Note: I'm assuming readers are familiar with the basic XCOM 2 mechanics. If not, give Lynley's review a read here.
I still remember dreading the passing of days in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I had missions to complete, satellites to launch and UFOs to intercept, but always had to wait for more resources from the fickle council or I was stalling until my science division could research better armour and weapons that would keep my soldiers alive. When I returned for the sizeable expansion, Enemy Within, there was even more research and tech to juggle, alongside a new threat in the form of EXALT, human forces with their own agenda, and the potential for assaults on the XCOM base. It was tough but still manageable and missions were again interspersed with periods of anxious waiting.
XCOM 2 immediately upped the stakes as we discovered XCOM lost the war and was reduced to a resistance force, fighting against well-entrenched occupiers. You now had to juggle intelligence and resource gathering, required to unlock missions in new regions that would stall, and ultimately dismantle, an alien doomsday device. With an abundance of missions with strict turn-limits, and the Avatar project progress bar looming above the map, XCOM 2 kept up the tension while you desperately waited research new gear, let troops recover from injuries, or established radio contact with rebel groups. Could it get any worse for the commander? Yes, yes it could.
Meet the "Chosen" siblings. Not exactly fond of one another but they'll never get in each other's way when trying to hunt you down.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen adds in new factions to ally with, alien assassins to fend off, and new missions revolving around both. There are faction soldiers to recruit, new ADVENT units to tackle, and a myriad of hands-off missions that increase faction loyalty and can lead to off-field soldier promotions, albeit not without risk. In theory, this seems a good balance of new hand-on and hand-off activities, but the rate at which these events unfold was breathtaking and I found myself juggling so many activities that I had to stop, for minutes at a time, to sift through my current objective list. Unfortunately for the recently revived commander, no one in XCOM will do anything without his or her go-ahead. For veterans, the increased difficulty and micromanaging may come as a welcome addition; for those new to the game, you may find yourself buried under screens of information and ceaseless events. As much as I enjoyed the new additions, sometimes less is definitely more. Now, with most of the negatives out of the way, it’s time to look at the new and engaging features that War of the Chosen brings to the XCOM 2 experience.
First up, the narrative feels surprisingly cohesive given the amount of lore and new dialogue introduced for each faction and “The Chosen” (think alien assassins). In the opening cutscene, we learn the stealthy “Reaper” faction are responsible for locating the captured commander. Shortly after the opening missions, the player gets a glimpse of the antagonistic relationship between the different allied factions during a lengthy and complex mission to bring two sides to the negotiating table. This event, in turn, leads to an encounter with one of the three Chosen, a terrifying and challenging face off against a new foe that can wreck your party if you don’t adapt quickly to their unique skillset. These assassins also constantly taunt your team, both in mission and on the over-world map, often referring to the primary mission (that does not change from the base game). If I have one criticism, it’s that they talk too damn much, something especially noticeable if you’re waiting for their combat turn to end, and I did hear one mention the Avatar Project before the main missions revealed it.
Each Chosen has a distinct set of strengths and weaknesses you need to consider in combat.
The three factions you’ll encounter are the aforementioned “Reapers”, stealth and sniping experts that can perform actions with a chance to remain concealed; the “Skirmishers”, former ADENT soldiers who specialise in high-powered gear and lethal tactics; and finally the Templars, a faction with unique psionic abilities that can hit multiple enemies for devastating effect. These soldiers are incredibly powerful when promoted – they utilise soldier points and can unlock multiple abilities per rank – offsetting the dangers of encountering a Chosen in the field. Each faction will provide you with an initial soldier and the leaders will frequently request support for combat missions. Building your influence with a faction allows you to recruit more faction soldiers, unlock passive perks, as well as engage on numerous faction-specific covert operations.
Unfortunately, The Chosen have carved up the planet into three distinct territories, often overlapping with the allied factions. They quickly become a thorn in your side, capable of appearing in any mission you perform in their territory, even major story missions. On the first main mission to delay the Avatar Project, I foolishly mind-jacked an ADVENT elite for a side-objective, triggering a tough encounter that was immediately followed by a Chosen spawning into the map and assaulting my squad. In the end, I scraped through on normal difficulty after reloading a few turns and finally dashing to the extraction point. Tackling the Chosen in Iron-Man mode or on Legend difficulty will require careful planning and a well-equipped squad.
The Lost can be a real pain in the arse if you find yourself surrounded. The sound of loud combat, think gunfire and grenades, will simply draw more of them onto the field.
The Chosen come with distinct strengths and weaknesses, not dissimilar to the Orc chieftains in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and are never permanently defeated during mid-mission encounters (you instead earn ability points for levelling faction soldiers if you defeat them on the field). Over time, each Chosen gains new perks and loses weaknesses, making them tougher to tackle if you don’t take appropriate steps to stop them. By completing faction-specific covert operations, you’ll discover the location of their lair and eventually how to access it. Commence on a tough final mission against their stronghold and you’ll remove them from the map for good. It becomes a delicate balance of gaining intel on your target before they become too powerful; all the while the Avatar Project deadline looms above your head.
Also introduced early on, “The Lost” are a neutral faction of human husks, zombies really, that are easy to put down at range but can inflict massive damage should they get close. They may not appear in many missions but when they do, you need to decide on going loud and risk drawing more onto the battlefield, or simply legging it with your team and hoping you don’t run into ADVENT forces. On the upside, being neutral means they’ll happily engage whichever force is closer to them, allowing you to lead them into ADVENT patrols and enjoy the ensuing carnage.
There are new faction perk cards to unlock and dozen of factions-specific missions that raise your influence level (and you can gain soldier promotions without having to take them into the field yourself).
There are a few modifications to the existing mechanics worth taking note of. Firstly, team mates that you frequently send into missions together increase "compatibility" and can eventually form a “bond”, giving them perks – such as an extra turn – when they’re in close proximity to one another. Just make sure one of them doesn’t die or you’ll be left with an extremely tough but uncontrollable ally raging around the battlefield. Secondly, your science staff will sometimes suggest “inspired” or “breakthrough” research, allowing for projects to be completed in a fraction of the time but not necessarily the research you were aiming for. Finally, faction bases can be scanned to trigger one of three special effects – the Reaper HQ provides Intel, the Skirmisher HQ increases the construction rate of facilities on the Avenger, and the Templar HQ speeds up the healing rate of wounded soldiers. They feel like relatively small tweaks but they can make a difference between victory and defeat when running short on time.
Presentation-wise, there are a few new environments and great enemy designs, but the game looks and plays as well as the base game (at least after a few patches). Performance was never an issue on the Xbox One outside of a few cutscenes when I was not in control of the action anyway. The music is great and the new voice work, although often campy, keeps the Chosen hovering somewhere between menacing and humorous, providing some much needed levity.
I’m surprised The War of the Chosen was not given a standalone release just like Enemy Within. Although modifying the base game and not changing the overall plot, there is a ton of content in this expansion. Tough new enemies, powerful allied factions, numerous additions or modifications to existing mechanics, and many more missions. Perhaps too many for a new player but perfect for someone returning to the game and looking for a greater challenge.
Enjoys games with awesome stories and characters, along with new and interesting hardware. Dislikes day-one patches and driver updates.
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PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
12 September 2017
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