Here’s the situation, people: in Challenge Mode, you’re competing with players around the world to achieve the best score on special missions in XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. Some challenges will tax your tactical skills. Others will offer up unique situations you won’t experience in the campaign. Most importantly, there will be a new Challenge waiting for you every day.

For each Challenge, all players are given the same mission. Every Commander will face the same enemies on the same map, with an identical squad – and not just of XCOM soldiers. You could be fighting alongside aliens. What you do with them is your call, but your focus needs to be on maximizing that score! We checked in with Mark Nauta, Designer on XCOM 2: War of The Chosen, to gain some additional intel for all the men and women on the front lines.


Any normal game of XCOM has these moments where you barely squeeze out a victory as you limp to the extraction point. But in Challenge Mode, you jump straight into those firefights. “In fact,” says Mark, “each Challenge is us throwing you into the middle of all those crazy battles and ranking how everyone does with a proper score.”

This has a very different feel compared to the main game. “I like to think of Challenge Mode almost like an action strategy game,” Mark adds. Your points decrease the more turns you take and the timer continues ticking down as you go. You’ve got 30 real-time minutes to complete each challenge. You want to do all this while keeping as many of your teammates alive as possible – and preferably with minimal injuries. The more units that make it home unscathed, the higher the score.

Obviously, this experience is very different from what you get in the campaign – mostly because every mission seems to have acceptable losses. “You have no vested interest in the soldiers in Challenge Mode, aside from a score,” Mark jokes, “so with the clock ticking, you’re more likely to throw them into the middle of hell.”

Top scorers on the leaderboard for each challenge get spotlighted on the front page of Challenge Mode. At launch, the PC version will also allow you to view replays of the best Commanders from that particular challenge. Just keep in mind that you can only compete in each challenge once and that exiting before the completion of a challenge could prevent your score from being submitted.


 “For now, the Challenge Mode missions we’re creating aren’t randomized or completely laid out, either,” says Mark. It’s somewhere between the two. Mark goes on to explain that, “the designers can set a lot of the parameters ahead of time to zero in the type of map and scenario you’ll encounter in the final challenge.”

Once they establish the parameters for challenges, it doesn’t take too long to implement. When creating the challenges, the dev team can select the enemy forces, soldiers available and more – down to the loadout available on-mission. It takes them minutes to see a test version of the scenario, but of course, QA needs to thoroughly test each scenario to make sure that everything runs smooth.

What is Mark’s favorite mission? “Oh, man, that’s hard. I really liked one where you controlled Chrysallids and had to spawn babies for your team. There’s one where there’s Templars and a Gatekeeper where you have these all-powerful psi-guys protecting a Psi-god. One of the crazier missions I made was that you have a full team of Codex units and you’re going up against an enemy team of Codex units [laughs]…it was clone central in there!”

Overall, his favorite scenarios are where you have aliens – or a lot of Faction members – in your squad. It’s definitely an experience you won’t see in the main campaign.

“It really changes up the dynamic of the game,” according to Mark. “If you just have random ADVENT on your squad, it’s not all that different from your XCOM soldier. When you start fighting alongside a Chrysallid or Muton, though, it changes everything. My favorites are when you get to play with weird alien team compositions.”

One of the things the team learned along the way, though, was they needed to give aliens the ability to perform objectives. They don’t pull up a hack pad on objects, they just perform a similar action. The aliens needed to be able to perform basic functions like Evac – things they weren’t programmed for in the main game.

Mark continues that, “There are a good number of all-XCOM soldier missions, but I wanted to load many of them with Faction soldiers. This way, people can experience something that they won’t be able to do in the main game or make the scenarios really ridiculous. Otherwise, people would just load up the campaign.”


Challenge Mode is a lot of things.

It’s about dropping players into unique situations you’d never encounter in the campaign. It’s giving players a quick tactical fix. It is the minute-to-minute gameplay of surviving a mission in XCOM…without the emotional toll that comes from when your team dies in the field. It’s a challenge – not just to see if you can survive, but to see how you perform compared to everyone else.

How do you think you’ll fare?