The XCOM 2 War Diaries #1: The Ballad of Kenzo Kelly

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The year is 2035. Following the alien invasion of 2015 the earth is in a state of uneasy peace between humanity and it’s extraterrestrial conquerors and are led by a group of human quisling rulers who call themselves Advent. The XCOM team that did it’s best to repel the alien tide still exists, but has been severely weakened. It’s fractured and beleaguered forces are almost extinguished. But what remains of the movement has identified some kind of nefarious alien conspiracy that must, somehow, be stopped.

Only one man can lead humanity to victory against their evil oppressors. And that man is…

…me? Oh god. Humanity is so, so screwed.


Here are the rules for my campaign – I’ve started on Veteran difficulty following a recent Ironman run on Enemy Unknown which ended early and abruptly. It’s safe to say that if humanity ever needs a tactical genius to step up and save the day I won’t be waiting by the phone. So I’m starting relatively gently, though if things do run a bit too smoothly I will spice things up and raise the difficulty to Commander. I’ve chosen not to modify any soldiers on the first run other than changing the colour of their armour to reflect their specialty (red for rangers, white for snipers, yellow for heavies and blue for specialists), though I have given a few of them hats and started giving everyone red plaid guns as a ‘welcome to the team’ gift for making it past rookie. I’ve decided that will be by XCOM teams thing – it makes them look less like a crack guerilla force and more like a forgotten grunge band with space lazers. This pleases me.

I also installed a few mods to make the experience smoother and user friendly:

  • Evac all
  • Health bars
  • Free camera
  • Stop wasting my time

I’ve also picked a a couple to make things more interesting:

  • SMGs – who doesn’t want more guns? This was one of the semi-official Long War mods and, I’m told, not in any way unbalancing
  • True Retroactive AWC. Soldiers who level up far enough gain an Advanced Warfare perk  once you’ve built the Advanced Warfare facility – but those who leveled up before you built it do not. This seems unfair to me and a really cruel design choice. Of the gameplay elements this is the only one I’m allowing myself to overrule.

Apart from that it’s XCOM 2 as god intended it to be played – after a little too much wine and with little no concern for the well being of my soldiers. Unto the breach!

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Meet Kenzo Kelly. Without this woman this would have been a very short series.

The tutorial mission, in which our unseen protagonist ‘Commander’ is rescued, is scripted to the letter and not worth noting. Two soldiers died after being placed where I was told to place them – I’ve no idea if this is meant to happen or not but I’m running with it. I’m also not sure if the one survivor I can use on subsequent missions, Jane Kelly, is a randomly generated person or the same for anyone. I’m guessing the former – after promoting her to Ranger I checked her bio which tells me she was born and raised in Japan and goes by the name Kenzo. An interesting double life for an Irish girl.

Kenzo Kelly is my one non-rookie soldier and so becomes de-facto leader for my first mission proper..

OPERATION: SKYKNIFE

This is a Main Campaign sortie to pick up some sort of energy doodad for our base. It’s a soft run, on paper, and an opportunity to learn a bit about concealment and setting up an ambush. I’d been warned against deliberately letting my guys get found to trigger an overwatch frenzy as occasionally the enemy will just fire on the first guy they see rather than running away. I’m not sure that would be the best play anyhow – I’ve found getting a decent vantage point for one soldier to shoot an enemy or, better yet, tossing a grenade into the mix works better at creating the necessary chaos for a good overwatch frenzy. My first attempt involved wounding the first Sectoid I came across and killing 2 standard Advent grunts from overwatch in the ensuing chaos. A good start.

The turn limit caused me more problems than the enemies. Most missions on XCOM2 seem to be time sensitive – some limits seem to be so strict that there’s no way to succeed without sacrificing someone. On Enemy Unknown I almost invariably played things extra cautious, inching forward on overwatch and never risking being flanked. Being stretched towards a goal feels unnatural to me. Which is how Firaxis intended things – they clearly want to force people to plan different approaches and think tactically rather than pushing a one-strategy-fits-all approach onto every scenario. In this case I’m forced into desperate measures -two of my guys take damage in the early exchanges and are forced to hang back on overwatch with just two turns left before the energy gubbin is set to explode. Only the wounded Sectoid and a shambling corpse he’s reanimated (because somewhere in that 20 year interim period Sectoids doubled in size and became necromancers) remain, but they stand behind the truck (upon which stands the soon-to-explode energy doohickey) ready to attack anyone who gets within hacking range of it.

