Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 23: Difficulty Cliff

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I was all like “Haha, I’ve got this war thing down forever now! Those aliens can’t do anything to scare me!“. And then the aliens were like “Oh, really?” and proceeded to throw a Terror Mission at Benin City, Nigeria. And then I was all like “Oh, damnit!“, completely forgoing to opportunity to make my hilarious 419 Scam jokes, because I remember the last time I did a Terror Mission and it wasn’t pretty. And then the aliens were like “Haha, chump! Bet you’re scared now!”.

And I was like, “Totally“.

When last we left off…

Okay, game face time, I might personally be terrified out of my pug-shaped slippers — if Terror Mission 1 was zero kills, and Terror Mission 2 was three kills, Terror Mission 3… — but professionally, I still have to front XCOM. And I made a boast at the end of that last semi-successful Terror Mission: that whenever and wherever the aliens were to strike, XCOM would be there.

Time to gear up.

I’m choosing to bring Corporal Wever along because he *really* needs to level up. So this is not technically my highest-*level* squad, but I think it’s the most effective one I can put together.

There is absolutely no room for error here, so I check, double-check and even triple-check to see that everyone has their proper gear. All heavy weapons and advanced armors used? All four of my Plasma Pistols holstered? Everyone is carrying useful items, meaning no Arc Throwers? Plenty of medkits?

Breathe in.

Take off.

Breathe out.

Touch down.

We arrive in Nigeria, finding ourselves at… a tank depot? Is that right? I thought the goal of these Terror Attacks was to kill civilians. I mean, I might be nitpicking here, but the aliens destroying tanks and killing armed soldiers isn’t really a terror attack per se, is it? It’s just… warface.

Then again, I don’t know everything. It might have been Take A Random Civilian To Work Day. I don’t know the manifold and undoubtedly proud customs of the people of Benin City. All I know is this: there’s aliens here, and unarmed people, and I’m to prevent the former from turning the latter into either zombies or cinders.

Or some gruesome combination of the two.

My very first plan, to have Devlin throw a Battle Scanner over the wall, is thwarted by the sudden occurrence of Silly Physics.

Silly Battle Scanner! Actually seeing the battlefield is for kids!

Which means it’s time for plan B: slowly, carefully approaching the opening in the wall, using staggered Overwatch to keep everyone relatively safe. Luckily, Silly Physics decides to stay out of this.

The entrance to the tank depot is abandoned, save for a few lost-looking civilians. A lot of the tanks are burning, and both they and the ground display the glowing green signs of a recent plasma bombardment. I suppose the aliens’ plan could have been to demonstrate the relative inferiority of our Earth military in the face of their celestial battleships. It certainly makes an impression on me.

Though without the immediate threat of alien ground troops, the impression it actually *makes* on me is that these tanks need cleaning.

Moves are made, perimeters are formed, civilians are rescued, civilians are killed off-screen. Well, ‘civilian‘ in both cases. In the first two turns, the aliens remain nothing more than a hypothetical death-presence beyond the fog of war. I think I rather like it that way.

Start of the third turn, I receive an alien audio signal; the game’s way of saying ‘they’re over here, dumbass‘. It doesn’t sound like the characteristic chittering of Chryssalids, though… nor is it the alien wooshing of the Cyberdisc. In fact, those angry grunts sound suspiciously like…

…like Mutons.

O…okay. Not what I was expecting, but I guess it’s not all that weird. There were Floaters way back in the first Terror Mission, too. And hey, that Berserker is a melee-only unit too! That totally counts, right?

In all seriousness, I basically consider this a gift of Free Kills. The Berserker goes down in half a turn: Krellen hits it, it charges up (like I knew it would) into Krellen’s Death Zone and gets hit again, then Devlin snipes its face off.

Literally, its entire face. Clean off.

As for the regular Muton… it runs away initially, then runs back into full view of four Overwatch’d soldiers. Somehow all four of them miss. The Muton uses this extraordinary stroke of luck to run away again.

Let me recap this: the Muton ran away with its free move, then used its actual turn to run at me, then away. It… is everything alright, buddy?

Chasing it triggers another Muton/Berserker group, plus one additional Muton. That’s five Mutons and two Berserkers, for those of you keeping score. This is starting to weird me out a little. Is there a reason for all these Mutons? Are the aliens holding something terrifying in reserve, to crush my will when I least expect it? Am I walking into another easily avoidable death-trap, live on air?

Right, let’s not worry over invisible aliens, shall we? Not when there’s nearly half a dozen clearly visible ones to properly worry about. The second Berserker goes down like an even sadder sack of bricks than the first one, in no small part due to Colonel Tovik being really good at his job…

Noscope 720 Muton Headshot.

…and the normal Muton from the first group quickly falls to Wever’s Light Plasma prowess.

Hey, look, what’s that in the mist?

Who would have guessed?

No, for real: seriously?

Though I guess these Mutons at least remember they’re supposed to be in a Terror Mission.

“Oh yeah, civilians! BLARGH” — Muton.

Third verse, same as the first: the third Berserker dies in much the same way as its dim-witted colleagues. I try mind-controlling it for fun, but ironically the Berserker is so dull-witted that Devlin only gets a 27% to do it right. But that’s okay: regular ol’ Mind Fray still works perfectly fine on regular ol’ Mutons.

