XCom 2 is done, here’s a review from Scroo

Alright, so if you read my little quick look blurb on Xcom2 you already know it's a pretty tough game that puts itself a step above 2013's already challenging XCom: Enemy Unknown / Enemy Within. I'm here to put my thoughts down and I hope you'll stay with me for the read.Squad

Right Away...

When you start XCom 2 up you'll see the immediate familiarity that ties to Firaxis in the XCom series. It was like seeing an old friend that's been out of contact for a while. You just sort of smile and want to give it a hug. Some things look a little different, but it's still the same ol' buddy you had in school. Except that in XCom's case, this buddy is a real dick and wants to you kill you and everyone you know.menuAlright, so this title is based on the premise that the last war with aliens turned out bad and Earth never stood a chance. XCom tried hard and won some battles but overall earth's forces ended up surrendering early in the war. Over a period of 20 years the aliens have formed relations with humans as a sort of governing group of helpful folks called ADVENT, claiming to be able to aid humans in advancements like cures for terminal sickness and living longer more comfortable lives. So of course we humans are idiots and believe them and go along with whatever the aliens say to do. Not everyone believes they're friendly, and some have formed small resistance cells across the planet but they have little power and no actual proof that ADVENT is lying through their teeth. Lucky for us XCom is still around but hidden in a broken but functional state and wants to rebuild itself and show the world that these aliens are assholes. Thus begins the players quest to recruit soldiers, contact resistance agents, and advance to a point where ADVENT can be stopped.

So in Enemy Unknown, XCom was already a force to reckoned with. They had scientists and engineers ready and waiting to help in any way they could. So even though as humans we weren't as advanced technologically, we had an idea of how to proceed and become stronger. It was tough and required some decision making that wasn't always very ethical, but we got the job done.AvengerWell in XCom 2 it's very clear that the humans are fighting from the rear. We have an alien ship that was salvaged for our use, but it's a wreck and won't fly. It has a small but determined skeleton crew with some familiar faces along with new ones, and a couple of rookie soldiers. On top of that you've learned that the aliens are well into developing a major project, but other than to surmise that it's probably a bad thing, you really don't have any information on it. There's no global communication left, and you have very little idea where to start. As an added bonus, your very first missions will outclass you immediately.

So depending on your feelings for XCom in general this could be a great thing or a very bad thing. Progress is daunting, it takes planning and at times some split decision making to get your forces up to par. You'll need to prioritize research and advancements and take a few risks, like staying in one spot a few days longer to collect badly needed supplies hopefully before the next mission comes up.

Mechanics

Ok so this is probably a little confusing for you if you've not played XCom, or many tactical strategy games in general. Let's talk about the systems a bit. You'll be controlling a squad of elite soldiers in each mission, these soldiers have two action points (AP) to spend during their turn. Those points can be spent moving from cover to cover, aiding another of your units, or attacking the enemy. Movement can spend one or both AP depending on how far you want to go. When it's time for a characters turn you'll be presented with a highlighted area, movement in the area shown in blue will cost one point and the yellow area will cost both points. Plan carefully. Most aid will only cost one AP, healing, reviving a downed unit, providing a defense bonus etc. Units can move and attack in the same turn but only in that order, as soon as they fire a weapon their turn is over.archonAs your soldiers gain experience and are promoted they gain abilities that can allow for AP to be refunded to them upon circumstantial completion. That's a very boring sentence, let me explain. Sharpshooters can get an ability called "Serial". This allows for a shot to be taken at any target you choose just as always but if the shooter manages to kill the target with that one shot his or her AP is refunded. They can then take another shot, and another and so on as long as they have ammunition and continue taking out targets. Should the target survive, or should the shooter miss the shot or need to reload, the ability is cancelled and the turn is over.movementNow let's talk about free actions. The best and easiest example of a free action is evacuating your units. Some missions require you to perform an action with your squad and then proceed to an evac point, other times you'll have to call in your own evac. But regardless of how you get there an evac doesn't cost AP. Meaning that if you had to dash (use both AP on movement) as long as you ended up in the evac zone your turn will not end and you can escape. The exception to the rule comes when you move into an evac zone and then fire your weapon, your turn will end and you'll have to survive another turn to be able to escape. There are a few free actions like this available and you'll know them by their color coding on the action bar. Normal actions are colored blue, free actions are green.

reveal sqaures
this image shows detection squares

A lot of missions start with a sort of setup stage. Your squad will drop into its starting location "concealed" and you'll be free to move around and set up your positions. You'll have to be cautious though since there will be enemy squads patrolling the area and they will have a detection range that shows on the ground as red squares. If any of your squad ends up on a red detection square they will be revealed along with the rest of your squad. Certain actions will also reveal positions and will show up on the action bar as red. For instance attacking, or hacking a security tower or enemy mechanical unit will always reveal your squad, but the reward can be worth the risk.

