I’m convinced XCOM 2 isn’t a game that is trying to make anyone actually like it. Working my way through a procedurally generated level with the utmost care, it takes pleasure in throwing unpredictability and mayhem in a way that has consequences reaching further than the four-man team wipe its just handed to me on a platter. Its Sectoids grin evilly as they turn my troops against each other, my commanders scold me for my poor performance and the Advent look set to win this war yet again. XCOM 2, at all odds, doesn’t want me to win.
Sure other games try to promise this type of challenge, but XCOM 2 is one of the rare ones that actually delivers. Through refinement over reinvention, XCOM 2 manages to pick the pace of its predecessor and throw even more challenges at your nameless Commander, creating an engaging, if a little unwelcoming, strategy game that will test your wits and patience in equal measure.
At its core, XCOM 2 differs very little from the reboot that managed to propel the franchise name to the top of a new generation’s favourite games list. You’ll take small groups of soldiers into turn-based battle, with battlefields themselves segmented into tiles that both limit your movements and abilities throughout. Each troop is given two action points per turn, and the way they’re utilised in both offense and defence in each turn plays a big role in how many men make it make in time. There’s the same calculated randomness in attacks here mixed in with some welcomed procedural generation for stage designs, and at first it seems like the XCOM you’ve known and loved before.
It changes with some incredibly well designed context though. XCOM 2 takes place 20 years after the first game, which assumes you failed in your mission to stop the alien invasion. Hence Advent now controls most of the world, with XCOM operating from the shadows with limited resources, limited support and the odds stacked as much as possible against them. You’re fighting a guerrilla war now, attempting to halt Advent’s plans to wipe out the human race while also hiding from the very people you’re sworn to protect.
What makes the premise so engrossing though is how it directly feeds into XCOM 2’s improved gameplay. The Advent are everywhere now, and so XCOM are the ones launching the surprise attacks. Most missions, for example, begin in a state of concealment – one of the most useful and interesting new additions to XCOM 2’s combat. While concealed enemies won’t be aware of your squad, and hence not actively hunt you during turns. This make movement and discretion vital as you line up your team for vital ambushes, sometimes ensuring you several free kills before the enemy is even aware you’re there.
Concealment alone is a worth feature that immediately makes XCOM 2 feel different, and it’s importance to master only serves to amplify how important your moves are in this sequel. XCOM at times felt like a slow burning slog, allowing you to carefully and meticulously plan your movement to keep casualties low and kills high. XCOM 2 on the other hand demands to same amount of precision with more pressure, with many of its main, side and otherwise optional missions often putting all sorts of parameters in front of you to hasten your actions.