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 5: Guerrilla Radio

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM 2, ADVENT decided that their ‘obvious villain’ status was a little in peril. They hadn’t actually done anything so far, had they? All of my missions have been variations on ‘steal someone or something from the aliens’, or ‘break something that the aliens own’. You’d almost be forgiven for thinking that we were the bad guys here.

All that ambiguity went out the window, though, when the alien launched a brutal reprisal strike against an innocent resistance haven.

XCOM stopped the attack, but at great cost. Both personal and international: not only was Squaddie Rita Wulf the first named XCOM soldier to die in the line of duty, but — good PR notwithstanding — this attack has made obvious that we don’t have anything approaching ADVENT’s reach yet. If they can just hit us whenever they want, wherever they want, without any real prior warning… what kind of an organized resistance are we even? It’s that question that drives me to doctor Tygan’s lab, this early morning…

“ADVENT Troopers are really a fascinating study into the effectiveness of directed genetic manipulation,” Richard says. He’s handed me his ADVENT Trooper autopsy report. I’m inclined to agree, to be honest. Not only are the Troopers just as connected to the alien psionic tactics network — we really need to find a better name for this — but their physical form has been fine-tuned to let them pass for normal humans in most situations, while still instilling a whole mess of alien DNA-related benefits.

Make no mistakes: these things may have started out like you and me, but they are too far beyond the pale to ever be considered ‘human’.

“While I’m sorry to say my autopsy has not revealed any immediate weaknesses, or obvious tactical benefits,” Richard continues, “I have been able to translate the Trooper’s enhanced eye design into a hand-held scanning device. Our soldiers will be able to use this to great scouting effect, even while concealed.” He hands me a little blue-white orb, and I bite back the impulse to make a Portal reference at it.

This is a normal impulse here, yeah?

“Good work again, doctor.” I put the orb down. “But I actually came down here to talk to you about the Resistance Radio project. It’s time for you to work on this full-time, I think. What can you tell me about your plan?”

“Ah!” Richard’s face lights up. It always does when he’s excited to tell me about his work, which means it always does. “Yes, I do have one very promising idea for our global communications issue. We have so far been relying on finding obsolete or hidden frequencies to avoid the aliens’ detection methods, but I fear this is not a sustainable course of action. The aliens know to look for us ‘off the grid’, after all. Rather, why not try the old conceit of ‘hiding in plain sight’?”

“You’re gonna have to walk me through this one, doctor.”

“The idea is simple, Commander. ADVENT utilizes a vast and powerful global communications network. All their facilities and ships are tied into it, and every day the network processes an amount of data on the exabyte scale.”

“Which is…”

Richard looks amused for a second. “A lot, Commander.”

“Alright. So how does that help us?”

“The thing you must understand about processing this much raw information, Commander, is that it’s almost impossible to actually read everything. Or see, or parse, or whatever is applicable. The aliens no doubt monitor their network, but even if every single ADVENT employee spent every single minute of every single day parsing data, they would still not be able to double-check everything.”

“And…” He taps on a console demonstratively. “When I said that all the aliens’ ships are tied to the network, I meant all their ships.”

“We’re part of their network?” I ask worriedly.

“Only marginally,” Richard replies. “The Avenger’s digital signature is next to none, I have personally seen to this. But yes, we are ‘part of the network’. It is this connection that allows us to intercept and utilize the aliens’ communications, for one. But I now believe we can start using this connection more pro-actively. By figuring out and creating a proper encryption-decryption system, we should be able to send our resistance messages over the aliens’ own network — without them ever noticing.”

“This sounds like a risky plan, doctor.”

Richard nods. “I understand, Commander. It does, on paper. If the aliens do spot our messages, our location would be terribly compromised. But in this case, the potential benefits still outweigh the risks. And I assure you we will take every possible precaution before ‘going live’.”

“Alright then, doctor, you’ve convinced me.” I get up. “Make this your top priority, please. And report back to me as soon as you feel it’s workable.”

