GamingReview: XCOM 2

Review: XCOM 2

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It seems like I’ve been waiting forever but XCOM 2 is finally here. It hasn’t been that long to be honest but there’s no such thing as too much XCOM. The aliens are back and this time they’ve started off with total control of the planet and its inhabitants. Nice. You’ve already lost and you haven’t even started yet. Very XCOM.

Your time at XCOM will be split between managing your new base (an awesome, stolen, alien ship called the Avenger), struggling to complete objectives on the world map and getting your arse kicked on the ground by enemies with hugely superior weapons and equipment. That’s basically XCOM for you. There’s a difficulty that goes hand in hand with Xcom that somehow makes it enjoyable. Perhaps it’s the fact that overcoming such odds is satisfying. If that’s the case then XCOM is one of the most satisfying games there is.

XCOM 2 has an absolute ton of new features and all of them are significant. The four soldier classes have changed so now you have the Ranger armed with a machete and shotgun, Sharpshooter with a sniper rifle and (genuinely good) pistol, Specialist with hacking, healing, combat drones called Gremlins and the Grenadier with a cannon and multifunction grenade launcher. There is also the new and improved Psi Operative who now comes with a mind numbing array of telekinetic abilities that you must teach in a special facility rather than gaining XP in the field.

Everything has been scaled up. The Aliens have more tech than before, more aggressive forms and will certainly not hold back in any way. But more equipment, fully featured weapon customization and powerful new abilities create much more freedom and choice of strategy than before. Balancing is better too and no class feels overly strong like the Assault class from Enemy Unknown. Each class has something to contribute and I often found myself taking different combinations on missions rather than reverting to the same setup each and every time.

The new weapon tiers are balanced well too and the rush to the final tier weapons no longer means victory. Damage goes up significantly with the more advanced weapons but intelligently using your upgrades and levelling a strong team is far, far more important. You can actually get quite a long way with your standards ballistic weapons in XCOM 2, if you use them right.

Soldier_Shooting_01

Managing the often huge list of objectives whilst trying to complete ground missions with your squad in tact is tougher than ever. I had some really nasty mission reports as you can see below. I lost more troops than with Enemy Unknown but somehow it was rarely irritating when I did. Less dodgy spawns and other tedious moments lead to more legitimate loss that is what makes Xcom so great. And even though the ground missions are tough enough keeping ahead of the aliens on the strategic map is more difficult still. You cannot do everything and even late game there will be tough decisions to make.

Dark Events are a new feature and are the best way XCOM 2 offers up tough choices. The aliens will try to complete 3 objectives and you can stop one of them. Often it will be a choice between slowing the Avatar project, which forms your loss condition in XCOM 2, restricting enemy troops from better equipment or even reducing your monthly supply drops by 50%. There’s no correct choice and sometimes there isn’t even a good one. Still, you will have to pick no matter how bad the consequences.

Gravely wounded

The mysterious Avatar project shifts the feel of XCOM into a much more attack oriented experience. You’re fighting back now so sitting around defending isn’t going to achieve anything. There’s something extremely disconcerting about your loss condition being in the hands of AI and some random events. It certainly does well to shake you out of complacency and XCOM 2 rarely, if ever, lets off the pressure. It’s more comfortable after your first play through but there doesn’t feel like that one perfect build order like there was for Enemy Unknown that leaves you relaxing after a few campaigns.

The Avatar project also provides a nice plot that is much better than before. Plot isn’t the most important aspect of XCOM but XCOM 2 definitely has a vastly superior narrative than the previous XCOM. There’s some nice explanation that gives the alien race a greater depth and there’s actually a very logical back story that emerges throughout XCOM 2. It’s nice to seem some old faces returning as well.

Another returning feature are bonuses when Xcom is in contact with each region in a continent that might reduce the cost of goods, increase income or provide quicker research times among many more. One of my favourites gives you the ability to re-attach weapon mods rather than them being permanent upgrades. I searched in vain during my second campaign before I realised I had an entirely different set of bonuses. One allowed an extra upgrade slot for each and every weapon which makes a huge difference to my squads ability. It’s a great way to keep things fresh rather than constantly prioritising the same continents for the same bonuses every single time.

Muton_51

So everything seems to be going perfectly and then you notice the frame rate. It’s so painful to have a game this good run so badly. Everything’s fine at the start but things definitely get worse the further through a run you get. It gets so that certain scenes run at around 15fps, especially the soldier customization screen. For the most part combat missions run reasonably well but there are more than occasional lost frames. It’s frustrating at times, problematic at others and for the rest just stops XCOM 2 looking nice.

Visuals have taken a nice step forward without moving away from XCOM’s distinctive style. Aliens have had either a serious makeover or have been completely redesigned. The new XCOM uniforms and armours have had the same treatment and nothing at all has been lazily ported from the first game. It’s a real shame the frame rate gets in the way so badly because it’s just so hard to enjoy the looks when you’re wondering why your GTX970 can’t run an isometric shooter on the lowest settings.

The even bigger shame is that it can stand in the way of really enjoying the new customization. Even given the DLC and extra options that were added to Enemy Unknown there are infinitely more options for you on XCOM 2. The customization is awesome and with the nice new visuals you can finally make the squad you’ve always wanted rather then nearly the squad you’ve always wanted.

Customization

XCOM 2 is nothing short of brilliant. It strikes a balance that so many sequels get so wrong so often. Enough of the original is intact that veterans like myself are comfortable and at home but enough is new to keep things exciting and fresh. Randomized elements to the Geoscape and procedural maps go a long way to keeping you coming back for more. Still, for new players XCOM 2 will be challenging but rewarding. XCOM 2 feels like a much more complete package than Enemy Unknown but once you’ve got over the overwhelming pressures of being in charge of XCOM there’s plenty of content to keep you interested for a long time.

Firaxis has struck the perfect balance for a sequel and XCOM is packed with new features that are thoughtfully implemented. Everything has been redesigned or improved in some way. Base management is more concise and strategic with fewer buildings. Staff now need to be managed and are no longer nameless numbers. The guerrilla tactics that form the core of the objectives and soldier abilities offer new challenges and the strategies to overcome them. But it’s not just the quantity of new features but the quality of them that ensure that XCOM 2 is probably the fullest and most considered sequel I’ve ever played. Be assured I’ve only covered the most important stuff in this review, there’s plenty more for your to see.

By far XCOM 2’s biggest problem is the frame rate. It really is terrible and I expected better from a team so experienced with PC titles. It’s all the more irritating when the team has avoided a multiplatform release to make sure the PC version is up to scratch. Hopefully patching will solve the problems but it’s my only problem with this extremely brilliant sequel which is a true shame. Despite this, XCOM 2 is easily one of the best strategy games I’ve ever played. XCOM is back and it’s still the best.

SUMMARY

+ Massive amount of new, quality features
+ Nice plot and back story
+ New classes and more tactical abilities
+ Procedural maps and random elements
+ Tough decisions keep you fighting
- Frame rate and technical issues

Only available on PC.
phillvine
phillvine
Phill has been the director of a small IT repair business since 2011 which he runs alongside studying for his degree in Information and Communication Technologies at the Open University. Video games are his real passion and they take up more of his time than he'd like to admit.

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Review: XCOM 2+ Massive amount of new, quality features <br /> + Nice plot and back story <br /> + New classes and more tactical abilities <br /> + Procedural maps and random elements <br /> + Tough decisions keep you fighting <br /> - Frame rate and technical issues <br /> <br /> Only available on PC.