There’s something inconspicuously provocative about XCOM 2, a game whose careful mix of genres—that is, equal parts RPG and strategy interwoven into a sublime turn-based, tactical base—can only be found in franchise’s intial reboot, XCOM: Enemy Uknown.
I say inconspicuous because there’s a number of elements, were it to be any other title, we would bemoan, rant and rave over – and I suppose steer clear of.
It’s loading times are best described as sedate; it’s incredibly unforgiving and in many ways dumbed down from previous games; and at times can misbehave, having launched with a number of bugs and performance issues.
And yet, I can’t help but recommend XCOM 2 to all.
XCOM 2 is in no way a turn-based Dark Souls. Yes, it’s incredibly challenging, but a lot of what the Souls series throws at you can be overcome with repetition and acclimatisation.
Patience, careful play and rote memorisation will put you in good stead with the Souls games, but not so with XCOM 2.
XCOM 2 is as much about dealing with the inevitable calamities as it is preventing them in the first place; it’s all a bit of a gamble.
Much like with Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 puts you in the shoes of a task force whose sole mission is to encumber and ultimately thwart the alien menace humanity is facing.
Unlike in Enemy Unknown, however, you’re outgunned and outnumbered – Earth having offered its unconditional surrender to the alien forces following their invasion during the first game.
As a rebellious, tactical guerrilla unit, you’re often going to have the odds against you, with a good deal of XCOM 2’s missions on the clock, giving you a number of turns with which to complete any and all objectives.
While complete, automatic failure the moment your allotted turns expire is a little unfair—we’re much more in favour of slowly ramping up the difficulty—the mechanic is a great addition to the formula in spite.
Introduced to derail the glacial creep forward players would otherwise resort to – best explained as the ultra-defensive posture gamers used by moving soldiers forward only a few steps at a time, and always resorting to Overwatch.
Instead, you’ll often be forced to engage increasingly dangerous foes as you push forward, particularly because opposing squads spawn into the battlefield at random positions, making those missions where enemies are either placed particularly close to one another or are placed at your flanks especially challenging. But there’s more to it than that.
Of course, equipment choices, particular squad members and their abilities will matter, but decisions between high risk/high reward manoeuvres; costly defensive plays; splitting your team up for the sake of distraction while achieving the objective; and when to break cover will all weigh on each turn of every mission.
And if that wasn’t enough to unsettle you, XCOM 2 is going to throw a lot of awfully powerful adversaries at you rather quickly.
There are enemy units capable of closing large gaps and stunning you; Mind Control will quickly render your squad defenceless; panic stricken soldiers will often get themselves killed; and there’s a number of abilities available to the aliens that will almost immediately put you in the position of an impending squad wipe.
XCOM 2 is no easy feat, often throwing you under the bus without warning, but it feels incredibly rewarding to overcome, especially when you’re able to keep soldiers you’ve created with the game’s extensive tool-set alive.
The other reason you might give a damn about your soldiers is a far more appealing narrative than Enemy Uknown delivered, throwing convincing cinematics, an extensive lore and a variety of mission-types at you.
The world map and resource structure is a little dumbed-down, or at least it seems so, but the changes made make a lot of sense when you consider the sheer difficulty of the tactical game.
Advancing your equipment and squad is a lot less challenging than in previous titles, but you’re going to need every advantage you can get if you’re going to make it to the end.
A good portion of what will attract and repulse you to and from XCOM 2 is difficult to preside over as a writer, a lot of it coming down to user preference, but it’s easy to be impartial when it comes to performance hiccups and bugs, something I can attest to experiencing a few times throughout my experience with XCOM 2.
Many of the glitches I did experience were minor enough never to spoil the gratification I garnered from this difficult game, even when it was being gratuitously so.
On one occasion a save file or two were corrupted, nearly souring my entire experience, but I didn’t lose much progress as a result – the game has a habit of auto-saving fairly regularly.
That said, I would completely understand abandoning the game for an indefinite time period should my entire progress have been lost, particularly if I was attempting the game on the Iron Man setting – a difficulty setting that sees your save game options limited to practically a single save file.
In spite of these issues, I was always keenly aware that there’s more to XCOM 2 than its little foibles, like a highly destructible environment, improved visuals and a moddable framework that a number of modders are already taking advantage of.
XCOM 2 is appealing to me for the same reason many are going to think it unfair, but perhaps that’s the point.
It’s brutally challenging, never apologising for the frustration and grief it will indubitably incur as your squad crumbles around you on any number of occasions. XCOM 2 puts you, the player, in the role of a task force who really shouldn’t have much of chance of success—all odds against you, a challenge to take it on—and its gameplay reflects that.