XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
Firaxis’ alien-blasting strategy game is so finely balanced that if the developer pushed too hard on any of its systems the whole game could completely break. This existing complexity makes XCOM 2’s War of the Chosen expansion feel like a magic trick, because Firaxis adds nearly a game’s worth of new content into the existing framework without compromising any of its mechanics. XCOM’s strategy has never been richer.
Like Firaxis’ previous expansions, War of the Chosen weaves an extensive number of fresh ideas into the base game. With no new campaign, players must start a new game that features all of XCOM 2’s content up to this point. However, given XCOM’s procedurally generated nature, I never felt like I was replaying the same missions from last year’s release. On the contrary, within the first hour of War of the Chosen, I had already encountered new environments, faced off against a variety of unique aliens, and eagerly deployed new combat units onto the battlefield.
One of the most noticeable additions to War of the Chosen are the titular Chosen. These three new individual aliens have unique personalities and powers. You encounter these Chosen at random several times throughout your journey, but each encounter plays out differently because the Chosen learn from your encounters and gain new skills over time. XCOM’s aliens have always been imposing, but the Chosen are so overpowered that you need to pull out all the stops to take them down. I developed a special hatred for each Chosen, and my journey to end their tyranny felt personal in a way that I’ve never experienced playing XCOM before.
The Chosen aren’t the only new aliens in War of the Chosen. This expansion introduces a new class of enemy called the Lost. These stumbling corpses are basically zombies, and they attack indiscriminately in hordes. Every time you kill a Lost you gain a free action, so you can attack multiple times, and I had a lot of fun picking them off in packs. It’s also easy to burn through ammo when fighting these leaderless masses, which means you can get overwhelmed if your clip runs dry. Ultimately, I loved the extra element of chaos the Lost brought to each encounter. Since the Lost also attack other enemies, sometimes it’s beneficial to keep them alive on the chance that they help you cut through more menacing aliens.
The new aliens add a few wrinkles to XCOM’s combat. Fortunately, War of the Chosen gives you access to several new soldier classes that expand your strategic options to compensate for these new threats. These new classes come from three new resistance groups you can befriend and share resources with. Each class has its own strengths and weaknesses. Reapers are incredibly stealthy marksman who have a chance to attack without revealing themselves to enemies, Templars are psionic powerhouses who grow stronger after each kill, and Skirmishers are alien/human hybrids who specialize in close-quarters combat. All three units are wildly different from XCOM’s other classes, and each is so useful that I wanted to bring them on every mission. Unfortunately, you can only recruit new units by running missions with their faction leader, which makes them hard to replace if you lose one in battle.
War of the Chosen contains so much new content that it could almost have been called XCOM 3. Every mission dishes out a new enemy, mission type, or environment, which allows the game to remain fresh for several dozen hours. War of the Chosen’s wealth of interwoven systems might overwhelm newcomers, but strategy nerds willing to master the nuances will be treated to one of the most rewarding strategy games in years. I don’t know how Firaxis could make a more complex yet gratifying strategy game, but I can’t wait to see them try.