XCOM 2 Review

XCOM 2 is a strategy game that is set in the future. You play as the commander of XCOM, an organization dedicated to protecting the Earth from alien invasion. Your goal is to defend the planet by making tactical decisions and managing your resources.

The game offers a lot of customization, which makes it so you can play how you want. If you want to take a stealthy approach, then you can do that. If you want to go full-on offense, then that can be done too. Whatever your play style is, there will be something for you in XCOM 2.

XCOM 2 Review
XCOM 2 manages to reward the kind of strategic thinking and forward-thinking that made the first game so beloved, while also offering more fun reasons to keep those wheels turning.

The graphics are great and the gameplay is awesome! This game has been one of my favorites since I first played it last year, so I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a new strategy game or just want something different than what’s out there right now.”

The first thing you’ll notice about XCOM 2 is that it looks great. The environments are detailed and gorgeous, with plenty of variety to keep things interesting as you explore different locales throughout the world. The character models are also well-designed and animate very well – especially when they’re being shot at!

The second thing you’ll notice about XCOM 2 is how hard it can be sometimes. As someone who has played many hours of XCOM: Enemy Unknown (and its expansion pack Enemy Within), I can tell you that this sequel ramps up the difficulty considerably compared to its predecessor. When playing on normal difficulty with normal settings, expect to lose a lot more soldiers than you did in Enemy Unknown. You’ll also see a lot more alien activity within your base compared to earliest game.

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The player takes control of an elite paramilitary organization called XCOM (Extraterrestrial Combat Unit) that defends Earth from an alien invasion. The player commands troops in the field in a series of turn-based tactical missions; between missions they select research projects to advance technology and increase their squad’s abilities. A key element is base management which includes research of new technologies and development of new facilities or upgrades to existing ones such as engineering or medical bays.

I’ve been playing XCOM 2 since it’s release, and I can say that it is one of the best games that I have played in a long time. The game features a deep and complex combat system for those who want to take the time to learn it, but also has an easy to use interface for those who don’t want to spend hours learning how to play.

Storyline

XCOM 2 is a tactical turn-based strategy video game developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K Games for Microsoft Windows, OS X and Linux. The game is the sequel to 2012’s reboot of the XCOM series, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It was released worldwide for Microsoft Windows, OS X, and Linux on February 5, 2016.

The game follows the alien invasion of Earth in the year 2035. The player assumes control of a military organization known as XCOM and its efforts to repel the alien invasion by managing resources, advancing technologies, researching alien artifacts and building infrastructure. The player also controls combat units during missions to engage with enemies.

The original XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a game-of-the-year nominee, pitted you against aliens in guerrilla warfare. The sequel keeps the same resourceful-under-fire feel, but widens your strategic options and adds multiplayer. 

You need to manage an underground network of resistance fighters and rescue captured allied soldier while fending off invaders. Ship upgrades, satellite photography, and even jetpacks give soldiers an edge. Weapons can be modified with a dizzying array of add-ons—in my game I equipped one rifle with poison ammo to lower enemy hit points and then switched to a plasma rifle for its greater range. Having both weapons available made me more flexible as I adapted to encounters.

XCOM 2 was developed by Firaxis Games, an American video game developer based in Sparks, Maryland founded in 1996 by Sid Meier and Jeff Briggs. The company has created several other successful strategy games including Civilization V (2010) and Civilization IV (2005). In addition to developing this new installment in their flagship franchise, Firaxis Games was responsible for developing other titles released around the same time including Sid Meier’s Starships (2015), a spin-off expansion pack.

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In XCOM 2, the alien threat has lost its alien veneer and become horrifyingly familiar. Players are again in charge of defending their home planet from an alien invasion that’s been in the works since before humans first set foot on Earth.

The sci-fi trappings remain: There’s a base HQ, an assortment of soldier classes to unlock, and a range of extraterrestrial baddies to shoot down. But the game’s “Firaxis” creators have traded in what had become almost a sense of opportunistic playfulness for straight-up dark horror. And just like how jaded horror movie fans are seduced by the artistry of a new film or a well-crafted jump scare, so too did I find myself drawn into this world because of its craftsmanship.

XCOM 2 is a tough game, and in the long run, it will make you a better gamer. In a world where games are becoming more accessible by the seat of their virtual pants, XCOM 2 pushes you to lean how to make decisions that really matter. Your choices matter, almost every time. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to give new commands if they’re going to be successful – but it might be the difference between living and dying.

