If you played XCOM: Enemy Unknown, as I did, your reaction to the setting of XCOM 2 might well have been the same as mine: ‘hang on a minute, didn’t we win?’ Well I’ve thought about it and I don’t think we actually did. See, even if you beat the game, how many times did you have to restart after you made too many mistakes? How many times did you reload a save because your only Colonel took a crit they really, really didn’t need? XCOM 2 is just set in the world you left behind when you abandoned that save file. There you go Firaxis, I patched that up for you.
Whatever explanation you choose, the story of XCOM 2 goes like this: after twenty years lying dormant in the shadows, hiding from the ADVENT coalition that struck a deal with the aliens which rings bells very much in tune with those of Half Life 2, the XCOM project is suddenly revitalised by the retrieval of the Commander from Enemy Unknown, who had been kept in stasis and used as a comatose strategy-producing supercomputer by the aliens. Newly revived and jammed squarely back in the director’s chair at XCOM’s new flying HQ, you re-assume the position of the only person in the entire world qualified to coordinate a military project and take the fight to ADVENT and the aliens.
And God knows you’ll need those little buffs, because the enemies in XCOM 2 really don’t mess around.
Series fans will find a lot familiar here: the gameplay is fundamentally unchanged from Enemy Unknown, and anyone hoping for radical differences will be disappointed. However, what is new is very satisfying, and adds a great deal to the game. Your soldiers once again come in four flavours, with slight variations on the old. The Assault class is now the sword-wielding Ranger, adaptable to close-quarters encounters and a reliable point lead. The Heavy is now the Grenadier, essentially unchanged but for having swapped out the shitty bazooka for a more versatile grenade launcher that can be loaded with different shells. The Support has become the Specialist, whose medic-ing is now predominantly done via a hovering drone which can also hack and disable enemy mechanical systems. Finally, the Sniper is now the Sharpshooter; not a great deal revolutionised there. The class tweaks are all very satisfying, especially the Ranger’s swordplay, and really do consolidate a lot of problems from which the classes in Enemy Unknown suffered.
And God knows you’ll need those little buffs, because the enemies in XCOM 2 really don’t mess around. Returning enemies are far stronger than before, and even they are weak compared to some of the hellish new additions such as the Archon and the Codex. The challenge rating this time round really has been boosted significantly, and even if you’re fine-tuned to the strategies of XCOM you’ll find yourself reloading out of tricky situations with increasing frequency.
Of course, that’s no complaint; by the end of Enemy Unknown, little could pose a threat to your super-soldiers, so it’s nice to be back on the teeth-gritting end of challenging gameplay. More than anything else, XCOM 2 represents more of the same in the most beautiful way. New challenges, new missions, new troops, and a shiny new graphical sheen update the series to an installation that builds on its predecessor in every way. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some doomed soldiers to escort into an early grave. ‘80% chance to hit’ my arse.