The XCOM 2 War Diaries #3: It’s The Fall That’s Gonna Kill Ya

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Previously on XCOM 2 War Diaries..

#1 – The Ballad of Kenzo Kelly

#2 – ‘Zulu’ Dawn

The road to the first Blacksite was, shall we say, a little rocky. Along the way we lost 3 soldiers – 1 heroically sacrificed herself to save her friends and was captured, 1 was tasered senseless in a daring rooftop assault and 1 was the victim of pizza related negligence. Meanwhile the Doom Clock has been ticking closer to midnight with troubling speed and frankly I’m still not entirely sure what I’m doing in between missions. Is my equipment good enough for this stage of the game? Am I far enough up the research tree? Should I have explored more of the map by now? XCOM 2 keeps it’s cards close to it’s chest when it comes to information on your performance. The gravelly voiced bald silhouette seems happy most of the time but frankly I don’t trust him.

But we ended the second edition of these diaries on something of a high. Admittedly it may have involved an element of incredible, improbably luck but I expect this run of fortune to last indefinitely. That’s what luck does, right? Last forever?

Right?


As alluded to in the rather elegant piece of foreshadowing I wrote for the end of part 2 – pride tends to come before a fall. You know what else comes before a fall? 6 or 7 cans of Old Speckled Hen and a glass or two of Penderyn. Part 3 was actually spread over 2 sessions a week apart – the first of which came after I attempted to drink the Carl Frampton vs Scott Quigg boxing match interesting. After that yawnfest I needed some excitement so I fired up XCOM 2 for an impromptu session. I was feeling cocky – I’d made it through the first Blacksite mission without a single casualty and my top soldiers were getting to the point where they’re practically superheroes. Kenzo Kelly, Zulu Hansen, Two Tap Ryan and Lightning Ramirez are now all capable of wonderful things. So, I figured, I just need to keep them fit and have the second string (Guile, Dirty Sergei, Elvis Douglas, Evans, Bandanaface) catch up to them. Maybe blood a couple of rookies to make up the numbers. Seems straight forward enough.

Straight away I had a chance to find out how straight forward it was in..

OPERATION: HAMMER CHILD

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Elvis has been going through something of a goth phase of late.

Starring..

Two Tap Ryan – Sharpshooter
Guile – Sharpshooter
Lightning Ramirez – Specialist
Paula King – Ranger
Olsen – Rookie

This one should have been easy.

A generic ‘stop the thing from exploding’ affair I had my two sharpshooters on rooftops either side of the street with the other three headed down the middle. A pair of turrets sat atop the building containing my objective but Ramirez hacked one of those and used it to blow up the other. The Sectoids then attack the hacked turret on my behalf while I shoot them in the back. It’s a neat play and it’s all going swimmingly until a big robot and an Advent Taserdude suddenly walk out of an apartment on my left flank apropos of sod all.

I’m not sure what they were doing there. Maybe they were just watching Match of the Day, agreeing with each other about how great it’ll be if Leicester win the league (retrospective edit – it was great, wasn’t it?, when they heard gunfire on the street. I didn’t go anywhere near them to trigger their arrival so that’s the only scenario that makes sense.

Before I can deal with them one of the remaining Sectoids mind controls Ramirez – something easily remedied with a few rounds to it’s alien face. Unfortunately she then she gets tasered senseless, which knocks her unconscious, slumped across the bins she was hiding behind in a manner not unlike this:

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It’s a painful and unedifying pose so once I’ve cleared the street (and been roughed up in the process) I have Guile pick her up and set her down by a lamppost.

