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Girls Frontline 2: Exilium review – “The serenade of firearms and songbirds of gunfight”

  • Unique, one-of-a-kind tactical gameplay with beautifully rendered graphics
  • Thrilling story with gorgeous cinematic cutscenes and full voice acting
  • Hampered by an expensive gacha and generic progression system

Nothing oozes more revulsion than the mere mention of a cockroach – that unsightly creepy crawly that gives you the heebie-jeebies yet remains a darling child in the eyes of an evolutionary biologist thanks to its seemingly invincible lifespan. It’s this immortality that enabled gacha fans to associate such vermin with the Girls Frontline franchise as it keeps a steady momentum despite operating on paper-thin revenue. Ironic as it’s built a foundation of fair monetisation practices and goodwill with rich, albeit depressing lore.

To keep their legacy afloat they introduced not one but four spin-offs/sequels. And considering Project Neural Cloud, the prequel of the first Girls Frontline turned out to be a robust game, ignoring its financial performance, surely we can trust MICA’s bank of talents and experience to deliver good on their sequels, right?

The showbiz graphics geomancer

Girl shooting out of a window of an armoured vehicle

In this game, it’s always adrenaline on the clock as you’re constantly on the move, scraping by whatever commissions you can to make ends meet as a bounty hunter after S&K’s downfall that saw the world plunged into another cliched calamity. Exilium takes place ten years after the events of its ongoing first instalment in the year 207X, so expect a lot of mind-boggling time-skips.

Don’t feel weirded out when characters act chummy with one another despite what seems to be their first encounter. Cinematic high-quality cutscenes bordering on Michael Bay’s level of theatrics are peppered between story chapters, semi-animated images of characters with dynamic expressions and voice acting to boot.

Your protagonist gets a glow-up too, transitioning from a blank self-insert slate to an actual character with a raunchy and fatherly personality. The interactions between your subordinates, as well as other NPCs, are highly organic. Its narrative immerses you in getting a grip on how bleak your predicament in this savage world is – depleting funds, a super run-down mobile base called Amos, run-ins with crafty mercenaries, and having to endure an onslaught by Varjagers (the clan name for the baddies mentioned earlier) and monsters dubbed ELIDS.


Characters are also rich with their personalities such as the poetry-stringing Nemesis. However, the verbose story dialogues do drag. And, for a sequel, it’s a fat lie if I say there’s no barrier to entry as you need to have a decent grasp on the lore of Girls Frontline If you are savvy in the GF-verse, it’s a high-school reunion party as characters like MP7 and OTS-14 take up new roles, the latter being your adjutant.

Unique XCOM slog

Aiming at the mech with a sniper rifle

While GFL1’s gameplay is a passive form of base capture, Exilium opted to take influence from XCOM. As someone who grew up on Final Fantasy Tactics, this style is easy to get hold of yet presents a learning curve on some unique mechanics exclusive to XCOM.

XCOM’s tactical gameplay greatly draws from the aforementioned mechanics. Barricades and mounds form natural cover points and are dotted around the map. Eligible strategic points of cover will have little icons of shields floating on top of the sides of each square to denote how well-protected your doll is from the enemy’s line of fire.

So if the tile you’re standing on confers a cover advantage on only the West and North sides, attacks from those directions will inflict reduced damage. Conversely, attacking from the East or South will deal a tonne of damage. Plus, each character also has a gauge of shield points that render them frail if attacked from a vulnerable angle too many times. Tactical view of combat in Girls Frontline 2

During your turn, your doll can move a set distance and then attack. Breaking that sequence by attacking a first forfeits your character’s mobility. While most dolls rely on their firearms, there are outliers like Charolic who’s a melee specialist, and also the one I send out to be the meatshield most of the time. Each Doll has offensive and defensive skills to turn the tide of battle – standard RPG stuff.

Exilium’s gameplay focuses on environmental interaction. Sometimes there are terminals for you to activate to defeat a boss unit, and others there is a conveyor belt to sneak you immediately into the enemy’s backline. Meanwhile, terrain topography still comes into play via man-made towers you can scale to reach high grounds. The gameplay emphasises coordinated effort and requires meticulous positioning, likewise, goose hunts can happen where your character goes in circles with the enemy. All this makes for sluggish pacing.

More glitters, more sparkles

There is great attention to detail when fleshing out the relatively small character roster. To start with, everyone knows how to make a dramatic entrance when summoned, you get to see a brief animation playing out that highlights quirks exclusive to each character instead of paper cutouts. In my case, my first SSR summon was a glutton whose heart and soul were in the culinary arts instead of gun-fu. Animation of a girl sleeping

There is also a simplified dorm system (thank goodness, gone are the furniture placement and space expansion). In your doll’s sanctuary, you can run the gamut from bonding with your doll, reading their profile, and perusing their room to hopefully squeeze some creative juices for interior design. There’s a feature that allows you to shift them into a different pose that includes sleeping if you’re into that.

The one glaring Achilles heel that plagues most Chinese gacha lies in its oftentimes messy user interface design. Exilium tried for a minimalist approach with your favourite doll striking a pose taking up 80% of the screen and all the modes neatly laid out on the right side. In true Arknights fashion, there’s also a directory in the form of a holo-screen pop-up that allows you to navigate game modes with ease on the bottom left side of the screen. However, infinitesimal fonts are still an issue here.

Lost charms in this chasm of sequels

Sadly, while the visuals blew me away like a gale hurricane, the deja vu sense of Girls Frontline is non-existent and the factors underpinning this are aplenty, primarily because of design choices.

As mentioned earlier, it was Girls Frontline’s generosity that wooed players in the first place thanks to its part allocation gacha system that makes use of various replenishable resources instead of premium ones, meaning catching them all is no pipe dream. Exilium’s current system is a far departure from that concept and is merely a copy and paste of Genshin’s highly profitable one – with that paltry rate of 0.6% to nail the jackpot, a safety net with a high ceiling worsened by the premium currency gain that slows to a crawl the further you progress.

That brings us to another aspect – character progression. Back in the early days of 2017, it was always funny to see a clone army of T-dolls marching into shootouts with the dummy linking mechanic. The sensation of building a corps-size platoon is also sadly gone in place of generic progression mechanics in Exilium, perhaps fitting the downtrodden narrative.


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