XCOM: Chimera Squad was a surprise release and more surprisingly, immediately went on sale for $10 over on steam (until May 1, 2020). I’m not here to judge business models, just to talk about games.
This is not a traditional installment in the XCOM franchise in that there are significant in mission and out of mission changes to take note of. Though it is not a departure to the same degree The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was.
To set up our story we are set 5 years after the conclusion of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. The Elders have been driven off and what is left of humanity, and what is left of the aliens still on earth, have had to learn to live with each other.
We are no longer the scrappy human resistance trying to save the world from aliens, or to overthrow the oppressive ADVENT puppet government.
We are now a government task force comprised of humans and aliens sent into hot spots to “suppress” pockets of resistance.
But who cares about story. We want to shoot the former ‘us’ in the face.
Coming off the heels of War of the Chosen the in-mission gameplay feels almost identical. Movement, cover, abilities.
The biggest change is in the maps and how those maps are traversed.
since the game takes place entirely in the named-by-committee, ‘City 31’, gone are the sprawling crash sites, swamps, and resistance farms and the slow crawl around those giant play-scapes.
Instead, every map is now some form of sewer, highway, office, or warehouse. All battle areas (most of which are the size of a small warehouse) are entered through a breach event.
Missions typically have between 1 and 3 Encounters and they always begin with a breach event. Try not to waste any time wondering how the baddies in room 2 can be caught by surprise after a firefight, complete with grenades, just occurred in room 1.
There is a surprising amount of optional gameplay involved in this portion of the mission.
Each room will have one or many ways to get in. These are defined by the mission, but you have to qualify in order to use them. So the option to enter through the front door or through a security door may exist but you can only utilize the latter if you brought the correct qualifications.
A wall can be blasted open with a breaching charge. A door can by bypassed with a security override key, or you can squeeze through air vents with the infiltrator armor attachment. Some characters can use some of these points naturally. For example, Viper agent Torque can use air vents without the infiltrator armor attachment.
Which ingress point you use and the order of your agents also matters, but we’ll touch on that in a bit.
On Breach Actions
It’s important to consider any items or abilities you may want to utilize during the breach event. The holo scanner grenade will make every enemy in the room easier to hit. A medi-patch will heal your agent as they enter the room. There’s even a Terminal’s ability that lets you heal everyone at the ingress point as you enter the room.
Keep in mind that the first character to breach is performing the breach action and cannot use an ability or item, so you will have to line them up in whatever logical fashion supports your plan.
Here is where the actual battle commences. Barring any special event (which I never encountered) your agents will always act first and in the order assigned when you were preparing to breach.
Every agent can take a shot, rush for cover, or (if capable) perform a special breach action. You will see the order that your agents act in the breach planning screen, so if there are any relevant abilities, arrange accordingly.
Your enemies will come in three states. Surprised, Alert, or Aggressive. This can change depending on your ingress. If you come in the window you may surprise a character that was alert to characters coming in the front door.
- Surprised enemies take no action that round and are easier to hit.
- Alert enemies will perform a defensive action after the breach.
- Aggressive enemies will return fire after your breach is resolved.
During the ‘Gray Phoenix’ case, for example, the breach action really boils down to: “Are there any dominators? Kill the dominators.”
When planning your assault you need to be aware of your character’s ‘special’ actions. For instance, Verge can levitate an enemy out of cover (For example, a dominator), but it only applies during the breach. So remember not to let Verge breach last.
If you have no good actions to take you can always just rush for cover which will give you decent defensive bonuses during any return fire.
To bring it all together:
On the breach screen you can see what breach points are available and assign agents as they qualify.
Breach points will have bonuses and negatives associated depending on the breach point and, sometimes, where in the order a character resides.
The Art of Breaching
- You select breach actions or use breach items on this screen.
- The breach point you choose and the order in which they breach will determine their order in the combat to follow.
- During the breach we can attack, get cover, or use an ability.
(But we always kill dominators. )
Changes in Combat
Thankfully there aren’t many to speak of. There aren’t 1-to-1 carryovers from the previous XCOM, though everything is broadly similar. And in a broader sense we are cops now, not soldiers, so no more lugging around rocket launchers. But if you are still familiar with XCOM 2 you will be fine here.
