XCOM 2 PC Review: Liberty or Death

XCOM 2 PC Review: Liberty or Death

Firaxis spreads their wings and takes some risks with their sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

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Alright, with XCOM 2 now done and dusted, it's time for a final score. Overally, my opinion hasn't changed too much from my initial thoughts - it's still a thoughtful evolution of what was already a fantastic tactics game. I will say, however, that I thought that the final mission was a tad limp. Don't get me wrong, it was quite tough; but when it was finished, I audibly said, "Oh, that's it?" It actually felt like one of those old DOOM mods where someone would try and see how many monsters they could fit on screen at once.

Anyway, I'm generally satisfied with the outcome, but I'm also kind of exhausted. I put about 40 hours into XCOM 2's campaign, and as much as I enjoyed it, I'm ready to play something else. I may come back and play the main campaign on a higher difficulty level (or Ironman mode!); but then again, the normal difficulty was pretty hard on its own. I don't even want to think about what some of the endgame enemies will be like on the highest difficulty level. Of course, there are always mods, right?

Anyway, I don't normally do this for a review; but I thought reader pdubb had some pertinent questions in the comments, so I'll do my best to answer them in turn:

1. Are all classes viable, or are there any that blatantly feel less useful, like the support class in the original game?

I think the classes are all pretty useful by the endgame. In the early going, the Ranger and Grenadier were definitely less useful than the Specialist and Sharpshooter; but by the end, my Ranger was one of my deadliest characters, using her melee attacks to do massive amounts of damage without fear of retaliation. As for the Specialist, they have the massively useful ability to hack robot enemies and either shut them down or turn them against their former masters. I leaned on that ability quite heavily through the midgame. By the end, my Sharpshooters, my Ranger, and my Psi Ops soldier dominated pretty much everything, with the Grenadier and Specialist there for backup. But taken together, I think all of the classes have a valid niche on the battlefield. Let me tell you - the Specialist's remote healing ability will save you on Ironman mode.

2. How do the different enemies feel? Does it become a slog at the end game where the challenge is taking down bullet sponge enemies like Sectopods, or does the game still mantain a fast pace?

Around the midgame, the enemy units suddenly made a leap and left me behind, forcing me to scramble to catch up. In those missions, it was a bit of a slog. Once I managed to research the next round of upgrades, though, the game picked up the pace again. Actually, I was a tiny bit sad that the aliens didn't get a third and final round of upgrades for the endgame. By the midgame, I had seen close to everything the aliens had to offer (but not everything!), and I could deal with them relatively easily in turn as long as they didn't get the drop on me. The Sectopod and the Gatekeeper can take a lot of bullets, but that's where secondary abilities like hacking come in, as well as specialized ammo. If you're properly prepared, then most encounters will move at a good clip.

3. And lastly, in order to really play and beat the higher level difficulties, you needed to abuse overwatch traps and a slow and steady pace. Thematically in the first game this made sense as you had no idea what to expect. Does XCOM 2 play like the theme of it suggests, extremely fast and brutal operations that become extremely dangerous if allowed to escalate?

From a tactics standpoint, abusing overwatch traps is still the way to go, especially with characters having the advantage of stealth early on. If you move too quickly, you will inevitably wind up with one character isolated and flanked by a slew of enemies, so it behooves you to move at a slow and steady pace. In the final mission, I basically sat down at a chokepoint and used mind controlled minions to draw out enemies piecemeal so I could kill them from a distance. With that said, the aliens will periodically send in reinforcements, so you can't dawdle too much. My favorite missions were the ones where it felt like I was completing my objective and escaping just before the enemy forces came crashing down on me.

Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with XCOM 2. It addressed many of my issues with the original game, and it threw enough curveballs at me that I was consistently on my toes. Plus, it has a pretty solid central mystery, which is made all the better if you know how the original game ended. Having now played the final build, I can even report that the crashing has subsided. I managed to make it through the final couple missions without a single crash back to the desktop. On that note, though, it's a surprisingly resource intensive game, particularly in the final mission. If you have a mid-tier system, you may find yourself stuck on the lowest setting.

This, of course, is not the end for XCOM 2 - not by a long shot. 2K Games has already a "Reinforcement Pack" due for launch in summer 2016, which will contain a new soldier class, more missions, and more items. It will also have three mods available out of the box courtesy of Long War Studios - creators of Enemy Unknown's best mod. With a robust set of tools available from the start, XCOM 2 should see even more post-launch community support than the original game.

Firaxis has ultimately checked the right boxes with their sequel, and they've demonstrated a stronger grasp of what made the original game so great. And fortunately, this appears to be just the beginning for what should be a long and healthy run for XCOM 2.

Interface
There are relatively few changes from the original game in terms of the interface. The point-and-click interface and the menus are intuitive as ever, with plenty of signposting for new players.

Lasting appeal
With all of the mods and the inherent challenge of Ironman mode, I suspect a lot of people will be playing XCOM 2 for years to come.

Sound
The soundtrack is eerie and subdued, heightening the tension as you move across the battlefield. All of the aliens have their own distinct sounds, and you'll come to know them well as the game progresses. In short, it does everything that good game audio should.

Visuals
On its highest settings, XCOM 2 looks terrific. Aliens and soldiers alike are extremely detailed, and the destructible environments result in a dynamic and fun battlefield. It's quite a step up from the original game.

XCOM 2 updates the franchise's formula without sacrificing what works in the original game. You have more freedom than before, and relatively superfluous elements like the Interceptors have been cut. More importantly, the pacing and structure really does make you really do feel like a band of renegades taking on an occupying force. It's been a fun ride, and with more mods on the way, I'm looking forward to playing it again - the best possible compliment I can pay to a tactics game.

4.5/5

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Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

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