The XCOM reboot of 2012 might go down as one of my most favorite games of the previous generation. Long have I waited for the return of the resource management/turn based combat sci-fi epic with XCOM 2. Speaking about XCOM for a moment, there were issues that kept that game (the remake, not the original) from following in the footsteps of its 1994 predecessor. Maps started to repeat themselves, and even though the gameplay was not dumbed down, there were times I felt that XCOM might be a bit too simplistic. Even more, though it was rectified by the Enemy Within expansion, the game originally did not have base defense.
And then there was the ending, or should I really say, a lack of a satisfying ending. All we see is the “Chosen One” use the Ethereal Device to raise the Temple Ship up to orbit and detonate it, without any follow up explaining what happens to XCOM or the human populace.
Apparently FIraxis felt the same way I did because with the newly launched XCOM 2, the humans lost the war, and in a period of twenty years the aliens have inhabited the Earth to the point they pacified he human populace. In doing so they formed a puppet government called ADVENT where they act as if the aliens can coexist peacefully with humans. However, remnants of the original XCOM faction are still around in XCOM 2, and they still perform guerrilla movements to expose ADVENT as what they really are. In one raid, former Central officer John Bradford leads a raid to recover a high priority ADVENT target. That target is found to be the original XCOM commander, who awakens aboard XCOM’s new mobile headquarters, the Avenger, built from the remains of an alien ship. While the rest of the Council is under the control of ADVENT, the mysterious Voice of the Council still shows signs of resistance and offers to help XCOM combat them.
As a result, XCOM, by way of the Avenger, must travel over different regions to make contact with other factions, which helps increase their income of supplies. However, to make contact, another form of income, known as Intel, is used. In addition, other drops are located as more areas are unlocked.
Of course, in typical XCOM fashion, these elements can also be obtained during combat in XCOM 2, which uses the same turn based battlescape we are used to. Starting with a group of four soldiers, which can be upgraded to six, missions vary from obtaining key data or supplies (at the risk of them being destroyed in combat,) escort missions, raids on landed UFOs, hacking or destroying communications arrays, or fighting back against alien retaliation strikes (XCOM 2’s equivalent of Terror Missions.) Many of these missions are set to a time limit, or actually a turn limit, which by removing the strategy of taking your time to prep, adds a sense of intensity and stress to the overall war.
Similar to Enemy Unknown, soldiers take on special classes once promoted to Squaddie rank. Assault soldiers are now Rangers capable of sword based melee attacks and hit and run tactics. Heavy soldiers are now Grenadiers, wielding the same heavy cannon and rocket launcher combos. Snipers are now Sharpshooters with improved pistol skills that add a bit more usefulness. But my favorite change has to be to the Support team. Now as Specialists, they are partnered with drones called Gremlins that can remotely hack terminals and robotic enemies or provide aid and medical supplies to remote allies. Even further, to make the classes even more complex in XCOM 2, each one can branch out into two subsets. Same can be said for Psionic Operatives once they are unlocked.
A huge complaint about Enemy Unknown was how the maps all felt a bit too similar. That’s not the case here, as all of XCOM 2’s maps are procedurally generated. In the 40 missions I played during my campaign run I did not see any repetition at all. And yes, the combat is as brutal as ever. Finding a new alien species got more terrifying each time than the previous one was. Even returning species such as the dreaded Sectopod still bring a strong feeling of dread.
The campaign of XCOM 2, which took me about 40 hours to complete, is a race against time as ADVENT is currently working on something called the “Avatar Project.” As more is revealed, facilities need to be raided and destroyed to halt or disrupt progress before time runs out. Again, a feeling of dread comes as you see the final countdown on the Geoscape hit zero and realize that ADVENT has won.
Overall I loved XCOM 2, but there are some issues I noticed that prevent the game from being perfect. First off, the game is designed as an exclusive on PC and Mac via Steam. I can understand that Firaxis wanted to get the most out of the game by making it only on PC, but we saw how well the previous game ran on Xbox 360 and PS3, so hopefully it will come out to consoles in the future. As I tested the game out on a laptop with an integrated graphics processor performance suffers at times, even at low detail. I hope to go through the game again on a discrete GPU laptop for a better experience. But what killed me more is the number of glitches I experienced. There were times when I tried to highlight where I wanted my soldier to move to, only to have it not respond. It was worse when attempting to use Run ‘n Gun with a Ranger, where I had to back out of the command, only the command was executed, meaning I had to wait four turns to use it again.
Graphics glitches are also notorious. The worst one occurred during the final battle when the graphics started to glitch badly to the point that the game became unplayable. Even worse, when I quit the game and Steam, restarted both of them, and tried to load up the autosave, the game crashed. In fact, ALL three autosaves crashed. Thankfully I had a manual save right before the last chamber that loaded up fine, but in a last stand so massive, losing a save would have been disastrous. There have also been reports of people unable to even launch the game because the Steam version is confused about whether or not to load the 32 or 64 bit .dll files.
Thankfully the game is well worth dealing with all the glitches, and I’m sure they will be resolved via patches. XCOM 2 is a fantastic sequel to the 2012 reboot, and Firaxis must be commended again for their outstanding work. I’m going to go through it again on Commander and even Legend difficulty next!
Pros: The best strategy game of 2012 gets even better. Guerrilla based combat combined with a resistance storyline reminiscent of Red Dawn mixed with V. Procedurally developed battlefields remove the repetitive levels of the past. Insane soldier customization, including different breeds to psionic troops. Hacking elements add a new level of strategy.
Cons: Not available on consoles, though Enemy Unknown/Within proved it can be done. Main structure feels a bit too similar to the reboot. Troublesome bugs, ranging from controls not responding up to seizure inducing graphic anomalies.