XCOM 2: Things Fall Apart

I’m playing and diarising XCOM 2 [official site] on Commander difficulty in Iron Man mode, using characters based on the staff of RPS, replaced by readers as and when they die or go out of action. Full explanation and the story so far here here, and you can download the characters for your own game here.

And I was doing so well (thanks in part to my own advice). As complacency crept in, an RPS writer fell in battle – and they’re not the only casualty of my recklessness. Bloody Sectoids, basically.

Our third and fourth missions passed relatively painlessly, although Alice, Adam, Pip and my own inaccurately tall XCOM avatar (no pun intended) might not agree. They all had to pay long visits to hospital, with my own wounds a direct result of m’esteemed colleague John Walker’s inability to score a hit on an Advent Commander he’s stood close enough to hold hands with.

Or perhaps he was holding hands with them. Maybe that’s why he “missed.”

The more positive news about Operation Frost Blade, as this data retrieval mission was known, is that it brought a new recruit into our fold.

Mr.Anderson has a mighty beard and a shy smile, and handles himself well enough that he’s promoted to a Specialist by the mission’s end. I myself become a Sharpshooter; I look forward to some long-range cowardice just as soon as I’ve finished bleeding.

Adam Smith is our pet monster however, literally cleaning house with his sword and shotgun. The aliens were busy whittling away some important beacon hidden inside a bungalow, and it was only by sending Adam inside along with them that we were able to prevent them from destroying it before a forced retreat became necessary. As a result of Adam’s bravery and disconcerting knack for bifurcating Sectoids, he leapfrogs Graham and becomes our highest-ranked officer.

Between missions I’m busy excavating, building and saying hello to resistance outposts. We’ve got our Guerilla Tactics School and Advanced Warfare Centre up, with a Power Relay on the way. We’re now capable of fielding five operatives at a time, and it’s just a few days until we know how to build Magnetic Weapons, although there’s no cash left with which to build them for now. Feelin’ good, basically.

I decide to treat the next mission, Operation Purple Justice (is there any other kind of justice?), as something of a victory lap. It’s an all-RPS team, with Adam, Alice, Graham, John and Pip heading out together while I myself continue to sleep off my wounds. A fairly straightforward mission: take out all the enemies without also taking out some precious cargo we hope to steal.

With no time pressure against us for once and two snipers on the team, it goes ridiculously smoothly right until the final mile – our first encounter with the serpentine alien known as a Viper even goes off without a hitch, thanks to a successful ambush. Unfortunately a Sectoid and a standard Advent trooper manage to knock a few chunks off Alice and Pip before a combination of Adam’s sword and John’s explosives sort them out. This means Alice is once again back to the hospital, which she has already spent most of our rebellion within. At least she has her Super-Chum Pip for company. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

Anyone who still has at least two working legs is back up again for the slightly distressingly-named Operation Soaring Ring, in which we must rescue and extract a VIP. Wounds and the realisation that I’ve become over-dependent on Adam (and in the game, etc) so should give him a rest in order that others might rise to the fore means that, this time, it’s a predominantly reader team. Please welcome Ian ByteRustler to the team (editorial note: the game had originally named this soldier ‘Iris Meer’, which caused me to blink in shock. Additionally, Iris had been in the tutorial mission, before the game had given me access to the entire RPS staff from the character pool, so is already at Squaddie/Grenadier rank.)

ByteRustler has a spooky hood , a very large gun and well-toned arms:

Ian ByteRustler is joined by Ian Risingson, Mr.Anderson, Sergeant Graham Smith and Corporal John Walker. We’re lacking a Ranger for this mission, but it’ll be fine, right?


It wasn’t fine. It really, really wasn’t.

I’m so sorry, John. It was all my fault, really. With the timer ticking but most of the aliens for some reason giving the 4×4 the VIP was locked in a wide berth, I crept everyone further forwards than was wise. Though an initial grenade volley from John softened up an Advent Lancer and Sectoid who had been lurking just of sight, they both survived – with the Sectoid then seizing control of poor old Mr.Anderson’s terrified mind and handsome beard.

I made two more huge mistakes. The first was to have Risingson attempt to hack a nearby CCTV array, which if it had gone well would have put the whole squad back into concealment. It didn’t go well, and instead alerted all other nearby enemies that we were there.

Alarmed by the sudden arrival an Advent MEC and a couple more footsoldiers on a nearby rooftop, I decided in vain to try and cut some of them down rather than pull back to relative safety. John’s final grenade was a doozy though, simultaneously shredding the MEC’s armour and blowing the floor from underneath it, sending it crashing to the ground so that Graham could finish it with a single shot. Then everything went to hell.

