Welcome back, Commander.
I love X-Com as a series, and I really loved Rebel Star Raiders back in the day. I'm a fan of the reboot XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and the expansion: Enemy Within. I've played every since X-Com game and in my own way I love all of them, even the ones that were slightly odd for the series. But I love these isometric strategy games the best!
I wasn't left wanting either. XCOM 2 on the Xbox One was handed to me as a code by the lovely folks at Xbox UK and they may be responsible for my loss of sleep, hair, sanity and ability to view the world in anything but Action Points, isometric 3d, and line of sight!
XCOM 2 takes what made the XCOM reboot so great and improves on it in every single way, and whilst there are some issues that tag across from the PC version (intermittent choppiness in the Skyranger sequence, and the odd frame-rate issue) it's still a fantastic game and a must-have for anyone who has even a bit of love for turn based strategy games.
Simply put, XCOM 2 is the turn based console strategy game you've been after.
What do you mean, Earth lost?
Yeah, we lost. Get used to it, for the canon ending of XCOM is we lost and now the Advent controls humanity's fate. Starting off on the back foot like this means that XCOM is operating as a guerrilla force deep inside enemy territory. It gives a great sense of urgency to the proceedings and allows Firaxis to drip-feed the story into the game as you progress through certain key moments, including missions and research.
Making XCOM your own
Whilst you can only import the dev-made characters into your Character Pool in the console version, you can create any number of characters with all sorts of deep customisation to make XCOM your own. The customisation in XCOM 2 is excellent, one of the deepest and controllable customisation systems I've seen in a long time in this kind of genre. It blows XCOM away. Plus the higher rank your soldiers get, the more customisation options they unlock in-game too, so you can change the way they look in every bit of kit they get access to.
I love the Character Pool and I spent my first hour or two making various soldiers to go into it. Just like its PC counterpart too, you can assign them a role that they can appear as such as Ranger or Grenadier, and set them as a VIP or even a Dark VIP, an enemy agent you have to extract or kill.
You can set the Character Pool to drawn from your own pool only, random only, or a mix of both.
Trust me when I say that I could write a whole section just on the sheer vastness of the character customisation available.
Tip: Play the tutorial, it's an excellent entry into the game and it'll set you up with the skills you're going to need to keep XCOM running as they fight against this new, and evolving threat.
All 'New' XCOM
With what remained of XCOM broken, shattered, defeated, and nearly eradicated by the superior Advent forces - the defenders of the Earth hid, found some alien tech and came back with a new base of operations and a bunch of new tech. Enter the Avenger, your new HQ and a ship capable of flying around the newly designed Geoscape to keep the aliens guessing.
Gone are the days of building hidden bases across the planet and needing to launch Interceptors to take down enemy vessels.
This XCOM keeps moving, slowly building a resistance movement across the Earth in the vain hope they can take back the planet.
How's it all play out now?
The Avenger is your base of operations where you'll be doing your research, building projects, and customising/outfitting your XCOM soldiers with a variety of retro-fitted alien tech as you progress through the story/tech-tree just like in the rebooted XCOM. Each breakthrough you have gives you something new to play with, a brand new weapon's tree, armour tree, or special something that I won't go into.
You'll be using Supplies and Intel to pay for these things, as well as materials you steal, take, or find across the Geoscape. You'll embark on numerous procedurally generated missions against the aliens, sometimes against the clock (a turn counter) and sometimes without a timer, so you can breathe a little easier and take your time.
So between freeing up space by digging out alien machines, coils, and old tech from your flying fortress and equipping your soldiers to extend their survivability - you'll see a lot of the Avenger. You'll be building new facilities aboard to help your scientists research great levels of tech to combat the increasing badass alien forces that'll come after you.
It's all needed too, you'll have to make some tough choices on what tech you want first.
The Avatar Project waits for no human...
What's this you say, Avatar Project, but?
Think: Doom Counter from XCOM and you're there. The aliens are building something bad and its up to XCOM to delay it as they try and find a way to shut it down for good.
We haven't even talked about the actual missions yet, but before we do, lets just skip into the Geoscape shall we, it's changed... A LOT.
With the Avenger capable of moving around the planet rather like a certain Hellicarrier from S.H.I.E.L.D. XCOM has a lot more options open to them. Chiefly however they're looking to counter the threat of the aliens in any way. To to do this they're going to need help, help in the form of resistance cells scattered across the globe. XCOM has to unite these cells, build radio relays to improve communication between cells and in doing so can get intelligence on various alien projects across the planet.
These Intel bursts come in the form of missions, supply drops, encounters that give you engineers or scientists. This new Geoscape has a lot more going on and it's great, seriously good stuff that keeps the whole thing from being boring/or a chore.
You'll live for the moment that you get intel on alien projects through so-called Dark Events.
Dark Events take the form of all sorts of nasty bonuses for the Advent forces. Some add new enemies into missions, increase XCOM's supply or intel costs, or add x-number of blocks to the Avatar Project counter.
You can only counter 1 of these Dark Events too. It's always worth paying the Intel cost to reveal the hidden event, because you can bet your ass it's one that'll give them an instant Avatar Project block.
You don't want that.
You'll also get a monthly drop of supplies that you can use to further your goal of beating the aliens once and for all. It can be ploughed into research, engineering new projects, and various improvements across the board. By building the right facilities you can unlock all sorts of cool things for your squad, increase its size from 4 to 6 members and give them much-needed perks that are global across all recruits, be they rookie or colonels.
