Call of Duty, The Sims, and chess, all rolled into one.
I’ll admit it, I am very new to the genre of turn-based games. Before I picked up XCOM 2, I’d never even played its sequel, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I don’t know if this a recommended game for players who are new to the genre, but whatever. I went for it.
The game opens with a relatively easy beginning mission with a batch of four randomly generated rookie soldiers. The object of the game isn’t clearly spelled out to begin with, but you’re promptly given a simple mission objective: get one or more of your soldiers to the destination point, set the explosives, and evacuate without dying.
Obstacles come in the form of ADVENT soldiers. Not knowing the apparently necessary backstory from the first XCOM game, all I can tell you is that they’re aliens.
Instead of running aimlessly like one would in a normal shooting game, XCOM is played more like a game of chess: protect your strong, valuable soldiers by hiding them behind cover in terrain – and, if necessary, less valuable minions. There are five classes of soldiers – sharpshooters (snipers), rangers (ones with machetes), specialists (healers, basically; they have drones), grenadiers (they blow stuff up), and psi-ops (psionic operatives – they can mind control, but they’re harder to get) and all are necessary to play a good game. There’s as much careful strategizing involved as there is shooting up aliens. Somehow, they’re equally fun.
It’s a very interesting, refreshing combat system, especially for someone who’s as terrible at aiming as I am. The reason I’ve never gotten into games like Overwatch and CS:GO is that I’m pretty much the worst shooter ever. Seriously, I have better aim in real life than I do in most first-person shooters. Instead of a seat-of-your pants, fast-paced, shoot-em-up game, this is a game that requires a lot of strategy and forethought. If you’re planning on sitting down and playing for a long time, I recommend you bring snacks. For whatever reason, I get better at video games when I eat cheese.
XCOM’s combat system is based, more or less, on a random number generator. The game takes several factors into consideration – such as your soldier’s aim and proximity as well as your target’s cover and dodging affinity – and presents you with your hit chance in the form of a percentage. If it’s a good chance, you take the shot. If it’s a bad chance, you either move and try again, or you can go into overwatch mode, which makes your soldier take a shot at the first enemy to move into his or her line of sight.
In theory, at least. I swear (and it’s not just me, either) that XCOM’s RNG is alive, and that it hates each and every player. I have missed 98% chance shots before. More than once. And then your soldier rubs it in by saying something like “Ah, I didn’t get it!” or “Adjusting aim!” Yeah, you missed by five yards. You’d better adjust your aim.
Outside the combat missions, a lot of the more nuanced gameplay happens aboard your flying base, known as the Avenger. This is where you stock up on gear, heal your wounded soldiers, and – of course – mess with the character creator.
The character customization may seem arbitrary, but in the end, it actually helped a lot. I cared much more about my soldiers when I personalized them. There’s a ton of options for you to choose from, so you can make nearly anyone. My dad made his star squad look like our family. I named all of mine after my original characters from various stories and stuff I’d written in the past. When I ran out of those, I named them after people from CBS’s reality show, Survivor. I wouldn’t recommend you name them after anyone TOO close to you, though, because, once they start consistently missing 70%+ shots, you might start to hate them in real life, too.
Although the gameplay seems pretty systematic at first, the game throws you enough curveballs to keep things new and engaging. There are more than a dozen different kinds of enemies, and they all present a different kind of threat. The maps are constantly changing, as are the objectives; as you gain better and better gear and advantages, so do your enemies, in ways that are very difficult to predict, and are almost guaranteed to make you say “Whoa, what just happened?!” at least once.
The storyline is quite interesting, as well, although it is rather easy to miss, since all the vital cutscenes are skippable (and, from the first couple of seconds, all look rather the same). Basically, Earth is being occupied by a bunch of aliens, who are eventually planning to eradicate mankind to use their bodies to create new hosts (Avatars) for their rulers, the Elders, who can mind-control stuff. You are the commander of the resistance, known as XCOM, and it’s your job to direct your forces to drive the aliens out of your home.
XCOM 2 is engaging, addictive, and constantly changing. The combat system is not for the faint of heart; individual missions have taken me upwards of two hours before, which was only made more frustrating by the absurdly long reloading times. Seriously, I could play through Portal again in the time it takes to reload two moves.
Overall, this game earns a rating of 7/10. The gameplay in and of itself is fresh and quite fun, but it’s offset by the immensely frustrating, seemingly unlikely RNG failures, as well as the amount of time it takes to load saves. I would definitely recommend it for veterans of the turn-based genres, as well as particularly zealous newbies such as myself. There will be a lot of frustration, but it will definitely pay off at the end.