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 13: Don’t Stop Believing

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM 2, I discovered I wasn’t quite as close to the next tier of soldier armor as I’d hoped. Too little corpses lying around, you know how it goes. But that’s okay, I figured: our bluster and bravado can be our armor! Such outfitted, we went to rob an ADVENT train, and, well…

New resources thusly in tow, I figured it was high time to start addressing the alarming progress of the Avatar Project. Except, even when the literal fate of the world is in the balance, the Council sometimes has other plans.

And as it happens, one of those plans was only just finished up…


“Hey, bar-man! Gimme another.”

I put my empty bottle down on the Avenger’s bar with slightly too loud a *clunk*. It’s busy in the old watering hole tonight, busier than usual. There’s always a big turnout after any operation wraps up, either to celebrate success or to mourn failure. And tonight…

On the stool behind me, Steve more carefully hands his bottle off to Frederick — our resident teetotaler, the perfect barkeep. I don’t think Steve is drunk, per se, but then I also don’t know if he’s touched much in the way of alcohol in the past decade. His deliberate slowness and occasional flashing giggle might just mean he has a lot on his mind.

What, you don’t think Steve visits the bar? You don’t think Steve *drinks*? CANONICALLY WRONG ON BOTH COUNTS, BUSTER.

“That,” he says as he turns to face me, “was some mission.” He flashes a glance at the room’s lounge area, where most of the celebrants are hanging out. The five people who disembarked from the Skyranger only hours before are at the center, getting their drinks refilled almost as fast as they can drain them. One of them is gesticulating broadly. I bet it’s Neko; he does love to tell stories.

“Sure was,” I nod. “Who’d have thought that extracting one ADVENT engineer would be that wild?”

“Didn’t help that they got themselves caught out and captured before we got there,” Steve says. “I guess that’s one difference between a scientist and an engineer, huh? Good thing Tygan and Shen are on good terms, or we’d never hear the end of that.”

“Good excuse to test out that new Spider Armor, at any rate.”

Steve snorts loudly, then segues into a chuckle. “I still can’t believe you actually let Gilbraith use that.”

It turns out white *is* his colour.

“Hey,” I shrug, “a promise is a promise.”

“Did you see the look on Neko’s face, though? When Gilbraith just zipped to that roof, and he had to climb two ladders to get up there?”

I mean, I hate being on roofs and *I’m* jealous of that zipline.

That makes me chuckle. “And then Gilbraith almost jumped straight back down again? Just so he didn’t have to walk around? Yeah, that was great. But that high ground did really help against that ADVENT Officer. And the Shieldbearer. And the Vipers.” I pause for a second. “And the Codices.”

It’s one Codex if you can stun it, or kill it in one hit. Otherwise, it’s *at least* two.

“So,” Steve asks, “what was your favourite part of that mission?”

“Oh,” I say, “no contest. That’s when Pusey managed to hack into the ADVENT light post. And we got control of that Muton’s comm frequency for a while.”

Steve bursts into laughing. “Couldn’t believe what I was seeing when you told it to arm and drop a plasma grenade and it actually listened!”

“Hah! Yeah, its snake pals weren’t too happy with that, were they?”

They were not.

“And you?” I ask.

Steve thinks for a moment. “Hard one. I gotta say, I was pretty tickled to find out we’re apparently wanted.”

Dead *or* alive.

“How about Gilbraith getting strangled twice?” I say. “Talk about bad luck.”

“Yeah. But I gotta give credit to our VIP. When we busted them from that cell, and you told them to run to the extraction zone, and they actually ran through fire? That takes either a lot of fear or a lot of guts.”

I’ll let you make your own ‘hot’ jokes here.

I look at the lounge area again. Engineer Malone is the center of attention for the five. They look alternately uncomfortable with the attention, and just plain happy to be here. Fresh bandages are visible on the back of their hands.

Steve follows my gaze, and his expression drops a little. “Shame about McNutcase, though.”

“Damn shame.”

“He was a right mad bastard, that one. Can you believe he almost managed to take on two Vipers all by himself? Just him and that Arc Blade?”

