Surprise! I thought of a better mouse-over joke at the last second. These bits are guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules.

Jarenth Plays XCOM 2 — Episode 1: Rude Awakening

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM 2, I… just woke up! Apparently I was kidnapped by alien forces somewhere between the end of the previous Let’s Play and this one. Emphasis on ‘napped’: as far as we can tell, the aliens just made me sleep a whole damn bunch. But how long exactly have they put in their stasis tank?


Twenty years!?”

Steve nods solemnly. We’re both sitting in the medbay room, still only the two of us, and he’s just told me that I’ve been asleep for two decades.

“I… that is, I mean… it’s…” I don’t really know how to deal with this. “Twenty?

“It’s actually a little more like twenty-two,” Steve finally says.

I rest my head in my hands for a few minutes. I… still don’t really know how to deal with this. Is there even a way to deal with this? An era is gone in the blink of an eye. How do I react? What do I ask? What do I do? Steve, ever the considerate one, waits for me to get a grip on things.

Finally, I speak up. “So what… what happened, after I was gone?”

“War,” Steve replies. “A long war, this time. We thought we had the aliens on the ropes, but they were just biding and rebuilding. We ended up fighting them for years.”

He smiles dimly. “I wish you could’ve seen some of the new stuff we came up with. Robot suits the size of cars… genetically altered soldiers that cloaked, and ran, and leapt whole house at once. We gave as good as we got at every turn. And we’ve had plenty of skilled replacement commanders, some of the greatest tactical minds of a generation. But…”

“But what?”

“But what we never suspected was that the aliens had human help.”

“I’m sorry, did you just say…”

Steve nods. “The aliens were backed up by a human organization called ADVENT. Started out as some alien-sympathizing cult called EXALT. They believed that the aliens were here to ‘uplift’ humanity, or some bull like that. That they’d use their advanced technology to ‘wipe out war and disease, and usher in a new age of prosperity’. You get the idea. Your typical utopian daydreaming.”

“But the aliens were smart. ADVENT taught them to use the carrot as well as the stick. When it became clear we could hold them off in a straight fight, they started converting more and more human groups to their side. With…” He waves his hands vaguely. “Well, with all that typical utopian daydreaming crap. Genetic engineering, advanced robotics. ‘Gifts’ for humanity. ‘Tokens of their benevolent friendship’.”

“And people fell for that?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Steve replies. “Remember how Argentina left the Council of Nations? They went there first. All white doves and peace offerings. And…” He pauses for a bit. “Credit where it’s due, their technology does work. Infant mortality in Argentina dropped to zero almost overnight. Most human hospitals packed up shop after a week. And when images of a rebuilt Buenos Aires were broadcast two months later…”

“All of a sudden, the future was *now*.”

Steve starts pacing. “We’d gotten good at shooting down alien warships, but we had no defense against their propaganda. More and more people started buying into their promises. Nations left the council one after another. And…”

He turns around and flips on a wall monitor. “Well, let’s put it this way. Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of ‘Unification Day’. I’ll let you work out what that means for yourself.”

Apparently this Bono-looking asshole is the official ‘Speaker’. Whatever that means.

I shake my head. “So they’ve taken over, is what you’re telling me? I assume that can’t be good for humanity.”

“It isn’t,” Steve replies. “More and more humans are joining ADVENT, for the promise of genetic improvement and long healthy life. But… the ones that do, well…”

“…let’s just say I wouldn’t call them ‘human’ anymore.”

“So where does that leave us?” I finally ask.

“Resistance,” Steve replies. “We fight ADVENT and the aliens at every turn. We try to stay alive, we try to work out what the aliens are doing here, and we try to open more and more eyes to the truth.”

“And that truth is?…”

“Well…” Steve hesitates for a moment. “We don’t really know yet. Between gathering supplies, staying alive, and hunting for you, we haven’t made a great deal of progress yet on deciphering their plans. We’re really not that great of an organization anymore: the only person we have on-board who could even get started at working this stuff out is doctor Tygan.”

He turns around. “The doctor has actually asked to speak to you when you woke up. Why don’t you go meet him now? I have to get things ready on the bridge, anyway.”

“Okay,” I say. “So how do I…”

Steve smiles. “Down the hallway, third stairwell to the left, and then look for the giant humming reactor. Can’t miss it.”


Steve wasn’t kidding.

I could feel the vibrations in my *bones* three rooms away.

The laboratory area of the base looks like a cross between a Silicon Valley start-up garage, and a mad scientist’s fever dream. The generator alone

In front of it, a bald, dark-skinned man in a lab coat stands reverently. He turns around at my approach, and I recognize his face from my earlier fever-dreams — this is the man who operated on me when I first came in. Do I owe my life to him? I… I think I might.

