XCOM 2 Analysis Index
XCOM 2 is, unsurprisingly, the sequel to Firaxis' stab at an X-COM game. What is surprising is that it's a massive leap forward in quality.
It's also, strangely enough, far more poorly-documented than its predecessor by the wider internet, particularly its expansion of War of the Chosen. Between this and the massive leap in quality, I ended up producing a much greater level of detail in my posts than I was expecting to going in; there's a lot to talk about, and I can't skip over the foundations by pointing people to UFOpaedia or the like.
This is the index for all that jabber.
But first; much thanks to Veeheementia for digging into the game's internals to answer mechanics questions, as well as providing clean versions of a number of images.
Second; I should point out that I've more broadly updated most of these posts since they first went up, if only to correct spelling and grammar errors. In some cases, though, I've made more substantial changes as my understanding of the game has improved. So don't be surprised if rechecking a post it seems different from what you remember.
Third, I should point out I don't cover XCOM 2 multiplayer anywhere in here. I waffled as to whether to do so at all, and then the choice was taken from me: the multiplayer servers were shut down. I won't be surprised if enterprising fans find a way to get functioning multiplayer again, mind, but at least for now it's not like it'd even be relevant for me to try to do an analysis.
It would be a mistake to leave mods entirely out of discussion about XCOM 2; it has official support for them, and to this day the modding scene is still fairly lively. These posts are off to the side of the actual analysis posts and don't require reading other posts to get their core value, so I'm presenting them at the beginning even though that's out of order because it's more convenient to find them that way.
Essential quality of life recs. A set of mods for War of the Chosen that improve the UI, primarily. War of the Chosen's UI has a lot of decisions that are okay enough in the context of the base game, but are frustratingly inadequate in the context of all the new things going on in War of the Chosen. XCOM 2 also has a few UI decisions that are just... bad in the first place, like having the damage preview show the maximum damage a given attack can do, instead of the minimum, making it easy to jump the gun and take risky shots you're thinking are completely safe.
Quality of Life recs part 2. This isn't just UI changes, but it's still focused on mods that don't substantially change the actual gameplay but do improve the player experience. There's more partial exceptions than in the first QoL recs post -such as the Community Highlander, which performs bugfixes that sometimes have a pretty noticeable impact on gameplay- so it's overall less 'no seriously you should use these mods'... with the exception that I also link the Alternative Mod Launcher, which you 100% should grab, if only because XCOM 2's launcher got replaced with the 2K Launcher and the 2K Launcher is awful and doesn't actually let mods work in War of the Chosen.
Content recs. Mods that actually make substantially changes to real gameplay; this particular post is for by far my two favorites. One of them is actually my idea at my request, but it worked much better than I'd thought it would!
Intro post. In which I basically talk about how I was pleasantly surprised by XCOM 2 actually being pretty good.
Classes per se, as well as several elements strongly tied to classes, like the Guerrilla Tactics School.
Base-game Sharpshooter analysis. This also covers a lot of basic concepts, and really ought to be read before every other post even if you don't specifically care about a Sharpshooter analysis.
Base-game Ranger analysis. This also delves heavily into Concealment, and touches on the experience 'leaking' mechanic.
Base-game Grenadier analysis. This also touches on Armor and Shred, naturally enough.
Base-game Specialist analysis. This touches on the hacking mechanic, unsurprisingly, as well as touching on Unconsciousness.
Advanced Warfare Center analysis. Bonus skills, specifically; I don't actually talk about the medical utility of the Advanced Warfare Center in this post. I do touch on Overwatch a bit more than prior posts.
Psi Operative analysis. I didn't break this up into base-game and War of the Chosen posts because War of the Chosen's impact on Psi Operative skill considerations is fairly low. You have more pressure to send them out into missions before they're more or less fully trained, and a couple skills become less uniquely valuable, but overall there's not much difference for Psi Operatives.
