The XCOM 2 War Diaries #2: ‘Zulu’ Dawn

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Bandanaface Taylor, moments before brutally shelling an unsuspecting fire hydrant several feet from anything useful

Previously on XCOM2 War Diaries..

#1 – The Ballad of Kenzo Kelly

The opening several missions were something of a mixed bag – we lost 1 soldier (a sniper I’d come to know as ‘Bluntshooter’ before she sacrificed herself to save her squad) and failed one mission outright. And as this was my first Guerrilla Ops mission this means I’ve failed to stop any of the Dark Events on the way so far.

On the plus side specialist ‘Lightning’ Ramirez, sharpshooter ‘Two Tap’ Ryan and ranger Kenzo Kelly had come to the fore as invaluable squad members – the latter of which, Kenzo Kelly – the result of a game glitch that gave the bio of a Japanese man to an Irish woman – pretty much pulled me through the early game single handed. Sadly she was left badly shaken after going to-to-toe with a Faceless and is out of action for a while.

The Doom Clock, the progress bar that shows how close Advent are to completing their plans and giving me an unceremonious Game Over screen, has started ticking. I’m still not entirely sure what I’m doing and I’ve got at least 2 soldiers so bad at aiming I’m starting to suspect they’re working for Advent. Round 2 is not going to be easy.


And the instant I set time moving forward on the world I’m asked for help by my brothers and sisters in the Arctic. So begins..

OPERATION: CRIMSON PALACE

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I liked this guys shaggy hippy Eastwood aesthetic so much I named him ‘Dirty’ Sergei. Unfortunately he’s so inaccurate this screenshot was probably taken moments before he shot one of his own men in the back

Starring..

Lightning Ramirez – Specialist
‘Dirty’ Sergei – Sharpshooter
Hansen – Rookie
Bandanaface Taylor – Grenadier

My first mission of the day is a standard ‘protect the gubbin’ affair, in which I’m starting on one end of the map while a squad of unfriendlies start next to said gubbin, giving it a solid kicking on every turn. Helpful. Thankfully it has a fairly robust health bar so I can afford to take a leisurely stroll across the map to prevent it’s destruction. I need to get back on track after the last failed mission so I’m not taking any risks.

Ok…maybe one risk. I haven’t tried hacking any of the street light scanner things yet so after taking out the first few Advent guys I let Ramirez send in her drone to see what that does. And of course what that does is call in a dropship full of reinforcements, placed directly in between us and the store that contains the mystery device. Lovely stuff.

So with my squad unprepared for the arrival of 2 more Advent soldiers and their commander waltzing in to back up the Sectoid we were busy hunting, we go to war. Ramirez is rewarded further for her hacking exploits with several rounds to the face. She responds by hiding behind some bins and using her new Med-drone perk on herself. ‘Dirty’ Sergei and Bandanaface Taylor seem to be playing a pacifist run of XCOM 2, shooting suspiciously wide of anything I ask them to kill. So it’s up to rookie Hansen and, once she’s composed herself, Ramirez (along with Bandanaface’s grenade attack, which it is thankfully impossible to miss with) to whittle away the enemy forces. They seem reluctant to cross the street to get a better angle on my squad else this set-to could have gone much worse.

Once they’re dealt with it’s a straight run into the store containing the mission’s McGuffin where an Advent soldier and a Sectoid have spent the entire time just hanging out and slapping the supposedly precious big glowing thing around. One has to wonder why we’re keeping our most valuable stuff in corner shops by the breakfast cereals. I send Ramirez in to take out the soldier, and blow up the wall with the rookie’s grenade so that Sergei can finally do some successful sniping on the Sectoid. After a slapstick opening we finish looking something like a well drilled team.

When I get back I polish off my shiny new Guerrilla Tactics thing and I bump my squad numbers up to 5. I pootle about looting stuff for a bit (I’m still not entirely sure what the best use of my time is here but I’m pretty skint) until I receive word that a supply line is hit and we’re send in to play vulture on the scattered goods in..

