‘XCOM 2’ blotches gamers as the ravenous underdogs

André Monteiro

André Monteiro

‘XCOM 2’ is poised to be one of the greatest games of 2016, playing gratefulness to a ravenous audience that just cannot get enough of the sci-fi strategy game, but there is still much we do not know about ‘XCOM 2’ ahead of the game’s release date.

To outfit for the launch of ‘XCOM 2,’ game director Jake Solomon spoke about the moves his team is extending upon the existing ‘XCOM’ formula while steering the franchise forward. Jake Solomon knows his game, having risen up from being the creative director for ‘Enemy Unknown’ to fill the director’s chair for the upcoming sequel.

Over the last few months, there has been a noteworthy dialogue about the ways ‘XCOM 2’ will develop the systems and mechanics interjected in ‘Enemy Unknown,’ along with the various changes Firaxis Games is launching to the game’s strategic layer. We have met new enemy units, seen new tile sets Firaxis Games will use to procedurally generate missions in ‘XCOM 2’ and even been given a tour of the scavenged alien supply ship that will serve as ‘XCOM’s base-of-operations in the upcoming sequel. No one in their right mind would blame Firaxis Games of seeking shortcuts when creating content for ‘XCOM 2,’ but it might be hard for enthusiasts to find a common theme amongst the changes. But that is not the case for Jake Solomon.

Jake Solomon takes the development of his games into special care, making sure games are more replayable, and certainly, ‘Enemy Unknown’ is unquestionably one of these titles. It helped to have a minimum of outside inspiration. After all, Firaxis Games is not just known for its revival of ‘XCOM.’ The ‘Civilization’ franchise has been a household name among PC gamers for literally decades. Fortunately, the two teams share a building and, as a result, exchange ideas. Especially when ‘XCOM 2’s top priority, replayability, is arguably the greatest durability of the ‘Civilization’ franchise. But it also generates a moment of pressure for the ‘XCOM’ team. Nobody wants to be the team that ruins the Firaxis Games reputation.

The desire to appease its audience likely had something to do with Firaxis Games and 2K Games reaching out to Long War Studios, the team behind ‘Enemy Unknown’s favourite ‘Long War’ mod, to produce new content for the game’s upcoming sequel. But it is also one of the reasons Firaxis Games is doing everything in its power to make ‘XCOM 2’ the sort of game you want to restart right after watching the credits roll. Less rigid campaigns give players the liberty to tell their own stories, especially since the modding community begins to create new content for the game, and should keep ‘XCOM 2’ feeling fresh longer than many games.

Some of the most noticeable changes to the ‘XCOM’ formula are evident when players lead their soldiers out onto the battlefield. Jack Solomon and the rest of the team are conscious that many of the mechanics that made ‘Enemy Unknown’ tough for some players did not always leave players able to continue trudging forward. In some cases, it felt like valuable information – like which tiles could or not be seen by opposing forces – was being intentionally withheld from the player, forcing players to wander into alien ambushes or leave themselves open to flanking without ever realising they were in danger. That shortage of information repeatedly derailed players’ missions, in a manner that many felt was unethical, but it would not be an issue in ‘XCOM 2.’ Now, players know when their hiding spots will or not allow them to evade enemy detection. But that does not mean Firaxis Games has not found other ways to keep the ‘XCOM’ community on its toes in the heat of battle.

Jake Solomon pointed two beforehand revealed enemies, the Viper and the revamped Sectoid, as representatives of this new pressure. Both have strengths that can instantly neutralise a member of your unit and, in the Sectoid’s case, can even turn one of your own against you. And there is no steady build-up to these obstacles, either. Jack Solomon says players can expect to have issues with mind control as early as the game’s second mission. And alien abilities are not the only new source of battlefield draw.

Dark Events will also provide a new, horrific challenge in ‘XCOM 2.’ At random intervals, players will be made aware of two current Advent – humans who support mankind’s alien oppressors – research projects. Each will have a corresponding mission that, if completed, will prevent the Dark Event from transpiring. But you cannot stop them both. No matter what you do, Advent’s operational capacity will continue to grow throughout the ‘XCOM 2’ campaign. And some of the Dark Events can get pretty frightful.

One, in particular, called Infiltrator, sounded unusually infuriating when described by Jake Solomon. If the player fails to stop the event, Advent will begin replacing civilians with sleeper agents. Should you try to rescue one of these compromised civilians, players will instead find their soldier standing face to face with “huge monsters.” There are also Dark Events that improve Advent’s ability to reinforce its troops, improve enemy armour ratings and a variety of other alterations designed to make life harder for the player.

