Whatever happened to XCOM 2’s daily challenge mode?

xcom-daily-challenge

Back in the summer, I boldly declared that ‘I will play XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen’s daily challenge mode every day.’ Er. Whoops. I’ve only played a handful since then, and I’m not alone there. Though the mode still pumps out a new challenge every day, it hasn’t blossomed into a new religion in the same way The Binding of Isaac and Spelunky’s daily random-o-map scoreboard challenges have for those communities.

So, what happened?

Reddit’s clearly not the be-all and end-all of gaming community sentiment, but it is a least a bellwether for popularity. A search for ‘challenge’ in post titles on r/XCOM turned up only four threads over the past month, none of which have more than a handful of replies. Only one of those is there to discuss a specific daily challenge, and its title is ‘today’s challenge is broken?‘.

The other three all express broader dissatisfaction – too many cheaters; concerns about real-time timers; if only users could create their own challenges.

So far, so traditional internet complaint, but all three share the same sentiment: constructive suggestions for how Challenges could truly become our daily bread. Mesha8, a contributor to the player-made challenges suggestion thread, for instance, offers this:

There would surely be posts here along the lines of ” Has anyone managed to beat Tom’s impossible challenge”.
Someone would make an all chosen at once challenge, or one where you’re just OP for the fun of it.
Imagine if you could play as one of the chosen trying to take out a typical xcom squad.

As it is, the only community that does exist around this stuff is on Twitch and YouTube – no central sites which archive old challenges, no fansites, no competitive leagues, no nothing. And even the streams are a double-edged sword: some players watch them before undertaking a challenge themselves, so they know in advance where enemies are.

This alone makes a huge difference to the score, as a big feature of the challenges is that your point multiplier drops every few turns. So your total score relies heavily on guessing (or knowing) which direction to send your guys on the first turn – even one or two tiles is the difference between activating a pod of enemies and encountering nothing until the next turn.

xcom-2-daily-challenge

The sporadic presence of cheaters with dozens of hitpoints and auto-cleared fog of war further clouds the issue, even though WOTC was updated since launch to not let you into challenge mode unless you had all mods disabled.

A further obstacle to this being a daily coffee break treat is the nature of the game. You probably can’t run it on your office PC or dour commuting laptop, for instance. Not to mention that (and yes, I timed this myself) it takes 19 seconds from the moment you click the game’s name in Steam to the moment a Binding of Isaac daily challenge is on your screen, compared to a full 1 minute 3 seconds for XCOM 2: WOTC (far more if you don’t skip logos or have a fast SSD). It’s not an impulsive experience in the same way.

There’s also an element of wastage. Unlike Isaac or Spelunky, these are hand-crafted challenges, so it’s a certain kind of madness to lock them away forever once you’ve had your one try at each – not to mention that you’ll miss one entirely if you don’t fire up WOTC that day.

Despite all that, it’s a fine addition to XCOM, and, a sentiment shared by many, just a few differences could have made it much bigger deal. My own favourite use of it is to watch replays of leaderboard-toppers in order to learn from them. By and large I’m not bad at XCOM – I even had a few top-5 leaderboard placements myself, but there’s a ton I still haven’t learned and I’m still prone to some really stupid errors.

Today was the first time I played a Daily Challenge in a couple of months, and a combination of rustiness and back luck also made it my worst-ever performance. So, here is my shame in its entirety, followed by a recording of the (at the time of writing) number one player’s performance.

(Oh – apologies, but there is an audio clicking problem in these videos. It’s a problem currently affecting most games on my PC that I’ve not been able to fix. I’d avoid headphones for these, if I were you.)

Bad/me:

Good/’Rossy’:

The difference is breathtaking – he takes down enemies in the first turn, I don’t even find enemies in the first turn. He makes it until the time-out at the end of the match without casualties, I lose everyone. He finds his way out of all the mind control and stasis lock tricks the psychic-heavy enemy force inflicts upon him, I miss an entire turn because everyone’s been brain-fiddled.

Rummage through the limited in-game menus that allow watching replays of earlier challenges, and there are some truly spectacular runs to behold. Runs I learn from, runs I gasp at, runs I frown at with real anger. Did they have advance warning from a video or a second Steam account, were extremely lucky, or are they just shit-hot? A bit of everything, I’d say.

Somewhere in that mix, there’s still scope for a superb daily challenge mode that requires skill rather than too much chance or a sneak peek, and that is the first thing on every XCOM player’s mind every day. Let’s hope the next expansion, or sequel, or whatever, makes it happen.

20 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Oh, right. They had daily challenges.

    .. Man, I haven’t played one in ages either. I got interested in a different game, then another, and XCOM2 disappeared.

    Maybe I should go back and poke at it again.

  2. Someoldguy says:

    Maybe it’s a mindset thing, but for me the XCOM games are a struggle for survival against an overwhelming enemy which is driven by the need to secure victory for the human race. Playing a disassociated daily map for points and a place on a daily leaderboard holds no value whatsoever. By contrast I’d happily play an arcade game trying for a high score.

  3. Horg says:

    One reason the challenge mode isn’t as popular as it could be was Firaxis decision to price the expansion at £30. I’m still holding out for 50% off just on principle, there isn’t enough new content to justify that price. I just bought Divinity OS2 for less than that, full 100 odd hour game that it is. Topping the leader boards can wait for the January sales.

    • napoleonic says:

      Expansions are generally very poor value for money, I’m finding. They’ve nowhere near as much content as a base game. the only consolation is that you already know you’re probably going to like it, so you’re more likely to play through all of that lesser content, whereas with a base game you might not like it and thus not even finish the content that’s provided.

