It's Part 5 of the adventures of Omega Company in XCOM.
We've had ups, we've had downs, and my magic 8-ball is currently predicting a lot more 'down' in the future. But I've been neglecting where we are in 'game time'. We started on 1st March 2015, so after everything we've done, we must be a fair way further on, right?
It's 30 days later, and tomorrow, on 1st April, I'm going to have my first monthly report with the Council. Understandably, I'm nervous.
It turns out that the Council thinks I'm doing just great. Sure there's a fair bit of panic globally, but nobody has gone critical and left yet, so I'm keeping it together. They hand me my monthly funding, give me an 'A' ranking, and leave me to my business.
Another mission comes in, my Skyranger swoops off with my prime squad, and I dismantle the alien strike team. I'm in shock, as between this one and the previous 'Very difficult' mission, I'm suddenly doing well. I'm going to be arrogant enough to say that it's not just luck either. As I've actually been ranking up my soldiers and getting some special abilities, I've been able to really use them interestingly on the battlefield to get the better of the aliens.
There's a UFO over Germany, which I manage to shoot down. It's yet another smooth mission. A new alien species appears; the 'Floater'. It's a Frankenstein monster where the legs of the alien seem to have been removed in favour of welding a jetpack onto its back. Very maneuverable, and capable of just swooping away from one spot to appear literally anywhere else, but they're fairly fragile, and so careful Overwatch usage means I'm always able to shoot down any that try to get into a flanking position. Another energy creature is lurking at the heart of this UFO, and my team names it an 'Outsider'. It goes down much easier than previously, and I'm able to gobble up all the lovely tech that is left behind.
South Africa makes a request for a handful of Laser Shotguns to help out the domestic forces. I'd really be happy to give them some since I have plenty of resources in the bank, but I still can't even make any, due to lack of Engineers.
My research is surging on, but the really important base addition is the Officer Training School. Mason, Dambuza, and Williams (my prime Assault, Sniper, and Support respectively) all ranked up to Sergeant a couple of missions ago, which opened up the school for building. With it built, I immediately purchase the upgrade to let me take 5 soldiers on each mission.
I've not spoken much about how my soldiers have been ranking up. I don't want to spend too much time going into the details, but I will highlight some of the fun abilities. My Support, Williams, has picked up an ability that lets her use her Overwatch shot when she sees an enemy attack. She can also now use an equipped Medkit 3 times per mission, rather than the usual once. My Assault, Mason, gains defence based on the number of enemies that the squad can see, and also has an ability called 'Lightning Reflexes' that means that the first Overwatch shot against him each turn is guaranteed to miss. These 2 abilities together mean that he's pretty capable of charging forward and being surprisingly safe while doing so.
Gonzalez the Heavy had a fun choice between 'Bullet Swarm' or 'Holo-targeting'. Bullet Swarm means that the Heavy can fire as their first action, and it doesn't end their turn, allowing them to spend the second action on a move or even on a second fire (or Overwatch, Rocket, Reload...anything you like). You might recall that me trying to do this (and discovering it wasn't possible) was the reason for Gonzalez's major injury right in the first mission. As such, it's sorely tempting to pick it up, but I go for the alternative instead. Holo-targeting simply means that whenever the Heavy fires on an enemy (regardless of if it hits), every ally gets +10% chance to hit that same enemy until your next turn (so firing in this turn, or Overwatch shots during the enemy's turn both get the bonus).
This ability syncs up nicely with my sniper, Dambuza. Snipers have the option to pick up a wonderful, wonderful ability called Squadsight. This passive ability means that the Sniper 'sees' anything that any other squad member does, allowing them to fire on enemies from truly ridiculous ranges. Note that there does still need to be a clear line of fire for the Sniper, but it only requires a little bit of clever positioning to let them dominate the battlefield in any urban or countryside environment. They do struggle a little more inside UFOs and other interior locations, but snipers always suffer in those places, regardless of Squadsight.
Speaking of UFOs, there's a larger one being detected over China. I've not been able to build any upgraded weapons for my Interceptors (guess why? Yup, not enough Engineers), so I'm hesitant about throwing a conventional human fighter against it, but I can't just let it run amok as it likes. I order the Interceptors up, and cross my fingers. It's a close run thing, and the plane will need several days of repair, but it does succeed in bringing the UFO down.
In goes the squad, and now I get to see it up close, I can see that it's much larger than the previous UFOs I've encountered, with an actual maze of corridors to carefully penetrate and sweep for hostiles. Still, the squad, along with a new Rookie Delgado, preforms admirably, taking on Sectoids, Thin Men, Floaters, and the by-now expected Outsider at the core, to secure the UFO and return victorious. Delgado secures a promotion to Sniper, although he takes an injury along with Wallace to put them both in the Infirmary for a few days. There are a ton of resources from the mission, and I positively feel like some sort of futuristic Scrooge McDuck, swimming in my vault of alien tech in my secret underground base.
Abduction missions roll in, and I elect to head to Germany in an attempt to stop Europe's panic from spiralling out of control.
This diary's been going a bit well, right?
Remember Wallace is in the infirmary? So I don't have my handy 3-use Medkit, and I decide to equip both Gonzalez and a new Rookie with Medkits, so that I have 2 uses. In the opening handful of turns, Thin Men manage to first make that Rookie collapse into bleeding out, and then efficiently murder Gonzalez.
Adieu, brave Argentinian. You were the only person with me right from the start, and also have the dubious honour of being the first non-rookie casualty.
With both Medkits 'gone', I'm forced to let the Rookie bleed to death, and am left with the decision to evacuate my remaining squad, or push on with only Mason, Dambuza, and Wahid, a rookie. Although the last few missions have gone fantastically well, the fact is that the general panic of the world is still pretty high, and for every fire I put out, another springs up. Choosing Germany necessarily means that I had to turn down two other locations whose panic will sharply rise; if this mission is also a failure, then I'm going to be in serious trouble. I grit my teeth, and push on.
I quickly make a beeline for one of the rooftops, and then proceed to pick off aliens from there with Dambuza and Wahid, while Mason administers shotgun shells to any X-rays that try to get up there. After I secure the general area, I find there's only one building left that can possibly hold more hostiles, so Dambuza is positioned on a nearby building, while Mason and Wahid open the large garage door and head on in. Sure enough, there's two Sectoids inside that immediately start trying to hide. The two humans ruthlessly hunt them down, but there's a moment of worry when I kill the second and the mission doesn't end.
There's 3 more Sectoids upstairs that run in and leap down into very nasty positions for Mason and Wahid. Fortunately, Wahid is on Overwatch and earns a medal from me for immediately picking one off. Despite the huge door into the building, Dambuza hasn't quite been able to get a bead on any of these Sectoids, leading to a handful of turns where he runs back and forth along the rooftop, trying to get a shot. It would have been quite comic if it hadn't been so tense.
Finally, I give up on the rooftop shenanigans and run Dambuza down and right up to the side of the building, but it turns out to be unnecessary as Mason and Wahid fearlessly stride forwards and eliminate the final two. Wahid was clearly inspired by working alongside Mason, as he puts in an application to become an Assault when he gets back to base. Gonzalez is grieved for, but there's celebratory back-slapping for the three survivors for pulling off such a difficult mission.
Unfortunately, the congratulations are cut short by news reports that are being broadcast over the world's television networks. The aliens are changing up their tactics. They've started all-out assaults on some of the major cities of the world, shelling buildings and brutalizing civilians.
It's mid-April, and it feels like we've been fighting for longer already. But clearly the invaders are just beginning.