“Vigilo Confido, Commander!” XCOM 2 Does So Much Right

I just finished my first successful XCOM 2 campaign. Loading times and a couple of glitches aside, I loved it. Lets talk about what it does right, with screenshots. Spoilers for the campaign in some of these. You’ve been warned.

Soldier Customization

They said that customization would be dramatically improved. They were telling the truth. I didn’t even make much use of it yet, but here’s my end game squad.

End Game XCOM 2 Squad
Yes, I really do use all those grenades.

I may tweak the squad composition next time around in terms of classes, and I’ll play more with custom options. But even with the little I did, I love the personality on display here. There’s the general color theme that my core team has, who I carried through the entire game. There’s the firebrand Psi Op who came in late and looks like an outsider, becuase she really was, to this squad. The other five were my core team for the entire game. My poor Ranger in the corner is wounded, but this is for the final mission and you can take wounded soldiers with you. I wouldn’t go without my frontline badass swordswoman.

The really cool thing is that I can put these people I love so much into the character pool, and they may appear again in future games. They all have different voices and accents, and it’s delightful.

Gun And Loadout Customization

Gun customization is also a thing now. Both in looks and name, but also in terms of function. Enemies will sometimes drop loot, and if you collect it, you’ll find things like gun mods and Elerium Cores, used to do research on new items.

My sniper, for example, had a gun with a scope for boosted aim, and a superior auto-loader so that he could get 3 reloads without costing an action. That is very important to a Sharpshooter, as you can’t fire your Sniper Rifle if you take another action. Free actions don’t count.

My Ranger’s gun is instead focused on more critical hit chance with a laser scope, increased ammo for fewer reloads (no time for that in the thick of it!), and a stock so that missed shots still do some damage. They’re very different guns for very different purposes.

Loadout options also feature different kinds of grenades like gas (organic troop poison), EMP (robotic troop disable/damage), Flashbang (disorient), Smoke (defensive), various kinds of ammo modifications, armor vests (more health/HP regen/reflected damage on melee/terrain hazard immunity), and in the case of the heavy armor my Ranger is wearing: mounted weapons like the Plasma Cannon. That’s all on top of the character skill tree, which itself has some highly varied options.

There’s a lot of room to customize to suit your style and the mission requirements, here.

Use More Grenades

Grenades were somewhat underutilized in XCOM:Enemy Unknown. The main reason is that they destroyed corpses, and you needed those to do research and upgrades.

That can still happen in XCOM 2, but it’s much less frequent in my experience. In addition, some missions you can’t recover corpses anyway because you have to Evac out. In that case, grenades carry no real downside.

It’s a good idea to use them liberally, because blowing up enemy cover and shredding off enemy armor makes them much easier targets for everyone else in the squad. This is where Grenadiers really shine as a class: that grenade launcher is worth every resource¬†I spent on upgrading it. Plus they can carry two (or three with a skill) grenades.

Finally, falling damage is a thing. If you blow up the floor something is standing on, it falls and takes damage. You can kill enemies using this trick, and it’s incredibly useful. Even if they don’t die, they’re now on ground level and easier pickings for your troops.

XCOM 2 wanted sign
Hey, I see myself, next to that car ad! Now throw a grenade at it!

Lots Of Things Worth Doing and Buying

The strategy layer also got an update here, and logically it just works better. It was always unclear in previous XCOM games why you had such a tight budget and so few people, given you’re funded by the richest nations on Earth as their most elite defence force.

Now? You’re a resistance force. You scrounge up whatever you can use. The limits all make sense now, and it makes things just work better. There are many options for things to collect on the strategy map, but there isn’t time to do them all and stop the Avatar project. Sometimes, you will have to ignore that battlefield full of alien metals because you just have more important things to do.

The new base building layer is now the inside of your ship (the Avenger), and it also got some tweaks. Gone are the days of building several engineering workshops and getting everything in the game for half off. Workshops now give you more engineers to slot into buildings, which is useful, but not as overpowered. You can choose to build a defensive building to help you when your ship is attacked, or not. You can retrain soldiers. You can upgrade rooms to make them more powerful, if you have the supplies, or not. I never did upgrade my Psi Lab to train more than one person at a time, but that’s an option.

There’s also weapon upgrades to buy (like new gun levels, which everyone gets automatically), and experimental things to do in the Proving Grounds, where you get one of a thing each time you do it. Until the very end of the campaign, I had more stuff I desperately needed than I could afford, and had to make tough choices. Even at the end I didn’t have everything unlocked, but I had everything I needed, finally.

Glitches

In the last mission, when I blew up some terrain, this happened.

