I can't say I saw this coming: a new XCOM game will release next Friday, April 24.
XCOM: Chimera Squad isn't a direct continuation of XCOM 2, but a smaller, standalone spin-off that puts you in control of a fixed set of developer-created, human and human-alien hybrid characters within a branching campaign about 20 hours in length. Interestingly, it'll be half-price on Steam ($10) until May 1, after which it will go up to its regular price of $20.
Much has changed in the five years following the events of XCOM 2. The defeated Overlords have fled Earth and a new era of interspecies cooperation has dawned, as humans, hybrids, and the alien soldiers left behind are now working together in an effort to build a new era of peaceful co-existence. Nice job, everyone. But not everyone is happy with this turn of events: Lurking in the shadows are mysterious forces determined to burn this brave new world to the ground, and it's up to Chimera Squad to stop them.
A shorter, standalone game is perhaps an unexpected direction for the series, but Firaxis says that the deviations to story and gameplay it came up with made more sense as a separate experience. "After releasing XCOM 2 and the War of the Chosen expansion, the team felt there were exciting gameplay opportunities that had yet to be discovered," a studio spokesperson told PC Gamer. "XCOM: Chimera Squad features multiple bold new changes to the traditional XCOM formula ... This specific vision for XCOM made more sense as a standalone title as opposed to a direct sequel."
Unlike previous XCOM games, in which players name their soldiers after friends and coworkers and then feel bad when they get wasted, the agents of Chimera Squad have their own distinct personalities and abilities, including species-specific attacks like the Viper's tongue-pull. Different character classes can (and should) work together to pull off powerful combo moves, and turns will be "interleaved," meaning that individual agents and enemies will make their moves based on initiative, rather than switching back and forth between entire teams.
Combat in Chimera Squad looks to be more focused than it was in the previous two games. Publisher 2K described missions in the new game as "a series of discrete, explosive encounters" across different districts of City 31, the multi-species "model of peace in a post-invasion world."
That's also reflected in the new Breach Mode, one of the most interesting new elements of the game: Instead of your squad dropping into a preset location on the map and then moving out toward goals, you'll assign agents to different entry points and then use Breach-specific skills to coordinate their entry and maximize the impact of their arrival.
Death is also handled differently, given that you're playing with a pool of just 11 characters. "Rather than permanently losing a unit when their health reaches zero, agents will be put into a bleed-out state giving players an opportunity to stabilize them," a Firaxis spokesperson told us. "Any agent can stabilize a teammate, but if a player doesn’t successfully stabilize an agent, they lose the mission and must restart." One path to tinkering with this, perhaps, will be mods: Chimera Squad features the same mod functionality as XCOM 2, Firaxis says. "Players can create their own enemies, characters, maps and other content to expand XCOM: Chimera Squad."
While the battlefields are more focused, you'll still need to take care of things back at HQ too, by managing tasks, investigations, and assignments, all while trying to keep unrest in the city to a minimum.
Further proof of my excellence as a designer was when @M_Nauta told me they were considering initiative and interleaved actions. I said "Ooooo, I don't know that I would do that..." And they did it anyway and it was great and clearly the right decision. #wisdomdispensedApril 14, 2020
"With XCOM: Chimera Squad, we felt there were exciting gameplay opportunities yet to be discovered within the XCOM universe," Firaxis Games lead designer Mark Nauta said.
"Gameplay like Breach Mode, interleaved turn order, and the introduction of agents as fully fleshed-out characters will revolutionize how the game plays while still retaining the combat experience that makes the XCOM series so loved by gaming communities around the world."
Releasing April 24 puts XCOM: Chimera Squad just four days ahead of the XCOM-esque (and, as we noted in March, "shockingly good") Gears Tactics, undoubtedly a move to step in front of Xbox Game Studios' take on turn-based tactics. Find out more at xcom.com, and check out some screens below.