He *almost* managed.

“I think…” I take a long swig from my drink. “I think I should probably not employ any Blademasters anymore. They and I just don’t do well together.”

I think,” Steve replies, “that you should probably stop drinking after this one. How much is this, like, three? You’re going to feel like death tomorrow.”

I grin. “No better time to mourn, I say.” I raise my bottle in the air, and Steve’s meets mine in a resounding *clink*.


“Commander,” Steve says chipper as he walks into my office, “got some status updates for you. Good and bad. Trade ’em for whatever it is you’re currently working on.”

I look up from a pile of documents, rub my eyes, and smile. It’s been three days since the last mission: enough time for both the celebration and the mourning — and the hangover — to fade.

“I don’t actually know if I have any bad news to share with you,” I say, “for once. But sure. You go first.”

“Alright, so…” Steve scoots over next to me and brings up the world map on my monitor. “…good news is, we cinched the West African contacts. Took a while, but that radio relay you had us build in Western Europe was a clever move. Local resistance is on-board now. They’ve got links to East Africa and New Brazil we can use, and they know the location of the West African ADVENT facility.”

I was all set to slam this game for re-using the same ‘white people meeting white people’ cutscene I got in America and Europe. And then it blindsided by actually *not doing that*.

“Wait,” I say. “West Africa to New Brazil? How does that link make any sense? We’re housed in Mexico, shouldn’t that be closer in every respect?”

“It would be if Argentina wasn’t in the way,” Steve answers. “Remember how they were the first one to ditch the Council? That place is basically one giant ADVENT fan club. I’d be surprised if there was any local resistance. Going over West Africa isn’t ideal, but we have to work with what we have.”

I nod. “You’re right, you’re right. So was that the bad news?”

“Hah! If only. No, the bad news is that that same West African facility has recently stepped up production. They’re contributing to the Avatar Project more than ever now.”

Some of my continent links, shown as per request. And notice how the West African facility has *two* pips now?

“So the real bad news is, they can actually do that,” I mutter. “Which means we can afford to let these facilities stand around even less than before.”

“Right you are, Commander,” Steve nods. “Let’s just hope we’ll be able to wipe all that progress out when we hit the place.”

“Speaking of which!” I perk up.

“Yeah, so how about that good news of yours?”

“Well, for one, Lily and her Proving Grounds team finished that second armor suit. The E.X.O. Suit. It’s pretty impressive, I won’t lie. Integrated armor plating, enhanced soldier survivability…”

I grin. “Oh, and remember when you told me XCOM doesn’t really use rocket launchers anymore? Because they’re too bulky for modern combat? Turns out that that’s less of an issue if you strap one to what’s basically power armor.”

Barr, here, helpfully demonstrates how *super rad* this suit looks.

“And on the science end,” I say as I flick screens around, “Richard and his team just wrapped up their study on gauss weaponry. Nothing we can afford to make right now, but I suspect a little trip to the Black Market can help with that.”

“Richard also mentioned he’d like to study some of our Elerium crystals ‘as a follow-up’. So *that* should probably turn out interesting.”

Steve whistles appreciatively. “Railgun sniper rifles and magnetic cannons? Yeah, those’ll help. I guess that means you’re ready to move on that facility soon?”

“Almost,” I say. “Engineer Malone’s help in the Advance Warfare Center medbay has been super helpful, but it’s still a few days before I can field our best possible squad. So I’d like to hold off the assault for just a bit longer. In the meantime, I’m having Tygan autopsy one of those new Mutons, and Lily and crew draft up on some new form of battlefield medicine. And I figure you and I could spend a few days making contact with the Eastern European resistance.”

Their first task: get the very soldiers that extracted them back to operational status.

“Eastern Europe?” Steve says puzzledly. “Why there? As far as I know, ADVENT doesn’t have any interesting operations there.”

“They don’t. But Lily suggested we get in touch with them anyway. The way she tells it, the European resistance branch is particularly good at armor-crafting. We get enough of them connected to our network, Lily figures she might be able to incorporate that expertise into her own work.”

i.e. ‘I’m only one country removed from the Suit Up connection bonus, and I *really* want some fancy armor.’

