2K games really has gifted Switch owners a smorgasbord of truly excellent games from their back catalogue lately, with the publisher’s Borderlands, BioShock and XCOM franchises all exploding onto the eShop in unison. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how successfully they’ve managed to deal with the technical task of porting this lot onto Nintendo’s hybrid platform and, if we were to pick from the entire bunch, it’s surely XCOM 2 that’s provided the biggest challenge in this regard.
Thankfully Virtuous – who’ve already done a fantastic job with their Starlink: Battle for Atlas and Dark Souls: Remastered ports on Switch – has not only managed to get this turn-based tactical behemoth up and running, they’ve done a properly solid job. Let’s be clear, this is a hugely demanding title that has had numerous bugs and framerate issues plague it on PC as well as PS4 and Xbox One – long loading times and stuttering framerates are all par for the course here – but Virtuous has somehow still managed to squeeze it all onto the Switch in a highly playable state.
Yes, the graphics have been kicked right down to their lowest settings, yes the framerate is all over the shop at times and yes loading in and out of missions can sometimes feel like a bit of a drag (there’s also a pretty big but hopefully very patchable bug that we’ll get to in just a bit) but, rest assured, this is the full-fat XCOM 2 and XCOM 2: War of the Chosen experience and the brilliance of Firaxis’ genre-defining game absolutely outshines any technical difficulties we’ve come across whilst playing through it in both docked and handheld modes.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of this port specifically – and for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t already indulged on some other platform – XCOM 2 is 2016’s stellar sequel to 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown. This is an entry in the franchise that sees a ton of smart new additions folded into the already excellent XCOM core gameplay and is, quite rightly, regarded as one of the very best turn-based strategy games currently available on any platform.
Set twenty years after the events of Enemy Unknown, things kick off here under the assumption that you failed in your mission to fight off an alien invasion in the previous game, with the world now ruled by a human/Advent coalition. Of course Advent, being the absolute baddies that they are, aren’t being entirely upfront about their motives in being a part of this unlikely union and it’s up to you as commander – freshly busted out of alien captivity after two decades – to gather your disparate forces together and uncover the secrets at the heart of the Advent network while taking the fight to them in various locations around the globe.
In XCOM 2, XCOM itself has been reduced to little more than a resistance movement; a far cry from the well-oiled and properly-funded fighting machine of previous titles, and here you’ll spend your time mobilising against Advent threats by striking out against them from the shadows as they appear in regions across your world map, providing support for emerging resistance groups and attempting to strengthen and expand your network of allies in order to take down your enemy.
As well as engaging in turn-based combat missions, you’ll constantly need to juggle research into new weapons and technology with resource management, organising ship expansions, staff, new laboratories and workspaces and choosing which threats to deal with first. Making the correct decisions regarding what to develop next, when and where to engage with the enemy and how to spend your vital credits and resources is absolutely essential, and the mistakes you make aboard the Avenger craft which serves as your HQ will absolutely come back to haunt you on the battlefield.
XCOM 2’s missions most often begin with your squad in concealment, a new gameplay mechanic for this sequel which allows you to sneakily position yourself and prepare to engage before announcing your arrival to the enemy. It’s a brilliant addition to the core gameplay that works beautifully with the game’s signature overwatch mechanic, and taking the time to think about where you move your squad and putting as many of them into overwatch as you can before sounding the alarm can see you deal huge damage to suprised Advent forces; it’s a great way to get the upper hand early in a fight.
You’re also constantly fighting against the clock here, something that was a little contentious when the game originally released – this is not an experience that needed any more stress injected into it – but in practice it adds an excellent level of excitement and tension to everything you do. Missions often charge you with hitting your objectives in a set number of turns, options on your world map will very often need urgent attention and the Advent doomsday clock ticks down ominously over the entire situation, meaning you’ll need to take the offensive at all times rather than sit back and try to protect your soldiers and assets.
Of course, taking the offensive in XCOM 2 is also brilliantly terrifying because of the game’s robust character creation suite and building your very own bespoke crews is a big part of the enjoyment here – who doesn’t want to see their friends and family members die horribly whilst attempting to thwart the plans of evil alien invaders? Unfortunately, as we mentioned earlier, this Switch version of the game currently has a bug which is seeing customised characters in your character pool being wiped when you restart the game. Some elements of your creation’s details do remain, but they’re physically randomised so all of your hard work in building accurate lookalikes is wasted. It’s a pretty major problem if you’re into this aspect of the game, but we’re pretty hopeful that it will get addressed with a patch pretty soon. It should also be noted that this bug isn’t present when editing characters from within a game in the Avenger’s Armory section, so you can still have custom characters running about the place, but right now you’ll not have that surprise moment when your aunt suddenly shows up welding a shotgun and asking to join your cause.
