2K and Firaxis Games announced at the E3 2017 PC Gaming Show that XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, a expansion pack to the terrific XCOM 2, will be coming to Xbox One on August 29 this year.
XCOM 2 Creative Director, Jake Solomon, revealed XCOM 2: War of the Chosen on stage at the PC Gaming Show, with the following trailer:
War of the Chosen focuses on ADVENT’s bid to recapture the Commander, with deadly alien heroes being deployed called the ‘Chosen’. XCOM must approach and win over three new resistance factions, each with their own Hero class, to help combat this new threat and liberate Earth.
Firaxis continues to redefine the award-winning XCOM franchise with XCOM 2: War of the Chosen,
said Matt Gorman, VP of Marketing at 2K.
XCOM 2 fans are going to love the all-new narrative and features, enhancing the XCOM experience and providing endless reasons to re-play through the campaign.
We’re thrilled to offer our fans an unprecedented amount of cool new toys and features in XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, challenging and empowering players in exciting new ways never seen before in the franchise,
added Jake Solomon, creative director of XCOM 2 at Firaxis Games.
The expansion also includes a bunch of new enemies, missions, environments and increased depth to the strategic gameplay. Your soldiers now bond with their teammates, adding new abilities and perks as that bond grows and they’re deployed together. Meanwhile, regular community challenges with a global leaderboard extend the replayability beyond the new story content.
Remember that alien invasion in 2012 and the creation of the XCOM organisation to fight back under your command? Well, as it turns out, you lost. However, this feels thematically spot on. Based on your average playthrough of XCOM Enemy Unknown, with the countless soldiers you lost and retires required to win, losing the war overall makes sense and sets up this sequel rather nicely.
Now with XCOM 2, the enemy is no longer unknown and 20 years have passed since Earth was conquered. Humanity now lives alongside the aliens, seemingly benefiting from their advanced technology, but of course the aliens have their own agenda. XCOM has been reduced to a small resistance force, but once they rescue you and place you back in command, as well as secure a power core, they have the means to fight back. This time around your resources are even more limited and engagements take up a guerrilla war style; flying all over the world in a modified alien ship to search out support and aid pockets of resistance, whilst gathering the evidence needed to prove to the rest of the world that the aliens are not as benevolent as they seem.
It feel pleasantly familiar. Your home base – the modified alien ship – acts very much like it did in the previous instalment, allowing you to research new technology, upgrade and promote your troops, and build new rooms to accommodate and fulfil the advancements you need to step up your fight against the aliens. Moreover, thanks to the passing 20 years, there’s now more history involved. It’s a more personal story this time around. In fact there’s a great deal more storytelling. There’s been logical improvements to base-technologies that are easier to accept. Meanwhile, the reason for your capture by the aliens makes the fight more emotional, enhanced further by any knowledge you have from the previous title.
Your engagements with the aliens are much different as well. You’re fighting a more tactical war this time. Rather than taking the alien menace straight on, you’re attacking strategically important targets and locations, striking from the shadows. This manifests itself in a new stealth mechanic. The majority of you missions start you concealed from the enemy, strongly encouraging you to sneak up on your targets, scope out the area as much as possible, and place your troops in the best position to attack. This is further driven home by just how effective the alien forces are.
Enemy AI is excellent. They’ll look for opportunities to flank you, they call in or wait for reinforcements so to face you with superior numbers, and their weaponry can decimate your troops in a shot or two. It’s staggeringly difficult at first, however, once you figure out all the mechanics and how to best use each class of soldier you have, things get a little easier.
Using the terrain to protect yourself and draw the enemy to you is a big part of the strategy, with elevation playing an even bigger part than in Enemy Unknown. Setting a Sharpshooter up on overwatch a fair distance from the battlefield whist your Grenadier flushes enemies out of cover can be a recipe for success. Meanwhile, Staying hidden but allowing your Ranger to get in close and slit some throats whilst your Specialist is flying a drone around to scope the area and complete the primary objective, is another sound strategy. However, XCOM 2 uses procedural map and objective generation to provide a different mission each time you leave the dropship, meaning no campaign playthrough is the same, extending XCOM 2’s longevity a great deal and putting the ownness on you to devise the best strategies. The terrain, your available units and their upgrades, your mission object, how long you can stay concealed, and the countless choices you make each turn can all add up to very different encounters with your enemy; figuring out how to deal with the hand your draw is part of the fun.
