How Hard Is Hard?
First up, apologies for the porn film style post title. Finding a suitable image wasn’t easy either.
Anyway, today I want to talk about difficulty in games as, although it’s not a MMO, I’m sure most of you have read that Diablo 3 has now been completed on Hardcore Inferno setting. This means that those guys played through D3 several times in a row to get to the hardest setting, a setting that Blizzard touted has being insanely difficult, all without dying a single time. Not once, not ever. Having played the game on Hardcore myself (I’m still on Act I), I have a little appreciation for just how difficult this feat is.
Funnily enough though, one of the reasons that Diablo 3 was completed at this moment in time was because Blizzard were about to launch a new patch that would nerf the difficulty of the last three acts in Inferno and make multiplayer, the way these guys did it, a lot easier. Of course, this was no surprise as anyone who’s familiar with Blizz will know that are notorious, bless ‘em, for claiming to make stuff hard and then nerfing it down in subsequent patches. WoW has a pretty strong track record of this.
To be fair, I actually completely understand the reasoning for this. They want to make their games accessible to the highest amount of people possible and, really, what’s the point of creating content that’s only going to be experienced by a tiny percentage of your player base? This is certainly their mantra for World of Warcraft and, as it now seems, Diablo 3 as well and, indeed, Blizzard seem to view the concept of challenge in a different light to a lot of other people.
I think what we have in most cases, especially in MMOs, is a tug of war between accessibility and difficulty with the approach that a lot of development studies now taking being to make their games more accessible by reducing the actual mechanical and twitch based difficulty of encounters. To off-set this though, and still preserve some sense of challenge, progression is drawn out more meaning that the difficulty in winning the game isn’t so much in beating a final boss or raid but by progressing enough to be able to beat it.
WoW is Blizzard’s epitome of this style of challenge. Sure, go up against a raid or heroic dungeon without the right gear and you will be mince meat in seconds but progress through the right content in the right way, gearing up as a appropriate, and it becomes a lot, lot easier. Although some could argue that this rewards time over skill (and in many ways it does – there’s a reason why competitive raiding isn’t about being able to defeat a raid but by about being the first to be able to defeat it), it’s actually not a bad model. It means that any player can eventually complete any content without having to be an idiot savant at the game whilst the developers manage to keep you hooked for longer as you grind along their progression curve.
So how hard is hard? Well, that’s completely subjective (way to get out of answering my own rhetorical question, huh?!) but I can say for sure that I think most MMOs, and a lot of games in other genres, are certainly going for the ‘everyone can play’ spirit rather than true competitiveness. Which isn’t a bad thing if your the kid who sucks and previously always had to sit on the sidelines without partaking in the action but not so great if you’re actually looking for a true test of your skills and reactions. I suppose in that situation though people can find their own ways of making games challenging just like those two guys in Diablo 3 did.
And on another note, when are we going to see a hardcore WoW server? That would certainly be a challenge. They could even throw in extra lag just to make it even harder.