The lights are on
After hurrying home with my copy of The Last of Us and starting it up with eager anticipation, I faced a pressing question that happens nearly every time I start a new game.
What difficulty setting do I want to play?
It’s a loaded question. After all, I have never played the game; I don’t have a feel yet for how well I can play. True, I’ve played through all of the Uncharted games successfully, so chances are favorable that this newest Naughty Dog action title would pose a similar challenge.
But this game is new. It seems odd that such a question, which impacts a huge portion of your experience, is asked before you even start. Then again, it wouldn’t make any sense to ask for a difficulty setting later, would it?
I went with my standard choice of “normal.”
But I felt kind of ashamed. I mean, for someone who has been playing games since I was a little kid, shouldn’t I be experienced enough to play on the hardest difficulty setting? Isn’t that why it’s there? Am I not part of the demographic this mode was created for?
I also have this dilemma with games where the “normal” difficulty setting is actually challenging. I beat Catherine on the normal setting and enjoyed the challenge. Tricky levels kept me entertained without making me want to yank my hair out. But, I wonder if I would have enjoyed the experience the same if I had played the game on hard mode the first time around. Maybe I would I have put the controller down in frustration and never went back to it.
I would rather have a pleasant experience over bragging rights. I played God of War I, II, and III on Hero/Spartan/God instead of Titan mode because I didn’t want to break my controller in fury. Plus, nothing is more agitating than playing on the hardest difficulty and (after dying a few times) receiving a prompt to switch to an easier level.
I used to feel that the accomplishment of beating a game on the toughest setting would overshadow any frustration I experienced getting there, but more recently I’ve realized that it’s not worth it.
As a college student, with life demands other than gaming, it doesn’t seem feasible to get through titles on the hardest difficulty anymore. I have a limited amount of time that I can actually play games – even as a GI intern – and I won’t get through as many if I’m going for the most difficult option.
The truth is, it shouldn’t really matter what difficulty setting I choose because so many titles are about the journey more than the struggle. Why should it matter what I, with my personal gaming experience, choose as a difficulty setting? Some games are meant to make you cry, make you laugh, make you spend time with friends, or scare the crap out of you. And of course, some games are meant to challenge you. Ultimately, a game is meant for enjoyment.
Developers have the challenge of creating an experience that requires more skill rather than just more patience when it comes to higher difficulty. More than a few titles have the issue of not catering to a gamer looking for a challenge, but rather to one that is willing to have less health or a constant onslaught of enemies for the purpose of having the ego boost of beating a more “difficult” game. Sometimes it means playing a portion over and over until you can pass by sheer luck.
Take, for example, the previously mentioned Catherine. The title was considered too difficult by some players even on easy mode, so the developer made a secret, unlockable “very easy” mode. The hardest difficulty in Catherine is not a gameplay experience to laugh at, but not for good reasons. The bottom blocks fall faster, no undo option exists on moves made, and there are fewer items to pick up. Rather than adding a new challenge in making the player build on more complex puzzle-solving skills, the challenge is in moving faster and playing through the level multiple times until the route up is memorized.
Memorization is not the same as skill.
Playing the same level in a game repeatedly is essentially performing the task of a game tester without the pay. The creators most certainly did not have this in mind when making the game, as frustration can undeniably leave a bad taste in the player’s mouth.
Normal and easy modes lend themselves more to the first playthrough of a title. That’s a reason why more difficult modes aren’t available until games are completed, although another part of the reason is so that you have an incentive to load it up again. The developers intended for the game to be played on the normal setting the first time around, lending it an even balance of gameplay and story.
Until I find an insanely difficult mode that tests my proficiency rather than my tolerance, I’ll be sticking with normal mode.
Avoiding the temptation to play the most demanding level is a challenge in and of itself for many gamers. Instead of feeling the shame of needing to dial it back, I think the better approach is to recognize and appreciate the other trials offered in games.
If you choose to unlock the easier level, Vincent will still struggle through the same scenarios as he is pulled between Katherine and Catherine.
You still have to help Shephard through the suicide mission if you opt for an easier go in Mass Effect 2.
