I recently sat down with XCOM boss Jake Solomon and played through a mission from War of the Chosen. This expansion adds an enormous amount of new stuff—both frivolous and game-changing—to Firaxis’ brilliant sci-fi strategy game, to the point where it almost feels like a sequel.
And while I was taking notes on my laptop as Solomon explained the expansion’s new features, I noticed he seemed to be remembering something new every few minutes. So here are as many things as I managed to scribble down during my demo, between actually trying to play the thing.
If you want to read a thorough rundown of everything I got up to in my playthrough, diving deep into the new enemies and altered campaign structure, you can read all about it in the next issue of PC Gamer.
The Chosen are crazy powerful
These powerful new enemies aren’t just regular grunts. They have distinctive personalities, weapons, and powers. And they’ll even remember previous battles, similar to Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system. You’ll fight them multiple times in a campaign, and they’ll get stronger as you do. You’ll come to hate these guys in the same way you grow to love your own soldiers.
The Assassin is a master of stealth, able to appear from nowhere and knock your soldiers out of a battle, temporarily, in a single action. Hunters are alien/human hybrids with a more cynical personality than you might expect from an XCOM enemy, and use long range rifles. And Warlocks can summon additional enemies to the battlefield using their psionic powers.
Assassins can kidnap your soldiers
Don’t get too attached to your soldiers in War of the Chosen. The Assassin can actually kidnap them directly from the battlefield, leaving you a man short in the middle of a fight. And if you want to get them back, you’ll need to secure intel to find out where they are and mount a potentially costly rescue operation. You’ll have to decide whether getting them back is worth the resources, or if you should just leave them in alien jail.
The Chosen have traits
The Assassin I fought in my demo had two positive and two negative traits, which will be different for every Chosen you encounter. This will determine how you fight them, and present weaknesses for you to exploit.
My Assassin had Blast Shield, which made her immune to explosions, and Shadowstep, which meant she could move around without triggering Overwatch. But to balance them out she had Bewildered, which means she takes additional damage if she’s attacked more than three times in a single turn, and Adversary, which makes her take extra damage from Reapers.
There are friendly heroes too
It wouldn’t be fair if you had to face The Chosen alone. You can recruit three hero classes from resistance factions that are similar to their alien counterparts, but with a few key differences. Reapers, the opposite of the Assassin, are nifty with a sniper rifle and can kill enemies from an incredible distance. And if they fire a shot while cloaked, there’s a chance they’ll remain hidden.
Skirmishers, equivalent of the Hunter, can use a grappling hook to reach high ground and get a large number of actions each turn, making them extremely mobile. And the Templar, like the Warlock, can use psionic powers. As they kill enemies they build up a resource called Focus, which makes them stronger.
Heroes have their own upgrade tree
Each of the three friendly champions have their own bespoke upgrade tree, containing some very useful, and powerful, abilities. But to balance things out, they don’t level up the same way as your regular old soldiers. They have to spend a new currency called Ability Points, which you earn during battles by playing tactically. Flanking, using cover effectively, etc.
Hero abilities include Banish, which is one of the last Assassin unlocks and sees them emptying their entire magazine into a single enemy in one turn. For the Skirmisher there’s Battlelord, which grants them an action every time the enemy moves. This should give you an idea of how helpful these characters will be when you reach the late stages of a campaign.
Your soldiers will have more personality
Personality traits are new too, adding more nuance to your soldiers, but also having a tactical impact. One guy might only be happy when his gun’s fully loaded, and so if he’s low on ammo and you go to take a shot, he might disobey your order and reload instead. Another soldier may be afraid of a particular type of enemy, making him flee in terror if they show up.
Soldiers can also get tired after especially long, gruelling missions, affecting their performance if you bring them on the next one. And if they’re shaken they can’t enter the battle at all, and need to rest up for a while. As a result of all this, soldiers in XCOM 2 feel more fragile and human, which will surely make their deaths even more heartbreaking.
Soldiers can form bonds
Soldiers who fight together can eventually become friends, unlocking new shared abilities. One example is a free action, which a bonded soldier can ‘gift’ to their partner. And the more they work together, the greater their compatibility will become, earning you further rewards. But you can bet that when one of them dies, the other will suffer the loss in a big way.
Sitreps make things more interesting
These modifiers affect missions in increasingly unpredictable, interesting ways. It could be a limit of three soldiers, or a level littered with dangerous explosives. These are designed to make campaigns feel more dynamic.
There’s a new enemy type called The Lost
These zombie-like enemies were once human, but now stalk the crumbling, infected cities—a new environment in War of the Chosen—attacking anyone who crosses their path. Hordes of zombies might sound tedious in a relatively slow turn-based game, but Firaxis has a clever, and satisfying, solution to dealing with large groups of these pale-skinned, skull-faced fiends, which clamber out of the shadows and charge towards you.
Hit percentages for the Lost are high, rarely dipping below 70%, and when you score a headshot you get a free action. So if you’re lucky, and as long as your soldier’s weapon has ammo, you can repeatedly chain kills, taking out dozens of them in one turn. This is an elegant solution to having to fight so many of them at once, which would otherwise be a real chore.
There are three kinds of Lost
There’s the regular, shambling kind, which behave much like traditional Hollywood zombies. Then there are the Dashers, which can move much more quickly and easily surround your troops. And the Brute is a bullet sponge, able to soak up a huge amount of damage. And it’s worth remembering that they’re attracted to the sound of explosions, so if you toss a grenade or blow a car up, more of them will emerge from the shadows.
The Lost are neutral
If there are any ADVENT nearby, The Lost will attack them as eagerly as they’ll attack you. And you can use this to your advantage. Try throwing a grenade near some entrenched ADVENT and watch as the Lost descend on them, providing a convenient distraction. Just about every new feature in War of the Chosen adds to the tactical richness of the game.
You can create your own propaganda
A new mode called Photobooth lets you create custom propaganda posters for your soldiers—including bonded pairs—which you’ll see plastered up in levels later on. I’m not sure if this has any benefit besides being fun, but that’s probably enough, to be honest. It’s a good way of celebrating your favourite troops, and the editor is surprisingly feature-packed.