XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen Review

 

I read an article on Kotaku recently about an infamous 70’s board game that apparently takes 1500 hours to beat. That means that if you spent two hours every afternoon, every day (even Christmas and National Pancake Day), it would still take you over two years to finish that game. My brother and I would give up on Axis and Allies after too many hours, for god’s sake. But, to be honest, if you know anything about those old cardboard cutout war games, it isn’t too difficult to believe. Some of those games had rulesets so spiraling and out of control that even Courtney Love was like, “damn 70’s wargames, you’re spiraling out of control”. And I pause for the laugh… here.

And the longer it is in existence, the surer I am that XCOM 2 is destined to be one of those games. At the height of games like World of Warcraft, Destiny, League of Legends, and countless MMOs, it becomes clearer and clearer that some gamers like games. And other gamers like one specific game. They spend their $60, and then they proceed to turn that game into their own Vietnam, racking up obscene numbers of hours with it.

Maybe the XCOM franchise was always meant to be that way. It’s a highly addictive hybrid of world-building and turn based strategy, and there are apparently endless ways of installing layer after layer of expansionary material that will eventually turn this game into a mobius strip of killing aliens and researching new technology. I recently spoke about the Firaxis-approved mod The Long War 2, and to be fair: that is still the reigning champion of long term gameplay. Long term as in your plan your vacations around it.

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But the recent expansion War Of The Chosen is no slouch when it comes to taking the base game of XCOM 2 and improving on it in a big way. War of the Chosen is an expansion in the old school sense of the word. Somewhere along the way, expansions were replaced by DLC, and the difference seems to be that while DLC adds features to a base game, an expansion truly… well, expands it. Both in the way you play and what you play against.

In the case of War Of The Chosen, Firaxis has added a whole slew of new ways to play, from the mission types, to the dynamics of your squad. I’ve become a huge fan of the assassination missions, which send you off to kill high ranking Advent officers before they escape the map to go and laugh at your incompetence with their alien friends. Your squad members can establish bonds with each other now, a mechanic that allows new abilities based on how you arrange your team members. Put two bonded squaddies into the same team to take full advantage of these powers. Just… be careful that one of them doesn’t see the other one horribly massacred. That has… negative consequences.

There are new malicious plans for the Advent project, new gear and research, and even new factions you can ally yourself with. This had to be my favorite part of War Of The Chosen. Allying yourself with three new factions offers up three new styles of troops to choose from, from the reformed alien technology of the Skirmisher, to the psychic knife style of the Templars. My favorite, though, was definitely the Reapers, which are essentially alien-killing snipers with some of the best concealment abilities in the entire game. The ability of being able to make cars or fuel tanks explode from a distance is amazing, and can cause some serious chaos and damage in a clinch. The Lost are a zombie species that offer themselves up as a terrific third enemy type. Relying on quantity rather than quality, a mere handful of them can turn into a swarm in a hurry, and that can mean problems for your squaddies. Of course, it could also mean problems for Advent: strategically placing an alien between me and a charging horde of Lost is a damn satisfying way to distract the enemy while you’re looking for higher ground.

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Of course, the most recognizable aspect of XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen is… well… The Chosen. They’re three super powered aliens with personalities and different powers. The idea here, I suppose, was to lend some actual recognizable faces to your enemy’s lineup. And in that sense Firaxis did a good job. I keep hearing a lot about how the Chosen were meant to act as XCOM’s version of Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system. And I suppose it’s a decent enough interpretation of that for XCOM’s particular style. As you fight the Chosen and they escape time and time again, they take opportunities to boost their powers and terrorize your settled locations.

The Chosen offer an interesting level of personality to XCOM 2, and I had a good time fighting them and stealing their amazing weaponry as the game went. All this is spite of the fact that, character-wise, The Chosen felt a little silly. I mean, for christ’s sake: they’re named The Assassin, The Hunter, and The Warlock. So right off the bat, you know that you’re fighting alien World of Warcraft characters essentially. Their storyline is a bit thin, but I don’t really know a ton of people who play XCOM 2 for storyline. What’s important is that they add a new dimension to your gameplay. Any time they show up, the stakes feel far more important. The Chosen mock your tactics, comment on your use of certain weapons, and triumph when one of your squadmates fall. It’s really unique to have an antagonist in XCOM that consistently goads you on. It makes the fight feel personal.

If I had any problem with War Of The Chosen, it would be the same problem I’ve had with Firaxis’s XCOM since 2012, and that’s the annoying bugs.

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This reboot of the classic series has been going on for a fair amount of time, and I’m still facing the same stupid bugs that I first dealt with five years ago. Soldiers still break windows that don’t exist, and the camera still focuses on blank walls during fight scenes. And that’s just a few of the more prominent annoyances. These aren’t game breaking issues, mind you. They’re small flaws in an otherwise engaging and fun franchise. But as I mentioned before, these bugs have been going on for years. How is it that they haven’t been dealt with yet? It’s almost more embarrassing for Firaxis and 2K to have such consistent errors flub up a nearly flawless turn-based experience. For some, it might be a small thing to complain about, but it’s a small thing that’s been complained about for five fucking years–one would assume they’d have addressed it by now.

Not quite a sequel, but too big for your bog standard DLC, War Of The Chosen might be the best expansion of the XCOM franchise since Enemy Within. Its newest features are a tad derivative, but I have no problem with that, so long as it gives me another reason to sink more and more hours into what is among my most played games of the last two years. New soldiers, new tech, new bad guys? Hell yes.

Does that make it a new XCOM? Not really. But the results are pretty damn engaging, all the same.

XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen was released on August 29th, 2017 for Windows.

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