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What you need to know before starting XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

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Five tips for the early game that will set you up for success

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen - a Templar unit powers up his energy sword for a melee attack Firaxis Games

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is here, and by all accounts it’s the best version of XCOM ever made. But it also throws a few wrinkles into the classic formula. There are new features like Ability Points, new enemies like the Spectre and the Purifier and a couple of entirely new systems that aren’t terribly well explained. Here’s what I wish I’d known going in, and a few tips for stepping off on the right foot.

Skip the original and start with this DLC

My Twitter feed has been clogged with people asking me if they need to have played the original XCOM: Enemy Unknown or XCOM 2 to understand or even be good at War of the Chosen. I’m here to tell you that you should skip both of these earlier games and go straight to this new DLC.

XCOM 2 fundamentally builds on the systems present in Enemy Unknown, and War of the Chosen bolts onto that framework and expands it. Unless you’re really excited about the backstory in Enemy Unknown you don’t need to have played it to understand what’s going on.

In fact, here’s a link to all of that first game’s cutscenes, including the Enemy Within DLC. Watch it all to learn about Central as well as Dr. Vahlen and Dr. Shen. Their legacy lives on in the sequel, and you should at least get to know them a little before you get started.

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen - a Chosen steals information from an XCOM operative
When the Chosen take your soldiers down in battle they don’t always kill them. Sometimes they harvest them for information instead.
Firaxis Games/2K Games

Turn on Iron Man mode, you big baby

Hello, my name is Charlie and I’m a save-scummer. It’s a habit that’s grown over my years spent reviewing the game. Before every mission I make a save file, sometimes even at the end of every round of combat, and I reload them when something goes wrong.

But save-scumming is the absolute wrong way to play War of the Chosen. That’s because this time around, Firaxis Games amped up the drama, building new game systems and entire narrative missions around natural turning points that go against XCOM.

When you send troops on covert missions or leave them behind on the battlefield, there’s a chance that they’ll be captured. Then you’ll get the opportunity to devote resources to tracking them down, and if you’re lucky you’ll even receive the option to launch a rescue mission.

War of the Chosen also introduces Bonds, which can develop between soldiers after they’ve gone on a mission together. You can preview the potential for your soldiers to develop bonds in the barracks back at base with a new stat called Cohesion. Early on you can even try to engineer those bonds by sending soldiers with the highest potential to bond together on the same missions regularly.

As much as Bonds are a boon, they’re also a trap. If a Bondmate dies, the remaining soldier will develop an emotional scar which will manifest itself as a weakness on the battlefield. But that weakness gives depth to your soldiers and will add color to your personal journey through XCOM 2.

So turn on Iron Man mode, which prevents you from saving manually. Embrace the suck, and don’t be a save-scummer like me. You’ll thank me later.

Pratal Mox, a Skirmisher, stands at the ready to be promoted following a successful mission.
Pratal Mox has four different rows in his skill tree, each with some very powerful things to choose from.
Firaxis/2K

Be careful how you spend your Ability Points early on

Ability Points are a new currency in War of the Chosen. XCOM earns them as a whole when they succeed on the battlefield, and individual soldiers earn them as well by doing things by the book. Can you kill an enemy by flanking them and catching them in the open? You’ll likely earn an AP.

As soldiers gain rank, you can spend AP on unique powers. But some of those powers are pretty expensive. Hit the wrong button after a mission and you might just blow 25 AP in one go. Take your time and review every option on every soldier carefully before you make your purchases.

Another important note: In War of the Chosen, different soldiers gain AP at different rates. Check out Sgt. Allegra Frank below.

The stats for Sgt. Allegra Frank, as viewed from the barracks.
The stats for Sgt. Allegra Frank, as viewed from the barracks.
Firaxis/2K

On the right side. you can see a new listing for “Combat Intelligence.” Some of your soldiers are just OK at learning by doing, and others — like Frank here — are geniuses. Every time I take Frank into combat, there’s a much higher chance that she’ll earn AP, which in the long run will pay off by allowing me to turn Frank into a kind of super soldier.

Spread the love

A common strategy in past XCOM games, even going back to the original X-COM: UFO Defense released in 1994, is to soften up enemies with more experienced troops and then let the rookies get credit for the kill. It’s a great way to create many more experienced soldiers early on, and it’s a fine strategy in War of the Chosen. But might I suggest doing the opposite as well?

Singling out your geniuses and coddling your named characters like Dragunova and Mox gives you have the opportunity to boost their skills in the early game. By feeding them a steady stream of kills and AP, you can tailor each one to your specific playstyle and get the upper hand earlier in the game.

Who needs more powerful weapons or enhanced armor when you have a Templar capable of ripping apart two aliens in a single turn? With enough kills and AP, you can get there.

A white-armored Skirmisher pulls an Advent commander toward him with a grappling hook. Firaxis/2K

Recruit early and often

Things will go wrong out there, especially if you take my advice and turn on Iron Man mode. To compensate, you will need fresh bodies to throw into the meat grinder, so spend your resources early on to recruit more troops.

One of the big changes that Firaxis has made to XCOM 2 with the War of the Chosen DLC is in how loot is handed out on a monthly basis. I found myself getting more scientists and engineers than in previous versions of the game. Coupled with Breakthroughs — new random events that occur and speed up the discovery of new alien technology — I found myself blasting through the research tree at a steady clip.

So far that’s meant that I need to spend less of my precious supplies on upgrading gear and building facilities. I’ve put that extra money into the Proving Ground, creating new and exotic ammunition and grenades for my troops. But after a few months of constant battle, most of my soldiers are fatigued and some of the better ones are heavily wounded. I barely have enough fresh troops to field a full squad. If I had instead used that money to recruit more troops, I wouldn’t be having such a hard time right now.

The best part of War of the Chosen is that it opens up a lot of flexibility for players, both on the battlefield and in the way you build out your base. There’s no longer a single best path to victory. I’m curious to learn what’s been working well for you. Leave your tips in the comments below, and I’ll hop in and let you know what I think.

Good luck out there, Commanders.