The Tough Aliens And Tougher Choices of XCOM 2 at E3 2015

Here are the new ways you can take the fight to your alien overlords in XCOM 2's turn-based tactical combat.

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Combat in XCOM: Enemy Unknown was all about camping. You'd find pieces of high cover, position all your squad mates accordingly, and try to lure the aliens into your overwatch range one at a time. This strategy became so dominant that, especially on the game's higher difficulties, it felt like it was the smartest way to play.

In XCOM 2, the same is no longer true. New gameplay changes have been introduced that force you to move, or put you in unexpected situations. Cover itself is now more destructible, in a manner similar to 1993's original XCOM: Enemy Unknown. When the aliens and their indoctrinated human allies fire at your soldiers, stray laser bolts and plasma blasts will shatter walls and barricades. In the previous game, this effect was mostly confined to explosive weapons. The result is that cover seems far less permanent, and it didn't seem uncommon to have that protective piece of concrete shatter in front of your soldier and leave them fully exposed.

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Another curveball comes in the form of a new reinforcement system. In Enemy Unknown, certain missions would see alien reinforcements drop out of the sky unannounced upon reaching certain scripted conditions. This felt cheap, because there was no way to know in advance where they would drop in. Now, an indicator in the user interface warns the player when enemy reinforcements are about to arrive. And, instead of dropping in from out of nowhere, a cutscene shows a dropship swooping into the map to deliver them in a manner that makes sense.

In fact, the demo I was shown saw far more small and short cutscenes playing out in the middle of the mission. These were well integrated, and kicked in at what felt like natural points in the battle. One such cutscene showed the introduction of a new alien unit called a Viper. It slithered out of a transport vehicle and fired a slippery tether at one of the player's units, pulling them out of their cover position and into a constrictive vice. In traditional XCOM fashion, the unit did not survive.

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But the aliens aren't the only ones with new, fearsome abilities. One particular squad member was equipped with a drone that allowed him to hack into electronic and mechanical objects. I saw him use it on an enemy laser turret; upon connecting, a hacking minigame began, whereby the better the player did, the more powerful their turret would be. Naturally, the player initiated a perfect hack, which allowed them to control the turret and aim it at enemies as though it were a unit of their own.

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At this point in the demo, some enemy mechs appeared and took down the player's second-last squad member. The last man standing then did what I thought was the coolest new ability: they picked up the incapacitated squad member, put them over their shoulder, and ran. While fleeing the overwhelming enemy force, this squad member them used an ability which allowed them to call in their Skyranger dropship and manually place the evacuation zone on the map. I'm excited by the tactical possibilities these two new mechanics allow, along with the dramatic last stand scenarios which I'm sure will inevitably result.

XCOM 2 doesn't seem like a massive departure from its competent predecessor. But it does appear to be addressing Enemy Unknown's broader tactical issues, while offering cool new abilities that encourage emergent drama and memorable player-created narratives. That is enough to keep me well interested.

XCOM 2 launches exclusively for PC in November this year.

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