Saturday, 13 February 2016

The Twelve Most Annoying Things About XCOM2

XCOM2 is a fascinating sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and I've been enjoying it quite a lot over the past week or so. In fact, it's been my most played game of the past week by some margin. It provides a lot of interesting changes to the formula from the previous game, and deserves a lot of credit for it. I'm not too far away from my first victory, and then I plan on diving into the ocean of mods that are currently filling up the Steam Workshop.

It's not all engaging gameplay, tense atmosphere and tactical action though, because there are a few things which just annoy and frustrate me. Nothing enough to stop me playing or to particularly spoil my enjoyment, but enough for me to write this list.

1. "Free" Enemy Movement

In the first game, the enemy got a "free" movement when your soldiers were within sight range. This allowed them to get into cover, and this game really prioritises cover. XCOM2 is similar, but enemies also sometimes get to perform an action during your turn, which can be even more frustrating. This is balanced somewhat by your soldiers also having skills that occur during the enemy turn, but those are rather few and somewhat limited.

2. Pathfinding issues

The game has a two-action system like XCOM1, rather than the more granular "action point" system of its ancestor. I'm not a big fan of this, but simplicity is sometimes beneficial. When moving though, you can only specify an end point and the route is out of your control. This game has a number of environmental hazards, yet it is sometimes very difficult to move around them when the movement system is so limited.

[UPDATE] I have been told that you can actually set waypoints! (use the Shift key). I still think action points would be better though.

3. The concealment system, and mission timers

These are grouped together, because I don't mind them separately, but when you're in a situation with a limited turn timer for your objective, being concealed and sneaking slowly around is not really an option. At best, it provides a way to get a decent sneak attack on the first group of enemies you meet. Even when you're not under time pressure, sneaking past a group of enemies is often a terrible decision, as you're likely to run into another group and find yourself sandwiched between two sets of foes, instead of taking them down one at a time. The one exception to this is the downed UFO mission, in which the timer doesn't start until you leave concealment, which works much better (even if I still find it of limited use).

4. Hacking

My issue with this is that it needs to be done with a specialist, and I generally prefer my specialists to be healers, especially since hacking rarely seems to be much good. There's also the "Skulljack", a mission-based item, which I'd prefer to use with a Ranger, but it only really makes sense to use it with a Specialist because of the way that works.

5. Vipers

Not an issue later in the game, but at the start these guys are brutal. The only thing that I find particularly unfair, is the "tongue-grab" attack, which seems to have an insane range and resulted in the deaths of a couple of my soldiers when I thought they were safe behind cover.

6. Armour

The armour system for the aliens is quite good, higher level enemies have yellow pips next to their health bar to represent how many damage points will be negated by their armour. By the late game, a lot of the alien forces have armour, and you need to consider how you're going to deal with it. On the flip-side, when you upgrade the armour for your own soldiers, it mainly acts as a boost to their "health" bar. I'm not sure how it would affect the game balance, but I feel like if you include an armour system then you should probably make a bigger deal of it.

7. Scientists

They're a bit useless in XCOM2, or at least compared to the Engineers. Scientists do help with research, but Engineers can provide big bonuses for various rooms on your flying "Avenger" base and feel much more crucial in the early-to-middle stages of the game (later on you should have plenty of both).

8. Scanning

I love the new Geoscape, I love flying around and doing the missions and building relationships with the various resistance locations. But the scanning mechanic (to find supplies, meet new contacts, etc.), takes a lot of time. In the early game in particular, I found myself constantly interrupted from scanning by missions (which are all of utmost importance). At one point I had five different things to scan, was interrupted for a mission, then after the mission the game reminded me that I had supplies I could scan for.

9. Customisation options

The customisation options for soldiers in XCOM2 are pretty impressive, but have a couple of problems in my eyes. Firstly, I was dismayed that the country selections weren't expanded from the previous game (Scotland is represented separately from the UK, but there are a very limited selection of nations from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America). Modders are thankfully adding in all manner of nationalities (loads of other cosmetic mods are available too, to expand on the decent selection already provided). The other issue for me is with soldier loadouts. which is a problem I had with the previous game too.

You're quite limited in the equipment you can take on a mission, and while I know this is done for balance reasons, it is a source of frustration that you have to pick between items that could easily be carried together (such as extra armour, grenades and special ammo). I'm hoping for a mod to "correct" this, before I venture towards the higher difficulties or an Ironman run.

10. Bugs and crashes

I've had a few graphical glitches, a crash to desktop, lengthy loading times, and such other minor annoyances. There also sometimes seem to be issues with line-of-sight, where your soldiers either get spotted by the enemy from longer distances than usual, or alternatively sometimes it seems like you should be able to see and attack an enemy, but the option is greyed out.

11. Performance issues

It looks a bit better than XCOM1, and I think the maps are bigger and more detailed, but the performance hit has been incredible. I played XCOM1 at high settings, full resolution. Even with a reduced resolution and a few options turned down, my graphics card has to work very hard and those loading times are longer than I'd like.

12. Difficulty

Sometimes this game is hard, and sometimes it can almost feel unfair. Other times, especially once you have lots of upgrades, it can feel a bit too easy. I can appreciate that balancing a game like this must be a nightmare, but it does seem very similar to the previous game in which that early few weeks is a bit of a crapshoot. If you get lucky, and survive relatively unscathed, you should be fine for the rest of the game (difficulty spikes notwithstanding). If you mess up early on, it can provide a setback so large that essentially you're better of restarting completely.

Well, that's about it. I've been a bit nit-picky here, but the game has been good enough for me to put so many hours into that those little problems become more noticeable. Some will be solved by modders or patches, some will be of no concern to other players, but generally speaking I'm sure this game will be a resounding success and I wonder where they will turn for the surely inevitable third game.

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