XCOM 2 abandons the past for a glorious, alien future

XCOM 2 is going to flip the entire humans-versus-aliens setup on its head. That was the promise when 2K and Firaxis unveiled this strategy sequel earlier this year, showing off a world dominated by the alien menace, and a human race twisted to the invaders’ nefarious ends. XCOM itself is now a rogue organization, and at E3 2015, I finally had the chance to see them in action during a special sabotage mission prepared specifically for the show.

It was really more of a terror mission, as the squad's goal was blowing up a new statue in order to demoralize the aliens. From there, the demo became a deluge of new features and mechanics. There are melee attacks: they're crazy deadly, but require you to get up close. There are turrets, and turret hacking, letting you use the enemy's weapons against them. And last, but certainly not least, soldiers can now pick up downed troops and carry them to the evac point. It was a very Saving Private Ryan sort of moment as the last man standing in our squad carried his comrade across the battlefield amid red and green laser blasts.

These details invite tons of speculation on new strategies and playstyles, but what I found most interesting was the pacing. While XCOM and XCOM 2 are both turn-based strategy games, the sequel definitely looks faster; more aggressive. Firaxis' Greg Foertsch tells me this new XCOM is all about hit-and-run tactics. Your enemies are legion, and way better armed, so your best bet is to drop into a mission, get it done quick, and get the hell out of dodge. XCOM: Enemy Within tried to reinforce a more frantic pace by introducing MELD. XCOM 2 bakes this playstyle into the core of its design.

According to Foertsch, the development teams sees this game as an alternate history of the original XCOM story, one in which the organization never made it past the conventional weapons phase and was subsequently defeated. It may seem like splitting hairs - alternate history versus sequel - but by framing it in such a way, the team is able to complete disrupt the XCOM status quo as we know it.