Life’s Too Short: How I Learned To Embrace Easy Mode

Jon Morcom ruminates – not entirely seriously – on trying to overcome difficulty spikes in games.

“Slick, you dozy prick! How can you miss with a shotgun from point blank range?” I recently shocked myself by saying this rather too loudly at some pixels on my screen arranged into the shape of a nondescript bald man firing a gun very badly. I’d bought Wasteland 2 [official site] off the back of some good reviews and approached it with no real pre-conceptions. Shock, horror I’d never played the original Wasteland, only a few hours of genre stable-mate Fallout and Fallout 2 not at all; please forgive me hardcore gamers (in the interests of full disclosure I’ve also never rolled a hoop with a stick or flicked a juggling diabolo high into the air). But I make mention of my futile, out-loud admonishment of a party member who just happened to miss, as the combat dice rolls in Wasteland 2 will occasionally have him do, to exemplify the degree to which I’d invested in the game.

I had started with a team that lacked a designated medic and my cavalier attitude towards combat – more Douglas Haig than Sun Tzu – led to a few unfortunate casualties and a re-start within an hour. Choosing again, this time à la carte from inXile’s preset character list, I settled on Pills, Fade, Slick and Cold-Eye. And despite the aggregation of their names sounding like an album by the Happy Mondays, they all survived right through to the end, their efforts augmented by a few doughty followers who took their chance with my disparate bunch. I craved more of the game’s addictive mix of action, choice and cheaply-earned XP so another run-through followed with an all-woman squad as I happily exhausted all the content a second time.

Steam tells me I’ve now totalled 144 hours in the game and although it’s not quite as noble an undertaking as say, devoting six days helping fight Ebola in Africa or serving hot meals to the homeless at Christmas, I still regard it as time well spent. And yet I have something I feel the need to share, something that’s been nagging away at me and that, once vented, could be viewed as a ‘coming out’ of sorts but which may also provide succor to any other duffers out there: anticipating that I might struggle after the first abortive attempt, I played the whole bloody lot on Rookie difficulty. There, I’ve said it.

I opened with this little vignette to clumsily illustrate the point that for some years now, I’ve been wrestling with a form of gamer guilt. Not the sort that comes from having a Steam library full of sale-bought games that are untouched or getting a bit antsy and creatively sweary in the text talk at some 12 year-old who’s dominating you online but the type where you feel you’ve perhaps taken the easy option by checking a walkthrough or altering the difficulty settings to progress a game or finish off a troublesome boss.

As an older person I find myself increasingly invoking the simple three-word mantra ‘Life’s too short’ to justify my indifference to, or readiness to balk at, certain everyday things and I have to admit, at the risk of being plotted unfavourably on the Clarkson-Meldrew curmudgeon matrix, that attitude has frequently crossed over into my games-playing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no slouch and have had my share of successes and memorable moments over the years, including an unlikely-sounding 33 killstreak as a Sniper during a charmed 19-minute life in Team Fortress 2 and a level 70 account in Modern Warfare 2, created by playing Free-For-All mode all the way. No, the shooty things I can do, it’s boss fights and strategy where I tend to falter and lose patience, either because I’ve overlooked the need to execute some obscure tactic I dismissively skipped through during the tutorial many hours earlier or because I’m completely oblivious to any choreographed cues that are providing me with the openings I should be exploiting.

I realise I may be setting myself up for a hammering in any comments that may follow but the long and short of it is I’m a family man with a full-time job. My leisure time is no more or less precious than anyone else’s but if I’m playing a game, I don’t want to be rolling along happily at a good tempo then watch the screen dissolve to red and tell me “You have died” a few dozen times because the difficulty curve has suddenly soared skywards, a few degrees off vertical. I like a reasonable challenge and will nearly always start a game on normal, if only as a physical audit of my faculties, but if I get through unscathed and replay the game, it’s rare that I will attempt it on a higher difficulty. In fact I am far more likely to drop it down to Easy so I can take the scenic route through the game and give myself a chance to stop and smell the pixels, if you like; to maybe admire the artwork and have a good poke around each level without having to worry too much about pesky enemies trying to ruin my day.

In 1962 during a speech at Rice University in Houston, US President John F. Kennedy famously said:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”

Now I cannot seriously equate a monumental undertaking that saw nearly a million gallons of highly combustible fuel propel three men sitting atop a 360 foot-long aluminium tube 240,000 miles to the Earth’s only natural satellite with sitting in a comfy office chair and guiding an avatar around some beautifully rendered 3D environments for a few hours, but JFK’s words might resonate albeit trivially and on a significantly reduced scale with players of roguelikes. I’m guessing for such players the near-insurmountable difficulty is the principal attraction and I genuinely respect that, but frankly I’d sooner leave my daughter in the care of Liam Neeson than tackle something that boasts of being deliberately hard.

The article continues on page two.

163 Comments

  1. rustybroomhandle says:

    Yes! Your words… these are the things. Them is they.

  2. Lord Byte says:

    I used to play at the highest (selectable) difficulty only up until a few years ago. And proud I was, kept all my savegames going back to ’98! And noone cares….

    So I had the same realisation a long time ago, while I don’t go to the easiest difficulty, I tend to play normal or the default difficulty as this is the way the devs intended it, and that’s all I really care about, the same way that I don’t add salt and pepper to what other people cooked (as I feel that messes with the “flavour” or intention of the cook), I don’t want to mess with arbitrary values, and wasting hours because the difficulty was sometimes ridiculous (or expected ridiculous abuse of the system to get any further), wasn’t a good investment in that time.

    Have I played games at easier difficulty? Yeah a few, but usually normal is a good enough compromise, and to top it off, closer to the programmer’s intentions.

    • WombatDeath says:

      I’ll usually play at whatever difficulty doesn’t present a significant challenge. I spend 40-odd hours a week at work grabbing challenges by the scruff of the neck, and I’m fucked if some pixelated tosser is going to thwart me in my spare time.

      • MontyTexas says:

        Wombatdeath do you work in veterinary medicine? Perhaps euthanizing wombats? Or just a cleaver metaphor?

      • malkav11 says:

        Pretty much. I won’t actually cheat anymore, as I used to in my youth (that is, with codes or trainers or whatnot, although cheat codes have gotten thin on the ground anyhow – I’ll cheerfully consult guides or walkthroughs if I feel the need), but I only get anything from challenge if it’s pitched at a level where it feels like I’ve accomplished something difficult without needing to repeat the process very often, and that’s pretty tough to come by. So I’ll go with Normal unless there’s some reason to believe that will be either too hard or too easy (I’m tackling Inquisition on Hard and it isn’t), but if it’ll let me I’ll dial the difficulty down the moment I’m struggling in any meaningful way, and if I have any question about whether mid-game difficulty adjustment is possible I’ll just go with the easiest one and to hell with it. I’d much rather make steady progress and enjoy a game’s narrative, world, characters, and mechanics than beat my head against the brick wall of failure in the name of challenge.

      • gunslingerfry says:

        Your words. They are my words. Except I gingerly ask the challenges if I can fix them or not.

