As someone who plays too many Resident Evil games and knows all the series' tricks, you can imagine how my experience as a fan makes me somewhat overly ready for its myriad challenges. While I adore Resident Evil Village, one of the few issues I had with the game was that I thought it was a bit too easy on Standard difficulty. For me, the ideal Resident Evil experience is one where you're constantly riding the line of barely having enough ammo and health to survive. On Village's higher difficulty, Hardcore, you have to play smart in order to maintain enough breathing room to survive, and just a few bad mistakes will dwindle your resources and put you in danger. This is the secret sauce of Resident Evil's survival horror, and my favorite games in the franchise often naturally nail that dynamic without the need to adjust their difficulty beyond the Standard setting.
However, in my first time playing Village on Standard, I rarely found myself in this sweet spot of tension. Ammo was never a problem, and, as a result, I barely touched the game's crafting system simply because I never needed to. It wasn't until about 75% through the game that things ramped up in terms of ammo scarcity and health management, forcing me to take the game more seriously. As a result, I only died a handful of times my first time through, and these deaths were primarily due to an unexpected environmental hazard or timing-based challenge, not combat. The game has all the pieces in place to make a harrowing survival experience work, but the balance isn't quite right, and I didn't think that the Standard difficulty demanded I take full advantage of its mechanics as much as I would've liked.
I don't mean all this necessarily as an indictment of Standard difficulty; it's not bad by any means. It's simply that as a veteran of the Resident Evil series, I am bringing with me all my knowledge of how these games work, and can thus take advantage of that to easily overcome Village's challenges. Nailing headshots, avoiding enemies you don't need to kill, scavenging every possible nook and cranny for items and money; this game absolutely rewards that kind of playstyle. But on Standard, you can often find yourself feeling a bit too powerful and more prepared than what the story would suggest, meaning you don't have to play very carefully. This, of course, has its own benefit--not worrying as much about ammo frees you to focus more on the story of Village, as well as the act of combat itself, and it can be fun to mow down hordes of Lycans as they start to surround you.
Before I go any further, however, I should reiterate that it is 1000% okay to play the game on Standard if that's what you enjoy. I personally like that terrifying feeling of having your back against the wall--it's why I love this series, after all. Some people want something a little more relaxed, and that's okay. You also might be the kind of player whose skill level is more attuned for Standard and will find it to be the right level of challenge, so don't let anyone tell you that you're lesser for it. Difficulty settings exist for a reason, and people play games differently.
That said, if you crave that resource management--the stress of maybe not having enough ammo and first aid--and love it when one wrong move can imbue a good run with an utterly debilitating sense of tension, then I highly recommend you play your first time on Hardcore.
After finishing the game for the first time, I began a fresh save on Hardcore difficulty to see if it scratched that itch, and I was not disappointed. It only takes a swing or two from an enemy to go from full health into the red, leaving a lot less room for error when it comes to getting hit. Playing it safe, learning the right time to dodge, and running about a hallway or so back from a threat to give yourself distance becomes mandatory even with weaker foes. It's not that it's hard; it's that the game asks you to put your all into every encounter and always be alert--something that I never quite felt on Standard since damage from enemy hits was laxer.
I also found myself using the block mechanic more often on Hardcore, something I rarely touched on Standard because I never felt enough danger that I needed to rely on it. It's on Hardcore where you realize how crucial blocking really is. The damage reduced when blocking is a lot more significant than you might think, probably because you wouldn't think blocking an axe swing with your hands would be all that effective. But seriously, the difference in damage between taking a hit and blocking it is huge. You're so vulnerable on Hardcore that you need to block all the time, particularly in close-quarters fights, where it becomes pretty much mandatory. Blocking also opens up a counter move where you can push enemies away and sometimes even disarm them of their weapon, a key strategy you'll want to execute frequently, and another thing I never touched on Standard.
Finally, there is ammo and crafting. The amount of ammo and crafting materials gained on Hardcore remains the same as Standard, but with enemies taking more bullets to dispatch, the balance feels much more aligned with what I was looking for. You almost always have barely enough ammo to make it through an encounter, which means you're regularly left with only a few remaining bullets at the end of a fight, filling you with the stress of needing to find more before the next thing jumps at you from around a corner. Yet, it doesn't swing so far in this direction that it feels unfair. There was only one moment where I completely ran out of ammo, and it's because I was being careless and wasted bullets on enemies in an optional area and probably should have just dodged around them--a decision I never even contemplated in Standard but often considered while on Hardcore.
On Hardcore, you genuinely appreciate how expertly designed the item placement and resource balance is in Village--and when it's not bullets, it's crafting materials, which, you guessed it, I needed to use the second time through the game. Having to make the tough choice to craft a few more shotgun shells but lose essential materials required to make first aid added a nuanced strategic layer to the Hardcore experience. Despite only taking a break of a few days in between playthroughs, Hardcore felt very fresh. The game demanded I engage with all of its systems and play smart. It took what I already thought was a pretty fantastic survival horror experience and elevated it to one of the best I've ever had.
Hardcore demands you to learn and master the game, weigh the costs and benefits of crafting, scavenge everything, and make every bullet count--it's just a more rewarding experience for long-time survival horror fans.
So have I convinced you Hardcore is worth your time? Awesome, but I should warn you about one thing: the opening of the game. In a loving homage to Resident Evil 4, the first major combat encounter is a harrowing fight for survival where you're swamped by way too many enemies to shock your system before things slow down and settle into a more natural rhythm. It's an excellent set-piece on Standard, but it's utterly frustrating on Hardcore. Despite having already beaten the game, I died multiple times during this moment on Hardcore--the excitement of my first time experiencing it faded away, only leaving frustration in its wake as I kept getting stabbed in the back by those damn Lycans.
It's a rough sequence to be sure, especially if you're still learning how the game is played. Maybe you won't have as much trouble as me, but I wanted to bring it up as it was the one sour note in my Hardcore run. The good thing is that once the moment has passed, the game's pacing and combat ease back, and it is just excellent from that point onward. So if you can get past the opening encounter, you're golden.
If everything about this sounds like something you'd be interested in, then Hardcore might be the difficulty for you. Honestly, I recommend taking a risk and giving it a shot. Again, I don't think Standard is the wrong way to experience this game; it's more that it won't demand full use of Village's gameplay systems. And that in itself comes with the benefit of having a smoother playthrough with less frustrating difficulty spikes, especially the beginning. But Hardcore demands you to learn and master the game, weigh the costs and benefits of crafting, scavenge everything, and make every bullet count--it's just a more rewarding experience for long-time survival horror fans.
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