I hadn’t played XCOM 2 since it launched in 2016, so coming back to it now meant a lot of new experiences. I also snagged all the DLC for even more new stuff, but this review is going to focus on War of the Chosen itself since the DLC is good, but doesn’t have sweeping changes the way the expansion does.
Just like Enemy Unknown in the previous XCOM game, War of the Chosen is not a traditional expansion that adds a new campaign or story, but rather directly integrates into the existing XCOM 2 vanilla campaign in a myriad of ways. There’s new friends, new foes, new maps, extra missions, additional gear and more.
The most substantial way WotC adds to the XCOM 2 experience is the new ally and enemy heroes. There are three on each side respectively, and these newcomers to the war will define a lot of your missions, intentionally and by surprise.
Unlike regular XCOM soldiers, the faction units as they are called have first to be found and made contact with. It doesn’t help the factions all hate each other and just happen to hate the aliens more. After brokering some peace and helping them out, the new faction (hero) units will join your ranks.
Without spoiling too much, I found the extra stealthy Reaper my overall favorite as she led the charge on every mission, able to scout up close without being detected. The other factions are no slouch either, with the Skirmisher being a real swiss army knife of a soldier, able to perform a broad number of tactical options including an awesome new reverse-grappling hook move that can suck enemies out of cover. Lastly, the enigmatic Templars exude raw potential. Not necessarily strong upfront, but able to ramp up power through ranks and mission combat to unleash devastating abilities on the field.
But what of the titular Chosen? These three champions of the Elders are just as fearsome as your hero units, and each controls one or more continents. Whenever you embark upon missions in a section they lurk, there’s a chance they will show up during your mission happy to throw a wrench in the gears. They come in 3 flavors, namely the Assassin, the Warlock, and the Hunter.
The Assassin felt like my chief nemesis for a variety of reasons. Not only was this crafty gal the first Chosen I encountered, but she also made off with my favorite Specialist the 2nd time I faced her. A new mechanic lets the Chosen kidnap your soldiers so they can gain intel with the eventual goal of launching an attack on the Avenger. Outside of performing actions, she is permanently cloaked which makes her quite hard to keep track of. In this case, she snuck behind my whole squad, knocked out my soldier far back on Overwatch then made off with her. Somewhat frustratingly I didn’t get a rescue mission opportunity until a long time later but was a very satisfying payoff when I did.
I immensely enjoyed the Chosen aspect of the expansion. It added more engagement while on the strategic and tactical layer, as all the Chosen have different dialogue to taunt, praise or otherwise comment on your actions. Save a soldier left behind, and they will commend you. Hit them with a low tier weapon and they will scoff at your weakness. Additionally, as time goes on, they gather intel on XCOM and can launch counter-offensives against you as well as power up and learn new skills to make you miserable.
The Chosen won’t plague you forever unless you don’t undertake new Covert missions to discover their bases and ultimately infiltrate to take them down for good. These fights are tense and thrilling, you’ll want to bring your best troops along for the ride.
There are also three (everything is three in this expansion) new base enemy units to add more flavor during encounters. The coolest addition is the Spectre. This pesky adversary is comprised of a swarm of nano-bots that can zoom around quickly, avoid overwatch fire and make shadow copies of your soldiers, which also disables them.
A form of zombies also makes their way into the game known as the Lost. These former-humans swarm the old cities and add tension to the proceedings as you extract a VIP while pursued by hordes of shambling Lost. Killing one outright will grant your soldier a free action, but your ammo will often run out before the Lost runs out of bodies to throw at you. Watch out, using explosives only draws more of them I ruefully discovered.
Many of your tried and true strategies from the regular game will work here, but between the new enemies and the Chosen (and the Alien Rulers if you have that DLC) things can get quite exciting and force you to adopt new tactics.
A new soldier mechanic is bonding. Soldiers who go on enough missions together can form bonds, and after a few days of training become “bond-mates.” There are 3 levels of the bond system, with each one granting additional benefits to the teammates such as giving each other another action or removing mental effects when nearby.
XCOM 2 has never felt frivolous, but the new create poster system adds a level of silliness to the proceedings. After every mission, you can take a photo, but even if you don’t the game will make one for you automatically. Full of heroic poses and inspirations quotes, the posters will also show up on missions later and around your ship.
There’s a bunch of new stuff on the Strategy Layer (the Avenger/Globe.) and in missions. Aside from the Chosen taunting you, of course, there are new covert ops to send troops on, resistance orders to issue, many new tasks and mission modifiers called SITREPS which add extra challenges. There are new research and gear to tinker with, and new environments to ogle at while you blast aliens and hunker down on overwatch. My favorite was the alien ecology type maps, where all manner of twisted trees and eerily colored tendrils covered the zone.
Multiplayer still exists in the game, though I haven’t actually delved into it much before. I recall playing a few rounds with the original game vs. friends, and that’s entertaining. But I don’t see the multiplayer being a mainstay, even though it’s worth a peek to see if you enjoy it. More units from WotC means more unit groups to mess around with.
The game is still a performance hog, so nothing has really changed there since launch. Even on a super-rig iMac, I have to run the game at medium/high settings with some options disabled entirely not to get any stuttering. But XCOM 2 actually still looks incredible, even years after its original release. The sound is solid through a decent set of speakers, but get a great headset or 5.1 Surround, and the immersion is real.
If you’re just getting started with XCOM in 2019, I recommend grabbing the hefty XCOM 2 Collection. (Though at a whopping $100 you may want to get it on sale.) This gives you all the content in a tidy unified package. It’s worth mentioning however you can just buy War of The Chosen independent of the 5 DLC packs.
As such it’s possible to ignore the DLC and just have the base game and expansion. I won’t begrudge you if you do this since some of the DLC is purely cosmetic, and those kinds of things already exist on the Workshop. However, if you want even more XCOM, I do highly recommend the Tactical Legacy Pack, and the Alien Rulers pack as they add a lot of fun content.
If you do happen to have the content packs (Shen’s Last Gift, Alien Rulers), there is some awkwardness playing these with War of the Chosen since to integrate smoothly it actually skips some of the missions since the DLC’s were released before the expansion proper. This is the default option, though you can turn it off and experience the unique DLC missions specifically if you want.
Mod Support can’t be overlooked, because the Steam workshop makes the mod process very accessible. XCOM 2 has been out a few years itself, so lots of mods already exist. However mods for WotC are in a separate category altogether, so make sure you are picking the right ones. A few clicks can have you browsing the best quality of life/UI improvements or all manner of ways to make the game easier, or harder. I prefer a mix of both since I like having my soldiers be supercharged, but also have heaps of beefed up enemies to take on as well. If you want to go really hard, you can convert entire sections of the game into something else entirely. Or you can just go cosmetic, and have Master Chief running around with Call of Duty weapons voiced by the gravelly tones of Adam Jensen. The possibilities are nearly endless you just have to make sure mods are compatible.
At the end of the day War of the Chosen is a lot more XCOM 2 goodness. If you liked the base game, you'd love War of the Chosen. If you didn’t find the original game fun, it’s unlikely this expansion will change your mind, though I do feel it makes the game very “complete” much like Enemy Unknown did with XCOM years before. Like the developers have made the game they really wanted in its entirety.
XCOM 2 and its expansion is an outstanding mega-slice of gaming that will be sure to satisfy a wide range of strategy fans, with an edge towards those who like to save the world from aliens, one turn at a time. But then again, who doesn’t like saving the world from aliens? Get out there, soldier.
- Chosen are fun to fight
- New hero factions add to soldier experience
- Enough changes to make a new campaign feel fresh
- Still a performance hog