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A Tale of Two Difficulties

I’m currently in the middle of two different games, at two different difficulty levels, providing two different level of challenge and two different opportunities for progress. I’ve always been somewhat averse to high difficulty levels, but never really took the time to figure out why, other than chalking it up to a well developed sense of laziness.

The two games I’m talking about are Darksiders II (no surprise) and the just released English translation of Inquisitor, Czech developer Cinemax’s 2009 PC RPG about killer bats and torture (not necessarily in that order).

I have spoken before about the Apocalyptic difficulty level in Darksiders 2 and now that I’ve spent over 35 hours with the game, and am two boss fights away from finishing this run, I need to make some alterations to my original statement. I think that Darksiders II is significantly more difficult than Darksiders. That’s not to say that it’s impossible, just more difficult. It makes a certain set of sense, as Death has more powers and gets more stuff than War did, allowing for various combinations of character builds and loot loadouts. Between the ability to fast travel from any point and the relatively low cost of a respec, if your current build isn’t working against a particular boss, a respec is just a few fast travel jaunts away. Sure, you may have to spend some time learning how to use your new powers, but at least the option is there. War had no such option.

Part of the reason that it has taken me so long to get to the end of Darksiders II, aside from doing every side quest and exploring every side dungeon, is that it may take me thirty minutes to get past a particular battle. Hell, it took me an hour to defeat one boss last night, and that was only after using every health potion, the only time I’ve had to do that. If I didn’t have full set of health stealing primary and secondary weapons, who knows how long it would have taken. Hell, I might still be fighting that skeletal bastard.

 

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As tough as I’ve found the game at times, and honestly, the really, really hard stuff has all been optional, I still feel like if I’m not mired in an endless loop of dying and restarting. I may have to change up tactics, to figure out which bosses require patience and which ones need you to go balls out and take some hits to defeat them, but as hard as it’s been, I know that I’m making progress.

On the other side, we have Inquisitor. I got a code for review purposes, but I’m at a point where my “review” may have to be an impressions piece, as I’m not sure how far I’m going to be able to progress in this game. As I mentioned before, this is an English translation of the 2009 isometric RPG from Czech developer Cinemax. The game takes place in a European-esque fantasy world set in the 14th century. You play a paladin, priest or thief, tasked with rooting our heresy and punishing those that parlay with demons. Aside from killing monsters, and getting killed, you bring charges of heresy against citizens, torture them with various historical tools such as the rack and the iron maiden, and extract a confession of heresy out of them.

At least, that’s what I think is supposed to happen. I haven’t gotten far enough in any quest to where I can bring charges against anyone. I’m playing this game on normal difficulty, as a melee focused paladin and this game is seriously kicking my ass. I mean, to the point where I actually started over on easy after something like ten or twelve hours into the game. I have never done that. Sure, I’ve dropped the difficulty level while playing, but if a game doesn’t allow you to change the difficulty on the fly, I either stop playing or grit my teeth and get through it.

With Inquisitor, I really felt that I had no option but to lower the difficulty level and start over. This game is hard. I mean, hard. Sometimes you’ll be roaming around with your party of another paladin and what appears to be a doberman pinscher and you’ll roll up on some spiders. If you didn’t have those other life forms in your party, the spiders would kill you, straight up, or you’d burn through a ton of health potions to survive. Luckily, your party is there to help, so you kill the spiders, but whoopsie, they’re both poisoned. Now they’re leaking health at a hit point a second and the poison won’t wear off for five minutes, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that they don’t have 300 hit points. They have less than half of that. So now, you can either keep feeding them health potions, or trek it back to the village to have them healed, at the cost of 70 bucks per heal.

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Sometimes you’ll find some mines, head down into them, roll up on some zombies and they’ll swarm you and kill you. Sometimes you’ll find a talking tree, you talk to said tree and a bunch of skeletons appear and kill you. Sometimes you open a mausoleum door and one skeleton kills you. Maybe it’s my build, but if they offer a melee character, I kind of expect to play it as such. Sure, I use magic, but most of the time my spells fail because I don’t have enough points in skills. I can spend all of my money on health potions and let my characters chug them down automatically, but even so, you’re still going to either have to keep returning to town, and eventually you’ll come across a swarm of monsters that destroy you.

In Darksiders II, with very few exceptions, if you got in over your head, you could go and do other things to get Death better prepared for the current blockage. Here, there’s nothing I feel I can do. I have a lot of quests and people to investigate, but there’s no map marker or anything telling me where I need to go to complete the quest. So, I go to a new area, kill things, usually get killed and occasionally learn something new. In one case, I fully explored a dungeon of nothing but locked gates with no way of opening the gates and exploring further. The number of areas I haven’t been able to explore due to too many monsters killing me too many times far outweighs the number of areas I have explored. Of the areas that I have explored, only one yielded a quest solution. So that’s one quest down, something like eleven to go.

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I’m hoping that by restarting I’m able to make more progress. This time I took a skill point in some spell schools that have buffs and healing spells. I’m hoping they let me cure poison or disease or at least heal my party or add some extra damage. I’ve read that easy is still pretty difficult, but it may be that I have to either pick another build and restart or just say “eff it” and write up a detailed impressions piece. The game has something like 150 hours of gameplay in it, so the odds of me “finishing” the game for review purposes are somewhat slim. I figure that as long as I’m honest, it’s all good.