Being the caring leader I am I send the untested rookie Olsen in to secure the objective. It’s apparently something I have to carry, which I only discover when poor rookie Olsen drops it after being shot repeatedly in the spine on her way out by the Muton and Advent soldiers lurking behind the building. I’m forced to send King in to get the thing and then flee across the street into a shop. The Muton helpfully blows up the shop wall, allowing the Advent guys a couple of free shots on her and forcing her to flee even further back out of the shops rear door. With my two snipers now down on the street in a dogfight things are less than ideal. However while the bad guys have been focused on King the rest of the gang have been chipping away at their health, allowing Guile to finish one Advent soldier with a magnum shot. The other is felled by Two Tap, who spent the second half of the mission hiding in a bus stop and somehow blending in so well everyone ignored her. The Muton still stands and heads towards Guile for what would undoubtedly be a finishing blow, but is stopped in it’s tracks by King firing back through the rear door on overwatch. Another lucky escape.

We all got out apart from Olsen. Poor, poor Olsen.

I recruit a new bit of cannon fodder…I mean a new rookie to make up the numbers and immediately promote him to ranger. The comms relay is finished so I open up Indonesia, location of the the second Blacksite, so I can knock the Doom Clock back a couple of notches. But before I get there I’m offered a supply raid that looks tempting. I mean, how can you resist a mission called..

OPERATION: SENSELESS DREAD

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I love how scars appear when your soldiers have been through the wars. No longer the fresh faced hipster, Ramirez has Seen Shit and looks like it.

Starring..

Kenzo Kelly – Ranger
Two Tap Ryan – Sharpshooter
Lightning Ramirez – Specialist
Laurent – Ranger
Bandanaface Taylor – Grenadier

This one should have been easy as well.

And for once – it was. Despite managing to irk two patrols at once at the beginning and put myself in a pincer movement (a move so stupid a casual observer would probably assume it must be a piece of deviously subtle tactical brilliance) I managed to weather the initial storm and blast my way through this nice and straight forward ‘just kill everyone’ mission. I needed a little help from the slightly overpowered Mimic Beacon thing, which has every enemy on the map attack a hologram until either it runs out of hit points or the turn is over. I’m not sure what it is about holograms that angers the aliens so. Nor am I sure why a hologram, not having any matter to hit, should have hit points. But it works – and if it works it’s best not to question it.

My newbie Laurent is welcomed to the team by being half-murdered by a giant snake, but that’s just our way of saying hello. He doesn’t take it well – one mission in and he’s shaken. But after another good showing side Kenzo is officially not-shaken, which is a welcome piece of good news.

Back in the base I’ve just time enough to up my squad size to 6 before the Doom Clock gains a few notches. I’m 3 away from The End. Or what I presume to be The End. I have no intention of finding out. I plan to wait for a couple of soldiers to get fitter before engaging in another mission but then, in my lairy boozed up state, get impatient and decide I should be alright to jump into the next mission with 2 rookies in my squad. And as everyone knows if there’s a place you shouldn’t be thinking about blooding newbies it’s on..

OPERATION: WITCH TOOTH

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As cool as the magnum blasts look they rarely do much damage

Starring..

Two Tap Ryan – Sharpshooter
Dirty Sergei – Sharpshooter
Evans – Grenadier
Kenzo Kelly – Ranger
Umm… – Rookie
Hmm… – Rookie

Only a day before playing this mission did I read the excellent interview with designer Jake Solomon at Rock Paper Shotgun, in which he explains that XCOM 2 is not meant to be played as a stealth game. Which is fine by me; I don’t really like stealth games. I very rarely play them. I don’t have the patience.

So why I played this mission like a stealth game I have no idea.

I could blame the drink of course. I should not really have been headed to a Blacksite whilst, ‘crooning Tom Waits songs at myself with no music playing’ drunk. But stealth is still very much not my style in any state. And yet there I was, sneaking Kenzo into the Blacksite to plant an explosive while distracting the bad guys with a full frontal assault.

It started well enough. Two Tap is now pretty much a godess – her Cone of Death ability (which grants overwatch against anyone that moves within a certain range regardless of how many enemies that is) is frankly ridiculous. And Kenzo too – before I put her back into stealth mode to enter the facility she was pulled in by a snakefiend’s tongue, only for her Bladestorm ability to kick in. She sliced the thing down before it could wrap itself around her. The game wasn’t sure what to do with this information and had her stuck in the bound-by-a-snake animation for the next few turns.

