I’ve not talked about it much, but there is another massive drain on my free time. on that has been the boogyman to my Fallout gameplay, my hobby time and my sleep for a long while now. Its also going to be one of the few games I ever break my rules with.

Because its XCOM, and there is little like it in the world of video games.

*there are possible Story and Mechanic spoilers. You are warned. I will not mention it again this article* 

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Victory

The war is over. The Marathon complete. Earth, is saved.

Marathon mode was by far the most fun I’ve had playing the game. I had high hopes going in, and the game didn’t fail me. There were, however, a number of expectations and experiences that I was sure wouldn’t make a difference, yet changed in significant ways from the start of the play through to the end. One of my favorites, is how the games Marathon moniker makes sense, but not in the way you really feel it should.

Be Forwarned. This Article about Video games contains spoilers… duh! 

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Contents
  1. Marathon

2015-08-16_00069Marathon

Marathon mode is the real deal. It displays a contempt at your enjoyment and a brutal dismissal of everything resembling kindess the game has to offer in such a a stunning way that I don’t think I’m every going to consider playing the game in any other mode. While I think the Long War Mode might take the game a little too far, this option really hits it on the head. It is, in a single word, all that XCOM and its series represents – Unforgiving.

And I’m enjoying every moment of it.

Of course, spoilers beyond, though I assume you know that, as I walk through the options I choose for my Marathon GameContinue reading

 

2013-12-25_00246XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within are easily my favorite game(s) to come out in at least the last 3 years. There were other honorable mentions along the way, but none of them drive me to play again and again in the way that XCOM does, has, and will continue to. With the announcement of XCOM2 to come this November, I’ve been itching to make an attempt at the longest version of the game published: Marathon Mode. Though Impossible is an option I’ve been eyeing, its not likely to come to fruition.

I’ve beat Classic, and Classic Ironman, so I figure the next, honest, step is that to Classic Marathon Ironman.

Of course, spoilers beyond, though I assume you know that, as I walk through the options I choose for my Marathon Game

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Holy Jesus.

The amazing and astounding things coming out of, and around, and even near E3 this year are beyond my wildest Dreams. Every expectation that I could have had, if I had ever paid attention to E3 before, were completely blown away. I have gone from lamenting that I had a video game system at all to being overjoyed that I managed to pick one up last year. I have re-joined the Inquisition in full force, and am stoked to get to the end and move on to the next game, something I’ve not had in years.

I’m just going to run through the list by enthusiasm level. While It is not representative of when I heard the list, it is very representative of how gleeful I am at each release.

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As with the other XCOM articles, this contains my experiences from the game so will contain spoilers
See part 1, part 2, part 3, , part 4, and part 5 in my XCOM: Enemy Within Discussion
This’ll be the last Post for my Classic-Normal Playthrough! You can look through the Best Of Screenshots I took from the whole campaign here!

This is where we fight.
This is where they die!

The end is here. I can taste it. I have plasma, MECS, and the Hyperwave Decoder. With the building of the Hyperwave decoder relay, I am now able to see what type of ship each UFO is, alongside what type and how many of the aliens are on board.My next mission is simple: Intercept and assault the Overseers Ship. Sadly, the Overseer’s ship is fairly anti-climactic. I’ve fought Sectopods and Muton Elites before, and nothing in this wreck scares me all to much. I would go so far as to say that I might have completely crushed out this mission.

It turns out that the overseer has The (an?) Ethereal Device on his ship. Vahlen has some interest in it, so take it home and she starts some tests on it. Turns out, its some sort of Mind-globe that needs a super-psionic solider to access it.We also have to build a specific room for the damned thing, so I start on that immediately. Unfortunately, I don’t have any psionically powerful soldiers with which to use the Gallop Chamber.
Matter of fact, I don’t even have a single Psionic solider. Probably should fix that. As I work up to it, thought, I get sent on a unique council mission to France.

The setup is simple: It is a re-skinned bomb disarm, but with a longer timer. My team is making it across a bridge that the aliens have damaged, all the while releasing water valves to stop the whole thing from collapsing. they give you a more than generous time limit, and each valve gives you 2 more turns.

I was never worried.

I am racing to find the “bomb,” in this instance a convoy truck with a secret weapon inside. Aliens keep beaming down to try and stop me, but they have no chance. Moving and overwatching forward every turn allows me to really put a cramp in their style.

The Yellow Circles are overwatch shots. Poor bastard.

I get to the end of the mission, and out from this container jumps this psychic warrior woman who tries to run, but we calm her down via threats to her life, and she agrees to come back to base with us: With XCOM, she’d get a chance to kill aliens.

I finally get the Psionic Labs done and start testing test her up, along with Undercover, who has the greatest Will stat in the army, and thus a high likelihood of having Psionic potential.

