XCOM 2: The Wipe

Resuming an XCOM 2 [official site] Iron Man diary starring the staff and readers of RPS. Note: this diary went on hiatus for a while, because post-patch XCOM 2 kept crashing on my PC. That problem has resolved itself as suddenly as it arrived, so back into the meatgrinder we go. Full explanation and the story so far here here, and you can download the characters for your own game here.

You’re damn right I’m shaken.

We had a good run. Three missions without a casualty, and we even managed to equip ourselves with Predator armour during that time. The situation was perfectly in hand.

Our string of good luck begins with Operation Hammer Walk. Like this yeah?

It’s a pretty textbook mission. Accidental team-killer Graham finally redeems himself with a Deadeye hit that takes down a Muton in a single shot. Admittedly, that Muton had been ever so slightly softened up by someone else’s grenade, but after getting Pip slain our resident sniper needs all the encouragement he can get. Alice gets set on fire at one point, which means she’s unable to deactivate the alien reinforcement signal; fortunately Ian Bytejacker gets there in the nick of time. We have a solid squad now, and we get out of there with just a few injuries.

Operation Lost Smoke sees Adam, our crack Ranger, finally return from his wilderness weeks in hospital, but he’s not the whirlwind of death he used to be. It’s probably because I’ve been too tight to upgrade swords yet, so all his ineffectual swiping at Advent goons leaves him without a kill to call his own. I upgrade swords as soon as the mission’s over, as well as finally blessing my sharpshooters and grenadiers with vastly-improved boomsticks. With more and more Mutons swaggering about the place, we’re going to need them.

Operation Bleeding Witch turns out to be all too appropriate, depending on whether or not you consider Adam to be a witch. He certainly does do a lot of bleeding, though:

Don’t worry, folks, he’s OK! Our invaluable team medic Alice gets him back on his feet just before the last of his claret leaks into the ground, and while he’s booked in for another long hospitalcation, he’s able to wreak handy havoc with his new sword in the remainder of this mission. We’re deluged by Faceless, the consequence of the aliens activating a Dark Event which squirrelled some of the hideous ambulatory puddings around every nook and cranny of this tortured world. Adam is able to take bladed revenge on the one which had earlier pummelled him into the ground, and he’s helped out by our newest recruit The Borderer.

The Borderer looks like she belong to a pumpkin-themed biker gang, and handles herself well enough that she’s promoted to Ranger by the mission’s end. So at least we have a substitute for Adam now.

Back home, we finally manage to throw up a Proving Ground, but before we can do anything useful like upgrade grenades or build armour with mounted rocket launchers, we’re dragged back out to Operation: Earthly Priest, a retaliation mission.

We have decent armour, decent weapons and a tried’n’tested flashbangs’n’mimic beacons emergency strategy. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well, crap.

You ever have one of those missions where you find yourself muttering “urgh” to yourself every ten seconds? One of those ones where every new event is a new indignity, where the walls close inexorably in on you? Earthly Priest was very much one of those. Every action seemed to send a new pack of monsters and soldiers sprinting our way, every one of our shots seemed to miss, and before long we were surrounded by three Mutons, two Beserkers, three Advent soldiers of assorted flavours and two Faceless.

Graham had two near-death-encounters, first bleeding out after taking a beating from a Faceless and then lapsing into unconsciousness when a Muton loped over to him immediately after Alice had revived him. I wasted precious seconds getting him back on his feet again, and that was the lynchpin moment of our downfall. I ordered Alice to have her Gremlin try to protect our battered sharpshooter, which left her unable to take a shot of her own. If there had been one less enemy on the field, we might have made it. Instead, when the net closed, it claimed first Graham – too wounded to possibly survive any other damage – and Alice, shot from one side by a Muton then mauled on the other by a Beserker.

I think we’ll all agree that Graham had it coming, but Alice has been our electric-haired hero. Plus, she was our only dedicated medic. This was a huge loss.

My own avatar on this mission, Alec ‘Sad Sack’ Meer, immediately freaked out, uncannily replicating real-world situations when my colleagues have been away and I have to somehow manage things by myself. This did at least trigger him into running for cover and hunkering down, which perhaps saved him from the shot which took the life of recently-returned junior Ranger Ian ForShadow.

That’s two lieutenants and a sergeant gone – the team has been effectively gutted.

Damn. Half the team gone, one lost to terror, four enemies still standing. Thank God for Ian ‘Venom’ Risingson and Ian ‘Meltdown’ Byterustler, who shrugged off grievous wounds long enough for Meer to return to the fray and join them in polishing off the remaining Advent. Improbably, the three of them survived.

