Hands On: XCOM 2’s Strategy And Tactics Dissected

With XCOM 2 [official site], Firaxis are not resting on their laurels. The studio’s reboot of the license had a great deal to prove – primarily, it had to satisfactorily answer the question as to why the much-loved series needed to be revived at all.

That obstacle overcome, the sequel is on safer ground and it might have been enough to reskin and reshape ever so slightly. A new setting, a new gang of aliens, and a few new weapons and hairstyles for the defenders of the Earth. Instead, there’s a degree of role-reversal, with the player now attempting to take the planet back from an occupying force rather than protecting it from invaders. There’s a new approach to the strategic side of the game, the return of randomised maps and an in-depth suite of soldier customisation tools.

After a couple of hours with the sequel, I’m more excited about XCOM than I’ve been since the announcement of the reboot.

First of all, a quick recap for those who might think that all of their hard work defeating the aliens on Ironman mode might have been cause for celebration. XCOM lost the war. The sequel takes place decades after the invasion, with Earth governed by the velvet glove and elerium-fuelled powerfist of a human-alien coalition.

There is a peace, of sorts. Clean cities, hybrid guards who prevent civil unrest, checkpoints on every street corner. It’s impossible to look at the urban environments without being creeped the fuck out by the obvious control asserted by the aliens, who are reforming and reshaping the world to fit their own needs as surely as if they had terraformed it from afar.

It’s the kind of society that undoubtedly processes protesters and it’s impossible to tell if people accept the hidden horrors because there have been overall improvements to quality of life provided one doesn’t rock the boat, or if everyone is simply too scared to step out of line. Earth needs heroes and, in a grim and disturbing tutorial sequence, those heroes are introduced.

XCOM, as an organisation, is finished. But a few people who were on the frontlines of the first war have always known that the aliens cannot be trusted. They’ve formed a guerrilla group, operating under the XCOM name, and they’re caught in the hinterland between “terrorists” and “freedom fighters”. In the long-term, historians of the conflict will decide what to call them – in the short-term, alien propaganda has declared them enemies of freedom and a danger to the populace.

The setup doesn’t pull its punches. XCOM initiate a firefight in the streets during a civil ceremony. Civilians panic. Bombs create confusion and chaos, distractions to lure the aliens away from the real target of the operation, and it’s clear that the tables really have turned: not only are XCOM the invading force, they’re performing terror missions of their own.

That Paris is the target of the initial XCOM attack, and that the preview event took place less than a fortnight after the events of November 13th, no doubt made the imagery more potent, but seeing undercover operatives preparing to start a fight in a crowded street was unnerving. The monstrous barks and sinister shakedowns of the authorities mark them out as a worthy foe but it’s clear that XCOM aren’t just taking the fight to the powers that be, they’re taking it to the homes, workplaces and social centres of the entire human race.

The story is important because it informs every other part of the game, just as the initial invasion plot was at the foundation of the B-movie sci-fi shenanigans of Firaxis’ Enemy Unknown and the original UFO/X-COM. It’s still a tale of heroics and humanity vs aliens, not some grimdark exploration of guerrilla warfare and terrorism, but the design of everything from individual soldiers to the strategic Geoscape has been reworked to fit with the new status quo.

The most important change, and the one that convinced me Firaxis aren’t content simply to go bigger and better, is the switch from reactive strategies to proactive strategies. So much time in XCOM was spent waiting for things to happen. Upcoming events formed a neat queue at the bottom right of the screen and you’d click a button to accelerate time while waiting for research or construction to finish, or for the aliens to strike.

In XCOM 2, the aliens are waiting for you to strike. While the Geoscape hasn’t quite become an RTS battlefield, there is a sense of conquering the planet back piece by piece as you engage with local resistance groups and build up a network of supporters. Activating communications and contacts in an area allows you to engage on missions in that area, applying a scalpel to the alien’s infrastructure rather than simply punching UFOs out of the sky.

Allowing the player to chart their own course, rather than simply chucking a few satellites into the sky and hoping to sight the enemy, is just the tip of the iceberg though. The most radical change might well be in the way that the aliens play the game.

That’s an entirely new concept for XCOM. Previously you were fighting against a sort of doomsday clock rather than an intelligent opponent. Your efforts were directed toward the betterment of your own side at the expense of the aliens, but there was no real sense of strategic countermeasures. Sure, a satellite might get blown out of the sky and too much early success would lead to a hard rap on the knuckles, but you were never thinking or being out-thought. You were trying to get to the end of your research trees and hitting every narrative beat before running out of time and resources.

