Written by Joshua Bouie
Aliens are not the only enemy in XCOM 2, time is just as deadly an adversary. Time seems to never be on your side, as you improve your home base and train soldiers to ultimately fight and die for humanity. There is a countdown for which the aliens will unleash devastation if not thwarted. This looming timer adds an incredible sense of fear and anxiety throughout your struggle as failure is not an option.
XCOM 2 is a beautifully brutal turned based strategy game that takes place on a strategic world map and isometric warzones. You are given command of the human resistance as they fight to retake earth from the ADVENT, an alien regime that has governed earth for 20 years. With earth now under alien rule, holographic propaganda and reverent statues line the streets and advent forces patrol them, searching for members of the resistance or any civilian who doesn’t conform. Although human in appearance its clear by there distinct dialect and abilities something far more sinister is going on. They are powerful, brutal and have access to extremely advanced technology. You start your journey with access to basic weaponry and armor as you are made to feel as though you are truly a desperate guerilla force fighting an overwhelming enemy.
While the original XCOM had you taking more of a defensive role as the aliens were invading, this time around you are completely on the offensive. You are given access to a mobile home base called the Avenger. Here is where you will recruit new soldiers, engineers and scientist. Once you began to staff your base you can research new technologies and improve your fighting force. You send your guerilla force on squad based missions that are more about sabotage and intel gathering than all-out assault. You raid supply trains and intercept data transfers to halt the progress of the Advent’s plan for human extinction. XCOM 2 ties its narrative and gameplay together in such a way that every mission feels as though it could be your last and every shot is incredibly important.
XCOM 2 employs a new concealment mechanic, allowing your soldiers to drop into the majority of missions unnoticed, allowing you to coordinate devastating ambush attacks. This reinforces the idea of a guerilla force. Firing a shoulder mounted rocket launcher into a group of unsuspecting enemies, ordering your heavy gunner to suppress them with concentrated fire, as your snipers pick off the rest is such an exhilarating experience. XCOM 2 uses procedural map and objective generation which ensures a different mission each time out. You will snipe from new rooftops and lay down walls of gunfire down different alleyways in each mission. This dynamic approach keeps gameplay fresh and adds longevity.
There are four classes each with 2 skill trees to select from, you can train your sniper as a marksman or a gunslinger, you can also mix skills from each tree. The specialist can hack security towers and provide aid to squad mates, the grenadier is the heavy weapons expert with suppressive fire and raw destruction. The ranger’s blade and shotgun make them a deadly close quarters operative. There is a timer on each mission pushing you forward and adding tension, counting down the turns until your target escapes or the aliens extract precious data.
XCOM 2’s overarching narrative exudes the same sense of urgency. As you move the Avenger across the globe establishing contact with other resistance groups, the aliens power is indicated by a progress bar at the top of the world map. This adds a real sense of tension which forces you to maintain a state of constant motion, constantly hunting down the enemy, saving distressed resistance bases or keeping precious supplies out of alien hands.
XCOM 2 is a great game but what keeps it from truly being an exceptional game are performance issues, at least on consoles. An unstable frame rate with constant dips and jittering, inconsistent AI, and load times easily seeing upwards of 30 to 40 seconds. These issues do not ruin the experience, but the fun does began to wane when these issues arise. Issues aside, my time with XCOM 2 has been a challenging and emotional experience and it is and absolute treat for anyone in search of a challenge on every level.
Every choice, every death and every shot fired feels like it counts, and it is this feeling of real consequence that makes for an incredible strategy game. As an experience that puts you in control, lets you celebrate victories, and forces you to truly feel mistakes, and allows you to grow as a tactician against all odds, XCOM 2 is a superb title even with the aforementioned issues.