The only giant, glaring change being the turn order instead of going by team.
Your teams turn order is set at the Breach. The enemies fill in depending in some character attributes but mostly due to being aggressive, alert, surprised.
There is one global ability that will allow you to modify the turn order and some characters have special abilities that can influence turn order, but generally what you see on the side of the screen is the way it will play.
There is a bit of strategy involved here. If the Adder is going next and you kill the Adder, now the enemy doesn’t get a move. If you get two character actions before the dominator can take theirs (and you failed spectacularly and didn’t kill the dominator on the breach), then you let the adder move so you can focus down the dominator.
There are pro’s and con’s to both the turn order and go-by-team styles and neither really trumps the other here.
That said I do have a few pain points.
If there is an item in the encounter you have to capture it before the end of the encounter or you do not receive credit.
In many encounters reinforcements will begin to arrive. Since the battlefield is small and they slot randomly into the turn order, your well oiled evac can suddenly leave a squad member behind 3 enemies in the turn order.
You are better off evac’ing one at a time rather than gathering at the evac point for a mass extract. This point is made worse by the fact that you cannot end your turn on an evac point. If you are out of actions and are sitting on the evac point, you must evacuate.
Since your party members are part of a story, they are effectively immortal. There is an android backup that can be researched and built later. It will join your party during the breaching phase if a party member went down and was not stabilized in time. I am a chump who plays on normal so this hasn’t happened yet, but it’s been close a few times.
Finally, as you are in inter-species squad, moving through inter-species civilians and fighting inter-species enemies, it can be entirely up to the UI telling you “good” or “bad” to help you tell all of the actors apart.
Walking the Beat in Precinct 31
First off we have to address the bridge troll in the room.
Eli, you cannot make your own party, the game utilizes pre-made characters.
Instead there is a roster of characters for you to choose from. Core team of the grizzled leader, the medic, the guy with the shield, and the telepath. Then later on, during certain story beats, you are given the opportunity to select from 1 of 3 (random?) options.
We also do not build our base anymore. The war is over and we are a federal task force coming in to help out the city in a crisis. Basic infrastructure is already in place.
Even still, there is a research lab where you have to pay for your own research using Elerium, and then purchase the resulting upgrades using credits. Seems that capitalism also survived the war.
There is also a training school but since we are now dealing with characters and not classes each character will need to undergo their own training. No training “extra slots for support” and all of the support being upgraded.
Finally there is the supply, which is where we will spend our credits. The opposite of the training school applies here where if you purchase the armor upgrade every character will receive the armor upgrade.
Be aware, that only applies to the broad category of armor/weapons and not to individual items such as stimpacks or breaching charges.
And tragically since we are now cops and not freedom fighters we can’t sell the body parts of our enemies on the black market for extra credits.
And finally there is the “Go do stuff random character I don’t care about” special operations screen. In the beginning you can run missions for the base resources, credits, Elerium, and intel. This list expands later as the story progresses. I’ll touch back on this later when I talk about managing your roster.
Playing the Map Game
This wouldn’t be XCOM if someone didn’t get angry at you for either failing a mission or succeeding a mission somewhere else. So instead of a world council we now have the worst performance metric of all. Public approval.
A carry over from War of the Chosen is having the double meters to worry about. Only, instead of ‘region support’ and ‘the avatar project’ we now have ‘district unrest’ and ‘CITY ANARCHY’. Emphasis mine, it just feels a little overly dramatic.
On this screen is where we can spend our 3rd resource type, intel. You gain intel from subduing enemies in a mission rather than killing them. Your chance to gain intel is 20% per capture (maximum 100%) and the amount of intel varies as the story progresses.
You can also get intel as a mission reward, or from doing the special operations. Sadly intel isn’t exciting as you simply spend it on setting up field offices in the 9 districts which will then generate intel, Elerium, or credits.
There are four mission types:
- Blue missions are automatic, the event listed simply happens.