    • Vin_Howard says:

      Well I still generally play on the highest difficulty setting; not because of “pride,” but because I get more out of the game that way (one of my highest points in my gaming history was getting 100% on Star Fox 64; it was extremely difficult and caused a lot of practice and patience; but when I finally got it, I was so extremely satisfied).

      Yes, an arbitrary difficulty increase is just that: arbitrary and lazy. But that’s a problem with the game design, rather then the difficulty setting itself.

      • BooleanBob says:

        How do you 100% Star Fox 64, exactly? Kill every enemy that appears on screen? Does it acknowledge a fully cleared level, or did you need a guide to tell you what numbers you were aiming for?

        • JimmyG says:

          Yeah, in Star Fox 64 each level has a hidden “goal” score for number of enemies blasted. The average is 150, but on a few event-based levels it gets higher or lower. Like when battling Star Wolf, for example, each one of them gives you 10+ points if you defeat them in under a minute or two, but fewer points if it takes longer. Then there’s … Area 6? Sector Y? I forget the name, but there’s huge battlestations in the background and you get 50+ points for destroying them. And with normal enemies, bonus points are generated by destroying multiples at once using the game’s lock-on charge shot.

          Anyway, all this is just to explain that even though the game is heavily scripted, the challenge comes from memory and quick reflexes to achieve the perfect score on each level. When you achieve the score, you get a medal icon on that level. Getting a medal on a few levels unlocks an added difficulty, if I remember right, in which Star Fox wears his dad’s sunglasses and you can try to get all of the medals again. And they also unlock added features in multiplayer, like the ability to use the Landmaster tank (I got that one) and the ability to walk around on foot with a bazooka (I never got that one).

          I might’ve remembered some stuff wrong, because I was trying to do all of this about 10 years ago, but that’s the long and short of it.

          • BooleanBob says:

            Thanks for the explanation! This is what I remember of the game too. I’m just wondering what Vin_Howard meant when he said 100%, because any playthrough of the game is extremely variable and as such there’s tonnes of scope for setting your own difficulty goals. For example, he might have been talking about:

            – a full medal clear,
            – a full medal clear on expert,
            – a full medal clear on expert on the official hardest route (all reds),
            – a full medal clear on some subjectively assessed hardest route (sector Y and Aqua are both pretty easy, in my opinion at least, and the harder version of Venom is the one on the easier route)
            – a full medal clear on expert a full medal clear on expert on the most kill-heavy route (what said route constitutes being in itself a whole strategic meta-puzzle for obsessive players),

            or something beyond that, something crazy: not just clearing the medal requirement for the level, but killing every enemy that appears on screen.

            Which would be a logistical challenge before you even started playing – you’d need a trusted source for the absolute maximum obtainable score for each level, which if the game didn’t provide you (and I don’t think it did), honestly is something obsessive fans would more likely have worked out than Nintendo themselves. Except! The internet wasn’t really a big thing in the N64 heyday so that information wouldn’t have been widely distributed even if it was available, which I’m assuming is when Vin was making his runs.

            Even then you’d still have to have an argument (or at the least, a heated pub debate) over which route would constitute the most challenging for your 100%-of-available-kills run. Or I suppose, he could have meant doing all the above while obtaining the highest available score through lock-on and bomb combos. The thought of which alone is bringing me out in a rash.

            Which is why I asked – I’m definitely not trying to call Vin’s achievement into dispute, because even getting a full medal clear on normal difficulty is a pretty serious accomplishment – just because all the possible permutations that spill out of that simple phrase, 100%, made me curious.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      I’ve always played everything on highest difficulty. I even beat Doom on Nightmare waaaaay back in the day.

      Generally, I think that playing fewer games in a deeper manner, is better than playing a greater number of games in a cursory and half assed manner.

      Which doesn’t mean that difficulty always means “deep.” Most of the time it doesn’t, and if a game’s difficulty just outright sucks I usually just abandon it. But, generally speaking, I love the idea of going up against impossible odds and succeeding, so I will put up with tons of grief for that one moment when I find a way to succeed.

      • SamLR says:

        The big decider for me is always what I want from the game. I played most of dragon age origins on easy because I was interested in the story and characters more than the combat (which for most of the time was too easy but about 5% of the fights kicked my are and “life’s too short”). Ultimately I know I’ll never be a pro Street fighter player (or what ever) so I try to play to get the most from the game:be it story, challenge or pretty gubbins

    • thekdawg21 says:

      Alright all you ‘normal mode’ folks, and especially you ‘easy mode’ folks, ‘normal mode’ is the difficulty that the developer things the absolute lowest common denominator could finish. Someone that hadn’t played a game before could pick the sticks up and get in there and win. That’s business. ‘Normal’ is the new ‘Easy’, if you grew up in the 80s. If you play on easy you are flat out probably a reviewer that needs to get done with a dozen more
      deadlines this week. If you want content for your dollar, you play on higher difficulty modes.

      For those of you that say ‘oh my goodness this combat is such a chore…, but I like the story…’ Why didn’t you watch a movie or read a book instead? Both of those mediums are immensely more enjoyable than games for someone who just wants to passively watch something.

      Games exist for people that want to interact with the world. Hard difficulty is designed for those that really want the most out of their currency of choice. Where are all you people that want the feeling of achievement after completing a game, a level, a chapter, a small part that was difficult. I’m crying a little inside, knowing that developers will read things like this and make games easier — easy enough so that you don’t have to spend your precious time actually PLAYING the game that you purchased, and you can just get on with the rest of your day quicker.

      With all of the new roguelikes and permadeath modes and Dark Souls/Bloodborne games out there I knew there would be backlash, but pussification to this level really gets my goat. And it also makes me feel a whole lot better about myself that I am better than you and I can achieve, even on the hardest level. (and many times they are still far too easy). For those of you that want slightly interactive movies, I hope you move over to a different website and a different medium like reading and/or television and movies.

      I really would have hated Dark Souls if I told my friends, ‘Hey, I beat Dark Souls’. And my friend said, ‘Yeah, me too.’ But he just jacked the difficulty down to easy. (I know that’s not possible) It just makes my achievement worthless. I am all for modular difficulties, but give the people who -really- play the games some sort of glory to show that they are the real gamers and the other people are probably just reviewers with deadlines to finish.

      • kament says:

        Games exist for people that want to interact with the world.

        Precisely. But interact doesn’t mean struggle, see. Interact means you push a button and something happens on screen, and it’s a good thing when it’s something you wanted to happen and not, say, gameover screen. Walking around taking in the views (and in the game) is interaction. Hell, picking dialogue option is interacting. You simply don’t have that in your movies and books, no siree.

        In short: videogame doesn’t have to be sport, and bloody difficult one at that.

        • joa says:

          If choosing what line of badly-written dialogue your character is going to spout off next is the pinnacle of interaction then that’s pretty lame don’t you think? These things have almost no value whatsoever. What games can do, and can do well, is give you a challenge and an adrenaline rush, and the sense of satisfaction that comes when you beat them. The modern poor imitations of a Hollywood movie don’t give you that.

          • kament says:

            Point is, other mediums can’t offer those things, no matter how “lame”. They just can’t. Poor imitation of a Hollywood flick still has its variations of some phrases and plot outcomes. Walking simulator lets you set your own pace and what to look at. Hollywood flicks don’t. End of story. It’s baffling how many people take such things for granted and apparently think you can get that same experience reading a book or watching a movie. Sorry to break it to you people, but you can’t.

            In contrast, one can find challenge and adrenaline rush elsewhere and aplenty – from competitive sports that your multiplayer videogames poorly imitate and sports in general to gambling.

            Or, I don’t know, arguing on the Internet and trying to get your point across.

          • joa says:

            Being able to influence the direction of some mediocre narrative isn’t something I value very highly, but if that’s your bag then fine. Walking simulators can be interesting — some of them I like — some of them are just tedious and pretentious.

            I think the best games are a test of wits and a challenge. That’s the parts of gaming I remember most from when I was a kid. Replaying levels of Mario again and again until I finally figured out how to do it. Frustrating at times but very satisfying when you get it. If games were to loose that, that would be a loss.

          • kament says:

            Games as a test of wits (and not only that) exist for so long it’s a safe bet to assume they’re not going anywhere. Nobody loses anything by expanding definition of the medium. Especially given that the “interactive fiction” sort of games isn’t a new craze, too. “Let’s pretend X” without any particular challenge is very popular with pretty much every kid in the world, and in no way ruins chess or football or indeed Mario for them.

      • Reapy says:

        My feeling is why waste time mastering a single player game you will be done with in a week or two? Why waste time mastering a boss that you will play this one time, especially if what you need to do to succeed is boring?

        I’ve hunted for so many god damn pixels and corners that some bastard clicked down in the unreal editor over my life that I’ll give them about 5 minutes of searching before I alt tab to youtube. Even if I did find the thing on my own, I would feel no reward for having succeed in deconstructing the level designer’s intentions in short order.

        If you want to talk multiplayer, I think there is a lot to be said for sticking with a game and mastering. The shelf life of it will exist for as long as there are players, and some games just haven’t died in decades, and the time spent mastering them is well worth it and pays off continuously for years. Meta games and strategies shift over time so even though you are playing the same game, you really aren’t.

        So for me, I like the smooth action single player game, I get to see the content, poke around a sandbox, have a good time. When I find a set of mechanics I really like (last one was m&b warband) it is great to dive in and really live in the world with other people and struggle to master the systems in place and your opponents.

        Granted most people in games are more predictable than AI, but that upper 25% of any game, that upper 25%, when you play them, no boss fight can hold a candle to it, why bother trying to compete?

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          Qazinsky says:

          Why bother doing anything, we’ll all die in the end!

        • ansionnach says:

          If what you need to do to succeed is boring then the game is shit and maybe you should look for a better one. I think this is the reason why reviewers playing games on easy mode have no idea what they’re talking about. Maybe they finished it but they didn’t actually play any of the game properly… so they can’t realistically evaluate it.

        • cederic says:

          Agreed entirely. Single player gaming, I want relaxation, fun mechanics, maybe an interest story, maybe prettiness. Life is indeed too short to spend days and weeks mastering an arbitrary control system, memorising a pre-programmed game event, micromanaging overly complex game mechanics when I can drop the difficulty level a notch, enjoy myself and see the game content the developer put so much time into providing for me.

          If I want a challenge then multiplayer games will offer that without cheating, without artificial difficulty constraints, without breaking the core mechanics of the game.

          • thekdawg21 says:

            You can have all of that. It seems strange to me, that you want an interactive experience that is relaxing and not challenging in the slightest, but you choose a medium where what you are looking for (a passive experience) is so much better in books and movies.

            The whole ‘Life is too Short’ argument, usually used by anyone lacking time (dads, workaholics, people with deadlines) might as well go ahead and read the synopsis of Citizen Kane instead of watching the movie. Just read an article about the bullet points about War and Peace instead of actually reading the book.

            Those of you that say that my interest in a difficult and challenging experience is not in fact achievement, are completely wrong. Just because I’ve not used physical attributes or gone outside doesn’t make it less real. I’ve done something that you COULD NOT do. Or chose not to persevere through.

            Many of us COULD climb Mt. Everest with enough training, perseverence, and some luck. Only a very small percentage of the population do however, because of what is involved in the process. The same is true for difficult video games. I succeed and achieve where other people ‘relax and enjoy’, because I find the failures as fun as the victories. It’s what the medium, gaming, has that no other medium has. You cannot possibly get a sense of achievement from watching Lord of the Rings. You can’t get a sense of achievement from reading Dangerous Liasons. What can you get a sense of achievement doing in your home by utilizing your brain? Playing difficult video games.

      • Urk says:

        If you want to go through life resenting people for having fun that’s your business, but I think you need to lighten up.

        Getting a job is an achievement. Making a hard sale is an achievement. Getting an A in school is an achievement. Setting a school record for the 100 yard dash is an achievement. Starting a family is a never-ending string of achievements.

        Playing games is supposed to be fun. If you had fun doing it that was it’s own reward, and if you didn’t… well… you were just being dumb.

        Beating a video game just isn’t really much of an achievement regardless of what difficulty you played it on.

        And the author is right. Life IS short. If you look back on your life and beating Dark Souls is the kind of thing you look back on as one of your “achievements” it’s a pretty safe bet you’ve wasted your life.

        • thekdawg21 says:

          I actually don’t resent anyone for playing games on easy. They actually make me feel better about myself because difficulty is relative to everyone else playing the same game. Those achievements that only .005% of the Steam population haven’t gained but I have? They make me happy and feel superior as a gamer.

          What I am afraid of happened in the 2000s. They made EVERYTHING easier. The hardest games were easy as shit, quick time events replaced gameplay, and everything got streamlined so the lowest common denominator gamer could win the game on normal without too much of a sweat. (The niche games were a bit different).

          The trend is towards difficulty now as the gaming world grows up (I started in the 80s.) It’s seen peaks and valleys and now I see this backlash article on what used to be my homepage for gaming journalism (it’s long since been deleted and I visit twice a month). What I don’t want to see is a return to the 2000s where streamlining was the way to go and normal/(easy) was your typical AAA game that lasted 8 hours.

          Anyway, the only reason I posted my critique was because I disagreed and felt strongly. I want games to remain the only medium currently that you can both enjoy a story AND feel achievement at having seen the end of that story at the same time. (And if you value your time so much, go ahead and watch a youtube video let’s play of someone playing it while working out, or half listen to it while being a daddy, or might as well just watch the ten minute ending with one fight and base your judgment on that.)

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            Wisq says:

            I think the trend today is not towards difficulty, but towards diversity. The more different kinds of stuff we have, the more there will always be a game to suit everyone’s tastes. The reason we have Dark Souls is not because games are trending towards being more difficult overall, but because people aren’t afraid to make hard games at the same time as other people are still making easy games.

            What doesn’t help diversity is saying “if you don’t like how games are going then go watch a movie”. Or interpreting this article as a “backlash article” when it’s just someone’s take on what parts of gaming they enjoy. Because everyone should be able to find parts of gaming that they enjoy.

