Though Fire Emblem is the reigning king of strategy games on Nintendo platforms, 2K Games is attempting to usurp the throne with XCOM 2 Collection. A science fiction take on the genre, XCOM 2 is every bit as stressful as Fire Emblem, to great effect. This game is one of the best turn-based strategy games on the market and for the most part finds a welcoming home on the Switch, though some performance issues hold it back from true greatness.
With some sequels, it’s imperative that you have prior experience with the franchise to understand what’s going on. However, with XCOM 2, this isn’t the case. All you really need to know is that aliens invaded Earth, and the international organization tasked with stopping them (known as XCOM) failed. Now, 20 years later, you lead the Resistance forces in an attempt to bring one final fight to the alien overlords.
XCOM 2 plays largely in two phases. The first tests your resource management skills. As the commander of the Resistance forces, it’s your job to gear your side up for each and every battle. Resources can be spent researching new technology, building new weapons, and expanding your base’s capabilities. These can get expensive though, so you also have to fly around the world and scan for more. Everything you do takes time, which is just as valuable a resource as it is in real life.
When you’re not foraging for resources, you can also participate in various combat missions. These play out on a grid system, largely like in Fire Emblem. Generally, each unit gets two actions per turn, though some actions (such as firing a weapon) will end the turn immediately. Mission objectives largely vary among destroying a specific structure on the map, rescuing civilians, and hacking into a database to stop alien communications. Most missions also task you with wiping out all enemy forces, though in some scenarios, you can leave early at the cost of a lower mission rating and lost rewards.
There’s no doubt in my mind that XCOM 2 Collection is one of the most stressful games I’ve ever played, even more so than Fire Emblem with permadeath. There’s never enough resources to research everything, so you have to prioritize what will be most beneficial to you. If units die in battle, they’re gone for good, along with any equipment and experience they had. The clock is constantly ticking as you fight against an enemy whose movements are randomized and unknown to you. Every little thing you do has consequences, many of which won’t be immediately evident. On this front, XCOM 2 does a fantastic job of dialing in that pressure.
If the base game doesn’t completely satiate you, XCOM 2 Collection also offers a wealth of content previously offered as DLC on other platforms. Two of these packs consist solely of cosmetic items, so you can have a bit of fun designing your squads. The next two packs actually affect gameplay, adding in new weapons, classes, and narrative missions. These missions can be toggled on or off when starting a new campaign, though this only affects the presence of the missions themselves — the associated weapons and classes are still available without them, though you have to unlock them via research instead of receiving them as rewards.
The final bit of content, War of the Chosen, is actually a large expansion. It adds entirely new systems to the game, such as three factions, the elite enemies known as the Chosen, and soldier bonds. Soldier bonds allow two units to form and strengthen a bond as they battle together, which imparts bonuses and special abilities to those units. As a result of its depth, War of the Chosen is treated as a completely separate title within XCOM 2 Collection. The previously mentioned DLC also works with War of the Chosen, though you have a bit more choice in how it interacts with the game.
Where XCOM 2 Collection really falters is in its performance. Minor things such as graphical glitches are so frequent that it’s more of a surprise when they don’t happen. Text, especially in handheld mode, is small enough where it’s hard — though not quite impossible — to see. War of the Chosen’s photo booth mode also tended to be pretty shaky when I used it, making it hard to really enjoy.
The bigger issues, while certainly less frequent, significantly impacted gameplay for the worse. Long load times are abundant, though I got used to it over time. More frustrating was when I would be perusing the base trying to make improvements and the game slowed to a slideshow. It makes it very hard to do what you set out to do when you can’t see what it is you’re looking at. A few times, I also had the visuals lock up on me. The rest of the game was still running, since in one case, I was able to make a blind choice which freed things up. In the other though, I had to reset my save.
Given the extent of these problems, and in order to provide a fairer take on them, I decided to fire up my Xbox version to see if it ran any better. In my time with that version, I also experienced some minor graphical problems and a little bit of slowdown, but I couldn’t replicate the more extreme problems. Since these were more infrequent to begin with, I can’t say for certain that they don’t exist on Xbox, and thus I can’t conclude that they’re a Switch-exclusive issue. It’s entirely possible that the larger issues are simply an XCOM thing. Regardless, they’re certainly something to watch out for.
If you’re looking for a great turn-based strategy title, XCOM 2 Collection is a fantastic option. There’s a lot of replayability due to all the random elements involved. The stresses from resource management and fighting against the clock help keep the game moving along so nothing gets stale. Everything mechanically meshes so well together and creates one of the best strategy experiences on the market, especially on handheld systems. However, it’s a little hard for me to fully recommend the Switch version due to the numerous performance issues I encountered. But if you can look past these, or if you’re lucky enough to avoid them altogether, XCOM 2 Collection provides one of the best strategy experiences on the Switch.
Release Date: May 29, 2020
No. of Players: 1 player
Category: Action, Role-Playing, Strategy
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games, Virtuos
A review code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.