM, but this time due to the pacing of the story I felt under constant pressure to continuously complete missions that I never got the chance to develop the research I wanted to focus on. This pacing, and the fact that most of the reward items are randomly assigned means it is hard to prioritize the correct research to ensure you get the item you need, like who knew a giant snake would give better med packs??
Recruits will join your squad either as mission rewards or straight up purchases. Once they play a round and get some XP they will be promoted into one of the four categories. This part is again random, however you can build training facilities in your base that allow you to choose the training path if you need to train specific classes.
This portion of the game where you develop your team is normally very enjoyable, however I always felt the game was forcing me to run missions and made it very difficult to stay focused and enjoy building the base, tech and squad.
The basic gameplay is still the same turn based system from the original. You are given two ranges of movement. Move within the blue outline and you will get the chance to shoot, use a gadget, or move again. Moving within the yellow outline moves further but ends that soldier’s turn. The key to staying alive is keeping your team moving together, avoiding getting them split up or outnumbered.
One of the most obvious additions to gameplay is “concealment”. You start out most missions under cover which fits the storyline, as a guerrilla force a lot of your attacks are surprise assaults on alien targets from the shadows, so it makes sense that you can get in place before the battle commences and bank on the element of surprise.
The maps are plentiful, but you will end up playing some more than once. Although when you do, you will start at different points on the map so it is not something you will get bored with. The mission types are a bit more limited. The most common type are the timed missions where you must reach an objective in a set number of turns. You do have the more standard kill everything that moves missions that are not time based.
The modding scene is already up and running with modders building out improvements that grant new weapons, voice options, costumes and speed up the annoying breaks in game play. It is early days but I am expecting more to come and as modding is built into the game they are very easy to install.
On to the bad; Just like the Enemy Within the game is riddled with inconsistencies. Some are minor annoyances while others are game breaking. I know the “way to play” is Ironman mode, but when a 29 hour save file gets corrupt and needs restarting, then the next 21 hour file gets stuck on the Alien Action screen, and it is all topped off by losing a third 27 hour game because your whole squad gets wiped out due to a in game bug, it becomes beyond frustrating.
A straight up normal game mode where I was able to make multiple save files, just to get it finished so I could review it, took a solid 75 hours to complete.
Overall: Despite the bugs, that would normally stop me playing a game, XCOM 2 kept bringing me back for more punishment. With around 150 hours of gameplay to date I can’t argue that I haven’t gotten value for money and the vast majority of it was brilliant. Even the inconsistencies, that can be so infuriating, have become so synonymous with the series that if they weren’t there you’d almost miss them!
If you liked the first one you will love this.