XCOM 2: The Review

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Samuel Tow
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XCOM 2: The Review
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As I fully expected, XCOM 2 is a great game, though it obviously has its issues. I've been playing it from when it came out to late last night, whereupon I finally finished it. I'm happy to report that it does not, in fact, have a shit ending like Enemy Unknown, but that too has its issues. Don't worry, there will be no story spoilers.

Because XCOM 2 is actually a lot closer to XCOM than the promo videos would make evident, I'm going to do a bit of a different format this time. I'm going to list all of the new implementations of old "things" that I can think of which should give those of you who've played Enemy Unkown and especially Enemy Within a much better idea of what the game is all about. For everyone else, we'll still have something of a traditional review. Plus, there's always the introduction Smile


XCOM 2 is a sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, set 20 years after those events in a scenario where by all accounts the aliens just plain won. XCOM never made it out of conventional weapons, the council countries pulled out, we lost. Now the world is ruled by a supposedly benevolent, supposedly human government called the "ADVENT" coalition. They've been moving people out of the countryside into their megalopolis "City Centres" where people can live free of crime and disease, improved via genetic manipulation, but also live under a totalitarian government and constant police state. Now it's up to you to lead the last remaining resistance and free humanity from the aliens' genocidal regime.

Like Enemy Within, XCOM 2 is a turn-based, cover-based tactical shooter with a strategic layer attached to it and some degree of RPG elements. The main meat of the game is bringing 4 to 6 soldiers on missions for resources with which to then upgrade your "base" and said soldiers so they're better at the missions you send them on. Missions play out on a square grid, each of your soldiers has two "actions" which can be either a move command, an an attack or the activation of a skill, though some actions will end your turn as soon as they're done (most commonly attacking) despite leaving you with unspent actions. The strategic layer tasks you with building a base room-by-room, acquiring various resources, researching new technologies and building new items for your soldiers. It also tasks you with re-establishing the global resistance in-between responding to either ADVENT activity or available opportunities.

That's XCOM 2 in a nutshell - do well in missions so you have lots of resources with which to do well in the strategic layer so you have better soldiers, etc. That's the same as Enemy Unknown, though. What, specifically, is different here?

XCOM 2 counterpoints, what they took out entirely:

Aerial combat is outright gone, and good riddance to bad rubbish. In XCOM 2, you lead a bedraggled resistance with no access to an air force of any kind. UFOs still exist in a limited capacity, but you can't fight them. At best you can find them landed and assault them by ground, at worst they can hunt down your flying airship base and bring YOU down. You're not missing much, considering aerial combat was easily the worst, least well-done aspect of XCOM.

EXALT are also gone for good, and no counterpoint to them exists as a general gameplay system. There ARE humanoid enemies, but they're just another few varieties of enemy. There's no more espionage, there are no more covert ops in the traditional sense, there are no other factions besides the aliens in the face of the ADVENT government. You have one uniform enemy.

Live captures are also gone entirely, as is the stun gun. Autopsies still exist, but the game simply doesn't let you capture living enemies to interrogate. There are a few storyline missions in that tone, but they involve their own unique mechanics and usually kill the subject right then and there anyway.

XCOM 2 counterpoints, what they changed:

"The base" is now a flying airship, an old alien transport. That means you don't have a specific location for it, as it can travel around the world. It's also much smaller - 4x3 vs. 5x7 in XCOM. However, the way rooms work has also changed, in that you rarely need to create duplicate rooms. Most rooms can be staffed with engineers and upgraded for power and resource costs to perform much better, so you generally only need one of each, sometimes two. There also isn't a counterpoint to the old central shaft which took up 5 blocks.

Engineers and scientists are vastly different now, as are workshops and science labs. Rather than a faceless number, each scientist and engineer has his or her own name and face, and you generally get them in much smaller numbers. Each new scientist speeds up research slightly. If a research lab has been built, scientists can be "staffed" there to speed up research even more. Engineers are can be assigned to help with room excavation (unused rooms are clogged with alien machinery), room construction or staffed into active rooms to boost their performance. Workshops no longer offer rebates, but instead give you autonomos "gremlin" drones which can staff rooms in place of engineers. Basically, engineers are a LOT more important now, as they can do most everything.

