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XCOM 2: War of the Chosen Review

War of Chosen brings changes to familiar missions, revitalizing the original XCOM 2 experience.

Commander, the aliens continue to make progress on the Avatar Project — and a few other things, too. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen brings propaganda and covert ops to your guerilla war, soldier bonds and mental afflictions to your enlisted roster, and three power-hungry, once-human warlords to the edges of your vision and the back of your neck. The “Chosen” compete to recapture you, Commander, and they take great pleasure in razing your home. They taunt you, insisting every casualty is your fault, and the slaughter won't stop until you come crawling back.

Are you going to let them get away with that?

War of the Chosen overhauls XCOM 2 with enough content to make a whole 'nother game, yet it blends the expansion, all previous DLC, and the base game together so seamlessly, you'll weep. It's like stacking two monster trucks on top of each other and driving them in a rally—heinously difficult, yes, and some fools are gonna die, but oh so worth it, and the internet will always remember. Additional toggled difficulty options offer considerations for casual playthroughs and masochistic legendary ironman runs alike, such as doubling all health pools for enemies and allies, slowing Avatar Project progress, and scaling grenade damage based on where any targets damaged are inside that grenade's impact radius.

Changes to familiar missions revitalize the original XCOM 2 experience. When you fly to reinforce resistance havens under attack, those havens aren't defenseless anymore, boasting their own units in addition to the civilians you're there to protect. Extra maps join the rotation, keeping your environment fresh. The command view's busier than ever. Research projects can randomly gain an “inspired” bonus, reducing the time necessary to complete them, but only if you tackle them next. Once you make contact with the resistance factions War of the Chosen also introduces, you can order special covert actions that mitigate threats that used to simply snowball. No more obsessing over the Avatar project from the get-go; it's now perfectly viable to rush contact with the factions, then use their covert actions to reduce Avatar Project progress instead of attacking black sites yourself.

...that is, if everything goes according to plan. Expect that no plan survives contact with the enemy.

Covert actions do more than encourage you to remain flexible in your global strategy; they also provide a way to passively train your new recruits and make use of poorly statted benchwarmers — that is, if everything goes according to plan. Expect that no plan survives contact with the enemy. Your soldiers can be ambushed by aliens wielding flamethrowers. Or snake things that just want to give you hugs. Or actual zombies. It's obvious that for our poor loyal Central, the zombies are the last straw. Rookie, take point, and be ready for anything.

The potential for deadly ambushes might lead you to send your highest ranked veterans on your covert ops, but mitigating ambush risk exacerbates another: capture. You can flat-out lose any soldier you send, anytime, even if your covert action succeeds. You can mount a rescue mission, but you'd better hurry up about it, since ADVENT immediately starts interrogating your operative in a way that probably doesn't abide by the Geneva Conventions. That sucks Faceless mucus for your soldier, and it also sucks for you as the Commander — if you don't save Private Ryan, he'll eventually break and give the aliens actionable intel about your base of operations before he expires. A veteran who gets captured obviously can't be deployed on his own extraction mission, so you might end up fielding squads of rookies to rescue your all-stars.

Along with the introduction of resistance factions in War of the Chosen, you gain access to three new resistance operative classes. You only get one of each, but they're glam powerful. Reapers — gas mask wearing, off-the-grid survivalists who literally hunt, grill, and eat aliens for breakfast — scout ahead with enhanced concealment, lay traps and snipe without revealing themselves, and grant the squad permanent vision of any enemy the Reaper glimpses once. Skirmishers — former ADVENT forces rebelling against their creators — boast insane mobility through a grappling hook that can also be weaponized to jerk enemies out of cover or deliver electric shocks. Templars — humans wielding psionic energy and combining it with technology, proving such abilities aren't the exclusive strength of the Elders — buff themselves and build resources for their psionic abilities with every melee kill they score.

“Aliens hate her — skin more Sectoids with this Major's one weird trick!”

Monthly resistance orders dramatically affect the field of battle. As you gain influence with each faction by helping them out and completing missions in their territory, more orders become available. My personal favorite is an order from the Reapers which pauses the turns-until-you-fail counter on timed missions while your squad remains concealed. I enjoy scouting the map and optimizing my approach to each enemy group, so I find this order almost overpowered. Granted, plenty of the stunts and feats of RNG that the aliens pull are overpowered, too, so I'm not complaining.

The Chosen Assassin, Hunter, and Warlock are special creations of the Elders that were once human, and each desires to rule alone over Earth. Each claim the same territory as one resistance faction, and they invade your radar at the same time factions do, balancing out advantages you get from the Reapers, Skirmishers, and Templars with terrifying ambush risks.

