How XCOM 2 teaches you the importance of making the right choices, no matter the circumstance
In every war, the leaders and commanders have to make decisions on how they approach each situation. Choice is a hard thing, and when it comes to decision making Firaxis’s turn-based strategy, XCOM 2, cleverly places you in the seat where the tiniest mistake could cost you gravely.
Human life is precious. However, as dark as it sounds – it’s also expandable. And just like the previous title, XCOM Enemy Unknown, Firaxis literally forces players to watch their squad get pulled apart by the alien enemies one by one to show the importance of issuing the right order. There’s no remorse and it’s the difficulty and consequences suffered that make XCOM one of the most challenging video games to play, and play well.
Earth has turned into a fascist state as the past war saw the human race lose the fight for freedom. The human race has fallen victim to alien propaganda and XCOM, the once admired international organisation, is nothing more than a rebel alliance labelled as a terrorist organisation by the rest of world. You return to the hot seat as the commander of a guerrilla XCOM force, and it’s up to you to take back Earth.
Players familiar with the XCOM series will feel right at home as soon as they boot into XCOM 2. Firaxis have gone with the whole ‘why fix what ain’t broken’ formula, and have built upon the foundations of the first game. While experienced players will come to grips of the game easily at the start, new enemy encounters throw a spanner into the works forcing the best XCOM players to rethink their strategies on the fly. The difficulty is certainly an issue, and will be a little off-putting for newcomers as there’s not really any room to breathe from the get-go, but it’s still absolutely worth slogging it out. In a way, you can see that XCOM 2 demonstrates the risk of war. Every move you make has consequences and you have to be prepared to die… a lot.
As a heavy player of Enemy Unknown, I felt ready and prepared to enter the fray with my first squad. The first set of missions in XCOM 2 often show you the devastating effect of making the wrong choices, but even when you start getting to grips with the game and begin to feel comfortable it throws something else at you that completely changes things. It’s this kind of difficulty spike that creates a sense of awareness and challenge throughout the game. Without these obstacles, XCOM 2 wouldn’t have that level of urgency and can fall flat really fast if players start steam-rolling through the rest of the game.
When you start naming squaddies and their respective weaponry, you’ll find that you’ll get emotionally attached to them fairly quickly. And even while this is totally optional, another big part of the game is the XCOM operatives themselves. Customisation in XCOM 2 has been taken to the next level, and you can pretty much customise every single part of a character right down to their biography and voices. Somewhat of a rare inclusion was an Australian voice pack which allowed me to create operatives that fight out of my home country, which was pretty damn cool. The level of character customisation gives you a lot of flexibility to create your own twist in the fiction-based world of XCOM 2. You can skip it if you just want pure action, but it really allows the game to become much more personal as you progress.
The more missions you put your operatives in, the more experienced they become and they’ll eventually develop into a special class with distinct abilities. It’s a risk or no reward scenario, as often during the squad selection screen players will have difficulty in choosing who gets to go and who gets to stay behind. “Do I send in my best XCOM operatives so there’s a higher chance of success and experience?” or “Do I just send in the grunts so I don’t care if they die.” There’re both advantages and disadvantages for these kinds of decisions. Without mission experience, your operatives can gain ranks and abilities, but there’s also a probability they won’t make it back alive.
The operatives that see more missions will help your overall army/organisation become somewhat of a threat rather than a bunch of recruits missing their mark. Those who get more experience will evolve into classes such as the Ranger, who wields a sword and is excellent for close-quarters combat, or the Sniper, who can deal long-range damage. There are lots of advantages which help in the long run, but are you willing to risk it? This is how the game plays you instead.
XCOM 2 also brings back the command meta where you must control other aspects of your organisation than just the fighting. As you progress, XCOM 2 allows you to use resources and objects (or corpses) you find during missions to help better understand your enemy. In return, you’ll get upgrades and special tools that ultimately help your performance in the field. You’ll also get to control which fights to pick against the enemy in your mobile command center as you make your way around the world region by region. Sometimes events happen spontaneously and it’s up to you whether you send your troops in or just sit it out which can bear consequences for the underlying cause. The ability to control where your army fights or what the organisation focuses on helps build your twist in the narrative we mentioned earlier, again making your own XCOM experience.
The hours I’ve put into XCOM 2 is, quite frankly, fairly unhealthy. And while the game perfectly extends what the first titles brought to the table, the bugs encountered were often questionable. The first game had an array of bugs at launch and it was pretty devastating to see the types of bugs I’ve witnessed in XCOM 2. These bugs may not be game-breaking, but the random long pauses after some turns and animations ruin the experience and immersion. As this was a pre-release review build things might change at launch, but it’s definitely worth mentioning.
Building on top of the foundation of what made the last game great, Firaxis have delivered an even deeper sequel that not only brings new things to the table but often challenges experienced players as well. It holds nothing back, delivering edge of your seat moments from the unpredictability guerrilla combat offers. Despite technical issues I’ve experienced, XCOM 2 has got me hooked into its regime.
Reviewer notes: XCOM 2 was reviewed using pre-release review build provided by 2K. Review may change depending on a release patch to address the issues and multi-player. We’ve also tested the review build on two different PC configurations.
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: PC – Release Date: 5th February 2016