XCOM 2 is an excellent game. Honestly, I love it. But seriously, I hate it……
I’ve started playing it again because it’s in my pile of shame, but I’ve come to the realisation that I don’t think I’ll ever “complete” it. I get quite deep into the missions, try and do all of the research and build all the right facilities, but no matter what I do, it always goes wrong. That’s fine though, because it’s fun regardless.
The game can probably best described as a “managing chaos simulator”. The game seems to actively work against you, but no matter how often it tears up those well thought-out plans, you get back up, get some new rookies and you go again. XCOM is a strange beast indeed.
The premise of the game is relatively simple. The world has now been overrun by alien attackers, and humanity lost the war.
Now, a small resistance has picked up the “XCOM” mantle, and they fight to take back our planet.
Then, it’s turn-based tactical missions all the way. You’re in charge. You have to take responsibility for the technology you research and develop. How are you staffing your airship?. What upgrades will upgrades you buy, and which soldiers will you recruit and take into battle?
It’s the perfect micromanagement sim, but it involves so much of the game not going your way, that you never really feel like you’re in control.
Aliens attack resistance outposts, you have missions that need attending to, but you need supplies to build and to recruit, what do you prioritise? Everything is on a timer, you’re constantly making decisions where something else has to give. It’s stressful, but it’s bloody good fun.
For every failure, there’s the promise of the elusive “perfect mission” where nobody dies, you complete your objective and you get out together. There’s the oh-so-satisfying chance of getting that 22% clutch kill and giving your squad the breathing room it desperately needs.
XCOM 2 is a game of stats and chance and making decisions on-the-fly. When things go right the elation is incomparable. You move your squad a few tiles at a time, taking cover, making shots when there is a good enough chance of a hit (I’ve missed at 99% plenty of times…..). You view the maps from an almost-top-down perspective, and tackle it however you can.
Some missions have timers, so you have to complete the objective within so many turns, which is fine. Until it throws everything at you after two turns, or you advanced in the wrong direction and alerted every enemy on the map. It all comes down to decisions. Apparently I make a lot of bad ones.
The personal touch
One of the most fun, and genuinely most distressing elements of Xcom 2 is the customisation of your squad. I have an awful habit of naming all of my soldiers after people that I know……..what a terrible idea. I knew it was painful from playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but honestly, having more personalisation options means I spend more time crafting my friends and family. Only to watch them die after missing a shot that showed 89% chance of hitting….
Every decision is yours to make, and every error is yours to own. Move your brother over there to keep a good line of sight AND good cover? Good decision, right? Nope! You didn’t account for the panick setting in after he sees his squadmate get blown to hell. Now he’s just stood out in the open, and now he’s dead…..
I have built these amazing soldiers with psionic abilites, decent weapons and armor, and then I’ve seen all that time, money and experience go to waste because of a car blowing up when I couldn’t move them anywhere else due to the amount of enemies set to overwatch.
On the reverse of losing these people, you also see your wife become an elite sniper, who’s clocked countless missions and kills. You feel proud of them, and you take some credit for putting them in the right places, making the right decisions.
There are players of this game that play on the hardest setting and in “ironman mode”, whereby the game saves after every move you make, so you can’t go back and try again.
I usually play a game like a 3rd person action game or a 1st person shooter on the “hard” difficulty, and sometimes work up to what’s left. With XCOM 2 I play on the one just above the easiest setting and still feel that it’s a rough ride!
The constant failure is something you deal with, and seeing yourself adapt and overcome, is excellent. Sometimes though, you just need to re-load that last save and try it all again. I can’t imagine how soul destroying a run on the hardest setting and with ironman active, would be.
It doesn’t matter though, I really enjoy the way I play and that’s all I need.
Finishing XCOM 2
I don’t think it’s really in me to complete a full run of this game, I’m on my 4th playthrough, and all the previous times I’ve succumbed to the alien event that ends everything.
It isn’t that I don’t want to, but the fun is sometimes in the failing. I learn more every time, and I’ve been known to peruse subreddits and forums to get hints and tips.
No game is ever the same, and in many ways it has the same appeal as the recent spate of Battle Royale games. Constant on-the-fly decision making, never the same battle, constant failure etc.
One day, I will save the world, but for now, I need the world to know that I’m probably not the strategist you need, should the aliens invade.
Until then, I’ll be dipping in and out of this game from time to time, and giving it another crack.
Knowing I’m unlikely to finish it, it seems odd to rate it, but it’s so well made and so fun that it’s daft not to let people know how good it is.
The story is incidental to the action, and the micromanagement. It looks great, although there is quite a lot of clipping through walls and structures. The camera isn’t always your friend, either.
Fact is, this game is like being kicked in the head over and over, then getting up and asking for more, because there’s always that glimpse of a victory next time, or that decision being right if you try again.
You’re punished, but you’re rewarded, seeing your friends become elite troops, saving that small group of the resistance, creating that new technology which just might turn the tide in your next fight.
XCOM 2 is a great deal of fun and I’d recommend it to anyone that asked. It’s tough, but that’s part of the schtick.
I’d really love to try the “War of the Chosen”, which seems to have quite a few changes and improvements. Unfortunately it seems that I’d have to buy the whole game again, instead of just an expansion (on Xbox as far as I can tell), and I can’t justify the outlay to buy it a second time. Maybe one day, because I really do want to make some of those sweet posters for my soldiers!