XCOM 2: War of the Chosen’s alien champions, lost cities and soldier bonds explained

Fallen cities swarming with the dangerous remnants of their human populations, alien battlefield commanders who resemble fantastical heroes, new rulesets for friendship and fear, and an actual active resistance out on the Geoscape. XCOM 2 [official site] is changing.

The War of the Chosen is “definitely the biggest expansion we’ve ever done”, lead designer Jake Solomon told us at E3. Introducing unique enemy champions doesn’t strike me as an obvious move for XCOM, so I asked Solomon how the concept of the expansion had developed, and whether he’d drawn any inspiration from Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system. And whether we can expect any terrors from the deep in the future.

It’s about warmth.

“One of the things that happens in XCOM is that when you’re on the Geoscape, you’re sending out squads and dealing with things, but nobody ever moves around on there. You don’t ever get a sense of it being a living world. Part of this comes from playing early builds of Civ II and I love the leaders. They make you feel that there are other entities playing this game and that have stakes in it.

“It makes it warmer. You want to feel like there are other characters either with or without you. I always felt the Geoscape is really cold. Nobody is really commenting on the things you’re doing. It doesn’t feel as epic as, say, a Civ. There’s a very different feel and it’s much warmer if there are other entities vying for control.”

As Lemony Snicket might say, “Warmth, a word which here means ‘giving the impression of life and activity.'” This cuts down from the high-level concept of three Advent champions who move and react on the strategic layer, and involve themselves in combat on the tactical layer, to the interactions between individual XCOM soldiers. They can form bonds now and can accrue what Solomon calls “quirks” if they become overtired or stressed. If the Chosen remind me of Mordor’s Nemesis system, these quirks sound like they could have been plucked from Darkest Dungeon and then remoulded. The example he gives is an ‘obsessive’ trait, which causes soldiers to use their second action to reload their guns occasionally if the clip isn’t full. You can get rid of these quirks but they provide more ingredients for the storytelling pot, as well as providing an extra challenge.

“The fact that the soldiers form bonds is a natural progression of your own head canon,” Solomon says. “XCOM has a story running through the campaign, in the cutscenes and the mission progression, but it has always been about the stories that players create in the moment. We’re systematising the head canon.”

The biggest change is the introduction of The Chosen, three alien heroes, and the resistance factions that oppose them. At the beginning of each campaign, the factions and Chosen are matched up randomly, and if you want to seize the weapons of a defeated Chosen or gain influence over the faction facing off against it, that’ll take you on a detour from the traditional path to victory.

“To create enemies with personalities feels counter to XCOM at first, but the way they operate is still very procedural. They have a schedule determining when they’ll appear in the game, but once they enter play, they’ll start appearing on missions, will teleport in, and they’ll have these map powers that change things before you even engage them. And then they get new traits and abilities as they go.

“It’s more organic than what we normally do in XCOM. When you fight them, you drive them off, and you can kill them but you don’t have to in order to beat the game. Whenever they win a fight they gain knowledge, and the more knowledge they gain, the more difficult they become from a strategic standpoint. As they gain that knowledge, their strategic prowess means you’re probably going to have to target them sooner, but to do that you’ll need to ally with the resistance faction that is facing off against them.”

Persistent, recurring enemies aren’t unique to Shadow of Mordor (and its very exciting upcoming sequel) but there seem to be enough similarities here for me to justify putting dibs on the phrase Nemesis Unknown when I first saw the trailer for the expansion. I asked Solomon if the Nemesis system had been a direct influence.

“There’s a slight similarity, yeah. When I played Shadow of Mordor, all I was doing was hunting down orcs, making enemies then hunting them, getting into fights. After a few hours, I realised I wasn’t even going down any path to victory. I was just having fun playing with the systems.”

That might explain why The Chosen sit adjacent to the campaign, informing it rather than completely reshaping the end-game.

