With roots going all the way back to 1994 and the release of UFO: Enemy Unknown this franchise is one of the pillars of the turn-based genre. Most games in the series were well received at the time of their release and it was no different when 2K games decided to reboot the franchise with 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It kept all the good everyone loved about XCOM and gave it a fresh new look, story and gameplay elements that made it an excellent game. XCOM 2 continues this trend and improves upon the formula established in the previous entries in the franchise. Taking all that was good from Enemy Unknown and improving and tweaking it to better round up the package. It is still the same unforgiving tactical affair played on an isometric battlefield that feels frenetic and fast despite being turn-based.
XCOM 2 is available for purchase at Amazon for $24,99.
The story of XCOM 2 picks up 20 years after the previous game and despite your best efforts there – the aliens won. They switched up their tactics and they infiltrated into human society, this time presenting themselves as benefactors rather than conquerors. The end result is pretty much the same as they are now the ruling government and you guessed it, they are only superficially helpful while having a sinister agenda and plan for humanity. The resistance busts out the commander from the previous game (the player) from an alien cryo-prison to help boost their efforts.
The story in itself is nothing special and most certainly nothing you are not used to if you played the last game. The mystery that surrounds the aliens is a fine story driver as you learn bits and bobs about their true intentions which I won't spoil here. Their switch from conquerors to rulers is a nice excuse to change up their units so you can discover for yourself what makes them tick this time around. The change of the premise is also a great way to change the gameplay a bit since now you are not defending from an alien invasion but you are rather a guerrilla force striking the aliens strategically to weaken them in order to make way for a larger assault and exposing them to the general public. This makes controlling a small team make more sense storywise than in the previous game which had you believing there was a full-scale war and with the player having control over a handful of people, you never really felt that.
Like in previous installments, the gameplay section is divided into two sections. The first one, receiving only slight cosmetic changes and new technologies is very familiar. You clear debris and construct a base of operations aboard a helicarrier called the Avenger (fun nod on the Marvel Cinematic Universe) so you can have more troops, research new technologies and make better weapons. This again is a small strategic game in itself as you have limited space that you need to make the best use of. Do I build a structure to generate more power, or do I build one that speeds up my research or weapon production? The issue I have here is that you are required to construct some buildings to progress through the story and they take up valuable space and after a mission or two really don't serve any purpose.
You hop across the world map doing various missions which mostly have you sabotaging alien operations and ultimately halt their avatar-project. In the world map, as well as in boots on the ground section of the game, you will mostly be fighting the clock as aliens race toward their ultimate goal and make small and major breakthroughs left and right to make your life more difficult. This makes your every decision count and the pressure can sometimes be immense, but the feel of a desperate guerilla warfare is better for it as is the entire game.
A mechanic that is seriously expanded in this game is the concealment and your team starts every mission concealed. This enables you to sneak past enemies, flank them or set up ambushes and it makes for far more engaging encounters. Add other factors, such as elevation advantages, morale and panic system, cover strength, different weapons and abilities, armor, attributes of different soldier classes and it makes for a real tactical heaven.
Your team maxes at 6 members and the customization system has been further expanded to accommodate different classes. This time around you will take control of ranger (aggressive reconnaissance and close quarters combat), grenadier (deals large amounts of damage to enemy forces with heavy weapons), specialist (utilizes a remote-controlled airborne drone to provide team support), sharpshooter (sniper support), psi operative (offensive powers and defensive buffs for allies) and added in the DLC, a spark (heavy robotic class). All of the above are highly customizable in how they look, and how they behave in combat with various abilities and pieces of gear.
All of this happens on procedurally generated maps with procedurally generated missions to ensure you will never see the same scenario twice. One time you will have to disable an alien device hidden in dense high buildings, other times you will have to extract civilians from a forest area and sometimes you will have to survive in a desert area with little to no cover. With this many factors to consider and your soldiers being able to permanently die, every mission becomes a high-stakes affair that will have you gripping your seat. The game ramps up the difficulty very fast and it hits very hard on occasions but it never loses its grip on you. You will sometimes feel frustrated at the seemingly unfair enemy hits from across the map and through the walls, especially when that results in your favorite soldier being killed. The difficulty is one thing, but when the game ignores its own rules to ramp it up, it can really sour your game and turn you away. Luckily, this rarely happened to me and the developer patched some of the problems since release.
In addition to the game's story, you will probably as I often had, create your own stories and find yourself thinking about your team dynamic and how your psi soldier nicknamed "Reaper" doesn't see eye to eye with the commanding soldier nicknamed "Sarge" only for them to form a bond when one saves the other from an ambush. This is often an overlooked part of the game that is usually contributed to open world setting and it only serves as a further testament to how great this game is.
Graphics and sound
The game is an obvious step up in comparison to the first game with more detailed textures and more densely packed environments. That being said, I can't help but think that the PC version I'm reviewing would look even better if not for the console version which translated some issues do the desktop version. Many people reported crashes and freezes which I didn't get personally, but I did get choppy frame rate during cutscenes, even the main menu – no matter my graphics settings. There were also some freezes when the game transitioned from tactical top down camera to a more cinematic one and I sometimes waited for what felt like an eternity for my soldier to make a move. Some of the glitches, clipping and other problems were promptly fixed with patches, but performance still oscillates whenever any kind of in-game cinematic is played. Nothing that really impacted the gameplay and you can easily remove most problems by turning off up close and personal cinematic camera during your moves.
The sound is really the weakest point of this game as your soldiers spout generic military talk, weapon sounds don't seem particularly impactful and the soundtrack is not really memorable.
XCOM 2 is like playing 3d chess. It's a game with many pieces that create a great, challenging and deep tactical experience. A game that encourages learning from your mistakes, where, much like Dark Souls, failure and death of your soldiers is an integral part of the game. It will initially hook you with the mystery of its story, but you will appreciate that it gives you context to create your own stories even more. It's a sequel that is bigger and better than its predecessor without changing the formula but adding to it just enough to justify its place as a top of the line gaming experience.
|+Excellent turn based gameplay||– Minor technical issues|
|+ Many tactical elements||– Occasional unfair difficulty|
|+ Deep customization|