The War of the Chosen expansion which is also included in this comprehensive collection takes the base game and adds a ton of cool new features as well as beefing up the already pretty strong story and really, beyond the very first mission, this is an impressively different experience to play through that has enough new elements that it could almost have been an entirely separate entry in the franchise.
Firaxis has added three excellent new factions – the Reapers, Skirmishers and Templars – who you’ll join forces with and who expand your available classes, skills and combat options enormously. There’s also a new fatigue mechanic, covert ops missions and some brilliant new enemies to tackle, alongside lots of other little gameplay wrinkles. The Lost are a horde of shambling zombie-style enemies who are alerted by noise and now rampage through missions en-masse, they’re also tied to a cool new mechanic that sees you get a free turn if you manage to take one out with your gun, meaning that, if you play cleverly enough, you can take out several of them at a time, giving the combat a massive injection of pace and action.
Alongside The Lost, War of the Chosen also adds The Chosen themselves, three unique alien bosses – and for us the best enemies yet in an XCOM game – who’ll hunt you across the world map, randomly interrupting your missions at the worst possible moments. They’re a constant threat and are each tied to their own unique countdown clock and need to be defeated at their secret base citadel in order to stop them from resurrecting and continuing to harass you around the map you as you try to deal with Advent.
Kill a Chosen and you’ll gain access to their special weaponry as well as relieving yourself of the considerable headache of having to pit your wits against them time after time. The addition of The Chosen makes a huge difference to the ebb and flow of the game’s campaign and, alongside that new fatigue mechanic, ensures that you’ll need to rotate your soldiers and get used to the pain of losing them forever as you inevitably suffer heavy losses and accrue all manner of mental and physical scars – which, in turn, feeds directly into the fun of that character-creation element. War of the Chosen is XCOM 2 turned all the way up to eleven, and we reckon it’s a good idea to at least get some practice in with the base experience before diving headlong into this expanded version.
Overall then, XCOM 2 Collection is a pretty much essential purchase for fans of the genre but, as we’ve already mentioned, this port does come with a few issues. Virtuous has, understandably, had to turn the graphics right down, it’s not a huge issue for the most part – this is still a good-looking game – but there are times (most especially when explosions are taking place or when the camera gets up close and personal with a character or piece of scenery) when things can look pretty rough.
You’ll notice lots of low resolution textures and fancy lighting volumetric effects are all but gone from the experience. The framerate too, as is also the case on more powerful consoles, can be a bit of a liability, especially as missions are just starting or when the action cuts to sequences of you firing your weapon or hurling a grenade. However, although Virtuous hasn’t managed to keep a solid 30fps here, overall it’s not a massive issue and we don’t think it will affect your enjoyment of the game too much. After all, this is a turn-based strategy experience and not something that depends on smooth sailing in terms of fps in order to succeed.
Loading times, just like the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game, can also be a bit of a pain – although we’re almost certain loading into levels here is actually quicker than on the base PS4 – and if you like to play the game in a save-scumming style you’ll be in for a lot of twiddling your fingers as you wait for your game to load back to where you need to be. However, all things considered, this is still a top-notch title that absolutely plays a decent game in both docked and handheld modes.
In portable, many of the graphical downgrades are also much less of an eyesore and it’s just a delightful thing to be able to play this absolute beast whenever and wherever you fancy. In docked things hold up relatively well – although stuttering and graphical anomalies are much more apparent here – and thanks to what appears to be some smoothing and anti-aliasing filters we’re not being subjected to a world of jagged, low-resolution edges all over the place, but handheld is definitely the more pleasant visually.
In short, when XCOM 2 was first announced for Switch we genuinely didn’t see how it could manage the jump without some serious issues – if indeed it was possible at all – but Virtuous has handed in another strong effort here; this is as good a port as we could have reasonably expected with all of the downgrades we’re now used to on Switch but still, at the end of the day, it’s a very playable version of one of the all-time greats.