I guess, what it comes down to me, isn’t so much whether a game is difficult, but whether or not the difficulty prevents me from making progress. Usually, when I play a difficult game, the time I would have to spend to make meaningful progress is so high that it’s not worth it. It’s not like money shoots out of the Xbox when you finish a hard game. What I’m finding, though, is that if a game is hard, but I can still make progress, I can enjoy the experience. Witcher 2 was hard, although Dark wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought it would be. Darksiders II is tougher than I expected it to be. Both are great games, and some of my favorite of this generation. That’s not to say that I’m going to start every game on hard, but I’m not going to automatically discount it either.

And no, I am not playing Dark Souls. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

If you want to check out Inquisitor for yourself, you can grab it off of GOG.com for the low, low price of fifteen bucks.

 

Brandon

Brandon loves games, which shouldn't be a surprise given where you're reading this. He has written for GameShark, The Escapist and G4, and made them all less relevant as a result.

8 thoughts to “A Tale of Two Difficulties”

  1. Dark Souls. DAAARK SOUUUULS.

    Really though, the difficulty in Dark Souls comes from learning how to to properly approach your engagements. It is a game where you are almost never safe, but it is also a game where the danger feels fair to me.

    A lot of the time in games, the difficulty is increased simply by adding bullshit. More guys, less ammo, bosses that are immune to normal attacks, etc. Dark Souls is the first game I’ve played in a long time where it doesn’t resort to those tactics. If you are cautious, alert, and flexible, you will succeed.

    A good example is this guy on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9222EE5257207610&feature=plcp

    He is running through the game at “Soul Level 1” meaning he is never increasing his base stats for his character. He is upgrading equipment and items, but he is not touching his characters abilities. Surprisingly, he isn’t having too much trouble because he has already learned how to defeat the various enemies in the game in his previous playthroughs. That makes it clear to me that the difficulty curve is not based solely on your character’s need to grind more before proceeding. I respect that.

    The solution to a boss fight is rarely “GET A BIGGER SWORD”, it is more often a process of analyzing their attack styles and coming up with a strategy (GASP! a what now? in an RPG?) to countering them. Even the final boss is best defeated with careful application of one of your basic moves.

    DO IT.

    1. I see where you’re coming from. I think that a big part of why Witcher 2 on Dark wasn’t too bad was that I had already learned how to play it from my initial run. Sure, having more potions and whetstones also helped, but it was the time spent learning how to play that really did it.

      Now, time to check out that link.

    2. I don’t know it being all the great because they’re running Dark Souls with a level 1 soul. It’s awesome that they’re doing it but it’s in line with doing a Wrench only run in System Shock 2 or an ‘untalented’ Geralt in The Witcher. I think it’s just more so of a thing that garner’s attention is because of the greater consequences you have to carry on yourself as a player if you take a hit from a boss in Dark Souls, which is just the time spent. It would be like as if Blizzard decided that whenever your character died in WoW you’ll have to roll up a new one, effectively placing Hardcore Mode from Diablo into WoW.

      Zelda games do the exact same as Dark Souls when you play through the games on only a 3 heart run.

      1. I mostly linked to it as an example that the difficulty in Dark Souls isn’t necessarily what people are afraid of, that the enemies are just going to be unreasonably tough or something. Survival is based more on technique than maxing your level.

  2. I’ve always classified game difficulty into two very general categories. The first being difficult but rewarding. Like the first Crysis game, in which the hardest difficulty wasn’t just straight up “the guys hit harder have aimbots and a pile of health” to burn through. But rather the soldiers were using the same tactics they used before but spoke in an entirely different language so you wouldn’t hear they yell out “reloading” or “sweeping the area” in English. Dark Mode for The Witcher 2 is also a pretty good example or even Dragon’s Dogma, and of course Dark Souls. Where just being aware is what really makes the difference between life and death in the games. Then they’re games that are just difficult because they want to be difficult to the point of it being incredibly stupid. Ninja Gaiden. Everything in that game is just bullshit.

  3. I stopped playing one of the Gothic’s (1 or 2, I can’t remember) when several hours in, it got too hard and I kept dying. I don’t have time to play really hard games anymore. I just give up and move on. I’m lazy.

  4. “Now they’re leaking health at a hit point a second and the poison won’t wear off for three minutes, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that they don’t have 300 hit points.”

    Super nitpicking, but 1hp per second for 3 minutes is 180HP. …Which, admittedly, is still much more than the less than half of 300 that they have.

    On a more related note, I went and played Cross Edge on hard, because it sounded like it would take less time to get all the side stuff, and the free DLC armour was pretty overpowered, enough to make me think I could manage it. I was wrong. It’s two or so years later, and I’ve still not finished. Now, part of this is that Cross Edge isn’t that great a game, and that each death makes me too frustrated to seriously enjoy it, and deaths are almost never because of bosses, but because of random spawns – but even with the very powerful free DLC equipment it’s very difficult. I am *very* tempted to download more of the bonus equipment and stat points, even if it costs money. Up to this point, I was sort of self-superior about not paying for that sort of DLC… now I sort of grudgingly respect it.

    1. No, you’re right with the math. The problem is that it doesn’t wear off for 300 seconds. That was a mistake on my part in the remembering, not the math. 😉

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