In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, the aliens scored their first real victory over me. Six soldiers went out to a ‘routine’ alien abduction mission in Brazil; none returned. A combination of Cyberdiscs, a new type of Muton called a Berserker, terrible spawn locations and a relatively low-level squad caused the deaths of three rookies, support specialist Vecre, grenade master Loween and alien-catcher extraordinare DeHaan. At this point, I exited the game, turned the PC off and just sat in the corner for a little while.
The mood in XCOM HQ is as grim as you’d expect. After-the-fact analysis of the failed mission shows that, numbers-for-numbers and comparing relative strengths, we could have been able to win a mission like this. But the aliens picked their location cleverly, and their deployment location even more-so: with relatively little real cover on my side and a large group of their strongest warriors right in the center, I was always going to have to deal with an alpha strike of sorts. Hell, I would have had a hard time against Floaters if they’d used them like that.
Of course, as before, there is no time for or sense in moping. We will mourn our dead when the invaders have slunk off to whatever far-off hell-hole they came from.
Not one day after a mission I fail due to (among other things) insufficient equipment, I finish researching something called Titan Armor. It’s heavy armor, apparently, with built-in resistance to fire and toxins — which means an armor of this magnitude could likely have prevented my first major defeat almost single-handedly. Alright, that does it: I’m fully committed to this armor research now. There’s something called Ghost Armor in my research list, so that’s what goes up next.
I can craft a suit of Titan Armor right now — one — but decide against it for the time being. Who knows what wonders Ghost Armor will bring? Push comes to shove, I can always build it right before another team goes out.
Four more days tick down, as the next item on my agenda is the second round of psionic testing. Four more days, in retrospect, that separate me from a discovery that will change the course of human history forever.
A cutscene takes off. Steve, dr. Shen, dr. Vahlen and a bunch of assorted eggheads are standing in the observation deck of the psionics lab, looking in.
As dr. Vahlen starts narrating the importance of this discovery, the camera slowly zooms in one of of the testing pods. For one candidate, their ten-day stay in this laboratory wasn’t in vain. One candidate has, through whatever unspeakable procedures go on in this place, unlocked their latent psychic potential, obtaining a power that humans throughout history have only been able to dream about. But who?
The pod opens, and an immediately-familiar mess of red hair answers that question better than any nametag could.
Conor Devlin, One True Scotsman, steps out of the pod. He looks at his immaculately rendered hand, gestures, and succinctly demonstrates just why this Psionics Lab was a worthwhile investment after all.
I’m shepherded to the soldier list in the Barracks, where Devlin’s entry is now adorned with a shiny purple haze.
Being Psychic, it turns out, unlocks a small additional advancement tree, three levels deep. The first level contains the Mindfray power, which is what Devlin now possesses; additional levels in this Psychic Operative tree must be earned. By going out and using these abilities in combat.
I put three more soldiers through the paces — Squaddie Heavies Museli, Jurao and van Hamertijd, you’re up! — then go back to waiting. Alright, aliens: your move.
The aliens, in a rare display of cunning, don’t directly make a move. Clever girls. Well, that works too: this gives me time to tick a few more projects off the list.
One: the Alien Power Cell-based Elerium Generator is finished. Its impressive 30-Power yield should hopefully keep the base supplied throughout most of the war.
Two: I flog some alien corpses on the Gray Market and start construction on a Satellite Nexus, the Alien Flight Computer-based upgraded version of the Satellite Uplink. Since I’ve placed it right next to an existing Satellite Uplink, I hope to be able to support five additional satellites with it. I actually had this project planned for a little while now, but power issues caused a delay; power issues that are now solved forever.
Three: Japan sends me a request, wishing to trade two of my Nano-fiber Vests for four of their Engineers. Holy shit, are you kidding? Sold.
Fou– no, wait, the aliens got bored again. I detect a fully unidentified UFO landing in China: Zhejian province, not far from Shanghai, if I’m reading this correctly.
What better time to test Devlin’s new-found psychic powers? Let’s roll. Because I don’t actually have any Support-class soldiers right now, I decide to roll extra carefully: I bring a high-power squad, and focus mostly on medkits and Nano-fiber Vests.
We arrive in China, to be greeted by more rocks, fallen trees and rivers. Wow, China looks a lot like Kansas.
As with most UFO missions, the first few turns are careful exploration and approach. It takes three turns to find the damn thing, because unlike every other UFO we’ve seen this one actually landed neatly. There’s no fire trail, no broken trees, no clear-and-present danger-is-here arrow made of upturned dirt. Just a neat, well-layed out landing area with some aliens standing at attention.
Oh shit, aliens? Wait… for some reason, they’re not running to cover. It looks like I’ve stumbled upon one of the game’s rarest occurrences: being able to spot aliens without them spotting you. I blame the high ground Sergeant Sanderson is currently on.
