XCOM 2 Available Now: Liberate Humanity or Die Trying

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The humans lost. Despite your valiant efforts in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the free world fell under the might of the aliens and their minions. All that remains of your once mighty military are a few rag-tag resistance members, scrambling to gather basic resources and stay alive, much less stage a global-scale insurrection. And yet, that's exactly what you're tasked to do from the onset of XCOM 2. And the situation only gets tenser, more desperate, and downright exciting as time goes on.

Just like the first XCOM, you'll split your time in XCOM 2 amongst frenetic, turn-based combat, a strategic overlay of the earth, and performing research and upgrades back at your base. Except in XCOM 2, your base is a flying alien carrier, called—appropriately enough—the Avenger. It's here that the entirety of your dwindling forces call home, and it's here that you'll recruit fresh soldiers to replace your veteran losses and train scientists to design new gear.

To reinforce the desperate, lonesome nature of the current state of affairs, you start off with only a single territory, which is randomized whenever you begin a fresh game. From here, it's up to you to expand out and establish communications with other resistance groups, scan for new supplies, and thwart alien progress such as Dark Events—enemy projects that, if left unchecked, have serious consequences, such as massive boosts to enemy powers or de-buffs to your friendly units.

Luckily, not everything is dire. While your numbers are weak, the skill and class-diversity of your troops most certainly is not. You can select up to five soldiers to send into combat, and there's no requirement to take certain types of troopers; you're encouraged to try out different combinations to see which classes work best for you. Naturally though, each class has their battlefield advantages, and potential weaknesses.

The Grenadier specializes in area-of-effect explosives and taking out tech, the Ranger can chop aliens apart with close-combat weapons and shoot after moving, and the Sharpshooter is your long-distance damage-dealer, who can also be upgraded to be deadly at short range with pistols. There's also the Specialist, who uses floating drones, and the Psi Operative, who relies on mental powers for squad buffs or attacking enemies.

Since the layout of every combat engagement is randomized (as are the enemy troop placements), you'll never fight the same battle twice, and you'll need to constantly improvise and react to survive. The terrain and debris can be altered mid-fight as well, as the aliens can destroy cover. There are also advantages to taking the high ground, such as placing soldiers high up in multi-level buildings; your squad can fall through burning floors though, which makes keeping them there a risky tactic. You can never get too comfy anywhere, because the AI is sharp, even on lower difficulties. A nice bonus is that you'll always have a leg up on the alien scum from each mission's starting point, as your squad is hidden until you wander into an opponent's line of sight, or take a shot at an enemy. This stealth aspect, when combined with overwatch—a setting you can enable on your soldiers to fire at anything that comes near them—can create some amazing ambushes, with devastating results. You can see a few missions on IGN that highlight this to great effect.

After emerging victorious, or at least coming out of a mission without getting all your team members slaughtered, you'll sometimes pick up loot drops, including weapon upgrades. These items, like the majority of XCOM 2, are randomized, and can range from rare gun components to high-powered ammunition. If you keep your soldiers alive, they'll also level up periodically, which unlocks new traits and specializations to choose from. However, if one of your high-level troops bites the dust, all their progress will be lost, and they'll have to be replaced with a raw, new recruit.

Taking full advantage of the PC platform, and with a ton of support from Firaxis (XCOM 2's developers), there are already some mods available. These mods come from Long War Studios, who worked on XCOM: Enemy Unknown's incredibly successful Long War tweaks. The day-one mods include adding sub-machine guns, unlockable leadership perks, and an extra alien combatant: the Muton Centurion. "The idea behind each of these mods," reports Eurogamer, "is players can pick and choose which ones to enable, and create a campaign that suits them best. It reminds me somewhat of the Second Wave options we saw added to the previous game."

Firaxis has made it clear that they consider modding an integral part of PC gaming, and they're excited to see how people will tweak XCOM 2. "We're going all-out with modding," said Creative Director Jake Solomon in an interview. "Because we're a Firaxis game, we're committed to this idea of player value. We want our players to play our games forever, and so we want to have this sort of vibrant community around the game. We want people to talk, to communicate with us, and for our games to have this really long life cycle, because that increases the value of our games."

Keep an eye on places such as Moddb and Nexus Mods for upcoming XCOM 2 mods. You can also use Steam Workshop as well, which you can subscribe to from here. For info on making your own mods, check out the bottom of this article by PC Gamer.

Being a PC-exclusive game, Firaxis capitalized on the power of the hardware by including a whole host of graphics settings, which you can manipulate to your heart's desire. These include multiple levels of anti-aliasing, ambient occlusion, shadow quality, texture filtering, depth of field, and more. With a GeForce GTX graphics card, such as the screaming fast GTX 980 Ti, you can take full advantage of the next-generation Maxwell technology and crank the game's settings, making XCOM 2 even more gorgeous than ever.

For even more details on XCOM 2, have a look at the reviews from sites such as Rock, Paper, Shotgun, PC Gamer, IGN, GameSpot, and Polygon. For extended gameplay footage, there's some fascinating stuff recorded by Eurogamer and TotalBiscuit's YouTube channel. You can buy XCOM 2 now on Steam and on the game's homepage.