Part 75: The Hunter's PrizePart 75 - The Hunter's Prize
When we last left off, we were faced with a major decision attempt to destroy APEX, avenging Monika and eliminating the threat it poses once and for all, or free it from its digital containment in exchange for its support in assaulting Harfeld and protecing the Flux-State.
The decision was left for the 70 voices in our head, and in the end the majority found the idea of releasing an unpredictable killer AI into the wild not worth the risk. And so shall it be.
[He blinks.] Oh, thank Christ.
Um. I think you pissed it off, chief.
Sounds like we finally have something in common, then.
I THANK YOU FOR TEACHING ME THIS LESSON, ROSA. I PROMISE THAT I WILL NOT FORGET IT. AND NOW, LITTLE ROSA... YOU WILL *DIE!*
Time to rumble. While freeing APEX would've required a rather grueling dive into the depths of the Matrix in addition to meatspace combat, the method of destroying it is relatively straightforward despite all kinds of UI elements popping up.
We simply have to flip the two switches in the southern rooms marked in yellow which will then start a semi-lengthy countdown until the AI purge is complete. Enemies will be pouring in from the east and west trying to both interrupt the purge and to destroy the console in the central room. Basically today's genre will be tower defense.
We activate the western purge control next to us, and on the following turn the first enemy wave enters from the west side.
The enemies in question are very durable Heavy Security Drones joined by masses of 40 HP cannon fodder Communionists. Guess we now know the main deity of their little cult. Parson himself would also appear on the liberation path to harass us in the Matrix, but we won't be seeing him here.
The primary threat here are obviously the drones, though their offensive capabilities don't quite match their heavy defenses. The biggest problem on the Junkie side, aside from their sheer numbers rushing the objectives, are taser carriers who can deal massive AP damage and are identifiable by the yellow color of their weapons. The rest are equipped with very basic weapons and their lineup feature no casters or riggers or anything of the sort.
While the rest of the team prepares to greet the guests in the west, a hasted Blitz rushes for the east side and sends Max to activate the second purge console, initiating the countdown of 13 turns or so. The Communionists will primarily focus on rushing these in order to interrupt the purge, while the security drones aim to destroy the central console.
While APEX is busy wailing, the first blood is drawn by the enemy security drone, though the actual bleeding part is more "paper cut" than "multiple bullet wounds". While the drones' defenses are imposing, they are for all practical purposes armed with SMGs and due to Armor being flat damage reduction in Director's Cut, SMGs are kind of miserable against high-armor targets such as ourselves.
Whether these things were more threatening in the original version of Dragonfall which used the old armor system from Returns I cannot recall, but as it stands this fight is mostly a matter of trying to mow down the enemy fast enough to stop them from reaching the consoles rather than much of a struggle for our own survival.
That said there are going to be a lot of said enemies and we're split defending two fronts, so a little extra help would be welcome. For this purpose, Blitz jacks into the Matrix near the east side turrets in order to bring in some bonus firepower. APEX is presumably too fuming mad about these darn meatbags leaving red stains on its lawn to notice.
In the meantime we get to work the old-fashioned way. The drones are immune to both Confusion and Strip Armor (though not armor reduction in general) so while we can still scorch them plenty well, we can't quite blast them to molten slag with a couple of crits like we're used to.
As mentioned some of the Communionists carry tasers and just love to charge in from a mile away and zap someone out for a turn. Dietrich at least avoided getting fully stunned here though, being left with 1 AP for the next turn.
In cyberspace Blitz finds himself facing the first Black IC we've seen in this campaign, rocking 275 IP and enough spikes to apply for a job as a shoulder pad in World of Warcraft. Traditionally Black IC can damage the decker itself rather than just their avatar and are usually only seen if the alarm gauge gets filled while in the Matrix. They're very dangerous, but here's a little behind-the-scenes secret for you:
The "Black IC" in this section are actually armed with White IC weaponry, so much like in the aforementioned shoulder pads, the spikes are just for show and they can't actually hurt Blitz's physical form, nor can they delete ESPs like the real deal.
Now on this path we have no reason to deal with this Matrix section beyond this room (and half of it is blocked off anyway) but just a fun bit of trivia: There are 28 IC in total in this area and 11 of them are "Black" IC, though not quite all of them have to be fought to proceed even on the other path.
Fortunately the voice of the people spared us from having to drudge in that particular cybermarsh, and after a Tar Bomb from the Attacker ESP pins the Black melee IC in place and stops it from attacking, Blitz and his virtual buddies clear out the turret node defenders and hack the node without too much difficulty.
To not make things too easy, only one set of turrets can be activated at any time. It's possible to go and hack the node on the other side to switch to that set instead, but it's not really worth the hassle as it requires fighting through another roomful of IC which on top of everything else respawn every time the node room is re-entered.
The first enemy wave is cleared next turn as Glory claws her way through the drone's armor and the rest of the group handles the cultists. We need to pay extra attention to these side paths as they're partially covered by the central pillars and lead directly to the purge controls.
The next wave stops playing around, with a total of 11 enemies attacking simultaneously from both sides. This is where Eiger's sniping skills would be welcome as neither Blitz or Dietrich are that good at killing things fast, but having the east turrets activated at least takes a lot of pressure off of that side.