While they are both out of commission being tested for powers, another council mission pops up. Also in France. Annette Durrant, the rescuee from the last mission, has friends that the aliens got to first. Time to negotiate with the aliens for their release.

Once again, this is a moderately unique council mission we have to get to the ship as fast as possible, try and sneak in, and get the hostages out. Of course it never works that simple, and the aliens set up the ships self destruct. We have only turns to plow our way through the ship and set the prisoners free. Thankfully, our troops are up for the task and we bring the three friends home. The Three furies: Alecto, Magaera, and Tisiphone are the trapped soldiers. They voulenteer to assist in the XCOM project now that I’ve freed them. I betcha, if I test them, they’ll all be psionically adept, and they don’t fail me. All three tested positive for psionic abilities once they were ready. Durrant and even Undercover both ended up being gifted as well, and I now havr five squad members who were gifted. I need to get at least one of them up to max psionic level and wearing a psi-armor outfit in order to activate the Gallop Chamber. It worries me, taking them out on missions this close to the end. high level soldiers are valuable, but I have to get them trained up and ready to fight the alien ship that I know is coming afterward. I am careful in my missions and make sure that each one it taken slowly and methodically. I risk no one, but I still have to reload a couple times in order to get the team I want to take to the end game ready.

I am finally ready to use the Gallop Chamber. I send in Durrant, because she really, really wants to kill aliens.

Annette Accesses the Ethereal Device

A ship appears, in her mind.

and a Uber Ethereal shows himself.

It is time.
The Temple Ship awaits.

This is one of the parts of the game that makes me kinda sad. The Temple ship is a really cool fight. Sadly, though, its a set piece fight that does not change from playthrough to play through. While it was fun, it was less than challenging.

I grabbed my Greatest Team: Durrant, Big Red, Grinder, Bullet, Jaws and Undercover. Undercover and Durrant both have Mind Control. This one is going to be a good day.

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We get to the Temple ship, and I know its going to follow a very specific template. I am going to go straight through the ship while the Uber Ethereal tests me, summoning each different type of alien in turn. The first a Sectoids. They prove just about as problematic as you would expect them to, given the tech level I’d achieved. After them, a pair of cyberdisks with drones to repair them. They, too, drop like flies to Bullet, Big Red, and Grinder.

With each new alien species summoned, the Uber Ethereal tells me why they didn’t pass the tests that I seem to have. Secotids are cowards, Cyberdisks have no emotions. Floaters, who’s bodies failed to evolve enough, are next. They, too, are eliminated. As soon as I drop the last one, Cryssalids are summoned. Turns out they are completely incapable of being commaned, but they made damned good weapons. All three are easily overcome. A trio of Thin Men block my way for only a brief moment. Turns out that Thin Men just cannot have psionics. Interesting. Mutons are in the next room. Three Standard and a Beserker. This one takes some brief finagling, including the discovery that a standard grenade will set off a proximity mine. Resulting in 13 instant damage. Pretty useful to take away from this. The Mutons are incapable of independence, and are therefore also failures to the Uber Ethereal.

The next room is where the game has broken down for me completely. The first go round in Enemy Unknown, I stumbled into the two Sectopods. Since then, it has not happened. Its a unique shaped room that is easy to see coming. This run I have three stealth soldiers. Bullet, Undercover and Durrant all set up. Jaws, Grinder and Big Red Prepare to move forward to lay unrelenting fire upon them. Unfortunatly, I guessed wrong as to where Grinder could go, and I alerted the Sectopods to my position. One fires its beam cannon,thankfully missing Big Red, and the other wanders out of sight of the top platform.
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My turn comes and I Fire everthing I have from Grinder and Big Red into the one I can see. Its just not enough, so I have to send Jaws in. One down. The the squad on the lower level, the hidden ones, turn their attention to the remaining enemy. While they aren’t able to scrap it, they come close. I was moderately worried here, because Durrant, the Chosen One, was standing next to the Sectopod. Thankfully, it used its cluster-bomb ability on Undercover and Bullet. This bought me a turn to run out of the area of effect before I got hammered. The Secotopod never had a chance.

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At the end of the room with the Sectopods was a trio of Muton Elites. I took control of one, and killed the other two.
Again, we get to a position that is uniquely identifiable, and I set my squad up to end the game. With the Uber Ethereal lined to be lined in my sites shortly, I send in the ghost units.

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Unfortunately, again, I screw up, and they detect on of the soldiers. The Ethereal moves before I can draw a bead on it. This’ll be the first time I actually fight the aliens in this room. 3 Muton Elites, 2 Ethereals and the Uber Ethereal. Fortunatly, I have a Muton of my own! I take control of another Muton Elite to balance the equation, and after a quick firefight, most of the enemies are down.

