I'm pretty bad at XCOM, even though I bought a PS3 partially because XCOM: EU was the current free PS Plus game of that month and my current PC was incapable of playing the game. XCOM's newer titles encapsulate so many great things I love to see in tactical games: cover fire, overwatch, classes of soldiers, heartpounding permadeath, stealth segments, and blowing up buildings just to get to your adversaries.
From a gameplay perspective, XCOM is my dream date--even if it brings a bouquet of tough-as-nails challenges and anxious failstates with it. One thing I really hated about the previous installment was how annoying it was to build up your base and maintain approval of all those whiny countries. With EU/EW, you could easily get to a point halfway where you know you're completely fucked, and heading into a very unwinnable in-game year of strife. With XCOM 2, these logjams and more have been rendered into more agreeable terms: a singular doomsday counter that can be continuously brought down, and can still be pushed back at the brink of Armageddon. XCOM 2 basically makes it possible to reach even the endgame state faster if you know what to do--and have the skill to pilot a team of suicidal fuckers into the fire.
XCOM 2 goes about its gameplay a bit differently for one reason: the aliens have already won. Humanity, for once, has become the aggressor, the terrorist, the resistance. Missions are more about invasions and stealthy recons as opposed to area defense or patrols. The turf belongs to the x-rays now, and you'll often be pressed to quickly take down a target or disable a thing before the enemy sends in an insurmountable fleet of backup. Even in normal VIP rescues or base infiltrations, the aliens will call down for support a few turns in advance to warn you to get your ass back to evac. Unlike the previous outing, you can't just turtle with overwatch forever; you'll have to haul out and take insane risks to win the day.
Instead of catering to needy countries all day, you'll be piloting your mobile fortress aroudn the globe gathering Intel for contacts, supplies for monies, and taking various missions which range from retaliation strikes to full-blown blacksite destruction. As the game goes on, a doomsday scenario called the Advent Project will gain pips on its meter, but you'll have constant chances to subtract from the countdown level and hold it off as you continue storyline-driven tasks. This is far more relaxed than the previous game's fail state, although it's still a stressful value to keep track of.
The typical classes like "grenadier" or "sniper" have been redone into broader roles that actually give you a few new options for character growth. You could easily take the Sharpshooter class into typical sniper territory, or go the gunslinger route for free pistol takedowns or standoffs. You can turn the Ranger into a lithe executioner with an uber powerful sword attack, or a stealth-driven shotgun flanker. I also love the new Specialist drone driver, who can heal from a distance, shield comrades, and deliver guaranteed shock damage from afar. There's also the semi-hidden Psi Ops class, which is basically "Mewtwo with a rifle."
I could go on about other little improvements and character options this new XCOM provides, but if you've seen the previous game then you already have a good sense of how the baseline will be with this one. The real kicker is how open XCOM 2 is for modding and editing, which has made all the difference in my playthrough. Not only can you import tons of great premade soldiers into the character pool (as well as create your own), but tinkering with things like the Advent clock's threshold or the amount of troops you can bring on missions is remarkably fun. I've enjoyed my time with this iteration of XCOM moreso purely because I can relax the failstate the clock or bring 10 fully loaded squaddies into a fiery fray. It's not for everyone, but the ability to morph the rules to be easier or harder to your heart's content and develop easy edits that Steam can subscribe to is wonderful. It makes sense that this is currently only a PC release, at least for me; I can't imagine going back to playing with every cosmetic or hard-coded element strictly on the default. And, I won't lie--the bigger squad numbers and longer Advent calendar (pun intended) make for a better experience for me. I'm sure if the opposite is your cup of tea, it's just as easy to change througH either the Workshop options or the easy .ini edits.
XCOM 2 isn't without its flaws, though. Aside from the natural "that's XCOM, baby" hard luck chances of fucking up in combat, the overall performance of the game can sometimes suffer. I'm running on moderate settings and I usually get about 4o FPS, but sometimes things will chug at 20FPS if there's a shitload of flames and particles exploding around. It's not incredibly bad for me, though--it'd be more of an issue if this wasn't a tactical strategy game, and this is coming from someone who thought 25 FPS for Witcher 3 on PS4 was the worst thing imaginable. There are also moments where the animation will fuck up a bit, freeze for a few seconds to register, or offer baffling pauses between attacks for the sake of nothing. These bugs didn't happen at a horribly consistent rate during my first playthrough, though--and I have to admit that the game runs much better now that some patches have been pushed through. There's also a "Zip Mode" to hasten things up if you're getting impatient in a big firefight.
In terms of physics, I'm still confused about how many times I've been able to shoot through smaller walls or corners, or get grappled by an Enemy from a weird angle. The cover and construction of most objects stays consistent, but there have always been very strange moments wherein I can shoot through a ceiling to get an enemy. Maybe that's intended with a magnet gun; who knows.
Despite the performance problems here and there, XCOM 2 has been a huge step up from the initial reboot of EU/EW. Turtle gameplay has been mostly replaced with frenetic rushdowns, boorish upkeep for 15 countries is swapped with a "manage at your own leisure/danger" armageddon countdown, and the overall map diversity has greatly improved. I suppose it helps that it's also a bit easier for me since I'm not the best at constant micromanagement--having a few more squaddies available definitely helps things feel less stressful, though the challenge and rate of enemy reinforcements always keeps your nerves shot. As the invading force here, it's always going to be a slightly uphill battle, especially against blacksite bases and installations.
I especially have loved the new and improved customization for soldiers, allowing me to add everything from Wolverine and Geralt to Deadpool and Tommy Wiseau to my character pool. The best thing about this is thanks to a recent patch that allows you to only draw recruits from this pool (until it runs out, at which point default randoms would start appearing), allowing you to wage your own kind of war with whatever weirdos you dreamed up. It's within this fun dollhouse option that makes me want to leap back into XCOM2 again immediately after finishing it.
Having beaten XCOM2 for the first time, my opinion on it remains the same as it was even 30 hours or so in: it's a majestic work of tactical strategy, still the top of its class when it comes to this type of grid-based combat. It wasn't always the smoothest ride, and the difficulty can still quash you--but the customization, mods, and overall ease of choice you're going to get in XCOM2 has ensured it can truly work for everyone. That is a rare and a commendable thing, even when the dirt and grime of certain performance and RNG issues threaten to tarnish the luster. There's something for everybody, even in a world of totalitarian alien overlords. See you for the 2016 election!
Amazing and topical!