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Unfit for XCOMmand CH2: Winter Stank

By Rutskarn
on Wednesday Jan 25, 2017
Filed under:
Lets Play


When I kick the door in, Bradford looks up from what could be an operator’s manual or a Bible. “Can I help you, Kennedy?”

I slap the dossier on his desk. “How about we boot that mission computer back up, sir? What do you say you and me make a few last-minute changes to this little outing you’ve put together?”

“If you have a problem with the objective…”

“Oh, I’m sure I have a problem with our objective, but never mind that. You want me to get shot trying to,” I glance at the first page, “get one of the council’s bowling partners out of enemy territory, sure, I’ll go drop into whatever snake pit he’s fallen into. Fair enough! This is, apparently, what I signed up for–put the condolence letter in the mail already. But I will be damned if the first line of that letter is going to read that Rachel Kennedy was killed in Operation WINTER STANK.

“It won’t. The mission codename is classified.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Winter STANK?”

“It’s randomly generated.”

“Generated from a list? Who wrote this list? What giggling syphilitic clown manually entered ‘stank’ as a thing to engrave on XCOM tombstones? Please tell me he’s on this fucking Avenger. Give me a bunk number.”

“Don’t you have a drop to prepare for?”

And so humanity’s greatest enemy remains at large. Fisher, if I don’t make it back today, promise me you’ll finish what I started.

My name is Sq. Ranger Landon Fisher. In our final days of recovery, Kennedy informed me of her unauthorized campaign diary and expressed an interest that I contribute. Candidly, she insisted. It was her wish that I record the events of Operation Winter Stank from a detached perspective and, in the “pretty likely” event that something happened to her, continue it until “they get you too.” I assume, charitably, that she meant the enemy.

Operation Winter Stank was assembled in the early evening for deployment in the dead of night. The following operatives comprised Menace 1-5:

  • Sq. Specialist Kennedy
  • Sq. Sharpshooter Hawkins
  • Sq. Sharpshooter King
  • Sq. Grenadier Duncan.

Kennedy expressed strong reservations about, “bringing two leadass sharpshooters to a mission that’s nothing but f—ing running,” several times; however, as I had not yet recovered from my injuries, and as no other operatives above rookie rank were available, the decision of the Commander was to prioritize Sq. King and Sq. Hawkin’s experience over their less than ideal specialties.

Menace 1-5 successfully deployed and secured the VIP without making hostile contact, as anticipated. The mission’s ultimate and formidable objective was to make it across a densely populated urban center to the extraction point, a car dealership roof, within a twelve-minute window. Under ideal circumstances, the chosen extraction point was approximately six minutes away. Advent forces were in a full state of readiness and stealth was not an option. This was a situation Sq. Specialist Kennedy referred to as a “shoot and scoot.”

Noting an automated turret guarding the main street, the Commander ordered Menace 1-5 to take an alternate route over a two-story building. They were to ascend one side, advance cautiously across the roof, and descend from the opposite railing. This is nearly what happened–until Sq. Grenadier Duncan was spotted by a sectoid and Advent soldier on the opposite grounds. Duncan fired a grenade to destroy their cover and discourage the Advent soldier from advancing. In this, he was not entirely successful, and a moment later Sq. Sharpshooter King caught a laser to the abdomen.

The sectoid deployed a mind-controlling effect on Sq. Sharpshooter Hawkins. As there is only a short delay before mind-controlled operatives become hostile, and as the effect can be most easily interrupted by the death of the instigating sectoid, the Commander made the decision to deploy the second of Sq. Grenadier Duncan’s rounds to finish him off quickly.

From there the engagement was straightforward, as was the tallying of its cost: two enemies killed at the expense of several precious minutes, Sq. Sharpshooter King’s health, and both of Sq. Grenadier Duncan’s grenade rounds.

Pressed for time, the Commander instructed Menace 1-5 to move straight up through the parking lot of the car dealership. Significant and swift foot progress was made without engaging any new enemies; Sq. Sharpshooter Hawkins, unfortunately, did rove within the line of sight of the turret and sustained a nonfatal shot to his ribcage. But the mission’s goal seemed well at hand until line of sight was finally obtained on the extraction point–and the two Advent infantry, Advent officer, and sectoid lying in wait there. It seems plausible that extraction intel was compromised. Sq. Specialist Kennedy speculated as much, repeatedly, over the mission’s remaining four minutes.

