Unfit for XCOMmand CH4: Driving Prince

By Rutskarn
on Feb 8, 2017
Filed under:
Lets Play

Today Fisher was handed his release papers from Avenger County Hospital–along with a puppy sticker, a shotgun, and orders to jump over East Asia into an active massacre. Turns out Rebel City’s being hit by Advent stormtroopers, and if we burn every cloud between here and there we might just save a few of the poor bastards camped out there.

I’ve managed to pick the distress frequencies up on my hospital monitor since we crossed the NFZ. I’m not supposed to, but I am the last great hope of humanity, so the medics don’t actually slap the thing out of my hand. After a few minutes of screaming and booming I kinda wish someone would.

I’d been wondering why those two new rookies decided to sign up with XCOM, even though we’ve lost so many folks, but I guess the wailing speaker gives me a hint. There’s just nowhere safe to stand in this resistance. You sit up straight, you’re gonna be in the aliens’ sights sooner or later–and at least if you join the rank and file you get a gun to shoot back.

I really don’t have it in me to regret signing up for this shindig. I mean, I’m an American; I used to have some ordinance that makes XCOM munitions look like a polite suggestion. I would’ve locked and loaded and got on the bus if the aliens had taken over a Burger King in Tallahassee, let alone the whole world, let alone the whole free world. Honestly, I mean hand to God, I sort of figured all this was gonna happen. I mean, I didn’t know it was gonna be aliens–but I didn’t know it was gonna be not aliens, know what I mean?

But the thing is–that’s just me. Now I’ve seen two ops go south, and I’ve listened to a lot of folks die on radios, and not for myself, but for all those people in Rebel City, I find myself hoping we find some down-and-dirty on these aliens real soon. Find out they were gonna kill us all or fry our atmosphere or turn us all into toilet paper. We better find out they’re up to something real bad, or I’m gonna have trouble looking in the mirror for the rest of my very short life.

Commander’s palled Fisher up with three rookies. In an hour all four are going to come back with promotions and no injuries and we’re going to swivel, peel out, and hit that blacksite before breakfast with the brand-new A-Team. At least, that’s one way this could go, and Command is choosing to rule out all other possibilities as being unnecessarily negative.

The skyranger drops off the Avenger with a lurch I can feel. The TV’s been confiscated, which means I’m not gonna watch the mission from my bed like usual. Instead I’m gonna pull some skivs over my bare ass, wrap a blanket on my shoulders, and haul my medicated carcass up and down the hallway looking for an unsecured monitor. It’s not exactly like I want to watch the mission, you understand. I just don’t want to hear about it in the morning. I take my suffering live whenever possible.

Heckle and Jeckle the medics are watching the only open screen on the level, and they give me a look when they see me coming that says, don’t push it, buddy. So I plop down at the table nearby like I just want a nice relaxing bowl of porridge, pull my blanket over my shoulders, and settle in. Then I turn and say, “So come on. What’s going on down there?”

Heckle’s about to tell me to go back to bed, but Jeckle says, “Nothing’s happened yet. They came in hot, so there’s no concealment…”

“Yeah, well, when is there. How’s Fisher?”

“He’s taking point…”

A few shots crack off. The medics’ eyes snap to the screen.

“Talk to me,” I say. “Come on.”

“They’re advancing…they hit a few Advent, who are falling back…”

“What kinda formation?”

“No real–Fisher’s coming up the front. Everyone else is keeping back behind him.”

“The hell is he sticking his neck out for?”

“They’ve got to move. People are being shot to death down there. Besides, his shotgun…”

Heckle squints and points. “Why are they running out of cover?”

I swear my blood runs cold.

“They’re running up to those cars and fences,” Heckle says. “What’s that going to stop? They need better cover. They’re under fire from the shack. What do they think they’re doing?”

“Where else are they gonna go?” says Jeckle.

“I don’t know, but they can’t go there, they’re going to get…”

A clipped-off roar bursts through the speakers.

I’m leaning off my bench. “Stun grenade? Did we stun them?”

“I think so…”

“Show me the damn monitor!”

Heckle’s shaking his head, not at me, at the screen. “They’re all split up. They need to shoot, they need to…”

“Show me the god damn monitor!”

“She has to hit this…”

A gun goes off. Another one, and a third. Heckle shakes his head, and as plasma fires, he turns off the monitor.

“Tell me,” I say.

Neither of them speak. Then Jeckle licks his lips and says, “They moved up too close and tried to finish a sectoid being covered by Advent. Menace 1-5 threw a grenade at him. Then, another one. They tried to blow up the car he was standing next to, and it didn’t blow. They tried to hit him, they all missed. They’re out of position, and…”

“And what?”

“And I turned it off. What do you mean, ‘and what?’ What do you honestly think happens after this?”

I don’t have to say anything. I just get up and go back to sitting on the bed and thinking too much.


So I don’t see what happens next, and I don’t learn about what happened until late into the night when the shouting’s so loud I have to go out and mind it.

