Pavonis Interactive, formerly Long War studios, has introduced its Long War 2 total conversion mod for X Com 2, and where it comes up short on balancing–especially in the early game–it delivers as a revamped experience that doubles down on the infiltration and tactics aspects of the base game.

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An upgraded holographic globe offers a new way of engaging with the numerous mission opportunies coming the player’s way.

I would consider myself more than a casual player of X Com 2, since my Steam account clocks around 170 hours of play time in game. I’ve been through around a dozen campaigns, both modded and not, and I played through all of the slightly disappointing DLCs churned out by Firaxis over the last year. As a result, I can say with certainty that, in many ways, the Long War 2 mod takes the base game where it logically should have gone from the start.

The most compelling aspect of X Com 2’s story was the guerrilla warfare style tactics of the new X Com group. As rebels on a planet dominated by alien powers, humanity’s last defense was forced to be on the move constantly, shifting from location to location, and striking surgically at targets of opportunity. Long War 2 intensifies these elements by opening the game with 12 deployable soldiers, and later, breaking soldiers into smaller squads that must be deployed simultaneously to different locations. The mod supports this simultaneous deployment, however, by giving missions an infiltration timer: the longer you allow each squad to infiltrate a location, the lower the enemy resistance level will be. Layered on top of these tactical options is the fact that certain missions allow only shorter deployment periods, and because each soldier on a mission adds to the infiltration time, sometimes deploying a smaller squad is not only helpful, it is in fact necessary to undertake the mission at all. The infiltration metric is a novel idea that builds upon the hit and run nature of the new X Com experience, and I found myself having to make long-term, strategic deployment decisions on the fly in a way that was both challenging and exhilarating.

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The intensified emphasis upon stealth and infiltration is even reflected in the new loading screens before missions.

Added to this is Long War’s introduction of a number of new classes to the base game, along with a subsequent revision of those that players have seen so far. While I played many of these classes in their nascent state as individual, developing mods, their final delivery is seamless and directly suited to the numerous tactical situations players encounter across the spectrum of X Com mission types. The sword-wielding Shinobi, with its new SMG weapon type, becomes the hit and run stealth scouting and front line attack soldier that the Assault class touched upon. Meanwhile, the Assault class returns to its shotgun-toting roots, ready to tank and shred enemy lines. Others, such as the Technical class,  incorporate elements of the W.A.R. suit from the get go (a rocket and a flamethrower attack), without needing the suit itself. The Grenadier class stays relatively the same, while the Gunner introduces a heavy weapon class that specializes in area suppression and covering fire. These classes, plus several others, all come together to produce a gameplay experience that feels comfortable in its familiarity but refreshing in its depth and originality. These classes are needed as the mod introduces a few new mission types, along with a revision of the familiar. Prison breaks and spy hunts round out the usual X Com mission types, and raids on rebel encampments are handled in a way that is much more realistic and challenging. I won’t go any further into describing these areas (you should expereince them yourself), but I will say taht most, if not all, of the upgrades to classes and mission types are welcome and refreshing changes to the overall X Com experience.

Despite these changes for the positive, there are still some key issues Pavonis will need to deal with moving forward, specifically in terms of balancing. New recruits are given two extra points of armor, fragmentation and flash grenades, as well as more forgiving rolls and attacks and defense, but these changes don’t help much when they are rushed by an unbalanced number of enemies. On two separate missions, both of which were listed as Extremely Light enemy forces and for each I waited to almost 200% infiltration, my squad of 5 and 6 rookies or squaddies was attacked by 16 and 20 enemy soldiers. Part of this number expansion was due to reinforcements, which now can teleport to any location on the map, often right behind your squad just as they are being attacked from the front by another group.

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Flanking shots from enemies are much deadlier this time around; the same cannot be said of your own attacks.

In addition, while I know the average X Com 2 player will probably not be interested in total conversion mods, the length of the average campaign is now closer to 100 missions (emphasis upon Long in Long War). While this extension of the campaign length serves to smooth out the squad wipes early players will encounter with these spikes in enemy numbers, the experience can often become too slow to remain fun. For example, each resistance center is now manageable, with a number of individuals recruiting, gathering intel, hiding, or scavenging supplies. As a result, much of the game’s early section is now filled with rotating supply drops of 30 maybe 40 supplies as you struggle to build resistance radios and gain the intel necessary to expand your contacts across the globe. This creates huge pacing problems in the mod’s gameplay experience, and even though Pavonis bills Long War 2 up front as a thoroughly extended gameplay experience, the difficulty most players have getting their operations off the ground will unfortunately deter all but the most dedicated before the end game becomes even a remote possibility.

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Prepare for changes to base management as well, mainly a much slower buildling and managing experience.

Building upon these problems with pacing are a number of balancing issues in addition to those mentioned above. While I won’t go into all of them here, I will identify a few of the more frustrating elements in the early game:

  • Your squads will consistently stumble upon 2 to 3 enemy patrols clustered together. While this might spice up the campaign experience if it only happened occasionally, I encountered this issue around every other mission or so, and because these clusters tend to occur around major objective locations, there is no avoiding them. Combine this with a very tight mission timer, and you’ve got an experience that creates pure frustration, rather than the joy that comes from overcoming a tactically trying situation.
  • Adjacent, 100% critical hit chances will miss or graze.
  • Grenades will consistently cause 1 to 2 damage points to unarmored enemies, and they will rarely destroy cover.
  • Encounters with enemies in the early game who can move, fire, and enter overwatch in a single turn.

I bring up these issues not to complain about difficulty or even to deter anyone from playing the mod. I simply think people should know what they are in for with this gaming experience, and in its current incarnation, the Long War 2 mod is more often an exercise in frustration and save scumming than anything else.

In the end, Long War 2 is a carefully wrought and deeply tactical total conversion mod that effectively builds upon the infiltration and tactical ideas initially presented in the base game; however, balancing and pacing issues, particularly in the early game, will deter all but the most hardcore of X Com’s fanbase.

The Clerk

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