XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
The Good: Loads of new stuff: enemies, gear, skills, strategic and tactical layers.
The Bad: Lacks significant, new plotline or cohesiveness. It’s all just more stuff jumbled together.
The Ugly: Criminy, have they made this godforsaken game even harder?
Let me begin by saying that I freaking loved XCOM2, even as I spent far more time literally cursing at my computer than is strictly, uh, sane. “You had a 90% ^$#&* chance of making that &!%$# shot, and you missed,” I’d yell at my sniper, “and now we have to take Ranger Harvey Soto’s intestines home in a Ziplock™ bag. You get to tell his widow and her six children (two sets of triplets, all named Harvey Jr, both the boys and the girls) why you let him die!” Yeah, I had an unhealthy relationship with it, I guess you could say. But whereas I’ve played a game like Civilization over and over again, for some reason I only played XCOM2 exactly twice: the first time I dug myself a deep hole (key personnel loses, too late researching certain technologies, got too far behind the aliens and the avatar project), restarted, and a little wiser I played it through to the end and won. I think what hurt XCOM2, despite my love for it, was the plot. Once you’ve played it through, seen the whole story, I found little desire to run through it again just for the play of it. Civ by comparison, lacking a plot, seems to hold nearly endless replay for me. So War of the Chosen has landed on my desk, and while it brings a whole host of new elements crammed into it, the overall plot is the same. I’m enjoying a lot of the new things, and these pieces have been kind of cleverly salted through the whole story arc so you don’t see all the new stuff at once, but I don’t have quite the drive I did the first time to finish it. I’m kind of like ‘I already know how this story is going to end,’ distractions of the Chosen notwithstanding.
War of the Chosen brings with it the titular Chosen, three alien assassins. They enter the plot just after the recovery of the commander, right at the start of XCOM2, and they are tasked by the alien leadership to crush XCOM and the rebellion, and recover the commander. They’re high level, and the three of them have diverse skills – one sniper, one hunter, one psionic master – and as the game progresses they continue to gain new skills. On the plus side they hate each other, so at least you never have to face more than one at a time, and they each have a weakness to some type of attack that you can use against them. I beat them the first two times I ran across them easily, but later in the game they became a serious problem. To balance this new, alien advantage, three separate rebellions have sprung up on earth to assist you at XCOM. On paper these three groups hate each other, but in reality with a very little work on your part, they all agree to help you. You are given three soldiers – one sniper, one ranger, one psionic – who come with some special skills of their own. These guys also level up differently than ordinary soldiers, expending XCOM Ability points that are accumulated through certain missions or completion of special mission objectives.
The three rebellion factions add a new tactical layer to XCOM2 in a couple of critical ways. You can undertake covert cooperative missions with the various factions. I don’t believe any of these missions are mandatory, and they do tie up your soldiers who go on them (and sometimes they return wounded), but they impart a slew of bonuses like intel, supplies and level-ups to the soldiers who go, plus they often give lasting bonuses, like experience reduction for leveling, research advantages, sabotage to the avatar project and other things. These lasting bonuses are delivered in the form of – I have no idea how the game describes it – cards, which have to be played in a limited number of slots. As you gain favor with the various factions, they provide you with more slots to hold cards. Civilization VI has this kind of thing as well (and I equally have no idea what that game called it). These covert missions also (ultimately, if you follow the trail of breadcrumbs far enough) provide the locations of the lairs of the Chosen, for only there can they be finally killed.
Also thrown into the game is a hodgepodge of miscellaneous stuff.
- Soldiers now can form bonds. When two soldiers form a bond and go on a mission together, that bond gives them tactical advantages, plus the bond between them improves leading to still more bonuses. However if one of them is severely injured or killed, that bond can mess them up royally.
- Soldiers can now develop psychological problems, plus they just plain get tired. When tired, a soldier performs at reduced capability, and they need rest (days without going on a mission) to recover. I honestly haven’t seen much of the psychological problem in the dozen or so hours I’ve played. I did get a guy who became afraid of running out of ammo (I think he had a situation in a mission where he could have taken a shot, but his gun was empty), and the game warned me he might reload his weapon in combat even though it was only a shot or two down in the clip. If he did so on a future mission, I never noticed it.
- There are some new mission types, most notably the sniper Chosen can kidnap one of your soldiers, and you may have to go on a mission to recover them. I did that mission a couple of times, and plays out kind of like a prison break. Go in quickly and quietly, or pay the price.
- Some new weapons, especially a collection of one offs that are neat. My sniper loves a pistol that gives a 100% hit percentage once per mission. I’ve also come across a frost bomb.
- A fair number of new enemies. Some of these are kind of run-of-the-mill alien baddies, but every so often you come across what I can only describe as a boss alien. I had been playing along, had just completed a run of five or six flawless missions, and then went on one mission that revealed a super snake alien. He spit a freezing compound and had a crazy number of action points and like 3x the hit points of anything I had seen to that point, and he pretty much decimated my whole team. I didn’t beat him. I’m not sure I could beat him, though I tried several rematches with a different mix of soldiers. And there are several guys like that running around, just to add some pain to your game.
- A group of zombie-like critters called the lost. They’re mindless killing machines, and will attack both human soldiers and aliens in swarms. Individually they are extremely fragile, but in numbers they can deplete your ammunition like crazy.
- The game adds inspiration to your research activities. What that means is that your scientists can come up with an inspiration for some tech advance, and if you research that tech next you can get a bonus in the form of shorter development time or sometimes a tech you would not be able to otherwise get. If you pass up on the inspiration, you will lose it, but you’ve got to be careful that you don’t let inspirations mess up the research plan on the plotline too badly (I did this once, and ended up way behind the avatar project because I had so many key plot research projects uncompleted).
As a mix of stuff, I think the above offers a good refresh of strategic and tactical bits, but ultimately XCOM2 remains XCOM2, even with War of the Chosen. It almost feels like the Chosen, while pretty cool, are not even the crux of the new stuff. The game could just as easily have been called “XCOM2 – Rise of the Rebellion” or “XCOM2 – The Walking Dead Edition” or even “XCOM2 – Now with More Ways for your Soldiers to Die.” If you are one of those people who played XCOM2 to absolute distraction, over and over and over again, by all means War of the Chosen is no doubt for you. For people like me, who enjoyed XCOM2, but wandered away from it once the plot was done, I’m not sure this is enough to bring you back to full throttle. There’s no question that I’m enjoying War of the Chosen, but the oh-my-God let me just play one more turn, complete one more mission, wait until this room or that research project is finished, is greatly diminished.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
This review is based on a digital copy of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen for the PC provided by 2K.