Review

XCOM 2 Review

  • First Released Feb 4, 2016
    released
  • PC
  • XONE
  • PS4
Mike Mahardy on Google+

Survival of the fittest.

This review has been updated to reflect XCOM 2's re-release on PS4 and Xbox One, which released on September 27, 2016:

Time is always fading in XCOM 2, and it's never on our side. As we train our next soldier, drop them into battle, and fight for humanity's survival, we can only make the best of the minutes we have left. We'll probably fail. But we'll move on anyway.

Following in the footsteps of 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown, its sequel is a brutal, unforgiving turn-based strategy title played on a strategic world map and isometric battlefields. XCOM 2 places us in command of the human Resistance as they rise up against the Advent, an alien regime that has governed Earth for 20 years. As opposed to the soldiers of Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2's rebellion is on the offensive. We're no longer staunch defenders--we're a desperate guerilla force.

This new script supports numerous tweaks to the XCOM formula, all for the better. We're still building an army, researching new technologies, and putting them to use in squad-based strategy missions. But these missions are less about repelling the aliens, and more about sabotaging their global operations whenever we can. We loot supply trains and intercept communications signals to halt the Advent's plan for human eradication. XCOM 2 ties its narrative and gameplay together in such a way that every mission feels critical, and every shot carries weight.

The mission objectives have changed, but so have the ways we approach them. XCOM 2 implements a new concealment mechanic, in which your soldiers drop into most missions unnoticed, allowing you to sneak past enemies or coordinate attacks on unsuspecting patrols.

The Viper is one of several new enemy types. Fighting them is terrifying.
The Viper is one of several new enemy types. Fighting them is terrifying.

This further elevates the idea of guerilla warfare, but also allows for exhilarating ambushes, as you lob grenades into groups, fire machine gun rounds as enemies scatter, and pick off stragglers before they have a chance to react. Initiating firefights takes just as much consideration as finishing them.

XCOM 2 also uses procedural map and objective generation to ensure a different mission each time your squad leaves the dropship. You'll defend new rooftops and sneak through different alleyways in each campaign. This dynamism, coupled with the aforementioned stealth mechanics, extend XCOM 2's longevity far past that of Enemy Unknown, in which missions grew boring several campaigns in.

In fact, the entirety of XCOM 2 unfolds in original ways each time you play. It's a multilayered experience wherein each level displays nuance, but also contributes to an amorphous, ever-changing whole.

XCOM 2's strategy layer imparts the same urgency as the tactical battles on the ground.

The squad firefights lay the foundation: there are tactical considerations, from the elevation of the battlefield to the sightlines of the map's structures. Then there are the character classes, each with a world of possibilities to consider: the specialist can hack Advent security towers and buff your squad in the field. The grenadier's carrying capacity makes him the pack mule of the group. The ranger's blade makes her a lethal close-quarters force. The psi operative, on the other hand, uses the alien mind control powers against the Advent, turning firefights into psychological battlegrounds.

Character customization lets you control everything from your soldiers' loadouts to their nationality.
Character customization lets you control everything from your soldiers' loadouts to their nationality.

The sheer amount of factors affecting any firefight is staggering, raising numerous questions as I move across the map: how many aliens are there? Does my specialist have any medkits left? Who has the highest armor rating in my squad? Should I leave my sniper in overwatch, or move her forward with the rest of her crew? And how can I flank that Sectoid before it uses its mind control abilities to turn my ranger against me?

More often than not, there's a timer pushing you forward, counting the turns until your target escapes, or the aliens extract their secret data. There's always something to worry about, something to consider, some way things could go wrong as you fight to keep your squad alive. In many cases, I opted for retreat: by throwing down flares I could extract my remaining soldiers back to base. If objectives became impossible to reach, saving my valuable fighters became paramount in the grand scheme of things.

XCOM 2's overarching strategy layer imparts the same sense of urgency, and a similar bevy of obstacles. As we move the humans' mobile Avenger base across the globe, establishing links with other rebel cells, we also fight the aliens' plan to erase humanity, indicated by a crimson progress bar at the top of the world map. A real sense of tension forces us to maintain a constant state of motion, whether by freeing a waylaid country, researching new alien weaponry, or rushing production on a crucial new structure.

The strategy aspect is almost as important, as you make contact with rebel cells, and build your overall economy.
The strategy aspect is almost as important, as you make contact with rebel cells, and build your overall economy.