Whether the new systems will be effective or engaging over the length of a campaign, I can’t say. There were strong hints that XCOM’s mobile base can now be attacked – bringing back the base defense missions, the lack of which was seen as one of Enemy Unknown’s missed opportunities – and every choice you make will do more than lower the panic level in a single area. Instead, you’ll pick targets. and attempt to fulfill optional objectives in the field if you’re up to the task, with specific short- and long-term goals in mind.

Rather than spinning plates and attempting to stop the various regions of the world from succumbing to the alien threat, XCOM can strike at various facets of the opposing power structure. The enemy have a long term goal, which is tracked as a sort of doomsday countdown, but their attempts to shut down your resistance are dynamic and mission types will crop up dynamically, based on their actions and your own.

As lead producer Garth DeAngelis told us, “Enemy Unknown was a straight road. This is an open world.”

While the improvements to the somewhat anemic strategic side of the game seem like the most exciting portion of the sequel, the tactical side has changed dramatically as well. The soldiers are still at the heart of the game and they’re fully customisable. As with everything else, the ability to make a squad that look like Mad Max rejects or marauders from the pages of 2000AD ties back to the game’s themes and story. Small randomised backstories describe new recruits as ex-convicts, rebels and dishonourably discharged military types. There are some goody two-shoes thrown into the mix as well but in a world that has been stolen, XCOM are willing to scrape the very bottom of the barrel.

And that’s why it makes sense that you might have a squad leader who is chewing on a cigar in a face full of scar tissue, or a sniper wearing a blood-spattered hockey mask. These aren’t professionals – they’re humanity’s last best hope but they’re far from the clean-cut uniformed soldiers of old.

The increased customisation isn’t simply cosmetic. In the new Proving Grounds facility it’s possible to make new weapons, each with a fresh colour and pattern, and a randomised set of abilities. It’s an attempt to give the guns the same kind of character as the people who wield them and it seems smart, creating greater differentiation within the squad in a tactical sense as well as helping to give distinct personalities and qualities to every recruit.

Class specialisations are much more distinct as well. The introduction of specialists was one of Firaxis’ most significant changes from the original series – soldiers were defined by their abilities and a skilltree rather than simply by their experience, stats and the equipment they carried on any given day. Everyone still carried a gun and relied on firepower to win the day though.

The gap between the classes has increased in the sequel. One might linger at the edge of the battlefield, using a remote drone to heal allies or hack mechanical enemies, either disabling them or taking control momentarily, while another dashes through the thick of the battle, sword in hand, slicing and dicing. New aliens and their gun turrets are also highly specialised, and the combination of such varied abilities on boths sides of the fight threatens to make simple gunfire from cover seem like an outdated tactic.

There’s a risk that the tactical side of the game has too many variables. The story mission I played was wonderfully tense but relied on waves of enemies spawning, pinning my squad in a building. It’s great as a one-off event but the specific objectives, and extreme specialisation in both enemy and XCOM units, could lead to missions where perfection is required, taking away from the joy or despair that comes from improvised victory or defeat.

That’s a minor fear though. A niggling doubt set alongside a great deal of excitement. I haven’t even talked about how the procedurally generated tactical maps work yet. They’re not quite as elaborate as some people might have hoped but they’re an excellent addition. I get the impression that they’ll feel like remixes based around a large pool of basic structures. Certain buildings and blocks of terrain can be shuffled around and/or replaced, but the foundation will remain the same between one visit and the next.

It should be enough to prevent the sense of deja vu that crept into XCOM far too quickly, and side by side with the bolder changes to the strategic layer it’ll make XCOM 2 a much deeper and longer game. That word, ‘longer’, brings The Long War mod to mind and it’s something that has clearly been on Firaxis’ minds as well, not only from a design perspective but in terms of unleashing the potential of modding. Set to be released on PC exclusively, XCOM 2 has had its code restructured to support everything from minor tweaks to total conversions.