Sectoid-slave Mr. Anderson scored the second and final kill of his campaign, which unfortunately was John. Our trusty grenadier’s first wound was entirely fatal.

I hissed through my teeth in self-loathing: we should have fallen back.

Then, an Advent Lancer dropped down from rooftops and, with a swipe of its baton, sent ByteRustler to lala-land.

Alive, but unconscious. Though I had two Specialists on the field, neither was yet capable of reviving a comrade from this state, and in any case one of them was currently a mind-altered traitor.

Down to three, only two of which were still in my control. I winced as Risingson’s Overwatch shot tagged Mr.Anderson instead of the Sectoid I’d hoped for, but at least the mind-controlled Specialist remained alive – just. The Sectoid busied itself with reanimating a fallen Advent trooper as a Psi-Zombie instead of shooting at us, but a succession of unlikely misses meant the skinny alien survived for another skirmish. Its hold over Mr.Anderson finally lapsed, prompting the thing to instead unload hot plasma right into his chest. This time, he didn’t shrug it off. You hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. It is the sound of your death. Goodbye, Mr. Anderson.

Massively messed-up vengeance for John, perhaps, but the Sectoid behind it all was somehow still alive, and had a zombie aiding it. Only two men left, a VIP still had to be rescued and then we all had to get out of here. This was a bad business, for sure. This might well be it.

A reprieve! The Sectoid took itself inside a building and then bungled a second Mind Control effort, so Risingson took out the wall in front of it with our last grenade, allowing Graham to finally slay the thing with a precise revolver blast. And then, at last, it was time to retrieve our VIP. Fortunately, our evac point was close, but unfortunately someone had to carry sleeping ByteRustler over to it. Doubly-unfortunately, a dropship full of Advent Reinforcements was on its way.

Risingson slung ByteRustler over his shoulder, and legged it to the evac point. The VIP joined him, and they rope-climbed their way to safety.

Graham, however, was left alone and with too much distance left to cover before the dropship arrived.

By a miracle – or perhaps because I’d suffered enough by this point – the newly-arrived Advent goons failed to tag Sergeant Smith as he sprinted to the Skyranger. And we were out. I had honestly thought this was going to be a wipeout.

But we were hurt, and badly.

Two men dead, almost everyone else hospitalised: it’s time to bring on the rookies.

On the plus side, Graham got given the awesome nickname ‘Pale Rider’ for his sterling work in Operation Soaring Ring. So it’s not all bad.

For more on XCOM 2, visit our XCOM 2 guide hub.


  1. Ufofighter says:

    Time to write an epitaph. Mine’s are usually in the line of “You shouldn’t have missed the overwatch shot”, “Idf you don’t want to end in this wall with me stick to high cover”, etc.

    • Rizlar says:

      The soldier callouts when sent to half cover are both amusing and informative on that second point.

      ‘Err… if you’re sure’ etc.

      • Coming Second says:

        I think that’s affected by their personality, not what you ask them to do. Intense is all “GOD FINALLY” whenever you ask them to do something, whilst Twitchy is the one who goes “Are… are you sure about that?” when you get them to inch forward.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I recently lost a sniper who had been auto-generated the nickname “Ace”.

      His epitaph?

      “What a guy”

    • Silent_Thunder says:

      The best I ever saw was a user on the xcom subreddit.

      “One shot, one miss. RIP in peace loser.”

  2. Shake Appeal says:

    One weird trick to canceling psionics: flashbangs. Sectoids HATE this.

    • Shake Appeal says:

      Note that if the lancer was in range of the flashbang, they also wouldn’t have charged your Specialist; it stops all early organic enemies from using abilities other than shooting — and they’ll do that at a -20 aim penalty.

      • Rince Wind says:

        Yes, flashbangs are lifesavers, not only in the early game. When I field 2 grenadiers one always gets a flashbang, because then range are radius are even better.

        • Danarchist says:

          It took me forever to realize you could fire any grenade from the grenade launcher and not just the one in the “grenade only” slot.
          Those things are hugely helpful when dealing with Mutons as well, they don’t do their death-punch when under the effect.

    • C0llic says:

      This. Even through to mid-late game. Flashbangs save lives. I always take at least one.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Qazinsky says:

    A less usual technique you could have tried to revive Mr Anderson would have been to tell him you love him and then kiss him.

  4. Horg says:

    Grahams gun must now be named ‘Preacher’. It’s colour must be crimson. It’s pattern must emulate the kind of stubble that only lone gunmen riding hard through the old west can grow.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      All so that Sectoids can tell of the deeds of the Pale Rider at their local canteen, attempting to spit every time they say the nickname only to realize (again, and again) they have no salivary glands.

