Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Omega Company Pt.1: First Contact

Let's start with some ground rules.

I won't be discussing the plot in detail, but there will doubtlessly be some spoilers here. As far as I understand it, even the 'story' missions are randomized on each playthrough, but I'll still be discussing the types of enemies I come across and their various abilities, and probably even the locations I visit.

The four difficulty levels of the game are Easy, Normal, Classic, and the helpfully titled 'Impossible'. The communal wisdom of the Internets has informed me that Normal starts out a bit easy, although it does get challenging later, while Classic will kick you right in the balls from the word go. For the purposes of making this diary more entertaining for the readers, I've decided to go with Classic.

I hesitated on activating Ironman mode. Ironman means that you're only allowed to save the game when you exit, and reloading also deletes the save (I believe there is some sort of autosave for if the game crashes). Essentially, it removes any ability to redo mistakes, or change your mind about decisions, by reloading. I was more or less planning on doing a 'soft' Ironman, where I could still reload if I did something really stupid, but at the last second my testosterone got the better of me and I checked the box. For better or worse, the only way is forward.

Despite the above choices, I've still got the Tutorial switched on. This means that many of my early decisions with regards to research and base management are locked out until the tutorial sees fit to teach me about them. It also, I believe, means that the first handful of missions will be somewhat less random than normal, so that the game can gradually introduce new concepts to me.

Lastly, expect this diary to slip fluidly and unashamedly between an 'in-character' view of the events, and a much more gamery discussion of the tactics, strategy, and development I'm using.


The date is the 1st March, 2015. This is the day the world changes.

First contact is made in Germany. The less said about that mission, the better (if only because it is a 100% scripted tutorial, where you are given 0 effective control and it will play out identically every time) but it marks the first official action after the greenlight of the XCOM project. The species as thus far encountered appears to be small, grey men, with inverted egg heads, much like the old Roswell and Area 51 stories. The science team has classified them as 'Sectoids', and are currently debating the best way to approach the two corpses that we brought back with us and stuck into refrigeration.

When the XCOM project was activated, the first key decision that had to be made was where to place its HQ. As the tutorial was on, I could only choose between placing it in North America, or Europe. With the tutorial off, you also get to choose South America, Asia, or Africa. Location determines two things; first of all, you get a satellite above your HQ (I'll get to what those do later). Secondly, you get a special bonus depending on the location. The North America bonus is a lowered cost on all Interceptors (again, I'll get to those later), while the European one is lowered cost for all Laboratories and Engineering Workshops. I decide to go with Europe, and then meet the rest of my team.

My second-in-command is Central Officer Bradford. He's my liason to the Council of Earth governments, as well as being a repository of tactical knowledge and advice. The head of research is Dr. Vahlen, a middle-aged woman with an emphatically un-german German accent. Lastly, but by no means least, Dr. Shen heads up the Engineer Corps.

Vahlen immediately wants to know what she should get to work on. The alien weapons self-destruct when the owners die, but we were still able to salvage the pieces and studying them could be valuable. Vahlen can direct the research towards either adapting the weapons to improve our own, or assessing their capabilities to improve our armour. I authorize the improvement of our weapons before I'm called back to Mission Control.

I have two separate distress calls coming in from the Council; one in China, and one in the USA. The Chinese government is offering a healthy bonus of 200 credits if I can help them, while the USA promises to donate 4 scientists to my laboratories. But more importantly, to me, China is rated at a mere 1 out of 5 'panic', while the USA is sitting at 2. If a country reaches 5 panic, the people have lost faith in your ability to protect them, and the government pulls out of the Council, taking all their funding and military resources with them. USA, it is!

There's not much in the way to choose when it comes to the squad to send. New recruits are 'Rookies' and all have the ability to run, shoot, and use whatever special item you give them (a grenade, by default). Once they earn a higher rank, they are assigned a class which can be Heavy, Assault, Sniper, or Support. Currently, my barracks contains a single Squaddie Heavy, and a whole lot of Rookies. I pack up my sorry excuse for a veteran, bundle 3 more Rookies in with him and pack them off to the New World.

When they hit the landing zone, it's at a sort of dock. There's large shipping containers all over the place, which could hide seemingly any number of hostiles, but immediately to my right is a small building. As my final tutorial-mandated instruction, my Heavy climbs up a drainpipe and onto the roof of the building, ducking into cover behind some rooftop machinery. Contact! Two Sectoids on the ground see his approaching movement, and immediately dash into cover of their own.

I desperately want to check behind the shipping container to my left as well, but decide that splitting the group up is a stupid decision. A rookie joins the heavy on the rooftop, while the other two make their way inside the building, to check it for hostiles, and also try to get to the windows where they can take a shot at the Sectoids I already found.

A quick word on how the actions work. On your turn, each soldier can make 2 actions, for example, move>fire, move>move, move>use item and so on. I wasn't able to open fire on the Sectoids in that first turn, because every soldier took 2 moves to get into position. The Sectoids thus get the opening volley; they miss my soldiers, but do manage to destroy the cover that the Heavy and rooftop rookie are hiding behind. My turn now, and I begin by ordering the Heavy to open fire on the less-covered Sectoid. It's a direct hit, and there's one alien less on the battlefield. I then order him to retreat and...oh shit.

So apparently the 2 action system isn't as simple as I thought, and the first action is only allowed to be a 'move', and you're not allowed to fire twice on the same turn. If you take an action without moving, that soldier is stuck there until the next turn. The second Sectoid is very well tucked behind cover, so the chances of any of my Rookies getting a good hit in are pretty much nil. Moreover, my Rookies have only 4hp, which a good hit from an alien weapon will wipe out in a single turn, while my Heavy is living well on 7hp. I give the nerve-wracking order for my rooftop rookie to abandon the Heavy, and pull back into cover further back along the roof. My two soldiers inside the building go into 'Overwatch'. Overwatch ends that soldier's turn, but they will fire on any hostile that they see moving within their range on the alien turn. My one hope is that the Sectoid attempts to move to a better position before it tries to mow my Heavy down.

It doesn't.

He's not dead yet! But sitting at a scarily close 2hp means that my first order of the turn is to pull him right back and out of harm's way. I could have used my rocket launcher or any of my squad's grenades to blow that alien right out of its little hidey-hole, but I'm pretty confident in my ability to outwit a single alien, and I don't want to start burning my resources so quickly into the mission.

My one female rookie leaps through the window, and dashes around to a flanking position on the side. It uses up both her moves, so she can't open fire on the Sectoid this turn, but next turn he's dead meat. I can't see any way of safely moving my rooftop rookie forward, so he stays where he is for now. And my last action is to get my remaining indoor rookie to try a shot at the Sectoid. It's a very low chance of success, and misses as per expectation, but I figure making the attempt can't do any harm.

Oh how very stupid I am.

You see, I moved the woman quite far forward. I also didn't leave even a single member of my squad on Overwatch. The indoor rookie could quite well have been on Overwatch instead of taking that stupid, worthless shot. But he did take the shot.

And so the Sectoid merrily scuttled out of his hiding cover to a position very close to my 'flanking' rookie, a spot so close that he would have to be blind to miss.

He's not blind.

Rest in peace, Rookie Andersen from Sweden. At the rate your commander is going, it seems likely you'll be the first of many.

The bittersweet silver lining is that the Sectoid abandoned his secure spot for a one providing only 'half-cover', and my remaining indoor rookie takes it out. I'm left to gather my breath, my thoughts, and try to move forward.

This entry has gone on way longer than I planned, but it did include a lot of introductory talk. Hopefully tomorrow's entry will go a little smoother, and we'll cover some more ground.

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