Chimera Squad Analysis: Gray Phoenix Intro

Gray Phoenix probably has the most immediately clear narrative design; Gray Phoenix is a group united under the banner of 'we want to go home'. There are no human or hybrid units in their forces; they are made entirely of the species the Ethereals plucked from their homeworlds and dragged along in the Ethereal crusade across the universe, where these species could theoretically fly back to their homeworlds and try to resume the lives their peoples had before the Ethereals enslaved them.

(Aside the somewhat ambiguous case of Faceless, where XCOM 2 raised the possibility they might be a species created 'whole-cloth' by the Ethereals and Chimera Squad doesn't actually firmly say that this is incorrect, plus one robot unit in their forces that technically falls outside the above description)

Which is a pretty natural group to imagine appearing in the wake of the Ethereals having vanished! Of course there'd be people going 'let's go back home now that this is an option that actually exists', and of course such a group would be made primarily or entirely of the peoples who were forcibly uprooted.

Chimera Squad using them as an antagonist group is a little shakier, but only a little; realistically speaking, while the impetus would exist it would be a pretty naive plan. The Ethereals have been running their roaming operation for some number of centuries; even if, say, Mutons can live upward of 500 Earth years, The Homeworlds Of Our Species are probably basically mythology for most or all of the species the Ethereals enslaved, where nobody currently alive actually has any personal memories of their homeworld, and indeed probably nobody even knew a relative who has such memories. (That is, there's probably no Viper grandmother who lived on The Homeworld and died of old age but beforehand relayed some stories to a current-generation Viper) A Sectoid going back to the Sectoid Homeworld is actually pretty unlikely to find it really satisfies their dreams of Going Back Home; they never lived there, they don't actually have any fond memories of living there, and they probably would run into a bunch of struggles in adapting to it. (Sectoids being particularly extreme about this given the current generation of Sectoids have been modified to be more like humans; whatever ancestral homeworld the Sectoids first evolved on is very unlikely to be a better biological fit to current Sectoids than Earth is)

That's not even getting into the very real possibility that said homeworlds are functionally impossible to find. It's entirely possible the Ethereals didn't bother to archive coordinates or other ways to identify these worlds; they likely had no intention of going back, after all, and possibly only cared to mark them as 'we've been here and we're not going back'. And such an approach to marking out planets would likely mark out basically everything the Ethereals passed by this way, not just inhabited worlds they kidnapped species from; in such a case, a journey to search for the Homeworlds Of Our Species would be stuck just coming manually through all the space the Ethereals passed through.

Which would be a complete nightmare to do, by the way! Retracing historical routes from centuries ago on Earth is actually pretty hard in real life, but at least landmarks don't drift. (Or more accurately, they do drift, but so enormously slowly that for it to be relevant of a problem you have to look so far back that accessible-to-current-humans chronicles of history largly don't exist anyway) Stellar features are constantly moving: if we say the Ethereal route was essentially a straight line through the galaxy, simply pointing some ships in the direction the Ethereals came to Earth from will not hit all the same places they passed by in their route. It will in fact very possibly hit none of them.

So even if the Ethereals documented their overall route pretty accurately and said route is available to the current peoples (Both pretty big 'ifs', it should be noted), the process of searching for these lost homeworlds would actually require plotting out an efficient distribution of search parties, where all of these search parties are liable to spend multiple generations heading out to their assigned planets, and where almost all the search parties are going to end up confirming 'this isn't a homeworld' and then presumably starting a new multi-generational journey to... another disappointment? Back to Earth?

Now, in a depressing amount of scifi, the enormous logistical hurdles I'm layng out would be a criticism of the story; usually when scifi has this kind of plot involving species displaced from their homeworld centuries or millenia ago yearning to 'go home', the plot is taking it as a given that this is a realistic goal, generally one that will in fact be achieved over the course of one movie/game/book, with this tending to in fact mean it will occur within a single person's lifetime.

But in Chimera Squad's case, none of that applies. No one in the game talks like Gray Phoenix could totally get to the Lost Muton Homeworld in a couple years if only they were allowed to take a spaceship and set off, or anything like that. The overall undertone is in fact that Gray Phoenix's goal, though sympathetic in a general sense, isn't really achievable.

