The new factions in XCOM 2: War of The Chosen are much more than just additional soldier classes to command. They are groups with goals and ideologies that flesh out the world you’re fighting to save. The new gameplay features introduced with these factions expand the strategies available to the player. They also play a huge part in a brand new narrative experience. For the developers, the factions provided the opportunity to develop and evolve many of the features they introduced in XCOM 2.
Joe Weinhoffer (Designer) and Scott Wittbecker (Lead Writer) from Firaxis’ XCOM 2: War of The Chosen team sat down recently to share some of what went into creating the three new factions.
Let’s start off easy. What were the first questions that the team asked themselves as they started working on these new Factions?
Joe W. In general, our approach to the expansion was looking for areas of the game we could fill up with new features, narrative, or at least update to make the game more fun. One of the primary goals of the expansion was to enhance the narrative experience, and to make the player feel more invested in the world they are saving. We knew very early on that the Chosen and the Resistance Factions would be the key elements of that narrative, and of course each of the Factions would have a new associated soldier class. We wanted each faction soldier to have a unique identity and cool new tactical mechanic, but at the same time they had to sit well with all the other soldier classes. Our goal wasn’t to make any established class obsolete, but to offer the player new units that would enable different strategies utilizing all of the soldier classes.
What’s an example of one of the new tactical mechanics and strategies that the faction soldiers provided?
Joe W. The first faction soldier we worked on was the Reaper, which we fleshed out pretty quickly. All of the soldier classes in the base game could use concealment at the start of most missions, and Rangers had some additional abilities to put them back into concealment and benefit from it. We really liked concealment as a mechanic, and wanted to experiment with pushing it even further. What if we had a unit that could control concealment, or never broke out of concealment? From there, the ideas and possibilities for the Reaper started flowing, and we settled quickly on the basics of their Shadow concealment mechanic. Once the core gameplay trait is established, we start asking, “How can we use this mechanic to create fun abilities and interesting tactical decisions for the player?”
Going back at the beginning of the process. What laid the groundwork for these awesome ideas?
Joe W. The creation process for each of the Faction soldiers started with an idea from Jake [Solomon] and an overall description of the Faction’s narrative ideology and the soldier’s core gameplay mechanic. For the Reaper, that was looking at interesting ways to use concealment.
So after you have this rough framework, you start filling the in gaps. What were some of the inspirations for the new factions and their heroes?
Scott W. Like Joe said earlier about the Reaper, we wanted to make sure that we were addressing parts of how the game plays, but also do it in a way that also shows you more of the world and the factions existing on the fringes of it. As for the faction leaders, knowing who we had in mind for the roles (Jonathan Frakes as Volk, John De Lancie as Geist, and Denise Crosby as Betos) helped shape these characters' tones to a degree, based on the actors’ individual strengths.
A lot of it, though, came from us building upon the world that already existed. We just took it down roads that made sense.
Joe W. Take the Templar, for instance. We wanted to make the Templar feel very different from the base game Psi Operatives, and one of the ways we achieved that goal was by giving them a unique visual manifestation of the psionic energy for their abilities. Traditional XCOM psionics are very organic and wispy in nature, reflecting the natural affinity of the Psi Operatives and their more utility-based abilities. The Templars have harnessed their power through the use of technology, and their attacks are much more offensive, so their psionic effects are more jagged, visceral, and electric.
Scott W. For me, though? I’ve got to say that the most interesting creation process was the Skirmishers. The biggest part narrative exploration being how much of their alien nature they would keep after being freed from ADVENT control. We wanted to convey a sense that the world is sort of "new" to them, they're seeing and hearing things independently for the first time without ADVENT telling them how to interpret this information. It was also an opportunity to introduce more of the ADVENT language while also hinting at the intended meanings for some of the original [dialogue lines]. [For a detailed look at the how the language of ADVENT was created, check this story.]
You’ve got your world lore, you’ve determined the gameplay mechanics for each faction. What comes next?
Joe W. Then Mark [Nauta], Jake [Solomon], and I would all brainstorm ideas for abilities, discuss what worked, and come up with a first pass at an ability tree and overall progression. Since we knew the faction soldiers would rank up differently than the base game soldiers, we spent less time worrying about where each ability would fall on their tree, and instead focused more on designing abilities which fit the new gameplay mechanics and had unique tactical benefits. Finalizing the position of each ability at a specific rank in the tree actually happened relatively late in the process.
Obviously, it’s an iterative process as you’re developing - what are some of the more interesting things that didn’t find their way into the final factions?
Joe W. The faction soldiers went through a lot of changes before they ended up in their final form. We went through periods where they were too powerful, and others where they weren’t powerful enough.
Reapers had a really cool ability called “Executioner”, which turned their critical hit chance into an instant-kill chance. It was incredibly fun to play, but became way too overpowered in the late game when you could equip a Superior Laser Sight onto the Vektor Rifle. The extra crit from that upgrade, coupled with the Reaper’s Shadow mode making it very easy for them to get into flanking positions for an additional crit bonus, gave them almost guaranteed insta-kills. We eventually reworked it to become the “Death Dealer” ability, which doubles the amount of critical damage dealt against flanked targets in Shadow, so it kept the same gameplay incentive with a slightly less overpowered result.
Skirmishers originally had “Forward Operator”, an ability which granted them an extra action point every time a new group of enemies was revealed. This ended up working a bit too well and gave Skirmishers way more action points than we intended, since the game has many different situations which it considers an “enemy reveal”, so the ability was cut. The default “Marauder” ability allows Skirmishers to do much more with a single action point than any other class, so abilities like “Reflex”, the Psi Operative’s “Inspire”, or using “Teamwork” from a bondmate can all still give the Skirmisher plenty of actions to work with.
The ability list for the Templars, though, is very similar to the original design. The biggest update we had to make during their development was applying restrictions to Ghost which limited the abilities the clones could use. We also had to ensure the Templar couldn’t summon infinite Ghosts and trivialize missions. When the ability was first implemented, Ghosts could summon additional Ghosts themselves, which was pretty crazy!
Not that you play favorites in the office, but is there a favorite faction amongst the Firaxis staff?
Joe W. We love each faction equally like they’re our children. There is a lot of love and support for each of the factions, since everyone made contributions to get them into the game. The art department did a fantastic job giving them all unique, exciting looks. And from the design side, we didn’t make one faction soldier clearly better than the others, but of course they all excel in their areas of expertise.
That said, everyone has their personal favorites, and there are a lot of Templar fans here at the studio. They are very different than the more realistic soldiers that we usually make for the game. The team had a lot of fun creating their look, unique movement and ability animations, and of course their incredibly epic special effects.
In the coming weeks, we’re going to continue chatting with the team about all aspects of the game and the work that went into creating XCOM 2: War of The Chosen. And we plan to answer your questions – and more – right here.
Do you have questions for the team? Be sure to follow XCOM on Twitter and Like XCOM on Facebook to keep up to date with the latest information on XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. If you’re looking to enlist with the Resistance, join the 2K Forums!