“The expansion runs through the entire campaign [rather than being end-game content], but people will play it different ways. It’s interesting because The Chosen get trickier to deal with throughout the campaign, but some of our systems don’t come online until later – because you have to win over the resistance to access some of their functions – so taking down the Chosen should be mid- to late-game. But taking them down doesn’t just remove them from the strategic layer, it also gives you their weapons, which are very powerful. So some players just go to take them down right away. They see that as an immediate, high profile objective. And that’s not how I envisaged it but it shows the flexibility of the system.”

It’s fair to say that the appearance of The Chosen surprised me. They’re far removed from the chunky sci-fi horror palette of XCOM, looking more like champions from an interstellar-fantasy battlefield. I asked about the intent of the character designs, and whether Solomon agreed with my view of them as more fantastical.

“We wanted to give them a look that wasn’t like the authoritarian military we’ve already done, or like the crazy aliens from the original. These needed to have distinct personalities, to be tall and imposing. They’re what the Ethereals would view as the perfect beings. And armour-wise, we did want it to be ornate because conceptually they should look like field commanders. We were drawn to medieval armour sets. The assassin has an Eastern flavour to her armour, but it’s hard not to make a guy with magic on his hands, like the Warlock, look like a fantasy character. It’s just going to happen.”

The rewriting of the tactical and strategic layers, and the introduction of new soldier types for each faction, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, would probably be enough to justify Solomon’s claim that this is a huge expansion – “it sometimes feels like marketing to say that, but I’m comfortable with it; I assure you, it’s true” – but there’s more. Instead of just adding a new area, in the form of abandoned pre-invasion cities, Firaxis have given those new areas a unique property in the form of The Lost. They’re the remnants of the cities’ populations, warped and either mindless or close to it.

“In the old cities you’ll always have the Lost. You know they’re out there and you know they’re coming. They’re drawn to the sound of explosions, which make them come really quickly, but they’re always going to come eventually, explosions or not. Once you break concealment, they’re on their way.”

They bring a more conventional horror feel back to XCOM and throughout the brief conversation we had about them, I was reminded of my fear of Chrysalids in the original X-COM, back in the nineties.

“In cities, there’s lots of streets with limited line of sight, which makes it more frightening. Once the Lost arrive, in a swarm, you and the Advent are both worrying about them for a turn or two. You can get rid of them quite quickly, they’re not real dangerous in and of themselves, but they can overwhelm you if you’re not careful.”

The fact they can be baited, with explosions, and that they’ll attack Advent as well as XCOM, adds a new wrinkle to the game, and the encounters have an entirely new mechanic.

“They have a headshot mechanic. If you hit them and take them out, that shot is free, so you’re trying to take down lots at the same time, chaining kills together. When one of your soldier’s misses, that’s a real problem, because you just lost out on a whole chain of kills. So it becomes all about target selection, and that works the same for the Advent who are fending them off. It’s an ammunition game and almost like a puzzle of chaining together as many shots as possible. And you could have The Chosen present on those maps as well so there’s more potential for chaos. In some cases it gets back to the original original XCOM. That game had higher highs but lower lows, I think.”

Covert actions will make the Lost even more of a horrifying threat.

“In a covert action you might have sent people into a city and they could get ambushed. So then you have two soldiers now trapped in an abandoned city, trying to escape, and that is when The Lost get scary because you cannot take them on. And Advent are hunting you as well.” A new flavour of terror mission in all but name.

There’s another kind of terror I feel I should mention though. Terror From The Deep. I’d thought it might be the XCOM 2 expansion as soon as I heard an announcement was due, particularly given the tease at the end of XCOM 2’s campaign, but I’m glad to have something completely new instead. As I put it to Solomon, if it’s going to happen at all, Terror From the Deep feels like “what happens next rather than what happens alongside the XCOM 2 campaign”.

“That’s exactly right. I remember talking to our narrative guys and I was saying “let’s have it end on a little water tease”, which is why the final mission of XCOM 2 takes place where it does. And they were saying, “Do you not know what this implies?” And of course I do! That’s the whole point. But maybe that’s our one reference to that. Maybe.”

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is out August 29th.

