XCOM 2 Review – Rebel Yell
Fight back against oppression, even if your hardware struggles in the process.
Rebellion breeds many things. Hardship, struggle, civil war and even hatred but at its core, it is a journey of desperation. To battle one’s heart out and die for their cause is the true essence of rebellion and there’s perhaps no games that’s been able to capture this better than Firaxis Games’ XCOM 2. The seasoned strategy developer has crafted a campaign that provides an amazing if relentlessly trying level of difficulty with enough variety to encourage multiple revisits. It also does this despite the very knee-capped optimization plaguing this PC-only release.
"With enough training and resources, they can be trained to further develop their skills until you take an unassuming new recruit and turn him/her into a psychic menace. The very nature of XCOM 2 means your soldiers can die though."
It’s the future and it’s far from perfect. You won’t hear that from our designated lord and saviour the Advent though. After the events of XCOM: Enemy Unknown ended in humanity’s surrender to alien forces, the beings effectively took over our planet and banished XCOM. While there has been “peace” and prosperity, the Advent has some pretty horrific designs for humanity in the shadows. It’s up to you as the commander of XCOM to emerge from your sleep and lead the now ragtag rebel group to victory for the sake of humanity.
You may not think the stakes could get any higher in a turn-based strategy/tactical RPG but you’d be wrong. XCOM 2 actually boasts pretty strong story-telling and plot development throughout its campaign. Even when you’re not engaged in missions you’re still deciding the fate of the world and it’s a testament to the development team for making every decision – and sacrifice – actually mean something.
Oh yeah, about that – as a tactical strategy title, XCOM 2 puts you in charge of a squad of up to six soldiers. These soldiers can have different designations from sharpshooters to heavy weapons experts with their own skills and buffs. With enough training and resources, they can be trained to further develop their skills until you take an unassuming new recruit and turn him/her into a psychic menace. The very nature of XCOM 2 means your soldiers can die though. Missions start you out concealed from enemy presence and you’re often making decisions to best get the drop on the aliens. Once one member of your team is spotted, all enemies become alert and that’s something you may not enjoy, especially considering how Advent and its masters are significantly stronger and better armed than your squad.
"You’ll need to think carefully though because the aliens are running parallel to complete Avatar, a mysterious project that could spell even more doom for the human race. Once that’s done, you lose."
That’s where a lot of the tension and excitement comes from in XCOM 2 though. As your squad is often outmatched, you need to think on your feet and execute the right moves for success. Choosing cover and sneaking around is as important as knowing when to pull the trigger. This is further emphasized by the game’s procedurally generated maps and conditions. No two playthroughs are the same simply because of the environment layout and enemy conditions so there’s no real perfect strategy for beating everything. And remember, every chance you think you have of pulling off the perfect shot is as likely to miss and compromise your squad member’s life.
XCOM 2 is about base building as much as squad building. The mobile Avenger base is available to you and can be upgraded in various areas like science, weapons and such. Upgrades to your training rooms lead to better options for your squad-mates, thus allowing you to mold your perfect army of Rangers. It’s also about scouring the globe for resources and deciding what you should pick up. You’ll need to think carefully though because the aliens are running parallel to complete Avatar, a mysterious project that could spell even more doom for the human race. Once that’s done, you lose.
XCOM 2 pretty much has it all – a meaty campaign with strong challenges (perhaps unforgivingly so in some instances but that’s if you go to the higher difficulties), a strong story, plenty of freedom in customizing your squad and base, great mission design that’s further complimented by excellent procedural generation and much more. It would be one of Firaxis’s finest games of all time, if not one of the best games of the year thus far. So what’s the problem?
"I’m not one to max out games on my rig but XCOM 2 is a very big hog on resources, even if you enable features like V-sync. In other instances, I noticed choppy frame rates during key sequences and long load times."
Ironically, it’s the graphics. No, they don’t look horrible. In fact, combined with the game’s post-modern dystopia settings, excellent animations and detail, XCOM 2 actually looks really good. The problem is with the optimization. I’m not one to max out games on my rig but XCOM 2 is a very big hog on resources, even if you enable features like V-sync. In other instances, I noticed choppy frame rates during key sequences and long load times. Even those with more powerful configurations are reporting issues with workarounds like hitting the Capslock required for shortening loading times.
One would think that developing for a single platform would allow Firaxis the ability to provide for the smoothest experience. As it turns out, this isn’t quite the case for XCOM 2. It wouldn’t be such a big issue if it didn’t impact the game’s overall running performance. A tactical strategy RPG like this doesn’t provide many big moments of action so it’s not like you’ll struggle throughout your experience. However, it’s even more damning when an excellent game like this is hampered by such performance issues. Especially when, well, the game was delayed once to ensure a higher level of polish.
Despite optimization problems, XCOM 2 is still as great as tactical RPGs can get, if not greater. The sheer thrill of completing a mission despite the tides being against your squad or the horror in watching your prized soldier go down in either the most heroic or weak way possible is amazing. If you thought the nostalgia of older XCOM games couldn’t quite be captured in this generation, then XCOM 2 is here to prove you wrong. When it throws in such entertaining combat and perilous missions spread out over a long campaign, there’s very little else you need. Now if only XCOM 2 could sort out its own internal issues in the process.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Excellent story that conveys a feeling of desperation and high stakes. Great mission design and high replay value thanks to procedurally generated maps and conditions. Strong tactical combat design that balances risk vs. reward. Memorable aesthetic.
Higher difficulties can be particularly unforgiving. Optimization is very shoddy, resulting in occasional choppy performance and other issues.
There are games that could be better and there's XCOM 2 which is amazing but hampered by its optimization. It's still game of the year material but needs patching stat.
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