It’s no secret that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a beloved favorite at The Escapist, blending tactical combat, resource management, and permadeath into an unparalleled strategy experience. So naturally, we’re incredibly excited to play XCOM 2, where Commanders will lead an insurgency movement on an alien-occupied Earth. That’s quite a shift for Firaxis – XCOM is proactively reclaiming its planet instead of responding to threats and the increasing Terror Track. How will XCOM 2 maintain the same sense of danger and urgency while making humanity the aggressors?
We spoke with XCOM 2 senior producer Garth DeAngelis about the matter, who explained that the Advent government isn’t waiting for a resistance group to attack them. Following their victory in Enemy Unknown, the aliens have entered the next stage of their plan, and the campaign revolves around discovering what that is. If the resistance can’t overthrow the aliens before they achieve that mysterious goal? It’s game over for both XCOM and humanity.
“If you let too much of the [alien progress] build, you’ll eventually lose the game,” DeAngelis told The Escapist. “The aliens are unearthing their ultimate plan.” This system effectively replaces Enemy Unknown‘s Terror Track, with a key difference: Commanders can take proactive steps to sabotage alien efforts. Certain missions available in XCOM 2‘s strategy layer reduce the alien progress bar, earning you more time to develop the resistance effort. “There’s alien facility missions that aren’t on a schedule … you can go and sabotage those facilities to mitigate loss.”
That’s not to say neglecting the alien’s progress is the only way to lose the campaign. Now that XCOM’s base consists of a flying Avenger unit, defending it from UFO attacks is paramount. “At a given moment, if your Avenger gets taken down by a UFO, and you fail that mission, it’s game over for you.”
Since these risks in mind, players constantly need to weigh the long and short-term consequences of each mission. Do you destroy alien facilities which slow their overall progress, or take on side missions that reward valuable resources and supplies? “You’re constantly adjusting your plans,” DeAngelis said. “You have all these different resources that the game is giving you… it may be elerium or supplies. So the faucet for those resources is missions – Systemic missions where you may go to a small town and have to hack a workstation, or you may have a Special Council mission in a city center where you have to neutralize an alien sympathizer. And if you succeed at those missions, you’ll get a big drop of specific resources.”
Of course, failing missions also means losing valuable resources, not the least of which are fellow soldiers. That’s a loss that Firaxis hopes will be deeply felt, thanks to enhanced customization options. “There’s so many different things you can now do in character customization that you couldn’t do with Enemy Unknown, and that’s all because we wanted you to get more attached to the soldiers that you will eventually lose,” DeAngelis said. Players will have control over each unit’s gender, nationality, and specific visual distinctions like eye color. What’s more, leveling up a character provides veteran unlocks, which includes battle scars, tattoos, or distinctive items like cigars. Even new armor developed by your researchers can be customized with unique features.
Speaking of researchers, it’s not just soldiers who can be customized – XCOM non-combatants can be designed and recruited onto your team. “Now you can actually apply scientists and engineers to do specific tasks on the Avenger,” DeAngelis added. “These can be from your character pool when you start a game, so you can say ‘I want my wife to be in the character pool’, and when you have to rescue her from an Advent jail cell, she becomes one of your scientists that’s helping you get that really high-level weaponry. It’s just a whole new level of player agency in there.”
With so much more attention given to character development, losing them will naturally be far more upsetting – which is one reason why Firaxis expanded on the memorial wall. “We have their portrait in there so you can actually see the face of … whoever died along with their name, where they died, what they contributed to the resistance movement,” DeAngelis said. On top of that, Commanders can add personalized obituaries to the wall, including heartfelt goodbyes, humorous limericks, or anything else you consider appropriate. This is one feature Firaxis is excited to see the community embrace once XCOM 2 launches. “That’s just the sort’ve stuff we’d love to see, people telling their own stories and they’re sharing that with their friends. We’re really really excited about that.”
Thankfully, Firaxis added an optional mechanic to keep your soldiers from the brink of death. In Enemy Unknown, soldiers could be wounded and bleed out if not attended to within a certain number of rounds. This system remains in XCOM 2 with one difference – surviving units can throw a soldier over their shoulder and rush them to an escape vehicle. “It’s a really cool optional mechanic … [you] have this very neat brothers-in-arms moment of rushing them to the Skyranger. You can place them in your evac zone, and get them out of Dodge.” Even if a soldier dies en route, gathering their bodies has a pragmatic purpose: It collects their armor and weapons for other recruits to use. Although many players might not even consider that, since bringing “No Man Left Behind” to XCOM is already too powerful to ignore.
And these features only scratch the surface of XCOM 2‘s features. The campaign will feature a non-linear story. Your strategy options are more varied than ever before. Mission types and layouts are procedurally-generated. And most importantly, alien abilities you’ll encounter are far more varied and unpredictable. “The team’s working on so many cool things,” DeAngelis said. “No two games are alike when you play XCOM 2… I can’t wait for the fans to see all of the upgraded alien abilities and how impactful they are.”
Neither can we, Garth. Neither can we.