Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 30: The End Of The World As We Know It

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, not a whole lot of anything happened. It pretty much went down like this: Krellen touched the weird floating purple alien orb, then just kinda zoned out for half an hour, staring into space. I was actually seriously considering getting the XCOM medical team in there, but dr. Vahlen was… persuasive in her attempts to keep me from interrupting. And by persuasive I mean loud. And by that I mean she yelled at me until I retracted the order. Have you ever had someone rant pseudo-German at you about ‘interrupting the greatest scientific breakthrough since fire‘? I highly recommend it; it’s an experience.

Krellen’s interfacing with the device has had some interesting results. For one, his psionic power has gone off the charts. That may partially be because, as one of the only three human psionic operatives ever, he was rather instrumental in calibrating those charts, but he’s also just legitimately grown stronger.

But more saliently than that, activating the Psi-Link has given Krellen — and by extension, us — intimate knowledge about the makeup and layout of the massive alien vessel. The ‘Temple Ship’, as it’s apparently called; I don’t know who came up with that name. Specifically, Krellen claims to have communicated with the earlier-hypothesized ‘alien hive mind’: through the remnants of that psychic connection, he’s able to pinpoint (with reasonable accuracy) where that hive mind is located on the ship.

And that makes out mission clear: if we are to stop this alien invasion once and for all, we need to cut the head off the snake. A direct assault has always been pointless, but this is turning into the kind of mission XCOM does best: send a small elite strike force into enemy territory to take out key targets. We’ve done this sort of thing before; we’ll do it again.

Your base fell to my power. What makes you think your ship will be any different?

The game is actually pretty straightforward here: this is it. Because I’ve activated the Gollop Chamber, there will be no more passage of time, no more random encounters, no more research or timed construction or hiring new soldiers or healing old ones. This is, in every respect, the final bossfight.

Which means I better be damn careful about who I bring. This squad will have to be the alpha of the alpha. “The best of the best of the best, sir!”

Bringing Krellen is mandatory. I’m not just saying that in the sense that he’s my most powerful soldier and psionic and that ‘not bringing him’ was always a false choice: the game is literally forcing me to bring him along. Moreover, I have to have him wear the Psi Armor. That’s actually a little annoying, because the lighter Psi Armor doesn’t really mesh with the Assault Class’ armor-related health bonus, nor does it complement Krellen’s ‘unstoppable force’ combat discipline well. But okay.

Beyond that, I have free reign. I take a look at my soldier list, seeing who’s who and who’s highest rank. Would it be feasible for me to just bring the five highest-ranking soldiers and roll with that?

Looks like yup!

Amusingly, this setup actually works out just fine. Tovik and Viel, my two other Colonels, can provide the kind of long-range killing power only Snipers can really bring. Major Wulf’s HEAT ammo makes her a machine-killing… machine, I guess, and her high health and damage reduction make her a natural front-line combatant. Major Wever is literally my only living Support, something I’m pretty sure he himself didn’t even see coming. And Captain Putty, finally, is the polar opposite to Krellen’s defensively-oriented Assault build: a soldier focused only on ‘getting in close range’ and ‘crit-ying fools’. Between the six of them, they’re a fairly well-balanced squad.

I asked Krellen if he had any suggestions or comments about this squad layout, but he just smiled sort-of absently.

The only items I bring are medkits and chitin plating, and combat stimulants for Wever’s second inventory slot. And I would’ve given him chitin plating too, thank you very much, if I had enough dead Chryssalids in storage to make another one.

Last Skyranger flight.

Have I mentioned how much I love the music that plays during these segments? It’s really fitting.

Our objectives are deceptively simple: force entry onto the Temple Ship’s bridge and confront whatever we find there. Whatever that is, though, it’ll likely be psionically powered in some degree; Krellen, in his role as the Gollop Chamber Volunteer and super-charged human psionic, must survive.

Krellen didn’t so much volunteer as be forced into the assignment by me, but let’s not talk about that.

Infiltrating the giant Temple Ship is actually relatively uneventful. I initially hope that this means we’ve got the element of surprise, but Krellen quickly dashes those hopes: the aliens are letting us in. It seems that we’re not the only ones with a plan today, and for whatever reasons, their plan involves letting us try to complete ours. I won’t claim to understand it, but one way or another, we still owe it to the world at large to make the most of this opportunity.