Menace 1-5’s position was undeniably unfavorable. They were charged with advancing under a strict time limit from their own inferior cover towards the enemy’s superior position, and two of their operatives could not engage the enemy if they moved at all–strictly necessary to do if they were to have any chance at extraction. This left two operatives, Sq. Specialist Kennedy and Sq. Grenadier Duncan, to engage the four hostile well-entrenched Advent forces while escorting the VIP forward. This assessment was probably shared by the sectoid who chose this opportunity to psychically induce panic in Sq. Grenadier Duncan. Rather than taking precious moments to advance, he opened fire–hitting nothing.

Sq. Sharpshooters King and Hawkins took their prepared shots, killing one Advent, injuring another. Both knew this would be the last free shots they or any other teammate would get. From this point onward they could all take one of two actions: they could charge out into the open crossfire and have a desperate chance at reaching the extraction, or they could engage the enemy and be certain they wouldn’t.

Their only consolation was that the decision was out of their hands.

The Commander’s orders were prompt and explicit. Hawkins shrank behind his barricade and threw a concussion grenade. White light burst through the windows of the dealership, blinding all Advent within it and without. Sq. Kennedy ran up the left flank, and, upon reaching the final stretch, skidded to a stop and neutralized the dazed Advent guarding the roof. Sq. King and the VIP bolted from cover together, desperately striving for the evac zone.

The sectoid ignored them both. Instead he fired blindly towards the car which Sq. Sharpshooter Hawkins and Sq. Grenadier Duncan were hidden behind. The superheated plasma struck neither Hawkins nor Duncan, but the car between them. Unfortunately, its tank was full of gasoline. They were killed instantly.

At precisely that moment the skyranger descended from cloud cover. Sq. Sharpshooter King was first onto the rope. The VIP followed on his heels. Sq. Specialist Kennedy lurched across the parking lot, knowing as well as anyone that by the time she reached the dealership it would be taking off without her. She radioed the following observation:

“Get f—ed! F— aliens, f— evacs, f— dealerships, f— f—ing Carl Sagan!

A mind control tendril struck her from behind. Her communication persisted:

“Arrgh! I’m gonna–Fisher, you gotta–I’m gonna kill the f—ing Commander! I’m gonna kill the f—ing Commander! Aaaargh!”

This was the final communique of Operation Winter Stank.

I’m sorry. Sq. Specialist Kennedy would be able to articulate the pain and heartache and helplessness in a funny way. It’s a talent of hers that I’ll miss–one that I suppose I’m going to have to learn.

Comments (104)

  1. Rutskarn says:

    I didn’t get the screenshots to Shamus until late, but I’ll update the post with them when I get the chance.

  2. Ivan says:

    So, the VIP was who exactly? Some rich old white guy, basically? Who on a conquered planet isn’t even technically rich anymore. Great post by the way.

    • sheer_falacy says:

      Generally the VIPs are scientists or engineers, both of which are really, really important to XCOM. Despite the misgivings of the cannon fodder, these missions are quite crucial to the success of the resistance.

      Also, don’t tell them I called them cannon fodder. It’s bad for morale.

      • Writiosity says:

        I was super pleased to find that your own guys can also be VIPs if they’re captured. Had one of my best specialists bleeding out on that DAMN UFO mission (which triggered REALLY early on my first ever play and I was entirely unprepared for it, given I didn’t KNOW about it) and she was captured. Got her back in a later VIP mission :)

        • IFS says:

          I lost a rookie early on who had an amusing name (nothing special, just suspiciously similar to the CEO of the company I work for) and was very happy when I got to rescue him later. He wound up becoming one of my best snipers. I really like that they get a free level out of being rescued and that people lost like that aren’t lost forever, it makes for some really fun stories.

  3. Niriel says:

    The Frenchness and lack of education of my brain are preventing it from subvocalizing “Sq.”. How is one to pronounce it? For what does it stand?

  4. ehlijen says:

    Mind controlled and captured? I know it doesn’t happen in the game, but that sounds like someone should reappear later as an archnemesis…

    • m0j0l says:

      They don’t become arch-nemesii, but you can get missions to bust captured soldiers out of jail to re-join XCom. Might not be the end of Sq. Kennedy yet!

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        That could be worked into the narrative to appear as a nemesis,depending on what mission would follow the rescue.

      • Falterfire says:

        Eh… At this point we’ve got four deaths and two failed missions to start things off. XCOM 2 is not overly forgiving to this many mistakes this early in the campaign, especially on higher difficulties. I’d be surprised if this LP lasts long enough for that to be a real possibility.

        • guy says:

          This mission suceeded; King and the VIP made it out.