      • DelrueOfDetroit says:

        That’s when they mind control a human to spit for them.

  5. Mr. Anderson says:

    Not only do I really have a handsome beard but I’m also pretty sure that if I ever have to go to war it would end like this.

    with the Sectoid then seizing control of poor old Mr.Anderson’s terrified mind and handsome beard.

    is probably my new favourite RPS quote.

    Also I’m sorry John.

  6. BlackeyeVuk says:

    Oh it has only begun.

  7. Procrastination Giant says:

    As others have mentioned under this and the survival tips article: You really want to bring a flashbang (or two, if you’re as unlucky as me and constantly get your flashbang carrying grenadier mindcontrolled) if you’re at risk of running into sectoids, snakes, codexes (if you start a fight against a codex with a flashbang they can’t do any of their bullshit!) or any other enemy with fancy skills. They’re the second best survival tool after mimic beacons.

  8. wcq says:

    I’ve been stubbornly trying to play the game on Commander Ironman, and I’m beginning to think the game’s designed to be savescummed. It’s absurdly intolerant of the slightest mistake. Want to know what destroyed my last game? One trooper body. ONE TROOPER BODY that I sold because I thought you only needed five bodies to make plated armor. I made a slight accounting error, and the game locked away an absolutely essential upgrade.

    That one body never came. Finally, five missions later, I saw one Advanced Trooper hanging out with the group of stun lancers and mutons that ended it all. He killed my last guy personally, as if he was making a point.

    This may sound a bit bitter, and that’s because it is. I just want to vent about it. I think I’ll just finally cave and stop trying Ironman.

    • onionman says:

      The 6 trooper corpses made my first run (Veteran/Ironman) very dicey for the midgame; I actually jumped straight from regular armor to warden armor.

      I definitely wouldn’t recommend C/I for a first run, but it is certainly doable. I just did it today! (Second run). If you’re having trouble, I suggest rampantly abusing mimic beacons and flashbangs.

    • C0llic says:

      Reading this just made me realise something, We should be able to grab alien/advent corpses on evac missions and zip line out with them! That would be an amazing way to fix problems like this. We clearly need a mod for this!

      • onionman says:

        I actually tried grabbing an ADVENT trooper corpse, like you’d grab a buddy’s body, precisely for this reason. I just assumed you could because why not? I agree it should be modded in.

    • acetylcholine says:

      Two words: git gud.

    • Neutrino says:

      Just play in Classic mode but only reload for glitches and misclicks instead of tactical errors and misclicks.

      Then it’s basically Ironman but you just don’t wreck a campaign due to a map glitch or misclick.

  9. ulysses s. pants says:

    ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.’
    – me, IRL, while playing XCOM.

    • icarussc says:

      +1 for Yeats. Now considering naming all of my soldiers after poets.

      • X_kot says:

        You’ll never be able to get them out of the bar if you do that.

      • ulysses s. pants says:

        Either that or character from Achebe’s novels. Okonkwo and Winterbottom waging war against the aliens would be radical.

        • elyoungque says:

          Either that or members of The Roots. Black Thought and Questlove could wage war too.

      • Skeletor68 says:

        ‘Come away with me O human child…’

      • Sin Vega says:

        I had an Ogre team in Blood Bowl with snotlings named after famous generals/warriors, and the ogres named after philosophers. Suprisingly entertaining.

  10. frogulox says:

    I tried to clean up with those, but the shotgun made more dust than it lifted, and you should see the state of my countertops.

  11. Danarchist says:

    I had a rookie show up with my wife’s name randomly. She died like two missions later and I still haven’t told her lol

    I have made the habit of texting epitaphs to my friends when their in-game simulacrums die. My gaming friends think it’s hilarious, my mom asked me if I was buying a stone marker or something ahead of time ;)

  12. Baranor says:

    Yeah.. i recognize the feeling.. I went crazy on the black market early-game and bought loads of stuff.. turned out I needed the intel. It was touch and go, ended up with one box full of Avatar before I got it down. Now its end game, I am training two psykers, have 4 WAR armors, blaster launcher, colonels all around and sectopods/gatekeepers make me giggle because I get to hit them a bit more. The Avatar went down like this: I skulljacked the codex, looked at the result and thought ‘everyone needs a reload, and you need a stasis field’. So I positioned everyone nearby but not spot on, reloaded, and next turn pumped the f*cker full of plasma. A hard nut to crack but he didnt get a skill off.

    There is definately a moment if ‘easy peasy’ here… when you have AP ammo, colonels, psykers and loads of WAR suits only copious amounts of hardass foes can make you suffer. And bad scouting. Which I tend to avoid (go rangers!).

