Sunday, September 4, 2016

X-Com War Diaries, Part IX - October 2016


If September was tough, then October was simply brutal. The numbers tell the story. 14 UFOs tracked, of which seven were shot down and three landed and were assaulted. 21 missions attempted, with one failure. Five abduction missions. Three UFO assaults. Seven UFO recoveries. Two EXALT missions. Two terror missions. One base assault. One DLC mission. Incidentally the difference between a UFO assault and a UFO recovery is that the former involves attacking a UFO that has landed and has a full complement of crew, while the latter is securing a downed UFO which has taken losses during the crash. Oddly enough the more successful our air arm is, the more work it is for the ground troops.


October 2016.

The base assault in Canada occurred in the early part of September. We had already completed the Super Skyranger foundry project, which meant we could take an additional two soldiers to make a total of 10. It was a good thing we did, because four of them would die in the assault. Advancing carefully and methodically we cleared room after room and set up ambushes for alien pods, drawing them into carefully prepared kill zones. Despite our caution things still had a tendency to spiral out of control when pods would arrive unbidden. By the time we arrived at the hyperwave beacon chamber the troops were exhausted and spent - medikits, grenades and arc thrower charges had all been exhausted, and it was touch and go as to whether or not they could see it to the end. Two Vulcan mechtoids also refused to be lured into our ambush, and both war machines were bolstered by a sectoid commander hiding out of sight, leading into several turns of both sides hiding and refusing to be drawn out into the open. This impasse was broken by a flanking move by "Eva" Ivanova, one of my maximum level snipers. I had no one left to draw overwatch fire - my scout "Redbeard" von Heuvel had already been killed, nor did I have any smoke grenades remaining left to create cover. Eva had to do the dash by herself, but by some miracle she was not hit, and she was able to get herself in a position above the mechtoids where she could start blasting them with her alloy rifle without eating return fire (due to Squad Sight and a terrified spotter). This broke the deadlock, and allowed our exhausted soldiers to complete the assault.


Genetics lab online.

The second mission in the Operation Progeny DLC is called Deluge, and it triggered in the last days of October. This mission is set atop a crumbling dam, and X-Com operatives have to race across a road chock full of abandoned vehicles in order to get to a truck at the far end. In the end I had to exploit the win condition because there was no way we were getting to the truck in time. On the last two turns I just belted the alloy SHIV forward as far as I could, and even when the intrepid robot was smoking and on the cusp of falling apart from enemy fire it managed to trundle over the goal line on its last legs, and that ended the mission. Never mind that the rest of the squad was surrounded by mechtoids, mutons, floaters and sectoids. It was good that the mission auto-completed once we hit the goal, because my squad would have been massacred otherwise.

The successful assault on the Canadian alien base arrested the free fall of nations leaving the Council.

Exploit or not the mission was counted a success, and securing the truck added Annette Durand to our roster. Our roster of psionics was growing slowly - by the end of October X-Com had 11 psionics on its roster including Durand. All of them were only tier one psykers, but it was a good start - unfortunately "Alysianah" Towagozi would die during a terror mission in Australia, reducing their numbers to 10.


Annette Durand after her rescue by X-Com.

October also saw the genetics lab go online for the first time. I have to say that I am not a big fan of genetic enhancement as a rule - I prefer spending resources on MECs instead and creating big damage sponges rather than doling out MELD for incremental improvements to my soldiers. Nonetheless the lab gave me the option (as well as an adjacency bonus for research) and next month I might enhance my assault soldiers and scouts, who need every bit of kit to increase their already marginal survivability. October saw the introduction of bipods, armoured jets, and improvements to our gauss arsenal through quench gun research (improving armour penetration), among other things.


"Tora" Sato contemplates his new MEC exo-suit.

Speaking of MECs, October also saw their debut in the field. "Tora" Sato and "Belghast" Berger were my first two MEC troopers and they performed splendidly, acting as tanks, scouts and fire platforms. In keeping with the Long War's added complexity there are eight types of MECs spawned from each of the eight soldier classes, each with their own unique ability. "Tora" Sato was a Jaeger, with the ability to keep shooting if he killed a flanked or exposed target (In The Zone). "Belghast" Berger was a Goliath equipped with Absorption Fields (40% less damage taken after the initial 2 points), and his MEC was designed for survivability and durability. Both MECs were used pretty much the same way as the SHIVs - they drew fire, triggered enemy pods, then were pulled back to be repaired by arc thrower wielding engineers. They could also be healed by medics, unlike the SHIVs, which extended their damage soaking capability. In many ways this month was an auspicious month for X-Com, marking the introduction of MECs, the growth of our psionic cadre, and the implementation of the genetic enhancement program.

The month ended on a bad note, however, as my maxed sniper "Syl" Roche was killed on a UFO recovery mission that we eventually had to abort. Syl was one of two troopers who hit max level this month - the other was "Tengu" Hara, another soldier who features prominently in my fan fiction. I underestimated the size of the enemy force at the downed UFO site, and took more rookies that I normally would, thinking foolishly that Syl's Double Tap sniping skills would offset their inexperience.


The first pod we triggered on that ill-fated 100th mission.

Imagine my surprise when the first pod we triggered was a squadron of seven heavy floaters. Heavy floaters are terrible enemies for rookies, because not only are they durable but they are also very difficult to hit. For rookies with starting marksmanship the odds are very poor, and in return heavy floaters are accurate and armed with plasma grenades which they use to destroy cover. Our first turn we tried to engage them, but were unable to bring down a single heavy. Their return fire was particularly vicious, killing two X-Com operatives by first blowing up their cover, then blasting the exposed soldiers where they stood. After that it was just a mad dash back to the extraction zone, and Syl died trying to cover for her troops.

Our 100th mission was also our first failure, and to make matters worse we lost four X-Com operatives, including max-level soldier Lieutenant Bridget "Syl" Roche.

Operation Twisted Moon was our 100th mission in this campaign, and the first mission I had to abort. I was resolved that our troops would never push an untenable position again, especially in UFO assault and recovery missions where nothing political was at stake. Failing abduction and terror missions had severe geopolitical consequences, but as far as I could tell, aborting UFO assaults and recoveries only meant foregoing the salvage. Our casualty count for October was 11, surpassing the 9 soldiers lost in the previous month, and taking our total number of casualties to 35. This is a real cause for concern, because at this rate of attrition X-Com is going to be too brittle to progress further in the campaign. Rookie deaths are not so important, but losing veterans like "Syl" Roche, "Alysianah" Towagozi and "Redbeard" Heuvel are real setbacks. From here on in I'm not going to be shy about pulling the plug on missions in order to preserve my squads. The amount of missions being thrown at X-Com is also a concern - nominally we have three squads, but in reality we often have to assemble patchwork formations to plug the gap. Something has to be done to staunch the blood, else X-Com is going to die a death of a thousand cuts.

Next: X-Com War Diaries, Part X - November 2016

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