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Let's Address The Hard Mode Question

Here it is, homies.
What Makes A Good Hard Mode?
So I've been on a bit of a binge playing through old games and the question has occurred to me whether or not Hard Modes are actually much more difficult. I think that for the most part they don't necessarily ramp up difficulty in a way that rewards skill, they just condition you to play in a way that exploits the system.
I've recently played through The Last of Us and figured "why not try the hard mode?"
How it Went:
I found that the Hard version of TLOU doesn't create a rewarding reaction within the player. Those of us who like hardmode-ing survival games are familiar with this.
  1. You never really use ammo except in absolute emergencies.
  2. You consequentially ALWAYS have max ammo/crafting resources
  3. You move very stealthily and slowly through the game.
  4. You seem to only ever heal if you find a spare health pack or resources for one beyond max.
  5. That Restart Encounter button gets a lot of action
You basically play the game at maximum efficiency, exploiting what weaknesses the game has to scout safely. You don't use 80% of the weapons, and rarely take risks because you frankly can't afford them.
That's fine.
A lot of people enjoy this different experience, but I would argue that it's not how the game was meant to be played. There are so many interesting weapons you plainly don't use, and the stuttering progression because of that Restart Encounter button kind of robs the game of its tension. My first playthrough of TLOU was on Hard rather than Survivor, and I have to say it was much more fun. Less punishing, but just felt way more like the game it advertised itself to be. You would stealth when advantageous, fight when you had to, explore when you felt like it. It didn't feel like the Silent Hill 2 corner crawl when you get to slide along the geometry mashing the triangle button just in case there's duct tape that you didn't notice. I played through TLOU2 on hard mode also, and it was incredible. Exploring Naughty Dog's impeccable level design felt fun and dangerous even if I rarely ever died or restarted. I felt like there were real stakes. I went into a room that had a big fat killer asshole in it and shot him to death with my badass super boom cannon just to find that the room didn't have anything interesting in it, and I didn't reset or anything. I just said "damnit" and accepted the waste of ammo. I would argue that introducing acceptable loss creates more rewarding gameplay. We get used to playing at the bare minimum consumption, and just get frustrated when we waste resources. There's really no dopamine release in it, right? Guys, I'm all about the dopamine. Maybe there's something to be said about removing the Restart Encounter button, or the option to load entirely. BUT THAT'S FOR ANOTHER POST

So I started thinking and I realized that "Hard" and "challenging" don't really belong in the same room as one another. Take Civ VI for example. I play this game with a buddy, and every time we play he has this wild superiority complex because he plays against high difficulty enemies in single player. I asked him how he manages it, and he said "the only way to do it is to buff your military in the early game and absorb one or two small civs immediately, or stunt the high difficulty civ." ....I mean yeah. Basically the AI doesn't adjust based on difficulty so you just lean into military to match their advantages or rob them of the bonuses directly. Then it becomes normal difficulty Civ for the rest of the game... This doesn't feel like only max skill players can win.
And this isn't really a criticism of Civ or TLOU. I think that gamers like the carrot of "this is harder and only more skilled players can beat it". We like being good at things and succeeding where others fail. The achievement hunters out there feel this deeply. It hits just right when you get that random gold that 0.2% of players have gotten. But I worry that maybe this Hard Mode stifles our enjoyment of the game experience. That's not equitable, homies. I look back on all the games I've ever played and I wonder how many games were designed for a certain experience that I sprinted past so I could slog through it and get that Hard Mode achievement. And say "yeah I did it" or whatever.
As an opposite point, Shadow of War has a truly skill based difficulty system. Ramp up the difficulty setting on that badboy and enemy captains will flat out one-shot you. Not to mention they'll have very narrow vulnerabilities, and they'll adapt to how you exploit them. It's not really that hard to find yourself in a fight that you can only win with speed and perfection. But again I ask, is this the most fun way to play the game? Are we gaining more than we lose? Is challenge always its own reward?

Let's look at Hard Mode culture though. I know what you're thinking. We gotta talk about it.
It's Dark Souls.