We touch down in a mostly unoccupied part of the Temple Ship, only a few dozen meters from the main source of the aliens’ psionic emissions. Immediately on landing, Krellen reports that the alien hive mind is speaking to him psionically, regaling tales about their breeding efforts and lesser races and ‘New Ones’ and what have you. I order him to relay the data to Steve’s Communications team — using the psi-comms link Krellen himself insisted on having in his suit, actually — but decide not to focus on it for now. I’m sure these communications can give us unparalleled insights into the Ethereal psychology later, but for all we know, they’re simply trying to distract us right now. And we can’t have any of that: we have a mission to accomplish.

(Past Jarenth’s Note: of course, if you want a more in-depth overview of what the alien voices tell Krellen throughout this mission, I recommend you re-read the previous episode.)

Here we are. Beginning of the end.

There’s only one way to go here, and that way is ‘forward’. Or alternatively, ‘northwest’. I decide on a slow-and-steady split push approach, at Krellen’s behest, covering all three of the northwest-leading hallways with a small squad.

I know they say not to split the party, but Krellen assured me this was for the best.

The first hallway we enter contains some Sectoids. Not regular Sectoids, but only one of them is a full-fledged Sectoid Commander… I actually think these Sectoids are callbacks to the Turbo Sectoids Of Yore. They die quickly enough, though, as befitting their Sectoid status.

Okay, so this shot was a miss. I just love the composition too much to pass up on it.

Oddly, as Krellen predicted earlier, these aliens don’t just die, they fade away into psionic energy. Are they even real?

Bro, do they even *lift*?

Consensus is that these aliens may or may not actually be real: it’s entirely possible they are tactile psionic illusions, conjured up by the alien hive mind. That would certainly explain how new aliens are capable of appearing out of thin air after I kill the first batch…

I still maintain this is *goddamn cheating*.

…but it’s ultimately hollow conjecture. Fake or not, these aliens still hurt as much as the regular kinds.

Note that this is not always the compliment you might think it is.

After killing the Sectoids, two Cyberdiscs and accompanying Drones appear on the far sides of this hallway. Luckily, my squad is split up neatly, meaning I get lots of Overwatch fire at the encroaching Discs. This doesn’t take them out, but it does take the sting out of their inevitable, grenade-based counter-strikes.

Let me just take this last opportunity to say how much I loathe Cyberdiscs.

Man, can you imagine if I’d just huddled up my squad on that first platform, unaware of the fact I should keep magically appearing Cyberdics in mind at all times? That would’ve sucked.

As it stands, I still take a bit of damage from these robotic monsters, in no small part because of terrible Overwatch luck, but they go down easily enough in the turn after their appearance.

‘Disc-Bane’ Viel, here, shown reaffirming his nickname.

This image cracks me up just enough to justify including it.

That Sectoid should have stayed in bed this morning.

The next hallway, a multi-tiered gravity lift contraption, is home to Floaters and Heavy Floaters. They’re not particularly dangerous in their own right, but the fact that Colonel Viel can use the Temple Ship’s layout to shoot through where I’d have expected there to be walls helps immensely.

‘The strength of a machine’ is no match for a high-powered plasma rifle.

Like so.

Interesting bit of trivia: this ship is open-topped.

After the Floaters die, Chryssalids appear. And what can I even say about those? They’re melee creatures, they’re out of cover, and they spend their turns just standing still. At least the Floaters were theoretically dangerous.

In retrospect, I’m actually kind of glad that whole Second Terror Mission Fuckup happened: it gave me a chance to see Chryssalids in their optimal environment, being *actually dangerous*.

Moving on…

Little overview shot of this hallway for you.

There’s a few Thin Men in a room beyond this hallway, but I make short work of them. Krellen insists that I don’t send him in like usual, pointing out that without his trusty Titan Armor, he’s actually vulnerable to their poison. This is exactly the sort of thing I would’ve forgotten otherwise. I keep Viel and Wever out of that room for similar reasons.

Not everything goes the way I’d like it to…

Case in point.

…but we get through that room with a minimum of fuss.

I send Ghost-Wever to scout into the next room, and discover what I’d already sort-of expected there to be here: Mutons.

Four regular Mutons, two Berserkers, and one mildly upset Ghost-Wever.

Luckily, thanks to his scouting, I can get the drop on them fairly easily. It’s at this point I notice Krellen has a new and interesting psionic power called Rift, and decide to try it out on some of the Mutons.

With frankly *excellent* results.

The Mutons fall quickly after that, only nearly murdering Putty once.

Of course he survives on one hitpoint.

Of course he gets immediate, shotgun-based payback.

