Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 27: Brick Squad

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I traded the life of my oldest and most powerful psychic for the corpse of an alien Ethereal and the strange psionic device it was guarding. Doing so spurred an almost excessive reaction from the aliens, however: the ship that materialized over the coast of Brazil is large enough to put most countries to shame. And now, as the world is literally quaking in fear, my departments of Science and Engineering both are rushing to find an answer to the question that could well determine the fate of our entire planet:

How do you defeat something that could stomp a mountain into submission?

First things first: the Ethereal Device. As I’ve mentioned last time, it was important enough to be guarded by the most elite squad the invaders had to offer, and clearly vital to their war effort in such a way that it had to be on the front lines. It could very well be the lynchpin of their entire operative strategy.

We have no idea what it does.

Yet.

Before we get to that, though, I decide to autopsy the alien creature that was tasked with guarding it: the Ethereal. Although their corpses are not that imposing — the four arms are intriguing, but the creatures are emaciated and nearly fully atrophied — I remember all too well how powerful their grasp of psionic power was. Plus, autopsying this guy is only going to take about two days; I’m pretty sure the world won’t have ended yet by then.

They may be floaty and graceful and dangerous in combat, but under the coroner’s knife they’re just another sack of ugly and grey.

Surely the aliens will just let me cut open their leaders in peace?

Yeah, I didn’t really think so.

Yeah, I’m not surprised. It was high time again for one of these, really.

As always with Terror Missions, I bring the best of the best. I’m actually a tad worried: if the first Terror Mission was really easy, and the second was awful, and the third was really easy… what if the aliens have some new monstrosity in reserve, only to be used at the very tail end of the invasion? I wouldn’t put it past them. Luckily, I’ve got some new tricks up my sleeve as well:

Like this kickass jetpack armor!

And let’s not forget the Alloy Cannon, one of the many items I researched during the Long Month of Waiting. I’d been skipping it, initially, because the description made it sound like yet another ship-to-ship weapon. And while that could have been interesting, I was putting all my eggs into the EMP basket at that time. But as it turns out?

It’s the baddest shotgun around.

Putting our final Terror Four Squad at this:

And for literally the first time since the war began, *every* squad member is wearing some kind of glistening futuristic space armor.

Time for gruff, manly shooting action! Bare those teeth!

Okay, maybe dial it back a bit.

Now, I’m all set for intense civilian-saving action, but then something unexpected happens.

Terror mission 1 was new. Terror mission 2 was scary. Terror mission 3 was hilarious.

Terror mission 4 is just boring.

Yawn.

I don’t mean to say that this mission is as ridiculously easy as the previous one. No, not by a long shot: there’s Chryssalids and Zombies and Cyberdiscs, oh my! But neither is it in any way tense. There’s no new aliens, no new tricks, no particularly interesting environmental obstacles… it just is.

You’ve seen one bolt of superheated green particulate matter bore straight through the exoskeleton of a purple insectoid alien monstrosity, you’ve seen ’em all.

Part of that is probably due to my newly tricked-out arsenal. For instance, how are Chryssalids like white men?

They can’t jump.

The Archangel Armor, for that’s what this jetpack suit is officially called, allows the wearer some limited flight time. Six turns of in-flight movement, to be precise. But hovering stationary doesn’t actually cost any fuel. And melee creatures can’t hit you while you’re airborne. Do you see where I’m going with this?

If your guess is ‘Major Viel clears this entire roof on his own, because neither the Chryssalids or the zombies they create can so much as lay a finger on him’, congratulations! You win our Correct Answer Prize, which isn’t actually much of a prize at all.

Too bad for the nearby civilians, though.

The new Alloy Cannon isn’t half-bad either:

It’s a space-age shotgun, what more could you want?

And to top it all off, most of the mission takes place inside a library or sorts, with plenty of bookshelves and counters and walls for me to hide in, on and behind.

Sure, things get a little hairy every now and again…

Serious props to whoever had a hand in animating these alien grenades. They look destructive as *hell* sometimes.

…but overall the mission is much less that and much more this:

Footage recorded with high-speed camera.

It takes effort to score a clean victory, but victory itself is never in doubt.

I’m trying my hardest to not just make this caption ‘lol, owned’.

Which leaves me with only half an episode written. Erm…

Alright, let’s just continue on like nothing’s happened! Cutting open the Ethereal rewards me with a Mind Shield augment, which should help prevent more mind control mishaps in the future… provided I ever have anyone carry it into battle. Next up, studying the Ethereal Device!

The Ethereal Device is actually rather complex, so I’ll just let dr. Vahlen do the explanations:

I hope you like text!

In short: the alien communicate in something of a psionic hive mind, with the Ethereals at the top of the mind chain. This device, dubbed the Psi-Link, should allow a sufficiently powerful psionic operative to tap into that hive mind. What the benefits of this operation would be, we don’t know yet… but it’s really the only avenue we haven’t tried yet. However, there’s two hurdles. First, to ensure the safety of every non-incredibly-psionic member of XCOM HQ — which is to say, pretty much everyone — a special chamber needs to be constructed to house the Psi-Link. Two of our ‘brightest young minds’, a team of brothers, have already devised such a facility: I’ll need to construct this ‘Gollop Chamber’ in order to proceed.

