In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I had a much more successful second encounter with the hulking green aliens known as Mutons. I killed two, kidnapped a third, and only let one additional country slide into full-blown panic. I still don’t really have any idea what to do about that, and I did lose another soldier to the alien menance, but the overall situation is looking much less grim than it was a few days ago.
Alright: at this point, I have something of a confession to make. I… broke my own Let’s Play rules. It was largely unintentional, and the end result of it is that this Let’s Play will probably be a lot more interesting than what it was slowly turning into — an ignominious slide into failure and regret — but rules were broken regardless. If this upsets you, I am sorry.
See, in between the previous episode and this one, I had a little chat with Josh ‘Reginald ‘Obvious Reasons’ Cuftbert’ Viel of Spoiler Warning notoriety. I told him about my situation, about the three countries at max panic and my lack of ways to deal with this, and he had the following thing to say about this:
And from there, well, the whole thing kinda spiraled out of control. I couldn’t very well ignore a warning of that magnitude in good conscience, could I? So we spoke further, on the how and why of me being fucked and possibilities to salvage the situation.
You may remember from the worst mission to date that I was surprised at Russia and France’s full five Panic not dropping them out of the Council immediately. Turns out they intentionally don’t leave immediately: they leave (or have a very high chance to leave) during the next Council meeting. You know, the one where I get a status report at the end of every mission. The one that’s currently half a month away. The meeting where, had I simply let time tick down to completion, I would likely have lost three of the Council’s constituent members, denying me access to funding and bonuses forever.
At this point, odd as it may sound, I was really hoping for a Europe-based Terror Mission to bring down continental Panic. But, and most of you probably already know this, there’s a much more reliable and less murder-based way to bring Panic down: satellites.
Now, I’m almost sure the game never explicitly told me ‘putting satellites in orbit over member states reduces Panic in there by two points’. Maybe I was supposed to figure that out myself, from that first free satellite you get… but I put that up over the United States, which only had one Panic at the time to begin with. Maybe Steve has said something along these lines, and I just missed it. It’s possible.
Building and launching a couple of satellites would allow me to bring panic down to much more manageable levels, and simultaneously increase my funding. There’s just three problems with ‘building and launching a couple of satellites’: a) I don’t have the money to build any satellites, b) I don’t have the Uplink capacity required to launch more satellites and no money to construct any, and c) building satellites takes twenty days, whereas the next Council meeting takes place sixteen days hence.
So yeah. ‘Fucked’, indeed.
But aren’t there any other ways to bring Panic down? We spoke on this a bit, but with satellites out of the question and new Terror missions unlikely, it seemed that I was pretty much out of luck.
And then Josh said, paraphrased, “The only way you could get out of this is if you haven’t assaulted the Alien Base yet.”
In one of those moves that are really potentially lethal for blind-run-Let’s Plays, assaulting the Alien Base — and winning — reduces Panic by two. As in, world-wide. Pulling this off before the next Council meeting would be a comeback of Truman-ian proportions, snatching victory (or at least, respite) from the jaws of defeat even as news of said defeat has already traveled the globe. It would be incredibly daring, a twist worth an extended write-up, and I still can’t craft that Skeleton Key, can I?
And this is the point where, through the magic of Internet assistance, reality finally caught up with me and smacked my own stupidity square in the jaw.
Do me a favour, will you? Go back to the fourth episode, the one where Rookie Clark bites it. Read the very last paragraph, the one under the Memorial Wall screenshot. Alternatively, let me just quote what I said there:
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.
I need you to understand I was not just being facetious there. I literally clicked through the Workshop prompt immediately, half-planning on checking it out later and then never getting around to it. I don’t know what a Workshop does. I’d just assumed that it was the Engineering equivalent of the Laboratory: reducing build times, lowering prices, that sort of stuff.
I’ll be honest: more even than my satellite oversights, this is really my lowest moment. I could’ve been rolling in laser weapons and advanced armors all this time, if I’d just paid attention at a critical juncture. But I didn’t, and because of that, here we are: teetering on the brink of embarrassing, personal failure.
Because I spent almost all of my money last episode, actually building a Workshop proves a little trickier. I have to sell one UFO Power Core and one yet-unresearched UFO Flight Computer, the latter of which ticks off dr. Vahlen something fierce. But it has to be done. I’m just glad the Thermo Generator keeping the base warm provides more than enough power.
In concert with The Josh Of Wisdom, a plan takes shape. I have sixteen days. Constructing the workshop will take ten days. I have enough resources to construct the Skeleton Key after that. I receive a warning that I better bring my very best team to the Alien Base, but they’re all currently in the medbay; literally each member of my current Alpha Squad is recuperating. And the longest any of them will have to remain in custody is… fifteen days.
I’ll build the Workshop, craft the Skeleton Key, and wait for my greatest soldiers to get back to full strength. If I do this right, I will have less than one full day between Smash and Jones returning to active duty and the Council meeting where France, Russia and Mexico will announce their intent to leave. I’ll fly up to the Atlantean base, kill everything that moves and grab everything that doesn’t, and arrive at the meeting in style.
It’s an incredibly bold, risky plan, and I absolutely love it.
