X-COM WAR DIARY PART 3: DEATH BY A THOUSAND PAPER CUTS

OVERWATCH. NO, NOT THAT ONE.

My grenade-toting rookie lets fly and the olive coloured death orb drops into the midst of the Advent guards just so, killing the two troopers and injuring the officer with a satisfying explosion.

That’s the easy part done. Now the wheel of fortune starts spinning.

The game moves from the stealth phase to combat and the Advent officer gets a free movement turn. I steel myself as he triggers the first of my recruits in overwatch, remembering the soft hit percentages and that overwatch incurs a hit penalty, but all three can’t miss surely? To my surprise the first recruit lands a critical hit doing extra damage and stops the officer in his tracks.

I might have cried ‘suck it!’

With no enemies left within sight, a brief alien turn follows where the AI moves it’s remaining troops out of sight behind the fog of war. Back to me and I now have four turns to secure the tech and haul ass.

Didn’t even buy me a drink first. The cad.

A hazy recollection of playing this mission previously reminds me that there is at least one more patrol hiding in the shadows of the unexplored areas of the map, so I move my nearest recruit (the plucky overwatch sensation, Natasha Lebedeva) to high cover near the tech while the rest of the squad cautiously moves up the convoy finishing in cover as before. Luckily, none of their movements trigger enemy reveals so I start the next round at somewhat of an advantage.

Lebedeva moves onto the flatbed truck to secure the tech, a contextual action that can only be performed on a tile adjacent to the object. Naturally, as this only requires moving two tiles, the fog of war on the north eastern section of the map lifts and reveals the second patrol: two Advent troopers and a sectoid.

SECTOIDS. WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE SECTOIDS?

In Enemy Unknown and even Enemy Within, sectoids are not quite laughable but they are certainly tittersome. The cannon fodder of the alien forces, they resemble the little grey men of X-Files lore and are a hindrance at worst, easy kills at best. Enemy Within beefed them up with a psionic buff that allowed one sectoid to increase the health and aim of another. This could catch you off guard initially but soon became a way of killing two with one shot once you realised the psychic death rattle of one would take out the buff recipient as well.

The sequel has sought to redress the mirthsome light in which this enemy has been cast. Thanks to the infusion of human DNA, sectoids are now much taller (with increased hit points to match), flesh coloured and carry a formidable bag of psionic tricks to punish the unwary. Like being able to panic, disorient your troops and let’s not forget the hilarious ability to reanimate and Jim Henson the dead. That’s a real show stopper the first time it happens.

Thankfully, this was not my first dealings with the upgraded sectoid and I had formed a successful strategy in previous outings: kill them first at (almost) any cost.

The game allows the enemies their free turns to move into cover around a dilapidated building before I can continue my turn. Once it’s my move, Lebedeva secures the tech. That leaves her with an action I use for overwatch. She’s in high cover and slightly elevated so I’m hoping that will edge up the percentage. I move my Baird homage into cover on the opposite side of the building from the sectoid, giving her a good shot on one of the accompanying troopers who acquiesces in entertaining slo-mo ragdoll fashion.

VICTORY AND DEATH

My ranger, Jane Kelly, is well placed to make a slash attack with her sword on the sectoid (which is good because her shotgun hit percentage is woeful) but that won’t kill it and will leave her open to attack by the nearby remaining trooper as well as the sectoid. I still have one more recruit to move after Kelly though so I can at least remove the sectoid from play. Kelly rushes the sectoid, hits and damages it, before hiding behind a convenient tree that at least offers full cover.

My last recruit, Bauer, uses an action to move closer to the enemies but the game invokes Sod’s Law and his hit percentage for the trooper is more favourable than the one for the fleshy psionic horror. Against my better judgement, I take the shot on the trooper and Bauer misses a 63% hit. A short, somewhat embarrassing and ultimately futile rant about the AI shot calculation ensues before rookie Lebedeva saves my hide: the remaining trooper had attempted to flank Kelly on the alien turn, activating Lebedeva’s overwatch and thoroughly showing him the error of his invadey ways.

Quite literally cornered behind a wall, the sectoid makes a self-preservation decision and raises the first dead Advent trooper before directing it to attack Kelly. She takes 50% damage from the lurching but surprisingly agile zombie and the alien turn ends.

While tactics are of paramount importance during the combat phases of the game, it pays to play a little chess and think ahead to your next battle as well. With that in mind I move Bauer closer to the sectoid, flanking it to get a good shot and the kill. This should not only win the battle but give him a good chance of a promotion as well.

Remember that psionic feedback trick I mentioned from Enemy Within? It still works with sectoids and their reanimated meat puppets in X-Com 2. Sure enough, the rookie drops the sectoid, who drops the trooper and the day is won!

The barbecue is just for the publicity shot, right guys? We’re not ACTUALLY going to eat the sectoid? Are we? Guys?

THE (X-COM) LORD GIVETH…

It’s only the first mission without training wheels but I’m honestly giddy there have been no casualties. As my post-victory after glow fades though, I gradually grow suspicious. This is the first time I’ve completed this mission without losing a soldier. Damn this amazing game.

The game switches to a loading screen of the jubilant squad inside the sky ranger dropship before depositing them on the deck of your base for some post combat analysis.

Lebedeva is promoted to sniper class (which seems entirely appropriate given her hit rate in the battle), my Baird-a-like (rookie Farisani) is promoted to heavy and Bauer is promoted to specialist. These promotions also increase their attributes as well, giving each a slight edge over their rookie selves in combat.

Not a bad start, but still a ways to go.

The X-Com shaped cloud in my silver lining? Despite no casualties being sustained, Kelly’s injuries will put her out of action for two weeks while she convalesces. So much for a full squad of classed soldiers.

NEXT WEEK: IT’S NOT JUST A BASE, IT’S A TRANSFORMER!

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