It was pretty much a massacre. Then I decided to get clever. Which has, at last count, never, ever worked for me.

So Kenzo gets to the place where she needs to set a bomb. The square she needs to be on will reveal her cover. What the hell, I think, once she’s done her job I just need to bail as fast as possible and all will be well. So I send her in. The two snakefiends at the back seem less than pleased by this development. The Codex is also a bit put out. And the dropship that shows up a turn later is full of guys who seem more that a litte miffed about the shit I just pulled.

Kenzo gets out. It’s only at this point that I realise I need to evacuate myself, which is bad news as my guys are all over the damn place. I have Sergei put down the evac zone back near where we started. I’d had one rookie and Evans watching over Kenzo by a window in case things went south. Poor choice – the Snakefiend drags in my rookie before I can get her far enough away from their tongue range. The other one spits acid for that classic Spitter/Smoker Left 4 Dead II combo and I decide to leave them to it. There’s no saving them at this point.

I probably should have at least learned their name.

The Codex meanwhile decides to head for high ground, standing atop a watchtower and taking a potshot at Two Tap. This is unwise – Two Tap is an absolute machine at the minute and on my turn puts it down in 1 shot. That’s where my luck ends however. The dropship appears with Kenzo, Sergei and Two Tap a turn away from the evac zone. Evans and the remaining rookie will need at least one more than that.

And so both of them are efficiently and unceremoniously mown down on their way in by the Advent troops who sit smugly on overwatch. Just to add insult to injury a further beacon is put down – another dropship is on it’s way.

Kenzo and Two Tap just about get out, but not without getting gravely wounded. Sergei is the only person left. He makes it to the evac zone but has a bit of a panic after being shot at on overwatch. What happens next is pure farce. He hunkers down refuses to move. A couple of Advent troops decide to go on overwatch against a stationary target, a strategy so stupid I’m annoyed I didn’t think of it. The rest take turns shooting at him. As he’s hunkered down he manages to dodge the first volley of fire. Then the second. Unfortunately all this firing panics him further. So another round of firing occurs – joined by a Big Robot and two Advent fellas in a drop ship who just couldn’t miss out on this shoot-at-the-crying-guy-in-a-field party. He just cowers there while one after the other they fail to kill him. I’m getting lucky but it just looks like mocking cruelty – it’s hard not to imagine them jeering as they shoot at the defenceless weeping mess in the sunglasses. After 2 turns of this I finally get control and he somehow gets out alive.

Another success then! Well, um..

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That empty ship home doesn’t look like the ride of a successful team. And then when I get back there’s the small matter of this:

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Oh. Oh dear.

That’s…that’s not good. Zero troops fit to fight. I get 3 notches wiped off the Doom Clock but if you look up ‘Pyrrhic Victory’ on Wikipedia you’ll find a picture of me surrounded by beer cans squinting at a screen and trying to decide whether I won or lost. I decided to call it a night before I did any more damage.

It wasn’t until a week later that I had the time to return to piece together my broken team. I must have done some faffing about after the mission that I can’t remember as the moment I so much as look at scanning I’m told it’s time for..

 OPERATION: I DUNNO, SINISTER HORSE?

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The neighbourhood watch round here do not fuck around

Starring..

No one.

I decided I wanted no part of this one. I’ve only got 1 specialist and 2 rookies ready to fight. Which would be suicide. So I ignore it. And the Arctic goes dark, taking a chunk of my monthly supplies with it.

Instead I take some time to hoover up supply drops and scanning of assorted stuff. I research some experimental ammo and buy a shiny new sword for my squad of rangers until it’s Guerrilla ops time. After looking over the 3 missions on offer only 1 makes sense – stopping the enemy developing poisoned ammo (given the amount my guys get hit this would be a catastrophic development) and giving me a much needed engineer. It’s a difficult mission but neither of the others are worth all that much. So it is that I reluctantly wander into the fabulously named..

OPERATION: HAUNTED COBRA

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AAAAAARRGGGHHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Starring..

Two Tap Ryan – Sharpshooter
Bandanaface Taylor – Grenadier
Laurent – Ranger
Zulu Hansen – Ranger
Elvis – Specialist
Wolf – Rookie

It’s another protect-the-thing mission. Once again there’s a glowing thing in a house the aliens have come to personally shoot rather than just carpet bomb and be done with it, and I’m here to stop them. WAR!

We start in front of a large house. To the right there’s a Muton and Two Snakefiend’s – the rookie gets the now traditional welcome of being bound by a snake (what is it with these rookies and their love of massive, terrifying snakemen?) but is released as we make short work of his captor and the Muton. The second Snakefiend is wounded but manages to flee behind the house, waking up a disguised Faceless on his way through. It lumbers over, takes a swipe at Zulu and misses. Then it has a whole squad ready for it. It doesn’t last long.

The squad splits into two – Laurent, Bandanaface and Elvis up the left while Two Tap, Zulu and Wolf carry on up the right. The left hand side alert the next set of fiends first – a Shield Bearer, an Advent grunt and a Codex, along with the cowardly snake. Bandanaface finishes off the snakefiend with a grenade whilst Two Tap nails the grunt with a rather stylish piece of sniping through the front and back window of the house. On their turn the codex teleports into the house and sends it’s purple haze over to my left flank, causing Laurent and Bandanface to get so baked they immediately unload their guns. The Shield Bearer does that shield thing that they like to do. Zulu heads in to take a swipe at the Codex with her new sword. It’s nice, but not nice enough to finish it. For once I fail to score a critical hit and it splits into two pieces – which are neatly handled by the rookie and Two Tap. My one remaining guy with any ammo, Elvis, gives the Shield Bearer a good going over. He’s not too pleased about this and so makes a break for it into the House of the Glowing Plot Thing.

Once we’ve regrouped we push forward to find that the wounded Shield Bearer has found another Shield Bearer friend, someone he can chat to about Bearing Shields and the joys of punching the ground and initiating shield abilities. It’s quite sweet. He’s also got a Big Robot (I should have come up with a better name for those guys by now) and another generic Advent grunt. I’m worried as to what tactics this combination of enemies could cook up and how badly things can go when Big Robot decides to dramatically and hilariously leap through a window straight into the overwatch range of Bandanaface and Elvis, who almost finish it. Then, despite being in the middle of my team, the mechanical doofus turns to shoot at the Plot Device. It’s at this point I realise that they haven’t been attacking it between rounds since an early flurry, and that if they had I’d likely have failed the mission by now. I guess there’s some great daytime Mumbai soap opera that all of Advent are addicted to and couldn’t bear to take their eyes off long enough to pump a few lazer rounds into the giant glowing thing they were sent to destroy.

At this point the grunt and the wounded Shield Bearer also remember the point of their mission and give the gubbin a quick blast, while the fresh Shield Bearer can’t resist trying out that ground punching thing he’s been hearing so much about. It makes them tougher to finish but with them not all that bothered about shooting me the final stages are a doddle. When they’re all down bar the wounded Shield Bearer, who’s waiting an inevitable sword to the face from Zulu, Elvis runs in to pick up the weapon drop one of them leaves. And of course there’s a Faceless in the other room and it all goes a bit cheap horror movie.

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Stalked by The Looming Horror

But I just bung everyone on overwatch and let the Faceless shamble to his demise. It’s a rare slam dunk of a mission.

