XCOM 2: Introduction

So hey it's the month after I said I'd get started on this, but hey better late than never and to be honest I underestimated how ambitious this particular project was and in particular underestimated the extent to which my ambition would increase as I made progress.

Anyway, XCOM 2 is of course the sequel to the prior Firaxis attempt at making an XCOM-type game, and it's... actually pretty good? It's not remotely perfect, but it's certainly a huge improvement over the prior game on virtually every level, which is a pleasant surprise after seeing how Enemy Within just repeated in a more exaggerated form a lot of the flaws that existed in the base game. The core classes are each distinct from each other, no class is just obvious better than any other class, there's no hugely blatant synergistic strategies deviating massively from how the game is intended to be played, and while I have issues with exactly how the Avatar Project was handled the core idea of a You Lose timer the player can delay but not completely stop outside actually winning the game is an extremely good solution to one of the core design problems every XCOM-like game that has ever existed struggles with: that of the game struggling to keep pressure on the player without overwhelming them.

It's such a good solution I genuinely hope the basic idea becomes codified as a standard rule for any XCOM-like game.

More generally, XCOM 2 benefits a lot from the context shift making various things the previous game did and were dumb when it did it actually make a lot of sense. One example right out the gate is the reduction in scale of your Research and Engineering teams: in the previous game, you start with a double-digit count of Engineers and Scientists and are liable to get somewhere over 50 in each by the end of the game even if you rush things a bit. In XCOM 2, you start with zero generic Engineers and Scientists, making your face-of-Engineering/Research characters actually make perfect sense to be the face of their respective crafts, and breaching double digits on either by the end of the game is a notable event. This makes it a lot more plausible that Tygan and lady Shen are disproportionately important and influential in their areas of expertise than Vahlen and papa Shen were in the prior game.

Another example is how you start with a bunch of crappy Rookies who can't do anything right. This has always been a convention of XCOM, of course, and all the way back to the original it's had believability problems (Weren't you supposed to be pulling from the elite soldiers of the entire world?), but the prior game made the issue a bit more glaring through gift soldiers and other mechanics making it hard to tell yourself that your Rookies are the elite of the elite of Earth and it's just fighting aliens makes them rapidly more elite for some reason. XCOM 2 shifting to you being a fairly ragtag band of misfits trying to fight against the evil government instantly makes this a lot more palatable, and even indirectly makes gift soldiers and equivalent make perfect sense to exist. It's totally plausible there's particularly exceptional alien killers out there who just didn't happen to join X-COM at the beginning of events, and that once you've established to the wider underground that X-COM Gets Stuff Done you can convince these people to come fight under your banner.

The convention shared with the previous game where you can only be running one mission at a time also benefits a lot. You're not a multinational organization backed by the resources of the entire world trying to defend the entire world. You're a ragtag resistance force, with your primary mode of transportation being a lucky break in stealing Alien technology; X-COM can't just build a new Avenger to split their attention. They might not be able to build a new Skyranger!

Mind, this is an example of less-than-perfect, as the Avenger and Skyranger are not designed to look consistent with the aesthetic of Alien gear, when the backstory we're given tells us the Avenger should look like a Supply Ship from the previous game. But I'm willing to allow for the possibility that they developed the aesthetic under one idea, changed their idea because the original idea didn't make much sense, and then weren't willing to invest the massive amount of time necessary to overhaul the Avenger's design. The point remains that it's believable that in XCOM 2 you have to pick one Guerrilla Op to take, where the prior game forcing you to pick one Abduction to stop was just obvious nonsense.

The narrative still makes an effort to put a disproportionate amount of credit into the player character's hands, and I have issues with the handling of this that I'll be getting to later, but this time there's some effort put into justifying this fact being true in-universe, making it much less intrusively wrong a decision.

I could go on, and will in later posts, but the key point is that XCOM 2 is very much a huge improvement, either abandoning bad decisions entirely or re-contextualizing prior bad decisions so they're not bad decisions this time around. That's huge.

In an attempt to keep to a sane schedule, and allow myself time to collect relevant screenshots and so on for posts down the line that remain, I'm going to be sticking to a once-a-week schedule posting on Mondays for these XCOM 2 posts, starting from the next post.

On the topic of collecting screenshots and whatnot: the graphical end of things is going to be fairly uneven in quality. Some of the graphics I'm using were pulled from the actual files and cleaned up in Photoshop or whatever by people with the relevant skills and resources. Others were pulled from the actual files and cleaned up by me using Paint 3D with my eeeeh skills. Still others are direct screenshots of the game, and yet others are icons cut from screenshots in the game that are lower fidelity than pulled-from-the-files icons. Part of this is that War of the Chosen has non-standard encryption on its files, making them less readily accessible to the wider public, so unless someone bothers to crack that encryption those cropped screenshots are unlikely to be improved upon, but hey if it bothers you and you can do better feel free to do so. I'm perfectly happy to up the quality and give credit where due. For the moment, this is the best you're getting.

Anyway, the first proper post is going to be starting with one of the core classes: the Sharpshooter.

See you then.

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