XCOM 2 Review

Dan Webb

When the original XCOM graced us with its presence – the reboot original, not the original original – in the middle of the last generation of consoles, we were truly blessed with a fresh and innovative strategy game, one that captured the attention of the masses. I say the masses, but clearly not enough for the true sequel to get a console release… until now that is. But has it been worth the wait? Well, in short: yes and no.

While XCOM: Enemy Unknown tasked you with protecting Earth, XCOM 2: XCOMMY’ER – as I like to call it – throws you into the boots of Commander of the resistance. Commander, you like that word, don’t you? Now, imagine the guy from Honest Trailers saying that every 10 seconds. That is XCOM 2. Well, mostly.


As the resistance leader it's your job to take back Earth, one continent at a time, while also trying to keep the invading forces from progressing on something they're calling the Avatar Project – no, it isn’t a secret task force to prevent the production of Avatar 2; we can only dream.

Players who played Enemy Unknown and its squad-centric, turn-based strategy game will feel right at home with XCOM 2, so much so that they may even question whether they’re playing Enemy Unknown 2. Yes, that is my sarcastic attempt to say that there really isn’t a lot that’s all that new with XCOM 2, and that is both a good thing, and a bad thing. Naturally.

In terms of major new additions, there really aren’t any to speak of. The new additions in XCOM 2 tend to be more tweaks and improvements than anything else, with the core gameplay feeling more iterative than revolutionary. Yes, we know that’s normally the case with sequels, but most sequels have a few new major mechanics that they hang their hats on.

XCOM 2 doesn’t really have any of those. Sure, now there’s a concealment mechanic which allows you to almost play quite stealthily, and you can melee (with some characters), floors and ceilings are now destructible, and you can call for an extraction (on some missions), but like I said, XCOM 2 isn’t revolutionary at all. It’s essentially Enemy Unknown/Within and as such, it's really more of the same. Which we are completely okay with, for the most part, and with procedurally generated maps, it does mean that the game has a lot of replayability.

If I was hard pushed to say it, I would say that the original reboots were actually better games than XCOM 2. No, this isn’t a bad port – in fact, it’s a brilliant port… it’s essentially the PC version, warts and all – it just seems like Firaxis has run out of ideas per se in a lot of respects. The frame rate issues, crashes, game glitches and extraordinarily long load times aside, the game gets repetitive rather quickly – even with the procedurally generated environments – and doesn’t really mix up the missions all too much. That is where they could have really made XCOM 2 a wonderful experience to write home and tell your kids about, you know, with some incredible set-pieces, but they're few and far between. They do exist, but don't occur very often.

The longer the game goes on though, the more and more you start to wonder if Firaxis has run out of ideas for the franchise. The strategy gameplay works. It really does, both on a mission environment level and a base-building/global management scale, but that worked in the original. In XCOM 2 it got to the point where it felt like instead of hand-crafting experiences that one could savour and would rise to meet the gamer’s challenge they just opted to go for the cheap and easy route.

I can picture it now… “But hey, how can we make it harder for the player?” “How about an enemy that teleports?” “Oh, that’s cool – and not annoying at all!” “What about one that can control minds?” “Great! Hey, we should put all of these into one character for later on in the game too.” Early on, a simple mind control alien can decimate your squad, with, well, one of your squadmates, and in a game with permadeath at the forefront, that’s largely frustrating. The game doesn’t even attempt to outthink and play you, it just opts for cheap enemies and, well, just more of them. With XCOM 2, Firaxis has approached it with a case of more is better, when it necessarily isn’t always the case, especially so here.

It does still have the same hang-ups as the original too, whether it’s the dodgy camera at times – especially in and around buildings – the weird combat animations where characters clips through whatever the hell they want, and the bizarre hit percentages – how can I only have a hit percentage of around 50% for a large 7ft beachball sized enemy when they’re only 6ft away yet I get a 67% chance rating for an enemy behind full cover? And don’t get me started on the RNG, which has either all gone to shit or I’m the unluckiest XCOM 2 player ever – never in my life have I missed so many 95%+ shots, which, incidentally, is the most frustrating thing in video games. No exaggeration. On this occasion, I’m going to give the game the benefit of doubt. Don’t touch me though, my unluckiness is contagious!


Um... That's a big alien.

As was the case since the reboot of the new XCOM, XCOM 2 does indeed have multiplayer again. It’s a simple 1 vs. 1, squad-on-squad affair, where you choose the make-up of your squad from all characters (both friendly and alien) from within the game, so long as you don’t exceed the point limit. Because the gameplay works so well, and with the endless possibilities of no two teams or players being the same, it’s a mode that was always going to work. It always has, and still does.

As for the achievements, Firaxis has actually put together a really solid list here, one that ticks a lot of the most relevant boxes. Challenging achievements, check – and boy, are they challenging! Interesting achievements, check. Progression achievements, check. It’s not a perfect list – or by any means an easy one – but it’s a bloody good one. There seems to be more innovation in the achievement list than there was in the game.

So, you might have been reading this thinking it might all sound like doom and gloom, but let me clarify that is very much not the case. XCOM 2 is still a great little game in the same way the original was – the mechanics from Enemy Unknown are very much the same and still the core here – but as a sequel to a fantastic and innovative – almost revolutionary – game, it’s merely only functional. It’s like that kid in school that could easily get top marks but is happy to cruise through class with a B+, which is what XCOM 2 is: a B+ game. Fans of the original and strategy games in general will lap up XCOM 2 no end and so did we for the most part, but we were just hoping for something a little more from a studio usually at the forefront of innovating and setting the standard within the strategy genre.

XCOM 2

XCOM 2 is a great strategy game for the same reasons that Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within were, for the unique minute-to-minute gameplay, but as a sequel, this needed more innovation and less iteration.

Form widget
80%
Audio
80%

A pretty epic audio score is let down by some static acting and repetitive dialogue.

Visuals
70%

While the game looks slick and sexy, it does suffer from some performance issues. Quite a lot actually.

Playability
85%

It plays as good as it did in 2012. You would have thought after all these years though, they’d have cut out some of the niggles that have existed in the franchise since Enemy Unknown.

Delivery
75%

XCOM 2 boasts a great, but fairly repetitive campaign – even with procedurally generated environments – that will offer hours of entertainment, albeit very similar entertainment. There’s multiplayer too, which still works and is pretty damn good.

Achievements
80%

The achievements in XCOM 2 are actually quite decent. There’s a nice mix of challenging, brutal achievements, story achievements and some cool little side-task achievements.

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