Personal Demons

William Carter has them.

He also has the ability to lift aliens into the air and control their minds, which no-one ever finds surprising or suspicious. It’s a perfectly normal ability for someone to have. If only the other agents weren’t slaves to their nicotine cravings, they might be able to make slaves of the Outsiders. But instead they’re only known for their ability to run aimlessly into danger. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is an incredibly interesting and perfectly executed third-person strategy experience, which features exhilarating fast-paced strategic combat and diverse agent classes with unique talents.

I’m particularly fond of Engineers.

Good situational awareness is vital in real time combat, and being able to build turrets or lay mines restricts how freely the opposition can move around. They can also flush enemies out of cover. Which renders aliens that entrench in fortified positions vulnerable, and allows you to eradicate them.

Agents are fully customisable (or can be created to your specifications) but you can only have two of each class. This isn’t a significant restriction, unless your agents are dying in the field with frightening regularity. Not that it costs anything to recruit a new agent should a space become available. However, there are limited opportunities to gain experience, as a finite number of Dispatch Missions and Minor Operations exist, so you can’t endlessly grind to advance rookie agents. I’d advise filling out your roster immediately, and assigning every agent that isn’t on active duty to any available Dispatch Missions. Taking less experienced agents on Minor Operations is viable, but more dangerous as you’re required to participate in those. Experienced agents can also be acquired when completing certain objectives or missions.

Not when they take a surprisingly long time to bleed out.

These missions often appear as a result of completing various investigations between Minor or Major Operations, which makes exploration integral to your continued success. Schematics and alien technology can be found by searching the battlefield. While interacting with your fellow agents often tasks you with everything from deciphering radio transmissions to fixing fuel leaks. You won’t be researching or fabricating new equipment, though. Nor will you be recovering alien corpses for autopsies. Which means that you’ll usually have more to do in the field than when returning to base.

As a result, main campaign progression becomes more fluid.

The only drawback to acquiring new technology sporadically is ammunition. You won’t always be able to acquire enough in the field, which makes utilising some weapons difficult, and often means you’ll run out of ammunition, which was also a prevalent issue with the Hangar 6 R & D DLC content.

Which does make some encounters more frustrating than they would’ve been- especially when dealing with multiple pods of alien reinforcements- but it’s not noteworthy enough to substantially detract from the experience. You can always rely on the other agents to deal the majority of the damage. Doing so even earns you a rather interesting achievement. Which becomes substantially easier once you’ve learned Mind Control, as you won’t directly be dealing damage but the controlled alien will. Not that their damage output is anywhere close to yours. I regret taking six years to return to The Bureau: XCOM Declassified as it’s been an wonderfully engaging experience, and one that I highly recommend if you enjoy action-orientated real time strategic combat. It really is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Imaginary Aliens

None of these aliens are real.

Except the ones that are real which you think are hallucinations but aren’t. It’s all very confusing. But then nothing about recreating memories to invoke the ire of an alien voice isn’t confusing, especially when you try to explain how hallucinations inflicted horrific flesh wounds against living agents. That’s the last time we’re going to believe that someone injected mysterious gas into a hangar for science. Hangar 6 R & D is the post-release DLC for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, that serves as a prequel to the events of the main campaign and explains how the invasion began.

Ideally it should be experienced before the main campaign.

However, be forewarned that this approach can be slightly overwhelming, as the DLC expects you to know what you’re doing, and rapidly presents increasingly complex missions. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Mutons and Elite Mutons in one pod before. Nor do I want to see that many again.

You won’t start the campaign with freshly recruited agents, though. So they’ll have a few abilities that’ll help in the first few missions. You also seem to rapidly acquire new technology by exploring the laboratory prior to each mission, and extensive caches of alien technology are awarded for completing later missions. It feels ridiculously accelerated much in the same way that the Tactical Legacy Pack from XCOM 2: War of the Chosen does. But it also feels incredibly satisfying and never particularly unfair. Rarely do encounters feel insurmountable but they remain challenging throughout. I just wish that I had some idea of the opposition for each mission, as that would influence my squad composition, as some agents perform better in certain encounters, but it’s a minor issue that doesn’t drastically affect the experience.

Somehow they’ve managed to make Sectopods even deadlier…

I had similar feelings about XCOM: Chimera Squad. Both opted for a handful of individually talented agents instead of dozens of trained soldiers, which works fine but I felt that it would’ve worked better if you had any indication of which talents you’d want per mission. But not knowing means that you’ll need to be prepared for anything. So you’ll need to adapt to situations as they develop, and assess threats as they present themselves. Making the real time combat of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified fast-paced, which requires quick thinking not usually present in turn-based combat.

You’ll be able to catch your breath when issuing orders, though.

