I’ve covered the big three – the Lost, the Chosen, and the Rebels. At least in the context of tactical/map play, and some of the strategic impacts. Now it’s time to cover some of the smaller system changes.
I covered this a bit, but it bears more detail. After the 2nd mission, you get to build the Ring facility in the base. This allows you to run 1 (or more with upgrades) Covert Operation for a given faction. You are presented a list of options, with various rewards – roll back Avatar progress, find a Chosen, get intel/supplies, get new items, get scientists/engineers/soldier, or even new contact options (yay! no more massive resistance comms).
Each takes a few days to run, and requires 2 soldiers of a given rank. There are bonuses applied after the mission to those soldiers – promotions or stat boosts. Each mission has a risk of injury and requires a 3rd item to reduce the chance – supplies, intel, material, or another soldier. Running more missions increases faction gain, and unlocks more missions. You never need to actively run the mission, it just goes on in the background.
But there’s a chance for failure. Either they get captured and you send a rescue mission, or they need an emergency ex-filtration. This last one is quite fun as you’re only given the 2 soldiers assigned and an entire map to traverse… all while being chased by the enemy and trying to avoid fire. I’m sure some people would try to gun it out, but I just ran for the hills.
At the start of every month, you can issue orders to the various factions which provide a monthly passive benefit to rest of the month. You can only assign a given order to either the faction it belongs to, or to the generic XCOM faction. There are slight upgrades to them as well, so that one may give 10% more intel and the next gives 15%. It’s a nice strategic layer, but at the early point of the game, it’s really not a tough choice. You want to slow down Chosen progress, and increase overall gains. Maybe there will be harder choices later in the game.
There are two changes here – breakthroughs and insights. The former is a one-time chance to research a unique benefit to the team. Could be more damage for a single class, reduce build costs, add upgrade slots – all very useful. It takes 5 days to research one of these and if you skip it, you lose it. Or at least, you need to wait until it comes back into the rotation… which could be at the end of the game.
Insights are simpler. They just reduce the research cost by 50% but only projects that are already available.
It does make for interesting choices, from time to time. Maybe you need to choose between a permanent buff to Ranger damage, versus getting magnetic weapons. Or an immediate research of Sectoids to unlock Psionics. I find that in most cases, the Insight of Breakthrough is the better choice – but it is really a hard choice to push off fundamental units upgrades (armor/weapons). The more interesting bit is that it appears that you can attain similar power levels to Plasma weapon research, with the appropriate breakthroughs. This really means that there’s no longer a “perfect research” path, or even more importantly “a wrong way to research”.
I have not seen them all, certainly, but what I’ve seen has left me quite happy. One of my main gripes in the main XCOM2 was the missions with an artificial timer that forced you into very complicated situations. I understand the purpose – making missions shorter and more mobile – but the end result felt like artificial difficulty. In particular on some maps where the enemy placement was very tight.
WotC still has time missions but they are very generous and quite varied. Maybe you have 12 turns to take out a general, or 4 to hold your ground, or 6 to take out a relay. Odds are there are ways to increase that timer during the mission as well. The urge to move forward is still there, but it doesn’t feel punishing as you no longer need to use all your AP in a single turn.
Missions themselves fall into a few general categories – Guerrilla (where you chose one of multiple), Council, Retaliations, Assaults, Raids, and Defense. These include killing/rescuing someone, finding and holding onto some materials, attacking facilities to reduce Avatar progress, protecting civilians from Advent attacks, or just defending the Avenger itself. Map types have been expanded and include more variations than before – the sewer run is a pretty neat tileset.
This is not a massive change, but more of a quality of life change. Things seem simply more varied and balanced. Each mission can be tweaked by Advent bonuses – say a bleeding effect from bullets, or all enemies are shielded…so making choices is quite important. Some even sound simple, until a Chosen suddenly shows up and starts taking you to town.
This one is somewhat subtle to start, but can get hectic. Each soldier has a fatigue meter, that drains after each mission. You can re-use someone that’s tired, but that risks them being in recovery mode for a longer period of time. Soldiers can also acquire negative traits – such as a fear of Sectoids – that can make you go bananas when it actually triggers. You can remove these traits, but it takes a fair chunk of time.
The result is that you need a much larger and varied squad than before. There are missions where you simply have no choice in the soldiers to send due to outstanding recovery times. That “perfect” squad is a thing of the past, and you’ll be continuously adding Rookies and Squaddies to each mission… just to pad out the roster. It certainly removes a lot of the anxiety of save scumming to avoid injuries, since no matter what, people are going to be benched on the next mission.
I think that covers the majority of the obvious changes in XCOM2. There are big ones and small ones, but the underlying foundation is relatively the same. It integrates very well with all the existing systems, including the DLC released previously. Where the base game had an optimal path that felt you slowly losing over time, WotC has so many viable paths it seems to stretch out the game even farther than before.
It is really a borderline expansion/sequel, and I find myself continually impressed at the amount of options and things going on at any given time. A super game and highly recommended.