‘XCOM 2’ is a sci-fi video game developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K Games for Microsoft Windows, OS X, and Linux

Jake Solomon says finishing the ‘XCOM 2’ campaign will be similar to trying for a science victory in ‘Civilization.’ In the same way, your success (and completion order) constructing a spaceship will vary from campaign to campaign, the order in which players complete the pillars of the ‘XCOM 2’ campaign will change based on a variety of factors. Yes, there are certain events that you will encounter in every run. But the path you follow to victory (or defeat) is entirely up to the player.

Interestingly, notwithstanding our own fears, Jake Solomon also confirmed Firaxis Games is occupied with producing more ‘XCOM 2’ DLC after releasing the three add-ons covered by the Reinforcement Pack. Each content drop planned includes material that differs wildly from the base game and the other confirmed ‘XCOM 2’ enlargements. But, when I asked whether the consolidated expansions would offer as much content as we had seen in ‘Enemy Within,’ Jake Solomon explained that I had it all wrong. The ‘XCOM 2’ director says the Reinforcement Pack content is great stuff, which is why Firaxis Games is releasing it, but Jake Solomon assured us the currently announced ‘XCOM 2’ DLC “does not take the place of anything.”

As someone on the outside looking in, it is hard to know what to expect from an ‘Enemy Within’ sized expansion for ‘XCOM 2.’ A few days ago, it would have been easy to assume an ‘XCOM 2’ expansion might return to an ‘Enemy Within’ atmosphere, where a resurgent human organisation is now charged with wiping out the last pockets of alien sympathisers. But Jake Solomon said supporters should not expect humanity to gain the upper-hand during the ‘XCOM 2’ campaign or in the game’s post-launch content. And it turns out there is a pretty good reason for that.

It is certainly an attainable goal, up to a point, but the ‘XCOM 2’ team realises it is only a matter of time before the game’s community unravels its many secrets and figures out the most efficient strategies for battling Advent in any given situation. That reality was a driving motivation behind the decision to build extensive modding tools for the ‘XCOM 2’ community. Rather than try to keep pace with the breakneck speed of the gaming community, Firaxis Games is more than content to let those same gamers create the content they feel is missing from the core ‘XCOM 2’ experience. That includes voice packs for the handful of nationalities, primarily African and Asian, Firaxis Games was not able to package in time for launch.

And the community has responded with as much excitement as you would expect. One team is already building a mod to make ‘XCOM 2’ a cooperative game, and there is the partnership between Firaxis Games and Long War Studios; a relationship that will undoubtedly yield some of ‘XCOM 2’s most popular mods. Sadly, we will have to wait until Saturday’s Firaxis Games Megapanel to get more specifics.

With Firaxis Games placing so much faith in modders, it only made sense to ask about a potential integration with Valve Corporation paid mods program. Granted, we have not heard much about Valve Corporation desire to create a for-pay section of the Steam Workshop; however, the company has always been open about its desire to revisit the issue some day. Fortunately for ‘XCOM’ enthusiasts averse to the idea, it does not sound like Firaxis Games has much interest in seeing paid mods for ‘XCOM 2.’ In addition to having his own reservations, Jake Solomon acknowledged the many, many gamers vehemently opposed to the idea.

Jake Solomon also spoke to those concerned that Firaxis Games has been a tad too vocal about all of the content and mechanical changes coming to ‘XCOM 2’ when the game hits PC, OS X and Linux. Where many fans are typically lamenting the lack of information being distributed to new projects, some followers are worried there would not be any secrets left by the time we reach the ‘XCOM 2’ release date. The ‘XCOM 2’ director acknowledged those anxieties, admitting that the game’s most devout fans have likely seen a fair amount of the ‘Enemy Unknown’ sequel ahead of launch. But Jake Solomon says followers should not make the mistake of thinking early chatter will ruin the moment to moment experiences once ‘XCOM 2’ is out.

It can be a delicate line to walk, between sharing too much or too little, but it is a line the ‘XCOM 2’ director said Firaxis Games feels increasingly comfortable walking down. Sure it can be frustrating when it appears like you are seeing things you should not be seeing until you are running the ‘XCOM 2’ campaign yourself. But that very same information could be helping someone make a better-informed purchasing decision. And that is just as important to the studio.

Be sure to check back with us for more ‘XCOM 2’ coverage throughout 2016 and for however long Firaxis Games supports ‘XCOM 2’ in the months following the launch.

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