Which allows you to recognise the threats you’re facing instead of wildly flailing as everything happens all at once. You’re also able to issue multiple orders to an agent at a time (that seem to activate in sequence), which makes the order of your actions as important as the actions themselves.

I’ve been greatly enjoying the intensity of combat so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing how increasingly dangerous opposition affects the prioritisation of targets. When enemies are able to rapidly close the distance between you and them it certainly makes some a higher priority than others. Which is also true with turn-based combat, but they’re usually only able to move on their turn, so you might not consider them a threat because they’re so far away, but with real time combat you need to consider how (and where) they’ll move. It’s definitely an interesting approach to real time combat, and is (in my opinion) preferable to real time with pause combat. Which tends to make combat slow-paced and twitchy, whereas this proves to be fast-paced and fluid while presenting a consistent challenge.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Heroes of City 31

The road to acceptance is long and paved with insurgents.

Chimera Squad may be formed of aliens and humans alike, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have the best interests of City 31 at heart. Even Torque. Under that scaly exterior is a heart of gold which desires nothing more than affirmation through unrelenting savagery. But, regardless of their reasons, these brave agents vowed to protect City 31 and they’ll do just that. XCOM: Chimera Squad is a wonderfully exciting departure from usual strategy mechanics, that foregoes dozens of highly trained soldiers for a handful of individually talented agents. Each brimming with a charming personality.

Each more capable than ten regular soldiers.

Through a time-based approach you’ll need to complete missions and situations alike to earn myriad rewards. Or visit the Scavenger Market when available to buy the rarest upgrades. Or assign agents to Spec Ops to influence how City 31 develops, and to quell the growing unrest in the city.

When not doing that you’ll also be training agents, researching new projects, and wishing you had more credits than you actually do. Besides the eight (mostly) randomly generated agents, you’ll also be able to purchase two androids. Each can replace an agent if they’re critically wounded in an encounter, however, unlike agents who recover at the end of a mission, androids are destroyed upon taking lethal damage. So be sure to look after them. The aforementioned will take place during the main campaign which spans three branching investigations, each affording new enemies and steadily increasing difficulty. Making the best use of each passing day is instrumental to your success but so incredibly difficult to do at times. When everything is a critical mission- which is the critical mission crucial to my success?

Rather than destroy it, we should modify it and ride it into battle. Just a thought.

My only (minor) criticism is that the main campaign progresses too quickly. I’m not sure if it was because ninety-three days had passed, but it rendered the rewards from the last investigation, those of The Progeny for me, completely useless as I couldn’t research the projects in the Assembly. I didn’t have enough days left. This could become annoying when you consider the overwhelming number of scars that my agents had received, but it didn’t adversely affect me. I just felt slightly rushed towards the end, and would’ve preferred having a few more days to finish things off.

Not that the time-based nature wasn’t explicitly stated from the beginning.

However, it is slightly disappointing having rewards that can’t be earned. But maybe there’s a limit to the overall campaign length. Maybe ninety-three days is that limit. Maybe that’s the long term trade off for delaying earlier campaign missions for greater rewards. I can’t really say for certain.

XCOM: Chimera Squad is still an incredibly engaging strategy experience, though. It just feels counter-intuitive to rush into things when you’re accustomed to taking your time. Breaching presented a unique approach to missions which allowed you to fire the first shots, and utilise unique equipment to gain an advantage. Most agents also had unique abilities available when breaching, such as Claymore, who could destroy a wall akin to a Breaching Charge, but would also surprise all enemies during that breach. Not that I’d feel any differently about that situation. Seeing a burly man with a shotgun blowing a hole in my wall would inspire many things in me, mostly confusion as to what was going on. That said, I can easily recommend XCOM: Chimera Squad to any who have enjoyed the modern instalments in the XCOM series.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Endlessly Spawning Reinforcements

The challenge we crave.

Just as we crave the delicious genetically modified sausage-y taste of NotDogs, which are fun for the whole Chimera Squad. I could see Cherub throwing a few sausages on the grill when this all over. While Verge telepathically tastes burgers, and Claymore brings a curry along for some reason. He’s my kind of guy. Promotional jingles aside, I’d been looking forward to experiencing XCOM: Chimera Squad and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a fresh approach to familiar mechanics. Exchanging unit classes (and generated soldiers) for specialised agents, and allowing aliens to join the fight.

Their individuality makes it difficult to decide who to take on a mission.

Claymore, Godmother, Terminal, and Torque is one of my preferred compositions. But Verge is an appealing substitute for Torque. They both occupy a similar role (for me) by controlling enemies. Verge is better at controlling multiple enemies at once, but is less defensive and much squishier.

