A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know XCOM 2 is a turn-based strategy game with more graphic violence than usual for the genre. Battlefields are viewed from a raised perspective, but the camera zooms in close for attacks, showing human and alien characters suffering the effects of gunshots, grenades, and explosions, bodies flying, and blood spraying in the air. Between combat, players see medical procedures performed on alien bodies, with squishy cutting sounds and more blood. The soldiers fight for the future of humanity but clearly take pleasure in their bloody, violent work, as evidenced by occasional cheers. They also engage in teamwork and work strategically, relying on brains, brawn, and camaraderie to earn victory.
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What's it about?
Set 20 years after XCOM: Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 sees humanity unwittingly falling under the control of the very aliens they thought vanquished by the Commander -- the player's character -- and his small band of scientists, engineers, and soldiers in the first game. The sequel begins with members of the original team (and one of their descendants) rescuing the commander from the clutches of the aliens, removing a neural implant, and putting him in charge of their current insurgent efforts. The experience is structured much the same as its predecessor, with players taking small groups of soldiers out on discrete missions to rescue VIPs, track down technology, and raid alien outposts. The turn-based combat is highly strategic, and when your soldiers -- whom you've likely spent hours customizing and upgrading -- die, they remain dead for the rest of the game. Between missions, players slowly upgrade the facilities of a giant ship, putting scientists and engineers to work researching and building new technology, all while trying to recruit allies around the world.
Is it any good?
Though this sequel hews closely to its predecessor, it's the ways it's been subtly changed that make it an even better game. Firaxis has added an enormous variety of new alien types, each with its own abilities that force players to come up with fresh tactics. Maps are now procedural, which means players never know what to expect -- even when playing the game a second time. Plus, players have been given much more liberty to customize the experience, including their soldiers, who can now be made to look very different from each other. And with full support for modding, we can expect a huge variety of player-made modifications and additions coming down the pike.
What's more, it's hard to overstate the change in psychology that comes with working to take back the planet one nation at a time rather than attempting to preserve an existing world order, as was our goal in the first game. Expanding XCOM's area of influence one mission at a time across a global stage is wonderfully gratifying and does a much better job of conveying a sense of progress. Bottom line, XCOM 2 builds upon and adds to an already outstanding turn-based strategy design, resulting in a supremely satisfying game of tactics that will keep players highly engaged all the way to the end credits -- and probably beyond.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violence in media. When playing games, do you feel differently about shooting monsters or aliens as opposed to people? Does it matter if they're sentient? What, if anything, changes in your mind if your enemies aren't visibly human?
Talk about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Do you think that life could have evolved on planets other than Earth? What might it look or act like? Do you think people from Earth could get along peacefully with creatures from other planets?
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