“Your call, Commander,” Steve says contently. “But it sounds like you’ve got the next few days all worked out.”

“Sure do.” I say. “Everything goes as planned, we should have boots on the ground in that facility in a few…”

Our chat is interrupted by the furious beeping of Steve’s commlink. He takes it out, reads the message, and I can see his mood change on the spot — from calm content to a sort of nervous excitement.

I sigh a deep sigh. “Change of plans?”

Steve nods. “Change of plans, Commander. The Council just sent us their latest intel on ADVENT’s Dark Events. Gives us good leads on stopping any one of them.”

“Ah. I guess that includes their major Avatar breakthrough?”

“It does. And that one’s something we just can’t afford to let happen. It won’t do us any good to blow up that facility, just for them to then get right back up there.”

“No, I gotcha,” I say. “This takes precedence. Where we flying out to?”

“The mission is in…” Steve studies his datapad for a few seconds, and his expression grows puzzled. “…huh. West Africa, apparently. Only a few hundred clicks out from that facility too.”

I guess it’s a good area for alien super plans?

“Well,” I say, “that’s convenient. What are we looking at here?”

“An engineer sympathetic to the resistance found an important-looking alien relay. It’s apparently sending a high volume of encrypted data to some unidentified nearby location.” Steve looks at me and raises one eyebrow. “I guess we might actually know where that’s going. At any rate, we can’t afford to let that transmission go through. And if we clear the ADVENT presence in the area, the same engineer is also willing to extract with us.”

“Sounds good to me,” I say as I get up. “I’ll go tell the troops the good news.”

‘Hey, remember how we just lost one of our number rescuing an engineer from ADVENT territory? Well, the mission we have right now is *marginally* different!’

They’re still rolling out without complaint, mind.


“Alright, troops, you know the drill,” I say as the Skyranger stabilizes over Ibadan, Nigeria. “There’s an alien relay somewhere in these slums transmitting something that we don’t want ADVENT to receive. Get in there, wreck that transmitter, and try to all get home in one piece, okay?”

“Remember, the sooner that thing is *dust*, the sooner we all get to go home.”

Early engagement goes about as well as I could reasonably hope. Sergeant Jones scouts ahead, using her Spider Suit to reach higher ground and her natural stealthiness to stay out of sight. She quickly spots a small ADVENT patrol, Stun Lancer and Shieldbearer and one of those MECs, and I move the rest of the squad in to ambush-intercept.

Corporal Pusey gets us an early boon by successfully hacking another ADVENT light post, giving us some free double time to move into position.

This is a magical result for a difficult time-based mission.

One successful ambush later, the ADVENT patrol lies dead and broken on the ground. Viel even gets to field-test a new type of grenade, an Acid Grenade, and let me tell you: it was well worth the investment.

Decent area and damage, ‘acid burn’ damage-over-time, it strips a ton of armor, *and* it leaves a damage field. One, incidentally, that robots and Vipers are *not* immune to.

I’m putting this one in just for the hell of it.

Viel, Frederick, Gottfried, and Pusey fight in the ambush, but Jones stay out of sight on the rooftops. Easier scouting this way: because Jones is technically still concealed, she won’t activate any alien patrols on sight. My clever idea here is to have her scope out the target area, see what kind of resistance we might be expecting. And maybe provide Sharpshooter Frederick with some good lines of fire, too?

On my command, Jones drops down from the roof and approaches the building. We’ve already seen some floating health bars inside, but I’d really like to have a better idea of what we’re up against. So I order her to run up to a nearby window…

…where she proceeds to get spotted.

By six enemies.

Count ’em.

“Welp.” I take off my headset and push my chair back from my desk. “She’s dead. I don’t need to see this.”

Commander!” Steve smacks me in the back of my head. “You can’t be serious! There’s a soldier out there in enemy territory waiting on you to give her orders!”

“Well what do you want me to do?” I snarl back, my voice half anger and half stress. “Magic her out of there?”

