How Hard Is Hard?

Wolfenstein difficulty level selection

Ahh, remember when games used to insult you for picking the easiest difficulty setting?

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.

-Gordon

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7 Comments

  1. Naithin says:

    Most cases I’m somewhat against nerfs.

    D3 Inferno Act 2+ was in need of them.

    Act 1 Inferno was pretty well balanced, it was a rough ride to start, and seemed almost impossible with certain champion combos. Heck, starting out, even normal mobs could pose a moderate threat!

    But smart play let you pass that barrier and into the realm of slightly more plausible tackling of the champs and rares as you gained in gear.

    Act 2 by comparison was a brick wall to the face. That said, I must admit to getting up to Belial and probably even would’ve beaten him if had got friends together a few more times before patch hit (we one shot him post patch), but that was achieved primarily through corpse running and skipping anything deemed ‘too hard to be worth it’.

    We’re into Act 3 and it is still a challenge at times, but doable. I do wonder if perhaps the nerf was too heavy though, particularly the MP aspect, but some form of nerf even if not this extreme was likely a good idea.

    I wonder though if perhaps they should have upped the ilvl of the drops first and then taken a little bit of time to see how things shook out.

    Because part of the issue was needing to use the AH for next act gear to complete the current one, with drops how they are now, I suspect that would’ve alleviated things quite a bit.

  2. Stabs says:

    “And on another note, when are we going to see a hardcore WoW server?”

    Almost certainly never.

    They very nearly didn’t put Hardcore into D3. It was only fan pressure and the tradition of earlier games that caused them to allow it.

    Hardcore is a real headache for them. For a lot of players it’s completely unacceptable to permanently lose a character “when it wasn’t my fault”. It only works by having a customer service policy that never ever restores and even with that I bet the 4.2% of players who have chosen hc generate more than 4.2% of the Customer Service department’s work.

    Plus the RMAH is a big monetiser and they don’t (currently) dare let that loose in the hardcore environment.

    From Blizzard’s point of view HC is a relic of the old days they’ve inherited and wish they hadn’t. As a player I love it and it will keep the game alive much longer for me.

  3. Ephemeron says:

    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.

    Funnily enough, another of the reasons that Diablo 3 was completed at that moment in time because Blizzard was about to launch a new patch that would fix the Hydra/Life-on-Kill exploit and make multiplayer, the way these guys did it (i.e., relying on unintended potent spammable group healing to cover any mistakes) pretty much impossible.

  4. Dany says:

    The thing is that the developers reduce the challenge of the games to gather a wider audience to their product. Its a form of greed and its hurting the pc gaming industry a lot, but we cant do much about it. Dumber?! Easier?! “Accessible?!” = more sales, more money.

    Diablo 3 has lots of issues on core mechanics, but i only played beta, i didnt bought it because DRM Online for singleplayer and RMAH…

    • Gordon says:

      “The thing is that the developers reduce the challenge of the games to gather a wider audience to their product”

      Simple solution is to just let players pick their own difficulty setting at the start. It’s weird how games used to do this back in the day but now there’s a culture of forcing it upon us, having the unpleasant side affect of things being too easy.

  5. Jeffrey says:

    Haha, some unexpected giggles from my side! It’s true. Games are very easy lately and especially from my point of view (enjoying console FPS) this is very annoying at times. I understand that Call of Duty has to be easy in order to be sold millions of times, but it’s still a shame. And the problem is: there is no choice to be made for us hardcore gamers. Why not making another server where aim-assist is off and where your character will automatically run after you camped for a long time :P

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