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The Difficulty Dilemma: Difficulty Settings In Games


Difficulty Settings are Important.

2018 has been a weird year for me, quite a few games have been released that I should love. Yet, an easily overlooked aspect shared between them has left me unable to enjoy them. That aspect is difficulty settings and challenge. I get bored quickly if I don’t find a game challenging, even if it has the features that I would otherwise love.

I’m a big advocate of difficulty settings. They allow the entire spectrum of gamers to have control over what kind of challenge they enjoy most. If a game does not offer difficulty settings, it’s very likely to lose an entire point in my review scores. I think they are that important.

When a game’s difficulty can’t be changed. The game is assuming that every single person to play it either has the exact same skill or enjoys the exact same level of challenge in video games. At the same time, I would imagine most game developers and publishers also want as many people to buy their games as possible right? More customers equal more money. Do you see how those two things conflict?

At times difficulty settings aren’t enough. Sometimes the way a game is designed screws the balance over and invalidates any challenge, even if you could choose a higher difficulty. Dying Light is a good example of this. It has a variety of difficulty settings to choose from, and the game will gladly stuff you in a locker and steal your lunch money on the higher ones. However, the game’s death mechanic invalidates it. When you die you lose a bit of XP, but that’s it. No reloaded save, and enemies you killed are still dead. In essence, it’s almost a health refill instead of a punishment.

Bethesda’s upcoming Fallout 76 is even worse. It not only lacks difficulty settings but when you die you can respawn nearby with little to no penalty (Just a few caps, the in-game currency.) You go right back to what you were doing. In terms of functionality, you could grant the player infinite health, literally making them invincible. And It would work the same exact way as it does now. I find that absurd.

Bioware’s Anthem is a game I am very much looking forward to, and I fear for it. It has difficulty settings, but its death system looks similar to Dying Lights. With this set up your enemies and accomplishments are essentially pretended. They don’t exist, the game’s enemies are only pretending to oppose you. It’s like when you are wrestling with a small child, and you let them win because you’re a grown-up, and they only come up to your knees. Then they stand on top of you and gloat like they are some roman gladiator in Caesar’s Coliseum.

In reality, you could smite the child with little effort, but the kid doesn’t know that. The thing is, most gamers these days aren’t children, we’re adults. We don’t need games to force us to play pretend. We know better, and we need to be given a choice. Some of us prefer hard games, some prefer easy. One isn’t better than the other, but if you’re locked into one when you wanted the other, your enjoyment suffers, and there’s not much you can do.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is another example. It commits the cardinal sin of not including difficulty settings. Plus, I found the game’s main missions to be incredibly easy. But not only that, it defaults to one of the most extreme forms of auto-aim I have ever seen. You push a button, and your gun snaps to an enemy. It’s the game playing itself almost to the level of some of those idle mobile games that require little to no input from the player. I can’t imagine many people who enjoy easy difficulty settings want the game playing for them to that degree. It can be turned off thankfully.

However, Red Dead Online is on the horizon, and something tells me the auto-aim is going to be on by default. So ether players are going to be aim-botting each other off of horses, or those who disable it are going to be put in separate lobbies. This means splitting the player base over a senseless feature that really should be under the accessibility category and not the default way a game is played.

I feel like developers need to have a bit more faith in gamers’ abilities to adapt and learn, and maybe we need to have that faith in ourselves. At some point, it became an evil thing to need to get better at a game to progress, but you get better at a game just by playing it. Which you were going to do anyway right?

But some don’t share that viewpoint with me, and that’s okay. That’s why difficulty settings ranging from high to low should be mandatory in nearly every game. At the same time, keep in mind if your death system amounts to nothing more than a health refill. Its difficulty is a moot point anyway.

Allow us to fail, reload a save, or whatever. If the game is designed properly and has the settings I mentioned, someone can always turn the difficulty down if they are having too hard of a time. I’ve been gaming since I was four years old, I’m 30 now. That’s a lot of gaming experience, don’t neglect me and others like me because we are the ones that have been with you from the beginning. We supported, bought, and played your games until you became the juggernaut of media that the industry is now.

It’s fine to make your game playable by casual’s and even non-gamers, just give us the option to turn up the heat and allow us the ability to fail if we want to. With that choice, everyone wins, no one’s left out in the cold.

Because right now, I’m staring at a lot of games of 2018 I want to play, enjoy, and scream from the rooftops about. But our relationship was doomed to fail, rigged from the start. Short of erasing 20 years of gaming experience, I can’t do a damn thing about it.