Torque is able to dodge more effectively and can spit poison at groups of enemies, but can only control one enemy at a time. But she’s able to completely remove that enemy from the encounter. Whereas Verge can stun for multiple turns- and can stun multiple enemies- but isn’t as effective at removing enemies from encounters. Torque is definitely better suited to organic enemies, too. Given that poison doesn’t affect robotic enemies. Which could also be said for Verge as he can’t control robotic enemies, but he can affect enemies that Torque can’t. Claymore does have (explosive) crowd control, but I prefer unleashing a barrage of explosives instead. Especially once we acquired plasma grenades. Terminal likes to Safeguard. She’s neat. While Godmother usually subdues multiple enemies (with a shotgun) by utilising Scattershot.

I’m not sure how I’d feel if I looked outside my window and saw this…

Thankfully, you’re only able to allocate four agents (out of eight) to a mission. So you’ll always be plagued by indecision. Those who aren’t on a mission will remain at headquarters and attend to various duties, such as researching new technology or training to unlock their latent abilities. Everything is strictly time-based and you won’t be able to grind endless missions for constant rewards. You can stall for a few days but no longer than that. This reinforces the sense of urgency present throughout the main campaign, and encourages you to adapt to new situations as they arise.

As an agent will inevitably be unavailable when you need them.

Verge has spent an absurd amount of time being treated for various scars. Godmother, too. But Claymore, who has taken more damage than either of them, and who usually soaks up bullets like an insane meat sponge, has remained unscathed. Not that I want to lose Claymore for two days.

XCOM: Chimera Squad certainly introduces numerous new mechanics and is as self-contained as its nature would suggest. I doubt that we’ll see these mechanics as they are in a sequel to XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the developers incorporate something similar but better suited to a longer experience. Breaching works incredibly well when missions are segmented into multiple encounters. But it’s unlikely that it would work as well when missions are more complex and take longer to complete. Which is not to suggest that it couldn’t work, just that it needs to be implemented properly. I’d love to see unit classes with the individuality of these agents. Self-sufficient and capable of working alone, but equally as capable at working alongside others, allowing you to utilise truly diverse synergies.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Heroes of the Resistance

The ADVENT coalition doesn’t own this world. Not yet.

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is an incredibly engrossing and thoroughly satisfying sequel to the quite wonderful XCOM: Enemy Within. Featuring an ever-increasing number of unit classes, myriad facilities, a flying fortress of doom, updated mechanics, multiple resistance factions to join, and a Geoscape that has more notifications than the Windows 8 operating system. War of the Chosen also harkens back to the days of old where expansion packs added new units, new mechanics, and new ways to access the existing content in the base experience.

It’s quite an impressive feat overall.

It can certainly be slightly overwhelming working through everything that happens in the first few hours. In fact, that’s probably the only (minor) criticism I could offer against the War of the Chosen expansion pack. It is a little too busy and the first five or six hours feel very linear and forced, but otherwise it is a truly enjoyable experience.

I was most impressed by the variation in (and number of) unit classes. Each feels unique enough to fit into a particular role, but broad enough to fill several roles when they need to. Rangers provide the perfect balance of mid-range combat with the ability to slice and dice in close quarters, Specialists pair their combat prowess with either healing or hacking units to provide different bonuses, Grenadiers have the potential to rain continual death upon areas of the battlefield but also shred armour with their cannons, Sharpshooters take the high ground while firing mercilessly on all those who cross their field of vision, Psi Operatives can utilise their otherworldly powers to embolden allies or debilitate foes, and SPARKs offer either exceptional destruction or impenetrable defence as they fill either role with utmost ease.

Those who have given much for the many.

If that wasn’t enough there are three additional factions (the Reapers, Skirmishers, and Templars) which offer their own unique abilities and bonuses, too. Then, to add more layers to this delicious gateaux of customisation, each of these unit classes has the ability to build towards different styles of play, and then even unlock additional abilities via the facilities you build. Such as the Training Center which allows you to unlock additional abilities from the same unit class or even some abilities that belong to other unit classes. It’s quite ridiculous, really.

You’ve also got access to much more unique equipment in the sequel.

There are more powerful variants of existing weapons, armour that is (quite literally) made from the skin of your enemies, entirely new and unique weapons with their own benefits and drawbacks, and even utility items that utilise unique mechanics. Also, via Modular Weapons, you can even add weapon modifications to your standard weaponry.

In many ways that’s what I feel is the best thing about XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. The depth of customisation is staggering. There are so many opportunities to further develop soldiers and create truly unique characters, which, alongside the ever-evolving nature of the main campaign, leads to exceptionally unique yet coherent content. It feels as if every part of the experience has been written into the code. Yet, in truth, it is the many layers of customisation which have come together to provide this outcome. It’s a very refreshing and very welcome change of pace. I can only imagine that each subsequent campaign would introduce more unique, more challenging, and more interesting variations of missions and soldiers. For that reason I highly recommend both XCOM 2 and the War of the Chosen expansion pack!

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie