Being a newcomer to the series, I must say that I didn’t know what to expect of XCOM 2. I did very little to no research into the game until I bought it. From what I’ve gathered, XCOM: Enemy Unknown was about the commander of earth coordinating the counterattack against an alien onslaught. XCOM 2 takes the same path, so much so that you play the same commander, who was brought out of cryogenic storage to single handily run the resistance (Those lazy jerks.)
The storyline of XCOM 2 is hard to dole out, by which I mean it’s virtually non-existent. Despite a few intertwining cut scenes that set the stage for which you, there is nothing to grasp onto. There are no characters to care about. In fact, the character that talks to you most is faceless and exists to tell you whether you’re the savior the resistance deserves, or an incompetent loser. The story never expands or intensifies beyond what you already know… You are the good guys, the aliens are bad, and you need to stop them.
The story does bring up an interesting plot point with the Avatar project, which is so important that there’s a meter at the top of your map that will “game over” you if it fills. But halfway through the game I still didn’t know what it was or how it was going to destroy the resistance. There are a few repeating characters that are your top engineer, scientist, and soldier, but they only accompanied me once on a mission and I couldn’t care about their personalities. XCOM 2 is not a go to game for story, but the gameplay is where it stands on its own two feet again.
The competency of XCOM 2 comes from its simplicity, but also from its learning curve. “Easy to play, difficult to master” is a suiting phrase. It has well implemented AI toughness, and will gradually introduce new ways for your enemies to overcome your squad if you don’t play your cards right. The upgrades, specialization classes, and ship mechanics are also well done. For nearly every mission, I found myself needing each type of specialization. Likewise, I was forced to focus on which upgrades I needed most, and carefully choose which research to start first. Weighing the decision of upgrading my squads armor over recruiting a new scientist to speed up further research was a genuinely difficult one. But this brings me to one of the biggest crutches of the game, the time mechanic.
The game starts out simply, but soon a rush of new objectives roll in. At once, I was forced to attack four new alien research buildings, collect intel and supplies, recruit new staff, and build new facilities on my ship. This all worked out well at first, but soon I found that I had to counter “Dark events.” These events, if completed, can increase your enemies armor for every mission, increase the cost of new recruits, or even send a flying UFO to chase your ship. But what I soon found was that I had no idea how to counter these, or even how to gauge where time went. Starting out, I would go somewhere to collect supplies, and halfway through it, I would be directed across the map to start another mission. In a game that forces you to choose what you sacrifice, there were no clear lines to tell me how much time I was burning through. Flying around the map forwards the clock, as does collecting supplies, gaining intel, and completing research. All of which take up varying amounts of time at different rates. At one point, I nearly had a game over as it turned out that I had been wasting all my time gaining supplies and countering dark events, when I should have been destroying those nasty alien facilities. Players of the first XCOM may come to its defense to say that the time mechanic is necessary, and not that complicated. But to new players, it comes across as clunky and unbalanced.
Having said all that, the gameplay is well structured and the actual combat is satisfying. The abilities of your soldiers are engaging and can sometimes mean the difference between succeeding and failing in a mission. You may lose some hair banking on a single attack with a 28% chance of success on more than a few missions. The hit percentage mechanic needs some tweaking. At some points, despite being less than two blocks away from an opponent, I would often have less than a 50 % chance of hitting the target. The difference between a hit and a miss can be perplexing at times, but it isn’t game breaking, and won’t break the flow of combat.
Graphics and Sound
Being in large part an Xbox player, gauging the graphics is difficult. From the overhead combat screen, I could still make out the faces and armor of my units. Take that for what it is. In all, the graphics for XCOM 2 seem to be adequate, but then again I’m not a member of the PC gaming master race.
The sound is fair, and does its job. On headphones, the sound is balanced and immersive. On computer speakers though, you may want to rethink drinking that energy drink while playing, as sometimes explosion sounds will spike through the speakers into your face.
On an Xbox controller, the controls are simple and easy to use. Select a unit with A, move to where you want to go, and press A again to confirm. Attacking and abilities are selected through RT, and using the direction pad scrolls the cursor up vertically, to move your units on rooftops and cliffs. It’s all straightforward and functional, but not maximally optimized and fluid.
As I’ve said before, XCOM 2 does its job well of starting you off on one end and guiding you to the end. With this in mind, the game is not for the faint of heart. The difficulty will sneak up on you, and like it or not, your soldiers will die. However, losing a soldier and wounding three others will still get you the “good” rating on most maps.
On internet boards across the internet the main question is “Can I continue missions after I beat the campaign?” Sadly no. Replaying this game depends on how much you got out of it. If you liked the challenge, then go for a harder difficulty. But this game isn’t for replay unless you enjoyed the grind. You’ll do the same types of missions, fight the same enemies again, and choose the same upgrades. All in all, you won’t replay this game unless you made the wrong choices the first time around.
This article was brought to you by Josh Patton