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XCOM 2 hands-on preview: Earth is doomed if you leave me in command

Hayden Dingman | Dec. 11, 2015
Sorry, everyone. I tried. But the aliens are in charge now.

In that sense, XCOM 2 feels pretty familiar. The main change is that many maps now open with your squad “Undetected.” You can move about the map unharried until you either stumble into range of an enemy or open fire on them. This is essentially the “guerrilla” aspect of the game—aliens don’t consider you one of the bad guys until you suddenly are.

But Firaxis made it clear it’s unlikely you’ll play entire missions Undetected. Combat is still the core conceit, and it feels like that aspect’s been carried over practically wholesale. Some of Enemy Unknown’s baddies take different form—the Thin Men are now those crazy snake-alien things, for instance—and the classes tweaked, but this is otherwise more of the same. Move your people slowly forward, put them in Overwatch whenever possible, hope you don’t get picked off one by one and then...get picked off one by one. Or limp back to base.


Maybe that’s why there’s not much sense of XCOM being the underdog this time—because XCOM’s always been the underdog. Enemy Unknown already had humanity up against impossible odds. Every single mission was a longshot. Every single mission was do or die.

Hell, it’s the entire setup for XCOM 2, with aliens taking over Earth because you failed in your duties. Going from a perpetually-in-crisis military defense force to a perpetually-in-crisis band of guerrillas? You’re still doomed either way.

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll throw up your hands and hiss obscenities under your breath. You’ll (maybe) slam a fist into your desk when Sgt. John Lennon shoots at an alien from ten feet away and somehow misses every damn shot, then panics and takes a bullet in the head on the next turn.


Death is quick and omnipresent, your veteran soldiers stolen away from you with one unlucky roll of the dice. And XCOM 2’s expanded customization options makes it a real nightmare. Characters still earn more traits as they’re promoted, but now they also unlock more customization items— for themselves. New props, new hairstyles, new “attitudes” which change a soldier’s stance and voice acting, new hats. Not only does this give you a reason to dip back into customization late in the game, it also means the loss of a high-level soldier is doubly upsetting.

Like Snake.

XCOM 2 releases February 5, 2016. I hope you’re ready, commander.


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