From individual encounters all the way up to the final confrontation, the fight against the occupiers promises to be a much more substantial and open game. I was surprised by the complete overhaul of the Geoscape, which is still reliant on those binary choices between missions but feels like an actual strategic layer now, with an AI that is able and willing to focus its own efforts and react to the player’s gains and losses. On the tactical side, it’s fantastic to see the new story and its themes taking centre stage and influencing the look and feel of the fight, right down to the details of the tactical maps, which show the scars and bandages of occupation and reconstruction.

Above all, it’s a relief to see a development team at ease with their own creation. The improvements to the tactical combat and the management of soldiers and the base are building on the strengths of Enemy Unknown, and the bigger picture – the management of the conflict itself – feels like something entirely new. Respectful to the past but not beholden to it. If everything holds together, this could be XCOM’s finest hour.

67 Comments

  1. FreeTom says:

    But… I blew up their mothership with my mind! I had assumed the sequel would just be like The Sims only with everyone occasionally remembering that terrible time when aliens *nearly* took over the earth.

    Man, all that work for nothing.

    • Mirdini says:

      Was going to reply to the start of the article with this anyhow so:

      In Q&As/interviews with the dev team they take great pains to mention that XCOM 2 is set in parallel timelines/universes where XCOM lost the war really early, and not in the universes where players’ XCOM won.

      The worlds we saved are safe and alien-free, the sequel just gives us another chance to save the planet/murder entire alien species in the campaigns we screwed up on.

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        Cooper says:

        I like to think it as based upon the world that existed after I first loaded as save game in XCOM. If I had not loaded that save, and my team had been wiped out so early, I’d have struggled to build a core squad and would have lost fairly soon.

        Those of us who did not go straight for Ironman mode and beat it would have ‘lost’ at some point.

        We had the luxury of loading a save game, the soldiers in XCOM2 did not…

      • FreeTom says:

        Ah, that makes more sense. Not that I honestly care, I was just being a tool because that’s kind of my thing.

        On a more sincere note, this could well be the best thing since sliced sex. With Enemy Within installed, the last one was safely one of my top ten games ever and Firaxis seem to haev a good understanding of what will improve this game or not. Hopeful.

  2. Philopoemen says:

    This setting seems almost better suited to The Bureau style gameplay rather than traditional UFO.

    Also, I hope given the emphasis on the individuals, they introduce a Mordheim-style persistent injuries set-up, to hammer home the desperate nature of being the insurgents.

    • Josh W says:

      I’d prefer they didn’t really, I’ve been playing a lot of Xenonauts lately, and comparing it to XCOM, and I’ve noticed a difference in assumed perfectionism:

      In XCOM, get injured a certain amount, and your soldier’s will reduces. Temporally during the mission, but also permanently. This means that if you are trying to play for the best opportunity for psychics later on, then the effective health of your men is quite different to their actual health.

      In xenonauts, in contrast, once you have passable armour, your guys generally won’t be killed outright by a single hit, (aside from grenades grr) but they will be so injured that you have to treat them with kid gloves to avoid loosing them. Perhaps you swap weapons with the sniper, perhaps you just send them back to the chopper.

      But so long as you complete the mission without them dying, all that happens is a more lengthy convalescence, you’ve set yourself back in the short term, but in the longer term they still have experience from the fight.

      What this means is that just like the geoscape embraces partial victories, the combat system embraces it too. In XCOM, ironman aside, if you don’t reload during a mission where your men tip over from “hurt but within the bonus from armour” to “actually hurt”, then you are diminishing your chances of avoiding psychic attacks, or getting psychics of your own, in the future.

      Similarly, xenonauts focuses not on results for soldiers but their participation; shoot at an enemy, and your accuracy goes up, reaction fire, and your reactions improve. It’s not just about kills. I once had a set of rookies pounding the front of a saucer as an alien darted in and out, totally failing to hit him, but providing sufficient suppression through their scattered misses that the more expert troops could sweep the rest of the map. Then later, the experts moved in and cleared the saucer. The rookies did nothing that entire mission except take potshots at an alien they couldn’t hit, and yet they gained combat experience.

      The way that XCOM ties improvement to discrete successes, and deterioration to things that can easily happen during a game, encourages a perfectionism that is not really in keeping with the idea of embracing difficulty and failure, and the complexities that come from it. Your task is to master the variation of the map in it’s entirety. You can also see this in the changes xenonauts made to clearing saucers; if there’s some alien hiding somewhere, you can just secure the saucer itself, and rely on local troops to mop up the rest. Similarly those local troops exist and can actually defeat enemies you can’t see, variation can work in your favour, and you are not required to leave every inch quiet and cold.