“Will do, Commander.”

“In the meantime, I’ll see if I can’t get you some more hands here. We’ve heard reports of a an escaped scientist taking shelter at a nearby resistance cell. With some luck, we might convince them to join up with us.”

‘I’m confused, Commander. Wasn’t ‘recruiting an ADVENT scientist’ the sole purpose of that whole mission you had a few days ago?’

‘Listen, don’t question it, okay? We’re getting a free scientist from a combat-free scanning mission. Don’t rock this boat.’

I look to the coming few days with a little trepidation. The Avenger is a bustle of activity right now, even more so than usual. Doctor Tygan and his (new) colleagues are hard at work figuring out this radio conundrum. And Chief Engineer Shen and her team have successfully excavated one of the Avenger’s top decks, and are working on the other one, while also finishing off the Guerrilla Tactics School. Which, by the by, is a real fancy-looking place:

I mean, it looks less like a ‘tactics school’ and more like a ‘fancy gym’. But whatever works, I guess.

The Guerrilla Tactics School is a two-parter. On one level, it provides squad-level upgrades, analogous to the old XCOM HQ’s Officer Training School. I look forward to the day where I get a soldier up to Sergeant rank, so I can upgrade my squad size to five, and Captain rank, so it goes to six. And there are a few class-specific interesting-looking upgrades as well.

But I forgot to screenshot those in this batch. So you get the squad size one instead.

And on another level, the GTS provides the unique new component of ‘directed soldier training’. I can station a rookie in here, for five days, and they’ll emerge a Squaddie of the chosen class. It’s not quite as ‘quick’ as the old active-combat-promotion, and any soldier stationed here can’t be used in missions for the duration. But it’s free, aside from the time cost, and it’ll let me make sure I have enough trainees of any soldier class type. No more ‘ten thousand Snipers, when all I need is Support’ for this Commander.

Plus, it’ll allow me to actually start giving people *names*. I’m getting tired of dancing around multi-rookies in my mission outlines.

Thing is: everyone’s real busy. The scientists are scientist-ing, the engineers are digging out ship floors and crafting goodies, and one chosen rookie is doing a whole bunch of pushups right now. It’d be an awful moment for the aliens to pull any shit now, while I’m desperately trying to keep an overview of all the plans I made and all the things I still want to do. Which means they’ll almost definitely do that as soon as I finish typing this sentence.

Or maybe not.

And then we just… *progressed*.

“I am prepared to call this an unqualified success, Commander,” Richard says, beaming with pride. We’re discussing research results on the bridge for once; the holo-globe has only just been appended with some brand new radio tower icons. Steve is also here, paying rapt attention.

“The idea I presented to you earlier has been implemented more or less as outlined. We’ve been able to find a series of ADVENT carrier signals to piggyback our own communications onto. They’re vital for network operations, and consequently world-wide, but not in any way interesting enough for any overseeing entity to pay special attention to. Assuming we adhere to the safety precautions I’ve outlined in my report, I foresee no reason why ADVENT would ever discover our signal.”

“I know I say this often, but… that is great work, doctor.” It might be my imagination, but I think I briefly see Richard blush under that compliment. “So, does that mean we’re good to go for the global resistance idea?”

“We are good to go to get started, Commander,” Richard replies. “Getting the actual resistance together will take some significant time, I’m afraid.”

“Oh? Care to elaborate?”

“Certainly, Commander. There are currently two reasons that we cannot just ‘call up’ every resistance cell. One is actually a direct consequence of the safety measures I mentioned earlier. You see, our communication signal depends on ‘stealth’ to avoid ADVENT detection: the signal is small and unassuming, with a low power magnitude, so as not to trigger automated alarms. But therein lies the problem: the distance any signal can travel before degrading into uselessness is directly proportional to its power. If we wanted to send our signal out world-wide, we would have to boost it in power to the point that instant detection is all but guaranteed.”

