XCOM: Enemy Unknown sizzled in 2012 as Civilization developer Firaxis' reboot of the '90s cult classic. In the spirit of rugged American survivalism — and a tribute to the country's awesome military force — it centered around fending off an impending alien invasion, with explosive results.
Its sequel, XCOM 2, flips the script entirely: In an alternate universe, it seems as though humanity actually lost to the aliens and bowed down to their extraterrestrial overlords. After 20 years of subjugation, the remains of the XCOM organization is heading up an insurgency to rally the troops and dismantle the aliens' rule once and for all.
XCOM 2 is an improvement over its predecessor in several meaningful ways, and it's easy to see. For the uninitiated, you command a group of soldiers, each with their own specialized class, through procedurally-generated battlefields. There's a smattering of objectives to complete with each mission, whether you're eliminating the enemy threat, rescuing civilians, or taking back captured territory.
But for a turn-based strategy game, XCOM 2 is riddled with action. Turns are comprised of each side moving across what's best described as a virtual game board, as XCOM and the Advent (the alien forces) take part in a back-and-forth tango of volleys of gunfire and defensive maneuvers. If you make the wrong decision, you could end up losing one of your crew members. That's a risk you'll just have to take.
In between missions, you spend time in the Avenger, your mobile base of operations as you fly you around the entire world as you fight off the Advent. There's an internal game of resource management, training, equipment-building and more that adds a sophisticated layer of strategy to beautifully compliment the shoot-and-strike of turn-based gameplay. It's up to you to ensure your squad is battle-ready by carefully monitoring basic and secondary resources, intel, and even your crew. This could very well mean the difference between passing or brutally failing a mission.
That's part of what makes XCOM 2 so engrossing: You success is totally dependent on your skill level, attentiveness, and strategy. The game provides you with plenty of options, but it can't save all your squad in the heat of battle for you. Your soldiers can and will die, and probably often, unless your moving thoughtfully and strategically enough to martial every resource you have to bear.
XCOM 2 isn't a game for beginners. There's no time for complacency, as the scenarios are ever-evolving, forcing to you scramble and rally together against what can sometimes seem like insurmountable odds. When you pull yourself out of a mission you've just barely conquered, there's a fleeting feeling of invincibility that isn't often felt within games. You made your own victory, and it echoes throughout the entire game.
That's mainly due to to XCOM 2's unique customizability. Your squad feels unique, very much like your own ragtag bunch of acquaintances pulling together to combat an alien force. Each soldier comes packing individual looks, either cosmetic or statistical, so you can recreate your favorite movie and TV characters, friends and family, or fictional randoms that will eventually feel like family (we can't wait to see the mods ingenious players cook up).
This element of personalization goes a long way in making you feel as though losing one of your own is a real, devastating loss. The stakes feel authentic, so you exert more effort. This has been present in each of the XCOM games, however, so it's good to see it echoed here in the sequel.
Of course, there are unique improvements to speak of as well, including varying mission parameters you're given at the start of each mission that can dramatically affect up the pace of the game during each walkthrough. Sometimes you're racing against the clock, and sometimes you're not. You may need to employ stealth alone to emerge victorious, or you can get by running in with guns blazing.
But whatever your assignment, you won't feel a sense of repetition set in because you're always doing something different. Even the main classes from the original game have been altered to offer more freedom, with the addition of a powerful new psychic class that opens up a new realm of possibilities.
XCOM 2 is all about these possibilities and more in the end, an excellent strategic affair with myriad options, a gripping narrative, and a gorgeous layout to wrap it all up in. It's just as good as the 2012's reboot, if not a little better. And if you're looking for an aliens-conquering-Earth scenario that blows Independence Day and its sequel out of the water, you'll find it here.