      What I would like to see instead of permanent injuries would be soldiers that are made unavailable not simply due to a countdown but due to temporary injuries that impair their abilities. Perhaps they have a significant but temporary reduction to will, perhaps they have an injured leg and move much slower.

      Then, you would have the option of taking your soldier on a mission they aren’t really ready for, because there’s no-one else with their level of skill at hacking turrets for example, making a tradeoff between taking a fresh and more versatile soldier and one who has not fully recovered.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      The Bureau as a game(the bits that were actual action and “shooty”) was an atrocity and should never have been associated with XCOM by name or otherwise.

  3. Laurentius says:

    Is it possible to aim and shoot where you want this time ?

    • Hex says:

      Asking the questions that matter!

      (Also I’m totally with you on The Banner Saga’s combat being fun. I get the impression a number of folks in these parts didn’t take the time to learn to love it.)

    • Michael Fogg says:

      From what I’ve seen from the previews one of the classes (the equivalent of heavy) has an ability called ‘Demolition’ which has a chance to destroy cover. Not sure if it can be aimed anywhere or just at a bit of cover occupied by an enemy within vision. So other than that I don’t think they’ve changed it, which makes sense. In a game reliant on cover it would be way to easy just to level everything with your unlimited ammo plasma weapons.

      • FtDLulz says:

        In one of the gameplay videos (Gamespot?) I saw that you could target a gas pump to make it explode.

      • Hex says:

        I think ze’s asking if a 92% shot will hit 92% of the time in this game.

  4. Stepout says:

    I played the first one a ton and that was without liking the strategy layer much. If they succeed in making the strategy layer fun and replayable, it’s gonna be really special.

    • Archie _Toothis says:

      I realize this article is mostly a platform for people who weren’t onboard with the reboot for X reason to come sound off, but I agree. I enjoyed the game, but wish there was more flexibility to the strategic layer. I want there to be more than one way to “tech up” rather than an optimal path. A way to triumph with superior air power, or infrastructure, or superior armor, or superior X weapons instead of Y weapons for instance. My path through the first game across multiple playthroughs was mostly the same.

      • Reapy says:

        Just thirding that, I really liked XCOM, just at the map/base screen it was pretty boring, and I hated the three choices, pick 1, lose the rest. I really wanted to have a secondary team with the hand me down gear on standby.

        Hopefully they do get the open part of the campaign right. That and modding and I think think this one will be a winner. All in all I’m tentatively feeling safe enough to pre order the thing.

        • Replikant says:

          Please don’t. The whole idea of pre-orders is flawed and (at least for triple A titles) unneccessary.

  5. Turkey says:

    So it still has pop-up enemies? That was my least favorite thing about the reboot.

    • jonfitt says:

      What are you calling popup enemies?

      • thetruegentleman says:

        Presumably the enemies who drop from the sky and enter over-watch; basically turned the game into whack-a-mole, since the aliens would keep doing it until the objective was finished.

        • Replikant says:

          Also, this was complete a complete Anti-deus ex machina. I had to reboot a game because my whole squad was safely inside some containers for cover and then thin men plopped down on the roof of these and continued to crit-shot anyone trying to leave the container and target the thin men. What had been a (somewhat) sensible tactic turned into a deathtrap due to raining men.

          But, more importantly, and what I think the OP is referring to: the mechanic of aggroing of stationary alien groups has to go. Single-handedly killed the tactical game and turned it a turn-based cover-shooter, more or less.

          • Imbecile says:

            I dunno, that sounds like a slightly iffy tactic. It could just as easily been thwarted by any alien setting up outside with overwatch, surely?

            But yeah, it would be nice if they could come up with a better mechanism for disturbing the aliens. The original approach didnt ruin the game for me in any way, but it felt very gamey and staged, and led to weird tactics.

          • Replikant says:

            That was in a story mission, and I had to retreat through a series of containers which were open on both sides. In principle standing next to an open container door is quite nice since the troops get full cover. However, if a thin men drops directly onto the roof you are suddenly in a deathtrap, as you can’t shoot without leaving the container and getting one-shotted.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      I, too, would prefer it if all of the aliens already were on the map or only had clearly understandable reinforcement reasons and areas, rather than being this weirdly scripted XCOM logic.

