Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 18: Rocks Fall

(Future Jarenth’s Note: Yeah, this episode title isn’t ominous at all.)

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I successfully completed my second Terror Mission. Well, ‘successfully’… let’s just say I finally found out just why Terror Missions have such a bad reputation. Twenty-four aliens, a full twenty of which were Chryssalids. I only brought three civilians back, and an equal amount of soldiers. Grag Smash, Ranneko Jones and Desgardes Malfeasant have… left the XCOM project, permanently. For pastures greener.

Now, as bad as this situation is — and it is really bad — the XCOM project is still relatively stable. ‘Winning’ the Terror Mission has reduced Panic in Mexico, and prevented it from rising anywhere else. I brought home twenty Chryssalid corpses, two Drone wrecks, and the mangled remains of two of the new Cyberdiscs. And while two-thirds of my high-ranking Support Squad and fully one-half of my Heavy Roster was killed, I still have Vecre and DeHaan to fill these vital roles. We’ve been hurt, but we’re okay, and we can bounce back from this. And hopefully, another Terror Mission like this should be pretty far off.

Where were we?

‘Disc-Bane’ Viel, helpfully reminding me to take screenshots straight from the medbay.

Alright. Let’s make some quick changes here: instead of researching the slow Titan armor, I quickly shift focus to ‘autopsying’ the robot wrecks the team brought home. That means the Drone first…

More science oddness: claiming these Drones are ‘unarmed’ when they are so clearly not.

…and the Cyberdisc second.

Or this odd passive-aggressive admonishment for *shooting at Cyberdiscs*. I’m pretty sure I can’t even capture these things.

Then, back to the Titan Armor!

It’s at this point I notice the next Council Meeting is only a few days off. The perceptive among you may have picked up on the fact that I’ve been building a Satellite Uplink and a few satellites; both are completed now. I was saving them for any possible satellite-requests, like the earlier two I failed at, but that hasn’t materialized. Therefore, I decide to launch the satellites now, in order to get some extra cash from the next meeting. And since I don’t know how long it takes before satellites become operational, I launch them a full four days in advance.

Argentina, Brazil, China and Russia each have four panic. I pick Russia and China, because they give me the most money. Sorry, South America: try to stay calm for a bit, okay!

Besides, it’s not like Asia’s any better off than you!

Argentina takes this opportunity to request some Alien Alloys from me, in exchange for Hard Cash. I only have a small stockpile of the stuff, but I need money and I hope acceding to their demand will reduce their Panic somewhat. That doesn’t happen, sadly, but it’s still §115 I gain in the process.

And Argentina gains some temporary fake security!

Now, there’s another thing I need to pay urgent attention to: our soldier totals. Steve actually bugged me about this as soon as the previous mission completed: we only have twelve soldiers on-call at the moment, which means that my roster is functionally two bad missions away from empty. But while I want to recruit some new soldiers, I really don’t want to have to train them all the way back up from Rookie: that takes a lot of time and careful maneuvering, for uncertain rewards.

Enter the Officer School.

Specifically, this option.

I don’t actually have enough money right now to purchase this upgrade, but that’s nothing a quick trip to the Gray Market can’t fix. I flog a large number of alien corpses and junk, buy the upgrade, and hire six new soldiers. I use the last of the money to build an Elerium Generator, using some of the Alien Power Cores to power the base — it’s almost running out, hence — and buy some more satellites, for the future.

After a few days, the six new Squaddie-rank soldiers arrive. Four of them are Heavies.

I mean, I guess I need some new Heavies. But this is a *little* overkill.

Oh, and the first round of Psionic Testing has completed. Sadly, none of my three initial candidates have proven psi-powered…

Disappointing, but not unexpected.

…so I simply kick in another three soldiers. Better luck next time?

Make us proud, Second Batch!

Suddenly, abductions happen! I’ll cut to the chase here and tell you I go for the Very Difficult Brazil, which offers me four Engineers; the alternatives, Nigeria and Japan, are both relatively low-panic.

And what better way and time to get these new Rookies — sorry, Squaddies — some combat experience?

Loween, DeHaan, Vecre: you’re on babysitting.

The Skyranger touches down over, sure enough, another graveyard. Why are there so many graveyards in the middle of cities?

Wait, no, nevermind. The whole alien invasion thing. I just got that.

We land at the southwest entrance of the graveyard, this time. There’s flower pots that provide heavy cover, but the graves themselves and the various benches are only light cover. This could be a tricky situation, especially since I brought half a squad of rookies here. But I’m not particularly scared. Previous low-rank engagements with the aliens, using the technology we have now, have shown a clear skew of the odds in our favour. So unless the aliens have massively upgraded their arsenal again, I see no reason why we should be afraid of anything.

See? Mutons. Been there, done that.

YAWNSVILLE.

Nothing to worry about here: I’ll just slowly creep forward, staggering over cover, and everything should turn out just alr-

A Cyberdisc lazily wobbles into view.

Fuck.