I’m forced to send my bandana faced Australian rookie Taylor in to stand next to it, out of cover, ready to hack it on the next turn. Actually, in hindsight this may not have been the only move – I could probably have found him cover to spring out and hack it from on the last turn, but for the sake of role playing we’ll put this foolish and reckless act down to Taylor’s incredible bravery rather than my stupidity. Inevitably he takes a shot from the sectoid, bringing his health down to 1 bar. Then the zombie Advent soldier shuffles toward the truck, climbs onto it, walks right up to Taylor and…stops. It’s used up all it’s action points just to get there.

A lucky escape.

Taylor hacks the energy thingamajig and sprints to cover whilst Kenzo Kelly, stepping up to look after her young charges, tosses a grenade that finishes off both the zombie and it’s Sectoid master in one fell swoop.

One mission down – three soldiers gravely injured. Only leader Kenzo Kelly is still standing. Back in the base I’m handheld through the first few choices on the base building side of the game before diving into the next mission..

OPERATION: DAMNED FATHER

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At first I coloured all my troops yellow. I quickly realised this looked a bit shit.

With all 3 rookies from the first mission out of action Kenzo Kelly once again leads a band of fresh faced noobs into danger. This mission also involves a turn limit but this one can be ended early by blowing up a comms relay. This can be shot from a distance which makes things considerably less taxing. The only problems come late in the mission as Kenzo Kelly is mind controlled by a Sectoid whilst in the middle of my slightly beaten up squad. If she’s not dealt with then any one of my three rookies, suddenly forced to deal with the one experienced soldier on the field turning against them, could be killed. But if I don’t shoot my one hero then I have to risk freeing her by taking out the Sectoid, which still has full health, in one turn. It’s my first big choice as Commander. What do I do?

After some deliberation I decide Kelly is too important and go straight for Johnny Sectoid with everything I’ve got. One Rookie misses, the other hits. The third is too far away – the percentage chance of successfully hitting the Sectoid is worryingly low. And it’s not alone – two Advent soldiers sit in a building nearby on overwatch. I send him in anyway and he nearly buys it taking flak from the soldiers. But he makes it to the Sectoid and finishes it off at close range. The Advent soldiers elect to wound my last healthy rookie rather than finish him off and Kenzo and co mop them up on the next turn.

Back in the base I squander some resources buying nanofibre armour, foolishly thinking you could wear the armour rather than have it take up a damned grenade slot. Grenades are far too important to give up, being the only guaranteed damage option I have, so it’s a complete waste. I vaguely remember making exactly the same mistake on Enemy Unknown but shake it off – this is no time for reflection or learning lessons. This is a time of action!

I have enough resources to excavate some of the base ready for a Guerrilla Tactics unit (increased squad size is always the first thing I go for as 4 is a vulnerable number of XCOM) so get that under way. I research better weapons and guns to get the jump on the enemy early on – I know the plot stuff is important but I’m keenly aware that there are far more dangerous enemies around than the ones I’ve faced so far. I need to be ready for them. With all that set in motion I pick up another couple of recruits to patch up for my largely injured squad and head for the next mission..

OPERATION: IRON CROWN

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This is Guile (named for the hair, obviously). Guile is not very good. I wish I’d saved the Bluntshooter nickname for him.

I take the two officers I have available, the unstoppable Kenzo Kelly and a newly promoted sharpshooter, in with two more rookies. I’m pleased to get a sharpshooter – a twin sniper assault was key to my tactics in Enemy Unknown. Also I figure they’re the perfect thing to have in an overwatch ambush – I’m atop a tall building at the start so I put my three ground troops into position then have my sniper pick off a Sectoid to start the chaos that I expect will see the rest of the three man squad finished off. Only…she misses. Misses a 95% chance shot no less. My first impressions of my new sniper are not good – I resolve to change whatever nickname she gets to, “Bluntshooter” as soon as possible. Thankfully the Sectoid and one Advent soldier buddy are taken down by the three soldiers on the ground, which takes care of my right flank. However I was hoping to have some overwatch left for my left, which is now exposed and occupied by three more enemy soldiers who are free to arrange themselves unmolested and have a free turn at my 3 ground troops. Damage is taken.

This is a rescue mission – for some reason Advent have left a scientist in a van on a street corner. Which seems a strange place to leave a scientist – I feel there’s only so much left to learn by observing the back of stationary vans. Once I free him I realise the evac point is at the end of the level, so leaving my sniper back at the start for most of the turn limit turns out to be something of a mistake. I fail to get to the evac zone before the second wave of reinforcements arrive – my progress was stalled down by a Sectoid who, after being taken down to one health, spends two turns running round a small diner dodging bullets. After it does it’s second panic attack on one of my rookies Kenzo Kelly finally has enough and takes matters into her own hands, charging into the diner to find out if it’s quite so adept at dodging a sword to the face.

