A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA


A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA


A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA


Please Stop Fetishizing Difficulty

Gamers these days crave harder games and don’t care if you’re not having fun
Graphic: Alinna Boonklun/ SAC.Media

I’ve observed a rather irritating trend in the gaming community in recent years. Gamers are calling for ever more “challenging” games. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself; plenty of people enjoy a good challenge. The problem is that a good challenge is not what these difficulty fetishists are asking for. They’re just making games worse for everyone else.

This craze for difficulty kicked off back in 2011 with the success of FromSoftware’s “Dark Souls,” the second entry in the acclaimed “Souls” series. The franchise became something of a golden standard for ultra-challenging games, and each game came with louder cries for more difficulty.

What makes this so frustrating is that difficulty isn’t what makes the “Souls” games so good. They’re good because they offer exquisite, Metroid-vania world design, meaning they feature interconnected environments such as those seen in the “Metroid” and “Castlevania” franchises, and stellar, rewarding gameplay.

What you see moving forward in the series is gameplay that’s less concerned about offering a fair fight, and more focused on being bullshit. Wonky hit detection, stun-locking, instant-kill grab attacks with absurd range, these are all things that appear in the later “Souls” games. Then there’s the never-ending gankfests, which refers to when a group of enemies gangs up on the player.

It’s ironic then, that “Dark Souls 3” offers one of the series’ best examples of challenge done right in the form of the Nameless King boss battle. It is a two-part battle, which is kind of cheap, but the first part is quick and easy. The fight with the King himself is superb, my favorite in the franchise. That’s because there’s no fluff or ridiculous gimmick; it’s just you and him going toe-to-toe. The whole fight is a test of your abilities. If you know what you’re doing, you can beat him with relative ease, and it’s exhilarating. It all boils down to your skill as a player. The Nameless King will mercilessly curb-stomp you into nonexistence if you aren’t quite up to the task.

“Monster Hunter World” and its expansion, “Iceborne,” are more recent victims of difficulty fetishists. In this case, certain players were complaining that the game was far too easy. I would agree that the base game, “World,” was quite easy. Here’s the problem though: I’ve been playing “Monster Hunter” games since 2004. Many of the aforementioned complainers are long-time players as well. The game wasn’t short on challenge; we were just really good at it. Endgame content was what the game needed. Of course, no one ever seemed to talk about that.

In response to this criticism, Capcom introduced what they called “arch-tempered elder dragons,” which were little more than amped up, ‘roid-rage versions of the already existing elder dragons in the game. This is the example I always go to when describing the “challenge” of arch-tempered dragons: I didn’t get hit once by the dragon I was fighting, and it almost killed me. Wrap your head around that one. Sounds like a fair, measured challenge, right?

Unfortunately, the development team chose to listen to the fetishists and upped the ante for “Iceborne.” It’s a great expansion for the price, but I have to admit, playing it feels like much more of a chore than “World” ever did. I’ve experienced more frustration in about 100 hours of “Iceborne” than I did with over 700 hours of “World.” It’s not even that I’m having a hard time with the game—it’s just annoying to play. Quest times that have doubled or even tripled in duration coupled with monsters that exhibit long, drawn-out attack chains and questionable hit detection make for tiresome playing. I feel the worst for series newcomers. “Iceborne” was not made with them in mind; it’s essentially a middle finger to anyone who isn’t a veteran player.

I feel that most studios don’t know how to design a fair challenge; they often resort to what some call “artificial difficulty.” I’ve been around long enough to remember the days of having three lives to beat a level. Many retro games are modeled after arcade games, which were designed to make the player fail in order to milk quarters out of them. Losing all your lives meant starting the level over from the beginning. That’s an example of artificial difficulty. The arch-tempered dragon I mentioned earlier almost killed me because it had an ever-present aura that damaged anything nearby, so I took damage despite avoiding all of its attacks. That’s not a legitimate challenge. That’s horseshit.

Other examples include overblown hit point and damage values, as well as what I mentioned earlier about one-shot kills and gank fests. Virtually every game, when played on the highest difficulty, offers up artificial difficulty.

“Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” is a game that dabbles in both bullshit and fair challenge. There are gank fests aplenty, and you can die within the blink of an eye. Enemies and bosses, on the other hand, require numerous hits to take down. However, the game provides the player with tools and mechanics to help them counteract all the bullshit. “Sekiro” has a steep learning curve. You will not get far if you don’t take the time to learn how to play the game the way it wants you to.

I despised this game when I first started playing it. I sucked; I admit it. I was trash. I decided to push through it though, and over the course of the game, I improved enough to reach the finish line. I ended up enjoying the game, but I can’t deny that most of my time with it was spent stifling the flood of obscenities threatening to burst out of my mouth. I can’t help but wonder if the frustration is worth it in situations like this. Beating a boss, for example, should elicit elation for overcoming the challenge, not relief that it’s finally over, and I don’t have to do it again.

I don’t care if a game is challenging or easy. I want fun, well-made games first and foremost; if they happen to be challenging, so be it. If, for some reason, I do ever find a game too easy, I’ll keep it to my damn self rather than try to force other people to play the way I want to. All of this fake “challenge” with bloated hit point and damage values and lop-sided encounters can go straight back to the hell it came from.

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About the Contributor
Chris Jones, Author
Chris Jones is the gaming and tech editor for SAC.Media.

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