Release Date: February 5, 2016
Platform Played On: PC/PS4
2018 Placement: #14 (+7)
What It Is:
The original XCOM was released in 1994 and was a crazy hard (and sometimes borderline unfair) strategy game about saving the world from an alien invasion. The series was rebooted in 2012 with XCOM: Enemy Unknown and that game rocketed to the top of my list as one of my favorite strategy games ever. And yet…as you have seen so far, it is not in my top 100? Why is that?
Because its sequel, XCOM 2, blew it out of the water for me in every way, to the point that I don’t feel the need to play it anymore because XCOM 2 is the ultimate itch scratcher.
This game is one of my favorites because it is a direct sequel and goes in a completely novel direction for the series (and games in general): the bad end is canon. You failed to stop the invasion in Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2 starts off with the aliens in control of Earth. Instead of being a world government offshoot tasked with defending us from UFOs, you’re a ragtag rebellion trying to fight against the alien takeover with what resources you have left.
This adds a new layer of strategy to the game – missions often start in infiltration mode where the enemies are unaware of your presence, which allows you to set up a brutal first attack ambush to clear out enemies and give yourself a strong position. But like all XCOM games, you live and die by the percentages and sometimes your surefire start descends directly into chaos almost immediately. It’s a blast from start to finish and easily cemented itself as my favorite strategy game of all-time.
Why It’s Important To Me:
I can talk a lot about the bits and bobs and doodads of this game – the different classes having fun and unique abilities, the War of the Chosen expansion adding even cooler special troops (Templar for life!), the base management between missions being fun and manageable without becoming too overwhelming. But the main reason I adore this game is because I get to create my own stories within the world. You can design and customize all your troops – I name them after friends, after favorite characters, or sometimes just leave them as is because the random generation has personality.
And then as you play a full game, these troops become your storytellers. With my podcast partner I’ve retold many stories of XCOM 2 playthroughs where there were running stories between characters – how one person got captured and we had to go rescue him, only for his bonded partner to die sacrificing himself to get the prisoner of war to safety. One game my expy character of MYSELF was mind controlled at the very end of an hour-long mission, and I had the impossible decision of killing myself to complete it or running the risk of losing more people and possibly failing the entire mission after so much work. (I chose to murder myself.) And sometimes there’s happy accidents, like the time I accidentally had a character kick down a door and break concealment, and then RP’d the entire rest of the game with him kicking down doors any time he could because he didn’t give a fuck.
These personalized adventures are what make XCOM 2 a game I will always treasure. Sure, the strategy is great. But no other game gives me this.
My Strongest Memory:
So outside of the anecdotes I already spoke about, I have to make sure you understand how much I love this game. Because this game did not want me to love it. It was originally released on PC only without any indication of coming to consoles, so I upgraded my PC to bare minimum requirements to play it on launch day. It was slow, blurry, buggy, took forever to load, the animation quality sucked, and I fought like hell with outdated hardware to play it but I did and got all the way to the end even though my experience was more than suboptimal.
It came out on PS4 later that year and I bought it again and started a new campaign and played it for a while. It was still buggy but a much better experience.
And then the War of the Chosen expansion came out and I got it on console and started a new campaign on Commander Ironman from the beginning. And good fucking lord that game fought me. I had crashes. I had gamebreaking bugs. I had a game crash that was so hard it CORRUPTED MY SAVE FILE. TWICE. I had to redownload my playthrough from the cloud and lost a month of in-game time and mission completions. XCOM 2 is an unforgiving game but it was like the game itself was trying to break me. But I completed it.
According to PSNProfiles it’s the rarest trophy I’ve ever achieved. It’s the trophy I’m most proud of in my entire collection anyway, because I fought software, hardware, aliens, humans, everything to finish that playthrough. And I will never forget it.
Why It’s #7:
XCOM 2 holds the highest spot for a “modern” game in my top 100. It is my favorite game of the “new” era of video games. Not to spoil anything, but the final 6 all were released before the year 2000. Yeah I’m that kinda person. But I want to be clear that this being here is no joke. For a long time my top 10 was immutable. XCOM 2 (and FF7R) making the top 10 are achievements on their own. And XCOM 2, quite frankly, has a shot at eventually breaking the top 5 with more time. I can always start a new playthrough of XCOM 2 because it has infinite possibilities in its stories to me. Other games I will shelve at the first sign of bugs or hardship. But even at my most frustrated I wouldn’t ever let this game beat me. That’s my XCOM 2 guarantee.