“Oh,” I say. “That… kind of puts a damper on this whole ‘global‘ resistance thing, doesn’t it?”

“Yes and no, Commander,” Richard replies. “While we can’t send our messages out world-wide yet, I would not be worthy of my title of Chief Scientist if I hadn’t figured out this problem before calling you here.”

He taps a few buttons on his personal datapad, and the holo-globe zooms in on the North American continent. Our continent, I catch myself thinking.

I mean, I’m technically European. But listen: *ours*.

“This is our current state of affairs,” Richard explains. “Signal-to-noise ratios being what they are, we can reliably transmit our communications to the eastern and western parts of North America — two regions we know to host major regional resistance cells. This distance is based on our message originating from our New Mexico radio hub, which we have rebuilt to incorporate the same alien technology found in the Avenger.”

“But…” He ‘taps’ the globe a few times, which honestly look a little silly. “…should we actually succeed in making contact with a major resistance haven, we can then work with them to upgrade their radio stations in accordance with our specs. Which will then allow us to…”

“Aaaah.” Realization blooms. “Then we can send our signal from their hub! Meaning we get to calculate distance from that point of origin instead.” I look at Richard. “Almost like playing hopscotch!”

“Exactly, Commander! …More or less. I knew it would not take you long to understand the basic concept.”

“Well.” I’m actually a little proud at that, I won’t mind telling you. “So that’s the first problem, then? What’s the second one?”

“Our second ‘problem’, Commander, is ironically the same reason the aliens have not been able to destroy these resistance cells in the first place.” Richard looks at me a little sheepishly. “We don’t know where they are.”

“Oh. That, er… that makes sense, I guess. But isn’t that what the radio signal is for?”

“In a sense, it is. And in theory, we could broadcast our low-power signal across the entire United States. However, again, that raises chances of detection to unacceptable levels — if we broadcast our signal indiscriminately, it is almost guaranteed that some ADVENT listening station or another receives it. It’s not just a matter of getting the message out there without it being spotted, Commander; we also want it to only be heard by the intended recipients.”

“Okay, yes, that does make sense. But am I correct in assuming you have a solution for this as well?”

Richard smiles enigmatically. “Actually, Commander, in matters of intelligence warfare like these, I gladly cede the floor to my esteemed colleague. Central, if you would?”

“Thank you, doctor,” Steve says, as he walks up to the globe. “Yeah, I can answer this one. Commander, do you remember asking me what all that alien intel we keep collecting is good for?”

“I thought that was out-of-character, actually. But sure.”

“Well,” Steve smiles slyly, “we’re using it for the same thing they would want to use it. We’re hunting down resistance cells.”

“Good choice of words there.”

Steve ignores my barb. “The aliens are powerful, but they’re not always very smart. We know how to look for resistance activity in ways they don’t. Certain comm bursts, civilian travels patterns, supply shortages, particular attacks. By cross-referencing data from all the source we’ve nabbed, we can… if not find the resistance havens, outright, at least narrow down where they’re supposed to be. And once we get the area small enough that doctor Tygan feels comfortable we’re safe…”

“…we start broadcasting there,” I finish the sentence.

“Right in one, Commander.”

“Okay, so we’re doing a slow-and-steady thing then,” I say. “Make contact with nearby resistance hubs, add then to our network, then reach out further from there.”

“That’s the plan, Commander,” Steve says. “The more resistance hubs we reach, the more we should be able to get a handle on ADVENT’s plans. Plus, we’ll also be able to get more supplies and personnel. The more the merrier. Though there is one caveat…”


“It’ll be relatively ‘easy’ to find the North American resistance cells this way. We kinda know what we’re looking for, for patterns and stuff, and we already have some friendly connections. But the farther out we reach, the more effort it’s gonna take. We don’t really how cells in Europe or Africa organize their activities. Which means we’ll need to cross-reference and burn more intel, the farther we get from HQ.”

