When XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released back in 2012, it not only successfully (both critically and financially) managed to reintroduce the iconic property to a new generation, but also revitalised it with its clever game mechanics and an interesting lore. Fast forward a couple of years and a sequel has finally been released, one that I have to admit I am very much addicted to.

The game picks up several years after the events of Enemy Unknown with the elite XCOM unit now acting as a rebellion against the advent forces who have taken over the world. The interesting thing however, is that they aren’t dictating or aggressively influencing the world in a bad manner, but with what is shown in the game’s beginning, are looking to peacefully co-exist with the humans, and granting them knowledge and benefits like advanced health system only they can. At this point, if you are thinking it’s too good to be true, then well… it is.

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A sequel has finally been released, one that I have to admit I am very much addicted to.

As you playthrough the game and partake on different missions, you get to see what advent is really up to, and why the XCOM division is hitting back with full force. The game has brought over some key characters, including “The Commander” which is basically the player and it manages to seamlessly refer to the events of the past game as well. Now, a lot of newcomers were quite curious as to whether or not you are required to play the first XCOM in order to get what is going on in the second game. From my personal experience, I wouldn’t say it is necessary, but I would recommend either playing through the first game or at least reading through some of its wiki content as it will help you understand some of the references.

The gameplay itself has been effectively built up on and you are given brand new tools at your disposal, most welcome of which is the stealth mode. The stealth mode not only adds a whole new layer to setting up infiltration and ambushes, but when mixed with the games procedurally generated maps, improves the game’s replayability. Which, in my opinion prevents some of the later missions getting boring and repetitive like it did with the first XCOM.

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The stealth mode not only adds a whole new layer to setting up infiltration and ambushes, but when mixed with the games procedurally generated maps, improves the game’s replayability.

Robust soldier customisation is back in the sequel, with a much more dynamic skill-system than Enemy Unknown. You get to play around with different aspects of your characters from the genders to their appearances and names, even the backstory for them is completely editable. As you grind your soldiers through different missions, you will level them up and have the choice of unlocking different skills depending on their class. The skill-tree is divided into two paths, with one generally favouring offence and the other defense. However, you can only pick one path per character, so it is recommended that you experiment with different soldiers.

Different classes grant you with different mechanics that you can utilise throughout the combat scenarios. How you choose your team for each mission and what you have them do is instrumental to either your success or defeat. For example, it would put you in a better controlling position if your team has at least a ranger that has the stealth perk unlocked, which allows him or her to stay hidden if the team’s position is compromised, and a sniper that can keep an eye on the battlefield, usually giving you a second chance in some scenarios. What makes controlling them even better is the verticality of the maps where you have got different floor levels and roofs that you can access. So, placing your sniper on a position that overlooks the entire battlefield will be quite a beneficial move that you can hope to make.

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How you choose your team for each mission and what you have them do is instrumental to either your success or defeat.

Furthermore, with how many different tools and methods are now available such as stealth, I have mentioned before, there are various ways for you to plan your infiltration. You can either go in quiet and come out with a bang, or just blast through the enemies from the get go. Again, whether or not you succeed will depend on what your team load-out is and if they were in fact the right members to execute your careful or reckless plan. The game is well-balanced in that regards.

One thing you have to remember is that, all your time and effort that have been spent nurturing and leveling up a character can go to waste as soon as that character is killed. That is right, like the first game, it is quite unforgiving on higher difficulty settings and once someone dies, they stay dead and you have to start with a brand new character all along. So, what is especially pleasant about the game when things start to go awry is that you can choose to extract your remaining soldiers, focusing on keeping them alive rather than completing your objective. It is the availability of countless choices like these which truly make you feel like you are in control.

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…all your time and effort that have been spent nurturing and leveling-up a character can go to waste as soon as that character is killed.

However, on lower difficulties, like all good PC optimised games, it allows for a quick-save and quick-load. That system has been put in place if you are unsure of what the consequence to your current action will be, and if it goes tits-up, you can reload the game just moments before, where you can then alter your decision. However, this does not let you cheat with the game’s wonky chance-percentage system, which seems to be calculated from the beginning of each level.

The reason I call it wonky is because it doesn’t seem to work how it says it will. For example, if you were to have a 95% percent chance of hitting an enemy or hacking something on your next action, that would mean that for the next 10 turns you are likely to hit the enemy for at least 9 out of 10 times. However, you still manage to miss quite often, even though the percentage is high. There might be a clever dice-roll system put in place that decides the outcome, but whatever it is, it gets frustrating at times.

Moving on, you are not only tasked with completing objectives throughout the world, but also upgrading and maintaining your XCOM base, which will allow you to unlock different gears and perks. Each upgrade has a requirement that you must meet and a specific reward. Same as with the research projects which you are advised to work on. Different research projects will yield different results and take varying amount of days. It is up to you to choose what is more important for you and your mission at hand.

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On lower difficulties, like all good PC optimised games, it allows for a quick-save and quick-load.

Performance wise, there were times where I felt the game was not running smoothly and there were some computing glitches, which isn’t supposed to happen on a monster PC such as mine, but it wasn’t consistent enough to make the game unplayable. The controls are re-mapable and responsive which is always a plus in my book, and the animations and models are really good looking. Tim Wynn has also done a flawless job with the original score, fueling it with just the right amount of eeriness and spectacle as required. It is also thoroughly enjoyable on its own, so I would recommend that videogame soundtrack fans pick this one up when you can.

All in all, with varied class types, vertical and procedural map design, robust character customisation options, and a challenging variety of enemies to overcome, the game is really fun from start to the finish, so you can expect to invest quite a number of hours into the game. The sequel took and not only improved the best parts of its predecessor, but also cleverly built up on it with brand new mechanics and gameplay possibilities, catering to all kinds of players whether you like to run in loud or go in quiet. XCOM 2 is definitely a strong way to kick-start 2016.