Now, my original idea here, after ending the Mutons, was to just move forward. But Krellen’s actually stopped me from doing that: he said something about ‘clearly hearing an enemy presence’ beyond the little balcony I intended to send him to. He’s been pretty right so far, so I instead have everyone heal up and consolidate. It takes several turns to get Putty’s bones to knit together, but the aliens seem content to just wait that out.

And wouldn’t you know it? There’s no less than two Sectopods down there! Man, if I’d just charged forward like planned, that could’ve ended poorly

Can you imagine just *walking into* this encounter, like a chump?

Luckily, due to Krellen’s excellent hearing, I’m able to get the drop on them. I drop both of them in a single turn, never even leaving the balcony once.

“In this image, we see a beautiful juxtaposition between the green plasma, the purple impact marker, and the red reactive fire-sparks.”

Destroying the Sectopods causes some Muton Elites to spawn on the lower walkways. Had my soldiers been down there with the robots, that would’ve been dangerous. As it currently stands, however, I can easily pick them off from this Balcony Of Coolness as well.

This one didn’t even shoot me after walking up to there.

And with that, we move forward into the final room, pausing only momentarily to admire the view of the South Atlantic Ocean visible from unexplained openings in the Temple Ship.

This seems like something of an operational hazard, though.

Krellen seems incredibly hesitant to enter this final room. So I do what I always do when I’m unsure of what danger I’m about to face: I send Ghost-Wever in to scout.

This turns out to have been a good decision.

The final room is, to use a quote, ‘something else’.

In what I assume is the cockpit of this vessel stands the leader of the alien invasion, a creature Krellen calls the ‘Uber Ethereal’. It’s clearly incredibly powerful, and it’s not alone: two Muton Elites stand before it, and two regular Ethereals flank it.

The Uber Ethereal requested not to be in this picture.

Ghost-Wever is just having the time of his life here.

In retrospect, the Muton room wasn’t so bad.

The good news is the aliens can’t actually do anything to him while he’s invisible. The bad news is his invisibility generator just ran out.

Using Wever’s field of view, Colonel Viel is capable of taking out on of the Muton Elites from a distance. Wever then retreats, attempting to draw the remaining aliens with him to my hallway bottleneck.

Initially, the aliens seem too clever for this strategy, and I spend a few turns basically waiting in vain. But then…

A Wild Ethereal appears!

One of the Ethereals shows up, confident in its psionic superiority. Can you guess what happens next?

If your guess was ‘I shoot it a few times, followed by using Krellen’s new Rift power to dissolve it into purple psi-fire’, then congratulations!

After healing up for the final time, I bring everyone forward into the small hallway. The other aliens aren’t coming to us, so we’ll go to them instead.

I mess up the location assignments and get everyone trapped in the hallway, in full view of the aliens. Great. That’s pretty much exactly a thing I expected to happen, really.

Rockets may or may not have been involved.

No, wait, not everyone: Putty’s still free. I actually sent him forward a little bit, to get out of the rocket’s way. He’s very much hurt, and there’s no less than three aliens covering each other at the end of that hall… but he’s literally the only one who can try to do something before they move in and take free shots at us.

And really, what would Putty do in this situation? I’ll tell you what he’d do: he’d rush forward, get all up in the Uber Ethereal’s face, and try to blast that thing into space-age shotgun smithereens before it even had a chance to parse what was happening.

And let’s not forget the three words he would say:

“Brick squad, motherfucker.”

The Uber Ethereal ‘deflects’ the first attack, but the second hits home. It’s not killed, but that’s okay: the spell of its apparent superiority is broken. It can bleed. It can die.

Which is more than we can say for Putty.

The regular Ethereal strikes back, causing Putty to go down — but not out! Never out. The Muton Elite stands around, confused, unsure of what to do or who to shoot. The Uber Ethereal, befitting its leadership status, is less taken aback: it moves forward and mind-controls Colonel Viel, who has managed to get around the hallway pile-up by way of jetpack.

None of it matters. Remember how, back in the day, Major Wulf was the first human being to successfully injure an Ethereal? Turns out she’s about to be the last human being to do so as well.

They say humans die at ramming speed. You want to see how an Uber Ethereal dies?

The Uber Ethereal dies the same way every other alien on this vessel has died: dissolving in a cloud of purple plasma fire. As it does so, it sends psychic feedback pulses to the two remaining aliens, blasting them out of existence as well. We win.

Do we?

Suddenly, doom.

