XCOM 2 Analysis: Chosen Strategic Layer

I'll be getting into the Chosen on the tactical layer more later. For this post, I'm focusing primarily on the strategic mechanics connected to them.

First and foremost: territory. Every Chosen is considered to control a random set of regions of the map, divided reasonably evenly between them. (I should mention there's evidence there were intended to be four Chosen instead of three. I mention it now because 16 -the number of regions the game has- divides evenly four ways, but not three ways; it seems likely the intent was for each Chosen to control exactly 4 regions)

There are two ways this territory system matters. The first point is that of contact: Chosen are almost completely inactive if you are not considered to be in contact with them, and you get into contact with them by contacting a region that is considered to be under their control. That is, if you haven't contacted a region the Warlock controls, he can't accrue Knowledge or launch Chosen actions to cause harm to you and yours.

The second way is their appearances in tactical combat. There's a few different rules to this I'll be getting into in a later post, but the core point is that Chosen only ever attack you in missions occurring in their territory. Among other points, this adds another wrinkle to the process of choosing which Guerrilla Op to take: don't like fighting the Warlock? You can minimize encounters with them by not taking Guerrilla Ops occurring in his territory. Fortunately, the game is kind enough to forewarn you which territory is controlled by which Chosen, displaying it at the bottom of the screen when considering launching a mission. It... could be better in this regard, in that this information is not carried forward into the squad management portion of pre-mission considerations and it's really easy to completely forget about it while picking out your soldiers, but still.

Anyway, this contact system means you start out only able to encounter one Chosen, the one that control your starting territory. Generally, you'll encounter them a bit staggered, fighting your starting Chosen two or three times, then encountering a new Chosen, and after a moderate delay finally encountering your third and final Chosen. This is not a strictly enforced pattern, but it'll be your typical result.

The reason for this is that Chosen territorial considerations are less randomized than you might expect. It is randomized, but with some rules that make certain elements more predictable.

First of all, the plot missions with a physical location on the map -the Blacksite, the Forge, and the Psi Gate- are divided evenly among the Chosen. That is, if you encounter the Assassin at the Blacksite, you will not encounter her at the Forge or Psi Gate. If you then encounter the Hunter at the Forge, you now know that the Warlock is waiting for you at the Psi Gate. This aspect is tied together with the territory system: if you encounter the Warlock at the Psi Gate, it's because he controls the territory the Psi Gate spawned in. You can thus make inferences both ways: if you've not made contact with the Psi Gate's region yet, but have already determined the Assassin and Hunter control the other territories, you can be confident the Warlock will control the territory you can see the Psi Gate in. All of this means that while each given Chosen can show up in any of these plot missions, and this is random, within a run there's a certain predictability; first one, then another, then the least. You'll never fight the Hunter at all three, or anything like that.

Second, a sub-point of the above is that the Blacksite is special, and its region is always assigned to whichever Chosen controls your starting territory. Thus, if you do the natural thing and make contact with the Blacksite as your first new region contacted, you will never make contact with a new Chosen at that point. If you then spend your third -and normally final- contact on a different location, at that point you will usually make contact with a second Chosen. (It's rare, but it is possible for one Chosen to simply control all three regions in your immediate area) Thus, the instant you've first encountered a Chosen, you already know who will fight you at the Blacksite

By a similar token, if you're playing with Lost and Abandoned on, you can state with confidence before even starting the game that the Assassin will be waiting for you at the Blacksite, since Lost and Abandoned forces her to be your starting Chosen.

Anyway, since there's usually a long stretch where you've contacted three regions and are waiting to be able to contact more, this is what leads to the third Chosen tending to be encountered a good while after the second, who was encountered a decent bit after the first because of course you contacted the Blacksite's region first, there's really no reason to do otherwise in most cases.

Returning to the contact consideration, that touches on the intertwined pair of remaining Chosen strategic considerations: Knowledge level and monthly actions.

At the start of each month past the first, every Chosen you're currently in contact with queues up a single action to be done that month. Initially, their options are limited, with only two possible actions where one of those options is special, but as a given Chosen accumulate Knowledge they personally unlock additional possible action types, making their behavior a little more random each month. Not... particularly more random, to be honest, but I'll get into that a bit later. Additionally, hitting certain Knowledge tiers has additional secondary effects I'll be getting into later in the post.