43 Comments

  1. Someoldguy says:

    I don’t know if it’s a creeping thing or whether I’m just a lot more aware of it now that my son is old enough and literate enough to be able to rapidly read and absorb the content of my PC screen from over my shoulder, but in the last couple of months I’ve seen an fair number of fucks coming up on RPS. Some in the articles themselves and in this case no fewer than three on the Facebook post linking to this article. Yes, the link is witty if you’re old enough to be allowed to watch Trainspotting, but as a grumpy parent it’s getting a lot less funny as I have to start wondering if RPS is an appropriate thing for me to have open somewhere on my desktop before his bedtime.

    • Mrice says:

      That’s kinda tricky. On the one hand i totally see your issue but on the other hand, since the vast majority of the games RPS covers, including this one, are 15+ or 18+ sanitising the content of this website so its suitable for all ages seems like a bit of a strange thing to do.

      I suppose it could just be a matter of different priorities, I dont have a child so i cant really speak from your perspective.

    • SaintAn says:

      Parent your own children, don’t expect everyone else to do it for you. lol…

      • Asurmen says:

        I pretty much never agree with you, but this basically.

        If you have to start to wonder, it’s probably best you err on the side of Not Safe For Kids.

      • Someoldguy says:

        Oh I do. I just find it slightly odd that RPS’s own comment rules include:
        “DO keep this forum “Work safe”.
        Mark clearly any link to NSFW content you wish to discuss, and please remember that many people browse this forum whilst at work or near children. As a general rule of thumb: if it would be censored or removed from the front page’s header images, it should be put behind a link.”
        I don’t know many workplaces where you can use that word or many people who use that word near children. Is it now so prevalent that it’s considered “work safe”? There are a lot of other swear words that I never see RPS use but this one has popped up from several different contributors.

        • Premium User Badge

          fegbarr says:

          While I don’t have your problem, I do agree. It’s the work of a few moments for RPS to tag any content containing effs or jeffs so as to avoid potential work / child / whatever embarrassment.

        • Premium User Badge

          lasikbear says:

          Think ur really living up to yr username here, like, in most workplaces as long as you aren’t talking to a client (and even then depends on the client) non-sexually explicitly profanity seems fine/very normal.

        • Asurmen says:

          Those comment rules don’t stop a fuck. Really don’t see the problem here.

          When it comes to NSFW and the rule, it seems clear it’s talking about graphic content e.g extreme violence, porn, extremist views etc.

          • April March says:

            Yeah. I always understood NSFW as ‘this won’t download any files to your computer that the IT guy will see and have HR draw up a reprimand’, regardless of text content, unless it’s an erotic novella or something to that effect. I sympathize with the OP but I never considered an errant fuck or seven to be NSFW.

    • Punning Pundit says:

      As a general rule, that word should be flavor. If you’re noticing it that often on this site it should probably be cut back a bit.

    • JUNOK9 says:

      What does this have to do with the article in question? And why is it rps’s responsibility?

    • Graham Smith says:

      I’ll jump in here.

      Someoldguy: I agree with you.

      RPS has always had effing-and-jeffing – we might have had a few more recently, but it waxes and wanes depending on particular articles. But generally speaking, while we’re a site for grownups, I’d like people to feel comfortable to read/listen/watch the site’s output when they’re at work or when their kids are around.

      To the other commenters: the difference between language and eg. violent games is that the violent games are apparent from the headline/header/opening paragraph. You can make the call to skip that article. But it’s harder to predict when an article’s language is going to turn blue.

      Does this mean we’ll stop swearing entirely? I’ll think about it, but probably not. My instinct is to cut back on it on the site, keep out of social media posts, and remove it or bleep it from podcasts and videos. I’m not sure I want to lose the string from our writing fiddle entirely though.

      And Adam’s Facebook status for this post was effing-great, I thought.

      • brucethemoose says:

        Your writers’ restraint should depend on the subject.

        In GTAs or Fallouts, some tasteful swearing is fine, as the subject matter is clearly intended for mature audiences anyway. Slime Rancher or Rayman? Definitely not. And scale your language for everything in between.

