Thirty hours into XCOM 2 War of the Chosen and I feel as if I’ve barely scratched the surface. There is just so much to do in this game, and every time I start preparing my squad to go in for a mission, something else will pop up that requires my immediate attention. A lot has changed in War of the Chosen from the regular edition of XCOM 2 I played a year ago, and most of it for the better. Here’s my XCOM 2 War of the Chosen review.
I wanted to start War of the Chosen with a fresh new campaign. Although the tutorial is the same, it quickly introduces you to some of the new key members you’ll be depending on to put a stop to the Avatar project. Three new factions join the fray, and you first meet the Reaper and Skirmisher classes early out of the gate, with the Templar faction playing a smaller role several hours into the game. Reapers are a sniper faction that lives in abandoned cities. Their skills revolve around staying hidden and ambushing their targets, hitting hard and fast before blending back into the shadows. Skirmishers are amongst the most interesting of the new factions. They are turncoat Advents that have gone rogue, fighting back against the Elders whom they claim worship a false god.
The Skirmishers have the unique capability to attack twice in a turn and have a grappling hook to elevate them to a more advantageous position which acts like a free movement. Templars, the last faction you’ll meet, are melee warriors with powerful psionic abilities. Killing an enemy with their spectral blades earns Focus, which can be used for a powerful ranged attack that can chain targets at higher levels. Unfortunately, the Templars feel almost shoehorned in as they did not have a mission highlighting this unique class. I just got one on my team after getting to a certain part of the campaign.
I wish these factions had a bit more personality behind them. Though I loved the introduction to these factions and their addition of a new class, the background and lore that is alluded to would surely be worth playing almost another campaign for. When these factions are first coming together, they hate each other almost as much as they hate the Advent. As soon as they come face to face with an Advent champion, however, they soon forget about their troubling history with each other and band together like best friends against the common foe. I assumed as I progressed through the campaign, there would be a pivotal moment where I would have to choose one faction over the other, forever losing that faction’s special class. That moment never came, and all my anxiety over which one I would choose was for naught.
That said, in researching and upgrading my gear, I was disappointed that I could not affect the Loadout of these special classes. At the highest tier of gear, your base soldiers will greatly outweigh any benefits the special classes may give you, with the one exception being the Reaper’s sneaky attributes. Their recon abilities almost negate patrols’ line of sight, allowing you to navigate through teams of enemies to your objective and develop a plan of action before the firefight even starts. That said, it felt refreshing to have the tactical choice given to me at such an early part of the game. I felt like I could experiment more freely with a lot of the options I had in my arsenal that helped shaped which direction I wanted to mold my future squads.
Missions are a lot more dynamic this time around. One of the biggest features in War of the Chosen’s campaign is the randomization of missions. Enemy patrols are different every time, so if you mess up in the middle and want to restart just be warned that the patrols will be in different starting positions. This caught me off guard many times before I realized that I couldn’t always just hit a reset button, as I would often make similar mistakes that would leave me in disadvantageous positions. Quickly the game teaches you how to adapt, and you have a plethora of utilities available early on that really reward experimental play. That said, I always made sure I had a tactical and eclectic core of four with a reaper for recon and planning, a stealth-focused ranger for up close and personal kills, a skirmisher to zip around the map flanking foes, and a grenadier to clear away any pesky cover the Advent tried to use.
It’s a good thing too, as the Advent Champions tormented me on nearly every mission. These mini-bosses were always fun and challenging to engage with while still maintaining my focus on the mission objective. The first time I killed a Champion mid-mission I was overwhelmingly pleased with myself, only to discover (to my horror) that they keep coming back. Not only that, but they come back stronger – having learned from my tactics, they would inevitably develop new traits a la Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system that made them harder to kill.
Eventually, you can find their lair, via a room in your mother base, called Covert Actions. This lets you send your troops out in a range of different missions from uncovering where Champions live to recruit new members of a faction to your army and even provide bonuses to the selected soldiers such as immediate promotions. This lets me have some of my lesser used grunts earn free rank-ups and provide security in case I lost one of my best in the field.
The last new feature to the game I’ll touch on is the introduction of a new enemy called The Lost. The Lost is a zombie-like enemy that is neither on the Advent’s side nor yours. They will attack whatever makes a sound or moves within their field of view. They get introduced very early on, and every time thereafter that they made an appearance I felt like a badass. The thing is these little guys don’t use up an action if you manage to take them out in one shot.
Often, I would go through a dozen of these little critters in a single round – only stopping because I had to reload. In a game as challenging as XCOM, these buggers were a nice stress reliever that occasionally made me feel like, “Yeah, I got this! I’m pretty good at this game.” Unfortunately, that feeling was always short lived. But it was especially satisfying when during missions I could successfully lure these critters out to attack the Advent, or even a Chosen on a couple of occasions. More a tool than a hazard, The Lost feature an interesting new addition to XCOM that I personally enjoyed having.
Though XCOM 2 at large remains mostly unchanged, the addition of new factions, enemies, dynamic missions, and the boss-like Chosen augments and broadens the experience to a whole new degree. Though at times the number of urgent missions that would interrupt me were nigh panic inducing, the constant balancing act of keeping the Chosen in line while also managing my Covert Actions in between preventing the Avatar program from reaching its goal was the most enjoyable XCOM experience I’ve ever had.
For those new to the XCOM series, I would definitely recommend including War of the Chosen with your first play through of XCOM 2 as it deepens the total experience and breaks up any monotony that was in the vanilla version. I have about another 30 hours until I manage to beat the expansion, but I know that when I do I’ll immediately start up a new game to experience it all over again.