It has been a long 20 years since the XCOM project has failed to stop the alien menace, and the Earth lies in ruins. Humanity barely got a shot off, as the first war was lost after only a few months of futile resistance. The aliens have taken over and human race is rapidly advancing towards the top spot in the endangered species list, as the remaining humans are corralled by their new overlords for purposes unknown. Needless to say, everything looks bleak.
Enter the Avenger, XCOM’s new base of operations – a flying headquarters to serve as you as the commander of the new XCOM, as you try to unify mankind and build an opposition capable of reclaiming Earth. A flying HQ is just one of many new features we’ve seen. From new optional rooms to a complete overhaul of the customization system, XCOM 2 is bigger and better in every way.
As opposed to its predecessor, many more aspects of your base can be managed and fine-tuned. Building a room is no longer enough; you can (and should) staff it, as well as choose upgrade paths that compliment your overall strategy and play style. Base management becomes much more dynamic and interactive when personnel is limited and you must juggle the few recruits you have between science, engineering or soldiering duties. It’s a balancing act you must master quickly or all hope will be lost.
Two of the new facilities shown to us were the Guerrilla Tactics School, which unlocks class-specific upgrades for your troops, and the all-new Proving Grounds facility, which is a random engineering building; assign a few good men to it and you’ll receive a random upgrade to an item you already posses. The upgrades themselves are randomized but all promise to be effective and battle-changing. Potential improvements include poison ammo, upgraded armor plates and many “utility” weapon mods.
The UI has also been fine-tuned with a few tiny features, like a button that allows you to wait for the completion of a specific assignment or off-screen action, but mostly it’s the same interface we’ve seen before. The missions that pop up are time-sensitive, in classic XCOM manner, so don’t expect to be able to save everyone all the time. A good commander should know when to hold the line and when to retreat.
The last change we’ve seen is the change to enemy AI. like in XCOM, the aliens develop new gear and advance their own battle plans with a goal-oriented mindset. An example we were shown demonstrated this with a medium-term goal of launching a new UFO to hunt down the Avenger and shoot it out of the sky, supported by a short-term goal of stronger armor to enhance defensive capability. Of course, the aliens’ ultimate goal is the elimination of XCOM as well as the completion of their own nefarious plans.
Naturally, it’s not just the aliens that get shiny new toys – XCOM is not far behind. Although you no longer receive shipments of manpower and equipment from member states at regular intervals, XCOM scientists and engineers do a lot of in-house development and production. A lot of the missions are actually focused on gathering resources and intel, as well as freeing capable personnel to join the fight – all in the name of humanity.
It seems to me that XCOM 2 is the mirror image of the previous title: if in the first game you had a planet to defend, now you have a planet to conquer. If in the previous game you had stationary bases and you hunted mobile aliens, now your base is mobile while the aliens have ground-based facilities to track you. We’ll follow the game’s development closely as it nears its November 15 release date, but for now I’ll just say that I’ve left the Gamescom 2015 presentation in a mood to kick some alien butt.