And that is when I realized I had a chance to do something awesome. I started running, with a bit of caution, Grinder towards the Uber Ethereal. Undercover gets mind controlled, but she can’t do enough damage in the time it takes me to free her – by killing the normal Ethereal in control of her – to change my plan. I sweep the rest of the room, putting down both standard Ethereals. Sadly, Jaws gets exploded towards the end, but thanks to her second heart, stays alive. I have only the Uber Ethereal left to kill.

Grinders got this.
I pop a few shots into him to soften him up for the inevitable end he’s going to meet: A giant Mecha-fist to the face.
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After that, its all over but the Exploding. I get everyone back to base and take a look at my final scores.

Well, that is it for my play through of Classic-Normal. I really enjoyed the new aspects of the game. The new enemies were challenging, but not overpowering, and the missions were a welcome break from the same ones employed in the first. I think I am finally ready for the Ironman run. I know its not going to be easy, but I am going to try it out!

As with the other XCOM articles, this contains my experiences from the game so will contain spoilers
See part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 in my XCOM: Enemy Within Discussion

I literally could not stop cheering. Bradford put the gun to the traitorous soldiers head, and the mission starts.

I’ve two soldiers pinned down in the globe room. They have the assistance of a couple XCOM security Guardsman, but otherwise, they are on their own.

While they are trapped, equipped as they are with the best gear that XCOM can buy, the Security Force holds no such advantage. Body armor, frag grenades and assault rifles will hold nothing to the firepower that the aliens are about to bring.

Warmachine Launches rockets

Warmachine Launches rockets

And bring it they do. Bradford instructs that the two trapped soldiers will have to hold off as best they can until the power generator, cut off in the attacks, can be brought back up online. That could take some time.

Great.

I am fortunate, however. The three soldiers trapped are Jaws, Bullet and Warmachine. With incredible accuracy on Jaws, a strong sniper in Bullet, and a vast array of explosives on Warmachine, I should be able to hold off the few aliens that the game throws at me the first turn. It even gives me a turn to prepare. I got this.
I could not have been more wrong. The game pans out Starts showing aliens dropping into the base just off screen.
A Mechtoid drops into the center of the room.
then a second.
Two Chryssalids.
A Muton Elite, a Muton, a beserker.
A second Muton Elite.
Jesus! Thankfully, Bradford is able to send in the Cavalry, and I get Big Red.

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With the substantial amount of firepower I bring to bear, I am able to take out the first wave, but its not easy. I focus on the heavy hitters first: Mechtoids and Muton Elites. I know that they both can just wreak havoc on my position, as vulnerable as I am. But I’d also assumed something that I didn’t double check until much later in the mission: The aliens in this mission, unlike every other one, don’t drop in on overwatch. You can run all you like across the map to get to good position, and rightly so. The mission was very, very hard for me because I was under the impression that they were following the rules for the rest of the game, when clearly, they are not.

Once the power-crew is removed from the board, I deal with the lone Muton, and am able to reposition the one or two Security defense that have not acted. I pull back from the door that I know has Chryssalids and a Muton Berserker lurking just beyond my field of view, and put who I can on overwatch. That turn, the three aliens advance into the room, into what I thought would be a withering barrage of gunfire that, just, never emerges. However, I am able to remove all three from existence before the start of the next turn. I assume the aliens are going to bring more threats, so I try to take as much cover as possible. Whatever comes through that door, We will stand and fight.

And come through the door they did. Three Cyberdisks, three drones, two heavy floaters and a normal floater.
Whoo boy.

It was only turn four. While I slowly crush through the armor of the Cyberdisks, my forces keep coming through the door, every few turns. Grinder shows up shortly after Big Red, adding, literately, punch to my squad. A few turns later, Breaker shows up, and I learn a sad, sad lesson. My reinforcements come with whatever gear they had loaded last, which in Breakers case was a standard issue sniper rifle and body armor. We’ve come a long way since those times were good times, and he’s not going to live through anything, So I take care with placing him.

Unfortunately, he’s my last reinforcement. I’ve got a few Security guards, but they are quickly being overwhelmed, and I start using them as grenade lobbers, and not much else.

Just as Breakers strides in, Bradford alerts me that I’ve secured the globe room, but that their are more signals coming from the MEC Bay, conveniently located right next door.
Fantastic.
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More Mechtoids, Sectoid Commanders and Sectoids later, I’ve cleared out the MEC Bay.

Now, there is one more wave. I get informed that the back entrance is now full of bad guys, and I’ve got to go clear THAT bay out.

Sectoid Commanders, Mechtoids, Cyberdisks, Drones and a Sectopod.
Have I told you how much I hate Sectopods?

