XCOM2 27 Feb

After my trip to MAGFest and an abnormally busy first quarter of video games, I finally got to sit down and review XCOM 2! Exciting, right?!

I mean, the game came out almost a month ago. A review this late is practically irrelevant, but I paid full price for the game and I’ve been really itching to play it since it launched. So… that’s what this week’s review is! Next week: Tomb Raider!

Anyway, XCOM 2 is the sequel to the 2012 reboot to the series. It’s set further in the future where apparently the crew from XCOM 2012 screwed up and humanity has been colonized by aliens from outer space. In XCOM 2, you lead a resistance force to save humanity from… further alien hijinx.

New to the XCOM series? Don’t worry! Cmon in the pool! It’s just a brutally difficult turn-based tactics game with a not only a focus on strategic combat, but also resource management, time management, and decisions are final. Quite frankly, I’m surprised there’s no personality sim management where you have to make sure your staff and soldiers work well together.

If you’ve played XCOM 2012, not a whole has changed, but I loved 2012 XCOM, so obviously I love the heck out of this game. I love the concept. I love the customizability of this new version. I love the replayability, but there are some things that I’m not wholly in love with. So let’s start with those first.

Jon Bailey’s voice didn’t do it for me this time. Every time I heard him speak, I was pulled out of the game. Now, don’t get me wrong, Jon Bailey has an amazing voice. He can clearly deliver some great performances and he can also do multiple voices. The problem, it seems as though they directed him to deliver and record his lines one word at a time. In a game where I was shooting aliens with laser guns and super suits, his delivery felt totally unnatural to me.

Bugs and performance issues! My goodness, there are so many I barely know where to begin and I’m certain to miss a few. I noticed some rather significant framerate drops especially when my soldiers were dramatically beginning their assault on a new map. The destructible environments are fantastic and add a cool element to strategic play, but if you decide to exploit an enemy on a rooftop by blasting out the floor beneath him and causing fall damage, get ready for the game to freak out. Character’s entire moving and attacking animations will just skip as you watch the game hang and wait for it to catch up.

I’ve had attack notifications appear on screen without numbers.

There’s a lot of awkward time wasting in the game too. There’s already a pretty nice mod that shaves off dead air after attack and move animations, but it would be nice if the game overall ran faster. The game is challenging enough on its own without fighting through chunky performance.

Having said all that, I don’t think I’ve had the game crash on me.

There’s a lot of timed missions in XCOM 2 and I can’t say I liked them that much, or at all. Especially the ones that turn out to be timed escort missions. What kind of maniac goes to the idea whiteboard and presents “timed escort missions” in an XCOM game? The only thing that could make that scenario worse is if it was also a social game where you had to invite your friends to play along with you and extend your timer.

I understand the necessity of some timed missions for the sake of adding some tension, and it also forces players to think outside of their habitual strategic mindset. But the pure layout of some missions makes their success 100% impossible.

Now the instant reaction from some people will be “that’s XCOM, baby!” I understand and accept that I will lose some missions and some soldiers, but I always want to feel like I have a shot. I want a mission loss to be because I planned and executed poorly, not because the game is… evil.

I’m unashamedly a save-scummer in XCOM. I don’t care if that’s not “hardcore” enough for many of the games vocal fans. I’m not the best at strategy games, but I absolutely love playing them. To that end, XCOM’s save system is a bit janky. It keeps several autosaves and marks them by chronologically, not by how many turns were taken. That’s totally a minor gripe but worth noting that if you’re like me, you might find yourself fiddling with the game’s saves.

But all in all, wow, XCOM2 is addictive. I’ve put 80 hours in and completed the game twice (once on easy, and once on normal). Even though I put in a TON of time into XCOM 2012, it’s been a while and XCOM 2 is a legitimately difficult game.

The new feature of completely accessorizing your own soldiers is simple, but totally brilliant. It’s a cheap, but effective way for players to identify and sympathize with their toy soldiers. Before they were faceless grunts, but now they have backstories in alternate dimensions. I put a fair amount of time into that building characters from The X Files, The Witcher, Futurama, and a whole lot of Final Fantasy games.

Adding in Steam mod support is another brilliant move. There’s already a huge variety of mods that add value that aren’t just cosmetic (including mods that get rid of that pesky timer on those timed missions without breaking achievements. And if you’re wondering, no I didn’t use that mod to beat the game, I only used cosmetic ones).

I can definitely say I got my money’s worth out of the game and I can easily see myself playing again and again getting better at how to play XCOM 2. Practice helps you figure out which workflow is best for you and how and where to place different soldiers. It’s like building a house of cards while playing a game of chess and the sims and an RPG all at the same time.

If you’re interested in XCOM 2 but don’t want to pay the full price, I totally recommend picking up XCOM 2012 to see if its your cup of tea. You can find it for surprisingly cheap these days. Just last month it was in core pack of the humble bundle and it regularly goes on sale on steam. If you like that game, you’ll like XCOM 2. It’s the same, but more of it. Considering good turn based tactics games are few and far between, I wholeheartedly recommend it, bugs and all it’s still fun. On the plus side, Firaxis acknowledged a good number of known performance issues and are actively working on a patch. So if you’re a patient gamer, you might be able to get your hands on a superior version of the game, with more mods available, and at a cheaper price, in the not too distant future.

Tested on: PC
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Windows, OSX, Linux
Launch Date: February 5, 2016
Copy purchased with personal funds