We join Blitz on the east side as he's going to struggle dealing with the wave by himself, only to find that we got a little too close and subsequently get the crap tased out of us, taking us out of the fight for three turns. This is a rather unfortunate development considering we're almost half this team's total firepower.
Compensating for our tactical failures, our pet turrets seem extra motivated in chewing through the HP of the lightly armored cultists. The drones are going a little more unattended than we'd like though.
In the west, Dietrich is recovering from some AP damage of his own which leaves Glory to work overtime trying to stem the tide of console-hungry flesh. A pair of cultists managed to get pretty close to the purge controls, but it takes a full turn for them to switch one off and by the following turn she'll have persuaded them to give it a rest.
A couple more turns of Communionist killing follows without major incident, and we eventually recover from our intense electrotherapy session right on time to stop a drone trying to get friendly with the central console.
The western team accomplishes the same the following turn, and with most Junkies cleared out as well, we get a bit of time to catch our breath and patch up.
The third wave is almost entirely focused on the east side, so we adjust our defenses appropriately with Glory handling the western trio on her own.
The purge is more than halfway complete at this point, so if luck has it this'll be the last wave we need to deal with.
Our own team is definitely not about to die anytime soon. With Dietrich's Armor maxed and his perk-boosted damage reduction aura up, he doesn't even need to bother with cowardly concepts like "cover" to deflect repeated critical hits with his titanium dome.
Our own mechanical assistants continue to be considerably more effective, though a little unpredictable in how much they feel like firing each turn. Sometimes they both paint the walls with a ton of gunfire, other times both seem to be on coffee break or whatever it is turrets drink for refreshment, guess oil or something.
In the meantime Glory finishes doing Glory things on the other side of the facility. Two of the three Junkies here carried tasers so it was slightly risky to leave her on her own, but it all worked out in the end. For us.
As the fourth wave starts pouring into the area from both ends, the enemy numbers start getting a bit unmanageable. Fortunately there are only 2 turns left at this point, which is exactly one too few for them to be able to actually reach their objectives on time.
We finish picking off some of the remaining stragglers from the previous wave, and as the crew regroups in the central room...
...the clock officially ticks down to zero.
People die when they're killed, APEX, and the Monika we knew died the night you killed her in that dark basement. This clumsy puppet show desecrating her memory has gone on long enough.
It's true that we all have to eat, and in a natural food chain we're all just nourishment for something else in the end. But there is no place in a natural food chain for an artificial predator.
[The Monika-image reappears on the screen. Her face is contorted in agony.]
What have you done, ace?! What have you *DONE?*
Whatever of you was trapped in there is free now, Monika. I'll see you on the other side.
Rosa... before I'm gone... there's something that you should see.
[She smiles at you, and shafts of light spill out from between her teeth.]
The truth. I wanted to tell you earlier, but I couldn't.
Something's happening, sir. APEX is going offline.
No, sir. We don't.
[Blitz's voice comes out in a low whisper.] Oh, fuck. Vauclair isn't being held prisoner at Harfeld...
It's his. He runs the goddamned place.
Tonight. It has to happen tonight. Get started on the preparations. I'll be in the lab.
I could have helped you, ace. I wish that you'd let me. But now it's too late.
[Monika's face splits down the center. Light floods out of the wound to fill the screen.]
That was for Monika, you monster.
[There is a moment of silence as the team absorbs what it just saw.]
What the hell did we just watch? I mean... what does that *mean?*
It means that we're not being hunted by a dragon. We're being hunted by Vauclair.
But why? I mean, he's supposed to be a good guy, right?
I don't know, Blitz. But we're sure as hell going to find out.
Well... we came here to shut APEX down, and we walk away successful. Harfeld Manor is vulnerable. Yet just when it looked like we finally had something resembling clarity in regards to our objective, we now face a sudden paradigm shift and what cards we'd managed to line up on the table have seemingly been shuffled all over again.
What does it all mean? If not for a dragon wanting revenge, then what in the end has all this been about? We need to get home, and once we do we're going to have to do some serious thinking.
Nothing much to show off this time as the path to helping APEX is a little more involved than what can be covered here, but as one thing, you get a pretty good line in if you choose to stop APEX while it's still using its Monika persona:
[Monika's face appears on the console's display. The image wears an expression of pure horror. Her voice shrieks out over the facility's speakers.]
What are you doing, ace? Why are you trying to *kill* me? We... we had a *deal!*
Stop calling me "ace."
Oh, Rosa. I should've known that you couldn't be trusted. None of you pathetic sacks of meat can.
[The Monika-image begins to ripple and fold. She smiles as her face distorts horribly.]
Thank you for teaching me this lesson. I promise you, I won't forget it.
Suppose it's also worth mentioning that all the Junkies and turrets drop dead the moment the purge is activated, and also that from a mechanical standpoint, the entire major battle featured in this update can be completely gamed if you know the fact that new waves are triggered by the destruction of the drones rather than time.
One simple way is to kill off the three Junkies in the first wave and then use AP damage and/or Dietrich's Pinning Hit which stops movement for a turn to keep the lone drone from reaching the central console. The console itself also has 110 HP which takes a number of turns for one drone to chew through, making it unlikely for the subsequent wave to reach their objectives on time even if the first drone is destroyed.