Following the highly successful launch of XCOM 2 earlier this year on PC, Firaxis and 2K Games have brought their critically acclaimed turn-based strategy game to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One gamers worldwide. XCOM 2 is bigger, better and more rewarding than its predecessor in many ways: the stakes are higher, the challenge is stiffer (yet still fair), and new tactical options make your gameplay decisions more crucial than ever before. If you love strategy games, this is a game at the pinnacle of its genre.
Challenging, yet immensely satisfying
In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis’ reboot of the classic strategy series released in 2012, you assumed the role of XCOM’s Commander who led the defense of Earth against a terrifying and aggressive alien invasion. It was up to you to manage your solider ranks, allocate limited resources, decide which research trees to go down, and carefully choose the missions to undertake. The entire outcome of the game depended on these all-important decisions, and even a single misstep could spell disaster for humankind. As challenging as the original game was, rock solid research and battle plans, coupled with focused rebuilding following defeats, would generally lead to a favourable outcome—the truest sign of a well-designed strategy game.
XCOM 2 builds upon this excellent foundation, upping the ante with even more punishing missions that emphasize proper planning and making prudent, spur of the moment decisions under intense pressure during the heat of battle. This is a game where the odds are constantly stacked against you, and losses come just as often as the wins do. When you succeed in an XCOM 2 mission you can feel it; the gratification from overcoming seemingly insurmountable alien threats thrown at you is tangible and lasting. And when you fail, the lost soldier lives are permanent and gut-wrenching; leaving you no choice but to regroup and rebuild with a fresh squad of junior recruits. Very few strategy games will make you as emotionally invested in its story, characters, and outcomes, as XCOM 2.
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: September 27, 2016
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: Turn-based tactics
Modes: Single-player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: T (Teen, 13+)
Command the Resistance
To reinforce how perilous the task before you is, XCOM 2 begins by assuming that you, the Commander, failed to defend the Earth from the alien invasion in the previous game. The year is now 2035, two decades later, and XCOM—now known as “The Resistance”—has been whittled down to a fringe, covert splinter group following the betrayal of the council nations, who capitulated to the aliens. Once lively urban streets are now patrolled by the ADVENT Administration, a puppet enforcement agency established by the aliens, who mercilessly subjugate humankind into obedience. As Commander, it’s your job to build a global resistance network large enough and with the technical know-how to push back against these powerful, otherworldly oppressors.
Build your base
While the aliens grossly outmatch you in both military size and technology, your team has a fighting chance with its ability to operate below the radar in a commandeered alien supply barge, now functioning as XCOM’s mobile base. This ship, called “The Avenger,” serves as your central HQ to customize your soldiers, direct your scientists’ research, construct new facilities, and upgrade your unit’s weapons and armour.
Initially, only a limited number of rooms in the ship are available (as much of the base is in a state of disrepair), and to add new facilities you need to assign Engineers to clear out the junk. Likewise, Scientists can be assigned to research projects that have a range of positive benefits, from bolstering the Resistance’s worldwide communication channels, to reverse engineering alien weaponry for your own use. Each assignment takes a specified number of days/hours to complete and it’s vitally important you choose carefully as you only have a limited window of time before the aliens complete their doomsday “Avatar Project” and your entire mission is lost.
XCOM 2 does a superb job at making every micro-decision you make within the Avenger matter in the larger scope of the human/alien war. Should you perform an autopsy on the latest alien specimen you’ve encountered in hopes of it leading to new offensive counter-measures? Or is it better to research secretive new communication methods to reach more potential resistance factions to bolster your forces? Weighing every option available to you is paramount, and there are no right/wrong routes to take: it’s up to you to figure out how to balance immediate priorities with your long-term strategic approach.
Enter the Geoscape
Once your preparations are finished, it’s time to visit the Avenger’s main deck that houses a holographic view of the outside world, called the Geoscape. Entering this will whisk you away to an overhead map of the world where you can you fly your airborne army to various hot spots that could benefit your campaign in different ways. Need more resources? Perhaps there’s a supply cache sighting in eastern Asia. Facilities taking too long to construct? There might be an Engineer in need of rescue in France. Here again decisions are hugely important—not only do missions reward you in different ways, but travelling to locations consumes precious time. The farther you go, the more time is required, and it’s up to you to weigh the opportunity costs of every action.
XCOM 2’s planning phases are important components of your fight against the aliens, but it’s the turn-based missions that will make or break your overall campaign. Missions take place all over the world and across diverse environments, ranging from the deep wilderness, to shanty towns, to neo-laced urban centres, to elaborate alien installations. Reinforcing the game’s guerilla style combat, most missions (but not all) now start with your 4-person squad in “Concealment,” giving you the opportunity to move around in secret to setup your tactical positioning. You’ll need to watch out for enemy sightlines however, as you’ll exit the concealment phase immediately upon being spotted.
Ambushing your opponents while in concealment is just one of many tactics at your disposal. Another potent ability is placing your soldiers in “Overwatch,” which will make them immediately fire at enemies that waltz into their field of vision. You can even divvy up your soldiers to have half rush in for a surprise attack, while your other half waits in hiding, ready to launch a defensive Overwatch strike should enemies advance towards your exposed soldiers. These are just some of the many strategic approaches you can take to combat.
Keeping your squad alive during missions is crucial to success in XCOM 2 since death is permanent and irreversible. Your mobile base even has memorial wall to help you fondly remember your fallen comrades. Initially, your squad will consist mostly of rookies, but as they gain experience, not only will they specialize in one of five classes, but you can also choose perks and skills for them to have. These new abilities make a huge impact on the field, and thus losing a high-ranking solider in battle can severely impact the team’s effectiveness, as well as being emotionally devastating given all that the character has been through. At least you can carry a downed soldier to your extraction point to retrieve their valuable gear, but it’s a small consolation for such a tragic loss.
Graphically, XCOM 2 looks great despite the small visual hiccups that occasionally creep into combat action sequences, including lowered framerate and clipping. I do love that during key actions—say getting a first strike while in Overwatch—the dynamic camera provides beautiful close-ups of the confrontation that really add impact. These moments also give you a chance to view all the impressive detail put into the many different aliens you encounter, including mutated versions of beings encountered in the first game, along with all-new deadly types.
XCOM 2 is one of the best turn-based strategy games to hit home consoles since, well, the original game on PS3 and Xbox 360, and fans of the genre should definitely check it out. With humans losing the initial invasion to the aliens, the new covert storytelling and guerilla-style gameplay offer a fresh perspective on XCOM’s well-established and engaging formula. Strategy fans will have a smorgasbord with the many different ways to develop your capabilities, and the near limitless ways to approach combat situations. Add in a dynamic camera that emphasizes pivotal battle moments, along with intriguing new alien threats to face, and you have an exceptional strategy game that will keep hooked and coming back for more.
+ A compelling underdog story
+ Vast strategic depth in all three phases: your ship, the world map, and missions
+ Beautiful dynamic camera sequences that highlight key attacks
+ New guerilla gameplay style
+ Fosters real connections with your soldiers: you’ll celebrate wins and mourn losses
– Occasional visual flaws creep in
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 5/5
Overall Rating 4.25/5 (85%)