XCom 2 Launch Review: Is It Really That Different?

By Jason Parker (Ragachak)


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Xcom is a franchise that has done an inordinate amount of things. Originally released in 1994, it received a reboot not too long ago called XCOM: Enemy Within, by 2k Games. Firaxis also took their hands to this franchise, and while I love the series, as I’m a big Sci-Fi/Tactical RPG kind of guy, I wonder as I settled in “Is it really that different from XCom?” I’m still not really sure that it is. Is it a beautiful game? You bet your ass it is. Character creation is pretty fantastic; there are mods for it [which is always a plus for a PC game], and they improved all the short-comings of the previous title. . . well. That’s not true. There are still some things that nag at me pretty hard. I love the XCom franchise, but I’m not sure if this one is a big enough upgrade from the other to really stand out. It’s fancy, pretty, and has a lot of new bells and whistles, but I’m not quite sold on it yet. I simply feel like they were trying to build a better XCom, which is fine. But it’s still considerably rough around the edge. The DLC and forthcoming patches will help! But that doesn’t excuse the fact that they didn’t just take more time to polish before launch. Read on for my full thoughts on Xcom 2.

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The Procedurally Generated maps are pretty awesome, I dig it, but…but… I have had problems with these maps spawning so that my snipers virtually never gain line of sight, thanks to how the buildings are placed. What’s the point of having a damn sniper if I can’t get a clean shot at anything? That’s not even with the concealment system taking into account for cover! Not to mention a mission where I had to get to a radio tower, which seems like no big deal. Or it did, until the aliens set the house on fire that’s next to it, leaving me with nothing for my mission except smoldering rubble and crushed dreams. This goes hand in hand with another problem the game has, which is the infuriating inability to plateau difficulty correctly. As an aside, it’s kind of dark that you have to scavenge/save your own dead character’s bodies for the Advent Plates used for crafting, but that’s neither here nor there.


Not too far into the game, you have to Mindspike a particular alien target. Bear in mind, this was a regular objective on a regular target, no big deal. Then the boss alien blasts his way in to absolutely face-stomp your whole team [And he has the stones to back it up. 30 health or so, 5 armor, regens about 6 hp a turn… he’s a badass]. He has a great gun and all the cool PSI powers he needs. If you don’t know it’s coming, you can be in for a rough time. However, he met the business end of my shotgun and a flashbang. So, I got pretty lucky all things considered. I’m not anywhere near what I’d call a strategy pro, but it can be pretty damn frustrating no matter your skill at tactics games. As the game progresses, everything becomes more and more reliant on RNG, as actually difficulty levels ultimately bottom out.

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One of the new big deals is that you can loot bodies for guns, parts, and the resource to make ammo. You “can” spend time crafting your own special ammo, armor, attachments and things, but why would you when you can just loot a body, roll the dice and hope it doesn’t suck? That’s considerably easier, but it’s just a combo of instant items [grenades, medikits]. Anything special or awesome requires input to get a random output that you can just pray isn’t a duplicate.   It’s also pertinent to note you don’t buy guns anymore. You buy the upgrade and it’s unlocked forever. The system is more “pay now, pray you get something good later.” Being that there are 5 ammo types, 4 grenade types, 3 armor attachments, and 3 regular and upgraded versions of weapons, the odds of getting duplicates are pretty damn high.

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Though, it’s not all bad, that’s for sure. The game sort of scales with you, so instead of fighting weak, wimpy, worthless alien troops [RE: XCOM: Enemy Within], you can expect aliens to keep up with your RPG arms race. For example, if you spend a fair amount of time exploring and working up your gear early in the game, you might encounter something like the “Gatekeeper Alien,” a formidable foe normally waiting to terrorize you later in the story. What makes this thing so terrifying? It’s “Gateway” attack is unavoidable, 8-10 damage, and then it’s going to resurrect any dead bodies around it as zombies. It has 6 armor and 35 health, and it’s here to kick your teeth down your throat. Chrysalids are also pretty disgusting, with an incurable poison, digging and hiding capabilities, and other unmentionable vile surprises. In a lot of ways, it’s much much better than XCom: Enemy Within. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s not going to hold your hand.