Notably, this actually does a lot to make 'Gray Phoenix as antagonists' relatively palatable; the general impulse of 'I want to go home' is reasonable, but successfully pursuing that impulse is realistically essentially impossible, which means people actually pursuing that impulse are liable to skew toward having unrealistic models of the situation (eg "We could get home in a few short years, if only the humans weren't refusing to let us") and skew toward being being unlikely to be readily reasoned with by pointing out the factual problems with their plans. ("You do realize your home is probably multiple lifetimes away, pretty much impossible to find, and not liable to feel like a home to you even if you somehow do get there, right?" "LIES!")

Models like 'humans are refusing to let us go home and that's the only thing preventing us from going home' in turn would be models that imply that pushing to be allowed to go should work, and that if it doesn't work then force is a reasonable choice. It's thus believable that Gray Phoenix is driven by a sympathetic motive ("I want to go home"), but is using violence enough to be an enemy faction in this game and where fighting back against this -though it would feed into narratives about being oppressed any individuals in Gray Phoenix might have- doesn't make the player clearly the bad guy here.

That's a pleasant surprise, honestly. One of my concerns with Chimera Squad when it was first revealed was the possibility of it just walking directly into Police Brutality And So On: The Game while cluelessly presenting the player as Heroically Fighting The Evil Criminals. I wouldn't try to argue it dodges that territory perfectly, but it certainly doesn't live down to my worst fears, and is in fact noticeably above-average on this topic relative to what I'm used to seeing from pop culture depicting anything resembling law enforcement in the position of 'the good guys'.

I'll be touching on this a bit more in some later posts, though.

Mechanically, Gray Phoenix probably has the weakest 'identity' as a gameplay faction; it seems likely that the devs' starting point was just throwing together the relevant species and trying to figure things out from there. Which is a fair starting point, but still. It probably doesn't help that the Progeny took up the mantle of The Psychic Faction; Gray Phoenix leaning into the psionic abilities of their Sectoids would step a bit on the Progeny's toes, after all, leaving them mostly to focus on the Muton and Viper end of things. There's a few different ways the diversity herein could've been played for a reasonably strong mechanical identity, but unfortunately the devs seem to have thought of Mutons mostly as The Strong And Tough Guys as far as combat mechanics, and really struggled to think of things to do with Vipers aside the Dodge/Poison/Tongue Pull/Bind set of capabilities getting some remixing.

In practice they mostly end up as the middling-difficulty faction; their units trend durable and they don't really have any clear exploitable weaknesses, so they tend to present a tougher front than the Progeny and you have less ability to build your squad to counter their strengths than with Sacred Coil forces. This means their highs are less high, but their lows are also less low, relative to Sacred Coil.

You might intuitively expect them to be the most close-quarters-combat faction, but in practice that honor goes to Sacred Coil, who have a weirdly high amount of dedicated melee units plus units that aren't melee but are restricted to close-up attacks anyway or have their most powerful attacks require getting close. Gray Phoenix does have more melee-capable units than the Progeny, at least, but not even by that much!

As for their icon...

I'm genuinely unsure if it's meant to be more meaningful than 'an icon assembled from abstract shapes'. Gray Phoenix is the faction centered on non-humans; it may be the intent is that it's a symbol with intuitive meaning to Mutons, where the devs didn't try to come up with a specific explanation for what it's supposed to represent.

I could imagine it's meant to be a very abstract representation of a bird in flight, or of a bird's head, which would fit to the Gray Phoenix name. I'm not convinced that's the intent, but it's plausible.

What it puts me most in mind of is actually the Vigilo Confido icon;

You've got the X-shape of 'negative space', you've got the general downward pointing quality of the overall shape, and the shared use of an X results in some secondary shape overlap (The bottom diamond shape in each, specifically) so if you squint they actually look noticeably alike.

Given as of XCOM 2 the XCOM iconography has associations with fighting against the oppressors and all, I find it plausible Gray Phoenix is meant to have derived their icon from XCOM iconography.

That said, I would be completely unsurprised if that's not remotely the intended explanation and it's just something like 'the same artist made both icons and so their aesthetic sense shaped both icons'. On the other hand, if that is why it doesn't preclude the possibility of running with the idea that they're similar icons -if XCOM 3 touches on Gray Phoenix at all and directly states their icon is derived from the XCOM icon I will be only moderately surprised.