Pulling up more soldiers reveals that this group of aliens is a Cyberdisc and two Drones. I would be afraid of that, but it’s only those three, they’re in an open area without much in the way of cover and — crucially — they haven’t seen me yet. How will I make full use of this exceedingly rare golden opportunity?
Being hit with a rocket does count as spotting me, so the Cyberdisc — who was the only one to survive the impact — gets its free move to cover. But because it’s a Cyberdisc, and therefore dumb, it moves straight at me. And so far only Corporal Jonely has taken his turn.
Two laser sniper blasts later, I’m feeling a lot better about myself.
Two Mutons and a Berserker are drawn to the noise. No, I’m not kidding: I end my turn and they run into view. Luckily, I had most of the squad on Overwatch: the Berserker is brought down to a single hitpoint before it even gets into Punching Range.
The Mutons go down like the sad sacks of alien goop they are. I formulate a plan to capture the Berserker, but that plan goes out the window when said Berserker attempts to charge Krellen. Remember how Krellen got that upgrade that gives him free reaction fire against any enemy that moves within four squares?
More exploration happens afterwards. Man, this ship is big. I quickly discover a ladder on the outside of it, which grants me access to the ship’s flat top side, and proceed to spend about a billion turns dicking around up and around that. There’s no aliens on the roof, of course, but I have to be sure. I’m just going to skip over this part real quick: it seriously takes like twenty turns, and nothing happens.
After that, I swing back and explore the inside of the ship. There’s noises coming from it, so I’m extra on-guard… which makes this part take a billion turns as well. Plus, the landing area is quite large.
I do run into more Mutons at one point, though. Because the landing area is lacking in cover a bit, I pull back, Overwatch, and wait for them to come to me. The Mutons have the same plan, though, so that’s another ten minutes I’m never getting back. Finally, I find a good place to set up and engage.
During the fight, I remember that whole Psychic Powers nonsense Devlin is carrying now. I read the description of his Mindfray power, which “Causes the target to lose grip on reality, inflicting penalties to Aim, Will and mobility”. So a debuff, then? That could be useful.
I have Devlin Mindfray one wounded Muton — it has like a 90% To-Hit chance, because Mutons are weak-willed buffoons — and see it go down into a crumpled heap. What? Mousing over the skill a little longer reveals the description goes on for a little further: Mindfray inflicts penalties to Aim, Will and mobility, and deals five damage.
The fight does escalate a bit after this, though. More Mutons show up, from beyond doors I haven’t opened yet and on walkways a little above me. A few turns are spent in a running gun battle, in which Putty and Jonely takes plasma fire to the noggin. Nothing lethal, though, and the Mutons drop like flies. The Plasma Rifles and laser weapons prove effective once more, and Devlin’s psychic powers are highly effective against the creatures: I wasn’t joking when I said they are weak-willed buffoons.
Here, have a screenshot:
Or how about this close-up of Krellen one-shotting a Muton from close range?
Finally, the command center of this alien monster ship is home to two Sectoid Commanders. And while I wish I could tell you this mission has an amazing finale, it really doesn’t: I kill one Commander and stun the other, and that’s that. They don’t even hit me once.
So that was pretty much an unqualified success. Sanderson, Tovik, ‘Crash’ Jonely and ‘Dice’ Putty get promoted in the regular sense, while Devlin increases both his military rank and his psionic potential. I’ve had him use Mindfray four times in this mission, to varying success, and apparently that’s enough for advancement.
The second level of Psionic Operative is another choice: either Psi Inspiration (removes the Mindfray debuff and Panic effects from nearby allies and buffs Will) or Psi Panic (forces enemies to take a Panic test next turn). It doesn’t seem like a hard choice: I hate Panic in all its forms, and the ability to remove it from my soldiers sounds pretty damn great.
Beyond that, regular upgrades:
- Lieutenant Devlin grabs the Battle Scanner power, which should allow him to create a small vision-granting robot twice per fight.
- Lieutenant Sanderson gets Flush, like Krellen did before him.
- Major Tovik — first Sniper to hit Major — doesn’t have a choice: the Major rank only has one option. For Snipers, that’s the Low Profile power, which makes partial cover count as full cover. Or in other words: for Major Tovik, any and all cover is now full cover. I approve of this power.
- Sergeant Jonely takes the Shredder Rocket power, because rocket.
- Finally, Sergeant Putty receives the Close and Personal power, which gives additional critical hit chance based on distance to target. This does come at the cost of Lightning Reflexes, but hear me out here: I already have two Assaults with that power (Krellen and Sanderson) and I’m starting to think that an Assault who specializes only in the right-tree crit damage powers could turn out to be a murdering machine. Sergeant Putty represents my attempt to experiment with this.
And with that, I’m done for today. That went well enough that my sour mood over losing has all but dissipated. As my last act, I hire four new soldiers: I really need some Supports. Let’s hope I get lucky in the random lottery that is XCOM Recruitment.