“I want you to do something,” Steve replies. “Unless you’re content with telling a good soldier you’re going to leave them alone to die.”

I sigh deeply. “No, you’re right. You’re right, of course, I’m sorry.” I put my headset back on and switch to Jones’ comm. “Sergeant Jones, listen carefully. I need you to…”

what do I need her to do, though? There’s no sense in running: she can’t get far away enough and in good enough cover to have a good shot at surviving. Between the Codex’ teleportation and the Viper’s grab attack… And I don’t think she can reliably drop anything in a single hit. Unless I fully abandon the survival plan and have her flank-rush a Sectoid. But that doesn’t feel right. Come on, there’s gotta be some better move.

Suddenly, memories rush in unbidden. Another battle, in another age. The Paris of twenty years ago. Rookies fighting and dying in the rain, Muton battle cries ringing out, Thin Men poison making it hard to see and harder to hit…

“…I need you to get that gas grenade I gave you,” I continue, “and try to hit as many aliens as you can with it. And then take the best cover you can, and… just hold on, okay.”

The aliens aren’t as cluttered as I would like, so Jones’ gas grenade goes off in the courtyard behind the building. The Viper and one of the Sectoids are caught in the blast. I don’t know if it’ll work, and I don’t know if it’ll be enough.

But at least it’s *something*.

Then the turn rolls over.

The Codex moves first, teleporting into a perfect flanking position — as I damn well expected it would. It takes aim as Jones with its alien plasma rifles, and… misses! Jones’ Spider Suit-enhanced agility lets her dodge out of the way in the nick of time. A smoking hole in the wall behind her shows what would’ve happened had she not.

That’s one.

The poisoned Sectoid runs in and tries a psionic attack… which fails, with Jones resisting the Mindspin. Then the second Sectoid fires its wrist-mounted plasma pistol… and misses as well, putting even more holes in the wall.

I genuinely can’t believe that I’m seeing. How is this even happening?

It’s the Viper who finally manages to land an attack on Jones. It’s a tongue grab, as expected, pulling Jones out of cover and into her own poison cloud before constricting her.

I’ll be honest: this… isn’t so bad? I’m going to want to get Jones out of there quickly, of course, that one-two poison-grab whammy doesn’t do anyone any good. But with her grabbed like that, the other aliens seem content to leave her alone. The Trooper seems to want to get to her, but it can’t find a way through the poison. And the Shieldbearer…

The Shieldbearer moves to a better cover position, and then it does something. A pulse of energy emanates from its armor, and a glowing red energy field materializes around it. And around the Viper, and the Sectoids, and the Trooper.

Well. This is certainly new.

“Richard,” I say forcefully. “Are you seeing this?”

“I am, Commander,” Richard’s voice crackles from the speaker. “Fascinating. It looks like the Shieldbearer’s armor is capable of projecting directed energy shields to nearby friendlies. I suspect some sort of IFF is involved, though I would have to study one to-”

“Richard,” I say again, “focus. These are energy shields?”

“Yes, Commander.”

“That’s bad. How do we stop them?”

“Thermal readings of the area suggest an enormous amount of power fluctuation in the Shieldbearer,” Richard answers. “I suspect the shield generator cannot run for very long without overheating. It also suggests that taking out the Shieldbearer directly would end the effect prematurely. Alternatively, you could simply try brute-forcing the shields: any kind of armor can only take so much punishment before failing.”

“Thanks, doc.” I switch my comm frequency. “Frederick! Jones is in a really bad spot right now. Tell me you got a bead on that snake and a round in the chamber.”

“Pretty sure that is what you pay me for, C’mmander.”

“Your work ethic is commendable, Sergeant. Now, that snake is about a hundred feet away, flanked by two buildings, clouded by poison smoke, and it’s got some sort of weird alien energy shield going on. Think you can persuade it to release Jones anyway?

“Are you gonna make me repeat myself, C’mmander?”

I briefly play with the idea of having Jones book it. But there’s still too many aliens around for that to be a realistic possibility… and we’re still on a pretty tight clock. So, instead, I swing her into heavy cover, and pump some much-overdue shotgun alloy into the badly wounded snake. That’s one down.