I have a story.
In Enemy Unknown, there is a spot where you find two Sectopods, standing side by side, ready to rain death on your poor, unsuspecting heads. Its a brilliant trap that lost me a solider to its whiles in Classic/Normal. In C/I I was prepared though. Heavy Weapons Trooper with both Mayhem and Heat Ammo did the trick. Because I’d played the game before I knew where they’d be, Used Ghost armor to spot them and Blew the living tar out of them. Poor bastards only had a single HP left after that, and my squadsight sniper took care of that. No Problems.

Now, In Enemy Within, they’ve scaled back heat ammo. That is fine. Oh, and they gave Sectopods 50% damage reduction. Great. Just Great. not only is my best weapon gone, the giant turds are more durable. Just what I wanted. Now, they are difficult to take down in the best of situations.

Right. Back to Base defense.
I get to the final area, and there is a Mechtoid and a Sectoid Commander. The Mechtoids a threat, but the sectoid commander just can’t live. I drop him as soon as I can and drive into the final area. Unfortunately, there is a Sectopod hanging out right around the corner. UGH. So I shoot it with my sniper.
1 damage.
1 Damage.
Seriously!
Well, fine. I’ve got a Heavy Weapon.
1 Damage!
There is no way! None!
And then I realize: I must have damage roulette on. It explains the strange swingyness I’d seen earlier, but wrote off as rebalancing.
There, There… There’s no way. After pulling open the Second Wave options,though, there it is, staring me in the face. Damage Roulette.
*&*(^&$%&^$@#@@~!!!!!

The sectopod, thankfully, is also subject to Damage Roulette, and does 1 damage with his giant pulse cannon to my Sniper. The Mechtoid and the Cyberdisk don’t pose a challenge, but the Mechtoid gets what it had coming.

Finish Him!

Finish Him!


The mission ends, and I get a good rating.
I killed 43 aliens, it tells me. 43. I cannot remember a mission in which I got even close to that. The final mission of my first runthrough was close, I seem to remember, but not 43.

The base defense mission is the highlight of Enemy Within, for me. I don’t even care what comes after this.

I have one more after this: from after the base defense to the endgame. After that, I might do an Ironman runthrough, but it won’t be as detailed as this.

As with the other XCOM articles, this contains my experiences from the game so will contain spoilers
See part 1, part 2 and part 3 in my XCOM: Enemy Within Discussion

While I was busy with Exalt, the aliens were not letting up. Their assaults escalated quickly as the months when by with Secotids and Thin Men gave way to Heavy Floaters and Mutons, who eventually make room for Sectopods and Elite Mutons. The dangers of each mission grow as each enemy gets harder to kill with more HP, higher defenses, and greater consequences for failing to finish them off.

Outside of Exalt, the game progresses as I expect. I put off capturing a live alien as long as I can to get both the Gene Mod lab and the Cybernetics lab online, and while I lost all of Europe early, I lose only Mexico as the game progresses. Research remains slow and I am convinced that I am going to be overwhelmed at any moment by the ravening hordes of aliens come to conquer Earth. Abductions continue to cause panic across the globe, with Exalt continuing to fan the flames. Once I hit lasers, though, I feel I have reached the point of success. Even though the aliens might push me back here and there, I have the technology to take them down. I’m on the warpath.

I finish the Gene labs first, and start sending my soldiers under the knife as quickly as I can afoard. It takes the soldier out three days per mod, but its worth it. Thankfully, at the same time, I complete my satellite coverage of South America and get the “We Have Ways” perk which makes autopsies instant – relevant because most autopsies give me new gene mods.

I many games, I find I enjoy passive bonuses, and these gene mods are no exception. The ability to natively regenerate heath, get better aim and damage for higher ground, and having super jump are some of the coolest abilities. and not needing new buttons or activities to trigger them? Gorgeous.
The best, however, is Mimetic Skin.
Pulled from the autopsy of the new Seekers, Mimetic Skin allows you to go completely invisible if you end your movement in full cover. The concealment starts when you start your move, so you’ll be completely immune to overwatch shots, and won’t trigger aliens if you move into their view.. This can be a great boon to Assault troopers, who can get close and personal quicker, and to Snipers, who can move to position without getting shot in the head. Once its deactivated though (from shooting while in cover, or moving if aliens can see your position) it won’t reactivate until you’re in a new position. If you manage to get Low Profile, which makes all cover count as full, you can really make some crazy moves.
A close runner up, though, is Second Heart. A simple addition of another heart makes the affected soldier become critically wounded instead of die, removes the permanent Will penalty from becoming critically wounded, and adds two turns to the bleed out timer.
For a vanguard unit like Jaws, Its perfect. She’s been shot in the face so many times I can’t even describe, and now she doesn’t even care.

While I started with the Gene Labs, I was most impressed by the Cybernetics Lab. While my brothers style of play involves a fast-attack plan that involves massive use of Snapfire Snipers, Assault troopers, and combat Support, mine has always been a fire base plan of attack. The MECs fit this plan perfectly. Their guns do massive damage, and all of the upgrades that the MECs gets are useful. I think I have used each upgrade to save my squad one time or another.
Especially the flame thrower.
Oh man.