SPARK Analysis. As far as I'm aware, SPARKs being all-caps doesn't mean anything. Like with Psi Operatives, this wasn't split into two posts because War of the Chosen's changes have little impact on SPARK skill considerations.
Training Center analysis. Like the Advanced Warfare Center post, this is specifically about bonus skills, and by extension Combat Intelligence. It doesn't touch on Bonds or retraining. Bonds is another, later post.
Resistance Class intro. In which I talk about the Resistance classes as a whole, covering how weird they are compared to the old classes, such as their different Ability Point gains. I also talk some about how XCOM 2 may be setting up for XCOM 3 to parallel Apocalypse's thematics and strategic gameplay shape.
Reaper class analysis. I also touch on some additional basics of Resistance class design, like their armor mechanics, as well as some of the obvious influences on Reaper aesthetics and narrative elements.
Skirmisher class analysis. This touches on a pretty wide range of thematic and narrative decisions at the end, in addition to covering the Skirmisher as a mechanical class.
Templar class analysis. I also touch some on worldbuilding and hints of what XCOM 3 might be like, as Templar have a surprising number of elements of relevance to such, as well as a bit of what things used to be like.
Guerrilla Tactics School analysis. Because a decent amount of class stuff is locked inside it.
War of the Chosen Sharpshooter analysis. Hooray for making the worst class much more competitive!
War of the Chosen Ranger analysis. Hooray for making the overpowered class much less ridiculous! I also touch briefly on the pod alertness mechanic.
War of the Chosen Grenadier analysis. The class that least benefits from War of the Chosen, and also an extended discussion on hard targets vs soft targets and how classes are tuned on that continuum.
War of the Chosen Specialist analysis. In which I also delve deeper into hack mechanics, the dynamics of medical specialization in this game and the prior game, and just generally cover some pretty major topics above and beyond the class itself.
All that gear you put on your soldiers.
Personal Combat Sims analysis. Naturally, this is also where I cover timed loot mechanics. I also cover the Dodge stat here.
Weapon Attachments analysis. The game calls these 'upgrades', which I find unnecessarily confusing, hence the different name here. In any event, it's a nifty little system that could've been done a lot better.
Armor analysis. I cover a lot of stuff here above and beyond the armors themselves, because there's so much bizarre stuff connected to the armors.
Primary weapons part 1. This covers Rifles and Shotguns, as well as the actual mechanics of damage, including how weird crit chance is in XCOM 2, plus weapon range mechanics for the short and medium range categories of player weapons. I also talk about a lot of stuff involving the intersection of narrative and gameplay and how XCOM 2 could've handled those so much better so very easily.
Primary weapons part 2. Covers all the rest of the primary weapons, including SPARK cannons and War of the Chosen's new gear: having already covered a lot of groundwork in the prior post, there's not a lot to say that isn't about the individual weapon types. I do also cover the long range weapon type, as well as Vektor Rifle's having a unique range type.
Core class secondary weapons. Because I have more to say about them than other secondary weapons. I also cover environmental destruction mechanics some, among other topics.
The other secondary weapons. The Psi Amp aesthetics are particularly intriguing.
Regular Items analysis. One of XCOM 2's weaker parts, unfortunately.
Experimental Ammo analysis. I quite like Ammo types as a concept, even if the tuning is strangely bad in the base game and still could've been better into War of the Chosen. I'm impressed they got the tuning better in War of the Chosen, though, given they didn't modify the Ammo Items themselves at all!
Experimental Grenades analysis. I also delve into cloud mechanics here, including fire's mechanics, which are like Acid and Poison clouds but with significant differences.
Experimental Armors analysis. I also delve into the missed opportunities in terms of how Ammo and Vest Items could have been designed.
Heavy Weapons analysis. Why is the Hellfire Projector so bad?
DLC gear analysis. Primarily the Alien Hunters gear, but I do touch on the Tactical Legacy Pack gear as well. Note that SPARK gear isn't in here, being in the weapons and armor posts.
