Sunday, July 1, 2012

Slightly Redder Red: Difficulty

        While playing through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 just to see how fast I could do it, I realized how terrible the "Juggernaut" enemy type is. Easily recognizable by the heavy, astronaut like suits and the "get sum" codpiece, the game became annoying whenever they appeared. It was nice to have a bit of a variety in the enemy types in the campaign, which in CoD is a godsend, but they were a hassle. They made the game less fun. They were so easy to kill, but they took so long to do it, I had to crouch, stand up, empty a clip into their heads, repeat. Some may argue that that's the entire formula in a first person shooter game, but it's more fast paced when you kill four or five enemies per rotation. With the juggernauts, it slows the pacing of the game, and that's the artificial difficulty at work.
        There's a huge difference between Artificial Difficulty and actual Difficulty in video games. Both are methods of extending the time you spend on a game, but one requires skill and training to master, while the other is a lazy way of making you spend even more time on the game than needed. Artificial Difficulty usually relies on higher health or higher defense ratings for an enemy, actual difficulty usually relies on timing and precision. 
        One notable instance of Artificial Difficulty in an otherwise excellent game is the higher level Draugr in Skyrim. These Draugr literally have no change in their attack pattern, barely any change in their looks, yet they have their health bumped up to extremes to make you spend more time in the dungeons. Draugr bosses are an exception, Bethesda gave them shout abilities like Disarm and Unrelenting Force. I was extremely annoyed to the point of almost shutting the game down when I was doing the dungeon to kill the dragon priest Rahgot  at around level forty. When I got into his room, he spawned, and almost twelve Draugr Deathlords came out of the coffins ready to defend him. They did little to no damage to me, decked out in the best armor I could get my hands on, and although I did high amounts of damage to them, they had health levels rivaling Elder Dragons and were outlasting me. It took almost fifteen minutes to get rid of all them to focus on Rahgot, and by then the pacing of the game was completely ruined, I was just.... annoyed. Extremely annoyed. 
        Skyrim's vanilla dungeons keep the mindset that the higher the enemy health is, the more difficult the fights are. I've found plenty of mods that abandon that idea, instead pandering to using your character's skillset to stay alive in fights. Plenty of dungeon mods have enemies with an average amount of health, yet do high amounts of damage, requiring experience with parrying, using spells to retain the upper hand, or staying undetected in the shadows to succeed. An entire game that's built on the ideal of skillful combat is Dark Souls. You can't sit there and tank damage with your shield like a heavily armored Argonian with a large amount of potions, you need to roll under the Taurus Demon's crotch or parry Gwyn, Lord of Cinders' attacks to succeed. It's difficult without being annoying. It makes the game great.
        Artificial Difficulty is so rampant nowadays, though. I can't stand Terraria because I just need to back up and shoot to succeed, which ends up taking much longer than it needs to be due to the bosses having such high amounts of health. Don't even get me started on the amoeba level in Metro 2033, I've abandoned my Ranger Easy playthrough because that section is so goddamned hard to complete with the amoebas killing me in one shot. And riot gear enemies from Uncharted? Forget about it. They ruin the pacing. Increasing enemy health does not equal difficulty, which is why I think the Ranger Easy/Hard difficulties in Metro 2033 are so great (despite the terrible, agonizingly hard amoeba section). They lower the enemy's health and your health as well, requiring a lot of strategy to get through the game, making it more realistic and less masochistic. If I went and tried to play Veteran difficulty on CoD, my health stays the same, but the enemies become bullet sponges. That's not fun, it's tedious. At least if I went to play Legendary on Halo or turned the difficulty up on STALKER the enemies have better AI and things of the like, making the game harder without giving them iron skin. 
        Realism is the best kind of difficulty, in my opinion. ARMA2 is extremely fun due to that. One bullet and I'm down for the count, same goes for my enemy. It makes the combat more frantic and exciting. Fallout: New Vegas had hardcore difficulty, which made the game extremely enjoyable. STALKER is incredibly fun due to the need to manage your inventory and stay healthy. This is a matter of taste, however. Game developers don't always try to apply the need for skill in games nowadays, look at Mass Effect 3's casual difficulty. You literally take no damage whatsoever. It baffles me why they would even add that to their game, are they so prideful about players wanting to experience their story to even think about the need for gameplay in a video game? Bioware should have made a goddamned movie or wrote a goddamned book for the players who just wanted their story. Deus Ex: Human Revolutions had a story leagues better than Mass Effect's (opinions), but they didn't offer a "no damage" mode for people just interested in the story. You had to play the game. No "killallhostiles" allowed.
        Are gamers even allowed to be challenged nowadays? From Software had to dumb down the difficulty on Dark Souls due to the mainstream opinion that the game was too damn hard. Mass Effect 3's casual difficulty was met positively by most people. And it absolutely kills me how many people go onto Rockstar's forums and complain about the free-look mode that they carried over from Max Payne 1/2 into Max Payne 3, in favor of being able to snap to enemies after aiming like in Grand Theft Auto or other popular third person shooters. I appreciate the need for skill in video games, gameplay is one of the most important things I look for in a game. It kills me that the mainstream audience loves to be babied and carried through the story mode with brightly colored enemies showing up on the minimap or craptons of ammo being divvied out in loads after every single kill. 
       As BioWare once said, "we want the Call of Duty audience." Now if you'll excuse me, I have to spend the next twenty minutes dumbing this article down into two sentences because Project: Better Dolphin wants the Twitter audience. 

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