      • miateila says:

        Firaxis has worst in genre AI.

        The scripted alien drops and “aliens get a free move” is to compensate for the fact that a $2.50 AI from the Unreal store is better than what they can write.

        It’s not limited to this game — their single player AI is really worst in class. I don’t think they’re capable of writing a tactical analyzer, and I don’t think they’re capable of writing a goal based AI. But, hey, quests! Go grab the meld in 4 turns, go attack this city, whatever…

        I watched the AI in Rising Tide declare war on a Station, and move one ranged unit at a time into siege range, and take the Station down to zero hitpoints. And then never move a unit that could actually claim the hex onto it.

        The computer isn’t making a goal of “clobber this station,” then setting up units somewhere, and then moving them in. It’s going “I have a unit, it’s kind of close, I’m going to attack it for no reason.”

        When Firaxis (and others) demo games, they provide an unrealistically narrow, focused, closed view of what the game is, and that is slanted towards what they want to show off. When you play the games “for real,” you find out real quick that there’s a reason they didn’t want the reviewers/site authors to do more than a map or two, to make more than a decision or two.

        Just saying, though, the triggered scripts, the scripted scenarios, the “aliens get a move when you break line of site,” those are because Firaxis’ AI is terrible, and it needs that help to be competitive.

  6. Czrly says:

    I read “Firaxis” and that made me think, “Ja, but Endless Legend knocks the very pants off Civilisation.” I then read “XCOM” and that made me think, “Endless Legend, but with XCOM’s turn-based combat.” THAT, now. That would be the Dog’s very Bollocks!

    (As long as it retained the loading times of Endless Legend combat encounters: essentially instant.)

    • unacom says:

      Aliens won? Mankind as rebels? Ufo Aftershock?
      -That said i´m cautiously optimistic. I liked many things about the first part. Mainly the way they made me care for my squads. If they manage to make me care for my guerilla cells as much, I´ll be happy as a worm in an apple. Please, make me care for my supporters rather than for my actual ressources. Pretty, pretty please. In essence: Make it a good guerilla simulator. Oh, and make me have to kill other rebels as well. No guerilla war is good without having to fight a small war in the midst of a big one.

    • unacom says:

      oops. That shouldn´t have been a comment.

      • gi_ty says:

        Haha you know the comment section is a chore if your making accidental comments!

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      teije says:

      That would be awesome. Right now Amplitude is working on Endless Space 2 – no idea what their other plans are.

    • Ericusson says:

      Oh god please no !
      Endless Legend fell so bland for many people.

  7. Banyan says:

    A minor quibble about the aliens playing their own game being “an entirely new concept for XCOM.” This was added in the Long War mod to XCOM and the Firaxis team has been vocal about how much attention they paid to Long War. “The aliens are playing their own game” is such a great idea it would have been surprising if Firaxis hadn’t lifted it.

  8. Themadcow says:

    Another XCOM article, another moment to reach out to the hope that maybe they’re going to make something that is as good as the 1994 game. Procedural maps – check, base invasions – check, less restrictive structure – check. Sounds like they’re almost there…

    • Mokinokaro says:

      Hate to say it but no remake will live up to the nostalgia.

      They could make the exact same game with newer graphics and you’d find folks who’d complain.

      • Themadcow says:

        Ordinarily I’d agree. But original X-Com is still brilliant, and one of the very few games that doesn’t need the nostalgia goggles on. All it really needs is a new lick of paint and a more modern UI – although the Open X-Com modfications are also welcome.

        • mouton says:

          Didn’t the “just make it again” crowd get Xenonauts?

          • Mokinokaro says:

            Xenonauts is quite solid, but doesn’t quite capture the same feel of the original XCOM either.

            It’s also still got some pretty bad bugs last time I checked.

          • Whelp says:

            Xenonauts is quite bug-free these days.

        • Replikant says:

          Well, apart from the 8-bit stats which reverted to zero as soon as you passed 256.

  9. dethtoll says:

    I’m so excited for this game I could shit.

  10. FunnyB says:

    Adam:

    “A niggling doubt set alongside a great deal of excitement. I haven’t even talked mentioned how the procedurally generated tactical maps work yet.”