I open my mouth to say something, but Richard beats me to the post. “Actually, Central, Commander, this is something I have already anticipated. With a little more study, I think it should be possible to alleviate this problem. If we spend the resources to not only install basic radio hubs with our new resistance friends, but actually improve them, they will be able to actively help us in looking for other cells. While we may not always know what we’re looking for, I have no doubt that closely co-located resistance cells share at least some behavioural commonalities.”

“I mean… if that is something you’d be interested in, Commander.” “Don’t worry, Richard. I like the sound of this.”

“Alright then.” I get up from my chair. “I think we all know what to do, then. Richard, please finish up your radio project. Steve, I assume you’ve can take the lead in contacting the eastern seaboard resistance? And I’ll go plan ou-”

“Actually, Commander,” Steve interrupts, “there is one more thing we wanted to bring up.”

“Oh.” I sit back down. “Alright, go ahead.”

“Doctor Tygan, could you please…” Steve gestures to Richard, who brings up a different screen on the main bridge console. I immediately don’t like it. It’s red. I’ve learned to dislike red.

Can you really blame me?

“What am I looking at here?”

“One unexpected side-effect of our study into the ADVENT data network,” Richard says, “is that it has given us unprecedented insight into the kinds of data they send over it. Specifically, what we have discovered is that a certain branch within ADVENT is dedicated solely to… well, to us. Finding, and counteracting, and stopping XCOM.”

“Can’t say that surprises me,” I grumble. “So this is…”

“Black Ops,” Steve replies. “Alien Black Ops. ‘Dark Events’, we’re calling them. These are the aliens’ ‘secret plans’ for stopping us.”

“No way. You guys just found those?”

“Well, not ‘just’. It took a lot of digging, and a lot of help from the larger resistance. The Councilman and the Resistance Council are particularly helpful here, and we’re running most of the data through them right now. But yeah.”

Steve points at the screen. “You can see that ADVENT has two operations planned for this month. They’re capturing and torturing suspected resistance sympathizers, trying to get our location. We can probably go dark and escape if they find us, but we might be in for a tough air battle. And this planned increase in border controls and roadblocks will probably mean that smaller cells can get less supplies to us in the near future.”

“Well, bah. And we’re just gonna have to sit here and take that?”

Steve’s eyes get that mischievous glint again. “Actually, Commander…”

Sitting back and taking hits isn’t really XCOM’s *thing* anymore.

“We’re currently at a loss with regard to that whole checkpoint thing. But we do know the location of a hidden resistance computer. One particularly savvy resistance sympathizer was using it to hack into the ADVENT network, trying to get us intel. He was forced to encrypt the whole thing and flee before alien troops tracked the signal and hunted him down. But if what he’s telling us is correct, the data on that computer should let us know exactly how the aliens are trying to track down the Avenger. What frequencies they’re scanning, what patterns they’re investigating. And once we know that, it’ll be easy for us to avoid detection pre-emptively.”

“So we need to get that computer before ADVENT finds it?”

“We need to get that computer before the automatic security measures our man installed fry the hard drive,” Steve corrects me.

“Either/or. Let’s get cracking.”

Pictured: my first time sending out a Perfect Four-Class Squad.

Also, enjoy this picture of the Skyranger departing over a beautiful sunset.

The computer, it turns out, is stashed in one of the slum districts of the city of Los Angeles. ‘Gutter Town’, they call it. It’s the kind of neighbourhood where all the in-betweeners live: the humans who won’t fully side with ADVENT, but who don’t believe — or don’t dare to believe — in the rightness of XCOM.

It, er… actually looks really clean and fancy. How is this a ‘gutter town’?

The Skyranger drops the squad off underneath a Future Overpass, which looks exactly like an overpass from twenty years ago. ADVENT patrols have been spotted nearby, but once again, Firebrand proves that names can be deceptive: we touch down without so much as a radio chatter spike.

