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What's the Greatest Video Game: X-COM 2 (War of the Chosen)

This is an ongoing list where I attempt to play, complete, and then rank every video game in the known universe to determine whether it is the greatest game of all time.

I have alluded to this game in several other write-ups, including comparing it to recently completed games (Empire of Sin, Hard West), but I have never given the full write-up that the game deserves. Today we are going to discuss X-Com 2, however we are going to include the "War of the Chosen" DLC as in my opinion, the best way to experience X-Com 2, is with that DLC included. Throughout the write-up I will point out the changes "War" makes to the gameplay, and when the game is ranked I discuss where it would have fallen sans the DLC, but for ease of explanation we are talking about the pieces as a whole.

I stumbled upon the first X-com almost by accident. At the time I was, but a stupid adult with money to burn and the belief that I was going to start a watchable YouTube channel. I was basically buying every X360 game under the sun, partially to do a review series with, but also because I was obsessed with achievements. I was naïve and didn't know that the game was based off of any existing property, and had no clue what the game really entailed, but upon starting it I was enamored. It quickly became my most played game, I not only got all the achievements (not an easy feat), but played the game well past when there was anything left to accomplish. Normally this was not something I would do, I had a mountain of games to play, achievements to get, but I kept coming back to X-Com. Skip ahead, but when the 2nd one was released I was there on day 1 to download it to my shitty computer. Played it, enjoyed it, but it didn't become an obsession. Until "War of the Chosen" came out.

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For those that don't know, X-Com 2 is a turn based tactical strategy game, where part of the game is a psuedo base builder, and the other half takes place on a grid battlefield where you and the enemy take turns moving and attacking like you were playing a board game. The game is set after X-Com with the assumption that the aliens won that game and have taken over Earth. X-Com 2 starts with you, yes you, being rescued out of an alien base and being placed in charge of the resistance looking to take back Earth. As you progress through the game you start to realize that it turns out the aliens aren't as great as they said they would be, who would have thought?

Now despite myself being a plot connoisseur, the main plot is not the draw of the game. It follows a pretty basic approach and the "twists" aren't all that surprising. You start the game off playing as the resistance, so there wasn't going to be a major twist that shows the aliens truly were good people and you apologize for hurting them. No, everyone suspects they are doing shady shit, you find out that they are doing shady shit, and then show the whole world that they are doing shady shit (wipes hands clean). The real draw to this game is the moment to moment action, as well as the personal stories you craft during your playthrough.

I will admit that I am not normally someone who can craft these gameplay specific stories if the game isn't pointing me in that direction. X-Com 2 changed that in me. Part of the reason of the change is that X-Com 2 has an actual character creator for your soldiers. In the 360 version, you could edit soldiers in each playthrough, but customization was limited, and you had to have the soldiers in your game first. In 2, there is a whole separate menu that you can go into that allows you to create an entire roster of characters that then COULD end up in your game as you play through the game. This was a small tweak that had a huge impact on me. It allowed me to essentially develop a roster ahead of time that I could realistically carry into 5 different campaigns, with part of the fun seeing if and when these characters show up. Would I start off with the character I created based of me, or would I be a reward for a mission? Would this playthrough be focused on a rag-tag group of my friends, or would it include prominent video game characters? I created probably 30 unique soldiers, designated some that could show up as enemies, or scientists, and then each time I started the game it was a fun unique twist to see what would happen.

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The game (with the addition of WotC) includes new unique narrative hooks that allow you to have these personal stories. X-Com 2 steals a little from Fire Emblem by introducing a compatibility rating between soldiers that fight together. Have two soldiers fight together enough and they can develop a bond that allows for unique bonuses that only they share, as well earn nicknames. Keep them together and they can increase their bond through research and become a great pair of soldiers, but should one of them die, the surviving one can become a liability. All of this stuff is just on the fringes and not even something the game focuses on (because it is optional DLC), but you can't help but have stories when there are these mechanics behind the scenes. It may not be the same in Fire Emblem where you are romancing these characters to have offspring, but you can get attached to these characters all the same based on how well they perform.

While we are discussing it, WotC adds in a new wrinkle that I think is fantastic, which actually adds a fatigue meter to your soldiers. This forces the player to not always just select the same 5-6 soldiers for every battle, because if you send out soldiers who are fatigued they suffer aim penalties, movement penalties, or other issues that make them less effective. Continue to push them too hard and they could get a permanent de-buff that follows them from mission to mission. It's just another wrinkle that you have to take into consideration when planning missions, if you always group your best together, then realistically they are always going to be fatigued at the same time. If the mission that comes up next is a tough one, you will be forced to beat it with the B team, which could get tricky.