    Seems like you couldn’t decide on if you wanted to talk or mention it! ;)

  11. AyeBraine says:

    Note that Long War developers already implemented a rudimentary adversary AI on the strategic level. IIRC, aliens have a “resource rating” and a “science rating”. (I checked and now there’s also aggression.) These define what kind of missions they will launch, expending resources. Together with many other things, I’m sure Firaxis took a long close look at Long War. Which is great. But there was a Base Defense mission in original XCOM: Enemy Within.

    (Although to be fair, nowadays Long War scares me. I left it at Beta 12 or 13, and now it seems it got even more complex, difficult and, well, completely impossible. On the other hand, nothing stops anyone from playing old versions, so everybody wins.)

    • jonahcutter says:

      It’s not completely impossible. I beat Long War on Normal. It’s tough even at Normal, and it will kill some of your troops, but it is completely doable. One of the biggest problems of the original game was how easy it became and how you’d never lose a troop. And it hurts to lose stalwart soldiers, or even experience full squad wipes, which adds immeasurably to the experience. Believe me, you lose several stalwart troops and you’ll love your playthrough that much more.

      There are also many variables you can use to speed it up and/or make it less brutal through the Second Wave options.

      Check it out. Hell, even if you outright lose, it’s a good lead-in to XCOM 2.

      • thetruegentleman says:

        You can also alter the gameplay drastically with some simple changes to the .ini file: I used that method to slow the alien research a bit, increase a few stats for certain classes, and bring back the invisible skin gene mod (it may be bullshit, but it’s still way better than a bland armor increase.)

        • Horg says:

          Don’t you knock Iron Skin. Watching a Thin Man shoot up your tank Infantry officer with all the DR perks stacked so the plasma bolt rolls nothing but blue numbers never gets old.

    • Mokinokaro says:

      Main issue I had with Long War is right there in the title: it pads the game out too much and turns the campaign into a slog for the majority.

      It’s also got a lot of questionable design decisions that boil down to “make the game harder just for the sake of hard” but you can fix that stuff in the XML if you wish.

      That being said, another modder has made Medium War, which takes the active enemy from Long War but keeps the campaign closer to the default length.

  12. Hunchback says:

    Game is hard!
    New meta

  13. lagiacrux says:

    having spend about 200+ hours in the long war mod im not really sold on the new xcom. right now i couldnt go back to vanilla EW without feeling like EVERYTHING is missing.

    i dont know … i just hope they provide a difficulty level and variety that is nearly at long war levels.

    • Mokinokaro says:

      If they don’t, modders will.

    • Hex says:

      Yeah I mean…at the worst, you’ll get an Xcom 2 Long War if you give it a couple of years.

      I’m holding my breath for a total Xcom 2/Call of Cthulhu conversion.

  14. Slice says:

    Adam, did you get to play enough to see if small town East Asia or North Africa looks the same as small town North America? i.e. Do the procedurally generated maps use the same assets regardless of where in the world the mission is?

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      Adam Smith says:

      No. As a rule, I don’t speculate on any possibilities about variety of that sort unless I’ve had more than a couple of hours to play. In a preview event setting, it’s very easy for sleight of hand in the setup to make things seem not as they are.

      As soon as I have more time with the game, with no time pressure, that’s precisely the kind of thing I’ll explore in some detail. Should be sooner rather than later!

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      teije says:

      I know its trivial, but that’s the single thing I disliked most about the game. Just broke any sense of immersion to fly halfway across the world to land in a Cairo that looked like Cairo, Illinois rather than the one in Egypt.

  15. Carlos Danger says:

    Do missed shot still magically disappear? That was my one main gripe of the re-boot. I really did love having the randomness of stray shots hitting unintended targets and the resulting explosions.

    • Josh W says:

      I suppose that could be interesting, although I loved the XCOM dynamic where someone is being strangled, and one of your guys pulls off a pistol overwatch shot at point blank range and takes it out.

      With 360 viewing angles and overwatch, and tracked miss shots it would be pretty hard to avoid your guys shooting each other in the back of the head, or indeed straight in their faces.

  16. Todd Hawks says:

    Interesting that the character customization is so huge (check Christopher Odd’s videos on Youtube for more info).
    It implies that your characters rarely die anymore. Which implies they need to keep up the difficulty in a different way than killing your soldiers. And from what I gathered from the videos, it seems they do this with a lot more timed missions.

    Which I’m not a big fan of. But we’ll see. So far it looks great, I especially like the new system where you start the mission without the aliens knowing you are there and them only reacting once they spot you (or you start shooting).