All of the classes went through major overhauls, as well as renames. Additionally, bot of their "trees" now have a better unifying theme among the various skills, as well as always giving you a meaningful choice with every promotion. Assaults have become machete-wielding Rangers. They can either specialise in melee or stealth and still use shotguns. Snipers have become pistol-totting Sharpshooters. They can either specialise as long-range snipers or shorter ranged pistol Gunslingers, though both trees still rely on the sniper rifle and have access to Squad Sight. Heavies have become grenade launcher Grenadiers. They can specialise in gun-specific skills or explosives-specific skills. Finally, Supports have become the hacker Specialists which have a gremlin drone at all times. They can specialise as medics and traditional support, or else as offensive hackers who wreak havoc on enemy mechanised units.

Psychics have also changed. They're no longer an upgrade on the default classes, and are now a class of their own. They can use rifles only and can actually take every single skill from both of their trees. Psychics don't gain experience from combat, but instead must sit in the Psi Labs to train up.

MECs are gone entirely, though EXALT still have them. They've been replaced by a new armour type - the Exosuit. All soldiers can equip the Exosuit and take it off at any time without permanent drawbacks. Soldiers equipped with the exosuit can still take cover. They also have a single "heavy weapon" modelled after the MEC shoulder-mounted weapons. It's not quite a MEC, but it's a version of it.

Gene modifications are gone almost entirely, replaced with a much simpler "SIM" system. I forget what that stands for, but it basically allows you to put a "chip" into your soldiers' heads to give them a boost of one specific attribute - mobility, accuracy, will, health, etc.

Most missions from XCOM are still here, though renamed. Abduction missions are now depot raid missions and still task you with killing all enemies. City Terror missions are now ADVENT reprisal missions, where you have to save civilians from a resistance base from being massacred. They work the same as before. Alien bomb missions are now hacking missions, where you have to hack a "thing" in 8 turns then kill everybody. VIP escort missions are the same, only now timed to 12 turns, and they come in a VIP kidnap variety where you have to get to the VIP first. Crashed/Landed UFO missions are still the same, only you have to hack a "thing" in 8 rounds or fight reinforcements and there's only one type of UFO.

The world map is completely different, though it still has most of the same functionalities. Instead of controlling the whole world and losing countries as time goes on, you instead start out controlling just one "region" and having to make contact with others. This costs some of the new "intel" resource and requires a "Resistance Comms" room - the Satellite control room of XCOM. Additionally, you can build radio towers in terriories you've already made contact with, which will give you more money from that territory and help unlock continent bonuses - the satellites of XCOM. You need to make contact with regions as that's your main supply of resources, but also because you can only attack an alien facility in a region you've made contact with, presumably because then the locals will tell you where it is.

There are a whole bunch of other stuff that got renamed but not changed in any meaningful degree that's not worth bringing up.

XCOM 2 counterpoints, what they added:

Melee. Though XCOM already had a melee system, it was clunky and inelegant. Melee cost you an action and could only be done from the four cardinal directions of an enemy unit, plus next to nobody had that. Berserkers and MECs were the only ones. Now all of your Rangers can do a melee attack even after using both actions to move. They can dash a LONG way and still hit people, though they obviously end their turn where they sit. Melee attacks have a high chance to hit and hurt a lot in the early game. Enemies also have that ability, however - certain ADVENT soldiers have stun rods and Chrysalids can now attack you after a dash, too! A lot more enemies in the game are capable of melee, as well.

Armour. This is a brand new system which simulates a target receiving less damage when it's considered to be heavily armoured. Units with armour will display shield icons next to their health representing how much armour they have. Every shield will absorb 1 damage from attacks directed against them, though every attack which lands will deal at least 1 damage. Armour can be "shredded" both with shredding skills and with explosives, though usually only a few points at a time. Some attacks ignore armour, mostly electronic and psionic attacks, though there are armour-piercing rounds, as well. Your soldiers can gain armour, too, and can lose it via shredding, as well.

Dodge. This is a brand new system which simulates a target being fast and nimble and able to move out of the way of shots. A "dodged" shot will deal roughly half damage, simulating a grazing hit or a flesh wound. Basically, it's dodge from Champions Online. Certain fast enemies will have dodge and your soldiers can, as well.

