This second go-round in XCOM 2 is progressing remarkably better. I have no faith that I will be able to beat my second run, because the game can’t be that easy, but during this session I am making better choices, building a better Avenger than last go round and taking down enemies more efficiently in missions. More than anything, though, I am learning how the game actually functions and how to set op the game for the results I need, especially with the Tactical Missions.
Remember – Gamplay and a few story spoilers beyond the break
Though the game is the successor to, and plays familiar to, XCOM, Enemy Unknown, it is clearly a different game, and they clearly put the time in to differentiate the games. The First and clearest one is the addition of Stealth. With XCOM being a hit and run operation, they often have to use surprise as a way of ensuring the job gets done. For the first few missions, I was intent on using my stealth as long as possible taking the time to craft glorious ambushes and set up massive killboxes, only to be thwarted when they moved out of line of sight and I had to set it all up again.
Now I use stealth much more aggressively, taking down the first enemy patrol I end up spotting and making sure to keep a level head while pushing forward afterward into the rest of the map. Making sure to keep cover between you and where you expect aliens to be is a good habit to get into overall, but its extremely important during stealth. If an enemy moves forward and catches one of your squad in their perimeter, you will maintain stealth if you are behind cover relative to the enemy. Take your time, but don’t take too long, most missions have timers and you don’t want to get used to dallying.
Armor is another addition that I’ve really enjoyed. Armor works as a method of Damage Reduction, reducing damage taken by the amount of armor it has remaining. I believe, and I haven’t tested it, that it minimums at 1 damage on a hit. This is extremely powerful as it can render oneshot kills practically impossible with certain weapons. I have enjoyed armor too, as it gives my heavies a strong reason to participate in missions. They have, at Third Level, the capacity to pick up Shred, which reduces the targets armor with every attack made by the Grenadier, thankfully including grenades, making an extremely useful weapon even better.
The Honored Dead
I’m playing on Veteran Ironman, and there have been more than a few times I’ve been glad I am – Because otherwise, I would have save-scummed and prevented the death of a favored soldier or class. This has lead me to learn hard lessons about the game, how it prioritizes attacks, and what enemies to allocate resources to, and which ones that I can put aside for now. I’ve lost many good men and women, but i’m starting to give it to the aliens as good as I get, and starting to recognize how they operate on the battlefield.
Take, for instance, the Sectoid. Many times I will prioritize him over other targets, but there are exceptions.
Cover against the Sectoid means very little, as they will often open with a salvo of Psionic powers. There seems to be a mild preference for using animate dead first, then mind control, then panic, and then finally the wrist mounted Plasma Gun. If he is paired with other ranged combatants, I will proceed with killing it first. However, if it has an Advent Stun Lancer as its companion, I need to take down the lancer as quickly as possible. While a mind controlled ally or an animated enemy are dangerous, they don’t get to act the first turn that they are controlled/Animated. The Stun Lancer, though, has an extremely long combat melee range with a fairly accurate weapon that easily criticals and can kill some rookies and squaddies outright without the critical. Focusing on him first will mean that the Sectoid gets to go, but they will often waste that turn animating or using Mind Control, allowing your squad to take them down in relative peace.
The Stun Lancer creates problematic decision points. With his extreme range, similar to a ranger, and a powerful weapon, he can force you to deal with him immediately or risk loosing squad members. Additionally, he can disable members of you squad with a single attack, even if they don’t die outright, creating a situation in which the squad mate may as well be dead for all that you can accomplish with them. These units are my current most hated.
Then we have the Vipers, the anthropomorphic female snakes who terrified the hell out of me the first few times I played.
This time, I have the same feeling as I do with the Sectoids. These guys give me an extra turn to kill them before they really start causing damage. They have large plasma weapons, and if I have a soldier out in the open they will take the shot, but more often than not they will attempt to drag a nearby solider over to them and then crush them over time with their coils. Once again, this gives me an opening which to exploit. If I present them with a target, ahead of the rest of the unit, I’m willing to bet on them taking the bait and allowing me an extra turn to remove the threat.
The Mutons this time around are not, as of yet, as scary as their UFO Defense and Enemy Unknown counterparts.
Big and brutish, they are covered in armor and have a significant hit point pool, but are otherwise unremarkable. I’ve taken the few I’ve encountered down with extreme prejudice and I’ve not regretted it for an instant. Between these guys and the badass mechs, next, I’ve really come to appreciate the new armor trait that they added to the game. I think it goes a significant distance towards making the aliens seem tough without them just absorbing a ton of damage.
This big boy is a model I’ve not seen but twice on the field. Similar to a Muton, they are armored up and loaded with hp, making them difficult to take down.
They are also, in a move that surprised me, similar to the MECS from XCOM 1, with a built in grenade launcher on their backs. Getting close together to take it out is not a strategy I’d recommend. I do believe they are even Hackable, I’ve just not been able to keep a specialist around long enough to see. I will find out soon enough.
To the Left!
Finally, I want to mention the flanking and cover system fairly briefly. In XCOM1, the game gave you a basic concept of what flanking was, and cover seemed to provide a decent defense. This time around, both have come to define my style of play, at least in the early game.
Currently, the stats on my soldiers seem not to be high enough to make their shots count at targets in cover. This could be to cover providing a better bonus, soldiers starting out with worse stats, or any of a number of factors. This means that I am always seeking to find the best vantage for my attacks. I’m fairly certain at this point that the flanking system is more forgiving, and the cover system is more punishing than the original, forcing you to attempt to get around to the vulnerable areas of your enemies position while maintaining a solid flank yourself. This also means that I am extremely wary of any enemy with grenades, as they seem to just shred right through cover.
Sadly for a number of troopers, this problem is one that affects each side equally, and almost every soldier I have left out in the open, has died. Its a terrifying, alien controlled world out there. Stay safe!