In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I completed my first mission — without losing anyone — and was fully introduced to the mechanic of Panic and halfway-introduced to the notion of satellites. Like, one of these introductions where you can’t really hear the other person’s name over the noise, so you just nod and hope that it doesn’t come up ever again? Like that. I don’t know what satellites do, yet, nor why I would care, so I’m just going to ignore the whole idea until XCOM decides to tell me.
Or until I lose from ignoring satellites completely. But really, would that happen?
Steve calls me into Mission Control. Dr. Vahlen’s research team, he tells me, has started investigating the Alien Materials I told them to look at… but ‘the process could take a few days’. In the meantime, though, our satellite network (!) has come online, and I can use it to start scanning for alien threats!
Hey, remember that swanky globe?
As you can see on the globe, I have one satellite in orbit over Germany, conveniently outlined in green. I can also see a few of those green X-thingies, which I’m going to assume are XCOM base locations. Which puts my European base in… Poland? Poland or Belarus. Man, that’s crafty: the aliens will never think to look there!
I press the ‘Scan for Activity’ button, and time speeds up. The light on the globe rapidly shifts as the clock counts down at a rapid rate, dropping those seconds like a dubstep bass in our quest for alien contact. Surely, it won’t take long before we detect any alien shenanigans this way.
Five days pass this way.
Well, aliens, if you’re gonna be like that, I guess I better pay attention to this research what just completed.
Dr. Vahlen, already tired of these exotic extraterrestrial materials, asks for permission to cut up the Sectoid corpses I brought back in an attempt to learn more about the invaders’ physiology. I recoil from this idea a little, but the tutorial, crafty bastard that it is, has subverted or disabled the other two research options. So either I order alien autopsies or my brand new scientists get to sit around doing nothing.
Well played, dr. Vahlen.
As the base shudders for a bit, dr. Vahlen makes a crack about how dr. Shen’s team ‘finally managed to turn their machines on’, and I’m directed to another part of the base: the Engineering Bay. Here, it transpires, I can craft weapons, armor and items for my soldiers: ‘anything they dream up in Research, we can build’.
Our investigation into the alien materials has resulted in the plans for a Nano-fiber Vest, which gives vague advantages of no real description. I order five, because why not? In the Barracks, I equip some to Squaddie Dima and Rookie Tovik, and find they increase HP by 2. They go in the Other Items slot, though, not the Armor slot, like I’d have thought. Because of this reason, I decide against equipping Rookies Loween and Jones with them: grenades, after all, are also awesome.
I’m called to Mission Control again. It turns out the Council of Nations has a direct mission for me: one woman has managed to escape alien captivity, and needs to be rescued post-haste! This is, actually, a second type of mission: unlike Abduction missions, where I get a choice of rewards and guaranteed Panic feedback in some countries, these Council missions are fairly simple do-or-die deals. If I choose to accept this mission and successfully extract this woman, I’ll receive 230 credits, five Scientists, and some Panic reduction. If I refuse…
…this is still partially a tutorial, so it looks like refusal is not an option.
I see no reason not to take the same squad I took last time. With one exception: as Squaddie Jones is still recovering in the medbay, I bring Rookie Smash instead.
And we’re off!
Touched down in a section of Tokyo that’s apparently home to a large square and a beautiful fountain, my objective is to rescue one ‘Anna Sing’. I immediately wonder if that name is random-generated or if this is an actual character of importance in the storyline. Guess there’s only one way to find out, huh?
Here’s the thing about level maps in this new XCOM: they’re very simple. Sure, there can be a lot going on at times; I mean, look at this fountain park:
But there is, at any time, only really one way to go. There’s no wide-ranging exploration, or at least, I haven’t seen any of it yet. In this case, I can go northeast, or I can bump into level borders. It’s… let’s call it a stylistic choice and leave it at that.
One turn in brings me in contact with some weird humanoid alien: it looks like an elongated man in a black suit, wearing sunglasses. Dr. Vahlen recommends ‘capturing it for further analysis’, but unless bullets somehow only stun these aliens — a cursory info-screen examination reveals them to be Thin Men, how fitting — I don’t see that happening.
The alien moves into cover, shoots, missed. I decide to attempt cleverness, and have Rookie Tovik flank the alien, who’s now in cover behind the fountain. Doing so, however, brings Tovik within line of sight of two Sectoids.
Well, Tovik still has one action left: I can either move him back whence he came, like a sissy, or I can try to kill the Thin Man now and have someone else deal with the Sectoids.
Guess which option I select?
