XCOM: Chimera Squad Preview
The latest addition to the XCOM franchise is certainly not XCOM 3, but rather a step backwards in some ways that could make it appeal more to casual gamers. However, if you take XCOM: Chimera Squad for what it is – a scaled-down and bargain-priced XCOM experience – there is fun to be had here even for hardened XCOM fans.
Not XCOM 3
Just to get this out of the way, XCOM: Chimera Squad is neither XCOM 3 nor an XCOM 2 DLC. If you’re a long-time fan of the series, don’t expect this instalment to be a standalone follow-up to War of the Chosen. Chimera Squad is considerably leaner than the other games. But even a lightweight XCOM game can still weigh heavier than the average tactical turn-based game. It does use the same Unreal engine as XCOM 2, meaning that at least a mid-tier GPU is needed to run the game at 60 FPS and high settings.
As for the story, the fate of the world does not rest on your shoulders in XCOM: Chimera Squad. Instead you are tasked with defending City 31 – a city set in the post-invasion world, five years after the events of XCOM 2. You control a single squad, i.e. Chimera Squad, which consists of a pre-made set of characters that includes both aliens and humans with different abilities. The story progresses via comic book style cutscenes and there’s nothing particularly epic about it.
But while it’s easy to get caught up with what Chimera Squad is not, let’s have a look at what it actually is.
Strategy Layer and Character Development
You are not building a classic XCOM base with all the resource management that entails like in the previous games. What you get is Chimera Squad’s headquarters along with a map of City 31 where the missions take place. However, there are at least research projects, solo side missions and your characters will level up and evolve much like in XCOM 2.
Instead of randomly generated and fully customized soldiers, however, you only have access to a cast of eleven different characters, each with their own background stories and special abilities. Some of them you will feel right at home with if you’ve played the other XCOM games, but there are also a few fresh ones that give you some additional options on how to approach different scenarios.
Condensed Tactical Battles
The tactical battles follow the same pattern as the strategy layer – they are trimmed-down versions of their XCOM 2 counterparts, but with a few twists. Chimera Squad’s maps are, on average, much smaller than those in XCOM 2 and you progress one room or area at a time.
A key difference is the addition of a tactical layer called Breach Mode. When entering a new area, you get to choose how your soldiers storm the room, with certain tactical advantages or disadvantages depending on your chosen approach. Some of the breach options are only available using characters with specific abilities or equipment, such as entering via vents or using keycards. However, it’s often tactically wise to divide the squad and take multiple routes instead of pushing all of it through the seemingly safest entry point. Your choices in Breach Mode often have a major effect on how the battles turn out.
Another important change in Chimera Squad is that turns are executed on a single timeline, meaning that you can’t normally choose in what order to play your soldiers. This can be manipulated somewhat through different abilities, but still makes it all the more urgent to kill certain enemies early in the round to give yourself breathing room.
To sum things up, XCOM: Chimera Squad would probably be rated higher if it wasn’t for the inevitable comparisons to XCOM 2. Although Chimera Squad is a new take on the concept and adds some new tactical options, it subtracts much of the depth found in the precursor. On the other hand, it’s sold at an affordable price and never claims to be a true successor. If your expectations are adjusted accordingly, Chimera Squad does offer quite a bit of casual turn-based fun while we’re waiting for XCOM 3.