Paying Dues

One of the most enjoyable aspects of playing XCOM, at least for me, is the punishing difficulty levels. Unlike my initial fears, this game is turning out to be at least as challenging as its predecessor, and will quite likely outstrip it as either Retaliation/Second Wave or Expansion packs come out for it. What I initially took for soft is, instead the plush outer coating of a grenade wrapped in velvet, and once you’ve cut off the skin, there is no going back.

What happened to my second game is testament to this concept, and one of the key reasons I keep coming back to this and Enemy within. Amusingly enough I keep having the voice of Illidan run through my head.

You are not prepared.

Be forewarned. There may be light spoilers ahead, but mostly about gameplay, less about story.

This place

This place

My second game was going strong. I was advancing along a technology tree I was proud of, and I had soldiers that were climbing the ranks. I’d built and found enough communications to feel like I was ahead of the curve, and my power was swimming right along. The Guerrilla training School was pulling my rookies into squaddies, and I had the supplies to keep my soldiers trained and equipped. I’d been successful in every one of my missions, but the death toll kept mounting. I averaged one solider per mission KIA, and at least one other wounded.

I decided that I was going to send my best men into the Blacksite mission and see what I could do to it. I’d performed all of the critical tasks up to that point, and felt that this was going to be another step on the path.

Little did I know.

Dropping into the site, I was under the cover of stealth and able to sneak forward to a solid vantage point. Spotting a number of targets in front of me, I needed to take out the patrol to my right before proceeding and getting all my soldiers killed. I managed to kill both of the aliens, but through no ones fault but my own, not even the RNG, I took a smashing set of damage against 2 of my 6 soldiers, setting me back horribly for the encounters I knew were yet to come.

This. This fight.

This. This fight. What you cannot see is the turret at the top of the building and the already slain Viper.

While I made it to this point, I was already damaged and quickly lost two of the five soldiers, one of which was undamaged prior to being wiped off the planet. I was able to make it through the firefight with liberal use of explosives and a ton of luck, grinding down the advent forces while safeguarding my own.

Pushing forward, I was able to make it to the objective before I was ambushed by one of the worst clusters I’ve seen yet: Two sectoids and a Viper. Left with only three soldiers alive, I did the best I could, taking down the viper first and then going after the sectoids, but it was all in vain. My forces were putting out a fusillade of bullets, but those ran quickly out, leaving me with dead turns as I reloaded and re-positioned. Those dead turns turned into dead operatives as the sectoids mind controlled

and turned them against their brethren of moments before.

The final transmission of my soldiers.

The final transmission of my soldiers.

I lost the whole group, five trained and leveled men and women who had contributed so much to the cause. I had hoped that I would be able to salvage some sort of game with them. I had a single survivor, Denise, a Grenadier, who was wounded and unable to take the mission. Sadly, even that wasn’t enough, and the next mission I lost the rest of my fighters. unable to resupply and unable to push forward, I simply researched everything I could and tried to get the most information about how the system works before the world came crashing down on this rebellion.

I’ll sum up game three in a single paragraph. Its that bad. Starting with two characters from my character pool, I was riding a high note. Denise had returned, along with a ninja character I had built testing the character pool concept. Unfortunely, they were both killed in the first mission of the game when I alerted the second squad to my location two turns early, and I was unable to pull out of the tailspin that a 6 on 4 firefight turns into to make matters worse, I lost the other two solders in the same mission, prompting the game to mock me and ask me to restart the mission again. That fight fared better, but I was unable to survive the mission unscathed, lost two in the first mission, and toilet bowled the whole game thereafter, playing a total of two missions losing nearly every person I had. I booted up and tried for the next game.

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Seeing this come down is a victory in its own right.

Four games In, I think I may have it! I made it out of the first mission with all my soldiers alive: I may have lost one, come to think of it. I was then able to recruit a number of other soldiers and grab critical portions of the research tree, along with a pair of scientists to move along those researches. I’ve got two named operatives at this point, Paladin and Circuit, along with a fairly robust stable of second line soldiers. I’ve researched the resistance communications and put together modular and magnetic weapons, opening up the first upgrades for all my weapons and setting me up for a much more massive damage output in the future. Now, with most of my squad equipped with magnetic weaponry and the rest ready to be purchased as soon as I have the requirements, I think I am sitting in a decent position to push forward. I don’t know what half the game holds, but I’m optimistic I can finally get past what feels like the introductory phases and move towards freeing planet earth from its alien overlords.

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Best mission…