The XCOM series is well known for its brutal difficulty, nail biting combat, and enticing mechanics. XCOM 2 takes all of the previously implemented ideas that were updated in the previous reboot and ramps up the challenge significantly.
20 years have passed since the conclusion of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The aliens reigned victorious and humans are now fighting for their survival. You reprise your role as the commander from the last game and this time around, your character is placed to lead a small resistance group in hopes to retaliate against the powerful alien forces. Although the story is featured sparingly throughout the duration of the campaign, the climatic ending makes it all worth it.
As the commander, it is your job to order your international squad of soldiers to take on the alien baddies. By encompassing a more offensive position in XCOM 2, you are given the role to make the first move on the enemy. This new feature and other additions to gameplay, enhance the already excellent Enemy Unknown formula.
At the start of the round, your squad is hidden from the enemy entirely. Once a squad member has been seen, every alien on the map will know that squad member’s location. This is where tactical strategies will make the greatest impact against the alien forces. Utilizing your tactical skills by setting up ambushes is incredibly satisfying and once completed, proves to be very rewarding.
XCOM 2 has added a layer of versatility that makes the battlefield feel more expansive this time around. For example, the destructibility of surrounding environments can alleviate the stress of moving your squad to-and-from different positions. On the offensive, grenades and grenade launchers can destroy your enemy’s cover, granting your squad an extra assist when it comes to pulling off a strategic kill.
In between kicking alien ass, you will repeatedly take breaks on the Avenger aircraft with your squad. This is where a grand portion of the game takes place. Researching items that you collect during battle is crucial if you want to chip away at the alien’s forces. The more research that the player carries out, the more options and abilities will be at their disposal.
Time is more prevalent than ever in XCOM 2 with the new Avatar Project. This new function serves as a doomsday mechanic: the further the aliens progress, the closer the player is to losing the game. To combat this, the player is given objectives throughout the campaign to halt alien progress. These range from simple hacks that you initiate on the battlefield to simple intel retrievals. The goal during these time crunches is to scope out and destroy Avatar Project labs.
Similar to Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 is a difficult game. When a character dies in combat, they’re gone for good. Occasionally, these characters will become unconscious or start bleeding out. This is where players will have the opportunity to revive them for the next fight. However, if that squad member is too close to death, squad members may be unable to deploy for several days at a time. Therefore, it’s important to consider keeping a healthy amount of high ranking soldiers in rotation for maximum combat efficiency.
Another new function is the new specialist class which allows players to send in a drone to perform certain tasks. They can take heavy damage, seize control of robotic units, hack towers to receive loot or simply heal squadmates from across the map. The other additional class, Rangers, are equipped with swords which act as close up melee attacks. These can be devastating, but can also leave the Ranger without cover. Thankfully, there is a multitude of perks that can avert these risks.
The improved character system is much more intricate than it’s predecessor, considering that there are far more options available. Players can get creative when it comes to crafting their squad and online character pools make it easy to share these pre-made characters with others. Steam Workshop shines when it comes to additional character cosmetics. Want a Stormtrooper helmet for your squad? Done.
Despite the game currently being on PC, XCOM 2 has severe optimization problems. Even with a beefy PC, the game still manages to chug and lag. The frame rate is inconsistent, the animations can become random or sporadic, and enemy rebuttals go on for too long.
In addition, the lack of controller support is very disappointing. Considering how well it worked with Enemy Unknown, I was surprised to not find this as an available option for play. If you do want to play XCOM 2 with a controller, the only option available is using the Steam controller.
On a lighter note, the Steam Workshop has been running in support of XCOM 2 since launch, and it has proven to enhance the game thoroughly. With new updates coming out on an almost daily basis, there are plenty of mods available that improve gameplay as well as provide more options for squadmate customization.
In terms of combat, the team at Firaxis have outdone themselves with XCOM 2. It has never been more satisfying to execute a strategy that works out in your favor and the new additions to gameplay make for a satisfying and exceptional play through.
All technical issues aside, XCOM 2 is the sequel that Enemy Unknown deserved. The combat remains complex and engaging, Steam Workshop has been great thus far, and the character customization is better than ever. Perhaps with more time and more updates, these smaller problems will be smoothed over, leaving behind a glossy, nearly perfect game.
This review of XCOM 2 is based off a digital copy which was paid for out of pocket.