X-COM 2 Diaries: Trying Again

Foreword: A number of months ago, I decided to take the plunge and play X-COM 2 on Iron Man mode, on Classic difficulty. This means the game is harder, meaner, and you can’t go back. All mistakes are permanent. It did not go well.

In this run, I’m playing with all available DLC, including Shen’s Last Gift which I’ve never encountered before. I’m using one gameplay-affecting mod (Smart Overwatch) as well as a number of cosmetic mods (more colours, more tattoos!) And yes, if I survive long enough, there will be spoilers.

Lets see how it goes this time around.

28th February, 2035

Operation Gatecrasher

Christ, this is not a good day to start the revolution. Mission Command (read: me) has a massive hangover, and in addition to trying to save the bloody world I apparently have to keep a ‘commanders log’. I think Bradshaw’s been watching old sci-fi clips again.

Our squad drops in. Present are Caroline Haines, Aimee Toshney, Nate Spencer and Cal Doughty. Apparently I got left behind. Based on a previous commander’s diary I found, this will be tough. These crappy rookies are also my friends. And apparently I have to, y’know, save the world with them. Preferably without getting them killed.

Time to make an…explosive entrance.

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Caro hangs back, cautious. Cal darts ahead and spots our objective. Nate scouts. Enemy spotted. Keep your cool. Everyone knows how dangerous things are at this stage – a single unlucky shot or misplaced move could leave the whole squad well and truly fucked.

Our rookies play it cautious. The close grouping of the enemy leads to a quick plan: ambush. Caroline covers from the rooftop, Nate and Cal flank and cover the sides. Aimee makes the introductions.

Boom! Things never go that well. Aimee’s grenade left two of the group near death, and as they scattered in surprise the rest of the squad finished all three enemies off. I genuinely don’t think an ambush has ever worked that well before. This is hopeful. But we can’t lose our heads.

Second squad spotted – we knew they’d be here somewhere. This time we haven’t got the element of surprise, and it’s a whole different level of tense. The squad duck for cover, and everyone settles into overwatch – waiting for any of them to try moving so we can mow them down in the open.

Apparently the Advent aren’t total idiots. They don’t risk moving, and instead take shots at Caroline and Cal. Miss. Miss. Miss. Whew.

An ill-advised move leaves Cal in the open, fuck. We have to take them out now, or Cal is as good as dead. A lucky grenade from Nate and some good shooting from Aimee take out the Advent minions. Just the commander left. Cal makes a break for it, and runs for better cover. It’s not worth his skin.

Jesus, this commander has it in for Caroline. This is the third time they’ve gone for her. Still, there’s only one of him. If we had people to spare, we could just rush him. But our resources are sparse, and even one of our squad being injured is a risk we can’t take.

Two risky shots take the commander down. And he drops a shiny item, oooh.

Oh, and now they’re all dead, we can blow up the statue and symbolically start the resistance. Don’t forget about that bit.

YYEEEEEEAAAAAAAAH
YYEEEEEEAAAAAAAAH

Promotion time. They did well, our rookies, so it’s handshakes and a hug time. And also giving them big nasty weapons.

In a break from X-COM 2 tradition, Caroline doesn’t get a grenade launcher. No, instead she has a shotgun and a machete. Because clearly the twitchiest group member is the one you want to be going toe-to-tentacle with our alien beasties.

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Instead, the grenade launcher goes to Aimee. Fitting, I suppose, given her grenade was the opening move in what I’m sure will be a very easy and not terrifying at all war to save the world from dystopian alien dominance. Oh, and she gets a chaingun as well. Fucking hell.

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Cal gets a drone. He’ll be our field medic from here on out. He’s also dressed himself in orange and white and keeps talking about how he’ll “totally be like Mercy, from ‘Overwatch’, it’s gonna be awesome”. I have no idea what he’s babbling on about, but I’m privately glad he didn’t get the chaingun.

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Lastly, Nate becomes our resident sniper. He seems overwhelmingly pleased about it too.

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On a personal note, the hangover is also starting to recede which helps a lot. Well done team. They get to take a break, but I’m being called all over the ship (oh yeah, we have a flying base. It’s apparently no biggie. FUCKING HELL WE’RE IN A FLYING BASE-SHIP.)

4th March

Days fly by here. The troops seem to be doing well, although frankly I’m a little annoyed that they won’t help out in cleaning up the ship. The entire place is filled with debris, but apparently if it doesn’t involve guns, my friends just don’t want to know. Scientists are doing…science. Don’t ask me how, but it apparently involves a lot of shiny lights.

Oooh, we’ve picked up a new scientist. You can tell they’re a real scientist, because they wear a white coat and call themselves ‘Dr’.

7th March

We’ve got a lead on an engineer. Which we kinda need, on account of HAVING A SHIP FULL OF JUNK that none of my bloody friends will help me clear. On the other hand, we need to fly in and extract her. Break out the guns guys.

Operation Bone Slayer

Might have to have a word with Bradshaw about his operation names. We’re extracting an engineer, not forming a death metal band.