Chosen loot analysis. Naturally, I touch upon the Chosen a little bit here, but I also discuss briefly how nice it is that War of the Chosen made your support staff able to be incorrect in their beliefs.
Strategic Layer analyses
Stuff to do with the Geoscape, as well as some more broad things like difficulty levels.
Base-game Dark Events analysis. I also discuss what I thought Dark Events would be, which would've been a very cool system.
War of the Chosen Dark Events analysis. I also discuss a different possibility for how Dark Events could have been.
Advanced Options analysis. AKA 'War of the Chosen brought back Second Wave'. It's a bit limited, but some of the options are nice to have.
Soldier Bonds analysis. AKA battlefield marriage. Could be better, but a cool system for sure.
Covert Ops analysis. There is a lot covered in this post. Covert Ops is a big, ambitious system!
Breakthroughs analysis. Breakthroughs are a cool idea, one that has a nice impact even with the execution being a bit lackluster.
Sitreps analysis. Cool idea, kinda boring execution.
Fatigue analysis. One of War of the Chosen's most fantastic, well-tuned new systems, doing a shocking amount to change the game for the better in spite of relatively little direct impact on the tactical layer. Also one of its most opaque systems, with no in-game explanation; if you only read one post from this list, it should be this one.
Phobia analysis. A system that needs refinement, but still an impressively huge leap forward. I also briefly touch on base-game Panic mechanics, to contextualize what's changed.
Difficulty level analysis. Particularly focused on Legendary, as it's a very different game. I also touch pretty heavily on the game invisibly cheating for you, and how to disable it.
Reaper Resistance Orders analysis. I also lay out the basics of Resistance Orders as a whole here, as well as touch on Resistance Orders rounding out the character of the world.
Skirmisher Resistance Orders analysis. I particularly delve into the narrative good Double Agent does, breaking from narratively problematic trends in a crucial way.
Templar Resistance Orders analysis. I also touch on injury recovery mechanics in some detail here, as well as delving a little into Legendary seeming to be War of the Chosen's intended experience.
Continent bonuses analysis. This focuses on the base game continent bonuses, but I do provide a summary of which Resistance Orders can be continent bonuses in War of the Chosen. I also go over Geoscape mechanics a decent amount, including possible starting locations and some detail on connections.
Chosen strategic layer analysis. Knowledge, monthly actions, and Knowledge tier. A system that could've been better, but still has a decent amount of meat on its bones.
Mostly by individual enemy, though I also cover overarching enemy mechanics at various points.
Overall intro to enemies. Mostly covering some of the subtle differences and their implications between how things worked broadly in Enemy Within vs how they work broadly in XCOM 2. Pods behave very differently when activating, for example.
ADVENT Trooper. Your mook enemy you encounter in huge numbers, particularly in the base game where they make up something crazy like a quarter of all enemies fought over the entire game. Well, before the final mission, anyway. I also touch on the general concept of tiers, since that's (largely) an ADVENT-specific concept.
ADVENT Officer. The most iconic pod leader. I also talk a lot about general AI priorities and behaviors, and go over reinforcement mechanics, including how they've changed in War of the Chosen.
Sectoid. The other early game pod leader, and one of the best-designed enemies of the game in myriad ways.
The Lost. Stereotypical apocalypse zombies, and yet somehow an extremely healthy, helpful addition to the game, albeit one that can be pretty frustrating to actually interact with.
ADVENT Stun Lancer. The most basic melee enemy of the game, and quite possibly the first one you'll encounter. In the base game, at least. Also probably the most frustrating melee enemy of the game, particularly in the base game.
Faceless. Your first Retaliation-exclusive enemy, and pretty unique in its role. I also discuss Retaliation missions in some detail, as well as civilian mechanics, including touching on some of their behavior outside Retaliation missions.
Purifier. Early War of the Chosen content, Purifiers are here to spray flames and toss fiery grenades. The latter is generally more worrying than the former.
ADVENT Priest. More early War of the Chosen content, and a bit of a mess. Definite positives to their design, but also a mess.