Rumbling. Rising waters. Noise, confusion, panic. The death of the Uber Ethereal causes the alien ship to go haywire, somehow: the purple psi-ball on its bridge, similar to the one used in the alien Psi-Link, is spiking all over the place. What’s happening?

Back in XCOM HQ, Steve, dr. Shen and dr. Vahlen are equally panicky. The whole world is shaking, literally, and anything we’re currently measuring on a chart is going off the charts. Whatever this is, it’s bad.

Dr. Vahlen figures out what’s going on just as Krellen, back in the Temple Ship, has another vision. The Temple Ship is going critical, for whatever reason, collapsing in on itself. ‘Behaving like a dying star’. It’s turning into a black hole.

It’s currently only a few hundred meters above the Earth’s surface.

Krellen’s vision is more detailed than dr. Vahlen’s predictions. Buildings toppling. Gale-force winds. The Skyranger, crashing and burning. And the Earth, the whole Earth, flash-burning in the instant before the black hole consumes it.

Artist’s interpretation of the Earth being consumed by flash-fire.

What can we do to stop this? Can we do anything to stop this. For the first time in this entire war, neither dr. Shen nor dr. Vahlen seem to have any ansers.

The other soldiers are making for the Skyranger: Tovik and Wulf carrying an unconscious Putty, and Wever supporting a dazed, ex-mind-controlled Viel.

Krellen is not leaving.

It seems silly to refer to Krellen as ‘the package’ at this point. Which aliens are going to be tapping our communications, again?

Krellen has a different plan.

It involves this here orb.

XCOM HQ takes notice immediately when the alien ship starts moving. Starts moving up.

Spaaaaace.

Krellen takes control of the alien craft, steering it up, up into space. Away from Earth. That alone will not suffice, though: if the ship does turn into a black hole, the Earth will be destroyed regardless of kilometer-range distance. There’s only really one way this can end: with a grimace, determined focus, and..

…it’s over in a flash.

On Earth, people across the correct hemisphere are watching the sky get lit up by a massive explosion. The country-sized ship, now in thousands of pieces, starts raining back down to Earth, creating a burning meteor shower unlike any we’ve seen before. The debris fireballs rain down over countryside, over cities, and over the disturbed, wobbling Skyranger that’s desperately trying to make its way home.

Trying its damned hardest to keep that ‘crashed Skyranger’ vision from reality.

Cut to credits.

End of the gameplay line.

:Next episode: A proper epilogue.

7 comments

  1. “Major Wever is literally my only living Support, something I’m pretty sure he himself didn’t even see coming.”
    Considering I guesstimated my lifespan to be four episodes…

  2. I was actually rather impressed with XCOM’s storyline. Most of the time you expect a strategy game to ‘just’ be its own story, but XCOM somehow manages to do that (as proven over and over again by this very LP) AND have a reasonable progressive storyline that makes a modicum of sense, both narratively and gameplay wise.

    Although I think I might like an alternate mode with more generic win conditions, like a bunch of bases to wipe out or something and a territory struggle of some kind… Not sure how well having the narrative will carry over into subsequent playthroughs.

    1. I’ve done a second playthrough by now, and while the narrative doesn’t detract from the core gameplay in any way, it loses its relevance a little.

      It’s really hard to feel excited at the prospect of, say, raiding the alien base, or worry about what might be hidden in the Overseer UFO, when you already know what’s going to happen.

      1. It gets worse once you understand the mechanics behind the aliens you face, and how slowly they escalate if you don’t follow the story. Whoops my Sniper one-shot the Sectoid Commander.

        It’s also quite silly to have an URGENT RESEARCH THING sitting there for more than a month. Then again, I know it doesn’t get me anything until I actually want to raid the base, so why would it enter the queue.
        [/metagaming]

        1. Well, but that’s the thing. It’s NOT metagaming! The fact is, the game itself is flat out lying to you about what is and is not urgent, mechanically speaking. You shouldn’t feel obligated to quickly complete the “urgent” missions, because the game has taught you that the story will wait for you. If the designers wish the “story” to have urgency, then they must tie it into the system mechanics. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of empty in-game hype.

          Metagaming is persuing “out of game” goals using in-game means. Since the “story” here is, for all intents and purposes disconnected from the actual mechanics of the game, you would be metagaming if you took the missions “urgency” seriously.

          So don’t blame yourself for the writers and designers duplicity. They are trying to use a very old form of mind control.

          1. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what makes it metagaming: you’re using out-of-‘character’ knowledge about the real importance of the missions to make decisions a proper Commander would not.

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