        That being said, any text on the front page should be clean, IMHO (unlike this particular article).

        • Premium User Badge

          phuzz says:

          The idea of linking level of swearing to the age range of the game(s) in the post makes a lot of sense as a rule of thumb.

      • Premium User Badge

        MajorLag says:

        Perhaps after making the login system more reliable you could add a profanity filter, enabled with a checkbox. Sure it’ll never be perfect, but what is.

      • Someoldguy says:

        Thanks Graham, it’s appreciated. I’m more than happy for there to be colourful language when appropriate but this was one case where it was in the wrong place – although bloody brilliant, as you say.

    • heretikeen says:

      As has already been mentioned, some games discussed on RPG aren’t suitable for children, and it’s up to you as a parent to keep your kid away from them, not up to RPG to keep their discussion kid-friendly.
      XCOM 2 has a PEGI rating of 18, so if you’re so scared of fucks, how come you’re not scared of videos showing that mature ingame content?

      • Michael Fogg says:

        Just because a game is rated 18+ doesn’t mean that any writing about that game should automatically be so.

    • dethtoll says:

      Appropriate name, you lazy git. As said above, parent your own children.

    • Viral Frog says:

      I don’t see the point in censorship in general. I have three kids under the age of 8 and speak the same around them as I would anywhere else. Teach them the appropriate usage and context and you’ll end up with kids who don’t get their feelings hurt by words and know how to use them appropriately. Or you can keep sheltering them and wait for them to hit the real world and realize, “Gosh, I sure don’t know anything about this place.” Your choice, really.

    • batraz says:

      You pharisees and teachers of the law are nothing but show off ;)
      This whole thread is quite puzzling, you know ?

    • Premium User Badge

      Kiwilolo says:

      I have no strong opinions on swearing or not on this website, but perhaps a sensible course would be to find some kind of web extension that sensors swear words automatically? You could just turn it on while your kid’s around.

  2. Magus42 says:

    Most of this sounds great, but I didn’t really enjoy the random boss spawns in the Alien Hunters DLC and can’t say I’m eager to see that approach repeated. Random map generation can cause unpredictable difficulty spikes in late game missions in stock XCOM2, particularly in timed missions. When you start dropping in boss fights out of nowhere in midst of everything else that’s going on you start crossing the line from interesting chaos into un-fun randomness. At least for me.

    • Archonsod says:

      I think the problem is actually that they aren’t random enough. Most of them are kinda one-trick ponies; the first time they show up they tend to screw you over quite badly. Once you know what they do (and on subsequent plays when they’re likely to show) they’re pretty easy to prepare for and beat, so they become somewhat redundant.

      The thing that particularly worries me about this is the notion of quirks. Having your troops effectively lose actions at random is probably the textbook example of bad design.

      • Goldeneye says:

        From previous info, these “quirks” only show up if you decide to deploy your soldiers in a “fatigued” state, meaning you’ve been sending them on too many consecutive missions. So it’s a mechanic that discourages using the same soldiers over and over again for the entire campaign, aka the “A-Team” syndrome that’s been apparent since Enemy Unknown.

        You’ll only ever encounter the quirks if you’re being stubborn at sending only your favorite soldiers into missions, but otherwise if you manage your troop rotation you’ll never have to deal with it, which I think is good game design.

      • alh_p says:

        Here’s the thing about XCOM2, i like it a lot but the player response (or mine at least) is about risk management and bucket loads of preparation – which is essentially aimed at un-randomising as much as possible. This expansion, on top of the alien hunters DLC, seems aimed at throwing more randomness at you. I’m just not sure the randomness is actually the fun thing about this, or if its my cautious response to it which is un-fun.

        I am not a player who embraces squad wipes, so maybe it’s my problem.

  3. Ghostwise says:

    This expansion still looks uncomfortably like a random collection of fashionable nerdy buzzwords thrown at XCom.

    I hope that this impression is wrong.

  4. Phantom_Renegade says:

    You didn’t ask about Doctor Vahlen?!?!