Then there's the Black Market where you can buy and sell various things. Be warned though, you want to be careful what you sell, because you might need it for a vital build project or research.
Once you start scanning at a point on the Geoscape time is going to pass, this means the aliens work behind the scenes too, as well as your various special builds and research ticking on. Eventually something is going to kick off... perhaps it's a lead on an alien facility you can assault to knock a few blocks off the Avatar Project, or a vital supply train you can pillage, or...
The Council wants us to extract a VIP from an alien controlled city checkpoint.
Time to fire up the Skyranger and head on out!
XCOM, Roll Out!
Once you've chosen your squad and made sure they're kitted out in the best gear you've got, customised their weapon loadout, and even added mods to their weapon (unlocked a little later on) you're ready to head into a mission.
Fans of XCOM will get this right away. Movement remains refreshingly simple, familiar, yet this has been polished and changed from XCOM. It's a lot smoother and there's a bunch of new tactical options to get familiar.
There's several distinct classes in XCOM 2 and ensuring the squad has the right mix will go a long way to help you achieve victory in a mission.
Ranger: Close combat and scout specialist, capable of greater movement and concealment than other soldiers. Rangers can be outfitted with some nasty CQB weapons and if you have the Alien Hunter DLC - a serious pair of badass axes that can be thrown as a free action. Oh and they get a shotgun, because: it looks cool!
Grenadier: Heavy weapons are her speciality, and BOOM. Lots of boom, the Grenadier can do some pretty nasty damage to enemy heavies and excels in turning cover to dust later on. With a grenade launcher as standard she's able to send explosives further than throwing them.
Specialist: Tech specialist, capable of hacking enemy stuff, using their Gremlin drone. Locked to using a rifle only the tech specialist can be a battle medic, or a combat hacker. Extremely versatile and can turn the tide of a mission.
Sharpshooter: Long range cover fire specialist, capable of laying down a cone of Overwatch Fire later on in their career. Snipers also have a pistol that they can use in a pinch, you can also pick Fast Hands which lets them fire that pistol without it costing an action.
Psi Operative: Later on you'll unlock Psi Ops and be able to field mind-benders to the missions. The Psi Operative is a powerful tool at your disposal and can cause enemy units to panic and rout them.
SPARK: If you own Shen's Last Gift DLC then think: MEC only they're robots, fully customisable, can't use cover - but can dish out a heck of a lot of damage.
OK, so you're in mission. Each soldier has 2 Action Points to use per turn. They get to do something like attack, or go into Overwatch (they'll shoot an enemy who moves into their line of sight) or activate an ability they might have. Like the specialists: HACK, which will let them try and hack the enemy network to get a bonus or achieve an objective.
You'll be moving from cover to cover, until you get spotted or spot the enemy. Combat is brutal in XCOM 2 and the game pulls no punches. The Random Number Generator is your enemy more than its your friend and you're going to be in for a hell of a fight no matter what difficulty you throw it on. A lot of variables go on behind the scenes, you can see some of them if you pop out the various info windows via the tool-tip menu as you choose to take a shot.
A whole squad wipe early on is a bitter pill to swallow, but some of the hardcore XCOM players will take that as a challenge and come back from it.
Each soldier takes a turn, could be a shot at the enemy or a move into better cover and then the enemy eventually gets a go unless you end the turn early. If you soldier is injured it can mean days if not weeks in the Infirmary aboard the Avenger recovering. That's if they're not dead, in which case, they'll end up on the Memorial Wall.
R.I.P... Hammy 'Hamster' Hamilton Esq who went to save a civilian only to find they were a Faceless shapeshifter in disguise, punched to death by blobby alien fists. Or Sal 'Punchy' Luka who managed to get the loot drop (turn-timed items that sometimes drop in-mission which you can get to to loot) only to be ripped apart by Viper gunfire.
Play continues with various turns until the end of the mission where XCOM hopefully succeeds and manages to do so flawlessly, or not.
You'll either auto-extract or need to place an extraction zone, in which case, good luck because there's a chance the enemy will send in reinforcements to cut off your escape. It'll give you a turn to react... and hopefully you can do your best to get into an advantageous position for a badass ambush.
Here you'll see how things went, who got promoted and what abilities you can assign to them from the two choices you have. Just like in XCOM, one choice locks the other out.
Then it's back to the Avenger and you'll be able to use what you have to further your XCOM, improve your tech, and so on.
There's a lot more to it, but its all available in-game as part of the guide.
Cinematic XCOM x2
Graphically XCOM 2 is a brilliant game, it brings to life the environments, the characters, the aliens, tech, and everything else perfectly. It looks beautiful and the level of detail on the XCOM soldiers is incredibly well done. It's also hugely cinematic with cameras capturing the battlefield action from both sides, the hits, the misses, the moments that truly make XCOM games shine.
Along with the gorgeous graphics there's also the sweeping soundtrack which is pitch-perfect for the various events going on in game, all the action, the drama, the sneaking around.
Barring the slight frame drop or stutter on the Skyranger, it's pretty smooth all round.
XCOM 2 Electric Boogaloo
I love it when a sequel improves on the original in every way, and whilst we lose some elements (like the Interceptors) it is 'still' XCOM. The stories are still there as you live through your soldiers and their lives, each mission brings you and them closer, and when you lose on it's a real tug on the heartstrings.
Farewell Neil 'Bong' Meisters.
If you don't own this, you need to.
Now, back to driving the Advent off my planet!