I’m too old to play games that are difficult; I don’t have the time. I’ve got to get my daughter to basketball and my eldest son off the couch. How can I be expected to save the Earth from aliens when my four-year-old is constantly waving my iPhone in front of the face and demanding access to Peppa Pig?
And yet, I try. I try to pick the right squad and adapt the right strategies because this is XCOM 2, and XCOM 2 is an astounding game. It’s astounding in its presentation and development, and is so much more gripping than its predecessor that I’ve found myself enjoying it more despite the fact that it seems so much more difficult.
In XCOM 2, you’re not trying to repel an alien invasion. The aliens have already won, you see, and after 20 years of “peace,” you’re now mounting a resistance. Already, this is a much more gripping premise. It’s the reason why the novel for War of the Worlds is so much more compelling than any recent movie. Aliens invade Earth now, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to blow them up (the biggest two word crutch in Hollywood is “force field”). But when aliens invade Earth in the late 1800s when the novel was originally set, you now really believe that we’re hopelessly outmatched. And so, in XCOM 2, when you’re now a ragtag bunch of misfits (with some admittedly powerful weapons and financial backing), everything just immediately seems more urgent.
It also helps that during the combat component of the game you’re limited to six squad members that you can take into battle. Every life matters, so every decision counts. Yes, you can keep going after a squad member is killed, but it makes things much more difficult, and why would you do that, anyway? Have you never played Fire Emblem?
And, of course, the aliens heavily overpower you. This means you’re going to need to rely on your wits to survive. That’s perhaps XCOM’s biggest draw; yes, I mentioned I’m too old to play games that are difficult, but this isn’t a twitch kind of difficult. It’s strategy. Be smart, pay attention, figure things out, and you’ll get it. XCOM 2 is a chess match between you and the aliens, and we come from a race of Garry Kasparovs and Magnus Carlsens…a very heavily armed Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen.
The one thing you have to come to terms with in XCOM 2 is that you will die. Frequently. That’s okay. The game gives you plenty of options and incentives to get right back at it (including many visually incredible battle sequences), so it’s not a chore to load up and try again. When you’re bad, the game is still fun. When you get good, it’s incredibly rewarding. Choosing the right tactic at the right time is a great game rush, and will keep you moving forward. It helps that this time around most of the missions begin with you hidden from the enemy. That makes sense, what with us being the resistance this time around; it’s our turn to sneak-attack.
Of course, it’s not all action (few turn-based battle games are anymore). Between levels, you’ll return to your mobile airship, the Avenger, which serves as your base of operations. Here, you’ll heal and train your soldiers, research new weapons and technologies, and build facilities to help aid your particular methods. Your decisions here are very important, and will affect what happens down the road. Whether that’s for good or bad you’ll just have to wait and see.
Unfortunately, all of this comes at a price. XCOM 2 has some pretty steep system requirements, and even my late 2015 5k iMac ran into some occasional frame rate issues. It was nothing that killed gameplay, but I’m certain that won’t be the case for those at the lower end of the minimums. Thankfully, Feral released a patch a couple days ago to address these issues.
Still, if your Mac can handle the system demands, and if you can handle the stress, XCOM 2 is an amazing experience. I’ve enjoyed it more than XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It’s more compelling, it’s more challenging, it’s more rewarding, and it has plenty of DLC on the way. Just don’t forget to pick up your daughter from practice, okay?
Genre: Turn based strategy
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Mac Publisher: Feral Interactive
Minimum Requirements: OS X v10.11.2, Intel 2.4 GHz processor, 4 GB RAM, 1 GB graphics card, 32 GB available hard drive space
Availability: Now at Steam and directly from Feral Interactive