Knowledge itself is accumulated via three major avenues: first of all, each Chosen has a passive Knowledge trickle once you're in contact with them, ensuring they gain a little Knowledge every month even if nothing in specific happens. Second, Chosen can Extract Knowledge or Kidnap your soldiers in tactical combat, giving them even more Knowledge, with Kidnap in particular providing a passive Knowledge trickle to the Chosen who performed the Kidnapping until you rescue the soldier. (Note that soldiers captured via the Covert Op Risk also count as Kidnapped for this purpose, with the Chosen credited the Knowledge being based on which Resistance faction is considered to be their nemesis) Lastly, one of their monthly actions provides some Knowledge when performed, in addition to its primary effect, meaning even if you are quite reliable at avoiding tactical encounters giving them more Knowledge they'll still tend to accumulate it at a decent clip.

Knowledge itself is supposed to represent the Chosen getting closer to figuring out where the Commander is, which is to say getting more of an understanding of what's going on with X-COM as a resistance force and all. The connection to gameplay reality is honestly pretty tenuous, but whatever. In reality, Knowledge gates an... assortment of effects I'll be getting into later in the post, once I've given some other context.

So returning to contact, once you're in contact with a given Chosen they will once per month queue up a single strategic action for that month. This is revealed to you at the start of the month, after the Spokesman rates you but before you're given the chance to mess with Resistance Orders, and you may have a Covert Op allowing you to block it that month, but if you don't it's going through at some point in the month and that's that.

So getting into the list of possible actions in roughly the order you're liable to see them...


Retribution: Permanently lower's the player's Supply intake. The exact number can be any of 15-25. Will claim to target a specific contactable region, not necessarily one that is even in contact with X-COM, but this doesn't matter that I can tell. (ie targeting a region you're not in contact with will still lower your income) Occurs 4-20 days after the start of the month, and also provides a modest increase in Knowledge for the Chosen.

This is the basic spam action for the Chosen, their default fallback option when no other option is available. It's the only thing they can perform even at 0 Knowledge and without regard to Force Level, and as such will be the single most common action for you to see by a pretty wide margin. This in turn means Chosen Knowledge gain is, if you're good at avoiding them Extracting or Kidnapping, slower than you might initially expect, because they get a lot of their early Knowledge from Retributions going off and will do them less as they get to higher Knowledge levels and thus new options.

Retribution is functional enough, but kind of janky in its details. It's one reason you really ought to just contact the Blacksite's region first, instead of ranging into unpredictable territory: contacting your other available region will usually result in coming into contact with a new Chosen, who will promptly initiate their own Retribution, and the net result is that you'll end up behind on income in the mid-future, their Retributions rapidly canceling out the benefit of contacting that region. Whereas if you contact the Blacksite's region, you'll never encounter a new Chosen, and so your income is definitively improved.

More generally, the existence of Retribution slightly discourages contacting new regions until you're in contact with all three Chosen anyway, unless you're going to go on a fairly large-scale contacting spree. (Particularly one backed by Resistance Network) This is something of a broader problem with the Chosen contact mechanics, but Retribution is particularly straightforward and obvious about the jank because in the base game one of the major benefits of contacting new regions is improving your income, whereas in War of the Chosen aggressively contacting new regions can lead to your monthly Supply drop being irrevocably crippled. Other janky aspects of how the Chosen contact mechanics work are still janky, but in more roundabout ways, or only in fairly narrow ways.

Ultimately it's not a ruinous problem with the design -I meant it when I said it was functional enough- but if XCOM 3 has any kind of Chosen analogue I do hope they avoid recreating the oddness of Retribution in particular.

It's also worth pointing out that Retribution is one of the reasons Resistance Network is such a powerful Resistance Order. Normally, contacting new regions is a bit of a treading water situation, where you contact 1-2 regions and then 1-3 Retributions immediately cancel some or all of the income boosting you just earned, and there's only so many regions you can contact, whereas to the best of my awareness the Chosen never hit a wall and become unable to use Retribution. Resistance Network making it possible to contact 5+ regions in a single month can allow you to pull ahead of the drain, instead of struggling to stay roughly even. In conjunction with maintenance on facilities being a thing, this can literally triple your intake, potentially more depending on how long you put off making contact with new regions and so on.

On that note, I'm not entirely sure what happens if you let the Chosen Retribution you down to what should be a negative income. I've never ended up below an intake of 90~ in organic play, and testing the point manually would be a fairly significant endeavor.

