You’re against all odds as you fight in the shadows against an oppressive alien regime in XCOM 2.
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Windows PC (Version Reviewed), Mac OS, Linux
Release Date: February 5, 2016
It’s an ensemble of emotion as you watch a viper slowly constrict the life out of your most talented soldier. It’s a pale-faced stare as you comb through your decimated roster for a squad capable of the task ahead. It’s the gasp of joy as you connect on that near-impossible shot. It’s the cruel mistress named XCOM 2, and its got me falling in love, all over again.
XCOM 2 takes place some 20 years after the first contact. The aliens have brokered a peaceful domination of Earth under their global ADVENT government, but the remnants of XCOM aren’t sold by the “peaceful” reign of alien overlords.
Instead of a global military initiative, XCOM has been degraded to an underground guerrilla resistance seeking to expose ADVENT for their true motives and convince the people of Earth to rise up against the alien force.
You return as the commander of XCOM, working out of a mobile headquarters, flying across the globe setting up resistance networks and striking strategically selected ADVENT targets. The largest refinements in XCOM 2 aren’t on the battlefield, they’re in the ways you manage your base of operations and the decisions you’ll need to make to give your soldiers a chance on the ground.
The game’s notorious difficulty doesn’t disappoint…
If you need to accelerate the construction of a facility you can now assign more engineers to the task and you can also head back to your headquarters to increase the speed of construction even further.
The opposing alien force feels like a much more proactive opponent than in it was XCOM: Enemy Unknown. When ADVENT forces strike it’s a direct attack on your resistance network, rather than a random abduction across the globe. There are some returning enemies, but the bulk of your adversaries are new species with horrifyingly effective arsenals at their disposal. The game’s notorious difficulty doesn’t disappoint, and even on the standard Veteran setting, I found myself breaking my self-imposed honor code and reverting to earlier saves in desperate attempts to salvage disastrous missions. The central cause of all this difficulty is the turn restrictions placed on a majority of missions.
The first game’s expansion, XCOM: Enemy Within, introduced a lot of the mission ideas seen in this sequel — largely its focus on speed. XCOM 2 favors missions with a turn limit, discouraging cautious play in favor of bold forward pushes through uncharted terrain. This generates difficult choices that often means heavy casualties in order to complete a mission.
Even off the battlefield, the aliens are unrelenting. ADVENT constantly builds towards their end game and in the process generate penalties against you and perks for themselves. These “Dark Events” can range from equipping all their forces with armor for a month to increased enemy reinforcements in missions. You can choose which to strike back against, postponing the penalties you find most damaging, but they cannot be stopped outright.
The turn-based squad combat remains largely unchanged at its core, which is probably for the best. The biggest difference comes with the addition of a concealment mechanic. This attempts to address the longstanding issue XCOM has had with enemy discovery, but it’s still not quite perfect.
When you enter the battlefield covertly (which doesn’t happen on some missions) you are given squad concealment. While in this state, enemy vision is displayed on the ground and you are able to see enemies without them immediately seeing you. Concealment allows you to set up satisfying ambushes on dangerous enemies in true guerrilla warfare style. Once your squad has broken concealment by attacking or being discovered, the enemy discovery mechanic reverts back to its normal state.
The cosmetic customization in XCOM 2 outclasses its predecessor.
Your soldiers have new faces but a familiar feel. You’ll find a fresh new take on the four original classes, plus a dedicated class for psionic soldiers. Abilities are much more varied in XCOM 2, leading to diverse squads that create interesting interactions. The Advanced Warfare Center also gives soldiers a small chance to gain bonus “Hidden Abilities” from outside their class. This introduces unique hybrid soldiers who break the mold of their fellow squadmates and blur the line between classes.
The cosmetic customization in XCOM 2 outclasses its predecessor. There are more options to pick from and more detailed tweaks to dive into. But beyond these expansive options that are built-in, the integration with Steam Workshop opens up the floodgates of personalization. Authentic military camouflage or Japanese kabuki face paint is just a click away thanks to this user-friendly mod support.
Cosmetic mods are the easiest to start with, but as the game matures there’s an increasing amount of systemic modifications arriving in the Workshop which address grievances with the game itself. Some of these do small things to make your life easier, like Show Health Values, which puts a number next to the health bar of enemies — eliminating the need to count boxes. The aptly named Stop Wasting My Time works to eliminate unnecessary pauses during combat.
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Unfortunately, mods don’t cure a buggy game, and thus far it’s been a displeasure showing. In my 35 hours of playtime, it became commonplace for a character’s animations to stop functioning or large pauses to appear between actions. I never encountered any that negatively affected my ability to play the game, but these visual bugs and time-wasting slowdowns seem unacceptable for a single-platform release.
XCOM 2 shows off the scrappy side of the once-huge alien-fighting organization, and smart changes in gameplay improve the play experience while simultaneously fueling the narrative theme behind it all. This PC release with Steam Workshop integration adds to the already highly replayable campaign, and while small bugs do persist, they never managed to wreck the intense strategic fun of XCOM 2.
A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.