XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen Makes A Great Game Better

8.5
  • Windows
  • Real Time Strategy
2017-08-29
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XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen is now available on Steam. Firaxis/ 2K

Back in March, XCOM 2 Creative Director Jake Solomon joked during a PAX East keynote that his epitaph would read something like “XCOM 5 kinda sucked.” It was meant to be a funny jab at a man and a studio who feel blessedly pigeonholed into making a franchise virtually without equal within its own genre. And XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, a brutal, beefy expansion for the 2015 release highlights exactly why we’ll still be clamoring for more XCOM for years to come. Firaxis has taken a near-perfect RTS game and make what feels like 329,408,230,948 tiny adjustments to push the experience into the sublime. WotC doesn’t feel like a brand new game, but rather a brand new way of playing a game many fans already spent hundreds of hours on. And it all starts with your new worst enemies, The Chosen: The Hunter, The Warlock and The Assassin.

 

The Chosen aren’t the hyper-difficult enemies you may have expected. After dealing with the ludicrously tough trio featured in 2016’s Alien Monsters DLC, The Chosen seem like pushovers. They each have a reasonably sized health bar, numerous weaknesses and simple to manage special attacks. But The Chosen have an impact beyond the battlefield, capable of sabotaging research projects and supplies or even attacking your allies to reduce your monthly income. They can even attack your base itself, which can be a devastating nightmare to manage. The same is true of encountering them on the battlefield. Like most things XCOM, your survival depends as much on timing as it does on skill.

But The Chosen add something else beyond gameplay. Their personalities, stories and banter provide a narrative depth that’s been missing from the XCOM universe. The story has always been OK, but the relationships between soldiers on both sides of the conflict left a lot to the imagination. The Chosen feel connected to each other. And their bond calls attention to the bonds your soldiers will be forming, a new feature in WotC that is the biggest improvement in any XCOM DLC to date.

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Soldier ability points are important, but vaguely explained. Photo: Firaxis/ 2K

When two soldiers bond in WotC, it’s a big deal. They gain buffs for one another that can grant extra turns, deliver special attacks or heal harmful mental effects. But XCOM players know that their soldiers are more than a collection of stats and attacks, Because there is so little story it allows players to develop deep connections to soldiers in their squads. This is enhanced by character customization, too, but it’s hard to quantify the feeling you get when a rookie soldier makes some impossible, game-changing shot and catapults herself onto your internal VIP list.

And now your favorite soldiers can become besties with your other favorite soldiers, and before you know it you’re shipping the shit out of everyone. I had a pair of bonded soldiers die on a mission (The Assassin killed one with a sword while he was trying to carry his wounded buddy to safety) and it felt more poetic and profound than almost anything I’d seen in any other game this year.

You also have completely new soldier types to use, by way of a new storyline centered around resistance factions: Templars, Skirmishers and Reapers. Each class possesses a range of unique skills, but in basic terms Templars are like psionic rangers, Reapers are stealth sharpshooters and Skirmishers are assault specialists. The soldiers are only a portion of what’s offered by each resistance faction. Their true value is found in the new Covert Ops system that lets players send soldiers on missions to gain influence and rewards, as well as work towards tracking down the headquarters for each of The Chosen.

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The Warlock is tougher than he looks. And yes, he looks tough. Photo: Firaxis / 2K

I can’t say enough good things about this new Covert Ops system (not to be confused with the EXALT-based covert ops stuff from previous games). Running background missions you don’t have to manage beyond assigning troops adds a whole new layer of strategy. Occasionally a covert mission will get ambushed, forcing you to take control of the squad (normally two or three soldiers) and escort them to safety.

Most of these missions involve you running from The Lost, a new zombie horde-type enemy that is deceptively weak at first. The Lost only do melee damage, and the first waves have relatively low health. However, The Lost don’t stop. The more you kill, the stronger they get, and they aggressively follow the sounds of combat. Using an explosive all but guarantees a pack of The Lost will appear on scene, making you think twice about using one the most valuable tools in the XCOM arsenal.

But the rewards are great. Covert Ops missions are launched through a new building called the Resistance Ring, allowing you to earn bonuses akin to the policy system in the Civilization franchise. Perks such as increased construction times, additional soldiers, more resources and slower countdown clocks on timed missions all make the Resistance Ring a must-build early in the game. You can only have a handful of perks going at any given time, and the number is determined by your level of influence with each faction. Higher influence means more slots means more perks to make your life easier. And these are on top of the bonuses for each covert ops mission, which can be a huge boon themselves. I’m particularly fond of missions that grant instant promotions to soldiers, which really help fast-track soldiers past serious grinding at the higher ranks.

 

If this feels overwhelming, relax. It’s a pretty clear system, but the same can’t be said for the new soldier ability points and traits. Ability points are earned through a variety of actions, from defeating a Chosen in battle to small combat accomplishments, and can be pooled in one spot or assigned to a soldier in another. The distinction as to what goes where is unclear, and you can’t spend any ability points until you build a Training Center (another new building). So you will likely go a large portion of the game accruing points you can’t or don’t know how to use.

Once you start cashing them in, you can make your best soldiers even more OP, but the careful balancing that makes XCOM a frustrating delight stays in place. I didn’t have any soldiers that felt invincible or unstoppable because of these skills. But it’s a nice way to add some useful all-around buffs, like armor shredding, to soldiers who don’t normally have those options available. Traits are even stranger. These are negative effects soldiers develop when you send them on missions while their status says “tired.” It adds an additional layer of difficulty that balances the new AP system nicely. It’s hard to predict which negative trait a soldier could develop since it’s based on what happens in the mission, i.e. an aggressive MEC could spawn a panic-inducing fear of MECs going forward.

WotC ties all of this together in your quest to defeat The Chosen. It takes three Covert Ops to reveal the location of each Chosen, and a difficult mission awaits once you track down them down. I won’t spoil the strategy for defeating them, save to say it's the same for each Chosen, so once you defeat one you’ll know what to expect for the others. After defeating them, the game more or less continues as it normally would (although I am sure some variations are possible and I am embargo-bound not to spoil the story) but the experience (and loot) from defeating The Chosen is among the most satisfying moments I’ve ever had in XCOM, and that’s saying something.

WotC is a hefty expansion that will almost certainly rekindle your love for XCOM, if you ever had any. If you’ve never played XCOM I wouldn’t recommend diving in with this expansion, as it adds a nearly overwhelming amount of stuff even for veteran players to manage. But if you’re a longtime fan looking for an excuse to re-invest another 40-50 hours into a campaign then WotC is exactly what you’re looking for. At least until XCOM 5 gets here.

 

REVIEW SUMMARY
XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen
8.5
XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen Makes A Great Game Better
XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen adds new enemies, new stories, new soldiers and lots more without upsetting the well-balanced combat that makes XCOM, XCOM.
  • The Chosen Add New Narrative Depth
  • New Abilities And Bonds Make Soldiers More Fun To Play
  • Resistance Soldiers Offer New Ways To Play
  • Soldier Ability Points Need More Explanation
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