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The basics of combat have not changed a lot from 1 to 2. You still operate on a grid, your characters still get two actions before its the alien's turns, and people will still complain about the percentage to hit. However, things around the edges have changed when it comes to combat. As the resistance you are no longer the ones protecting, but rather the ones who are out trying to sabotage alien resources. This allows you the element of surprise on your first encounter in missions, which can be a huge advantage if used correctly. Enemies will be out on patrol, and if you want, you can plant soldiers around the area and then trigger an ambush that might wipe out all the patrolling aliens before they get a turn, which is hugely satisfying. The other big change is that the mission structure for individual missions usually have timers associated with them. At first I was not a fan of this, as I was someone who used to creep forward and go into overwatch, but I came around on this method as a way to get the action moving sooner rather than later. In most missions you can no longer just sit back in perfect cover and wait for enemies to come find you, you have to push the action. That can mean that you might make some stupid moves, but that is where the game shines. X-Com 2 is not about a power fantasy, it is about adapting to the moment, and how you used your cunning and skill to get through encounters. I never intend to screw up, but running a soldier up to far, or getting spotted by a patrol, is what makes the game so captivating. Now don't get me wrong, it feels great to pull off a perfect mission, but there are highs you get when you are backed in a corner and still manage to come through. These moments help tell that personal story of your soldiers. I don't want to hear how you save scummed to beat a mission without getting hit, no, I want to hear about how you finished the mission after losing your best sniper, or how one of your new recruits pulled off some amazing heroics by getting a crit on an enemy that was about to kill someone. Honestly it isn't fun to watch people who are too good at this game, because there is no concern on whether they will make it out alive, I want the people two rungs below that, who understand all the intricacies of the game, but aren't quite sure how to pull it together.

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I implore you, dear reader, do not save scum. The game is better when you lose characters, the game is better when you make mistakes or the computer gets lucky. I have watched the avatar named after myself and my wife die in different battles, and I was left to play as no name characters (well computer generated names) and it was more fun to have those stories to tell, then to start the mission over so I wouldn't have to deal with hardships.

This is getting long in the tooth, but there are two things I still have to talk about, and the first is obviously the Chosen themselves and what they bring to the table. For those unaware, the Chosen are 3 head-bosses that are introduced as menaces to your team. They possess the ability to appear in any mission, and they have unique talents that make them a handful to deal with. They usually have more health, act more often, and depending on when they appear can force you to decide between completing a mission objective or trying to fight off the chosen. There is nothing more stressful then learning a chosen is appearing in your mission, because regardless of which chosen, you know that mission will now be harder than it was going to be initially. However, that panic, makes doing smaller missions more menacing and risky, and who you take out on missions all the more important. Outside of combat the Chosen will do all sorts of things, from trying to counter your money flow, to launching attacks on your outposts. Leave a chosen alive long enough and they will be even more powerful and make your life a bigger hell.

The chosen actually come with the biggest negative I have about the game, and that is it's late game. In short there is the "Avatar project" which is essentially the doomsday clock of your game. If that clock fills up, you lose, and you are constantly trying to keep it down until you can win the game. In OG X-Com 2, that is a fine approach to the end game, but with WotC, that issue still exists, but it is no longer the big issue at hand. Instead you are focused on the Chosen and clearing them off the map because they are an ever present threat that is more potent then the doomsday clock. When you do finally win and clear them off the map, you might feel that the rest of the game is a letdown, because it seems to have lost its punch. Missions won't come with the same risk, your characters will roughly be leveled up by then, and you are just going through the motions until you can finish the game. There is something amazing about the pressure and adrenaline that you get from these bosses, that you can't help but feel empty when they are gone.

I could continue talking X-Com 2 for a long time.. I didn't really discuss base building and how important each section is for your playthrough or my favorite level type when a UFO shoots you out of the air and you are forced to defend the ship, but the beauty about X-Com 2 is it's replay-ability. One of the biggest hang-ups I had about Empire of Sin is that I felt I would not be able to replay it because the game will always play out the same. Sure I could be a different leader, but ultimately I would build my empire the same way, and hire roughly the same gangsters until I ran the rest out of town. With X-Com 2 I can replay it minutes after finishing the game and have a unique experience. If you created a big roster, you could end up with different characters, you could build your base up in a different way. In combat perhaps you lose a good character early, or you aren't blessed with any good snipers and have to make do with a battalion of Grenadiers. Maybe you go down a different research path, or bring in more characters from different gangs (oh yeah there are three gangs, including ex advent). While the game is of course the same, your experience and stories will be different and that is something that I feel other games want to have but don't always nail it down.

There will always be detractors to this game, because it had a really rough launch, and while I can't argue with their experience I will say that I think this game has a permanent stain on it because of that launch. I will say that if you played it at launch and quit because of the bugs or were soured on that experience, I would encourage you to give it another shot. Its still not perfect and I think some of the loading times are rough, but there are very few games that I have as much or more fun with every-time I fire it up.

Is this game the Greatest game of all time: No

Where does it rank: This is the 3rd greatest game of all time, behind Yakuza 0 and Mega Man 2. It is right above Katamari, but it was close. If I had to score it without the DLC it is probably number 8 right below Super Spike V-ball. For the sake of the list, I am only recording it with DLC

Up Next: Kickle Cubicle (NES)

Anyone looking for it: here is the link to the list and more if you are interested in following along with me (this is not a self promotion). Here

Thanks for listening.