Available on: PC, Mac, Linux
Reviewed on: PC
XCOM 2 is the sequel to the surprisingly awesome 2012 reboot XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The sequel retains the same nail-biting tactical combat while adding new aliens, new soldiers, new maps, and a rejiggered strategy layer that paints XCOM as the resistance to our new alien overlords.
XCOM 2’s premise makes an incredibly bold choice – we lost the war. As a series XCOM has become famous for being brutally difficult. Developer Firaxis ran with this and declared that we lost the war in the first game. Thirty years later Earth is under control of the supposedly peace-bringing aliens. But like the old TV show “V” the aliens have sinister plans.
Instead of playing as Earth’s last line of defense, XCOM is now the resistance. Early on you obtain a giant flying base called the Avenger. The name is appropriate. It’s basically a helicarrier from Marvel’s SHIELD.
The mobile base is reflected in the new strategy layer. You’re no longer simply pushing a button and waiting for a mission to pop up. Now you fly around the world, making contacts with new countries, finding resistance cells, and choosing which missions and resources to prioritize. It’s still deliciously agonizing in that uniquely XCOM way. It’s also a vast improvement over Enemy Unknown.
While major milestones provide fun story moments, XCOM’s gameplay remains laser-focused on its tactical combat.
The four new soldier classes (Grenadier, Ranger, Sharpshooter, Specialist) are familiar and effective. New abilities and specializations open up really fun tactical opportunities. Rangers can easily flank enemies and cut them down with swords. Specialists can hack into enemy turrets and shut down robotic foes. A Sharpshooter can level up his or her pistol skills and become a Wild West hero.
Of course the aliens got a massive upgrade as well. Archons will rain death upon your soldiers. Shieldbearers will support their allies with new defenses. Codex will clone themselves when attacked. And you have to deal with mind-altering psionics from the very beginning, leading to many a dead rookie.
Large maps with lots of cover and elevation were a staple of the 2012 XCOM. The sequel continues this excellent trend and adds many new map objectives. A solid strategy for XCOM veterans was to slowly comb the map, inching forward. XCOM 2 dismantles this tactic by presenting numerous timed objectives. Rescue the VIP and extract him in 12 turns. Destroy an alien relay in 8. The sense of urgency forces you to make risky decisions, and ups the stakes of every mission.
XCOM 2 is rated T for Teen by the ESRB for Blood, Use of Tobacco, and Violence. Aliens and your own carefully groomed soldiers will die in a spray of blood and screams. The Action Cam punctuates the terrifying moments when someone takes aim. It should be noted that the 2012 XCOM was rated M. The only difference I can tell was the use of Strong Language in XCOM: Enemy Uknown.
XCOM 2 is a phenomenal sequel, but it’s marred by frequent technical hiccups. Since this is a PC game these issues range from virtually nonexistent to game-crashing. The dynamic action camera often gets caught behind walls. Sound effects sometimes linger long after the animation has finished. Load times are horrendous, even when installed on my Solid State Drive.
Despite some technical difficulties, XCOM 2 is a dream come true for turn-based strategy fans. Thanks to the new resistance angle I felt far more invested in the story of rebellion. Expanded customization options helped me love and cry over my beloved soldiers more than ever. As a sequel it improves on every aspect while keeping the soul of the franchise intact. Vigilo Confido, Commander.