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 4x4 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.