Propaganda posters now allow you to commemorate your victories and memorialize your fallen. You can take photos after missions which feature the squad that fought, as well as promotions (“Aliens hate her — skin more Sectoids with this Major's one weird trick!”), deaths (“They can't kill his dream! Join XCOM today!”), and just-because portraits. Noir, pixelation, and saturation effects are only some of the enhancements you can apply to your posters, which show up on the walls of buildings in future missions.

You'll spend way too much time making posters in War of the Chosen since it's so incredibly satisfying, but that means you spend enough time in the photobooth to notice imperfections in the system. It's hard to find a background setup for your victorious Vigilo Confido heroes with even a couple dead aliens, even on missions where you rack up dozens of Berserker and Mech kills, and even when you locate a nice pile of corpses, it's tedious to rotate your entire squad to best show off these alien kills. There doesn't seem to be any mechanical effect on supply drops, recruitment ,or global morale after you make an awesome poster chock full of dead ADVENT. Furthermore, even on missions where you evac in a hurry, you can take pictures of your squad posing on the battlefield. I'd much prefer a shot there of my team on the ramp of the Skyranger there as enemies attempt to pursue us, in the same way missions involving an assault on a Chosen stronghold only allow you to pose in the final boss's room.

I decided then and there that I was going to make them bonded battle buddies and take them together on every mission possible.

Soldier bonding is another new system in War of the Chosen that encourages you to deploy the same units together frequently, get emotionally attached to pairs, and cry even harder when they die. Bonds are one-to-one; as well or badly as all the members of your resistance might get along, and for all they panic if friendlies explode and drop around them in combat, they apparently only gain emotional support from one of their comrades. When I anticipated this system, I looked forward to more numerous, minor bonuses from friendships and even rivalries amongst my entire enlisted force.

I understand why soldiers can only form and maintain one bond at a time in bonds' current implementation. Bondmates grant one another huge advantages when adjacent, such as immunity from mind control and increased defense and aim. They can also exchange action points from across the map, giving your grenadier the chance to launch all three of his payloads in the same turn, or allowing your sniper to deal full damage after moving.

Bonds manifest in only three levels (I would have liked more there). As it stands, each level grants a dramatic increase in power for a bonded duo. I agree that bond levels should feel big, but with long stretches of playtime between level-ups and sudden huge leaps in the bonuses a pair enjoys, I found less opportunity to invest in my soldiers' growing camaraderie.

Your first two faction representatives, Outrider and Mox, try to kill each other when they meet. The Chosen Assassin rudely interrupts their face-off, however, and Outrider and Mox put their grievances on hold in favor of frying their common enemy. Tidy cutscenes showcase their growing rapport. I decided then and there that I was going to make them bonded battle buddies and take them together on every mission possible. It went pretty well. For former sworn enemies, Mox and Outrider have surprisingly high compatibility, and their bond levels up fast. Apparently, all it took was a face-to-face with the Chosen up in their personal space for them to realize that.

XCOM has always provided fertile ground for emergent storytelling, and War of the Chosen brings the best. New features, systems, and customizable difficulty further multiply replay value. The aliens gain new tools, but so do you, and every update integrates into a well-paced story.

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The Verdict

War of the Chosen's new features blend seamlessly with vanilla XCOM 2 and all previous DLC. Covert actions and resistance orders encourage you to experiment with a variety of strategies, solving issues of early game stagnation and predictability in the base title. The faction allies and Chosen adversaries constantly engage you in their narrative, and they enrich your gameplay with increased risk and challenge. Other features build your emotional investment with your units but inadequately manifest in the nuts and bolts of your war. The highly anticipated bond system suffices but underwhelms in its limited scope and progression. Propaganda poster design is addicting but exerts no mechanical effect. Despite these areas that beg for more depth and breadth, War of the Chosen adds so favorably to the original XCOM 2 experience that fans should consider it near-perfect and essential.

Kelsey Erwin
Written by
Monday, 18 September 2017 06:00
Published in Strategy



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Kelsey seeks out RPGs with the narrative clout of Greek tragedy and strategy sims more punishing than QWOP. Their favorite part about being a gender neutral PC gamer and reviewer is that it's probably the only thing no one else on the site will put in a biography. Super saiyan special snowflake originality! Kelsey always keeps a pot of hot tea close at hand, and the sign of a truly great game is when it can monopolize Kelsey's attention so completely that the tea grows cold. While a dedicated believer in the PC Master Race, Kelsey also still spends time with their old favorite console, a cinderblock size Playstation 2.

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