“XCOM 2” review

xcom 2

“XCOM 2” starts off with a bang, as players witness an attack during a ceremony celebrating the great unification between humans and the alien beings who invaded earth during “XCOM: Enemy Unknown.” It seems that Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum lost, as we’re all now “peacefully” co-existing with those violent E.T.s we fought so hard against, but XCOM seems to still think that there’s a fight to win.

After breaking you out of a stasis container, you’re brought back to the mobile base that XCOM is now using to coordinate its attacks against ADVENT, the alien government that’s installed itself. Back in command, you must go on the offensive, initiating guerrilla attacks and establishing resistance cells.

It’s a rough place to start, but we’ve all become used to a challenge with “XCOM.” The holomap lights up the screen, the engineers are ready to build, and the lab is on standby for research. Welcome back, Commander.

xcom 2 1

Get ready for some Dirty Harry action with your snipers.

Being the aggressor in this installment is a bit of switch since “Enemy Unknown” was focused on protecting the cities of the world from invading interlopers. The shoe’s on the other foot now, so all combat takes more of a stealth twist. Depending on the type of mission, your team will start off hidden from enemies. They’ll only reveal themselves after firing or by running into someone’s line of sight – even civilians.

That being said, ambushes play a huge role in gameplay. Setting a majority of your team in Overwatch, usually those with the best shot of hitting, and pulling the trigger with a sniper or launching a grenade with a grenadier will send the enemy scrambling. From there, sit back and watch the well-oiled machine of XCOM dispatch your foes with ease, or cringe at the near-misses. This game is, after all, percentage and chance based.

Let’s talk soldiers. “XCOM 2” has classes of fighters like “Enemy Unknown” had, so you’ll get your heavy gunner, your shotgun wielder, assault rifle class with its flexibility, and your sniper. With that in mind there are some nuanced differences.

The shotgun class, called Rangers, have swords that allow them to wipe out enemies with dwindling health so that you don’t have to waste extra shots. There’s also a large amount of stealth skills to equip them with to make them the perfect ambush fighters, or the ideal bushwhacker. Instead of a rocket launcher, the Grenadier class has a grenade launcher and abilities that will destroy an enemy’s cover. Snipers now come with pistoleer skills so they have a lot of skills that give them free shots with pistols or free reaction shots. The Specialists are able to be tactical or medical fighters, and their new drones help them make an impact from a distance on the battlefield. They come in handy specifically with hacking from afar when lots of enemies are swarming over an objective or you need to hack a sensor to allow your team to move unnoticed.

Want to be able to distinguish your fighters in the field? Fear not, there are loads of customization options, and more get unlocked when a soldier levels up. Guns are able to be modified when looting enemies in the field. Larger magazines, better stocks, and improved sights will all be useful when battling alien hordes. Feel free to go on the Steam Workshop to get some cool new armor camo skins and weapons that will really add some flavor to your game.

In addition to having a lot of mechanical tweaks that make it fresh and new, the graphics have been overhauled a lot and they look pretty as can be. Honestly, it doesn’t have much bearing on the game as a whole, but a pretty package for a great gift is icing on the cake. The world feels much more alive and colorful, so kudos to the devs and teams giving the game some extra flair.

The meta-game of “XCOM 2” is a little different, too. The fact that the base is mobile means that instead of being given funds to continue to fight the aliens, you must travel and scan locations for supplies or contacts that will aid you. Establishing resistance bases takes the place of launching satellites, so you’ll be trying to build comm centers in the base to ensure that you can get the contacts you need to get the supplies you require each month. This is a bit more hectic than waiting on pins and needles for the aliens to attack, and I will say figuring out the rhythm and tactics to this part of the game will take multiple tries. Save often, and do not be afraid to restart once you start getting the hang of what you’re doing.

Thankfully, the combat UI is largely the same so you can jump right in.

The user interface shown during combat is largely unchanged from the previous game, so players can jump right in.

There’s a lot of little nuances to this game that just make it such a great experience. The title screen shows a soldier from one of your most recently played campaigns in cover, a little nod to you and your attachment to the folks under your command. Your heads of staff will chat with each other about the past and future of the XCOM program, making you really feel a sense of camaraderie and history with the whole franchise.

Are you a fan of “XCOM?” Buy this game. It’s worth it. It does chug its way through load screens, and there are a few bugs here and there, there’s no denying. You will need a good rig to run this game. Regardless, this game is so good, and it caters to the players who are familiar with it.

New to the genre?” This will be slightly daunting and overwhelming. There are a lot of moving parts to this game. I will say that being on the offensive is a little more fun, but that’s a personal thing.

If you’re interested in turn-based strategy games with combat and sci-fi flair, this is a great place to start. Honestly, this is a well-made game and worth a look regardless, but games like this are often not everyone’s cup of tea.

“XCOM 2” is available now on Steam. Again, I don’t know if I can recommend this game enough.