Backstory… with some embellishment.
I’ll take virtually any excuse to dip back into XCOM 2 for another dozen or four hours. (Let’s be honest: sometimes I don’t need any excuse at all.) This week, Firaxis has provided me with a pretty good one in the XCOM 2: War of the Chosen – Tactical Legacy Pack. It’s temporarily free to owners of War of the Chosen (and at least for now PC-only,) and its combination of tough scenarios and nostalgic locations and music were definitely worth coming back for.
The stories of the four campaigns of seven missions a piece (with no strategy layer at all) are decent enough. They give us a little bit of background as to how the DJ good hooked up with XCOM, how Shen got the Avenger off the ground, and some info on the ill-fated squad members that help rescue the commander in the original tutorial mission. No major revelations are made, though.
But the missions themselves, which are supposed to take place between Enemy Within and XCOM 2, show complete disregard for the fiction in favor of challenge. Almost immediately, the aliens throw their biggest, meanest forces at you, up to and including the spikey-haired Avatar. Were Bradford, Shen, and company feigning surprise when they saw a Codex in the main campaign? What happened to the plasma weapons and advanced gear they gathered for these missions? Why do we even get to use some Chosen weaponry even though the Chosen don’t show up for a cameo? For the sake of the story, I found myself wishing Firaxis had stuck to creating new scenarios that presented high-level challenges using exclusively low-level tech and aliens.
Almost immediately, the aliens throw their biggest, meanest forces at you.
That said, I’m glad for the new armor models – which are based on beat-up, duct-taped versions of all three tech levels of the Enemy Unknown XCOM uniforms – and weapons, which don’t behave differently from a standard mag or plasma gun but come with their own visual and sound effects. I wasn’t hurting for variety thanks to my extensive mod list, but more professional-quality pieces are always more than welcome. And the option to play with music from Enemy Unknown or a new score loosely based on the 1994 X-COM: UFO Defense is a nice touch.
It’s a little annoying that you can’t customize your troops – not even their names – beyond picking between two sets of upgrades after each mission, but those choices are interesting and sometimes tough. You might get the option of upgrading every squad members’ PCS implant or equipping your Rangers with Spider Suits… but doing the latter might mean sacrificing your precious Mimic Beacon.
Most of the 28 new maps are XCOM 2-quality recreations of memorable locations from Enemy Within.
All of these campaigns are marked as having Iron Man mode on as mandatory, but don’t be scared away: you can restart any mission with a score penalty, so it simply prevents you from save-scumming within a mission. The stakes feel quite a bit lower than normal, too, because even if just about everybody dies they’re replaced in the following mission by rank and class-equivalent substitutes. Hero units like Bradford and Shen are just knocked unconscious when they take lethal damage, and even if you extract without them they somehow find their way back to the Avenger.
Most of the 28 new maps are XCOM 2-quality recreations of memorable locations from Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within, which instantly sparked a nostalgic familiarity in me. I recognize that downed UFO! I’d know that diner anywhere. And these docks are giving me flashbacks to Nova Scotia. The downside is that because they’re premade maps they aren’t procedurally generated, but on the other hand they do add more variety to the main campaign.
In fact, there’s little to no randomization when you come back for another playthrough of the Tactical Legacy Pack’s campaigns, so the replayability comes from chasing a high score. Like in the daily challenges introduced with War of the Chosen, your actions are scored based on kills and how many of your own troops are wounded or killed, but here there’s a diminishing early bird score bonus that effectively drives you to recklessly charge in to kill as many aliens as possible as quickly as possible. So even though I got gold-medal scores on three of the four campaigns on my first Nightmare run (there is no Legendary difficulty option), there’s still definitely room for improvement. Beyond that, you can dynamically generate a new multi-stage campaign to play through, though without any story content.
The two other modes of the Tactical Legacy Pack are Skirmish, which lets you take any squad you want into any map you want with any objective you want, which I suppose is nice if you want some action without going through the campaign. Finally, you also get access to all 100+ daily challenge missions to replay as often as you want. It’s good that that content is available again, but naturally, these missions have lost the tension of only having one attempt to turn in your best performance.