There isn’t another game series closer to my heart than XCOM. In 1994 I was just sixteen when the now iconic turn based shooter arrived on the scene and I was immediately hooked. I remember myself and a friend would name our squad members after friends and family; informing each other the next day at school who had sadly been vaporised in the line of duty. It was this personal connection that made you fight harder, smarter and be genuinely gutted when one of them fell. The original did get a fantastic sequel called Terror from the Deep, but subsequent games seemed to lose their way with some truly atrocious titles: dark days for any true X-Com fan.
In 2012 the developer Firaxis released a new XCOM game that quite simply put the series back on the map. I didn’t know this until recently but finding that secret sauce that made X-com so good didn't come easy for Jake Solomon; the talented developer who toiled to bring this classic into the modern day. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Jake finally nailed it with the game we now know as XCOM. If you are interested, Eurogamer did a great video on this which you can see here.
I was thrilled when I heard XCOM 2 was coming exclusively to PC because for once our beloved platform wasn't going to be held back by the lowest common denominator: console. As we now know XCOM 2 was a storming success and improved almost every aspect of the original including sumptuous graphics and detailed environments. With hints at the next game in the final scenes of XCOM 2, we knew Firaxis had plans for the series and so we now arrive at the new expansion: War of the Chosen.
The best inventors give the people of the world something they didn't know they were missing. Just to be very clear, XCOM 2: War of the Chosen takes the base game and completely engorges it with new systems and challenges. Given the price this might make some people hold back and surmise it is merely an expensive add on pack; please let me explain why that is not the case. Firaxis has taken a giant metaphorical crowbar and prised gaps in between the established conventions of XCOM 2: then poured raw genius into these new spaces. I say genius because when you consider how complex this game already is, to add even one new element could ruin the whole flow of the game. They have added a tonne of new layers and each seems perfectly balanced.
For a start, there are three new allied factions in the mix which you can now seek aid from. These factions hate each other and don’t trust you much either: so it takes time to get them onboard. You can now use agents from these factions within your own squads, which are especially useful when starting out with a group of rookies. The Reapers are expert marksmen, employing advanced stealth and ambush techniques. The Skirmishers are defectors from advent: still physically changed but now free to walk their own path. Finally, the Templars are psionic assassins and my personal favorite of the bunch: using some incredibly clever skills these wildcards can change the direction of a battle. At the start of each month Advent still have their dark events but now we have our own of sorts. You can gain trust with each faction leader in various ways and this, in turn, will open up slots in which you can insert bonus cards. These will give you various boons in the game which are most welcome considering what you're up against.
One of the first new rooms you should create is the Resistance Ring, which will allow you to communicate with the faction leaders and send troops on covert missions. These will always have a direct goal, such as resources, finding facilities or tracking down the Chosen themselves. The fact that you must add soldiers from your own ranks makes you take pause; do you want to be without your best sniper for fives days? These covert operations can also give the participants new stat improvements so there is an added incentive: risk reward at its best. However, troops can also come back injured or even get ambushed by the Chosen; which starts a frantic escape mission.
One of the biggest additions are of course the Chosen themselves: three elite and specialised assassins who work directly for the Elders. As you play the game these three characters will be on you every step of the way. They can appear in any mission within a certain area of the Geosphere and once they do; it takes a concerted effort to bring them down.
The developers at Firaxis have clearly been loving the Nemesis system employed in Shadow of Mordor because the Chosen learn from each fight they have with you. Indeed, the longer you leave them running around, the more knowledge they gain and will even gain new skills by leveling up. The first time I fought the Assassin he dazed my Grenadier and then in the next turn extracted tactical information from him right under my nose: cheeky bastard. If a Chosen manages to fill this knowledge bar they can eventually shoot the Avenger down, triggering a very difficult mission in which you are the target. Needless to say, if the commander is stolen that is game over and the campaign ends. Even in the Geosphere, you are not safe with your income being damaged or supplies being stolen.
The end goal is for the hunters to become the hunted: culminating with a very challenging mission where you must confront the Chosen in its own lair. Fighting these unique enemies in any situation is exhilarating and fun. If you do manage to bring one to heel, you will also be able to research and then use their devastating weapons.
He’s got an arm off!
So new factions, god like super assassins, soldiers bonding left and right: but there’s more. The Lost are effectively a horde of zombies left over from the poor souls exposed in the first attacks on earth. These shuffling horrors can come at you on mass in city missions or even crop up in normal missions. When you shoot a Lost and get a ‘headshot’ your action point is returned, which effectively means you can carry on shooting until you ammo runs out. However, these shamblers can pose a serious threat due to their sheer numbers. The first time you see a group of them huddled together you might be inclined to toss over a rusty pineapple: mistake. Explosions will attract more Lost to that location like flys to a turd; as I found out to my peril.