Operation Driving Prince represented the heaviest fighting XCOM’s faced so far. The debriefing, which I find a copy of as soon as I can, describes the enemy’s emplacements as “determined, many, surprisingly well-organized, and relentlessly hostile.” Menace 1-5 had to move fast into a turkey shoot with little cover and no advantages. Everyone’s talking about what happened, and how things took a turn, and there’s one word that keeps coming up:

“Miracle.”

Someone, maybe everyone, should have come home from this in a bag. Instead we’ve got four healthy, hearty operatives and more than a couple healthy civilians. Miracle, say the rebels. Command doesn’t like that word–“miracle.” It implies we didn’t deserve to get what we got, which was four living operatives with four promotions.

Well, they don’t like it, they can take it up with the dictionary. I’m sticking with it–and hoping for another one.

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20207Feeling chatty? There are 47 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Mr Compassionate says:

    WOW. I know all too well how crushingly hard Xcom is so managing to ace a high difficulty mission on ironman is impressive business. Is this the hardest or second hardest difficulty? I can’t remember.

  2. sheer_falacy says:

    I assume that the sectoid looked at all of your rookies, out of cover and trivial to kill, and decided “I better make an advent trooper corpse into a zombie”. Because I don’t know how else you’d get out of that situation with no losses or even injuries.

    • Mr Compassionate says:

      Yes I always love those moments when a sectoid decides the most devastating move it could make is to create a slow moving zombie that dies if the sectoid does about 2 entire turns away from the squad. Or how codex’s are capable of teleporting behind any soldier with a plasma gun for a near guaranteed crit but they usually force 2 of your soldiers to move and reload instead. Xcom 2 is an odd game that meets you with impossible odds you can only defeat because it pulls punches like crazy. It’s like a DM that constantly misjudges the CR of a fight so they fudge rolls and use ineffective tactics as much as possible.

      • Nimrandir says:

        Authors of published adventures will often pull that stunt. I know of several Pathfinder encounters with party-wipe potential that have intentionally suboptimal tactics.

        Of course, if the players somehow invalidate those tactics . . .

        • Decius says:

          What I normally see is interesting enemies with reasons to use suboptimal tactics but are overpowered for the curve.

          And then you’ve got the ghost wizard in the prison/asylum.

      • Miguk says:

        I can just imagine the designers making this decision.

        “Once the player has skillfully maneuvered their troops in the best possible positions, we have the codex teleport in behind them. It’s a great way to punish the player for playing the game the right way and remind them that no matter how good they are, their actions don’t matter.”

        “But won’t that mean the player always loses?”

        “No. We have the codex flip a coin each turn to see whether it acts like a cheater or an idiot. So half the time, the player wins but still feels no sense of accomplishment.”

    • guy says:

      Yes. Sectoid thought patterns go like this:

      “Begin shooting at best target. PRIORITY OVERRIDEN: NEW PRIORITY DICTATED. MUST RAISE PSI ZOMBIE.”

      I’m pretty sure I have literally never seen a sectoid who could raise a psi zombie do anything else.

      I have seen a psi zombie do something productive, but only once.

      • Cybron says:

        Yes, I’m pretty sure Sectoids create zombies whenever possible. In fact I think that’s part of the strategy for beating the harder difficulties.

        • guy says:

          Well, according to an LP I’m watching, the rule is specifically that at least one sectoid raises a psi zombie if any of them can, but if there’s two who can one of them might shoot instead. I can’t confirm if that’s true or if it just seems that way because there might be only one corpse in range.

          Also, even if they don’t do that they can mindspin instead of shooting, which in general is less bad than shooting at this stage of the game.

      • Philadelphus says:

        Now we just need an Easter Egg of one Ethereal upbraiding another for setting that priority to 999.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Find out they were gonna kill us all or fry our atmosphere or turn us all into toilet paper.

    Then you should play ufo:aftermath.There,they attempt to terraform the whole earth into one giant planet sized brain.And the creatures you get to fight are…rather weird.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Everyone’s talking about what happened, and how things took a turn, and there’s one word that keeps coming up:

    “Miracle.”

    Praise be RNGesus!

  5. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Yes, I want to hear more about this miracle.

    I also want to hear what mad scheme was behind having all three of your people out of cover. Once the aliens are engaging you in a gunfight, the civilians are basically safe, so a more cautious advance to flank would have been my approach.

    Also, you know rangers can carry rifles, yes?

    • guy says:

      The civilians aren’t entirely safe; the aliens usually target one a turn, and that can be done by an alien engaging your troops. Plus, there can still be aliens in the shroud you want to get to in a hurry.

  6. Ninety-Three says:

    It’s weird to have this series talk so much about soldier rank and promotions. I get why you’re doing it: it’s an incredibly important mechanic that’s crucial to understanding the stakes, but it’s also a very videogamey mechanic, and it dings my immersion every time it comes up.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Wait, are you saying that higher military ranks are not synonymous with superpowers? You expect me to believe all those animes and JRPGs lied to me?

  7. Mortuorum says:

    I told myself I wasn’t going to be the guy that points this kind of thing out, but “ordinance” should be “ordnance.” Loving the series!

