It’s been a while, but it’s time once again to return to the Commander’s seat. XCOM 2 is a return to form almost entirely in the best of ways. Firaxis Games has had over three years since it began a successful reboot with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. That said, the developers not only shook the dust off the rebooted product, but reinvigorated it with enhanced features on most of the things that made Enemy Unknown fun. The game is not without flaws and shortcomings, but it has enough quality substance to overcome most of its problems.

XCOM 2 takes place twenty years after the initial invasion and war in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. In the aftermath, the aliens found a way to turn the tide. Ultimately, humanity was forced to come to peaceful negotiations with the invaders, by which the aliens established a puppet human government and new order known as ADVENT. You play the same Commander who oversaw the original XCOM project and war years prior, and are tasked with leading the last remnants of un-brainwashed humanity in guerrilla resistance against ADVENT and the Earth’s new alien leaders.

The start of all planning is making sure that you’re keeping everything and everyone busy in your base order to be ready for the coming scenarios. Where in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you had an underground facility that needed to be excavated and built upon, your base in XCOM 2 is a flying fortress that was salvaged from alien equipment. Throughout the game you must take the time to clear out unusable junk from rooms so that they can be rebuilt into new facilities for your needs. Of course there’s still research to consider as well.

Firaxis

Enemies defeated provide opportunities for autopsies once again, and all research provides a reward that furthers your mission or the effectiveness of your facilities and soldiers. Ultimately, the way the base works remains largely unchanged from Enemy Unknown. The basic functions and interface of the base still come down to scientific research, a barracks to check soldiers, the main situation room, and building of new rooms that add additional options. Despite the lack of change, it’s still a perfectly functional, if not just slightly improved system.

Where in the previous entry, humanity was still established in itself with world nations communicating, running the XCOM project and responding to world events in XCOM 2 is definitely a societal build upwards from scratch. With your helicarrier of a base, you fly around from region to region and establish contact with the resistance groups left in the area. Along the way, you’ll search out intel, investigate leads, respond to distress signals and lead missions as you liberate areas of the world. Meanwhile, ADVENT becomes increasingly aware of you and eventually starts up what amounts to a doomsday project, complete with a doomsday clock.

At this point, you must find and complete missions that set their project back. Failing to stop the aliens from completing this project is effectively XCOM 2’s game over scenario, so it is imperative that you find a balance between hunting after these crucial missions, gaining precious resources and liberating regions to turn the tide. The entire scenario provides an awesomely desperate feeling that you’re always struggling to gain and hold little bits of ground and. To make the player feel like such an underdog at most times is a great tone to hit in a game like this.

Firaxis

Bases and world matters aside, there is still the matter of confronting the aliens directly. Combat often begins with a new function of the game known as concealment. Your troops can move through an area and scout enemy positions safely. Concealment is only broken once your soldiers make their first attack or if they step into enemy sight and alert zones. This allows for more strategy and ambushes and is a great addition to the game. Your soldier classes are just as niche as they were in XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within, starting with vanilla rookies and building into increasingly effective killers and role-fillers as you get them experience and build new equipment for them. Your enemies, likewise, grow more varied, numerous and dangerous as the game goes on. XCOM 2 does a great job of allowing both you and your enemies to ramp up throughout the game, building a balance of danger for both sides and keeping the formula fresh with new toys and tougher threats far into the game.

The star attraction of combat this time around is a new map generation system. Instead of a large group of preset maps, XCOM 2 is able to take pieces of terrain and buildings and put them together logically to procedurally generate each map. Whether you’re in forests, small towns, or populated cities, the maps come together to logically produce a grand level of various random scenarios. It supplies great replayability and makes sure you won’t see the same thing twice.

What’s greater is Firaxis and 2K’s investment in allowing modding for the game right from the get-go. The two even partnered with the creators of the Long War mod for XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which effectively added a whole new campaign and expanded features to that game. Long War Studios has already produced additions for the game including a new weapon class and soldier specialty skill track to XCOM 2, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. More quality content is most certainly out there and on the way from experienced modders throughout the XCOM community to extend player experience well after the last shot has been fired in the regular game.

Firaxis

Multiplayer is in the game, but it’s probably one of the weakest features of XCOM 2. Two players go head to head, building a mixed squad of aliens and XCOM soldiers with the limitation of a point value assigned to each possible selection and a limit on maximum points spent. The map generator supplies a great level of randomness to the terrain of a match, but the counter for player turns seems broken. There are long lulls of inactivity as you wait for the system to accurately collect moves and carry them out properly, leading to a lot of downtime as the system catches up with inputs. Each match we played was plagued with the same scenario. Additionally, there’s just no variety to it. It’s a straight up deathmatch with ranked and unranked options. Even if it worked properly and smoothly, there just isn’t enough substance to bring us back to multiplayer in XCOM 2.

Problems don’t end at multiplayer in XCOM 2 either. There seems to be quite a few glitches that made it to the final product. We haven’t hit upon anything game breaking, but we’ve seen plenty of small things that damage the experience. For instance, when equipping an accessory onto one soldiers’ weapons and removing it, we found that accessory disappeared altogether and could not be reassigned. On another occasion, we moved a soldier and quickly hit an attack button only to have the soldier call in an evacuation in a mission that had no use for that. The bugs were easily fixed with a reloaded save, but they were noticeable enough to grab our attention and hamper the overall experience.

In the end, XCOM 2 has come into the world aiming to do what an XCOM is supposed to do best, which is supply a fun, extensive, and challenging hybrid of resource and time management and turn-based strategy combat. It does that very well. Players will find a fresh game every time out and the immersion of building a squad you care about and doing battle with an oppressive alien juggernaut of a force is as fun as ever. It’s great to see the XCOM back on the scene and generally improving over its predecessor, even if there are bugs and glitches to iron out. With everything in place as it is now, XCOM 2 is set up to be fun and exciting for a very long time.

This review was completed using a purchased download of XCOM 2 for PC.