Best Strategy Game 2016: XCOM 2

XCOM 2 is our strategy game of the year, chosen by PC Gamer staff through voting and debate. We'll be posting an award a day leading into Christmas, along with personal picks from the PCG team.

Tom Senior: Rarely does turn-based strategy mingle with survival horror, but for your squadmates, that's what XCOM 2 is. It's a cruel and beautiful strategy game that builds on everything that was great about Firaxis' 2012 XCOM reinvention. The guns and gadgets are more interesting, the classes can be specced in more interesting ways and the enemies have a hundred clever new ways to destroy you. Procedurally generated levels provide some of the terrain variety that Enemy Unknown lacked, and expanded squad customisation lets you personalise your little band of superheroes. I can think of few strategy games that offer XCOM 2's suite of finely balanced risk/reward choices, and fewer games in any genre that so elegantly builds player failure into the design. Your power trends gradually upwards in tandem with your enemies, but squad wipes and disastrous objective failures are almost guaranteed. That means your finest heroes can be wiped out in moments, but they leave behind great war stories, and that's what XCOM 2 is all about. You're overthrowing an incumbent alien world government—it was never going to be easy.

I love that the aliens XCOM 2 throws at you are so much weirder. The Andromedon is Advent's answer to BioShock's Big Daddy: durable, angry, and exploding on death.

Evan Lahti: XCOM 2 is all your favorite action figures on the living room floor on a Saturday morning. I led Furiosa, Geralt, Trinity, and a collection of modded X-Men into alien bases, watched them sever sexy cobras, vaporize floating android Egyptian torsos, and blow up big-ass generators, and that shit was canon.

Okay, sure, the sequel improved practically every aspect of XCOM Uno, from map generation to character detail to equipment progression. Mostly I love that the aliens XCOM 2 throws at you are so much weirder. The Andromedon is Advent's answer to BioShock's Big Daddy: durable, angry, and exploding on death. Stun Lancers lunge forward suicidally, neutralizing your heroes. Sectopods tower over the battlefield, crushing terrain and zapping the shit out of your dudes. And personally, I loved the greater focus on mission timers: XCOM isn't a game you should play comfortably.

Tom Marks: There was one member of my squad that I flat out hated. Something about his face, I’m not sure what, drove me up a wall. But I was forced to take him out on a couple of missions, and damn it all if he didn’t get a few kills. Before I knew it, this jerk was my highest decorated Grenadier and essential to my squad. Sure, I could have just customized his face to look less rage-inducing, but that felt like the easy way out. It also goes against one of my favorite parts of XCOM 2: its incredible ability to create compelling narratives out of pretty much nothing. These characters aren’t really any different under the skin of it all, but I still had my favorites. Heroes and villains on my squad that all had stories I could tell. I rewarded commendable missions with flashy new outfits and added scars to those who were badly wounded in combat. Each one meant something to me, and that made the fear of losing them all the more real. It would be a blow to my strategies to lose my best Grenadier, but also the HQ just wouldn’t be the same without that stupid face walking around.

Tim Clark: I wonder if XCOM 2 might have snatched our overall GOTY award if it had released later in the year and felt fresher in the mind. As a complete experience, I don’t think I enjoyed anything more in 2016. I went in as an ingenue when it comes to turn-based strategy on PC, and came out in love. Having previously obsessed over Final Fantasy Tactics and Advance Wars, XCOM 2 scratched much the same itch for me. By the time the last mission rolled around, I had become ultra protective of my team (all named after mid-tier celebs) and obsessed with their painstakingly manicured loadouts. I still miss Jessica Chastain, my most trusted Sharpshooter, who managed to roll Run and Gun as a bonus skill from the Ranger tree. Sleep well, my flame-haired angel of death.

For more XCOM 2 coverage, read our XCOM 2 review and check out the best XCOM 2 mods.