In 2012, Firaxis Games released what was essentially a reboot of the turned-based tactical PC series X-COM. The new game, called XCOM: Enemy Unknown, surprised many with just how excellent it was, and how well it actually performed commercially. The game, for all intents and purposes, was a surprise smash hit. It satisfied a hunger for a rich, and challenging tactical experience that offered fun gameplay, the brutalities of permadeath (where any one character can die, and stay dead), and overall great storytelling. It was a fantastic reimagining of the 1994 original classic, while maintaining what made the first game so great in the first place. Fast-forward three years later, and Firaxis has finally announced the sequel, XCOM 2.
This announcement shows, more or less, that XCOM has once again become a household name. It’s relevant again, and shows just how much the games industry was failing to provide challenging, and deeply tactical games over the last several years. For example, the last Final Fantasy Tactics game came out several years ago on the PlayStation Portable, and people have been demanding a new entry in the Final Fantasy spin-off series for years. Who knows, maybe Square Enix will announce one come E3? But for now, Firaxis Games is only one of a few developers that will provide this type of gameplay fix.
Concerning details about the sequel, it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a proper sequel. The story is set a few decades after the first game, in 2035, where XCOM is actually the underdog here and has turned to guerilla warfare to rebel against the powerful aliens that have taken over the world. There’ll be new classes, settings, characters, and more customizable options for the player. But the most dramatic change is the inclusion of procedurally generated level maps. In Enemy Unknown the player had to spot enemies and engage them in warfare. But since XCOM is a much less powerful entity in the sequel, it’s up to the player to be more strategic in their engagement with the aliens. The level design in Enemy Unknown eventually became routine, but with the procedural factor in effect here, Firaxis is looking to surprise players constantly, and keep the gameplay experience fresh.
But the one gameplay element that will make a return is permadeath, or permanent death. As previously stated, this means that beloved characters that the player has been developing for dozens of hours can easily die in any combat situation, and they won’t ever return. It’s slightly similar to what Telltale does in its games, especially The Walking Dead. This just makes the game even more tense, challenging, and enjoyable. It’s also one of the main reasons why Enemy Unknown felt so refreshing, and it’s smart of Firaxis to keep permadeath intact.
The studio also announced that XCOM 2 will only release on PC in November – another real shocker. Enemy Unknown, despite being right at home on PC and arguably the best platform to play the game on, was still enjoyable on consoles. It did not feel like a lesser experience on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, so why avoid both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is something that has not been made apparent yet from the developer. Enemy Unknown’s expansion, Enemy Within, was also released on consoles alongside PC in 2013.
It’s a missed opportunity to further expand the series, and expose more people to the turned-based tactical genre with this upcoming sequel. But there has to be a good enough reason why, and Firaxis will most likely provide that reason in the coming weeks. But despite the platform limit, it’s a breath of fresh air to see XCOM back in action once again.