Big Red Lights 2 Elite Mutons and an Ethereal on fire, Panicking all three

Big Red Lights 2 Elite Mutons and an Ethereal on fire, Panicking all three

If the MEC’s weren’t so expensive, both in the valuable Meld and in actual credits, I’d consider a whole squad of them. They are durable, powerful, and versatile. Its everything I want in my troops.

The MEC troopers are their own class, but you choose who to volunteer for the procedures from your current roster of troops. That trooper will then undergo a few days of cybernetic augmentation in order to be fir to the MEC suits. Each soldiers former class brings along a special ability to the MEC class from their former life, and they keep their stats and level, unlocking the MEC tree to the point they had made in their prior class.
With Hidden Potential and Not Created Equally in play, you can, as I do, have two stunningly accurate MEC troopers.
Which is nothing but a boon. Their guns can do some massive damage, and having them be extremely accurate is just fantastic.

With laser weapons, I feel I catch a breather. I work through the storyline of the game a bit, capturing a live Thinman, and then a live outsider. All the while, managing absurd levels of panic, dealing with Terror Sites and Abductions, and until I take out the Exalt HQ I deal with their shenanigans as well.

Then comes one of my favorite parts of the XCOM franchise: The Base Assault Mission. In the prior version, it could be used as a soft pause button. Until you attacked the base and finished the mission, some of the stronger aliens: Muton Elites, Sectopods, and Ethereals, would not show up. That seems fixed in the expansion, because I encountered Muton Elites well before I was ready to.

I used to wait until I was all tricked out with Titan Armor, and Plasma weaponry before assaulting the base, but with Mutons and Sectopods breathing down my neck, I just can’t wait. I have a few Plasma weapons, and I take advantage of the troopers who can use them, and I put Breaker, Grinder, Big Red, Undercover, Jaws and Mountie into the skyranger.

I seem to remember the base assault being harder than this. The biggest problem alien is the beserker, and thats only because the base twists and turns it hard to gain LOS. But then you just have to plan what order to shoot him in to get good LOS.

I waltz through.
Between the power houses that are Grinder and Big Red, the accuracy of Jaws and Undercover, and the volume of fire that Mountie and Grinder can pour out, the mission just wasn’t a problem. This is one of the few problems with the game. This is a set-piece fight that just doesn’t hold through replays. Now that I’ve been through it three times, it holds nothing on me. You know, maybe that’s the point. Maybe the Base Assault is supposed to be done earlier than I’ve done it. Its a great map, with a good setup. You know what, I’m going in as soon as I can in the Ironman run. New resolution!.

The biggest reward, as it is every time, for taking down the alien base is the Hyperwave Beacon,

The key to the future of the XCOM project

The key to the future of the XCOM project

but I also come home with a huge pile of loot. I’ve got enough alloys, fragments and other pieces to fund research for the rest of the game. Again, this could have been a boon early on – Yet another reason to do this early. I start putting it all to work, starting important research, getting the ball rolling on critical Foundry projects, and building key weapons, armor and facilities for my own base. I am feeling really good about my progress, at this point. Both Alien and Exalt bases are taken care of, and I have all the critical projects ready to move.

But, shortly after the alien base as attacked and destroyed, I get a surprising cut scene

Did we catch you at a bad time?

Did we catch you at a bad time?

I could not stop cheering.

Sometimes, your hands get just a little dirty

Sometimes, your hands get just a little dirty

As each screen ticked by, I knew I was closer and closer to the single coolest part of any XCOM game, and I knew that what happened next would be epic.
I had to defend my base, my home turf, my HOUSE against the aliens.
They were not going to know what hit them.

As with the other XCOM articles, this contains my experiences from the game so will contain spoilers
See part 1 and part 2 in my XCOM: Enemy Within Discussion

While the aliens continued their assault unabated, certain members of humanity have sided with the aliens. They are out to grab all the tech they can and stop XCOM.

This cannot be tolerated.

The current mission is to send one of my soldiers to infiltrate an Exalt cell. I assume that there was a chance everything could go south and the covert operative could be lost if they were not good enough, so I send in my leveled support – Daria “Jaws” Jaworski. Once I send her out, she is gone for 6 days, unavailable to use on missions of any type. Of Course, During those six days I have to deal with a terror mission and a set of abductions, making the choice to send one of my more senior soldiers into the compound very, very troublesome.
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The missions attempted while my point-man and combat veteran are indisposed are a pain, but I make it through them without her. I even level an assault for my troubles.

Then, to my surprise, the mission gets complicated. Exalt is onto Daria, and I need to extract her ass from the compound. Time to load up my best soldiers and bring her home.

