About the Author
Mass Effect
Final Fantasy X
Batman:Arkham City
Borderlands Series
Weekly Column
Champions Online
World of Warcraft
DM of the Rings
Good Robot
Project Frontier

Unfit for XCOMmand Finale: After the Black Site

By Rutskarn
on Wednesday Feb 22, 2017
Filed under:
Lets Play


Unfit for XCOMmand: Afterword

by the Commander

It’s warm for an East Asian winter. Maybe that’s the aliens, maybe it’s global warming–maybe it’s just a nice day. I’ve got just a few minutes to sit on the exterior loading canopy with my legs dangling down over the stomach-churning foot-tingling drop to the beach. There’s gauzy clouds over the waves, but the sun beats through them and bathes the honking seabirds in orange-white fire. It’s a good view to drink my warm water to. It’d be even better for drinking anything else.

Our strike on the Black Site completed twenty minutes ago. Bradford will be briefing our remaining few soldiers on it right now. There’s of course the possibility of a redo, and if we have time, I’m sure it will be necessary to put together as complete a team as we can and take another run at it. That’s if we’re not forced into another operation that completely finishes us off. We’re not setting the tune these days, we’re just trying to remember the steps.

I finish my glass of water. For a second I have a very clear picture of letting it slip through my fingers–watching it tumble and shrink soundlessly and unstoppably toward the dirty gravel and break into a hundred pieces, permanently reducing the number of human drinking glasses by one. But I just get up and go back inside.

Bradford’s left a note on my desk. The council wants to know what you’re going to do different next time. I put the whole thing in my scratch paper file. Of course there’s no answer I have for that. We deployed at the Black Site. I mobilized my men in a tight, organized formation. They engaged an Advent patrol. And then another squad of Advent troops came out of nowhere, and it was no longer a winnable fight, and as quickly as we’d begun everyone on the team was dead or captured. So what would I change about that plan?

Naturally, I had made a mistake. I had arranged Menace 1-5 incorrectly–or else I wouldn’t have ended up fighting a battle on two fronts. To argue otherwise would be an insult to the science of military tactics. I must assume charitably that it had been possible to triumph. But apparently–frankly–not a single person left on Earth could give me any hint as to how. And yet everyone has an opinion by the time the funerals start.

Was it worth giving everyone a speech?

How about an apology?

No. That’d be the worst thing I could do. It’s the least courtesy I can give these brave people–to act like I believe in myself.

That’s what I’m here for, isn’t it? Everyone here wanted a fight and nobody believed they were up to leading it. Everyone thought, let’s get the expert. The expert will take care of it. Let’s get the Commander back from those alien kidnappers and put this project back into the right hands. Surely Commander won’t lose again.

I’m genuinely glad to read this thing and see there’s been some doubts all along. I’m sure anyone who hasn’t figured out I’m a fraud never will, not even when the Advent troops are sweeping these very hallways. That’s almost a comfort.

I’m ending this book right here and now, in part because that means I get to write something nobody after today will: a happy ending. Here it goes.

For the weeks to come, what remained of mankind’s resistance put up a heroic battle against their alien oppressors. Though the odds were stacked against them in every way, they fought terrible battles far from home and laid down their lives for the future of their species. They gave all even knowing that victory was impossible. They were in every way strong, courageous specimens of humankind.

Unless it turns out the aliens really do just want to put in strip malls. In which case, I guess I feel really fucking stupid. Either way, I’m burning this book.

It looks like we’re probably not going to need it.

Comments (53)

  1. Rutskarn says:

    Yeah–that’s a little earlier than I’d expected.

    To be honest, this campaign went so south so quickly that it exploded my vision of how this series was supposed to go. I really haven’t had a playthrough bomb quite like this before. By the end of it, as you can see, I was finding it hard to really find the humor in the premise. I’m sure my recent depression hasn’t helped.

    Anyway, especially in light of the survey results, I’m glossing over the nitty-gritty details of my slow and painful defeat and moving on to something a little more whimsical. See you guys next week.

    • Syal says:

      Whimsical, is it? So… Pony Island?

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Yeah”“that's a little earlier than I'd expected.

      Its about as soon as Id expected.

      Anyway, especially in light of the survey results, I'm glossing over the nitty-gritty details of my slow and painful defeat and moving on to something a little more whimsical.

      Spec ops the line is next?Sweet.

    • Kamica says:

      I'm sure my recent depression hasn't helped.

      Oh dear! Be well D=. I hope you’re getting support from the various people around you?

    • ehlijen says:

      I’m sorry to hear that. I hope things will get better and more upbeat for you :)

    • Mr Compassionate says:

      Rutskarn is literally my second favourite human being besides myself.so this depression thing is worrying. Maybe talking about somewhere would help?

