When it comes to games there's difficult, and then there's difficult. I can enjoy a good challenge, but not all challenges are good ones. Some are just plain unfair. I don't mind it when a game legitimately tests my skills. I do mind it when a game tests my patience.
One example from my adult life that springs to mind is Halo. The original game is still a good challenge on Legendary. I still manage to die quite a bit. But none of the deaths ever feel cheap. It's a fair challenge. The game allows for a good amount of flexibility, while at the same time requiring you to be cautious, attentive, and most importantly good in a straight-up gunfight. You can go toe-to-toe with a blue Elite and come out in good shape if your footwork, positioning, and accuracy is good, while Red Elites will be a tougher challenge. But if you're not on your A-game, you can find yourself in a world of hurt even against a blue Elite or even weaker enemies. Even if you manage to survive, if you're down to the last couple of bars of health and the next health pack is three rooms away, things will get even tougher, but, if you're experienced and skilled enough and have your wits about you, you can prevail. The Flood are individually weaker than in later games, but attack in larger numbers, which makes effective population control and use of the environment to negate their numerical superiority essential. If you let them surround you, you're in trouble. The one thing that's too easy, however, are Hunters: a single pistol round in the back and that's it for them.
Meanwhile, Halo 2 is a much harder game on Legendary, and for all the wrong reasons. Bungie accomplished this by greatly increasing the amount of damage enemies can inflict. And then there were those fucking sniper Jackals with their 99.9% accuracy rate, insane reaction, and one-shot kills. The whole game just came across as cheap. As a result, the options you had that would allow you to win any given encounter were severely reduced, and more often than not you're reduced to hiding behind cover most of the time and having to resort to a handful of optimal tactics (e.g., if you don't have a power weapon, you pretty much need a plasma pistol + battle rifle combo to fight Elites, or just spam plasma grenades at them). Later games in the series aren't quite as cheap on Legendary, but have many of the same fundamental problems, which derive from the damage scaling combined with other issues.
There are all sorts of things that have gone into making Halo (and other games in the genre) challenging on hard mode, including but not limited to:
• Overall resilience of the enemy (i.e., how much health they have, and if they have any other defenses like shields).
• The performance of the enemy AI.
• The general effectiveness of friendly AI, if present.
• Overall effectiveness/performance of the player’s weapons (damage, accuracy, etc.).
• Whether or not the player has regenerating health.
• Level design.
• Encounter design, i.e., number, placement, and rank distribution of the enemies, as well as the weapons and other gear the enemies are equipped with; also, whether or not the player has friendly AI units backing them up.
• Availability of ammo, weapons, and other supplies (example: The lack of the pistol on the level "The Truth & Reconciliation" in Halo CE makes the level more challenging as you can't easily headshot every enemy).
• The presence, nature, and frequency of cheap, annoying enemies (e.g., the aforementioned sniper Jackals in Halo 2).
• Gameplay elements that could qualify as “Fake Difficulty.”
To use another, older series as an example, there's Mega Man. It's a series known for its challenge, and they usually have not had difficulty levels (MM2, MM10, and MM11 are the only ones from the classic series with "easy" modes). They are not easy games. But they are fair. The game is easy to learn, with simple and intuitive controls as well as a reasonably generous health bar, but it's hard to actually beat. The platforming challenges often require precision and, in the case of the disappearing block portions in some levels throughout the series, memorization as well. You need to learn the attack patterns and positions of the regular enemies, and the best ways of dealing with them (sometimes the Mega Buster isn't always ideal), as well as timing your shots to actually hit them. With the bosses as well, you need to learn their attack patterns, as well as figuring out what boss weapons they are weak against, and what boss you can most easily beat with the Mega Buster as your first choice. With enough practice, these are games that can be beaten and even mastered. The first time I played Mega Man 9, it took me something like three hours to beat. Now I can beat it in only one hour.
With that being said, developers are not obligated to provide a lower-difficulty mode, and I do think there's plenty of merit in having a good challenge in a game. I personally don't want to simply breeze through a game. However, the existence of an "easy" mode (or other optional assists) shouldn't be viewed as a negative. Multiple difficulty levels does not inherently detract from the experience, and a game is not all the lesser for having them. There's nothing wrong with someone wanting to start off on a lower difficulty so they can practice and "git gud" without things getting too frustrating, or even being able to (heaven forbid!) have a more casual experience. There's too many elitist gamers that want their hobby to be as exclusive as possible. If there are difficulty levels, then the "hardcore" players can play on the harder difficulty level, simple as that. And I do think more games with multiple difficulty levels would be nice. I'm days away from turning 40. I don't have the time I used to have, and honestly my reaction time isn't what it was (my muscular dystrophy may be contributing to that as well). But even if a hard game doesn't have an easier mode, I'll still try to practice, assuming it's not too frustrating.
And that's all I have to say about that.
Last edited by Shadow1980 - on 12 February 2020