Is it worth the challenge?

Over the past two weeks I’ve literally done nothing other than play Dark Souls, the spiritual successor to Demon Souls. I originally got the game as something to do before BioShock Infinite came out, now the game is something I do and all other games can wait. “But Dark Souls has been around since 2011, why has it taken you so long to finally play it?”, if you don’t recall there was a little game by the name of Skyrim that came out around the same time Dark Souls was released and it took priority over every game and most human needs like food and sleep. I’ve also been playing another game recently called Catch Up, it’s the game where you go back and play everything that came out after Skyrim that you never had time to play.

I am not going to lie, Dark Souls is hard as hell and I can’t remember a more difficult game. Its high degree of difficulty is actually one of its selling points and this attracts some people who are looking for a challenge. Trying to sell a game by letting everyone know that it’s notoriously hard and sometimes unforgiving seems to me like a bad strategy, but one that paid off pretty well for Dark Souls. To me it’s like trying to sell unicycles to people who have never ridden one by telling them “It’s kind of like a bike! But it’s extremely difficult and stressful to try to learn. You’ll be falling off of it all the time, probably break an arm or two. Once you do figure it out, you will get a great sense of accomplishment that no one other than unicycle riders understand.” I didn’t buy Dark Souls just because it’s hard, I bought it because people had told me that it was a great game that wasn’t as hard as everyone made it out to be…liars.

Are challenging games worth it? Well that depends on the game and the degree of difficulty. When I use the words “Difficult” and “Hard” to describe a videogame, there is a good chance that I’m not using them the way most people do. A videogame that is hard to me is a game where you have to have skill to move forward and even when you think you’re at your peak you will still be challenged constantly. This is Dark Souls in a nut shell, the game never seems to get easier and rewards you for nothing. Super Meat Boy, Contra and Ghosts ‘N Goblins are a few others that I’ve played and I find very tough. One game that I found brutal that surprises people when I tell them is Max Payne 3, I probably had more deaths than kills during my first play through, mainly due to filing cabinets and walls getting in the way of my slow-mo dives. If you found it hard please let me know. Battletoads, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Ninja Gaiden 2 don’t make my list, they make another list all together, the Bad Programming/Unfair NES Games list.

This level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES is #6 on the list of Reasons Why People Hate Turtles and is #1 on the list of Reasons Why People Stomp Turtles To Death.

Dark Souls has helped reinforce my views on what I think hard videogames actually are. Now when I say videogames, I don’t mean computer chess and when I say hard, I don’t mean put the game on the hardest difficulty setting. I have some parameters that need to be met before we can start talking business. Here is a short list of things a game can’t have if it wants to be considered hard by me:

  • Has an Easy Mode
  • Rewards the player for no reason
  • Automatic Checkpoints
  • Scales the difficulty with the players character level

Games can have maybe one or two of my no-no’s and still be considered, but I’d rather them have none.

Easy Mode is exactly what it sounds like and what it says about the player is “I am a player who is in this for the story or the gameplay.” which is not a bad thing, some people like to casually go through a game for the experience rather than the challenge. On the other hand Easy Mode can also mean “I am a player who is currently not having a fun time due to a difficult part of the game. I would like to make it easier on myself so I can make progress so I can have a fun time.”, which is a bad thing. I also don’t really give a damn if there’s a “Hardcore” or “Super Duper Hard” mode, the game has to be intentionally difficult and not let it be a choice to be hard. Putting a game on it’s hardest difficulty setting is like getting in your car and then blindfolding yourself before you start driving, you chose this to be harder than how it is normally. A videogame needs to be inherently hard to be considered difficult by me, the designers need to have made the game hard on purpose rather than make it a choice. Moving up the difficulty usually only changes your enemies health and damage and rarely adjusts anything else like reaction speeds, aggressiveness, and amount of enemies. It needs to be made hard, not make it an option.

Easy what? Easy difficulty? Those two words make no sense together!

You know when you’re sucking real hard in a game and you say to yourself “Man I wish there was a checkpoint or some health or some ammo up ahead.” and as soon you say that a checkpoint, health and ammo seem to almost appear from nowhere? This is called “Making sure you have a good time”. Videogames seem to be doing this more often as of late, Dead Space 3 is a good example. When I was low on ammo, every enemy would seem to drop ammo clips and when I was low on health, enemies would practically throw health packs at me. It’s a good way to keep the player happy, but offers little difficulty and allows players to just stroll through the game casually. Dead Space used to be a kind of difficult series, but the third installment kind of went off the rails and now it’s just a regular shooter. If your going to reward players for doing a good job, reward them for doing a good job rather than rewarding them because they suck.  Beating a hard boss, getting through a brutal fight or a tough area is a good time to give players the things they need, this is the way it should be. Imagine if kids in school went by the rewarding for no reason standard. Say Timmy isn’t doing that well in Math and has a D-, should we just give him enough extra credit to bump his grade up to a B+ because he isn’t doing so well? Hell no. Timmy can go straight to Summer School, his friends who all did a good job can enjoy their time off this summer and try to find someone old enough to buy them beer so they can make bad decisions.