“Alright, squad,” I say into my comm unit, “you know what to do. Make your way to that computer, preferably quickly. Spread out, keep your eyes open for ADVENT troops, but don’t engage unless I give the go-ahead. There’s a lot of environmental clutter, here, so use that to your advantage. try to avoid collateral damage, if you can, but if it’s a matter of li-”

“Commander!” Steve interrupts. “Be careful around those civilians!”

“Relax, Steve. I wasn’t going to hurt them.”

“No, I mean, be careful they don’t spot us! Remember, these people are exposed to ADVENT propaganda 24/7. Even if they don’t fully believe everything, they’re more likely than not to see XCOM operatives as armed terrorists. And it only takes one of them calling in an alarm…”

“So that’s a no-go on the asking for directions, Commander?”

“Oof,” I say, “that’s harsh. Good guys without a cause. But yeah, I see what you mean. We’ll take the long way around.”

I send the troops into the city. Squaddie Neko takes up position on a nearby single-story diner; he should be able to provide good support from there, at least for a while. Squaddie Seabird climbs all the way up to the overpass, for scouting purposes. And squaddies Tegler and Barr take the straightforward approach of just going, well, straight forward.

I’m not sure if ‘people only notice you’re an armed insurrectionist if you’re literally next to them’ is supposed to be some kind of scathing social commentary? It’s sure *useful*, though.

And, sure enough, it’s the straightforward approach that first encounters us an ADVENT patrol.

I’m going to declare a moratorium on Sectoids. Just… fucking *stop* it.

The Sectoid is an expected beat, but the ADVENT soldier accompanying it gives me pause. They look tougher than the previous ones. And is a sword on their back?

“Ah, yes,” Steve says when I ask. “That’s an ADVENT Stun Lancer. They were originally conceived as ‘non-lethal peacekeeping units’, I think. That sword of theirs can deliver a nasty electric shock. Nowadays, though, that non-lethality is pretty much a flown dream. Think less ‘taser-like stun’ and more ‘horrible electrical burns’. Probably best to keep our troops away from these units.”

Well, anyway. No time like the present to let ADVENT know we’re here, I guess. I tell Squaddie Neko to take the opening shot on that Sectoid…

…which by rights he should be able to hit pretty well…

…aaaaand he misses. Great job.

As always, though, Barr’s overwatch fire is a hell of a lot more on-point.

Surprisingly, the aliens’ first turn is a whole bunch of nothing. They just get close to Squaddie Tegler, but no shots are fired and no moves are made. This is absolutely fine for Barr, who proceeds to mow down the barely-covered Sectoid with a second minigun barrage. But it’s honestly a little baffling. What were these guys doing?

Well, anyway. I have Seabird drop down from the overwatch — a two-story drop she just makes, no questions asked — and land a sweet overhead sword slash on the ADVENT Stun Lancer. It survives, but that’s alright: all Tegler has to do now is walk around, get right up in its face, and…


I facepalm so hard it must’ve been audible through the commlink. “Come on, Tegler. They were right there!” But Tegler is a little too preoccupied to respond: the Stun Lancers electrical sword is quickly promising him a few days’ extended medbay time.

Medbay time, not *morgue* time, so he ought to be happy with this result.

Neko blasts the Stun Lancer from his perch — the first of three shots he actually lands — and just like that, the first encounter is over. Advantage: XCOM. Tegler is down to half health, and a little disoriented, but otherwise no worse for the wear. And the medkit charge we use getting him back up to full is a decent trade for the Elerium Core looted from the Sectoid’s bullet-riddled corpse.

“Commander.” Steve taps on my shoulder. “I should warn you, we don’t have a lot of time here. Five more minutes before that hard drive is damaged beyond repair.”

“Alright, troops,” I bark into the microphone, “you heard the man. Hustle!”

We’re currently only two buildings away from the computer’s location. I send Barr onto the roof of the intervening building, and tell Neko to move perches to the now-confirmed-as-clear-of-hostiles overpass. Tegler and Seabird take ground point. With a little luck, we can be in and out that building before…

No, you’re right. I shouldn’t have said that out loud.

