The Great, The Good and The Bad of XCOM 2 on Consoles.

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Character customization gets an A+ in XCOM 2

Aliens have invaded Earth and under the guise of peace and unity – and with the help of some alien loving humans – are planning to overtake the human race.  It’s up to you, your crew on the Avenger and your soldiers to take them out and restore mankind.

XCOM 2 took just on seven months to hit consoles after its initial PC release and came onto the console gaming market with little to no fanfare.  No Call of Duty-esque midnight launches, no major pre-order exclusive deluxe collectors edition, it just suddenly appeared.  Perhaps that’s why it took me until now to discover the game?

As someone who had never delved into the world of strategy based games, I was heading into XCOM 2 with hesitation.  Strategy, turn based based games, to me, are cumbersome and frustrating and just…well….slow.  Such is not the case with XCOM 2: Enemy Within

Let’s take a look at the great, the good and the bad of XCOM 2.

THE GREAT:

The Character Pool/Character Creation: Almost a 10 out of 10.  It’s what actually drew me to the game in the first place.  The inclusions of everything from hair style and color, race, skin color, outfit and armor options, upper and lower face props, full name and nickname, tattoos and face paint, nationality, face type and accent (there’s even two male and two female Australian accents) make this one of the best in-game character creations seen to date (I’d love to see this type of customization within a first person shooter multiplayer type game!).  The only negatives I found within this section would be the mass of ‘less than attractive’ faces and the fact the armor you build later on into the game all but dispose any clothing you clad your soldier out with at the start of the game.

Hair options are plentiful with everything from wavy bobs to buns, shaved sides and fro’s and there’s even more included with the extra DLC packs though those looking to don their character with hair longer than shoulder length (aside from the ‘dirty ponytail’) will come up empty handed.

The characters you create via the character pool are then randomly fed to you from the onset and then, depending how you assign them, will pop up either on your recruitment list or as VIP’s that need rescuing.

Character Familiarity: As it goes, by creating your team from scratch, you get a feel for your soldiers and become attached and build an intimacy with them as you send them out on missions and level them up.  While you have little control over their eventual skill set (rangers to sharpshooters to grenadiers) you genuinely get feels when your soldier is injured or killed in a mission.

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Things get a little close for comfort.  XCOM 2

Play Style and Speed: Offering a mix of standard objective turned based matches and limited move matches, the speed in which you play is surprisingly lightning fast though you do have a say in just how stretched out a mission can go.  Some missions have you trying to extract a VIP within 8 moves while others have no such limitations allowing you to spend more time setting up excellent ambushes and ensuring your team make it out alive.  Of the two, I found much more freedom to lay out my team when the round clock wasn’t ticking down leading to many many fatal errors.

The game play also offers a mix of above map viewing and 3rd person animation as the camera pans right into your soldiers when making an action that showcases off their look, style and props.

You Vs The UFO:  As you go about your way around the map, sporadically, a red UFO begins to hunt you down until it finally takes down your ship.  What ensues is easily one of the best missions in the game that sees your soldiers verse wave after wave of aliens until you can knock out their signal beacon and depending on the size of your recruited squad, can see you controlling upwards of 13 plus soldiers within the mission.  Its a perfect way to get some extra levels notched up on your soldiers though this mission is one of the hardest to come out with little to no injuries or deaths.

THE GOOD:

Unlocking Locations:  It took me about 5 attempts of playing and about an hour of reading before I fully understood how to go about the map and opening and connecting communications with other countries to boost your monthly supply income.  This part of the game goes hand in hand with building up your ship (called The Avenger) and if played right, can see you interlock the entire map before the Avatar project (the aliens secret plans) reaches its full potential.

The Avenger:  The task of clearing out rooms on your ship and fitting them with new useful rooms such as laboratories, power relays and communication outlets unite with how much you can do on the world map though working out what needs to be done and when (and with how many supplies needed to do so) can be frustrating.  Need to hit that glowing red alien base in New Australia?  First you’ll need to make contact with the region, but you’ll need to ensure you have enough communication outlets to do so and also enough power in the power relay to accomplish that.  Everything you do ties in with another item.

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The Enemy:  There’s a nice assortment of enemies you’ll encounter as you make your way across the globe.  From easy to pick off Advent soldiers to mind controlling sectoids to tongue grabbing vipers and a alien sphere called a gatekeeper, each one alters just how you’ll play the mission.

Overwatch:  Allowing your soldiers to sit on ‘overwatch’ and take an automatic pot shot at an enemy as they pass by their line of sight is that blessing in wolfs clothing that can either bring you to cheer in excitement or scream at your screen.  The hit rate on overwatch is laughable to say the least but when it does work, can help you move about your game with much more ease.

DLC: There are four DLC packs for XCOM 2, all of which add a great new element to the game.  The Resistance Warrior Pack includes new outfits (which can be found in your soldier layout options), head gear, armor and cammo plus a new recruit.  The Anarchy’s children pack includes over 100 new customization options from clothing to hair, armor cammo and props while Alien Hunters and Shen’s Last Gift introduce a new mission that unlocks new armor and a new class of soldier.

THE BAD:

Hit rate: Soldier X has a 98% chance to hit their target….yet misses.  I don’t fully understand how those behind XCOM 2 set the hit rate ratio out but it’s a flaw that seems to have been around since the original XCOM.  Having your soldier face to face with an enemy, a 90% plus chance to hit and then a miss occurs causes literal outrage from players though to be fair, the hit rate for the enemy isn’t much better (though it does feel like it!). Training and upgrading your soldiers play no part in how well they hit their target either, only random weapon upgrades dropped by aliens (and offer a 15% advantage) come into effect.

The Ending:  Without spoiling, I was horribly let down by how XCOM 2 ended.  Countless hours spent cultivating my team (I only lost 4 soldiers in my most recent play through), numerous enemies killed off, the ridiculously testing final mission only to have the game offer a short end of game, mission successful video and BAM!  Roll credits.  I was left there wondering about my massive team and what happened to them?  What about the Avenger? Granted there’d be no more missions but the ending left me feeling cold and shut off from my team.

Total Game-play: During play, your aim is make contact with other regions, unlock space on your Avenger, train soldiers, build weapons and battle accessories like medkits, take out alien targets and complete research on your mission finds all while keeping an eye on the ever growing Avatar Project red bar atop the world map.  The struggle is very real in finding that right balance that will allow you to build up your armor and weapons while opening up enough resistance comms to make contact while being diverted to another alien base that needs to be taken out.

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Character Pool:  The Character pool itself sits in my ‘great’ section above but the lack of ability to share created soldiers with other XCOM players is somewhat odd and is why it also sits down here.  You have the option to import XCOM 2 developers into your game as playable characters, but there is no option to share and showcase your creations with anyone not creative enough to make their own or with someone wanting to add some fresh content to their team is confusing.

Overall, for someone who had never delved into this type of gaming, I found XCOM 2 to be enthralling, challenging and rewarding, more-so than I ever thought possible.  While it can be a little buggy and the load times yawn inducing, there’s not too many flaws within the game.

XCOM 2 is available on PC and XBOX One and PS4 Consoles.

Update July 2017: XCOM 2’s mega expansion War of the Chosen drops August 25th!

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