Challenges, Deconstructed

Campaign Daily Challenges

With Campaign, the number of game systems from which the Challenges can draw from expands dramatically. Difficulty settings, skull combinations, specific missions to complete, scoring and more are all in the mix, and that makes for a robust set of Challenges. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at the surface. The number of top level objectives are stripped down to just three: kills, completing missions, and scoring points.

This is among the most surprising elements of the Challenge system. The freedom that each mode provides the player to tailor their play style and experiment expands as we move from Multiplayer to Firefight to Campaign, yet the goals of the Challenges actually narrow in that order. Gone are all Spree and Multi Kill medal based Challenges, as are Assists, Assassinations and more. I can see the rationale, as unlike Firefight and Multiplayer, Campaign allows players to skip to certain missions or sections, or to revert to a just played checkpoint from which to grind Challenges away. So one for Assassinations could be done at the beginning of Nightfall, over and over, for example. None the less, the lack of variety in the primary goals of the Challenges is disappointing given the freedom to alter play styles that the Campaign offers.

Beneath the surface however, lies a set of Challenges that are far and away the most diverse, complex and difficult in the game. Before we get to those, a brief look at that handful of scoring Challenges.

It looks like there are three categories of templates, presenting three levels of difficulty: one for achieving a score under any circumstances, one with less than three deaths, and the last with no deaths. The neat thing about scoring Challenges is the higher the goal, the harder the difficulty and the more skulls players need to toggle on to reach them; what combinations of skulls is up to them, though. Oddly, scoring goals have been used only eight times. Then again, most people probably just hit up New Alexandria or the space segment of Long Night of Solace anyways. But it’s a good set of Challenges that allow the player to pick their mission and customize their difficulty to complete them. Personally, I’d like to see them used more frequently.

The Challenges for kills break down into two flavors, the first of which overlaps heavily with Firefight. To a set of weapon and enemy classes and Covenant targets, Campaign adds in difficulty levels and a Campaign-only target. (Bear in mind that Challenges cannot be completed on Easy difficulty, so a Challenge that can be completed on any implicitly excludes it.)

The weapon classes of automatic and precision are used in Multiplayer, Firefight and Campaign, but it is Campaign that has only used those two and none others. The weapon-specific Challenges from Firefight are gone, as are the other weapon classes such as ordnance and side arms from MP. It’s a surprisingly narrow subset, and when combined with the lack of difficulty setting requirement, makes for a bland one.

The enemy targets are a bit more interesting, for two reasons. The addition of difficulty setting requirement is is a marked difference from Firefight, which of course has Heroic as the primary matchmaking flavor. There is a clear hierarchy at play: enemy classes can be killed on any difficulty, Grunts and Elites on Normal or higher. Then there’s the mythical Gold Spec Ops Elite – otherwise known as B.O.B. – on Heroic. I’m fond of the B.O.B. medals because they’re actually fun to chase down, and present the first real meta game within any of the game modes, that of hunting down a specific, elusive foe. It’s the kind of thing I was hoping to see more of with the Challenge system.

The elusive B.O.B.

 

As with Firefight, however, other enemy classes and types are no where to be seen. Brutes, Skirmishers, Hunters, Drones and Jackals are spared the bullseye, while only two of the four enemy classes appear (Specialist and Hero being the other two). Again, a surprisingly narrow subset which limits the variety of tasks available.

The other set of Campaign kill Challenges is far more interesting than those, because they are designed around each mission of the Campaign.

It looks like there was one kill Challenge created for each mission in the game, incorporating a unique or defining element from the level. Sniping on Nightfall, whacking those poor Moa on Winter, and the oft-used jetpacking on Exodus are all unique and belong to just their respective missions. The best of this set are on Long Night of Solace and New Alexandria, because they both introduced the community to an element of the Campaign that had previously gone unnoticed. In particular, the New Alexandria B.O.B. Challenge set off a swift and thorough search by the community for the target, aided by the “fast and low” hint from the Challenge description. It was fun to watch the community rally around a goal like that, and just as fun to try and hunt B.O.B. down on my own later in the day when he’d been found.

These Challenges raise some questions. First, if there is one unique kill Challenge per mission, does that mean we have ones in waiting for Tip of the Spear, The Package and Pillar of Autumn? And given that there is a general Challenge to kill B.O.B. on any mission on Heroic, does the New Alexandria one imply that there could be a mission specific B.O.B. Challenge on Legendary, and the others haven’t been rolled out? Or is the Exodus Challenge the one unique one assigned to it? I’m guessing the former is more likely than the latter. Hopefully there are a few more unique Challenges that have not yet been rolled out. I wouldn’t mind seeing this class of Challenges used more often. (Except for jetpacking on Exodus, which wore out its welcome early.)

