If you couldn't crack XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you may take solace in hearing that your campaign is essentially the basis for XCOM 2's story. In XCOM 2, the aliens won the war and you are left leading a ragtag Resistance that hopes to overthrow our new leaders.
This has a significant impact on the general structure of the game as well as how missions are approached. Rather than having the full support of the world's leaders and resources aplenty, you start with basically nothing and have to make contact with other Resistance groups to create a force to be reckoned with.
As a guerrilla force of sorts, you have some more control over your destiny. Rather than simply responding to alien threats, you can choose missions based on your needs. You can try to seek out rookies, scan for supplies, or attempt to sabotage something of the aliens. Time, however, is a precious resource, so you need to choose your missions wisely.
Once boots are on the ground, you'll notice quite a few differences from XCOM: Enemy Unknown. For starters, you often start with concealment; the aliens don't know you're coming, so you can sneak around the map without being noticed too easily. When the time is right, you can set up an ambush, breaking cover to eliminate an entire group of enemies at once. It's a satisfying and cinematic experience, but concealment doesn't equate to invisibility. If you screw up and aliens catch sight of you, the jig is up and your plans go out the window.
Firaxis has learned from its previous outings with the XCOM series. Sure, you can take your time and plot the perfect ambush, but you're on the clock. Most missions feature a turn limit, meaning you've to be more daring and able to think on your feet. The days of using half a turn to enter Overwatch ended with the fall of the world's governments. Of course, overextending yourself can land you in just as much trouble as before.
This turn limit really ramps up the pressure and makes every move count so much more than its predecessor. It forces you to take risks and push the boundaries of what is sensible. There's also some risk-reward built into missions with enemies dropping potentially lucrative items, but you'll have to act quickly to acquire them as they self-destruct in a matter of turns. You will make mistakes, but there's no better feeling than one of your squad making a shot that they had no right to, allowing you to press forward and complete the objective just in the nick of time.
We have to make special mention of the game's environments. This time around, levels are procedurally generated, which means the game can keep surprising you. Of course, it can also land you in quite a difficult map layout too. Levels are full of destructible environments that can be used tactically. You can force a cave-in of a roof to take down enemies who had set up a perch, or you can blow up a covering wall to provide the rest of your squad with a better line-of-sight, for example.
Some graphical glitches remain with characters jumping through floors before reappearing on the ground or odd camera angles for cinematics that result in you missing what has happened. But they're fairly minor things and don't affect how the game actually plays.
As we said, time is a precious commodity. Unlike its predecessor where you could sit back, respond to threats, and take on the final missions when you felt ready, XCOM 2 keeps the action moving. The aliens are working away with their own goal in mind and if you don't act in time, they win. It's a simple, but brilliant change that forces you to always be pushing forward.
Veterans of XCOM will have to relearn how to approach the game, but XCOM 2 is better for it. Firaxis has struck a fine balance in allowing players to make strategic and tactical decisions with a limited time constraint that makes every encounter feel interesting, if not incredibly stressful at times. The release of XCOM 2 is just the beginning in some ways, as Firaxis is giving the community access to modding tools. After the success of The Long War, we expect great things to come out over the course of XCOM 2's lifespan.
4.5/5 - Mark O'Beirne