XCOM 2 – War of the Chosen Review

More like “thoughts”…

I love XCOM. I love the new XCOM. I love XCOM 2. Do I love this one? Yes… mostly.

Typically, Firaxis make some great DLC that has more in common with expansion packs from the 90s than modern day DLC bullshit. They cram in a great deal of new content, and make it work with the existing package. And for the most part, this works here too. But the game feels a little too crowded to me now – there’s a lot of busy work going on. Especially with the other DLC enabled.

What is it?

XCOM 2- War of the Chosen is an expansion pack dressed up as DLC, which adds a bunch of new features to the base game. The core storyline of XCOM is unchanged, though parts are rewritten. A lot of core mechanics have also been altered.

Firstly, the game introduces new factions (with their own soldiers and classes) and the Chosen – three super aliens which randomly show up in missions and who work against you in the strategic part of the game. The factions are the Reapers (a bunch of stealthy snipers), the Skirmishers (a bunch of ADVENT turned rebels, who act like better Rangers), and the Templars (who are melee-focused psionics). The Chosen, in general terms, consist of a psionic steroid user, a sniper with a penchant for machines, and a stealthy melee assassin.

You’re now forced to contend with these factions and agents on the Geoscape. You have to make friends with the factions, send your soldiers on missions with the factions to gain bonuses (or to defeat the Chosen), and their individual soldiers can be useful additions to your roster (especially when dealing with Chosen). The Chosen actively work against you on the Geoscape – usually by permanently lowering the income from a region, but occasionally by sabotaging the Avenger or other actions – and slowly “learn” more about XCOM’s operations (represented by an arbitrarily increasing bar). The more they “learn” the more dangerous they become. To beat the Chosen, you must follow an individual faction three-part quest-line, limited by the rank of your soldiers, to find their hideout and then attack it. Until then, they will show up randomly in missions, and screw up your strategic game.

The other major addition are The Lost, which are basically zombies. A few missions are centred around The Lost, but they can occasionally show up in regular missions, where they mostly act as a nuisance. Killing them with a headshot (i.e. killing them outright in a single hit) is a free action, allowing you to kill them until the clip runs dry. They’re only ever dangerous if they get the drop on you. As they’re a separate faction, they also attack the aliens.

Outside of that, there are a number of miscellaneous changes:

  • There are now New Game options to modify the gameplay, like doubling turn timers for timed missions (a major complaint with the original game), doubling the Ascension project timer, and a few other bits and pieces. All welcome additions.
  • Soldiers can form bonds between each other, which can be improved by additional training. They get bonuses and special abilities for doing this and being sent on missions together.
  • Soldiers have new promotion options – they new have a new pool of points that can be spent on extra skills in addition to the standard rank structure. Points are gained on missions, with soldiers gaining more points based on their Combat Intelligence. The new factions rely on this new ranking method exclusively for their skill selections.
  • There are a few new ADVENT soldiers. The Spectre is basically a sniper that can create copies of your soldiers (rendering the soldier unconscious in the process). The ADVENT Priest is a low level psionic soldier who doesn’t really seem to be all that threatening. The ADVENT Purifier is a flamethrower unit who can explode when killed, and is probably the biggest new threat.
  • Factions can confer specific bonuses to you each month – you can unlock bonuses by completing Covert Actions with them. Covert Actions also provide bonuses to XCOM – though they require you to commit troops to it.
  • Soldiers now get tired if they are repeatedly put on missions – while you can send a tired soldier on a mission, they are less effective. This stops you from having 6 heroes and a roster full of rookies that never get used. Soldiers can also develop negative traits if they suffer major wounds in combat – for example, a soldier that gets severely wounded by a Viper will now have a fear of them. Traits can be removed in the Infirmary.
  • You can now create propaganda posters. Yay.

What’s good?

All of the new additions are pretty good. Firstly, the little changes are probably the best. The fatigue system is a great new addition that forces you to keep deploying new soldiers. One of the issues with the previous game is that you’d often just end up with a super awesome squad of 6 that you protected at all costs, a few lower-ranked stand-ins for when your death squad took a hit, and a bunch of rookies that were cannon fodder or never used. With the fatigue system, and the new Covert Actions, this no longer happens. Rookies get thrown into the fight when troops are too tired to fight, or gain experience going on covert missions with the three factions. All of your troops become useful.