OPERATION: STAR WHEEL

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Rachel Davies in her prime, before that whole giant-snake-warrior incident.

Starring..

Kenzo Kelly – Ranger
Rachel Davies – Grenadier
‘Two Tap’ Ryan – Sharpshooter
Elvis Douglas – Specialist
King – Rookie

I’m only one mission removed from my first failure and complacency sets in. We’ve ‘gone in hot’ on this one so there’s no concealment phase and in sprinting around on my first few goes I manage to irk everyone on the map at the same time. Suddenly I’m fighting a battle on two fronts. ‘Two Tap’ Ryan stands atop a hill out of cover – I was so keen to get high ground she’s ended up in full view of everyone. Two troops are off to the right flank fighting Advent soldiers whereas Rachel Davies and the rookie fight some Advent mooks and a rather large and unfriendly looking snake with a gun on the left. Unaware of the Snakefiend’s reach I’m left helpless when Davies is pulled in by it’s obscenely long tongue. With my squad stretched thin and my sniper wounded from being left out in the open she doesn’t stand a chance. There’s a tiny slither of hope that my specialist ‘Elvis’ Douglas might be able to save her with a 40% shot but the odds prove too great.

Davies is no more.

In response we purge the battlefield with a righteous fury. War historians will no doubt point to the fact I was mostly focused on eating pizza I should have been strategising as a contributing factor to Davies’ untimely death. But Churchill spent most of WWII off his tits and no one gives him any stick. I stand by my choice.

It was a good pizza.

Back home I autopsy everything in sight, as watching the cut scenes means I can finish eating without endangering any more lives. Then the Dark Event hammer falls – my supplies are cut by 50% and the aliens will all don extra armour from now on. The Doom Clock is close to half full and the odds are getting continually stacked against me. I can go to the Blacksite, the first big set piece in the game, and knock the clock back a touch but my team simply aren’t ready. And there’s a second Blacksite in a region I can’t get in touch with because I don’t have the comms capacity. Or indeed the electrical capacity to create extra comms capacity. I’m in a bind – clearly I need resources. But while I’m busy weighing up my next move I’m offered a mission to rescue a scientist and leap face first into..

OPERATION: FROST SLAP

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Guile picks up his fallen comrade

Starring..

Kenzo Kelly – Ranger
Dolly Hunter – Specialist
Guile – Sharpshooter
‘Dirty’ Sergei – Sharpshooter
Evans – Grenadier

This one was a walk in the park. An absolute breeze. The proverbial piece of cake.

Right up until the moment Dolly Hunter bought the farm.

We were on top of a building walking toward the rooftop extraction point when it happened. We alerted some Advent soldiers who were on the street below us. I keep us walking along slowly on overwatch – with no turn limit in this one I could afford to play it patient and the bad guys would have to come up to the roof to hurt us. As soon as they did they’d get murderised overwatch style. Or so I thought. One soldier comes up a ladder and proves my point, taking a shotgun blast to the chin from Kenzo – who, after being sadly ineffective since the battle with the Faceless, is still shaken but starting to get her mojo back. But then an Advent Taserdude came up the ladder, walked through the middle of my team, went up another ladder, across an even higher rooftop, down another ladder to appear behind my team, and tasered Dolly to death in one turn.

It’s quite an audacious move. XCOM 2 has a way of hitting you whenever you feel safe, but rarely takes such a long way around to do it. I feel a little aggrieved at the manner in which Dolly was killed – especially since Dolly had successfully hacked a scanner a turn earlier and the reward was supposed to be 2 invincible turns. I’m not sure if I’ve done something wrong or if the game has glitched. But to be honest bringing her and Kenzo, both still shaken from earlier traumas, on the same mission was a risk I shouldn’t have taken. It had been such a walk in the park that I thought the gamble had paid off, but instead my two sharpshooters have to clean up the mess – ‘Dirty’ Sergei doing his Clint Eastwood routine, blasting the offending Taserdude at close range with his magnum, while Guile lifts up the fallen Dolly Hunter and solemnly carries her to the evac point.

