Our 50 best games of the year countdown isn’t in any order, we’re just going through fifty of the finest the year has given us. Find out more here.
In the last few years, a trend has been flourishing in the gaming world. One that I’d like to see given a name along the lines of The ‘You Died’ Effect, courtesy of one of the very same trend’s biggest and best contributors – the Dark Souls series. The ‘You Died’ Effect is simply the growing fondness within gaming for having one’s rump gracefully handed to oneself by permadeath, survival modes, ironman and insane difficulty levels that border on the masochistic. And why not? Who doesn’t like a good challenge?
Following this trend, XCOM 2 is one of the most painfully enjoyable challenges of 2016. Even more merciless than its predecessors: XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM: Enemy Within, XCOM 2 is a deeply satisfying strategy experience that strikes the perfect balance between easy accessibility and ingenious strategic design. Anyone can enjoy XCOM 2, but only the determined and patient can enjoy being good at it.
The game itself takes place two decades after the glorious, heroic failure of the first XCOM project allowed a relentless invasion force of pesky extraterrestrials to beam on down and kick humanity in the nuts. Now Earth is under new, otherworldy management. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
Naturally, there are a few human beings who would prefer not to be ferreted into the sprawling mega-cities being developed by the oppressive new alien overlords. Individuals who liked the Earth just the way it was, back in the day. To them, starting up a guerrilla movement to strike back at the overwhelming alien force is a no-brainer. Luckily for us, we’re placed in command of this new force: the new and depressingly under-equipped XCOM.
Now, prepare to enjoy designing your individual resistance soldiers in the vastly improved character creator, and playing with the straightforward RPG-style skill development system before witnessing their hopeless (and permanent) deaths on the battlefield. Don’t cry Commander – you can actually write a eulogy to honour your fallen heroes now. Or better yet, save them into the new Character Pool and give them another shot at life in your next playthrough.
Squad combat itself plays out faithfully to the previous games, in a move-by-move turn-based engagement that has been polished to perfection. Whether or not you hit the enemy is largely down to pure chance, which edges in your favour depending on how skilled your soldiers are. This keeps the experience organic, and forces you to adapt to changing situations as a Commander should. The combat system is a simple concept, yet offers endless strategic opportunities and an arsenal of new and shiny abilities, introducing effective melee combat, tactical hacking and drones, as well as perfecting sniping and heavy weapons delivery even further.
Environments are procedurally generated, fully destructible and a treat to behold as you blast the space-asbestos out of them, and new and fierce alien bad guys freshen up the experience like a hot towel to the face. Psionic soldiers are introduced early enough to make an actual difference in-game, and character development is extremely addictive.
As for the new, re-designed strategy layer, the action no longer comes knocking on your steel-fortified door. XCOM is now a resistance movement; and as such must select its missions carefully and seize opportunities when they arise. Base and resource management is definitely still the bread and butter of the Strategy Layer, including tasty new base modules to broaden your strategic options. You can now manage a crew of individual Scientists and Engineers, gathered either through recruitment or rescue; and assign them to specific modules in the XCOM base to boost research, construction, soldier training and recovery or just to run the thing.
Managing your fledgling resistance network is the other big feature of the Strategy Layer. Make contact with the rest of the world, construct communication infrastructure like a crazed telecoms provider and plan your missions, all while working against the Avatar Project. That’s right – you didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you? Always looming above you is the countdown to Earth’s final and permanent subjugation, known as the ‘Avatar Project’, which will not cease or diminish until special, high-difficulty missions are completed. High stakes, high stress and high excitement.
XCOM 2 has gone above and beyond, by not only improving upon the now legendary formula of its predecessors, but defining itself as one of the best and most addictive strategy titles on the market. Few other games can say anything similar.