Published on March 23rd, 2016 | by Tony Odett0
XCOM 2 Review
Summary: More of a great game. Not a huge step forward, and with some technical flaws, but still quite enjoyable.
Is it possible to be simultaneously impressed by a game, and yet also deeply disappointed? I’ve taken some time to get my head around my true feelings about XCOM 2, which from the start of my first mission I played obsessively until completion. Yet, during all the time, something nagged at me in the back of my head. There was nothing wrong with the game (well, save for the graphical issues that forced me to play on low settings), and yet, something was curiously absent. And, still, I could not stop playing.
XCOM 2 has all the addictive properties of its predecessor. The assumption is that humanity lost the battle in the previous game, and the aliens are in charge. Some humans resist, however, and the XCOM initiative is re-launched to lead the fight to overthrow the extraterrestrial oppressors. Of course, I had won in several campaigns in XCOM, so the fact that my previous victories had come to naught was very distressing. Perhaps the aliens had returned to exact a terrible vengeance in my absence, but I digress…
The new premise means that you spend a lot of time fighting from the shadows. As your team inserts into conflict, it may begin concealed, allowing you to set up ambushes or find ways to avoid enemy troops. I never did find a mission I could accomplish without ever being seen, but I was often able to announce my arrival by slaughtering a good portion of the foe almost immediately. As a guerilla fighter, I also spent time dodging aliens searching for my base, looting their technology to improve my soldiers, and participating in missions that reflected my new station in life (attacking unsuspecting convoys and the like). And yet, I think these new mechanics and missions, implemented well within XCOM’s framework, point out its limitations, and show that this new effort, while iterating well on its predecessor, did little to shore up its most glaring weaknesses, or evolve it in any meaningful way.
The enemy AI is as weak and easily manipulated as it was in the previous game. Groups of enemies will sit static, just off screen, as their compatriots are slaughtered. The game tries to remedy this by placing many missions on a timer that counts down, and will cause you to either fail the mission, or to abandon unevacuated troops when it hits zero. This largely works in the beginning of your campaign, as you are forced to rush through missions at points and take risks that will activate these enemies. Yet, the more you play, the more powerful your troops become, and the easier it is to wipe the enemy out quickly enough that the timer is no longer much of an obstacle. And the enemy troops are constantly zigging when they should be zagging, running out in the open instead of taking obvious shots, targeting my troops in the back while ignoring easy flanking shots up front. The only times I felt challenged was when the game rushed me with overwhelming force- even the tough “boss” enemies were easily wiped out if there weren’t a horde of other aliens to distract me. Much like the previous game, once you hit the ten hour mark, the difficulty level goes from quite challenging to a walk in the park.
And yet, despite my misgivings, the game is still fun as hell. The elements that made the previous game so very, very good as back, and built up wonderfully. The soldier customizer has been fully developed, and I had a good time recreating people I know from my twitter feed in the game. I had a great time sending screenshots of my troops successes and failure to the people I knew who I had added to my team. And I was sad when I had to evacuate one mission and leave a couple of my friends behind. Voices and looks are all fully customizable, and the number of mods now available means that you can pretty much have whatever look you desire for your in game soldiers. I went with a more classic look, but that storm trooper mod looks very tempting.
Soldier types are all well balanced, and each seemed to gain equally powerful abilities as they increased in rank. One of the perks I gained was an ability for my soldiers to acquire abilities from other skill trees, so when one of my snipers gained the assault class’ ability to pierce armor, I was over the moon. Even the specialist “healer” class is given some powerful area of effect abilities, ensuring that any class can hold its own in a fight (as you’d expect from elite soldiers). Various armors allow much more customization- snipers in power armor that can shoot rockets, specialists who can slingshot themselves across the map. There are lots of options, and I was able to play the game in lots of way, depending on who on my team was available. I could use grenade launchers to destroy the ground under my enemies’ feet, or hack their turrets and kill them with friendly fire. I could snipe from afar, or close in and deal finishing blows with a powerful sword thrust.
XCOM 2 is a lot of fun. It’s a great time, sneaking across the map, setting up your college roommate to take the perfect shot, while your ex-girlfriend rescues the hostages. Yet, still, I can’t help but thinking- I wanted more. This game is fun, but it’s not a huge step up from its predecessor. The environments feel lifeless and still. It’s weird to “ambush” a convoy at a crossroads by walking up to its silent and unmoving vehicles. The enemies, as huge and terrifying as they may appear, become relatively harmless as the game progresses. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that, due to technical issues, XCOM looks so much better on my gaming PC than XCOM 2, which was unplayable on higher settings. The game is great. I just can’t help but thinking XCOM 2 should be so much more than it already is.