          • gunslingerfry says:

            There is a difference between difficult and time wasting. I like games that are difficult. Games I consider difficult: Super Meat Boy. Cloudberry Kingdom, Spelunky (Oh God, I hate/love Spelunky). Games that waste time: All AAA games. The difference is the investment of time. If I die in SMB, I had to wait about 2 seconds and then I’m back in the game. If I die in a AAA game, it gives me a loading screen. 30-60 seconds later, I am put back at a checkpoint that requires me to hold the joystick in a direction for 5 minutes to get back to where I started. This isn’t fun. This is wasting my time.

      • cederic says:

        Clearly sire, thou hast not enjoyed the stroll in the night sky that verily is the ‘Normal’ mode in FTL.

        You boldly suggest the developer thinketh this achievable by the common man? Nay sire, even a lord in the gaming world doth perish uncommonly against such a foe.

        • thekdawg21 says:

          Alright FTL and another game, Dungeon of the Endless, name their difficulties in a very tongue in cheek manner in order to get MY point across, that game difficulties are named strategically to make a bad player feel good for ‘beating the game on normal’. FTL’s normal mode and Dungeon of the Endless’s choice of ‘Too Easy’ and ‘Easy’ are punishing roguelikes meant for difficulty and a sense of achievement.

          I’ve finished both by the way.

          I firmly believe that FTL carries MY point of view.

      • behrooz says:

        Go play SpaceChem, scrub.

    • epeternally says:

      I adore difficulty in simple shooters with quick saves. The entire experience just becomes this addictive stream of repeating the same few seconds over and over until you get exactly the right series of movements. It’s like playing Super Meat Boy as an FPS. Difficulty in strategy, though, can go shove it, as can anything that makes me repeat 5+ minutes of gameplay if I die. I tend to be too deep in brain fog to manage any meaningful degree of tactics, and repetition of easy areas just to get you to the point that you’re struggling with is painfully boring. And, in a lot of cases (horror games in particular), completely breaks the immersion as well. I’ve played a few games on easy and should use it more often than I do. Unless it’s something arcade-y, most of the time I’m there for the story anyway.

  3. balinor says:

    I’d never played the original Wasteland, only a few hours of genre stable-mate Fallout and Fallout 2 not at all

    Burn the heretic!

    • balinor says:

      I really miss the edit function.

      Anyway, just wanted to add that whatever difficulty you play at the most important thing is: Did you enjoy your time with the game? IF the answer is a yes then awesome, if the answer is a no then I don’t see that as the players failure I see that as a developers failure to provide enough options either via difficulty levels or via methods within the games mechanics to win with different tactics/builds/methods etc.

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        tigerfort says:

        Depends a bit. Sometimes I can see what the developer wanted to do, and think they did it well but it isn’t something I’m going to enjoy. And that isn’t anyone’s “failure” (except maybe in communication/understanding), it’s just wanting different things.

        • skyturnedred says:

          I feel like I’ve been dumped with these words.

          • Kaeoschassis says:

            There have been a couple games I’ve dropped due to difficulty and really had that feeling, like a “it’s not you it’s me” sort of thing. Sometimes you really want to like something, you can even tell that it’s great, but it just isn’t for you. I sort of feel that way about almost the entire RTS genre.

  4. Chris Evans says:

    Hear hear! I don’t often switch down a difficulty from my standard Normal, but I drop down now and again when I have to. Though there is still that feeling at the back of my mind of ‘ooer, this is the wimpy way out’.

    My confessions – I had to play Doom 3 with God Mode on so I could run through with the scares having a slightly smaller impact on me.

    I often save and replay matches in Football Manager so I can make the next round of a competition. Often happens when I try to take a lowly club (normally a Welsh league club) further in Europe….

  5. SMGreer says:

    I’m all over the place when it comes to difficulty. Either I find something’s combat engaging enough to take the time to master it (Dark Souls, Witcher 2) or I enjoy the rest of the game game enough to knock it down to easy and just enjoy myself (Dragon Age Inquisition).

    The main problem is games are usually quite poorly balanced/designed in terms of difficulty. I the more punishing your game, the better designed/fairer it has to be and well frankly, there’s way more punishing games than there are well designed ones. Difficulty settings often leads to lazy design whereby learning from your mistakes is simply too frustrating to tolerate and your options are either slim or not made apparent.

    Extra Credits have talked at length about this and why some games are better than others. Very much agree with this article though, few games are worth playing on anything other than the lower difficulties.

    • scottyjx says:

      Yep! It took someone somewhere on the internet comparing Demon’s Souls to Ninja Gaiden for me to see that point about well-designed difficulty. And over the years, I’ve lost the tolerance for Ninja Gaiden-esque difficulty.

      And much like you, it depends on the game. I find the Dragon Age games’ combat to be so tedious, I just start off at easy with them, now. Much more pleasant that way.

  6. davorable says:

    Awesome!

  7. INCyr says:

    I really need to take this to heart more. I have so many games I haven’t gotten through, and there’s no reason for me to flail on anything but easy mode. I’m usually in it for the story more than the challenge anyway.

    • welverin says:

      This is a huge part of why I drop everything down to the lowest difficulty. I have enough trouble playing games enough to make it through one, the harder it is the the work I have to put into, the more I have to repeat things, and the less likely I am finish it.

      Also, I play games to be entertained for a bit and have some fun, when it becomes work it stops being either of them and I can lose the will to play. I also can become a bit obsessed with doing things ‘perfectly’ and redoing them until I do so. Playing on lower difficulties makes that easier to accomplish and move on.

      p.s. what’s with this page two stuff?

  8. hurlster says:

    Magic! I know where your coming from man. Agreed totally, why bust your arse at something to get enjoyment

  9. Freud says:

    If the combat is a big part of the game, I want it to be reasonably challenging but I’ve played some games where I just want to get through it because of the story/setting and then I don’t mind playing it on easy difficulty.

    Kingdoms of Amalur was one of those games. It’s massive and most of the combat played out the same way. Making the combat harder/longer wouldn’t really make the game more fun. I’d use the same skills a few more times and that’s it.

    I think I played Shadowrun Dragonfall on one of the easier settings but it didn’t feel that easy. It seemed like normal in most games.

    Other games, Dark Souls and so on, where the combat is central to the gameplay and the challenge of beating the game feels rewarding, I embrace the difficulty.

  10. neoncat says:

    I tend to play old RPGs with a walkthrough somewhere nearby, so that I can remember where that guy-I-met-five-hours-ago-and-now-need-for-a-quest was standing.

    I also have no qualms about ditching games with poor mechanics after a couple hours and just watching cutscenes on youtube. (*cough* Bioshock *cough*) If it isn’t fun, it isn’t worthy of my time. ^____^

    (And yes I do play difficult games thank you very much. Difficult != frustrating / boring / repetitive. You may criticize me after you complete Starseed Pilgrim. I won’t even say that you need to beat my time / can’t use a guide. :D )

  11. iucounu says:

    I generally don’t go for anything higher than Normal. For a strategy game, I like it to be super, super easy. Like, the only reason I’m playing Civ is to watch my civ slowly but overwhelmingly win a non-violent victory while I think about other things. When I fire up Blood Bowl, all I ever do is try to find the most abusively over-powered build for a team possible, in order to see how quickly I can kill or maim an entire squad of the most clueless and fragile hobbits the game can offer me (this team is called ‘The Bloody Sausage’, and if they make it to the 4th quarter of the game, they’re doing well.)