With the kill and scoring Challenges through, all that’s left is the most complex set in in the game: the Campaign mission completion Challenges. As with kills, I’ll break these down into two, more easily digestible parts. This first set are for completing any mission with a set of specific criteria.

All but one of the Challenges to complete any mission have included at least one skull, and all but two have been on Heroic difficulty. Normal wouldn’t be espeically difficult, and skulls make Heroic much more challenging, so that’s an understandable pattern. In the first grouping are those Challenges that required just one skull toggled on. After that is one I’m surprised to see only used once, to complete a mission on Legendary in co-op. This one is especially nice as it can be completed in the Campaign Co-op matchmaking playlist, something not possible with any other completion Challenge. (It’s also been used as a weekly Challenge – twice.) It would be nice to see it again. There’s a pair of Challenge types set aside for that most punishing of skulls, Iron, for co-op or solo play. And then finally, the set of combinations, sequenced roughly in order of difficulty. All in all, this is a pretty healthy range of Challenges, distributed more or less evenly across the difficulty spectrum.

But as with the kill Challenges, there is a second set that are specific to each mission.

There are two brutally difficult varieties on offer, one to complete a specific mission on Legendary with no deaths, and another that adds four skulls into the mix (the “L.D.” Challenges). As with the mission-specific kill Challenges, many of the levels in the game have yet to make an appearance, raising the possibility that they will make appearances eventually. (Note: Pillar of Autumn’s L.D. Challenge has since appeared.)

Between the two categories there is a skill level missing. The Challenges for any mission are mostly set to Heroic, while all but one Legendary Challenge requires no deaths. Missing are Legendary Challenges that permit deaths; it’s either a moderate Challenge or a crushing one.

All told, the Campaign Challenges do a much better job at utilizing the unique gameplay systems that encompass the mode. It’s the only set in the game that are tilted toward Challenges which are actually difficult to pull off, rather than grinds to chip away at over the course of the day. What the Campaign Challenges lack are any type of medal or in-game goal that can coax players into entertaining or unusual play styles, or to push for certain goals over the course of a mission run. (Earning vehicle kills, for instance, or avoiding them entirely.) While it was unrealistic to expect something as epic and specially crafted as Halo 3’s Annual, similar goals could be crafted by drawing from the game systems available, but were not, and that is a significant disappointment. None the less, Campaign provides the largest and most diverse set of Challenges in the game, many of which are refreshingly difficult and rewarding to accomplish.

Weekly Challenges

Drawing on the same game systems as the daily Challenges, the weekly Challenges offer mostly the same range of tasks across game modes, but with generally steeper completion criteria (and credit payouts, but more on those in just a bit). The breakdown across game modes of the weeklies is quite a bit different than for dailies.

Whereas Multiplayer took up the bulk of the dailies, Campaign has taken its place, thanks in large part to the ongoing LASO runs that take place roughly every other week. I suspect the mix will shift considerably once the  LASO Challenges have run their course, as they account for six of the 13 Campaign Challenges to date. The only pattern in the schedule of the Challenges has been the LASO Campaign challenges, now on an every other week cadence.

Most of the weekly Challenges are essentially identical to dailies but with steeper completion criteria. Below are a few examples of those, paired with their daily equivalent.

All in all, of the 33 weekly Challenges in my review window, 21 of them are identical or nearly identical to daily Challenges. This is a bit of a disappointment, as I was hoping for Weekly Challenges that were more unique and had a different flavor than the dailies. Of the 12 that are more unique, six of them are the LASO runs. The unique weekly Challenges are listed below.

Four of the 12 actually build directly on to the daily Challenges, requiring all the Challenges in one day be completed, and 16 or 24 over the course of the week be completed. I get a kick out of those:  it’s a goal built around completing other goals which are earned by playing the game. It’s meta-meta, but beyond that they’re interesting as they let players pick and choose which Challenges they undertake, to various degrees. The Firefight Challenge is noteworthy because it is the first completion Challenge not to require matchmaking. The reason is simple enough: there is no Firefight playlist that features more than one Set.

While I’d said these were the unique weekly Challenges, that’s not entirely accurate. In fact, four weekly Challenges have made encore appearances, each time with steeper credit payouts. With one exception, all of them took place after Christmas, and so I assume they were repeated for the benefit of those who got a little Halo under the tree. It is my hope that at least for the rest of the year we see unique weekly Challenges.

