Hey, do you remember XCOM: Enemy Unknown? Do you remember the alien invasion that the nations of the world banded together to defend against? Do you remember the final battle aboard the alien mothership against the leader of the invasion? Or do you remember the fight against the human faction that wanted to join the aliens? The mechanised soldiers and psionic operatives? Do you remember the long and hard-fought victory?
Well turns out none of that actually happened. See what really happened was that XCOM, despite having the latest weapons, armour, equipment and personnel the world could provide, was utterly trounced, with the nations of the world offering unconditional surrender to the invaders. Now I for one distinctly recall beating the aliens off our planet, but hey, I am prone to flights of fancy at times.
This new world with it’s alien overlords is where XCOM 2 begins, where instead of a multinational organisation, you are taking command of a ragtag bunch of resistance fighters. Good luck, Commander!
In your struggle to free the world you will have a number of tools at your disposal – some familiar, some new. You will also face a number of obstacles, again some familiar, some new. Actually, mostly new to be honest. The main theme here is refinement. Firaxis have taken what worked from the previous game and improved on it, adding new features here and there, tweaking old ones, with the result that XCOM 2 is a much better game while retaining enough of the familiar gameplay to make players of Enemy Unknown feel instantly at home.
Let’s start with gameplay mechanics. One of the biggest new features – and in some ways the biggest, it’s that important – is the concealment mechanic. Most missions will see your hardy squad of soldiers dropped into a combat zone concealed, that is to say they haven’t been detected by the enemy. Until they are detected they can move around freely, setting themselves up for an ambush before revealing themselves to the enemy. This adds a large extra layer of tactics on top of the previous version, as you can set up your troops to take down an entire squad before they can react, and it is incredibly satisfying when you do.
Once detected concealment is lost the traditional cover/move/shoot/overwatch tactics come into play. But, at this point, here is where another new mechanic comes into force. You see, previously you could pretty much move inch by inch towards your objective, taking down one enemy at a time, working methodically towards your goal. Now, however, most missions have turn limits. They may start either at the beginning of the mission or part way though. When they are in effect things become a lot more urgent as you are forced to move aggressively towards your objective before it’s too late.
But, as any seasoned XCOM player will tell you, the game isn’t won or lost on the battlefield, it’s won or lost in how you manage the bigger picture – the previous game relied on managing nations so they wouldn’t panic and surrender to the aliens. Here you are in a race against time as the aliens are working towards their own master plan. Certain actions will delay them but nothing actually stops them. It becomes a game of priorities – do you research better weapons for your squad or build radio stations to contact resistance cells? Do you scout for supplies or risk being hunted down by an alien UFO? Every action has a big impact, much bigger than it did in Enemy Unknown.
The graphics have been upgraded as well. Environments seem bigger, enemies are more detailed, the various animations for moving, shooting and other actions look amazing. I also have to make special mention of the soundtrack. The previous game had some very memorable music but this one blows it out of the water. You really get the feel that humanity is on the brink of annihilation but they are fighting back with everything they have. The soundtrack is available as part of the deluxe edition on Steam or separately and believe me it’s well worth a buy.
All in all I am really enjoying this game. I do have some misgivings about the various time limits, be they turn limits in missions or the overall doomsday clock dogging your every move. I think it adds a lot of pressure on the player which is really not necessary on top of all the other stuff they have to deal with. That aside this is a really solid game and is well deserving of all the fantastic reviews it has received. Even if it makes me doubt something I definitely know I did a while back. Maybe I was just dreaming.