But guess what Bloodborne is my favorite one so that's where my research took me. If you don't think Bloodborne was the right pick for this one, then I'm sorry homie, this is my post. Bloodborne rocks. #teamBloodborne #hoonter4LyfeBithces #Mariaishot
So the Soulsborne series is famous for its difficulty, but any of us who have played it know that difficulty isn't why it's great. It has a seriously prohibitive learning curve, and the hours spent climbing it tattoo themselves into the dark recesses of our minds forever. BUT if you look at the presentation of Bloodborne it's actually quite genius. First you wake up and a werewolf eats your ass and you die. And THEN you get a weapon. Maybe you killed the werewolf without the weapon, dope. Good luck punching everyone in the face to death forever because there's literally no reward for winning that fight. It is just there to tear you in two and say "You're in the jungle baby". You take your cool new weapon and run into a labyrinthine city so that every one of its denizens gets the opportunity to beat the shit out of you. You die again and again. Why? Frankly because you have no artificial ways to overcome the challenge. YOU CAN'T LEVEL UP. It's punishing, but it makes a lot of sense. This game is going to keep challenging you with new absurdly deadly enemies. You must dodge well and dodge often. Eventually you'll carve your way deep enough into the city that you'll encounter a boss. For 99% of us that's the (say it with me) Cleric Beast. This boss is forgiving, telegraphing dramatically and pacing its swings with pleasant regularity. Not to mention it has some very visible flanks that offer some safety. It's the training wheels boss. Only once you let this guy kick your shit in can you level up and start really digging into a build.
See, it's nice because all the mechanics tell a story of the badass hoonter you'll one day become. You can regain health after getting clocked if you counterattack, so you learn to do that often. There are differently effective ways and timings to dodge, so you learn them. Enemies telegraph differently and grapples have slow and painful animations so you clench your teeth through them praying you'll have enough health left to get away. You're meant to become this frenzied killing machine whose only defense is a good offense, and it feels so right to fulfill that prophecy. It's also nice that all the ways we hardmode-ers cheez other games are baked in. Your dodge gives invulnerability frames, but less of them if you're locked on. Enemies will occasionally multiattack to say "fuck your i-frames". Enemies also get i-frames of their own, making it an even playing field. Some enemies have a weak side. It's not cheap to exploit it, it's the only way to survive. They know how you'll play and they challenge it.
Beyond that, once you find a boss and can level up there's an interesting economy to your ability to do so. If you're stuck on a boss and think "I got this, I've played Kingdom Hearts before, I'll just head to the Colosseum and level up and wipe the floor with this boss," think again. Levelling up takes progressively more resources, and the level leading to the boss can only offer so many. Yes, you can farm, but with such an incredibly diminishing return that farming itself begins to feel like a boss fight. At some point you'll be 6 farming runs out of 7 away from levelling up one last time, and you'll die. And then you jump off a cliff or something stupid and you waste 6 runs worth of resources. Time to start over I guess. But you'll have to wonder if the boss would take 7 tries. If you can beat it in less than 7 tries then the farming run is actually much more effort. [I would argue that there's a single level late game that offers absurd farming potential to round out your build, but we'll ignore that].
See, the difficulty in this game rewards you by either getting more powerful, gaining actual skill with mechanics, or diving further into the game they built for you. Even when you can't cut the mustard and decide to use the workaround of powering up it's just as challenging in a different setting. (While I'm gushing over Bloodborne, it's worth noting that unless you really fuck up, the game almost never requires you to farm. Just by exploring the world and adapting to its new challenges you'll almost always be at an adequate level).

Okay, so I love this game, sure but why does it matter? Well it's because Bloodborne is a game with a perfectly balanced gravity that always draws you back into its best features. When it gets seriously punishing, you may destroy your television or something, but there is no 'formula' for scraping by. You always have to earn it. It could not achieve this balance with a difficulty setting. You can still add in those gamebreaking barriers yourself. Google some of those no weapon runs, they're insane. But the game never pushes you in a direction that causes you to react in a way that lessens the fun. I'm beginning to believe that games should only ever have two difficulty settings:
  1. I'm New To This Setting: I don't play videogames but I want to enjoy this game
  2. Let's Do This Thing: let's do this thing!
I want videogames to be accessible to people who don't have the muscle memory for mechanics that proper hobbyists do, but beyond that the game should be built as a specific, challenging experience that steers you back into itself.

Now I know what you're saying. "What if I LIKE that super prohibitive slog?"
I do too. And it's called NewGame+.
Maybe I'll explore the value of NG+ in another post, but suffice it to say that NG+ should give an extra hard experience that changes the nature of the game. I don't really like God Mode NG+ runs personally, and I think that God Mode kind of has its own place as a feature. Beat the game? Cool now you can: New Game+, God Mode Run, Concept Art, Watch the credits I guess??
I don't want to get rid of that experience, but let's stop pretending that our gaming experiences and ability can be baited and suppressed by somewhat arbitrary difficulty settings. The vast majority of us will adapt no matter what, and I'd rather succeed with the experience the artists had envisioned than with a flashy achievement. [jk i'm all about that plat babyyyy]
MY ONLY CONCESSION: in the event that a developer wants to release a game with a meaningful above-average AI for higher difficulties, they'll get my approval.
So, Hard Mode. What do you guys think?
submitted by Nerd_Kyle to truegaming


Dead on the first session, after one turn of combat.

