In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I shot down a small UFO and sent a team out to assault the wreckage. I looted some valuable alien technology, met a new kind of alien and nearly get a lot of people killed. Nearly, again, being the operative word: so far, none of my actual personalized soldiers have died. I’m… I’m fairly okay with this. Hopefully things will stay great forever.
The XCOM base is a hustle of activity and good spirits. While the world is still under assault by highly advanced, unknowable alien forces, the general consensus seems to be that we’re doing pretty alright. So far we’ve halted an abduction, shot down one of their craft, and saved an innocent woman from alien captivity. Not a bad score, if I do say so myself.
Eyes are cast to the future. In order to progress in our understanding of the invaders, we’re going to need to try to capture one of them. Alive. Dr. Vahlen’s team is hard at work researching a close-range stun weapon called an ‘Arc Thrower’, while dr. Shen’s crack Engineers set out to expand the base. I order them to Excavate one square to the right of the Access Lift, which makes that area available for facility construction, and to expand the Access Lift one square down, which opens up the second layer to work with. As a bonus, the second layer has a Steam square, which… I don’t actually know yet why that’s good. Maybe it’s bad? Regardless, I’m digging down anyway.
It looks like this in reality, incidentally:
With that done, I still have a decent amount of credits in store. This might be a good moment to look at an option I’ve actually already skimmed over earlier, but ignored due to lack of money: the Officer School.
The Officer School, in a nutshell, allows me to research various upgrades for money: these upgrades are unlocked by soldiers reaching various ranks. Right now, for instance, I can increase my Squad Size to 5; I would need a soldier at Captain rank or higher, though, to unlock the Squad Size 6 upgrade. Most of these upgrades are tailed at making the whole squad more effective, with such options as ‘increased experience from kills’, ‘higher Will bonuses on levelling up’, and ‘less time spent in the medbay’.
For now, I have enough money to either unlock the first Squad Size increase or the +25% Experience From Kills one. That’s not a terribly hard choice, I won’t mind telling you.
The Officer School is a pretty neat facility, and one of the elements that make Classic Difficulty harder is the fact that you do not start with this facility in your base (as I have here). Of course, facilities have drawbacks, too: mainly upkeep costs. Here, look at my balance sheet:
While mucking around in the Situation Room for a bit, I stumble upon another interesting tidbit the game hasn’t actually told me about: the Gray Market. Here, I can sell the various alien loot I collect for credits. Hey, remember how I said I had enough for only one of those two upgrades? It turns out that flogging a few Sectoid corpses — to who, exactly? — allows me to get both. Steve warns me to not just sell everything willy-nilly, because the Research teams may have need for them later, but a) there’s a clear ‘This Item Has Not Yet Been Researched’ indicator on certain items, and b) I hardly think Sectoid corpses are going to be in short supply, here.
With my upgrades upgraded and my credits spent, it’s time to Scan for more activity. And by that I mean, burn time waiting for things to happen. It doesn’t take long: after two days, both the Arc Thrower and the Alien Containment Facility are completed. I don’t actually have the credits to buy one of these Arc Throwers, though, but we’ll burn that bridge once we cross it.
After a short Research side-trip into Weapon Fragments, which grants me the S.C.O.P.E…
…I order dr. Vahlen to start her research into the alien invaders by way of an autopsy on the Sectoid. This triggers a little cutscene in which the good doctor narrates what we know of the creature, while a masked lab assistant cuts into a dead Sectoid, spilling disgusting body fluids all over the camera.
Before the autopsy can be completed, though, the Council once again requests my presence. I’m to rescue ‘a friend’, who has come under attack by alien forces in Australia.
Sure, why not? Money, Engineers and Panic Reduction. I’m down.
Because I’m well-aware I can’t keep relying on the same four soldiers forever — and also because Val is in the hospital and because my Squad Size is 5 now — I decide to bring a few Rookies with me. Dima the Heavy, Tovik the Sniper and Jones the Support will be accompanied by Rookies Alan DeHaan and Tyler Clark, like so:
And we’re off!
This mission, like the earlier Council mission, revolves around finding an NPC and escorting them to the Skyranger. I like to think we’re pretty good at that, by now, even if Tovik nearly bit it the last time. Let’s try to make that not happen this time.
From the looks of it, we’re at a pedestrian road crossing somewhere. I open up by dashing several men into cover, and quickly run into a singular Thin Man, just kind of standing around. It skitters off immediately, though.
