Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 5, 2011
Should RPGs have difficulty levels?
My knee-jerk response is to say, “Of course!” I generally prefer games with difficulty levels. Especially action-RPGs. Especially for an action-RPG like The Witcher 2, which apparently really wants you to play with a gamepad, when I really want to play with a keyboard and mouse. I have a gamepad. When I get back to playing The Witcher 2, I may use it – much to my annoyance – because “Easy” difficulty was far too easy.
So I’m definitely not opposed to difficulty levels. If done well. But for me, traditional RPGs (and this includes action-RPGs) have inherent difficulty levels built-in. I’ve enjoyed them for years. It’s called “leveling up,” among other things.
Is this encounter too hard? If you are hardcore, you can power your way through it, trying different tactics, and keep going. Or you can wuss out (I often do), get an extra level or two under your belt, get a better suit of armor, buy or quest for that Helmet of Brain Protection to protect you from the encounter’s Brain Burn attack, plus an extra few potions of extra healing, and now the encounter (and everything beyond it) is quite a bit easier. So long as this doesn’t involve hours and hours of senseless grinding, we’re good.
So I don’t necessarily ding an RPG for lack of difficulty levels. In fact, sometime I don’t quite understand them. I mean, in an action game, there is something about bragging rights for winning at highest difficulty. Or at least there used to be. Nowadays it’s all multiplayer action and the single-player game isn’t much more than a demo and training for online play. And I do appreciate being able to “downshift” a game that’s repeatedly kicking my butt to the point of frustration. But most of the time, I don’t see the point. The monsters get more hit points? Maybe you fight more monsters? Big whoop.
In Din’s Curse, it’s more appropriate. You can customize a lot of factors to make the game suitable for your level of challenge. But since the game is never-ending, it’s really about how quickly you want to progress in levels and equipment versus difficulty. There’s even a permadeath option for an extra challenge. It works well.
I also like the options available in Eschalon: Book 2. Choosing the more challenging options – like pre-determined loot (so you can’t just quit and reload until you get loot that you like when you open a chest), or choosing to make food and drink a requirement – comes with benefits. But because of the benefits, it’s unclear that these are really “difficulty levels” so much as different play style options. You can choose a more “advanced” game or a simpler game, but the former is only really more difficult than the latter in that the player must deal with a more complex rules set (or can’t depend on save-scumming).
So am I just weird in wanting more out of a difficulty level in an RPG than just a harder game?
Filed Under: Design - Comments: 16 Comments to Read