Firaxis has continued their exemplary work on the XCOM franchise with the release of XCOM 2 last week, and many hardcore fans have already beaten the unforgiving title. While the game introduces plenty of brand new gameplay elements into the fold, veteran players will find many nods to the original series hidden within XCOM 2. The most notable reference to the original series came at the very end of the game, and we’d like to take a moment to speculate on what this means for the future of the XCOM franchise.
Caution: Spoilers beyond this point!
First-off: for those who may still be confused as to why the aliens had been attacking the planet in the first place, it turns out that the top species of the alien food chain had a problem. While playing XCOM 2 players discover that the alienswere dying, and a desperate search for a cure led them to roam from planet to planet looking for a suitable species to adapt into new host bodies. Once they came to Earth, these aliens found what they were looking for in human DNA.
By the end of XCOM 2, they were within reach of finishing a project that would have led to the mass genocide of humans all over the planet, who would be melted down and turned into a liquid used in the creation of the Avatar project. This liquid, combined with an artificial host body, would grant the ethereals a permanent physical host and ensure their survival, effectively wiping out humans in the process.
Once the end-game final assault is completed and players witness both the resistance finally gaining the upper hand on their ADVENT oppressors and the Avatars being eliminated, the game closes with an ominous camera pan down to the bottom of the ocean, where a purple glow is emitted from between two tectonic plates. Veterans of the XCOM series will have immediately recognized the obvious nod to Terror From The Deep, but as that game is now twenty years old, we’ll provide a brief synopsis for players who may not have played the original titles.
Terror From The Deep was a sequel to the original X-COM. At this stage in that game’s plot, the alien forces had been defeated, but sent out a signal before their ultimate destruction. This signal awakened a dormant force of aliens who had been in stasis under the sea for countless years. Their awakening forced XCOM to adopt new strategies in order to defend humanity once again, developing new weapons and armors capable of taking the fight to the aliens in an underwater battleground.
Astute gamers will have realized that Terror From The Deep was set in 2040 in the original canon. Seeing as XCOM 2 takes place in 2035, it looks like Firaxis is poised to continue their tradition of taking the general XCOM timeline and modifying bits and pieces of it. Terror From The Deep already fits into this timeline pretty nicely, and we fully expect a heavy influence from this title in their next game.
For the curious, the ending of Terror From The Deep resulted in a victory for XCOM, but it came at a price: the ecosystem of Earth is more or less destroyed, forcing most humans to move into urban city centers much like ADVENT had encouraged in XCOM 2. This led into the plot from XCOM: Apocalypse, but we’re going to keep our speculation to one game at a time. Of course, it’s possible that Firaxis left the underwater glimpse as a massive misdirection for fans, but we doubt they would show alien technology underwater and abandon the subject entirely.
As the final battle cutscene came to a close, the Commander is pulled from his Avatar by those aboard the Avenger, and it’s quite possible that the remaining ethereals utilized their psionic power on the Avatar’s body to not only cling to life, but find a way to rebuild and bring the fight to XCOM in the coming years. Truthfully, in the closing seconds of the game XCOM gave the ethereals exactly what they were seeking: a powerful avatar to host their bodies. It’s entirely possible this gaff by Bradford and his crew may cost countless human lives in the near future.
The game purposefully left the fate of Doctor Vahlen, the chief scientist from Enemy Unknown, a mystery throughout the game. While she was mentioned briefly, it looks like XCOM have been unable to establish communication with her. In the prequel novel for XCOM 2, it was revealed that Vahlen escaped a brutal ADVENT attack on a research outpost by taking a boat to the sea. We have little doubt that Firaxis left her fate open for a reason, and we suspect she has been one of the first to work out that a new threat is due to emerge from the depths.
The original UFO Defense Force had players travel to space to eliminate the alien threat, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the sea-based aliens attempt to utilize the moon in order to bring destruction to humanity. Many veteran gamers have been expecting some kind of space mission ever since the series was first revived, and one has to feel like it’s due at some point – and logically, the moon has a strong connection to anything water-based.
In any event, it looks like XCOM 2 fans should expect some terrors to rise from the murky depths within the next few years, as the cliffhanger ending shows that Firaxis evidently has no intention of slowing things down with the series.
In the meantime, Firaxis is supporting XCOM 2 with what ultimately amounts to a Season Pass. Players have the option to purchase the Reinforcement Pack DLC, which will release three bonus collections of content between Spring and Summer later this year. In the meantime, modders are actively supporting the title with puppy-based weaponry.
What do you think XCOM 3 will bring, Ranters? Firaxis may be injecting their own original pieces to the plot, but the series is still heavily intertwined with the original vision from MicroProse. Only time will tell if this influence will help shape the future of the rebooted series.
XCOM 2 is currently available for PC, Mac, and Linux.