I’ve been looking at the new XCom2 expansion; War of the Chosen, and i’m at a point now where I think I can start to share my thoughts on it and the (now) new game as a whole.
It’s massive, it’s deeper, and it’s definitely more unfair. Jump to the cut to find out how i’m getting on with it….
Xcom2: War of the Chosen (henceforth X2-WC) is a serious expansion. The original Xcom expansion was pretty hefty and introduced some new and exciting features (I miss cyborgs…) but X2-WC almost completely alters the whole game. Sure, the core mechanics are mostly the same but at every level it has been expanded and refined to give a huge degree of change that I don’t think i’ve seen in a title of late.
It is definitely worth noting that X2-WC adds a LOT of extra things to manage, so if you found the plate spinning in X2 daunting then this may not be the game for you, and i’d certainly not start with playing this game without at least having a full run-through of the vanilla version first (though as X-Com vets know, completing the game is another matter.
I’m not going to lie, I got annihilated in my first play-through. I got over the initial difficulty spike, but the addition of the Chosen, a bunch of psychopathic super-aliens that randomly stalk you throughout missions, tip things even further against you in the mid game. I actually managed to get to the last mission with one of them but it went hilariously wrong due to a game mechanic i’m not fond of. I then lost my best team and as you know, it’s tough to recover from that.
Let’s back up a little though. X2-WC as the name suggests adds the Chosen to the game. These are 3 super-alien hunters that are effectively tasked with taking you out. Each inhabits a different region of the earth and your likelihood of encountering one on mission is dependent on what area you are currently in at any time. They are almost without exception, extremely tough, very mobile and in of themselves are very hard to put down. Oh and they come back from the dead on subsequent missions. That they tend to land at the most inopportune times is just Xcom.
Each chosen has a different profession. One is a melee based stealth unit that can stun (and give heavy damage) to any team member she can get close to. She’s armed with a blinding grenade and can summon soldiers and mechs to attack you. She’s probably the first you’ll encounter, so you’ll get to know her pretty well. Another Chosen is psionically focused and can summon the new priests, as well as spectral zombies that have a nasty habit of exploding on death. The least is a sharp shooter with a particularly nasty area of effect sniper shot that leaves the targeted individual scrambling to escape their line of sight, lest they take a metric Ton of damage. Each Chosen forces you to adopt new tactics, new strategies and adds a huge amount of chaos to any level they inhabit. These Chosen also have traits which modify their behaviours, strengths and weaknesses. Each has 3 negative and 3 positive ones that add modifiers to their stats. Using my last play-through as an example, the melee Chosen was immune to overwatch, immune to explosions and missed shots generated armour. While on the flip-side she was vulnerable to combined attacks (3+ attacks a round gave an extra damage bonus), she took extra damage from Reavers (a new faction i’ll touch on later) and took extra damage from melee attacks herself. These traits are randomised each play through and each chosen has 6 (3 of each).
They’re tough in of themselves, but if that wasn’t enough they also have their own dark events and can sabotage the Avenger and your meticulously laid out plans. You need to track them down, find their base, and then eliminate them and their regeneration stones to kill them off for good. This is not easy.
On ‘our’ side of that we have the new factions. The Templar, the Reavers and the Skirmishers. The Templar are melee based powerhouses that generate energy on kills to unleash devastating chain attacks. The Reavers are stealth based snipers who make EXCELLENT scouts for missions and the Skirmishes are ex-advent super-soldiers who can grapple enemies from across the map to punch them in the face. This is exactly as cool as it sounds.
You gain access to two of these factions early on as part of a scripted mission, the third you either uncover as you expand the map or through using the new Resistance Ring room you have access too. This room allows you to send soldiers on covert missions to gain bonuses, new staff, tech and leads on the Chosen hideouts (3 clues are needed to find and then assault the Chosen base, the only way to take them out for good). It’s yet another plate to spin, and your agents are threatened with injury, capture or discovery. The latter prompting a manic evacuation mission that can be extremely taxing on your already frayed nerves. The bonuses are well worth it though. Further, as your influence with each faction increases, you can add your own traits that permanently boost your team’s stats or perks. These can have some significant effects. One of my favourite is one that causes feedback damage to any enemy that uses psionic attacks on you. Take that Priests.
Which brings me to some of the new enemy unit types. The main ones you meet are Priests (a psionically active soldier), scorchers (flame thrower dudes) and Spectres. Spectres are utter utter Gits. They will quickly become a prime target given one of their attacks, Shadowbind, immediately knocks one of your team unconscious and then clones an EVIL version of them to fight against. This attack, at least in my experience, is 100% effective, is un-blockable and can seriously ruin your day. Face two spectres and you can potentially lose half your early squad and end up with double the enemies in one turn.
