Unfit for XCOMmand CH3: Regroup and Reallocate

By Rutskarn Posted Wednesday Feb 1, 2017

Filed under: Lets Play 27 comments

COUNCIL SPEAKER: Very well. Bradford, please conclude your analysis of Operation Winter Stank.

C.O. BRADFORD: Skyranger took off on-schedule, leaving Sq. Specialist Kennedy on the ground, where she radioed several editorial comments concerning Carl Sagan. Then she was struck by the psychic domination effect of the sectoid behind her, and finished by saying, “I’m going to kill the Commander.”

COUNCIL: In English? Implying, then, that the mind-control effect is an alteration rather than a replacement of the existing personality. Take note of that, XXXX. [pen noises]

BRADFORD: Um. Yes. I mean, that could be what happened, yes.

COUNCIL: Well, it doesn’t seem…

BRADFORD: It is actually possible that she was lucid for that period.

COUNCIL: Lucid meaning, “not controlled.”

BRADFORD: That is what I meant. Yes. I don’t wish to imply, obviously…

COUNCIL: Do you believe Kennedy was an Advent agent?

BRADFORD: Absolutely not. I certainly do not believe she had any active plots to harm XCOM personnel. I wouldn’t say that at all.

COUNCIL: But you think she might have said, deliberately–

BRADFORD: I think we’re running into a darkzone here. Will call again at 1800.

There’s four people in the world currently entrusted to shoot aliens, and their highest ranking officer just sent a team of medics scrambling when he reached over for his romance novel. In my defense, I didn’t realize I’d twisted up the neosol tubing around my giant-size American biceps.

Howdy, folks. I’m Cpl. Sharpshooter Donald “Donny” King, the best active sniper in the world; though, if any aliens want me to shoot them this month, they’re going to have to come to my bedside with a bouquet of flowers, because the docs tell me I’m not leaving this room until my liver grows back.

It looks like Fisher’s getting out of treatment before the next operation, the lucky bastard, so he’s passed this thing off to me to carry on. He told me to start with a little good news, so here goes: Operation Winter Stank was successful. We recovered one council scientists and only lost half of our active fighting force. Considering this in light of the greater war movement, and projecting our costs going forward, by this time next year the Earth will be saved and twelve-fifths of its people will be dead.

Did I mention Fisher's the optimist?
Did I mention Fisher's the optimist?

I had my share of disagreements with Kennedy; if I live to see her again, I’m sure I’ll have more. Her general inclination was that no power on this Earth could save us all from extinction. I disagree. I just don’t know what will. Way I figure it is, if we can pick our battles, keep our side up, and shoot straight, we just might float on until we find out how we’re all going to live–but there’s as many “ifs” and “mights” as there are tubes stuck in my body, and despite my best efforts I find myself picking at ’em. So I might as well pick here and not drag down anybody else, because some of these folks have aliens to shoot.

Commander’s idea is we lay low for a while, which this particular week means scavenging for supplies. Turns out there’s not as much stuff around as there used to be.

Supply hauls have been the backbone of our operation since long before we started combat missions, and we’ve found they’re a good way to keep everyone in shape; when you live in a flying bunker with no dedicated storeroom, a good resupply turns every hallway and communal area into an obstacle course. I cannot overstate how much garbage I’ve tripped over since joining this outfit. In the week before Winter Stank we put a pallet of old Soviet electronics outside Bradford’s door; he didn’t so much as crack a smile, he just pushed them all to the left. I’m not even sure he knows it was a prank.

Be nice if we had somebody to clean out all the junky rooms on this dump–but we haven’t exactly run into any engineers lately.

Early this week we picked up two new bunkmates, a Li Mei Zhou and Karl Konig, to address our casualties. They’re brave kids. Braver than we were, when you think about it. They have to know the XCOM project’s not ticking along quite like it was supposed to. News like 50% fatality rate gets around, even if all the world’s news networks weren’t even as we speak editing out the little moments in every mission where we don’t look stupid. I was half figuring we wouldn’t get any volunteers at all, but it turns out there’s more where they came from.

It doesn't look good when there's more soldiers on your enemy's propaganda poster than you have in your whole army.
It doesn't look good when there's more soldiers on your enemy's propaganda poster than you have in your whole army.

When the painkillers kick in, I find myself wondering: would I have signed up for this? And when I’m almost asleep: do they figure it’s gonna get better–or that it just can’t get any worse?

Since we made contact in New India our next move’s been clear enough: we’ve got to raid an Advent base of operations, determine what they’re undertaking, and find some way to derail their grand plans for the human race. We’ve had to scramble for weeks to find out where the site is and how we can approach from the air, and now that we’ve done that, the mission sheet’s gathering scribbles and crumbs and water rings in our training room. We all know what we’ve got to do–there’s just no sign of us going and doing it.