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XCOM 2 is a game that has so many moving parts and intertwining characteristics (melding the strategy genre with RPG elements) that if not deepened upon, the experience can feel shallow, frustrating, or formulaic.

You build a squad of four highly customizable soldiers, you battle aliens in tactical turn-based combat, you research new technology to better your team… But XCOM 2 goes deeper than that. It’s not just a game about killing aliens, it’s a game about corrupt politicians and religious fanatics who only want to put an end to your organization because they don’t understand it. It’s about an orbital weapons platform teetering on the brink of falling into enemy hands. It’s about resistance cells rebelling against old friends who have turned against them.

The story missions in XCOM 2 are excellent and will keep you glued to your screen for hours on end, but what really makes this title shine are its procedurally generated maps and randomized objectives. 

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The first time I played through an objective on a particular map was different from the second time I played it — there were new enemies in different locations and some objectives had changed as well (e.g., instead of needing to hack an enemy device, I had to blow it up with C4). This makes each playthrough feel fresh and exciting even after dozens of hours spent playing through them in different ways (and sometimes failing miserably).

Gameplay

The gameplay mechanics are almost identical to those found in Enemy Unknown. However, there have been some changes made to make it easier for new players to jump right into this one without feeling overwhelmed by all the different mechanics at play here. You also have more options available when it comes time to customize your squad members as well as their weapons and equipment so that each team member feels unique from one another.

One thing that really stands out about XCOM 2 is its atmosphere. The environments look great and feel alive thanks to all of the little details that have been added into each location you visit throughout your adventure. The music helps create this sense of dread as well because it does a wonderful job of setting up every scene.

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XCOM 2 is a worthy follow-up to 2012’s excellent XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The turn-based, tactical combat still holds up, even when played at a faster pace than the classic “Slayer” combat setting. 

The procedurally generated maps and mission objectives create tension from the first turn of combat all the way through to the last, even if you’re replaying levels that fell just short of your goal, searching for an edge that will put you over the top of your enemies. 

Enemy behavior can also be unpredictable, throwing yet another obstacle in your path. Many missions reward you with scientific research that can lead to powerful new weapons and equipment to help you overcome these unexpected twists. Your soldiers have new ways to deal with these dangers thanks mostly to powerful new items you can craft using in-game resources called Meld and Alien Alloys. 

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This means bigger threats come in greater numbers, making it easy to spend all your time only worrying about what threats are ahead instead of what might lurk behind or above you. And while Progeny might be one of XCOM 2’s weakest story missions, it points towards even more entertaining gameplay possibilities as we go forward.

The best thing about XCOM 2 is its strategic depth. There’s a lot to play around with and prepare for, and the randomness of the maps — which could have windows that open up into your base, or even straight through to the alien ship — mean that you can’t ever let your guard down.

This leads to constant replay value as different strategies and tactics come out on top depending on the map. Although some will find the constant permadeath frustrating (I personally love it), if you get frustrated and want to start over in a new campaign there is an option to carry over your upgrades (and PTSD).

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XCOM 2’s main campaign is 20 hours long, but it doesn’t go for long without providing much to do when it isn’t moving the story along. It has a play-vs.-AI skirmish mode; it has randomly generated missions that you can play alone or online with others; there are four characters whose personal stories help you learn more about them; and there are maps and mods you can download. 

The mod support is particularly robust – including Steam Workshop support and an in-game uploader, they allow the development of detailed new characters, levels, enemies and their weapons and armor, and more. Once I had beaten XCOM 2 at difficultly level Ironman (which strips away any chance for saves or reloads), I decided to download some mods on a few of my random runs through the game’s Skirmish mode.

Be it the cold depths of space or high above a doomed alien planet, XCOM 2 is a big game with a lot going on. Every time you play through the 20-30 hour campaign you get another assortment of random weapon modifications and soldier stat boosts. 

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There are useful things like bonus powers and radar enhancements, but I found myself focusing on weapons more often than not. Poison rounds, for example; they deal steady damage over time in addition to impairing accuracy. They’re great for finishing off an alien that’s been injured in combat or for wearing down heavily armored targets before an engagement begins. Trace rounds help increase accuracy for entire teams, so they’re great for making sure the scoped shots you take hit their mark. 

