XCOM 2 has a look and feel that you should be able to pick up where you left off if you had played through the first game, and in a lot of ways it does. The story takes place 20 years after the first XCOM. Your “Commander” character is supposed to be the same person, Your staff are relatives of the same people or remnants of the people from the prior game, and home base keeps the same style (besides being an Avenger styled flying ship this time). Visual elements and gameplay aside, this is where the similarities end.
Be prepared to scream at your computer screen
After the intro tutorial mission where you rescue your old self, XCOM 2 amps up pretty quickly. You are now on a guerrilla offensive. The invading aliens have, for the most part, won the invasion after the experiences of the first installment. Your troops are outgunned, outnumbered, and seemingly out-funded. Within the first few levels, before getting your footing, be prepared to lose a good chunk of your soldiers. Oh, and don’t worry about reloading the mission. Other than in-level quick saves (which are never at the beginning of the level), if you load to a prior save and then try a level again you will get reminded very quickly how well the game takes advantage of its procedurally generated levels – if you get the same level at all. I was really good at the first XCOM and was able to complete the game with minimal casualties and wounded soldiers. This time around, losing a soldier that has been with you on so many missions will seriously twist the knife in your wound. While this is not a new mechanic in the XCOM 2, the limited resources you have available to you will make the loss of even one soldier standout. Your newbie status soldiers are more prone to mental effects as well. This mechanic can make them panic and perform worse on the battlefield. To make situations worse, almost every level I played through had a limited number of turns to complete objectives. Forcing you to be brazen with some of your actions, limiting you to situational or safe strategies. For a while, you will feel like you had blind luck when completing some missions with moderate success.
At first, I thought this was incredibly frustrating.
After completing a few missions, losing friends and favorite soldiers along the way, you will eventually start finding your footing and be on a level playing field. You will get objectives to connect with other resistance fighters across the globe, hunt for resources, and research higher technologies. This will open up new missions, objectives, and most importantly: different supplies. Be warned, it took to about mission five before I got access to even the black market for selling off supplies (you will more than likely be buying rather than selling for a while, so choose wisely). At this point you have been going through a gantlet of trial by fire missions. You are battle hardened ready to take on anything. The XCOM 2 AI will know this, understand it, and respond accordingly.
XCOM 2 – Sucker punch me, one more time. (Story spoilers ahead)
Right as you feel like you are comfortable, the games true objectives will start to appear. The enemy will start pulling its resources to bases across the globe. Bases you do not have access to. They are seemingly funding a project called “Avatar”, a super weapon of unknown proportions that will be the inevitable end of humanity. To get to these bases, you have to make contact with resistance forces scattered across the globe. This can take a few days using the in-game time, an experience that I can only describe as trying to pick a lock while a viking is smashing you over the head repeatedly with a two-ton war hammer. During the process of ‘waiting’ for things to complete (research, global mission objectives, building), in the similar style to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the game will hurl missions at you. Some of which are too important to ignore, some with difficulties well beyond your scope. To make matters worse, the Avatar project is also on a timer. The timer can be slowed down, or even reduced in completion by completing story objectives and taking out bases that are funding the project. This will force you to start to pick and choose wisely how you spend your time, and every choice will have both positive, and negative effects on the game.
XCOM 2, overall, is pretty solid. There were only two areas that I felt like it could have improved on. At some times, standing next to an enemy combatant (even with an above 90% chance rating of hitting), my shotgun soldiers would miss. This seemed to happen more often than it should and they should make some adjustments to the roll-to-hit statistics in XCOM. I would accept one or two chances of that happening, but it happened quite often in earlier levels, regardless of the soldiers experience level. Also the ambush tactics, which is a new feature in XCOM 2 that allows you to sneak through areas to set up ambushes before starting the battle, should reset if you take out visual soldiers on the field after a few turns allowing you to return to an ambush status. You feel great succeeding in a full ambush, only to have soldiers in the fog of war sneak all the way behind you to give you an unexpected taste of your own medicine. And although it’s not necessary, or really a downfall, I felt an addition that could have been a real benefit to the XCOM series as a whole is a save game import option from the first XCOM, since you are technically playing as the same “Commander”. Possibly giving you some benefit of playing through the first game.
At the time of this review, I have not completed the entire story of XCOM 2. However, I am sure this game will be one that I will keep pushing through, and will probably play again. There are online missions that happen every month that allow the computer to be more increasingly powerful, and offer more challenging missions as well. Overcoming the severe punishment XCOM 2 throws at you is one of the most rewarding experiences I have gotten from a game in a long while. I do not feel like I was grinding, ever, for resources. They were earned with blood and sweat. When I lost a level, eventually I got over trying to reload and try again and accepted the consequences. Even losing will have effects on the story. But when my soldiers returned from a mission, wounded or otherwise, every piece of resource was put to use. Every completed objective had true benefit. And every experience a burned in memory.
“Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.”
-George S. Patton