And it is fun, hugely so. Much like its predecessor it’s tactically compelling and rewarding to figure out the puzzle that is the battlefield. This is also the case for upgrading your soldiers. Each class has two upgrade paths that benefit different styles of play, and developing enough soldiers with a diverse set of skills to help in different missions is a criticle and involved consideration. It involves you sending rookies out to gain experience, giving you the risk/reward consideration for mission success verses soldier experience. And of course, XCOM 2 is hugely challenging and your will lose countless troops, but often this is an inevitable cost to complete the objective, making the story even more personal and gripping and gives the risk/reward even more weight.
Fortunately, you can opt to retreat if an objective is too risky or difficult to complete, saving your precious squad. You can also save anywhere and reload to your heart’s content, but with no checkpoints in-mission you better remember to do so. Unfortunately, however, loading times when reloading a save are a little on the long side, which isn’t much of a surprise when you see how beautiful XCOM 2 looks.
A varied colour palette and densely packed environments makes each mission a visual treat. Meanwhile, cinematic camera angles during the action phase of a turn builds the tension whilst superb sound effects from the weapons makes a critical shot all the more exciting and rewarding, if it hits. Of course actually hitting a target is sometimes unfair, with occasions where point blank shots on enemies miss and unobstructed lines of fire have an entirely arbitrary percentage to hit. Incidentally the aliens will also sometimes shoot straight through walls and nail impossible shots on your soldiers. Further bugs also hamper the experience slightly, with characters sometimes freezing in place and not executing commands for 10-15 seconds, and cutscenes occasionally hit frame rate problems.
Fortunately, the fun outweighs the occasional frustration; no matter how often you fail a mission there’s always plenty of alternative actions you can take to try and find success, and exploring them is joyous. Despite its steep difficulty this is a turn-based strategy masterpiece with a wonderfully engaging story to compliment it, although it is a shame that the DLC from the PC version isn’t bundled with it as standard and is instead available separately.
I guess when a console lifecycle comes to its end; either developer’s get lazy or just so busy with Next-Gen games that their current-gen releases suffer. When you play The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (here out known as TB:XD), the feeling is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Way back when, in days past, 2K obviously sat down and brainstormed ideas on how to revive their strategy based sci-fi series. Trying to match the most popular genre of the time, TB:XD began development as a first person shooter (FPS) but very quickly this development route was binned and they instead started to look at creating a cover-based third person shooter. However, quite recently we’ve seen Firaxis release the very popular and successful XCOM: Enemy Unknown, trying to capitalise on this TB:XD changed its direction once again to take a much more tactical route.
TB:XD wants to become a modern revival, its part shooter with a shot of real-time strategy and mixer of emotional narrative. It tries hard to do its own thing but without abandoning the XCOM name. Ultimately the result is a game that almost desperately attempts to please everyone but doesn’t quite commit to either direction, disappointing from the offset with the first mission immediately displaying such flaws.
The game is set to be a prequel to other XCOM titles, set in the early 1960s amidst the Earth’s first extra-terrestrial invasion. We play the protagonist Agent William Carter, an ex-CIA operative with a drinking problem who’s spent the last few years working a desk job. He’s almost comically stereotypical coming coupled with a troubled past that haunts and an attitude problem that resembles a prepubescent teenager. His back story can be found via ‘Top Secret’ dossiers left lying around your office. None of the details have any bearing on the narrative, they are simply there to inform you this man has nothing left to lose; he’s loose cannon and so incredibly expendable he screams anti-hero.
The game and accompanying narrative deals with the first and founding days of XCOM, including the build up to its inception and their first encounters with the Outsiders. It’s a narrative let down by a diluted script and plethora of worn, tired out sci-fi clichés. To tick them off you have plot holes, characters contradicting themselves and the powers they report too, double crosses and twists to name just a few.
