As a devout PC gamer and lover of all things tactical the X-COM series has always peeked my interest, and with XCOM 2 only being recently released on console I thought it would be the ideal time to write a review of the game I’ve been playing since February (furthermore a game I’ve racked up a considerable amount of hours on, nearly 400 to be exact). May I also note I’ve played the console version and this review stands true to both PC and console versions of the game.
XCOM 2 is set 20 years after the events of 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the aliens that originally started as a invading force still unfamiliar with their environment and your soldiers methods of combat in the first installment have suddenly become, initially at least, far superior. XCOM 2 forces you to take a vastly different approach to the game in contrast to Enemy Unknown as the tables have turned greatly, XCOM lays in ruins and you now play as somewhat of a guerrilla fighting force attempting to overthrow a long established alien occupation of the planet earth and its government in the form of ADVENT. Your base is merely a hollow husk of what it used to be and all you worked for in the first game lies in tatters beneath your feet.
Much like in Enemy Unknown the combat system in XCOM 2 puts you in the heart of the conflict; unlike so many other turn based and tactical games, XCOM has a unique way of putting you in the heat of battle with your soldiers, despite you acting as more of a commander throughout the majority of the game. Being in control of each of your soldiers’ moves without fully knowing yourself what they’ll be walking into adds such a non-stop feeling of suspense and with every move you’ll find yourself questioning and doubting yourself as you become increasingly attached to each of your fully customizable soldiers, which I can promise you will genuinely begin to care for.
If you’re unfamiliar with the combat in XCOM it works off of a percentage hit chance, for example you might have an 80% hit chance which would be good if it wasn’t for that other 20% because more often than not in XCOM 2 that 20% could cost you the life of one or more of your soldiers. This style of combat forces players to think more tactically using their entire squad, ranging from 4 to 6 soldiers, to set up crossfires, ambushes and vantage points. Nothing will ever compare to seeing that 100% hit chance in XCOM 2 or the feeling of sheer relief when you somehow hit that clutch 10% hit that saves your entire squad. You’ll also find yourself making the tough decision of actually taking a shot or not, more often than not patience is key and you’ll find yourself using your turns to reload and set up a sturdy line of defense.
Base building has also been a fairly big part of the XCOM series and in XCOM 2 I feel perhaps they simplified it. The base building has aspects of micromanagement and if feels almost like a separate mini-game within the game itself. You’ll find yourself juggling about between research and development, building new areas and labs and darting around the globe in your now mobile base avoiding the aliens and collecting supplies. XCOM 2 has struck a very good balance with this, near enough, mini game. The base building and maintenance never feels like a chore or something you have drudge through between combat levels, but rather it feels natural and smooth and helps you progress through the game without feeling like the developers just needed a filler between the action packed combat heavy levels.
One of the major problems with XCOM:Enemy Unknown was that the enemy became very well known (pun fully intended), after a few solid gaming sessions you could begin to figure out the routes to take on the pre-build and sometimes oddly similar maps and how certain enemies would react, the same old tactics would work time and time again and you could sail through the game using the same squad for each and every mission (providing none were injured or killed in action). XCOM 2 eliminates this; with beautiful procedurally generated maps XCOM 2 will keep you on your toes, each mission is different but not so different that it throws you off each time you enter the battlefield. The maps all feel natural, they play smoothly and with ease. Furthermore the enemies will act differently in each and every mission which creates a feeling of actual tactics as you control your squad and play through each of the levels.
The level of customization offered in XCOM 2 may be one of its major selling points, as each soldier can be tinkered with allowing you to actually create a squad that you feel a personal connection to (also making it ever more tragic when one of them gets their head blown off), and on top of this XCOM 2 has 5 base classes (6 if you include the Shens Last Gift DLC) each of which has two separate skill trees which allows you to potentially have an entire squad consisting of the same class but all with separate skills and abilities. Furthermore each soldier has a fully costomizable weapon allowing you to give specific soldiers carefully selected weapon attachments to further fine tune their class and role in your squad.
XCOM 2 brings a new mechanic to the series called “concealment”, the way it works is you enter each mission with your entire squad concealed. Concealment allows you to set up ambushes and perhaps scout out your surroundings; gone are the Enemy Unknown days of being spotted the instant you come across a hostile alien that strayed a little too far from the pack. It’s an interesting concept that makes for some overly satisfying slow motion ambushes. Watching an entire squad of ADVENT soldiers being ripped apart in a storm of bullets before they have time to react gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Concealment can also synergise with some soldiers abilities, for example there is an assault skill that allows the soldier to stay concealed independent from the rest of the squad, this can allow you to pull of some deeply satisfying strategies.
With new mechanics comes new enemies, and XCOM 2 is full of them. The game will keep you thinking and constantly adapting as it throws new enemy after new enemy at you, some of which will tower above you not dissimilar from the tripods in War Of The Worlds. Despite the onslaught of new aliens that want you dead, all never feels lost in XCOM 2, it’ll take some getting used to and some adaptation but you’ll start to see the kinks in their amour and find the weakest links in each of the ADVENT squads.
The only real problems with XCOM 2 are some fairly minor bugs and technical issues. Sometimes the camera can be a bit of nuisance and you’ll find yourself unable to see the floor of a building or the roof of a high-rise but still be able to see all of the objects, enemies and outline of the squares on the map showing you the route your solider can take, not a game breaking bug exactly but a bug none the less. The game also has some trouble maintaining a solid 60 frame-per-second rate (especially during explosions or when there’s fire on the screen), but in a turn based game this isn’t the end of the world, just a slight hiccup.
In conclusion XCOM 2 is a near flawless turn-based strategy game, it improves on Enemy Unknown in just about every aspect and continues to be fun way after your first play through. You’ll find yourself getting lost in this game and sinking hour after hour into it regardless of if you get it on PC or console. Aside from a few minor bugs and glitches XCOM 2 is any tacticians dream and I very strongly recommend you check it out.