          • Falterfire says:

            Right. That’s not quite as bad then. Although by my count he’s down to… two non-rookies? I think? 4 from Gatecrasher assuming promotions all around (I think that’s confirmed by him having two Sharpshooters), one kill last mission (to Hawkins) to secure the promotion for him. Three of those (Kennedy, Hawkins, Duncan) died this mission.

            At this point his two non-rookies (King and Fisher) are both in med-bay, and the way Commander injury timers work, I’m betting the next mission will have to be all-rookies. So that’s still not good. Hopefully he’s building a GTS to pick up Squad Size 5, although I don’t remember what rank soldier you need to buy that upgrade.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      I’m pretty sure the “mind control” was just the narrator’s way of explaining her death threats against the commander.

  5. Philadelphus says:

    So wait, the sectoid tried to kill one soldier, missed, and killed two? I’m just imagining it taking credit after the mission. “Yup, totally planned that double kill. Definitely did not miss the guy I was aiming for, nosiree…”

  6. PatPatrick says:

    Winter Stank. Brilliant.
    But “Operation Sweaty Lover” is still number one for me :))

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Who wrote this list?

    That would be this guy:


  8. Galad says:

    I don’t remember the early missions being so damn brutal. That being said, saving and loading is a vital part in them not being that brutal..

  9. Lachlan the Mad says:

    I went through the XCOM mission names list and replaced them all with adjectives and nouns from Lewis Carroll’s work. Operation Whiffling Dodo. Operation Burbling Caterpillar. Operation Glorious Walrus. And so on.

  10. John says:

    Let me see if I understand this correctly. Operation Winter Stank was not merely an escort mission or a timed mission but a timed escort mission? Gah! I hate those things individually and absolutely do not want to see them combined. I’ve been enjoying Enemy Unknown and I’m looking forward to Enemy Within but the more I hear about XCOM 2 the more un-fun it sounds. Alas.

    • GloatingSwine says:

      The one bright spot in the confluence of evil that is a timed escort mission is that you do get to control the person you’re escorting.

    • guy says:

      They’re not really that bad; you get to control the VIP once you rescue them, so it’s pretty much just a “shoot your way to the evac” mission.

      That said, an annoyingly large percentage of the missions are timed, which gets annoying. Though if that’s a problem for you there’s a bunch of workshop mods that extend or remove timers.

      • John says:

        Thus far, my XCOM experience has been limited to Enemy Unknown, and Enemy Unkown has exactly one timed mission. (The Enemy Within expansion may well have more, but I haven’t played that yet.) Said mission is skippable, as it turns out, though I have grown to love it. It was pretty scary the first time through, what with the surprise teleporting overwatch Mutons, but now I know to keep a couple of snipers on top of the train and it generally goes smoothly.

        So I suppose I don’t necessarily hate all timed missions. But I generally prefer missions that let me handle things at my own pace and in my own way. In RTS games, for instance, I prefer missions that let me turtle up before I go smash the enemy to missions where I have a fixed number of units or some sort of countdown.

        • lucky7 says:

          The Portent DLC adds a timed mission, and Enemy Within adds Meld, a valuable substance which expires after X-Amount of turns, so most missions have at least soft timers.

          • Falterfire says:

            Enemy Within also adds the infamous Newfoundland Mission (AKA Chyrssalid Hell) which eventually has a timer and can be very difficult if you happen to roll it early in a campaign, especially if you aren’t familiar with how it works.

            • Rodyle says:

              That mission is almost laughably easy if you rush genetics and get a soldier with camo ASAP though.

            • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

              I rolled into that one my first time in, I think month 3 on normal. I think it might have been the first time I saw Chrysalids that playthrough. I had only just got lasers. But I did have a single MEC trooper.

              By a miracle, I got everyone in and out alive -and that MEC Trooper deserved every medal I could give her. The entire retreat was basically “everyone runs away, the MEC trooper lays down cover.” With the minigun, she was able to consistently kill the leading Chrysalid, which kept the horde just far enough away that the mortals could outrun them, and the MEC trooper was immune to the poisons, and therefore able to make the final dash and evac.

              Remains a favorite mission of mine.

  11. Ninety-Three says:

    I hope Fisher gets killed off soon, I love your witty writing Rutskarn and barely any of it is allowed to shine through under this dry-as-a-dessert character.

    • MichaelGC says:

      I quite like the style myself! – the comedy is still there, it’s just managing to stay under concealment a little better for this op. But anyway, Landon does say he’s going to be trying to learn. Maybe put some XP into Incredibly Specific & Involved Similes Which Shouldn’t Work But Totally Do, and a couple of points into Pithy Captioning and see how we go.

