Tuesday, 20 December 2016

X-COM 2 - Thoughts on completion

This is the Avatar, the pinnacle of the Alien masterplan. It has silly hair.
So, I have now finished my first play-through of X-COM 2.

The pacing of the game is interesting. Unlike its predecessor, nothing comes for nothing. whereas in the glory days of X-COM there were new scientists and engineers shipping in every month, here they have to be hired. Individually. And they cost, so there's a trade off between investing for the future and buying in enhancements for the field troops. This means that in the early part of the game, your progress is slow. Your engineers are individually assigned to clear rooms and create or - once you have enough of them to spare one or two from clearance and construction duty - enhance the rooms in your ant farm. Scientists are less exciting, and although individually named they basically just reduce your research times.

In addition, your monthly income is in the form of a supply drop, which has to be collected by the Avenger, and while you're doing that, you can't do anything else. The singularity of the Avenger quickly becomes a source of tension, if not frustration, as scan events crop up and you have to choose between resource seeking, expanding your network of resistance contacts and just staying at home to lick your wounds (until you get the Advanced Warfare Centre, which accelerates healing, built, expect to spend a fair amount of time at Resistance HQ with the 'quicker healing times' bonus activated.)

As you go through the game, Advent works on a series of black projects designed to make your life more difficult. Some of these just advance the Avatar project which serves as the endgame clock, but others give the enemy bonuses for a month, or send a flying saucer to come and shoot you down. In the latter case, this can result in the game's version of Enemy Within's base defence map, in which you have to defend the Avenger from an infinite supply of bads while also making an end run to take out an EMP spike. You can - indeed, you must - return the favour by attacking Avatar blacksites to reduce the Avatar counter, usually by planting a bomb, although a few special mission have you retrieving information.

The Psi-Operative wields the power of purple.
One of my favourite things about the game's build system is Squad Upgrades. Once you finish researching a new class of weapons, you only need to build the squad upgrade and everyone gets the new hardware, which means no more juggling your one plasma sniper back and forth between injured snipers and accidentally sending your top soldier onto the deck of an alien battleship with a flak jacket and a 30.06 bolt-action. Basic weapons and standard armour is upgraded this way, although you can also build individual suits of heavy armour - the EXO and WAR suits - in the Proving Grounds. You can also make armour out of the three alien rulers, which is... a little bit serial killer, if I'm honest.

Once you've done the appropriate research and construction, you can start training an additional class of soldier, the Psi-Operative. Unlike in X-COM these are not regular soldiers with extra abilities. They train from Rookie in the psi lab and gain no XP or promotions in the field, and their suite of abilities can be customised as they train. Of course, you're going to want to get Mind Control, because it's awesome, not least because in this game it lasts all level.

The Andromedon; hard as nails and twice as useful.
There's a new alien called the Andromedon, which is basically a toxic beastie in an armoured battle suit. If one gets killed the shell cracks and it staggers about leaking toxic atmosphere for a bit. Mind Control one of those bad boys and you've got a friend of life, or at least for the level. Sadly you can't bring it home with you, however much I wanted to love him and hug him and call him George. In my head canon I was whammying the same Andromedon every mission; I called him Drommie and he was my bud. You know, in a creepy, mind controlling, Purple Man kind of way.

Eventually I got to the final mission and took my best dudes into the Advent core while whipping up worldwide rebellion by exposing Advent's programme of genetic harvesting and alteration. Tragically I lost two of my oldest and dearest shitkickers during the attack - and I think we must have left the damn Hunter's Axe behind as well, which is a bit of a wrench - but the Avatars were slain and thus the forces of goodness and niceness - or at least the closest approximation you can get while literally wearing the skull of the fallen as a hat - prevailed, after many hours of satisfying game play.