It’s been 20 years since the aliens first set foot on Earth and unleashed a full scale invasion. Even though the XCOM Project was promptly activated and hundreds of men and women put their lives on the line to save our planet, the aliens managed to overrun Earth’s defenses and force, shortly after, all major world leaders to delegate power to a newly created organization known as ADVENT. Humanity lost the fight and became nothing more than a puppet in their alien overloards’ hands, but not everyone blindly accepted their fate. This is the premise given to you at the beginning of XCOM 2. Twenty years have passed since the events depicted in XCOM: Enemy Unknown and the organization is no more. The Headquarters were raided and most of those who didn’t perish in the assault were either captured or went into hiding. The few remaining member of XCOM banded together and seized control of an abandoned alien transporter, now refitted to serve as a mobile base and code-named Avenger. You are now the commander of a resistance movement aimed at eradicating the alien’s presence on Earth and working with local cells all over the world.
Mobility and dynamism are key features in XCOM 2
Using the Avenger as mobile headquarters, XCOM is now able to intervene anywhere in the world and quickly respond to alien reprisal, terror attacks, and other threats. This results in XCOM 2 featuring a dynamic gameplay that greatly differs from its predecessor. While in the previous chapters you were only given a certain amount of freedom, often limited to the rather binary decisions required in order to deploy your squad to a specific country instead of another, XCOM 2 allows you to fully develop your strategy, giving you the chance to prioritize some missions instead of others. Starting from a randomly chosen continent, you can expand your area of influence through the whole world while you help local resistance cells, collect resources or research new tech to bring the fight to the aliens. The game still features some story-linked missions which will randomly pop up through the campaign and that will require your immediate attention, though, and these have a tendency to appear each time your best squad has just been seriously wounded in a mission gone bad. While this newfound degree of freedom could be amazing for experienced players and positively reflects on the game longevity, people who are new to the series might, sometimes, get confused when tasked with making a choice.
The Avenger isn’t only a vehicle, but a fully functional base including an engineering bay and a science lab that allow you to get your hands on advanced weaponry and other technology. Even in the first hours of the game, the aliens will field an immense variety of enemy units marking the return of well known individuals such as the Mutons, Sectoids, and Thin Men (now known as Vipers) alongside new abominations which are the result of human and alien genetic manipulation. Keeping your technology up to speed is a key component of the game and XCOM 2 easily turns into a nightmare if you were ever to forget that. As the XCOM Project is no longer a government financed institution, you will no longer receive engineers and scientists on a regular basis as part of your monthly supply drops. Instead, you’ll have to rely on local resistance cells and crew salvage operations to acquire the manpower you need to keep your labs up and running. Aside from the labs and engineering bays and a command room that is pretty much the one you left at the end of Enemy Unknown, the Avenger features your personal quarters, several technical rooms, a training school, an armory, and a bar where your crew will be seen meeting, drinking or commemorating the ones you lost during your fight. Excavating a room is no longer needed when you want to expand your base, but being the Avenger an alien ship you will have to clear some of the spaces previously used by the ETs in order to assemble your own machinery. This process now requires an engineer which will be unavailable while the room is being cleared. Coupled with the fact that engineers and scientists are a lot more rare than in previous episodes, expanding your base in XCOM 2 becomes an option that should be carefully planned before execution.
You will miss each one of your soldiers if they are killed in action
The armory is one of the rooms you will be visiting more often and the one which includes the highest degree of innovation XCOM 2 has to offer. While tactical combat is pretty much the one you remember from the previous episode, aside from the fact that your squad will be concealed at the beginning of some missions and won’t be spotted until they fire a weapon, get close to an enemy patrol, or make noise by smashing through a window, allowing you to ambush your opponents before you break concealment, XCOM 2 now gives you the chance to customize your soldiers appearance, gear and weapons by adding details, gadgets and even by writing a Bio for each one of them. You will slowly grow attached to your characters with each mission and will miss them once one of your squaddies gets inevitably mind-controlled by a Sectoid and ends up unloading half a magazine of high-velocity rounds in the back of your favorite unit’s head. Luckily, XCOM 2 allows you to save your characters appearances by putting them in the “characters pool”, a list of pre-made units which you might encounter as recruits or VIPs during the game. The ability to customize weapons also means that each of them becomes unique. By adding attachments, gadgets and being able to decide the weapons pattern and colors, you can give your characters special bonuses such as free reloads or improved aim without having to choose between being combat-effective or fashionable. Growing attached to a specific character will have you change your approach strategy to make sure you minimize losses and you might, at times, decide to abort a mission to save your squad instead of sending them to the slaughter. XCOM 2 gives you the ability to do that by changing the way you can EVAC your squad: while some missions will have pre-set exfil points and failure will result in the total annihilation of your party, in some others you will be able to define an EVAC zone where your units will be given a rope and the chance to shamefully abandon the field of battle and save their hides.
When it comes to graphics, XCOM 2 is a huge improvement over its predecessor. The game features top of the line textures and a good level of detail is kept even in large and populated areas without resulting in choppy or unstable framerate, although some of the more complex animations that see characters performing more than one action – such as vaulting an obstacle and taking cover or breaking from cover to run longer distances – tend to be laggy at times. The game also has a tendency to hang at the end of your turn when the built-in cinematic camera is activated. While this is not a game-breaking bug, it might result in you being forced to reload a previous saved game in order to keep playing. An easy way to prevent this from happening is to deactivate the cinematic camera in the options menu. The lack of dedicated drivers for this title also has a negative impact on framerate. The soundtrack by Tim Wynn also plays a huge role in creating an engaging atmosphere and was designed to perfectly suit each part of the game, from the calmer rooms aboard the Avenger to the more chaotic battles.
A must-own game that should be tried even by those who never played the first episodes
XCOM 2 is a must-buy for anyone who enjoyed XCOM: Enemy Unknown and for all of those who like Sci-fi narrative. While new players may struggle to adapt to the chaotic gameplay and to the mechanics this title has to offer, veterans will find the various difficulties to be as challenging as they remembered, if not more. Iron-Man mode returns in XCOM 2 to provide the ultimate challenge, as you will once again be able to play the whole game using a single save and even the smallest of decisions will have huge repercussions on your experience. Dynamic missions, deep story-telling and randomly generated events and fights make XCOM 2 a game you will want to go through multiple times, as you find new ways to complete your objectives and to defeat the aliens once and for all. At least until the next playthrough. The game can be found on Steam and is currently available for $59,99.
A PC copy of XCOM 2 was provided by the publisher. To learn more about our score, read our review policy.