In any event, Retribution is solid is a basic spam action for Chosen to hinder X-COM without being too horrifically punishing. Among other points, it makes it a little bit more worth considering making contacts quickly, since the proportional income they represent is effectively higher in the base game due to your own income going down most months until you've taken out all the Chosen. I think it would've made a bit more sense to connect it to the Retaliation mission type in some capacity -they're both supposed to represent crackdowns on the resisting populace- but I honestly wouldn't be surprised if that was the plan and didn't happen due to War of the Chosen's rushed state. There is a new Retaliation variation where Bradford claims the Chosen are leading an assault on resistance forces. I can imagine it was supposed to be connected to Retribution but they didn't have the time -or whatever- to properly connect them and kludged together what we have in the final game.

So it's difficult to be sure if this is bad design from bad principles or bad design due to... whatever caused War of the Chosen to be as rushed as it is.


Training: The Chosen upgrades to their next tier of combat state. Can be done at any Knowledge Level, but Chosen Training is bounded by the hidden Force Level value.

This icon may never be replaced, unfortunately, as my current approach can't get a cleaner version of the underlying image.

Force Level is the game's internal tool for controlling the process of updating enemy composition as you progress through the game. So whatever Chosen jumps you at the beginning of the game can't actually immediately perform Training, because you're still supposed to be fighting beginning-of-game enemies. Chosen you encounter later may end up performing Training as their first action, though, by virtue of you having contacted them shortly before the Force Level hit the threshold for their next tier of quality.

Note that Training is never possible to block with a Covert Op (This is why the icon I'm using is different from the others), and that Chosen can perform it 'off-screen'; failing to hit a territory containing the Hunter until Sectopods are a regular sight won't lead to him comedically being at his most basic level when you do finally encounter him. He'll be at roughly the same threat as the Assassin and Warlock you encountered much earlier, potentially even ahead if they've been slow to perform Training.

Also note that in any given month only one Chosen can perform Training, and thus their improvement is staggered. It also doesn't have to occur evenly; it's possible for one Chosen to end up two tiers ahead of another, though it's not a common sight.

Training is also unique among these actions, in that it pays out at the very end of the month, instead of a randomized number of days into the month. That is, the month Training is announced is a full month's warning that they're going to be upgrading soon. The game somewhat calls your attention to this fact in that each Chosen has dialogue about how they've made themselves better, which always plays at the next month's Chosen summary, rather than the month Training was announced in, but it's still easy to overlook this oddity.

Training is also unique for having absolutely no effect on the strategic layer. It only boosts the Chosen to their next tier of quality in the tactical layer. On that note, a given Chosen can perform Training a maximum of 3 times in a given run, as Chosen have 4 tiers apiece. In turn, this means if you let Chosen live for a very long time, their strategic layer actions will become more impactful, because you'll stop intermittently having a Chosen effectively do nothing on the strategic layer because they're busy with Training. This is one of the more subtle reasons it's better to take out Chosen sooner rather than later.

Overall, though, I don't have much to say about Training as an action. I do find it interesting the developers decided that Chosen have to explicitly train themselves up instead of automatically and for free improving as Force Level rises the way regular enemies do, in part because I have to wonder if the possibility of applying a similar idea to regular enemies might be on the devs' minds, but that's about it.


Sabotage: Can wound Engineers or Scientists, inflict Fear of Chosen on soldiers at random, add several days to current scan target, wipe the Black Market's current list of gear, destroy Elerium Cores (This can happen simultaneous to injuring an Engineer or Scientist), destroy ADVENT Datapads/Alien Data Caches, destroy Weapon Attachments that aren't currently attached to anything, delay the current Covert Operation's completion by seven days, add several days of delay to the current research project (Even if the current research project is a Shadow Project), or sabotage individual facilities. (eg sabotaging the Infirmary temporarily slows down soldier healing) Happens 4-20 days after the start of a new month. Requires at least Chosen Knowledge Level 2.

Note that it is possible for a Sabotage attempt to fail. (25% chance to fail by default) You'll even be told what didn't happen, weirdly enough, though if a facility was targeted you won't get told which one, just that they tried to sabotage a facility and failed. Having the Defense Matrix up will actually reduce the odds of Sabotage succeeding; I'm not sure if it's a -50% modifier or a -50 modifier (ie resulting in Sabotage having a 37.5% vs 25% chance of succeeding), but either way the Defense Matrix is actually useful in War of the Chosen!

