Earlier today, Firaxis Games’ Jake Solomon, the mastermind behind 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, took to Firaxis’ Twitch account to “dive deep” into XCOM 2’s strategy layer. The archived broadcast is available for viewing. For those of you who don’t want to sit through an hour-plus of (admittedly entertaining) banter and designer-talk, below is our take.
Details about XCOM 2 have been trickling out over the past few weeks. At Gamescom, that trickle became a flood, as Firaxis showcased their first demo footage of the Geoscape (strategy layer) and the Avenger (XCOM’s new mobile base/flying fortress). Jake Solomon and Pete Murray first played through the Gamescom footage in its entirety, then ran it through once again, taking time to pause and elaborate on areas of interest.
In XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within, your Geoscape objectives were to research new technologies, build new weapons and devices, and respond to alien attacks. XCOM 2’s Commander has many of the same tasks, but a whole wealth of changes and additions, as well. The activities and objectives of a resistance group are very different from that of a global defense organization, and XCOM2 appears to reflect this.
Talented staff is hard to find for a gang of rebels on the run. Every engineer and scientist is an individual with their own mugshot, and these individuals can be assigned and reassigned to various projects by the player. Engineering (headed by Lily Shen, the daughter of your XCOM EU/EW Chief Engineer) is similar to the 2012 release, in that you use resources you’ve gained to build items. There are two major divergences here: first, there are, reportedly, many more items in XCOM 2 than in EU/EW. Secondly, instead of building individual weapons, you build a weapon “class” – say, Magnetic Rifles. At that point, you have an unlimited supply of Magnetic Rifles. This makes a great deal of sense, given the many ways to customize and upgrade individual weapons in XCOM 2. You can upgrade your weapons, paint them, even name them. Similarly, Rookies can be trained into specific classes – player’s choice – and once they are veterans, many more customization options unlock for the player.
One of the most interesting new tidbits dropped by Solomon is a detail regarding the Advanced Warfare Center, one of the later upgrades for the Avenger. Its primary task is to speed up the healing of soldiers – and as your squaddies become more advances and powerful, this will become increasingly critical. More intriguing, though, is that it apparently can uncover “hidden” perks within your soldiers as they level up. This means that it’s possible for soldiers to receive perks from outside their class – Snipers could conceivably receive Run And Gun, to use Solomon’s example. This is extremely exciting, and integrates the “Training Roulette” Second Wave option from XCOM EU/EW without losing the essential nature of XCOM 2’s classes.
As for the Geoscape itself, it is much different. In XCOM EU/EW, the strategy was clear: the entire world was begging for your help and players had to rush out satellites and fighters to save nations from spiraling into panic and leaving the Project. In XCOM 2, the player starts with control over a single region, and must expand the territory influenced by the Resistance by making contact with cells, gathering intel, and striking back at the alien occupiers. There’s a lot of stuff to actually do in the geoscape besides wait for missions – the Avenger flies around at your direction to influence events, investigate rumors, and support allies.
The aliens certainly aren’t static, either. They have their own plans, drawn from a large deck of objectives, and their own win conditions. The player encounters these through the “Dark Events” Geoscape popup, giving XCOM the opportunity to pre-empt or respond to alien activities. Players can spend Intel (one of the new resources, along with Supplies) to dig deeper into the enemy’s plans and flip hidden cards.
Solomon repeatedly came back to his “mantra” for XCOM 2: that, in comparison to Enemy Unknown, the sequel should be more unpredictable, more replayable, with Firaxis’ “hands off the reins.” This can be dangerous idea, particularly in terms of balance, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Solomon, Garth DeAngelis, and the rest.