2012's X-COM: Enemy Unknown didn’t just reboot the UFO-busting turn-based tactics franchise, it restored it to its perch as the gold standard of the genre. Whether we’re talking about how it recreated the experience that long-time fans fondly remember or how it reimagined that experience by making it more approachable for newcomers, Firaxis take on absolutely hit the mark with their rebooted take on the classic strategy game.
Of course, once you've remastered a classic - the natural next step is to flip the tables on the concept. Firaxis did exactly that last year with X-COM 2. Set in a world where mankind is successfully invaded and subjugated by alien invaders, it saw you take revive the titular paramilitary force and raise a rebellion. With War of the Chosen, that conflict becomes a more nuanced, dynamic and colorful one.
Shooting for the Moon
The first major expansion for X-COM 2, War of the Chosen adds both new friends, foes and factions in your fight to overthrow against the alien forces occupying earth. If you liked the refreshed take on the premise that X-COM 2 brought to the table but felt like the game’s initially-skinny campaign didn't go far enough: War of the Chosen is worth more than just a casual return to duty. In fact, as someone who sunk hour-after-hour into the rebooted X-COM but shied away from X-COM 2 after hearing it was quite light at launch, I can confidentially say that War of the Chosen more than just won me over. It consumed me for a solid few weeks.
This time around, your efforts to overthrow the aliens won't just be opposed by ADVENT but also by “The Chosen” - an elite squad of alien commandos with unique abilities who tirelessly work to counteract your efforts to unite the various resistance cells around the globe. They’ll ambush your team during missions and even intercept your mobile base-of-operations if they get the chance.
The best point of comparison here is probably Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis System. Like orcs in Shadow of Mordor, the Chosen are dripping with viscous personality, unique voice lines and deadly abilities that only become deadlier over time. What's more, the three Chosen (The Assassin, The Hunter and The Warlock) can't be killed like normal enemies. Whenever defeated, these roaming minibosses are teleported to safety and live to fight another day.
In order to properly defeat them, you'll have to work with X-COM 2’s new resistance factions: the Skirmishers, Templars and Reapers. If you thought the motley crew of freedom fighters you commanded in the base game experience was a little too vanilla, it’s safe to say that War of the Chosen addresses that particular criticism in short order. Each of these factions subverts "the rules" of X-COM's combat system in different ways. This makes them not just really powerful but also just plain more interesting to use than the base game’s classes.
The Reapers offer ultra-mobile sniper units who rely on stealth and subterfuge to pick away their enemies without being seen. Then, you’ve got the Skirmishers - distinguished by their grappling hooks (which allowing them to quickly move around the map without spending any action points) and ability to attack more than once in a turn. Finally, there’s “The Templars” - a tribe of super-powered melee fighters who are able to rush in, tear apart the enemy with ferocious close-quarters attacks before retreating to cover.
War of the Chosen won’t just see you incorporate these new units into your existing squads, however. You’ll also work with them on new covert missions. These missions allow you to send squads of soldiers off to complete secondary objectives, making them temporarily unavailable but allowing you to better juggle the campaign’s various objectives.
Shadows of Days Past
The final new faction that War of the Chosen introduces comes in the form of “The Lost”. Often appearing in the shattered cities of East Asia (hit hardest during the original alien invasion), these radioactive zombies spawn in swarms and will rush both X-COM and Alien forces indiscriminately. Their speed, number and unpredictability adds a fun third dimension to encounters when they appear. Sometimes they’ll rush in and weaken enemies for you, other times they’ll rise from the ruins at the worst possible moment.
Fortunately, like the other factions in the game The Lost do come with a rule-bending silver lining. Killing a member of The Lost refunds any actions points spent. meaning that a single well-placed soldier can take down far more units in a single turn than is ordinarily possible. It's a good thing too, since noise draws in additional Lost units and the longer battles go on, the more likely it is that you’ll become overwhelmed. All too often, encounters where the Lost are involved quickly devolve into a desperate race against time to accomplish your objective and get the hell out.
Beyond these additions, There's not a whole lot more to say about War of the Chosen. It's an expansion for X-COM 2. It looks and plays a lot like X-COM 2 but with a little more meat around the bones. It’s very seamlessly and well-integrated with the existing single-player campaign, with new cutscenes, dialogue lines and encounters that help to flesh out the scope of the game’s fiction to accommodate the new factions.
If anything, I was surprised that the game didn't lean further into these narrative elements. At several points throughout my time with War of the Chosen, it felt like the game was hinting at further intrigues to come within both the ranks of the new Resistance factions and The Chosen themselves. However, these loose threads never really coalesce. Once you've managed to corner and take out of each of the Chosen for good, all that's left to do is finish the main campaign by halting the ominous-sounding AVATAR Project as per usual.
The Bottom Line
If you're a longtime X-COM fan, you'll likely have a lot of fun here. War of the Chosen is far from the X-COM 3 that same have hinted it might have been intended to substitute. Nevertheless, it evolves the core X-COM 2 experience in meaningful ways that give it a new lease on life. If you, like me, skipped out on Firaxis’ sequel the first time around, there’s never been a better time to jump back in and rejoin the fray.