It’s clear to everybody that we’re not strong enough to crack that nut yet. We’ve got three rookies and Sq. Ranger Fisher, and meaning no offense to any of them, but they’re not ready for this. So for now until next notice, we do…well, we do nothing is what we do. We sit and wait for another mission to come up. The second it does we deploy our new troops, plus Fisher, and complete whatever operation that is with flawless precision–ensuring that our field team is experienced enough to handle the next challenge and healthy enough to go into action right afterwards.

You may have hit on the obvious flaw of the plan, which is that it makes no use of my own world-famous fighting skills. That’s the good news: I’m working on a tactical response wheelchair. Another, lesser operative can push me around the battlefield in it while I lay waste with the attached laser cannon. I call it the SHOVE.

On a serious note, I don’t envy Command–this next little job’s gonna have to go off without a hitch. Otherwise we’re going to have one rough season.



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27 thoughts on “Unfit for XCOMmand CH3: Regroup and Reallocate

  1. Content Consumer says:

    Please, please, post an image of Cpl. Donny King’s hair.

    1. Zerbin says:


  2. HiEv says:

    Two typos:

    “It looks like Fisher's *not* getting out of treatment before the next operation, the lucky bastard”


    “We recovered one council scientist” (no “s” at the end) or “We recovered one *of the* council scientists”

    1. Coming_Second says:

      I think Donny has the type of personality that reckons Fisher is lucky, actually.

      1. Syal says:

        If the choice is between certain death or more hospital food, you’ve got to go with death.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Doesn’t hospital food cause death?

    2. King Marth says:

      The pluralization failure is a classic Turing Test misstep.

      It would’ve been funnier if he said “We recovered one council scientist(s)”, of course.

  3. Philadelphus says:

    OK, I really want to see the tactical response wheelchair now.

    Also, purely hypothetically, of course, if you were to, say, lose the game in the very near future would you consider starting over on an easier difficulty level, or would that be it? Because I love your writing and enjoy this game and would hate to see a promising series cut short.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      What difficulty is he actually on, anyways? I assume “normal”? Or is he on expert or something? I can’t imagine expert or higher, since he’d have already died. Or maybe I’m just really bad at this game…

      I started a game on non-ironman, “normal” (2 out of 4 difficulties). I started out trying to self-impose no save-scumming, but I couldn’t play without save-loading constantly. This, despite a ironman being the “correct” way to play the game.[1] I’m looking forward to Long War 2 being released, just for the rebalancing of the soldier skills.[2] That’s actually one of the weakest things in XCOM2, despite the devs trying to fix it from the previous game. In XCOM1, there was *always* an optimal choice for left-skill or right-skill for any class, and in XCOM2 there’s only an optimal choice half of the time. About a quarter of the time, it’s a coin-toss[3], and the last quarter, you choose based on how you want to specialize that soldier. From what I’ve seen of Long War 2, you get the soldier-specialization type of choice about 3/4 of the time, and the coin-toss about 1/4 of the time. A marked improvement. :)

      [1] I can’t remember what blog / interview I read this dev comment in, unfortunately. Maybe I’m just old, hallucinating, and confusing rabid fan-boys for devs. Nothing is for certain. :)

      [2] There’s other stuff that I would consider an improvement, but that’s bonus.

      [3] i.e. Neither choice is particularly good or bad; Both just kind of bland or almost never used in combat.


      1. Ninety-Three says:

        What difficulty is he actually on, anyways?

        He’s on maximum minus one. And he’s said he’s not very good at the game.

      2. Falterfire says:

        You’re waiting for Long War 2 to release? Good news! Through the magic of Time Travel, not only have I granted your wish, I actually went back in time and released it nearly two full weeks ago.

        [DISCLAIMER: I have absolutely nothing to do with the launch of Long War]

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Dangit! I must have mis-heard Northern Lion during his let’s-play, and assumed he was previewing it before it was released. Time to start a new, better campaign! :)

          1. Philadelphus says:

            Though a word of caution, I’ve heard it’s not working on Linux or Mac OS just yet, Windows only, so your mileage may vary. At least, it supposedly wasn’t at release; I haven’t heard anything further about it since.

            1. Echo Tango says:

              Crud! Looks like they still haven’t released the fix for Linux / Mac yet. I guess I’ll try again next week. :)

      3. Coming_Second says:

        1) Ironman is not the “correct” way of playing. You can tell this because you need to tick a box which comes with its own warning in order to apply it.

        2) I don’t really understand your point re: skills. You’re saying you prefer it if there is an obvious choice you will always pick, thereby rendering the whole idea of choice pointless? If so, I’ve got some bad news regarding LW2.

        1. Decius says:

          The ideal way would be for each skill to be a choice and develop an equally effective soldier that has a unique feel and use.