The new factions help to even the score a little bit. One of my issues with the base XCOM 2 game at release was that the early game felt like it was significantly stacked against you. Yes, this is XCOM – the asymmetric warfare aspect is a big part of it – but it’s still a balanced game, and sometimes this felt a little unbalanced. The new factions help a little bit with this to even the score – once you invest the time in improving your standing with them. Their extra troops? Honestly – I didn’t find them exceptionally useful, except for fighting against the Chosen.

The faction bonuses help a lot with the sheer amount of stuff you have to get through on the strategic map. There’s loads of things demanding your attention – and it feels mildly cluttered at times. You’re contending with the regular ADVENT stuff, plus faction missions, plus Chosen actions… it’s a lot to contend with.

But on the whole, it does make the game more compelling and interesting… but it doesn’t really change the end-game that much. Once you’re on top of ADVENT’s Ascension program, your time becomes much less limited – and you can basically hunt down the Chosen at your leisure (except on higher difficulties I guess). So while most of this stuff makes the early and mid game more interesting, it doesn’t change the end game that much.

The new options for soldier training and bonding is interesting, and can be useful, but not unbalanced. Individual soldiers are now more useful and important (whereas before they were only as useful as their class path). It gives you more tactical options, and a Gifted soldier can end up being an important part of your squad.

In terms of the new additional gameplay options, the decision to allow for double mission timers is probably a good thing – even better to have it as an option. While the timers stopped the “creeping Overwatch death line” tactic from the original, some of them were too restrictive, and forced you into negligent actions just to rush the objective. It wasn’t fun. The option to double the ADVENT victory timer slightly imbalances the game though – it makes it much easier to play the strategic game, but with all the extra covert actions that target ADVENT, it might make it too easy.

What’s bad?

The Chosen are mostly an annoyance, and are pretty flat in terms of personality. While the game dresses them up as some sort of nemesis-system, they’re not all that interesting. In combat, they range from a mild annoyance to frustrating. They have special strengths and weaknesses (that change as time goes on – the longer you leave them, the more dangerous they become) but whether or not they’re a challenge depends entirely on when they spawn in. Having to deal with them during a timed mission can be a nightmare, especially since they often have long-ranged attacks or multiple actions per turn, and operate entirely separately to the regular aliens. But if they’re just there, and you can deal with them isolated from other threats (and you can create this event with careful planning), they’re just another obstacle to jump over before you win the mission. They’re more harmful on the strategic map.

It feels a little too busy, and is getting close to micromanagement. Stuff is good, but adding stuff for the sake of it is not. While I believe the expansion mostly avoids adding mechanics for the sake of it, we’re teetering close to “too much”. There’s a lot of things that demand your attention – you can scarcely get through a day of in-game time without yet another notification demanding your attention. Sometimes this also forces your hand in ways that don’t feel fun – like offering limited-time ‘research breakthroughs’ which basically force you to research something at an increased rate. You can’t really pass up the opportunity, but it forces other things down the line. Other things, like soldier bonds, are pretty neat additions, but I don’t know if they really make that much of a difference.

The strategic game is less dangerous than before. It was several hours in before I even completed the Skulljack and obtained a Codex brain. I’d already killed one of the Chosen. I’d already met all the factions. I simply wasn’t pressed for time – I had enough troops to comfortably wipe out ADVENT installations and enough bonuses to limit their project progress. This would be even worse on lower difficulties, or where you had a double ADVENT project timer. The sense of urgency is lost – and part of that is because you actually need the extra time to deal with all of the new stuff. But the balance has swung in the opposite direction. You could do that in the original to a point, too – just don’t do the story missions and slowly tech-up – but it’s a bit worse here.

Using the other DLC with the game can be a pain – especially if you don’t select the option to rebalance it. The game now offers you the choice of individually activating the two major DLC packs (Shen’s Gift and Alien Hunters) as they were intended, or activating them together as a balanced pack. I strongly recommend the later, because having to deal with Alien Hunters plus the extra stuff is complete bullshit. It significantly unbalances missions at times. In fact, Alien Hunters is an awful DLC pack anyway (because the Boss Aliens are overpowered and awful) – but combined with the Chosen, the Lost, and the other bullshit you have to deal with, it’s much, much worse.

Worth it? Yes.

I’ve decided to scrap the old review system and instead swap to a “Yes, Maybe, No” scale for reviews. This probably more accurately reflects whether a game is worth getting or not. And for War of the Chosen – YES, it’s worth it. It adds a bunch of new stuff to the base game, the majority of which is fun to play with. Does it alter the balance a bit? Yes. Are we bordering on adding stuff for the sake of stuff? Yes. But this is still an excellent expansion pack that significantly adds to the playtime of the base game. It’s definitely worth picking up – even for full price.

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