Glitched graphics
Wow that’s glitchy!

Sufficed to say that it made targeting area effect abilities very difficult, and I had to save and reload to clear it. That was the worst glitch I saw, and none of the others were enough to diminish my enjoyment at all.

Load times are slow, and I hope they improve that in a patch. I’m not really sure what it’s even doing during those waits.

Mission Load Screen
I like the screen, music, and character mannerisms… but could stand to see less of it.

On 60fps minimum, and the things I do (and don’t) care about

I was reading a preview of XCOM 2 recently, and although I can’t find it now, a mention came up that it wasn’t running in 60fps on the hardware in question. The comments were largely focused on that fact, and how awful it is.

My reaction was mostly surprise that people care so much about a turn based strategy game running at 60fps vs 42fps, or whatever you happen to get.

60fps? I Just Don’t Care

Maybe it’s a function of the type of games I play, or my set up, or my eyesight, but this just isn’t something I care about. If a game is running over 30fps, I tend to not even notice if the numbers go higher. At one point I played WoW on a computer so old that shortly after launch (when the zones were insanely crowded), 20fps was a good day. It didn’t detract from the fun I was having.

Movies run at 24fps, and people flipped out when The Hobbit increased that number. TV runs at 30. So I find the idea that a game is broken if it can’t run at 60 to be pretty odd.

Resolution Support? I Do Care

On the other hand, there’s resolution. Games will pull tricks to get 60fps locked by lowering the resolution they actually run at, such that my 1080p PS4 output is actually 900p. They’re trading resolution for framerate, and since I don’t care about the extra framerate, I don’t find that a very good trade. (Here’s a list of games that do that.)

An even bigger issue is with my 4k monitor. Some games don’t support it at all, and I have to play them at 1080p or 1440p instead. Those tend to work fine, in that case. The worst offenders are games like Civilization: Beyond Earth, which claims it can run at 4k but doesn’t have a UI built to deal with it. The result is illegibly small text and icons, which make the game unplayable. It’s too bad in a strategy game, because the extra pixels should let me see more of the world at once, which is something I really want.

“Open World”? Don’t Care

This one is a function of me being old, and needing to spend more time doing responsible adult things. I have less time to game than I used to. One of the side effects is that I want the gaming time I do have to be as good as possible. Thus, my loathing of filler content and mindless grinding.

This also expands to “open world” games. Yes, it’s lovely if you can have 2000 square km of area for me to explore in game… but I’m not going to do that. I don’t have that kind of time. I’m going to go where the story takes me, and wander off a bit occasionally if I see something interesting. I’m not going to clear out all that area, because lets be honest: a lot of it is either empty or filler content. I don’t have time for that stuff anymore.

This isn’t to say that I want a fully linear game. There’s a fairly significant happy gap between a Bethesda game like Skyrim, and the corridor simulator shitshow that was Final Fantasy XIII.

“300 hours of gameplay!” Ugh…

How good is it?

That’s all that matters to me here. If you can actually deliver 300 hours of top notch gameplay, great! That rarely happens, though, with story driven games. You get a number that high with padding, filler, and grinding.

If you only have 10 hours of great content, that’s fine. Give me that. Don’t give me that interspersed in 90 hours of filler. Please, respect my time. I’m older now, and I’m paying you to be entertained.

“Immersive Dialogue choices!” Yay!

One of the things I like in Pillars of Eternity is that people react differently to you based on your reputation, and this opens up dialogue choices. As in a lot of other games, some of those are just fluff, in that they’ll say something different but the plot doesn’t really change.

Other ones? Not so much. Occasionally my reputation lets me actually complete a quest differently than if I didn’t have it. Or, an option that I could use to easily solve something becomes difficult for me to use, entirely because I don’t want to ruin my reputation. My character has been so honest that it’s a defining trait, which makes those “Lie” dialogue options much harder for me to choose. It gets especially painful when lying would save someone from bad news, which is a kind thing to do sometimes.

The game does this really well. Even in cases where the dialogue option or reaction is fluffy rather than substantial, it’s good fluff. It’s set things up such that immersing myself and becoming my character is really easy.

If you compare to a game like Borderlands 2, where there is character dialogue but you have no influence over it, the impact is readily apparent. I know lots of people don’t care about this stuff at all, but it adds a lot to a game for me.

“Addictive!” Oh Hell No…

I do care about this one, negatively. Games that are advertised as “addictive” tend to be mostly F2P treadmill games, where the “game” is a thinly veiled skinner box designed to extract cash from people with personalities susceptible to it. I find that both boring and repulsive, and it’s an automatic turn off.