I pre-ordered XCOM2 about a month before Christmas for myself, my brother, and close friends. I had only seen one teaser for it and admittedly had only a moderate interest level. I grew up with XCOM and spent hours sending my blonde mo-hawked men into silver UFOs to get shot. It was never a game that I excelled at because I was too young and it was too complex back then. XCOM Enemy Unknown and XCOM2 have both done an amazing job revitalizing the game and giving old fans (like myself) more.
I don’t play a ton of turn-based strategies. I was playing Shadowrun: Returns last month but XCOM2 got me a lot more involved in every single action. Alien Activity have always been two words that make me sit, unblinking and tensing every part of my body until I was sure none of my friends and family died that minute. Yes, I said friends and family. When XCOM Enemy Unknown became popular and I was able to hear from more people who played the XCOM franchise, I learned I was not the only one who enjoyed renaming and customizing characters to resemble family and close friends. There was something so much more meaningful, and painful, about taking someone you trust into battle and trying not to get them killed by aliens.
In XCOM2, there is surprisingly even more customization than Enemy Unknown. I am a huge fan of the game offering more content in this area. There are so many gratuitous closeups and cinematic kill angles when you take an action that allow you to take a moment from being ultimately STRESSED to just sit back and watch an alien get utterly destroyed. It may sound like a small thing, but allowing you those few seconds of reveling in the reward of a successful kill makes it all worth while.
Customization options allow you to change everything from what their armor components look like (e.g. arms, legs, torso), accessories, and tattoos which are earned. You can now give their weapons names, patterns, and color. After spending 10 minutes customizing one soldier, I was extremely relieved to find the “Save to Character Pool” button. Yes, the game takes pity on you and says, “We know you will reload 100 times to not lose all of this hard work. Here, we pity you.”
Your soldiers all start off as Rookies and individually level up when they get kills in battle. They are automatically assigned a “class” after their first promotion and then you get to choose their specialization as they grow. You can stick to 1 skill tree or dabble in both depending on your play style. A lot of times, I would get skills and forget about them only to be surprisingly rewarded in battle later. Battle gets increasingly more fun as your soldiers level up because your men become stronger in ways that cater to how you play. I keep a sniper or two in the back and send in rangers to do a lot of flanking damage. I also love to bring a medic along and someone to hack the shit out of robots.
There is also this new loading screen to and from missions that have your soldiers sitting in the Skyranger looking extremely badass. On the way to a mission, it tells you a summary and where you’re going. On the way back, you get some highlight statistics from the mission and MVP charts for a few select feats like who dealt the most damage. Again, it’s just another really nice touch that allows you to admire your team of soldiers and feel more attached to them. It really does motivate you to make smart decisions in battle… and reload 100 times.
The one thing I really can’t bring myself to care much about with XCOM2 is the story. I always find myself clicking through the little cutscenes in which you are talking to the doctor or engineer. I just don’t even need the plot with the rapidly developing alien technology and how they’re retaliating to enjoy the game. I just want to skip through it all to get into missions quicker. I haven’t beaten the game yet but I already look forward to trying an Ironman playthrough (no save scumming allowed). If I never post again, it is because I am dead from jumping off of a bridge after missing a shot with 98% chance to hit.