The Black Market wipe risk means that if any Chosen are attempting Sabotage, you should make a point of checking the Black Market early, unless you're confident you won't buy from it regardless.

Annoyingly, the game will tell you that one of your 'weapon mods' was destroyed if that result is rolled, but not which one, even aside that the rest of the game refers to them as 'weapon upgrades'

One annoying quality of Sabotage is that it can delay your current Research by several days... but only if you have a Laboratory up. It's frustrating that having it built actively carries a secret disadvantage. Also note that you can't readily escape this form of Sabotage once it's triggered; changing research topics will put the research on pause, which is normally convenient if you need to pivot unexpectedly but in this case means that you can't go 'oh, I only had 3 days of progress when they added 7 days, let's switch researches to undo all progress and then switch back'. You might be able to cheese it a little by switching to an Instant-able Autopsy before it hits and then returning to the Autopsy once it goes Instant? I wouldn't be surprised if the game accounts for that somehow or another (Maybe the Sabotage will refuse to hit research if you're currently on an Instant-able Autopsy?), and in any event the only way that would be feasible is if you specifically abused save/load shenanigans since Sabotage can do so many things in such a wide range of time it's not possible to game the system reliably without save/load abuse.

Particularly frustrating is that Sabotage can delay Shadow Projects, and there's literally nothing you can do if this happens: the game won't let you switch away from a Shadow Project that's underway. You just have to immediately eat the delay.

Overall, Sabotage is the most consistently threatening of the Chosen strategic actions, eating away at valuables and disrupting strategic plans. The scanning delay in particular makes it very dangerous to construct knife's-edge plans regarding the Avatar Project if there's any possibility of a Chosen picking Sabotage in the near future: such a plan can lead to the game over timer starting because the Avatar Project hit max, you initiating contact with an Avatar Project Facility's region with time to spare, and then Sabotage delays the scan and now you have an unavoidable game over lined up. But in general Sabotage's existence encourages proactively utilizing resources, contacting new regions, and knocking back the Avatar Project preemptively instead of putting it off until the last minute, to minimize the harm Sabotage can do to you. Elerium Cores tied up in queued Proving Grounds Projects can't be smashed, ADVENT Datapads and Alien Data Caches you've already cracked open can't be swiped, regions you're already in contact with can't be taken from you by Sabotage, and Sabotage delaying your Covert Op Sabotage (Yes, this is unnecessarily confusing of the game...) when you initiated it with 4 blocks of breathing room isn't risking a game over the way it happening when you had 1 block of breathing room can.

Similarly, having more Engineers than the bare minimum is protective against Sabotage injuring an Engineer, and aggressively attaching Weapon Attachments keeps them safe.

The only dud-ish results are injuring a Scientist (By itself, specifically; if it's a side effect of smashing some Elerium Cores it's not a dud result) and mass-inflicting Fear of Chosen on your soldiers. The latter is a bit of a dud since Fear of Chosen is a surprisingly low-threat Phobia, and is even more so a dud if you already have an Infirmary up, while the former is fundamentally a dud because Scientists are individually unimportant. Your first Scientist is only +25% to Research speed, and each further Scientist provides less than the last, while their only staffing duties are at the Laboratory (Which is literally just them counting as an additional Scientist, diminishing returns included...) and on Covert Ops. (Of which you can only ever have 1 Scientist tied up on at a moment) In conjunction with Sabotage requiring a minimum amount of Knowledge to be allowed to initiate, it's not even feasible for Sabotage to injure a Scientist early enough for you to have 1-2 Scientists where its impact would be meaningfully noticed.

These two possibilities being dud-ish isn't enough to make Sabotage low-priority, though. It can literally cause an unavoidable game over if you're not accounting for the possibility of Sabotage. Particularly noteworthy is that outside of Sabotage the game otherwise leans toward encouraging precisely these knife's-edge plans, as delaying missions tends to be beneficial to the player: for example, plot missions have a certain amount of their force composition fixed, and so delaying hitting them lets you catch up or pull ahead of the major threats of plot missions. (The Psi Gate is particularly egregious in this regard; only 1-2 pods on the map will be affected by Force Level if we don't count the Chosen) Similarly, plot advancement does so much to cancel out the Avatar Project's progress that making progress quickly can easily waste block-erasure; being too quick to advance the plot early in a run can be the thing that makes the midgame dangerously likely to turn into a game over!