JARENTH uses SAME JOKE TWICE! It’s still super effective!

Devlin’s not the only one who can do this, remember?

JARENTH uses REALLY STRETCHING THIS JOKE OUT TOO FAR! JARENTH’s workload is lowered by 1 CAPTION.

And given that cars are basically massive metal land mines in this universe, how do you suppose tanks would react to a rocket to the shell?

Not, of course. They’re *tanks*. This is literally what they were built to withstand.

Over the course of two turns, I take out the remaining four regular Mutons.

I have yet to be hit be a single attack.

You can’t see Captain DeCamp here, but trust me when I say she’s unharmed as well.

There’s two more enemies hiding in the warehouse to the north, killing some civilians in there in the turns it takes me to (carefully) move up, but let me just spoil the surprise for you: it’s yet another Muton/Berserker superstar teamup.

DOUBLE SPOILER: Both of them are actually Brad Pitt.

In fact, let me just spoil the entire ending of this mission as well: I win hardcore.

It’s pretty difficult to win harder-core than this.

I… I don’t understand what happened here. This wasn’t a Terror Mission. This was barely even a regular mission. I guess six regular Mutons and four Berserkers could have been scary, under the right circumstances, maybe? But on this map, with an abundance of covers to duck behind, heavy cover and long distances, the Berserkers were basically jokes. And the normal Mutons are just weaker than me, at this point. I mean they’re still dangerous, but less in that ineffably alien hulk way and more in the way that an angry rottweiler is dangerous. They still have a bite, but my bark’s just far outpaced theirs.

The rewards are plentiful, as expected. Sergeant ‘Atlas’ Wever finally gains his triple medkit, while Colonel Krellen gains a second psionic rank: I give him Psi Panic, the power Devlin didn’t pick, just to see what it does. The Council showers me with praise, too: Nigeria drops from five panic down to two, and all of Africa follows lesser suit. I’ve just gone from four countries on the brink of collapse to two.

And nobody got hit even once.

A++. Would Conduct Mission Again.

I save the game, turn my PC off, and sit on the couch in quiet confusion for a few minutes.

Next episode: More mind control happens. Yes, that is a valid Next Episode teaser.

15 comments

  1. Maybe the alien commander was sending the Mutons in to try and level them up against the regular humans, and didn’t expect XCOM to notice?

    1. I may have some bad news for you a few episodes down the line.

      EDIT: Also, I first used the phrase ‘XCOM wil be there‘ in Episode 17, which aired on December 20th, 2012. You use that phrase, sans italics, in your log part 33, which aired on December 25th, 2012.

      I’ll let the audience sort out what this means for your accusations of plagiarism for themselves.

  2. “I give him Psi Panic, the power Devlin didn’t pick, just to see what it does.”

    If a panicked alien ends up killing one of your troops during a paroxysm of fear, I will not be surprised, based on the effect it has had on your troops. :P

  3. One would think that, with a carefully crafted mission sequence like this, there would be a more even increase in difficulty. I mean, isn’t this uneven difficulty the kind of thing procedural mission generation is known for? Why throw it out if the result is the same?
    Sits in quiet meta-confusion for a minute.

    1. Umm, I’m pretty sure this IS procedural. But not seeing chryssalids is very, very strange. (I would guess that each alien has a point value or something to contribute to a total point value, and then different types have higher chances at different difficulties? Possibly I’m making stuff up)

      1. I’m fairly sure the levels are pre-made, but the alien placement (and landing zone?) is randomized. Not sure if the alien “team” components are the same for each map though. So, partially procedural?

        1. Only the map layouts and your starting position is fixed. Enemy troop composition and placement is random. They also roam during enemy movement (who would have thought) so their starting locations aren’t all that important either.
          I also believe Firaxis had hoped the Berserker wouldn’t go down like a sack of spuds. He’s weaker than any other alien troop, because he literally never does anything. Even Sectoids and Thin Men can get a hit in on your Titan Armor, but Zerkers are free experience.

          You can still get regular Floaters, boring old Sectiods and Old Men in the biggest baddest alien crafts, and Chryssalid always have a chance to show up (even in some alien ships, for whatever reason). By this point you’re just pretty powerful until you either turtle for a while longer to trigger the next ‘tier’ of enemies, or you don’t balls up and take the alien ship down, also triggering stronger aliens to spawn. Just the way XCOM works.

          1. You’d think the aliens would be more careful about where they put their uncontrollable purple murder-Zerglings.

          2. Berserkers are easy to handle if encountered far away, but those rare occasions when Berserkers manage to outmanoeuvre you can be devastating.

            I’m not sure Jarenth has ever encountered this, but one thing Berserkers can do is run through walls, which can really ruin your day.

          3. Given that I didn’t know they could do that, probably not!

            It could have happened in the situation detailed in next episode, I think, but I rocket-blasted that offending wall into tiny little wall-bits.

          4. Any cover, even. It deals slightly less damage than a normal attack (like 1 or 2 points of damage, gods no), but yeah, it’s pretty cool.

            I’ve seen them use it once in the slightly more than 80 hours I’ve played. He was also for no good reason the last alien to move, so the cover demolishing was rather pointless. Good job, alien commander.

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