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Other cool features? Cover! Line of Sight and cover are definitely your buddies. It’s great, because you can hide out of line of sight and be pretty much safe from enemy fire. This made me far less inclined to throw my keyboard into the toilet, furious about not being able to see an enemy you can CLEARLY see on the screen. The game makes it pretty damn clear what you can and cannot shoot. [Also, the AIM stat is generally your friend. Learn to love it.] Concealment/Sneaking made me feel like kind of a badass, but it also caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’m not very good at stealth, but trying to move around all the patrols caused them to come up behind me when I’m feeling cocky and brash. And instead of ONE group of aliens, now I have two or three to deal with the second I misplay my movement by a single square. And the damn Pod system made me want to bash my head against the desk. The Pod System keeps enemies in set locations, only activating once you get near them. Should you not come across one of these locations and complete an objective, the enemies are likely to come rushing with damn near omnipotence, leaving you to be ganged up on by swarms of pissed off, psionic aliens.

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This is why I love Mindcontrol; almost anything can be mindcontrolled, and I liberally use it to get myself out of sticky situations. I love PSI characters in this game. PSI characters are pretty ridiculous: They don’t take fire, poison, acid, or explosive damage, can remove negative effects, lock down multiple enemies, and have a pile of useful AOE moves. However, you have to spend the time in the PSI chamber amping them up.

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It’s DEFINITELY worth the effort in the end. I also really like, as far as combat goes, having the melee option on Rangers. It’s bad ass! If you can stealth your way in and stab the throats of your alien menace, it’s pretty gratifying. As I mentioned before, character customization is phenomenal, and the game now follows a pretty basic formula so that your squad won’t be unbalanced or ill-prepared to deal with whatever comes ahead for you. I rather like this, and felt it would have been a satisfactory effort. But the additional option to train and temper them with the skills you desire makes the customization experience unparalleled in the genre.

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Ready, Steady. . . GO!

Score: Great

In so many ways, XCOM 2 is a step above “Enemy Within,” though to be totally honest, I was incredibly let down by the reboot of the franchise. It’s a landslide without question, that this is leaps, bounds and miles beyond what the last XCOM game offered us. It’s not perfect, but you know, it gives the XCOM fans what they want: Character creation that’s fantastic, tactical gameplay, awesome abilities, and the enjoyment of obliterating an alien menace with plasma grenades and psychic powers. Do I think it needs fine tuning? Absolutely. Will upcoming patch work fix what’s not so great about it? That’s Firaxis MO these days. There are mods, but they aren’t really that great, yet. They exist, and they work; that’s what matters. The game is still new; give the devs and modders a little time to play with it – see what really works and what doesn’t. There are lots of things I didn’t really get to cover, like how you can evacuate from almost anywhere now. Though, some maps that have particular evac points might not agree with this. But I’m glad it’s there! Performance though isn’t perfect. It runs on a modded Unreal 3 engine and tries to keep all the high detailed options/visuals. No wonder the load times/running can be absolutely atrocious!


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Score Breakdown:


[Combat, Balance]

+ I love the concealment ability, and the ability to line of sight alien attacks. It really gives the game the tactical edge it deserved, and frankly, I don’t think it got in the previous title.

  • Some of the enemies are absolute bullshit. Being too greedy can get you bogged and overran by these enemies and their broken, infuriating powers. Line of sight can be your ally and even your enemy.



+ In general, WAY better class definition, AI, strategy and strategy options. The item array is expanded, and all around … more rounded.

  • The game is FAR too reliant on the Random Number Generator, and performance. I intensely dislike playing through, feeling like I’ve sunk a good amount of time in, and suddenly an interstellar asskicking machine pops up and rends my whole squad asunder.


[Sound of Shooting]

+ God I love the sounds of this game. The characters sound like they are genuinely into what they’re doing; it doesn’t sound bland. The gunfire, explosions, it all feels very gritty and as close to realistic as it can. Being Sci-Fi.

  • However, having my game interrupted with a voiceover that tells me shit I already know about the game, completely throws my swag off. That bothers me a great deal.


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