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      Eh… honestly, I don’t think the format of the game was meshing at all with what you were trying to do. The tactical gameplay was too far removed from the narrative parts and too much of a slog to write through. Especially since it kept killing your POV characters.

    • Echo Tango says:

      You’ve got tonnes of people to shoot the shit with, or play some nice therapeutic games, Ruts! Heckle us on the forum if you need to. :)

    • Philadelphus says:

      Well, sorry that ended so badly””there’s just only so much humor your can get from “and then they were slowly whittled down one by one till they were all dead.”

      That’s kind of XCOM’s problem, it doesn’t do a good job of maintaining a steadily rising curve of difficulty as you go along. Instead of a slow but steady rise in difficulty over time (with a concurrent rise in your options and abilities to manage it), the early levels are difficult due to your low-level soldiers and few options, and depending on how well you do/how lucky you are there you either start snowballing and quickly reach a point where you aren’t really threatened that much, or start…inverse-snowballing (black hold evaporating?) and slowly fall farther and farther behind. (I personally enjoy a good snowballing victory where I get to a point where I can’t be materially threatened anymore, but lots of people don’t, and I can understand that.)

    • Pete_Volmen says:

      Eh, it was a dark ending, sure. I still like it though. There’s still humor in there, it’s just a bit more cutting.
      As others have said, hope life’ll turn better soon. Depression has fueled some fantastic art over the ages, but that doesn’t make it any better for the artist.

  2. Ivan says:

    I like that touch. That the commander was just as clueless as anyone else, but took on the job no one else wanted nonetheless. Excellent stuff. A prequel, showing how he got the job at the beginning of the original game, might be nice too, especially considering things wouldn’t have been so desperate back then. Assuming the original game didn’t cover it.

    • Matt Downie says:

      It’s hard to come up with a sensible overarching plot for these games.

      (1) Humans gain control of all alien technology, develop psychic powers, and defeat the boss alien after a series of heroic and highly successful combat missions.
      (2) ???
      (3) Humans are enslaved by aliens and must form a resistance movement.

      It’s a bit like those cut-scenes in action games where you suddenly get held at gunpoint by a guy with a pistol after defeating dozens of heavily armed guards.

      • Kian says:

        Well, as I understand it, the premise of the sequel is that it follows one of the many playthroughs were the player loses. Not the (relatively fewer) games you win.

      • Jon says:

        In the first game, the implication is that the aliens held back because they wanted humanity to become stronger.

        XCOM 2 strongly implies that XCEU actually ended when the aliens just stopped pussyfooting around and captured the Commander, and the first game was just simulations the aliens put the you through so they could improve their own strategies.

        Which is also why they’re much less effective in this game when you actually fight them. And in this game, they initially stick to the human-looking ADVENT troops when they’re operating in populated areas, so they don’t panic the public. When they do Retaliation missions against Resistance havens, they’re less circumspect. As XCOM gets stronger and more effective, the X-Rays gradually step up their game too.

        And then there’s Dark Events, where the alien forces get some kind of buff temporarily, unless XCOM goes on special missions to counter them.

      • Cannongerbil says:

        That’s because the first point never happened. Xcom 2 goes off the premise that you fucked up badly at the base defense mission, which takes place about a third of the way through an average playthrough and certainly long before you start unlocking Psi warriors or firestorms and what not.

        • Miguk says:

          They should work off the premise that you were winning X-COM 1 right up until the last 5 minutes when the last set out of doors on the mothership won’t open because of some damn bug. And then you just ragequit and say, “To hell with Earth, let the aliens take it.” That would have perfectly fit with my experience.

        • Binary Toast says:

          I actually did a low-tech run once, to emulate the “X-Com That Lost” ending. Carapace armor and autorifles for everyone! :D Fighting Mechtoids and Chrysalids with basic rifles was nasty business, the game almost got easier when Mutons started replacing Mechtoids.

          I eventually managed to claw my way into the late game somehow. This might sound bizzare, but with a bit of caution you don’t need to savescum to make progress with basic gear… Right up until the game throws the first squad of Muton Elites at you.

          The thing about only using basic or carapace armor, is that once the game throws Elites or Sectopods at you, then the only shots your troops survive are the ones that miss.

          Although, even if I had somehow been able to survive the Elites, my personal restrictions meant I would never be able to build a Firestorm.

  3. Cannongerbil says:

    Well, this is just depressing.

  4. Dev Null says:

    Well, that went dark in a hurry.

