Geek Interview – Exploring New Territory With Firaxis Games’ XCOM: Chimera Squad

The strategy genre may not be the most popular one on the market, but that only means there are always some hidden gems waiting to be unearthed. While far from being an undiscovered secret, Firaxis GamesXCOM series is undeniably a brilliant masterpiece, with both games having a fine blend of difficulty, replayability, and addictiveness. It’s no wonder that the community has been eagerly awaiting on XCOM 3, craving more strategic goodness, turn-based thrills, and combat flexibility.

In the meantime, the PC-exclusive XCOM: Chimera Squad is here to fill the gap. A standalone title to the sci-fi universe, its sequence of events takes place five years after XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, and brings into the fray many new elements – starting from how humans and aliens are now able to co-exist in the same operative squad.

Familiarity is always comforting, however, so the signature features of the series will be retained, including its core strategic nature. With Chimera Squad hitting Steam libraries today, here’s a deeper look into the game universe and development process, with lead designer Mark Nauta taking charge.

Following XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, fans have been eagerly awaiting the next sequel in XCOM 3. Why did the team feel like Chimera Squad was the next step for the franchise? How much of the game was drawn from the robust modding scene? 

If you’re a game designer, then you’re always thinking: “What would happen if I changed this thing?” With a strategy game, even a small change can have big ripples through the system so getting the chance to take all of XCOM 2 and kind of make big shifts and changes out of our ideas was a great opportunity.

Because this is a standalone game, we also have a bit more flexibility in how people view and play it. There’s a lot of opportunity for new tactics, especially with the way combat has changed with the introduction of interleaved turns and breach mode. We’re excited to see what players come up with.

With its price tag, many would expect Chimera Squad to be a much smaller title than a mainline XCOM game, what would be the best selling point for this new project? 

XCOM: Chimera Squad is a standalone title that lets players return to a franchise they’re passionate about while trying out some new systems that mix things up and keep them on their toes. The short time to release and the price make it easy for veteran fans to check out XCOM: Chimera Squad without having to wait too long, and give new fans an interesting new way to get introduced to the XCOM series with a low barrier to entry.

XCOM has always been about saving the world against the extraterrestrial threat, with Chimera Squad, we are finally in an age of fragile peace, what was the thinking behind the lore development thus far?

XCOM: Chimera Squad takes place five years after the events of XCOM 2, where players successfully overthrew the Elders’ control of Earth. Keep in mind that the aliens that invaded Earth were dominated by the Elders as well, and now they’re stuck on an unfamiliar world and have to figure out how they’re going to live on their new home, free from mind control.

We wanted to explore what this meant for the humans, aliens, and hybrids who fought in or were victims of the war: how would they interact, think, and feel now that everything was over? We figured they’d start to adjust by emulating human culture, or at least picking up elements from it, which led to some serious discussions about whether or not Vipers would wear hoodies.

At any rate, it made sense to introduce specific characters who exemplify parts of the conflict – the agents of Chimera Squad – to best explore these ideas.

With 11 unique characters, there lies room for plenty of backstories, how are players going to be exploring more of their past and what makes the squad tick?

Agent personalities shine in combat, where you’ll hear a lot of battlefield chatter between agents. Agents interact with longer, deeper conversations back at headquarters. We’re also sharing agent profiles of each character for anyone interested in learning more on our YouTube page. Finally, the characters’ locker decorations provide hints as to their interests, hobbies, friends, and families.

We now see humans, aliens, and the hybrids working together, what can we expect to see some in terms of new threats in Chimera Squad

There are three enemy factions in XCOM: Chimera Squad that threaten to bring the fragile peace of City 31 to chaos – Gray Phoenix, Sacred Coil and The Progeny. Each faction has its own agenda, and it’ll be up to you and Chimera Squad to investigate and take them down.

The addition of Breach mode gives players more freedom in how they set up to gain an advantage, what was the thinking behind the switch, and how does that appeal to the save scumming folks?

Breach mode in Chimera Squad is an evolution of the Ambush mechanics from previous games. Unit order, unit choice, and entry point give you new tactical choices, and executing a successful Breach can really set Chimera Squad up for success.

We found that breaking up Missions into smaller Encounters – each separated by a Breach – created a really interesting, intense experience that rewards smart decisions.

Chimera Squad also sees the addition of the Interleaved Turns system, how do you compare this to initiative in D&D and what more can we expect from the system?

Interleaved Turns give you a lot of new and adaptive tactical options. You can make on-the-fly strategic decisions based on who is coming up next in the timeline. When the team was testing it, there were so many situations where they were like: “I’d really like to take down this enemy who’s acting next, but if I don’t try to burn down this other, much tougher enemy who’s going to act later, I’m going to be in a bad, bad place.”

The timeline shows when enemies will act, but not what they will do, forcing you to think on your feet when a grenade suddenly lands next to your healer or a Chryssalid takes a bite out of your Psion.

The combat synergy is made even more obvious with the special abilities of the squad, what were the team’s thoughts when attempting to balancing the game while keeping the fights interesting with the abilities?

We know fans of XCOM enjoy a good challenge and striking the right balance of difficulty was one of the hardest things to do! With XCOM: Chimera Squad, we wanted to provide players with a wide array of difficulty settings and modifiers – ranging from easy to Ironman.

We wanted the systems in XCOM: Chimera Squad to feel fair and allow players to feel as powerful – or challenged – as they prefer.

Removing permadeath is a big departure for Chimera Squad, why did the team feel this was necessary for the game?

In previous XCOM games, Permadeath made both narrative and gameplay sense. You were engaged in a war of attrition with a superior foe: losses were expected. It was also a major consequence in those games, in that losing a veteran soldier could leave you without skills and abilities you had come to rely on for success.

In XCOM: Chimera Squad, you’re now working with a specific set of unique characters and we felt permadeath ran counter to that experience. Since many players tended to reload missions if they lost a certain soldier, we came up with a compromise for Chimera Squad – you lose a mission if one of your agents bleeds out on the battlefield.

Of course, even if you successfully stabilize a bleeding-out unit, there are consequences for letting an agent get that seriously wounded. But losing an agent means you have to restart the mission and adapt your tactics to make sure everyone comes home.

It’s also possible to lose the game at the strategic level, and we’ve added a hardcore mode for fans of the challenge presented by permadeath.  

Surely XCOM 3 is in the works, will Chimera Squad be a prelude of things to come?

We’re focused on launching XCOM: Chimera Squad as a standalone title in the XCOM universe!

Veering off into unfamiliar territory can prove to be difficult and daunting, especially where an established series of great acclaim is concerned. From putting in careful thought to the game design to striking a good balance of new and old elements, the XCOM: Chimera Squad team is all set for players to embark on another journey – one that may possibly pave the way to more titles and spin-offs in the future XCOM universe.

XCOM: Chimera Squad arrives exclusively via Steam on 24 April.