    I find – and this is by no means an original observation – that games in general have a problem with difficulty settings. As in, Normal is kind of the experience that was intended, and Easy and Hard tend to be a bit crude about the way they try to modify the experience. Bullet sponges, etc. It’s why I was interested to hear about – was it Mass Effect? – the mode where you could essentially skip the shooty bits if you were in it mainly for the role-playing. I like the shooty bits in ME very much, but it’d be nice to be able to edit games a bit more to get whatever kicks you personally prefer.

  12. ResonanceCascade says:

    It really depends on the gameplay. If you play Deus Ex on anything less than Realistic/Give Me Deus Ex, or Dishonored on anything lower than Very Hard, you are missing out. Those games become much more rewarding and fun when the difficulty is ramped up because it forces you to take advantage of all of their systems.

    With a story-driven RPG like Wasteland 2 I can understand not wanting to bother the steep difficulty curve with combat (I love the challenge, but I can understand it). In System Shock 1 I usually turn the combat difficulty down a bit, because the combat is really the least interesting thing about that game (plus, the controls are obnoxious for shooting in a post-WASD world).

    • Sinomatic says:

      I’d personally agree playing that way in DX and Dishonored, however for a lot of people it would only be viable/enjoyable once they’d played the game through on a lower difficulty so that they could get used to the playstyle.

      • aoanla says:

        This. I would never ever have completed DX:HR on “Give Me Deus Ex” difficulty, so I am glad that I “missed out” and managed to actually get all of the storyline by playing on “Easy” mode the first time through.
        And I found Dishonoured frustratingly difficult (yes, using “all the mechanics”) on Easy mode, to the extent that I actually had to give up somewhere in the Daud mission.

        I think that you have to modify your assertions about what difficulty level is appropriate to play at to avoid missing out in order to incorporate the widely varying set of player skill and patience.

    • Premium User Badge

      cairbre says:

      I admire your skill level but for me repeatedly dying gets old and sucks up my gaming time

      • Rizlar says:

        Agree with the OP that it depends on the game. Mostly I will give it a try on normal and only switch down if it’s irritating me. But with some games the challenge is definitely enjoyable.

        Someone mentioned FTL and I cannot imagine what it is like to play on ‘easy’. Being able to reliably beat the last boss?! Madness! Before beating the game about 80% of my playtime was without ever getting past zone 5 (out of 10 zones). It’s such a beautifully put together game though, the dying is a joy.

  13. Jenks says:

    Cranking up the difficulty in a game where hard is optional provides me with very little satisfaction. That’s why difficult games with no adjustable difficulty, like Dark Souls, are so refreshing. Conquering them produces a high that I thought was lost decades ago.

  14. amateurviking says:

    I’m on board. I will often bash the difficulty down in games where the mechanical challenge isn’t necessarily what I am there for. Bioshock, Dragon Age 2 and the entire Metal Gear series are recent examples for me.

    Unrelated: My working day includes a non-trivial amount of time dedicated to looking at gnats’ cloacae down a microscope. So there’s that.

    • ansionnach says:

      Difficulty was one of the most broken things in DA2. I played on Nightmare and it swung from quite manageable to cruelly, brutally unfair. Probably wasn’t playtested in the rush to release. Not that many reviewers noticed…

  15. Scurra says:

    I sometimes wonder if this is also a minor manifestation of “playtest syndrome”?
    As a boardgame designer, there is sometimes a horrible moment when you and your testers have explored and tuned a system to the point that “bad” strategies are so obviously bad that you don’t even consider them any more. Then you tweak something, and suddenly the bad strategy breaks the game – but you don’t discover that because you don’t play the bad strategies any more. (There is an unfortunate real life example of this, involving a game that was used for a UK boardgame championship, but we like to pretend that never happened…)
    In videogames I have occasionally wondered if the difficulty level of a game is related to the people who were writing and testing it; and the simple fact that those people naturally get good at the game, thus giving a moderately false impression of how hard it actually is. I can see this being a bigger issue with small or indie studios.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Probably true and a part of the process in improving or degrading the skill level and skill curves involved. :)

      Relevant as to your comments on testing and time spent fine tuning, (Psychonaughts speed run with live development team commentary on how “hard” the levels were suppose to be :P ) link to youtu.be

  16. Morph says:

    I was playing through Dragon Age: Inquisition a few months back and so was a friend. After talking about it for a week or so he mentioned he was on easy difficulty (I was on normal). I was weirdly outraged. His time was less well spent goddamit! He just shrugged and said he didn’t want the fights to go on to long, he was more interested in the story and characters. I found myself wanting to argue but of course it doesn’t really matter, but getting over myself was strangely difficult.

  17. Morph says:

    The shocking part of this article is that it goes over two pages. When does that ever happen on RPS?

  18. ikanreed says:

    There’s an exception where it matters: emergent gameplay games.

    If you’re playing a “story-driven” manshoot game, the difference between easy and hard is how many times you die before you uncover cutscene N+1 after cutscene N and there’s not a lot of meaning to attach to it.

    Games where new gameplay emerges from a confluence of factors, your dwarf fortresses and your simulation games, “difficulty” can mean which and how often unique challenges can crop up, which can be meaningful and fun, and not just incrementing some numbers.

  19. Crafter says:

    Similarly, I have already saved scummed in XCOM-like on some occasions.
    I just don’t have the time to restart the whole campaign from scratch multiple times.

    • aoanla says:

      In XCOM, I tended to restart if something genuinely buggy happened (like Mutons teleporting behind my soldiers, despite my having swept the entire map in the direction they appeared from earlier).

  20. Brosecutor says:

    I reached that point with Alien: Isolation. Fuck pride, man. I still had a tense and exciting time with A:I and it’s my GOTY 2014, but I sure as hell won’t be playing it in anything harder than easy mode.

    • meepmeep says:

      I keep on being tempted to play this for the setting and story, and while I imagine the alien-avoidance is fun at first, I can’t see continually evading it by a gnat’s nadger remaining enjoyable for the full 15-odd hours. I would be 2 hours on normal, then straight to easy, rollerblading past him with a tip of my hat and a how-do-you-do-sir.

      • Lendri says:

        I lasted 43 minutes on Normal, until I quit in a panic because I opened a door and a light went out.

  21. Barberetti says:

    Fuck that Kayran. I was really enjoying the game until that part.

  22. vahnn says:

    Puss-puss-puss-pussaaaaaaaaaay!

    I jest, du wot’s fun, m8.

  23. Immobile Piper says:

    As long as you’re having fun. Sure that fancy triple-AAA game may have been designed to be played on normal, but it was also designed to be played by many millions of people. I find it easy to imagine that maybe, just maybe, a few hundred thousand of those people might prefer a bit harder or an easier experience or just plain different (mods!) experience.

    That said, I do feel that it varies a bit game from game but also based on my mood. Take XCOM or Dark Souls for instance. (For me) fun is in exploring, experiencing and maybe eventually mastering the systems presented to me. Dying/losing repeatedly is not an issue, because the act of losing is fun by itself. So maybe I’ve never actually seen an ethereal or gained psi powers in my 80+ hours of new XCOM, but I don’t really care since I’ve had fun all the same. With those games I don’t play to reach some fancy ending cut scene, I play to have a satisfying experience on my way to the ending cut scene. Playing is fun, winning is a nice afterthought.