Eat vengeance, snake-man.

The rest of the squad moves up as fast as they can. It’s difficult: the lingering acid from Viel’s grenade prevents a direct approach, and I really have to micromanage these lemmings to stop them from running through it directly. We get close, but not close enough to meaningfully do anything. And then the turn rolls around again…

The Codex teleports into another flanking position. Miss. The poisoned Sectoid runs up for a direct attack. Miss. “Remind me to get her to pick my next lottery numbers,” I hear someone whisper behind me, and I don’t know who it was but damn if they’re not right.

The second Sectoid is the first one to land a hit on Jones this time around. And that hit is…

Mind-control. As it would be.

I let out a long-held breath of relief. This earns me some quizzical looks, which is fair, but… sure, mind-control is never really good. But a poisoned short-range-combat specialist dozens of feet away from everyone else? The way I see it, the aliens just signed Jones a cease-fire.

The *downside* of this is that it gives them free reign to start targeting *everyone else*.

Over the next few turn-minutes, it proves remarkably difficult to actually do something to the aliens. Their cover positions are pretty good as it is, and the initial wave of damage we do land is absorbed by those blasted energy shields.

Hitting his target and not actually hurting it makes Sergeant Frederick *extra grim*.

We dish out decently, I’m not gonna lie. The Trooper falls to a Frederick-Gottfried tag team. Pusey’s long shot splits the Codex, leaving one of them on high ground for Frederick to drop. And Viel gets to field-test his E.X.O. Suit rocket! It’s a decent weapon. Longer operational range than the grenade launcher, I think, and fairly high damage, although I’m not sure if it hurts armor.

It hurts Sectoids and alien relays plenty, though.

Plus, you look cool as hell doing it.

But I’d be lying anyway if I said we were in a good spot.

Gottfried takes the brunt of the attack. Again. I don’t know what the aliens have against her! Not even moving Pusey slightly out of position convinces them to let up. The Shieldbearer shoots her, the Sectoid sends Jones after her, the Codex hits her and only her with its weapon-draining psionic attack. It’s enough to make any lesser soldier run for the hills. But to Gottfried’s credit, she doesn’t budge: we need to get closer to that relay, so get closer to that relay she does, patching up her own wounds on the way.

She survives two rounds of intensely concentrated alien fire this way. But not a third.

“Goddamnit.”

Corporal Gottfried is dead. Her death causes the nearby Viel to panic. Frederick takes a big hit from the Shieldbearer; I’d like to have Pusey distance-patch that, but Gottfried’s death got him panicked, too.

And in the distance, a red flare dropping from the sky signals an incoming ADVENT reinforcement party.

Because when things go wrong, things go *wrong*.

“Jones!” I bark into the microphone. “You drop that mind-control right now, or you better start looking into signing on with ADVENT full time! Do you hear me? I’m talking job interviews, prettying up your resume, unpaid internships, the whole nine yards! Because if don’t shape up and get your head out of your ass right now, there’s not gonna be any more squad to go home with!”

Jones’ voice returns over the mic, slurred at first, then quickly more steady. “I’m here, Commander, I’m here. Sorry. What do you need me to do?”

I sigh in relief. “Get in cover and find something soft and alien to shoot.”

“Got something, Commander,” Jones replies a few seconds later. “I can either drop that relay, or try to take out that Shieldbearer.”

“Commander,” Steve says as he taps on my soldier, “we’ve only got two more minutes before the transmission completes. I strongly urge you to-”

I cut him off with a wave of my hand. “We might not get this good a shot to take out that Shieldbearer again. And if it pulls that energy field garbage again, we’re dead. Genuinely 100% dead. Take the shot, Jones.”

*click-click* *BLAM* *thud*

Viel and Frederick take out the second Sectoid, although Viel takes a Codex hit in retaliation. Pusey snaps out of his panic right on time to fix Frederick. And then the ADVENT reinforcements land, a Trooper-Stun Lancer-MEC three-way extravaganza. And I start moving the troops into better cover…

“Commander!” Steve is now shaking my shoulder. “One minute until transmission completion! We let that transmission go through, and all this is for nothing!”