“Ah, Commander.” The man extends his hand, and I shake it. “Dr. Richard Tygan, Chief Science Officer. I am responsible for the entirety of our research here, as well as the procedure you so recently underwent. Welcome to my lab, such as it is.”

“Pleasure to meet you, doctor Tygan. Can I call you Richard?” Nod. “This is an… interesting lab you have here.”

Richard smirks briefly. “I’m sure it can’t hold a candle to the old XCOM laboratories you’re used to. And compared to my old ADVENT laboratory… But we make do with what we have, in these troubled times.”

“Er…” I stare at the doctor briefly.

“Yes, you heard that correctly,” he confirms. “I have worked for ADVENT for many years. I bought into their propaganda, I’m ashamed to admit. And the chance to work closely with such exciting technology…” He composes himself. “But in the face of increasing evidence to the contrary — when I started seeing glimpses and traces of the aliens’ true plans for humanity — I followed my heart over my mind, and ended up here as a result. I’ve worked with the resistance for years now, Commander, and it was my work that lead directly to your retrieval. I’m sure my operational record will dispel any possible lingering doubts vis-à-vis my loyalties.”

I make a dismissive gesture. “That’s alright, doctor. Richard. I didn’t mean to draw your loyalty into question. Just curious.”

“Now then.” Richard walks to his desk. “I’m not sure what Central may have told you, but we found something while removing you from that alien stasis suit. An implant of sorts, placed directly into your occipital lobe. I… have to admit I don’t quite understand what it does, yet. But I’m certain that this implant is the key to understanding why the aliens kept you alive and in stasis for so long. And with your approval, of course, I’ll immediately begin a study to find out.”

They’re not wasting any time putting me in charge.

“My approval? Er… sure, go nuts. I want to know too.”

“Excellent!” Richard turns to his desk, then turns back around. “Oh, and one more thing. Skilled as I am, I am of course only one man with one mind. Were you to direct additional support personnel and resources to me, I could substantially improve the speed of all our research.”

“I, er… you realize I literally just woke up, right?”

The doctor smirks again. “Yes, of course. I apologize. Simply keep this in mind for later, then. Should you find any additional scientists for the cause…”

He turns back to his desk. “With your approval, I would like to begin studying the implant now, Commander. In the meantime, why don’t you visit the Command Bridge? That is, after all, where a Commander like you should reside.”

“Sounds like a plan, doc,” I reply, as I make for the exit. “I’ll see you around.” There is no reply.


Command deck, command deck… Oh, it’s probably the place with the giant holo-globe.

“ATTENTION,” a robotic female voice yells as I enter the command are, “UNAUTHORIZED PRESENCE DEETECTED”. Red lights flicker. I freeze. Is that me? I thought I was…

“Commander!” Steve yells from across the room. “Give me a second. Computer! Execute Echelon Protocol”.

And just like that, I’m actually in charge.

“Sorry about that, Commander,” Steve says. “I wanted the transfer of command to be a little more ceremonious, but…” He gestures around. “Welcome to your bridge!”

My bridge, huh,” I smirk. “It looks familiar.”

“What can I say?” Steve replies. “It worked in XCOM HQ, so we didn’t fix it. And yes, it’s officially your bridge now. I’ve kept up command for the last few years, but I’ll be happy if I can just be Central again. Actually commanding soldiers just isn’t…”

A nearby console blares. “Ah,” Steve says, “just in time. I did actually send out one last mission before you came up. A local resistance cell tipped us off to the location of a ‘hybrid magnetic power convertor’. Engineering’s been pushing us to find something like that…” The base lights briefly flicker on and off. “…for important maintenance reasons.”

It’s important, okay.

“How about I take command of this final mission?” Steve suggests. “I’m familiar with the soldiers and the goal, as well as with current state of warfare. And I can try to brief you on the what and the why of what’s changed in the past two decades.”

“Fine by me.” I sit down. “Wow me, Steve.”

“Alright, Commander,” he smirks. “Skyranger is approaching drop zone… now.”

There’s a sight for sore eyes.

“The Skyranger looks different,” I remark.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Steve replies. “We’ve had to make some changes. We traded the old Skyranger’s bulky loud engines for quieter hover-models. This ‘ranger has less operational range, but it can approach drop zones completely undetected. It also doesn’t need to land: soldiers can disembark and return via drop ropes.”

Pictured: no Skyranger.

I watch intently as Steve directs the four-soldier squad through the snowy forest road. The soldiers move slowly, carefully, much moreso than I’d expect. They’re emphasizing stealth over speed, from the looks of it.

“Right again, Commander,” Steve replies when I ask. “We go in much more quietly nowadays. Remember that the global landscape has changed. The aliens rule now, they are the norm. If just dropped our soldiers out in the open, they’d be swarmed with reaction forces within minutes. We simply don’t have that kind of relative firepower anymore. Resorting to stealth gives us more time to get to our actual objectives, and it means we’re less likely to face an entire ADVENT army in open combat.”