Viper. One of the weaker, more confusingly-designed elements of the base game, on multiple levels.
ADVENT Turret. Interesting from the perspective of looking under the hood of the game, unfortunately not so interesting to fight.
Codex. The first major plot-critical enemy, I like a lot of elements of it for various reasons, even with it having several wonky issues, both gameplay-wise and narratively. I also take the opportunity to lay out the 'complicator enemy' concept, which is something I allude to periodically throughout these posts.
ADVENT Mec. Probably your first proper robot enemy encounter in War of the Chosen, and still potentially so in the base game, with a fair amount of narrative strangeness attached and some janky gameplay design.
ADVENT General. A janky addition to the game, though I mostly end up talking about narrative decisions regarding ADVENT, both in the sense of the ADVENT government and in the sense of the troops on the ground you specifically shoot at. Also, why do these guys show up in sewers so much?
Basic Muton. I love their mechanics/gameplay changes, particularly in War of the Chosen, but find their aesthetic and narrative elements... confusing.
ADVENT Shieldbearer. Great gameplay pieces, strangely unclear narrative concept.
Muton Berserker. I remain deeply confused as to why the Berserker of all things returned, but especially why it returned in this exact form. Its design is distinctive and memorable, and in some sense I actually like it, but how we arrived here is deeply confusing to me.
Archon. A huge improvement over Floaters, an intriguing possible connection to Enforcer, all marred a little by: what species are these?
Spectre. My personal favorite addition to War of the Chosen, for a lot of reasons.
Chryssalid. The triumphant return of my least favorite alien, only now I... actually like it? Huh.
Andromedon. The Muton Elite of this game, but far more interesting and better-executed. And also not related to any other alien.
Sectopod. Sectopods return much-refined on a gameplay level, but much more narratively confused. Also, they're 2x2! Hooray!
Gatekeeper. The Cyberdisc's spiritual successor, much-refined and with intriguing suggestions of worldbuilding attached. Also, the game's ultimate regular enemy, where Cyberdiscs were a fairly early Big Threat.
Avatar. The culmination of the Avatar Project. Major spoilers, naturally.
Derelict Mec. The first of three enemies unique to Shen's Last Gift. Also covers the first map of the Lost Towers in detail, and touches on a surprising possible retcon that would be quite interesting if it's the intention.
Decaying Turret. The second of three enemies unique to Shen's Last Gift, though they're barely any different from ADVENT Turrets. This of course also touches on the second map of Lost Towers in detail.
Prototype Sectopod. The final Lost Towers-exclusive enemy, it's a stripped-down Sectopod... aside having dozens of HP and even more Armor. I also pretty heavily talk about Lost Towers' story, including the 'emotional core', as well as my fondness for Julian and assorted bits about Shen's Last Gift that probably most players have no idea exists, even the ones who have the DLC.
Neonate Viper. I also cover the Nest, of course, and get started on covering how I'm pretty sure Alien Hunters was originally meant to be something almost completely different from what we got.
Alien Ruler Mechanics Overview. In which I cover a bunch of Alien Ruler-specific mechanics, including their mission pacing, in-mission placement, and of course Ruler Reactions.
The Viper King. I also delve into more detail into what I suspect Alien Hunters was originally intended to be, as well as touch on a few universal truths of Alien Rulers that didn't make it into the Shared Mechanics post.
The Berserker Queen. The roughest, toughest, most generally dangerous Alien Ruler. I also touch a bit more on what Alien Hunters was probably meant to be, and how far removed from that what we got is.
The Archon King. Potentially hugely frustrating for a base-game Legendary run, but rarely the roughest Alien Ruler in spite of showing up last. Not much to him, narratively, though.
Chosen Tactical Intro. How often Chosen spawn, how their unique turn mechanics actually work, the non-obvious feature of clock-stopping, and details on the more obvious special behaviors of summoning minions, Dazing troops, and sucking your soldiers Knowledge.
