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XCOM 2 and Beyond Earth: Rising Tide show why Firaxis is the king of strategy gaming

When a game finds success, it often means the sequel will rehash a lot of the same qualities that made the first game work. Not content to take the easy route, Firaxis is taking two of the developer’s titles in completely new directions. XCOM 2, the follow-up to the wildly successful XCOM: Enemy Unknown, will see the XCOM team on the other side of the battle. Meanwhile, Civilization: Beyond Earth will take to the seas with the Rising Tide expansion. It’s a bold move Cotton, let’s see if it pays off.[1]

XCOM 2

In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you manage every aspect of the namesake secret organization, silently protecting the people of Earth from alien attack. From the resources, all the way down to individual troop movements, you keep everything in order. And (spoiler alert) it’s possible to win the game and repel the aliens.

But what if things didn’t go so well?

XCOM 2 takes the game in an exciting new direction by assuming that during the events of the first game, the XCOM team failed in their mission, and now the aliens have taken over Earth. It isn’t as bad as it sounds, at least not on the surface. The aliens have set themselves up as benevolent protectors. There’s a dark secret underneath the helpful facade the aliens have crafted, though, and it’s up to your team to expose them.

This time, your forces are cobbled together with whatever materials and resources you can gather. From a wrecked alien ship your team has turned into a mobile operating base, you’ll rebuild, reorganize, and take back Earth from the alien-owned Advent government. You’ll be on your heels the whole time, and without a vast arsenal, you’ll need to get up close and personal to complete your mission.

Related: Here’s why XCOM2 is a PC Exclusive

From just the short demo at E3, it’s clear that XCOM 2 is a much more strikingly cinematic experience than Enemy Unknown, and it shows everywhere from the individual turns and movements, to the way the camera pans for important events. A number of the maps in the game will be procedurally generated too, which is a nice change from the original, where the limited map selection eventually grew old.

Nasty alien foes are key to the XCOM series, and the upcoming title will be no exception. The demo featured a series of gruesome and vicious aliens, from the viper, a tall snake that constricts its victims, to the Advent Champion, a beastly figure with a powerful charge ability.

Civilization: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide

Beyond Earth was a bit of a departure for the Civilization series, to say the least. Unchained by historical events and figures, the developers have been able to take the game in new directions – creating unique worlds, and populating them with original characters. With the first expansion for Beyond Earth, for the first time since Alpha Centauri, you’ll be able to colonize larger bodies of water. These aren’t just blue tiles though, and everything from exploring to diplomacy changes once you get out on the water.

In general, the game moves a lot faster on water. Not only do units move faster, unencumbered by terrain, but the pace of the game speeds up as well. Due to the liquid nature of life at sea level, resources are generated and used at a greater pace. Cities rise and fall in shorter periods of time than on land, too. You can even start the game on the water, and your cities are able to move about in the water, leaving a trail of research facilities and units in their wake as you paint your way across the ocean.

You’re not the only entity interested in the water, and in fact the seas aren’t entirely receptive to your presence there. Natural formations like the Hydracoil have to be removed, or they’ll spread onto your vessels and structures, but destroying them will upset the wildlife. The sea creatures are vicious, and will come after you for upsetting the balance in the ecosystem, but they learn to forgive over time.

The way you interact with other civilizations changes too. The new factions in Rising Tide are the second wave of explorers from Earth, and it shows in the way they interact with other factions. To give diplomacy more gravity, a new mechanic called diplomatic capital lets you use goodwill earned with one group to gain favor with another.

Adding a tangible credit to the game for playing well with others, or coercing them, could help make these interactions more meaningful. Resources have also been removed from the diplomacy process, and instead shifted to a category of their own, trading. Factions will swap buffs and share in their power as a means of building a good relationship.

Related: Will the Rising Tide life Beyond Earth’s boat

There are a few other additions to the game as well. In the process of exploring, you can find artifacts left over from old Earth, biological oddities from alien races, or a relic of the lost progenitors that preceded you. These can be traded in right away for a resource reward, or combined later for a game-changing boon to your society, or a wonder.

There will always be a historical Civilization game, that’s a given, but Beyond Earth is a chance for the developers to use the skills they’ve built to craft something completely new.

A bright future for strategy at Firaxis

Firaxis has a mixed history when it comes to new releases. While XCOM: Enemy Unknown was praised, Civilization: Beyond Earth was greeted with mediocre reviews. In all cases, though, the studio has proven apt at improving its games over time – both XCOM and Civilization V have enjoyed amazing expansions. It looks like XCOM 2 and Rising Tide will continue the studio’s tradition of iterating on existing game design until (almost) perfectly refined.