Well I'm sure you read the title, and yeah... it's shitty but I'm sure you'd like details. :P
Edit: Yeah, I know it's long... I started the story from "the dawn of time" but I wanted to paint the whole picture. I was pretty hyped for this and it's hard to show how disappointed and frustrated I was without it all.
Double Edit: For everyone who keeps telling me that I'm a bitch for whining the whole time, I didn't. I was there, watching this all unfold in front of me and kept my mouth shut. Yeah, there's parts I thought were weird but I didn't say anything mean or rude or bitchy the whole time. Right up to where I got squished.
So yeah... if you still wanna read, just be warned. Looooooong
TL:DR > DM instakills my Cleric (without saves) during a "sand pirates" campaign by crushing her with a sand boat.
Our tale begins of course with the party. My Tabaxi Cleric, a half-Orc Barbarian, Gnome Sorcerer, Warlock (I forgot his race), and Ranger (same problem).
So backstory, we hear about this campaign through a discord we're all in together for a different game (VR-Chat for those who care). The DM is supposed to have WONDERFUL ideas and everyone (in that discord) praises him for his abilities as a DM. Only one problem... EVERYONE wanted to play, myself included. Sure enough, when the time came to divide up the groups to make it manageable I got stuck with the "alternate" DM...
Anywho, we all make our characters to start at level one, and get prepared for the campaign without actually knowing what it's about. Yeah... they liked to keep the whole thing secret? Like... I can agree with keeping important plot points secret but... the actual setting?!? All we were told was that it would happen in the desert. That seems a touch too far, in my humble opinion... but who am I to disagree, I'm just a player and the game will surely be amazing, right? ...... right...?
Well the day finally comes. We all hop into Roll-20. We start up the campaign right away! NO SESSION ZERO! WE'RE IN A HURRY!!! Go figure... because there were THREE separate groups (about 15~ish people total, 5 per group), a session zero was completely out of the question. So we jump STRAIGHT in, and......... we're in the middle of a barren desert. But not just ANY dessert... a desert "ocean".
If you haven't figured it out by now... yes, this is a pirate setting... but with SAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaNNNNNNNNND.
So we start literally in the middle of ABSOLUTE NOWHERE. I do actually mean literally nowhere when I say that. There are exactly TWO small shacks where we start, AND NOTHING ELSE AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE. We also get ZERO backstory as to how our characters all arrive at THIS location at the same time, and once again I do mean that literally. This is worse than "you meet in a tavern", because at least that could make some teeny tiny bit of sense. Our start implies that we all came HERE on purpose for the same reason... and that reason is NEVER explained. "We're in a hurry to get the groups going, just roll with it" was the excuse we got... So backstory is OUT THE WINDOW! FUN!!!
So the campaign starts, and we agree to let the high charisma Sorcerer do the talking. The owner and his assistant are the only two NPC's we meet, and our RP with them is... boring and annoying. Our options, after talking with them, are as follows;
Take their "sand ship" and go hunt down some.... wait for it... SAND PIRATES
It was explicitly stated by the DM at this point that if we didn't do the quest, there would be nothing else. The game would be over. We have no supplies, and we are WEEKS away from any form of civilization... (CHOO CHOOOOOOOO...........)
So because we actually want to have a game to play, we accept the quest from these random dessert dwellers who also randomly have a sand ship. Our quest is fairly simple. Go explore, and scout out the pirates. If we can gain any information, we are to report back to the quest givers for more instructions. Do note here, our mission was NOT to fight with them or to go looking for a big dumb final battle with them. Recon. That was our mission. Scouting.
"So, that was a f***ing lie"
We are given a "sand-catamaran" and told to go explore, and report back. Our Sand ship is mentioned to be maybe twenty feet across, so a fair sized vessel. We set out into the "sand ocean" and start exploring. Up until now, it's basically just our Sorcerer who's been talking / RP'ing due to him having a maxed out Charisma stat. However, it's our Ranger's turn to shine... and oh, does he ever shine... to our detriment... and my eventual death.
The DM tells us that he will be making our "lookout" roll perception to find the pirates / discover clues each turn that we explore. Of course, we choose the Ranger. Turn one? NAT 20
This was our first turn out on the "sand ocean"... There was no chance or roll for us to hide from them. The moment the Ranger spotted them, they were already on us and closing in specifically on US. Which means that we were being punished for rolling high. If you roll high enough to see them, the pirates find you and start moving in. The pirates never rolled for this by the way... FUN!
