XCOM 2 was comfortably one of the best games of 2016. It managed to build on the deep strategic mechanics the original ‘reboot’ developed, by cutting out exploits (jet pack snipers and Overwatch spamming), expanding the class abilities and map diversity/complexity. Ostensibly, it was more of the same, just done better. While undoubtedly challenging and unforgiving, XCOM: Enemy Unkown streamlined and simplified many of the elements present in the ‘classic’ games. The Steam Workshop and supportive developers created a fertile breeding ground for modifications. The bulk of these were small gameplay adjustments or customization options. However, Long War was a different matter altogether. Aside from the obvious extended campaign, it completely overhauled almost every system in the game. It also made what was already a challenging game, significantly harder. Despite the added difficulty, Long War was incredibly well balanced, forcing the player to think more about using abilities in tandem and planning moves in advance – rather than just repeating tried-and-tested Overwatch and flank maneuvers.
Finding hidden depths
It spoke volumes of the quality of Long War that XCOM’s developer, Firaxis were influenced enough by its changes to include some of them in the sequel. When XCOM 2 came out in February last year, I played the hell out of it. Despite an ageing PC and poor optimisation, I sunk 50 hours in over a fairly short period of time, only to never pick it up again – until now. Long War 2 arrives almost a year after the release of XCOM 2 and undoubtedly reinvigorates it. To focus on the increase in difficulty would be doing Long War 2 a disservice, as over the course of development it’s clear that untold hours have gone into balancing the experience. The initial realization that you will probably miss most of the shots you would normally land is soon remedied from the pure satisfaction of outwitting a cunning enemy with clever movement and use of equipment and abilities. In this way, Long War 2 is expanding on XCOM 2’s tactical depth by simply building on top of it, allowing more freedom between squad combinations and equipment choices – each presenting fair trade-offs.
True ‘guerilla’ warfare
Despite putting you in the shoes of an underdog guerilla force in occupied territory, XCOM 2 still had you on a fairly even platform against the alien adversaries, with most mission requiring you to wipe out their forces. Long War 2 uses the underdog framework but actually delivers on it in the gameplay. Even as you advance through the tech trees and level up your units, Advent (the alien antagonists) always feel like a superior threat, which makes the whole thing feel far more thematically consistent. One of Long War 2’s most significant changes is the introduction of an ‘infiltration’ system. Now, whenever you take on a mission, the volume of the enemy force is dependent on how long you spend in ‘infiltration’, as opposed to an arbitrary difficulty level. Instead of arriving at the mission instantly, your units drop off and infiltrate the enemy position over the course of a few days. During this time you can’t use the deployed soldiers, and the infiltration completion percentage is influenced by how many soldiers you send and how much gear they are carrying. Where XCOM 2 had you bombastically arriving with a dropship full of soldiers, Long War 2 has you gradually infiltrating behind enemy lines – literally hidden in darkness.
Great tactical depth comes from when and where to take risks. Rushing an infiltration may grant you precious extra days for additional scanning or an early reward. However, waiting out an infiltration will allow you to conduct your mission with much less resistance – on some occasions even allowing you to succeed with one soldier and no shots fired. Sending one tech expert in and sneaking through a hacking mission, escaping before the aliens even know what has happened is often more satisfying than laying waste to them.
Is Long War 2, XCOM 2.5?
While it wouldn’t be fair to call Long War 2 the ‘superior’ experience, it feels pretty close to an ‘XCOM 2.5’. Some gamers may be put off by the initial difficulty spike between original and mod, but anyone who enjoyed XCOM 2 for its strategic depth and white knuckle tension will find much to love. At a time where official DLC on most triple-A titles is ‘spotty’ at best, Long War 2 is an example of modders showing publishers and developers how it’s done. It is a pretty stunning achievement that deserves tremendous respect.
If you own XCOM 2 on PC, don’t miss it!