    But something like a Call of Duty SP? I just play it for the cheesy campaign plot and shooty man manshoot power fantasy. Trying to play it on hard would be missing the point as I view it. But I guess some people might be looking at XCOM the same way I look at CoD, for those people I suppose it’d make sense to play on lower difficulties and/or savescum.

  24. aliksy says:

    I find some “difficulty” isn’t fun to overcome. I bounced off of Wasteland2 pretty hard because it was so random. Am I going to make the 55% chance to hit and win, or will the RNG fail me and force a reload? It didn’t feel like I was earning my wins and losses, and that was frustrating. Contrast with Dark Souls, where there’s pretty much no randomness and I can always tell what I did wrong.

  25. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    Amen to this, I have hundreds of hours in FTL, but I’ve only played a few games on Normal difficulty, it’s Easy all the way for me. I can pretty reliably beat the boss now, so I know when I sit down that I’m going to get about an hour or so of fun, with lots of ups and downs (fuck you giant spiders) but it’ll end on a high.
    It’s a bit like reading/watching something light and fun, vs something serious and complicated.

  26. JesterRaiin says:

    Nowadays I approach no massive game without enabling the godmode.

  27. heretic says:

    I played dragon age inquisition on easy, combat is such a chore!

    For most games the default difficulty is adequate, Dishonored I played on the hardest difficulty as anything other than that felt wrong somehow.

    As another commenter said, at the end of the day it’s whether you enjoyed the game or not :) but more and more I feel the same way as the writer, simply don’t have time to bash a section of a game many times just because I set the difficulty too high.

    Life’s too short!

  28. nimbulan says:

    I think we should keep the two issues separate: general game difficulty and difficulty spikes. Game difficulty is a personal preference and should always be adjustable to fit the majority of players. Extreme difficulty spikes I would consider a design flaw. I ran into quite a few in The Witcher 2 and it nearly ruined my playthrough though the rest of the game was fantastic. I really hope it’s something they fix for The Witcher 3.

    Wasteland 2 I just finished a couple days ago and I found that while the game started quite difficult, it got easier and easier as I progressed. I never ran into any sudden difficulty spikes.

    Difficulty is something that I believe does not scale well to high levels with modern game design, especially with shooters. Generally all that’s done is to increase enemy damage and health and sometimes increase the number of enemies. It ends up that the only significant difference is that you die faster, sometimes to the point where health upgrades are useless. Certain games like Spec Ops: The Line take this to absurd levels where popping out of cover on FUBAR difficulty has a 50/50 chance of you dying in certain rooms because you take damage so fast and you can’t predict when the enemies will fire. High difficulty should be better designed and work with factors other than just hp and damage, though I understand it’s much more difficult to implement that way.

    In any case…difficulty is all about personal preference. I know someone who always plays games on easy because he just isn’t very good at them and wants to enjoy the story and that’s just fine. I generally play on normal or hard depending on the game and if there’s an achievement for the higher difficulty level.

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      This sounds similir to how I see it, although I usually aim for highest/second highest difficulty, which one specifically decided by how it ups the difficulty. In Skyrim, I play second hardest difficulty because that usually means that both you and the enemy dies in a few solid hits (I usually don’t do full enchanting/crafting, makes the game too easy imo) whereas the highest difficulty mean that I can twack someone with a sword several times and they just brushing themself off after.

      Mount & Blade Warband on the other hand, I keep on manual blocking, fastest combat, best AI to produce roughly the same effect, intense combat that’s solved by a few solid hits. I also keep the combat size at manageble numbers because I don’t find random oneshot bolts or arrows from a sea of enemies that fun.

  29. ThisWayUp says:

    What a great article, well written, humorous, informative and spot on, good work fella. I also struggled with that Witcher boss battle. I tried it so many times and was so close it was mouse tinglingly annoying. In the end I didn’t go easy I dropped the game. It’s a shame as I’d had a right good time up to that point. Well anyway, just wanted to pat you on the back and say; you’ve done a great job of saying what we’ve thought about and struggled with.

    • rcguitarist says:

      That’s what trainers are for. The infinite health option got me past that boss.

  30. Legion23 says:

    I want to be allowed to customize difficulty: Back when I played Crysis 1 I was very annoyed that the enemy soldiers only speak Korean on the hardest difficuly, I wanted to play on normal but have them speak Korean. The older Silent Hill games or System Shock 1 let you choose the difficulty of things like combat or puzzles on your own.

    • Immobile Piper says:

      First Soldier of Fortune also allowed you to do that. I remember it had quite a few variables you could set if you chose custom difficulty. I was younger then so for all I know those settings might not have been too smart, but it’s to this day one of the few games I’ve played that allow the player to directly tweak the difficulty without resorting to modding/challenges.

      • Premium User Badge

        Qazinsky says:

        Yeah, having some features enabled/disabled by difficulty can be really annoying, take the Hitman games for example, on the hardest difficulty, you get no saves, what if I don’t have time for a whole map?

        I also remember Soldier of Fortune’s difficuly settings, was really great, so was SoF2’s randomly generated missions. We don’t need to talk about SoF3.

  31. rcguitarist says:

    I’m with you on this. I play games as an escape from reality. I play them to have fun and go on an adventure. I don’t play them to challenge myself and put my button mashing skills to the test. Having video game mastery skills has to be one of the most useless things anyone can aspire to achieve. And don’t think I’m not a big time gamer by saying that, I have been playing video games religiously for the last 23 years of my life.

    But if you can still have fun and get excited while playing the game on easy, then go for it. Nothing wrong with that because at the end of the day, you get the same thing out of the game that someone playing on hard gets out it.

    And this with get some comments, but when I reach spots that I can’t get past in a game (where I die more than 10 times at the same point)….I use trainers for infinite health. GASP! But you know what? I still enjoy the game just as much when using those. I still hid my character behind cover, I still avoid danger and still get a rush of excitement. I forget I am even using it. I just don’t have to repeat things over and over again. That equates out to more time with my lovely wife with out having to cut out my gaming addiction.

    • rcguitarist says:

      Disclaimer: I NEVER EVER use trainers in multiplayer.

      • Premium User Badge

        Qazinsky says:

        This right here is the important part. As long as you don’t use ‘unfair’ things while playing with others (unless they’re in on it), I don’t see any problems with it whatsoever.

    • technivore says:

      Here here! I have used trainers in a couple of instances (to get past a boss fight in DXHR and to see the end of Borderlands 2). And frankly I believe the only proper way to play the masterpiece that is Just Cause 2 is with an infinite health / infinite ammo trainer.

  32. thedosbox says:

    No, the shooty things I can do, it’s boss fights and strategy where I tend to falter and lose patience

    One of us! One of us!

    I had the same attitude with the Batman Arkham games. Enjoyed fisticuffs with the regular thugs, but the boss fights were annoying as fuck. By the time I got to Bane in Arkham Asylum, I’d had enough and started over at Easy.

