I will play XCOM 2 War Of The Chosen’s Challenge mode forever

xchal

I’d long suspected it, but it’s nice to have tangible evidence: I am the best in the world at XCOM.

For one moment of one day, on one of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen [official site]’s daily challenge maps. It could happen again another day, and, yeah, I guess this is going to be my life now.

War Of The Chosen is a huge revamp of XCOM 2’s campaign, guaranteeing a different experience with a very different roster of soldiers, and I’d presumed it would be that to which I would return repeatedly in the long months until a new XCOM arrives. Then I tried the other major addition, Challenge mode (which was not available in the pre-release review build) and now my mind has changed. This is what I will keep coming back to.

A new, single-mission XCOM challenge every day, in which you compete for leaderboard places but more importantly wrestle with a fresh and surprising mix of unit types and, as such, something of a puzzlebox to solve. No saves, no loads, no undos, no second chance – figure it out first time or fail it forever. Perfect.

The daily random challenge (the same offering presented to anyone in the world who guns it up that day) was popularised by Spelunky and The Binding Of Isaac, and it turns out it’s a beautiful fit for XCOM. It’s no-two-the-same maps are the main part of that, as each new corner, far-apart cover or explosive item creates a one-off obstacle to overcome, or turn to your advantage.

xpoints

This’d probably be enough for me in itself, but Challenge mode goes even further than that – rather than just granting you a standard roster of XCOM soldiers from across the classes, you get a grab-bag of mixed XCOM, Advent and Alien units.

Some days you have access to, say, the vast destructive powers of a Gatekeeper, or three Vipers and three Grenadiers. Other days you might have a few Advent grunts who can’t shoot for toffee and who wield standard-issue rifles, which creates a singular tactical dilemma when they’re up against a dozen heavily-armoured Mutons. The moment of discovery each morning is glorious – which motley crew will I have today? How will I see XCOM remixed before my eyes this time?

It’s been possible to mix and match from across factions in XCOM 2 multiplayer for a while now, but something about this more focused approach – a fixed, one-shot objective vs a computer given a big advantage in terms of unit numbers, as opposed to a player fielding a same-sized squad – feels more meaningful than MP ever did to me.

Sure, after a few weeks of this I’ll have seen most of the variations Challenge mode could possibly offer on this front, but the differing maps, objectives and enemy combinations are going to keep it fresh for a long time to come. Some days, at least for a spell, I will be top of the pops, and I will live for those moments. I’m generally not a competitive gamer. I just want to do my own thing in peace. But this? The validation of my hundreds of hours spent with XCOM games? Can’t get enough.

XCOM challenge mode review

The structuring of points is going to help there too. It’s not ‘survive as long as you can’ or even simply ‘win’, but win with minimal injuries, let alone losses, in as few turns as possible, taking out as many enemies as possible as quickly as possible. Points are added for kills and uninjured soldiers, which means potential points are lost whenever anyone takes a hit – moments that make me howl, for I know they imperil my hopes of a decent placement that day. More importantly, they undermine my own preposterous and untrue conviction that I am the best in the world at XCOM, a legend in my lunchtime. And I now must test that conviction every day until the end of time, or nearest equivalent. More XCOM every 24 hours! What more could I hope for?

Well, there are two significant flies in this dream ointment, one of which is theoretically fixable but the other one of which is inherent. The first is that it seems some cheating (presumably via mods) seems to be at play. You can watch replays on anyone else’s attempt at a daily Challenge, and on a couple of suspiciously high-scoring ones I’ve seen the likes of soldiers with an impossible number of armour points or able to single-shot snipe enemies that should be hidden by fog of war. F’rinstance:

xcheat

Damn shame, but hopefully an update can lock this stuff out and force a level playing field. It’s still exception rather than rule for now, but I can expect to see my best in the world status nobbled by such things soon. As I can by someone simply lucking out, which is the more inherent problem.

RNG is one of the most beautiful aspects of XCOM – waiting and praying to see if you shot will land has more tension and pay-off to it than simply knowing every shot will connect – but when you’re competing for leaderboard placements it’s impossible for the playing field to be level if someone else’s dice rolls land better than yours do. In my own chart-topping run, one of my soldiers did take a hit, but, at a guess, the enemy had a 50-60% chance of landing it.

In someone else’s game, the RNG could make it miss, and that’s my top spot lost through no fault of my own. Similarly, on the previous day’s challenge I laboured at position 756 because I had one of those battles where almost every single one of my shots seemed to miss despite good odds (n.b. I still won the match).

xsquad

That’s XCOM, baby, but it’s a subtly – or maybe majorly – different argument when you only get one shot at a battle. There are no take backs and no second tries for a Challenge, so missing six consecutive shots through no fault of your own can wreck your day. On the other hand, one could make the case that expert play means knowing how to get yourself into a situation where every shot has extremely good odds and positioning your soldiers in such a way that they can’t be flanked.

Easier said than done, and the RNG can never be defeated, but I think over time it will make me hone more already pathological tactical thinking further. In an XCOM (or WOTC) campaign, past a certain point I get, if not sloppy, then at least unconcerned about soldiers taking injuries, because I know it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Here, it matters more than anything in the grand scheme of things.

I’m the best in the world at XCOM (I’m not but there is no other game I understand quite so well), but Challenge mode is going to make me better. What a brilliant addition.

22 Comments

  1. Lars Westergren says:

    “Come play with us Alec….forever, and ever and ever.”

  2. ElementalAlchemist says:

    The first is that it seems some cheating (presumably via mods) seems to be at play.

    Unlikely. It’s far more likely to be memory hacks. Trainers, cheat engine, etc. Conceivably it could be something more basic, like INI edits, but surely they would have pre-emptively addressed that much at least.

    It seemed obvious as soon as they announced it that this was going to be the outcome. Ideally they should have split challenge mode out into its own separate exe and packages so it could be locked down without affecting the single player game. I really don’t want them screwing with that trying to fix a mp mode I have zero interest in.

    • Sheever says:

      This type of online leaderboard soon fills up with scores that aren’t remotely possible and sucks the life out of bothering…in my experience anyway. Soon XXfrakboy12Z (apologies if someone is named this)will claim his title…and occupy all visible slots somehow.

    • TheSkiGeek says:

      I’m surprised they don’t submit your RNG seed and player inputs to the server and validate the result on their end. That’s the only way to do this sort of thing securely on an open platform.

    • geldonyetich says:

      If the replay information is stored on a server to be played back, I don’t know why they don’t just run it through a validation algorithm that makes sure that everything is on the level. Even the random rolls can be tested for authenticity, as we’ve already seen evidence in the past that XCOM reproduces its random rolls reliably. They wouldn’t even have to spare the computational firepower to test all uploaded results, just he top ones.

      Well, having said that, I know exactly why they don’t: because it wouldn’t be cost effective to bother to enforce authenticity in their leaderboards. The almighty dollar sets disappointing standards.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I’ve played four challenge maps. I’ve survived one of them only.

    I think it was something where I got four Andromedans, which was a neat team of stupid lumbering twits.

    Anyway, it’s a right good laugh it is. I might not be the best XCOM player in the world, obviously, but I have a damn lot of fun with this mode.

    • Coming Second says:

      Andromedons invariably become MVPs for me in the single player once Dominate becomes an option. I love those calamitous, Big Daddy-aping fucks.

  4. Sheever says:

    Congrats on being world champion at anything. Must have been your speedy completion time of 00:00 that pushed you into the lead:)

  5. JimDiGritz says:

    Leaderboard is sadly a joke.

    Watch any of the top replays and you’ll see players like the current ‘#1’ AlistairHeath play with no damage – you literally watch them run around and kill with impunity taking zero damage.

    Yawn.

    • Bull0 says:

      Yesterday’s toss pot when I checked had about eight sectopods on his side for no reason and all his characters could move and fire twice.

  6. Bull0 says:

    I really like the challenge mode but I’d be tempted to do away with the leader board entirely. Yes people are cheating, yes the RNG could screw you out of the top spot, but moreover it doesn’t add much from where I’m standing. Make the challenges so tough that clearing them is the achievement in itself, then cheating will have even less point than it does now.

  7. sdpp says:

    They could setup the RNG so everyone got the same dicerolls in their playthrough. Would be interesting to see how much variation in result remained.

    • Splyce says:

      Would that then reduce it to an optimization problem? Find the optimal solution given the fixed variables in order to finish with the best score? The RNG adds a level of stochastic noise to the rankings, sure, so maybe it would be best to think of a range of ‘high scores’ as winning, rather than locking down number 1. But the randomness allows for unorthodox strategies to sometimes win out rather than everyone duplicating the best run and tying for the best score.

  8. Stevostin says:

    I’d long suspected it, but it’s nice to have tangible evidence: I am the best in the world at XCOM.

    Congratulations ! Next: checkers.

  9. Bracko64 says:

    I like reading articles from this site now and then, helps me inform some of my next purchases. To my surprise, I find myself immortalised in an article about one of my favourite games ever made. Congratulations to your position in top spot, Alec. Give your commiserations to me, I’m Cassius, the fourth spot on your screenshot, and I would’ve gotten first if it wasn’t for two pesky missed 50% tongue grabs in a row! That’s XCOM, baby! = )

  10. Reivles says:

    The advantage to both problems is that a common solution is surprisingly viable: Server-based gameplay.

    You download the challenge, you play the challenge. Every challenge comes with its own pre-assigned RNG seeds, and your shooting, their shooting, and everything else run on seperate seeds (so everyone has the same luck in shooting, getting shot, etc). You play through, and what the game does is record your instructions. They’re then submitted, and re-run under the same conditions by the server.

    Then your only remaining problem is people using trainers to, eg, see the map & enemies before playing, or potentially knowing what the die roll means for your next shot, etc… but much of that effect can be achieved simply by replaying the map on several accounts in a row each day, so that much, at least, can’t be helped.

    The best part: They’re already recording the games, so much of this capability is already present.

  11. AbyssUK says:

    Wait…a 00:00 completion time? This gave you a 6000 point time bonus… looks like it messed up ….is Meer the best in the world?

    I think this needs further investigation from the judges… somebody call the developers! This blasphemy must be corrected.

    • AbyssUK says:

      ..or you know upload a new image with the correct time on it and not make any comments about it or anything to make future generation believe me to be a complete tool…. whatever…

  12. Fiddlestickz says:

    The challanges are really cool, this 1 tzry philosophy adds to the thrill. But i have to say, i feel terrible after losing a challenge and not being able to at least retry it without scoring.

    There should be an archive where you can play all of them if you like and down the road people maybe are able to create their own challenges, so you can play more than 1 per day.

  13. AutonomyLost says:

    I think an above-and-beyond feature would be to offer the player a computer-controlled replay of the entire run, but calculated to be as efficient as possible. A replay of your challenge run, with the same parameters, ideally played by the AI in as few turns as possible. The RNG aspect may negatively affect the possibility of all this, but I’m sure they’d figure it out!

    I’ve been wanting to get back into my X COM 2 campaign but I just have not been able to. The WotC expansion looks sweet, but it doesn’t make sense for me to pick it up at this point.

  14. AyeBraine says:

    The most rewarding mission I’ve ever played in modern XCOM is a Long War: Enemy Within Veteran Ironman base defence where I simply forgot to keep a fully equipped A-Squad at the base as a garrison.

    Everyone (aside from the very last 1 or 2 reinforcements) was wearing paper tissue default armor, everyone was wielding conventional rifles and shotguns. Mechtoids to the left of them, Ethereals to the right of them, ‘Lids to the front of them.

    And I still did it. Without losses. Sure, these ill-equipped soldiers, caught with their pants down and their shirts off, were all Colonels — killing machines with a skill or ability to pull out of said pants every turn. But there were also base garrison troops. Blue-shirted Rookies, a rifle and a couple grenades per, frail and meek. And they all lived to see the victory, with one exception. Every one of them did impossible Silver Cross / Medal of Honor shit, running to and fro and clutching grenades and flanks, missing and being saved at the last second, panicking and recovering, retreating and pushing forward.

    If there were a bonding mechanic back then, they would all christen each other’s children and have family barbecues every Sunday after that.

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