In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I performed what may or may not be known in pretentious writing circles as a ‘narrative time skip’. One month of game time was covered in the blink of an eye, victories left uncelebrated and deaths left unmourned, all to more quickly get us to that final, elusive goal: watching an EMP-equipped Firestorm finally take down the Overseer UFO.
This, if you’ll recall, is where we left off:
In this corner, the Firestorm: a combination of alien technology and human ingenuity. Armed with an EMP Cannon, a weapon that’s capable of harnessing directed electromagnetic pulses, it represents the pinnacle of our current aerospace force.
In the other corner, the Overseer UFO. Swift, well-armed, formerly invisible: this slippery bastard has been giving us the runaround for months. Whatever’s in it must be vital to the alien war effort: important enough that it has to be this close to the front lines, but guarded with every bit of reality-altering tech the aliens possess. Naturally, I must own it.
Right away, the Firestorm’s main advantage over the regular Interceptor is obvious: it has a whopping ten seconds to take the Overseer down, compared to the Interceptor’s four. But will it be enough?
The Firestorm closes in, taking plasma fire from the Overseer. Time ticks down. Seven, six, five. The Firestorm shoot, and hits. Then a second hit. Then a third…
Repeated EMP impacts disable the Overseer’s key systems, forcing it to land on the Dutch-German border. My soldiers could walk over there, if they felt like it.
Of course, this is still only half a victory. I don’t for one second underestimate the contents of that ship… and because I brought it down with an EMP weapon, the UFO is likely still in pristine condition. This is good, because I want what’s on-board that ship, but it’s also bad, because none of the ship’s guardian’s will have died in the ‘crash’.
The Hyperwave Array, now finally capable of scanning the Overseer UFO for an extended period of time, briefs me on the ship’s contents. There will be ten aliens soldiers on-board the vessel: Muton Elites, Heavy Floaters, Drones, Sectopods, and something called an ‘Ethereal’. My genre savvy kicks in: if this ship’s crew is so relatively small, it can only mean this crew’ll be the absolute elite.
Which means I’m going to have to bring the same level of quality.
The flight to the ‘crash’ site is so short as to be virtually un-screenshottable. In the sub-hour Skyranger flight, a team of handily colour-coded soldiers sits around in increasingly elaborate space-age armors, mentally preparing for what could well be the fight of their lives.
The Skyranger touches down within easy walking distance of the Overseer UFO. It’s so close, in fact, that I can walk within sight range in a single turn. I elect to have the newly Ghost Armored Captain Wever do the honours.
While I do hear (unclear) noises from inside the craft, the outside seems mostly fine. It takes me no less than four turns to creep up to the ship and spot several Muton Elites lurking within.
My first instinct, upon realizing the Mutons haven’t actually spotted me yet, is to run in and engage them. I suppress that instinct, however, in favour of a more careful setup phase. I place some soldiers near the main entrance forcefield, hoping to flank the Muton Elites and catch them unawares on my next turn.
Before that can happen, though, the sound of stomping metal claws reverberates through the hallway up ahead.
A Sectopod shows up, the two Muton Elites saunter further into the other hallway, and I kick back into Planning Mode. Again, just because I don’t know exactly what these mech things do doesn’t mean I’m about to underestimate them. Everyone, fall back to outside the ship’s entrance!
The Sectopod, seemingly offended that I ran from it, turns around and leaves.
Seriously, that’s the second time this’s happened now. Is this normal behaviour for these hulking alien death machines?
The machine’s Drones stay behind and shoot at Colonel Tovik, apparently feeling confident in their ability to function as something besides floating target practice. They go down quickly, though.
Further in the craft, some more familiar faces:
I attempt to lure them into close range, using Krellen’s new Telekinetic Field as a defensive measure and setting everyone else into Overwatch. Telekinetic Field is actually pretty cool: it forms a massive purple ring that increases everyone’s Defense by a significant amount, and it has the added graphical effect of visually diverting the enemy shots by way of telekinesis.
The Heavy Floaters fail to take the bait, though, so I fall back on my perennial Plan B: massed, directed violence. I clump up everyone around the hallway entrance and have them shoot bullets and psychic powers at the Floaters, taking one out but leaving the other alive.
Then, two things happen. First, this:
During the alien turn, the Sectopod walks into view, just casually saunters through my positions, then turns around and blasts Devlin and Wulf with some sort of energy beam. Both of them get hit, too. Is that a thing Sectopods do?
Second… well, see how my troops are clustered here?