When I get back I get busy – if things are taking me out in one turn I need better armour. And better weapons. I do some wheelin’ and dealin’ in the black market and with the proceeds I get predator armour and some magnetic firepower. I bring in some scientists, raid some caches and set another power station up to be built. By this point I’m really short on supplies – so I don’t hesitate to accept when I’m offered a few quid to take on a 2 Ops mission called..

OPERATION: GLASS SLUMBER

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Evans prepares to blow some stuff up. Probably someone’s shed or a small families new car.

Starring..

Kenzo Kelly – Ranger
Guile – Sharpshooter
‘Dirty’ Sergei – Sharpshooter
Evans – Grenadier
‘Lightning’ Ramirez – Specialist

My missions on this second session have been costly but they have at least been successful. I feel like I’m making progress. However it’s on Glass Slumber where XCOM 2 really shows it’s teeth to me. It’s a timed recovery mission, with the artifact I’m after in the back of a van. After setting up an ambush on a Snakefiend and his soldier buddies to start things off I quickly discover I have a new enemy to contend with – a rather large and intimidating robot. It looks like it can do some serious damage – and has of course got friends with it to make my life more difficult. I decide to focus all my efforts on putting it down.

Almost all. I send Kenzo, still in concealment as a Ranger, round the back to dive in and secure the doodad while the enemy forces are focused on the bulk of my forces in front of them. A clever and devious move. Or so I thought..

While Kenzo went the wrong way round Ramirez used her Haywire Protocol to shut the robot down for a couple of turns. I decide my best course of action would be to take it out before I have a chance to see what it can do. The Snakefiend is still standing so I have Evans grenade it out of it’s misery (I don’t trust my grenadiers to hit anything with their Gatling guns at this stage) and set to sniping the robot to pieces with my twin sharpshooter attack. Of course one of them misses wildly and despite everyone’s best efforts the robot is still standing at the end of our first free turn on it. The soldiers, left alone while the mechanical menace still stands, rough up my soldiers a bit. I put Kenzo within a move of getting to the van – just as well as there’s only one turn left. Unfortunately the map had one more set of bad guys up sat waiting at the back of the level. On my next turn it becomes apparent that Kenzo could only get into the van and disarm the thing by getting onto a square that would leave her entirely open to the new squad. In the back of that van with no cover she’d be a fish in a barrel. It’s a straight choice – the loot, and with it a Dark Event thwarted, or Kenzo Kelly’s life.

For a moment I consider reloading the level. I could really do without this further set back. But I promised myself no save scumming on this run and, after pondering it for a while I can’t think of another outcome anyhow. There’s no way I could get anyone into the van in time without leaving them open to being butchered the very next turn. And as my sole ranger Kenzo is the only sacrificial lamb I have to offer. I’m not used to this – in my mind there’s always a perfect run on an XCOM level, and while I seldom come close to finding it it’s comforting to know it’s out there. Being forced to chose how to fail like this seems counter to how I’ve been playing the game.

But I remind myself that this is a strategy game – not a puzzle game. There’s not meant to be one perfect solution per level.

So I make the call – even though she’s perhaps not the unstoppable force she once was I can’t give up Kenzo. I get her out of the blast radius of the thing in the van, let it explode, and wreak a bloody vengeance on the remaining forces. Everyone survives – but I gain nothing.

After the mission there’s little to do but wait while things get built and research gets completed. Before any of that happens I’m abruptly thrown into my second retaliation mission in the shape of..

OPERATION: STAR HOUND

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The squad for Op: Star Hound. On the far right – Hansen, just before she took the name ‘Zulu’

Starring..

