Last week was a low point. A dark and cramped place which I was sure sunlight would never embrace again. Warmth and comfort were simply memories. The only end, if it ever came, would come from the cold and merciless eyes of an alien overlord.
The bleakness has passed. It was the fire that has finally tempered me into an alien killing monstrosity, as hated by those who I am trying to save as those I am seeking to destroy. I strike from the darkness, leaving nothing but bodies, burning buildings, shell casings. Where I choose to walk, aliens, and their collaborators swiftly perish. They hunt me. They hunt me to prevent themselves from being the prey. It is to late.
I don’t expect this feeling to last past this evening.
(There will be spoilers)
Every time I get confident and speak about how my game is going, the universe smites me for my hubris. It’s depressing. Currently, and this is where I’m going to really screw up, I don’t know how it can really finish me off.
I’ve managed to get farther that I’ve made it in any other run so far (12, for those of you keeping track at home). I’m wearing warden armor, and have War and Wraith suits being manufactured. I have plasma rifles and storm guns. Plasma sniper rifles are waiting on the funds to build them. I have a every facility that I’ve been told to build, constructed, with enough power and communications built to carry me to the end. I have 6 staffed engineers, 4 scientists, and over a dozen Operatives, including three colonels. I’ve bought most of the upgrades from the Guerrilla Tactics School.
I feel impervious. Twice I have averted crisis with the Avatar project, sabotaging it before it could complete the final stages. Once I finish writing here, I will go set them back a third time, averting the catastrophic end of humanity once again. Then, Hopefully, I will pound the aliens into dust.
A Little Patience
Over 12 games I’ve come up with a plan that suits me well, both in the turn based battles and the Geoscape. As strange as this may sound, it is strongly predicated on being perfect. There are many little things that can trip you up, from alien threat assessment, to resource management, to Research projects. Not tripping on these takes experience, time, and iteration. This is difficult for someone who is trying to play on Ironman, where every mistake is permanent and a new game is the only chance for iteration. This is especially true when it comes to the tactical missions. These missions put some of your most valuable resources on the line, confronting the aliens directly and trying to overcome superior weapons, armor and technology.
Chasing Tactical Perfection
Getting a Flawless mission used to elicit a quiet cheer and a fist pump, elated that I’d managed to not loose a soldier, let alone be so lucky as to have no one take any damage. Those days are gone as I chase the flawless mission for every mission I run. This mindset has lead to a much better record than my previous games, with over 70%, going from memory, of my missions finishing in Flawless or Excellent, with the remainder being Good. I’ve had a pretty solid run of luck, to be fair, but that is to be expected when you reduce or even eliminate the ability for the enemy to take their attacks. the amount of missions where the name listed for “Most Under Fire” is staggering.
Part and parcel to the mentality of chasing perfection is overwatch. Every time I trigger a pod of aliens, I take personal affront if I don’t get a few shots on them while they are running to cover. This is when they are most vulnerable and when you can expend the least amount of time and effort killing them. Wasting grenades on smaller troops while the larger ones are yet to come is irritating, and can be alleviated by proper use of overwatch. Secondly, when an alien troop happens on you, and you’re able to tag with even a single hit, it can turn the tide of that combat. Often the enemies are the smallest of fractions over what you can be expected to deal out in a round of combat, and that extra hit makes sure you can power through.
The corollary to Overwatch is the fade. There will be times when you trigger a pod at the wrong time, and you have to deal with the howling hordes of enemies surrounding you. These times call for desperate measures, and that measure is falling back. Even in missions that are timed, I would suggest that the better part of valor is retreat. This is not a rout, however. This is the strategic withdraw to a defensive position that will allow you to take advantage of squads overwatch capabilities as well as abilities like Vigilance, Killszone, and Covering fire. What is most important here is the remove as many soldiers as possible from the Line of sight of the aliens. This will force them into moving to find you, where you can take your overwatch shots on them. The penalty for Overwatch is always less than the penalty for Cover. If you cannot get everyone out of LOS of the aliens, make sure they hunker down and give them Aid Protocal. It often will deter enemies from attack them at all, making them move and triggering overwatch. This tactic is especially effective with 2 snipers with Long Watch in the back of the squad.
Being able to mover before or after a reload makes a huge impact, and being able to overwatch after reloading is powerful. Check your ammo, and if you’re running low, slow down and reload. On timed missions this may not always be an option, but keep it in the back of your mind. Is it better to get pinned down by alien fire and extend the firefight an extra round because you can’t move to a better position to get attacks, or to spend that turn here, reloading and on overwatch, just in case.
This is a specific condition that is granted by one skill and one piece of equipment that I currently use: Capacitor Discharge and Flashbang Grenades. These are vital to controlling certain enemies (though my brother and I disagree which enemies are best) actions and forcing them into particularly disadvantaged situations. For instance, if you flashbang an enemy, then destroy their cover with a grenade or other ability, they will, almost always, run for cover. If you have people on overwatch for that contingency, the alien will likely end up dead, having been shot on overwatch in the open with extremely favorable hit and crit chances. Flashbangs, specifically, had this bizarre propensity to get the soldier who used them killed in prior games. This time, at the advice of my brother, I only put the grenade on a grenadier, and Lo, the huge area and vastly longer range has been a massive boon. Additionally, Volatile Mix enables the flashbang to do 2 damage, which is pretty sweet in addition to its effect. Capacitor discharge, at the last tier of the Specialist Tree, does significant damage (6-8ish?) and disorients, ignoring armor, in a radius. It is not at the end of a tree for nothing.
Don’t rely on the RNG if you don’t have to. Killing enemies is hard enough in XCOM, and you don’t want to give yourself too many aneurysms when that point blank 97% hit chance attack misses. Instead, Grenades, Stocks, Gremlins and 100% attacks are what you need to rely on to finish enemies that are on the brink. Often, I leave my combat specialists or anyone armed with a stock until the end of the turn, allowing them to pick of any targets that have been left alive by either random chance or simply being too tough. Having these abilities in your pocket really matters when it comes to making sure you’re not getting shot turn after turn. Researching ADVENT Mecs for MK II Gremlins and Mutons for Plasma grenades as soon as possible helps this out tremendously.
The best enemy is one which cannot attack. Most of the time, I prefer that to be a slain enemy. I vastly prefer putting down any enemies within dependable damage range over dealing some damage to each enemy. Every time an enemy even gets the opportunity to attack is a chance that I could loose that flawless mission. Furthermore, the Haywire ability is one of the best in the game. Allowing for either a stun or the even more rare control of a mechanical object can completely turn the tide of a pod, or even a mission. Fighting two Advanced ADVENT troops and a Mec is hard. Fighting two troopers while the Mec stands still and does nothing is vastly easier.
Another bit of insight imparted to me by my brother, keeping your group of soldiers together advancing up into combat is a very strong tactic. By keeping your LOS clustered, you tend to draw less pods at a time, and most often only one at a time. This enables you to move up, trigger overwatch on the pod, and then dismantle whoever is left alive. This also enables you to have a strong overwatch presence, often with 2 or 3 soldiers getting shots off at the same target, making each miss less costly.
There is Light
Its been a long ride, and it may get longer, but each time I have learned and done better than each previous attempt. Hopefully, this will be my last. I fear it will not. Until next week!