Let me get this out of the way right now. I loved vanilla XCOM 2. In fact, I loved it so much that I rated it as the best game I played exclusively on PC last year. (Yes I know, I played both Forza Horizon 3 and DOOM 2016 on PC but they first started on Xbox, and XCOM 2 eventually made it onto Xbox, but I never played that version.) On my Steam account, I clocked in just over 200 hours of gameplay. It is a game that I’ll be more than happy to keep going back to, and with all the games in my library, that’s almost a rarity.
So I’m sure it comes as no surprise that when I heard that Firaxis announced a full expansion called War of the Chosen, I couldn’t have been any more excited than I was, and even after completing it, almost 40 hours later, I feel that I can easily play both this and the original game over and over again.
War of the Chosen starts off looking like a new game, as you start off playing a character we eventually know as a “Reaper,” one of three special faction soldiers that I will mention later, in a mission that leads up to the events of the original game and its “Avatar” campaign. From there we start off on what looks like the original XCOM 2 as a majority of the game plays almost the same.
And then we are introduced to Volk, the head of the “Reaper” faction. It turns out there are three alien based factions that despite being against ADVENT, have strong animosity towards each other, and during a mission, Volk’s Reaper plans to meet up with a member of the “Skirmisher” faction for a possible cease fire and alliance with XCOM. The meeting takes place in a now ghost town, one of the cities that was destroyed during the initial invasion and is swarmed with zombie like creatures known as “the Lost.” At the end of the mission, the Reaper joins XCOM, but the Skirmisher is taken prisoner by ADVENT and needs to be rescued.
Each of these new factions bring their own class of soldier into the fold. The Reaper is a modified version of a Sharpshooter class with the huge advantage of being able to use their rifle, even if moving on the first turn (which removes my biggest excuse of not using sharpshooters,) Skirmishers are armed with SMGs and are trained for close range combat, while the third faction, the Templars combine psionic skills using “Focus” as their power with momentum based melee attacks. Personally, I ended up using the Reaper the most because of their rifle proficiency but all three units provide good advantages in different situations.
ADVENT has also increased their variety of units. Troopers are now upgraded with the Purifier unit. Originally designed to fight back against the Lost, they are armed with flamethrowers that are not only deadly in use, but also as a last-second defense mechanism as they can explode on impact, doing damage to anyone close by, including the XCOM who killed them. Priest units are also in force, as they are a cross between a Sectoid and an Officer, casting psionic attacks and even going into a period of stasis when near death. Other new units include the Spectre, who as their name says can turn into smoke, sneak up to an XCOM operative, and use the Shadowbound ability to make a clone of him while rendering your character unconscious.
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Then, there is the Chosen. The damn Chosen. Summoned by the Elders to return the Commander to ADVENT’s grip, these three mercenaries will turn into the bane of your existence. There is the Assassin, a master of hit and run tactics, the Hunter, a long-range predator who tranquilizes his prey to capture them, and the Warlock, whose psionic attacks can even summon fellow ADVENT to work alongside him. Like Vahlen’s creations during the Alien Hunters expansion, they can warp in on any mission whenever they feel like it just to put a twist into everything.
And the harassment doesn’t end when back on the Avenger, they will do whatever they can to locate you, and when they get enough intelligence, they will even lead an assault on the Avenger. Go figure that my biggest criticism of the first XCOM was no base defenses, and now with this, after my campaign was over, I ended up defending the Avenger FOUR TIMES!
The only way to stop the Chosen is to enlist the aid of the three resistance factions, and through a series of dispatch missions (which I use my B and C grade units to level them up) the fight will be taken to their strongholds. So not only are you racing against time and the Avatar project, but also running from the Chosen’s constant harassment.
Thankfully XCOM has also learned a few new tricks of their own. Units now obtain camaraderie with each other, and if done long enough, a bond can form between them, making them stronger as a strike unit. Also, with Ability Points earned during missions, they can also learn new abilities that were normally not available for their units. By the time my squad entered the Psionic Gate for the final battle, all my units were so loaded that even three Avatars and a mess of Codexes were no match for me. I could not believe how much customization the game gave me in the end, while staying true to the original game. Even better, as your squad gets more fame with the factions, resistance soldiers will actually join your six-person squad, and possibly, even ADVENT units such as Lancers can be coaxed.
Sadly, not everything is perfect with the expansion. I will admit that rescue missions are a complete pain, as stealth is the key to completing them. When you are detected, the security level keeps going up, and once Level 10 is reached, reinforcements are dropped in at every turn, and when you only have a squad of three units, you’re pretty much at a standstill. Also, missions that involve the Lost make the game feel like it’s falling into typical anti-zombie territory. But hey, at least the Headshot attack (which grants a free turn after each kill) is very effective.
Also, despite having a lot of new stuff to do, a $40 price tag is quite high for an expansion like this. I’m guessing that 2K and Firaxis are treating War of the Chosen like when Civilization V released Brave New World, but I feel that a $25 price tag would be more appropriate.
Thankfully those are the only complaints I have about War of the Chosen, because with it, XCOM 2 just keeps getting better and better. Though still, after watching that ending, I have to wonder what will come next, another expansion or XCOM 3? I’ll be happy either way.
Pros: The Chosen are vicious. Three new faction soldier classes. New alien types, even if the Lost give a slight feeling of zombie déjà vu. Character customization fleshed out even more. More base defense missions. Blends seamlessly with the original Avatar campaign.
Cons: $40 is a little steep for what you get in an expansion. Cannot immediately transfer your soldiers from XCOM 2, as you need the Propaganda Center DLC, which at least is free.