I play 90% of my games on their hardest difficulty. No, I’m not showing off! There’s a reason why I play this way, in fact, I can think of quite a few reasons why everyone should play on a tougher than average setting. Also, whilst I’ve got your attention, if you play games on EASY, you really should go and throw yourself of a bridge or something. What are you? 5 years old? Grow a pair and get stuck into the nitty-gritty!
I like my games to be as challenging as possible. Playing as the hero in the story, I like the feeling of actually beating an adversary. For me, playing on any difficulty below the hardest takes this sense of achievement away. Every boss fight should be a challenge, with no victory guaranteed. Playing on EASY takes absolutely no effort whatsoever and that’s not what I’m after in a video game. I like the requirement to concentrate hard, to sit upright and focus on what’s happening. I’ve mentioned before how dire I am at fighting games such as Mortal Kombat and Tekken, but as bad as my button-mashing skills may be, I still give HARD a good go… even if it does frustrate the hell out of me.
This one time, I tried to get my partner into First Person Shooters. We were playing Halo: Reach, and slapped the difficult down to EASY for the obvious reason that she’s got about as much coordination her thumbs as a lobster. It was also a given that even if she was as awful as I expected, we could still progress through the story on account for me killing everything in sight with the utmost ease. It wasn’t all that much fun in the end and we got bored rather quickly, her because she was fed up of looking up to the sky and running into things, me for jumping around popping off enemies left, right and centre and doing generally awesome things with no effort whatsoever. Yawn! Although it was a challenge getting my lady to play, playing the game gave me no pleasure at all. I think we’ll stick to Lego Star Wars and Mario Kart for now…
Now, I don’t need anyone to tell me that video games and the stories that they tell are fictional. I know that dragons aren’t real, and I’m acutely aware that I’d probably be the first one to die in a zombie apocalypse (regardless of how prepared I might be). Despite this, I still want my games to feel as if they could be real. When playing action games, I relish the terror that accompanies dying in one or two hits. In shooters, you need to use cover to survive, just like you would in an actual fire-fight. None of this Rambo malarkey where you run in all guns blazing killing everything in sight with relative ease and absorbing bullets like a sponge. I enjoy the panic that a grenade indicator provides, on a lower difficulty you would probably ignore it and take the hit like a champ, on the harder modes though, even the sound of an explosion is enough to kill you which I feel (as lame as this might sound) is a true adrenaline rush. Your body tenses up, you palms sweat and the controller becomes slippery like a lubed up… well, you get the idea. Playing on HARD (no pun intended) is the only time you can appreciate those beautiful ‘checkpoint reached’ notifications and the relief they often provide. I will only ever play a Call Of Duty game on VETERAN, as much as I loathe the later games in this series, the single player campaigns still somehow entice me in.
I like being forced to experiment. It’s often the case that if i’m having a rough time, I’ll play around with my equipment. This is more relevant in RPG-type games, but is pretty transferable to other genres. I might have to try different armour combinations or try weapons I may not usually use to gain the upper hand over my enemies. Perhaps I’m dodging attacks well but not doing enough damage in-between, so I might try something that raises my attack attributes but lowers my defence as a trade-off. In a racing game, I might tune up my car differently or try different tyres to what other racers may have. When playing on a tough difficulty, you need to know what works best in each scenario you’ll face. By experimenting like this you’re exploring parts of the game a delving into in-game mechanics that you might not have previously looked into. I mean why would you when you’re easyily beating everything a game can throw at you with the basic setup?
Of course, sometimes you may find a combination of items that best suit the harder difficulties, where you’ve managed to assemble a perfect blend of what you need to get the job done. This can mean that you struggle to try out specific things because you already have a winning formula. It might be that a certain weapon/item/spell/setting just isn’t worth the trade-off of dropping/unequipping what’s been working well for you. For example, you might want try out the easter egg weapon on Call Of Duty: Black Ops. If you’re playing on VETERAN, the Thunder Gun is only going to hinder you compared to just using a normal assault rifle or SMG. Alternatively, picking up the easter egg weapon on Call Of Duty: World At War will benefit you greatly on VETERAN. The Ray-Gun saved my skin in that mission more times than I can remember. Although gimmicky easter eggs, you’re always going to give them a go regardless of the difficulty, you just might not appreciate how fun using the gun’s might be, perhaps.
