XCOM 2 is a continuation on easily one of the best science fiction real time strategy (RTS) console games in recent memory. Firaxis Games’ sequel picks up exactly where you were left after the original but don’t let that deter you if you never had the chance to play it. They do a fantastic job of making the game stand apart from the first so they don’t outcast anyone.
The story itself is wonderful which is no surprise. With multiple facets of story building you learn the back story of your enemy the ADVENT while also getting to know your crew you deal with daily. Through research and engineering, more and more information comes about to help you with your end goal and missions. XCOM 2 does well to spur the story forward with sporadic events that forces tough decisions; do I save some civilians under attack or finish scanning for supplies that I desperately need. All in all, the story is worth reading every detail, listening to every conversation, and watching all the cut scenes. At the same time, it is possible to enjoy the game without doing so, which I find really important when there are times I only have 15 minutes to play and can’t spend 10 watching and reading information.
You begin with a tutorial of sorts that allows any player (returning or newcomer) to gain all the knowledge needed to play well. Mind you, the game is originally a PC title that has made the transition to console, but the controls feel natural and the in-game menu is easy to navigate. The combat itself is simple for an RTS. In general, each player has two moves which can be spent doing various things; moving, shooting, using a skill, etc. It makes the sometimes daunting genre of RTS approachable.
The only thing I can complain about is the small glitches and lags in the game and sometimes slow frame rate. For example, when moving your last player, it zooms in to follow their exact path. It is a unique POV but slows the console down a lot. As an RTS game, this lag is nothing to worry about, but would be nice to see patched up. However, in general, the game still looks fantastic in HD.
My absolutely favorite aspect of XCOM 2 is the return of the character customization. Every mission you deploy 4 characters that have different ranks, weapons, and skills. They also differ by looking different and having different nationalities. Now this might not seem like a big deal but combining these five or so key features and you don’t get a bunch of duplicate players. Every character starts as a rookie and after their first kill get a promotion. This promotion will make them a “squaddie” and give them a random skill such as sniper, drone operator, grenadier, etc. This is where your team begins to build composure and you begin to build a relationship. Be careful not to get to attached because if said player gets killed in battle, they are gone forever. Whether consciously or not, it will factor into how you play the game. I found myself protecting a guy that has 10 kills and been with since I first started and “sacrificing” the rookie. Of course, you can also hard quit out of the game and the constant auto save feature will take you back to right before the mission started (or close to) and you can take another crack at.
Little details about the missions are a nice touch. When you are loading a mission (which can take a long time, sadly) you join the 4 person team on the airship as they approach their destination. Inside the ship is a mission overview where you can read about the objectives and some additional information. When the mission is ready to launch, the interior lights go red and you press “A” to start. Other little details include things like back at home base, the rooms you navigate between are nicely decorated and even if they don’t provide a huge purpose, are carefully designed to add to the story. For instance, the sleeping quarters have become buzzing with activity as I recruit more people for my cause.
The biggest flaw I have with the game is that at times, there isn’t a very specific direction I felt that I was guided towards. Sporadic events and natural progression has me jumping all over the place and I feel like I am never getting done what I really wanted to or in fact needed to (I may have run out of resources after my squad got wiped out and I went on a recruiting spree). The interface in the main hub is a world map that has events populating it and time naturally passes. It makes sense but in certain instances I am unsure what to do or what the consequences will be if I ignore an event. Obviously, this is part of the game and personally I have an idea of what will happen, but someone new to the series might be troubled by this. It would have been a nice touch to add in some mechanic to hold a player’s hand at least for a scenario like this the first time around.
The game is extremely well done, from the story to the deep character customization. Firaxis, after already having proved a good method of gameplay, did everything right (again) and there isn’t much room for improvement. XCOM 2 will keep you busy for hours between missions, experiencing the story, and customizing every little thing. Any fan of RTS and/or Sci-Fi games needs to play this and anyone interested in an in-depth experience should venture into the wonder world of XCOM 2.