Bandanaface Taylor – Grenadier
Guile – Sharpshooter
‘Two Tap’ Ryan – Sharpshooter
Hansen – Ranger
‘Lightning’ Ramirez – Specialist

Determined not to fail this like I did on the last retaliation mission I send Hansen off to pick up survivors on the left flank and have Ramirez and Bandanaface charge up the right collecting survivors and drawing enemies into a twin sniper overwatch trap. It works a charm, with nothing laying a glove on us – not even the first appearance of a Muton, who is comically felled moments after his introduction scene. Things look like they might get hairy when Hansen charges into a burning building to save a survivor only for them to metamorphose into a Faceless right in front of her. Ramirez sends out her protection drone and, miraculously, the Faceless’s swipe misses Hansen completely. I send her out further left to look for actual survivors while my snipers put the fiend down and mop up the enemies (Guile in particular shines, one-shotting anything he fires at). On Hansen’s next turn she finds another survivor who turns out to be a Faceless. What are the odds?

This time it does it’s presto-chango trick while Hansen and my snipers have actions left, so I set up an overwatch trap and have Hansen lure the fiend out in the open to it’s instant death. Anyone watching the clinical nature of this trick might be fooled into believing I know what I’m doing. Hansen’s sprinting around has already saved all the necessary hostages and despite her being within licking distance of 2 Faceless’ she’s somehow come out unscratched. She earns the name ‘Zulu’ Hansen for her efforts and we finally have another ranger hero to take the pressure off Kenzo.

Back at HQ the Doom Clock hits the halfway mark and I decide there’s no more time to waste. I only have time to develop the skulljack – which I apparently need to shove into the head of an Advent Officer for Plot Reasons – equip it and and prepare to go into the Blacksite to try and hold back the tide. It’s time for..

OPERATION: STEELY DIRGE

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Two Tap does her best to save a marked Bandanaface from his seemingly certain fate

Starring..

Kenzo Kelly – Ranger
‘Zulu’ Hansen – Ranger
‘Two Tap’ Ryan – Sharpshooter
Bandanaface Taylor – Grenadier
Elvis Douglas – Specialist

In a perfect world I’d have been able to take in Ramirez as my specialist rather than Elvis, who has been largely useless up until this point. But I can’t afford to wait. I enter the field before a large facility in front of the main Blacksite. Two Tap quickly scurries up to the rooftop ready to cover the squad from above while they position themselves on overwatch ready for an assault. I spring the ambush on a Muton and his advent buddies by sniping the big brute, but only one of the soldiers falls in the ensuing chaos. My boys are missing wildly and letting the side down. I send Bandanaface up a watchtower near the squad to rain grenades down on them, only to accidentally trigger another enemy patrol: an Advent officer and his buddies. They blow up his cover, leaving him elevated and exposed. A Taserdude runs up and stuns him and it looks like he’s done for – a loss so early in this vitally important mission would leave things looking desperate. But Two Tap finishes the Muton, a grenade from Zulu takes out a couple of soldiers and Elvis proves his worth by shooting a magnetic rifle round upward into the Taserdude’s chin, leaving Bandanaface free to beat a hasty retreat.

We deal with some further resistance on our way into the main facility, taking minor damage on the way. I bring Two Tap towards the main entrance to be able to hit whatever lurks within. A Muton is behind the building peering through the window for some reason, with two Advent soldiers inside. The soldiers fall to an overwatch ambush and I send Zulu charging in to recover the artifact. I think as there’s no line of sight from the window that she’s safe. I did not expect the Muton to bust through wall like the kool aid man and slap her in the face. She panics and runs around the corner and he puts her under suppressing fire.

As soon as I’ve seized the artifact an Advent officer and his two cronies show up on the roof. It looks like certain doom for Zulu – she can’t move, and if she stays where she is any one of the 3 could finish her off. As could the Muton. Two Tap, Bandanaface and Elvis only have weak percentage shots on the Muton, leaving only a wounded Kenzo in a position to help. But she’s in good cover and putting her in a position to shoot would leave her open, most likely making her a target for everyone on the next turn. And it wasn’t long ago that I failed a mission just to keep her alive.