Injury. Your soldiers no longer need to drop below their base health in order to be injured. Any health lost is now an injury, with the severity of it (and the time of recovery) depending on the health lost. Gravely injured soldiers have a chance to become "shaken," losing all of their will entirely, which replaces the old flat 30 will loss. However, Shaken soldiers can gain all of their will back AND earn bonus will by shaking it off. To do so, they need to participate in a successful mission, score at least one kill and not get injured. They get over it at that point, so the will loss is not permanent. Speaking of which:

RNG in soldier builds. Through two separate buildings, you're allowed to do both of the following: 1. Train Rookies (and only Rookies) in whichever class you want. This takes time and can only be done to one Rookie at a time, but gives you a class of your choice. 2. Respec a soldier within the soldier's own class. If you change your mind and want to alter the build of your Colonel, you can. It just takes time and you can only do it to one soldier at a time. No more ending up with broken builds or 20 Snipers but one Assault.

Weapon and armour research. You no longer have to build a weapon or armour suit for every soldier. As soon as you create the technology once, all soldiers in your barracks are immediately equipped with that technology. However, this only applies to BASE gear. Utility items (grenades, medkits, etc.) still need to be built separately, as do specialist armour suits. Custom weapons are still soldier-specific. One thing at a time.

Weapon customisation. XCOM 2 allows each soldier's individual weapon to be upgraded with up to two "mods." These mods are always beneficial and can improve a weapon's stats (aim, magazine, etc.) or introduce procs (chance to outright kill an enemy) or sometimes even new mechanics. These most commonly drop from defeated enemies and must be picked up within 3 turns. Sometimes they can be purchased, but it's pretty random.

Specialist armour suits. The game has three types of armour. Base armour is equipped to everybody as soon as you build it once and comes with two utility slots - two grenades, a grenade and a medikit, etc. Specialist armour suits have to be built individually and limit soldiers to just one utility slot. The "Heavy" armour I already covered - it gives you some "armour" stat and a heavy weapon. The "light" armour gives you extra mobility, a grappling hook and dodge. Your choice is whether you want firepower, mobility or utility.

Experimental projects. For some times, you can just click on the item and have it built. Some items, however, are experimental. What you get from the completion of an experimental research project is random. Maybe you'll get an incendiary grenade, maybe you'll get a gas grenade. Maybe you'll get armour-piercing rounds, maybe tracer rounds. You can do these as many times as you like, but they have both a resource and a time cost associated with them.

Dark events and the Avatar Project. "Dark Events" work like Abduction missions. Every so often you'll catch wind that the aliens are planning three things, and you can only stop one of them. One of the other two has a chance of going through, though they're mostly temporary boosts to your enemies. Some of them, however, advance the "Avatar Project," which is the game's doom clock. It represents 10 bars at the top of the map. When they fill up, you lose. The Avatar project can fill up on its own or from dark events and Avatar facilities on the map will speed this up considerably. You can remove progress from the bar by destroying Avatar Facilities or else by doing storyline missions. You want to beat the game before that bar fills up.

Soldier customisation. This was in XCOM, but only as a token effort. Here, it's a character editor. The game allows you to alter your armour to a considerable degree, colour it, put patterns on it, change your character's face, hair, hats, even eyes. There's a system for adding arm tattoos and facial scars. More than ever before, your characters are finally truly your own, as you can even write backstory for them, ala City of Heroes. Best of all, you can save them to the "character pool" where subsequent games can spawn that same soldier for you again. You can also share them with other players, or borrow their custom soldiers. These are no faceless goons any more - at least if you don't want them to be.

Everything else:

There really isn't much else to say, to be honest. It's XCOM with prettier graphics and some performance issues. It uses a very different graphical design that's pretty dang good. It has some unique new systems, like armour and dodge and the Avatar Project, but below the new coat of paint is the same game it always was, just with more polish and a much faster pace. If you liked XCOM, you'll like XCOM 2 as it's generally the same game only bigger and better. If you didn't like XCOM, perhaps because of the two-action system, perhaps because of the strategic player, etc., then you won't like this one.


One last aspect worth mentioning is how moddable the game is. XCOM 2 is practically open-source. All of its art assets and all of its internal code is freely available for people to read and modify. Firaxis have also distributed full developer-level modding tools for free to everyone who owns the game. This allows the creating of new content and the tweaking of existing content on a fundamental level. I've been reading through the source code for a while now, trying to make my own mods. Many, many people have already made dozens of mods for the game, as well. Tons of extra soldier customisation, tons tons of rebalnces, new functionalities, new classes and weapons and more. This game looks like it'll have A TON of longevity based purely on how open it is to modding and how much people have done to it already in a frikkin' WEEK!

Something to consider.