And remember how Heavy Floaters carry alien grenades, and have a preference for using these grenades almost to the exclusion of everything else?
The grenade in and by itself isn’t even that bad, though. What is really bad is that the explosion takes out a wall, revealing the innermost room of the Overseer UFO.
This is why this is a Bad Thing:
In the space of one turn, we’ve gone from relative safety to being surrounded by a Sectopod, a Heavy Floater, two Muton Elites, and whatever that tall, robe-wearing fellow is. Dr. Ethereal, I presume? Dr. Vahlen immediately comments on the strange floating purple orb, recommending I retrieve it for analysis; I kindly remind her that if everyone gets murdered in a psionic alien crossfire, there will be little retrieval done today. Priorities, people!
Alright, step one: get the hell outside. I luck out incredibly here by having Krellen be the first one to make the run, because when he does, this happens:
I’m like 99% sure the Sectopod didn’t go into Overwatch. Do they have automatic Overwatch fire? I’m starting to see why people dislike these things so much.
Anyway, step one, get the hell outside etcetera, goes off without any deaths. I get everyone to at least the UFO’s entrance, and try to cover as many people as I can. Smoke, medkits, the works. If Krellen’s TK Field was available, I’d be using that as well.
The aliens give me a short respite, which I use to take out one of the Muton Elites. Both the Ethereal and the Sectopod have opted to stay out of sight, which I don’t understand but don’t feel like questioning either.
The second turn, the Ethereal does make an appearance. It starts off rather well…
…but then quickly turns sour…
…before reaching its absolute nadir when the Ethereal, seemingly mindful of the very real threat psionic powers pose to their side, directs its remaining Muton Elite bodyguard to kill the most powerful human psychic in the vicinity.
Fuck, fuck, fuck fuck fuck. I liked Devlin! He mind-controlled people! Well, aliens, whatever. With both him and Asimech Jones deceased, Krellen is my only remaining psionic operative: everyone else has received a negative test result. I don’t want to play favourites, but this is pretty much tied for the worst loss I could have gotten on this mission.
Okay, well, payback time. Plus I really need to kill that Ethereal this turn, or Evil Wever will tear my squad up next turn. Step one: missile.
Step two, Have Tovik Shoot Its Head Off, takes a sudden south-ward turn when the Ethereal reflects his plasma bullet back to him.
Krellen’s currently not in a position where he can reach the Ethereal at all… which leaves just Captain Paradox. And I can’t put him in any kind of cover, either. It all comes down to this:
Let’s see… does a nineteen hit?
Wever, freshly released from mind control and aching for payback, takes out the second Muton Elite bodyguard with the cleanest shot I’ve seen in a while.
Oh, and there’s also that Heavy Floater that set all of this in motion. It’d survived everything so far, somehow. Key word had.
Alright. That was bad, but I’m okay now. Time to run cleanup, I guess. There’s still those two Muton Elites in the other hallway that need killing…
…and let’s not forget this jackass:
The Muton Elites actually die like flies, but the Sectopod’s a little more resilient. Who would have thought, with thirty hitpoints? Regardless, it doesn’t score any more direct hits on me…
…and Major Wulf’s HEAT-ammo Heavy Plasma gun does a fairly respectable 20 damage on it in a single shot.
In the end, it’s Wever who takes the final shot, staring the monster down at close range and finishing the mission.
A short cutscene has dr. Vahlen and dr. Shen gawking over the recovered alien artifact. And by that I mean dr. Vahlen is doing the gawking; dr. Shen is apprehensive, as always.
Before I can rest on my laurels, though, the aliens respond immediately. A new ship materializes off the coast of Brazil… a big ship. No, bigger than that. You’re still thinking too small.
The ship’s arrival coincides with a series of global earthquakes, reaching as far as into XCOM HQ itself. It’s obvious the aliens have stepped up to our implicit challenge once more.
Assaulting a ship the size of a decent country with a conventional airforce is pointless. I leave Team Double Egghead with a free assignment to ‘figure this shit out, quickly’; the world may be ending soon, but I still have an important message to deliver.
13:35 PM – Commander Jarenth: Ma’am? I’m sorry, may I come in?
13:35 PM – Commander Jarenth: I have some bad news about your husband, Conor.
13:35 PM – Commander Jarenth: He… I’m afraid to tell you he died fighting the alien menace.
13:36 PM – Ms. Devlin: Oh god, I knew this would happen.
13:36 PM – Ms. Devlin: Did he die bravely?
13:36 PM – Commander Jarenth: As bravely as could be.
