XCOM2 – Reaper City

In the base game, Snipers with Squadsight were death dealing machines.  Fix em up just right, and they could clear an entire map with a stealthed Ranger to find the bad guys.  Rangers excelled at quite a few short-timed missions, in particular the base attacks where you needed to plant explosives.  They wouldn’t kill anyone, but they’d bypass everything and get out before a single shot was taken.

Reapers are what happens when Snipers and Rangers make babies.

They can get right up to someone, shoot them in the back, and retain stealth.  They can throw claymores, essentially grenades that need to be shot after landing, and not break stealth.  The more people they drop, the higher their crit chance.  And then there’s Banish.

Banish requires stealth.  It breaks stealth on use, so you don’t get +2 armor pen (but tactical rigging can offset this).  It has regular hit rates.  It uses all your PCS and weapon upgrades.  And it empties your entire magazine in an enemy – plus can target another one afterwards.

With the +3 ammo clip and a scope, this is a 1 shot kill on anything but the Chosen sarcophagus, and perhaps a Legendary Sectopod.  Anything else is just toast.  You only get 1 use per mission, but considering that you rarely get 2 Sectopods or Gatekeepers… this is a wash.  But you can have 2 Reapers on a mission too…

Templars and Skimishers have their place as well, and focus a bit more on movement play.  That has a rather high risk factor, compared to their potential damage output. I’m sure it has a lot to do with my preferred playstyle.

Next mission up is the Hunter Chosen base.  Now that I know what to expect, of sorts, it allowed me to better plan my squad.  This will be a lot of fun.

XCOM2 – Chosen Down

It took quite a few days, but I was able to run the necessary Covert Ops (3 of them) to unlock the final base for the Chosen Assassin.  I find her to be the most annoying, since Overwatch doesn’t work on her, she has tremendous movement speed, decent damage, and can return to stealth.  So target #1.

Ok, maybe not target #1.  More like “the only thing not on fire #1”.  This is XCOM.

I made sure all my top tier folk were rested, nothing was on fire, and that I had my best gear on – including mods for free reloads. That last part was the single best move I planned.  Spoilers below… I guess.

Part 1

The base itself is two parts.  The first one is more storage/lab than much else.  A futuristic base, with a solid chunk of enemy pods, split into various rooms.  There doesn’t appear to be any patrols, but there are obstacles all over the place.  There was no timer, so I used my stealth members to lead the pack and ensure ambushes were setup where needed.

That worked pretty well for the most part.  Advent forces, Viper, Codex… they all went down due to surprise attacks and well placed grenades.  Then I reached the last room.

This thing had 3 Mutons and an Andromedon.  Mutons I can deal with, but the Andromedon… jeez I dislike these guys.  Massive hit point pools, then they come back from the dead with as much HP.  This means you want to avoid an overkill the first time, since that damage is wasted.  More grenades, room explosions, and a chunk of cooldown skills to clear that out, but with injuries.

I am glad that I took a few extra turns after this fight to reset my cooldowns, as when you take the “elevator” to the next room, nothing resets.   Grenades and single-use skills did not reset.  Anyhoo, the first part was an ok challenge, but since none of the alien pods worked together, it was an easy enough go.

Part 2

Boss Room.  This was much smaller than I had anticipated.  What you see int eh screenshot below is about half the map.  Those 3 rows make up most of it, with 4 raised areas (two in the screen on bottom left and top right), as well as a large platform to the top left.

20170921201756_1

Small quarters = wild fights

The fight starts off with 2 random enemies just standing around.  Get close enough and they trigger the Chosen to enter the fight.  Chosen alone are a pain, and there’s so much stuff for people to hide around… shots are not guaranteed.

I do manage to take her down, with some smart placement of the Templar for damage immunity, and I’m thinking I’m good.  I figure it was on-par with the previous floor in difficulty.  I was incorrect.

Each Chosen has a sarcophagus on the large platform.  They are not targetteable until the Chosen is take down. They have an insane amount of hit points, cannot be crit, and heal the Chosen a set amount each turn.  When that counter reaches 100%, the Chosen comes back, and the sarcophagus is immune again.

