In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I traded the life of my oldest and most powerful psychic for the corpse of an alien Ethereal and the strange psionic device it was guarding. Doing so spurred an almost excessive reaction from the aliens, however: the ship that materialized over the coast of Brazil is large enough to put most countries to shame. And now, as the world is literally quaking in fear, my departments of Science and Engineering both are rushing to find an answer to the question that could well determine the fate of our entire planet:
How do you defeat something that could stomp a mountain into submission?
First things first: the Ethereal Device. As I’ve mentioned last time, it was important enough to be guarded by the most elite squad the invaders had to offer, and clearly vital to their war effort in such a way that it had to be on the front lines. It could very well be the lynchpin of their entire operative strategy.
We have no idea what it does.
Before we get to that, though, I decide to autopsy the alien creature that was tasked with guarding it: the Ethereal. Although their corpses are not that imposing — the four arms are intriguing, but the creatures are emaciated and nearly fully atrophied — I remember all too well how powerful their grasp of psionic power was. Plus, autopsying this guy is only going to take about two days; I’m pretty sure the world won’t have ended yet by then.
Surely the aliens will just let me cut open their leaders in peace?
Yeah, I’m not surprised. It was high time again for one of these, really.
As always with Terror Missions, I bring the best of the best. I’m actually a tad worried: if the first Terror Mission was really easy, and the second was awful, and the third was really easy… what if the aliens have some new monstrosity in reserve, only to be used at the very tail end of the invasion? I wouldn’t put it past them. Luckily, I’ve got some new tricks up my sleeve as well:
And let’s not forget the Alloy Cannon, one of the many items I researched during the Long Month of Waiting. I’d been skipping it, initially, because the description made it sound like yet another ship-to-ship weapon. And while that could have been interesting, I was putting all my eggs into the EMP basket at that time. But as it turns out?
Putting our final Terror Four Squad at this:
Time for gruff, manly shooting action! Bare those teeth!
Now, I’m all set for intense civilian-saving action, but then something unexpected happens.
Terror mission 1 was new. Terror mission 2 was scary. Terror mission 3 was hilarious.
Terror mission 4 is just boring.
I don’t mean to say that this mission is as ridiculously easy as the previous one. No, not by a long shot: there’s Chryssalids and Zombies and Cyberdiscs, oh my! But neither is it in any way tense. There’s no new aliens, no new tricks, no particularly interesting environmental obstacles… it just is.
Part of that is probably due to my newly tricked-out arsenal. For instance, how are Chryssalids like white men?
The Archangel Armor, for that’s what this jetpack suit is officially called, allows the wearer some limited flight time. Six turns of in-flight movement, to be precise. But hovering stationary doesn’t actually cost any fuel. And melee creatures can’t hit you while you’re airborne. Do you see where I’m going with this?
If your guess is ‘Major Viel clears this entire roof on his own, because neither the Chryssalids or the zombies they create can so much as lay a finger on him’, congratulations! You win our Correct Answer Prize, which isn’t actually much of a prize at all.
The new Alloy Cannon isn’t half-bad either:
And to top it all off, most of the mission takes place inside a library or sorts, with plenty of bookshelves and counters and walls for me to hide in, on and behind.
Sure, things get a little hairy every now and again…
…but overall the mission is much less that and much more this:
It takes effort to score a clean victory, but victory itself is never in doubt.
Which leaves me with only half an episode written. Erm…
Alright, let’s just continue on like nothing’s happened! Cutting open the Ethereal rewards me with a Mind Shield augment, which should help prevent more mind control mishaps in the future… provided I ever have anyone carry it into battle. Next up, studying the Ethereal Device!
