XCOM 2 in the test - a tactical feat
Vive la resistance!
The aliens may rule the world, but some things never change. The XCOM defense force is still resisting the intruder, even if it now has to make its way as an underground guerrilla corps. To this end, we are once again leading a team of up to six agents in tactical rounds of battles. In essence, they inherit the game principle of their predecessor : With two actions per nose and round, our squad moves across the field in search of the best cover and slams the enemy in the flank as deviously as possible.
An excellently designed box of tricks made up of items and skills ensures that there is demand and diversity on both sides. So far, so proven, so first-class - just like its predecessor, part two delivers lap tactics in top form . And on top of that, we know how to stage it in an appealing way: Our boys open fire in miniature tracking shots that are ready for a film, sometimes kicking in doors when sprinting over the map or swinging smoothly over obstacles.
We can find a lot of improvements for this in our home base, which is again the focal point of the campaign. We fill rooms with facilities such as the psi laboratory or the advanced war center and unlock new soldier upgrades there. This time, our civilian staff also play a much bigger role.
Engineers are no longer passive resources, but rather individual employees whom we assign to specific tasks. Should you free up new rooms, drive construction projects forward or increase the performance of various systems? We can hardly have enough engineers, they are so valuable, which enriches the basic construction with completely new interesting decisions.
Scientists are more boring, they simply passively increase the speed of research, but there is still a lot to consider. Because resources such as supplies and recyclable alien technology pieces are almost always scarce (we loot them from missions or plunder depots on the world map), we have to consider wisely what to add to our arsenal next. Depending on whether we research better armor, laser weapons or rather psi soldiers first, we should proceed differently on the battlefield. This freedom creates considerable replay value and upgrading our tactical capabilities is enormously motivating.
The flying revolutionary
And something else has changed: The base is movable this time! With the spaceship »Avenger« we roar across the world map to head for missions, investigate mysterious events and make contact with new resistance cells, which then contribute resources to the common cause. The world belongs to the aliens this time; XCOM has to re-establish itself in the first place - a cool role reversal, now we are the invaders.
And the aliens leave no stone unturned in fighting us back. They regularly initiate "dark events" and equip all of their soldiers with armor or poison ammunition for the next few missions. Devilish: We see these events coming and are allowed to start a guerrilla mission regularly to disrupt one of them. But three are always planned at the same time and we can never stop them all. With every decision we also choose which harassment the aliens are allowed to choke us into undisturbed. XCOM 2 leaves no doubt that as the underdog we are facing a hopelessly superior enemy, and that makes it darn exciting.
This tension is fed almost entirely from the game mechanics: Although XCOM 2 creates a cool scenario, it does not tell an overly dramatic story. Especially the figures, i.e. our XCOM staff, remain flat like in the predecessor. The story focuses on the war against the aliens and less on personality or depth.
The quiet way to victory
Apropos underdog: With the new guerrilla warfare, a lot is changing on the battlefield, because as an underground fighter it would be improper to fall into the house with a wild bang. That's why we start most of the missions camouflaged . The aliens patrol the map, and if we don't run into them like the last dork, we can work out an ambush: get agents in fire protection mode, then draw attention with a targeted shot, and while the alien pack is still in Dive for cover, they get a treat from all sides - wonderful!
And a much more interesting way to open a game than in the previous one. There we had to blindly grope our way until we stumbled across the aliens, this time we have the initiative. In terms of variety, the missions have also grown. We now also tact on snow or desert maps, which are also generated randomly and still have a consistently high quality. That eliminates one of the biggest criticisms of the predecessor, whose ready-made cards we had all seen at some point.
Only the controls continue to give us a crush. Many actions simply require more mouse clicks than necessary. So this time, too, we cannot simply drive over an enemy from the ISO view, see the chance of a hit and give the order to fire with a mouse click. No, we have to switch to the zoomed-in aiming mode for each shot and confirm it there. In the predecessor, a clear concession to the gamepad operation of the console version, in the PC-exclusive second part simply superfluous. Unless, of course, the developers still want to keep the option of porting a console or tablet open.
Drones are the future
We already know today that a lot can be done with drones. Delivering scrap ordered on the Internet and thus promoting the decadence of our civilization, for example. You could also snatch the said civilization from the clutches of alien tyranny, which is preferred by the new specialist class. It replaces the old supporter and controls a "Gremlin" drone. Among other things, we can send out the mini-aircraft to give allies a shield, to patch them up at a distance with a medicit (hallelujah!) Or to mess up enemy computer systems.
