XCOM 2 was a fantastic game (though fraught with technical problems) and ended up being one of my favorite games of last year. Those technical problems are still mostly present, apparently not having been fixed up or patched out in the time since its release, but it’s still a great game nonetheless. There’s been a trickle of content over the past twelve months but the crescendo of the post-release show is here with War of the Chosen (WOTC), and I’m suitably impressed with the expansion. I have a couple of problems with the game in general at this point and with the way that the narrative surrounding the Chosen is handled. That aside, everything else about WOTC compliments the base game extraordinarily well and adds a new level of challenge for veteran players.
I’d say something like, “I wish I could quit you,” but we both know that would be a lie.
Much like the other DLC, War of the Chosen isn’t intended as a post-game expansion as much as it is an extension of the content experienced while playing the base game. After a few successes near the beginning of the campaign, the Elders summon their favoured warriors – the titular Chosen – and order them to slap you about for your petulance. The Chosen then rush off into the world where they proceed to screw with your plans wherever and whenever possible. Along for the ride are a slew of resistance factions separate from XCOM that you can team up with and an insane number of zombie-things from the first game that everyone forgot about until now. There’s a decent amount of content to be had here and, in a lot of ways, it really just makes the game complete.
You’re given a choice when starting a new game of whether or not you want to experience the other DLC packs as they were originally intended or as “streamlined” content. The second option means getting all the gear but completely dodging the mission and story arcs that go along with them. This is on top of a few changes that the game already makes to the overall narrative of the game, such as alternate endings, or when you learn about certain plot details. This is far from a bad thing; the changes to the narrative aren’t so intrusive as to change the entire nature of the game’s plot, and there’s a lot of flexibility in how the game’s content is experienced. At least from the standpoint of integrating it with what already existed, Firaxis has done an excellent job.
If nothing else, the original weird, cryptic ending of XCOM 2’s base game has been given much more content and yeah, expect an XCOM 3. I know I certainly am.
Being something more of an extension, rather than an expansion, the additional content of WOTC is focused at bulking out the gameplay experience of the base game’s campaign. It also gives XCOM 2’s already steep difficulty curve a decidedly steeper slant, filling in any gaps of excessive idle time that the game might have had with panicked and furious planning and preparation. In addition to helping the Avatar Project along and attacking players during missions, the Chosen themselves will be hunting the player and forming their own schemes. These can range from permanently knocking a dent in your income to forcing the Avenger to the ground for an all-out assault.
Missions can also become unpredictable and dangerous with changing variables called “Sitreps” being applied to each scenario. The Sitrep might be that the area you’re heading into is filled with explosives or the mission demands you keep a low profile and use low-ranked soldiers only. This is on top of the dangers introduced by Dark Events, the possibility of a Chosen showing up to ruin your day, or the area being flooded by Lost. The Lost are absolutely insane, by the way, and “flood” is the most appropriate term to use. During missions where they’re active, explosions will cause a swarm of the sort-of-but-not-quite-zombies to appear and rush at whatever is closest. Sometimes this can work as a great distraction for the enemy, and sometimes…
It ain’t a party until half the room is dead but still shambling!
One of the things I always found about XCOM, in general, is that the early game can be punishingly difficult, and making it through to the first few tech advances is a slog, at best. In comparison to the XCOM recruits, Resistance faction soldiers near the beginning of the game are complete monsters on the battlefield. While their overall effectiveness ends up coming into line with everyone else, they’re awesome as an early game support. While the boost at the start is appreciated, it’s also somewhat necessary as the design changes made with WOTC mean that there’s always something to deal with, and your resources will be stretched thin to cope.
Despite this escalation in difficulty, that difficulty largely stems from increasing the number of, and variance in, the various activities that the player needs to keep track of. There also comes a few new upgrades available to players, and more opportunities to score loot and resources. Unlike previous playthroughs of the game, I didn’t feel like I was mercilessly dicked over at every turn because I was lagging behind, but I never felt like it was a cake-walk either. For players who aren’t happy with the level of challenge, some mutators can be applied to the campaign when you start a new game. These can make it easier, harder, or just more interesting for the player, depending on what you fancy.
It’s a case of the game giving you an amount of rope, and your choices determine whether you save or hang yourself with it. At least at first, a lot of you will likely choose…. Poorly.
Here is where my praise for WOTC ends, however, because while I love the new content, and how it’s enhanced the overall gameplay, XCOM 2 is still buggy as hell. Whether it’s weird, elongated and inexplicable pauses between turns, camera glitches, model glitches, or just mechanics not working the way they should, there’s still no shortage of technical problems. These also extend to visual glitches in the HUD menus or on the battlefield when obscuring/hiding terrain for the camera. By this point, well over a year after release and by the third major DLC, I would have expected a lot of, if not all of these problems to have been resolved.
I also take issue with the way the Chosen themselves are handled as villains because they start out amazing before ending on such a low note that they’re not even worth a mention from the game itself. When they first show up, their personalities are laid out, their goals made clear, and a sinister tone is established to be associated with their presence, all in one slick cinematic. When you finally get around to taking them on directly, however, the lead-up to their final battles are all very samey to one another. While dialogue would change during and between missions depending on what had happened up to that point, the final Chosen missions had a lot of copy/pasted dialogue from previous forays. Instead of being a grand conclusion to the main feature of the DLC, the death of the last Chosen is treated like any other mission objective.
“Well done, Commander, but don’t break your arm jerking yourself off over this – get back on the ship.”
At the end of the day, XCOM is not a game that’s meant to allow the player to feel powerful. It’s a struggle, you’re always supposed to feel like you’re on the back foot even when things are going well, and at best you merely survive to fight another day. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen remains faithful to this idea by curating its content to be an extra layer on what’s already present; a new challenge added into the mix for veteran (or masochistic) players. There’s an enormous amount of content that enhances the game overall, as opposed to being an exceptional footnote at the end of a separately good game, which makes this the best kind of expansion. I feel like the Chosen were handled poorly narratively, starting out strong before fizzling into nothing, but that isn’t a complete deal breaker. That said, more than a year after release, the game still has a lot of problems with visual and technical bugs, which is disappointing considering WOTC is their third major expansion. If you’re a fan of XCOM 2, you’ll want to give this a crack, and any who were sitting on the fence about whether or not to play should consider this expansion a green light.