I've talked in the past about how much I love XCOM: Enemy Unknown for its openness and freedom in allowing players to create their own narrative with deep character customization and plenty of opportunity for players to explore the game without forwarding the story. It's maybe my favorite part of the game. And by maybe I mean definitely. But despite my love for creating bizarre narratives where both Beyonce and Arya Stark existed in a shared universe and teamed up to save the world, I was always a bit disappointed in the repetition of locations in the original game.
One of the issues many people had with XCOM: Enemy Unknown was that the maps weren't all that numerous. Even though you were doing different events around the world, clearing Kansas City of aliens didn't look all that different than what you might find in Johannesburg. You probably had brick buildings that had civilians in them, and then there would be a volatile gas station that you would inevitably get caught defending. I'll bet you're imagining that gas station right now and can remember all those times your solders had to take cover behind a car or filling station only to have it explode under a storm of plasma fire.
Or the countless "enemy ship downed in a remote forest" missions that cropped up the more territory you controlled. I loved the concept of shooting down and then investigating UFOs, but after a half-dozen missions you started to figure out how the maps worked, where to place soldiers, and how to create the best lanes of fire for your hard-hitting but fragile soldiers.
The expansion, Enemy Within, added a slew of extra locations and special maps, which helped, but after putting over a hundred hours into the original game, the old familiar maps were the one aspect of the game that made it challenging to love replaying the game. I still replayed the game several times, but that was always a barrier to me really falling in love with the game over and over again.
Ultimately the space the game invites you to explore is as vital as the characters it allows you to explore with. In a game that begins essentially saying "Hey you know that world you love so much? It's now been overrun with aliens," half the dramatic effect is completed by actually showing the world being attacked by aliens. These spaces become battlegrounds as your heroes swoop in, draw a line in the sand, and say "This is where we draw a line. The enemy shall not advance another step while we're here."
In a game about saving the world, it's an important moment to have, and making sure those spaces feel authentic is paramount in selling that feeling. XCOM: Enemy Unknown didn't do a great job of this outside several designed story missions. Fortunately, Firaxis looks like they're really giving the maps of XCOM 2 some great attention. Here are a few screenshots that Firaxis has recently released of new environments and maps in XCOM 2:
While I'll certainly reserve final judgment for when I get my hands on a copy of the game, I already appreciate the diversity in location that these maps show off. In a game about taking back Earth from the enemy, providing an environment worth fighting for is maybe one of the most critical elements that must exist. Right now I'm cautiously optimistic for what XCOM 2 will offer out of the gate. How about you?