The problem with coming out with an expansion as large as XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is that it can overshadow the base game. Upon downloading and starting up a new campaign, nothing but new content met me, with everything from assets and missions to mechanics and map cohesion getting an update. I have played entire sequels that have presented less new content than this expansion. When you first see one of the Chosen teleporting into the battlefield and declaring personal war, the risk is stronger, maybe more than you can conceivably compensate for, and this encompasses much of the DLC. In almost all cases, stakes are higher. Your content is vastly improved, and so are your troops, but the enemy comes at you harder, faster, and with more tenacity.
War of the Chosen serves as the fourth and largest content expansion for XCOM 2. It introduces innumerable new features, with the largest of the changes being the factions and the opposing Chosen units. New enemies include a cloud of nanobots called the Spectre that knocks out and clones perfect copies of your troops, which adds more enemies to an already hectic situation. The Priest is a difficult unit to kill, considering they like to pop into a stasis bubble to save themselves from death. The Purifier cleans out the ancient, rotting human cities, using exclusively a flamethrower to cover the map in purifying flame. The Lost also stalk the crumbling cities, flooding the map with enormous numbers that overwhelm your sometimes limited resources.
The factions that arrive to help your fight against these incredibly powerful enemies are the Skirmishers, the Templars, and the Reapers. All of them hate each other’s methods of wiping out the aliens, and the mistrust is easy to understand considering one faction are actually aliens. The Skirmishers are regular Advent troopers that managed to free themselves from the mind control chips in their heads, releasing their ability to stab everything in sight. Seriously, these guys are the William Shakespeares of stabbing aliens. They also have a handy bullpup that can fire twice if they don’t move around too much, plus a grappling hook to fly around the map. The only time I used a Skirmisher outside of missions involving the mass numbers of Lost, I had him zipping around the battlefield stabbing multiple things in a round. Later in their skill development, Skirmishers gain the ability to freely fire an electric grappling hook, then pull that enemy towards them for a good stabbing. After that, they can grapple somewhere else and stab some other thing. If there’s a lot of Advent that desperately need a good blade gauntlet to the face, the Skirmisher is there to please.
The Reapers are the living manifestation of that phenomenon in stealth games where you can fire at an enemy and watch as they freak out for a few moments before sitting down and blaming the wind. Reapers are only equipped with sniper rifles, but they use them in the same way Hawkeye uses a bow and arrow. Even in cases where a sniper rifle doesn’t seem like the most practical weapon to use, the Reaper uses it effectively. I swear they get rid of mosquitoes not by slapping them from the skin, but by firing a sniper rifle at it. They can fire multiple times at an enemy without revealing themselves, staying in stealth for entire missions where everyone else might have gone loud. They also carry an explosive they can set off without giving away their position. The most fascinating ability by far is the power to shoot the gas tank of a car and make them explode with more force than any grenade, instantly killing even mutons.
The Templar is a powerful psionic class that runs around the battlefield with nothing but a machine pistol and the ability to manipulate time and space with their brains. They run at an alien much like the ranger, slicing them open with psionic gauntlets that focus their mind into an extremely powerful blade. After slicing an enemy this way, they gather focus, which increases the power of their attacks. This means they gather significant momentum and even gain the power to completely negate the damage of any return fire. They unleash their psionic ability as a ranged bolt which gains power and reach if they have gathered more psionic energy charged from slashing open snake women.
Each faction’s unit is an extremely powerful force on the battlefield, and they also come with powerful tactical abilities to affect the strategic layer of the game. After building a new facility inside the Avenger, you can parley with the leaders of each faction, sending your troops out on missions to increase how much the faction might like you, as well as granting you powerful bonuses either in combat or on the world map. In much the same way as Enemy Within, you send troops out on covert missions that may or may not end up going smoothly. Your mission to help the Reapers gather intel on one of the Chosen may go horribly wrong, and they’ll be stuck in a situation with one incapacitated man in an old city surrounded by hordes of the Lost.
