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July 2020


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: May 29, 2020

About Andreas Salmen

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Switch Review - 'XCOM 2 Collection'

by Andreas Salmen on June 5, 2020 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

XCOM 2 Collection transports players 20 years into the future, where humanity lost the war against the alien threat that has established a new world order.

Buy XCOM 2 Collection

It's not often that decade-old video game franchises get resurrected and blossom into new and exciting entities. Firaxis successfully re-created XCOM for modern audiences and made it a unique IP that is tough to love and even tougher to put down. It was a successful combination of strategy and management elements, and for the first time in a while, it felt like we actually had something to lose in a video game.

XCOM 2 was the continuation of that concept and, like its predecessor, it was treated to a meaty expansion called War of the Chosen. While it didn't dramatically reinvent or alter the overall premise of the base game, it packed a ton of significant changes into the extensive gameplay package. It's even more exciting that XCOM 2 and its expansion WotC have now been jointly ported to the Nintendo Switch, making the turn-based strategy behemoth portable.

The XCOM 2 Collection includes most of what was in the original PC release and console ports, but it doesn't run as well or look as good. That even takes into account that the PS4 and Xbox One versions didn't run well when they were released almost four years ago. The collection includes the base game and War of the Chosen expansion, so we'll focus on the expansion since it includes both new and old features before we look at the Switch experience. Check out our XCOM 2 reviews on PC and consoles; we won't retread the base experience much since the content and features have remained the same.

XCOM 2 is still a turn-based strategy game where players take control of a squad that's trapped behind enemies lines while trying to eradicate alien suppressors and organizing a global resistance group. It's hard work, which is captured in-game by a challenging and demanding campaign — and that's without adding DLC to the mix. Similar to the Enemy Within expansion for the first XCOM, WotC doesn't change the basics or our goal as a player. We are still controlling the commander from the first game and trying to lead the human resistance to victory over the alien Advent occupation. Other than a slightly altered introduction, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the base game and the expansion during the introductory missions.

The decision to massively beef up content around the previous game structure has advantages and disadvantages. Some may be disappointed to revisit familiar territory, but it means that previously released DLC and the expansion can go hand in hand, amounting to a ridiculous amount of content for a game of this style and genre. Since both experiences are included, you can decide to play the base game first and then venture into WotC. This slower approach may even be more rewarding, since the story gets additional missions and cut scenes based on the gameplay mechanics.

After going through the usual tutorials, we encounter new allies and new enemies in what amounts to early levels loaded with hazards and game mechanics being constantly thrown at us. The premise of this extra content is that there are three more groups that we intend to unite for a joint fight for liberation. They all hate each other, so we must act as a skilled and combat-proven mediator to direct and unite them under a common cause. We are introduced to the Skirmishers and the Reapers first, with the Templars joining the get-together at a later point. Each faction has a new hero class that we can bring into combat.

The Reaper is an excellent scout and sniper class. It can walk further than any other soldier when undiscovered and can take a number of actions, including shooting, without being discovered by the enemy. The Skirmishers are aliens who have left the Advent forces to fight against them. Their hero class is armed with an assault rifle for a more offensive and agile approach. The Templar has shiny blades and psionic powers, and to deal the most damage, we have to kill enemies with a melee strike that grants us another turn to chain attacks or get out of the way in case of retaliation.

The upgrade system for these characters is handled quite differently, with a free-flow system of unlocking perks for each class. With each promotion, we unlock new abilities that aren't automatically applied to the hero but must be acquired with ability points, which are awarded for playing the game well and without too many hiccups. The powerful classes are available early on, so they seem out of place in an XCOM title. XCOM usually drains all happiness from your life as you see your resources dwindling down, your weak soldiers die an agonizing death, and getting severely beaten up by alien scum without mercy. Adding these powerful members to your team means that there will be a similar, if not bigger, addition on the other side.

The three Chosen figures are incredibly close to the nemesis system in the Middle-Earth: Shadow of War series, in that they randomize and change the dangerous foes over the course of the campaign. The Assassin leaps from shadows for strong melee attacks, the Hunter is basically a powerful sniper class, and the Warlock is a grunt-like psionic warrior that can seriously mess up your soldiers. All of them have two random strengths and weaknesses that require you to adapt your tactics. Be aware that the Chosen cannot be killed. Once taken out, they may reappear in the future until you kill them once and for all in the final takedown mission.

The Chosen infiltrate the game on several levels, both on the strategic world map and on the battlefield. They may control certain areas of the world, which means that there is a chance they will appear randomly in regular missions. In a way, they are the exaggerated extension of what makes XCOM so frustratingly fun; it surprises you dynamically and shows you how unprepared you really are at that moment. Since the Chosen cannot be killed, they will be a constant threat. They learn and adapt from previous encounters and may even mock you for failing in missions. They will also torment your soldiers on the battlefield, kidnap them, and gain intel from them. The knowledge will be used against you, eventually triggering a do-or-die mission where the Chosen actively attack you to end the game for good. If you're new to XCOM, one important lesson is to save your game — a lot!

