1. Losing a soldier is like being thumped in the knackers with a sledgehammer
Perhaps the strangest, greatest alchemy in the original X-COM was just how attached one became to one’s mute, poorly-coiffured men and women of the human resistance. Their randomly-generated names, their slowly emerging skills and specialisations and, most of all, those sickening then deliriously happy moments where they avoided death by nothing short of a miracle. Your soldiers were a living document of your successes in the game, so to have them cruelly snatched away from you was to say “no, you do not deserve your sense of triumph. You have failed. But you must continue.”
And as it was in X-COM, so it is XCOM. Perhaps even more, due to squad sizes being smaller (starting at 4, and upgradable fairly quickly to 6 – which although it sounds small is in balance with the enemy count, in that you feel up satisfyingly up against it rather than simply short-handed), faces being customisable and rank bringing with it a choice of upgrades rather than auto-boosted stats. When a Major or a Lieutenant bites it, it’s heartbreaking. There goes not just an efficient soldier, but some of the bedrock of your frontline. Subsequent missions will be more difficult without him or her, as rookies have no abilities in addition to less health and accuracy. That’s the practical hurt. The emotional hurt is that someone who’s ranked up has become familiar, and most likely you’ve customised them in name and appearance, so they have an identity, a role. They’re friends.
As soon as a soldier reaches Sergeant, they’re given a nickname – Long Shot, Shield, Saviour, something denoting their class – but I’ve been changing them to the names of Transformers, and then tweaking their haircuts and colours to match the appearance of the Autobot whose title they take. Roadbuster, a Heavy, has been with me since the first mission, and is my nominal leader. The team would probably fall apart without Veteran Support medic Ratchet. Then again, they held together after the shocking deaths of Wheeljack and Perceptor. When Major Ian ‘Snarl’ Jones got taken out, with over 20 kills under his belt, I had to turn the game off and walk away, not from rage but to stop myself loading an earlier savegame. That’s not the done thing. When the game auto-named a sniper Omega, I was delighted – until she was felled by a Muton’s grenade in the very next mission.
No, there isn’t an Optimus, but there is an up and coming Assault soldier named Hot Rod, who I might just rename again to Rodimus if they can go the distance to Colonel. The odds are very much against that happening.