Over the last few weeks I have been playing AC:4, South Park and Dark Souls. Each radically different games from various genres. They Probably have much different user bases and markets and are not really similar in anyway. However whilst playing all three of them I have been left pondering the same thought. Does the difficulty level enhance or ruin the game experience? On one hand Black flag and South Park are on the very easy and accessible side of difficulty. Neither challenges you excessively and the hand holding that occurs during the campaign makes it fairly impossible to lose. On the other hand Dark Souls is a ridiculously hard game (I have not yet finished it and not I'm not sure if I will). It is most notable for its challenging learning curve and its tough to grasp, but very precise controls. Therefore the question is, was the reward of passing levels great enough to continue with the game? Or otherwise what rewards motivate me the best to keep playing a game, even if it is extremely challenging.
Dark souls: Really hard, not enough reward
I will start with Dark souls. It obviously has a major dedicated fan base, albeit fairly small compared to many other titles. It occupies a niche area of the game market that is a throwback to the extreme difficulty of games made in the past. A time before tutorials, before health bars and at a time when any false move could take you all the way back to the beginning of the game. This is the major reason why so many people love it. Its challenging and forces you to learn everything for yourself. When I started playing it I thought it was great. I liked the customisation, the dark world and its satisfying combat system. BUT after slogging my way from the undead parish to the blacksmith for what felt like an eternity, killing the same enemies and very slowly pushing ever so slightly forward I was very over it. I eventually got to him and did a few other things like ringing the church bell and going through the forest level which did give me some form as satisfaction at overcoming the odds. However my rewards for spending this time and effort were some slightly better gear and some terrible (I mean absolutely horrific) voice acting and a sketchy story. Why do all the NPCs laugh after every sentence?? And why is his head an onion? At this point I had a look at how much of the game I still had to go and figured it was not worth anymore of my time, maybe another time I will pick it back up but i don't see it happening anytime soon. I also realise that for the people who love it the reward is simply overcoming massive bosses and mastering the game, but for me that is not enough.
Assassin's Creed 4 - Pretty easy, almost enough reward
Assassin's creed on the other hand is a fairly easy game. The combat is simple, counter then stab, pretty basic. I found that at times it is far too easy and this detracts from how much you can enjoy it. However compared to Dark souls I actually felt compelled to keep playing through the fairly boring combat because at the other end was a decent story and interesting characters. Also, you are a pirate! That is reward in itself! And the gruesomely violent animations are fun to watch. I think that the problem is that this game is probably too long and the series is far to frequently released. This makes the flaws in the combat more visibly noticeable and hard to forget about.
South Park TSOT - Far too easy, super fun
Now South park is an easy game as well. I actually found the combat mind-numbingly easy for most of it. You can easily just spam your special moves in every battle and win most of them quickly. The animations are very funny, the first time, and having to watch the same animations every battle gets a bit tedious over time. However in comparison with AC4, South park is a really short game (around 12-14 hours). This means that you are not continually seeing the same things for dozens of hours and therefore it does not affect the experience as much. More importantly, completing battles and making your way through the campaign grants you amazing humour and some very sick and twisted material that is hilarious for fans of the series. I feel it was necessary for the combat to be easy enough to not get in the way of the story but it did mean that the combat was pretty lackluster.
Lastly, Catherine - High difficulty, Extremely rewarding
Catherine is a game I played a few years back and I highly recommend to anyone regardless of whether you like puzzlers or not. I had never played a dedicated puzzler before this but I believe it is one of the best gaming experiences I have ever had. To explain the difficulty level to someone who has never heard of it before, the menu screen recommends playing on easy difficulty because normal is an extreme challenge. I therefore played it on easy and struggled! There were parts of this game that took me ages to get through and at times this frustrated me greatly. But the story and characters were so intriguing that I just had to keep playing. No matter how long it took me I just had to find out the next piece of story and what was going to happen. Few games have captivated me purely on story and I had a great sense of achievement in passing the difficult stages because I knew what I was going to get after finishing it.
In conclusion it is probably obvious that I love a good story. A genuinely interesting concept and theme is usually enough to keep me playing a game through to the end just so I know what happens, regardless of whether the gameplay is fun or not. There are some games where the gameplay is the reward (Skyrim) and that is reason enough to persist with it. However if a game is too punishing like Dark Souls and does not offer the reward I am after in a game then it is hard for me to feel compelled to best it.
What other reasons do people have to persist with a difficult (or easy) game? Is a good story enough? let me know!