This is particularly true if you have the Alien Hunters DLC and play with Integrated DLC, since the Alien Rulers will show up at Avatar Project Facilities and be released into the larger world if you hit their Facility without killing them, while of course failing to scale with Force Level. Why pick a fight with the Viper King when you're still on Conventional if you can just wait and fight him with magnetic-tier weaponry?

Sabotage's existence is thus healthy for the design, actually, helping to keep the pressure on you, and as I've noted before the main way War of the Chosen gets the tactical layer to be threatening is by having the strategic layer pressure you into going into fights too early or with a low-level and/or Tired squad.

It could've been better-handled in the details, though. In addition to the unevenness of the outcomes -delaying scan targets or a Covert Op can be the end of your run, while eating some Weapon Attachments is a mild reduction in your strength- the pressure aspect is kind of weird in its implications. Sabotage's existence makes it very important to contact Avatar Project Facility and plot mission regions quickly, but you're still incentivized to put off actually hitting them until your squad is well-equipped and reasonably elite. This is an improvement on the base game's rather lacking pressure situation, but once you know how these bits work War of the Chosen's pressure situation is still much less than it's clearly intended to be.

Still, Sabotage is, surprisingly, probably the most design-purposeful of the Chosen strategic actions.

(Icon to be replaced when possible)
Dark Event: The Chosen initiates a Dark Event, above and beyond the usual three. No Guerrilla Op will be offered to block it, but the Dark Event is always immediately revealed. Happens 14-20 days after the start of a new month. Successfully assaulting that Chosen's Fortress will cancel the Dark Event, if done before it completes. Requires at least Knowledge Level 2.

Particularly unpleasant to have happen if you have Grim Horizon on, assuming they pick a Dark Event that is actually made permanent.

Note that only one Chosen can initiate a Dark Event per month, even if multiple of them have enough Knowledge that it would theoretically be possible for 2-3 Chosen Dark Events to go off in a single month. 

This follows most of the usual rules of Dark Event generation; it can't be a duplicate of an ongoing Dark Event or a Dark Event in the queue, some Dark Events can't be initiated until a bit further into the game, etc. Other than going through faster and being tied to a Chosen instead of Guerrilla Ops, it's really basically a normal Dark Event.

In practice, I'm not a fan of this Chosen action. The concept is sound, but the execution is marred by how variable Dark Events are; depending on what a Chosen picks for their Dark Event (And what your strategic situation is), this can range from an ignorable joke to a run-ending nightmare. This is a bit of a flaw with Dark Events in the first place, but only inasmuch as it's too swingy, not that the variability is an issue at all; much of the point of Guerrilla Op design is about making judgment calls about what rewards are most worth pursuing vs what Dark Events are most threatening, after all. A Chosen-initiated Dark Event doesn't fit into that framework. This really needed to work differently, preferably in a way that made it consistently a mid-to-high threat, the kind of thing you're not happy with going off but that isn't liable to be a run-ender. A custom list of allowed Dark Events, for example, or a custom list of special Dark Events only called by it.

Given how obviously rushed War of the Chosen is, it's not surprising this is janky... but it's still a bit disappointing.


Avenger Assault: The Chosen can initiate a special Avenger Defense mission. Happens 4-20 days after the start of a new month. Requires maximum Knowledge Level, and if repelled lowers Knowledge on all Chosen.

On the lower two difficulties, this happening tends to basically require you deliberately draw out the run, or be particularly bad I suppose. The Chosen are unlikely to extract Knowledge from your troops due to how sad of opponents they are, and you're liable to hit their Strongholds well before they get the chance to launch the attack. On Commander, it's reasonably plausible you'll get hit once even if you're trying to prevent it from happening, in part because they jump in durability enough that one-rounding them requires a lot more skill, and can be much more readily foiled by a bit of bad luck. On Legendary, it's completely plausible to be hit 2-3 times while scrambling to open up the ability to attack even one Chosen, since the Chosen hunting Covert Op chains take so much longer while their Knowledge gain hasn't slowed at all.

