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Monday, February 05, 2018

Review: XCom 2 + Season Pass (PS4)

Over the holidays, I picked up XCOM 2 with the associated first year DLC (called the Deluxe Edition) for around $25. I normally don't expect to get around to the DLC, but Enemy Unknown Plus was so good that I thought it would work out. I would have much preferred a PS Vita version for the ability to pick up and play, but given the steep system requirements for the base game I didn't expect that to ever happen. I thought that with remote play I'd at least get some use out of the game.

I was wrong. I fired it up for a bit and got sucked right in. Before I knew it, I'd restarted a game since the strategic game at the top level wasn't explained very well during the tutorial (I didn't figure out for a while that your supply drops came from adding resistance countries), and the game was punishing enough that you'd pretty much lose if you don't do the strategic level right.

XCOM 2 and XCOM are extremely addictive games to me because of the combination of RPG mechanisms along with squad level tactics. This appeals to the D&D munchkin in me: fundamentally, it's D&D without all of the associated role playing and fancy improv theater stuff. It's just the game mechanics (even the move + shoot action essentially come from 3rd Edition D&D), the monsters, and you.

The Alien Hunters DLC introduced monsters that would break the rules: they'd get a free reaction move every time you got to move, which made for tense, engaging fights and painful, hard-earned victories. As with D&D, most of the great story moments come not from the built-in plotline of the game (which is mediocre stuff), but from in-game results of the interaction between you, the game engine, and the random number generator. For instance, there was a massively difficult mission I was on when I encountered the Archon King. He'd flown up into the sky and was about to unlease a massively painful attack (with no possibility of me moving my squad members out of the way) when my sniper armed with an enhanced rifle hit him and rather than just cause damage, he executed the toughest monster in the game in one hit, saving everyone else. What a great story!

My criticisms of the game are that the loading screens are excruciatingly long: around 2 minutes of loading are required before the start of each mission (and that's on my hybrid SSD equipped Playstation). The game has also crashed a couple of times (but my saves were never corrupted), and is in many ways buggy: cut scenes would cut out randomly in the middle, as would the depiction of the combat actions. And of course, the PS4 version doesn't let you mod the game, though the game itself felt so long that I'm not sure I'd have the stomach for the Long War mod anyway. Even game startup takes a long time (also 2 minutes), making me grateful for the PS4 resume feature.

All in all, a great game and one of the few that were so compelling that I played it through beginning to end. If you like D&D-style tactical combat and am willing to put up with the lack of role playing, this is pretty much as good as it gets (don't hold your breath for a follow up to the ToEE PC game). Highly recommended despite the bugs and slow loading times. I'll be looking out for a discount for the War of the Chosen.

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