Like the first XCOM's expansion, War of the Chosen is designed to inject a pile of additional content to experience over the course of a fresh playthrough. Among a long list of other stuff, the expansion brings new missions, enemies, and resistance factions you'll encounter in your fight against the alien menace. Last week at 2K Games' office I played The Lost and Abandoned, a new mission from War of the Chosen that introduces many of the expansion pack's new characters and mechanics.
Chronologically, The Lost and Abandoned takes place near the beginning of a new campaign. You have to facilitate a meeting between two of WotC's three new resistance factions: the Reapers, who specialize in stealth, snipers, and explosives, and the Skirmishers, a warrior faction of former Advent soldiers who get extra actions when enemies do stuff, and can attack without ending their turn. The two don't exactly see eye-to-eye—the Reapers take a hard-line stance on anything alien, and the Skirmishers are, well, alien.
At The Lost and Abandoned's mission prep screen, I formed two pairs of soldiers to each escort a Reaper and Skirmisher operative. The resulting three-man squads were formidable, as the resistance factions come with powerful new abilities. The Reaper faction, for example, utilizes stealth throughout the entire mission, thanks to "Reaper Shadow," a more powerful form of concealment that is both harder to see through and has a chance to not be broken when taking a shot at an enemy. Undoubtedly, advanced Reaper talents will allow their soldiers to get into and stay in stealth throughout several waves of combat.
In addition to stealth, Reapers carry a Claymore mine that can be thrown and later detonated, both without breaking concealment. I also encountered a talent that would let me remotely detonate environmental explosives like cars and gas tanks—again without breaking stealth. Finally, Reapers attack with the Vektor rifle, a sniper rifle that can shoot on the same turn as moving. Powerful stuff.
After reaching the rendezvous point with my Reaper team, control switched over to the Skirmisher soldier and his two escorts. The Skirmisher faction plays differently from the Reapers, employing an in-your-face surge of attacks rather than calculated strikes. Skirmishers are outfitted with a Bullpup rifle that can be fired without ending the turn, meaning that with the base two actions, Skirmishers can attack twice, or attack then move, reload, or enter overwatch. I didn't encounter it myself, but I was told that advanced Skirmisher talents grant them extra actions when enemies move, shoot, or do pretty much anything.
Skirmishers are also equipped with a grapple gauntlet that provides both offense and mobility. The grapple lets Skirmishers hookshot to higher terrain, as XCOM soldiers have sometimes been able to in the past—the new functionality is the ability to grapple enemies and pull them in close for a melee strike. It seems later talents will also unlock a ranged shock attack through the grapple wires.
Land of the lost
While escorting the two factions to the rendezvous point, my squads encountered one of War of the Chosen's new enemy types: the Lost, which are basically just zombies. The Lost appear in droves, are attracted to the sounds of combat, and individually can be dispatched relatively easily.
Unlike most XCOM enemy squads, which appear in groups of three or four at a time, the Lost would appear in groups of four to six or more, often in rapid succession. But they can be removed from the battlefield just as easily. Any weapon-based attack against the Lost is called Headshot, and securing a kill in this way grants the attacker an additional action.
This means you can chain together attacks on the Lost, so long as you secure a kill with each shot (the ones I encountered had, at most, four health). But when you're attacking multiple times, ammo becomes a factor. My sniper was able to cut down several Lost in a turn, but stopping to reload broke the free-action streak. And while The Lost and Abandoned never pitted me against both the Lost and other, more conventional enemies at the same time, I imagine fighting both in tandem will open up interesting new battlefield strategies.
Speaking of non-zombie enemies, let's talk about the newest big bad aliens: the Chosen. In our , we talked about how the Chosen are Firaxis' take on Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis system—smart enemies that adapt to your playstyle over a series of battles. In the Lost and Abandoned, I got to see the first of one of those encounters.
After reaching the rendezvous point and brokering a tenuous alliance, everything went to shit. swooped in and abducted my Skirmisher. The resulting fight showed off the Assassin's skillset—stealth, a powerful melee strike, will-crushing psionic attacks, and immunity from reaction shots (so no abusing overwatch to set up an ambush). She's not without weaknesses, though—landing multiple hits in a single turn deals bonus damage to the Assassin's massive HP pool, and each Chosen takes additional damage from a corresponding resistance faction (in the Assassin's case, the Reapers). That second bit struck me as a bit odd, though—why should affiliation with one faction or another cause a soldier to do more damage to this particular alien? Maybe there's an in-universe explanation that I missed—otherwise, it's one of the few times I can think of that XCOM has implemented a 'gamey' mechanic without a logical reason.
Either way, I finally managed to catch the Assassin out of stealth a few times and delivered enough damage to trigger a retreat. The difficulty was tuned to easy at this demo event, but the Assassin still was a formidable opponent. I can only imagine the nightmare she and the other Chosen will cause when they show up in missions on higher difficulty. I mopped up a few remaining Lost waves and made it to my extraction point, bringing the introductory Lost and Abandoned mission to a close. I didn't get my Skirmisher soldier back, but a rescue mission became soon available on the world map, granting a chance to bring him back into the fold. I was also met with a warning that most of the available map was under the protection of the Assassin, meaning she would be working to disrupt my progress and could show up at just about any time.
All told, the Lost and Abandoned offered a great introduction to the new mechanics and story of War of the Chosen, but it's just that—an introduction. Like vanilla XCOM 2's intro mission, you can choose to forego the mission altogether, which will be nice for players on their second or third WotC playthrough. Doing so also means you'll encounter the resistance factions and Chosen enemies in a possibly different order, whereas completing the Lost and Abandoned will always set you up with an alliance with the Reapers, a Skirmisher rescue mission, and the Assassin as your first Chosen enemy.
War of the Chosen adds a lot to make one of the best PC games even better, but more than anything I'm excited for all the personality it breathes into the alien conflict. The Chosen mock and taunt you at every turn, while the resistance factions—with their personal squabbles, individualized expertise, and unique outfits—add some nice variety to the hundreds of soldiers I've sent into battle before them.