  5. Wednesday says:

    Really disappointed that this isn’t a continuation of X2’s campaign.
    The switch from resistance to global rallying force was very appealing. A nasty war against a now more limited and desperate enemy is something I could really get on board with. Strikes against them would genuinely hurt, not just fend off doom, but would also up the stakes, making them more ruthless.

    But no.

    This might come as a revelation to the people who make Civ, but I have played each X-Com, including the original, once.

    • dethtoll says:

      What about the spiritual successors like the UFO AfterX series?

    • golochuk says:

      Why should Firaxis cater to you, specifically? Other people play the games more than once, and are more likely to appreciate any new content than you are.

      • Wednesday says:

        Because,chum, that’s what I specifically wanted, and now I specifically wont buy it.

        Any complaint is going to be specific to the complainant. I’m not going to complain on your behalf now, am I. I’m also allowed to express dissapointment that a game I like is going in a direction I’m not interested in.

  6. Zenicetus says:

    Because I’m a wuss and find this game hard enough already, I’m hoping there will be a mod that strips out the uber-boss aliens and leaves the soldier bonding/freak-outs and maybe the zombies. Let me cherry-pick how hard I want this to be.

    In a normal, integrated expansion it might not be possible if they were all tied together. But this sounds like they’re including these things as separate additions to the game.

  7. second_hand_virgin says:

    X-com is totally not about story and bonding, I need a new faceless pawns with extra strenghts, some new weapon and armors, and bigger, more complicated cheesboards to play the war (not asking for mechs, it’s not happening, I know). Second game is totally inconsistent – aesthetically, storywise – with first, so I’ve lost interest in the story some 300h of gameplay ago, and I’m asking only for new toys and tactics.

    • Punning Pundit says:

      I think there’s a huge split in the xcom fandom about what we want. Some folks, like yourself, want a fairly realistic military strategy game with lots of units taking on an alien threat.

      Other folks want a super hero story where each soldier does the work of a dozen and they all have names and faces and personalities and can level up to become gods.

      XCOM2 is catering to the second group. Long War 2 is for the former.

      • Whelp says:

        Even the original XCOM (and by extension, Xenonauts) had super soldiers with a personality (in your head canon).

        I’ve always been getting attached to my super soldiers (until they eventually died. I can’t not play these games on ironman.)

      • Frank says:

        A complicated chessboard doesn’t mean a realistic military strategy game.

        Personally, I’m just playing for the tactics mechanics and like them abstract and fun, rather than realistic or demanding a careful read of the ofopaedia or a real-world-guns wiki.

  8. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    I agree with another poster that this sounds like someone took a collection of marketable buzzwords and tried to figure out a way to make them work in XCOM. It might work out, it might not, but that’s definitely what it feels like.

    Not that it’ll matter for me. I’m A) kinda over XCOM for now, and 2) XCOM is published by Take Two, who can suck it for weaponizing lawyers against perfectly innocent mod developers.

    • Drib says:

      If you stop buying anything from any company with jerkass lawyers, I think you’re going to have to go be an ascetic monk.

      • Premium User Badge

        MajorLag says:

        There’s a line. I’m not super happy with how litigious Nintendo can get, but in general they target legitimate threats to their copyright and seem to allow a lot of leeway for use of their assets in harmless fan works.

        But what Take Two did was exploit the wealth-biased legal system to shutdown a harmless modding tool (which almost certainly didn’t break the law at all) under the guise of preventing cheating in their practically unprotected pay-to-win game.

        For that, they join the ranks of Blizzard, who once shutdown a legacy WoW community and told fans that they didn’t actually want it anyway, in being anti-gamer enough to earn a boycott from me. We live in a time when the market is flooded with so many great games many of us will never play even a small fraction of them, why should I put up with companies that insist on being jackasses to their customers?

  9. Blackbird says:

    And what nobody seems to notice is that with every new xcom game, dlc or expansion is that the game draws ever further away from the original xcom/ufo and becoming the same old trash that the first xcom pulled us away from.

    We can hope that Phoenix Point takes us back to the original concept of Xcom.