These additions alone would've already made WotC an excellent expansion. It's a double-edged sword in that it gives you access to much more powerful soldiers from the start, but it also pits you against loathsome aliens that will make you dread the game. It is amazingly balanced considering the increased power of the new tools on both sides.

The expansion also introduces the Lost, which are a kind of zombie. They may appear in certain missions and are attracted by sound. They do minimal damage, but they are fast and numerous. They meddle with your soldiers and the Advent troops, but they can quickly become an additional threat. WotC implements a headshot mechanic that only works against them, so as long as we shoot and kill one of the undead nightmares, we are awarded with another move. They add even more unpredictability to the proceedings and underscore the need to adapt your tactic on the fly. It was already difficult to build the perfect squad in the base game, but in the expansion, it's as difficult as ever to predict what may happen on a mission.

As mentioned earlier, XCOM has excelled at making you feel like the underdog: massively underpowered and barely scraping by with misery and failure around every corner. It is fascinating how a game that's so cruel can be so much fun while it constantly pulls out the rug from under your feet. It's the surprise element that made the games feel special and rewarding with every mastered challenge. This is only amplified in this expansion, making it the best XCOM experience to date.

The XCOM 2 Collection isn't flawless, and perhaps it's even more flawed on the Switch. Of course, certain concessions have to be made to get newer releases to run on the portable console. After many good ports, the XCOM 2 Collection feels rougher around the edges. Details and resolution took the biggest hit, with muddy and low-detail textures throughout the experience and a resolution that looks decidedly soft and blurry. Playing in handheld mode can hide some of that, but once you play on a larger TV screen, it'll be obvious that a lot of visual effects had to be dialed back.

Even with these rather large compromises, the game doesn't run consistently well on the system, regardless whether I was playing it in handheld or on a TV. In more complex environments (e.g., cities) that have a lot of action and characters, the game can hitch constantly. It doesn't last for more than a brief second at a time, but it's noticeable and can detract from the game. Given its tactical turn-based nature, these frame drops don't ruin the experience, but they are present throughout. When back at your base of operations in-game, this is even further amplified since those instances seem to perform worse with softer-looking visuals and lower frame rates. While the UI is sharp and readable in most instances, especially when on missions, it can become incredibly small and blurry when you're in your base. And that's usually where you'd have to read through instructions and information the most. This is something that'll hopefully get fixed in a future update.

Once you're playing through the game, the limitations don't go away, but I was surprised at how quickly I got used to them. What I did not get accustomed to were the long loading times. Even reloading a save file of a level you are currently playing can take more than a minute, and it's especially tedious if you made an accidental move that caused you to reload and wait. This also has other more curious implications; some story missions have several phases, which means they need loading times in between. There were several instances when I thought the game froze when, in fact, it just took a long time to load while showing the same in-game sequence in an endless loop. There were also some issues with the UI in the tutorial mission, where it would rarely select the correct actions or would only do so with major delays. This was isolated to the intro mission, though, and did not occur elsewhere.

The last technical limitation of the XCOM 2 Collection is the removal of the multiplayer. Similar to the other Switch port of CIV 6, online is not an option here. This is a shame since the online segment is quite fun, but then again, the content here is substantial as it is. I don't support the decision to remove multiplayer, but it's more bearable since the collection is quite sizable. If you're interested in buying physical games, be advised that even the physical release requires additional downloads in excess of 15 GB to play, so having the game on cartridge only saves about 8GB of file space on your system.

Apart from these Switch-specific issues, XCOM 2 isn't a completely perfect experience. There's enough here that occasionally goes wrong, like enemies discovering you when concealed, even though there shouldn't be a direct line of sight. The overworld map is as crowded as ever, making it basically one of the most complicated and unintuitive menus I've ever used. Later in the game, the need to complete more of the same basic rescue and reconnaissance missions can feel like tedious grinding, even with the added risk of a Chosen popping by.

While the addition of the expansion (if you decide to play it) makes it harder and forces you to change the way you'd approach enemies, the changes are limited to characters and actions on the map, not the map itself. The randomly generated environments are largely the same, without any added elements for improved maneuvering. Add to that the sometimes-questionable AI, and the additions could be seen as a half-measure. While it adds enough content to make XCOM 2 feel very new on a second playthrough, it reminds us often enough that we are basically playing XCOM 2. This may be a weak argument against a collection that includes the base game and expansion, but there's not much to be gained by playing through both very similar titles.

The XCOM 2 Collection on the Switch is an OK port of a great game and its expansion. If you can look past the mediocre performance, what lies underneath is undoubtedly excellent and fun. Since any XCOM game can be a time sink, the ability to have it available on the go can be a mighty strong draw. If you're a fan of the game or genre without other means to play it, this is certainly a solid way to do so. If you are able to play it elsewhere, you should decide if the downsides of this port outweigh its portability.

Score: 7.5/10

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