XCOM 2 was one of my most anticipated games for this year; I loved the first remake and the sequel looked to take the game in lots of cool new directions.
I’ve played for most of the week and here’s my spoiler-free thoughts. I’ve just finished the game because I’m playing on Ironman…… which means that you can’t reload when things go wrong. If they go very wrong you have to restart.
And things go wrong in XCOM often and easily so really this final run was my twelfth game of XCOM 2 🙂
UFO: Enemy Unknown was released in 1994 and was a cracking game. You were the stalwart defenders of humanity, initially totally outclassed in tactical battles with the invading aliens but eventually reverse-engineering their technology and galvanising humanities’ defence.
I was amazed at its depth back then. All the options on the strategic layer and the beautiful effects that had on the tactical battles with the aliens.
It was also unforgiving and rock hard.
The game was remade in 2012 which had the same general gameplay but with streamlined mechanics and some of the more ridiculous random difficulty spikes tuned down. It had quite a bit of replay value due to the multiple difficulty levels and the organic way the campaign could develop; there were only a few scripted, storyline missions and the rest of the time you fought against semi-randomly created events.
I played it to death, especially with its expansion. Over 200 hours on Steam and quite a few hours on the Ipad version. I failed lots of Ironman runs and I rarely felt entirely safe until near the end of the game. Which was great 😀
The sequel was out last week. I’ve just finished an Ironman run on the second-hardest difficulty and it’s brilliant fun. It’s still the same general approach as the previous game; tactical battles with an overarching strategic layer; each ties into the other very tightly too. But this time you’re the terrorists / freedom-fighters taking on the aliens after they took over the world.
That back-story informs all of the major design differences in the sequel. You don’t have a base of operations but instead have an enormous
helicarrier captured alien ship as your mobile HQ.
You fly around the world picking missions which will help the most with your strategy; do you try and slow down the alien’s plans or take that extra engineer to help with your construction progress? Rescue a VIP for vital intelligence or raid a convoy for supplies? Take a risk by taking a mission defending civilians even though your best soldiers are in med-bay?
All these missions are procedurally generated so you never get loads of repeats of the same tactical maps (a problem with the first game). I ended up restarting several times and it never got dull because of the variety in both the mission layout and parameters.
There’s loads of other randomisation to make replay more fun. There’s an idea of ‘experimental’ weapons creation which gives you a random piece of weaponry / armour / ammo / explosives after a set amount of time. There are quite a few and I only ended trying a couple of them during my play through; it turns out plenty of of people finished the game with radically different approaches to me.
They’ve made the game less about forcing defensive positions and waiting around for that perfect engagement too. You start most missions in concealment which allows you to scout, get into position and get the drop on whichever pack of bad-guys you want. That and the fact that many missions have turn-limits makes you want to keep moving. The latter can really ratchet up the tension, but as long as your careful it’s never a major headache.
All in all they’ve done a great job in making multiple approaches viable;you always feel that you’re free to try and win your own way rather than being forced into the one optimal strategy. If you have a bad mission you often have to improvise with the troopers and weaponry you’ve got left so there were plenty of times where I pulled a surprise win out of the bag with some rookies and a new piece of shiny new technology I’d not used before.
That applies to the strategic map too; you have limited resources to upgrade your HQ and you have to prioritise what you build and when. For example, you can expand your resource generation which will give you more supplies to use later on but means you can’t build that training centre to make your troops deadlier now. Weaker troops but more money later? Up to you.
It’s a brilliant game. So many cool toys. So many choices which can be tailored to the challenges of your particular play-through.
Which may turn out to be a disaster in the end. But at least, it’s your disaster.