In preparation for XCOM 2, I went back to 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown to try the apparently canonical ‘Impossible’ difficulty one more time. Unsurprisingly, the first mission ended how it usually does. By turn five, Rookie Harry Turner, faced with the deaths of his three comrades at the hands of the aliens, panics. The random number generator decrees that this requires him to run out into the open, and immediately get gunned down by overwatch fire. I’ve lost the mission. But hey, that’s XCOM.
It comes as no surprise that Enemy Unknown’s sequel is built on these failures. XCOM 2 takes place twenty years after the war to defend the Earth in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and yes, it’s a world in which the Commander – read: the player – lost the war. Having won, probably because of soldiers like Harry Turner, the aliens proceed to set up shop as humanity’s shadowy overlords, and it’s up to the remains of XCOM to stop them and take back what’s left of the Earth. Their first step? Risk everything on rescuing the Commander, when they’re the reason they lost the war in the first place. What could possibly go wrong this time around?
Having now played through almost all of the game, I can confirm: lots can go wrong. It’s still XCOM, and soldiers die left and right to the wide variety of alien types and abilities you’re up against. But damn, if it isn’t enjoyable. XCOM 2 delivers a slick, refined version of the gameplay from Enemy Unknown, with more options, customisation, strategies and big, badass weaponry. This depth doesn’t change the pace of combat; if anything, the tactical combat is now faster paced than ever, with many missions being timed based on a variety of objectives. This has been a divisive move on behalf of developers Firaxis, but I’ve personally been enjoying the high-risk nature of the timed missions in XCOM 2. Procedurally generated maps and a large number of mission types means that not only does the gameplay stay fresh, but it prevents the player from using the same old rinse-and-repeat strategies. To balance this, combat has been made marginally more forgiving, with soldiers being far more likely to be injured rather than killed outright (though the latter is still very much a possibility).
The game is far from perfect, though. Many of the bugs and glitches present in the previous game are not just present in XCOM 2, but have been exacerbated. Be prepared for awkward camera-hangs, line-of-sight issues, aliens shooting through walls, and cover that explodes for no reason. It will be frustrating at times, and until the game is better patched, I recommend against playing on Ironman mode, where you can’t reload earlier save games.
I do recommend you play it right now, however. Dice will be rolled, soldiers will die, and at times you’ll want to tear your hair out all over again. But then, as the old saying goes: that’s XCOM. So good luck, Commander, the time has come to reclaim our world.
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