Lets talk about difficulty. Its one of those things that tends to be a very touchy subject when it comes to games. Some people will argue that games have gotten significantly easier over the years compared to games like Donkey Kong or the original Mario Brothers. Some will argue that games are just as difficult as they were in the past, and lastly, some will argue that the reason why games are so “easy” is because we have gotten used to them (especially those who grew up playing video games). And in all actuality, all of these claims are true and for different reasons. I have my own reasons which I will keep a secret till we get there. So lets begin.
The first argument is that games have gotten easier over the years, and this is definitely the case. Take a look at the most recent release of Diablo 3, the beginning difficulty is very easy compared to the previous games. Even Starcraft II’s campaign is far easier that it was in the original Starcraft (and as someone who doesn’t play Starcraft and had to cheat my way through the original story, that is saying quite a bit). But that statement is very much a blanket statement, not every game that is released is “easy” unless you play it on the base setting. My capability to get through the campaign in Starcraft is significantly lower once I get to hard/insane and I have yet to clear Hell difficulty in Diablo 2 (I wont touch the first one, I don’t play that game unless its online). But I have found some games, even on the hardest difficulty to play through with ease (inFamous, Fallout 3). Now what of the games that do not have a difficulty setting other than default (Assassin’s Creed)? This is where I can see this argument holding some water. When you do not have the option to change the difficulty, the game has to be easy enough to where everyone who plays it can beat it with enough practice (maybe 1 to 2 hours of attempting), so I can see why people would complain about these because there are some amazing games out there that are just easy to beat. And the games that are easy to beat has a lack of accomplishment, and then there are the games that even on the hardest setting, there is no real benefit to doing it (Fallout: New Vegas). I like to have that accomplishment and I know I am not the only one who feels this way. However, if you complain that easy mode in a game is too easy, then you should probably stop your whining.
The second argument is that the reason why these games are easy is because we have gotten used to them. And this argument holds its water very well. Raids in WoW used to be very difficult, and even the raids that are rehashed content seem easier than others, even on the hardcore difficulty, the raids are not as difficult as they used to be. WoW has been out for 10 years now and wont be going away soon (as much as I love GW2, it wont kill WoW because it doesn’t have a subscription, you can’t steal subscribers with a game that doesn’t have one because people won’t have to pay 2 subscriptions), but raids won’t get any easier because all of those unique mechanics are easy enough to figure out now. With enough time, even the hardest game can become easy so long as you practice enough. I can practice for hours, get used to how the game’s difficulty works out and be able to counter it effectively. Key here is time, and 10 years leaves raids as an already over practiced event that works like clockwork. On my play-through of Modern Warfare 2, I decided to play it on the hardest difficulty, and after about 3 hours per level, I was able to accomplish it without any hitches. It just took a lot of time, but time was the only thing keeping me from being able to do it. Arguably anything can be accomplished with enough time, but unless difficult games are your thing (I am looking at the dark souls/demons souls fans), why should the games be extremely difficult, wouldn’t you want the game you love to be enjoyed by thousands rather than hundreds? I know I would.
The last primary argument is that games are easy because most of the gamers have grown up around them. This is the best argument I have ever heard about why games have gotten easier. I know several people that do not fit in this category and do have difficulty doing things that might seem simple to others, just like how the Koreans seems to destroy everyone in Starcraft (my friend just got back from a vacation over there and said that pro Starcraft players are treated like rockstars) and everyone else doesn’t. I know 5 year old kids who play Halo better than I do and can snipe people from across the screen with relative ease. So naturally, being a gamer from birth will give you a distinct advantage. Have you ever tried to have your parents play a game with you? I know when I introduced my mom to Left 4 Dead, she could hardly move because she had not mastered the controller, and the only game she really had played prior is Tetris. So a dual analog xbox controller was completely out of her scope of capability. She eventually was able to move, but after a couple of hours, she could only move or aim and not both. It was probably the most amusing thing I have ever seen. But this still holds true, when you are placed out of your element, you tend to do poorly to what other people might find easy. And this segways right into my reason–
–Difficulty is a highly subjective thing, just like with music, everybody perceives things differently (this is why some people might like Bieber and another will despise his very being). Because of this simple fact, difficulty is something that cannot be appropriately gauged. I personally find RTS games difficult, but I have friends who have no difficulty with them in any way. Strangely enough, I don’t have problems with MOBAs, just RTS and this is probably because I have poor micromanaging skills and my APM is probably 100 at most. I do, however, do very well in MMOs, Shooters, and Fighting games (and plat-former/adventure games, but in the realm of PvP, its those 3). Those games never feel difficult for me to play, but I have friends who are not really good at those. We all have friends who are like this. Right now I play a lot of League of Legends (no GW2 and I can barely run Diablo 3), and while I do have my share of bad games, I generally do well enough based on my role in the game. And I do have friends that I play League with that are amazing, but I also have the reverse where sometimes, games are quite painful to play. I personally find League to be an easy game to play and always have, I am in no way professional, but that is just the way I perceive the game’s difficulty. Since video games have become very mainstream, developers have had to make their games easy enough to where most people can beat it without any real trouble. The easiest solution would be to have a tiered difficulty system, but sometimes that is not a possibility.
This does actually tie up nicely with Guild Wars 2. Right now, my only real comment about it is that since it is in beta, expect things to be out of whack. You will find things that are very difficult and seemingly impossible because there is a chance that its just not scaled appropriately. The only thing to mention is that GW2 is doing some things very differently, namely the dodge mechanic and move-while-casting-thingy. If you have played MMOs in the last 10 years, you are very used to the whole standing while casting mechanic as a means of balancing ranged classes (melee can move because they don’t have effective ranged abilities), I know that when I first got into the beta, that I was really hard pressed to dodge and attack and move at the same time, and while it is very easy to say “lol noob dont dodge”, or “dood, y u jst stand ther”, its very different because we have all been very conditioned in a specific way. I have played WoW for most of my MMO years, and that whole standing while casting thing is very ingrained in me, and breaking that mold is what makes GW2 slightly difficult. I did, however, get over it and started dodging, but it took me a solid hour to get used to it. That whole not having a tank thing and being forced to dodge various mechanics to prevent yourself from taking damage is very new. I do love the system and I find that most people that find GW2 difficult right now are just not used to the system yet. I suspect that the QQ train will hit the forums (speaking of which, I will only ever visit the Engineer Forums on their site because general is plague ridden) about how difficult the game is for a good month upon release.
But these are just my opinions, what do you guys thing about difficulty?