Underlying all of this is a more personal current. We grow attached to individual soldiers as they perform spectacular feats and rise in the ranks. We get to know their loadouts and what equipment they carry. We rely on our best leaders to stay composed, and root for rookies to prove themselves. XCOM 2 may be a war game, but it doesn't ignore the boots on the ground--strategy plans are only as good as the soldiers putting them into action.

Take Lieutenant Micky Taylor, for instance. He died in the snow at 6:53 p.m. outside of my disabled helibase, just outside of Kansas City. The mission was to destroy an EMP device that was preventing us from taking off, while also keeping the Advent away from our landing pad. With enemy Vipers poisoning my rangers, hulking Mutons wounding my grenadiers, and mechanical Sectopod mechs bombarding my medics, I balanced offense and defense, accounting for every eventuality as the mission unfolded. Things went well. But then I sent Taylor into cover as the rest of his squad rushed to the evac zone. He was the only one who didn't make it. It was his 23rd mission.

I remember that scenario because of its clever design, but also because it's where I lost my best soldier. In the end, XCOM 2 is fantastic not just because of its refined individual layers, but how seamlessly they interact. We think on different levels during playthroughs, bouncing between the commander's chair, the scientist's lab, and the sergeant's eyes. If Enemy Unknown was a chess game, the sequel adds more pieces--and more spaces--to the board.

We think on multiple levels in XCOM 2, bouncing between the commander's chair, the scientist's lab, and the sergeant's eyes.

Every once in a while, however, XCOM 2's difficulty surpasses challenging, and becomes unfair. For the most part, enemies abide by the same restrictions we do. But sometimes, they shoot through walls and dodge point-blank shotgun bursts. The cards are already stacked against us in most campaigns, and part of the fun is overcoming those odds--but when the enemy AI ignores the rules, the game loses its appeal. Furthermore, XCOM suffers from certain technical glitches: the action halted during action-camera sequences, and in certain cases, I felt as if the game was overwhelmed. My soldiers' reaction shots didn't trigger when they should have, and enemies' attacks happened all at once, or weren't shown at all.

But the vast majority of the time XCOM 2 performs well and the difficulty is fair. We will make mistakes--but that's the point. Failure is not just a possibility in XCOM 2, it's a necessary presence. This is the rare game that's less about choices, and more about the consequences thereafter: we play, we learn, we strive to get better. The entire process is a stunning display of meaningful failure.

So time keeps ticking in XCOM 2, and the best we can do is make the right choices when we have the chance. XCOM 2 imparts the weight of those decisions, and that's what makes it extraordinary. It's mathematical, emotional, and thoughtful all at once. It's exhilarating, even in the face of failure. It's compelling, even though we often lose. Victory is the goal, but that's just an afterthought here--it's the complex journey that counts.

Now that XCOM 2 has made its way to consoles, these sentiments remain the same. Some technical issues have migrated from this year’s PC release: characters sometimes freeze in place while the turn progresses; soldiers can take almost 10 seconds to execute commands; and cutscenes have a tendency to drop frame rates throughout campaigns. But the layered tactics, impactful meta-game, and deep character-building are all intact on PS4 and Xbox One. XCOM 2 remains a superb strategy title.

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Mike Mahardy on Google+
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The Good

  • Nuanced strategy and tactical layers
  • Plethora of command decisions makes each playthrough different
  • Individual soldiers foster personal connections
  • Failure is essential and meaningful

The Bad

  • Enemies sometimes ignore tactical rules
  • Some performance issues during cinematic moments

More Platform Reviews

About the Author

Over the course of 40 hours, Mike failed four XCOM campaigns. He refused to load earlier saves.
703 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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xdillinger

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It's really hard to give this game a negative review, but there's just so much that they screwed up. The game is a lot of fun to play still, like XCOM 1 was, so give it a shot, sure. But oh my god.

Between missions is atrocious. It's very much like Starcraft 2, but they did absolutely everything wrong instead. It's hard to navigate, seemingly pointless, and very, very uninteresting.

I opted to play through the tutorial because it had been years since I played XCOM. It was very basic and easy, yet drawn out. Getting to an actual mission took nearly an hour, and it could have been knocked out in 10 minutes.

