We thought we’d beaten them, but they held back. Then they came, they conquered and we hid. But now we have a second shot. Let’s show them what the XCOM Project is all about!
Genre(s): Strategy | Tactical RPG
Developer: Firaxis Games
Release Date: February 2016
Played: Full playthrough
Purchase At: Steam
XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within ends with you destroying the alien ship. I thought that would be the end of it, aliens defeated. But then Firaxis Games told us that was just an exploratory force, just there to test the waters, to see if humanity was ready. Apparently we were and they sent in their entire armada and conquered the planet swiftly. Major world leaders surrendered and gave the XCOM Commander to them as a peace offering. It’s been a long time since then, and now the Alien government of ADVENT rules the world, except for those pockets where the rebellion and the remnants of the XCOM Project live.
The game opens with a mission to rescue the Commander, rescue the player. His leadership and tactical genius is necessary for XCOM to have any chance at repelling the aliens, their world government and the mysterious and ominous “Project Avatar.”
Much like its predecessor, you learn XCOM 2’s story from the exposition provided by your officers, research notes and the events some discoveries trigger. As you explore the world, build your network and do more missions, you come to understand this new world order, the benefits it provides but also the secrets it holds. The Avatar Project is frankly fantastic, as are the hints dropped near the end as to where future XCOM games might head.
If there’s one thing I dislike about XCOM 2’s storytelling is how it gets in the way of your game. Many times you get exposition from Central, Dr. Tygan or Shen in the middle of the missions and until they’ve stopped talking you can’t do anything. It gets frustrating very quickly, particularly during those key missions where they have something to say every other room.
XCOM 2 is a much harder game compared to Enemy Unknown. Whereas in the previous game things slowly escalate and your only concern is global crisis—which triggers depending on how you handle critical missions or council requests—and its effect on backers leaving, in XCOM 2 you’ll start with pretty much nothing and have to build on that. You establish contacts and form resistance cells, build radio towers, investigate reports for intel and do whatever you have to get more funding and personnel from the resistance. Failing to do so will affect how many supplies you get and make it that much harder to stop Project Avatar.
On the top of your screen, you’ll always see the counter, with the Aliens adding blocks to it as they advance the project. It’s a race against time and in my game the aliens almost won about three times in a row. They filled the counter and left me about twenty days to do something about it. I then took out a few black sites and brought the counter down, but it always kept me on edge. Sometimes, with wounded soldiers and no resources I had to let Dark Event missions—pick one out of three, the other two events happen and complicate matters for you—go unchecked, which turned into more blocks filling up. While playing XCOM 2 this stressed me out, but now looking back at it only hours after finishing the game, I realise that this was the best part of the game, this tension, the feeling that the fight is real and important.
The basic controls and mechanics remain the same, with the addition of Concealment for some missions, where you can move your squad around enemy positions for lethal ambushes—unless they spot you and break your stealth—and the new classes that build on those of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and take them to new heights. These new classes all have amazing skills, really powerful abilities that make it very hard to choose one at each promotion. But no matter which you choose you’ll feel the difference in your next mission (after the month or so it takes for squaddies to recover from wounds) and you’ll be excited for the next one to come. It’s amazing how much I cheered when I saw my “Promotion Earned” pop up after a kill. By the end of the game, my squad was a collection of badasses—and mostly women, because Valkyries are cool.
It’s not just the skills but also the new upgrade systems. Instead of carrying extra scopes for your sniper rifle, you now attachments from enemy weapons and use them to make your guns much more powerful, from a Hair Trigger with a percentage chance of giving you an extra attack to a Chain Loader for free reloads.
When you’re out on the field, every enemy you see in front of you is potentially lethal. Unlike XCOM Enemy Unknown, where Thin Men and Sectoids were ridiculously easy by the end of the game, in XCOM 2 the starting enemies can take your squad out at any point in the game. Sectoids are again your starting alien menace, but they’re much more powerful and can mind-control your soldiers even on the first mission. The ADVENT troops come in various forms and they are tough as nails. But if there’s one enemy out there to earn my hatred, it’s the Gatekeeper…there are no words to describe how infuriating this thing is. There are many enemy types and then subtypes for a few of them, leading to new and interesting encounters every time.
XCOM 2’s world is rich and beautifully detailed, with propaganda, ADVENT BURGER signs and even wanted posters for your squaddies. It is visually beautiful and completely destructible, something I took advantage of to give my snipers an easier time. It’s great how things explode in XCOM 2 because I later discovered it was very easy to kill enemies by taking out the floor from under them.
Sadly, the game has a ton of visual glitches, where enemies go through walls, or drop down from the floor only to show up again a second later. I’ve had Vipers bind a squad member and then they both move back for about half the map, their character models completely still yet moving over the floor. When the binding ended, they would shift again to where they started. Often, enemies would attack and do their things without their models even moving, making me very confused to be honest.
Voice acting is superb and we once again count on Jon Bailey—Honest Trailers guy—for his voice as the Councillor, now acting from the shadows to help the resistance. Even the members of the ADVENT have wonderful voice acting, with their spokespeople having a real sense of devotion in their voice. They believe what they’re saying and because of that so do you! Music goes through the typical battle music to the environmental pieces for critical and investigative missions. Some of them are chilling, particularly those of the black sites, where the melodies almost warn you of the horrors you’re about to discover.
XCOM 2 isn’t just a worthy successor to its predecessor, but one of the best in the overall X-COM series. It makes things hard for you, but when it rewards you, you feel like a badass! Now I can’t wait for XCOM 3 or the expansion to the current one. I’m calling Terror from the Deep as the next one!
5/5 – Hell Yes!