Thoughts On XCOM 2 Canon

I originally wrote this up as a post for my Facebook page, but it just got too long and unwieldy, so I’ll drop it here instead with a little extra context.

I picked up XCOM 2 for a song recently (I tend to get all of my games “late” because “poor”) and I wanted to play through Enemy Within again first; I’ve beaten Enemy Unknown on Normal, I never made it too far through Enemy Within, so I sat down with it and tried to struggle through Classic Ironman for quite a while.

That never ended up happening completely because Enemy Within is just sadistic and I’ve never been the sort to spend a whole day playing one mission through inch-through-inch for a slightly higher chance of survival. I’ve got shit to do. But if you know/recall the story, I made it to a point a little bit past the XCOM Base Defense mission (on playthrough #26)— the sheer volume of extremely tough enemies Classic throws at you after that point quickly wrecked my incredible (for that stage of the game) squad and I hit a point of no recovery.

Story of my life, completely wrecked by Black Pipe.

So what follows are my thoughts on how that first game compares to the second, storywise and somewhat gameplay-wise, two missions in.

In spite of some encouragement to jump right into XCOM 2 when I got it, due to it essentially being non-canon beyond the early game, I’m glad that I did; whatever did and didn’t happen in the timeline, it’s still very important to the canon.

I’m wishing I had got far enough through to get some of the Elders research and story done again but that’s stretching really far into the late game. But it’s plain right from the start that the writers spent a lot of time building bridges between the two storylines even if, strictly speaking, they threw out a lot of the first.

As I suspected, the primary point of divergence is the XCOM Base Defense mission; it really is hell on wheels in the original and, in a spoiler alert shocking nobody, in XCOM 2, you lost it.

A lot of XCOM’s primary mechanics make more sense in XCOM 2, though. The, how to say this, true originals from the 1990s implied an XCOM and a planet that could genuinely put up a fight against the aliens; Enemy Unknown really didn’t, suggesting that the idea behind the XCOM Project was comically-inept as four-man squads owning one airplane are genuinely expected to hold off an entire serious alien invasion and apparently nobody in that world had discovered concepts like “air support” or “missiles”. One almost has to speculate on whether it was intended to imply that XCOM was set up to fail, except that the idea of sovereign nations not defending *themselves* is just laughable (where’s America’s $600-billion-a-year army when these 6–8 aliens show up and conquer a city?)

In short? Tiny, focused squads with ludicrously limited resources actually make sense from the context of being a resistance against a totalitarian world government. I suppose it would have been difficult to jump right into that concept in the first game, but a whole lot of that story made little sense. This one does.