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Bad tactics will destroy even the best strategy.
XCOM 2's tactical combat is mechanically similar to Enemy Unknown, but it has very different pacing. This time around, Firaxis has added a new "Concealment" mechanic, which is absolutely great. In the missions where you're going in under the radar, your squad starts fully hidden from the enemy as long as you don't get too close. You can then move your soldiers into the best possible positions before letting loose on an unsuspecting enemy squad. Talk about going in with a bang. Aside from that new mechanic, the feel of combat in this game comes with two more major changes.

The first one is that XCOM 2's combat system sets up "mobs" of two to four enemies, in the style of an MMORPG (save for the occasional fixed turret emplacement). For starters, this severely limits tactical choices. For example, splitting your squad in two and scouting out different parts of the map tends to be a bad idea, because you'll just aggro an entire group in each spot. Adding insult to injury, the enemy mobs get a free movement action whenever they're found.


Oh, you cleared the area of enemies? It'd be a shame if more just dropped in from the sky.

These mobs often make for frustrating situations. Say you're moving your squad along the terrain, and you're moving your last soldier. With that last step, you move into a tile with a mob, and suddenly, a whole enemy squad is ready to take you on. You've already burned all your moves, and that leaves you vulnerable to the still-mobile mob unless you already left half your squad on overwatch. Another example of how movement can be punitive in this game are the times when you tell one of your soldiers to hide behind that wall over there, only to reveal some new tiles—and a new enemy squad bearing down on him. Oops.


After the Street Fighting tournaments ended, Guile needed something to make ends meet

The second change is that the vast majority of the missions have turn limits, especially early on. The previous title occasionally had timed missions, but they were few and far enough between that they didn't feel like a chore. In XCOM 2, you're on the clock for almost everything. More often than not, the timers limit your ability to scout, and funnel the action into specific spots. Carefully inching forward is basically impossible when the clock is running.

Overall, whether the changes are for better or worse will be up to invidual tastes. Personally, I think that a good part of the original XCOM's "hunt and be hunted" feel is lost. XCOM 2's reliance on timers and enemy dropships often makes it feel like I just have a role in Michael Bay's XCOM - The Movie. Having said all that, I'd bet that a good number of people will like the intense pacing, too. To each their own.


All I did was flank an enemy like a good girl, and I pulled another squad. Now I'm toast.

A bigger issue, I feel, is that XCOM 2 does a subpar job of bringing players up to speed. Although the game does offer a fairly comprehensive tutorial, it doesn't provide enough detail about some of the finer points of gameplay. For example, even though I had researched the prerequisite techs for psionics, I actually had to use Google to figure out how to train my Psi-Operatives. Similarly, I was confused when I couldn't figure out how to have Random Gal take a medikit because it's a "utility" item. Meanwhile, grenades can go in both grenade slots and utility slots. Simple, right?

You're fighting a war you've already lost.
Anyone who's played a bit of XCOM over the years has had his or her run-ins with the probability-based hits and misses in the game's missions. That's led to the rise of the colloquial term "that's X-COM, baby!" around the internet. I'm not going to rant about missing shots with 51% probability, though.

My beef, instead, is with the ridiculously slanted difficulty of the tutorial missions and the game's first few hours. I have easily thousands of hours of XCOM games under my belt, both official and inspired-by. When it was time to choose XCOM 2's difficulty, I went with Commander (level three out of four), because hey, I've been around the block a few times, right? If you're chuckling by now, go on ahead, make it a big laugh.

The tutorial missions at this difficulty are absolutely brutal. You start the game with a four-soldier squad of incompetent rookies who run away screaming at the first sign of trouble. They have no armor, very few health points (less than mot enemies), and their guns aren't much better than BB shooters. Yet the tutorial's first actual mission has you racing against a short timer and going up against multiple enemy squads that are several times the size of yours in total.

If that wasn't enough, you'll immediately run into Sectoids, which aren't the tiny, cuddly things from the first game. In XCOM 2, they can mind-control your soldiers, induce panic, and raise dead bodies to fight for their side. You can't explore the map because you'll aggro more enemies. You can't inch forward carefully, because the clock is ticking. And when you do manage to reach the objective, yet more aliens will come charging in from a dropship. If you're tempted to run because you completed the objective, you can't, because you've been ordered to eliminate all remaining forces. Just bloody great.


This bastard can teleport, clone itself, and create enegy spheres that unload guns and then explode. OP much?

If you're thinking "just play smarter," that's not enough in the game's first hours. You really need a decent amount of luck. Since rookies panic so easily, a perfectly-tuned ambush can (and will) go like this: you trigger it, but eventually an alien will fire back and kill soldier #1. Soldier #2 will panic and become useless. A Sectoid will then mind control soldier #3, who will eventually shoot the already-outnumbered soldier #4.

Here's a note to developers worldwide: difficult and cheap are not the same thing. Difficult games should make you play better, while cheap ones just make you lose on purpose. My issue with the game's Random Number Generator isn't the fact that exists or that it's somehow doing the wrong math. It's that during the game's initial stages, you're dependent on it to an unhealthy degree for your successes and failures.


Yoohoo, Mr. Alieeeen!

The game does get a lot better (like, a million times) after the brutal start. Once you've managed to run a few missions, promote your soldiers, increase the squad size, and manufacture some decent equipment, you actually have a fighting chance against the greys. At that point, the game comes into its own, and it starts to feel like "true" XCOM again.

And boy, is it loads of fun. The new soldier utilities and special powers offer great counters to the aliens' surprises, and there are few things more satisfying than wiping out an enemy squad by combining complementary special abilities. Well, that, and saying "how do you like them apples?" as you hack into an enemy robot and make it turn its xenomorph buddy into a sieve.


You're prettier than most humans. I can't let that pass.

At this point, you can actually strategize instead of putting out the fire of the hour. Once you make contact with at least a couple world regions and start expanding your base's facilities, you can give some thought to the next course of action. The whole "Avatar clock ticking" becomes another constraint to manage instead of an annoyance. Do you run a few resource-collecting missions over the next few weeks and let the aliens advance Avatar, or do you strike at that base and stop their progress for a while? Will you bet on researching stronger weapons or better armor, considering the types of enemies you're seeing? A range of possibilities open up. Thanks to those challenges, there's great replay value in the game, since players can choose a different path altogether during each playthrough.