Today we’re switching it up from one form of screen to another, and taking a look at Xcom: Chimera Squad. It’s the sorta-sequel, but not quite, to Xcom 2. It isn’t a bad game, exactly, but it is a step down in a few key ways. There’s two main changes from the Xcom formula that while seemingly minor, fundamentally change how the game plays: smaller arenas, and a turn timeline.
Chimera Squad’s Smaller Arenas
- In the closer confines of Chimera Squad maneuvering and shot choice suddenly become far less dynamic. There are less options for flanking which creates a somewhat rote turn choice decision tree: you use the secondary skill of a character, then simply shoot the enemy with the highest chance to hit. There’s no positioning your character to try and get a good shot on priority targets.
- The emphasis on secondary skills also dilutes the usefulness of moving. Because they’re so useful and take a half turn, you basically always want to use them for your first action. It’s sort of a feedback loop with the lack of flanking options. And three out of your four starting characters (Verge, Terminal, and Cherub) have skills that are largely movement agnostic and don’t depend on position: Terminal’s aid and Cherub’s kinetic shield can be used on any character at any time, and Verge’s stupor only a little considering it has a hundred percent chance to land. Terminal is also such an overpowered character that you should basically never not bring her in your squad until at least halfway through the game, closing off a fourth of your character slots.
- The two elements combined, smaller arenas where you don’t have the space to flank enemies, and a secondary skill system where it’s often more advantageous to use those for your first action, fundamentally changes the risk vs reward paradigm of movement. I often found myself barely moving for entire battles, characters rooted to the spot because there wasn’t a point in moving.
- The knockout system, where melee attacking an enemy knocks them out for extra resources, does incentivize positioning a little, to be fair, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the formula.
- Axiom’s skills are also more position based since you’ll be exposed for charging in, but exactly because of that I found myself rarely using him. His melee attack doesn’t consistently hit or disable enemies, and it doesn’t do enough damage to be worth it.
- The breach system also doesn’t have much of any positioning strategy since you don’t get to really make an informed or granular choice about where you start the battle. You get the choice of two or three breach points, but don’t really have any info on what the layout of enemies is going to be, so while there are binary stat bonuses or penalties for choosing one breach point over another, it doesn’t tie into movement or positioning. In Chimera Squad you also don’t get to choose where your characters slide into cover after breaching, which I think is a mistake and downgrade from the ambush system of Xcom 2 where you got to choose where your characters started an encounter, or the more recent Mutant Year Zero which emphasizes even more ambush positioning.
- It’s also worth pointing out that Xcom games are about strategy, not reaction or reflexes. The reason a breach system works where you go in blind in a game like Call of Duty for example, is that you’re thrust into a new situation and have to recognize and prioritize threats in a split second, testing your reflexes, aim, and ability to scan a situation. Reflexes and quick decision making are inherently key to Call of Duty in a way they aren’t in turn based strategy games.
Chimera Squad’s Turn Timeline
- The timeline system, in which each character’s action phase interlocks with those of enemies, is unique to Chimera Squad. One strange artifact of it is that it fundamentally changes the pacing of the game. The system loses the mulling things over portion of a turn in vanilla Xcom: tinkering around to see who has the best shot while in the background a plan for that turn percolates in your head.
- There should be strategy, strategic depth, in choosing who you shoot with the new timeline action system: shutting down enemies higher on the timeline essentially denies your enemies a turn, but not might be the best shot. Often it simply doesn’t work like that though, and isn’t worth doing anything other than shooting the enemy with the highest hit chance.
- There’s a lot of strategy in single action turns because you have to choose which order your units are going to shoot in, and there are multiple skills that emphasize and build on the concept. The heavy in Xcom 2 for example has two that incentive firing before other characters: holo targeting raises the hit chance for all ensuing shots from other characters, and armor sunder means other characters will deal more damage to the target.
A Note On Price: Chimera Squad is ludicrously cheap for such a well polished and extensive game, but not all games are. If you find yourself struggling financially then a title loan may be for you.