Avenger Assault is one of the best reasons to actually bother to build a Defense Matrix, and in particular to staff it with an Engineer. Destructible terrain objects don't use normal accuracy calculations, and the ADVENT turret-trucks and the power generator you need to destroy are all destructible objects rather than enemies in engine terms. As such, even though they'll generally be too far away for your Turrets to have reasonable accuracy against enemies in that same area, you can totally have the turrets end up contributing to destroying the turret-trucks and/or the generator, particularly the generator as its sheer distance and size means often at least one turret has a clear line of fire on it in spite of the strange map design. As they actually hit fairly hard and can fire twice a turn, every turn, that's pretty darn useful! If the Warlock is the one to launch the assault in particular, they can also help fend off the initial Spectral Zombie wave so your troops don't have to spend turns on handling them. That's all pretty useful!

Also note that fending off the Avenger Assault causes all Chosen to lose a portion of their Knowledge, particularly the Chosen that actually initiated the attack. As such, it's extremely unlikely you'll ever see a Chosen Avenger Assault happen two months in a row.

The actual Avenger Assault mission itself is one of the nastier missions in the game. On the plus side, you get to field ten soldiers, instead of your usual upper limit of six. On the minus side, maximum pod size is up to 4 enemies in the pod, and there's so many pods on the map relative to its size that it's easy to trigger multiple pods simultaneously even when moving fairly conservatively. Furthermore, whichever Chosen initiated it is guaranteed to show up, and it's not unusual for there to be two Sectopods or Gatekeepers or one of each if you're late enough in the game for them to be in the rotation, which is otherwise fairly rare to have happen. On top of all that, you're on something of a time limit, as the assault involves heavy weapons aimed at the Avenger; you get 400 hit points, with four minor trucks that each remove 1 HP per turn and a big gun that removes 90 HP every third turn, meaning you have at most five firing cycles to stop the big cannon. Said time limit of course encourages you to slam face-first into inactive pods, especially since the trucks are broken up into two pairs that are each guaranteed to have a pod smack-dab in the middle of them, while there's generally at least one pod patrolling right on top of the generator to the cannon.

Furthermore, since this time pressure isn't based on a clock per se, none of the effects that make timers longer helps. (eg Private Channel) Indeed, not only does Time Turner not help, but Beta Strike will actually make things a lot harder, because its doubling of HP effect doesn't include the Avenger's HP meter, yet you're still going to be slowed down by the boosted HP on all your enemies!

Avenger Assaults also have an unusual map selection, not to mention unusually limited, where you always start from a fairly large plateau  and most of the rest of the map is lower ground. This has several important implications, with the biggest one being you really want to bring a Reaper into the mission so you can get line of site past the cliff drop without unavoidably triggering literally six pods. No, really, that's not an exaggeration, I've had exactly that happen to me before I got the memo that Reapers are a must. Bring a Reaper! Even if they're injured or Tired, do it! (Oh, by the way, you're allowed to bring injured soldiers into this mission, just like the other Avenger defense mission)

A less obvious implication is that Chosen Avenger Assaults are one of the best opportunities for sniping-oriented Sharpshooters to shine, as they're guaranteed to have a high ground perch with a commanding view of the battlefield. Squadsight's Aim penalties will still add up, but if you've been developing a Sharpshooter with an eye to sniping this is one of their best opportunities to impress, and just like with your Turrets they'll be able to contribute damage completely reliably against the weapons firing on the Avenger, no matter how far.

Splash damage of all sorts is also hugely beneficial in these assaults, between the unusually large pod size and the tendency for there to be so many pods in some parts of the map that you'll get two or sometimes three overlapping while inactive. Blaster Launchers in particular can do a lot of damage, but even just Grenadiers lobbing grenades will help a lot, and if you've been wanting to see Ionic Storm do a lot of work this is one of your best opportunities, since there's so many enemies you'll be able to hit max Focus easily and still Ionic Storm one or more pods. You may even be able to Ionic Storm twice!

Conversely, this mission is relatively hostile to Rangers and Skirmishers. A Katana-wielding Bladestorm Ranger can potentially do a lot of work in the initial transition from the clifftop, but past that needing to get close to contribute is a bit of a handicap, prone to activating pods unexpectedly and with the terrain tending to be unhelpful. The minor vehicle guns are always placed in clearings with nearly no Cover, for example, and both them and the big gun's power source explode when destroyed, making it a terrible idea to melee them. All of this applies to Templar to some extent, but they have better access to area of effect tools (Ionic Storm, Arc Wave, even Volt), and more ability to mitigate some of these flaws. (Melee a vehicle, then Momentum away, or have Fortress so it exploding isn't harmful) Skirmishers, meanwhile, appreciate the initial access to high ground, but the lacking access to high ground beyond the plateau hurts them, the preference for closing hurts them, and they don't have significant access to splash, even if you're willing to spend 25 Ability Points on Saturation Fire.