Firaxis are really pushing it here; they know their audience very well and just as ‘we’re’ getting used to the game, they ramp up the difficulty further. There are SO many variables to consider, so many plates to spin, so many things to counter that it is a constant struggle to stay on par, let alone in front. The mid game itself is particularly punishing. Xcom was always a game of two halves. The utter slog and massacre up to ‘peak tech’, followed by the relatively downhill ride to the late game. X2-WC extends this final uphill slog, adds barbed wire, random shell fire and then hides another summit over the horizon. Yes, Firaxis are pushing it, but I love them for it…. Most of the time
Just in case i’m not getting the message across, this expansion is hard. Proper hard, especially if you play it as you should (advanced difficulty, ironman). I’ve got Warden armour. Pretty much full-plasma weaponry, ‘higher’ explosives and a lot of tech 2 gear, and I’ve not even SKULLMINED yet. Seriously. The chosen have kept me THAT busy.
It gets worse though. Or better. I’m not sure. We now have negative traits. After every mission a squaddie can end up with a random psychological ailment. These range from fear of typical enemy types, obsessive reloading using up a turn, or other fixations. All give a random chance of a negative effect, ranging from panicking, running away, waste of a turn, or some other crippling affliction. These are permanent (unless you build a Medbay), cumulative, and utterly maddening. One of my best soldiers is currently fragile and panics whenever anyone else is wounded. He’s also scared of the Chosen, so panics then too. He’s basically useless until I use one of the increasingly valuable Avenger building slots to build a Medbay and remove the trait. It’s potentially the straw that will break your back in the mid game. I can’t bring myself to hate it though. It just adds more character to your team.
They’ve also remixed a lot of the missions. Retaliation sites now have resistance fighters who can fight back, along with a different ‘type’ where the civvies are clustered in clumps rather than spread out across the area. There are assassination missions, where you’re tasked with taking out a high ranking Chosen before they can escape, and then there are missions involving the Lost. Ah, the Lost. think zombie and you won’t be far wrong. They have their own themed missions and though relatively weak on their own, they effectively spawn continually and can appear in groups of up to 8 at any one time. Interestingly, if you kill one you get a bonus AP, so you can easily end up wiping out 4-5 of them with a single squaddie per turn, but given their numbers increase in relation to the amount of noise you’re making (i.e. Splodies and Bang-Bangs), you’ll have plenty to keep you busy. Ostensibly they attack both Advent AND Xcom, though in reality it is heavily weighted in your ‘favour’. It would have been neat to see them attack Advent more obviously, but I’ve seen far too many instances of them running past Advent to get to my team for me to believe that’s set up correctly. To be honest, you’ll find these missions pretty easy and even though you can end up with dozens of them on screen at a time, you’ll never really feel overwhelmed so long as you keep your discipline and pick your targets correctly. They actually serve as more of a breather mission for me than anything else, but they do add some welcome variety.
It’s not all good though (if being punished more is a good thing…). The timers on missions appear to be much shorter. I’m not sure if this is by design, or a factor of the mission randomisation putting your objective JUST too far away, but I’ve had at least 3 missions that were by my humble reckoning, impossible. One I literally couldn’t reach the objective in enough turns. Even on full sprint. The Chosen too, often veer into the game’s ‘artificial difficulty spike’ territory. Their final missions in particular repeat, on a slightly smaller scale, the error in X2’s final mission that almost killed the game for me. I won’t spoil the mechanic, but I hate when games make things more difficult just by randomly throwing more enemies at you. Every turn. It definitely feels more unfair now and it’s so close to the line where you just give up, the odds being that overwhelming, that I do sometimes wonder if Firaxis have pushed it slightly too far.
I’ve also noticed frequent graphical bugs. Particularly on the more vertical levels and not all the the animations work all the time. I’ve also seen teleporting enemies due to the Reapers stealth vision highlighting what actually happens in the fog of war, which was more a disappointment than anything.
I’ve not finished it yet and I don’t SEE me finishing it anytime soon- especially on my Chosen difficulty (boom boom) and I do worry about the extra story missions at the beginning and whether that’ll start annoying me on subsequent replays. That said though, I’m (mostly) loving it. It’s brutal. It’s utterly unforgiving. It’s seriously unfair in places and the mechanics now seem to be actively working against you (as opposed to just being indifferent to you). Bottom line though, is if you love Xcom you’ll love this. If you don’t, it’ll put you off for life!
It has lead me to a massive tactical change though. See, it turns out the bravest thing you can do in XCOM:2 War of the Chosen is to run away. Literally. It took me ages to figure this out and i’ve been having significantly more success as a result. If a mission goes bad- bail. Seriously. Don’t wait to see what happens, don’t play the odds. If what you’re facing is too tough, retreat. Given the tougher mid game, losing senior team members has an even bigger effect and it’s a testament to how this expansion has forced me to change, yet again, how I play the game, and that has to be applauded.
It’s proper hard though.