    • welverin says:

      Funny thing about Arkham Asylum, the only real differences in difficulty between Easy and Hard is how much health you and the bad guys have, and the lack of ‘spidey-sense’ over enemies when they’re going to attack.

      My first play through was on easy, that wasn’t enough game for me so I started a new game on hard. Turns out the only real difference was how many hits it took to defeat an enemy and how many I could take before dying, and the lack of the waves over thugs heads when they were going to attack (and by that point I was familiar enough I didn’t need it). The combination of these things forced me to play a little more defensively, but otherwise it wasn’t much more difficult.

      • thedosbox says:

        Oh, I would have happily played on normal if it weren’t for the boss fights. However, the Arkham games don’t allow for difficulty to be changed in-flight, so that wasn’t an option.

  33. sansenoy says:

    Lemon difficult, holy hell, I have to see that glorious movie again…

  34. OmNomNom says:

    I play games for a challenge, I actually enjoy suffering/failing as it’s the best way to learn. I also feel a bit cheated if the game is too easy but it’s a game I really enjoy as it is over sometimes too quickly.

    Always hardest mode on first playthrough and I very rarely go back and change it (although XCOM was one game where I couldn’t play on hardest/ironman to start xD )

    There are also plenty of games where you won’t see certain areas / mobs if you don’t play hard so I do it to maximise the experience too.

  35. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    It’s quite simple really; some people like a proper challenge in their gameplay, some prefer a more casual experience.

    Horses for courses. Neither approach is the right way or the wrong way.

    I hope RPS in general keeps an open mind to this – obviously things change in life and less spare time points more towards brief/casual gaming experiences, but I think this place would do well to remember there’s a vast chunk of us who do have the time for complex difficult games.

    • Premium User Badge

      shevek says:

      That’s one axis, certainly. Another might be how player’s particular abilities (reflexes, learning style, sense of rhythm, mathematical ability, and so on) match up to the game’s systems and set the bar for a “proper challenge”. And yet another might be how much prior knowledge and experience the player has. Using a console controller (or a mouse) is a learned skill, and so is understanding the assumptions encoded in an established game genre. (Grinding in a JRPG, use of cover in a manshooter, precision and exploration in a platform game.)

      That last one’s particularly significant because playing a lot of games and putting in the time to get good at them is how you get status in games fandom – and that makes me a little uncomfortable with terms like “proper challenge” and “casual”. Fandom’s a perfectly fine thing but it’s not the point of games.

  36. Michael Fogg says:

    ‘Do you EVER think about the people who play your games, Tim? Do you even think about them FOR A SECOND??’ – me during the final stages of Psychonauts.

    But really, I find that a game that plays itself is just painfully boring. It’s no fun unless it makes you think, learn & adapt. Even if you have to swear sometimes.

    Life is too short indeed – to sit through what amounts to a glamourized cutscene.

  37. mattevansc3 says:

    I feel the same as the article but my main bugbear is “precision” difficulties in non-FPS games.

    Now I’m going through the diagnosis process for Asperger Syndrome and one of the more common side issues for those with that condition, and one that’s been acknowledged in my pre-diagnosis, is dyspraxia (very poor spatial awareness). Any form of “precise” movement be it pixel perfect jumping, QTEs or pin perfect timing (like the parry technique) does not come naturally to me regardless of how much practice I put into it. When there is little to no margin for error in a game or level I move onto a different game.

    • Anguy says:

      Thanks for sharing!
      I find that very interesting because there has to be a lot of people (colorblind, 1 arm missing etc.) who enjoy gaming a lot but have minor disabilites and basically get added difficulty on top because they can’t distinguish between colours very well for example.
      Do you have an example of game you’d really liked to have played but just wasn’t possible for you?

    • cederic says:

      I bounced off X3: Reunion for this reason. I bought a space combat/exploration/trading/empire building game and very early in the story ended up being asked to do platform game style navigation through a narrow tunnel in an asteroid, with critical timing and perfect sequencing required.

      I failed several times. I posted on the forum asking for help. I got mocked. I uninstalled.

      X3:TC fortunately didn’t have that crap, but it still rankles with me that the game tried to force me to embrace game mechanics that I don’t enjoy, don’t find easy, don’t ever intentionally go out and purchase, and couldn’t get through so that I could enjoy the rest of the game.

  38. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    I should really go back and try the kayran fight again. But everything about it just made me so angry, how long it took, that I just had to do the same thing over and over, how inconsistent the glue rune (whatever it’s called) seemed to be, the NPC shouting the same two lines over and over… And the worst thing is I’ve got a horrible feeling I was playing on easy, and don’t really want to look in case that turns out to be true.

    Ahem. Anyway. I know it was laughed at but I do like the option in GTA5 to just go onto the next bit of the story if you can’t get past something, deals with those unexpected difficulty spikes.

  39. ThomasHL says:

    All the complaints people have about Dragon Age: Origins go away when you play on easy. The Fade and the Deep Roads stop being a neverrending chore because you’re not endlessly micromanaging against waves of indistinguishable unmeaningfall unimportant enemies in repetitive environments. You kill and move on.

    Saying that, I really wish DA:O had a difficulty level between easy and normal. I don’t want to spend minutes on every single trash encounter, but it would be nice if harder enemies still required some more of tactics other than click and kill

    • welverin says:

      Well, you can change the difficulty up and down at will. So, when you get to a boss you can turn it up, and then turn it back down afterwards.

      Of course I’m not sure there’s that big a difference between easy and hard it that either. I turned the difficulty up for the two pseudo boss fights in that had achievements’ tied to them for beating them on hard or nightmare. Both times I forgot to turn the difficulty back down afterwards and it took me a while to figure it out.

  40. Furiant says:

    I generally play on Normal, and if it’s too much of a pill, I’ll turn it down to easy and leave it there. The thing is, I could grab a sword and head off into the woods right now, find myself a bear, and get my ass mauled to death. I can do that in real life. I play these games because I want to experience being powerful, being a badass.

    That’s the thing that developers don’t seem to get. MMO’s are the worst. “Balance” at any cost. Nerf all the skills. Make all the gear hard to get. Ramp up the mobs’ HP and damage. Make it so that every encounter is as much of a risk as possible, and the rewards are as low as we can get away with. Except that this is one of the reasons I inevitably leave. I remember in City of Heroes, before they nerfed everything all to hell, how I would just log in, cruise around and smite bad guys for hours on end. I loved it. LOVED IT. Felt like a – gasp! – superhero. It was the most fun I had every day. Then the nerfs, and every fight with every lame dick crackhead was a dire tooth and nail struggle. Suddenly I felt like a 9-5 skinny programmer, which is what I’d been playing all day. I canceled my sub and never returned.

    Awesome superhero badass effortlessly smacking down bad guys: lots of fun, played every day, happily paid any subscription fee they wanted. Nerfed-out weakling in tights struggling to survive every single fight: no fun, no more money for you.

    But yeah, at least you have your precious balance. How’s your game doing these days, by the way?

    Even well-balanced games tend to try and constantly put you at a disadvantage. The modern Elder Scrolls, where you can technically play a stealth character, because the laws of RPG design mandate that we include such an option, but in nearly every scripted encounter, we’re going to let you sneak into position, and then teleport you directly in front of the boss, because if you’re not playing a warrior duking it out with a battle axe, you’re really just cheating.