I am most fascinated by the Challenge to complete a Campaign mission with Black Eye, on Heroic, in 30 minutes or less. While I cut off my scope for this article on June 1st, that Challenge returned this week but with a 15 minute requirement. I find it fascinating because it’s actually the exact type of thing I was hoping to see when the entire Challenge system was announced. It creates a goal (complete a mission on Heroic), adds a complicating factor (Black Eye) and then a unique requirement that alters play style (a time limit). The 15 minute flavor will likely introduce many players to speed running techniques. Because of its short duration – it can, obviously, be completed in less than 15 minutes – it will be the quickest weekly Challenge to date, which makes it much more suitable as a daily than a weekly.

Which brings up one final way to slice weekly Challenges; they are split between what I call events and grinds. Events are one-time goals which can be completed in a single game, while grinds must be chipped away at over the course of many games. All told, we’ve had 13 events, and 20 grinds over the first 33 weeks of Reach’s release. I’ve read much criticism of the event style Challenges, as many players want and expect weekly Challenges to be something that has to be earned over the course of the week. Personally, I enjoy the event style so long as the event is sufficiently difficult. To date, just the LASO runs have cleared that bar, which have been an enjoyable, challenging series of events that I’ve had fun working through with friends and my daughter. But outside of the LASO runs, most of them would be better suited as daily Challenges, such as this week’s 15-minute speed run.

The LASO runs have brought to light one major disappointment with the Challenge support system on Bungie.net. I’m making sure I complete every LASO run, embracing the challenge and fun that comes from working through the full campaign on that most brutal of circumstances. But I can’t look back and see that I’ve done so. Unlike Achievements or the game history in the b.net Service Record, individual Challenges completed are not recorded, just a running total. I’d love to be able to look back on the history of what I’ve completed, and compare that history to my friends, as with all other aspect of Reach’s online support. It is a glaring omission in the Challenge system.

Overcoming LASO runs are something to be proud of, but are not recorded.

 

All in all, the weekly Challenges are a mixed bag. While most of them are just protracted daily Challenges, there are some unique and very fun options in the mix. I appreciate that they’re trying to span all game modes, and mix up protracted grinds with steeply challenging events.

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6 Comments

  1. May 27, 2011
    Reply

    Brilliantly written. There were many points brought up I felt like you were reading my mind. I won’t spend a lot of time breaking down my personal wishes for the challenge system as you have touched on most and I agree that this is a system that Bungie will likely expand upon in future games and will be one of the main draws. I would like to comment on the cR payouts section as it is such a huge factor in motivation for players.

    As a more casual gamer, I love challenges and often check the dailies in the morning before work thinking how fun/difficult some of them will be when I attempt them later in the day… and that’s fun for me. Thinking about different strategies and ideas on how to complete them efficiently. As I’ve climbed the ranks and time has passed since launch, I can’t tell you how disappointing it is to see 4 daily challenges worth 1000 cR or so apiece. Like you mentioned, higher ranking players can earn well above the grand total here in a single match of matchmaking (depending on length). So, unless it’s something truly unique and fun, where is the motivation? Today’s dailies are a perfect example. Used to I wanted to nail em all… but now, I think “Why bother?”

    If you look what increased weekend cR payouts (and super jackpots) do to otherwise low numbered playlists, you can see how easily players are motivated by cR payouts. Team Arena went from a couple hundred to several thousand players in the playlist with the introduction of these super jackpots. Players are heavily motivated by cR so why not extend these to challenges? As you noted, we are seeing the opposite trend occur than you would expect at this point in the games lifespan. I understand Reach will still get some new players and you don’t want them jumping 3 ranks with one challenge completion, but to take challenges that once paid out 4000 cR and drop it to 1/4 of that now doesn’t seem sensible.

    I really hope Bungie (or 343i) takes note of what you’ve done here and has intentions of expanding on (and correcting) this system. It has huge potential as it is now even with it’s limitations.

    Excellent work.

  2. RC Master
    May 27, 2011
    Reply

    Good stuff. I’ve been wanting to see an analysis like this for some time and have considered doing it myself at some points!

    How did you actually collate the data and made tables? In an excel file? Database or some other method? Would you be willing to share that file? I’d love to be able to just plug in some queries and get some stats back out.

    On the article, you made a lot of valid points that I agree with wholeheartedly, and a couple of points that I think weren’t stressed enough. Overall you could have been much more critical (I certainly am :P)

    Multiplayer has a much higher susceptibility for play to being skewed in a negative way by external rewards. The kill, assist and other challenges still do this. You’re playing slayer and theres a kill challenge on? Gung-ho!
    Playing flag? Screw the flag lets just dong on the enemy team!
    Playing Grifball? Spawn-camping multi-kills ftw!

