First impressions: XCOM 2

You are the commander of XCOM, an elite international strike force that served as the Earth’s last line of defense against alien’s invasion. You outsmarted aliens by exploiting their weaknesses at every turn. You showed no fear in front of the alien’s terror. You gradually created superior technology. It seemed like you were gaining the upper hand in the war to defend humanity.

But you failed.

Set 20 years after the original story of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within, XCOM 2’s story assumes that XCOM has fallen and Earth lost to the aliens. Now serving as the aliens’ puppet, the ADVENT have taken over the world. The player becomes in charge of commanding a mobile air fortress and must wage guerrilla warfare to establish a resistance network and eventually overthrow the aliens once again.

The first thing that amazed me as I opened the game was the improved graphics. Allies, enemies, and structures alike became more aesthetically appealing. From plasma cannon bursts to the intimidating and massive ADVENT mech units, the appealing graphics definitely got me more excited about the game. This improvement did not increase the hardware requirements to run the game by too much, as I was able to play with an older Stevens laptop.

From the turn-based and cover-based system to the global resource management, XCOM 2 inherits a lot of gameplay from its predecessor. However, in this game, you are the one on the run. In the previous game as the Earth’s defender, players sat passively to deal with invaders’ threats as they developed new technology. However, in XCOM 2, you must be actively establishing a resistance network, destroying aliens’ facilities, and countering any retaliation assaults, while trying to foil ADVENT’s most sinister plan only known to you as “Avatar Project.” It is definitely a more thrilling form of gameplay as you race against various timers, balance your meager resource, and occasionally curse at your unfortunate circumstances.

On that note, XCOM 2 also has its share of flaws. The game’s Dungeons & Dragons-like dice-rolling random number generating system caused me frustration more than a few times as my soldiers missed point-blank gun shots and enemies scored nigh-impossible critical hits. The learning curve of the game, especially to players who are new to the genre, can be steep. Many struggle to figure out easier ways to start off the campaign. Enemies can be unfair at times, e.g. a monster that can teleport and heal every turn, while always succeeding at mind controlling your units. There are still some graphical glitches and frame rate issues, especially if too many characters’ actions are happening at once. I have faith that Firaxis, the game’s developer, will patch the common issues soon.

Overall, XCOM 2 lives up to its overwhelmingly positive reviews and high scores. It emphasizes a tactical approach to combat, strategic planning of task management and resource allocation, and a bit of luck (which admittedly made the game more frustrating, but realistic). The enemies will catch you off guard and swearing a lot, and sometimes situations will go from bad to worse. In the end, the experience is definitely worth it, and I highly recommend getting this game, especially after a price drop.