What I absolutely love about the Lost is that they will attack anything, even the alien forces. The aliens will also recognise the need to direct fire toward this zombie horde and that will take fire from your troops. In one mission I remember thinking my squad had two more turns left before taking a dirt nap. What saved me was the Lost attacking the aliens on their flank, triggering their overwatch and keeping the Beserkers busy. The Lost are a new element and one which could have felt just tacked on. However, the way Firaxis have fused this third enemy force into the fray is very clever and much appreciated.
It’s also worth noting that the aliens have a few new additions to their ranks because they clearly needed more ways to kill you. The Priest is an Advent Solider who employs powerful psionic abilities, such as mind control and stasis fields. The Purifier is a fire based enemy, toting fire grenades and a flame thrower. Just don't kill these bastards at close range because they are prone to explode. The Spector is by far the most dangerous of these new aliens. They have a few abilities but the worst is being able to mimic one of your soldiers and in the same move putting your soldier to sleep. Think Body Snatchers!
The best part of UFO: Enemy Unknown (X-Com) was always having that personal connection to your soldiers. Yes, seeing your mum fend off a horde of Sectoids with a Plasma Rifle was somewhat jarring but that was also part of the fun. With the 2012 XCOM, we saw this naming convention continued and this was elaborated on in the sequel. In WOTC we now see so many new aesthetic options open to players, it really is possible to put anyone into your game. You can even assign a personality (twitchy, intense etc) which comes across in the battles brilliantly.
As I have touched on, all this personal connection makes looking after your troops all that more important and dangerous situations far tenser. In past games, Firaxis knew that most XCOM veterans would get their dream team together and never use any other soldier: leaving the rookies to play darts in the ship canteen. Once again you are now pried out of your comfort zone and forced to manage a far bigger roster of troops. For one, even soldiers that make it back unscathed will be tired and this is related to how much they did in the mission. Soldiers can also be unavailable when assigned to covert missions or when bonding with their new best chum. As those who have played this game know, missions always seem to crop up just when your best team is one day away from being healed. Again, there are many options open to the commander, even having the ability to build a special Elerium powered chamber that can instantly heal one soldier. The bottom line here is that like everything else in War of the Chosen, it gives you the player many more options than before.
As mentioned, two soldiers who have a high compatibility rating can bond (not in the Mass Effect way) and gain new skills on the battlefield. At first, this is simply the ability for one to pass the other action points: but once you build a training centre on the Avenger your smitten pair can level up their admiration resulting new abilities. This is yet another new system that works really well and in actual fact: makes total sense in the context of the game. Obviously if one of a pair gets their forehead a new ventilation hole expect to see some tears in the form of panic/berserk.
Is it PC?
When Firaxis decided to make XCOM 2 for PC only I was over the moon, because this allowed them to create far more detailed environments and aliens. There were some performance issues though and the now infamous last mission could chug some systems down to single figures on FPS. I’m happy to report that this expansion is running beautifully. Moving around in the ship view is now silky smooth and even the load times have been slashed. Mods can again be used in War of the Chosen and already many popular ones like 'Evac All' have been added to work for this expansion. It baffles me why they didn't add this function as standard but it's so simple to install mods this is a none issue.
The environmental detail is again exquisite with so many new effects it would be impossible to list them all here. I love the way that fossilised Lost Ones disintegrate when you brush past them or how larger enemies can literally walk through a building: the environmental destruction engine is sublime. There is also far more diversity in mission locations and mutators: such as Chen getting a satellite sweep showing you the whole map. Sometimes you will be in an underground sewer network and others in abandoned cityscapes: we really have been spoilt on new maps and missions.
Let’s say you have never played these new XCOM games but want to dive in: here is my recommendation. I would skip the first XCOM game because XCOM 2 is effectively the same game but vastly improved. I would play through the ‘vanilla’ game, take your time and enjoy it. Then and only then, I would boot up War of the Chosen and play through the campaign with all the new bells and whistles. I say this because unless you do play the base game, you will not have any real appreciation for how much content has been added.
War of the Chosen is an essential purchase for anyone who loves XCOM, owns XCOM 2 and I would say any fan of turn based combat games in general. Firaxis are absolute masters of their craft and it shows here: this is the best XCOM experience to date and I absolutely adore it. There is so much I haven't been able to cover in this review but I guess that’s the point: this expansion is ginormous and once again sets a very high bar for the next XCOM game.
Thank you for reading my review for XCOM 2: War of the Chosen on PC. As always, I only publish my reviews once I’ve beaten a game. I don’t rush for clicks and instead, aim to give my readers the best possible review that lets you make an informed choice when buying your games. I don’t ask for money but if you can share my site with friends and follow me @riggedforepic it really helps.