To say that I’ve been looking forward to XCOM 2 for a while now is a massive understatement. Firaxis’ reboot of the classic XCOM franchise was a fantastic romp, but not without its issues. As we head towards our own review – albeit not being ready just yet – XCOM 2 is certainly living up to expectations for a sequel.
You were the hunted in XCOM: Enemy Unknown and the Enemy Within expansion, as you fiercely tried to defend yourselves from the alien threat, but in XCOM 2, you’re the hunters. Firaxis went against the grain in deciding that humanity lost to the aliens in the canonical story, with the aliens painting themselves as benevolent partners to humanity, instead of ruthless and exploitative dictators. All too often do we get to defend Earth in videogames, but we’ve not really had many opportunities to do so as insurgents. It’s a deeply refreshing concept and I’m excited to see where it goes.
Because of this, the way battles start is a massive departure, focusing on guerrilla tactics and stealth to get the jump on the aliens. This encourages you to position your squad in an ambush, using Overwatch effectively, before triggering enemies with a well-aimed shot on the unsuspecting foes. Other than this, the classes in the early game have a surprising amount of variety, complete with unique abilities.
Enemies begin with the rather humanoid Advent troopers, but quickly escalate to more monstrous designs, with enemies like the Faceless, which hide amongst the passerbys, bursting from them in their hulking form to swipe at you with their claws. Enemies in the original XCOM now have also been heavily redesigned, such as the Viper – a Naga-like foe that constricts and spits poison. Each new foe is a thrilling challenge to overcome.
Base customisation this time around feels more basic, with a finite amount of areas to expand into. It feels remarkably similar to how the base functioned in the first game, with the same ant farm-like presentation, and juggling your resources for Researching and Engineering, where picking certain options in the early game is key to the quick expansion of your base. However, instead of being built underground, it’s a ship which can take off and move between countries and continents.
This is where things get more interesting, with the Geoscape world map. Instead of the rather clumsy system where nations dropped out of the XCOM project, you’re shifting around the globe, attempting to contact resistance cells in the various regions, gather Intel, and stop the aliens from attacking your fellow resistance members.
Things get really interesting when it comes to the Dark Events – the alien’s way of making the game harder. You’re given the choice of which Dark Event mission to take, meaning you need to decide which Dark Event is going to have the least damaging effect. It adds to the tension somewhat, but nowhere near as much as the Avatar Project, which is XCOM 2’s way of establishing a failure state.
One thing I’m incredibly excited by is having Steam Workshop support from day one. Mods for XCOM: Enemy Unknown have kept that game alive well beyond the expansion’s release date, with The Long War being perhaps the most well-known of the bunch. While the customisation is rather extensive as it is with the included character creation tool and individual customisation for units, having mods can unlock a huge amount of potential, and it’s for this reason that Firaxis decided to eschew a console release.
While I’m really digging XCOM 2, there are a couple of blemishes. The game is a lot more taxing graphically, but wants to be more heavily optimised particularly when it comes to anti-aliasing options. Using the 2x MSAA setting, the frame-rate tanks horribly and stutters at time, and while turning AA off completely fixes the performance to a degree, it’s hardly an ideal solution. I’ve also experienced a number of crashes during cutscenes and the Action Cam, which adds a lot of dynamism to the turn-based strategy, even running with lowered settings.
This is probably due to the amount of detail found within the game itself. Despite being a tactical RPG, XCOM 2 has some really nice textures and designs. Environments feel appropriately dystopian, while the enemies have striking designs. The runt-like Sectoids from XCOM: Enemy Unknown are more intimidating this time around, while more unique foes like the Faceless feel dangerous to encounter.
Another complaint that both myself and Tef have had is that enemies can sometimes detect you at the corners of cover and when moving from cover to cover on rooftops that overlook them. It feels unclear at times and breaks immersion when you’re attacked from behind a wall with an implausible line of sight. The latter was definitely an issue in the previous XCOM game, though in my personal experience, the effect was minimal.
However, even with these complaints, the game leaves a good first impression and noticeably improves upon the first game. It could do with some optimisation, which will hopefully come with a day one patch today or soon after launch, but as we head towards our full review, it’s looking like a particularly good follow-up.