The old cities are a fascinating new setting. In these skirmishes, vast numbers of weak mummified abominations control the battlefield. The zombie-like humans throw themselves headfirst into battle, not paying attention to how many bullets might be coming their way. They are easily dispatched, but the sheer number of them means you must pay careful attention to your turn efficiency. Every single bullet counts, as the “headshot” mechanic dispatches the Lost. If a single bullet barrage kills a Lost, it grants the shooter a free action, and the shooter can go again. This means the skirmisher’s bullpup is useful, as you can normally just fire twice with it. But upgrade the magazine size and soon your Skirmisher will be killing entire hordes by themselves. Careful, though, as an exploding grenade will bring even larger numbers of Lost crawling from the woodwork. Worse, in these cities, you might not just be dealing with Lost. The Advent is sometimes lurking, burning out huge numbers of them. Worse, a Chosen might be stalking you from the shadows, waiting to put your soldiers out of their misery.
The Chosen are the unmitigated stars of the expansion, appearing only to make your difficult missions that much worse. If you thought hordes of twisted, feral human beings, an Advent squadron of lancers backed up by priests, and a horrible starting situation of only two troops and a scientist you have to protect was bad… wait until the Assassin shows up. She slinks from the shadows, running incredible distances to stab one of your soldiers, then disappears back into the shadow she came from. Chasing her is dangerous, because of her incredibly powerful alien shotgun which she might have free overwatch shots with. Staying where you are and preparing an ambush is dangerous because the soldier she just hit is now “dazed”. If you decide to ignore the “dazed” condition for a turn or two to sneak in a couple of good shots, she reappears from the shadows, grabs your soldier, and teleports to her home base with him for a nice cup of tea.
No, wait, actually, she tortures them for weeks to gather every morsel of information she can from your men. It’s not even their choice, as she steal’s thoughts directly from their head, even going so far as to do this right on the battlefield in front of you. Each of these Chosen aren’t in the fight to kill your soldiers after all: they’re here for you, the player, and the best way to do this is to stay alive long enough to find the Avenger. If this means simply sabotaging your supply chain or slaughtering various innocents to get a rise out of you, they’ll gladly partake. If it’s more useful to show up on the battlefield in person to screw up everything that was going well, you can count on it. That’s XCOM, baby. They’re trying desperately to find you to bring you back into the fold, but they’re capable of talking to you at all times. While this is great for characterization, giving you an idea of how each Chosen differs in personality and quirks, it also doesn’t make sense that they have unlimited access to all your radio channels.
The Hunter and the Warlock aren’t much better. The Hunter appears on the battlefield, only to fire at you from all the way across the map. There is literally no way to hide from his gaze, and his rifle never misses. Meeting him shows how he has an almost intimate relationship with his weapon, and I might too if I had a rifle that could fire through 7 metal walls and kill a human in powered armor from the other side of town. The Warlock is the pinnacle of psionic ability, capable of creating exploding ghosts, ranged psionic attacks, and the ever-popular mind control. He doesn’t usually visit you personally when he shows up on a map, choosing instead to watch as you try to find some way of defeating enemies that are somehow worse than stun lancers.
The worst part about the Chosen is that they come with strengths and weakness. That’s not a typo: they come with basically one weakness out of four. There’s one “weakness” all of them get where a particular faction can do more damage to a particular Chosen, but honestly, that’s nothing compared to the incredible strengths they get. They could have a weakness to explosives but have a strength where they get a free overwatch on every turn. Or a strength where they can fire back for free after being fired upon. Or a strength where they’re immune to melee attacks. To add a cherry to the trash sandwich that these cheating mini-bosses get, they can actually steal your soldiers to learn new strengths. This means that if you take too long, you might be fighting a Chosen that’s so hard to kill that you decide to build a giant spaceship and nuke the planet from orbit.
Eventually, you will have to face the Chosen. You can face them in their own lairs, which thankfully aren’t as mind-meltingly awful as having them show up in a random mission because you’re ready for their bull. You can also fight them if you decide to forge ahead to the last mission. There’s only one thing worse than trying to survive the last fight on vanilla, and it’s having an immortal Chosen taunt you while stabbing your favorite sniper during that fight. If you decide to fight them on their own ground, you can finally kill them permanently, because killing them in any other mission just has them pop right back into the fight. They never actually die unless you pull them up from the roots.
