Despite being a long-time fan of strategy games (Advance Wars will always be my favorite) and actually owning a copy of 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I’ve never actually played Firaxis Games’ beloved strategy series. I had heard the praise it received, but just never got around to experiencing it for myself. Thankfully, with the console release of XCOM 2, I finally got the chance to remedy that and see what I’ve been missing.
Quite frankly, I’ve been missing a lot, as XCOM 2 is a fine strategy game. The action has players leading an elite task force which is up against alien baddies. The story actually takes place after the bad ending of Enemy Unknown that has the aliens successfully taking over Earth, so the player isn’t exactly operating from a position of power. Thus, it’s up to them to establish connections with other resistance groups, and fight back against the evil aliens and reptiles that have taken over humanity’s home planet.
All of the gameplay is turn-based, and it’s shown to be pretty brutal up front. The game’s well-done tutorial mission shows off how a character can permanently die in a single turn, and it immediately became clear that I had to play defensively if I was going to succeed. While a lot of the gameplay is standard fare for the genre (get into range, choose which enemy to shoot), what makes XCOM 2 interesting is the arsenal at each soldier’s disposal.
Some character types had drones that I could use to heal players from a distance, while others had special melee attacks I could use if I was in a jam. There’s also the ability to take an overwatch position and take fire at any enemy that moves into your vision. Learning what each character type could do was a tad bit overwhelming at first, but the depth pays off later on.
More abilities are earned by successfully completing missions and gaining promotions, and some of them are serious game changers (for example, being able to shoot a pistol without taking up an action). As such, I was always worried about losing one of my best characters when using them. That’s the only reason I cared about my troops, though, as it’s not like Fire Emblem where each character feels alive and has their own personality. Every soldier here is generic, and I was never really upset when I lost any of them them. Instead, I just missed their stats sheet.
While most missions typically involved just blasting all of the enemies in an area, there is a nice amount of variety to be found. Sometimes I would have to rescue survivors that were under attack, escort a VIP out of a location or protect an object from getting destroyed. This gives a greater meaning to the action beyond mindlessly killing aliens, as you actually get to see yourself making a difference in the game world.
Beyond the action, there’s also a base-building element to the game. I was constantly gaining money and materials that I could use to research new weapons for soldiers, create new add-ons to my flying fortress, and I always had something to do. The game doesn’t exactly do a great job of introducing these specific elements to the player, so I actually ended up restarting after a few hours as I didn’t do a good job of setting up stuff early on. It’s unfortunate, but my second playthrough went a lot more smoothly once I knew what I was doing.
It’s also worth noting that even on the easiest difficulty, XCOM 2 can be extremely brutal. Permanent death is only one poorly thought out turn away, and that can be all it takes to change the tide of battle. Injured characters also have to take time to recuperate after a mission, so I often found myself missing my best soldiers for weeks at a time. That’s rough later on as the campaign is timed, and players will have to find a balance of trained soldiers in order to succeed.
While the three DLC packs don’t come with the console version of XCOM 2 for free, it does come packed full of jankiness. I regularly experienced multiple glitches while playing. This consisted of seeing aliens go into seizures after dying, seeing character models clip through walls, and other small issues. Nothing I ran into was game breaking by any means, but it does lack polish. That’s disappointing, especially when you consider that console players are getting the game extremely late with no bonuses.
Also, I have to mention that XCOM 2 has some of the worst subtitle implementation I’ve ever seen in a game. The dialogue isn’t presented in its own box, so it easily gets obscured by the background of cutscenes. This makes it literally illegible at points, and I can’t believe that 2K allowed the game to ship like this, as this type of oversight is extremely disrespectful to gamers with a hearing handicap, and it wouldn’t have been that hard to remedy.
There’s also a pretty slapped together online component to XCOM 2. I almost forgot to mention it since it’s a total afterthought, and it seems like players are treating it this way too. It took me over 10 minutes to find a single match, and its basic deathmatch offerings aren’t exactly thrilling when compared to the multiple goals that you have during campaign missions. It also has players creating weird teams filled with both humans and aliens (instead of each player choosing a side), so it’s just a weird, disappointing addition in every way possible.
Despite some technical hiccups and being rough around the edges, this is still a solid port of one of the year’s best strategy games. Those that are willing to deal with a less than optimal learning curve will be rewarded, as XCOM 2 can be extremely fulfilling in single-player. Just be prepared to restart after a few hours, as you’ll probably need to in order to succeed.
This review is based on the PS4 version, which we were provided with.
XCOM 2 has received a solid port here, albeit one with some bugs. Those who can't play on PC will still have a good time, but there's really no reason to pick it up if you already have a solid gaming rig.