You never know with smaller spinoff games, sometimes they can be great Uncharted: The Lost Legacy other times they turn out like Wolfenstein: Youngblood. The thing about these spinoff games is, the developer is usually trying something new but they didn’t want to put this new radical game mechanic in the next direct sequel.
It’s very evident that is what had happened with Xcom Chimera Squad, at its core, it’s still a grid-based, tactics game. After that, there are so many new game mechanics and most work. I understand some of the complaints but that would come down to personal preference.
In the two previous Firaxis Xcom games, you could customize the units/characters. It seems like it was common to name the units after your friends and family, that way you feel a little more connected to the characters. That way you can yell at Matt for missing his shot or praise Kevin for getting stuff done.
I never touched character customization in Xcom 1 or 2 so with Chimera Squad I was not disappointed when I heard the game has set characters. It’s how I played the game in the first place.
With the inclusion of set characters, it allowed Firaxis to focus on a more direct story and it’s a story that exists. I don’t have a lot to say about the story, it’s forgettable.
The one interesting aspect of the story is the initial set up. In previous Xcom games, it’s Humans vs Aliens. In Chimera Squad, you are in charge of a squad that is sent into a city that has been able to obtain “harmony” between Humans and Aliens so they’re living and working together. What this means gameplay-wise is, you’re able to have Aliens on your squad which can completely change your playstyle. You now have access to new abilities that you only fought against. What this also means is the goal is no longer to protect and save the whole world. You’re just focussing on this one small city. So outside of the combat grids, there is a lot less to maintain which I appreciated.
The most interesting new mechanic is the Breach and Encounter mechanic which both combined change how all battles are played out. In previous Xcom games, you as the player would be dropped into a large procedurally generated map. Most of the map would be blacked out and you would have to wander around the map knowing at any point you could be ambushed by the enemy. This is no longer the case.
Instead, now all battles start with you and your team breaching a map. You are no longer being ambushed, you are now the ambushers and it weirdly makes you feel more powerful. How the breach works is you start on the outside of a building, it has 2 windows and the main door. You can then go through and decide which unit you want to go through each spot. Each spot will have its pros and cons so there is an element of strategizing when making those decisions. Once you initiate the breach, there is an animation of the four units storming through the door, windows, sunroom, etc. Time stops and you get to take four “free” on the enemies in the building. Once all four shots have completed, then your four units will disperse on the map and at this point, it turns into what you think of as “standard” Xcom combat.
Now for the “Encounters”, instead of the one large procedural map, each mission have 1,2 or 3 smaller bespoke maps called encounters. Once all enemies are eliminated in the encounter you will then move onto the next encounter. So a standard 3 encounter mission will flow as the following, Breach, Encounter, Breach, Encounter, Breach, and then finally wipe out all enemies in the encounter.
It’s not just the encounters that are different though, rounds are now different. In the previous games, rounds were handled very simply. You as the player would go and move all your units and then after your turn, it was the aliens where all the aliens would move. In Chimera Squad, instead of all going at once, there is a defined turn order that has your squad and the enemies mixed together. I appreciate this change because what it does is add another element of strategy. Now when choosing which enemy to attack you have to ask yourself, do you take care of the immediate threat (the enemy coming up next), the big threat (the big enemy that does a lot of damage but is 5-6 slots away) or do you take the safe route and go after the enemy with the highest percentage chance of a hit. If you go after the big guy and miss your shot, it could come back to bite you. 2-3 missed shots can be the difference between success and failure in a mission.
The last and final new game mechanic is less of a new mechanic and more of a game mechanic that was removed. Permadeath is not a thing in Chimera Squad and I appreciate it. I understand why people prefer it because it adds to the tension but I can’t tell you how many games I have had to restart because I permanently lost 2 or 3 quality units. So now if you lose a unit in a battle, you have 3 turns to get to the unit and “stabilize,” if you don’t then you fail the mission and have to restart the mission (or at the very least, the encounter). I like the change, rather than losing 8-10 hours, I would lose maybe 10 minutes. I appreciate the concept of permadeath but I don’t like it in execution.
As I said at the beginning of this, whether you like Chimera Squad is going to come down to personal preference. I like all the changes, I think it works for me because it better fits what I’m looking for in a Tactics game. But if you’re the type of person that likes customizing your characters, permadeath, and the big sprawling maps then I could see why you wouldn’t like this game.
But for me, I think it’s a very good game.