Also, note that failing this mission is a game over.

Unlike the UFO attack version from the base game, this mission actually has no reinforcements, both in the sense that the ten soldiers you send in is all you're getting and in the sense that your enemies won't airdrop in reinforcements. The Chosen can still summon in reinforcements, mind... also note that unlike the UFO version, the opposition won't attempt to approach the Avenger's ramp, and you won't fail the mission if an enemy ends up in front of the ramp. Losing all your soldiers or having the Avenger's HP hit 0 are the only ways to lose this mission.

Conceptually, this feels very backwards. The Chosen's explicit mission is to capture the Commander, yet their Avenger assault is the one that is going out of its way to get you killed? I really feel like the base-game Avenger defense should've been the foundation for a Chosen Avenger assault, and something close to this been swapped into the UFO attack. That would give us the Chosen attempting to get access to your ship and thus access to you, as is their explicit mission, while the UFO trying to vaporize you would be excusable as the Ethereals deciding you're no longer worth the trouble of capturing alive. (And, being the horrible people they are, not bothering to update the Chosen on what's what, and probably planning on killing all the Chosen as 'failures')

It's particularly frustrating because it was already pretty bizarre how the base-game Avenger defense was ADVENT trying to capture the ship. The Avenger is ostensibly a stolen Supply Ship from the prior game; it's difficult to believe that those are a precious enough resource to the Ethereals that they'd be willing to expend so many resources on trying to get one back when it would be so much easier to blow you out of the sky and terminate your resistance entirely, particularly given the mechanics underlying the UFO attack make it clear this is the Ethereals getting tired of how much progress you're making. I tend to be sympathetic when expansions or sequels end up with strange dynamics because they're having to live with the decisions of what came before, where if what they're trying to do now had been the plan the whole time they would obviously have made different decisions, but in this case I'm genuinely baffled why the base game made the decision it made in the first place for War of the Chosen to be in this awkward position.

On a more purely game design level, the Avenger Assault Chosen action is... an understandable mistake on a different layer, but still pretty clearly a mistake. The Avenger Assault is the ultimate Chosen threat, so the game makes it have the ultimate threatening consequence of resulting in a game over-

-but in turn this means the game can't just have it launch and you instantly game over, that's just obviously awful design. Instead you get a mission to attempt to repel it, and if you succeed... you're actually thoroughly ahead, with loads of experience off a single mission, tons of loot (You get loot on this mission, unlike the UFO-derived defense), and if you're good at the game very possibly none of your soldiers is even injured. This makes it actually a lot less threatening than Sabotage, as Sabotage doesn't give you an equivalent opportunity to profit from it going off, let alone to negate its negative consequences.

There's also a frustrating lack of secondary consequences. The Avenger was shot down, and it's completely impossible to prevent the Avenger from losing a non-trivial fraction of its HP during the mission. Realistically speaking, this ought to leave the Avenger in bad shape, penalizing your flight ability or destroying facilities or something, and gameplay-wise having such consequences from even a clean victory would do a lot to keep it properly threatening.

Indeed, since completing the mission kicks all Chosen Knowledge levels back by a full tier or so, it even reduces the pressure on you strategically, reducing how serious the Risks from Covert Ops are!

As-is, it's an enjoyable mission type I end up actively fishing for, both because it's a rare treat of gameplay and because it's actively beneficial to have it happen, which it really shouldn't have been designed that way.

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Returning to Knowledge for a minute...

All Knowledge tiers are equally far apart. That is, it doesn't take any longer for the Chosen to go from level 3 to level 4 than it does to go from level 1 to level 2. In practice they tend to take longer to get to later tiers due to Retribution occurring less often once they unlock Sabotage and Dark Event, as Retribution is the only Chosen action that raises their Knowledge level, but this effect is pretty small and pretty random too.

Knowledge Level 1 (No name): Basic values, no effect. Chosen can perform Retribution and Training.

All Chosen start here when you first encounter them. They won't stay here for long.

Knowledge Level 2 (Saboteur): Chosen is allowed to perform Sabotage and Dark Event.