Even more miraculously, this devastating mission actually counted as a victory – we just about managed to save enough civilians even though the battlefield was soaked in blood. If Advent had murdered even one more of them then we’d have failed our task in addition to losing three of our finest.

It’s a bleak ride home, made bleaker by the discovery that we no longer have enough operational soldiers to stage another mission – and the bank is empty, so there’s no way to obtain new rookies. As if rookies could help us now anyway. Alec Meer is indeed shaken.

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  1. Enkidum says:

    Isn’t the moral of this story that one should never, ever play an XCOM game with a single squad? Always bring along at least two noobs on every mission and let them get a kill or two, and hopefully have a full two squads of usable people? You advance slower, but a devastating loss like this is slightly less devastating.

    Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done, I’m sure.

    • Shadow says:

      That’s the sensible strategy, to be sure, but on the higher difficulties it’s far less simple than that when you need all the veterans you can get to carry out missions successfully.

      As Leonidas or at least Gerard Butler would say, one weak link and the phalanx shatters, so to speak.

      • Hambil says:

        When bringing up a rookie the first step (excepting very early game) is to get them to squadie using the AWC. That is a huge help right there. After that just pick the right missions. Any mission without a timer, or ‘destroy the relay’ for example are good. Destroy the relay has a timer, but tends in my humble opinion to be one of the easier mission types.

        You have to consider leveling a squadie that you are really taking a 5 or 4 man team. Lots of explosives, and a good ranger (swords don’t need to be reload so they are excellent for longer missions with multiple fire fights).

        Hold the squadie back, out of the action but close. When a pod is near cleared or luck shines on you, bring the squadie up for a kill. Make sure they get the kill. A grenade on a badly wounded enemy is a great way to go.

    • thetruegentleman says:

      Ordinarily yes, but on Retaliation missions, you kind of have to bring your best people, because you need to move and kill quickly to save enough people. Rookies just can’t do enough damage.

    • Whelp says:

      That’s a must for classic ironman/commander. You need 2 colonels of every class/role by lategame, otherwise you’re screwed if you lose one.

  2. photoheathen says:

    If you guys are wiping/near-wiping to Advent, Mutons & Beserkers….well, the future doesn’t look so good.

    • popej says:

      To be honest he’s in the early mid-game now which is perhaps as difficult as X-COM 2 gets. However that’s arguably because you should have a full squad of at least lieutenants or captains at this point…

      So yeah, I guess you’re right.

      • popej says:

        I should have added another sentence along the lines of …”so it tends to be all downhill from about this point.”

    • Whelp says:

      If you make it past that point though, you’re probably golden.

  3. Shake Appeal says:

    Don’t use swords. Don’t buy sword upgrades. Swords are bad. And risky. And bad. After the very-early game (when it is admittedly fun to finish off the last sectoid with a slash), shotguns are more accurate and damaging, and they have the added bonus of, well, range. Once you get magnetic weapons, swords are all but useless, unless you like a gimmicky Bladestorm build.

    • Ergonomic Cat says:

      The only upside is the stun sword. Occasionally it’s worth using to try to get another round when you can’t kill a thing.

    • Thurgret says:

      Gimmicky? A ranger with bladestorm at the front of your group warrants descriptors such as practical, pragmatic, and sensible, rather than gimmicky. Great for killing any wounded enemies which happen to try to charge in or move past.

    • Coming Second says:

      The stabby Ranger tree is less useful than the stealth tree, but it still has worth. Untouchable, Bladestorm and the fact you don’t have to reload your sword make them a very useful unit late on in a mission, particularly if there’s an objective that needs rushing.

      I find building Kamikaze Kelly to optimize sword damage essential for surviving the first few missions on Commander, any road.

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      yhancik says:

      Swords are very
      They can only do harm

    • geldonyetich says:

      Swords are fine if you use them right. Melee attacks are high accuracy, reliable damage that circumvent cover.

      However, you need to plan for what happens next. If you miss, you need a backup. If other enemies are around, don’t perform melee attacks where it’s going to leave you exposed.

      • Whelp says:

        *If* my samurai colonels miss, I got my 1-2 psi ops for ‘Inspire’ and/or my medic for ‘Threat Assessment’ upgraded aid protocol.

    • amateurviking says:

      Lost count of the number of times [that ability that lets you keep swording indefinitely which I can’t remember the name of] saved my buttocks in the latter parts of my first campaign, obvs you have to put a bit of effort into shredding and/or softening things up, but it’s a great OH SHIT ability, especially as you can cap it off with a shotgun blast.

