The Poster Boy For Chaos

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen By Ade Putra (GameAxis).

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen By Ade Putra (GameAxis).

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Unlike the previous game’s expansion, XCOM 2: War of the Chosen isn’t an ideal proving ground for newcomers. While it does make you start a new campaign, there’s so much new content layered on that it’s easily overwhelming. The strategy layer incessantly demands your attention from all corners of the planet, gleefully spelling doom and gloom while the Avatar project ominously ticks away. Troop management is an even deeper rabbit hole to get lost in. And if you thought diving into combat would be some form of relief then boy do the titular Chosen have words for you.

Ah, the Chosen, early-game boogeymen and a constant reminder of alien superiority. These three super-aliens have a knack for appearing at the worst possible times, and I’m inclined to call them supervillains instead. They’ll mock your attempts to run and hide, and then effortlessly eviscerate any rookie brave enough to look back.

What’s neat about The Chosen is that they’re not just buffed up Sectoids or rebranded Alien Rulers. Rather, they’re memorable because they’ll patiently interrogate and kidnap soldiers to steal information, even outside of battle, and if left unchecked will show up uninvited at headquarters’ door. With explosives, turrets, and a raiding party no less. Essentially, they’re mirrors of the player, growing as you do.

There’ll come a breaking point, of course. The hunters will soon be the hunted, and this reversal will not come in a single, fell swoop but through a series of small victories. Eventually, you’ll find a Chosen’s personal hideout, and there you’ll end the bloody catand- mouse chase once and for all. One down, two more to go.

The battle between XCOM and the aliens has always been linear, represented via human technological breakthroughs and the extraterrestrials simply flying in stronger forces. War of the Chosen basically does what Civilization 6 did: break players from their routines.

It isn’t as massive an overhaul as their other title but the intention is clear. The Chosen spawn on different continents and are randomly assigned damage-type weaknesses. The three new human rebel factions – the Templars, Reapers, and Skirmishers – each introduce hero units representing hyper-specialized skillsets. The soldiers of XCOM now have an arsenal of weapons, abilities, and specialties, such that they’re now less of a military squad and more like the A-Team.

To counter that becoming the new standard, the strategy layer has us sending squads on covert operations, taking direct command only when things screw up or to mount rescue missions. Combine that with a new soldier fatigue system, which if ignored leads to crippling battlefield phobias, and we wind up in the situation where six of seven aces no longer cut it. We still have an A-Team, except it’s much larger and heavily reliant on supporting rookies.

You’ve also got the “Bond” mechanic, a true-blue buddy system that, at its highest level, gives the pair an extra action. In a turnbased game, that’s a massive advantage. The catch here is that they need to be together to work, and losing a buddy spells disaster for the survivor – they go berserk, which is itself a hair-raising moment since things already aren’t going to plan.

Then there are in-game posters. Yes, you can pose and dress up your soldiers in all manner of ways, backdrops, quotes, and all. It’s a full-blown photobooth mode and its fantastic. Firaxis knows we’re heavily invested in our team – strategically and emotionally – and this seemingly unnecessary feature imparts a great human touch that expands on the cosmetic touches we already tweak. It’s a welcome break from the madness. Going back to solo posters after a KIA buddy was a moment that completely caught me off - guard.

There’s more to XCOM 2: War of the Chosen I’ve decided to leave out because these features – the added characters, the routine breaking, and the improved emergent storytelling – are what defines the expansion. They ignite a desire to play more, to experiment more, to see what else can be done, to uncover stories waiting to be told.

I’m a little worried about where Firaxis takes XCOM from here. I’m drawing parallels to Volition’s Saints Row, which raised the stakes so high, the universe ultimately imploded. War of the Chosen’s late-game units are so capable of superhuman feats, that I can’t help but wonder how they’re going to reign it in before Commander Shepherd or Green Lantern needs to show up.

But that’s a problem for later. Right now I have soldiers to save and posters to make.


A hearty course of alien pandemonium for veterans. Newcomers stay away.

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DEVELOPER Firaxis Games.


PLATFORM PS4, Xbox One, Windows, macOS, Linux.

GENRE Turn-based tactics.

PLAYERS Single, Multi.

The strategy layer lets you send
teams out on covert ops, which in
turns means you need to manage
larger teams and keep track of
The strategy layer lets you send teams out on covert ops, which in turns means you need to manage larger teams and keep track of progress.
Fully customizable propaganda
poster design and photobooth
mode may seem inane, but actually
adds a nice human touch to the
Fully customizable propaganda poster design and photobooth mode may seem inane, but actually adds a nice human touch to the game.
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