The Ethereal Device is actually rather complex, so I’ll just let dr. Vahlen do the explanations:
In short: the alien communicate in something of a psionic hive mind, with the Ethereals at the top of the mind chain. This device, dubbed the Psi-Link, should allow a sufficiently powerful psionic operative to tap into that hive mind. What the benefits of this operation would be, we don’t know yet… but it’s really the only avenue we haven’t tried yet. However, there’s two hurdles. First, to ensure the safety of every non-incredibly-psionic member of XCOM HQ — which is to say, pretty much everyone — a special chamber needs to be constructed to house the Psi-Link. Two of our ‘brightest young minds’, a team of brothers, have already devised such a facility: I’ll need to construct this ‘Gollop Chamber’ in order to proceed.
And two, there’s the issue of psionic strength. Colonel Krellen, currently my only living psionic operative, is as powerful as human psychics are apt to get… but it’s not enough yet. Luckily, R&D has an idea that might help in this scenario:
Oh, and let’s not forget that I captured a living Muton Elite yesterday!
Interrogating the creature teaches us much about alien weapon technology. And by that I mean I gain a ‘Weapons Technology Research Credit’, which will help me research all these diverse and interesting weapon projects I have open.
Now, while all this construction is going on, another UFO appears over Canada. I take it down, of course, because I’m cool, and send a team in, because I’m cool. Now, that doesn’t sound all that interesting compared to this whole end-game plot, but look at the crew listing for this Abductor vessel:
See, I haven’t captured a living Ethereal yet. And I really, really want to.
I send out the same squad as before, the only difference being Colonel Viel and Captain Putty…
…then fly them back before the mission starts, actually equip Krellen and Putty with Arc Throwers, and fly out again.
The alien craft is your basic Abductor: large, rectangular ship, big open loading bay, fire and broken trees everywhere, the works. There’s only little cover in the loading bay, so I spend way more time trading fire with the Muton Elites hanging out there than I’m comfortable with. And to be fair, my rocketing the little cover there was into dust and cinders didn’t help much either.
Luckily, by now, I’m used to dealing with my own dumb mistakes. And rockets can both harm and heal, after all.
One running gun-battle later…
…and one exploration of the alien craft later…
…I find myself at the ship’s helm. As expected, that’s where the Ethereal is; as somewhat unexpected, it’s guarded by two Muton Elites.
Of course, it takes me like half a turn to take these suckers out.
I aim to be highly careful around the Ethereal, as my intent is to capture it. I bring it down a little bit, but most of my turn is spent on the Muton Elites. And on its turn, the Ethereal does the expected thing and mind-controls Wever.
This causes Putty to panic.
But that’s okay, right? I gave Krellen and Putty Arc Throwers specifically to avoid situations like this, right?
Well, yes, I did. But I’ve also had Krellen capture a Muton Elite and a Heavy Floater earlier. Why? I don’t know why. I might be addicted to capturing aliens. I don’t even need their weapons!
So now I find myself in an interesting situation: the lone Ethereal has mind-controlled one member of my squad. The lone soldier carrying a functioning Arc Thrower is panicking, and the lone psionic soldier I brought doesn’t have the Psi Inspiration power. I can either kill the Ethereal and forego my change of capturing it until the next UFO, or I can wait for Putty to finish panicking and risk the Ethereal and Wever killing someone. It’s a hard decision, because almost every soldier’s suffered some serious damage in this fight: a combined Ethereal-Wever attack could conceivably kill anyone who’s not at full health.
See, the alien AI is kind of dumb. Could be because I’m playing on Normal now, I don’t know. Or well, not dumb, per se: it has patterns. And one of the more easily exploitable patterns this AI is shackled to is this simple rule: target out-of-cover enemies in preference over in-cover enemies.
I bring the Ethereal down to near-capture health, heal Putty back up, and put everyone in cover. Everyone, except the already-at-full-health Wulf. Her I put almost next to Wever, completely out of cover.
The plan works perfectly: Wever gets a free shot at Wulf, but his Light Plasma Rifle isn’t even near a match for her Titan-Armored, Chitin-Plated health. I’m slightly apprehensive about the Ethereal, but all it does is drain a few hit points from Wever.
And with that, it trades essential liberty for temporary security: I bring it down to capturable health again, and have a newly-restored Putty move in for the capture.
I can’t wait to learn all of this creature’s secrets.