In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I set the scene, glossed over the tutorial, and gave a first impression of our new probably-Germany-bound secret base. When we left off, I’d just been called into Mission Control by Steve, who sources tell me is called ‘Bradford’ but who I will stubbornly refer to as Steve, because of… hell if I know. Because of alien-related tomfoolery, I suspect.
This is what Mission Control looks like from the outside:
This still being a halfway-tutorial, Steve helpfully explains what’s going on. Apparently, the aliens have struck at two countries simultaneously, doing whatever it is they do in attacks like these. I think they’re abductions? Regardless, even though I have plenty of material and manpower, we can only respond to one of these attacks. The country I rush to help — assuming, I guess, I manage to halt the alien incursion — rewards me for my help, while panic will increase in the country I ignore. I’m not sure what ‘panic’ means in game-terms, but I’m sure it’ll turn up at some point.
…while the People’s Republic will pay me two-hundred… what are these? Simoleons?
Since I don’t know how and in which quantities both are good, I’m going to have to make a gut call. Let’s see… I love science. Wow, that was easy! To Miami, then.
In the Hangar, my squad is waiting. The game seems to have automatically selected the first four soldiers on my list: Squaddie Elijs Dima and Rookies John Tovik, Val Loween and Ranneko Jones. I don’t think I can select anyone else? Again: probably a tutorial thing. Not that there’s any particular reason to change out anyone but Dima: Rookies are all interchangeable.
I play around with equipment settings a bit, but there’s really not a lot to be changed. Each soldier carries a main weapon, a sidearm, an armor and one additional item. For the Rookies, that’s an Assault Rifle, a Pistol, a Body Armor and a Frag Grenade, with no option to change anything…
…while Heavy-class Dima has traded his Assault Rifle for a Light Machine Gun and his basic Pistol for a Rocket Launcher. Again, no option to trade anything out.
Beyond that, there’s not really a whole lot I can do. So let’s load ’em up! A cutscene plays, the Skyranger lifts off, and I watch a little green icon circle around the globe, to Miami.
Mission objective: neutralize all hostile targets.
This second mission actually has a few more tutorial-elements, introducing such wild elements as ‘opening doors’ (as opposed to ‘smashing through them’), ‘climbing ladders or drain pipes’ and the advantage of height.
Oh, and there’s aliens here. Two of them, with their weird bug-like eyes, just kind of skittering around.
As soon as Squaddie Dima walks within their line of sight, they skitter to cover. Aliens get a free move to cover when first spotted, it seems; I guess it would be a little unfair otherwise, just having them sit in the open.
Tutorial mandate makes me move the rest of the troops into various covers. The little grey aliens, which one of last episode’s screenshots tell me are called ‘Sectoids’, fire at Dima and miss, his air conditioning-based cover taking the brunt of the attack.
A counterattack is, of course, imminent.
Then, after Rookie Jones successfully flanks the second Sectoid, the tutorial reins are off.
Clearly, there’s more aliens on this map, or the mission would’ve been completed by now. The next few turns are a rather uninteresting slow advance: still wary of everything, I hardly ever dash, instead moving each soldier a regular amount and then initiating Overwatch. I’m not going to lose anyone on my first real mission, let me tell you this.
Two more Sectoids are spotted just outside a little shed to the… let’s assume Up-equals-North and call it Northwest. Upon discovery, they immediately skitter into the little shed.
“Hey”, the game chimes, “I know I said I’d let you take care of things, but this would be an excellent time for Squaddie Dima to field-test that rocket launcher of his!”. I happen to agree, but run into a problem: the rocket launcher, like the grenades earlier, has a limited range. And when I move Dima up into range, I learn the hard way that firing a rocket is a full-round action.
Dima, Loween and Tovik take shelter behind a cargo container, while Jones takes point behind a few stacked wooden crates, high enough to still provide full cover. The Sectoids helpfully illustrate why there is more involved to picking cover that just that little shield by firing at Jones: the first shot of plasma fire splinters the wooden crates in much the way you’d expect globs of superheated plasma would. The second shot, now fired at a fully-exposed Jones, hits. Four damage.
Alright, Sectoids, lesson learned. Dima’s still not in rocket range, so I tell Jones to high-tail it out of the combat area. This turn, everyone Hunkers Down in a corner, and the aliens’ plasma globs sail wide.
It’s rocket time, now. The game helpfully suggests that I move Dima up to the highlighted squares to take a shot, but since we’re no longer in tutori-land, the game can go suck it: moving Dima would delay the rocket by another turn, which implies another round of Sectoid aggression, and I am not losing a squad member in the first mission. Besides, a little creative aiming allows me to hit the shed anyway.
And with that, victory.
The squad, victorious, returns home in the Skyranger. Ranneko Jones, who killed one Sectoid, has earned a promotion: to Support! It grants him access to a once-per-mission Smoke Grenade.
Because now-Squaddie Jones is also the only one to get hit, he’s sent for a stay in the medbay’s new plasma burns unit.
Finally, I’m shown what we managed to bring back from that mission…
…and shown the results.
Both Steve and Scary #47 Council Man congratulate me on my victory, with Steve additionally trying to support me in my resource-mandated failure to help China too. He invites me to the Situation Room, where I am shown this:
This is an overview of the Panic state of every Council member nation. As you can see, most are low: only China is at 3, having recently been attacked, and the rest of Asia is at 2, because China is a part of Asia. Panic spreads, after all. Panic is Bad, obviously: if a nation reaches peak Panic (5) there’s a chance they’ll withdraw their support from the Council, instead electing to focus their defense inwards. Should this happen too often, the XCOM Project will be dissolved. And that would be Bad.
Playing around with the system some more, I can tell there’s an additional mechanic in play here with regards to the satellites: it seems as though having more satellites in orbit will get me more monthly funding, as well as more Scientists and Engineers. I have no idea why I’d want this, beyond the basic ‘more money is good’, or how I’d get to obtaining more of these satellites, but I hope to learn more about this in the next episode.