13:36 PM – Commander Jarenth: His sacrifice allowed us to assault and capture a vital strategic alien craft. We… we hope it will allow us to put an end to this terrible war soon.
13:37 PM – Commander Jarenth: Again, I am very sorry. Conor was a vital member of XCOM and a well-loved soldier. He will be greatly missed.
13:37 PM – Ms. Devlin: It’s…what he would have wanted
13:37 PM – Ms. Devlin: Thank you.
13:38 PM – Commander Jarenth: Take care, ma’am.
Next episode: I start uncovering the secrets of the Ethereal Device, and those of the Ethereals themselves.
I had a feeling I’d go here, it’s where my alpha squad wiped on my latest play through.
In fairness, I cocked a few things up here — you were relatively underhealed at the time, for one — but that whole grenade-opens-wall-into-alien-camp-also-Sectopod thing was just poor form.
Okay, I forgive you for choosing TK field over Mind Control. It is a pretty cool power (I picked it for my second psychic too, but never needed to make extensive use of it.)
I suppose being a telekinetic makes what I know is coming far more believable anyway.
TK Field’s the unassuming work horse to Mind Control’s party-hard rockstar. And like the rockstar, those with Mind Control die young.
TK Field is REALLY under appreciated. That +40 defense to the such a large area is awesome. It’s essentially putting everyone on the field in full cover. ON TOP of their cover. Stack this with Ghost armor (+20) and half cover becomes a -80% to hit. Full cover goes to -100. Throw a Deep Smoke Grenade (another +40 to defense) and you can get a -100% chance to hit WHILE STANDING IN THE OPEN.
It’s hell of situational, but by God does it save lives. It also helps that it isn’t based on Will. useful for when your early recruits (whose will are lower from repeated battles and not benefiting from the upgrade) end up as Psychics.
My girlfriend has been playing the game and reading this write up and we’ve been laughing trying to figure out when you’d realize HEAT Ammo is AMAZING… I’m thinking during the double Cyberdisk mayhem, but this seems to be the guaranteed one.
Just a quick heads up: there is an achievement for mind controlling a ethereal. Turn the tables on those alien bastards!
Also, I’m surprised at the efficiency of the emp weapon. I always assumed it was a useless research diversion.
The EMP cannon is probably the single greatest weapon for your fighters.
It’s ALSO less of a kill than a slight stun, and the tradeoff is increased mission difficulty vs increased loot and a near certain kill.
As far as I can tell, the EMP Cannon takes down any alien craft in three shots. In my ‘current’ (actually already completed) Classic playthrough, my EMP-equipped Firestorm took down a Battleship no-problem, while my Plasma-equipped Firestorm got shot down like a punk.
I guess it’s implied the resulting missions are more difficult, but honestly: if you’re far enough into a playthrough to have the research time and attention needed to get the EMP Cannon, you likely far outrank the aliens anyway.
I’ve not really experienced much of a difference between an EMP’d UFO or one that was simply shot down. Doesn’t help that the alien composition is very random in the first place and that difficulty can be somewhat arbitrary (suddenly, a wall explodes!).
Not sure if the battles are HARDER, but the spoils ARE less likely to be damaged.
The EMP Cannon is a bit more dangerous because of its shorter range. You waste time closing in and take some hits. The Fusion Lance is better, but you have to either buy the DLC or shoot down a Battlecruiser to get it. So you have to defeat the toughest enemy to get the best weapon against it.
As such, I usually just stick with EMP Cannons and buy some dodge and tracking stuff with left over corpses in the higher difficulties…
Ethereals have extremely high Wills and are very hard to control. It’s entirely possible to buff yourself to the levels of “Will, what Will?”, however.
I remember gawking the first time I tried Mind Control after a full buff suite (Psi Armour, Mind Shield, Combat Stims and Inspiration all running) and saw a nearly 90% success rate for controlling an Ethereal.
Can a mind-controlled Ethereal itself control another Ethereal? I’m starting to see some interesting possibilities, here.
Chain mind control?! Jarenth you are a genius!
It’s true, you know.
My best Psychic had over 100 Will naturally. With Psionic Armor and Mind Shield she ended up with 100% success rate.
It is mostly worthless since Ethereals are usually the last thing you face in a mission anyways. But you can boost success rates by Mindfraying him (lowering his will) and Psi Inspiration to raise yours.
EDIT: Smoke Grenades with Combat Drugs also add Will.
Oh wow, The guy named after me isn’t a total redshirt for once. Excellent.