The Fall of Exalt

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.
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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.

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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.

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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…