Pinned down in a ruined city, my squad need to make it to an extraction point. In their way is a small army of alien fighters, a horde of zombies and a bloodthirsty warlord who turns invisible at the drop of a hat. It’s safe to say that not everyone made it out, and both digital and very real emotions were shredded in the process.
Revisiting XCOM 2 has been like cutting open a barely healed wound and rubbing salt into it. Up there with my favourite titles from 2016, the game is one of the most addictive and brutal experiences out there for fans of strategy games. And the good news is that the War of the Chosen DLC only makes it better.
Adding in new factions, a sort of nemesis system and new mission types, this isn’t so much a downloadable extra as it is a reimagining of the base game. Hitting the same key notes as vanilla XCOM 2, the game starts almost identically. However, as you progress further and meet new resistance fighters and enemy types, the narrative expands significantly.
Aside from focusing on XCOM’s role in the fight to retake earth from alien oppressors, you will be able to buddy up with other guerrilla groups – The Reapers, Skirmishers and Templars. Sending your team on joint covert operations will give you perks, such as being able to recruit members of their army who have special abilities – acting almost like hero units. These covert operations take place without your watchful eye, but they still require you to risk death or injury for those you send. The higher the reward, the higher the risk. If it all goes pear shaped you will have an opportunity to take control and extract your people, but the odds are always stacked against you when this happens.
Also new to the battlefield are the Chosen, who are basically the evil alien overlord’s version of middle management. They will gate crash battles when you’re in their territories (which are continents on the map) and generally mess with your day, sassing you all the while.
The good news is the Chosen have randomly generated weaknesses and they can be pushed out of a battlefield if you deplete their health. To kill them off for good you need to undertake covert operations with your allied factions to find their home base and assault it. But this being XCOM, there is a downside as they can also hunt down your ship, the Avenger, and take you on. So, all in all, it’s probably best to be aggressive and slap them down before they come at you. It’s all pretty similar to Shadow of Mordor‘s nemesis system, which is a fantastic addition to the already stellar XCOM gameplay.
Just in case these additions don’t sound chaotic enough, there’s also a new zombie faction, the Lost, who will rush all combatants on the field and dish out low damage melee hits, but the catch is they come in hordes. Fortunately having to face hordes of roaming enemies isn’t too one sided, your team will be granted a free action if they down a Lost in one shot. So theoretically you can wipe an entire horde of Lost with one soldier – assuming you hit all your shots, but of course nothing ever works like that in XCOM and the game actively hates you. This new chaotic element makes fights all the more tense, as the battlefield becomes far less predictable.
The beauty of XCOM has always been the narrative you set up in your head – where each soldier has a connection to their team and their loss actually matters. Until now that has been a sort of subtext, where you heighten the experience yourself through assumed connections. But now with added in-game soldier bonds, the emotional ties of your squad are very real and provide you perks. An additional photo gallery mode also increases this connection, as you can create resistance propaganda with your soldiers and celebrate their friendships.
Of course, it’s not all fabulous photo shoots, when half of a bonded duo perishes in battle their friends will quite literally go berserk. Seeing a character you’ve customised and invested time in splatter in an explosion is hard enough, but then witnessing their best friend go insane from the sight and rush head-on into the enemy – only to meet the same fate – cuts twice as deep.
In a strange way though, this is what XCOM 2 needed. The greatest subtext is now integrated into the plot. Also photo mode took up way more of my time than I care to admit. Being able to customise each squad member’s pose after a successful mission and add silly backgrounds and slogans is way too fun.
Definitely worth mentioning for Star Trek fans is the fantastic voice work behind the new characters. Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi), Jonathan Frakes (William Riker), Michael Dorn (Worf), John de Lancie (Q) and Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar) all lend their voices. Aside from being a novelty mini Next Generation reunion, they all do a stellar job with their respective characters.
The only real downside in War of the Chosen is that some of the faults of the base game are magnified by the new additions. Selecting objectives to complete in the global view is still overstuffed and difficult to manage effectively, even more so with all the new features thrown into the mix. The game chucks so many pieces of information at you that it’s hard to take it all in and focus. That being said, War of the Chosen, is still the best XCOM 2 has been, and that is indeed saying something.