Another Stun Lancer and an Officer are hanging out on the ground floor of the building housing the computer. Man, if only they knew… our timely arrival distracts them for searching any further, which is good. Unfortunately, we know have to deal with two more ADVENT units on top of the strict computer time limit. Which is bad.

Even worse, these assholes are in pretty good cover. It’s gonna be hard to dislodge and kill them if I don’t think of something.

One aerial Barr-grenade later…

The Stun Lancer drops to Seabird’s shotgun, but the Officer is still alive, kicking, and dangerous. I could tell one of my soldiers to dash past them, make a break for the computer… but I just know how that kind of maneuver is likely to end. On the other hand, I’m not really confident in my ability to drop the target in time. And if we don’t get to that computer room in time…

“Hey, Commander,” Lily’s pipes up over the ship comm. “I don’t want to butt in, but… you remember that my GREMLINS are remote hacking tools, yeah? Like, that’s their core deal. I figured I’d remind you here, because it looks like you’re agonizing over what should be a really really simple choice.”

I facepalm again. “Yeah, I, er… thanks, Lily. Thanks for the heads-up. You might’ve just saved a life with that.”

“No problem.”

I am *really* glad I spotted the fancy green option in Tegler’s action bar.

“Actually, since you’re watching anyway,” I say, “can you tell me a little more about how this hacking actually works?”

“Sure thing, boss. Gist of it is, all XCOM operatives get a basic hacking crash course as part of their training. Not all of them are as good at it, but stuff like disabling basic computer security, that shouldn’t be a problem for anyone. I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty for now.”

“Please do.”

“So what you’re seeing on the GREMLIN screen is your basic hacking UI. What the boxes represent is the stuff you can try to achieve with your hack. In this case, we’re trying to disable the computer security. You can see Tegler has a one hundred percent chance of getting that right, because Tegler apparently paid attention in ADVENT Hacking 101.”

I can’t be sure, but I *think* I saw Tegler blush for a second. Hard to see under that headwrap, though.

“Now,” Lily continues, “there’s almost always more you can get out of a hacking opportunity. In this case, it looks like this computer has a whole lot more ADVENT tactical data stored than just that Black Ops stuff we’re looking for. You can tell a soldier to try and go for one of the two side bits, up to you which one, but these things aren’t always as guaranteed as the core effect. How big a chance of success any one soldier has on getting this right is determined by how tech-savvy they are. Again, I wanna say, good choice on picking Tegler for that, because he’s probably the biggest gearhead in your current squad. But then that’s not really surprising: you kinda have to be a gearhead to to roll as a Specialist. Lots of upkeep and tinkering on that drone, don’t’cha know. If you can’t field-service a busted GREMLIN hover-thruster in under ten seconds, you know, maybe look into a career as a gun-lugger instead.” She catches herself after a second. “Er, not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

“Okay. So: main effect good, side effect optional. What happens if Tegler fails?”

“In this case? A whole lot of nothing. We don’t get the extra data, the internal security twigs on us, and the hard drive fries. We’ll still get the core data, though. But once we start hacking actual ADVENT stuff… Well, better make sure you put your best troops on that, is all I’m saying.”

“Alright. Thanks, Lily.” I switch frequencies to Squaddie Tegler. “You heard the Chief Engineer, Tegler. Show me what you got. Get us that Black Ops data. And if you can grab that small bundle of intel as well, I’ll be sure to assign some extra soft bedding to your medbay suite.”

Tegler goes for the hack…

Partial success!

“Good job, Commander,” Steve says. “You know the drill by now, I think?”

“Clear any remaining ADVENT hostiles before we can make pickup?” Nod nod.

There’s only a small selection of alien troops left in the immediate vicinity. The Officer we haven’t killed yet has gone to get a nearby Sectoid and a third Stun Lancer. The latter drops quickly enough to Seabird’s shotgun efforts and Tegler’s assault rifle backup, and the offending Officer quickly falls under a hail of rooftop minigun fire.

