So…we have a lot to discuss. For starters, you might have wondered things like “Where is Thade?” and “Did he lose interest in blogging?” or possibly “Was Thade abducted by aliens?” Predictably, the last clause is the closest to the truth. I have played nearly sixty hours of XCOM: Enemy Unknown since I returned home from work last Tuesday and began the Iron Man Challenge. You might wonder, then, why is it I didn’t post until now? The frank answer is just this: I was too busy enjoying XCOM.
I did start the game in Classic Ironman: I tried twice, the first “game” my entire team was wiped on the first mission because Right click in the strat layer is “Cancel” and right click in the tactical layer is “Move to this tile”…control issues of that nature led my first team ever into a hopeless massacre, which I rage quit and immediately restarted. (So, technically, I lost the challenge.) I discovered in my second classic attempt, which I pushed to the bitter end, that going down swinging in this game is totally worth it. The closing video was cool.
We need to talk about the Classic Iron Man Challenge (at least my second attempt), whether or not the game is truly respectful of its predecessor (hint: it is), and about the bugs (which are plentiful and at times very frustrating) but first, let’s talk about the most important part of XCOM: my most memorable soldiers.
Classic didn’t give me any notable soldiers because, frankly, no soldier survived a third mission. All of these pretend men and women came out of Normal Ironman Mode. (There will be some mild spoilers in here, so tread at your own risk.)
Normal Ironman Attempt One
Colonel Popova was a Russian woman that spawned for me with the classic XCOM haircut: blonde and flat-topped in that weirdly artificial, oddly gelled up way. She was on the first mission of the game, along with the man who would come to be called ‘Tubbs’. I gave her yellow armor to match her hair once she made sniper. She became unto a god of war.
She quickly ascended the ranks and had a ludicrous kill record even early; she seemed to never miss, never failed a panic check, and was the enemy’s worst nightmare. In the one mission she missed anything, a terror mission, a bezerker managed to close with the team and critically injured her. I was able to save her, but the damage to her will was telling.
I realized that she was irreplaceable and decided to train her a successor, a young woman with blue-dyed hair that the team dubbed ‘Neon’. On something like Neon’s sixth mission, she and Goldilocks grappled up to the roof of a UFO to give them a solid vantage point to cover the field for my entry. They were ambushed by four floater elites which made short work of Neon. Watching her apprentice die so quickly, she broke, she panicked, she fled. I was able to pull that mission through, but Bailey – the new team medic – was unable to get to Neon in time. She was gone.
My team’s first encounter with a Sectopod was the last mission of my epic hero. The moment the opportunity presented itself – the tiniest of windows – the monstrosity put all of it’s fire power into her to take their great foe down.
Goldilocks perished with 70 kills and 22 missions under her belt.
Bailey was a late-game new support soldier who taught me some valuable lessons in the game’s panic mechanic. In the mission that claimed the life of legendary Goldilocks, Bailey broke. She panicked and – even after I regained control of her – she kept hyperventilating, crying that “This can’t be happening! This isn’t fair!” with the panic alert still hovering over her head, though she did as I told her too. At first I thought “Bug?” but then realized that it was probably working as intended…and that anything might rob control of her away from me again. Taking down the Sectopod and holding tight on a roof for three turns gave her the time she needed to calm down.
Afterwards, she became my go-to support soldier and medic, and her willpower climbed with her repeated promotions into the 70s…and she’s stopped breaking. She has become hardened in the fires of war and stands at the very gates of hell on the Mothership, along side Tubbs.
Tubbs was an American and, like Goldilocks, has been around since the first mission of the game. Unlike Goldilocks, he was repeatedly injured and laid up quite a bit. When he, Bailey, and Voss boarded the mothership, his will power had stabilized in the low 60s and I’d given the soldier a beard. He was still the first to panic, even more than the hardened Bailey.
He’s a heavy and my most experienced, longest lived soldier. Boarding the mother ship put him at 23 missions, finally in excess of the legend that he followed. Like Goldilocks, he also attempted to train successors as he was my only heavy for much of the game. His first apprentice died (though I honestly forget how) but his second apprentice was game-changing for me. His name is Voss.
Voss, a German soldier, was a late game mission reward Heavy Captain; a welcome mission reward as I only otherwise had Tubbs. Not only was his class a welcome sight, but he was my first – and only – psionic in that game. White hair, a chiseled chin, and the ability to create a telekinetic barrier that saved the team from multiple missile barrages late in the game. He was the Volunteer and lead my team – hopefully to victory – on the mothership.
GOLIATH-1 was my first alloyed SHIV (back before the patch that broke SHIVs on me): a mobile heavy gunner which was functionally mobile cover as well. A good way to bridge the gap between sections of cover I’d otherwise need to dash across, and the ability to suppress. His suppression was fundamental, and is the entire reason the team was able to take down the Sectopod that killed their Colonel.
Not much can be said about a robot that exists because repairs to it are complete and don’t come with irreparable damage to will power, but when it finally went down – after over a dozen deployments – to a muton ambush on the mothership, I felt a tangible pang of sadness. The poor little thing was unflappable and loyal, right to its bitter, unceremonious end.
The end of Normal Ironman Attempt 1
Bailey, Tubbs, Voss, String (the new sniper in town), and Mad Man (a late game Assault Captain mission reward) stand at the final door to the boss fight…which is bugged and won’t open for me. I can’t hover my mouse over it; I cannot click on it. It seems like the kind of thing that is fixable and not committed to a save: when I put the mouse over the door, it seems as if the door is being treated as a wall or ceiling and becoming opaque so I can click on the tiles beyond…which are not yet active. Or it could be a failed script trigger, in which case the game is forever a wash.
It was quite a let down, but a forgivable one; the game itself is is so fun that I’d been looking forward to many other play-throughs. In my first normal mode game, my Memorial Wall was three pages long, I had lost five countries from the council, and it’s Normal Mode…not Classic. There’s a lot of room for improvement on my part, which amounts to game play left here to experience. Again, I’m on my third attempt at Normal Ironman, and I look forward to trying it even yet again.
They made pretty wide-sweeping changes late in development; core changes (and flip-flops) in game design led to a lot of coding and re-coding and – undoubtedly – a hot mess here or there in the code. I have no doubts that the team is working day and night to refactor and test and correct; we’ll probably see pretty regular patches as they remedy the SHIVs, bugs with the cover system, the Mothership, etc.
The real reason the bug on the Mothership was such a let down is that the build up to that point had been so remarkable; I was into it. I had seen Tubbs and Bailey through so much terror and fighting, seen them both break, and seen both of them do what many other heroes in my game had failed to do: survive. I was rooting for them. I wanted them to succeed. In fact, they deserved it. They wanted it. For Goldilocks.
I (obviously) have a great deal more to say about XCOM, but this post is already long enough, so I’ll close it with this: if you haven’t bought this game yet, you are depriving yourself the best strategy game I’ve seen since Final Fantasy Tactics. In fact, if you loved FFT, you owe it to yourself and your fond memories of that title to dive into XCOM. You won’t regret it.