Now, as much as I’m trying to sell you all on the tension here, the reality is that not a whole lot can go wrong in this plan. The times work out, I have the money and the resources. I could mess up and overshoot the correct day, maybe? But I won’t. Unless I somehow manage to lose completely in the next sixteen days, this assault will happen. Whether or not it will happen successfully is a different matter altogether, but hey.
Really, the only thing that I’m worried about is the aliens. With my Alpha Squad basically benched for this incredibly important assault, any alien activity I run into during the next two-and-a-half weeks is going to have to be dealt with by rookies.
Alright, that’s not really fair. Let me do this properly:
During the sixteen-day wait of doom, two alien events pop up. The first is a small UFO, the second is that Council mission up there. For the small UFO, mindful of the fact that there might be Mutons there, I send a squad that’s as strong as I can make it. Corporal Devlin, Squaddies Vecre and Sanderson, and Rookies Harry Tuffs, Brandon Jonely and Pink Putty are sent out to what I fear might be their untimely deaths.
For the Council mission, which pops up three days later, I send out this squad:
The keen-eyed among you may have already spotted that this squad is the exact same lineup. And keep in mind that this Council mission popped up three days after the UFO assault. So, what, did I upgrade my med bay or something? Did I just hire new soldiers and rename them, unable to let go?
No, the reality of it is much better: I sent out three Rookies, two Squaddies and a Corporal out to a Floater-and-Muton-infested UFO, and none of them got injured.
Those among you both keen-eyed and game-savvy have probably already spotted what caused this remarkable effectiveness. Look at that squad shot again.
And compare and contrast to the squad I sent out last time:
Perhaps the most obvious change is the fact that almost every member of this new squad is carrying futuristic alien weaponry. Light Plasma Rifles, to be exact. And that’s because of this guy:
Remember how I was researching Light Plasma Rifles earlier, to try and circumvent the Engineer block on Lasers? I dropped that in favour of interrogating the Muton I brought back alive, hoping that it would give me a useful research credit.
It did. It gave me a Plasma Weapons research credit, which cuts all plasma-related research time in half.
No, wait, it gets better. The credit doesn’t just cut remaining research time in half: it cuts total research time. Originally, studying the Light Plasma Rifle took fifteen days. I was eight days in at the start of this episode. Can you guess how many days were left after I interrogated the Muton?
I don’t really have an applicable screenshot here, but it’s zero. The answer is zero. I interrogated the Muton, and then BAM. We understood all there was to know about Light Plasma Rifles. They count as Assault Rifles, which means I can hand them to Rookies and Supports; even the Assaults are carrying them, because apparently Assaults can freely choose between Shotguns and Rifles. And Shotguns *are* pretty neat, but you know. Alien weapons.
The second change is maybe less obvious, but no less visible: every member of this squad is decked out in Carapace Armor. What this armor does, next to making everyone look super buff, is provide a bonus of no less than four health. A big improvement over Body Armor’s one. Plus, that health acts as a med bay buffer: if a soldier receives damage equal to or less than the bonus health their armor provides, they’re not actually injured. Because of that, I was able to survive a Small UFO assault with zero injuries.
This Council mission here, in scenic Cologne, Germany — again, super close to XCOM HQ — involves rescuing someone. Of course. UN General Peter Van Doorn and his entourage got stuck on a burning car bridge, and need urgent rescuing.
Like the previous mission, this mission isn’t really all that interesting. The environments were nicer, though, so you get some screenshots of that. Like Vecre, decked out in alien tech and weapons, about to ruin some Thin Man’s day.
Another Thin Man. Man, it must suck for them that we’re on equal footing now.
Gears of War: XCOM edition.
Smoke grenade in flight.
This mission did go a little more sideways, because of all the Thin Men and their poisonous poison. Only Thin Men, though. I did try to capture one of them alive, but they kept dying due to Overwatch, explosions and pistol crits. And I did take some unnecessary risks because of it:
Which lead to this interesting moment where Squaddie Putty freaked out and decided to try and murder Squaddie Sanderson. He came damn close, too.
Jonely almost died due to poison. But I was actually on the ball this time.
And there’s nothing quite like the NPC you’re trying to escort losing his shit in the middle of a poison cloud.
I won that one too, though. And that brings us back to the present, where promotions are once more handed out like candy.
Tuffs and Jonely become a Sniper and a Heavy, respectively. Sanderson and Putty both make Corporal Assault: I both give them Aggression, because it fits. Sergeant ‘Sentinel’ Vecre unlocks her triple medkit, and Sergeant ‘Zed’ Devlin gets Snap Shot (from the previous mission) and Damn Good Ground.
(Future Jarenth’s note: yes, Snap Shot. I’m stubborn sometimes.)
For this mission, I gain §118, Panic Reduction in Germany, and a new Sniper Lieutenant. In honour of the ghostly presence that came up with the plan I’m currently on, say hello to Jacob ‘Hex’ Viel.
Beyond that, nothing much happens. I unlock the option to build a S.H.I.V. and an Alloy S.H.I.V., but I’ll look into that later. I research one of the alien flight computers, and learn I can build stealthy satellites and a Satellite Nexus from it. I study the Plasma Pistol, allowing me to use the two pistols we currently have in stock.
And finally, I build the Skeleton Key, gear up Alpha Squad, and turn my eye to the future.
Oh, and finally: I know that nothing loses relevance quicker than a meme, but I just couldn’t trying my hand at these two: