Last year's Below was a stunner. A beautiful subterranean puzzle-box. A real shame, then, that for so many explorers it was also brutally, unforgivingly difficult. But while developers Capy one stood firmly by the belief that a cursed hole in the ground should be a torturous experience, they've since changed their tune. Below will soon receive a new Explore mode, cutting back on more obtuse mechanics and survival timers to make its lovely caves less frustrating to traverse.
The chilled-out new mode was revealed earlier today, arriving alongside a PlayStation 4 edition launching later this Spring.
Explore removes hunger and thirst from the game entirely. All instant kills have been likewise culled - all damage is now applied through bleeding, allowing more time to recover. Bonfires are now permanent checkpoints, letting you treat the entire game as one, long, uninterrupted descent. That punishing original experience is still available, under the new name Survive.
Creative director and co-founder Kris Piotrowski explained the change in a statement, saying: "Explore mode is our way of answering everyone who played Below at launch and found the challenge a bit too steep. It was clear that many players were intrigued by the game's haunting underworld and rich atmosphere, but its difficulty made the game inaccessible to some."
It's a far cry from his position this time last year. RPS contributor Sam Greer raised the game's brutal difficulty with Piotrowski, who was quite uncompromising on the severity of Below's spelunking. Back then, it was something that he couldn't imagine changing. An essential part of Below's atmosphere was this idea of poking into the dark - and the dark punching back.
“I committed pretty hard to creating an unforgiving game. I thought that difficulty was important to the experience, a big part of the theme from the start, and that’s something about the game design that I couldn’t compromise on.”
But critical reception didn't seem to gel with Piotrowski's vision. Our own Alice Bee felt the game struggled to find an enjoyable balance, writing in her Below review: “The game seeks to punish risk, but in the terrible cage match of risk vs. repetition, risk throws repetition from the top and sends him plummeting 16 feet into the announcers’ table every time.”