The fog of war has cleared and this time there's actually a good surprise: we have more XCOM on the near horizon. 2K and Firaxis Games have announced a brand-new entry in the franchise. XCOM: Chimera Squad is a standalone spinoff that picks up five years after the events of XCOM 2. City 31 is a place where humans, aliens, and hybrids co-exist in peace. Well mostly in peace. There's still some tensions brewing, and Chimera Squad, an assortment of soldiers spanning the many groups within City 31, are there to keep the peace.
XCOM: Chimera Squad is not a full-fledged sequel though. Yes, it takes place after XCOM 2, but this is not the X-COM: Terror from the Deep-inspired sequel that some players may have expected. "It’s neither a sequel or expansion to XCOM 2, though its story is set after the events of the past games," a Firaxis spokesperson tells USgamer.
Meet the Squad
Instead, Chimera Squad focuses on a team of 11 agents crafted by Firaxis. Take Verge, who factors heavily into the concept art and looks like a psionic Sectoid wearing XCOM-issued body armor. Or Axiom, a Muton and clearly the muscle of the squad. The alien members are joined by human folks like Patchwork, a young woman with mechanical prosthetics replacing her arms and legs. The characters replace the traditional XCOM classes and each has unique abilities.
Having a set squad is similar to tactics games that have come out since XCOM 2, including Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun and Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, but Firaxis says the inspiration was actually expanding on what was established in the XCOM 2 expansion War of the Chosen. "The decision to move toward having unique agents in XCOM: Chimera Squad was partly driven by some of the choices we made in the War of the Chosen expansion for XCOM 2, where you had characters with distinct personalities like the Chosen, Elena Dragunova and Pratal Mox. Having your full squad composed of unique characters with unique abilities felt like a natural evolution of those decisions," the Firaxis spokesperson says.
The change also allows Firaxis to explore the world of XCOM a bit more. Chimera Squad is still the same tactical experience XCOM players have come to expect, but the set characters will offer some color to XCOM's world.
"Having specific agents allows us to dive deeper into the world of XCOM through their personalities and backstories," says Firaxis. "Whether it’s battlefield chatter or character interactions, we hope that players will want to learn more about each agent and think about what the post-ADVENT world of XCOM is like for humans, aliens and hybrids."
The change does mean that overall squad customization will take a small hit, though. Every agent has a distinct playstyle and none of them share any skills. Playing Chimera Squad is about choosing the right team for each mission, and playing up various synergies between their skills. The agents will be limited to a specific weapon type, though there are weapon mods, different ammo types, and special weapons you can gain as mission rewards.
"In addition to agents’ weapon loadouts, armor may be modified and agents can carry different kinds of breach and utility items which offer their own tactical options," adds the Firaxis spokesperson. "There is also limited customization in the form of armor palette swapping."
Chimera Squad isn't the insurgent force that humanity was in XCOM 2. This means you're heading into situations with a decent knowledge of what's in front of you. Instead of just entering a mission on the outskirts of the battlefield, Chimera Squad can breach locations. Choosing a different entry point for a mission also changes what you have to contend with. While going through the front door would offer a more standard mission, perhaps it's better to come in through a window to surprise your foes and get some free hits in. You can even assign different agents to various entry points: the currently-unnamed Viper alien can enter through vents that would shut out others, as an example.
Take Your Turn, One At a Time
XCOM: Chimera Squad also features interleaving turns, similar to Grandia or Cosmic Star Heroine. The missions start with an alternating turn order, moving back and forth between your squad and the enemy character by character. This order can change, as some agents have the ability to push back an enemy or push themselves forward in the turn order. There's also the "Team Up" ability, a once-per-mission move allowing one agent to act instantly. For Firaxis, the switch to interleaving turns changes the strategic layer of XCOM.
"Having interleaved turns changes both the types of decisions players must make and what kind of tactical options they have at the table," says Firaxis. "By switching to interleaved turns, players will make on-the-fly strategic decisions based on who is coming up next in the timeline, whether that’s prioritizing a certain enemy or attempting to disrupt their action before they get the chance to carry it out."
There are returning features from XCOM 2. For one, mod support is still available. Firaxis confirmed that Chimera Squad has "the same mod functionality as XCOM 2," allowing players to "create their own enemies, characters, maps and other content to expand XCOM: Chimera Squad." Ironman mode, featuring a single save and permadeath, is also coming back. One thing that's not in the cards at the moment? A console release. XCOM: Chimera Squad is scheduled for release on PC only, despite the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 releases of XCOM 2 and the upcoming release of XCOM 2 Collection on Nintendo Switch. Firaxis says there are "no current plans" to bring the game to any of those platforms.
The most surprising thing about XCOM: Chimera Squad is that the release date is right around the corner. Instead of an announcement months out from launch, the gap between today's reveal and release is a scant 10 days. Chimera Squad will even be half-off at launch, releasing at $9.99, instead of the already-low $19.99 suggested retail price.
For Firaxis, XCOM: Chimera Squad is a gateway into the rest of the franchise. "As reflected in our pricing, we’re lowering the barriers of entry to the game and making it easier for fans new and old to check out XCOM: Chimera Squad," says the studio.
And at the very least, it'll make the wait for XCOM 3 a bit more bearable.