In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I used a routine mission as an excuse to round out my captured-alien collection. I own all the ones I know of that are capturable now. No news on whether or not Chryssalids, Drones and Cyberdiscs will ever become capturable; part of me hopes so, but another part of me doesn’t want to have to deal with sending another soldier into Chryssalid melee range for as long as I live.
More importantly, the results I got from interrogating the new Heavy Floater alien put a serious dent in the time required to develop a new type of fighter craft; one that should, hopefully, be capable of catching up to and bringing down that Overseer UFO. And since the Council has just docked me serious performance points for letting it slip so often — though that didn’t seem to translate to lost funding, as far as I can tell — I now have a personal stake of sorts in getting this project done.
Alright, breaking character for a bit: this episode is going be a little meta again. Instead of my usual one-mission-per-episode thing, this episode will cover a period of game time equivalent to four missions; none of those missions will be done play-by-play style like usual.
See, it’s like this: I can tell we’ve entered the stretch of gameplay known as ‘fuck all is really happening‘. I have to take down the Overseer UFO to progress, but in order to do that, the following things have to happen:
- I have to finish researching the New Fighter Craft, which is actually called the Firestorm. This will actually be done really quickly… about now, in fact.
- I have to build at least one Firestorm. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, since these things both are expensive and require fancy components.
- Once the first Firestorm is built, I will learn / have learned that it’s automatically deployed in the hangar corresponding to the continent I have my main base on. Because that’s where it’s built. I can transfer the Firestorms to other continents, but that takes additional time. And I’ll pretty much have to transfer them, because the Overseer UFO can show up everywhere. And as cool as the Firestorm is, its operational range is limited.
- And finally, once I actually get lucky and the Overseer UFO shows up on a continent with Firestorm coverage, I’ll actually have to be able to take it down. I’ve been given to understand that the Firestorm’s main advantage will be in its tracking capabilities — i.e., it’ll have more than three seconds to engage the Overseer UFO — but I have a feeling regular Avalanche Missiles aren’t going to cut it. Because of this, I’ll have to outfit my Firestorm(s) with advanced weaponry, like a Plasma Cannon or the (yet to be researched) EMP Cannon.
Really, regular weaponry just doesn’t pack enough of a punch.
What all of this adds up to is a lot of time. A little over a month in in-game time, in fact: the first screenshot of this episode is dated September 1st, while the last will be October 13th. Go on, scroll down if you want to verify it.
Of course, a lot can happen in a month. Research, base building, a Council meeting. And aliens, of course. The invaders strike four times over the course of these fourty-three days, in fact: one abduction, two UFOs, and a Council mission.
Now, I could probably have stretched this out into four entire episodes. Five, if I’d been feeling particularly tricky. But as I was playing, I figured I could use these four missions combined to talk about one aspect of XCOM in general that irks me sometime: the wildly fluctuating difficulty.
Let’s start at the top. Four missions I promised you, four missions you shall receive. The first came to me not soon after finishing the Firestorm research project — the same day, in fact — in the form of a ‘Large Scout’-type UFO landing for in China for harvesting purposes.
I sent out a fairly standard squad for this mission: Colonels Krellen and Tovik and Captain DeCamp as the muscle, and Sergeant Putty, Lieutenant Sanderson and Psychic Squaddie Jones as the learners. At this point in the game, I have enough moola to comfortably outfit everyone with at least decent stuff.
Now, in this playthrough, UFO missions have generally been fairly straightforward as far as difficulty was concerned: not easy, per se, but certainly not very hard. This mission seemed to start out as no exception, though it threw me a curve ball by introducing a new type of alien.
While the addition of these new, Heavy-Plasma-toting Muton Elites seemed dangerous, in reality I was more than equipped to handle them. Colonel Tovik was wearing the first operational suit of Ghost Armor, which apparently allows the wearer to go completely invisible ‘until the start of your next turn’. I wonder how troops got briefed on that?
Oddly, using that ghost mode blackens his hair sometimes.
OVerall, this mission’s difficulty level was ‘average’. It had some close calls, like that time Lieutenant Sanderson took a torso full of alien plasma…
…but that was just bad luck and some poor tactics. A lot of the combat in XCOM is decided by that, by positioning and dice rolls, and while I know many people are incredibly put off by that, I find I personally don’t mind very much. Bad stuff happens. The key issue for missions like this is that it never feels like the game is being overtly unbalanced. For every lucky shot the aliens hit, I get a well-positioned rocket or alien grenade to wreck their day.
Overall, a decent mission: tense, neatly balanced, winnable without cheap tricks. The kind of mission I really enjoyed playing. Also, I finally got to see what Major rank looks like for Supports:
The second mission, a Supply Barge-class UFO with the same mission, went pretty much the same as the first…
…with the principal exception that I got Corporal Jones killed. Yes, that’s the second Jones I got killed. It was my own damn fault, though: he was low on health, I stupidly brought him to the front lines, and I forgot that Heavy Floaters have alien grenades and a propensity for using said grenades to target clusters of enemies to the preference of everything else.