    And as I’ve been playing XCOM2 along with you – the Long War mod, no less, though I was not foolish enough to play on InstaDeath difficulty – “dark quickly” seems entirely appropriate to this game.

  5. Retsam says:

    Sad to see this ended; it seems like I was in the minority here, but I really liked the gallows humor and general tone of this series (and don’t know how much I would have cared for a detailed filled play-by-play recounting of events).

    I actually like the (briefly) poignant ending here.

    Thanks for writing it.

  6. Miguk says:

    I hope we get to hear some more ranting about XCOM 2 someday. The Diecast did a good job but I still need more catharsis. Giving enemies the ability to teleport in a game that’s all about cover is one of the most offensive design decisions I’ve ever seen.

    • Coming_Second says:

      Who even gets mad about Codices? They might be a fright the first time but really they’re one of the easiest enemies in the game.

      • Miguk says:

        I use all the right tactics. I’m careful to position my troops in just the right way… and then all of the sudden the enemy teleports in behind me, so none of my skill matters.

        I also have different expectations from most players since I played the original when it came out in the 1990s. Back then, the combat was basically intended to mirror real life combat with a few exceptions (psionics, chryssalids). I remember my dad explaining to me why I shouldn’t expose my troops to enfilade fire. He had never played the game, but he had been in the army and the principles that he learned there applied.

        The Codex breaks any connection between the game and real life, or even between the game and the games that came before it. There is no illusion that this is a battle anymore. It’s just a contest with magical space fairies. Nothing that I’ve learned in my life applies to the game, and nothing I learn from the game will apply to anything else in my life. Killing a codex isn’t too hard, but it’s a completely abstract puzzle where I’m expecting a wargame.

        • Coming_Second says:

          I’m sorry that the game isn’t what you want it to be, but I hope you can appreciate that it is a fairly ridiculous criticism to level at it. “This isn’t an accurate combat sim! Why, back in the day when I battled gurning snake men, horny battle crabs and walking robes with plasma rifles, we had a little thing called crossfire!” Do you criticize every game for not being remorselessly accurate to real life, or just the ones that were unfortunate enough to have a prequel you associate fond memories of your dad with?

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Considering how the first game was marketed,as the updated remake of the original,its not unfair to criticize it that it lost a bunch of functionality that the original had.To be fair,the second one following those footsteps instead of being closer to the original is less objectionable.

            However,to many of us,we didnt see the problems with the first one simply because we were happy with a big budgeted remake after so many years,so we poured all our criticism into the sequel.

          • ehlijen says:

            I don’t feel that level of hostility is called for here?

            UFO, TFTD and Apocalypse all tried to offer simulationist tactical combat. The UFO: After-* series did likewise, though with pausable realtime rather than turn based combat.
            It is entirely reasonable for a fan of those games to hope that the new XCOMs would be similar, and to be disappointed that they instead offer abstracted board game mechanics.

            The first remake at least offered a fairly well crafted tactical board game, but XCOM2 doesn’t really hold up as well. The line between roflstomping and being roflstomped is too thin and it relies too much on ‘draw a card from the deck’ implementations that have no real business being in the game.

          • Miguk says:

            Of course I don’t expect “realism” in a game about blasting goofy aliens with plasma beams. But I do expect that it’s going to feel like a battle, not something completely abstract like a hand of poker or a sudoku puzzle.

  7. Sad to see it end, but ’tis fitting. I do have a bit of fanon where the Commander goes inside and discovers that someone set up a still and has been brewing moonshine. Thus they may all die, but at least they’ll do so buzzed.

  8. Sunshine says:

    “Unless it turns out the aliens really do just want to put in strip malls. In which case, I guess I feel really fucking stupid.”

    It was never going to be true, but I when I heard about the setting for XCOM 2 I was hoping that the aliens were actually going a good job of ruling the world – not secretly evil, not fattening us up for the kill, but genuinely making humanity’s lot better. This becomes clearer to you as you go on, as well as the Council’s refusal to see themselves as a problem rather than solution.

    That’s a good twist for the game, isn’t it?

    • ehlijen says:

      For a story, maybe. But for a game less so. You’ve got to be really careful about railroading the player into being the bad guy. If it doesn’t work just right, it goes very wrong.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Working for a bad guy does not make you a bad guy.Its what you do when you find out that matters.If after revealing such a twist you were given an option to continue or switch sides,it wouldve worked fine.

        • ehlijen says:

          That assumes that you find out at about the time the game starts giving you the option to do something about it.
          And to make sure that happens without pulling out the rug from under the player with a satanis ex machina but not giving away the twist too soon so as not to force players to keep going along with the obvious villain, you need good writing.

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *


Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>