“Relax,” I say. “You’re right, but relax. Oh Jones?”

“Hold on, let me get this window out of the way.”

Steve slumps in his chair as the transmission timer glitches and fades. “I swear,” he says slowly, “that you do these things to taunt me.” He says it accusingly, but there is a smile on his face.

The rest of the battle goes… I don’t want to say swimmingly, but we manage. The ADVENT MEC hops onto Frederick’s roof for express harassment purposes, while the Codex and the Stun Lancer hit Viel with a one-two punch. But thanks to some clever turn order hijinks and repositioning — shoot and hurt the overwatch’d MEC first, then have Viel run out of the psionic bomb area, not the other way around — we defeat the final patrol with minimal injuries. Not little injuries, or even acceptable injuries — Jones very nearly dies anyway when a rooftop flanking action opens her up for serious retaliation But I don’t think I can see how we could’ve done better: at the end of the day, they all die and we don’t.

That’s, like, the *fifth* time she’s cheated death in this mission?

Also, here’s a lil’ Pusey action shot for you.

And then the chatter fades, and four tired, exhausted soldiers get to go home.

One more for the road.

I trade three promotions for one death. Lieutenant Frederick unlocks the Quickdraw skill, letting him fire his pistol for free at the start of each turn — the complement to Lieutenant Neko’s Death From Above, which he totally unlocked off-camera. Barely-alive Lieutenant Jones (like Twintails before, it’s only her PCS that saw her through) gains the Conceal power, which lets her drop back into concealment once per mission. And Sergeant Pusey, the squad’s junior, surprises everyone: not only does he rank up to grab Revival Protocol, but he actually becomes the first-ever soldier to make use of the Advanced Warfare Center’s secondary power. He gains a bonus combat ability outside his own class. And that ability is…

Rapid Fire? Wait, I don’t think I’ve actually *seen* that yet. Did Pusey just… become a better Ranger than *any of my actual Rangers*?

“I cannot believe,” Steve says behind me, “how relatively well that ended up going. We stopped an Avatar Project breakthrough, we recruited a new engineer, and I’m sure Shen would love to get her hands on that ADVENT MEC wreck. She’s been talking about that.”

“Well I can’t believe that Jones of all people made it back alive,” I say.

“Good thing you didn’t give up on her, huh,” Steve says with a grin. “That’ll be the celebration part of our next bar party. One unexpected death, one unexpected survival.”

“Twice in as many weeks, huh?”

“It’s a dangerous life.”

“You got me there. I’m just hoping we can get through that alien facility without making it three for three.”

“Because you don’t want to have to mourn anymore soldiers?”

Because,” I say, “I’ve been dry for twenty years, remember? I don’t think my liver can handle much more of this.” And Steve’s ringing laughter finally pierces the last remnant of the bridge’s doom-and-gloom atmosphere.


Next episode: we take on the West African ADVENT facility. The aliens… don’t take it lying down.

7 comments

  1. I think the people you meet in the resistance cutscenes are generated by the same algorithm as other random civilians. Which is biased towards white people, but does allow for a more diverse group on occasion.

  2. Funny. The LP I watched on Youtube, ChristopherOdd, also made heavy use of a specialist who randomly got Rapid Fire. In fact, I think he only had it on one of the actual Rangers.

    “Welp.” I take off my headset and push my chair back from my desk. “She’s dead. I don’t need to see this.”

    Suddenly, I feel like I’m watching an episode of Blackadder.

    Of course, I’ve never actually seen Blackadder, so it’s more like what I suppose Blackadder is like.

    1. When I’m not putting the ‘special’ into ‘specialist’, I like to kick back and re-watch Blackadder. Season 1 is shaky, but the other three are mint. Most people would tell you that Blackadder goes Forth is the best, but season 3 is the secret winner.

      Catch up with it, and you’ll understand why I sometimes charge into battle with a cry of ‘I’ve got an idea, and it’s as HOT as my PANTS!’ :D

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