XCOM 2 was already an incredibly difficult game, and it’s first batch of DLC on;y proves to reinforce that point. While Alien Hunters might not do much to explore more interesting themes in terms of lore, it does shake things up in the gameplay department in monumental ways. The elegance of it all is entrancing though, considering that Alien Hunters introduces so little and yet lets it have such a big impact on the way you play the game. And impact it has.
The most fundamental change Alien Hunters offers in in its new enemies – a new type of enemies called Rulers. After an incredibly tense mission that introduces the three new creatures into the fray, this altered versions of regular Vipers, Beserkers and Archons will invade you at any random turn, and impose all sorts of headaches on the way you’d usually conduct your squad. Outside of being able to take a lot more hits than regular enemies, these Rulers will be a consistent thorn in your side. They retreat when wounded to fight another day in another mission, making XCOM 2’s mid-game a much harder, more tense affair.
And when they do choose to stick around, you’ll wish they hadn’t. Unlike other enemies, the Rulers are able to move in-between your own individual turns. That starts complicating very standard orders, like Overwatch and just normal movement, as the Rulers are now able to anticipate and parry any sort of flanking tactics you may have conjured up. It flips XCOM 2 on its head, not only because of their ability to invade any mission type, but their incredulous damage output and resilience.
The only sort of reprieve is that the Rulers tend to knock the majority of your soldiers unconscious rather than outright killing them, although that introduces a whole new set of headaches (especially during missions with turn restrictions). Being able to stave off the Rulers while extracting your dropped troops feels like a mission in itself, but when mixed into the already sometimes ridiculously demanding mid-game missions it turns XCOM 2 into something far more brutal. Iron Man mode has a whole new meaning in this regard.
Although the introduction of the Rulers isn’t the only thing Alien Hunters offers, and it’s the goodies you’ll have access to at XCOM HQ that will have you tingling with joy. To counter these new threats, you’re given a few weapons as gifts after playing the introductory mission. The best of the lot is without a doubt a new brutally efficient crossbow called the Bolt Caster. It only offers one shot per turn, but rewards you with one powerful (and incredibly accurate) shot. Considering the Rulers move between your turns, it’s almost indispensable.
In tandem with the Bolt Caster, Sharpshooters can also make use of a brand new ShadowKeeper pistol that does a lot more damage than the standard one in the vanilla portion of the game. Pistol wielding snipers have become a favourite over time in the game, and it’s clear Firaxis wanted to bolster this. The ShadowKeeper is a no brainer for these builds, and counters the Rulers nicely with a one per mission ability of securing a hit on a target.
This bleeds into a new melee weapon for Rangers, which take the form of a new glowing axe. Beyond looking incredibly cool on the back of a squad member, these axes do increased damage and also come with their own unique one per mission ability. Again tackling the new movement of the Rulers, you’ll be able to fling your axes across the battlefield for free once a mission, doing an enormous amount of damage if it hits. This might not always be great directly against Rulers, but for a pesky Sectoid that’s just getting in the way it certainly does the trick.
When you are able to finally take down a Ruler though, that’s when XCOM HQ really goes to work. Beyond the overwhelming sense of achievement, you’ll be rewarded with the pelt of your slain Ruler as a trophy, and have the chance to quip it when you go out in the field. And you’d be dumb not to either, with each of the individual pelts offer massive advantages to your new weapons, and existing squad formations.
The Berserker skin, for example, imbues any squad member with a one-turn melee attack, while the Viper lets you freeze targets and use an incredibly useful grappling hook in battle. The most entertaining however was the Archon skin, which gives you the ability to fly during movement turns. This shakes things up slight when changing vertical positions, but also comes with its own set of risks. The skins look great too, although I’m surprised the Viper pelt does come with some form of PSTD penalty for your other squad members.
It’s small but meaningful additions that Alien Hunters introduces, and they work within the framework they’re introduced into. They do, however, have a bit of a knock on effect with the rest of the game. XCOM 2 has a difficult beginning, and it only gets hard when the Rulers are introduced as you edge towards the mid-game. However once you get over that hurdle, Alien Hunters’ new equipment suddenly diminishes the intensity of the end-game, especially when you’ve dealt with the new threat the DLC offers.
That’s possibly disappointing for those looking for a new challenge beyond just new enemies, but the changes that doe permeate through radically change the way you’ll think about playing XCOM 2. That’s doubly so for some of the higher difficulties, as you tip toe around the Rulers whenever they appear to pester you. If XCOM 2 was already making you want to bash your brains in with it’s randomisation and sometimes unfair rolls, Alien Hunters isn’t going to help. But for those looking to hunt new game, season is open.
Last Updated: June 6, 2016