The squad load up, all distressingly excited about their shiny new toys. Scout, scout, spot. Fucking hell. Sectoids got big. Ambush time. It doesn’t go off flawlessly, but at least we take out the sectoid. That thing looks scary.

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Another firefight breaks out, and Caroline is the first to take a wound. Fuuuck. Injury is terrifying – not only might they die, but it also means Caro will be out of action in the future, and there’s every chance she’ll be too injured to fight on a day where we can’t afford her to not be there. Cal decides that safety is more important than trying to take out the enemy. He grabs his handy medspray and gets Caro back up and running. Aimee concurrs and flashbangs the enemy group. Nate is less forgiving, and takes a chunk out of an Advent commander. Not dead, but getting there.

Caution was the right choice. Both enemies target Caro again (seriously, this woman is an attention magnet), but in their disorientated state, they both miss. One enemy dies as the car he’s squatting behind explodes, and Caro has her revenge as she breaks out the machete and slices the commander in half. A bullet magnet and a slight psychotic. Glad to have her on the team.

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Looks like there are still some beasties hiding. Now’s the real time to be careful – it’s all to easy to run into them unaware. We ambushed them before, but they can ambush right back.

The squad get high – and also climb onto rooftops. Somewhat ominously there’s a crash in the room right below. Aimee goes to peek over the ledge…nothing. Shit. It looks like they’re literally in the room below us, but we can’t be sure. The only way to find out is jump down, but whoever does could be surrounded.

Whelp. Looks like Caro is our resident danger-junkie. She takes the plunge and there’s surprise on both sides as a trooper and another Sectoid scramble for cover as Caroline appears. She immediately gives chase, promptly slicing the trooper in two. A mix of contempt and disgust on her face as she looks down at her handiwork.

Make note: Get a councillor on the staff. Then send Caro to them.

The rest of the squad follows. A bold shot by Cal leaves the sectoid barely standing, and Nate steps in with unmistakable glee to blow it’s head off with his pistol.

Enemies down. Mission accomplished.

8th March

Caro is out of commision, healing up from the fight (apparently Cal’s ministrations were only temporary). She’s on bedrest for over a week, and has been shaken by her ordeal. Here’s hoping we don’t have any problems in the next 8 days.

I’m not optimistic about that.

15th March

Fucking admin! I’m already trying to do bleeding-edge scientific research, and excavate some useful stuff out of this half-working ship, and make contact with any local resistance pockets, and build some actual facilities for our troops, and think of our overarcing strategy. But no, apparently there are still other things that need my attention. At this point a rescue mission seems like a break. Well, at least it transmutes my stress from the general to the specific. E.g. Everyone dying.

At least Caro’s back on her feet, just in time.

Operation Earthly Tears

Seriously. All these missions sound like band names.

Sonofabitch. Our jailbreak was going fine. Some shifty manouvering got the whole squad onto the rooftop, overlooking the van (and the enemy). We were all set to rain down hell. And then one of the little fucks thought to look up and completely blew our cover. Well we’re not getting away clean now.

If this was a Modern Warfare type game, we’d be laughing as we mowed down the helpless insects below with our massive, massive guns. Turns out that guns run out of bullets. And aliens shoot back. And being on a rooftop means they can shoot the floor out from under you.

Things could go either way. Half of their squad is wiped out, but Cal has been injured, and there’s no way to know if there are more enemies hiding just out of sight. Some creative teamwork between Aimee and Cal takes out the sectoid before it can start doing annoying psychic shit. Aimee blows up the cover, Cal takes it out when it’s exposed. The sole remaining trooper is also on fire, which appears to distract him from Caroline, who’s standing right next to him, terrified out of her tiny pants at being in the open. WHELP. If you get her an opening like that, it’s probably machete time.

Dammit, when your attention slips for one second, you do stupid things. With the enemies down, and Nate covering from the rooftops, we break open the security van and get the scientist running for the extraction point. She immediately runs into another sectoid. I will be very annoyed if anyone dies because of this.

Let me rephrase, if anyone on our side dies.

It’s a damn good thing Nate’s on that roof. With him up there, he can root out the troopers when they try to hide and pin us down. Reinforcements are on the way, and he doesn’t need to kill us, just stop us running. Nate puts paid to him, and the scientist makes a run for it. Extraction successful. Now it’s just us we have to worry about. The squad tries to ambush the reinforcement squad as they drop in, but both Cal and Caro miss. Fuck it, the squad makes a dash. Everyone gets out but Nate, who’s too far away to make it from the roof. He hides behind a truck and prays, knowing he’ll be the focus of three attacks, and there’s no help coming.

FUCK. The enemy is smart. Do not forget the enemy is smart. They don’t need to chase Nate, they can just hunker down and overwatch. The moment he moves, he’ll be in a blizzard of bullets.

No choice. RUN.

Miss.

Miss.

…Tagged. But it’s not enough to take him out, and holy shit, Nate makes it out. The Advent troops scream with rage as Nate rappels the hell out of dodge. I can’t believe he survived. Is Nate blessed?

