Let me start this review by stating a simple fact: I cannot finish video games. Particularly if they’re good. I have an insatiable urge to start over whenever I’m making decent progress. I always want to return to a time when the in-game world was new, dangerous and open to exploration. The most recent example of this terrible habit has been my latest playthrough of XCOM 2.
Two decades after the original alien-blasting adventure, the world of XCOM 2 has been thoroughly thrashed by the alien Advent Coalition. The XCOM project, once the savior of mankind (not to mention the wielder of shiny and expensive technology) is now little more than a downtrodden resistance force. With all of humanity lulled into servitude, it’s up to you, the Commander, to take the fight back to the aliens.
But it’s no easy feat. The most important thing to know about XCOM 2 is that it is far more difficult than its predecessor. The aliens are better equipped than you, better armored than you, and are often given hefty advantages in battle. Often these advantages are pretty unfair, such as a free turn to scurry to cover or the ability to magically identify every XCOM soldier on the map when only one is revealed.
My biggest complaint about the game is that a great deal of it seems to operate on simple luck. Soldiers can go six or seven turns missing every shot while the aliens bullseye your troops left and right. That said, the game isn’t impossible. A Commander who is quick, adaptable, and lucky can easily rule the battlefield.
The addition of several brand-new soldier classes also brings a whole new slew of tactics to the game. Players can now benefit from sharpshooting Gunslingers, sword-swinging Rangers, or drone-wielding Specialists to fight back against the oppressive alien menace.
But the aliens have a few tricks up their own collective sleeves. Their ranks now feature the serpentine Vipers, the stormtrooper-like Advent soldiers, and the shapeshifting Faceless. Armed with new weapons and new tactics of their own, these aliens are no laughing matter. XCOM certainly has its work cut out for it this time around.
Where XCOM 2 really shines, though, is the character customization. The original was praised for its customization engine, but the XCOM 2 puts the original to shame. Players can now give their soldiers scars, tattoos, and even customizable weapons. They can change a soldier’s hair, voice, and even their nationality, sex, and backstory. As a gamer who craves character customization like normal people crave food or air, this was unsurprisingly my favorite part of the game.
As difficult as the sequel may be, it’s still a great game. XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a fantastic reboot of a video game classic. XCOM 2 feels like the tougher, angrier, better-looking older brother. It is mean and often unfair, but it’s still a ton of fun to play. The mixture of a good story, beautiful graphics, and fantastic character customization offsets the difficult gameplay to make for a very worthy addition to the XCOM franchise.