XCOM 2 has finally landed on the home consoles for gamers to enjoy the intense turn-based strategy. For fans of the franchise, and strategy games in general, the wait for the console release has been well worth it. Come inside to check out my full review!
XCOM Enemy Unknown, and its subsequent expansion Enemy Within, are still among some of my favorite games to return to. The turn-based strategy genre has long been one of my favorites. The science fiction story, along with great mechanics, level design, and deep strategy elements beyond individual missions made it a must-play and a title that’s easy to come back to often.
As such, I was incredibly sad last year when 2K announced XCOM 2 as a PC exclusive. My PC is merely functional. It’s fairly basic and aside from my digital art/video/writing work, it’s not good for much else. My computer is loaded mostly with retro titles, simply because they’re the ones most likely to play on my simple desktop. There was no way it’d be able to run XCOM 2. I consoled myself by once again playing through Enemy Within on my Xbox 360, but I still felt out of the loop.
Earlier this year, 2K/Firaxis announced the sequel would launch on the current-gen consoles giving those of us plebeians who aren’t part of the PC Master Race, the chance to enjoy it. I couldn’t have been happier, and now that I’ve put some time into, I’m eager to share my thoughts with you all.
I’m going to be treating this review like I would for any new game release. Since I never had the chance to check it out on PC, I’m unable to provide comparison details. So if you’re looking for info on how the console release stacks up to the original release...I can’t fully help you out. However, if you’re looking to check out XCOM 2 on consoles, there’s a good chance you missed the PC release as well, so let’s get to it.
XCOM 2 picks up TWENTY years after the end of the first game. If you don’t remember...we lost the invasion. The opening of the game shows you the new world the Elders have brought about, showing what appears to be a harmonious human/alien civilization. There are dissidents, however, people branded as terrorists who seek to disrupt the new utopia brought about by the aliens…
That’s where you come in. Based off the events of the first game, and the immense amount of crap you had to deal with from these nasty aliens, you know that “Peace” talk from Advent (the government they call themselves) is nothing more than propaganda. The remnants of XCOM, created to combat the aliens, are fighting a guerilla war and the game starts up at what could be a turning point.
While fans of the franchise likely don’t need the starting tutorial to pick up the game (the mechanics and basics are pretty much the same), if it’s your first playthrough, I wouldn’t skip it. It offers up some great story content that sets up the story for the rest of the game.
Your first task is to, well...rescue yourself. In Enemy Unknown/Within you were “the Commander” the person in charge of XCOM’s on the ground operations. After the loss at the end of the game, he was captured by the Elders and held in prison for the last twenty years. So the initial mission is to break out the Commander so you can resume your role in XCOM and take the fight back to the aliens.
Once that’s done, you’re thrust right into the fire making decisions to grow the fledgling resistance and beat back the oppressive regime. XCOM is no longer an officially sanctioned program, and is constantly on the run. This factors into gameplay (which I’ll get into in a bit), but is a large part of the story. Rather than a stationary base in the mountains from which you dispatch forces, your entire operation is run from a flying fortress, which has to stay mobile in order to survive.
You’ve already lost the battle, so you’re fighting every battle from a disadvantage. Not only do you have to contend with new alien hybrids and human factions who DON’T want to be saved, but the technology you have is far more limited this time around. It’s an interesting perspective to start the game off in and it’s an ever-present thought as you progress through the story. I won’t spoil it for you, but the story is engaging and helps keep you motivated mission to mission and the many times you’ll get your butt handed to you.
The gameplay in XCOM 2 isn’t all that different from what you’ve experienced before. It’s a tried and true formula, and Firaxis went with “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” philosophy. This is great and makes it easy to get into the game quickly, without having to fumble around with the controls much at the start. This allows you to focus more on the strategy elements and what your next move will be, rather than making sure you're hitting the right button.
That doesn't mean it's all exactly the same, however, as the XCOM 2 gameplay has some new tweaks and additions to take into consideration. Most noticeable is the new "concealed" feature. The aliens won the war and have been in charge for the past couple of decades, while XCOM is a small band of insurgents. This causes your enemy to underestimate you from the get go. Because they aren't expecting an attack, you're given a slight advantage in missions as you start off with units under concealment. Enemies don't know you're there for a mission, a stark contrast to the previous game in which both sides were actively hunting down each other.
This effect gives you the opportunity to maneuver your units around the map into more advantageous places. As some missions require you to reach a location/item within a specific amount of turns, this "stealth" element gives you a chance to reach the destination quicker before having to engage the enemy forces. You can also use it to set up an ambush, and catch the aliens unaware, hitting them from multiple sides all at the same time.
This becomes particularly important as you're fighting an uphill battle every single time. You're outgunned, out-teched, and on the losing end of things and this translates over to the difficulty within the game. It's obvious that you aren't top dog in the game, and even "easy" missions can decimate a team of soldiers and frustrate you. You have to play smart and use whatever advantage you can get your hands on.
Being on the 'losing side' also comes into play regarding the resources you need to expand your base and improve characters/weapons. In the first game, your battle was sanctioned and funded by various governments around the world, giving you easy access to funds and technology to improve you odds in missions (albeit you still had to manage them correctly). This time around resources are far more limited. On top of outsmarting your enemy and hitting clearing objectives, you'll need to explore the mission map and enemy corpses for any loot you can recover.
The various resources you'll find could be money, fuel, and even attachments for your weapons (scopes, silencers, etc). All of which will be necessary to push the war a little bit further. In this way, resource management becomes as much a strategic element of the gameplay as the battles themselves. Prioritizing what to research in the lab carries a lot of weight for how you'll play through the missions, as will be what you choose to build in the engineering bay.
Those things were equally important in the first game, and helped guide you through to the end, but XCOM 2 does a great job of making those aspects feel much more urgent and relevant to the story. The story really hammers home the idea of how desperate your situation is, and that feeling factored into my decisions. When I made the wrong one (which sometimes you don't realize until a couple missions later), I felt the impact much more because of it's relevance in the story.
Aside from the new gameplay mechanics, XCOM 2 puts a fine coat of polish on the already solid controls from the previous game. Moving your forces around the map, finding cover, engaging in combat, all flows well and feels great with a controller. Polish feels like the best way to describe a lot of things in XCOM 2. The graphics are great this time around, without things feeling so clunky, and I didn't encounter anywhere near the amount of glitches I did on the console versions of Enemy Within. I guess the extra time being a PC exclusive really gave the developers the chance to make this console port fluid and feel like it was built for a controller all along.