I find it hard enough to get into good story lines, let alone this garbage. Thank god the cut scenes are skippable. But when you're first starting the game, it's hard to know what you're missing by skipping through content. So I endured, miserably, and for no reason.

During missions, you can rotate the screen, but the map is a grid, and camera angles are at a diagonal. Mix this with multiple elevations of buildings, and you get frustrated with trying to see your surroundings very quickly. Also, trying to highlight certain squares is far less responsive (downright glitchy) than it should be.

I've nearly given up on this fun game already, a mere 3 hours into playing. But it really is fun, so I will endure a while longer. I just wish that it didn't suck ass so damn bad. Maybe I'll just go play XCOM 1 again.

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jakesnakeel

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Edited By jakesnakeel

Playing this game now because it's free. Just amazed that anyone gave a game that is this buggy a 9!? 5 minute load times! I watched a youtube of later in the game where there was a 12 minute load time. This game totally sucks.

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ExpressoKid

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Really? Was that it? A lot of gigas wasted on mediocre graphics meant for heavy duty machines and a story that build up to... a disappointment...
ONE boss fight and that is the end fight of the game. that's how far they could stretch the game itself.
Seriously... This is an insult to people.

Lighten up on the graphics and get the story more satisfying... This is simply just stealing money from people.

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Warsilver

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This game keeps crashing on the PS4.

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Dark-Exsphere

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so wait this game is like Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem???

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countofhell4321

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Finished the game for the first timy by July 18 on PS4 few days ago on Commander difficulty, No death, No squad size upgrade.

Im going to practice this more on Legend Ironman.

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Brazucass

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Isnt this a super late review? I tought it was already a sequel of the second game!

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DarthRevenX

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it's a great game but I find the time limit to be a major frustration.......eww stop the *** project in X amount of event milestones while still putting out fires and all this.....IMO the game makes it way too hard even on easy to get anything done especially when you're always being pulled off of things....

scan this, no look at this, research this, go on this mission, scan this, wait we want you over here now FFS JUST LET ME WORK ALREADY!!!!!! can't ever get anything done cus I'm always being pulled 100 directions, i don't do well with that......not in games or IRL......

gfx and advances I give this a 9, actual game I give it a 7......eliminate the time limit and it'd be a full 9....

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Gravity_Slave

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@darthrevenx:

Lol sounds more like you have ADD than the game is at fault.

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wrednajasobaka

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@darthrevenx:

Time limit is the reason why I didn't get this game. I hate to be rushed.

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Shimayama

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Edited By Shimayama

@hicens81: Kramer?

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devjmoore

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@hicens81: Who the heck Jerry?

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BabeNewelll

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Edited By BabeNewelll

@devjmoore: Friend of Ben's

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Ezioprez9709

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This game reminds me of Planetside 2 in a way. Both games are liked on both PCs and consoles, which is always great. I can't stand it when devs dumb down their once PC exclusives to consoles because they lack power.

Probably gonna pick this one up. While not a huge fan of strategy games, I'm not inexperienced with them, so the chances of me getting this are pretty damn high.

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MartynGiles

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I loved the first game but the training mission in Xcom2 has got me irritated with this time around.

The female soldier that dies in the training mission, I didn't want her to die so I kept reloading the mission to try and keep her alive thinking that I was doing something stupidly wrong. I didn't realise that she had to die as a part of the games progression so I kept reloading for over an hour trying to work out a way of keeping her alive.

Frustrated, I went on to YouTube to try and see where I was going wrong just to find out that this is meant to happen, it has irked me.

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devjmoore

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Edited By devjmoore

@martyngiles: Not a total loss. You gave me a good LOL.

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Gravity_Slave

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@martyngiles: not everyone got to play this yet, Don't give away spoilers.

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DarthRevenX

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@Gravity_Slave: SERIOUSLY??? OP was not spoiling anything, losing a man or a squad entirely is expected in these games plus the tutorial level is scripted, same thing happened last game, 1 member survived the initial encounter.....

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Gravity_Slave

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Edited By Gravity_Slave

@darthrevenx:

"The female soldier that dies in the training mission..."

