Published on February 22nd, 2016 | by Ethan
XCOM 2: Big budget PC gaming is back
After about 50 hours and one restart I finished XCOM 2 on normal difficulty. I immediately wanted to start again, but this time not the way Firaxis envisioned it.
Almost a year ago, Firaxis announced XCOM 2, the sequel to its highly regarded XCOM: Enemy Unknown, wouldn’t be coming to consoles. I assumed, and I still think, that hardcore strategy games don’t have as high demand on consoles as they do on PC. But after finishing XCOM 2 it’s clear Firaxis wanted to make a straight up PC game. And boy did they make one.
PC gaming has been growing in the last few years as more gamers have decided the thousand dollar investment to build a rig is worth the price of admission. Developers have noticed the growth in the PC gaming market and have started making what used to be hobbled together ports into what today is generally considered the best way to play multiplatform games.
Despite this PC renaissance, it’s been years since a big budget title has been PC exclusive. With XCOM 2, Firaxis changed all of that and as a result XCOM 2 is the most PC game I’ve played in a while. Don’t like sitting through an intro video you’ve seen hundreds of times? Edit the .ini file. Want to download Stormtrooper helmets to equip your soldiers? Head over to the Steam Workshop.
As games have grown more and more complicated, it’s a lot harder for a layman to go in and edit a game to their liking, but XCOM 2 makes me feel like I have more freedom than ever before. Yes, PC mods have been around a while, but there are tons of gameplay tweaks you can make right away in XCOM 2 only equipped with notepad.exe.
For example, aliens don’t receive a range penalty like your XCOM soldiers. You can change the settings in an INI file to make the aliens fight on an even playing field. XCOM 2 also has a character creation pool that it will randomly pull characters into your current campaign. Some might want their soldiers to only be from the character pool and not mixed in with randomly generated characters. Hop in the .ini file and edit it.
This DIY fixes are refreshing when usually you have to wait for mods or just deal with what some may consider developer oversights. Make the game your own!
One of the advantages of board games over video games, is the ability to tweak certain parts to one’s liking for balance or for fun. Shadows Over Camelot, a tabletop game by publisher Days of Wonder, is super hard and expects you to spend precious combat cards to defeat the catapults besieging the castle or else you lose the game. To lighten up an already punishing game, my friends and I implemented a house rule to allow a dice roll to be added on top of whatever combat cards are played. Another example of game modification is in Monopoly. Instead of starting an auction after a property for sale is passed on, most play with a rule leaving the property up for sale for the next person to land on it. This is done to simplify a concept that’s maybe too cumbersome for younger family members, even if it unbalances the game in the long run.
As for XCOM 2, many players are upset swords aren’t always a 100% chance to hit or that mimic grenades are too powerful (they’re not wrong). They can easily fix these quibbles via modding. The ability to openly customize a game so deeply, sometimes even break it, makes XCOM 2 feel more like a board game than Enemy Unknown. You’re given a toy box and given free reign to play the game however you want.
The interface is also tailored to PC. Most developers focus on their game feeling good with a controller, because of the ease in which you can plug in a controller into a PC. Games are playable on a keyboard, but usually I just plug in a controller because it generally feels more intuitive. In XCOM 2, moving and giving soldiers commands would be possible on a controller, but not as effecient.
Back in the early 2000’s, PC games were just as customizable as the cases that ran them. The process of taking a meticulously crafted game and making it my own is unique to the PC. (Okay maybe the PS4 Fallout 4 mods might change the status quo) Big budget, customizable games have been absent for a while, but I’m glad at least one is back.
It’s too bad performance issues and bugs can’t be fixed with mods…