    • mpk says:

      m still holding out for 50% off just on principle, there isn’t enough new content to justify that price.

      I had my own concerns about the DLC price, but was lucky enough to find it for £25 rather than £35. I’ve just completed my first full game on Legend difficulty with the DLC enabled, and it took a good 40 hours or so. I’m happy enough that I got good value for my money, especially as I’ll be starting an Iron Man run next.

    • foszae says:

      For me it wasn’t even just the limited content for its cost, but just how horrific the design decisions were. Even cheatier bosses than before. Bad guys taunting you more than an angry eight year old in an online shooter. The crazy power creep of the new classes that practically turns the game into a superhero franchise.
      I do want more XCom, but it all went in directions i can’t justify paying more than a fiver for.

      • BeardyHat says:

        I totally disagree. WOTC added so much content and changed so much that XCOM2 feels so much better and more interesting.

        My wife and I just finished a Commander Ironman run that was one of the most balanced campaigns I’ve played.

        link to imgur.com

        • Coming Second says:

          Holy crap. I can’t imagine losing 47 soldiers in a campaign without quitting and/or breaking my mouse several times over.

  4. mpk says:

    I only ever played a couple of the challenges, but the minute the game started asking me to disable all mods was the moment I lost interest. I only ever use quality of life mods, rather than game changers, but even so the rigmarole of closing game, restarting, disabling mods, launching, playing challenge, closing game, restarting, enabling all mods, launching, loading save was a bit of a pain in the arse.

    Sometimes I’m only looking for a quick fix when I play XCOM2, but that “quick” fix is still likely to take an hour or so. It’s great for relaxing and de-stressing (obviously only until the moment your favourite trooper gets one-shotted on turn three). Fifteen minute bashes don’t really meet my needs.

  5. Partialist says:

    I really love playing out the combat missions just in and of themselves, so I was really excited about the idea, and got really invested in the first one I tried – I was doing well (I thought) and then the game got stuck on an animated interrupt that never played. I actually left it running for 5-10 minutes because I really really really wanted to continue the mission/challenge (and I never had a bug like this in SP so I wasn’t sure what the odds are that it would resolve).

    After that buggy disappointment, I figured I’d wait for some acknowledgement of bugs and word of fixes, but didn’t come across any such news (and meanwhile finished my SP campaign, and moved on to other games).
    It’s still installed and I will play again, but yeah the Challenge Mode itself is something I totally forgot about after that first bugged out session.

  6. gwathdring says:

    I just always opened the game to continue a save, thought about doing a daily challenge to warm up, was reminded I couldn’t have modes enabled, and didn’t bother to exit out because it wasn’t the main reason I booted up the game in the first place.

    The game not having been coded with a way to keep mods out of daily challenges without preventing them from being loaded at boot seems like a rather unfortunate oversight.

  7. AlienEyes says:

    I think it’s a testimony of what’s wrong in the vision of the game some devs seem to have.

    XCOM EU/EW nailed the “survival in a grim setting” part. Your soldiers look and feel like soldiers. As you progress through the game, some of them become less and less humans, while you need to fight more powerful and strange aliens.

    XCOM 2 is partially a failure on that aspect. Your soldiers are all treated as superheroes and your missions often look more like action movies. You fight the aliens with katanas. War of the Chosen is even worse on that aspect. They added zombies and supervilains.

    All this and the challenge mode are contradictory with the idea of a game where you should feel anxious when confronted to something you can’t understand. The bonding mechanic shouldn’t feel like “hey let’s be friends!” but like companions of misfortune who went through hard missions together and lost some friends. Each nice “survival” mechanic is counterbalanced by much more efficient super-heros faculties. It’s nice to see my soldiers getting irrational fears from difficult missions – but what’s the point if I can heal them in 5 days while killing dozens of enemies with one super-soldier?

    The challenge mode would work if the game would only be about this: soldiers that look like MOBA heroes with their own powerful skills. But it’s still XCOM, and everything can go horribly wrong even if you play very well. It’s still XCOM because you need to be careful and it relies a lot on randomness. It’s still XCOM because sometimes everything goes wrong and it’s better to retreat with the two soldiers you have let to fight another time.

    I think they are trying to do two things at the same time with XCOM2, and the challenge mode is a part of this contradiction. If you want to make a MOBA-like turn-based game with superheroes, do it. But don’t try to make a game about survival something that it isn’t supposed to be.

  8. Maevre says:

    Xcom 2 is nerve-wracking enough without a timer ticking away. Let me agonise over my decisions in peace, please.

  9. VladamirBegemot says:

    It stopped working for me after the summer update. Kept telling me I had to disable all mods, but it still wouldn’t work even if I had.

  10. bfwebster says:

    I still play it most days. Some days I do great — I had a top-five finish just a few days ago, the first time that’s every happened — and some days I do so badly that I exit to desktop without finishing the challenge.

    When I do finish a challenge, I usually look at one or two of the top finishers to see how they did it. That’s actually quite educational and often highlights some of the flaws in my own approaches. However, luck does have a fair amount to do with it. I played one challenge where I had chryssalids — which meant that I could only kill by melee attack — and the other side had (among other units) purifiers. When I played, every single purifier exploded when I killed it, damaging or killing any of my adjacent units. The top scorer, though, didn’t have even one purifier explode when he killed them.

    It’s also occurred to me that anyone with access to multiple XCOM user accounts can play on one account to learn where everything is and then play on another account to get a high score.

    That said, I enjoy it. The one change I’d make: after you’ve completed a challenge, and your official score is logged, be able to replay the challenge as much as you’d like, scoring it each time but not logging that score. I’d like to be able to try out different strategies and also get a sense of how much really is due to luck and how much to skill.