From foraging herbs, hunting animals and looting corpses to crafting, modifying and upgrading equipment, to succeed on tougher difficulties, you’ll often need to master as many gameplay mechanics as possible. Like I mentioned above, you’re far more likely to try out every part of the game in order to gain an upper hand if you’re struggling. If you’re flying through a game with ease, why bother focussing on something that isn’t really going to benefit you? Take The Witcher 3 for example, if you’re tackling a Higher Vampire, you need to prepare well. Studying your opponent will reveal weaknesses and strengths. Higher vampires favor striking while invisible. This makes the trap sign Yrden absolutely vital both for revealing the vampire, and also keeping it in place long enough to cut it down with a silver sword. Igni is one of the few real weaknesses a higher vampire possesses. Also, if it catches fire, it will be stunned for a brief moment. I always found it is best to have a Quen sign prepared to absorb a blow, then cast Yrden to keep the monster in place for your silver sword. It really does make sense to prepare, because even on NORMAL difficulties, Higher Vampires can prove challenging. I always drank a Tawny Owl potion to make it possible for faster sign usage meaning I could use Quen and Yrden as much as I could, I also used Vampire oil on my silver sword to help increase my attack damage. Honestly, I didn’t need to prepare for many battles on this game as I was always happy to keep slashing and then evading. Playing on a tougher difficulty would have forced my hand to play out every skirmish with the utmost precision and I somewhat regret not playing the whole game this way.
I’m quite methodical in my approaches to most games, I like to scout things out, mark targets and prepare as best I can.
I’ve been playing Horizon Zero Dawn recently, and I’m having an absolute ball! Obviously, I’ve learnt from my mistakes in past games and I’m playing it on the hardest difficulty, it’s so much fun. Literally every single enemy presents a threat to the protagonist Aloy and I’m forced to think out every single move I make. I’ve mentioned before how awful the health system is in that you haven’t the foggiest how badly hurt you are and even attacks from the weaker robots can easily take you down ridiculously quickly. Because of this, I like to scan the area, making mental notes of what type of enemy are around and roughly how many there are. I scan for weaknesses on the bigger enemies and lay traps in and around specific chokepoints. I like to remain as stealthy as possible for as long as I can, this way I can pick off stragglers and perhaps ‘override’ one or two of them to aid a hand. All of these aspects of my play-style would likely be completely different on a lower difficulty.
Perhaps this is a given in action games. The fact that you die quite regularly means that the game will undoubtedly last longer. If you do manage to survive for long periods, the chances are you’ve had some tough fire-fights that have taken up much of your time and have certainly taken longer than if you had the game on EASY. The story of course, stays the same but it’s the time between cut scenes and other forms of narrative that can make a game feel a little a larger. However, sometimes it can be the case that because a game is taking you longer than the developer perhaps envisaged, you lose track of certain lot points and don’t really know whats going on. You can’t really focus on what characters are saying to you if you desperately trying to run to cover and heal yourself.
Ah, the ends justify the means. I mean, why go through that painful ordeal for nothing? Why would you put yourself through heartbreak again and again if you didn’t get anything to show for it? Trophies and achievements (they’re the same thing, but I feel like I’m discriminating if I use one phrase over another) are in every single game we play nowadays. Most games have trophies/achievements relating to game difficulties, and thankfully if you complete a game on HARD, you get the achievements for finishing it on MEDIUM and EASY. There are some exceptions, and these games are the physical form of Swine Flu. I’m looking at you Medal Of Honor: Airborne! What? You really expect me to replay the entire game twice more on NORMAL and EASY? Not a chance mate. Not a chance. I’m happy just replaying the Infinite Mischief mission over and over.
Some games only reveal their hardest difficulty once you’ve completed the campaign at least once. I can see why they do it, as it promotes replayability. Gears Of War have always been terrible for that, but they’re decent games, so I’m happy to replay it once more on such a prestigious difficulty if it means earning some more gamerscore.
So, there are clearly plenty of reasons I can think of for playing on a harder difficulty. What are yours?
Don’t get me wrong, some games are nigh on impossible on their extreme settings. Sometimes you need to momentarily lower the difficulty to get past a tedious part of a game. Each time I do this, a little part of me dies inside.
What difficulty do you tend to play your games on? It better not be on a casual setting you scrub!