Regardless of how victorious players were in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis Games continued down a canon storyline with XCOM 2 that assumed players had ultimately lost the fight against the technologically superior alien invaders. This more or less sets the tone for the new War of the Chosen expansion: there are some fights you just can’t win, and the impressively deep expansion pack for XCOM 2 piles on the signature pain that strategy fans have come to embrace in almost masochistic fashion.
Although the XCOM 2 expansion carries a hefty price tag, Firaxis Games justifies it with an add-on that switches around the strategy and balance of the game from to to bottom. At its core, War of the Chosen adds new player-friendly factions that have their own unique soldier classes, three of ‘The Chosen’ alien commanders that repeatedly attack the player throughout the game’s missions, a new unfriendly-to-everyone zombie force called The Lost, and strategic and interface touch-ups galore.
In short, saying that Firaxis added ‘a lot of things’ feels like an injustice, which explains why this expansion was almost simply XCOM 3.
We’ll start with namesake of the entire expansion, The Chosen. The three unique champions of the ADVENT forces spend the entire game trying to track down the player and blow the Avenger out of the sky (which is a thing that can absolutely happen), and have a tendency to show up during difficult missions and make things twice as difficult. If players are in a pickle trying to survive a particularly tedious mission, imagine how things go if a Chosen arrives and starts spawning down more enemies and taking powerful sniper shots from across the map.
The Chosen can be defeated by performing a series of covert operations and a tough final assassination mission, a process which takes some time. Don’t take too long, though: these aren’t static enemies. The longer they exist, the more strength they have. That isn’t to say they don’t have weakness either, as they follow a nemesis system that takes heavy inspiration from the likes of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. They’re easily the most difficult addition to the game, but they add plenty of flavor to the experience and much satisfaction when they’re finally taken down.
To combat the new threat, XCOM can recruit 3 new player-friendly factions into the fray: The Skirmishers are direct combat units with multiple actions, The Reapers are stealthier than anyone else in the game, and The Templars’ unique melee and ranged psionic attacks can make a world of difference. As players perform certain covert missions on behalf of these factions, they’ll earn the trust of their respective leaders and be able to activate monthly bonuses, like starting a mission with a turncoat ADVENT on the player’s side, or have enemies drop more loot. As can be expected, learning how to use each Faction to its fullest potential is quite a learning process, and it’s likely some bodies will drop during the process.
Beyond this, players can bolster their own forces with a few clever additions to the original formula. Soldiers can now gain ability points for performing tactical moves, like flank shots or ambush kills, and spend them on additional skills to use in battle. While the original menu of two skill options still exists, a few seemingly random third skill slots are available for purchase now, making each soldier’s respective skill tree even more unique. Soldiers can also bond with squadmates they spend time on the battlefield with (a la Fire Emblem), and commanders will even be able to rank up these skills so that bonded soldiers can utilize unique combat moves in battle. Soldiers also require rest after each mission lest they become fatigued and more susceptible to developing fears that can impact them in battle.
In short, it’s a system that finally forces players to shuffle their rosters as the game progresses, and a clever solution to those who send the same soldiers into battle again and again. The challenges of maintaining a healthy roster of skilled soldiers adds plenty of surprising depth to the XCOM experience.
However, it’s not just the new Chosen enemies and a few new ADVENT enemy types that these soldiers will be facing. Missions in abandoned cities are frequently overwhelmed with swarms of The Lost, a zombie-like enemy that attacks both XCOM and ADVENT forces upon sight. Any explosions in the map trigger a new swarm of these monsters, and pandemonium can quickly reign as they attack friend and foe alike.
The Lost add an entire new layer of strategy to missions, as players need to tread carefully lest they find themselves boxed in a back alley surrounded by swarms of ashen zombies on all sides. They’re not a huge threat compared to the ADVENT, but they certainly throw a wrench in otherwise routine missions. That’s likely why Firaxis Games has introduced unique mission modifiers called sit reps, which can fill a map with volatile explosives or require that only low-ranked soldiers be sent on certain missions. It’s all about a variety of added challenges, and War of the Chosen provides this in spades.
If it isn’t evident already, this is a meaty expansion. Firaxis Games has done a splendid job adding details that have far-reaching implications for the game as whole, and this makes playing through the game with the expansion enabled feel like a completely new experience. It’s a huge challenge to take all the new introductions in stride at once, but nobody plays XCOM because it’s easy.
While XCOM 2: War of the Chosen does a great job shaking up the game from top to bottom, it isn’t without cost: the Shen’s Gift DLC mission is sacrificed by default to rebalance the game, being replaced with a simple research task. While player’s can re-enable this in the options menu, we wish there was a way Firaxis could have kept the original content in balanced fashion. We also ran into a few minor glitches as late-game content progressed, so we recommend those trying ironman playthroughs perhaps consider a regular playthrough for now to avoid any potential post-launch errors.
Ultimately, XCOM 2: War of the Chosen buries even the most tactically-sound gamer under a mountain of entertaining challenges and adds not only several hours of content to play through, but well-neigh infinite replayability as well – we can’t wait to restart the fight and see how a new batch of soldiers fares against the ADVENT government. Firaxis Games has introduced a veritable mountain of new enemies and experiences to take in, greatly refreshing what was already a deep strategy title with a steep learning curve. With so many layers of new content and carefully balanced gameplay, War of the Chosen (and its accompanying price tag) isn’t for the faint of heart, but it certainly packs more than enough value to back up the price.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is available now for PC, with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One editions slated for September 12, 2017.