    The inherent per-action credits for kills does this already but offering challenges on top of this doesn’t help.

    I find myself consciously reaching this conclusion when a ‘get X amount of kills in MM’ comes up: “Hmmm. Multi-Team or Grifball – ignore the objective and kill dudes!”

    Challenges (and the credit system in general) should take into account the specific requirements of each game mode. At the very basic level by having one requirement for slayer and a different one for objective (as a parrallel to how kills in COD:MW1/2 were worth half as much in non-deathmatch.

    The feeling of kills > all else is so pervasive in Reach that many people literally do not realise that you get 20% bonus of your game complete when you win!

    I think its safe to argue that while multiplayer has a fair amount of replayability in the opponents, campaign practically demands that you should try wildly different, new and obscure things within its set framework since the encounters and enemies will not change.

    As noted there are a couple of examples of good challenges like this but they are too few and far between.

    The notion that there shouldn’t or couldn’t be any weapon or medal specific challenges in campaign is plainly ridiculous when you consider how most kill challenges in the mode would be got: by grinding on the same enemy or few enemies.

    Perfect example: http://halo.bungie.org/news.html?item=31730

    At the very least a challenge that was ‘assassinations’ or ‘super-combies’ would mix things up a bit.

    The point about challenge payouts failing to scale well is spot on and I love that I can point to that graphic now. If they’re not tracking the average population rank (mean, mode, median – something!!) they damn well should be. Or if they are I can’t believe that the population has ended up so static over the last several months!

    The no-death challenges for 5K are a good example : when that challenge first came up I could afford to spend a fair amount of time on it and still feel like it was a good reward. Now if I’m going to spend more than 20mins on it there is no point as I could either be earning more elsewhere or doing something that’s actually awesome for its own sake (like trying to land a no-death single segment or improve a speed run).

    Of course, possibly the best solution would be to simply scale all challenge rewards by a player’s current level. So they can at least retain the same relevance to all players even if the reward/difficulty is still wildly off.

    Finally, don’t be shy about posting stuff like this; I enjoyed reading it. You can count on at least one reader for any further articles like this. 🙂

    Woah, ok, thats pretty long now.

  3. May 27, 2011
    Reply

    Thanks for the feedback guys, you both make great points.

    RC Master, you’re right about the MP Challenges. At one point I started to mention some of those issues – using Grifball or other game types to work on kills; Multi-Team King of the Hill on a day when there is Challenge for getting X kills in a single game is amazing. I pity the fools that actually wander into the hill. In the end I scaled back some of that stuff because it was turning into a list of complaints. I settled on using one or two examples to try and speak to the overall isues. But yeah, there are many more.

    For the analysis I copied the tables into Excel, and added some columns to tag them. From the website I got the Challenge date, name and description and cR payout. From there I tagged them by day of the week, game mode, and then objective (kill, assits, etc), three fields for secondary criteria (in one game, etc.). Then spent a lot of time playing with filters and pivot tables.

    I’ll see if I can put the file up into something like Google Docs so it’s available for all. I work in finance and play with spreadsheets all day, and probably get way too much enjoyment out of it.

  4. Lawnmower172
    May 27, 2011
    Reply

    Wonderful article and analysis, thanks for taking the time to do this! I would like to slightly change topic and add on another aspect of the cr system. I love the campaign, it’s my favorite game mode. But since I’ve moved my commendations up to silver and beyond, I don’t earn jack squat for the time invested (currently around 260 cr per mission). This makes it almost impossible to rank up or buy anything in the armory through campaign.

    I understand there was a very good reason Bungie capped the commendation cr in campaign. But how about fixing the mission complete payout to reward players who continue to play campaign, instead of the occasional daily ‘mission complete’ or weekly LASO challenges? This would give players who want to immerse themselves in the campaign story more reward to doing so, rather than just rewarding them for the occasional challenge.

    P.S. Thanks to HBO for linking to this article!

  5. May 30, 2011
    Reply

    Thank you for a well written article.

    I was new to Halo when I bought Reach, and the Challenge System made me want more!

    You’ve covered the points about game play, mode, count and type distribution very well. I feel that I will reference this article whenever I am asked about it to newer player who are seeing the light.

  6. Homeboyd903
    May 31, 2011
    Reply

    Hey, I was just wondering… as sort of a ‘wish list’ can you touch a bit on how you would like to see this system expanded upon in future Halo (or any shooter) titles? I know you’ve explained in some detail about how you’d like to see the current system expanded upon (within it’s current limitations), but I just wondered if you had some things in your head that would be brand new to this type of system that you personally would like to see added. I know I’m asking a mouthful but you never know where these guys can draw their inspiration from.

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