Relevant information to note before reading this early impressions / review:
- I was not given a review copy.
- I have no affiliation with anyone at Firaxis or Pavonis Interactive.
- Specifications of the system used for this first impressions article can be found here.
- At the time of writing this article, I had played the game for twenty-five hours.
- I've played every release of X-Com going way back to the 1990s, some more than others.
Long War, Long List of Changes
Long War 2 is a complete overhaul mod. As that classification suggests, it makes sweeping changes to the entire game experience. There are mechanic tweaks, bug fixes, new perks, classes and features (for most people, more on that later). This mod aims to keep players entertained for up to 200 hours. Yikes!
The changes become obvious right from the start. Squad deployment has been completely redone. You now have to select a squad of soldiers (squad management has been introduced and it's the best thing since Storm guns) to infiltrate the target area. The Sky Ranger will drop them off, and they'll be left for several days to infiltrate. This means you'll have to wait several in-game days after deployment before the actual mission starts, while the squad works to reduce the amount of enemies they'll encounter.
As you get a couple of missions in, you'll find yourself having to make compromises. Do you go for large squads (you can deploy up to ten soldiers in some missions), who infiltrate slower but have more fire-power and flexibility in combat, or do you go for a small squad, which will infiltrate quicker but will be out-gunned occasionally regardless?
One positive change is that there's a real element of being able to pick and choose your battles, enhanced from the vanilla version of X-Com 2. There's no punishment for choosing to abort a mission if your squad hasn't achieved 50% infiltration (or higher, if you're more Custer than Wellington) other than the loss of potential rewards from the mission.
X-Com 2: X-Panded
It's clear that the folks over at Pavonis Interactive have been paying attention to AAA gaming trends, as a garrison system has been included in Long War 2. Initially, I was less than pleased at this idea, as I've yet to find one that I actually like. In Long War 2, my early impressions were almost positive, given that it appeared I could just set outposts to their tasks and then forget about them. These impressions were given a boost when I had to carry out a spy-catching mission with the resistance stationed at one of the outposts.
My enthusiasm dipped tragically when this small band of poorly armed, badly armoured civilians, plus one overwhelmed squaddie and a bugged-out recovered mec came up against two Faceless and seven or eight Advent troops. It dropped further when the third mission was exactly the same as the first two, even taking place in the same landscape. So this part of the mod, for me, is a miss. Garrisons are a mechanic used to fill in playing time in games that otherwise don't have a lot going on. X-Com 2 already has a lot going on, so this kind of busywork is just unnecessary at best, downright irritating at worst.
Some of the best changes, however, are mechanical - with one caveat. If you've been playing the game solidly since release, you may already have them installed as standalone mods.
My favourite change that’s bundled in is 'red fog'. This is a setting that makes troops, aliens, or both, less effective the more damage they take. This is the type of granular difficulty setting that I really enjoy, as it makes me feel like I have comprehensive control over how easy or hard I want my experience to be. Even better, I can change it from session to session, depending on whether I'm in the mood for something more relaxed or challenging.
If you're the type that really enjoys RNG on top of RNG (what's wrong with you?) and feel that X-Com 2 is just too predictable (presumably you also like making breakfast by letting someone else organise your cupboards and picking items out at random with your eyes closed), there are several options that will interest you.
'Hidden potential' gives soldiers random stat increases on promotion, while 'not created equal' instantly randomises stats above and below the baseline.
'Damage roulette', for the truly sadist among you, randomises weapon damage further around the baseline, with an accompanying setting to increase this effect. I cannot say how much I appreciate these being optional rather than enforced changes to the game.
The final option of note is 'default squad size', which technically allows you to attempt the early missions with up to ten soldiers. Again, for those who enjoy being miserable, it will also let you attempt later missions with as few as four. I do not recommend starting off with ten soldiers, as it slows the gameplay down massively.
Slow gameplay is one of my biggest issues with Long War 2. You'll find yourself tippy-tapping around far more than in the vanilla game, especially as you get to grips with new enemies, which so far have been constantly drip-fed into the missions. Yes, there are still timers to limit this behaviour - they no longer really work properly. They're too strict. In the base game, if you had a short timer, you could take managed risks to push progress along a bit. In Long War 2, especially with the poorly equipped troops you have at the start, all this does is result in guaranteed failure.
The timers also don't jive with infiltration. There have been a couple of missions where I've gotten above 150% infiltration - and yet my squad starts off miles away from the objective with two full squads of Advent between them and the objective. Either the timers need to be lengthened in general, or infiltration needs to put you reliably closer to the objective.
What Could be Better
Onto my two biggest issues with Long War 2. The first of these isn't really Pavonis Interactive's fault, although it is something that will happen to a few players, so it's worth mentioning. Most of the best mechanical changes have already been available to players for over six months as standalone mods. The Long War Toolbox adds the game options changes, including 'red fog' which I talked about earlier. The new soldier perks have been around since summer 2016, as have the new laser weapons.
This meant, for me, that much of the 'new' experience of Long War 2 was absent, and the game quickly felt like more of what I'd already essentially finished with last year.
The game's performance is still poor. (As always, specs of the rig I played on can be found here). Now yes, it's a turn-based strategy game and therefore performance isn't as big of a concern as with a FPS or third-person action game. That being said, it's still not nice when a high-end rig is struggling with low settings, even if it is at 4K (something that this setup rarely struggles with even on near-highest settings). The suppression animation and fires are the biggest offenders here, especially on maps where you have ten soldiers deployed, and I've frequently had to just put up with not just dips, but solid chunks of time below 30FPS. When you go into a mission with four troops on a new map and get back to 60, the wave of relief is palpable.
There's no denying that Long War 2 is an awesome undertaking. It offers a staggering amount of new gameplay to an already solid game for no extra cost. It puts most paid expansion packs to shame (that's expansion, too, not overpriced and meaningless DLC). If you dipped out of X-Com 2 after a couple of playthroughs, or never finished it, I strongly suggest giving it a look. If you're a die-hard who's a bit bored of the vanilla game, this gives you more to get your teeth into.
However, if you've already been playing with the separate mods mentioned earlier, or the thought of dedicating another 140 plus hours to a single game puts you off, you might be less enthused.
Either way, Pavonis Interactive deserve to be commended for a stellar piece of work.