Let’s talk about the XCOM HQ as the inclusion of this confuses me. After each mission you’re let loose to explore it’s labs, firing range, briefing rooms, offices, storage areas etc etc. The first time you get to do this, it’s exciting like the first time you explored the Normandy in Mass Effect or Crescent Isle in Skies of Arcadia. The excitement is short lived. There is nothing really to do in the HQ which makes one wonder why it was even included. You converse with others by utilising a Mass Effect-style conversation wheel although the information feels empty and hollow. You can however unlock additional side missions with the HQ that upon completing you will unlock a second level of side mission out in the field.
I never got round to playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but from the reports I’ve read it employed its HQ as a means to research and manufacture new weapons and equipment whereas in TB:XD you feel all potential is lost. You quite early on meet a scientist who asks you to keep an eye out for alien technology that could be scavenged, researched and reverse engineered into devastating weapons and gadgets to aid you. The implementation of this is to simply instead allow you to pick them up off the floor. It’s another example what I mentioned above; 2K attempting to appease XCOM series fans without dedicating themselves to one direction (route, not the group). Overall the HQ is wasted and I wonder why it was even included considering its put to such meagre use?
As you load up on weaponry, tie your boots and head out into the field on assignment with Agent Carter you take two squad mates with you, both of which can die at any time if not healed or revived in time. The idea of perma-death is one appearing more and more in games across consoles and PC. It’s a feature that could become bothersome, stacking the odds firmly in the enemy’s favour as you become outnumbered and outgunned if it wasn’t for the fact that after each battle has ended you’re allowed to simply replace your fallen ally with someone else. They magically appear from behind or the side of you fully equipped and combat ready. Your squad mates level up as you do, so maybe losing a high level comrade is a little more upsetting? Nope – levelling your team is easy.
Rather than rotating between your allies from mission to mission to maintain synergy between their rankings, there are Dispatch missions you can send them on that they’ll never fail gaining a whole new rank with the completion of each assignment. Before you know it, you’ll have each of your squad mates fully ranked up with little to no effort on your part. So when someone dies just recruit a replacement that’s just as good.
As Carter, you begin with a simple healing ability but it doesn’t take long however, to unlock more abilities; thus expanding upon your tactical options with deployable turrets, the capability to lift enemies into the air or employ a handy shield. There are four available classes when it comes to your squad mates and you’ll need to combine classes and abilities to get most out of everyone in every situation. With a radial command wheel at your disposal you can quickly trigger three abilities concurrently, moving your squad mates across the battlefield and you’ll want to keep manually moving them around, too, because the AI can be downright terrible at times. Leave them to their own devices and they’ll constantly get up and walk straight into lines of fire taking bullets like they think they are Superman. Unfortunately, they don’t have Clark Kent style super-powers and once they are downed; you’ll need to revive them super quick due to an incredibly short bleed-out time.
Having to micromanage your two squad mates does limit your tactical options in certain situations. For instance some enemies have weak spots on their back and in an ideal battle you’d want to set up your squad mates to distract these enemies while you flank around behind them and get the kill. Unfortunately the AI is hesitant to stay behind cover making your life incredibly problematic. Some of the latter discussed abilities do offset these issues, but that doesn’t excuse the AI’s failings.
When it works and it works right, the battles can be incredibly fun and exhilarating. The setting has a lot of character as you fight through the small towns and farms of Middle America. The 1960’s backdrop is contrasted by ominous and advanced alien technology. The predictable appearance of waist high cover is always an obvious indication of combat, somewhat dispelling the inherent tension of the unknown present in other XCOM games, but it doesn’t detract too much from what is a very fun and satisfying tactical shooter.
The simple fact is TB:XD is an enjoyable shooter and this is a triumph considering its development confusion. The games holds a disappointing lack of identity, pulling from multiple games of a similar ilk and genre, taking a half-measured approach to multiple gameplay elements and aspects. It pulls not just from its XCOM predecessors but titles like the Mass Effect series. Underneath the muddy surface there is a good game to be found down there. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified launches you deep into a high-stakes covert war where tactics and precision win the day.