"I went on to YouTube to try and see where I was going wrong just to find out that this is meant to happen"

How ever often characters die, Scripted or not (which doesn't strengthen your point) was still part of the story. So this ruins the mission and story for my 1st play through . So yeah, spoilers genius. smh

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DarthRevenX

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@Gravity_Slave: Dude you clearly don;t know what a spoiler is.....

telling someone that ******* in Game Of Thrones does in season 2 would be spoiling the show a little.....a ton of people died in S2 as they do in every season so who would I be talking about?? anyone and everyone.....

telling someone that say Bran Stark get's hurt in episode 1....well that's not much of a spoil cus well yeah if you haven't seen the show.....pfft and if you have you know what I mean.....

did you play the last XCOM?? the training mission had a mere sole survivor same as XCOM 2 so you're little bitchfest rings hallow....you're overusing the term......

what about all the marketing for games that spoil like 90% of the game pre-launch? this is who you play, this is the location, this is your allies, these are your weapons, this is what you're doing.....dev's just drop all the info so what's the point then???

with XCOM you should have known what you were getting into.....the training mission is meant to reinforce the idea that anyone can die at any time even with good tactics in play.....note how the character dies....when she was positioned it was in a way that she should have been okay and enemies dropped in close to your position, pretty much flanking your position forcing a hasty retreat.....

I don't like losing anyone needlessly either but at least I knew to expect it so I wasn't shocked when it happened....

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LeviHarris

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Edited By LeviHarris

I timed a (no joke) two and a half minute load time playing this last night. That was just to load a previous save on the map I was currently on...whatever happened to caching? Even the Witcher 3 load times aren't that bad.

Other than that, I love this game, but I don't know how long I can deal with load times like that. And as a game that's designed to be saved after every move and requires reloading often, I might not be able to push through this one.

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SirNormanislost

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@LeviHarris: play on ironman thus getting rid of the reloading?

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Gravity_Slave

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Edited By Gravity_Slave

@SirNormanislost: game loading in between mission, not weapon reloads.

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SirNormanislost

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Edited By SirNormanislost

@Gravity_Slave: ..i know what he meant and i was reffering to him "reloading" saves (he also used "reloading" if you actually read his comment) it was a joke

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Gravity_Slave

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@SirNormanislost: if you say so

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Cherub1000

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@LeviHarris: my thoughts exactly! i'm typing this during a load screen! I'd rather loose a bigger lump of hd space than continue putting up with this, seriously, can firaxis do something about this? I'm a big fan of the xcom series and for everything this game does right, the horrific biased shooting mechanics coupled with the ridiculous load times are making me think about trading long before I hit the ending!... oh gotta go, mission complete screen finally showed up!!!

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MartynGiles

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Edited By MartynGiles

@cherub1000: Did you ever play The Bureau: Xcom Declassified?

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Cherub1000

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@martyngiles: I confess, I only played for an hour or so with a friend. it was ok, though my least favorite in the series so far.

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Gravity_Slave

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Just started playing Enemy Unknown. It was free on Xbox Live. I F-in love it! Can't wait to finish it so I can play this next.

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swimbearuk

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Edited By swimbearuk

The review gives the impression that the game gets frustrating to the point of giving up. Is this on higher difficulty levels, or regardless of difficulty? I like to experience the whole story in the games I play, so am I likely to see this through to the end, or reach a point which is just impassable? Can I just play on the easiest setting and get through it all?

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Cherub1000

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Edited By Cherub1000

@swimbearuk: I've been playing xcom for years now and whilst I'm no way an expert, I know my way around soldier management. xcom2 feels insanely brutal to me? I started on veteran and after 5 missions of punishing nonsense I went down to rookie. I don't have a problem with missing the occasional shot but four in a row with 90% hit chance? sorry but no!

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SirNormanislost

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@cherub1000: 90% isn't a 100% and the RNG will bote you in the ass sometimes

but i don't think it's that brutal, using concealment you can wipe out a squad no probs it's all about forward planning, like making sure you don't use you last guy on a turn to move out ahead and pull a pack. if you need to move up you your first guy on a turn so you have the rest to clear with and if you don't find anyone just fall in behind for another attemp next turn

or putting all your guys on overwatch for a concealed ambush (can't stress this enough, i watch my housemate do it and it's painful. 1 or 2 on over watch, break concealment with a free ability like quick draw and the clean up with the rest)

oh and weapons > grenades >>>>>>>>> armour for research (Acid grenades!!!!)