As I start the mission, I get some curious instructions from Bradford: turns out that Daria isn’t quite yet finished her task. I have to cover for her while she gets the deed done, and she is lightly armed and completely vulnerable, aaaand on the other side of the map. She was almost done hacking a set of communication consoles, and the last two that she needs to hack are here, on this map.

These enemies in this mission are different. Instead of aliens human soldiers are attacking. They are snappy dressers, though: slacks, button-up shirts, suspenders, wielding standard ballistic weaponry, and working together. They have decent HP but are only slightly tougher than my soldiers, which is alright. I manage to beat them back, and though they take some shots at the Jaws, She lives. Linking up with the group makes the rest of the mission easy as I cover for her. She hacks both the Com towers, and then runs to the extraction point, at which point Bradford give me an option: Clean up the Exalt, or roll out. I see my Soldiers as my most valuable resource, so I bail, feeling victorious

The after-combat report, as always, lists how well you did. It tells me I did “poor” because I didn’t kill enough Exalt.
What!
I thought the whole point was a hit and run mission, an extraction. I thought that being prudent would be the better mode. Turns out, that its just better to murder all the Exalt. Who’da thought. I’ll know better next time.

So My first encounter with Exalt was a good one. I got in, struck hard and got out. The mission was also a little different than what I’d been used to, which was refreshing. I Look forward to tangling with them in the future. A worthy foe.

Exalt continues to cause serious problems for me over the course of the next few months. I always play with a very delicate panic balance, trying not to loose my countries and trying to keep those that exist calm. Exalt throws an enormous wrench into that formula, causing extra panic to accumulate in their active country. That extra panic does, however, give me a way to see where Exalt exists. I was never sabotaged, though the Tip Screen warned me that it could be devastating. The only thing exalt ever did was push panic higher and higher in whichever country they exist in. While you can wait, every time a cell would show up, I’d send in a covert operative, they’d muck up, and I’d send in an extraction crew.

Exalt composes their forces much like XCOM, and they have Heavies, Medics and Snipers. They seem to work as a semi-unified team, but they seem to enjoy reloading, throwing smoke and tossing frag grenades, none which are extremely threatening tactics. I keep loosing operatives on the first try of a map because I don’t understand the layout.
Exalt_standard
Once XCOM locates a cell, they ask you to send an operative, and each time it goes the same: 6 days later, they get interrupted, and you have to go on an extraction mission to save them and the vital information they hold.

There are two types of extraction missions: King of the Hill and Communication Disruption. These seem to have their own unique maps, as I didn’t encounter them anywhere else throughout the play through. I enjoyed the King of the hill missions much more. Its a simple, if challenging, setup in which you have to race to the designated area and then prevent the Exalt forces from holding it. If they hold it for 3 turns, then you have to fall back on a second designated area and hold that area. If they force you back from there, you loose the mission. You win the mission when they give up on sending soldiers in, and you kill the last wave. The the first time it gave me fits because I had no idea what was going on. I did, however, bring two heavies, both with rockets galore as I’d realized that the Exalt forces don’t have weapon fragments, so I didn’t need to worry about abusing explosives and loosing access to research materials, so I was able to post up in the first area and just shell everything that came close. Originally, I thought that you had to hold the designated area for a specific amount of time, and that was not the case. It got a number of my men killed, and I reloaded because the explanation was rather bare. Once I understand the mission parameters, though, it was a mission I looked forward to every extraction. It definitely changes the pace, positing you as an aggressive defender. You’ve got a ton of waves to fight through, but you have very little leeway in positioning. If you are too aggressive, you’ll get flanked and overrun, but if your too slow, Exalt will jump into the Zone (which counts as turn 1) and then you only have one turn to push them out or you have to fall back. I never suffered that particular humility, but came close.

The second mission is Communication Disruption. This is the one I did first, with two objectives on the field that the operative needs to get in contact with, and then hack to acquire data about Exalts HQ location. Once the Information is acquired, you then need to extract the operative through the landing zone. Most of the time your covert operative starts on the far side of the map, with fog of war between them, and the squad. Sometimes they’ll be near one of the two comm towers but its not a given. Oftentimes, moving your squad forward is going to triger enemies between your operative and the squad, and perhaps even the objectives. If your operative does not have mimetic skin, it can be a real problem getting your operative through the enemies alive. Most times, I try to link my operative up with the rest of my squad, and then have them escort her to each objective, and then back to the extraction point. These ones were the most straightforward missions, and once you know the maps they get much easier. I even tended to bring enough heavy weapons that was very little left of the Exalt forces once I extract the operative, having only to eliminate one or two to end the mission. This mission specifically seems like its going to be a big challenge in Ironman.

Eventually,after a few missions, Exalt ups their game. Their soliders get more HP, access to some gene mods, and improving their accuracy while also arming themselves with laser weapons.