      Of course he’ll need to remember to bring something to caption *a-hem*

  12. Sigspat says:

    I know you’re telling a gameplay story for the sake of entertainment, but the story and comments on each XCOM post make this game sound exceptionally un-fun. Is the series as punishing as it sounds?

    • guy says:

      Depends; Ruts is playing on the second-highest difficulty on ironman, which is pretty unforgiving. On lower difficulties, slipping up is much less likely to end in corpses and the aliens are less sturdy. The early game is also pretty brutal due to not having armor; a single lucky shot can drop an unarmored rookie.

      So far, this doesn’t seem to me to be as unsalvagable as the comments are implying, but it has been a rocky start; not only has Ruts taken casualties, he’s also missed out on getting valuable loot because he aborted one mission and VIP missions don’t let you get corpses

    • IFS says:

      I really like Xcom2 (even like it more than EU/EW, though that seems to be an unpopular opinion on this site) but it can be a bit punishing of mistakes. Low level troops, particularly before you get armor, aren’t terribly durable and if you screw up concealment on some of the early timed missions you’ll likely have to abandon things. That said the game gives you a lot of tools to help things, and your arsenal expands as you go through the game. Grenades in particular are invaluable early on for guaranteed damage and cover destruction.

      Ruts is also playing Ironman on a high difficulty so its harder than normal for him, and that’s certainly not what I would recommend for a first playthrough. Normal difficulty non-ironman is very manageable, and I would say that the game is really not built for ironman given some of the twists it throws at you in some missions (at the very least do not do ironman for a first run).

      • Andy_Panthro says:

        I also much preferred XCOM2 over the previous game. Just felt a lot better generally, early difficulty aside. Didn’t even mind the timers, after I got used to them. Of course I’d never play on Ironman, because the game is still too buggy for that. (as was XCOM1).

    • Syal says:

      Punishing difficulty in the early game is part of the general X-COM charm; you’re expected to lose soldiers throughout. Normal difficulty is a lot more forgiving; your guys are more accurate, aliens are less accurate and have less health.

      Also I’m assuming he sent two Squaddie Sharpshooters on this mission just so the memorial would be covered in Winter Stank. I haven’t played 2 specifically but in EU low-level Snipers were worse than no-level unclassed Rookies.

      • Tse says:

        Unlike XCOM:EU, snipers get squad sight from the get go. Still, you have to be careful if you decide to take a squaddie sniper on a rescue mission. Taking two squaddie snipers is a bad idea, no matter the mission. Taking two squaddie snipers on a rescue mission is setting yourself up to fail.
        I generally only take one sniper on missions. I may take a gunslinger as a second sniper, but I usually don’t.

        • Syal says:

          Early Squad Sight certainly makes them a lot stronger than in EU, but I still think Rookies would be slightly better. Snipers just get half the turns everyone else does. On a really open map Squad Sight makes up for that, but maps like to have stuff that block long-range Squad Sight shots.

    • sheer_falacy says:

      It’s not that punishing, but you are definitely not expected to lose the first mission or to lose your entire team of promoted people on the second mission. I’m not sure how much of that is for comedic effect.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The originals were this tough,but they allowed you to send out many more soldiers,so it balanced out.You were expected to lose a bunch of rookies early on,because you were basically zerging a superior enemy.The remakes arent that punishing on lower difficulties,but on higher difficulties they definitely are.However,because your squads are much smaller,you get some nifty toys early on that somewhat balance the scales.Like the assault in first remake that can practically kill all of the aliens themselves,because they get reaction fire whenever someone approaches them.

      What makes xcom 2 egregious is the time limit,that forces you to rush through the mission,effectively removing the slow and methodical pace you should adopt in order to get through the mission in one piece.

    • Kylroy says:

      This is Xcom being true to it’s 90s strategy roots, which I remember one reviewer summing up as:

      “Another mission where I’m outnumbered 3-1, yet I am expected to attack and suffer no losses.”

      (The game in question was Mech Commander, but the logic holds.) If not for save scumming and the console cheats of a pre-achievement world, I think ’90s strategy games would have been about as popular as chess games.

      • Andy_Panthro says:

        I recall the Warhammer strategy game Shadow of the Horned Rat was similar, the later missions really needed you to retain units and expand your army. A victory where you lost a few units was almost a loss.

