I'm playing and diarising XCOM 2 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 intro here, download the characters for your own game here.
Important lessons learned: Alice is a dangerously incompetent hacker, Pip can't run very far and Adam is a dirty, dirty boy.
Our second mission is Operation Ice Valley - something of a theme forming there - which is a VIP retrieval mission in fancy future-city. With everyone on the team now a squaddie (a Corporal, in Graham's case) I'm feeling a little less vulnerable. Sadly it all goes wrong immediately, when newly-minted Specialist Alice has a catastrophe while trying to hack an Advent CCTV tower.
Not only does she fail to knock the thing offline, not only does this alert Advent to our presence, but our one true cyberpunk also ends up granting every enemy on the mission a boost to movement range and armour. THANKS EVER SO ALICE
It's a war of attrition from that point on, as we inch carefully forwards while the mission timer ticks away frighteningly.
(A voice suddenly speaks from behind the fourth wall: when people talk about XCOM 2 being 'too hard', what they really mean is these timers - a pressure to push forwards and take risks, out of terror that the clock will run out. Key to being capable at this game is understanding how to mitigate that pressure. E.g. limiting how far out you send your units in order that they don't wake up a pack of aliens; careful overwatch defence grids; calculating exactly how many turns it will take one soldier to reach the goal; using the bulk of your squad to tie the aliens up while one takes the longer, safer route around; picking skill unlocks that can put someone into concealment for just this purpose; the use of the Mimic beacon to distract enemy fire; destroying scenery to create line of sight; shredding armour with explosives; but most of all, having a plan rather than a desperate rush).
Thanks to Alice's fumbled hack, the enemies are better-armoured, and none of my soldiers can now take out any of them alone. The distances are great too, so they're shooting from long-range and missing far too often. Graham and Alice both take hits, but live on. Adam is able to rescue the VIP, lost in a small labryinth of offices, while Pip and Graham provide cover from the rooftops. But the timer's almost up, and another Advent dropship just arrived...
It is a near thing. A very near thing. We manage to clean up all the enemies, but the evac is moments away and Pip has a long, long way left to run. I fear the worst.
It is a very near thing. Had Pip needed to run even, say, five metres further, we'd have left her behind. But we didn't! Welcome aboard, Pip! Second mission successful, but both Graham and Alice are hospitalised for a few weeks.
It's all Alice's fault, of course. If she hadn't screwed up that hack...
This means that, for our next mission, we need reinforcements. Please welcome John "Papa Bear" Walker to the fold. He's accompanied by the first recruit from outside the RPS staff, a reader-turned-freedom fighter named Risingson.
(A voice speaks from behind the fourth wall: the reader's RPS username was in fact just 'Risingson', but sadly XCOM 2 does not allow soldiers to have single names. So, in the event that the next name chosen at random from this list of readers is one-word, their first name will be Ian. Hence, welcome Ian Risingson. I expect to be fielding a great many Ians before this diary is done.)
I give Ian Risingson some nice yellow'n'orange armour, because rising sun, and then we're off to Operation Doom Tower, which is to rescue some resistance civilians from those Advent rotters. It is a mission that will present us with us first non-Advent, non-Sectoid threat. It is a mission that will see certain death pay a visit to Adam Smith.
In order for this mission to be a success, we must ensure the safety of at least six civilians in addition to eradicating any enemies. Given that Advent are busy blowing everyone away somewhere off in the distance, I prioritise rescuing anyone near to where our mission begins. It's going pretty well, bar a brief but efficient entanglement with some Advent goons, when I get cocky and send Adam running straight up to an apparent civilian and this happens.
Oh dear. A shapeshifter.
There's no time left to run away, and everyone else on the squad is either too far away or too tied up with their own search & rescue operations. There is simply no way to stop this Faceless abomination from gouging away. So long, Adam.
As the thing gathers itself for another attack, Pip softens it up with a long-range sniper shot, allowing Adam to finish it off with a mighty sword-strike. It's a miracle. He won't get off so lightly next time.
In fact he does get off so lightly next time, risking a run while an Avatar soldier in Overwatch, but the blighter misses. This is deeply improbable. How is Adam doing this?
He's sleeping with Sectoids. No wonder the aliens are being so forgiving.
The job's nearly done, but there's just time for poor old Risingson, who has otherwise distinguished herself with a couple of clean kills, to take a shot to the belly.
She'll live, but we won't see her for a while. Which means that, next time around, I'm up.
That's another successful mission. I... hadn't banked on this. Maybe - a voice speaks from behind the fourth wall - I'm reasonably proficient at this game? Say it ain't so.
I'm also without doubt setting myself up for a fall, but at least that will better suit my dramatic purposes. I've played - Oh God - 30 hours of XCOM 2 on Veteran mode, and ahead of that I've played XCOM 1's campaign through I believe five times, so I'm not exactly going into XCOM 2's second-hardest difficulty as a greenhorn. Even so, the internet-wide wailing about how unforgiving this sequel is made me expect a slaughterhouse on Commander even though I strongly I believe that anyone moaning about Veteran is just not very good at XCOM. I mean, look at these stats - only 11% of all Commander missions wind up as victories. Guh?
Granted, it's very early days: I've only faced Sectoids, Advent chaps and Psy-Zombies, all of whom can be felled by two accurate standard-weapon shots. Actually, there was one turret, but I used a grenade launcher to shred its armour first. But as soon as a Muton turns up, the game is going to change: my squad's doing well but my research isn't, plus I've squandered all my cash. Any kind of improved weapon or armour is a long, long way off.
Next time: another reader signs up, I insert myself into the fray and John can't hit the broad side of a barn.
For more on XCOM 2, visit our XCOM 2 guide hub.