Especially if those guns support Squadsight for flanking enemies from further away than ever before . All these upgrades are locked behind mini-quests that gradually fill out your research tree (think of it like XCOM 1‘s tech tree , only broader), and result in new options being available when visiting Engineering aboard The Avenger between missions.

There’s a wonderful sense of freedom to XCOM 2’s approach that I found compelling throughout my journey, and the sheer number of potential configurations available at the beginning will have me replaying missions for years to come. It does a lot of things that sequels have been getting away with for ages, and it manages to provide enough challenge in the late game to thoroughly test your mastery of its systems. It may not reinvent a genre 20 years its senior, but XCOM 2 is more than enough reason to double-down if you’ve ever liked watching aliens explode up close.

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All of these elements sound like they would make for one hell of a chaotic mess, but the smart design and persistent strategy that goes into combat throughout the campaign (and even in the middle of it) really makes each mission work. Even on Normal difficulty, XCOM is challenging and exciting, but the game is truly a challenge for the best tacticians out there.

I’ve won missions by having my soldiers just barely survive over 20 minutes against impossible odds, or carried to victory by a single hyper-carrying Sniper or Assault unit. The sense of satisfaction I got from those wins was incredible, and as a devoted fan of both the original X-Com games and this phenomenal spin-off, I can’t recommend this game highly enough.

The Verdict

XCOM 2 is a fantastic game, but it’s equally daunting. It takes quite a while to figure out what’s going on, even in the much-lauded (even among professionals) tutorial missions. But once you do, the customization possibilities are overwhelming.

This leads to powerful moments — when your low-level assault soldier unveils a cloned enemy’s face, or when your rookie marksman blow away an alien without missing a shot. In an epic victory against an enemy warlord, I watched my sniper watch his bullet fly at subsonic speed three times as it popped into existence thousands of miles from Earth — an instant kill that had been years in the making.

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XCOM 2 offers so many different ways to play that it’s easy to get trapped into thinking too much about how you’re playing. Playing as a primarily psionic squad can lead to a misplaced emphasis on special abilities and almost lured into a false sense of security by your ability to read minds, disable enemy powers, and defend the squad at no additional cost. 

You can let the game play you, or you can let the game play you and steamroll over your enemies with incredible force. At no time will you be entirely sure which of these methods is best unless you commit to experimentation, exploration, and study.

Beyond such welcome additions, Firaxis has created a marvelously wrought game that sets a new bar for tactical games. It explores and expands upon the concepts of the original game, particularly in how it improves upon the interface and alters the rhythms of combat. 

It’s true that XCOM 2 could still use some tweaking: The multiplayer mode is still relegated to a series of lengthy cutscenes; soldier customization remains limited in important ways; and there are a handful of bugs remaining to be sorted out. But these hardly detract from XCOM 2’s strengths: an unfailingly engaging campaign and gameplay that offers both depth and challenge.

Ultimately, my best advice to anyone playing XCOM 2 is to just go with the flow. Try not to freak out., don’t forget that you have three soldiers on the field and that they will heal each other (unless you don’t command them to), and roll with it. If your squad doesn’t perform up to your standards the first time through, try again with a different team. 

Troops — whether friend or foe — can be modified in between missions too, so there is plenty of room for experimentation. The more I play this game, the more I love how much it makes me think about every decision, and when it delivers exciting twists like a boss fight in slow-motion or gives me a soldier who can do more than just sprint really fast and revive her allies, it feels epic in every sense of the word. I’m glad that Firaxis is taking its time with XCOM 2‘s DLC; these often feel rushed and unbalanced but offer some fun diversions on their own right. 

For now I’ll be content to bask in the glow of my progress so far, which bodes well for what comes next.

The XCOM 2 campaign is almost spectacular in its unforgiving brutality, forcing you to never let your guard down. It creates a near constant sense of paranoia and tension, where the world is against you and where one tiny misstep can spell doom for your game-long efforts to keep Earth’s inhabitants safe. Even those who don’t typically play strategy games will find much to enjoy here.

XCOM 2 Review
  • Gameplay
  • Storyline
  • Graphics
4.9

Summary

XCOM 2 is one of the best games released for the PC in recent years. It’s among the best tactical games ever made and it recaptures what was so compelling about Enemy Unknown while adding to that formula with a host of new mechanics. It makes sense that Firaxis would one-up the follow-up they created by essentially remaking XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but they outdid themselves by creating an even better game that builds on the bones of a masterpiece.

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