WRITER’S NOTE: This review is written from the perspective of someone that is new to the XCOM series, with a small amount of experience in tactical combat games. Initially, due to the game’s steep difficulty curve, the reviewer did not feel comfortable attaching a score with the review. It has since been updated to reflect changed thoughts and opinions through continued evaluation of the game.
XCOM 2, developed by Firaxis Games, is set sometime after an alien invasion on Earth, where you play the role of Commander of XCOM, an anti-extraterrestrial military force turned resistance group fighting the alien occupation. Most of the missions operate around subverting the actions of the ADVENT Administration (the puppet coalition government), gaining intel, rescuing VIPs, eliminating targets, protecting your outposts or strengthening your force.
The backstory is satisfactorily covered in order to catch up new players; a news-style introduction quickly catches you up with prior events, and opening character dialogue almost always explains the relationship between them and the Commander/player.Fighting for survival under an alien occupation is an intriguing premise and greatly contributes the sense of desperation I often felt as I struggled through missions.
I cared for the characters and took ownership over the resistance, which increasingly troubled me as I felt doomed to fail them. Sadly, I wonder how many people will have the fortitude to see the entirety of the story, considering it’s intense difficulty.Simply put, the presentation of XCOM 2 is something Firaxis should be immensely proud of.
The graphics are solid, the game runs relatively problem-free (minus the occasional frame rate stutter) and load times are pretty minimal.
Environments are well detailed and diverse, with each level feeling different from the last and demanding a different tactical approach.
The UI is quite ingeniously designed. It’s very intuitive and simple to find your way around. I particularly like the way it embeds itself in the game world at times as though it was something the characters could also see. Very clever.I appreciated the manner in which it placed you, as the player, into the game with the use of POV shots and these embedded UI features. It serves both as a mechanic to develop you as a character and engage you as a player.
I ran into only a few bugs, with animations not playing out or being delayed; nothing that impacted the progression of the game, merely the flow. More annoyingly some of the camera angles clipped through textures and, at times, made some exchanges of gunfire totally out of sight.This is where it gets conflicting and complex for me, and I advice some caution here. My experience may not be the same for everyone, but nonetheless, it may be for others and I would not be doing me job if I did not share my own opinion and perspective.
Let’s start with the good.
I immediately loved the style of gameplay. The turn-based, tactical style of combat heavily involves careful thinking and planning. Strategy is absolutely necessary (perhaps even more so than I am capable of) and results in some of the most engaging and tense turn-based combat I’ve experienced.I loved approaching things strategically, setting up ambushes and feeling the sense of accomplishment when things went according to plan – on the rare occasion they did.
The enemy variants are fantastic, as are the assortment of classes, perks and loadouts you can select for your squad. I was given the sense – perhaps falsely – that there are a million ways to approach combat.
Impressive level design, varied attacks, verticality and destruction seemingly result in different and uniquely challenging encounters every time.
I was enjoying this tremendously until the difficulty ramped up exponentially with little warning or preparation.Let’s be clear, I selected the ‘Rookie’ difficulty, designed for players ‘unfamiliar’ to XCOM or tactical combat games. Yet, only a few hours into the game, the individual mission difficulty changed for ‘Easy’ to ‘Moderate’ and it seemingly felt impossible to complete missions with a rating above ‘Poor’ and any combat ready soldiers returning from battle.
Soldiers deaths on the battlefield are permanent. You can only recruit more back at base, assuming you have supplies spare, and they begin again at the lowest rank. It was particularly soul destroying to lose a soldier who had scraped through long enough to acquire skills that were coming close to rivaling that of the enemy’s.
I looked for someway to train or practice in a consequence free environment, against bots or the like, simply to train myself as a player, but no option was available. In game, as my ass was being handed to me, I looked for some way to retry or restart, but I had no such luck.
I had no option to barely achieve the mission objective and feel totally miserable returning with only 2 of my 5 squad members, both of whom were gravely injured and had to sit out of battles for sometime.Now, I understand that XCOM fans love this punishing, grueling style of gameplay. But on the lowest difficulty, with it getting increasingly harder to achieve success with every failure, with no option to practice or retry levels, with characters missing shots at a 90% accuracy level when you really need them to land and with enemy re-reinforcements dropping directly on your squad, it felt unfair, impossible and incredibly frustrating. Isn’t that what the three harder difficulties are for? Perhaps my frustration comes from my mentality as player; I strive for those ‘Flawless’ ratings.
Maybe I screwed it up for myself by not managing saves better. Had I saved before every encounter and reloaded saves when things went badly, maybe I’d have had more luck. Mind you, levels did seem randomized each time.
Or perhaps my strategies were just sub-par. I’d refute that, but even if that were the case, I wish the game had given me a little more leniency. You do not get another go. Occasionally the game might throw you a bone, surrounded by a pack of snarling wolves.
XCOM 2 makes no apologies for its difficulty, nor should it. Let’s be clear, it’s not its difficulty that I’m faulting, it’s the manner in which it’s delivered. There’s no grind, no repetition, no death-respawn cycle, no second attempt.
Make a mistake in XCOM 2 and expected to get punished for the next few hours. Maybe that’s the game for you, I’m not sure it was the game for me.If you want an insanely hard tactical combat sci-fi game, you got it. Good luck. If you’re able to stick with it, I think the systems and story are more than enough that you’ll enjoy XCOM 2 a great deal. I kind of wish I could. I was hoping for something a little more accessible and enjoyable, challenging yet forgiving, rather than something so immediately grueling and rarely rewarding.
Maybe I’ll try another campaign, ensuring to save before making any decision. Wish me luck. I’m gonna need it.
My first attempt at playing through XCOM 2 taught me a lot. Not only did I learn about the game’s systems and strategy, I learnt how painfully hard it can be at times.
Putting new skills and techniques into practise during my second attempt however, I gained something else; an appreciation for what XCOM 2 strives to be. XCOM 2 is equal parts challenging and brutal, but also suspenseful and ultimately, very satisfying and rewarding.
I wish the game gave new-comers such as myself a little more heads up – ultimately it is unfriendly to people new to the franchise in every way other catching them up with the story – but now I at least see the appeal.
Played right, XCOM 2 is an engaging, tense, well-paced and tremendously well designed tactical combat game that is rewarding enough at it’s high points to counteract the frustration of your low points.