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“When the aliens showed up, XCOM suffered massive casualties, and governments around the world crumbled in face of popular support to surrender. Then, the Earth was quickly overrun. And so, 20 years into the future, the world is a very different place. The aliens rule Earth from giant shining megacities where all the people of Earth are flocking; that’s where they’re promised an easy life, a secure life free of disease.“

You know how you won XCOM: Enemy Unknown? Well, chances are you don’t, but for the few superhumans among our readers who managed to beat the damn thing, simply put, you didn’t.

Considering the ending of XCOM:EU, fans were scratching their heads (in between uncontrollable boughts of joy and happiness) at Firaxis‘ announcement of XCOM 2 yesterday, showing an alien controlled Earth no more than 20 years after the idyllic, happy, bunny-love way the previous title concluded.

When faced with the same issue as Microprose did after the original XCOM, instead of turning to the oceans, Creative Director Jake Solomon changed history to accommodate alien occupation. Lovely guy. XCOM’s position as being out-gunned and out-numbered by the aliens is a characteristic essential to the atmosphere of the series, and having them pop E.T. heads with the godlike technology they secure at the end of EU isn’t the path the team has envisioned.

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XCOM 2 sees the international anti-alien elite return as a rag-tag group of guerrilla fighters, inconveniencing the little grey men at every turn, trying to roust humanity from its fear-induced complacency to rise up against the new alien overlords. In this timeline, XCOM was devastated when the aliens arrived, and the resistance group it became does not have access to massive funds or the newest military technology. Instead of an impenetrable* mountain-fortress, XCOM now operates from a hijacked alien transport named the Avenger, which is reference to the original XCOM. (Also, that scene at the end of the reveal trailer reminds me of Firefly, and probably not by accident.)

“XCOM never lost the war; they just never stopped fighting and went underground. Players are no longer the commander of this elite military force. They are commanding a very hardened group of freedom fighters and guerrilla fighters, and they’re leading them to ignite a global resistance and wake everyone up, and then try to rescue Earth from the government that now controls it.”

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The gameplay will see some significant improvements, whilst keeping the good old XCOM formula that worked so well in EU. Firstly, the classes have been reshuffled a tad. The Assault class is now the Ranger, and gets a machete to complement the rooty-tooty-point-and-shooties. The Sniper is now the Sharpshooter, which is just semantics, really, and can use pistols as a primary weapon. The Support now becomes a Specialist, steadily climbing the office position hierarchy, and has a trusty drone to help with combat and buffing, as well as scouting when you’re not in an engagement (more on that later). The Grenadier is just a Heavy not wanting to be left out of all the renaming. Firaxis also teased a fifth class that is to be revealed later on, just to keep us all on the edge of our seats.

In order to tug those heartstrings even more than EU did, XCOM 2 will add significantly more customization options for your little group of anarchists, just so you weep all the more when they’re inevitably reduced to a bloody smudge. Players will be able to freely mix and match gender and nationality, as well as customize the two arms, torso, head and legs of their resistance fighters, and as these soldiers become more experienced, their wardrobe also expands.

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“We have some really cool-looking soldiers. They can have big beards, they can have really awesome haircuts, they can have some cool stuff that gives them a lot of character and fits this idea of they’re this sort of hardened group, they’re not fresh-out-of-the-barracks Johnny Soldier; this is really more of a Sons of Anarchy-type of squad.”

Another way in which the course of missions will change is the initiation of combat. In EU, whenever we arrived on location, we pretty much got into combat straight up, and the mission was over once the uglies have all been dispatched. Arrive, shoot, leave. In XCOM 2, we have the chance to move around and explore the maps while out of combat, provided we remain undetected. With the added stealth element, we can set up ambushes, get the drop on the enemies, and prevent them from scampering (to the joy of many a gamer). Doing reconnaissance each mission is an important part of gaining the tactical advantage, and don’t expect to see the same few maps cycled after one another, where you can learn enemy positions by heart. XCOM 2 opts for procedurally generated maps, so that no two encounter will be the same. If you’re looking for replayability, this is the place.

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Victory conditions have been expanded upon as well, giving the players an alternative solution to painting the sidewalks of the brave new world with alien innards. Well, all the alien innards, as some renovation will always be required. Randomly generated secondary objectives, like hacking a terminal or protecting a VIP, will allow us to call in for extraction once completed even if there are still enemies breathing.

Being impoverished guerrilla fighters, XCOM can now pilfer the corpses on the battlefield, so the inventory will have greater significance as a loot system comes into the picture. Just to make things interesting (read: difficult), loot will have a timer, similarly like MELD did in Enemy Within, so you’ll need to weigh the risk of charging into the fray or losing some valuable upgrades. Speaking of valuable items, when a teammate is knocked out, or even killed, another soldier can carry the body to extraction, either saving the downed agent’s life, or just the equipment, depending on circumstance.

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The aliens you’ll be fighting in XCOM 2 will be significantly beefier than the ones encountered in EU. Having adapted favorable traits from human physiology, and taken their time to improve their technology, don’t expect to fight aliens one-on-one for a good long while.

“When you encounter aliens out in the field, your soldiers are not going to go toe-to-toe with them. Certainly not in the beginning of the game. In these past 20 years, they’ve grown very strong. The important thing about the aliens is that soldiers are no longer a one-to-one match; there is no way to take on aliens without teamwork.”

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The trailer showed the Viper and new Sectoid units, backed up by a human force. These lackeys will most likely be the most common foes we encounter, especially early on in the game, when our guerrilla team will still be comprised of newbies. These soldiers, the force of the Advent government, are the servants of the aliens occupying earth. It is known that they have no connection to EXALT, however whether there is mind control involved, or they’re obeying the aliens out of “free”-will is unknown.

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What got me thinking is that here we have earth under alien control. Global unity, world peace, end to disease, hyper-advanced technology, pretty clean cities. The security scans are a hint of the totalitarian tyranny that is probably the reality of occupied earth, but other than security scans, we have yet to see anyone really suffering in XCOM 2 due to the aliens. Surely there is comical levels of evil-doing going on in the background, but Firaxis have yet to sell the invasion as a bad thing. Why are we fighting again?

In the mean time, watch the reveal trailer again:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2E_-2wIJIzQ

November can’t get here soon enough!

*Results may vary

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