XCOM 2 [official site] isn't just a big pile of tactical brilliance, it's also a big mod-friendly pile of tactical brilliance. Theoretically, that means someone will iron out the things that annoy you and build on the things you love. It also means we can expect anything from an increase in moustache variety to a revamped campaign or series of total conversions.
To kick things off, Firaxis commissioned the clever folks who made the Long War mod for Enemy Unknown to produce three day-one mods for XCOM 2. They are neat additions but, more than that, they're signposts toward an exciting future.
All of the mods can be installed through Steam Workshop, using either the launch menu link or the actual Steam page.
I'm going to tackle these in order of how excited they make me so let's start with the "Leader Pack".
My judgement of the Leader Pack, which adds a sort of sub-class to the game, is painfully unfair. I'm ranking it third out of three and I haven't even seen half of what it offers yet because I'd need to level up a soldier with the new leadership ability. The reason it comes in third is nothing to do with my lack of experience though; nor should its ranking be taken as an insult.
Leadership opens up two new skill trees, as with the core classes, and any soldier of sergeant rank or higher can be sent to the Guerrilla Tactics School to become a leader. Be sure not to send all of your best recruits for leadership training as soon as they qualify though - they're like the middle management of the XCOM universe and don't like to work together. Give them flunkies and they're delighted; put them in a squad of equals and they'll sulk until Sandra gets demoted back to the rank and file where she belongs.
"Except in dire emergencies" only one leader can be sent on a mission at any time, y'see. Plus, the trainee will be out of action during the training period (8 days in my current save).
The first two abilities you can choose from are "Get Some" and "Collector". The latter confers a 50% chance of gaining a single Intel point whenever a non-human enemy is killed. There's a proviso - "as long as the leader is healthy". I'm taking that to mean the leader doesn't need to be in the field to use that bonus, although I'm not sure. It doesn't seem like much of an advantage if it only works on missions that the leader is actually...leading.
If you're as unconvinced/confused about Collectors as I am, "Get Some" seems like a shoo-in. It's what I expect from a Leader class, providing a buff to squadmates. In this case it's a +20 critical hit chance to all allies within Command Range for one turn. Get Some costs an action point to activate.
The only reason I'm slightly hesitant to recommend this mod relates to the rich nature of the existing classes. Even though there are only two branches for each, mixing and matching skillsets is rewarding, and this might muddy the waters a little. Come back to me with tales of your ace Gunslinger before you decide to spend precious time training leaders.
Ah, the Muton Centurion. It's a bit of a bastard and no mistake.
I am incredibly happy that people will be able to mod new aliens into the game - it'll make that whole Enemy Unknown factor relevant for a long time, if the mods be kind - and this is a lovely start. Centurions look great and they're just enough of a twist on the existing Mutons to add the kind of overlapping skillsets that XCOM 2 has turned into an artform.
You'll see packs and squads of enemies on every battlefield, and they're almost as cannily constructed as your own squads. A melee unit plus a support unit plus a cover-defying/destroying unit. Bingo. Like the leaders described above, the Centurion can provide buffs to his buddies using the War Cry ability. He's also tougher and meaner.
The Long War team have given their Centurion a unique appearance, with a new set of armour and face mask, but the main reason I enjoy this mod is because it shows that the new skill matters more than the creation of an entirely new alien. Take one of the existing creatures and look at it sideways - consider how it could surprise long-term players or provide unexpected advantages to its brethren. The best aliens aren't the ones that have the highest numbers - they're the ones that confuse the normal order of things and make the player rethink their own tactical approach.
This sounds like the most boring addition but it is definitely the best. You can tell because I've put it in the top spot and I know about these things.
It does exactly what you'd expect:
Adds three new submachine gun-type weapons to the game, one per tech level, for the XCOM side. They grant mobility and concealment bonuses, but they do less damage, have less ammo, and have some long-range aim penalties relative to the assault rifle of the same tech level.
They can be equipped by any soldier who can equip the assault rifle (so Psis, Rangers, Specialists and rookies).
The reason that's exciting to me is because it provides a new way to customise individual soldiers. Not with a fancy moustache or a new hat, but with equipment variants that will alter your tactical approach.
Over the many hours I've already spent with XCOM 2, the thing that has stuck with me the most is the variety of approaches it allows me to take. In missions that restrict the turns available before failure especially, a tight plan is essential. You need to know where everyone should be two turns down the line at the very least and then you need to work out how they're going to get there. That's exciting and tense. And it's terrifying at times.
Adding new tiers of weaponry that can be switched in and out, changing the finer details of each soldier's skillset, is an excellent way to bring out even more tactical variety. It seems sensible to equip every ranger with an SMG rather than a bulky assault rifle but I'd always want my rookies to have that little bit of extra firepower so that they can get a couple of kills under their belt.
But maybe your approach will be different. I'd love to see more new weapons, armours and, yes, moustaches and hats.
Right now, if you're just starting out, there's no reason not to install all three mods. SMGs seem like a smart move, even if you end up never using them during your first campaign. Muton Centurions will spice up the mid-game nicely and...well, maybe I would hold off on the Leader Pack. It's an unnecessary distraction during that first run, perhaps, grabbing attention that is better used elsewhere.
Save some time and energy and spend it checking your Resistance Comms because you're really going to want more than you think you need. It's not quite the new satellites, that comms capability. But it ain't far off.
For more on XCOM 2, visit our XCOM 2 guide hub.