    I have zero guilt about playing on the difficulty that makes me feel like a badass.

    • Anguy says:

      Most of the times in Skyrim or Oblivion I sniped the bad guy in the head before he could even see me. Can’t remember any instances where my character got teleported right in front of the boss, honestly.
      A good example, though not from a roleplaying game and not really about balance but more about being cinematic, would be the recent Thief where you could be as stealthy as humanly possible and in the end the Thieftaker General just finds you anyway like he did in every mission before that.

    • Unclepauly says:

      On the flip side having it on easy is the opposite of a badass. It’s like walking into a nursery and slapping the babies around. Yeah you kicked their ass, but was their any danger of you getting hurt? Walking into a biker bar and mopping the whole place, now that is badass. Although it’s just a videogame and we get out of it what we want, that’s sortof the whole point of this hobby.

  41. ben_reck says:

    That’s a lot of words to say that playing on normal or hard is not worth your time.

    And it’s not for Wasteland 2 which has rubbish combat. If hard just makes things longer, then your thesis holds true.

    But a game with tactical depth/complexity and lovely interlocking systems such as Fire Emblem? That’s another question.

  42. GuybrushThreepwood says:

    There really is no difference in completing a game on the lowest or the highest difficulty setting. Do what’s fun for you. It’s not like finishing a game on ultra hard setting is any kind of achievement that someone should be proud about. It’s just a game. Should someone feel accomplished for watching a movie or reading a book?

  43. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    There’s a lot of games I’ll play at highest difficulty (or try to), because they’ve been designed to offer a more rewarding experience at highest difficulty. Revengeance is a good example here. When beating a level at highest difficulty here, you know you have tested your abilities and successfully employed every trick in the book.

    But then there are times I simply cannot be arsed, and that’s where I’ll take advantage of Cheat Engine. For example, second playthroughs in RPGs, I’ll quite often use Cheat Engine to boost cash and experience. If nothing else, it usually helps get past the inevitably boring and long-winded opening chapters that a lot of RPGs have.

    But I find that if I am resorting to using Cheat Engine, it’s usually to bypass what I perceive to be bad design decisions on behalf of the developer. For example, Inquisition’s ridiculous resource gathering missions in the map room where an entire army would return from a lengthy expedition with maybe two beans and a bin liner. Some people may disagree with me, and that’s fine, but much like Jon, I find myself thinking life’s too short.

    • Monggerel says:

      We should start a place for strays, you and I.

      Ahem. Anyways.
      I was gonna post about Revengeance too. Where the difficulty doesn’t simply equal more heath and damage for enemies (although it does include all that), but significantly alters enemy behavior and placement. First level starts with a freaking Gekko on highest difficulty (I think it’s actually called Revengeance, hooray-). Second level with a Mastiff. Enemies attack like they give a shit. The way difficulty is presented in that game is, I think, more important than the raw challenge itself. It’s a different feel altogether.

      And CheatEngine should be taught to everyone. It’s good for you.

  44. racccoon says:

    The thing about difficulties is to ignore their “MEANINGS”
    Hard is not hard if you start there, as its placed just so most people would choose easy, I always choose hard and with it if you choose right, would make you win every time, plus you may get a sense of achievement from your ignorance of easy, or even at most some thrilling sense of power.

  45. Baf says:

    Dropping down to Easy in a game that provides it strikes me as a very different thing from looking at a walkthrough for Portal or filling in random numbers in Sudoku. The whole point of Sudoku is the process of solving the puzzle. Skipping that part makes the whole thing pointless. It’s like buying an ice cream and just throwing it in the trash because “no one is going to check” if you actually ate it or not.

    Easy mode, though? In easy mode, you’re still playing the game. You’re getting an experience that the developers intended, because if they didn’t intend easy mode to be used, they wouldn’t have put it in. Lots of games have optional challenges along the way, hard-to-reach bonuses or collectables, and I only sometimes go after them, deciding on a case-by-case basis whether I want the game to be harder at that moment. Easy mode is just the same choice applied globally.

    There are exceptions to this, mind you. Monkey Island 2 had an easy mode that cut an entire character from the story. You can’t tell me that’s innocuous.

  46. AngoraFish says:

    I’ve been bouncing off from The Witcher 2 because the comabt is just too complex for my patience level. Thanks for giving me some encouragement to tone it down to easy.

  47. Geebs says:

    If you set all three (I think it was three) traps in advance, the Kayran fight is pretty easy. The first boss fight with no-neck dude is much, much worse.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I only remember there being one Kayran trap available, the one you get as part of a optional quest and then it’s Yrden the rest of the time. I have no wish to replay it just to see if there is indeed more than one trap at hand, because I really don’t like the boss fights in The Witcher 2. I had to look at a youtube video to be able to get through that part (and I was playing on Easy) and since it’s so early in the game, I got a bad first impression that stained my opinion of the game as a whole. After the kayran you get another annoying boss fight in the magical mist, which also made me think worse of the game. It’s still a great game, but unfortunately marred by several things.

      • Geebs says:

        That’s totally fair; I only mentioned it because I find it odd that so many people got stuck on the Kayran when I found other bits much more aggravating.

        Come to think of it, I also had the better bonus swords that you get for having finished the first Witcher, which probably made things significantly easier.

  48. scannerbarkly says:

    I tend to play games at a range of difficulties. When I am playing for enjoyment I like a challenge, when I am playing to screenshot I need as much room to move as possible, can be hard enough to get everything up and firing to take a screenshot (it all depends on available ease of timestop options) so I tend to play on easy for those circumstances. The hard run comes first and the game is learned, environments pored over, memories made and then its back into the game on easy mode, injectors running and resolutions expanded and huds removed and all that other good stuff to take some pretty pictures.

    • Anguy says:

      Are you taking those screenshots for yourself or are they displayed somewhere? Would love to take a look :)

  49. AlexV says:

    I prefer difficulty balanced to the “Some chance of failure” level. If normal is balanced as “Some chance of success” instead, then I’ll drop it. I usually find Normal is fine, except for roguelikes, which are traditionally balanced that way.

  50. SanguineAngel says:

    Well, there’s nothing wrong with playing a game on easy. I think it comes down to both game design and where an individual player derives enjoyment. The mantra “life’s too short” presupposes that the only objective of playing a game is to finish it.

    For me, that would render games pointless – if the only purpose is to get to the end then you might as well just never start, bypassing that trouble and saving yourself the time.

    I believe the purpose of a game is to have fun! The act of playing itself should be where the fun comes in. To this end, difficulty levels can be adjusted to provide a suitably tailored level of challenge but also the gameplay itself should be enjoyable (not just the sense of achievement from progressing). In that way, it can be perfectly acceptable to play a game for 100 hours, never progress past the 1st level and still consider the time well spent because you had a blast. Or try the same encounter in Wasteland 2 a dozen times because you love the tactical game.

    Failure should be fun, or at least the prospect of replaying to some degree should not be off putting. If it is then I would wonder whether you’re really having a good time or if you’re just deriving satisfaction from advancement – and might consider investing your time in something more enjoyable?