‘WE HAVE THE TOOLS, WE HAVE THE TALENT!’
I don’t think I’ve made a secret of the fact that the last mission was all a bit squeaky bum time – sailing perilously close to failure, for those of you not familiar with British vernacular – but in the interests of drama (and not boring you to tears), I missed out two occurrences that relate to a further gameplay mechanic: weapon mods.
The X-Com games have always featured resources as a means to upgrade your soldiers, base, equipment and vehicles. Unlike a resource management game though, there are no resource-rich areas to farm. Instead, materials are granted after tactical encounters and become a further currency of the game (I will talk about all of the many, many currencies at a later date). Weapon mods fall into this category as, with the exception of purchasing them directly from the Black Market (again, a topic for later), they can only be acquired during missions and, like the materials, are random types dropped by slain enemies. Where they differ is that they have to be collected by hand and within a certain time frame (as they’re alien in origin, they seemingly can’t survive for long outside of a pocket), giving you that good old X-Com risk/reward ‘buzz’.
In previous games, weapons were interchangeable between soldiers of the same or similar class and could be customised with cosmetic skins while equipped, but were otherwise expendable resources. In X-Com 2, weapons now have mod slots that increase in number as they become more technologically advanced.
As you would expect, these mods enhance the stats of the weapon they are applied to but, more importantly, they make a given weapon unique, another commodity to be managed. If a veteran grenadier with a modded cannon/mini-gun is laid up in the infirmary for a week, it’s now possible, indeed sensible, to give their weapon to another grenadier to make them more effective. If the same grenadier is KIA during an extract mission, collecting their corpse and taking it back to base will ensure that your troops can continue to use that cannon.
Remember how I mentioned that the game fosters attachment to your soldiers by customising them? You can name weapons now. Just saying.
The jubilant mood of the squad in the sky ranger as it ferries them back from the last mission fails to enthuse me. I’m bracing myself for the medical reports for Bauer and Lebedeva. The true measure of a game must surely be the ability to sour a victory with ‘realism’.
The post-battle report confirms the worst: Lebedeva is off the board for eight days and Bauer needs to recuperate for sixteen. In reality, these are actually pretty generous recovery times. After all, Bauer had been reduced to one health point at one stage. He’d probably be honourably discharged and spending the rest of his life eating his meals through a straw in the actual military.
As a further kicker Bauer has been given a ‘shaken’ modifier, reducing his will to zero until he participates in a successful mission where he isn’t wounded. This means that even when he’s back on his feet, my specialist is highly susceptible to panic and mind-control until the modifier is lifted. The joy is hitting me right in the feels.
My mood is lifted by the two mods collected during the last mission: an extended magazine and an enhanced scope. I slot the magazine into Farisani’s cannon, giving her an extra shot before she needs to reload, and attach the scope to Lebedeva’s sniper rifle, giving her +5 to aim. At least whichever rookie gets her sniper while she convalesces will be a better shot with it.
Farisani also makes corporal, allowing me to bestow a ‘shredder’ ability that enables her cannon to destroy armour points from enemy units, while Kim is promoted to squaddie, ranger class. The sword really brings out his eyes.
‘WE GOT NUKES, WE GOT KNIVES, SHARP STICKS…’
With troop management attended to, it’s time to check back in on research. There are still a few days left researching the brain chip, so I leave Tygen beavering away at that. Meanwhile, in engineering, I can assign the engineer I picked up prior to the last mission to clear one of the derelict chambers on the Avenger in preparation for a new installation of my own choosing. This will take five days and, as a fringe benefit, will also generate some alien materials that I can use to build new shiny things.
Going back to the world map, I notice a supply drop in South America that will take three days to scan and reward me with currency. Parking the carrier over the site, I press Y and let the time lapse begin.
Surprisingly, the only interruption during this scan is the completion of the brain chip research which triggers another story beat: based on his research of the microchip implanted in the commander’s brain, Tygen has developed an item called a ‘skulljack’. The skulljack gives you the ability to hack living Advent soldiers and gain intel (another resource) or a intelligence on avatar facilities. I need to do this to an Advent officer (at point blank range, I might add) to progress the story but I’m not quite ready for those kinds of shenanigans yet.
I set Tygen to work on the comms upgrade that will allow me to reach out and touch more people. With three more days of carrier excavation to go, I speed up time again and the Avenger finishes scanning the supply drop. A pop up announces that I’ve picked up some supplies from what looks like an old X-Com base but I click through it to redirect the Avenger to the East Asia communications array and start scanning again.
It’s no great shock that the aliens finally decide to strike and, as before, I’m given three missions in different locales of the world, each with different difficulties and rewards. I settle on ‘Demon Walker’ which will grant me an extra scientist (thus speeding up research) and some funds.
Cut to the squad loadout screen where Farisani and Kim are the only recognisable faces in the line-up (relatively speaking, given that Kim is wearing a bandana over his). My somewhat veteran warriors are joined by Del ‘Funky Squad’ Tasker, a man with a legendary afro and cigarette perpetually perched on his lower lip (I really need to stop making up characters when I’m drunk), and a flat-topped wonder simply known as Guile.
It’s only when I’m changing Kim’s loadout to assault rifle rather than the shotgun that I notice there’s an extra weapon option: a bolt caster. Looking like the child of a blunderbuss and a crossbow, it’s powerful (dealing twice the damage of an assault rifle), unique and utterly ridiculous, but with only one shot per magazine it seems like a risky proposition for a ranger. I check the other kit slots for any other goodies and discover twin throwing axes that deal slightly higher damage and grant a free throwing ability once per mission. Now those are suitable for a ranger!
Swapping Kim’s sword for the axes, I give Lebedeva’s sniper to Tasker and arm Guile with the bolt caster. Time to go to work.