Hacking doesn't require a mini game or anything like that, our success depends on a chance chance based on the agent's tech value. And about whether we choose the easy variant, for example to switch off an alien 'Mech, or prefer to pull it over to our side. If that goes wrong, we can inadvertently even feed the opponent more juice.
The storm soldier doesn't care about such gimmicks, he has grabbed a sword and retrained to become a ranger. He risks direct hand-to-hand combat to properly deal out blade damage. The snipers and grenadiers have only changed in detail; the Psi Soldier as fifth class has done the most for that. It is no longer an additional profession for existing soldiers, which we only unlock towards the end of the game. On the contrary, we can even research psionics very early on and then specifically train thought force troopers. The class fresh cell treatment was successful all round, our agents are now playing much more interesting.
It's just a sectoid!
With all our new skills, we felt pretty powerful as we marched onto the battlefield under cover. Until we met our first sectoid. You know, those ridiculous little cannon fodder aliens from the first part. Or so we thought. And then the creature grabbed one of our boys by mind control, let him shoot his colleague over the heap and then woke him up as a zombie. Just because. In the first missions, yes. Uh please what?
And from then on it only gets worse: The human soldiers of the ADVENT regime initially act like the new throwaway enemies until they bring elite troops into the field, which give all allies protective shields. The viper pulls our people across the battlefield and then wraps them up, more advanced aliens even clone themselves or let all ammunition in our magazines fizzle out with a psionic cyclone. We suffer it with enthusiasm, because what XCOM 2 throws us against nasty enemies and thus tricky challenges is top notch.
Help, we are oppressed!
Especially at the beginning, on the second of four levels of difficulty, the impression arises that XCOM 2 is playing with harder bandages than its predecessor. Our boys die like flies in the early stages, and not always from completely fair causes of death. For example, when the game presents us with a civilian to be rescued who mutates into a giant alien slime paw without any warning and immediately knocks our next soldier out of the mountain without us even being allowed to react.
As soon as we've bred a few veterans, we'll survive this sooner - which makes XCOM 2 easier than harder as the game progresses . The frustration of the early missions then fortunately disappears, but the missions now fluctuate between pleasantly demanding and noticeably too easy. Initially unfair, later easier - that's actually exactly the opposite. A somewhat gentler start would do the game well, and if you want to sweat from the first minute, you could still set the level of difficulty to the limit.
Moving forward cautiously is by no means always an option, because we are subject to a time limit on a large number of missions and only have a certain number of rounds before we automatically lose. This has its advantages, because it forces you out of our comfort zone and demands a new way of playing. But XCOM 2 uses this too often for our taste, in a round tactics game we also want to use tactics prudently and not be constantly under time pressure.
My soldiers, my weapons, my family
Those who survive the mission gain experience and unlock one of two skills with each new level. Depending on their specialization, rangers can either line up devastating blade killstreaks or remain camouflaged, even if the rest of the team is revealed - both of which are extremely practical! The classes are more imaginative and powerful than in the first part, making it harder to choose. And then all these equipment options!
Do we prefer to put on spider armor with climbing hooks or a powerful exoskeleton that lets us wield heavy weapons like flamethrowers, similar to the Mech Troopers from Enemy Within? Weapon attachments such as automatic loaders (reloading does not cost any action points) or more stable pistons (even missed shots cause minimum damage), which we have to capture from aliens on the battlefield, are brand new. In the test center, we also make experimental but extremely useful items such as special vests that set melee attackers on fire. We have noticeably more freedom to adapt our soldiers than in the previous one.
The visual design options, which make even some role-play pale with envy, shoot the bird. Should our agent be a scarred Texan with a cowboy hat and a cigar? Go! A ninja ranger in all black armor with a veiled face? Go! Just like, of course, very classic soldiers.
We grow dear to our people more than ever because they really are our people: From the face to the armor design, everything can be adjusted, we can even determine the "attitude" - a nervous soldier actually comments more hesitantly on our orders than a stern one more focused. All of this, of course, is calculated perfidiously, so that the blow of fate permadeath hits us even worse when a lovingly designed and well-bred veteran gives up the spoon.
More extensive, better, more interesting: What applies to soldier design can also be said about XCOM 2 as a whole. Despite its quirks in terms of difficulty and controls, it turned out to be a fantastic tactical round game.