On a different note entirely, it's worth pointing out that Chimera Squad's regular mission music is actually faction-specific! The Progeny, Gray Phoenix, Sacred Coil, and sort of Shrike all have distinct musical identities to help set a different tone for how fighting them feels, which is a nice touch. It's a touch I suspect a lot of players don't notice, as for one thing it only applies within missions; the music for puttering about the base does actually change each time you move on to a new Investigation, but it's purely Act-based, where the music you hear in the base during your third Investigation is different from what you hear during your first Investigation, but every run hears the same music in its third Investigation regardless of which faction is currently being Investigated. There's also other stuff going on with the music even within a mission to further obscure things, where for example you get different music playing during the pre-Breach phase as from in combat (And said music changes as you slot in -or remove- agents to Breach points!) and the Breach Phase doesn't actually have music playing at all, instead having distorted audio in support of the slow-motion visualization of everything.

I am unfortunately not sufficiently versed in the relevant musical terminology to know how to describe Gray Phoenix's music. I personally take it as tending to be tense -some of the songs remind me a little of classic X-COM music, actually- but with less urgency than the other factions, which certainly feels appropriate to me, but I wouldn't know how other players take Gray Phoenix music.

The Progeny is easier for me to articulate, with their music low-key evoking 'spooky' styles of music. This is particularly blunt for Take Down the Progeny, where the music is an interesting hybrid of something very military-sounding and something like you might hear from a horror movie sequence going for 'there is something out there, but you're not sure where' or alternatively might hear in an alien abduction movie -oh, yes, I should explicitly point out that every Take Down (Investigation target) mission has music completely unique to it. They're pretty consistently great tunes and I have kind of mixed feelings about them being each reserved exclusively for one mission; the Progeny tune in particular I feel would've been great to be a more general Progeny song, but the Gray Phoenix Song is also great and would've been nice to hear more.

Regardless, the musical identity stuff is all cool and I wish the game did a better job of drawing the player's attention to it. It's especially easy to overlook or misunderstand this music stuff in one's first run -I imagine there's players who noticed the music changing as they switched Investigations but assumed it was all based on Act- but even if you do multiple runs it's easy to not recognize it. Among other points, the Progeny and Gray Phoenix tunes aren't jarringly different from each other; Sacred Coil's music being very different leaped out at me enough it was what lead to me ultimately realizing this was a general mechanic of faction-specific music, whereas I spent a while thinking the Progeny and Gray Phoenix shared a pool of music. And when you do know it's distinct, the music actually does a good job of helping set expectations about the factional identities; if XCOM 3 does something similar, that's liable to be very nice.

Aesthetically, an interesting point I suspect a lot of players don't notice, or do notice but kind of wave off as meaningless, is that Gray Phoenix troops are widely equipped with beam weapons as opposed to the magnetic weapons that are the game's default. Beam weapons show up on the other factions, but only in cases where a model is recycled with few or no modifications from XCOM 2; Progeny Codices and Archons and Sacred Coil Andromedons all using beam weaponry is somewhat dubious in its 'canonicity'.

Whereas Gray Phoenix are the reverse; the only units of theirs that don't use beam weapons are directly recycled models of units that didn't use beam weapons in XCOM 2.

This is a nice detail, as it makes sense twice over that Gray Phoenix would have greater access to beam weaponry than the other two factions; firstly, they're mainly made up of Ethereal slave-soldiers who used beam weapons in XCOM 2 and so would have greater odds of having beam weapons on hand from that time. Secondly, they're presented as a group of salvagers who've been focused on scooping up advanced technology, where the other factions have had different agendas to focus on; presumably a lot of Gray Phoenix's beam weaponry is looted from battlefields, abandoned armories, and so on.

The exact implementation is strange from an in-universe standpoint, as the models for Gray Phoenix beam weapons are the X-COM beam weapon models from XCOM 2, but it's pretty clear you're not meant to take this piece completely literally; among other points, Epic Weapons are also beam weapons using the X-COM beam weapon models, but multiple of them come with a bit of lore about how the Epic Weapon in question is an experimental ADVENT weapon or the like. Presumably it was simply easier/cheaper to adapt X-COM weapons to other 'generic' soldier skeletons than to adapt the alien plasma weapons from XCOM 2 to new models, but whatever the case you're clearly supposed to take these X-COM beam weapons as stand-ins, where a Legionnaire is 'in reality' wielding the weapon XCOM 2 Mutons carried.

On a different topic, something I find kind of funny is that the game informs you that Gray Phoenix is 'mostly' made of Mutons. I find this funny because the gameplay doesn't support it all that well; Gray Phoenix has exactly two types of Muton unit if you don't count Berserkers, three if you do, and while that's more than any other faction in the game they actually have more Vipers and more Sectoids than any other faction as well, and due to Berserkers and Praetorians being enemies the game doesn't like to use in large numbers it's not at all unusual for Vipers or Sectoids to be the majority of enemies in a Gray Phoenix mission, especially Vipers.

It's not like it's a big flaw or anything, but it still amuses me.


Next time, we start with the overall most common Gray Phoenix unit, the Legionnaire.

See you then.


  1. It has been three years since I played, so I don't remember everything, but I still can't see how Chimera Squad aren't the baddies here.

    You focus a lot on the feasability of the "return to our homeworld" plan. I have to disagree with your conclusion that it is impossible. Given the Ethereals have been scouring the galaxy for psionic races for centuries, it seems safe to assume that they have well developed star charts (accounting for relative motion of astral bodies) and a log of their travels. Otherwise it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack, in which you shuffle the haystack every time you look. So we end up with a plan that will take generations and with no guarantee that the homeworld can accommodate them, but with an achievable end goal. Given Gray Phoenix is a fringe movement among the alien races, and that at no point in the game anyone says they are completely delusional, I have to assume everyone is fully aware of the risk/reward involved. So you end up with a group formed by a small proportion of aliens so discontent with their life on Earth, they would rather risk it all on a small chance their descendants will have a better life. Worst case scenario for them, they end up stuck traveling the cosmos, but most already know what life on a spaceship is like, and it might seem preferable to life on an Earth refugee center.

    But most importantly here, Chimera Squad and the new government *have no reason to oppose this endeavour*. In fact, getting rid of a bunch of (potentially violent) refugees is a net win, they should be helping them! As far as I can tell, they have no real responsibility nor authority towards them. So they should not be either concerned for the likelihood of success of the plan, nor trying to stop them in their endeavour. So what caused the start of the hostilities with Gray Phoenix? Sure, once they start taking civilian hostages, Chimera Squad should get involved. *But why did it get to that point?* I would have trouble believing they started with militant action, rather than just asking for the government to help. So why did that not work out? We only find out at the *end* of the investigation that their plan involves tearing up a huge section of City 31 and potentially turns them into one of the strongest armed factions in post-liberation Earth. Before this point, the government should have been working together with them. The fact that they weren't and that Gray Phoenix thought armed struggle was the only path, reeks of City 31 wanting to police attempts by the alien refugees to achieve any form of political power that won't answer to them.

    1. The thing is, the Ethereals have no reason to actually care about where, specifically, they picked up a given species. Their primary comcern is 'we've been here, and we didn't find what we wanted' -it's entirely plausible they didn't bother to note down info like 'this planet is where we found the Mutons'. And what we see of their occupation of Earth is very telling of how they'd approach historical records in general, and it's *not* a systemically honest approach; if we project backward from XCOM 2 into 'the invasion of the Sectoid homeworld', the expectation is that there'd be tons of misleading framings of technically-truthful things, and tons of outright lies that exist to prop up the narrative of 'the Ethereals showing up was a good thing', with the actual truth of what the Sectoid homeworld was like before the Ethereals showed up being only possible to recognize in their records if you already know what it is. So say the Ethereal records claim the Vipers come from a 'desolate desert world', and further say the Ethereals accurately noted down the biome types of the planets they visited (Even though they have no reason to care about such information); alright, the Gray Phoenix Vipers go only to the planets in the star charts that plausibly fit to 'desolate desert world' -and they don't find their homeworld, because that biome description wasn't an objective assessment, it was part of Ethereal propaganda where they make it sound like they rescued the Vipers from a doomed homeworld, and the actual homeworld is something much heavier on ocean or whatever.

      Most likely, the only *reliably accurate* Ethereal records are 'we've been here, and shouldn't swing by again for at least a few thousand years'. And given all the literal thought policing the Ethereals do, it's fairly unlikely the species the Ethereals enslaved have managed to hold onro hidden records not subject to these problems. At that point, Gray Phoenix is stuck with 'check literally every part of the galaxy the Ethereals have been to, and HOPE you recognize on sight your lost homeworlds', which would be a terrible plan if this were displaced peoples on Earth trying to figure out where on Earth they actually came from, and stellar movements make it so much worse; if Gray Phoenix found and resettled even a single actual homeworld, it would be blind luck.

    2. As for the government opposing this endeavor... you're talking highly valuable, highly dangerous technology that the Earth is still working to understand well enough to use and replicate, being taken by discontented citizens who explicitly have issues with the current government and whatnot. Of course the government isn't going to be immediately supportive of this plan; even if the government is willing to part with valuable technology as part of getting angry citizens off Earth (Which is a big if), there's very obvious concerns regarding the possibility of Gray Phoenix using these orbital war machines to attack the Earth before they leave; as far as we know, ALL Ethereal spacecraft are heavily-armed war machines.