The Ant Farm

Outside of missions you'll be spending a lot of your time aboard the Avenger. This is the alien ship XCom has managed to salvage and once you get it running you'll be able to fly all over the world and make contact with the resistance and tons of other actions. But when you're not bombing all over the place dropping the hammer on ADVENT you'll see a cut away side view of the Avenger that by many of us is lovingly called, the ant farm. This view will show you all your ships modules and provide quick access to each of them. You'll notice that a bunch of these modules are crowded with debris needing to be cleared before you can construct a facility in it's place that will provide benefits to XCom.Avenger_antfarmSome modules are already built and functional. You'll start with an armory, a science and an engineering facility, and the command module along with a few other rooms that don't really do much aside from allowing you the view of various statuses. The Armory is where you'll be able to keep track of your units and their loadouts and promotions. Science and engineering will provide you with research and development opportunities and the command module is where you'll launch missions and also see the world overview.

Each facility constructed will help in various ways. Communications will help increase the number of contacts you can have, power stations will increase the Avengers overall power capacity allowing the construction of more facilities. Upgrading and staffing rooms with engineers and scientists will help with overall efficiency.

Overview

So as mentioned above you'll use the command station to launch missions and choose where to go in the world overview. Between missions you'll be provided with opportunities to land the Avenger in an area and collect supplies, or scan for resistance members or many similarly important tasks. This is also where you'll form world communications. Each district you make contact with will cost you intelligence and this cost is higher the further you are away from your closest radio tower. Intel can be gained by researching alien technology, by scanning areas, as mission completion rewards, or by hacking certain structures/enemies during a mission. Each contact you make will also provide an opportunity to build a radio tower and if you build enough of them in a district you'll gain very powerful bonuses.

You'll get to see a lot of tactical information here: Alien progress, days left for research etc, the time left until your next supply drop, availability of the black market, how soon events are expected to complete, how much game time has passed and your current objectives. You'll also be able to keep track of your resources and contacts here as well as in the ant farm view.

OverviewThe one thing I haven't mentioned here is that all of this stuff takes days to do in the game. Making initial contact with a group will take from three to five days, building a radio tower can take up to four days. Scanning an area for resources can take seven days and unlike Enemy Unknown where after a certain time you were transferred supplies each month, in XCom 2 you'll have to spend a few days picking up a supply drop. Research and healing wounded units can take days and even weeks. Events can take place while you're doing any of this stuff and that can be hugely frustrating, making tactical decision making pretty tough at times.

XCom 2 is Hard

Every advancement you make will help your units survive longer during missions. However Firaxis have done such a perfect job with combat balance that the best you can hope for is equal footing. Advantages come only in the form of your ability to plan tactically coupled with your squads skills. Even with every advancement you can make you'll be challenged from all angles.combatI'm going to attempt an explanation of what I mean. Research into armor will eventually yield a type that soaks up damage before actually hurting your units. The base stat for that is one armor. So during combat if your soldier is hit for four damage, the armor will soak up one damage and your soldier will take three damage. Armor is tough but not impenetrable, grenades and certain enemy abilities can shred armor and your units will no longer gain that bonus. Luckily for you, your squad can also shred armor.