          Failing that, a coin flip that doesn’t differentiate very much.

          For example, you can specialize a sniper in rifle or in pistol, and both of those choices create a soldier that ends up very effective in very different situations; one of them goes into area overwatch and takes down several enemies in a row as they maneuver to flank the bait, and the other one is mobile and can spam pistol shots at everything; with incendiary ammo the pistol specialist using Showdown can do a ton more damage; if they have Shredder from the awc and AP or blue screen ammo then Fan wrecks a Sectopod.

        2. Echo Tango says:

          I was trying to say that the current / official way they handled the skills was pointless, and pointed to the LW2 mod as a way to do it properly. My phrasing could have been better; The sentiment I was trying to get across was that:

          XCOM1 skills -> only one valid choice (broken)

          XCOM2 -> sometimes you get an actual decision to make (better)

          LW2 -> always a real decision to make (best).

      4. sheer_falacy says:

        If you had problems with the game being too hard then I don’t think Long War is the answer you are looking for. I don’t know about Long War 2, but Long War 1’s lowest difficulty was about as hard as the highest XCOM difficulty and it went up from there.

        1. Falterfire says:

          So far I’ve found Long War 2’s lowest difficulty to be about equivalent to the base game’s second difficulty. (that said, I’m savescumming pretty relentlessly, although I did in the base game as well) It’s not as hard as LW1, although it’s worth noting that I felt like there was a huge jump in difficulty between the lowest difficulty and the next one up.

          Definitely do some cursory research before starting though – understanding the basics of the infiltration mechanics and some of the changes to how alerted pods work is huge to being effective at Long War

          1. Echo Tango says:

            I’ve got a pretty good understanding of how the mechanics work, from watching Northern Lion make his mistakes in his let’s-play. :)

    2. Falterfire says:

      In the Diecast he made it pretty clear that this experience really soured him on the game as a whole. Also I think he mentioned what the next game was, but I don’t remember what it was. Regardless, it seems very unlikely he runs another series.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        He mentioned on Twitter that the next game might be, er, Thingy & Thingy: Thingy. Mind’s just drawn a blank. Sounded like Sid Meier’s Pirates! but with more slaughter and horrific groinal injuries. Errrr, Blood & Thunder? Blood & Gold! That was it – Blood & Gold: Caribbean.

        It was just a ‘might,’ though. The kind of might that makes maybe rather than right.

    3. pdk1359 says:

      While this probably isn’t the chair you’d get if there was one in the game, my first thought was; Wheel’s chair from magical misfits, lol

  4. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Assorted comments:
    1.) This is making it really hard for me to maintain my current list of games (Witcher, Warband, Dishonored, Sleeping Dogs, Kerbal Space Program). I don’t have time to be playing 6 games! And, in fact, it’s making me want to boot up XCOM2 and XCOM. And possibly the Long War mods out of pure cussedness because I’m not actually that much of a fan of them. (Love the idea, not so fond of the implementation -so I basically turn on a lot of the anti-frustration features, like “Friendly Skies”).

    2.) Hoo boy, if he’s hitting a retaliation mission next with 3 rookies and a Ranger, this may be a very short LP.

    3.) I never found XCOM’s (or XCOM2’s) skills to be broken in the way discussed above. They encouraged a bit of role-playing with the characters, and experimenting with different designs. The classic example is HEAT for the heavy. Everyone says HEAT is better than Rapid Reaction. But creating a Heavy who serves as the suppressing fire base plays very well with an assault, say -pinning aliens in place while your assaults move up to shotgun range, and it feels like something a real unit would do. Even mixing and matching that with grenadier creates an “anti-cover” unit which can be extremely useful with a team.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      When I heard he was doing it hard mode and ironman the nearly unavoidable premature end of the LP became my main concern. I like hilarious failure as much as the next guy but both it and clutching victory are more entertaining when streamed, in this kind of narrative form I prefer an entertaining tale and loosing early is somewhat anti-climactic.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        I think XCOM(2)’s problem is that it’s sort of an unstable equilibrium””if you do well, you are rewarded and end up doing better and better in a “win harder” sort of way, whereas if you do poorly you die a death of a thousand paper cuts in a slow and demoralizing manner.

        I know it’s part of the whole “mystique” of the games, but I wonder how the game would feel if it repeatedly subtly tweaked the difficulty depending on how you’re doing””lose a soldier or two on a mission and the next mission has slightly fewer or easier enemies, do a few missions without a single casualty and get an extra pod or two or aliens to deal with in the next one. Less run-away victory after a well-played early game, and more of a chance to actually recover from a spate of bad luck.

    2. Coming_Second says:

      I am waiting intently for some anti-frustration mods for LW2, actually. It’s good, but some of the features – like almost never getting to retrieve corpses and making grenades laughably useless – feel too much no-fun-allowed for me.

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