Here’s what my XCOM 2 experience was like: I spent half an hour in the character customization screen creating my best faux-Snake/Big Boss. I couldn’t find a Kurt Russell mullet but I got the eye patch, the dangling cigarette, the scraggly facial hair. It was great.
Then I sent him into battle and of course he was the first damn character to die.
I mean, all five members of my squad died. But Snake’s death hurt the most, you know? And that’s, I guess, the masochistic charm of XCOM—a game I love even when I want to dropkick my monitor and flip my desk and throw my mouse through a window. Figuratively, I think.
Rage against the machine
I got about two and a half hours of hands-on time with XCOM 2 last week, spread across three missions: The tutorial, an “easy” side mission, and a might-as-well-staple-my-hand-to-my-face difficult main story mission (which is chronicled, albeit in abbreviated form, in this video).
The world has ostensibly changed a lot between XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2. Humanity, fending off an alien invasion in the previous game, is now subjugated. XCOM, once a globe-spanning defense network, has been reduced to small pockets of resistance fighters.
It’s a compelling setup, but don’t expect to see much evidence of this leaner, meaner XCOM. Even in the tutorial XCOM seems remarkably well-armed and well-funded for a guerrilla operation. Scientists are still doing research. You’ve got assault rifles and shotguns and sniper rifles galore. It plays...pretty much the same.
That’s not a bad thing, mechanically. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a fantastic tactics game, and there are plenty of background features that should make XCOM 2 a worthy sequel—namely, procedurally generated maps. A lot of these “complaints” are merely observations that Firaxis has, perhaps, taken an ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach to XCOM 2.
But from a thematic standpoint, it struck me as a bit odd. From what I played, there wasn’t a strong sense of the XCOM organization as an underground band of freedom fighters/terrorists. You’re just...XCOM. The game even makes a big point of saying that your base is now a flying fortress inside a captured alien ship, but it looks pretty much identical to your underground lair in Enemy Unknown:
Keep in mind, these are just rapid-fire impressions. Part of the problem evaluating XCOM 2 versus its predecessor is that a lot of the changes are couched in nuance and only become apparent over the course of a longer session. Our three missions, divorced from any real sense of progression, were more focused on the tactical side of things.
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