X-Com War Diaries, Part II - March 2016

So here I go again, starting campaign number seven of the Long War. Because of the fiasco of the corrupted save file I'm not going to play Ironman mode any longer, but instead just save my progress regularly on different files to avoid meeting a similar fate. It will still be an Ironman playthrough with no reloads, so if someone gets snuffed they're going to stay snuffed. As with the last campaign I'll be playing on Classic difficulty. I've chosen the Kiryu-Kai starting perk which gives me a max level soldier at the outset of the campaign. I was hoping for a male soldier so I could remake Takeda, the strike force's de facto leader on the ground, but RNG gave me a girl instead. She was immediately christened Hatakeyama, and it would be she, not Takeda, who would be leading the strike force in this version of the X-Com universe. I play with full squad sizes already enabled, so the team goes into combat with eight soldiers by default. This, combined with Hatakeyama's sniping skills, ensures that the first months of the campaign are comparatively easy for the fledgling force before it starts to ramp up in difficulty. The maxed sniper is an insurance policy against the bumbling shots taken by my rookies in the early game, and she always shoots last as the weapon of last resort.

X-Com's March 2016 report.

Unlike X-Com 2, I have no direct control over the nationality and gender of the rookies I recruit, which means that replicating the cast of my third playthrough is up to RNG. I can play with the INI file to adjust the percentage chances of someone coming from a particular nation, but it's still up to Lady Luck as to whether they arrive or not, and if they join the force as a man or a woman. I can stack the odds, however, by creative tinkering - by reducing the cost of new recruits to 0 and increasing my initial allotment of soldiers from 40 to 100 I get enough men and women from the nations I want. This could be considered cheating, but I'm not exploiting it to have an infinite well of soldiers - I'm just trying to get a certain number of people of specific nationalities and genders to recreate my original cast of characters. Once I had all the characters recreated I dismissed all but 40 soldiers, and raised the price of new recruits back to its original cost before starting the campaign proper.

The status of the X-Com base at the end of March 2016. The Foundry unlocks powerful upgrades, which is why it was high on my construction priority list.

Once my cast was re-assembled it was time to start the campaign. The month of March 2016 saw five UFOs entering Japanese air space. X-Com were able to shoot down two scouts by setting the interceptors on aggressive posture, but a third scout escaped. A large unknown UFO flew over China, and I let it pass unmolested - at this stage of the game our interceptors are only viable against scouts, and sending interceptors against these bogeys only meant sending them to their deaths. The fifth UFO was a medium sized unknown contact, which I suspected was a raider, but it was scanning for our satellite over Japan so I had to send an interceptor up to harass it. In the Long War if you do enough damage you can make a UFO abort its mission even if you don't shoot it down, and luckily in this case the interceptor was able to land a couple of hits with its Avalanche missiles. Those hits were enough to make it abort its mission, and it saved the satellite over Japan from being shot down.

Russia was the first nation to withdraw from the X-Com project in this playthrough.

On the geopolitical front X-Com lost Russia early in March. There's nothing you can do about this - in every playthrough you will always lose a nation in the first month, and it represents the aliens establishing their initial base of operations. In the Long War you don't lose until all the nations have withdrawn from the Council, and you can liberate the nations by assaulting the bases. So the question is how much pain can you take in the march up to the Temple mission, and for me what really kills me and makes me abandon campaigns is losing characters I've build up an affinity with. I've never actually lost a game per se - I just start cheating to save my soldiers, felt like shit for doing it, then abandoned the campaign.

In March X-Com conducted seven missions - four abduction missions, two UFO crash recovery missions, and one Council mission. The strike force suffered no casualties or critically wounded, but several soldiers sustained light wounds which put them out of action for 2-3 weeks. The Council mission was the one in which the squad is required to escort Dr. Hongo Marazuki out of the hot zone, and my familiarity with this map and mission made it a piece of cake. The aliens in the first month are composed of sectoids, drones, and thin men, and the pods are still of a manageable size, ranging from 2-4, which made it easy to decimate them once they were aggroed. Bad things happen in X-Com when you let the enemy shoot back, so X-Com 101 is to aggro pods singly, then wipe them out before they have the chance to return fire. In the late game this becomes increasingly difficult due to enemy durability and the size of the pods - in the mid-game pods average 6-8 aliens, while late game sees your squad aggroing pods of 8-10 aliens. The size of the pods are dependent on the aliens' strategic status. In the Long War the aliens tech up, too, and this is done by completing UFO missions and establishing bases all over Earth. X-Com has to harass the UFOs and take back countries if possible, otherwise alien tech level goes through the roof and you'll be finding yourself fighting increasing numbers aliens with ridiculous health pools and numerous combat perks.

Our starting base is in a remote location south-west of Japan.

For now, though, this is the happy time for my new recruits - there were no deaths to report in March. I need these neophytes to level up fast, and become big bad asses ASAP. I also built two SHIVS as my first purchases - SHIVs have so much more value in the Long War than in vanilla, because they are tougher than raw recruits, and they don't suffer from soldier fatigue. Troops in the Long War have to rest for approximately 4-6 days between missions. Soldiers who don't rest will suffer a light combat wound and be out for about a week or more, which means that in a pinch you can deploy a soldier in back to back mission, but then they will need extended time off afterwards. SHIVs circumvent this requirement as long as they are not damaged, and can be fielded mission after mission. A player's effective health pool is their native health plus armor, and if damage taken exceeds armor then it translates into longer turnaround times for both soldiers and SHIVs. Fatigue means that you need to cultivate two, three, even four squads and squad leaders to ensure that X-Com is always ready to go on missions. This is why my cast in the Long War fiction piece is so big. If I was writing about vanilla X-Com or X-Com 2 I would always bring the same squaddies, and substitutions would only occur in the event of injury or death. In the Long War I have to have a minimum of three squads plus reserves, and they all need to be built up carefully in order to handle the numerous threats coming our way.

Next: The Long War, Part III - April 2016