WHAT THE HELL. WHAT. THE HELL. I thought these things were Terror units! The aliens can just deploy them anywhere now? How is that even remotely fair?

Okay, okay, calm down. The first set of Mutons ran out of map sight, so right now it’s just the Disc and its Drone. It’s out in the open, we have cover, we can ta-

As the Cyberdisc wobbles towards me, another group of aliens inside the large monument is triggered somehow. It’s three Mutons… no, two Mutons and something else.

Is that… is that Red Hulk?

Okay… so that’s one Cyberdisc, one Drone, two Mutons, and what looks like a red-clad Muton with claws and Christ, twenty hitpoints. That’s just standing in the open, for some reason. I quickly consolidate everyone who was out of cover into it, then see what happens.

First, this happens:

Some sort of species-wide Muton buff.

Then, this:

I’m starting to hate these alien grenades.

The new Muton — a Berserker — runs up to Vecre and Hulk-swings its massive fists at her. Eight damage. It’s not enough to kill her, but then one of the close-by regular Mutons decides to take a potshot, and..

Be honest. How else did you think this standoff was going to end?

Damn it. This engagement is turning sour rapidly. I nearly panic, but manage to hold onto my nerves by a thread.

DeHaan is less lucky.

Though in fairness, DeHaan’s panicked shot at the Cyberdisc deals like fourteen damage to it.

As is new squad addition Mumbles.

Her panic is less ‘badass shootout’ and more ‘hiding behind the nearest tombstone’.

Okay. So Vecre is dead, and DeHaan and Mumbles are out of commission for now. Think. How do I salvage this situation?

First things first: DeHaan’s wild panic-shot has seriously damaged the Cyberdisc. I have new Squaddie Tuffs take it out with a well-aimed laser blast.

No, I don’t know why he’s holding his gun in that weird way. Who cares? It works.

Next, I have Loween — today’s Plasma Rifle wielder — fire at the Berserker, clearly the greatest and most direct threat. She hits it for seven damage…

…and that causes it to run directly at her. I, erm… this could either be a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s likely the latter.

Squaddie Llama falls back, fires at the Berserker, and misses. And that was my turn! I dread to see what the aliens do.

What the aliens do, part one, is murder Squaddie Tuffs in the same fist-plasma combo that got Vecre.

The binoculars did nothing.

Actually, that’s all they do. Okay, that could be worse.

Squaddie Llama fires at the Berserker again, hitting it for four. This causes it to run up to him (called that) and Intimidate him (huh?) which causes him to panic (oh) and shoot the Berserker again, for five (nice!).

Loween attemtps to take it out and fails. Mumbles attempts to take it out and succeeds.

That’s what you get for punching.

Okay. Cyberdisc down; Berserker down. There’s just five more Mutons to deal with, and three of them are very much clumped up.

Oh DeHaan…

Maybe, just maybe…

The contours of a second Cyberdisc become visible in the distance.

Okay, we’ll deal with that when it flies in. For now, it’s time for Loween to do what Loween does best.

One Muton, one Drone, and four park benches. Boom.

Mumbles falls back, Llama is still panicking, and suddenly DeHaan is the only one left on the front line. Wait, why did I leave him sitting there? Behind light cover. With only eight hit points.

Eight hit points would be enough to survive a regular Muton attack, but this is DeHaan we’re talking about. Of course he gets hit by a critical hit. And as much as I’d like to be flippant about this, I left DeHaan alone in poor cover and he paid the ultimate price for it.

God *damnit*.

And now we’re three. Loween, babysitting Llama and Mumbles. Bunked up behind the only three pieces of heavy cover left on the map. I Overwatch them, and wait for the aliens to come.

A Drone shows up. Loween skeet-shoots it.

The Cyberdisc shows up. It dodges all Overwatch shots, then lands and does nothing.

A Muton shows up. Safe from Overwatch shots, it runs up to Llama and Intimidates him, which causes him to panic and run out of cover.

The results are immediate.

Immediate, and deadly.

Loween panics and runs for cover. Good cover, luckily. Mumbles attempts to shoot a Muton, gets Intimidated for her trouble, and panics.

Crikey.

Double panic, all the way, et cetera.

For some reason, I survive the ensuing turn. Loween calms down, but Mumbles is still panicked.

Okay, situation assessment. I’ve lost. There’s still three Mutons out there, plus that Cyberdisc, and Loween and Mumbles are not enough to take that out. I need to retreat. Luckily, the Skyranger is in easy walking distance. I can easily have Loween run into its safe embrace, abort the mission, and…

..and abandon Squaddie Mumbles, who is still freaking out a few meters to the right.

I can’t. I can’t do it. I know I should just cut my losses and run, but I can’t. It’s the one lesson repeated viewings of Terrible Thunderlizards has drilled into my impressionable teenage brain: No dino gets left behind.

Instead of running, I have Loween kill the Muton that took out Llama. It’s a good revenge…

..but it doesn’t delay the inevitable. First, Mumbles goes down…

You can’t see it very well, but take it from me that it happens.