      Notably, the spaceport taking off is explicitly presented as being something that will be incredibly destructive, wiping out a large chunk of City 31, and Gray Phoenix knows this when they take it. It's rather likely this is typical of all the big ships landed on Earth; it would be completely consistent with the Ethereal modus operandi and their complete lack of long-term interest in Earth for them to have set up all their big ships so that them taking off again will inevitably do catastrophic damage to Earth cities. Most likely, Gray Phoenix needs one of the bigger ships for long-term travel to be at all viable, in which case even the most accomodating government imaginable is still going to need literal years to make arrangements to evacuate a city and so on, and Chimera Squad makes it clear Gray Phoenix simply isn't willing to wait; they want off Earth, they want off it yesterday. It's all too easy to imagine the Earth government going 'okay, like, can you wait five years? We need time to actually arrange this' and Gray Phoenix interprets 'please wait' as Politese for 'no, never, screw you', and there you go, Gray Phoenix turns to armed action without any need to assume the government is being evil.

    3. I agree that the Ethereal records on what the places they've been might not be great, so the search for the homeworlds might consist of blindly retracing the Ethereal track through the Galaxy to the best of their abilities (note that retracing stellar motion is not really a problem for the time scales considered for the vast majority of stars). But nothing suggests that Gray Phoenix is not aware of this and willing to roll the dice anyway. They do not seem to consider life on Earth to be an alternative at all.

      Of course, we can come up with reasons why the government of City 31 would not immediately agree to the requests of Gray Phoenix. The main one (Gray Phoenix wants to lift the spaceport, which would be extremely destructive to the city) is explicitly unknown until the end of the investigation, so it can't be the original source of the conflict. It's also the only moral reason to fight Gray Phoenix. The other potential reasons (City 31 does not want to relinquish Ethereal tech, City 31 does not want armed aliens) fall in the face that the aliens are just as much *if not more* victims of the Ethereals than humans are! City 31 does not have a stronger claim to derelict Ethereal hardware, and their security concerns ("we don't want to arm disenfranchised aliens living next door") are no more valid than the aliens ("we don't want to live defenseless and in marginal land when the prevailing power structures that hold most of the resources are *at best* uncaring towards us").

      Before the reveal of the details of Gray Phoenix plan, not cooperating with them is saying that the needs of the victims (humans and human-aligned aliens) that -through sheer happenstance- currently hold the power are more important than the needs of the victims that drew the short end of the stick (aliens). And this is not addressed at all in game, no character questions why the dialogue option fell through, and we just gloss over it until, "Surprise! Turns out the specifics of their plan would have harmed City 31, so we were right all along to preserve a status quo that is extremely unfair to the alien refugees! Good thing the plot went there, otherwise we would sure have to ask ourselves some questions!"

      This plotline would indeed work a whole lot better if the destructiveness of their plan was known *from the beginning*, and the game was explicit *they* were the ones unwilling to find a compromise with City 31. But that is not what we got.

    4. There's no evidence Gray Phoenix really recognizes the futility of 'going home', and at no point is it suggested that they are, in fact, okay with wandering the stars indefinitely, or on settling on a functionally random other planet. You are correct that Xel explicitly views Earth as a prison, but it's not made clear whether this is truly a position of 'anywhere is better than here' or if it's 'we want to go home, and don't realize that actually happening is wildly improbable at best'.

      *Whisper* not knowing that the spaceport taking off will devastate City 31 isn't the same thing as the government not realizing that, and it seems absurd to suggest the Earth government is unaware that the violent takeoff of massive ships won't have Consequences. I don't really see why you think it *can't* be the source of the initial conflict; that's not an obvious assumption at all, it doesn't make realistic sense, and the game itself doesn't block it off as a possibility. It's also only sprung on the player if Gray Phoenix is hit last -acting like it's the sole justification for stopping Gray Phoenix from hitting the spaceport is a fundamental misrepresentation of the writing, because in 2/3rds of all campaigns it never crops up at all.

      I also don't really get why you're bringing up the notion that the Gray Phoenix aliens are 'as much or more victims' than Earth, as if high ideals of justice are the only consideration here. If Gray Phoenix annihilated City 31 in the takeoff, and then spitefully blew up a few cities with weapons fire before they left, would you seriously go 'this is a just outcome that the Earth government should make zero effort to avoid occurring'? Because I'm very skeptical that's your actual position, and if something like that isn't your position than I don't see why you think this stuff is relevant as far as moral judgment stuff. That the Ethereal invasion has created an awful situation where there's tension between 'citizens who want to leave the Earth' and 'citizens who would prefer to not die in plasma fire, thanks' doesn't make the latter category evil oppressors committing an injustice out of a lack of moral integrity.

      You're also reading a LOT into the writing that isn't there. We're not told Gray Phoenix is living in marginal land or... anything like that, and the game goes out of its way to show that the default scenario is extensive integration with minimal distinction drawn between species, not 'Sectoid slums' vs 'human nice parts of the city' or anything of the sort. There's absolutely stories I've seen with an intense undertone of 'this is a metaphor for how the US has handled the native population of North America, and it's a metaphor that says the treatment of that population was totally a good thing', but Chimera Squad is not such a one.

    5. Thinking on it a bit more, the 'underclass in poor land' isn't just 'not explicitly supported', it's outright contradicted; it's a mandatory plot beat that Gray Phoenix is disappearing high-profile/highly successful aliens partway through their Investigation, with Chimera Squad initially assuming these are kidnappings, only for it to turn out these are people willingly joining Gray Phoenix. So it's explicit that Gray Phoenix's membership includes even well-to-do aliens who would be giving up a relatively comfortable life to pursue this plan.

    6. It has been a while, so I can definitely misremember. My recollection is that any alien not living in City 31 is effectively living in a refugee camp / reservation. So to me the parallels were obvious (but I will admit it is not clear to what extent Gray Phoenix is made up from those people, or from aliens that tried to integrate into City 31 and didn't like it). If that is not in the text, and they are actually doing about as well as humans in their cities (ie. lots of problems but overall fine), then my reading of the conflict changes.

      If spaceships taking off is unavoidably catastrophic to the people left behind (which I don't think is the case, Gray Phoenix mentions they got a few ships off planet already and there is no mention of victims), then again my whole reading of the situation changes, and human governments are 100% justified in fighting Gray Phoenix. As I saw it, this was a specific problem with the spaceport, which was smack in the middle of a thriving city. I also don't remember the game telling you that Gray Phoenix is specifically targetting the space port until late on (the problem is indeed obvious then), and this seems like the sort of crucial information that should be on a briefing if that is the outcome you are trying to prevent - unless the government itself didn't know at first either. And the "what if they carpet bomb up a few cities on their way out" concern aligns with "what if black people kill all plantation owners after emancipation" sort of arguments. It should be part of the discussion, but it certainly shouldn't end there.

      Ultimately, the game just says preciously little about the preexisting knowledge of the factions and underlying motivations, and what sort of dialogue happened before the start of violence, if any. So we have to go on what little is told to us, and clearly our readings are very different, probably due to our different backgrounds. Things that seem obvious to you don't appear that way to me, and viceversa.

    7. I saw your comment about the high profile aliens joining Gray Phoenix. That is for sure evidence in favour of the "return to the homeland" plan being presented as having higher odds of success within one lifetime than it really is. I guess my issue is that it is so *obvious* that it is a very long shot, that I do not see how anyone could be deluded into thinking otherwise. But I guess there are fools everywhere, even in alternate future timelines.

      I will moderate my position a bit too. I can see a timeline in which Gray Phoenix figures out (for whatever reason) that their only way out of the planet is with the spaceport, understand that this is a very hard sell for City 31, and decide to try the violent approach straight away. There is the big assumption there about the spaceport being *the only way*, but ok. In this case, they are on the same sort of ground as the other two factions, and Chimera Squad is the right response. But then I am still deeply bothered by the fact that no one in Chimera Squad is questioning why a faction with apparently reasonable stated goals suddenly resorted to violence.

    8. The game makes extensive, omnipresent, impossible-to-miss efforts to show that everyone has roughly the same expected standard of living as far as species; Sectoids, Vipers, Mutons, and hybrids are all shown to live in similar apartments (Pay attention to the mission screens; they often show aliens in nice apartments, or working a regular job, or whatever), are all shown in a variety of societal positions (Celio Dash the Sectoid news anchor, Mayor Nightingale the hybrid mayor, the random VIPs you extract who can be any core species and get a variety of jobs attributed, the long list of radio ads showing aliens in virtually every sector of society...), with the one and only indication of a generally different standard of treatment being The Cat Test, which itself is a one-time test before a given alien is let loose into general society, where Chimera Squad's timeframe is apparently more or less past this process. I actually considered pointing out that Gray Phoenix actually gets the most evidence of being well-to-do; the Progeny are headquartered in an abandoned highrise in a disused section of the city, Sacred Coil hides in an abandoned subway, and when it comes to unique missions with an Investigation Sacred Coil and the Progeny much more consistently have missions drag you somewhere not livable for general citizens. (We never see a Gray Phoenix HQ at all, mind, which is maybe unfortunate)

      The only exceptions to this trend are Andromedons, Gatekeepers, Archons, and Chryssalids. (The first three get sanctuaries for mostly-obvious reasons, while Chryssalids get presented as more comparable to, say, colonies of ants)

      Gray Phoenix gets some Scout-scale UFOs off the ground if you hit them second or third, which are presumably not designed for long-term interstellar travel. The spaceport is a carrier craft that presumably *is* designed to support large populations traveling long distances, and most likely all the ships that are designed for such would be the same sort of enormous craft whose takeoff would be incredibly violent. (That said, if any such craft are already in orbit, Gray Phoenix could presumably be put on one of those to sidestep this particular problem, and to a lesser extent if the Ethereals landed any other such ships far from population centers that might also dodge this issue. Chimera Squad never addresses the topic of assets in orbit, though, and a starport with no nearby population center would be a strange thing to happen for a variety of reasons)

      "What if slaves kill plantation owners after emancipation" isn't actually equivalent. Gray Phoenix's situation is more like 'emancipated slaves want to sail to Africa, but literally the only ships that currently exist capable of making that journey are battleships loaded down with nuclear ICBMs, and it will take years to reach a state where this is no longer true'. There's a rather large difference between 'we don't want to give you a ship that can take you home' and 'we don't want to give you a ship that will let you wipe us off the map, which unfortunately is currently the only option for getting you sailing right now'.

      And the thing is, my first impression of Gray Phoenix's resolution was absolutely in line with your concerns; even at this point, I think the game could've handled presentation of things better. I've just scrutinized the game very closely, partly for these posts, partly as a default of mine, and so got to put together a more complete picture of how the game assembles things.

    9. I think we are in general agreement now. On the first point, I agree that City 31 is doing pretty well in terms of treating all alien species the same as humans. But that is the only city where this happens. No other human city is accepting aliens at the moment. So every other alien is living... where exactly? My recollection is that the living conditions of those aliens are very poor. But I guess that's somewhat irrelevant if Gray Phoenix is entirely composed of City 31 denizens (not clear to me but not impossible). Not *entirely* irrelevant, mind you, since it seems likely they would be offering a ride to as many aliens as possible, including those living outside City 31.

      XCOM 1 has all large spaceships land outside cities, which is why I find it weird that the assumption is that the only one that can do the trip back is the spaceport. It's not like XCOM 1 said there was a single ridiculously massive transport ship out of which all other craft came out. Of course we are not in the same timeline, and we know nothing about Ethereal logistics anyway (maybe there were a lot more kinds of ships on orbit than the ones we saw land), but it's a disconnect from the earlier games. My first thought was, why don't they offer a few random supply barges abandoned in the countryside since the invasion.

      Like, yeah, everything has an explanation if you think about it and give a lot of benefit of the doubt to the writers. But man, so very, very little is spelled out.

    10. I forget exactly how it gets worded, but Chimera Squad is explicit that City 31 isn't unusual in terms of integration of all peoples, except perhaps in the sense of being ahead of the curve on the topic. (ie other cities also default to integration, but perhaps not as thoroughly consistently as City 31) It's made clear there's still less-than-great parts of the world (Even in City 31; one quote about a region is, roughly 'I wouln't be willing to move into these buildings until a thorough sweep for killbots has been perforned', among other examples), and one assumes this includes Mutons and so on who are living in pretty terrible conditions, and if this were Real Reality I would expect a successful census to find noticieable trends in various areas ("The average standard of living for a Muton in City 22 is about 60% the average standard of living of a human living in City 22"), but within the context of being a fictional work that doesn't delve too deep into this stuff the overall presentation is very firmly that such problems are A: in the middle of being fixed and B: not strongly correlated to speciesism or the like.

      (I will admit Chimera Squad is clearly deliberately somewhat noncommital on things like 'how far along are such fixes'; I'm fairly confident the devs wanted to leave the door open for XCOM 3 -or any other future games- to do whatever makes sense for them. So Chimera Squad leaves the exact state of this stuff murky, such that a sequel could certainly stick to the rosy picture Chimera Squad paints of the near future, but would be free to say that eg ADVENT reestablishes itself as more mainstream if XCOM 3 or whatever would like to bring back ADVENT as an enemy faction for some reason. So if we got XCOM 2.5 or whatever coming along and running closer to your interpretation of 'most aliens outside City 31 live in slums and stuff', I wouldn't actually be surprised by this. Probably a little disappointed, mind...)

    11. UFO-wise, it's clear that the spaceport UFO is meant to be much larger than any ship we saw in the prior games (Aside the Temple Ship), and this is intuitive enough; the sheer scale of the alien invasion demands a certain minimum size of ship to carry the soldiers, their equipment, the smaller ships they use to get to and from the planet, the facilities to produce food, manufacture weapons, maintain equipment, etc etc. Even a Battleship (ie the largest ship class you engage with as a gameplay entity) from Enemy Unknown is not plausible to represent the Ethereal long-term interstellar-travel style; we see in Enemy Unknown that Battleships are fairly barebones. They don't seem to have hydroponics farms or whatever to keep the crew fed, or places to sleep, or anything of that sort; as far as what we can see, they only make sense as a ship that's intended to fly out, do a thing, and come back in a matter of hours, like a fighter plane. (Albeit a very large fighter plane, with a few dozen people operating it instead of 1-2 people)

      You can argue that this is just the art team of Enemy Unknown having not thought adequately about what a long-term ship would require, or the devs not wanting to spend gamespace on such decorative elements, where the UFO design in Enemy Unknown is 'gameified' and such omissions are meant to be taken in the same light as video games that depict city environments but leave out spaces like bathrooms, but I'd argue that's inconsistent with Enemy Unknown's approach to environmental art and also hampered as an argument by XCOM 2 and Chimera Squad both being very willing to run strongly at odds with prior *intentions*. (ie XCOM 2 is not 'the sequel that follows after you won in Enemy Unknown', which would've been the default approach, but is instead 'most players fail, and fail early... what if we ran with that as canon?')

      Personally, I think Chimera Squad's primary writing problem is that it was clearly designed on every level under the expectation that players would play through it a minimum of 3 times -going by Steam stats, less than 30% of players clear even ONE run, and only *1%* of players get the Achievement for doing every version of every Investigation. If you get that Achievement, the picture painted of the world is reasonably complete (Though an individual player will still have missed various plot bits even then!) and has most of these sorts of questions addressed in varying degrees of directness, but I'm apparently *literally* part of The One Percent for having played the game such that I have all that info in my skull.

      (To be honest, this is in fact a part of why I did end up doing a Chimera Squad series)

    12. Appreciate the time you spent replying! Yeah, I only went through the game once (and even that felt like it was slightly overstaying its welcome), so I believe I missed context, especially when a lot of it is left unsaid. Plus, it's been three years for me. I am glad someone is writing about Chimera Squad, I found the changes to the setting interesting, and there is barely any content out there. Even the wiki is sparse on details.

    13. Given how poorly-documented XCOM 2 is by the wider internet, and how Chimera Squad made a MUCH smaller splash, I'm honestly surprised how much wiki attention and whatnot Chimera Squad does receive...

  2. Speaking of returning home, i dont think any of the games say anything specific about the Ethereal's interstellar capabilities. They have antigravity tech but that requires gravity to push against, which gets harder the faster you go, limiting the maximum speed it can reach. Elerium is rare and is still fission so cant be that much better in raw energy/mass. For all we know their ships could be fusion powered, passing a star every century, or using some exotic energy source shortening that to every decade, or they could be FTL capable, passing multiple stars in a year. Only in the later would blindly searching seem remotely reasonable, though it also vastly increases the haystack. The ones with the best chances are the sectoids, as their innate psionics would make their homeworld more likely to be explicitly marked. And from what Axiom says about the time before he was modified with human dna, they probably wouldnt like whats at the destination anyway.

    1. I've personally always assumed the Ethereals have some form of faster-than-light travel simply because it seems so unlikely the teleport-capable space wizard aliens would be bound to conventional physics on this topic in specific, but 'faster than light' is a pretty loose definition of speed. There's a pretty big difference between 'they can go about twice as fast as light' and 'they can go several hundred times faster than light'. And yeah, the series has never actually directly addressed the topic, and what info we do have about their interstellar travel could honestly work with even sub-light speeds. I don't expect later games to go with sub-light speed being the interstellar-scale top speed for Ethereal tech, mind, but so far nothing contradicts that possibility!


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