It isn’t.

While that’s going on my three soldiers and the scientist face a wall of two soldiers and an advent officer between them and the evac zone. I take two down but one remains, standing in front of the zone on overwatch. The clever bastard. My rookies on the ground have both taken damage – the sniper is still healthy and just about caught up to the action. One shot from the solider’s overwatch will likely finish one of the two ground rookies off, and there’s only one turn left so I can’t spend it taking him out without leaving the shooter behind.

I then realise I’ve pulled my sniper forward too late – she’s not going to make the evac zone on time, her maximum range taking her a just 2 squares from safety. I curse my error and decide to give her a noble exit – she charges straight at the soldier, absorbing it’s overwatch hits, and slumps against a lamppost half dead while her brothers and sisters in arms run past to be evacuated.

The mission ends with Bluntshooter captured. The mysterious gravelly voiced bald dude from the first game seems pleased with the way things went – but my first casualty hits me hard. I wanted that sniper. Presumably she wouldn’t have been terrible forever. On the plus side one of the rookies is promoted to sniper in her place – but I fear one won’t be enough. With the new pistol abilities making throwing them into action more tempting, not to mention having to drag them across the level to get to these evac zones, their lives are much more dangerous than on Enemy Unknown. I plan to blood more rookies as soon as possible. And hope that one day I may have the opportunity to repay Bluntshooter her act of bravery and bring her back from the clutches of the sinister fiends who took her..

After dabbling in a bit of Autopsy action at the base it’s cutscene time as Advent perform their first retaliation against the XCOM project. I was planning to faff about a bit more and try and get a handle on what I’m meant to be doing on the base building side of things but I have no choice but to leap into..

OPERATION: ANCIENT FEAR

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‘Lightning’ Ramirez looks like XCOM’s resident DJ, playing only music you wouldn’t have heard of.

It quickly becomes apparent that Retaliation missions are incredibly cruel. You have to save at least 6 of 15 civilians – and at least 1 is killed on each alien turn. I struggled to keep pace with just a small amount of Advent resistance at the beginning of the mission, but then things went from shitty to shittier as I came face to face with a new enemy – the shapeshifting Faceless, a giant melty zombie bastard who regenerates health each turn. Which shouldn’t be too difficult to handle with an overwatch trap to lure it into – however having to run over to the civilians to save them has forced me to split my team up, making doing the requisite damage to finish the fiend off difficult.

With civilians dying every turn and me attempting to put down a rampaging monster things look bleak. I send my hipster specialist Ramirez off tentatively to search for survivors while Kenzo Kelly leads the two rookies into battle with the terrible shambling husk. Unfortunately the two rookies don’t seem keen on landing many shots, leaving Kenzo to bravely go toe to toe, or rather sword vs massive sloth like claw, with the Faceless. She wins the fight, barely, with help from Ramirez’s protection drone being sent from across the map. Ramirez fares less well at finding enough survivors to win the day and soon enough the situation is beyond salvation. Dejected, my badly wounded force mow down the remaining advent forces with prejudice.

A mission on from our first casualty my team tastes defeat for the first time. Squad leader Kenzo Kelly’s perfect run is over – and worse still her fight with the melted sloth creature has left her shaken and traumatised. She’s almost single handedly dragged my rag tag team through the first few missions but now others will have to step up to take her place while she gets over her physical and mental wounds. If, indeed, she ever does.

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After my first session three useful soldiers emerge – Kenzo Kelly, ‘Lightning’ Ramirez and ‘Two Tap.’

At this point I realise it’s 2am and decide to call it a night. I tee up the Guerrilla Tactics Facility in my newly excavated slot and save my game. I’m only 5 missions in and I’ve already lost a good soldier, while 3 more – Dolly Hunter, Bandanaface Taylor and the indomitable Kenzo Kelly – are badly shaken. And what’s worse is for the most part I’ve only faced only the basic enemies and have played the entire night drinking nothing but Orange Squash. What will happen the tougher enemies come knocking and I’m three sheets to the wind on budget wine? Can my team survive without Kenzo Kelly to save my fledgling team from disaster?

Kenzo Kelly’s Heroes will return in… OPERATION: CRIMSON PALACE

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