16th March

In the aftermath of Earthly Tears (seriously? Seriously.) Cal is out of action for 20 days. Nate for 10. There are some well deserved promotions to go around. I’ll send the guys some flowers or something. If I have time. Now back to running everything.

21st March

Not only am I busy running every goddamn thing on our mission to, y’know, save the world guys, but with Cal and Nate still out of action, when the aliens try to tear apart the first resistance contact base that we’ve managed to get, I need to jet down to the ground and run sortthisshitout.exe with a gun. Ciaran O’Sullivan is coming along too. I hope this doesn’t take too long.

Operation Mountain Chalice

…Not really sure what to make of that name. Slightly nervous about this mission, what with me actually being on it and everything. We’re crashing in with the aim of getting the civilians out. We can’t be overly cautious on this one. Every moment we’re not chasing civilians and aliens, that’s another moment the aliens will be shooting civilians dead.

Just the kind of mission you don’t want rookies on.

Caro might be our saving grace here. With her new promotion, she’s learned the value of sneaking. While the enemy know that the rest of us are here, they haven’t spotted Caroline. While we chase down enemies, she can sneak about and pull civilians to safety. That’s the plan anyway.

It’s a good plan – and one I’ll try to use again. It just doesn’t work this time. Two of the squad are left flanked, with a high chance of getting the bejesus shot out of them. Caro is the only one who can save them and – meaning no disrespect to the terrified and helpless civilians – my squad is more important. So we go loud. Gunfights and grenades follow. Given the number of aliens, it’s more practical to just wipe them all out rather than gather up civilians. More callous sounding? Yes. More efficient and actually saves more lives? Also yes. Near the end of the fight, a civilian explodes in a spurt of vicera. Oh. Apparently there are massive shapeshifting aliens as well. So we can’t even just gather up civvies on the sly. Because any one of them could take our heads off.

Good to know.

22nd March

Aimee is out of service for 15 days. We really, really need to get the medical facilities up and running. But we don’t have the money, time, or space. On the bright side, Caroline becomes the first to earn her callsign. She’s now ‘Ghost’.

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28th March

Events start to blur. Operation Iron Hand. Go. New research. Done. Wait, Avatar Project? That doesn’t sound good. I’ve been promoted to Grenadier, so me and Aimee have something to bond over over drinks. God I hope we get drinks. I know what I want to happen in the base, but I need more resources, and more vitally, more power. Power which takes more time, space and resources to build. Plans are getting knocked back. I really need these aliens to stop invading all the time so I can get some non-violent work done.

Sigh. Another mission. Cal and Aimee are still out for the count. So it’s me, Ghost (Caro, remember?) and a bunch of rookies. I hope it’s quick.

Mission over. It’s still the 28th. Credit to Nate, who’s the second to earn his callsign. ‘Slinger’ also earns the right to customise his weapon, and promptly attaches a better scope. Caro ‘Ghost’ Haines meanwhile is living up to her name, and spend almost all of the recent operation right inside enemy territory. If she’d been caught, she would have been instantly killed. She wasn’t caught. She straps a laser sight to her shotgun, because we wouldn’t let her tape it to her machete.

1st April

No jokes here. We’ve recovered a nice stash of unusual weapons. One of which is basically a massive stake-launcher. Oh, I see Ghost has already strapped a pair of axes to her back as well. I guess she gets those then.

4th April

We’ve been hacked. An odd transmission booted through our internal defences. We’ve traced it back to an abandoned building. We’re going to investigate, and Lily Shen (our chief engineer) is tagging along.

Holy shit, that’s a lot of robots.

Holy shit armour is annoying. Good job Ciaran has the huge dick-extending stake gun. That sucker punches through everything.

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Standard formation now. Ghost takes the front, scouting ahead. Everyone else moves from cover to cover. Slinger provides long-distance shooting to scare the shit out of unsuspecting enemies. Those two callsigners are basically a sniper team. I’m not complaining. I get to stay back and wave my grenade launcher about when needed. And I have cryo-freezing grenades.

Oooh, a robotics factory! Oooh why is there a sinister voice talking to us? Is there an evil AI? Please for the love of god let there not be an evil AI.

Well they’re certainly evil. What with all the taunting, and the murder-robots. Why the fuck is that robot priming itself to self destruct? KILL IT KILL IT NOW. If playing video games has taught me anything, it’s that when things rev up to self-destruct, it will take you with it.

Yup. It’s an evil/deranged AI.

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I have a robot! A Johnny-5 combat robot. Me and this robot are gonna fuck shit up. And Julian (the evil AI) can suck my robo dick.

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*some time later*

Well it turns out that was less easy than I thought. What with endless supplies of evil robots, and evil turrets, and then at the end, fighting an enemy who has more health than all of my units added together. I’d give you the play-by-play, but my brain hurts. One of the other soldiers will tell you.

And we did it all without anyone dying.

As a reward for being the only person to get the shit shot out of them (mightily heroic as it was of me), I’m promoted to the callsign ‘Hellfire’, earning me the respect of my fellow gun-toters. You know, in case running then entire resistance wasn’t enough to do that.

And now, I’m going to goddamn bed. The resistance can just run itself for a while.

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