“Plus,” he adds, smirking as he directs soldiers into position, “when the aliens don’t know we’re here yet, that gives us the drop on them.” One soldier hides behind a car, another soldier shuffles behind a tree. In the distance, vague armored humanoid shapes are visible. “And with the kind of firepower ADVENT is packing, every first-strike advantage is one that we…”

Mechanical summary: as long as that icon in the top is visible, the aliens don’t know we’re here. But fire a gun, or handle a door, or step on one of those red-eye marked squares, and the proverbial jig is *up*.

“Are you sure you want your people to get that close, though?” I interrupt, as Steve tells one soldier to climb up a truck cab in spitting distance of the humanoids. “Because I don’t know how well these aliens can see, but…”

“…it looks like they’re pretty exposed, so…”

“…they might get spotted at any moment.”

I hear the tell-tale smack of a facepalm. “Alright, that can happen. We’re in more of a hurry than usual anyway; sources tell us that that power converter is rigged to blow at any time. Everyone, engage at will!”

Steve cycling through combat orders is an immediate blast of familiarity. Get into a good position, take aim, fire, and hope you hit. And even the weapons haven’t changed much over the last twenty years, apparently. Soldier one carries an assault rifle, soldier two carries an assault rifle, soldier three carries an assault rifle, and soldier four carries a shotgun and…

I do a double take. “Is that woman carrying a sword?”

“Why is that woman carrying a sword?”

“Tactical considerations, Commander. ADVENT and the aliens have the technological advantage on us. They control access to fancy armor and energy projection weapons. And bullets… well, I’m sure you remember how effective bullets were against the aliens. But a good sword, carried by someone with upper body strength… whatever armor it can’t slice through, it can circumvent. Almost no armor is 100% weak-spot-proof. I know it feels old and archaic to use swords on a battlefield of guns, but they’ve been amazingly useful in the right situations.”

“For instance…” Steve points at the screen. “See that lone ADVENT soldier over there? Taking him out with gunfire would be loud, and time-consuming, and we’d run the chance of missing entirely. But with a sword…”

“I mean, swords can still *miss*. But they’re very accurate weapons.”

“And hey, look at that! One orange-blood down.”

“You have a point, I guess,” I say. “But doesn’t this leave that soldier horrible exposed? She’s not in any cover right now. So if any other alien troops were nearby…”

You know, hypothetically.

Steve curses under his breath. “Okay, everyone, our Ranger’s in a bad spot. Everyone move forward and take up positions aroun-”

“No, wait,” I interject. “Don’t do that.”

“Commander?”

I point at the screen. “See how these aliens troops are dug in? If you put everyone else opposite, you probably won’t do any significant damage to them. And then your Ranger is still open and exposed. It sucks, I know, but there’s not a whole lot you can do to help her right now. And throwing good positions after bad is just gonna make everyone’s day worse.”

Steve side-eyes me. “…So what would you suggest?”

“Get everyone in tactically good positions for the return strike. Here, see how this red-armored guy is flanking the Ranger? If we put this soldier over here, we’re giving him something more pressing to think about instead.”

Suddenly ‘standing still and shooting at my Ranger’ doesn’t seem like such a hot career move anymore, huh?

“And this other soldier,” I continue, “he’s way too far away to be able to reliably land anything. But if we put him in overwatch here… assuming the alien soldiers are gonna want to move to a better position themselves…”

So predictable.

“And what about the Ranger,” Steve asks. “What can do for her?”

“Hope and pray,” I answer. “Sorry.”

Three alien soldiers remain. The first one, the flanked one, marks the Ranger with some sort of ability… before fleeing to a better hiding spot. The second one, another red-armored one, shoot… and hits. That’s a painful four damage out of six. And finally, the last one, the black-armored one… moves, and aims, and shoots, and…

Whew.

I hear several people across the room release breaths of tension.

“What next, Commander?” Steve asks. I don’t even notice as he slowly ushers me in front of the command console.

One soldier kills the weakened red-armor. Another shoots and skills the black-armor in a single hit. The third draws a bead on a remaining red-armor. And the Ranger?

The Ranger runs and goddamn *hides*.

Steve briefs me on what I’m seeing as I direct troops around the battlefield. “Those black-armored humanoids are your basic ADVENT shock troops. Their guns are tough, but their armor is weak. And they’re very predictable. They blindly follow the orders of their officers, the stronger red-armored ones that you’ve seen.”

“Okay. That’s all good to know, thanks. And what’s the reason we’re here again?”