I weigh up possible options for some time, sipping wine and surveying the battlefield like a northern budget Napoleon. Then I see it. The play goes like this: Kenzo exits via a nearby side door and tosses in a grenade that damages the Muton and frees Zulu of the suppressing fire. She then runs out the same door Kenzo exited through and takes cover. I put everyone else on overwatch. On the next turn the Muton makes a break for my two rangers and Elvis puts him down. One of the Advent soldiers comes through the window and is killed by Two Tap before he even hits the ground. But I’ve miscalculated – the second soldier, a Taserdude, is free to charge round and hit one of my rangers. He picks Kenzo, leaving her with one remaining health block – an inexplicable move as Zulu has the artifact and would have almost certainly been killed by that taser hit. The Advent officer takes a shot at Bandanaface and misses. On my next turn Kenzo takes her revenge on the foolish Taserdude and I send Zulu up to skulljack the Advent officer, which takes him out in one hit. Everyone else takes a moment in the calm to reload. It looks like the crisis is over.

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Zulu Hansen gone feral

Until the bastard Codex shows up. I must confess to doing a bit of research on this enemy, having been told it is, and I quote, “basically bullshit.” I know that if it’s shot and not killed then it will split into multiple versions of itself, with each half splitting its remaining health. With everyone wounded I can’t afford to fight several Codex fiends at once. I also know it teleports about evading overwatch, so my usual traps will not work. There’s only one play for me to make – I have go at it with my biggest guns and pray for the best.

But it has a turn first, and of course it’s first move is to disarm half my squad. Bandanaface, Two Tap and Elvis are all quite closely clustered, so when it sends over a purple cloud that unloads their weapons – the turn after I just reloaded them – I’m a bit miffed. The purple cloud will explode and kill them if they don’t get out of the blast radius so I have to waste their actions fleeing the scene. This leaves my two rangers in play. I have nothing else left up my sleeve, so I figure I only have one choice – take a shot at it, then when it splits up take out one of the two halves and see which of my guys the remaining Codex half chooses to finish off. I send Zulu down from the window above, put her in position and get ready to take aim. She has the artifact so, presuming the Codex isn’t as stupid as that Taserdude, she’s likely to be the one it kills. I hope her last act is a good one.

And it is. Oh good lord it is. Only it isn’t her last. Not only has Zulu stolen the artifact, narrowly escaped certain death and skulljacked an Advent officer (progressing the plot in the process), she tops off a heroic display by stepping up and hitting the Codex with a 12 point critical hit. It does not split. Instead it crumbles under one brilliant shotgun blast.

To say I’m relieved – not to mention astonished – is an understatement. But there’s no time for celebration as a dropship of reinforcements is due to drop on the next turn. I can’t make it to the evac zone so I position my forces by two windows at the back of the facility that overlook over the drop point – one at either side of each window, with Two Tap behind cover a little further back but still with a good view. I put all those with ammo on overwatch and have everyone who’s dry reload. A big robot bastard and two soldiers land, then it’s my turn again. I opt to set everyone on overwatch still inside. All 3 enemies make their move – and all 3 are felled before they can even take a shot. The tide feels like it’s turned as I walk my beleaguered forces over to the evac zone and head home.

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I’d had too much wine to remember to take any more screenshots on the Blacksite mission – so here’s ‘Dirty’ Sergei getting ready to disappoint me again

And with that 2 notches on the Doom Clock go dark and everyone receives a promotion. But I was 3 strokes of luck – 1 of which is a borderline miracle – away from catastrophe and I have 5 gravely wounded warriors out of action for whatever comes next. Having put 2 bottles of wine away and seen 2 good women killed in action I decide it’s a good time to draw the curtains on this act. But before I do I take a moment to look through my team’s stats, feeling a strange sense of pride in their achievements on this session.

And we all know what pride comes before..

Kenzo Kelly’s Heroes will return in…OPERATION: HAMMER CHILD

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