In XCOM 2, humanity is doomed.
The story of the sequel follows the bad ending of XCOM: Enemy Unknown: attempts to stop the alien invasion have failed, and now the citizens of Earth live under the control of the Advent – aliens and their soldiers. The resistance lives on in a few scientists, soldiers, and engineers that have repurposed a huge alien ship called The Avenger. This is where you live.
In order to fight back, you have to expand your reach by contacting other resistance groups nearby and completing different directives. While you can leisurely choose your objectives on Geoscape , commencing a mission initiates a timer. In-game days may pass before Avenger will acquire resources, make a resistance contact, or reach out to the black market, and at any moment the aliens can attack (or you may get an opportunity to attack them). This is nerve-wracking to say the least. Missions yield important resources and experience for your soldiers and can even counter ‘Dark Events’ − alien initiatives that could cause you a lot of trouble.
But just describing the strategy mechanics doesn’t do the game justice. In 1989, Sid Meier described original XCOM as “a series of interesting choices.” It cleverly uses lack of opportunities to force you into hard dilemmas. At any time you may be presented with six possible scan sites, while combat encounters are meted out by the game. And what you choose to do with these options will matter. You will need new soldiers, engineers to build a comms facility so you can contact more territories, and even alien alloys to upgrade weapons. And you can choose only one.
These narrow opportunities fit XCOM 2 perfectly. You take whatever you can get. You are basically scraping around for fuel and food to keep Avenger in the air.
The combat in the game is turn-based and takes place on procedural battlefields that are really well-generated. The terrain is busy, interesting, and diverse: slums, city centers, snowy forests, and alien bases are all varied not only in decorative assets like cars and trees but also vertically, in cliffs and multi-story buildings.
They all blow up quite nicely as well. You can grenade walls to remove cover and offer your soldiers better lines of fire. Any unit that is moving above ground level can fall through the floor if they happen to be in a burning building. Explosions can start fires that block floor tiles.
Classes: old and new
The four soldier classes have been completely redone. Enemy Unknown veterans will be able to recognize the heavy weapon capabilities of the grenadiers and the sniping ability of the sharpshooter. Both are now able to access new skills that will alter their jobs. The grenadier can improve the explosive potential of their grenade launcher while sharpshooters can be turned into mid-range pistoliers, able to take out multiple enemies. This effectively merges support and heavy roles in one class.
The other classes aren’t as familiar. The ranger takes the speedy close-range role (originally occupied by the assault class), employing a sword for high-damage charge attacks. The specialists have a drone which is able to move around the battlefield and zap enemies, hack comms towers, and heal allies. This class can also use robots to steal or disable units.
This is a new feature. In XCOM 2, battles start in incognito mode, and you can move around the map without being attacked − as long as you stay out of the red detection ranges of your enemies, watchtowers, and lingering civilians. Placing most of your units in overwatch, which enables free reaction shots against any type of movement during the enemy turn, can result in awesome ambushes.
Once you have broken concealment, life will get harder. The successful shots are determined by chance rolls, and you can get favorable odds by staying in cover and flanking. Having a stroke of bad luck can wipe out your soldiers: time-limited objectives, such as rescues or assassinations, will force you to become reckless. What’s more, all alien unit types can be really disruptive.
There is so much more that you are better off discovering for yourself: extensive troop customization, exoskeletal suits, weapons mods, and even the story, told through a series of different special missions.
There is very little to criticize. The camera will occasionally go through walls in close-ups, and sometimes there is a really big pause before the character that you are playing will move. A lack of foreknowledge during your first playthrough can actually hurt your ability to plan, but will also force you to become more reactive to the constant flow of enemies. Nevertheless, thanks to the varying starting positions, procedural missions, and tactical depth, XCOM 2 can and should be played repeatedly.
What about you? Have you beaten XCOM 2 more than once? Did you enjoy the improved gameplay? Share your opinion in the comments below and check out other strategy games’ reviews like Chaos Reborn or Door Kickers!