In the non-descript alien space-future, snitches get a hell of lot worse than just *stitches*.

Which only leaves the Sectoid. My favourite enemy type. But I’m prepared this time, oh yes, I am. I send Squaddie Seabird in first, to show it the business end of her sword. This hurts it, but doesn’t drop it, because when do these things ever just die? But the Sectoid, which had already summoned a psi-zombie the previous combat turn, reacts more or less exactly like I expected…

Sectoids: The Original One-Trick Ponies.

Why am I so blasé about this mind-control, you ask? Because it’s Seabird. She’s absolutely lethal at close range, that’s true. But I made sure nobody else is nearby. You can’t kill what you can’t get to! And, indeed, her two turns of being mind-controlled are spent taking hopeless shotgun potshots at Tegler and Neko, both hiding in heavy cover many meters away, while the Sectoid just… I don’t know, putters around, and does nothing of consequence.

Okay, not *nothing* of consequence. But then again, Tegler was *already* going to hang out in the medbay — it’s not like this hit makes that any worse.

And then when Seabird is released from mind-control… it’s actually Tegler who wraps the mission up, redeeming his earlier close-range fuck-up by landing a second easy shot when it actually counts.

“Night night, ugly.”

Mission completed. Seven aliens killed, one workstation hacked, and only one XCOM soldier ‘gravely’ wounded. A much better result than last time. Promotions for all!

No, but really. Everyone gets promoted.

A whole bunch of cool new promotions, actually! Only Corporal Neko’s Sharpshooter advancement is a known quantity; seeing how well he handles his rifle, I contrast him with Corporal Frederick by giving him the Long Watch upgrade. From Corporal Tegler, I learn that Specialists can choose to branch into either a medical support role, or a more combat-oriented role focused particularly on hacking and robotic enemies. Guess which tree I’m sending him down?

It’s not quite the old Support’s ‘medkits now count three times’. On the other hand, ‘you now have two distance-operated medkits’ honestly sounds pretty rad too.

Corporal Seabird’s advancement in the Ranger tree is predicated on the idea that swords are actually pretty cool. A Blademaster-Ranger deals extra damage with all sword attacks, and er, yeah. In contrast, a Ranger focused on the Scouting tree can learn to stay hidden even after the rest of the squad is revealed. Which also sounds cool, true, but…

…it just doesn’t quite sound like Seabird’s *thing*.

And Barr, finally, is my first Grenadier — and my first soldier, period — to advance to Sergeant rank. For her ability, I give her Suppression, the old XCOM 1 favorite that I had some good times with. But that’s not where the promotion ends for Sergeant Barr! Her new rank entitles her to so much more: expanded character customization, for one, including extra props, scars, tattoos, and even a choice in general attitude. Sergeants get a nickname too, lest you forget! And finally, Sergeants gain access to the mysterious ‘Personal Combat Sims’. These, I learn, are special soldier upgrades that can be randomly gained from battle. They’re ‘neural enhancements’, intended to give soldiers a ‘boost’ in battle. Each PCS can only be slotted once; soldiers can change their PCS later down the line, but doing so destroys the previous one. So the question then becomes: am I sure I want to give Barr a permanent +13 Will upgrade?

As if the answer was ever gonna be ‘no’.

“Commander! Incoming message from the Resistance Council. It’s the Councilman.”

“Thanks, Steve. Patch him through, please.”

The Councilman looks… I want to say ‘happy’, but what would that even be based on? Body language? My gut reaction is that he’s happy, but there might never be any way to be sure.

“Commander. Let me begin by congratulating you on your recent efforts. Your ongoing fight against the aliens is doing much to draw the unified resistance closer together. I am glad to see you were, indeed, the right man for the job.” Well, so much for that mystery.

“Happy to do my job, Councilman,” I say. “But I assume this isn’t just a courtesy call?”