    • onionman says:

      There is a sudden, violent, vertical leap in the difficulty at the very final battle. Up to that point the final mission isn’t harder than a run of the mill facility attack, but the last fight…. hoo boy…

      • Coming Second says:

        It says a lot about the final mission that when a team of Vipers showed up as reinforcements, I felt positive relief.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Graham Smith says:


  14. GemFire81 says:

    I’m player Commander Ironman as well, It is truly unforgiving. I have lost my favorite soldiers more times then I can count from getting cut in half and instant dieing, crit hits from across he map instant dieing, getting mind controlled and turning and throwing a grenade at 2 of my guys standing close to each other. This difficulty with ironman on can be brutal.

  15. Synesthesia says:

    Has anyone else found the last mission has a really stupid difficulty spike? The amount of savescumming I had to do to get the fucking avatars did not feel good. Any tips for that fight? So far it just felt like a load of bullshit. I had two guys in war armor, a psy-operative holding a gatekeeper as a friend, and still, most decisions ended in swift game over.

    • Punning Pundit says:

      Avatars are tricky to deal with:
      1) They teleport every time one of your soldiers hurts them. So you can’t set up a “first my sniper shoots, then my grenadier”, whatever plan. The position the Avatar is when the first time they are not will not be the position they are in the second time they are hit.
      2) They have 4 (5?) Points of armor. So if that doesn’t get shredded down your follow up shots will be far less effective than otherwise.
      3) Avatars heal for 5 points of damage every round. Don’t bother shooting at them unless you put more than 5 points into them.

      The trick is to shred their armor with your first attack on one, and then focus it down with everything you can point at it on that round.

      The other thing to remember is that your objective is to _kill the Avatars_. Everything else is just a distraction from that goal. Drop the first Avatar ASAP, then you’ve got a couple rounds to drop the body guards before the next couple show up. When they do, you should do everything you can go drop each Avatar on succeeding turns.

      Also! I try to keep all of my AOE items in stock for that final room. And I won’t enter that room until my abilities are off cooldown.

      Hope these help!

      • Herring says:

        I played it on Commander / Ironman from the get-go and the final room was a nasty surprise. I’d gone heavy grenadier (3 I think) and most were low / out of grenades by the end as I didn’t know the 1.5 hr slog before that room was just “the warm-up”.

        Got totally overrun but just ran after the Avatars. Everyone was on the brink of death when my sniper made a 45% Longwatch shot to finish it.

        Stuff that I had left that helped;

        Mimic grenades. You can’t keep up with the chaff so you need to distract it.
        Acid Grenades. From grenadiers this shred the initial Avatar armour and normally cancel out their regen every turn.
        Any ability that allows a full move and then damage helps; often you want them to teleport out of a bad position. I didn’t have run and gun but the sword attack was a life-saver.
        My one sniper in a decent position was normally able to hit the avatars in multiple positions. Very useful.

        Stuff I didn’t have but I imagine would make it a lot easier;

        Lots of Psionics to MC the bad guys.
        Specialists with the ‘guaranteed damage’ ability to induce a teleport.
        Grenadiers with abilities from the 2nd tree which can guarantee damage
        Run and Gun on Rangers

      • Philopoemen says:

        I thought it was going to tougher than it was actually – admittedly only did it on Veteran, but I just had everyone stay in the outer room, sent the commanders avatar in, mind controlled an archon, and then just went after the avatars. The archon just ran around annoying people until it died, and in the meantime, my guys dropped two avatars. The last Avatar showed up, and I just used blaster bombs with both their insane range, and their unavoidable damage to take the last one down.

    • Premium User Badge

      Sihoiba says:

      If you can mind control/dominate something, preferably an archon (the flaming pinions attack is a) fantastic for scouting, and b)either gets enemies running for cover or taking damage), you can trigger all the enemies in the final room, while leaving your squad on the other side of the door/corridor.

      The door/corridor makes an excellent kill zone, just leaving a couple of soldiers on the sides because the Avatar will teleport into a flanking position when you shoot it.

      I also found that a lot of the enemies will hang back, but the Avatar’s are more likely to push forward by themselves so most of the reinforcements don’t even have to be fought.

    • Coming Second says:

      Having Gary the Gatekeeper on your side obviously helps.

      Saving your meme beacon and at least two ways of shredding armor effectively is an absolute must. Mindshield on your kamikaze ranger is also useful.

      Multiple attacks on single targets are *hugely* useful against avatars because of their teleporting BS. Having a double shot ranger and a fanfire gunslinger in your team is a necessity.

      As others have said, the reinforcements aren’t important – particularly as they just keep coming. As soon as the last Avatar dies you win, so once there’s only one focus everything on that. Hope this helps.