This is honestly the biggest jump in strategic danger from the Chosen. Sabotage is the most consistently threatening action and Dark Events are the other major threat action, potentially being the most threatening depending on the Dark Event chosen and whether you have Grim Horizon on or not.

Though any month the Chosen elects to perform a Retribution or Training instead if one this doesn't matter for. This is a bit of a disappointing aspect of the Knowledge system, that its effects are limited and simplistic. There's a lot of unrealized potential here.

Alas.

Knowledge Level 3 (Sentinel): Covert Ops are more likely to have additional Risks, and those Risks are more likely to be higher levels of Risk. This applies specifically to Covert Ops attached to whichever faction hunts that particular Chosen.

This effect is really easy to not cotton onto. The game does mention it, but only as a single line of text when first hitting this tier for a given Chosen, and Risks are already fairly random. It's relatively easy to notice that Covert Op Risks for a given faction drop to only including Injured once you've permanently dealt with their respective Chosen, but it's not nearly so obvious the difference between 'not yet Sentinel' and 'is at Sentinel'.

It is a pretty large difference, mind. Before Sentinel, Covert Ops tend to be 1-2 Risks, with the majority of them being rated Low and the occasional Medium. After Sentinel, I generally see 2-3 Risks, with 1 Risk being mostly limited to specific Covert Op types like Technical Advances that are simply forbidden from having more than Injured, and Risks are mostly Medium or High, only rarely including a Low.

But since the game does a pretty poor job of explaining the system it's pretty easy to overlook. More evidence of War of the Chosen's rushed state.

Anyway, in practice this is the second-most important Knowledge threshold, or arguably the most important, particularly on Legendary, since you're fielding multiple Covert Ops per month (As opposed to eg Saboteur mattering once a month at most) and it affects the Chosen hunting chain. Ideally you'll always arrange to finish a given Chosen's chain before they reach Sentinel so you aren't being forced to send a high-rank soldier into a Capture Risk... this is doable on Commander, but not something I'd call reliable. On Legendary it requires you abuse promotion bonuses from Covert Ops, and by extension just flat-out requires a certain amount of luck.

This is one reason why it's more likely you'll be hit by an Avenger Assault on higher difficulties; even once you've got a soldier high enough level to unlock access to a Chosen Stronghold, you may be reluctant to actually perform it because you don't want to risk your Major being Captured, and this is a far more likely scenario if they've already hit Sentinel, which is a lot more likely to have happened before you got a Major going than on lower difficulties.

This tier in particular is the primary reason I wish Chosen Knowledge was displayed on the Geoscape and in the Covert Op screen. If a Chosen is about to roll over to Sentinel, and you can currently unlock access to their Stronghold with minimal risk, there's a very strong argument to be made for performing it now even if more valuable Covert Ops are available... but the UI design means that you have to go out of your way to see this information when making that decision. Hopefully XCOM 3 will correct this, if an even vaguely equivalent system shows up.

Knowledge Level 4 (Collector): Chosen is more likely to Kidnap a Dazed soldier in battle, rather than Extracting Knowledge from them.

I'm not sure how much a jump this is.

Not helping is that Chosen actually start out completely unwilling to Kidnap your soldiers, and I'm not sure what factor causes them to become willing. They are willing to do so at some point before Collector, but I'm not sure when.

In any event, I can say it's a reasonably large jump, in that prior to Collector a Kidnapping occurring is a shocking event, whereas after Collector it's somewhat the default. They'll still sometimes Extract Knowledge instead, but it's less common than a Kidnapping at that point.

This would probably be more threatening if it weren't largely fairly easy to avoid giving Chosen access to Dazed soldiers in the first place... as-is, this borders into being a dud Knowledge tier.

Knowledge Level 5 (Raider): Chosen is allowed to assault the Avenger, and will prefer to do so over other possibilities.

I have had occasions where a Chosen hit Raider and didn't immediately launch an assault. I've never seen them delay by more than the one month, though, and the only time I can recall it happening was when they were Training instead. That might have been a bit of a coincidence, or it might be an indication that Training can overrule Avenger Assault but that otherwise they always perform Avenger Assault if possible. I suspect it's the latter, but at this time can't be certain so don't quote me on that.

I've already been over this in regards to the action itself, though, so we're done here.

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Next time, we do a basic overview of stuff to do with enemies as a whole, to lay the groundwork for discussing individual enemies.

See you then.

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