“It is not, Commander. I come bearing important new information. You have been briefed, I hope, on our role in decoding the information we are tapping from the ADVENT network?”

“Yeah. You guys pick up the longer-term objectives, so we can focus on the short-term time-critical stuff.”

The Councilman nods. “Exactly. And it is because of these longer-term objectives that I am calling now.”

“Alright.” I sit down. “So talk to me.”

Just putting this image here to break up the wall of text you’d otherwise get.

“In recent weeks, ADVENT has been diverting considerable resources and personnel to covert facilities across the globe. The exact details of these operations are highly classified. However, they do have one thing in common. A single word that appears in all their files. ‘Avatar’.”


“We now believe that the ADVENT blacksite you are to investigate is but one part of this Avatar Project. Based on what we have uncovered, its true scope is far, far greater than a single facility. In fact, this Project is being directed from the very top of ADVENT, from a… Source, that I am still unable to determine.”

I shift in my seat, suddenly a little uncomfortable. “If what you say is true, then this thing is big. Real big.”

Another nod. “Bigger than you might even think, Commander. It is currently my belief that the Avatar Project represents the aliens’ end game. Should they succeed, it will likely mean the end of human life on this planet as we know it.”

“So we intervene.”

“Were it that easy, Commander. Sadly, we still do not know what the Project entails, or where it is located. Raiding the ADVENT blacksite may give us more clues to its exact nature. In the meantime, however, the only thing we can to is disrupt it. Finding facilities dedicated to the Avatar Project, like the blacksite, and shutting them down, should considerable delay the project’s progress. Long enough, hopefully, for us to find it, and destroy it.”

When a new UI element is added to the global map, you *know* shit just got real.

“Good luck, Commander. The world is counting on you.” And with those parting words, the Councilman ends the transmission.

I turn towards Steve, who’s looking a little paler than usual. Just like I am, I’m betting. “And here we thought we had a handle on things, huh?”

Steve cracks into a smile. “Yeah, I’ll say. Say what you will about the aliens, but…”

“But what?”

“But at least fighting them is never boring.”

Next episode: when I agonize over where to go and what to do next, the aliens kindly make my decisions for me.


  1. Yeah, I get to live for another half a month, and a fancy crash course in medicine to boot, neat.

  2. It’s so kind of the aliens, to make your decisions for you. It obviously shows they are so grateful for the work you did FOR them that they want to make your life easier a little.

    Not that you’re secretly working for them still. Of course not. Not at all.

  3. I discovered halfway through a playthrough, in one of the mission-setup dialogues, that The Councilman’s ‘official’ name is The Spokesman. It’s just dropped in like it’s not important, which I found kind of odd. He’s a cool guy.

    1. I think his actual first name is Cato. Lily talks about that ‘Bradford and the Commander trust Cato, they’ve known him from before the war’.

      I was really confused when ‘the Spokesman’ was name-dropped, too. I thought the Spokesman was that Bono-looking alien sympathizer.

  4. I love the little whiteboard. I’m not sure how I feel about the Sectoid target dummies, though. Why would they look like the Ye Olde Sectoids?

    For the same reason the paper targets in the weapon-testing cutscenes for XCOMEU were the Sectoids from the original UFO Defense.

    No more ‘ten thousand Snipers, when all I need is Support’ for this Commander.

    It’s like rai-aaaain on your mission day.

    we can then work with them to upgrade their radio stations in accordance with out specs.


  5. Thank you again for Sergeant Barr. I can’t believe she is being so effective. And I absolutely love the Green Utility Belt Pouches.

    1. Without wishing to spoil too much, some variant of the phrase ‘I’ll just get Barr to handle that situation’ has become something of a catchphrase in my missions.

  6. “the alien psionic tactics network — we really need to find a better name for this”

    Obviously the Psionic Alien Network Tactics System could benefit from a shorter name, perhaps an acronym? mhhh?

    “Commander, guess what we found out while monitoring PANTS!”

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