We’re just a bit under one month away from the launch of Firaxis’ follow up to XCOM: Enemy Unknown. XCOM 2 makes substantial changes to the premise and formula that will likely keep even seasoned commanders on their toes.
To help you prepare for a world under alien rule, we’ve put together 10 things you should know, drawn from our extensive time playing the game over the past couple of weeks. You’ll need to think differently than you did in Enemy Unknown when your boots hit the ground on February 5.
XCOM isn’t the dominant force it was in Enemy Unknown. Now, you represent the resistance in a world run by the invaders.
When you hit the ground at the start of most missions, you’ll be concealed. You’ll want to carefully progress through the fog of war, uncovering the map and avoiding turrets and enemy patrols.
If you’re seen, you’ll likely be outnumbered. That’s why, it’s important to…
Set Up Ambushes To Start The Firefight
It’ll likely take you a few tries to get the hang of the ambush system. The first time you take a shot at an enemy, your squad will lose concealment. It’ll also give your enemies a free move to cover.
Those returning to the franchise know that Overwatch is one of the most potent abilities in the game. This triggers a reaction shot the first time an enemy moves through a soldier’s line of fire.
If you put most of your squad on Overwatch before you take the first shot, they’ll likely take those reactions as enemies scramble. This is the best way to the thin the herd and not get overrun.
Hey, Those Sectoids Aren’t So Cute Anymore
You might have noticed from early screenshots that Sectoids aren’t the diminutive, mouthless bullet magnets they were in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Thanks to an infusion of human DNA, they are taller and wield more potent psychic powers.
They also have significantly more health. You’re going to want to focus fire before they can mindblast your troops to panic or, worse, control them. Oh, and they can reanimate the dead. Have fun!
Time Is The Enemy
In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, players were able to make relatively easy progress by using one action to move and the second to either take a shot or enter Overwatch. This led to a more methodical, yet plodding, pace.
Firaxis moved to disrupt this technique in the Enemy Within expansion by introducing “Meld.” This vital resource only lasted on the battlefield for a small number of turns, essentially providing the carrot to take tactical risks.
XCOM 2 brings out the stick. Many missions put you on an oppressive clock to destroy a target, hack a terminal, or abduct and extract a VIP. Missions move much more quickly, and the pace is exhilarating. You’ll be on your toes and on the move during most of the operation.
Know Your Role
XCOM 2 offers four base classes: Ranger, Specialist, Grenadier, and Sharpshooter. Each of these offers two distinctly different upgrade branches that you can stick to exclusively or mix-and-match.
You’re going to want to diversify your soldier pool. Having a specialist that can heal and one that emphasizes hacking (and messing with enemy robots) is important. Knowing whether you want to bring a Sharpshooter sniper or gunslinger can make all the difference.
What’s different this time out is that later on you won’t be beholden to the random-number generator. You’ll be able to steer your soldiers to fill specific class roles after building a Guerrilla Tactics School.
Of course, sometimes you just want to even the playing field. That’s where the fifth soldier class comes in.
Read on to learn about the Psi Operative and customization changes.
Enter: The Psi Operative
Whether you pursue the fifth character class is entirely up to you. But if you do opt to explore the mental arts, your investment of time and resources will be rewarded.
The Psi Operative is unlike other soldier classes, earning new skills not through combat, but through study. Every time you spend time in Psi Chamber long enough to unlock a new ability, you’ll be presented with one of four to choose from.
There are 14 in all, and the skills from which you can select are random. These include the ability to mind-control enemies, remotely detonate explosives, fire energy beams, clear negative mental status from allies, or create a stasis bubble around foes (taking them out of play for a turn, but making them invulnerable). You can eventually earn them all if you have enough time and your Operative stays alive long enough.
While Enemy Within’s Meld won’t be making a return, you will have that carrot to advance out of cover. In XCOM 2, it comes in the form of loot drops.
Some enemies will leave behind gear in their wake. It will expire after a few turns, but if you pick it up you can come home with a valuable attachment for one of your weapons.
Once you add your scope, magazine, stock, barrel, or other loot, it can’t be removed. You can name your weapon and pass it among your soldiers if you’d like.
You can also lose it if the XCOM operative carrying it dies in battle and you don’t extract them. Sometimes it’s worth bringing home a fallen comrade just to save their stuff.
Avenger’s On The Move
Unlike XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s stationary base, you’re mobile in XCOM 2. You’ll have a base of operations from which you’ll start branching out to make contact with more resistance cells.
Bringing those groups online requires precious time as you take the Avenger base between locations, but the benefit comes in the form of regular intel and supply drops. You’ll often receive priority transmissions that require you to move away from your current task. There are also times when there will be a choice of missions with different rewards and consequences.
The Geoscape is a much more attractive way to progress time than what was offered in Enemy Unknown. It makes the time in between missions and research projects feel more interactive, and every game will feel a bit different thanks to map variety.
While the world’s geography doesn’t change, the paths between the territories will. For instance, you might have a direct path between the Eastern United States and the Midwest. Or, you might have to fly through the South in order to connect.
This serves to mix up how you activate different resistance cells. It also disrupts players from developing a single go-to strategy.
The map variation permeates the entire game. Instead of set map layouts for tactical missions, environments are procedurally generated this time out.
Tired of re-creating your friends every time you start a new game just to send them off to slaughter? Don’t worry! There’s help!
The new Character Pool feature allows you to create your friends, family, loved ones, and that one guy who stole your lunch from the work fridge without hassle. Just customize the soldiers once and save them.
As you’re playing, you’ll start to see your creations pop up in your game as recruits. You’ll also be able to share with other players via an import and export feature.
The Aliens Have A Win Condition
In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, players had the opportunity to take their time before defeating the aliens. That changes in XCOM 2.
Throughout the game, the aliens will be progressing something called the “Avatar Project.” Should they complete it, it’s game over.
Thankfully, you can slow down their progress on it and other agendas (like hunting XCOM or equipping Advent soldiers with better gear) by taking on some missions. Successful completion sabotages the aliens and gives you a bit of breathing room.
The win condition is a meta-expression of the oppressive clock that exists in tactical missions. There is no time to rest in XCOM 2. But you’ll find that out for yourself on February 5 when it arrives on PC.