- Orange missions are combat deployments for the listed rewards.
- Purple missions are story combat deployments.
- Red missions are emergency deployment which must be completed that day.
Every mission will advance the day. Gone is the hourly clock of XCOM past, now that we are federal workers we can only accomplish one task a day.
In each district you will see a meter with 5 chevrons. The filled/not-filled chevrons will show current unrest and the glowing chevrons will show the unrest that will be gained if you don’t choose that mission.
At 5 chevrons a district will add it’s unrest to the City Anarchy meter. If the City Anarchy meter reaches full you lose the game.
At the bottom of the map you have a few abilities that can lower unrest, stop unrest from being gained, lower city anarchy, and increase rewards.
Those bottom abilities depend on, and scale with, your field offices. So while intel is the least exciting resource it may also be the most vital.
I’m not going to write out a guide on how to properly manage your unrest/anarchy
But it is probably the most important aspect of the game and deserves more brainpower than who you want your snek lady to hug next.
Recognize the Power of our People
Your four starters are locked in. This only applies to the tutorial. If you skip the tutorial you can pick your 4 starters – Ed
- Godmother, Human Assault who is too old for this shit
- Terminal, Human Medic with the XCOM 2 healing bot
- Cherub, Hybrid Shield Boy for protec
- Verge, Sectoid Psion mind freak
Beyond that you randomly select more as the story progresses. They all have something interesting in their kit but none of them are a must have.
- Rescue Mission? Use your 60′ tongue to pull the hostage to you
- Someone dying? Use your 60′ tongue to pull your ally to safety
- Bad guy over there? Use your 60′ tongue to pull them to you, then give them a snek hug
- Leveled up? Get the ability to hug harder
- Leveled Up? Become a tank while hugging
- Like breach actions? How about a poison spit that doesn’t miss, and does an additional damage over time
- Like AoE? How about an AOE combat spit that is 100% hit and poisons the targets
You absolutely must have 4 officers available to deploy on any map mission. Even a blue mission which you don’t play needs 4 officers in the APC.
Past that my priorities are as such:
- Always Be Training: Each character has their own advancement trees and it takes several days each. So you always want at least one character in the training room working on an upgrade.
- Research is more important than special operations… usually.
- Research can be completed without an agent assigned, it just takes longer. But assigning an agent so the 6 day task takes 3 days is pointless if in 3 days you won’t have the money to buy the thing you just researched.
- You can get some good stuff from Special Operations later, such as free field office upgrades, reduction in city anarchy, and basic resources.
- Special Operations are the least important, unless you really need a particular resource or there is a special event involved.
This is really only a dilemma for the first half of the game. Once you are midway through the 2nd investigation you will have enough agents that keeping on top of training, manning research, and running critical spec ops is not a problem.
Oh yeah, the game has a story too.
Ours is a new type of agency and we show up in City 31 just in time to save the mayor from a hostage situation and then, all hell breaks loose ™. Because this is a local cops and feds story, and it is being told from the PoV of the feds, the local cops are all incompetent idiots. All crime that happens in the city is now somehow your fault and as the city descends into complete anarchy and tears itself apart all local authorities will absolve themselves of any responsibility.
After the intro mission you are presented with three different investigations to run. Fortunately, we solve crimes by committing crimes so there is no actual police work involved.
The investigations that you don’t choose will be harder later once you finish your current investigation. So don’t be stupid and save the one with the Chryssalids in it for last.
The spokesman is gone, so no bald guy in a dark room cheering you on with his silky smooth voice. Instead we get a bureaucrat skyping us between budget meetings.
We will also be subjected to intermittent radio chatter and TV reports talking about how we are the only ones that can solve the problems of this city and that we also shouldn’t be here anyway.
I’ll say that the writing and voice acting is the low point of the game. There is so much game management happening between missions that the story is something just going on in the background. Quite a bit of the squad chatter is inane, and there was no attempt to make any of the aliens sound like aliens.
I rate this one worthy.
It’s on sale through May 1, 2020 and will be on sale at some point in the future. Getting half of an XCOM game at a quarter the price is a pretty good deal.