    • Shadow says:

      Not sure how increased customization implies decreased lethality.

    • sketchseven says:

      There’s no reduction in lethality. You can customise your characters to your hearts content, and then they can die on the next mission. However, you can also save those customisations into a global pool of soldiers, and those soldiers will reappear in your games as you gain new recruits.

      Let’s say you spend half an hour getting Jim ‘Shakey’ McGee exactly how you want him – you save him to the global pool of soldiers – and then he becomes berserker bait in the next mission. Next game you play, McGee might show up in your recruits, exactly as you customised him.

      Apparently there’s also the functionality to share those presets, so I’d expect Steam Workshop entries of, say, 80s action heroes.

      • Shadow says:

        Characters aside, it’d be nice to have the option to save outfits, so as to implement uniforms in some regard. They’d be a base to work with so you don’t have to constantly redesign recruits which are generated with wildly dissimilar clothes by default.

        But we’ll see. I don’t know just how ragtag the average default squad looks.

  17. king0zymandias says:

    I must say I really hate how that armor looks in the header image. Especially the shoulder-pad. It either needs more detail or needs to be more simplified and stylized. Right now it’s right in the middle, and just sticks out like a sore thumb.

    • Mokinokaro says:

      It looks cel-shaded, Borderlands-style, which makes it really lok odd compared to the rest of the art direction.

      I’m thinking it’s intentional though since that’s an alien-aligned trooper.

  18. NephilimNexus says:

    It is entirely possible to reconcile XCOM2 with winning the first game. You may recall Dr.Shen saying “From what I’ve seen of their technology, if the aliens were bent on conquering Earth, there’s not much we could to stop them. I’m guessing they have something else in mind.”

    As the game goes on to it’s conclusion, you find out exactly what that “something else” and realize that the entire “war” that you’ve been fighting wasn’t really a war at all. The aliens were simply toying with you, throwing you soft-pitches that they knew you could beat because their real goal was to challenge you until you’d be forced to evolve a psionic trooper.

    Then you blow up the command ship, debris rains from the sky, and the game ends without anyone saying another word. The end.

    Or is it? You master psionic apparently vaporized themselves with the command ship. And despite all of your advancements, Earth’s best defenders are still just a few squads of troops without enough alien tech to even outfit one battalion. You probably had, what, three Firestorms in your fleet, tops? XCOM may be an elite force, but they’re hardly representative of Earth’s military.

    Then the real alien fleet shows up and they’re not amused about you destroying their scouts. That unarmed science ship wasn’t cheap, and since you humans have been so difficult about things, well, now we’re going to do this the hard way. Five thousand UFOs descend at once and millions of aliens pour out to actually, y’know, conquer Earth… just like Shen warned. Against such numbers ever XCOM quickly falls.

    There, now you’re set up for XCOM2 even though you won the first game.

    • Josh W says:

      Part of the problem there is that it undermines your initial victory. I’ve got no particular problem with that, but as a progression for future games, it means that the aliens need to get even more overpowering every time.

      It also means that you have escalating supertech; terror from the deep could rewind the tech because the aliens were using weapons and vehicles that could work underwater. Starting with plasma and working up to “quantum phase desynchronisers” or something limits their ability to play off existing tech assumptions.

      So rewinding the baseline does make a lot of sense.

    • Ur-Quan says:

      Or you could just take the way the devs went and save yourself that huge wall of exposition that no new player will get anyway.

  19. Pantalaimon says:

    I’ll be buying it regardless just because of the sheer polish and solid gameplay, but my long term enjoyment will again hinge on just how much work they put into the procedural maps. The previous XCOM was impoverished in comparison to Xenonauts’ map generation (and map editing), and, honestly, it doesn’t take a vast amount of work (especially given their development talents when it comes to this area) to get a system going that pukes out assets onto a battlefield differently each time. I think they put far too much stock into having the arrangements be super logical, believable things, when in reality, it’s okay if things look a little odd, so long as they’re different enough each time, because the maps will still produce awesome gameplay. And sometimes you’ll get a map that has been generated that is so bizarre but just ends up playing out fantastically.

    Anyway, let’s see what they come up with.

  20. Raoul Duke says:

    “Class specialisations are much more distinct as well.”

    Noooooo. Why does Firaxis hate so many of the great aspects of the original?