“The power converter, that’s what! Don’t forget that we need to get a soldier next to it to disable the detonator. And quickly, too… if that thing goes off, I don’t think anyone there is going to go home today.”

That’s really what he says. You can tell the stakes are *high*.

“Alright, alright.” I order a soldier next to the converter. So how do we…”

“Just let the soldier hack it,” Steve says. “They’ll know how to do it.”

Which is good, because I have *no idea*.

Five seconds later, another wave of tension drains from the room. “Great job, Commander,” Steve says. “Now all we need to do is clear out any remaining hostiles in the area, so the Skyranger can safely approach.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem. What can I expect around here? Just more ADVENT troopers and officers?”

I’m not prepared for what’s hiding behind the trees.

“Holy *hell”!

“What is that thing?”

“That’s a Sectoid,” Steve replies.

“Bullshit that’s a Sectoid. Sectoids are annoying little grey men. You know, one meter tall, plasma pistols, they scurry a lot. This is… some sort of horror movie prop come to life. So what the fuck is it?”

“Actually, Commander…” Richard’s voice crackles over the intercom. Has he been listening in? “These creatures are Sectoids. Or rather, they’re the results of twenty years of focused genetic engineering and upgrading by their aliens masters. In a way, perhaps, they are what ‘Sectoids’ were always meant to become.”

“Rassa-frassa…” I mutter under my breath. “Well, at least they’re still Sectoids. Big, and scary, and tough Sectoids. But what are they gonna do, scowl at me?”

As if on cue, the Sectoid skitters into cover. It scrunches its face, focuses, and releases a wave of what I recognize as psionic energy. A mental attack, maybe? But the energy doesn’t seem to go towards anyone. It just curls around a little, snakes away from the Sectoid, crawls over a nearby ADVENT soldier corpse…

“Oh fuck me,” I say, a little too loudly, as the dead ADVENT soldier shambles back on their feet.

Nice TIMING on that WARNING, STEVE.

“Okay. So they make psionic zombies now. That’s, that’s good. I can deal with this. It’s not like the aliens weren’t horrible before.”

“Yeah, sorry, Commander,” Steve says. “Could’ve warned you, I guess. Still, it’s more of a shock value thing than anything. The zombies are walking corpses, but they lose the ability to fire guns. It’s strictly a melee threat. They’re tough, but if you have the troops focus fire, you can probably take them out before…”

“Nuh-uh.” I shake my head. “I remember how this works. See that trail of purple energy coming from the Sectoid? They used to do that for their other tricks, too, back in the day. I’ll bet you ten bucks that if we focus down the Sectoid instead, that zombie’s just gonna crumple into a heap again.”

“Kill the creepy alien space monster? NO PROBLEM.”

And sure enough…

You can’t tell, but it’s crumbling into a heap alright.

“Great job, Commander,” Steve shouts over the sound of applause. “Scans show no more hostiles in the immediate area. I’m ordering Menace 1-5 to make the pickup.”

“Whew.” I get up. “Sorry for just taking over there. So, what do we do next?”

“How about we go to the hangar, and meet the soldiers as they disembark? Steve suggests. “I’m sure they’d love to meet the person responsible for getting them all home in one piece.”

“Sure,” I nod. “Lead the way.”

“Will do. And… one more thing?

“Yeah?”

Glad to *be* back.

Next episode: I learn about soldiers, about engineering, and about the hidden secret of our base. Do you know the hidden secret of our base?

7 comments

  1. I was wondering if you would adress Enemy Within. Clever way to do so.

    Also loving the 1st person stuff. Is the rest of the LP gonna be like that?

    1. Most of it, yeah. My writing style right now very much trends towards the first-person narration, so that’s what you’ll see most often. But sometimes, particularly during missions, I’ll slip into Gameplay Descriptive Mode instead. It’s the difference between:

      ‘”Soldier,” I say, “move to that place and shoot that alien!”‘

      And:

      ‘I tell this soldier to move to that place and shoot that alien.’

  2. We’re now a full episode in and no one has names!

    Okay, that sectoid is definitely creepier than the first one (though the first one would give nightmares if met IRL I’m sure). Is it Tuesday yet?

  3. Number of XCOM Soldiers Killed on Jarenth’s Watch: 0
    Number of Aliens Killed on Jarenth’s Watch: 4? (1 sectoid, 2 troopers and an officer are mentioned)
    Number of Robots Killed on Jarenth’s Watch: 0
    Number of Civilians Killed on Jarenth’s Watch: 0
    Number of Missions Completed on Jarenth’s Watch: 1

    1. Probably a little more, given that there were at least two Officers — there’s the one I flank around the car, and another one that shoots and injured Ranger McNoNameYet. I’ll check for the exact numbers when I get a chance.

  4. “War,” Steve replies. “A long war, this time.

    Then he turns to the camera and winks.

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