Did I mention that while this is happening, 2 random enemies will zone in, on the 4 platforms in the corners of the room?  Random.  I went back and checked.  You could get Advent soldiers.  Maybe some Sectoids.  Berserkers too.  Or, in really bad cases, multiple Codex (Codices?).  Yeah, I had bad luck.

If they are low HP enemies, then it takes 1 soldier to take them out.  Some are tougher and need a couple, plus the actual movement across the map.  This is where those free reloads came in super useful.  The downside is that this also means really close quarters for the squad – ideal for grenade/storm use.  Which I had.

I used everything I had left.  Mimic beacon.  Claymore.  A skulljack.  Stun attacks (which are awesome, since they prevent a respawn).  It took 3 cycles, but I ended up taking down the sarcophagus.  A few more shots and the Assassin was down.  It was a nearly 2 hour mission.

The really great part here is that once those 2 parts are done, the mission is over.  Regardless of how many other aliens are on the map.  I finished with 3 Codex on the map, half the squad below 1/2 HP, 2 that had been dazed, one blinded…return to the base has the entire squad out of commission for nearly 20 days.

But the Assassin is gone, so I have that going for me.

So some key tips

  • Try to enter the 2nd floor with as many cooldowns and utility items as possible.
  • Free reloads are king
  • Free movement / mobility is very important to flank and find enemies
  • Snipers with squadsight can easily hit the sarcophagus
  • A Reaper with an Extended Magazine (+3 ammo) and Banish (empty the clip into an enemy) is crazy damage
  • If it won’t die in 1 hit, stun it
  • Mimic beacons.  Use them.

XCOM2 – When It Hits the Fan

I’ll be upfront about it, I used to save scum a lot in XCOM.  I didn’t mind the damage so much, but some enemy placements were simply unreal and were more or less a mission failure.  This was compounded by timer missions, where it was nearly impossible to set up the team without putting 5 guys in the open.  WotC changes this up.  2 mission examples follow.

20170920231949_1.jpg

Example of a Lost Swarm mission

Mission – Relay Destruction

One recent mission required me to destroy a transmitter.  There were high odds of Lost attacks as well.  (Lost come out like crazy when there are explosions – such as grenades).  I started the mission on an elevated platform (subway train) and moved along trying to inch closer.  I had 17 turns, and the relay was about 3 full moves away.  That’s not so bad, especially since my squad was concealed.

A side note, concealment breaks when you are within ~5 squares of an enemy, at even footing.  By being elevated, I was not going to trigger a concealment break.  More on this later.

I notice 2 MECs, 2 soldiers and a Viper around the relay.  I set up the grunts, shoot a grenade to shred some armor and hit a bunch at once.  The things get fun as I get a message that Lost swarms are inbound.  A few close shaves (Templars are OP to start with Bladestorm) and I take down 4 of the 5 bad guys in 2 turns.  Turn 3 starts with 3 swarms running to my position.  That meant 15 new targets, ranging from 2 hit points to 8.  The fan sure did feel like it was hit.

Creative use of pistols, reloads, and the Templar movement blocking got me through that rush.  It was a nice adrenaline kick to be quite honest.  A few turns later I destroyed the relay and was still required to clear out the remaining ADVENT forces.  I put my Ranger into concealment and started walking around.  Sure enough, I found them in a building and I lost concealment due to the distance issue I mentioned before.  This is a larger issue when in tight corners, as concealment loses  most of it’s value.  I am of the opinion that if I am hugging walls, and concealed, I should not be detected…but the game has a different opinion.  Ranger took a couple hits but I still finished the mission.

Mission 2 – Retaliation

A terror strike on civilians, with some rebel forces there to help out.  Seems simple enough.  A couple turns in, I am able to clear some sectoids and a beserker/muton mix, which free up 5 of the 6 rebels.  They go off like rockets to the civilians.

Where the base XCOM2 required you to physically go next to civilians to rescue them, potentially out in the open, WotC simply requires you to protect them.  This is a good thing, since there is always at least 1 Faceless hiding in their masses.  Staying back lets you clear the map before 10hp flyswatter comes into play.

