With XCOM 2 now the ripe old age of five, it feels about the right time for us to be thinking about XCOM 3. While the game still boasts a sizable community and additional DLC such as the chunky War of the Chosen, and XCOM: Chimera Squad has kept us busy, the idea of what XCOM 3 will be and when is definitely lurking at the front of our minds.
XCOM 3 release date
With the current landscape being the way it is and lots of people working from home, it’s likely difficult to work on any large-scale title right now. Still, for all we know, XCOM 3 is already in the works. Back both in early and late 2019, the search for new people at Firaxis to help with a new XCOM title seemed to be under way. In early 2019, Jake Solomon, creative director at Firaxis and directly responsible for XCOM and XCOM 2, tweeted that Firaxis was hiring. Later in the year, a job ad appeared on the official Firaxis homepage, looking for a worldbuilder to “take the XCOM franchise to the next level”.
However, we now can’t be sure whether these ads referred to XCOM 3 or the newly-released XCOM-spinoff Chimera Squad. So far it hasn’t been clarified whether Chimera Squad is meant as a first taste of what’s to come with XCOM 3 and was developed alongside it, or if it is an attempt to release anything at all, now that the gaming industry, much like everywhere else, is likely looking at indefinite delays in schedule for everything that’s still being worked on.
XCOM 3 is probably already in the works, but when it releases, currently no one can say for sure.
XCOM: Chimera Squad provides clues to possible new XCOM 3 features
Thankfully, in the meantime, we get to enjoy an all-new XCOM experience with XCOM: Chimera Squad. This standalone comes with several new features, many of which may appear in XCOM 3, so it’s worthwhile to look at what works and what doesn’t.
1. A story-based XCOM
The War of the Chosen expansion played into a vital aspect of XCOM, namely becoming attached to your squad. In the expansion, squad members could form bonds, leading to many fond memories of environmental storytelling for players. Additionally, the new factions came with their own leaders, who had fairly interesting motivations of their own.
Chimera Squad now fully leans into a story-based approach. What that means is that you no longer customise your own squad, instead, you’re left with fixed characters to easier allow the game to tell its story.
Over the years, XCOM has always had fixed heroes, but to have an entire fixed squad feels limiting, and takes away from the impact of permadeath. In Chimera Squad, the option to replace wounded squad members with androids further emphasises that an XCOM with all-fixed characters isn’t really doable – you always need someone while members of your team are otherwise incapacitated.
Generally, having a more story-centric approach to XCOM is a fine idea, as long as you always have the option to play random matches whenever you feel like it. Taking away player-made characters, however, retroactively removes a bit of player agency and an overall very enjoyable part of the overall XCOM experience.
2. Breaching and map size
The new Breach feature is a fantastic addition to XCOM, and one that is likely here to stay. Thanks to its city setting, the world of Chimera Squad is a lot more compact. No more inching across the map in Overwatch mode! Instead, you enter a room in the most impactful way when breaching and so announce your presence. Jump through that window or knock a door down – everyone will know you’ve arrived, and it’s simply action movie-type stuff. The fact that the squad member doing the breaching is temporarily stuck where they are adds another interesting strategic layer to proceedings.
Generally, a more compact map size has taken nothing away from XCOM’s charm, and instead made encounters more exciting.
3. Turn order
In light of having less room to fight in, introducing a turn order to XCOM certainly made sense. Depending on how XCOM 3 may shake out, whether it goes with bigger or smaller areas, it would make sense to keep the turn order.
Reacting to the turn order instead to an enemy that’s standing right there but simply isn’t up yet may take some time to get used to, but it makes things easier to plan for overall – while the introduction of sudden new enemies XCOM 2 style can still shake up your carefully laid plans.
4. Faction gameplay
Since aliens and humans work together in Chimera Squad. While set after War of the Chosen, it’s not to be seen as a sequel, according to Firaxis. XCOM 3 could thus ignore Chimera Squad entirely. This could be a good decision in the long run, as Chimera Squad does away with the theme of rebellion against an alien threat – an important mainstay of the series. While it’s interesting to see what a future civilisation involving both aliens and humans could look like, it also feels decidedly less epic.
Still, if Firaxis choses to let both races work together permanently, that doesn’t have to spell the end of different factions, which in the past made the game stay fresh. In Chimera Squad, you still have three factions to choose from for your squad, and while enemies now don’t belong to one homogenous group of bad guys, this principle can easily be applied to enemies as well In Mass Effect style, meaning you’ve made up with a few alien races doesn’t mean there couldn’t be more bloodthirsty alien races out there, so plot-wise it doesn’t seem like a difficult problem to fix.
In Chimera Squad, each member of your team is essentially their own class. Their unique abilities make for great gameplay variety, too. On the flip-side this also means you don’t have to carefully nurture your squad member into a powerhouse, but since there’s no permadeath that would also be fairly useless. Yet, XCOM 3 could easily take some of these special abilities over, for example by making them a goal in squad training.