By: Greg Foertsch, Project Art Director, XCOM 2

The basic premise of XCOM 2 is that Earth lost the alien invasion, and now the aliens are ruling the planet. This gives the art team working on XCOM 2 a great set of guidelines for designing the look of the game. Our first goal is always to support the gameplay by making sure that the tactical combat in XCOM 2 is as awesome and engaging as we can make it. But, we also have to work to create a setting for the world, and sometimes that means putting yourself in the shoes of aliens ruling the planet.

In XCOM 2, the ADVENT rules the world with a carrot-and-stick approach. The carrot is the gleaming, pristine city centers, with gene clinics that “cure” humanity’s diseases. The stick is the ADVENT and their troops. When playing XCOM 2, the ADVENT are some of the first enemies players will encounter in the game, and will continue fighting them throughout the campaign. On the art team, we wanted to create a look for the ADVENT that made them stand out from XCOM’s resistance soldiers. The XCOM troops are a guerilla group with a variety of looks and equipment, and so the ADVENT had to look starker and more uniform as faceless minions of alien masters. Overall, the ADVENT look was inspired by the angular shapes and matte blacks associated with stealthy military units. The basic colors of black, white, and red let us make stark, contrasting visual designs and differentiate the different types of ADVENT troops. With this, our gameplay objective is met, and that the ADVENT are visually distinctive from XCOM’s soldiers, while saying something about the world and how the aliens chose to make their soldiers look intimidating.

The Archon was designed along the same ideas. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the Floater is a horrifying-looking alien: a torso and head surgically grafted to a rocket pack. Thinking like an alien overlord, the team thought, wouldn’t the citizens of Earth find that just too terrifying? The aliens aren’t exactly a secret, but they are rarely seen by most people. In order to play up the idea that the aliens are these beneficent rulers with god-like powers, they’ve taken one of the ugliest units in their arsenal, drew from Earth’s history of art and culture, and made them look more like Egyptian deities. This is still a torso grafted to a rocket pack, but now it’s golden and given the look of a Greek statue. If the ADVENT are the “shock” part of the alien domination strategy, then the Archon is part of the “awe.”

The look of our units are definitely part of how we are building the world of XCOM 2. Where XCOM: Enemy Unknown could rely on the world-as-we-know-it to establish its setting, for XCOM 2, we’re creating a whole new world. This is a world where aliens rule, and use the ADVENT as their enforcers. This is the world you are looking to unmask as the head of XCOM.