      • Whelp says:

        It’s called ‘Reaper’ and it’s pretty efficient for taking down a pod of enemies that’s been weakened by plasma ‘nades (or acid/EMP bombs).

    • Whelp says:

      Playing commander ironman at the moment (near endgame) and my 2 samurai sword guys are wrecking shit. Sure, they’re using their shotguns too occasionally, but going ‘Reaper’ with blade master/untouchable/etc. on an enemy pod that’s been weakened by grenades is pretty effective.

  4. Doogie2K says:

    Alec’s in-game avatar looks weirdly like a rounder-faced John Lennon.

    Sorry, that’s been bugging me all day.

  5. vorador says:

    “Sad Sack”? Seriously?

    XCOM 2 is taunting you.

  6. geldonyetich says:

    Funny enough, after beating veteran difficulty and coming back to it on Iron Man, X-Com 2 no longer plays the role of a remorseless monster that gobbles my squaddies without remorse.

    Actually, it seems Veteran will try to keep your casualties down. We’re aware it starts fudging rolls behind the scene after a bad turnout, but that’s not even half of it: the AI will deliberately make decisions to give you a second chance.

    The rule of thumb seems to be, “Don’t use injured soldiers.” If they’re at full health at the start of a turn, they won’t be killed off this turn. So heal them, pull them back if you can’t, or even evac them entirely (which is easy on most missions where you can redeploy the Skyranger at will). Your casualties will slow dramatically, possibly stop happening entirely.

  7. Whelp says:

    Seriously, (ab)use psi ops.
    Psi labs is priority (after AWL) now for me on classic ironman. Having 2 psi ops on an important (‘very difficult’) mission helps a lot.
    Mind control an Andromedon. Use it to tank a whole map’s worth of ADVENT (you can heal it with your medic). Just don’t let it die close to your squad (or you have to hack and shutdown/control the suit, which is risky.)

  8. dahools says:

    Playing this week made me realise how much I have been softened up by easy games recently.
    XCOM2 is fucking nails only on veteran difficulty and am getting wiped so many times it’s almost unbearable.
    Plus what gives with the avatar things hoe does that even work. The dark event things say expect some thing in 5 weeks then I fly to a supply crate and in the time it takes me to gobble it up 7days I think? I have had like 6 squares added to it. WTF?
    Big thing that wrote off my campaign after that was a timed mission I was two turns from finishing and I thought I would try that skull jack thing on the ladt officer. Fucking ERROR that was insta wiped with cloned mind bombs going off n shit then had no troops and no cash left as everything was double price to recruit.
    Funnily enough campaign was over in about 60 days all in. All the factories were more than 3 bases away so couldn’t travel there to do out about it either even if I had the cash. 3 rookies a cpl and Sgt weren’t gonna do much any way.

    Think I need to read a bit of a guide but don’t want spoilers. Anyone got any early tips?

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Dark Events are bad things that make the game harder. More enemies. Better enemies. Advance the avatar project. Things like that. You get 3 a month and you will have the chance every month to do at least one mission to counter them. You can find other missions either by scanning areas or as a hacking bonus.

      The “in 5 weeks” is either a retaliation mission where the Advent will attack civilians and you have to save them (which results in more supplies per month from that area) or the time until a new Avatar project facility is built.

      The line of squares at the top is the Avatar project timer. When it fills up it will start a countdown. When that countdown runs out you fail the game. You can stop the progress of that timer either by doing the main story missions or by destroying Avatar facilities. Those are the red buildings that pop-up around the map. Depending on how many are on the map will affect the rate that the avatar counter goes up.

      • dahools says:

        I will have to concentrate my efforts on the red buildings then, because it was going up much faster than 3 a month.
        I had just had my second mission with a muton in it and that was my campaign over pretty much big red countdown clock etc.

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          cpt_freakout says:

          Another tip: the intel expenses involved in connecting new areas are high, so try to plan on getting a new area opened up every three weeks or so, before the month passes and you get new ticks to the Avatar project. Build Resistance Comms towers on the most-connected areas, since that lowers the intel costs of opening up adjacent regions, making it easier for you to move around.

          There are Dark Events that, if countered, lower the Avatar Project progress by 2 ticks. Be on the lookout for them, and try to balance if it’s worth risking the other two Events.