He did, however, get to do a very cool thing: killing a Cyberdisc in a single hit by detonating the alien power core it was sitting next to.
I also learned that the Ghost Armor’s invisibility does fun things to a soldier’s crit chance.
Oh, and I ran into a new type of alien: a Sectopod! It’s basically a big walker mech. I was worried for a second when I met it, because of this…
…but then, and I swear this is true, I had Sanderson Flush it out of cover, and it walked out of sight. And stayed out of sight. For several turns. Giving me enough time to clean up the remaining aliens easily. Afterwards, when I ran into what I can only refer to as its sulking spot, I killed it in a single turn. So it might be super dangerous, I don’t know.
Overall, still a good mission. Would’ve preferred Corporal Jones had lived to reap the fruits of his promotions, particularly because he was one of my only three psychics, but it’s war. Casualties happen.
The third mission I received was a Council mssion. A new type of Council mission, in fact: ‘Asset Recovery’, wherein the aliens were trying to… steal encrypted data? Really? Anyway, the rewards were good, and you don’t say no to the Council anyway.
Now, the thing about Council mission is this: they tend to be super easy. Remember that bomb-defusal thing? It had only Thin Men. All Council missions have been like this so far. My confidence was still a little shaky, so I only brought one low-level guy along for this ride…
…but I could’ve brought six, easily. It was just Thin Men again.
The goal of Asset Recovery seems to be to just kill everything that moves, and don’t explode the ‘asset’. It’s basically an early-game abduction mission, except sans the creepy gooped-up humans and inclus a six-man squad clad in space armor and armed with plasma weapons. It was basically the cakest of walks.
As for my reward…
So from those three missions, you might get the impression that I’m well-equipped enough to handle anything. I certainly did. And then a routine Abduction mission appeared over Egypt, and half my squad died.
It’s the cars, man. I’ve made this observation before, but cars are goddamn killing machines in this game. You use them as cover, they act as cover, they catch on fire, and boom. So when I saw that large bridge filled with cars, I really just should have turned tail. Let the aliens have this stupid place.
Broader than just the cars alone, though, the map you’re in influences the difficulty to an incredibly degree. The world’s easiest Terror Mission became that way because it was a large, open map filled with slow melee enemies. UFO maps tend to have wide areas, but relatively little cover; the indoors Council Mission had plenty of cover and flanking options. And this map…
This map is a very narrow corridor filled with bombs for cover. There’s little room to flank aliens, or flee from them, and it’s incredibly easy to accidentally aggro multiple groups at a time. It’s still partially my fault, but in this case it feels less like an honest mistake and more like the game stacking the deck against me something fierce. There’s no good place to hole up in this map: it’s all long ranges and explosive cover, and the aliens’ often superior accuracy just feels cheaty in that regard.
Which is how after three rather successful missions in a row, Captain Sanderson was gunned down without even having the opportunity to return fire…
…Captain Jonely met his end at the fluorescent green plasma storm of an alien grenade…
…and Major DeCamp, one of my only two Supports and last, best hope for healing, was killed by a Muton Elite that literally ran into view out of nowhere, eschewing cover and its own survival for a chance to kill one of mine.
Yes, she was ‘critically injured’. She was also carrying the medkits. And it did look, for a second, like I’d be able to save her by finishing the mission in time… but I didn’t. This mission probably would have been its own story if I had. But alas.
In the spirit of war, though, I did replace her pretty quickly.
Sometimes the chips fall your way. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes, they chips are goddamn exploding cars, and this analogy falls apart pretty rapidly. Point is: sometimes XCOM’s difficulty feels right on, but sometimes it swings either way. Too easy feels like a wasted opportunity; too hard can kill your squad pretty easily and leaves you feeling rotten and cheated. Both extremes are rare, but I’d have preferred them to not occur at all.
And that, personnel-wise, is where we stand right now. As for other Let’s Play news: I launched some satellites, over Canada and five-Panic Egypt, netting me the +30%-money Africa Bonus in the meantime.
I did a whole mess of research, so let me just give you the list:
- EMP Cannon
- Muton Elite Autopsy (Plasma Weapon research credit)
- Archangel Armor
- Alloy Cannon
- Sectopod Autopsy (advanced construction project)
- Plasma Cannon
And last, but not least, I ran into a whole new type of UFO: the super-massive Battleship. It appeared over the United States, though, where I was only packing three missile-armed Interceptors. And, well…
And that brings us to the present, where the Overseer UFO has just been spotted for the fourteenth time. Over Europe. Where DEMON-1, my first Firestorm-class vessel, has just been retrofitted with a high-powered EMP Cannon.
Time to take that sucker down.