• Welcome to ZD Forums! You must create an account and log in to see and participate in the Shoutbox chat on this main index page.

Difficulty levels in games


Braava Braava
Feb 18, 2010
Soul Sanctum
Speaking to someone in the SB (@Spirit) made me realise that the standards of difficulty in games appears to be either slipping or raising (depending on how you look at it) Slipping because it's now getting harder for older folk to join in on the fun but raising standards because kids now expect a "challenge" but the question is, should the challenge come from level design or enemy strength?

Some games bludgeon you with ridiculous enemies whose health is ridiculously over yours and can kill you in two hits (LOOKING AT YOU DARK SOULS) and then other games have excellent level design that can captivate you and still kill you just as easily (LOOKING AT YOU METROID PRIME)

I may be mangling this as much as possibly but what i'm interested in knowing is what do you as a person and a community think about difficulty levels, should it get toned down a bit? Should additional modes be added in to ease players into it? Should we have a game long tutorial companion (Goddamn FI).
Have difficulty settings.

I honestly dont know why Dark Souls and Nioh dont have easy settings.
People who want a challenge wont have to use the easy mode but people who dont want to be killed in two hits could.

I play games for story and i wanted to know more about Nioh's world and characters because it intrigued me a great deal but the game was too hard for me to progress. Same with Bloodborne, the same will be for Sekiro and Code Vein, games which i'm interested in thematically but wont play because i wont be able to progress their narratives.

Likewise games that arent 'balanced hard' are seemingly becoming artificially hard. Let's look at Samus Returns.

In every Metroid game to date Samus could usually tank a fair few hits. The damage was balanced and felt fair.
Samus Returns has early game mooks ripping entire energy tanks from Samus and this doesnt change in the late game.
To play the game is no harder than any other 2D Metroid as far as level design and enemy placement goes. But the damage enemies and bosses give out means that you'll be dying a lot. There is no need for the game to have such high damage output from enemies and it makes the difficulty feel cheap.

Hollow Knight on the other hand is a difficult souls-level metroidvania and felt fair and responsive because the combat is tactical and engaging. The health meter and damage output is handled better too. Most Souls games including Dark Souls dont have this refined challenge. Theyre merely cheap.

I even found Sonic Mania difficult because of bull**** enemy and hazard placement in levels that were to long/big to navigate in a ten minute window.

Difficulty is ramping up across the board because devs see the success of Dark Souls and assume high challenge is what people want. It isnt what everyone wants so give us the option to take it easy.


Keep it strong
Staff member
ZD Legend
Mar 17, 2012
Liverpool, England
Difficulty settings is the way to go. Different people play games for different reasons. If someone wants a challenging slog then let them have it. If someone wants to coast and soak the game world in let them have that. I like when difficulty levels are named in such a way to reflect this, too. Deus Ex Human Revolution and Mankind Divided both name their lowest difficulty "Tell Me A Story", and Tyranny and Pillars of Eternity have a "Story Mode" which makes combat almost negligible so there's no roadblock before the narrative. Let players choose how they want to play because not everyone has bought your game for the same reasons.

As for how to make games harder or easier, I've always been a huge fan of the way the Thief series and Free Radical games handle it. (By Free Radical I'm referring to TimeSplitters, but also Goldeneye and Perfect Dark since they were made by largely the exact same people while they worked for Rare.) You have the standard difficulty modifiers of less player health and more enemies and such, but all of these games also have different level objectives on higher difficulties. In TimeSplitters 2's Siberia level, Easy has you find the TimeSplitter and blow it up, job done. Normal and Hard have you blow it up, then suppress a mutant outbreak, then fight an attack helicopter. Similarly, the first mission in Thief 1 only requires you to grab a noble's scepter on Easy, but on Normal and Expert you have to also escape back out to the street. Thief games usually require you steal more loot on higher difficulties, and include extra objectives to steal special items, as well as preventing you from killing anyone. These changes mean more exploration for the player, which sends you to potentially more dangerous parts of the level, it makes you take more risks, and it makes it harder to remove enemies from your path. The difficulty is increased not by merely tweaking numbers behind the scenes but by altering the nature and structure of the mission, making you interact with the game's world and mechanics in ways you wouldn't have otherwise.

I also want to give a shout out to Resident Evil 4 for its adaptive difficulty. Once you've beaten the game you can choose different difficulty settings, but even on your first run through the game discreetly adjusts itself to be easier if you're struggling. If you're low on ammo, defeated enemies will drop more. If you die multiple times on a certain section, fewer enemies might spawn when you reload, or the enemies that do appear might have different weapons. The game might increase your critical hit rate, or lower the base health of enemies. And then when you're doing well again it will all go back to normal, until you hit another wall. I like this system because it gives those who aren't as good a chance to progress without making anyone feel like they're taking the easy option. The system is very subtle and I think a lot of people don't even know it's there, which is one of its strengths. Compared to Nintendo's magical white Donkey Kongs and auto-complete systems, Resi 4's way is far more preferable.

Users who are viewing this thread

Top Bottom