Reviews: XCOM 2

An object lesson in listening too hard to the loudest fans.

The original XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a brilliantly-designed, classic game. Its hard parts are plenty difficult enough for the plank-chewing nutters, and its normal modes are... normal. The game has depth on both the strategic and tactical levels, without ever going too deep into unfun math homework minutiae. It has plenty of fun character designs and fun powers, with minimal "trap" options. And the expansion added, crucially, the right kind of attempts to encourage a less-passive playstyle, but without actually punishing the player if they wanted to turtle.

Unfortunately, well...

Let's start with the positives. X COM 2 does carry over the same strong gameplay core as its predecessor. Its story twists are fun, the character designs are still strong, and the varied classes and personalities, especially with expansions installed, make for a great experience...

Provided you mod it.

See, here's the thing: between the two games, there was a famous mod called "The Long War." Now I personally don't like that mod. It cranks the difficulty waaaay up, and adds a lot of fiddly bits to the game I do not appreciate. But the game designers loved it so much, they brought on some of the modders to design the core game for X COM 2.

And to that end, it positively drips with bitter, mean-spirited inaccessibility. Every mission is on a strict, brutal timer, with command characters yammering in your ear constantly about how much time you're losing, all in a ham-handed attempt to punish careful, defensive play. The difficulty is often random to the point of absurdity, with some mechanics like Dodge and the alien ruler's bonus turns having no business being released in the state they were in. The stealth system is indecisive to the point of annoyance, never sure if it wants to force you to utilize it or punish you for it. The designers seem to have gone out of their way to weaken and nerf any characters that surpass a certain threshold of power or usability, with the SPARKs in particular being nearly-useless.

In short: the plank-chewers, who, as always, saw the enjoyment of non-plank-chewers as an obstacle to their own, won.

With mods to remove or blunt a few of these frustrations, the came's core design is still strong. Even brilliant, in places. And the game's significantly-easier modibility is a big improvement over its predecessor. But I shouldn't be saying that about a sequel to a game as good as its predecessor was.
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