The Thin Man falls, and I have Smash, Dima and Loween move up into cover. None of them can even attempt to kill the distant Sectoid yet, so… good luck, John?
Rookie (/will-be-promoted-after-this-mission-the-game-just-told-me) Tovik is grazed for three damage. I have him take cover inside a bus. Smash moves up; he seems to be able to attack the Sectoid, so I call up the firing overlay to check the odds. 25%, the game tells me. That’s not really worth it: a move to full cover or an Overwatch is probably a better idea.
In trying to cancel the Fire command, I accidentally press the same hotkey — 1, here — again, which confirms the outstanding command. Rookie Smash then proceeds to flip statistics the bird something fierce and kills the Sectoid from nearly twenty meters away.
The immediate threat cleared, I have Dima and Loween move up past the fountain. Dima has no problems, but Loween passes a cloud of green and blue particle effects — wait, where did that come from? — and finds herself Poisoned.
Poison deals one damage at the start of each of my turns. For how long? I don’t know; ‘a few turns’ could mean anything. What I do know is that while I was pondering this, a sneaky Sectoid has crept up to Loween and is now standing pretty close, in semi-heavy cover. I could have Loween take the shot, but there’s only a 31% chance to hit… and if she misses, the Sectoid could flank her, and between that and the poison things could get ugly. Maybe it’d be better to have her fall back to heavy cover instead?
Or, I could have her throw her grenade at the alien, which deals enough damage to kill it and never ever misses. The Sectoid, mindful of its part in the grand scheme of things, dutifully explodes.
In the Alien turn following mine, so does a nearby car.
Not soon after, I find the escaped woman. With, damnit, a Sectoid menacing her. Luckily, Smash is nearby: with the alien out of cover and a 65% hit chance, this fight is as good as over already.
Luckily, another Tovik flanking maneuver saves the day. Dima runs up to the beleaguered woman, and the second part of this mission unfolds: return the woman to the Skyranger. For this, I now have full control over her movements, as if she were a member of my squad: her only action besides Moving and Dashing, though, is ‘Head Down’. Probably a good idea, given the circumstances.
Initially, ‘getting back to the Skyranger’ looks to be trivial. Steve quickly warns me that additional aliens seem to be showing up, however, which is punctuated by them literally falling out of the sky.
The first Thin Man goes down rather easily, trading fire with Smash — who misses a >60% shot and hits a <50% one -- once before dying. On death, I see it explode into a cloud of green-blue poison: so that’s where that goop came from!
The second one is a little trickier, however, because it takes up Overwatch right near the Skyranger exit. I suppose I could’ve tried to wait him out, as the first one only Overwatched for one turn, but that could put the civilian in danger. Instead, I stupidly rush Tovik forward to a position I think is still safe. It is not: another three damage for John’s tally leaves him with two hitpoints.
Hey, remember how I equipped Rookie Tovik with that Nano-fiber Vest, which gives two additional hitpoints?
Hey, remember how Rookie Tovik currently has two hitpoints left?
Somewhere on the planet, a lone TV just sprang to life. The movie ‘Final Destination’ is playing on it, on infinite repeat.
Return fire from Tovik ends the second Thin Man, though, and after that the way to the Skyranger is clear. Anna Sing is saved, we’ve got some new alien artifacts and corpses to cut in, and nobody’s dead, just about. All in all, a fine day’s work.
Promotions for all! Dima — now Corporal — gets a choice between the Bullet Swarm ability, which allows him to act normally if his first action is attacking, or the passive Holo-targeting, which gives allies to-Hit bonuses on any target Dima hits that doesn’t actually immediately die. Hah, when has that ever happened? Bullet Swarm it is.
Tovik’s accuracy turns him into a Sniper: his Headshot skill gives him extra crit chance and damage (on a cooldown), and he trades his Assault Rifle for a Sniper one. Smash’s ridiculous non-accuracy relegates him to Support, which we’ve already seen. Finally, Loween’s burn-the-world attitude makes her a perfect Assault: her Run and Gun skill allows shooting or Overwatching after a Dash move (also on cooldown), which is accompanied by a dashing Shotgun. That’s four classes, already. I wonder if there are any more?
(Future Jarenth’s note: No, there aren’t. These four are it.)
Finally, Loween and Tovik are sent to the medbay, for lingering poison and plasma burns respectively. They can keep Ranneko Jones company.
And with that, the mission is over. The Council is pleased with XCOM, I’m pleased with my soldiers’ progress, and the aliens… well, the aliens are dead, so who cares what they think?