Hello again, Commander.
Xcom 2 made me learn to love hating again. So many 92% shots missed, so many low damage rolls and so many stupid groups of aliens appearing out of nowhere. These things make for a game that, while frustrating, has more personal emotion thrown into each encounter than any other game I know. XCOM: Enemy Unknown had these feelings too, but does the sequel hold out? Let’s analyse.
The story is surprisingly deep, compared to the previous game. This game assumes that during the play through of the previous game you actually lost and the aliens took over the earth using a type of shadow government called Advent. 20 years on the Advent administration is making people around the world disappear in relation to a project called ‘Avatar’. It’s up to the remnants of the XCOM project (Now a rebel insurgent group with control of as flying alien ship) to stop the Avatar project and expose the aliens plans to the world. It’s a much more personal experience to help retake earth rather than protect it, especially when you see or discover the aliens bold-faced lies. There are many twists and turns in the story and while there may not be a revolutionary story in place it provides a simple narrative that you can then fill in with your own personal experiences as you play the game, and believe me when I say I have never been so attached to my soldiers before in any game.
The presentation in this game is a significant improvement over the previous game. While Enemy Unknown was very extreme and cartoon with its representations of the world and its people (did you SEE how chunky those soldiers were!?) This game focuses instead on a clear dystopian theme that helps to make the game seem more serious and realistic. I actually really like how different it looks, especially the new redesigns of the various aliens (which are also conveniently explained in the actual plot) and along with a lot more background effects going on such as embers from fire being shown and the destruction physics of terrain being a bit more realistic it makes it look like a much prettier game. While the music during transition screens and important story cutscenes is fun and inspirational the music during battle isn’t anything to write home about, even though I got a free version of the soundtrack I haven’t listened to it outside of the game. Some people might feel as though the game doesn’t look too different from Enemy Unknown and while I can see that most of the improvements are subtle and in the background which I appreciate.
The gameplay should be familiar to those who played the previous game, a turn based strategy game with perma-death rules and huge difficulty. I felt as though this game was much more difficult than Enemy Unknown, so much so that I lost my first game and had to restart on the lowest difficulty (yeah yeah go ahead and laugh at me). The main new mechanic in this game is the concealment system. In many missions your squad starts off hidden from the aliens and can move around freely until you are spotted. This allows you to scout the enemies ahead and plan ambushes to take down an entire squad in a single motion (which is so satisfying to see work I might add). Along with this the fact that Xcom is now a rebel group means that they don’t have huge sprawling bases, instead they have the Avenger a flying base that goes around the world contacting rebel groups around the world. The Avenger being smaller means that there isn’t as much space to build facilities adding to the tension and strategy that needs to be considered when you research things. Most other mechanics are still present in the game however one notable absence is the interceptor mechanics. While it makes sense story-wise why it isn’t there and it wasn’t really that deep of a mechanic to begin with it is sad to see it removed completely, hopefully the next game can have it return in some way that gives it more depth.
So I have a lot of praise for this game, and everything seems to make for a fantastic game however the point in which this game does let itself down is how it actually physically runs. Even with a powerful PC the game has huge amounts of slowdown and fluctuating FPS. I have never seen a game that has had its loading screens lag, but this game has it. For being a purely PC game and with plenty of time and experience behind it it’s such a shame to see how badly this game actually runs. The game also suffers from a huge amount of graphical glitches. The final level became completely impossible for me to complete at one point as the graphics began to fluctuate with colours wildly, so much so that it began to hurt my eyes and would probably cause a seizure in someone who was susceptible to that. It’s a shame that while the game itself is fantastic technical problems drag it down. Patches should fix most of the problems but it still is an issue.
In the end however this game is a fantastic step up from the previous entry. Even though the difficulty may be more extreme it helps to provide an experience that is constantly ramping up as the clock ticks down and makes it a lot more strategic in terms of planning and combat. While many games now focus on a narrative that many people can’t relate to or really care about I believe that allowing people to create their own memorable experiences out of a general narrative is the future of story telling in gaming and Xcom 2 is definitely one of the best representations of this style. Now if you don’t mind I’m going to start another campaign, maybe I will focus on psionics this time…