We’ve spent time immemorial pondering the ever-looming question: Are we alone in the universe? Countless scientists, philosophers, college students, and wide-eyed children looking up at the night sky have wondered whether or not there’s some cosmic stage that we, as humans, have yet to play a part on.

Alien races have, by and large, been portrayed as some monstrous threat to the human race, like we’re the only ones who should exist among countless billions of star systems and endless planets. It is, apparently, our job to purge the alien, as it were, according to Games Workshop.

I love you, Warhammer. Please don’t send the Astartes after me for my loving jabs.

XCOM 2 plays upon these long-standing ideologies about the superiority of the human race, not only as a victor, but also as an underdog.

WeComeInPeace_1Beginning two decades after the events of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, in what amounts to an alternate timeline, the alien forces have won the war for Earth and have established their own empire on our little ball of fun. Using underhanded methods and typical governmental strategies, they have eradicated XCOM as an organization from the minds of humans around the globe and have started propaganda efforts to make themselves seem like the “good guys” and that they’re only “looking out for the good of the planet.”

You, the Commander, have seen through this epic tuna can of BS, and are called upon to help commandeer an alien vessel to function as XCOM’s new mobile platform for efforts to retake the planet.

This new installation to the series has replaced some of the old characters with naturally progressing successors. Dr. Raymond Shen, having passed in the time between Enemy Unknown and the present, has been replaced by his daughter, An-Yi as your Chief Engineer. New to the fold and having replaced Dr. Vahlen is ADVENT scientist Dr. Richard Tygan, a rogue element from the alien’s puppet governmental entity. Bradford, having been among those who called shenanigans on the aliens propaganda efforts, comes out of hiding to function as a coordinator to your missions.

XCOM2_HThe aliens, on the other hand, have also expanded their repertoire of threats with which to take shots at your delicate bits. The Viper unit, a snake-alien unit, also brings speed, weapons, and the ability to wrap up your characters and bind them. Sectoids have, since the victory on Earth, been evolved and present a more horrific visage from the old “Grey” style they had in the previous titles. They are now more humanoid, taller, with an exposed humanoid jaw, which lends a presentation more like the aliens of Sigourney Weaver fame. Berserkers, an evolution of Mutons from the previous game, are a primal and terrifying step up from their predecessors. Larger, and benefiting, or suffering, from constant genetic tinkering, intelligence has been replaced with animalistic attitude which makes it an unsettling encounter for its targets.

XCOM2_ReleaseTrailer_SectoidRagesOur fear of the unknown has been preyed upon by The Faceless, a new unit in XCOM 2 which presents, initially, as your average human, until fiddled with. Reminiscent of some of the monsters I saw in Markiplier videos, the Faceless possesses unnatural height and expansive reach, making them a significant and possibly lethal threat, especially during civilian rescue missions through the game.

Floaters from the previous title were basically disgusting piles of meat that flew around and shot at you. In the interest of improving public opinion, these have now evolved into Archons, enemies inspired by Pharaoh-style, or Egyptian deities.

Given the aliens penchant for globally deceiving humans, much of humanity has turned to their false government for help, support, and protection. Among their supporters have emerged the ADVENT forces, humans who have pledged to support this new world order, to protect the interests of the aliens, and to defend them against opposition. Missions will include these human forces as well, giving an almost “kill your own kind” impact to these missions where the idea of saving humanity is always at the front of one’s mind.XCOM_2_96327

Other enemies will also rear their faces throughout the campaign, but these are a few of the highlights from the coming game.

I spent some time watching videos on YouTube from Eurogamer, where Firaxis Games’ Garth DeAngelis¬†actually sat down with Chris Bratt for a mission playthrough and showed off many of XCOM 2’s newest features.

First among these new features are the amazingly upgraded customization system for every character. Not only do you get to choose loadouts and weapons, you also have the opportunity to change full names, gender, hairstyles, skin colors, along with customization of gear, such as weapon colors and so on. Chris Bratt probably spent the better part of ten minutes exploring these customization options and ultimately had a Vasquez-like sniper leading his team on an assault against a gas station in the featured mission.

The animations are also vastly improved from the previous installation, with custom attitudes, gaits, and facial expressions bringing newfound life to previously static and generic appearances on the squad selection screen. These attentions to detail provide more of a bond with the individual characters, making it even harder to lose a comrade, and a bigger impact on your characters overall. There are, according to Garth DeAngelis, reactions by characters in the memorial room if one of their close friends die in a mission. The characters will actually go and mourn the loss of friends and allies as we might having served with a lost comrade.

Nice touch, Firaxis. As prior military, this little detail punched me dead in the feels. Respect.

images (3)With the complete and utter defeat suffered by humanity in this alternate universe, XCOM, now defunct and largely scattered, the remaining forces must resort to less conventional means of warfare, and engage in guerrilla tactics, especially in the beginning, in order to gain any form of leg-up on their adversaries. This has afforded opportunities for an entirely new style of play. Upon arriving in a mission zone, you are initially undiscovered by enemy forces, leaving you with the chance to sneak around the zone, lay traps, set up ambushes, and generally check out your initial surroundings to gain any advantages for first assault. With the addition of fully-realized melee combat, players are now encouraged, more than ever, to get right in the face of the alien menace and beat the threat into the dirt.

Combine that with¬†mid-mission buffs, discoveries of evidence leading to further missions or, in the event of hacking failures, debuffs that make the current mission more difficult, it’s created a much more dynamic combat environment, giving players new ways to either succeed, or ultimately doom, any given mission.

XCOM 2 is shaping up to be an improvement on an already powerhouse series, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to, once again, show the beasties why humans aren’t anything to trifle with.

Scheduled release is February 5th, 2016. Lock and load, people. We’ve got alien skulls to cave in!

–Jimmy

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