Fireaxis successfully remade XCOM with XCOM: Enemy Unknown (XCOM:EU) in 2012 and the even better expansion XCOM: Enemy Within (XCOM:EW) in 2013, here is their follow-up XCOM 2.
XCOM 2 could be likened to the darker sequel that was popularised by Empire Strikes back. The sequel does what some of the best do, keep to its strengths, and flip some things on its head… Despite your success (or lack of it) at XCOM:EU, XCOM 2 is set 20 years later after the alien attack has been victorious. The XCOM team is now an underground resistance operating under the radar from the ruling aliens, with minimal starting resources and no council to provide bonuses.
This gives a nice thematic reason for there to be different styles of missions to the previous game and it’s fantastic expansion pack. Maps are procedurally generated and feel varied but having a logical layout. The missions now usually have a timer, which worries me when reading about before release but in practice makes the game a lot more exciting because it provides a sense of urgency and requires you to be brave and push forward, instead of inching forward on overwatch spam.
The tactical squad and turn based strategy element of the game is still the strongest part, and you continue to feel the pain of your favoured squad being injured or killed in action. The precious classes have been tweaked slightly for a more aggressive feel - the four basic are ranger (close range shotgunner/ninja sword melee), sharpshooter (sniper), grenadier (heavy weapons), and specialist (hacker/medic). Some tweaks include long ranged hacking and medical aid from your Specialists via Gremlin Drones and some serious awesomeness from sword attacks from your Rangers. These tweaks all aid pushing forward - to rescue civilians, disarm a bomb, protect a VIP, etc and exfiltrate quickly before enemies overwhelm your small squad. Another new mechanic is concealment. Essentially your squad is invisible to the enemy until spotted - either by attacking an enemy or stumbling within range of a patrol. This enables setting up ambushes to wipe out an alien squad, but the strategy is to know when not to attack too early and lose your concealment, but not too late that you’ll miss your objective timer.
I’ve only encountered one crashed UFO mission so far which makes a welcome change from previous XCOM:EU/EW playthroughs where they must have numbered in the hundreds.
My definite highlights have been the story missions and defending your base which felt so intense but equally exciting and so awesome to pull them off successfully with no casualties.
Speaking of enemies, there are some familiar faces/enemy types back, usually with a slightly new twist or ability - I won’t spoil these or any particular plot points for you - suffice to say, nothing is boring and you never feel safe to leave any enemy alive at the end of your turn.
What are the games’ weaknesses? I enjoy the gescope/world map element of the game, it is certainly an improvement on the previous game, but it still feels like there is a specific build and research order that needs to be followed for the best chance of beating the game - I imagine it is mandatory for an ironman difficulty game. I find it quite stressful and felt like I had no idea what I should be choosing to build in my base or where to expand my resistance network to where and when, I guess this is what the deva were aiming for but I found I was overwhelmed with choice at times, especially as there is a ticking clock until the alien endgame - which needs pushing back to prolong and increase your chances of success.
There’s still the usual grumbles such as your troopers managing to miss shots over and over against the odds - Jason was complaining about this to me a lot. This and the importance of getting to your objective whilst not losing your team encourages a lot of save scumming (saving/loading until you avoid death).
This game is beautiful, the graphical upgrade makes XCOM:EU look like an early PlayStation game in comparison. The level of customisation for your soldiers has been raised a level too - some clever people are sharing their favourite action heroes recreated in XCOM garb. I’m really enjoying XCOM 2, if this kind of game interests you, don’t hesitate and just get it now.