The rebels start shooting all over the place, but the fog of war prevents me from seeing exactly how many enemies there are.  I take a couple of safe turns to get closer and set up my sniper & reaper. I put a Ranger a bit closer and somehow manage to trigger 3 groups of Mutons/Berserkers.  At the same time.  I couldn’t help but start laughing at the incredible bad luck.  My wife even noticed.

Thankfully Berserker AI has them go after the nearest enemy, and Muton AI will run away if they are not in cover, and throw grenades when soldiers are within 3 spaces of each other.  Destroying cover with grenades and moving the soldiers apart helps break up the groups.  The Templar can “tank” a Beserker too, since he can melee, retaliates with melee when someone moves near him, and can shield fully against melee (partial for ranged).  I took 2 points of damage over 4 rounds of combat, which is really quite nice!

 

 

XCOM2 – Added Systems

I’ve covered the big three – the Lost, the Chosen, and the Rebels.  At least in the context of tactical/map play, and some of the strategic impacts.  Now it’s time to cover some of the smaller system changes.

Covert Operations

I covered this a bit, but it bears more detail.  After the 2nd mission, you get to build the Ring facility in the base.  This allows you to run 1 (or more with upgrades) Covert Operation for a given faction.   You are presented a list of options, with various rewards – roll back Avatar progress, find a Chosen, get intel/supplies, get new items, get scientists/engineers/soldier, or even new contact options (yay!  no more massive resistance comms).

Each takes a few days to run, and requires 2 soldiers of a given rank.  There are bonuses applied after the mission to those soldiers – promotions or stat boosts.  Each mission has a risk of injury and requires a 3rd item to reduce the chance – supplies, intel, material, or another soldier.  Running more missions increases faction gain, and unlocks more missions.  You never need to actively run the mission, it just goes on in the background.

But there’s a chance for failure.  Either they get captured and you send a rescue mission, or they need an emergency ex-filtration.  This last one is quite fun as you’re only given the 2 soldiers assigned and an entire map to traverse… all while being chased by the enemy and trying to avoid fire.  I’m sure some people would try to gun it out, but I just ran for the hills.

Monthly Orders

At the start of every month, you can issue orders to the various factions which provide a monthly passive benefit to rest of the month.  You can only assign a given order to either the faction it belongs to, or to the generic XCOM faction.  There are slight upgrades to them as well, so that one may give 10% more intel and the next gives 15%.  It’s a nice strategic layer, but at the early point of the game, it’s really not a tough choice.  You want to slow down Chosen progress, and increase overall gains.  Maybe there will be harder choices later in the game.

Research

There are two changes here – breakthroughs and insights.  The former is a one-time chance to research a unique benefit to the team.  Could be more damage for a single class, reduce build costs, add upgrade slots – all very useful.  It takes 5 days to research one of these and if you skip it, you lose it.  Or at least, you need to wait until it comes back into the rotation… which could be at the end of the game.

Insights are simpler.  They just reduce the research cost by 50% but only projects that are already available.

It does make for interesting choices, from time to time.  Maybe you need to choose between a permanent buff to Ranger damage, versus getting magnetic weapons.  Or an immediate research of Sectoids to unlock Psionics.  I find that in most cases, the Insight of Breakthrough is the better choice – but it is really a hard choice to push off fundamental units upgrades (armor/weapons).  The more interesting bit is that it appears that you can attain similar power levels to Plasma weapon research, with the appropriate breakthroughs.  This really means that there’s no longer a “perfect research” path, or even more importantly “a wrong way to research”.

Mission Types

I have not seen them all, certainly, but what I’ve seen has left me quite happy.  One of my main gripes in the main XCOM2 was the missions with an artificial timer that forced you into very complicated situations.  I understand the purpose – making missions shorter and more mobile – but the end result felt like artificial difficulty.  In particular on some maps where the enemy placement was very tight.

WotC still has time missions but they are very generous and quite varied.  Maybe you have 12 turns to take out a general, or 4 to hold your ground, or 6 to take out a relay.  Odds are there are ways to increase that timer during the mission as well.  The urge to move forward is still there, but it doesn’t feel punishing as you no longer need to use all your AP in a single turn.

