I needed a break from Wizardry 8. Something snappier, something shorter. It was time for X-Com 2. I was a fan of the original X-Com and the re-boot, so I was keen to see X-Com 2.
I understand that sequels tread, or should tread, a fine line between keeping enough of the old material to please the established fans, but introducing enough new material to justify being a sequel at all.
I understand that, but personally I prefer inventiveness to repetition. That made me apprehensive about X-Com 2; I’d played the X-Com reboot to death (finishing it on ironman at hardest difficulty, and finishing the DLC). Would X-Com 2 just be more of the same?
As it turns out, the answer is “mostly”. But it’s an interesting case example of a sequel that tries to tread that line between old and new. So in this post I’ve decided to break it down – what did they keep the same, what did they change and what changes could they have made?
“Please sir, can I have some more?” Things unchanged from X-Com (reboot)
In X-Com 2, this dual-game setup is, unsurprisingly, the same. But the similarities do not, of course, stop there. The fundamental mechanics of both game types remains the same.
For the shooter, this means that you control a group of 4-6 soldiers, each of whom get two actions per turn, and who can perform basically the same types of actions as they could in X-Com 1. The systems for movement, cover, chance to hit and damage remains the same, and the kinds of actions available to your units (move, fire, item, skill or overwatch) also remains unchanged. The victory conditions for each match are also basically the same (with a few tweaks), as are the rewards/penalties for success/failure in each mission.
The net effect of this is that your successful strategies from X-Com 1 will be equally successful in X-Com 2.
At first glance, the metagame/resource management sim appears to have some significant changes. But on closer examination there are more similarities than differences. The sim has two key units of currency – money and game time. Either can be spent on immediate benefits (such as guns or armour) or re-invested into increasing the rate of production.
The important part of the resource management sim is that the player must constantly make significant and irreversible decisions that (often) do not have a clearly “correct” answer. This is why the player’s resources are typically very limited – the player must constantly choose between the lesser of two evils. Researching guns means not researching armour – and the player does not know which decision will be the “best” in the future.
The management sim also has some base-building aspects, but these are largely subsidiary. The main choices are in how to spend money and choosing what technologies to research.
I appreciate this discussion is very broad-strokes, but I feel it’s important to identify what, at heart, makes X-Com tick. If I was going to summarise its success I would say that it’s because X-Com feels like a never-ending series of significant decisions, typically made by a player who does not know which decision is “correct” because they cannot foretell the future. Note that once you’ve got the aliens on the ropes and victory is all but assured, the game suddenly becomes dull.
X-Com 2 delivers on that basic premise in much the same was as X-Com reboot. But you’ll notice that I said “much the same”, but not “exactly the same” – let’s take a look at what’s different.
Changes to the shooting section
The shooting section has the following significant changes:
- the new “concealed” mechanic;
- a new “armour” mechanic, where armour points are deducted from every successful attack unless the armour is destroyed by certain specified attacks;
- more timed missions;
- procedural generation of levels;
- some new character classes (particularly the melee-equipped Ranger), and changes to the skills offered in returning classes;
- some changes to the aliens’ attacks; and
- changes to the available items, including the ability to make limited customisation to weapons; and
- all guns now require ammunition.
- The much-maligned time mechanics were not new; it was exactly the same as the one they introduced in the X-Com 1 DLC.
- The new character classes, aliens, skills and items were interesting, but they were generally just tweaks on established concepts. For example:
- In X-Com 2 you can hack enemy robots to either shut them down or take them over. Or to put it another way, you can now cast psi-panic and mind-control (from X-Com 1) on robots.
- The snake-men in X-Com 2 have a distance grapple (like a frog’s tongue) that pulls one of your soldiers towards the alien, and to take damage each turn. While this is happening, your unit can’t be shot by other aliens. If you successfully hit the alien at least once, then your man is released and can move that turn. This sounds nasty, but practically the grappled unit can just run straight back into cover and pick up where he left off.
Oh, and I should spare a word for the plot holes, which are ridiculous. If war-induced grudges could be removed by a good PR campaign, the Middle East would be a very different place.
Release date: 5 Feb 2016 (on PC)
Purchase date: February 2017
Recommended if: You like the old X-Com games (original or reboot) or turn-based tactics games.
Not recommended if: You don’t like strategy games, you can’t stand losing (this game is hard until you figured it out) or can’t ignore obvious plot holes.