I try to move some soldiers to hit the Thin Man, but it remains stubbornly out-of-range. I set Sniper Tovik to Overwatch behind a nearby planter, but the Thin Man just does the same. Oh, so that’s how you want to play it? The world’s most extra-terrestrial game of sniper chicken?
Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Rookie Clark bravely dashes forward, avoids the incoming reaction fire and takes the Thin Man down. Humans 1, Aliens still zero.
I move up, encounter and murder a Sectoid, and find some NPCs. Not the one NPC I’m looking for, though: that one — one Thomas Hutch — has “Made a break down the street [...] as soon as we started taking fire.“. Yeah, that’s probably smart.
Two more Sectoids show up: one skitters off into the middle distance, while the other bravely gets shot at. It’s at this point I learn an important lesson: ‘Up to 4 damage‘ does not mean ‘Four damage all day, every day‘. Clark shoots the Sectoid and hits, but only deals two damage. It’s actually weird to see an alien survive being hit like that: most of them explode like slurry balloons at the slightest touch. This Sectoid, clearly a champion among its people, manage to survive getting shot, and rather than running away to safety actually stick around and shoots back. It misses (an encovered Dima), of course, but I’ve never been so close to having respect for these Sectoids as I am now.
Perhaps out of that kindness, I order Dima to lay down Suppressing Fire. That ability doesn’t actually damage the Sectoid, but it reduces its aim and gives Dima a free reaction shot if it moves. It’s also pretty cool graphically: Dima actually steps out of cover repeatedly, in intervals, and uses his LMG to lay down a hail of bullets.
The turn after that, the Sectoid goes down (courtesy of Tovik) and I reach Hutch. As before, reaching the NPC causes Thin Men to drop out of the sky at random intervals, but I’m used to that by now. And aerial drop skills and sinister Overwatches are no match for Assault Rifle bullets to the gut.
Two Thin Men die this way before Hutch reaches the safety of the Skyranger. Mission over, right?
Wrong. I still need to mop up ‘any remaining aliens’ before I can leave. O…kay. I thought I did? Did I miss any aliens? Did more Thin Men drop from the sky? Well, whatever, I’m just going to sweep the map, then.
I decide to start at that cute little bridge in the northwest. Because DeHaan and Clark are already pretty close, so I order the latter to Dash across the bridge.
Straight into the Overwatch fire of that last Sectoid I completely forgot about.
Fuck. Four damage. Fuck fuck fuck. Clark is seriously wounded and only in half cover. Which means that if that Sectoid shoots him again…
What do I do? DeHaan is close, but he can’t actually hit the alien, and his Frag Grenade has insufficient range. Ranneko Jones has a medkit, but he’s way too far away to be of any help. Tovik has Dashed already. Dima has his Rocket, but he’s Moved already as well. Fuck.
In a last-ditch attempt, I move DeHaan out into the open, in an attempt to present a better target. But it’s no use. The Sectoid takes aim at Clark, shoots and hits. Two damage: Clark hits the pavement.
I quickly run Jones over with the medkit, but even before he gets there, the game’s popup — and the expanding pool of blood — preemptively dash my hopes. Rookie Clark is no more.
Denial turns to anger. Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be, huh? Well, you know how we here on Earth like to send off our fallen soldiers? With fireworks.
And that’s it, too. Mission over. If I’d been less impetuous… or I could have given him a Nano-fiber Vest. Would that have saved him? Or does damage cap at remaining hitpoints? No, wait, it doesn’t. Damnit. He didn’t even get to throw that grenade, too.
Back in the base, another round of promotions is handed out like candy. Rookie DeHaan becomes Heavy Squaddie DeHaan, the second in our squad to take up the Mantle of the Rocket Launcher. Sergeant Tovik gets a choice between either Damn Good Ground (giving +10 Aim at and +10 Defense against targets at lower elevation) or Gunslinger (+2 damage with pistols), which given my track record with pistol use — that is to say, none of it — is not a hard choice. Corporal Jones gets a choice between either Sprinter (three extra tiles of movement) or Covering Fire (which allows Overwatch to trigger on enemy attack as well as movement): I pick the latter, because it sounds more interesting, but it’s a hard choice. Maybe if Jones had had the extra movement…
Rookie Tyler Clark gets no choice. He’s appended to the Memorial Wall: the first ever XCOM soldier to fall in the line of duty.
I also unlock the Workshop facility, for some reason, but listen: I can’t really pretend to care right now. I’m still a little pissed off at myself at how preventable this death was. Maybe I’ll do something with it next episode. Maybe not.