Back in the base I promote the rookie, who turns out to be yet another ranger. I could field a whole team of them at this point. So I recruit another rookie (an Australian in a hat so Australian it’s only missing some dangling corks) and promote him to specialist for balance. I probably need a grenadier more, with Bandanaface Taylor being my only one, but that doesn’t occur to me until afterwards. Then I get to building the Shadow Centre as I’m informed it’s important for decrypting stuff and I presume the Doom Clock will slow down if I do as the important plot stuff says. I do a bit of recreational autopsying just to get the blood flowing then get in touch with the Arctic again, followed by my first jaunt over to the USA where another Blacksite sits waiting ominously. I’ve still got comms capacity to unveil the area the next Blacksite mission sits in but while I’m mulling over my options and doing some mild looting another retaliation mission comes along and I’m plunged neck deep into…

OPERATION: BANISHED WOLF

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I’ve no idea what’s happening here – but isn’t it pretty!

Starring..

Two Tap Ryan – Sharpshooter
Bandanaface Taylor – Grenadier
Laurent – Ranger
Zulu Hansen – Ranger
Jimmy the Hat- Specialist
Lightning Ramirez – Specialist

Within the first few feet of this mission I’ve another new enemy to contend with – the Muton Berzerker. He’s an angry looking fellow, but has a bit of distance to cover in getting to me so gets murdered before doing anything of use. There’s a handy vantage point for Two Tap to do her thing on the left so I send her up and have Ramirez, Bandanaface and the newbie Australian I’ve dubbed Jimmy the Hat head left to mop up survivors. That leaves Zulu and Laurent to go up the middle, where they promptly alert a couple of Mutons and are discovered by a patrol consisting of a Taserdude, an Advent grunt and a Commander on the right. My guys on the left meanwhile alert another grunt and his Commander, and I have every enemy on the map to contend with at once.

That’s the trouble with the retaliation missions – you have no choice but to cast your net wide to find the survivors before they’re all turned into paste, but fanning out risks alerting every enemy on the level to your presence. And when that happens things turn sour pretty quickly.

In the ensuing chaos both Zulu and Laurent find themselves unconscious – Zulu takes a right hook from a Muton whilst Laurent gets viciously tasered while trying to cower behind a tree. This is unfortunate as I’m now down to 4 soldiers, but their lapsing out of consciousness is all that saves them both from being killed. It’s only Two Tap working overtime with her Cone of Death ability and Ramirez, who retreats to the hill with Ryan, being unfailingly accurate (and sending her drone out to patch up/add cover protection to my exposed troops) that gets me out without any casualties. Once the left flank is free The Hat finds just enough survivors to fulfill our obligations, and after the appearance of two Faceless’ at a distance that gives everyone ample time to fend them off the mission is over.

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Sticking your head out to see what your sniper is aiming at is not generally good practice.

It’s a success – by my standards. I achieved the objective and nobody died. But I end up with 5 wounded soldiers – mostly gravely wounded who’ll now miss a couple of missions a piece. Sure, I’ve held off a Dark Event and am doing a decent job of keeping the Doom Clock at the half way point but I once again have no battlefield ready soldiers at hand should trouble come calling. As trouble so often does. I’m also low on both supplies and intel. In keeping an eye on that ominous red bar I’ve not really been paying attention to the actual threat – the aliens. Y’know, the ones with the big guns that do all the actual killing. It’s like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid debating jumping off a great cliff into the water below, worried that they might drown. When making my calls I’m worried about the effect it’ll have on the larger strategic game, whether I’m progressing fast enough to be ready for the later threats. But the spectre of bigger threats down the line isn’t what’s causing me problems. It’s the ones shooting me in the face and head with big, nasty guns right now.

I fear it’s the fall that’s gonna kill me*.

KENZO KELLY’S HEROES WILL RETURN IN: OPERATION: I’M NOT SURE, I ONLY FINISHED THE LAST ONE LAST NIGHT

*The Butch Cassidy analogy and the diary title were both brought to you by my recent rewatch of The West Wing.

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