And two, there’s the issue of psionic strength. Colonel Krellen, currently my only living psionic operative, is as powerful as human psychics are apt to get… but it’s not enough yet. Luckily, R&D has an idea that might help in this scenario:

This kickass* psi-powered suit of armor.

Oh, and let’s not forget that I captured a living Muton Elite yesterday!

We gave it food pellets.

Interrogating the creature teaches us much about alien weapon technology. And by that I mean I gain a ‘Weapons Technology Research Credit’, which will help me research all these diverse and interesting weapon projects I have open.

Yeeaaaah.

Now, while all this construction is going on, another UFO appears over Canada. I take it down, of course, because I’m cool, and send a team in, because I’m cool. Now, that doesn’t sound all that interesting compared to this whole end-game plot, but look at the crew listing for this Abductor vessel:

Looks like the Sectoid Commanders went the way of the Outsiders.

See, I haven’t captured a living Ethereal yet. And I really, really want to.

I send out the same squad as before, the only difference being Colonel Viel and Captain Putty…

It’s the same screenshot. Just imagine it.

…then fly them back before the mission starts, actually equip Krellen and Putty with Arc Throwers, and fly out again.

“I told you to go before we left!”

The alien craft is your basic Abductor: large, rectangular ship, big open loading bay, fire and broken trees everywhere, the works. There’s only little cover in the loading bay, so I spend way more time trading fire with the Muton Elites hanging out there than I’m comfortable with. And to be fair, my rocketing the little cover there was into dust and cinders didn’t help much either.

Luckily, by now, I’m used to dealing with my own dumb mistakes. And rockets can both harm and heal, after all.

Yes, it’s Krellen I’m firing the rocket at. How did you guess?

One running gun-battle later…

Everyone’s flanking everyone, like some long-lost MC Escher painting.

…and one exploration of the alien craft later…

Look at these yellow things that I don’t know what they do!

…I find myself at the ship’s helm. As expected, that’s where the Ethereal is; as somewhat unexpected, it’s guarded by two Muton Elites.

C’mon, Ethereals. The Sectoid Commanders didn’t use bodyguards!

Of course, it takes me like half a turn to take these suckers out.

It’s like I’m actually competent.

I aim to be highly careful around the Ethereal, as my intent is to capture it. I bring it down a little bit, but most of my turn is spent on the Muton Elites. And on its turn, the Ethereal does the expected thing and mind-controls Wever.

Jesus Christ, Wever. Is this going to be a *thing* with you?

This causes Putty to panic.

This is not #BrickSquad.

But that’s okay, right? I gave Krellen and Putty Arc Throwers specifically to avoid situations like this, right?

Well, yes, I did. But I’ve also had Krellen capture a Muton Elite and a Heavy Floater earlier. Why? I don’t know why. I might be addicted to capturing aliens. I don’t even need their weapons!

So now I find myself in an interesting situation: the lone Ethereal has mind-controlled one member of my squad. The lone soldier carrying a functioning Arc Thrower is panicking, and the lone psionic soldier I brought doesn’t have the Psi Inspiration power. I can either kill the Ethereal and forego my change of capturing it until the next UFO, or I can wait for Putty to finish panicking and risk the Ethereal and Wever killing someone. It’s a hard decision, because almost every soldier’s suffered some serious damage in this fight: a combined Ethereal-Wever attack could conceivably kill anyone who’s not at full health.

Suddenly, inspiration!

See, the alien AI is kind of dumb. Could be because I’m playing on Normal now, I don’t know. Or well, not dumb, per se: it has patterns. And one of the more easily exploitable patterns this AI is shackled to is this simple rule: target out-of-cover enemies in preference over in-cover enemies.

I bring the Ethereal down to near-capture health, heal Putty back up, and put everyone in cover. Everyone, except the already-at-full-health Wulf. Her I put almost next to Wever, completely out of cover.

Yes, that’s actually my plan. ‘Put another soldier in harm’s way, risking bodily injury and possible critical-hit-related death’.

The plan works perfectly: Wever gets a free shot at Wulf, but his Light Plasma Rifle isn’t even near a match for her Titan-Armored, Chitin-Plated health. I’m slightly apprehensive about the Ethereal, but all it does is drain a few hit points from Wever.

And with that, it trades essential liberty for temporary security: I bring it down to capturable health again, and have a newly-restored Putty move in for the capture.

You can’t actually see the Ethereal go down, but trust me when I say it was sweet.

I can’t wait to learn all of this creature’s secrets.

Next episode: I make the final preparations necessary to use the Gollop Chamber. Oh, and the Ethereal’s secrets are lame.

6 comments

  1. I look forward to your total and utter excitement at finding out what you get out of interrogating an Ethereal…

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