So the inevitable happens... We panic and start trying to out-run them. However, the pirate ship starts catching up. Sure enough, their ship was just flat out faster than ours, because of course it was. We start making preparations for combat while they catch up, but we keep moving at full speed. As they pull up along-side us, the DM describes (in detail) just how much LARGER their ship is than ours... during which time, I can't help but wondering how a ship that was LARGER could physically be FASTER. Especially given just HOW MUCH larger their ship was. The DM made a point of telling us that the side of their "tri-maran" ship's deck was a full SIX FEET above ours... SIX FEET UP. If we wanted to board them, it took a whole turn and an acrobatics check. For them? They just hopped down, no big deal.
So they line up along-side of us, and they waste no time launching ranged attacks from their higher position. To be fair, we did have a strategy. I had the highest armor of the entire party, so I would stand front and center as they hopped down so that I could stop them as they tried to board us. The Barbarian would back me up with his mighty strength, and the Sorcerer, Warlock, and Ranger would provide ranged support from the rear.
Our strategy fell apart on the first turn of combat...
I followed the plan, and planted myself as best I could to block anyone trying to jump down onto our ship, using my action after moving to cast a quick ranged heal (I forget the spell) on someone who took a crossbow hit. The Barbarian decided at random to go towards the front of the ship and to also not be close to the edge. The Sorcerer who went first for our team, thought it would be a GREAT idea to launch a Fire-Bolt into the pirates sails. Sure enough, he rolled high and set them alight. This would turn out to not be a good thing... Once the pirate leader's turn came around (near the end of the order) he decided that because his ship was now ON FIRE, he should RAM our ship with his, and made a roll to ram us...
Remember what I said before? Their ship's deck is SIX FEET above ours? Yeah... So the DM rolls to see how well the pirate captain pilots his ship for this ram attack.
Now, this is where things go from bad luck, to shitty DM'ing in the space of seconds. The DM, who knows that my character is on the edge of our ship waiting for enemies to try to board makes a snap decision... and that decision, is to straight up kill my Cleric. No rolls, no saves, no throws... "The pirate ship crashes OVER TOP of yours and the Cleric is instantly crushed dead, from having an entire boat land on her. The pirate ship is now basically half on top of yours."
... I'm dead ...
My Cleric is now dead. My LEVEL ONE Cleric is 100% squashed and dead. I get no chance to save her. I get no rolls to dodge, I get no saves, hell I don't even get death saving throws. INSTANT DEATH.
My game is over. It's been MAYBE an hour of screwing around with boring dialogue with NPC's who don't like us, and then straight into naval-combat, and on the end of the first turn my Cleric is instantly and irrevocably DEAD. Squished into "cleric bits".
After this point I start drinking hard because I'm pissed... Maybe not the best response but we all make mistakes, and I'm willing to admit mine. I start typing in the chat OOC and meta-gaming/ghosting like there's no tomorrow, and being really abrasive to my team. None of my team listens of course, and the Barbarian (who I'll admit, did have a "not so secret" crush on me) started frantically trying to push the pirate vessel off of the spot where my "cleric paste" is.
After WAY too many turns of trying to save the "tomato sauce" where I used to be, the Barbarian finally rolls his own Nat-20 and pushes the ship off. They beat back the pirates, but only kill one. The rest, including the leader all jump off their ship to save themselves as it begins burning to the ground. At this point, the DM says it's time to end the session and I leave and never come back. I was drunk and angry and never wanted to play with any of them ever again. My entire contribution to that campaign had been to stand around, listen to others talk, and then instantly die on the first turn of combat because the DM said so.
Keep in mind that we were level one, AND my body was basically vaporized. There was NO resurrecting me. My character was 100% dead, and NOT coming back, EVER. But the worst part was the WAY she died. The pirate captain rolled a 20... which apparently just means instant death for who ever is closest. No saves, no rolls, no death throws. Too bad, you're dead, get f***ed.
Now I'll admit right away, the way I responded was absolutely terrible. I was angry and got super drunk and acted in a toxic way, typing all kinds of awful things to the other players and DM. I was the sorest of losers in that moment, and more than willing to bring everyone else down with me. I can't ever take that back, and all I can do is apologize to the other players for being so rude. That said, I will NOT apologize to the DM, who decided that my character should be "insta-gibbed" just because his pirate captain rolled a 20.
submitted by TheGreenHellion to rpghorrorstories