by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
A Rough Start
2016's release of XCOM 2 earned both praise and disappointment from me. A very good sequel failed to live up to its predecessor in a myriad of ways from optimization problems to a sense of being rushed with an overabundance of timed missions. It was a game where my admiration for what became a guerilla war against aliens rather than a formal military opposition was hindered by small nitpicks that slowly added up and dragged the game down from the levels of greatness, to a game that was just good. It was my feeling that if a game had to be heavily modded to achieve levels of greatness, then the game as the developers intended itself wasn't great. It earned an 8.5 from me, which is substantially lower than I would've given XCOM: Enemy Unknown or its expansion XCOM: Enemy Within.
The subsequent DLCs did little to change my opinion over time, and I'd outright come to refuse to play XCOM 2 without my mods running the gambit from timer disabling to accuracy improvements (because yes, I know it's a game of chance but a point blank shot should NEVER miss). But now, a new bit of content enters the fray. Something not bitesized, but a full blown expansion.
The most important thing to note before I continue is that I've finally made my peace with the timers in the game. Seeing that no form of DLC was ever going to get rid of it, I resolved my options were either to rely on mods or to "get good kid" as my nephew so eloquently put it. And, in the long run, it does make sense. In an insurgency against a global force, time is of the essence and to act like I had the luxury of as much time as possible was just the thoughts of a spoiled fan who liked to take things slowly. Does that change my thoughts on the base game? Not at all. But, it did help me appreciate War of the Chosen and force me to abandon my comfort zones to try new things. Perhaps succumbing to that now, rather than last year, is a good thing since War of the Chosen feels like what people were asking for from the start out of XCOM 2.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen ups the fight to take back Earth to new heights with the addition of new factions, new enemies, new locales, new classes and - what I thought was an interesting (albeit frustrating at times) addition - the ability to develop negative traits for squadmates. Along with this come more customization options for soldiers, a propaganda poster maker and a much more cohesive introduction as to how XCOM found where The Commander was being held as opposed to the vague lucky shot of intel that was in the base game.
Let’s start first with The Chosen themselves. The Chosen are the elite of the elite, the best that ADVENT has to throw at you. Renowned hunters among the alien occupation, these ugly and cunning freaks are going to dog you nearly every step of the way once you encounter them. Across the globe, different members of The Chosen will confront you. You cannot kill them right away, and even if you are lucky enough to actually subdue them, they will live to fight another day. As XCOM grows stronger, so do they, and there will come a point where they will become emboldened enough to launch assaults on your mobile command center, The Avenger, and put you in a really tight spot (compare it to the base defense missions of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and then make it harder). The only way to finally deal with a Chosen is to launch your own assault on their bases of operations and destroy them. That is to say, the only way to take them down is to throw the best you've got willingly into the belly of the beast and hope they are able to carve their way out.
More Enemies And Factions
Reapers, Templars, Skirmishers; no these aren't new enemies, these are actually new factions you'll be encountering in the expansion. Reapers, human holdouts with one favoring hiding among the fallen cities with The Lost (another hint at their namesake 'Reapers') and the Templars, human psionics that have pushed the limits of mind and body to become a force to be reckoned with. The Skirmishers are former advent soldiers and blur the line between friend and foe. They also make ADVENT seem less like an all powerful force of unfeeling entities.
The Skirmishers have their own reasons for abandoning the ADVENT cause, and, while XCOM may be slow to trust them, they prove to be great allies. And their outfits look pretty awesome too, blending together ADVENT technology with more barbaric looking accessories. These faction names also serve as the names for the three new classes, with Reapers being an improvement on Sharpshooters, Skirmishers utilizing grappling hooks to close the gap between them and enemies quickly, and Templars being the new psionic class. Needless to say, I think that in origin, appearance and playstyle the Skirmishers have won me over the most out of the new factions and classes.
Earlier, when talking about the Reapers, I mentioned how they hid among The Lost in fallen cities. New locales takes place in decimated cities that are now filled with zombie-like human husks called The Lost, and they are violent but neutral. They hold no loyalty to the enemy, they will attack anyone and everyone who isn't Lost themselves. They're incredibly easy to deal with, but a great distraction to try to lure towards your enemies. The fallen city maps are a great contrast to the small taste we get of outlying overgrown neighborhoods, the shining ADVENT controlled metropol areas and the wilderness. These cities are bleak, destitute and show that this is what a complete loss will look like. This is what awaits humanity if it all falls apart. It's eerie, and they're fun to navigate.
This Is XCOM 2
This is what it was supposed to be from the start. A year and a half worth of improvements later, little bites and pieces of new DLC content, finally layered underneath a fun and expansive experience in War of the Chosen, this feels like the XCOM 2 I wanted to have. And, having finally made peace with mission timers has forced me to play a bit more recklessly, which seems like a necessity when everything is on the line. Turn off the mods and experience XCOM 2 in the way that it should've been from the start. Firaxis has made XCOM 2 as fun as XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within, while still bringing a different flair to the series.
New Factions/Classes are a welcome addition, The Chosen are thrilling and constant boss battles, fallen cities make the high stakes more fully realized.
The Lost are dealt with a little too easily.