XML2 expands on the successful formula of the first game.
It's often the case that the second game in a series is really what the developers wanted the first game to be. Typically, a lot of features get cut out during the first game's development because they're either too difficult to create in time for release, or there are other things (physics engines, AI, etc.) that have to be created first. The X-Men Legends series seems to be another example of this. X-Men Legends II is much more deep than the first game, which adds a lot of subtlety and fun to what could have been just another action-RPG.
X-Men Legends II: The Rise of Apocalypse picks up with the X-Men teaming up with the Brotherhood of Mutants to battle back against the evil Apocalypse. Apocalypse is waging war on the world, and Magneto and Professor X intend on stopping him.
Not surprisingly, the Brotherhood and X-Men don't get along very well, and I think the game captures that in the cutscenes and through interactions with the NPCs very well. For instance, approaching Angel as an X-Man gets a different tone than approaching as Magneto. The two leaders, Professor X and Magneto, definitely understand their need to work toghether and keep everyone in line. It's an interesting dynamic, and it's always good to see that while Professor X and Magneto don't agree in their goals, they still have a deep respect for each other.
Plot aside, this game plays basically like the first X-Men Legends. It definitely follows the Diablo formula. Enter a room, attack, attack, attack, kill everything, and collect the loot. However repetitive this may seem, XL2 doesn't get old. The variation on the theme is that you control a squad of up to four mutants, controlling one of them at all times. A simple tap on the d-pad changes who you control, so you can stay on top of the action. This system works very well, and you'll be using it constantly. I find that I control the melee "tank" characters most of the time, but will switch off to Cyclops or Bishop to attack from afar. Also, different sequences of attacks do different things, like popping an enemy into the air, or knocking them against a wall. You'll find that different enemies go down quicker to different attacks and change up your strategy quite a bit. It's a fun system, and the variety of having four characters to control keeps it fresh.
Most of the cast of characters from the first X-Men Legends game return. You can control the likes of Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Iceman, Storm, Colossus, and Rogue. However, this time around you also can add the Brotherhood of Mutants to your squad like Magneto, Toad, Sunfire, Scarlet Witch, and Juggernaut (my personal favorite). Along the way, you also run into some other familiar faces who offer missions and background for the story. It's a bit of a tradeoff for some of the characters that are gone. I missed Magma and Psylocke. but am really glad that Beast isn't a playable character anymore. Most of the characters are varied, but you'll still find yourself using maybe half of the available mutants. A great adition to this game is that when you put a specific group of characters together (like all women, all melee characters, or The Brotherhood), you get a bonus. This might be a 5% increase in XP, added defense, or increased attack speed.
Character Management is one place where XL2 separates itself from the first X-Men Legends. The system is much deeper now, but also offers you the ability to totally skip that part of the game if you're not interested. This is a great idea, as different people will want to play this game for different reasons. I like to control every aspect of my characters, so I get into maximizing every stat and ability. However, you can set it so that the game automatically assigns skill and stat points, and lets you just smack around enemies all day. The abilities are much more varied this time around. Each character still has abilities you would expect. Cyclops uses optic blasts, Magneto can fly and move metal, and Juggernaut can basically slam through anything. However, each character has other abilities like defensive shields, beserker rages, etc. Like Diablo II, you can build your character's abilities to suit your individual tastes. I like to keep Storm in the back row, so I stick with tornado attacks. But, you could augment her combat with lightning so she deals out a lot of melee damage. The system has a lot of flexibility built in, which the first game really didn't.
Item collecting is much more involved in this game as well. While it's not as deep as Diablo, you'll find yourself constantly gaining new and better equipment, going back and forth between the base to buy and sell items, and switching up your team to make sure that they have the best gear equipped. Everytime I fight a boss, I rush over to see what kind of armor he leaves. There's a lot of variety in the items that you get, and it's a rush when you receive an incredible piece of gear only to be deflated to find out that you have to level up to wear it. Like leveling up, you can set it so that the game automatically equips the best items for each character whenever you pick up an item or the character levels up and can wear it.
Another big change to this game is the addition of Xbox Live support. You can team up with 1-3 fellows and kick Apocalypse's behind. While I didn't really use this feature much, it is a great addition to add online co-op play.
While the core gameplay of the series hasn't changed drastically, XL2 offers a lot more variety than the first X-Men Legends. I highly recommend this game to anyone who likes action-RPGs and has a passing interest in playing as the X-Men.