XCOM 2 Sends Gamers Back to the Heart of Darkness

XCOM 2 logo

 2K Games

It may not be Dark Souls III, but 2 has a similarly punishing aesthetic. It is a game in which you have to be willing to part with soldiers you have trained, upgraded, and come to love a little bit. As the missions get more difficult, it becomes almost impossible to leave them with all four of your soldiers intact. Just like the breakthrough XCOM: Enemy Unknown in 2012, this excellent sequel places you in a God-like role, commanding an elite resistance against an enemy invasion. And you’re going to have make some sacrifices.

The Fight Starts Now

While previous XCOM games have centered on forces trying to stop an alien invasion, XCOM 2 features a more aggressive narrative because the humans have already lost the war. You aren’t trying to keep the planet; you’re trying to take it back. It’s 2035, 20 years after the events of XCOM: Enemy Within (the expansion pack for the last game). For some time now, XCOM has been dormant as the world has been run by an alien faction known as ADVENT, but former members of the resistance force have been in hiding, waiting for the right moment to strike. That moment is now.

Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master

The structure of XCOM 2 is largely the same as previous games. It’s such a deceptively simple concept. You have four soldiers. You have two turns with each to command them. Moving a long distance could take both turns. Or you can have your soldier perform a number of tactical options, including firing at the enemy, going into an Overwatch position (able to ambush a moving enemy that comes into their sights), or eventual special moves that come with upgraded soldiers and developed technology. Then the aliens move. Then it starts over again. It’s as simple as a board game structure, with different players taking turns one after the other, but it becomes as complex as chess. When to take a defensive posture; when to advance on the enemy; when to fall back; when to use your limited supplies—there’s a lot of trial and error in XCOM 2, although if you’re pure to the game and don’t load an old save then that trial and error is going to leave some of your favorite soldiers dead. There’s also a depressing factor of luck in XCOM 2.

We’ll never forget having the drop on an enemy, flanking one of our favorite soldiers into position behind him, and taking a shot with an 89% chance of hitting him… and missing. Knowing that with his move, our most upgraded soldier was dead. We almost cried.

The Battle is Only the Beginning

While most of XCOM 2 takes place on the battlefield, you’ll also spend hours on your ship, consistently faced with new choices, adding a deep sense of authorship to the title. XCOM 2 is a story of limited resources. What do you want to build with your supplies? What do you want your scientists to research? As the game expands, and missions open around the world, XCOM 2 becomes a neverending string of decisions. And, just like on the battlefield, making the wrong one can lead to tragedy. Early in the game, we stupidly spent some supplies in the wrong way and didn’t have enough to build more than one medikit, quickly learning this was going to be a problem. Hint: Make more medikits.

Not For the Casual Gamer

If there’s anything to complain about with XCOM 2—other than an arguable sense of repetition given how much it feels like the last game—it’s that the game requires a real sense of commitment in a time of year when it feels like there’s a new title to distract us every other week (there’s a new Battlefield, Call of Duty, and Dishonored). It makes sense that this franchise became popular on the PC (and this title was released for PCs in February 2016) in that PC gamers often have a deeper level of commitment than console gamers. To really be competent at XCOM 2, you have to play constantly, learn strategies, commit to the resistance. Otherwise, the world is theirs.