XCOM 2 is a turn-based strategy game taking place decades after the first game, wherein Earth battled an alien invasion. In XCOM 2, Earth exists under alien rule. Acting as a resistance force, friends old and new have enlisted you to help them turn the tide.
In the first XCOM, your choices determine the way the game ends. It is possible to lose and have aliens take over Earth. It’s just as possible to win and repel their invasion. But either way, the aliens end up taking over, presumably by future force or diplomacy. Human governments embrace the aliens and work to infuse their technology with ours, using this as a selling point for compliance.
Gameplay includes building your own facilities to increase the number of resources you have to fight against the alien invaders. But you can also build a network with other resistance groups throughout the world. These groups join main story missions, giving you objectives to achieve, and some of them are quite time sensitive.
You have to balance everything correctly to avoid losing troops or entire teams. While you’re doing this, the aliens are also building a secret project that’s detrimental to the human cause.
A lot of the mission mechanics are the same as XCOM: Enemy Unknown. But there are a few dramatic changes that give XCOM 2 an edge over its predecessor.
First is the customization available on each of your troops. It’s nice to be able to alter so many details of each individual member of your team. It really helps you feel like these are people you’re in charge of looking after. It can also help you when you’re looking visually at your map.
For example, you may decide to give all your rangers black hair and all your psi operatives green hair. You can deepen your roleplaying experience by cloaking your sharp shooters in full camouflage gear, including face and head cover. Your options are almost literally endless.
As you move around the field, blue-outlined areas designate spaces you can move into and still retain a second action. In contrast, the areas outlined in yellow take both of your actions. You can move farther, but you won’t be able to attack or use a specialization that round.
After each member of your team has moved, any aliens on the map get the opportunity to move as well. If you’ve discovered where they are, you get to see how they move. Otherwise it’s just a mysterious sound effect occurring in a foggy area until it’s your turn again.
Your objectives are displayed in the upper left-hand corner, and some are time-sensitive. You have a number of turns until you lose the round, even if you’ve defeated all the enemies on the map.
But XCOM 2 gives you a couple of advantages that the original didn’t. For one, you have the ability to cloak yourself. If you haven’t been seen by the enemy, you can move undetected, set traps, and lock in Overwatch, an ability that allows you to save an attack action. As soon as the enemy moves during their turn, your unit has the opportunity to attack it.
The game clearly outlines what movement would alert the enemy to your presence by overlaying those squares with red open eyes. Once you’ve been noticed, you generally can’t go back into hiding. However, a few units can develop specializations that will re-cloak them later.
Another fun feature available in XCOM 2 is the looting option. Sometimes, after an enemy is defeated, a yellow number appears over their body. This lets you know how much time you have to retrieve it during an already tense battle situation.
There are lots of other great improvements, too. For instance, you can carry dead or critically-wounded units to either revive or retain any equipment you had on them. Or, say you know you’re losing a round and don’t want to risk killing off your team. You can request an extraction at any time, thanks to your mobile defense unit. There are new, tougher forms of alien life and new technologies to research and explore.
However, the most popular new feature is easily the procedurally-generated maps. No two maps are ever the same, adding a level of challenge to each play-through. Defeating one mission on one run of the game doesn’t guarantee you will on the next. The built-in mapping system places random buildings or obstacles on the map in predesigned areas.
Consequently, the objectives are often generated based on the way the map is set up. If a generator tower is plugged into the map, your objective might be to destroy it. But if a computer with essential information is on the map, your objective might be to retrieve it instead.
XCOM 2 improves on something that was already good to begin with. With new plots, new enemies, more complicated maps, more customization, and a more fluid RTS battle system, what’s not to love? And since it’s available on PC, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, just about any gamer should have access to it.