Chosen Weaknesses. Imperfect tuning and a Weakness that very much doesn't belong, but for a first stab at a newfangled concept this is one of the more solid bits of War of the Chosen, especially when you consider how it's tied up in so many other systems. That's quite the balancing act to manage.
Chosen Strengths. There's certainly Strengths that could've been handled better, but for such an ambitious system, I'm impressed it turned out as well as it did!
The Chosen Assassin. Not the best of intros to the Chosen in terms of game mechanics, but very good as an illustration of how awful the Ethereals are, and a fun and interesting challenge most of the time.
The Chosen Hunter. My favorite Chosen in everything but gameplay, where he's probably the weakest design. Also more discussion of how the Chosen are great at illustrating Ethereal awfulness.
The Chosen Warlock. The Chosen whose villainy most clearly shows us the awfulness of the Ethereals. Also the Chosen with the most unfinished, unused content!
Cut Chosen Content. Multiple Strengths and Weaknesses got substantially coded up but aren't used in the final product, and there's still further mechanics entirely unused. One of the better illustrators of War of the Chosen having been pushed out the door before it was really complete.
Strategic Stuff and Miscellany
The Geoscape, and stuff I'm not quite sure where to fit and didn't get to until pretty late anyway, like Hacking rewards.
Avenger Facilities. The stuff you build into your flying base, the junk you clear out of your flying base, and the weirdness of how your flying base got handled by the game. I also talk a little about a few broader things, like XCOM 2's unfortunate tendency to make it hard for strategic RNG to do interesting things.
Map Overview. Plot types, biomes, and assorted mechanical implications and narrative suggestions of interest, as groundwork before we move into specific missions.
Retaliation missions. The return of Terror missions, but made less janky... until War of the Chosen provides a radically different, much cooler alternative. (Albeit one that has notable bugginess and some tuning issues) This is one of the more direct improvements over EU/EW's design, and a promising suggestion of where XCOM 3 might take its equivalent that will probably exist.
VIP/Resistance request missions. In some sense the return of Council requests, but in practice filling a very different set of design purposes. Also the most uneven of the mission sets, containing both some of the funnest, best-designed missions and some of the most miserable, this-should've-been-cut mission types.
Guerrilla Ops. The return of Abductions, but so radically changed as to be almost unrecognizable. Bizarrely, the mission set with the most consistent clashes between gameplay and narrative.
Supply Raids. The inheritor of downed and landed UFOs in terms of mechanical significance, including having a landed UFO variant, but with more strategic significance attached. The execution is rough at every step, unfortunately, but there's still important improvements happening: I look forward to seeing what XCOM 3's equivalent is like.
The Golden Path. The central plot chain missions. Naturally, this is particularly spoiler-dense. Not that I'm particularly skirting around spoilers in general, but hey.
Misc Base Game Missions. Tutorial Gatecrasher, non-Tutorial Gatecrasher, the Power Converter mission exclusive to Tutorial-enabled runs, Avatar Project Facilities, and Avenger Defense. (And I briefly touch on Lost Towers and the Nest) I also talk a bit about XCOM 2's progression in characterizing your support staff in a bit of a tangent.
Misc War of the Chosen missions. Lost And Abandoned, Chosen Strongholds, the Chosen version of the Avenger Defense, Ambushed Covert Ops, and the rescue of captured soldiers all get covered here. I also talk a lot about assorted narrative and game design benefits War of the Chosen subtly slips in.
Hacking: objectives and security towers. In which I finally get around to talking about Hacking in detail, in this case specifically the Hack effects found on security towers and objective Hacks.
Hacking: enemy units. In which I wrap up talking about Hacking, specifically covering usage of the Skulljack and of Haywire Protocol on Specialists. I also talk a bit about some nice things the design sneakily does with the Skulljack encounters.
Rumors. In which I talk about the Rumors system, primarily as an excuse to draw attention to Rumor images.
And for the moment that's all I've got for XCOM 2.