I’m obsessed with XCOM 2. Again. The top-down, turn-based tactics game from 2016 has been through its share of ups and downs. But its War of the Chosen expansion — which practically transforms the alien resistance sim into an entirely new, more story-driven game — had me hooked for longer than I care to remember.
Simply put: nobody does it like XCOM. The overwhelming sense of power progression, as you develop from some nearsighted goobers with knives to psychic hunter-killers with robots and rayguns, against ever-escalating weird creatures is one-of-a-kind. Alien variety is a big part of that. Just one fight against the occupying invaders can be the domino that turns you into a tactical genius with all the right tools. Until the game throws new enemies with new tricks your way.
Variety has also been a huge problem. At least on consoles. I’ve mostly been playing again on PC (while streaming to the lovely Fanbyte community). But I couldn’t get enough playing just once or twice a week. So I started up a console save on the side — specifically on my PS5. XCOM 2, and particularly War of the Chosen, has a poor reputation for console ports. It runs like a small dog constantly stopping to sniff something vile. It crashes. The load times stink. Frames drop for no reason. Enemy A.I. can take up to a full minute to make decisions.
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Much of this is also true on even modern PCs. The game just isn’t a technical masterpiece. The console ports just bore the brunt of it. The PS5 seems to take it on the chin, however. Whether thanks to brute horsepower or updates over time, XCOM 2: War of the Chosen runs about as well as I could hope. The right dominoes have finally fallen.
Playing with a controller is still a bit… gloopy. There’s no hotkey for a target preview, for example. You need to enter settings and turn it on permanently to see which foes your brave little soldiers can hit after a move. Otherwise it’s the same tactics game I know and love. I haven’t run into any of the crashes during Lost (i.e. zombie) missions that many players on Reddit report. Nor does save scumming take that long. At least not compared to the still-pretty-long loads on my PC with an SSD. It seems like more of an issue with the game than the port. I tend to play on Iron Man anyway, where you can’t reload after a bad run. Hopefully I just won’t hit a corrupted save. Then again, the PlayStation 5 has cloud saves, so I think I’m safe.
I hemmed, hawed, and hoped for a game to fill the XCOM shaped hole in my heart. Turns out I just needed more XCOM. Other games do at least get close. The Phoenix Point: Festering Skies DLC just added new air-to-air combat to that game’s old school tactics vibe. But the game still lacks that crucial enemy variety. Besides that, there’s a sense of “impact” in XCOM and other beloved tactics games like BattleTech, which other attempts don’t always match. My leapfrogging triumphs feels so good partly because getting hit feels so bad.
Watching a unit crumple into meat. Listening to lasers sizzle deep into the armor. There’s a physical pain and prowess in those key details. It’s also why Darkest Dungeon looms so large in my mind over its pretenders, filling a similar space in my mind as the often brutally difficult XCOM 2.
All of that feels right at home on PS5 after years of bad port horror stories. And it feels great to be obsessed…