…and then, with the very last shot of the very last Muton, hitting only because her cover exploded earlier, so does Loween.

It’s even more an era’s end than Dima’s death was.

Mission failed.

And how.

South America panics. All of South America panics. There are no promotions, no reward, no fancy alien loot.

There is only death.

Christ, this was… I don’t even want to play on right. I just want to quit the game, curl up into a ball, and wait for the crushing self-disappointment to die down. So I do exactly that. But first…

Farewell, Squaddies. Tuffs, Mumbles, Llama. Sorry I dragged you halfway across the world to die. Once again, I was overconfident, and you three paid the price for it.

Farewell, Lieutenant Vecre. The XCOM project would likely not have survived the previous Terror Mission had it not been for your bravery, but it looks like two encounters with Cyberdiscs is one more than anyone should ever expect to walk away from.

Farewell, Captain DeHaan. You were legendary for always getting your alien, but it looks like the aliens got you in the end.

And farewell, Major Loween. XCOM’s own veritable force of nature. Now who will grenade our enemies? I know the psi-lab told us you didn’t possess the psychic gift, but I will never forget what I overheard you say, this morning, in the cafeteria:

“As I ate that final slice, dipped in garlic sauce, a sense of dread fell over me. I felt that this slice was to be my last.”

– Val Loween.

Next episode: From the ashes of tragedy, humanity’s greatest advance: the power of the mind.

13 comments

  1. And that, was the first time I died. Assuming we go by play chronology. By posting chronology, it is the fifth. Third if we only count XCOM games.

    On a more serious note: one of the reasons I don’t like playing this game on the higher difficulties is the way the A.I. can actually invoke “Rocks Fall” whenever it pleases. At one point in my normal playthrough (way earlier than this. I didn’t even have laser weapons yet), I was sent to a small construction site for an abduction mission. I moved about two squares from my starting point and aggroed no less than 8 aliens, among which were a bunch of Floaters, Mutons and a Cyberdisk. On their first turn, the remaining 2 Mutons show up. Needless to say, things did not go well.
    I don’t like situations like this because it feels too much like an arbitrary loss, as if the A.I. just draws a lottery ticket that says “YOU LOSE” on it.

    Of course, your mission went a bit differently than mine, but the screenshots did remind me of that time where I just went “Fine game, you win.” and switched off the PS3.

    1. Yes, that’s pretty much how I feel as well. I could have won this mission, going by alien numbers and troop strength… but then that Cyberdisk and that Berserker group aggroed at once. And that, as they say, was pretty much that. The fact that this map offers relatively little Full Cover at the starting point only exacerbates that. And did you know those flower pots can actually be destroyed?

      1. I always assumed everything can be destroyed, which is why I like to use Suppression with laser or plasma weapons to blow holes in walls and destroy cover.
        I count 6 Mutons, 1 Berserker, 1 Drone and 2 Cyberdisks. That is pretty much par for the course at this point in the game, but you indeed usually face them one group at a time.

    2. And it draws YOU LOSE all the time on Classic. I’d like to play XCOM on something more difficult than Normal (my last three playthroughs have had four deaths or fewer throughout the game), but Classic is just dick move after dick move. Even just the statistical and behavioural differences are huge. Aliens have more health, are more accurate, and always stand behind High Cover. You get less health, and are less accurate, the latter which is only exacerbated by their addiction to High Cover. And guess who’s cover gets blown up by stray shots all the time? Yeah.
      Classic is just too much crap to be fun to me :/ Such a pity.

  2. I will say….due to someones taunting during Aunty Paladin, I knew I’d die today. But I didn’t expect you to lose so much. I mean Loween? Fuuuuuck.

    1. For real, though, that was pretty much my nadir. But I couldn’t just have her cut and run and abandon Squaddie Mumbles.

      That part wasn’t played up, incidentally. I could have decided to save Loween and I decided against it. And then her flower-pot-based cover was destroyed by Overwatch fire, in spite of — or maybe because of — her Lightning Reflexes forcing it to miss.

      1. I’m amazed you can come back from this. Because it just felt like you were so outclassed. Between numbers and technology.

        1. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? I really wasn’t. The numbers weren’t so bad, just stacked, and technology-wise only the Cyberdiscs are really ahead of me. Berserkers are just tough meatheads, and once you get the hang of their behaviour they’re hilariously easy to kill.

          1. I wouldn’t say Cyberdiscs are ahead of the tech curve, personally. You have top-tier Assault Rifles and are working on the heaviest armor. Cyberdiscs are medium-tier enemies, but probably the strongest of that tier (because lol berserkers). They deal more damage than Mutons, and have a few additional points of health, but don’t get cover. They also like to get in close, so distance-related accuracy loss is uncommon for rifles.

            It just didn’t help that you got two enemies that are fairly new to you, at the same time, with fire support. :p

          2. And let’s not forgot the four-or-so places I had Full Cover in. That were destructible, and would often get destroyed after a single stray plasma bolt.

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