Exalt_upgrade

The laser weapons are lethal to unarmored soldiers, I learn that one quickly, and leave a trail of poor covert operatives dead in their wake. Until I reload to figure out whats going on.

Each mission brings me closer to my ultimate goal: The end of Exalt. With each successful extraction I squeeze out just a little more information on where the base is, slowly homing in on the harboring country. These little morsels tend to be eliminitory: They don’t tell you where the HQ is, they let you know where it is not.
* Exalt HQ is not located in a country that is within the Arctic Circle
* Exalt HQ is not located in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Ect, ect.

Thankfully, the game put simple icons on the countries that you have eliminated from harboring Exalt on the map in the situation room. If your bad at geography, you won’t have to worry about decoding the clues correctly. Eventually enough covert operatives finish the mission and gather the information on Exalt, and you find out where the HQ is. After three missions you can guess and just go all in, but be careful if you decide to guess. If you choose wrong, the country leaves the council!

Now, with the HQ exposed and all other countries eliminated from contention, its time to tear down Exalt! I for one waited and made sure there was no chance of losing a country. I know where the HQ is, no guessing. I kit my squad out for maximum Carnage, I’m not looking to be accurate, just looking to burn it to the ground. Exalts lowish health and their tendency to hide even more than aliens makes me pack heat: Two heavies, a MEC, an assault with deep pockets, Jaws, and Bullet, my main Sniper. I pack everyone full of alien grenades and send them out.

Exalt Basejpg

The HQ is on the top of an office building in the middle of a city, but it seems that XCOM just doesn’t care anymore. We land the skyranger on the roof, my squad disembarks and I charge the base. Exalt forces respond, but I’m ready for them. Each group of Exalt is met with a fusillade of missiles, grenades and accurate sniper-fire. Anything left standing is swept up by ‘Mountie.” As I scorch their Headquarters room by room, the sirens blare around me. There is not nearly as much resistance ad I had feared, and though they had laser weapons and missiles and alien grenades, I was able to shrug off what they tossed at me. The flamethrower on the MEC was invaluable, as twice I was unable to kill everyone I could see, and both times I was able to light them on fire and make them panic. Controlling the flow of the battle really matters. After an intense, if both short and one sided, firefight, I sauntered back to the skyranger and flew off into the darkness, leaving only a smoldering ruin in my wake.

I assume That there would be more to the Exalt story line, but as I kept playing, it seems that I have accomplished exactly what was advertised. I sought Exalt out in their den, cut the head off the snake, and killed the beast once and for all.

Now, about these Aliens causing havoc in my world…

The thing about XCOM that I love so much is that you should expect to lose.
Lose Games.
Lose Soldiers
Lose Countries.

These are consequences to your actions, and they can be drastic and dire at times. Your Resources are scarce and you can only respond to one event at a time. Every mission is a chance to loose your most veteran soldiers or your newest and most promising rookies. The aliens, unlike most other games, are here to end your game. They are here to make you start over from the beginning, and their efforts can easily set you so far behind that its impossible to catch up. But; sometimes, through all the losses, all the pain, and all the struggles, you can claw your way to the top of the game, and see the valley below. And nothing is as sweet as seeing that imminent victory having climbed that mountain.

I’m still Climbing.

I picked Asia, as I always do. It turns out this is not a common choice. With $80 less per month starting the game, which can be a back breaker, most people choose North America. I do like the Asian continent Bonus though: Having a 50% discount on both the Foundry and the Officer Training School is a very big bonus. I drop into the intro mission, ready to kill some aliens, this time, without the Oops!

I make it through the intro mission fairly easily. Its just sectoids, and I’ve fought them time and again in both games.

This time, though, I learned from my other failures with Ironman, and I take it slow. Not slow enough to risk loosing the meld, but slow enough not to get murdered. Assault rifles and pistols are enough to get it done, and we fly home.

After loosing 8 games in a row, I have much less attachment to these soldiers than I have previous games. While some make it through, others die as the missions progress and I feel little of the remorse from prior games. They have not developed personalities to me, and that’s a bit of a disappointment. I do not grow attached. Casualties mount and my memorial grows, but none of them are people, yet.

Meld, the new resource, is tricky. I have a “cheat” though, that helps me focus on getting the precious little nanobots.

When you go into a map, hold down the G key, and you’ll zoom out as far as you can. From here you’ll look for two specific things: Outlines of Ships (crash or landing sites) and spinning Meld containers. As Meld containers have a very iconic, spinning profile, you can easily spot one in many circumstances. Ships have the unique curving lines that are also easily recognizable, making it so that you know how far away and which direction you need to go. Both of these have helped me gather more Meld and make sure I approach ships with warranted caution.