And the emotional impact from watching Joel and Ellie get through The Last of Us has been more of a challenge for me than any clickers can offer.
Helping your protagonist survive trials and reach the end of a journey is an accomplishment in and of itself, offering more reward than any trophy or achievement can.
What could be shameful about that?
I just experienced this playing Dead Space 3 on Classic mode. Where (even on normal) Visceral throws so many enemies at you in the last handful of chapters it's ridiculous. That developer tactic needs to stop with the next generation of consoles.
I have been playing games since the Atari 2600 days and I use to feel the same way but a few years back I decided that Hard would be the new Normal for me. I have found that the challenge level has been raised but not to frustrating levels, in general. Overall I feel that Hard challenges my abilities and makes me a better gamer thus I've been totally content with my decision.
I agree! I play through most games on normal. I often try games on a harder mode, but I rarely finish them because I inevitably get to the point where the the difficulty impedes the fun. I'd rather have fun than a achievement/trophy.
I like soccer. The thing is I have never really played soccer. I am not able to go to the referee and tell him that I should play with my hands because I want to enjoy soccer. NO! If I want to enjoy soccer I should adapt, practice, have knowledge of the rules. Play the game how it's meant to be played. If I don't find enjoyment on that, then soccer is not a sport for me. I see no real problems with difficulty settings but a line has to be drawn somewhere. The real problem I see is designing extreme hand holding in games, as if the designers underestimate the player or think they are really stupid to figure out the game. The player should adapt to the rules of the game not the other way around. If the game is not enjoyed, then the game is not for you.
I only play normal, and I play a lot. I don't care about getting better. I just play to have fun. What a crazy idea.
I always start on "Normal" - if a game is good enough to warrant a second playthrough, then I'll press start on that "HARD" option.
I can see that thinking, but I almost always play on harder if not the hardest difficulty available. I often do it for trophies and I do it especially for multiplayer and later playthroughs. If I play it on the hardest first time around, then I get used to that and anything under it is much easier to go through. I don't think I have played a game yet though where I had to bring down difficulty or quit...I always finish them that way.
I always play on normal mode because it's the original version of the game, the other ones are a modification in the skills of your character or in the AI
They should really change the picture for this on the home page.
Beautiful article. I have had a change of thinking as well. After getting 51 platinum trophies and always playing on the hardest difficulties for years, I realized my backlog of great games was building up and I was missing out on a lot of experiences just to have those "bragging rights". I loved The Last of Us, started Survivor Mode and realized I want to remember it for the great experience, and like many games recently I think I can live without the platinum if it means more games, more experiences and less frustration.
I think difficulty depends on how it is set up. Nigh unbeatable enemies just wears a little thin after a while. But if it adds a new new dynamic to the game like hardcore mode in New Vegas, that's more interesting.
I don't really play games a second time. I usually just play hard mode. Its not often really that much harder than normal, not like insane or whatever they want to call the harder modes.
Actually I kinda feel normal is increasingly the new easy mode in some games. Its just not challenging at all.
But I don't bother playing the really hard modes even if its playable on the first run. I can't think of any game I'm going to spend the time to master. And I play for entertainment. So I don't bother playing if its incredibly frustrating.
Thats why I have no platinum achievements. These games simply aren't entertaining enough to grind out the time sink achievements, kill 10,000 or whatever.
Beat The Last of Us on hard a few days ago for my first playthrough. Not that tough, because (usually) the game was fair in it's difficulty. Not the *** in Uncharted 3 on the higher difficulties.
My opinion on this has changed greatly since the introduction of Achievements. Up until I got a 360, I was perfectly content with playing any game on the Normal setting. Now that there's some kind of recognition for beating harder difficulties, albeit pretty trivial, it feels good to accomplish something and have it display from now on whenever someone or myself looks at the progress I've made.
There are some games that I just don't find it worth it, though. There's a fine line between enjoying the journey on Hard, and simply enduring the painful grind for a 50G or Gold trophy.
I usually play games on hard, but i don't really dare to do it with strategy games cuz the AI usually go insane.