Missions themselves fall into a few general categories – Guerrilla (where you chose one of multiple), Council, Retaliations, Assaults, Raids, and Defense.  These include killing/rescuing someone, finding and holding onto some materials, attacking facilities to reduce Avatar progress, protecting civilians from Advent attacks, or just defending the Avenger itself.  Map types have been expanded and include more variations than before – the sewer run is a pretty neat tileset.

This is not a massive change, but more of a quality of life change.  Things seem simply more varied and balanced.  Each mission can be tweaked by Advent bonuses – say a bleeding effect from bullets, or all enemies are shielded…so making choices is quite important.  Some even sound simple, until a Chosen suddenly shows up and starts taking you to town.

Soldier Impacts

This one is somewhat subtle to start, but can get hectic.  Each soldier has a fatigue meter, that drains after each mission.  You can re-use someone that’s tired, but that risks them being in recovery mode for a longer period of time.  Soldiers can also acquire negative traits – such as a fear of Sectoids – that can make you go bananas when it actually triggers.  You can remove these traits, but it takes a fair chunk of time.

The result is that you need a much larger and varied squad than before.  There are missions where you simply have no choice in the soldiers to send due to outstanding recovery times.  That “perfect” squad is a thing of the past, and you’ll be continuously adding Rookies and Squaddies to each mission… just to pad out the roster.  It certainly removes a lot of the anxiety of save scumming to avoid injuries, since no matter what, people are going to be benched on the next mission.

Overall

I think that covers the majority of the obvious changes in XCOM2.  There are big ones and small ones, but the underlying foundation is relatively the same. It integrates very well with all the existing systems, including the DLC released previously.  Where the base game had an optimal path that felt you slowly losing over time, WotC has so many viable paths it seems to stretch out the game even farther than before.

It is really a borderline expansion/sequel, and I find myself continually impressed at the amount of options and things going on at any given time.  A super game and highly recommended.

 

XCOM2 – The Rebels

I’ve talked about the Lost, and the Chosen, two pieces that have a tactical change to the way the game plays and make maps a bit more engaging (and stressful).  Now I’ll talk about the Rebel factions.

In matching with the Chosen, there are 3 factions.  Reapers, who are more like super stealthy snipers.  Templars, who are quite good at psionics.  Skirmishers, who have good movement skills and can pull enemies out of cover.  (sidebar here – Skirmishers work absolute miracles on fast/covered enemies)  They apparently hate each other, but I can’t see any game-impacting effects of this.  They appear to simply be 3 factions that you can need to gain favor with.

Now it gets a bit more complicated.

You can recruit members of these factions, and rather than have a left/right skill tree, they have more of a talent grid that unlocks over time.  You get skill points (AP) per mission, those are used to unlock the items in the tree, once you gain appropriate rank.  You can eventually get all those skills… making for uber soldiers.  You get 1 of each soldier per faction, and late game you can recruit a 2nd per faction (with appropriate favor).

wphrpia

Reaper skill tree

Let’s talk Reaper for a second, since that’s the first one you get to use.  Super sniper, can stay in stealth after attacking (% chance at least), similar skill set as the regular sniper.  Heck, they can go back into stealth after attacking with another skill.  They can even unload an entire clip into 1 target.  More like shadowy death to me…

Each faction has favor (reputation) to gain.  More favor, more benefits.  You can run Covert Ops for a given faction, using your soldiers for “passive” missions.  These missions allow you to increase the rank of soldiers, gain intel, resources, or additional tactical missions (like recovering a taken soldier).  Ideally, these should always be running.

Each faction also unlocks a scanning target for Intel, so long gone are the days where there’s nowhere to scan on the planet.

Each month, you have what amounts to a deck of cards to deal to the various factions for additional benefits (Resistance Orders).  Could be cheaper soldiers, damage boosts, additional resource gathering, reducing progress on the Avatar project…but you’re limited to the amount of bonuses (cards) based on the total favor with the factions.  This is quite useful, and adds a good layer of strategy to the game.

Clearly, there are nothing but benefits to gaining favor with Rebels.  But wait, there’s more!