After your first alien encounter, you also have some research to do, but while there are a number of projects, you really only have two options: Weapons or Armor. Either you feel you need to kill aliens faster, or you need to survive their bullets. both are valid paths unless you are using damage roulette, in which case your guns are not guaranteed to kill anything, and armor is significantly better. Both lead to the best early-stage project: tactical rigging. This allows two item slots for all troopers. This allows significantly more safety when it comes to troopers. Explosives have set damage, and make sure that low-HP enemies will die. Early-game accuracy is extremely low, so having these auto-damage weapons at your disposal is a huge boon. Its one of the key ways of leveling rookies/Squadies without getting your whole squad murdered from a failed 30% shot:When the last alien is alive and at low HP, have everyone take a shot at it except the one in grenade range. If they manage to hit and kill it, great! Bonus weapon fragments! If they don’t hit, drop that bastard like a sack of rocks. Having only one grenade means you only get 4 chances at it. More slots means that Support can take medkits, assault get Chitin plating/nan-fiber Vest/Respirator implants, and Heavies and snipers get scopes, all the while having grenades at their disposal. Its supremely handy. Its the first thing I go after.

I go down the weapon path most games, and this is no exception. Sending scientists on the path to beam Weaponry, I set my engineers to building satellites, in order to control inevitable creep that comes from the abduction missions. I try to get a satellite uplink as soon as I can, but it requires a ton of engineers, extra power, and more money. More money is not what one has at the start of the game. Because I have limited resources, and I don’t follow the satellite rush strategies, I use satellites and council missions as my sole methods of Panic Reduction.

The first three months are brutal. The aliens have a vendetta, and they keep killing all my leveled up soldiers, and I need a Soldier at level 4 before I can get the Officer Training School! The aliens seem to have this cruel, prognostic ability to find ranked officers and mercilessly gun them down. Locked out of squad slots 4 and 5, I’ve got to get better weaponry, and have to forgo the ability to protect my soldiers. This made the game extremely lethal on both sides, creating a vicious cycle that only stopped once I saved scummed a mission which I knew the soldier had been promoted, therefore getting the Officer Training School unlocked once I got back to base.

with all my soldiers dying, the research slowly crawling along with beam weapons, meld research, satellites building and the foundry up and running, I have to hire plenty of soldiers to keep up. I discovered, however,that the Not Created Equally option has a hidden cost. the potential for good soldiers exists, but many, many more start with terrible stats. This means that in this game I’ve Spent more money hiring and dismissing troops for dismal stats than I ever have before. Getting the kill is the only way to get XP, and having someone with a 15% chance to hit just isn’t going to cut it when the aliens are breathing down your neck. Yes, you can use the explosives in the hope that they level well through Hidden Potential, but I don’t think its worth it. If you have a 65 or lower Aim stat, you get the boot. I ask for nothing but the worlds finest soldiers! This costs a lot more money, but enables me to have only the finest soldiers. 100+ aim Support and assault troopers are possibly my favorite things.

My Main Squad Deep into Month 3

My Main Squad Deep into Month 3

After three grueling, desperate months, after a mission I save-scummed a hundred times that had my favorite assault trooper blown to pieces behind cover(bonus defense) in Dense (bonus defense) Smoke (bonus defense) on the top of a building (bonus defense) by a freaking lucky (Critical) shot from a Thin Man, Thomas Taylor, Heavy, was promoted to Sergeant. This allowed me to build the officer training school I mentioned earlier and buy the 5th squad member. Around the same time, Beam weapons finished their eternity-long research and were available to build and arm soldiers with. The sun was starting to peak out from behind the giant mothership. I was starting to see the light. The toll was high, however. I’d lost a number of soldiers. Germany, France and the UK had abandoned the project, with Russia in full panic mode. I had yet to genetically modify a soldier, and I didn’t even have a cybernetics lab. The alien capture hadn’t even been initiated, and I was as broke as I could get. Each months funds being spent the day I was paid and selling corpses on the side to fuel my research and foundry binges. I was behind the aliens. They were winning. Thin men, secotids, mechtoids, mutons and seekers all had shown up, with chryssalids in terror missions as well. They had taken Europe, and panic was spreading across the globe. they were even starting to outclass my interceptors in the sky. But I’d hit the point I felt that I was able to fight back. Carapace armor was being researched. Laser Weapons enabled me to fight back. Maybe, just maybe, I could save the world.

councilman
Then, the councilman appears, suddenly.

No announcement that they want to see me. I am just thrust into a debriefing where I am informed that a bunch of no good bastards are trying to steal my alien artifacts. Exalt, they call themselves. And the councilman wants me to put them down with extreme prejudice.

Sounds good to me.

And then, Mexico goes all into a berserk panic. Turns out that Exalt likes to make countries freak out. Now I have to send in a covert oprative, and loose that trooper for 6 dsays!

Just what I needed!