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Cherub1000

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@SirNormanislost: cheers for the tips and I'll for sure push on. I know what you mean about 90 and 100% but it feels pretty stupid all the same. not unlocked acid grenades yet and my research tree is empty so guess that's still to come?

as for what else you said, I push forward very carefully and even when I ambush squads, I struggle to kill all targets and the enemy phase generally cripples 2 of my team?!

I watched a gameplay vid of some guy on top difficulty absolutely destroying the enemy so o know it's well within possibility. More practise required I suppose.

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SirNormanislost

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Edited By SirNormanislost

@cherub1000: grenades and ammo types are researched in proving grounds but you can't directly pick the one you want it randomly rewards one per research

if you're having issues early on just grenade the enemies (enemy unknown used to penalise you for blowing enemies up), while you may not kill them blowing up their cover (oh and if an enemy is on say a roof top, by using a grenade it blows the floor up they are standing on so the take grenade damage then fall damage which insta kills turrets) leaves them as easy targets

one other tip get an advanced war center built as early as possible since not only does reduce recovery time for troops it allows them to unlock one hidden ability from other classes (a process which isn't retroactive so if a troop levels past a hidden ability you miss out on it)

and one other thing for specialists always take Haywire and on missions where you need to recover intel from a terminal always use you specialist because there's sometimes a reward that increases your hacking skill which is invaluable to them but utterly useless to all other classes (plus you can use your drone to do it from range)

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Cherub1000

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@SirNormanislost: I found out about owing up the floor lastnight. blew up a train and the turret fell to its death. I only just built the AWC and my colonels have missed out. I think I might just start a new playthrough as my first feels pretty ruined, standard with first run on xcom though right?! maybe get those acid grenades second time round? think I waited too long to build the skull hack thing as well, avatar clock has 4 squares left till full and only just made the thing.

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SirNormanislost

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@cherub1000: i think it was my 4th playthrough i actually finished so yeah it's pretty standard

i let my avatar clock get up to 4 squares left then pile through a couple of missions to knock it down, i just make sure i can easily get to the facilities if and when i need to

i did the skull jack but spent ages ignoring the next part (doing the DLCs which i never had last time i played) on my current playthough, im at a point now where i really need to actually do the story because I've done mlst of the research (well priority like full plasma weps)

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Cherub1000

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@SirNormanislost: 4 runs before you finished!?!?!?! doesn't inspire my current effort much ha! yeah I'll start a new run, won't bother with tutorial and make a big effort to discover as many resistance cells as I can early on, get that AWC up and running quickly as well! I know it makes a difference where you build new facilities for power but do I get any bonuses for building a communication room in a specific place?

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SirNormanislost

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Edited By SirNormanislost

@cherub1000: certain rooms you clear have bonuses from what was in there before such as a powercoil (power something, can't think of the name right now) which will boost the output of a reactor you put on it or cause other room to require no power at all, honestly these rooms are normally lower down so by the time i actually get there these bonuses aren't that useful so i don't really know them other than the power one

well i started worked out some stuff, started again got a bit further before realising other mistake so started again etc etc

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Orgil220

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Good review, sounds almost like a poem.

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Lunastra78

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Damn I love me some turn-based shenanigans :)

My lone complaints so far (for PS4 version) is that the load times can be a bit excessive, and the facial customization options are a bit limited - I'm trying to recreate my friends here!

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GrumpyVagabond

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This game is the goods. Many missions are timed, but if you plated enemy within, it's fine.

The load times on xbox one arent super long long. I've logged over 50 hours since Monday night, and it seriously doesn't matter.

Plus the loading screens are eerie af.

I went ahead and took a page f4om some of the articles Ive seen, and made Master Chief, Duke Nukem, Terry Bogart, Gerald Rivera, Jeff "The Dude," Labowski, amd a bunch of other toons.

This game is intense. Being on the losing, desperate side of business is nuts. Working up to being a formidable force is sooooo good though.

Enjoy console players!

2 • 

XCOM 2

First Released Feb 4, 2016
released
  • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
  • Linux
  • Macintosh
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC
  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One

XCOM 2 transports players 20 years into the future, where humanity lost the war against the alien threat that has established a new world order. The secret paramilitary organization known as XCOM is largely forgotten, and must strike back to reclaim control of Earth and free mankind from the aliens’ rule.

9
Superb

Average Rating

246 Rating(s)

8.3
Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Teen
Blood, Use of Tobacco, Violence