  8. Philadelphus says:

    Oh, wow, nicely done! I was a little worried for a bit that this might be the ultimate article in the series.

  9. ehlijen says:

    So no faceless one ruined the miracle? Nice!

  10. Miguk says:

    So let me get this straight: When a car gets scratched it explodes as if it had 300lb of explosives in the trunk… except when it doesn’t? They put this completely nonsensical idea of exploding cars into the game and then they couldn’t even be consistent about it? Is there any part of this game that isn’t ruined by the RNG?

  11. Jargonaut says:

    The original UFO: Enemy Unknown has save-scumming.
    For every single shot you make.

    The only reason save-scumming isn’t perfectly viable is because you’d spend too much time with each mission and so you simply learn to accept that failure is sometimes the way forward, and that in the end, death is inevitable.
    This is an optimistic view, all things considered.

    Unless you’re playing Ironman, in which case you steel yourself to make WWII Soviet tactics look humane.

    It’s still less brutal than XCOM 2.

    • Echo Tango says:

      I agree with that assessment. In the original game, if you played on the easiest difficulty, you could get good enough to not need to savescum (i.e. play “ironman”) for an entire campaign. Depending on your skill level, you could get up to many of the higher difficulties without needing to reload a save.[1] The new game(s) both feel like even on the easiest difficulty, it’s impossible to play without reloading, no matter how skilled you are. It feels like the original game(s) were balanced knowing that save-scumming was the wrong way to play, and the new game(s) were balanced assuming that players would just reload games constantly.

      [1] Sometimes the game would just crash, and that was considered fair game to reload without feeling bad about it. :)

      • Miguk says:

        In good games I’m mad at myself when I have to reload because it means I made a mistake. In XCOM2 there is no one to blame but the developers.

      • Falterfire says:

        I feel like the claim that it’s impossible to play ironman even on the lowest difficulty is rather a bit ruined by the existence of a significant community of people who do play on Ironman, and several YouTubers who have entire (successful) runs on the highest difficulty, including some where they don’t lose a single soldier over the course of the entire campaign.

        By all means, say the game feels unfair. But you’re really overselling it when you say that the RNG elements completely preclude the possibility of anybody mastering it.

        • sheer_falacy says:

          Yeah, people really go overboard talking about this.

          I’m not sure what happened with the car and the grenades – 2 grenades is guaranteed to blow a car in my experience. If it wasn’t an exploding car, that should have been obvious when it didn’t catch fire after the first grenade.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          I feel that the claim that roulettes are made in such a way that house always wins is ruined by the massive amount of people who have won out high prizes from it.Heck,there are even those who can consistently gain positive cash out of roulette wheels.

          By all means,say that roulettes are unfair.But youre really overselling it when you say that the randomness element completely preclude the possibility of anybody mastering it.

          • sheer_falacy says:

            It is not a roulette. People are able to succeed at XCOM consistently. No, no one consistently gets positive cash out of roulette wheels.

            That’s a heck of a false equivalence you have going there. Not sure what the point of it was.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              The point is that just because some people can do it,with massive preparations and copious amounts of luck,does not mean it was designed to be fair or balanced,or that rng isnt a significant factor in it.

              And no,people are not able to succeed at xcom consistently,because all of those who have done a successful ironam playthrough have restarted the game a bunch of times until they got ideal starting conditions.

      • Halceon says:

        I don’t believe that’s true.

        Having played most of the way through NewXcom, I don’t think I ever suffered game-killing losses. Or even a serious setback in 50 hours of play. And that’s playing ironman commander, because of OldXcom hubris.

      • Philadelphus says:

        The new game(s) both feel like even on the easiest difficulty, it’s impossible to play without reloading, no matter how skilled you are.

        Counterpoint: I’ve played at least seven or eight full games in XCOM:EW on the second-easiest level, all in Ironman. By my fifth run through or so, I was losing maybe two soldiers a game.

        Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never felt like a soldier death in XCOM (1 or 2) was a result of random chance; I have always felt it was a direct result of a bad call on my part, setting them up in a position where they had a chance to die without taking adequate precautions.

        • Decius says:

          You’ve never played the DLC with the aliens that get a number of turns on your turn equal to the number of actions you take.

          • ehlijen says:

            That DLC is such bovinepoodoo!

            Especially when the freeze grenade they give you to deal with just that stops working on the third one (takes an action to throw and it only freezes it for one action, so all you’ve done is waste the grenade and whatever the soldier could have done instead).

            I liked the concept of the DLC, and almost everything in it. But that special activation mechanic for the rulers was such a board-gamey, immersion breaking, frustrating nonsense :(

          • Philadelphus says:

            That’s correct actually, though I’m not sure how it’s relevant to my point about playing Ironman in XCOM:EW. :)

            I really need to go back and play though with the second and third DLCs, I got the season pass but kinda lost interest between the first and second coming out.

          • Coming_Second says:

            The Ayy Rlmaos are dead easy once you get the hang of them.

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