What a ride.
It’s no secret that I enjoyed the previous incarnation of XCOM. The series meets all my qualifications for excellence: tactical combat, strategic goals, economic management, and just the right amount of challenge. So it was no surprise that when Firaxis released a sequel to the remade XCOM, based on the series from 20 years ago, I would be on board. I’m pleased to say they’ve outdone themselves with XCOM 2.
Much of the previous game is present. The tactical combat is unchanged mechanically. There are some tweaks with how cover and flanking works, but if you understood how it worked in XCOM: Enemy Within/Unknown, you’ll understand it here.
What has changed a whole lot are the classes. The new classes in XCOM 2, the ranger, sharpshooter, grenadier, and specialist, are loosely based off the assault, sniper, heavy, and support classes from the first game, but come with new twists and in many cases totally new abilities. Some of the later game abilities are exceptionally powerful, and you’ll need them to face off against a whole host of enemy aliens.
The new enemies are deadlier than ever. Many returning faces, like the Sectoid and Muton, are new and improved, while many, like the Gatekeeper and Andromedon, are frightening and totally novel. Combine with the more mundane ADVENT Troopers, Officer, and Lancers, there is a wide variety of foes, each requiring different tactics to take down.
The strategy portion is perhaps the most changed of the entire game, and it’s here where I have found the most to like. XCOM has always been a game about economics, managing scarce resources and making choices about where to invest in upgrades, research, and facilities. The strategic overview, named the Geoscape in this and the previous game, now allows you a great deal more flexibility in achieving your own goals. At any given time there are a half-dozen locations that call for your attention, and it’s up to you to decide where to spend your time. You have to make choices, because the aliens are working behind the scenes, pursuing their own goals that you have to counter. You have to make some hard choices, and it often means giving up on something you’d really like to have, or risking that the aliens make more progress towards their goal, thus ending the game in failure.
Everything isn’t wonderful, unfortunately. I did experience several bugs in my playthrough, from strange camera issues that have always plagued the series, to performance and optimization problems that caused turns to wait a couple minutes to process, to outright crashes. It was kind of a bummer to experience these things, but they weren’t a dealbreaker. Hopefully Firaxis can figure some of them out.
I clocked around 60 hours in my first run, and I felt like I rushed it a little bit. There’s enough room here for a much longer game, and mods already out from the Long War crew could extend a single playthrough to the triple digit hour mark. Not only that, but because so many of the missions are dynamically generated, the replayability value is very high. I’m already planning my second game!
XCOM 2 hits far more than it misses. Great tactical gameplay, freedom to pursue strategic goals, and enemies that you want to come back and crush again and again. Great game, highly recommended.