With enough R&D you'll be able to create items that increase armor and health and even do retaliatory damage. But even with all that, the most I was able to put on a character was four armor. This was at a point where enemies were hitting for 10-15 damage against my units who had 19-22 hit points. So it could be line between wounded and dead during a mission. Wounded soldiers take time to heal and will not be available again until they have recovered and these wounds can extend beyond the physical. If a unit panics during a mission their will stat is reduced until they can go through a mission without being wounded.SectopodEnemies however can have much more armor. Especially if ADVENT completes progress during events and adds extra armor for a month in game. One of the most dangerous enemy types in my opinion was the Shield Bearer. These are heavy units with two armor and an ability to cast a shield in a large radius on all it's allies that acts as temporary armor. This adds three shield points to everyone meaning that now you'll have to get past the shield and armor before that unit is vulnerable. And the heavy version of the Shield Bearer has three armor and cast five shield points. This is especially bad if they manage to shield a unit like a Sectopod. These mechanical units are hugely dangerous without help. They have three actions while everyone else has two, and they walk through obstacles, destroying them in the process. They have up to six armor and health from the high 20's to the mid 30's. Couple that with five shield points and you'll have to do 11 damage just to be able to start hurting the thing.Once you have all your R&D done you'll be able to handle pretty much every situation. That doesn't mean things become easy though, you'll be challenged every step of the way. I reloaded saves on almost every mission I played because I had to change strategies to avoid losing veteran units; and during my whole play through I only ever completed one mission with zero casualties, meaning none of my squad were wounded. I also only played on normal difficulty, and I think that speaks to the challenge you're up against.

Graphics...

Are improved quite a bit over Enemy Unknown / Within being that those games were built using Unreal Engine 3 and XCom 2 uses Unreal Engine 4, and DirectX 11 makes things shine like never before. That said, the game runs pretty badly. Ive said before that my system a few years old now but still pretty powerful and well over-specced for this game. Recommended settings ask for a quad core, 8 gigs of system ram, and 2gigs of VRAM. I've got a 6 core, 16 gigs of system ram and 3 gigs of VRAM. The performance issues I was seeing were mostly noticeable during the after action report, the world overview and cut scenes etc. But even during missions I was noticing some frame breaks. At times huge ones dropping to as low as 8 fps. I know that Firaxis happen to be working on improving frame rates and stability overall but for now it's kind of a dog.

A possible hotfix for some of the performance issues is turning down the texture quality, especially if you have 3GB or less VRAM, but don't expect miracles during cutscenes. Some people also report much shorter loading times by pressing Caps lock, but with the added risk of crashes and other issues.

after_action_reportThis game does look spectacular for an isometric title though and to be honest the frame drops didn't really have an effect on my play experience. XCom 2 only crashed once for me but it was during the worst possible time and that made me sad. Luckily the autosave brought me pretty close to where I was without much backtracking.

Audio

Sounds and music are very good as well as voice overs. It's pretty cool that you can change languages of your squaddies to fit their country of origin. Well, for the most part anyway. Available languages include, American English, UK English, Austrailian English, German, Italian, French, and Spanish with even more available through the Steam Workshop.

Music is impactful and provides a lot of atmosphere to situations. Weapon sounds are equally strong making the game feel pretty believable.

Customising Characters

Your units are very customisable and even more so the longer they survive and the higher they're promoted. A fully promoted unit can be given new facial features, hair changes, head wear, glasses, bandannas, cigars, cigarettes, armor and weapon patterns and colors, tattoos, languages, and more. I actually made Geralt, from Witcher 3 and since they have swords, he's a Ranger class. The modding community has had a field day with that level of customisation as well, providing us players with a lot of familiar faces.Geralt

Conclusion

Finally, I know. I tend to ramble on when I'm excited about something and XCom 2 has been exciting, stressful, frustrating and overall a wonderful experience. Graphically, it looks great and aside from low frame rates I love everything about it. For all that is good in the world buy this and play it. Whether you wait for a sale or not, it's worth it. My play through took about 60 hours and it was nail biting.

If you're a fan of XCom in general you'll like this game. If you're a Fan of Firaxis' XCom, you're going to find an old friend in their second full installment. This is a great title that deserves playing though multiple times and I recommend it to anyone who can stand being beaten a lot and is a fan of tactical strategy games. It's still $59.99 on Steam and I'll include the system requirements below.Endimage

System Requirements for XCom 2 are as follows

MINIMUM:
OS: Windows® 7, 64-bit
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E4700 2.6 GHz or AMD Phenom 9950 Quad Core 2.6 GHz
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5770, 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 or better
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 45 GB available space
Sound Card: DirectX compatible sound card
Additional Notes: Initial installation requires one-time Internet connection for Steam authentication; software installations required (included with the game) include Steam Client, Microsoft Visual C++2012 and 2013 Runtime Libraries and Microsoft DirectX.

RECOMMENDED:
OS: Windows® 7, 64-bit
Processor: 3GHz Quad Core
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: 2GB ATI Radeon HD 7970, 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 or better
Storage: 45 GB available space
Sound Card: DirectX compatible sound card