I can’t remember being as excited for a video game as I’ve been about XCOM 2, the sequel to Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown (one of my favourite games of all time). I’ve been soaking up all the preview videos and developer livestreams and now I’ve finally got my hands on the game.
So, after a dozen-or-so hours, is it living up to all the hype?
I won’t give away any big spoilers, but I’m loving the story so far. Basically, the XCOM Project failed to stop the invaders and the survivors are now trying to form a resistance movement to liberate Earth from the aliens. The supporting characters have a lot more dialogue, cutscenes and interactions than in XCOM: Enemy Unknown (XEU), at least in the early game, which really helps to flesh out the world and engage the player with the story.
The game looks great too. It has a similar visual style to XEU, but with more detail and life to it. There are a lot more dramatic camera angles and mini-cutscenes that give you a more cinematic view of the battle. There are also lots of things like enemy reinforcements and different objective combinations that can mix things up on the battlefield.
A Good Sequel
XCOM 2 builds on the strengths of the original game, mixes it up and throws in a few new features to keep things interesting. Just like a good sequel should!
For example, I love the new concealment mechanic, which lets you be more stealthy and set up ambushes against the aliens. I love the new Ranger class, which can dash up to an enemy and slash it with a sword, and I really like how the holo-globe world map has been expanded with lots of new options and challenges.
I didn’t think I’d be that fussed about soldier customisation, but I’ve made a few characters of my own and regularly adjust the randomly generated soldiers to colour-code them or remove dodgy haircuts. I feel like the range of customisation options at launch is somewhat disappointing, and it can be hard to create a specific character that you have in mind, particularly if you are making yourself, a friend or recreating a character from your favourite TV show. However, I’m sure the options will expand as Firaxis and the community release more content.
XCOM is a challenging game, and you basically have to accept the fact that soldiers will die and you will occasionally fail a mission. It can be a difficult thing to adapt to, but the best thing to do is to try and learn from your mistakes, rather than constantly reloading saves.
I started the game on ‘Normal’ difficulty, because (although I can beat XEU on Hard) I wanted to learn and adapt to the new gameplay mechanics. A lot of people have been bitching about some of the new features, in particular the fact that many missions have to be completed in a limited number of turns. Personally, I haven’t had any real problems. I feel that it adds some additional tension to the game (in place of things like hunting for meld canisters in XEU) and that it makes sense in the context of the rebellion storyline. We will have to see what it’s like as the difficulty ramps up…
I have quite a powerful PC, but I’m forced to run the game on “high” rather than “maximum” and even then there are fairly regular performance issues and drops in framerate. Fortunately, the turn-based nature of the game means that it rarely actually affects gameplay. The loading times are also a lot longer than its predecessor, but that’s to be expected given the increase in visual quality.
The procedurally generated content is great for replayability, as you should never play on the same map twice. However, I am concerned that no single level will be particularly memorable, as they would be if they were hand-designed. However, particularly if different options, tilesets, weather and so on are released by Firaxis and the modders, the replayability should outweigh the lack of memorability and should, at least, avoid the level of fatigue encountered during multiple playthroughs of XEU.
There are a lot of little bugs too. Windows will smash before the grenade you’ve thrown actually goes through them. Soldiers will try to hack terminals but the screen you’re supposed to click on will be inside a wall so you can’t see it, and sometimes you just can’t seem to click on the right floor of a building that you want to move your soldier too. In many situations, such as when you detect a new group of enemies, the game will just sit and wait for several seconds before anything else happens. I presume that the game is streaming in animations or something, but it’s a little distracting. Also, sometimes “promotion earned” will pop up before your soldier has actually attacked, which is a sort of positive spoiler. Nothing really game-breaking, but hopefully most of them will be patched out soon!
My other concern is that comments from the characters, particularly Central and Dr Tygen, are a little too generic and there aren’t many variations in what they have to say, so they are already becoming a little repetitive. Central also seems more ‘naggy’ and less likeable than in the previous game, for example when he complains about “heavy civilian casualties” every time the first civilian (inevitably) dies during a Terror Mission.
Despite the occasional bug and repetitive dialogue, I’m thoroughly enjoying my XCOM 2 experience so far. I’ll be reporting back once I’ve played a bit more to give a full review and I will also be reporting back on the game’s replayability and any new content that is released along the way.
If you were a fan of the original, or of strategy games in general, I can’t recommend this highly enough. Just don’t expect to jump into legend difficulty and win, even if you are a seasoned XCOM veteran!