Humanity Strikes Back! – XCOM 2 (Review)

Feb 25, 2016


Humanity has lost and the aliens have taken over, earth is ruled by Advent, a so called collaborative effort to bring the aliens and humanity closer together. Gene therapy, abductions and god knows what else is going on across the world and only XCOM and the resistance movements across earth can stop it; and they need your help as The Commander.

For those unfamiliar with the XCOM series, the games series has you control a squad of soldiers in a turn based strategy game against the alien forces that rule over Earth. The game follows on from Firaxis’ 2012 reboot of the series in XCOM: Enemy Unknown and takes place after XCOM has been betrayed by the earth governments.

Class Abilities

The meat of the game takes place in procedurally generated maps with map variety being varied enough in layout but filled with a small variety of structures and objects. Turn order has you command the soldiers in your squad in any order with an alien turn following your own. Each soldier can take two actions made up of class abilities, equipment, and the returning standard actions of Shoot, Hunker Down, and Overwatch.

The class abilities provide a variety of options during the game, if your soldiers are successful in their missions they will gain ranks and unlock new abilities providing a choice from two at each rank.

The power level and utility of these abilities varies by class and rank I never found an ability I chose useless but there are some definite disparities in the usefulness of certain choices across the majority of the classes.

XCOM2 class variety

The Ranger is similar to the assault class of Enemy Unknown but is now equipped with a sword for taking the fight up close and personal against the aliens. This sword can do some pretty good damage but often leave the range compromised, you can offset this with other abilities though with a shotgun or rifle giving the ranger a good mix of scouting and damage dealing potential.

The Specialist, like the support of Enemy Unknown, provides healing and defensive abilities but is now accompanied by the Gremlin drone capable of hacking objects and robotic enemies remotely. The hacking and anti MEC abilities aid in the destruction and control of some really heavy hitters in the alien arsenal. Healing remotely also can come in use if a soldier takes some damage, an inevitability during your time with this game.

There is a fifth class the Psi-Ops which you can get access to through researching the correct tech and this class provides a lot of interesting offensive and utility abilities from its skill tree I would highly recommend taking at least one Psi-Ops in your first game as the class has a lot of versatility that allows you to make some really interesting tactical choices such as giving additional actions to allies or using mind control to control an alien troop.

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An Experience For Everyone

The game provides four difficulties though even Veteran the normal difficulty of the game will provide an adequate challenge to players new and old the first time round. There is also the Ironman Mode which saves after every action you make in the game for an extra layer of consequence to your choices. XCOM 2’s combat is punishing and leaving your soldiers exposed will often lead to their injury or demise. Injuries mean you can’t use your best soldier over and over again which could make higher difficulty missions problematic during the game.

Planning Against Your Enemy

In addition, missions can often introduce new and terrifying enemy units to the field each with a number of defensive and offensive abilities that set them out from each other. If you scout you can scope out what you’re up against the game rewards caution and it reinforces that with a new mechanic called concealment.

When a unit or squad is concealed the enemy are not aware of their presence and will ignore them until the concealed unit is spotted. At the start of many missions your squad will be concealed allowing you to sneak around the map and scout out your surroundings. Eventually you may setup an ambush or be spotted by a civilian or alien troop. When one alien spots you the entire squad is revealed and that aliens group is alerted starting open combat.

Planning ahead and strategy is important as things can quickly blow up and turn chaotic.

Planning ahead and strategy is important as things can quickly blow up and turn chaotic.

It is entirely possible to stealth through entire mission though you may miss out on certain rewards in those cases, on a number of occasion I have stealthier through an entire map to secure an objective and then setup ambushes to clear the map this additional element to the game adds tension and satisfaction on a mission well done when you manage to pull it off.

The best way to keep your troops alive is through the researching and building of items, armour and weapons each item is a new tool you can bring along on a mission and when you unlock later tiers of armour you become capable of bringing grenades and a good variety of different utility items to the field.

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Of particular note are the items you unlock through the proving grounds the special armour from this building allow you to carry heavier weapons, scale buildings and even walk through walls. In addition there’s a variety of experimental ammo that can allow you to better control the situation in combat with status effects.

Improving Off of the Battlefield

During the game you will build facilities that allow you to create these items, make contacts in the resistance and upgrade the fine men and women of XCOM the base building from the first game has been streamlined and it’s a lot harder to mess up your base beyond repair this time round. Instead the base building limits and focuses how you develop your technology and the capabilities of the Avenger ship your soldiers live in between battles. Time on the ship is usually kept short with research chosen and items built you will spend a lot of time on the world map choosing to investigate various supply and Intel points across the earth.

You can build and configure rooms inside your base, the Avenger.

You can build and configure rooms inside your base, the Avenger.

Often when exploring the world map a mission will come up to aid the resistance or get supplies with many of these stopping Dark Events taking place during the game. The Dark Events are new to XCOM 2 and allow each campaign to progress a little differently. A dark event could be something like additional enemies in missions or a UFO chasing the Avenger and it’s up to you to balance the reward of the missions against the dark event s you may have inflicted upon you in the game. This forces you to adapt to different scenarios and allowed me to rotate my squads around to make sure I had the right ability for the right job.

The Verdict

Sadly, though I have had a lot of fun with XCOM 2 it has launched with a large list of bugs and performance issues there are meant to be patches coming until then you may be buying a game with a variety of technical and gameplay bugs that can sometimes brick an entire campaign.

If you can put up with the bugs or they get patched out and you like a challenging tactical experience with plenty of customisation and tools to give you plenty of gameplay variety than you might want to check XCOM 2 out.

Have you had a chance to play XCOM 2 yet? Tell us what you though of it in the comments below!

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