Autosaving and Automatic Checkpoints are two different things in my eyes. Autosaving is when the game saves what you have in your inventory, your current objectives and the characters level. Automatic Checkpoints save all of the aforementioned stuff and automatically gives you a checkpoint. I’m cool as hell with Autosaving, it’s a great feature, but Automatic Checkpoints make life pretty easy for people. It removes death as a punishment, which in turn makes you care less about what happens to your character. Games that make you save on your own tend to make you more careful and make less mistakes. There’s a word I’m looking for to sum up Automatic Checkpoints, I can’t seem to remember…lazy, yup lazy was the word. It’s a lazy feature that we have just come to expect every game to have. When a game doesn’t have it we cry over the fact we have to go through the same area again because we died trying to get to the super secret spot and we didn’t save our progress. Too bad for you, if you actually cared about what happens to your character you should have saved the game yourself you lazy bastard. Any game that saves your spot every time you take a step is basically holding your hand through your adventure. It’s like a mother guiding her child through a theme park; your allowed to have fun, but we don’t want you getting hurt so you won’t enjoy yourself. Fuck you Mom, I want to explore and do whatever I want and if I end up dying by falling off the Ferris Wheel and you weren’t there to save my spot in line so be it, I’ll respawn over by the bathrooms.

There’s not a lot of games I’ve seen that scale the difficulty with the player’s current level, maybe it has to do with the fact it’s a lazy and dumb way to keep things interesting. I honestly think it’s just lazy as hell, having the enemies increase their stats to keep up with the player’s level is cutting all sorts of corners. Bethesda games do this all the time, Skyrim is the worst with it and just because you make the enemies a little bit harder each time the player level’s up, that doesn’t mean it actually makes it harder or more of a challenge. By the time the game had upgraded most of the Draugr to Draugr Scourge and above, all of my equipment was fully upgraded and I could almost kill every Draugr enemy with one critical hit. You can increase stats all you want, but in the end your still fighting the same enemy, he doesn’t get any new moves or tricks, it’s the same old guy you’ve been fighting, but this time he has a slightly better hat that increases his health by 5.

You Skyrim players won’t be absorbing this Dragon’s Drake’s soul, it’ll be absorbing your soul, your lunch money and your butthole virginity.

Everyone has different opinions on what games are hard or what makes a game hard. Every game isn’t catered perfectly to everyone and difficulty is the same way; if you like playing games on Easy go right ahead and if you like them on Hard more power to you. It’s when people make it a big deal that they beat a hard game and scoff at the casual gamer who enjoys a nice story over a challenge is where we have a problem. There’s always that asshole that says “That game was easy, you guys must not know what you’re doing.”, congratulations you’re better at a videogame than other people, last I checked that increases your Gamer Rank to Captain Cool Pants. No one cares that you beat the game on “ULTRA HARDCORE MODE”, the mode where you only have one life, one bullet, one eye, one leg and every enemy one hit kills you. We don’t give a shit that you beat it, you should be the only who gives a shit because you beat something that was a challenge for you and not us. It’s a sense of personal achievement not a sense of social achievement. Just remember this, beating a hard videogame is like anal sex, some people think it’s easy and some people find it a pain in the ass.

Is it worth it? To go through all of the deaths, restarts, weapon crafting, countless hours, online walkthroughs, trial and error, and even more deaths? Not really, but once in a while a tough game is good for you. I typically don’t go out of my way to get a game that people recommend as a joke and just want to see my reaction when I start playing. Dark Souls was different, I heard it was a fantastic game that wasn’t as hard as people made it out to be, which ended up being a total lie because it’s really hard. By the time I found out for myself how hard it actually was I was kind of enjoying myself and I had learned all the tricks to survive. It’s rewarding to get pass a difficult boss or an area where you’ve been dying constantly. Most times in Dark Souls you don’t even get any new armor or weapons for beating a boss and I was fine with that, the challenge alone was enough. I’m glad I got Dark Souls and I’m glad I found a challenging game that I’m not too shabby at.

Playing a game that kicks your ass is something I think everyone needs now a days. Videogames have gotten pretty easy over the years and it’s more or less a way to keep people coming back. Making games easy creates a false sense of skill, you think you’re the best there ever was, but in fact you’re just as good as everyone else. And who wouldn’t want to buy the next game in a series they think they’re the tits at? I’m not saying that I want every game to become brutally hard all of a sudden, but I feel like everyone should play a hard game every now and then. Putting down your Call of Duty, Dead Space, Battlefield, Mass Effect, Portal, Uncharted, Assassins Creed, God of War, Gears of War, Madden, Pokemon, Resident Evil, Skyrim, World of Warcraft and Starcraft for a day and picking up a notoriously hard game might give you some perspective on what other kinds of games are out there. You never know, you might actually have fun or at the very least feel challenged or at the very most throw your controller through a wall.

What do you guys think? Would you go out of your way to get a game just because it was hard and what’s the most difficult game you’ve played recently?