Review: XCOM 2 (PC): Back in the Fight

Review: XCOM 2 (PC): Back in the Fight

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It’s been a while since I’ve been legitimately excited about a game’s release. In fact, despite the glorious technological advances of the 21st century, the only thing that would’ve made my day first trying out XCOM 2 any better that satisfying experience of the cellophane wrap tearing as you claw at the game disc, that new game smell flooding your nostrils like some savage beast. But alas, Steam patched that all out a while ago and I’m a sucker for the kind of instant gratification digital retailing provides. It’s the very opposite (that being, latent gratification, I guess) that attracts me to XCOM 2 like a planet of derpy sentients with a poorly funded space program attracts an imperialistic alien race that regards abductions, gene splicing, and human target practice among its nobler pursuits.

Twenty years have gone by and your attempts back in XCOM: Enemy Unknown were all for naught: the aliens have won and teamed up with the collaborator turncoats among your species, bringing about the ADVENT, a puppet government that lulls the unsuspecting into a false sense of security while the alien occupiers are free to snatch up test subjects and declare martial law as they see fit, all under the friendly guise of the one they call “The Speaker.”

My first taste had me on a rescue mission with two rookie operatives; I’m no novice to the series, but wanted to figure out how the new concealment mechanic worked. The pair, still hidden from the gaze of a handful of ADVENT troopers guarding what looked to be a gene clinic, moved up quickly and quietly, being careful to avoid the enemy’s field of view. Having one of my operatives overwatch the enemy squad, the other triggered the ambush as one ADVENT stooge took a bullet right between the eyes. Scattering, the second operative lying in wait pegs another, his corpse slumping across the hood of a nearby vehicle. But then it was their turn.

Review: XCOM 2 (PC): Back in the Fight

Now evenly match with two on two, one of the guards moved to flank my squad, taking out one of the operatives with brutal efficiency. At first I thought, “Really… I’m going to lose playing the game’s tutorial?” but luckily, I got some reinforcements: none other than our buddy Central himself, taking to the field, kicking alien ass, and taking names with little to no fucks left to give since his days as your military secretary in Enemy Unknown.

It turns out the tutorial was a rescue mission with the package being… well… me. You. Us? Really whoever’s the commander. After snatching up whomever’s body, having been preserved in some chemical stasis, Central and the others evac back to Resistance HQ, rip out some control chip implanted in the commander’s brain, and you resume your control of the remnants of humanity. Cue dramatic lock ‘n’ load montage.

Review: XCOM 2 (PC): Back in the Fight

A Renewed Offensive

If it’s one thing Firaxis is known for, it’d be their attention to detail, especially when it comes to improving their craft. Highlighting the series’ strengths (that is, cinematic turn-based human vs. alien combat coupled with resource and base management), the developers have then built new mechanics from what they’ve learned, both in their own experience and from collaborating with Long War Studios, a team of modders-gone-indie-developer responsible for The Long War mod for Enemy Unknown.

Without giving too much away, a few of the new features include a loot chance in battles (enemies will sometimes drop random weapon attachments and trinkets to boost your squad’s performance), concealment and ambushes, hacking doors and other electronics, and a more interactive, destructible environment that can turn a grim situation around into an extraterrestrial barbecue. Fires spread and buildings and cover break down; the flames eat through wood and flesh alike, doling out burn damage to anyone who strolls through the inferno.

In addition to all this polish, four new main classes are introduced in XCOM 2:

  • The Ranger: a master at close quarters combat, Rangers are your scout units, cloaked in shadow and armed with a shotgun and a sword. Yeah. A freakin’ sword.
  • The Specialist: the jack-of-all-trades soldier, Specialists are equipped with a GREMLIN drone that can provide either defensive or offensive buffs; these are your best choice for medics and combat engineers.
  • The Grenadier: as the name implies, the Grenadier handles demolishes and crowd control utilizing the business ends of a minigun, grenade launcher, and an extra grenade slot.
  • The Sharpshooter: every squad needs just one; the Sharpshooter can hang back, preferably on higher ground to cover the rest of the team as they move up. In case of close encounters, each Sharpshooter possesses a handy revolver to stave off pesky aliens.

Starting with these archetypes, the player can then craft a counter-invasion force to their play style and liking (don’t get me started on the plethora of character customization options, from physical appearance and nationality to patterns you can emblazon on your weapons), but don’t expect your first campaign to be smooth sailing. Even for veterans, XCOM 2 has an element of luck and surprise that can quick turn the tide against you. It’s that same difficulty and constant risk-benefit analysis that makes the game so fun – especially on the run from ADVENT in a stolen mobile alien base, freeing humanity one sector at a time.

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Anthony Magestro

Anthony "Tony" Magestro--or known on the field of battle as Metzge--is an avid writer, gamer, and entrepreneur. When he's not writing, gaming, or entrepreneuring, he enjoys cooking, trippy movies, and trying to be awesome to varying degrees of success. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page, especially if you need freelance help with content writing or digital marketing. Or just like to network, that's fine too.