        • Kylroy says:

          Oh god, SotHR was *horrible* about that. It was modeled on Warhammer Tabletop, where two evenly balanced armies faced off…and it then expected you to take the remains of your victorious army (and some insultingly small reinforcements) to face another army as large as the one you started with. Never made it anywhere in that game. A victory where you lost too many units was worse than a loss, because it meant you were stuck with an unwinnable save.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        It doesnt hold for original x-com.You arent expected to win a mission you are outnumbered on without loses.Thats why you are given so many rookies in the first place.Many will die before you manage to consistently pull a no loss mission without save scumming.And it works just fine that way.

        • Miguk says:

          The save scumming is what ruins XCOM 2 for me. If I make one mistake then I’ve gotten a soldier killed, which means I lose the mission, which means I lose the game. So I end up spending more time thinking about when to quicksave than deciding what to do.

    • Philadelphus says:

      As others have noted, there are multiple difficulty levels for XCOM 2. Four “normal” difficulty levels (of which Rutskarn is playing on the third), plus the added option of “Ironman” mode where you can’t reload.

      It depends a bit on how you feel about things like losing soldiers. I hate losing soldiers, so I’ve had a lot of fun with XCOM 2 playing on the easiest difficulty setting where I’m practically curbstomping the aliens in the later missions. Other people seem to have the most fun when every mission involves a hard choice about who gets sacrificed so the rest can make it out. Luckily with the various difficulty options you should be able to find something that works for you, and if that isn’t enough there’s a whole range of mods that make things both easier and harder in all kinds of ways so you can find the exact way that works for you. (I quite enjoyed a playthrough on the easiest difficulty level with a mod that added an extra alien to every pod, for instance.)

      • Falterfire says:

        The bigger issue with XCOM 2 (and EU/EW) is that no matter what difficulty you’re playing on, the difficulty tends to be a bit of a downhill curve. The first few missions give you the fewest options, the worst soldiers, and the least ability to mitigate bad rolls and mistakes. Even on higher difficulties, the first few months tend to determine whether or not the campaign is over.

        If you watch some of the really skilled players play, you’ll notice that the first few missions they are more likely to be forced to make risky plays or will sometimes lose soldiers to plain bad luck, but by the time they get Plasma weapons the aliens simply aren’t enough stronger to continue posing a threat.

        This is one of the draws of the very very challenging Long War mods for experienced players – They give you more tools to have control over the earlier missions while also making the late game harder so that the challenge actually increases throughout instead of the player snowballing.

        • Philadelphus says:

          I would say that whether or not the inverse difficulty curve is an issue depends on personal preference. I actually generally like the snowballing effect, having to struggle early on, but being able to almost casually destroy aliens later; it feels like a reward for my hard work earlier on finally paying off, rather than a gauntlet that remains equally difficult the entire time (as mentioned, I don’t really enjoy losing soldiers, so I’m quite happy to reach a point in the game where that””generally””no longer happens). Obviously plenty of people do want that, though, and I’m glad mods like Long War exist for them.

        • Chris says:

          I just started recently, and I’ve found the early game difficulty in 2 to be startling. I have the Ironman Classic achievement for Enemy Within, but even veteran difficulty in XCOM2 was an utter bloodbath. I’m currently playing on Rookie just to make progress. On the black site mission, I ended up bucket-brigading the sample to the evac zone because I kept losing carriers. I had 5 soldiers when I grabbed the sample, and 2 evac’d successfully.

  13. Merlin says:

    Ruts, as a possibly-unnecessary heads up: don’t sleep on the pistols that Sharpshooters are packing. Yeah, they don’t truly kick into high gear until at least Lightning Hands (Sergeant Gunslinger perk) and ideally an experimental ammo type, but they can contribute meaningfully early on, especially when you’re in a hurry like this.

    • ehlijen says:

      Indeed, I’ve found that Lightning Hands, Quick Draw shot (is that the one that lets you fire the pistol as your first action?) followed by Fanning fire with Bluescreen rounds is pure Sectopodicide. I also generally found them more accurate in the thick of things with the pistol than in the back with the rifle.

      While the standoff Sniper perks are nice, the timer does mean that you’ll often get more use out of the pistol. Even on missions without timer (Blacksite, Facility) you’ll probably want to keep your sniper moving along or risk them getting isolated once evacuation time comes.

  14. Decius says:

    So, you know that pistol fire from flanking is reasonably effective against soldiers, right? And that sprinting into flanking and full cover can make the enemy move to worse positions (if flanked, they will always move, and officers prioritize Mark over shoot, so you can force one to not shoot on his first turn if you do it right; and they prefer any spot where they aren’t flanked by anybody right then, even if everybody can take one step and flank them or if somebody can throw a grenade and end all of them.

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