          I was lost in relation to the Avatar Project all the way up to the mid-game, and I was at 10 ticks when I realized exactly what I had to do. The cost was very high, but I managed to get the Project down to 2 ticks and made it completely harmless by the late game by focusing solely on it for some weeks. I was on Veteran, so if I could do it, you can too!

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          Sihoiba says:

          I recommend not working too much about the Avatar project. On my veteran run though I let it get to 11/12 without any problem before reducing it down to about 5, and on Commander I had the final timer count down twice.

          Treat it like the alien base in Xcom one, and don’t take out a red base until you really really need to (i.e. the lose the game timer has started counted down). You want decent weaponry and maximum squad size before you start attempting them.

    • Hambil says:

      Some things I do that may help you:

      Go for the blacksite mission as soon as you can, even before the AVATAR project if possible. You can even take 4 rookies if you get to it fast enough.

      Build order for base:
      AWC: Excavate until you have made a shielded power source.
      Power Plant on shielded power source. Along the way drop down an AWC. This is critical for 100% reduction in wound times.

      Psi Lab (requires sectoid autopsy)
      Proving grounds (requires Alien Biotech and Advent Officer autopsy)
      (whatever from here on)

      Go for engineers over soldiers and scientists when you can, until you have 6-8 engineers.

      You need a min of 18 soldiers for Ironman, so buy recruits ASAP as well. Train them in the GTS so you can control your class breakdown (4 of each class).

      Early game you get lots of Intel because scanning at Resistance HQ gives you Intel. So as soon as the black market opens (mission name Fire-Axis IIRC) buy some crystals you will need them to get Psi going.

      Push for mimic beacons (will take a couple months – needs multiple faceless corpses)

      Use aid, use it a lot. Use it on a ranger who should be leading your squad (scouting ahead)

      Other have given some great advice upthread, too.

      Good luck Commander!

      • Hambil says:

        Make that 18 soldiers (you need two rookies to train in psi)

      • Coming Second says:

        Why do you prioritize doing the Black Site mission as soon as possible? I’d hate to attempt that with 4 rookies, regardless of difficulty level.

        • Hambil says:

          The difficulty and aliens in the Blacksite mission are adjusted based on your progress. So there is no point in putting it off. Go early and it is a simple mission and sets the avatar project back when it starts so nothing is lost.

          I prioritize it because it only gets harder.

          • Coming Second says:

            I would still highly advise at least unlocking 5 soldiers before attempting it.

          • dahools says:

            Cheers folks,

            Second campaign is going much better turned on iron man as well as I was rage quitting a bit in the first capaign.

            I hit the blacksite early as soon as i got a team of 5 and it was quite straight forward only cannons giving me any major issues.

            I think there is some difficulty spike that must relate to tech/research as I have researched much less this time, waited ages to do the chip out of my head and i’m still waiting on the Proving Ground to be finished but I have already completed 120% the number of the missions compared to the first campaign and have just took down my first red factory too. Lost a good Lft Sniper in that tho ;(.
            I had plasma grenades for everyone last time but basic guns and I think was just unlucky with everyone who was getting promoted anyone promoted to Sgt was dying the next mission. I was fielding Cpl’s as my Squad leader and couldn’t get the rookies in out of cash all the time.

  9. Velox says:

    “unable to deactivate the alien reinforcement signal” ..excuse me? Is that really possible or was it just some funny description for the mission objective?

    • dahools says:

      Yeah wasn’t sure on that either can you get rid of their flare or something?
      I’m always getting turned over by reinforcements dropping in the middle of my squad.

      • Coming Second says:

        Dropping in the MIDDLE is the best. They’ll be extremely lucky to survive the OW trap.

        It’s when they drop behind and catch you between another group that the outhouse assuredly hits the windmill.

        • dahools says:

          Your lucky my troops couldn’t hit a barn door. Often I am still in combat when they are coming so I don’t have the luxury of having them all sit in OW.

          Lost a Cpt and a Lt again last night due to my stupidity. Last move to stick two guys on a 2nd story roof thinking they were far enough back. Alien first move run in suicidaly through two OW and throw a grenade up bringing them crashing through to their ultimate demise.

      • Paugus says:

        When your soldier’s on fire, they can’t activate objectives.

        • zarthrag says:

          Gremlin heal removes burning, even before damage is taken.

    • JonWood says:

      Its a thing on the missions to take over a disabled UFO – it’ll trigger a distress signal which needs to be turned off or they’ll call in reinforcements.

      • Velox says:

        Thanks! I even had that mission too, but I forgot about it, now it all makes sense :-)