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June PS+ Highlight – Revisiting XCOM 2
Several days ago, Sony PlayStation announced that one of the games included in the PS Plus line-up for June 2018 would be XCOM 2. That’s the highlight of this month’s offerings of free games for PS Plus subscribers. Let me tell you why you should try playing one of my favorite games ever and I don’t say that lightly. I’ve completed both the PC and PS4 versions of XCOM 2. It’s so good that I bought it twice, on two different platforms, imagine that.
XCOM 2 is a turn-based tactical strategy game developed by Firaxis Games, the very same developer responsible for the iconic Civilization franchise. You know, the one with Gandhi threatening nuclear annihilation. XCOM 2 is available on the PS4, Xbox One and PC, as well as being the sequel to 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within. Do you need to play the first game to understand the second? In my opinion, that’s not required. However, if you truly want to appreciate the game’s story and lore, as well as understand the significance of several characters returning. playing the first game, I recommend playing the first game before heading into XCOM 2. Otherwise, fret not as XCOM 2 will bring you up to speed within the first few hours.
Since gamers like to refer to that game when speaking of hellishly difficult games, let me just say that XCOM 2 is the Dark Souls/Bloodborne of turn-based tactical strategy games. It even technically spawned its own subgenre of games, with games like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and the upcoming Phoenix Point being referred to as XCOM-like. The XCOM franchise features some of the most frustratingly difficult gameplay, but it also provides some of the most intense and satisfying gameplay ever.
A disclaimer: Just because XCOM 2 is a turn-based game doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s extremely hard even at the lowest difficulty, requiring patience and strategic thinking to get through the game. Did I mention luck? Yeah, you need truckloads of luck. Why? XCOM 2’s gameplay depends on the use of RNG (Random Number Generator), which are algorithms used when calculated outcomes need to be random. What this means when applied in gameplay is that every action you take in XCOM 2 will heavily rely on the position of your soldiers, their stats and many more variables that will affect the probability of whether those actions succeed or fail. These are usually depicted in the game as percentages.
For example, you moving your soldier to a higher position or a flanking position will earn him or her a higher probability of hitting the target, thus increasing the percentage for the shot to hit. However, I’m warning you right now, XCOM 2 is infamous for having even shots or actions with 99% chance of succeeding resulting in missed shots or failed actions. Players (even me) have resorted to save scumming to win missions without heavy casualties due to dumb mistakes. Trust me, your soldiers will die and when they do, you will have experienced the full XCOM 2 experience. One wrong move and your most precious, highest-ranking, soldier (which you customized based on your best friends or family members) will die horribly.
During missions, players give commands to individual soldiers in battle, moving them through the maps with grid-like patterns. The gameplay is layered and complex, with each map featuring different terrain and environmental advantages. Players move their soldiers through the map by taking turns, sneaking behind cover and completing the objective. There are many classes of soldiers to play with, including the melee-focused Ranger class and the Psionic soldiers. Fancy killing aliens with laser swords, X-Men mind blasts, and pew pew blasters? Then XCOM 2 is the game for you.
Players will be on the run throughout XCOM 2’s main campaign. Players have a moving headquarters or mobile base, think of it as one of Marvel’s SHIELD helicarriers. You move the Avenger around the globe for missions in different continents and you will need to make contact with the resistance movements in different regions to advance through the game. There is a ticking clock in XCOM 2, which counts towards the alien’s endgame project. Throughout the game, what you do counters that clock and might set the project back, earning you time to strike back at the aliens. However, the aliens have tricks too and will employ them to increase the clock and bring them one step closer to completing the Advent Project, which means game over for players.
Players will then spend about 25% of XCOM 2 playing the resource management/building management part of the gameplay. That means allocating your paltry resources and make the best of your decisions. Should you take the time, money and materials to build a psionic lab or a defense matrix? The former allows you to train powerful psychic soldiers with psionic abilities while the latter allows you to defend your moving headquarters from attacking UFOs. You have to plan every move and make contingency plans so that you won’t find yourself in an impossible situation later on.
In order to gain access to better weapons and gear, players need to research them in the lab. However, these take time and time is what you have little of before the aliens drag you down to the ground in XCOM 2. Should you research beam weapons for better offensive options or kevlar armor for better defensive capabilities? Make your choices count and you’ll survive XCOM 2.
If you do redeem XCOM 2 as a free PS Plus game, I recommend purchasing the War of The Chosen (WotC) expansion. It may be expensive as it costs as much as a standalone game but it’s completely worth it. It adds so much content that it changes the game, offering a deeper experienced compared to the base game. There’s one caveat though, the WotC expansion makes the game even harder if that’s even possible. So if you’re a newcomer to XCOM, it might be better for you to start with the base game before getting the WotC expansion.
If you ask me, you should opt for the PC version of XCOM 2 instead of the console version. The game was clearly developed and optimized for the PC, so the console version is essentially a port. Unfortunately, it’s not a good port at all. The console version of the game suffers from bad framerate drops and occasional crashes. Don’t get me wrong, the console version is playable and serviceable but the PC version is the optimal way to play XCOM 2. However, I understand that the game is free on PS Plus, so most of you reading this will probably give the PS4 version a try. Please give it a chance and bear with the game’s issues and I promise there’s a shining gem of a game behind it all.
Check out XCOM 2 when it becomes accessible as a PS Plus free game starting from June 5th, 2018.
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