When XCOM 2 comes out this fall, you won’t be defending the Earth from aliens—you’ll be fighting to take it back. The developers gave us a deep look at how two of the new classes will help you overturn the alien new world order.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown brought back the classic XCOM franchise, in which a special team of soldiers defends Earth from alien invasion. The combination of strategy (researching new tech, healing injured soldiers, deploying forces around the world) and tactics (turn-based battles using cover, special weapons, and unit skills) made for a really excellent game.
XCOM 2 is set for a November release, and it looks like the developers are doing a lot right. The core of the game is staying in place, that strategic/tactical blend that made Enemy Unknown so addictive. But a lot is changing, too. For one thing, we’re 20 years farther ahead in the XCOM timeline. The aliens won, and have established a sort of techno-fascist world government called ADVENT. Instead of a government-funded military force, you’re part of an underground resistance, fighting the entrenched aliens and their human collaborators.
That status change means you’ll be fighting with new classes of XCOM soldiers, like the stealthy Ranger and the versatile Specialist. XCOM 2 Lead Producer Garth DeAngelis told me all about the new classes and how XCOM 2 builds on the things Enemy Unknown did so well. The development team also shared a bunch of concept art with us.
io9: One of the things about the Ranger that caught my eye is the ability to get close to the enemy and spot them for long-range attackers. I think the scout/spotter is one of the hardest combat roles to model in a video game, and a deceptively difficult one to play effectively. What can you tell me about the Ranger’s ability to “light up” enemies for your other units to attack?
Garth DeAngelis: The Ranger has access to an ability that can allow them to stay concealed, even if the rest of the team is revealed to the enemy. This is a great choice for someone who wants to use their Ranger as the scout for the team, or set up the Ranger to finish off weakened enemies with a surprise attack from a flank. But when youchoose this ability, you give up an ability that boosts the damage the Ranger does with their sword, and that damage boost makes the Ranger incredibly lethal early in close combat. If you like playing as a scout, the tradeoff might be worth it for you, but if you want your Ranger to be a one-hit-killing machine, it might be a tough choice.
What different melee weapons will the Ranger be able to use?
DeAngelis: They’ve got their sword as their specialty weapon, and there are ways to upgrade it over the course of the campaign.
Hacking (and the Specialist’s ability to do it better than anyone else) looks pretty important. What effects will successful hacking have on a given mission? Will hacking manipulate the battlefield? Activate weapons systems?
DeAngelis: Hacking is a very strong supporting skill to have. You can shut off ADVENT monitoring stations, or hack mechanical enemies with results ranging from reducing enemy effectiveness to taking over control. Any character can hack, but the Specialist’s Gremlin drone lets him do so from cover and at a distance. That makes hacking an ADVENT Turret a much safer proposition than running up and hoping for the best!
In Enemy Unknown, the world we were fighting in looked pretty similar to the real world as we know it right now. XCOM 2 puts us 20 years in the future — how does that change the game’s aesthetic, and in turn how does that change affect the battlefield?
DeAngelis: Since the aliens conquered Earth and put the ADVENT administration in charge, they’ve been building these huge cities with the intention of attracting people like moths to a flame. The cities are brilliant and clean, but unsettlingly so, and XCOM as a scruffy resistance force now stands out in contrast to the sterile purity of these cities. But outside of these cities, there are shantytowns and wilderness areas that are only slowly coming under alien control, and there life is a lot harder.
Each one of these environments/biomes has a different look to them, and we have a ton of material that we use to build levels procedurally, so each time you go on a mission, you’ll be coming across new combinations of these elements. Fans of XCOM: Enemy Unknown told us they wanted more maps, and now we have a system that can generate millions of awesome-looking, great-playing maps and this is something we are very proud of. This will affect your approach to each game because players won’t be able to perfectly predict what’s on each map, and the AI controlling the aliens will have to figure it out as well.
There’s a lot of excitement about procedurally-generated battlefields. Can you talk about how that’s going to work? Maybe there’s an example from play testing that explains what that system is capable of? I’m particularly curious about the secondary mission goals.
DeAngelis: Each map is built up of parcels, and the parcels can contain different kinds of buildings or terrain. For example, in our city center, the map generator might pick a parcel to be an ADVENT propaganda center, or it might choose a car dealership, or a restaurant, or so forth. A map might have an ADVENT checkpoint, but in one game it might be in a corner, and in another it might be dead in the middle of the map. Our secondary objectives, like protecting data nodes, retrieving enemy data, or rescuing or capturing VIPs, are randomly determined when the mission is generated. The combination of procedural objectives and procedural maps means an almost endless variety of missions.
For example, I was playing a game the other day where the second mission of my campaign was to escort a VIP to safety through a city center, and my secondary objective was to kill all the enemies in the mission. I was comfortable ignoring that secondary objective, so that I didn’t risk my newly-levelled resistance fighters. Someone else on the XCOM team at Firaxis, who had started playing at the same time as me, had his second campaign mission as a takedown mission, where he had to take out all the enemies on the map. His secondary objective was to protect a resistance data access terminal, and the AI’s primary objective on that mission was to take that terminal out. Both sides raced towards the data point, and the firefight broke out. In that case, he was successful (he killed all the enemies and saved the data point), but if the AI had destroyed the data point, he wouldhave lost the secondary objective for his mission.