XCOM 2 Review

Posted February 8, 2016 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Video Games

Developed By: Firaxis Games

Published by: 2K Games

Platforms: PC 

Reviewed on: PC

Price: $59.99

I had high expectations for XCOM 2. It was among my most anticipated games of 2016, and the positive reviews that started coming out late last week did absolutely nothing to temper my expectations. So on Thursday evening, I pre-loaded XCOM 2 and dived in as soon as I could.

The game has yet to truly disappoint me.

By that, I don’t mean that it’s perfect. There are definitely issues with the game, but none of them are unforgivable. For instance, the game has a number of bugs – texture pop ins, bits of lag between actions, some framerate issues. There are more that I could list, but they occur infrequently enough that they don’t have a tangible negative impact on the experience. It halps that, for the most part, these aren’t actual gameplay issues. They occasionally negatively impact gameplay, but they’re largely nitpicks, and may sound more reductive of the quality of the game than they actually are.

To be fair, the game does have actual design flaws, the most prevalence of which is the number of missions with a turn limit. This isn’t inherently bad, but it clashes with some of the other design choices that Firaxis made for this game. For instance, the introduction of a real stealth mechanic encourages slow, methodical gameplay, at least in the early stages of the encounter. Turn limits encourage the exact opposite type of gameplay, and only serve to artificially increase the game’s difficulty.

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To an extent, this makes sense – XCOM is a franchise that is known for being intellectually challenging. It demands that the player understand how the game works, in order to make complex decisions when put under pressure. Turn limits do that, and they do it well, so they aren’t all bad. It does help that there is a flavor reason for them. Considering that the player takes the role of the Resistance, rather than that of an organized military, they don’t have all the time in the world to fight drawn out battles.

It’s also worth noting that the type of missions have changed. In XCOM 2, missions feel more like those that a Resistance would be carrying out – rescuing civilians, capturing or assassinating enemy VIPs, and disrupting enemy communications, to name a few. It’s just one of the elements of the game that gives it such an incredible ability to build out the world. Furthermore, the different mission types add variety to the game.

Despite the story being largely throwaway (it’s neither good enough to be impressive nor bad enough to be offensive), Firaxis nails the world building. The opening cut scenes drew me in immediately, despite largely being ground that has been covered before in other science fiction. The conflict between ADVENT and what’s left of XCOM is an interesting one. It’s not something that continues too much past the introduction, but there are some additional cutscenes that, in addition to looking beautiful, further the development of the world.

However, the cutscenes aren’t the only element of the game that do this. The overworld, board game aspect has evolved significantly from Enemy Unknown, and this part of the game also has some elements of world building. The base construction is largely the same, but now, the player can carry out objectives in the overworld that will net Supplies, Intelligence, or even new Recruits. This makes for some of the game’s most interesting choices – do I return to Resistance HQ to get the healing bonus on my soldiers, or do I spend five days picking up supplies, at the risk of having to deploy a mediocre squad should a mission arise?

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With Enemy Unknown, I found myself constantly longing to get back into the action. XCOM 2 is a little different, in the sense that I enjoy both aspects of the game. There are actual choices to be made in the overworld, and the ability to balance opportunity costs is a necessity. There’s not a ton of depth, but there’s more than there was previously, so it’s a definite improvement. The combat is still where a lot of the game’s strategic depth lies. The core turn-based gameplay loop is largely unchanged, and honestly, that’s probably for the best. What has changed is pretty much everything else. The classes are different, there are new enemies, new mechanics, and in addition to being larger, the environments tend to vary more.

The result is that XCOM 2 definitely has an actual learning curve, and even the best Enemy Unknown players will have something new to learn and adapt to here. That works in the game’s favor, making it feel fresh rather than just a retreading of similar ground. The fact that I had to refine the way I played the game, after having put an embarrassing amount of time into Enemy Unknown, is nothing short of impressive.

A lot of this is a result of the new enemies, but I think that most of it came from the updated classes. The upgrade trees are vastly different, thanks to the addition of new features such as the Gremlin, and new mechanics, like Concealment. The classes just don’t play like they used to, and it certainly took me a little while to adapt. Each feature the game adds brings with it a new level of strategy, making each mission an interesting puzzle to tackle.

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XCOM 2 also looks absolutely gorgeous. I’m not currently set up to run it on its highest settings, which kind of bums me out. It still looks absolutely gorgeous on my PC, and the general aesthetic of the game is one that I enjoy. I can only imagine how great the game looks when running on maximum settings.

The last feature I want to touch on is the character creator. This is a very small part of the game, yes, but it’s also one of my favorites, and it’s been massively fleshed out for this installment. It’s not as deep as I would like, but there are many more customization options than there were previously. So yeah, maybe I did spend a solid thirty minutes making the entirety of Delta and Omega Squad (from Republic Commando), and yeah, maybe I’m a little bit proud of it. This is all optional, of course, but I would highly recommend at least giving it a peak. I also may or may not have spent a bunch of time writing back stories for my soldiers. I don’t expect these features to be widely used, but just the fact that it’s there is kind of awesome.

XCOM 2 is currently poised to be my favorite game this year. It’s still early, but the only game I can really say overtaking it is Dishonored 2Enemy Unknown was one of the best games of 2012 (which was a great year for gaming), and in my Top Ten overall. XCOM 2 is more of that, but better in almost every way imaginable. It has to be one of the absolute best strategy experiences out there, and is as engaging as it is mentally stimulating.

About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.