The horrors of war on each mission lower your troop’s will, increasing chances of a quirk suddenly developing. This quirk makes a soldier a handful on any mission they’re in, such as a compulsion for reloading after every single shot, an anxiety disorder that causes them to hunker down after moving, or a fear of stun lancers that causes them to panic if they see one. Soldiers tiredness is an overall downside, but it enhances the feeling that you’re dealing with real human beings. Sending your favorite sniper on too many missions in a row might end up with them gaining PTSD, and only time and therapy will help her get back into the fight. The new companion system counterbalances the fatigue. Each soldier has a random compatibility with every other soldier, and putting them on missions together means that they’ll eventually become friends, maybe even lovers. After they gain levels of compatibility, they get the ability to help each other in combat. Each tier is more powerful than the last, such as granting each other free actions, firing on the same enemy simultaneously for bonus damage, and just freeing their partner from mind control by being adjacent. My personal canon is that the only thing that can free a soldier from mind control is a passionate kiss.
Outside the campaign, there’s also a new Challenge Mode. Did you ever think you’re the best at XCOM 2 because you managed to grab an achievement for beating the game before June? Did you think, for a moment, that you were the best in the world at this game? Now you can prove it. Challenge mode is a semi-randomized map with unique modifiers, enemies, and troops. One day you might have random XCOM troops just trying to clear a map of enemies, and in the next one, you might have a few mutons while fighting in the tunnels beneath a city to stop a mind control device. They change often, and each time, the leaderboards reset. If you’re having trouble with a map, try again, and again, and again. Eventually, you may reach the top in the region if only for a few moments. Take a screenshot, and use the new propaganda system to celebrate your conquest. The propaganda system is a new feature to add a more personalized, human touch to the world: you create posters showcasing the abilities of your troops after clearing a map of archons, snapping a photo in the middle of piles of their bodies. The best part is that these posters appear in the game world as graffiti in liberated areas, or even in areas that are only just starting to show support for your resistance.
Both the tactical and strategic layers of XCOM 2 are heavily modified by these relatively small additions. While it adds new enemies to fight and new (definitely cheating) mini-bosses that can dramatically test your powers of strategy, the most interesting aspects are the human elements introduced to XCOM 2. Adding names and making your soldier look vaguely like your friends is one thing, but having them become friends, become traumatized in the fire of combat, heal, and then go out for drinks is inspiring and refreshingly personal. XCOM 2 never lacked in the ability to create emotional stories fueled mostly by a player’s imagination: sort of like a dollhouse where all the Barbies are actually battle-hardened alien killers with explosives. This weird, violent dollhouse gained new powers of telling your soldier’s stories and letting the players pull off stunts and adventures that should never have occurred, or fail horribly in a mission that should have gone smoothly. The propaganda war becomes more obvious as snapshots of your small or large victories serve as reminders of what you’re fighting for. These are the things that make XCOM 2 unique, and having an enemy serve as the backdrop for your own character-driven gameplay is a great way to expound upon that uniqueness. War of the Chosen changes how you fight not by introducing new, powerful snipers and stabbers, but by making you really think about where you’re placing two old war buddies in a fight for humanity.
Our XCOM 2: War of the Chosen review was conducted on PC via Steam with a copy purchased by our reviewer.More About This Game
War of the Chosen adds a significant amount of content to XCOM 2, enough to make it feel like a whole new game. It's exciting to see your soldiers grow and fight new enemies that are simultaneously growing and fighting your soldiers. New enemies, new game mechanics, new troops, and new ways of making sure the aliens get off your planet.
- New Enemies Make Your Life Difficult and Painful
- New Systems Make Your Soldiers More Human and More Amazing
- More Maps; An Actually Fun Sewer Level
- The Bad Guy Calls You on the Phone Every Few Seconds Somehow
- So Much Content that a New Player May be Overwhelmed