In the base XCOM2 game, there were terror missions where you needed to protect 12-20 civilians from Advent forces.  I had a heavy dislike for these missions as the civilians had next to no HP, poor AI, and it was like shooting fish in a barrel on the other side of the map.  An early map has a similar mission (the Faceless unlock) but it also comes with Rebels under attack.  If you can save them, they in turn help you by attacking the Advent.  Their aim is terrible, and the damage is small, but they essentially become target practice for the enemy.  This gives a lot more room for your soldiers to do their work.  From a mission type I tried to avoid, to one I thought was a ton of fun… that’s an achievement.

Overall, Rebels add both a strategic and tactical change to the game, in nearly every aspect.

XCOM2 – The Chosen

The namesake of the expansion, the Chosen are a set of 3 alien champions that you encounter throughout the game.  There are 3 of them, a hunter/sniper, a close ranger assassin (with stealth), and a psionic warlock.  They are sort of like Orcs using the nemesis system from Shadows of Mordor, in that over the course of the game, they develop weaknesses and strengths based on play against you.  They are quite deadly.

One of the earlier missions has you fight the assassin, who does not trigger overwatch, has super stealth, and what seems double movement range.  Long story short, she will hit one of your soldiers.  On my map, she disoriented one (needing someone else to come by to stabilize), then hid on the 2nd floor of a building.  I need to launch a grenade to break down the wall in order to give my sniper a chance at hitting her.  Thankfully it was a set map, so there were no other enemies during that time (Lost came out afterwards).  She then captured one character (again, planned piece) though apparently she can continue to do this in other encounters, which triggers the ability to recover that soldier.

Where the Hunters expansion had ultra hard bosses with permanent effects, the Chosen grow in power with you.  You can chase them from a map, but they always have a chance to show in any future map within their influence “zone”.  You only ever get rid of them later in the game by taking them out at their base.  And if you aren’t paying enough attention, then can eventually attack your base.

This makes them a rather permanent threat throughout the game, rather than acting like a boss character. I’m still early, so I’m quite curious as to their rate of attendance in maps, but it’s one more thing on the map to stress about.  And they make it so that there is pretty much no chance of a perfect play once they do show up.  In the base XCOM2 maps, it was entirely possible to have multiple map clears with no injuries or casualties.  I am not seeing that as a possibility with these buggers.

It’s quite hard to find an analogy in gaming as to what these characters represent, aside from the previous SoM reference.  It feels like a customized AI opponent, that continues to tailor the response over time.  Where the original had a rather nebulous end goal of saving the world without any arch-villain, this time there’s some additional motivation within.  They are not the end goal by any means, but they certainly add a personal touch to everyone’s game experience.

XCOM2 – Lost

One of the more interesting aspects of strategic RPGs is the character growth… and XCOM is no slouch in this matter.  My end-game sniper from my last playthrough could take out an entire 6 man rookie squad solo.  Going from that mindset, to starting fresh, well it’s quite jarring.

The last mission I did involved most of the new mechanics (rebels, chosen, bonds, new skills, mission types, research boosts), but this post will only focus on the Lost portion.  The mission started with me splitting my 4 man team into 2s, then doing two separate maps with a guest character to add to the team, each.  Once those maps were done, both teams joined up for the next mission.

The Lost are a zombie-like faction, with low hit points, but they attack in a swarm of 3-6 at once.

20170913192757_1

1 of 4 swarms this mission

The neat feature here is that if you successfully kill one you get a free action back.  That’s useful when you have a rather large squad, with solid aim and a lot of ammo.  I have very little of that at the start of the game.  Aside from one guest character (sniper) everyone is at 60-70% aim chance, even at point blank.  Those aren’t exactly top odds.  And grenadiers only have 3 ammo –  another resource that needs to be managed.

The good news is that I have grenades.  Lots of grenades.  And each does enough damage to take out a Lost, but I don’t get the action point back.  Choices.

I forgot to mention that Lost are attracted to noise, so the more noise you make, the more swarms come towards you.  Even more fun.

All told, I killed a few dozen enemies in that set of maps.  Thankfully it was all Lost and no other types.  A solid mix would have made it a pile of pain.  It was certainly an entertaining set of mechanics, feeling more like “horde mode” from other games.  I’m quite curious how that will work out in later missions, where ammo isn’t so scarce, and my aim% is much, much higher.