I cannot boast that I began as an X-Com fan with the original iterations, which I’ve heard are some of the most difficult games out there. No, X-Com didn’t appear on my radar until the Oct 2012 release of X-Com: Enemy Unknown; a modern reboot and re-envisioning of the originals.
For the uninitiated, X-Com 2 is a turn-based tactical RPG, with light base-building in between combat missions. You take on recruits that are assigned a class at second rank, and rank up with additional abilities as they gain experience. Throughout the campaign, you will research and develop new weaponry and equipment for your soldiers as they face increasingly difficult and complicated enemies. The campaign is known for suspense and a profound sense of urgency that it creates via scarce resources, difficult combat missions, and permanent soldier death coupled with a campaign ‘time-limit’.
I adored X-Com: Enemy Unknown. The game was fantastic and had me playing for hours on end. The fact I could rename my soldiers to my closest friends’ names added even more to the experience when they became injured or killed in action, or made some amazing shot. These stories were something my friends, and poor wife had to suffer through while I regaled them of their acts of heroism or sacrifice performed by their virtual selves! Yeah, they probably all thought I was crazy…
|Soldier customization has been much improved!|
X-Com 2 allows my friends to go through all of that again; this time, with updated graphics and a new campaign to boot, along with a plethora of changes since the last iteration. My favorite change, though, is the character pool, which allows you to customize a list of potential characters/recruits that may appear in your game. With a few INI file tweaks, I was able to make sure my customized player pool were the first recruits to show up. So, my beginning crew was an assortment of my friends and me.
If you enjoyed X-Com: Enemy Unknown, you will definitely enjoy this one too, as the core game does not stray far from its predecessor. However, there are marked improvements to many of the systems, including the graphics and troop customization. The UI and functionality changes are also a welcome addition to the series.
The most dramatic change between the two is the base-building meta game. Instead of an underground facility with a lot of room to grow, you are on a large airship with a very finite amount of room to build rooms; albeit, the amount of needed rooms has been decreased, simplifying the base-building meta, so you can focus more on the combat, the situation map strategy, and researching and developing your troops’ equipment.
|Planning out how you’re going to make contact with the world is very important!|
Another new feature is stealth mode. For most missions, your chosen squad will begin in stealth mode. The enemy is unaware of your teams’ presence, and you are able to get the jump on the first group of enemies you attack, or until you are detected. It’s a lot of fun to set up overwatch ambushes and annihilate a whole group of enemies before they even have a chance. This proves helpful in the difficult early stages of the game.
The change-up in soldier classes comes as a refreshing change, and it feels like the classes have more of a unique identity. In addition, most of the classes feel like there are various ways to build the soldier when choosing their talents each rank up. What’s also nice, is that a building has been implemented that allows you to retrain all of a soldier’s talents, if you are aren’t happy with what you chose originally.
The assault class has been replaced by the very cool Ranger class, complete with a rather large machetes attached to their backs. The Ranger has talents that allow them to close the distance and decimate your enemy from close range. While I feel like it’s a little redundant for the shotgun class to also have a melee weapon, it has it’s uses, and the high-end Reaper talent makes you feel like a modern day ninja.
The Heavy class has been replaced by the Grenadier class. Instead of Rocket launchers, each Grenadier is equipped with a grenade launcher. I found myself using way more explosives than I did in Enemy Unknown, probably because of the mid-to-end game emphasis on armored enemies that must have their armor shredded prior to being able to do any significant damage to them. In addition, a well-placed grenade is a great way to start a fight with the newly-implemented stealth mechanic.
The support class has been replaced by the specialist class, which is probably the most dramatically changed soldier class of them all. With two varying specialized builds. A specialist gets a remote hacking drone that can either be specialized for helping you stop mechanical units OR it can be re-purposed to be a long range medical drone, allowing you to heal and stabilize your squad mates from afar, which is very useful.
|The Marksman class now has a Pistol Sidearm for close encounters!|
The sniper has been replaced by the Marksman class, but has been virtually unchanged besides some new talent types. The addition of the Spider suit makes the sniper’s inability to move and shoot on the same turn less of a hindrance. The suit allows the sniper to grapple to high vantage points as a free action.
In addition, there is a special Psionic class, but you must make the decision to turn them into a Psionic prior to having a class assigned. The Psionic soldiers ‘level up’ differently than the common soldier classes. Instead of ranking up from combat, a Psionic ranks up in the Psionics lab over time, allowing you to choose their next power after each one is earned. I didn’t make much use of the Psionic class, but they seemed very powerful the few times I did. It takes a lot of investment to get to that point, however, and I wasn’t a big fan of not building them up through combat.
If all of that wasn’t enough, X-Com 2 adds weapon modding and implants into the mix. Both of these systems lets you modify each soldier’s weapon with scopes, auto-reload magazines, and other fun mods that provide additional bonuses in combat. The implants also allow you to assign one implant per soldier that gives them increased stats. I really enjoy the weapon-modding feature, as I feel like it gives soldier customization more depth.
|The specialist’s GREMLIN drone is an amazingly useful tool.|
The mission structure is similar to X-Com: EU, but with some new interesting enemies and more varied battlegrounds. In fact, there’s a lot more urban warfare in this iteration, giving your snipers plenty of vantage points to rain bullets down on your enemies. In addition, many previous enemies have had a power boost. The Sectoids, for example, were pretty much the weakest enemy but now pose a serious problem with their various new psionic abilities which can wreak havoc on your well-tuned strategy.
The tenseness of the alien threat is still present in this campaign. While the Avatar Project meter seems like a big threat early on in the game, once you get a handle on it, it’s not so bad. I feel like EU’s system of losing the support of full continents was much more tense and punishing than this one. The difficulty of X-Com 2 seems really high at first, even on the normal setting, but once you get some upgrades under your belt and the ability to bring more than four soldiers along, the game becomes significantly less difficult.
Overall, I’m very happy with X-Com 2, and I feel they’ve done a great job on improving the known formula without changing the gameplay too much. My main complaint is the campaign seems a little short–hopefully some expansions will prolong the campaign. The difficulty could also use a little bit of tweaking mid-to-late game, as well, as the difficulty plateaus then dips as the game goes on.
Currently X-Com 2 can only be found on the PC, with no clear signs as to whether Firaxis Games is even considering a console release, which is unfortunate for my console brethren.