Perhaps it’s time to break down and take the easy mode

Back in the 80s and 90s, I don’t remember computer RPGs offering difficulty modes — although first-person shooters sure as heck did. In fact, I vividly recall how Wolfenstein 3-D would outright taunt the player with difficulty levels ranging from “Can I play, Daddy?” to “I am Death Incarnate.” The easiest of those, I should mention, was illustrated by your hero’s portrait wearing a baby’s bonnet and sucking on a pacifier.

This got the point across to the player fairly well: If you go the easy route, you’re a baby. Even though it wasn’t a multiplayer game and no one else would ever know, the player would — and so the player’s pride and honor were attacked.

In me, at least, this cultivated a long-standing tradition when it came to any game that offered difficulty levels: Never, ever, ever take the easiest one. In fact, never go below “normal” in any circumstance. To do so would be to admit defeat, and that was unacceptable.

I know I’m not alone in feeling like this, because I’ve seen other players mention as such. Easy mode doesn’t exist for us, because even though we’re not Ironmen or Vikings, we have some standard of toughness.


But maybe I’m starting to relent on this, especially when it comes to RPGs.

The thing is, RPGs these days take an insanely long amount of time to complete. Less, of course, than the eternal treadmill of MMOs, but still, you plop Fallout 4 or Witcher 3 in my lap, and you’re asking for a time commitment from start to end that is pretty staggering. These aren’t walking simulators done in two hours or action games done in 20. We’re talking 80, 100, 150+ hours to finish. And that number tends to skew on the high side if the game’s combat is difficult or impedes progress.

Divinity: Original Sin 2 recently put out a definitive edition or somesuch, and as part of that, it offers a new “story mode” that is easier than the easiest mode that it originally launched with. From what I understand, the story mode doesn’t eliminate combat, but it does make it far less punishing and reduces fights as an obstacle to progression.

That actually has some appeal to me. Not every RPG is created equal — nor are their combat systems. Some games have combat systems that aren’t as much fun to me as others, and I’m not the type to relish an encounter that takes 10 minutes to resolve these days. So a more streamlined approach actually sounds appealing, especially if it would let me see more of the game world and experience the story.

Then again, there’s always my pride. And that baby bonnet. And this very public admission that I might be losing my edge in my middle age.

13 thoughts on “Perhaps it’s time to break down and take the easy mode

  1. Scopique (@Scopique) September 13, 2018 / 9:07 am

    As someone who also grew up in the 80s and subsisted on a lot of coin-op video games that were specifically designed to be as punishing as possible so as to take as much money from you as they could, my days of measuring my performance in any way outside of “can I actually stick with the game long enough to finish?” are well behind me.

    I have nothing to prove to anyone, myself included, so I’m always about taking the easy route. For games which have stories (Tomb Raider and Uncharted or Assassins’ Creed and the like), I’d rather get to the parts that matter to me. Those elements are why I play and represent what I want from a game.

  2. Roger Edwards (@ModeratePeril) September 13, 2018 / 9:19 am

    This is part of the “wisdom that comes with age”. I play games for pleasure. Not to live up to arbitrary social conventions about “challenge” and “being the best”. Play in whatever way and at whatever difficulty setting that suits you. I do.

  3. Minimalistway September 13, 2018 / 9:34 am

    In Japan they have Shoshinsha mark or Wakaba mark, a green leaf icon used by new drivers to tell others that they are new drivers, it’s a polite way to tell others that this new driver will make mistakes so please be kind to them.

    Other places started using this mark including video games, this is better than the “baby face”, people are different, from “come at me demons” to “oooh this world looks beautiful”, the second group should not be shamed or ashamed for not being hardcore.

  4. Isey September 13, 2018 / 9:50 am

    I always play on easy. Most of RPG combat ends up being barriers to the stories, anyway.

  5. Syp September 13, 2018 / 10:04 am

    That’s not a half-bad idea!

  6. Azuriel September 13, 2018 / 10:55 am

    It definitely depends on the purpose of the game. At least with the original D:OS, kind of the whole point of playing the game was to experience the intricate combat system. The story was there, and I found it interesting, but the main draw is usually gameplay these days. I used to be “story is the most important aspect of RPGs!” for 20+ years, but these days I have too many games to play to settle for just the stories.

  7. Gamera977 September 13, 2018 / 11:07 am

    Generally I stick with normal since I’m a little afraid on easy the game will be a cakewalk and so easy I’ll get bored with it.

    I don’t get playing on super hard though, esp ‘ironman’ mode in some games where if you’re killed the game wipes your save game files. I play games for fun, not extra stress. I remember the original Wizardry wrote your characters to the disk as ‘dead’ and you had to resurrect them. Most people seemed just to copy their save game files and then reload them in the case of a total party wipe-out.

  8. Bhagpuss September 13, 2018 / 1:06 pm

    I feel the same about harder modes as you describe feeling about easier ones. In my absolutist opinion, there is one and only one right mode for everything and that is “factory default”. Playing on harder settings is just as “wrong” as playing on easier ones. When I read about people finishing a game on a certain setting and then playing it again on a more difficult one I get a sense of wrongness that’s irrational but unmistakeable. Just play it as it lies!

    That said, of course I play on easier settings if I get stuck. Not to do so would be to value principle over pragmatism. Which I do. But then I hold Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous epithet as my guiding principle, so I’m covered coming and going.

  9. kamaliaetalia September 13, 2018 / 1:50 pm

    I prefer to “play” single-player RPGs by watching over my husband’s shoulder as he plays them. That way I get to enjoy the story without having to be frustrated by the combat. Of course, I also miss some of the story when he plays when I’m not around.Games with subtitles are much better for this — of all the PS4 games my husband played this summer, I enjoyed Horizon Zero Dawn, Ratchet & Clank, and Persona 5 the most because they had the most complete subtitles, so I could follow the story the best.

  10. Redbeard September 13, 2018 / 2:25 pm

    Welcome to reality, Syp.

    While I can still play MMOs, I have noticed my hand eye coordination isn’t what it was 9 years ago when I started, and that’s little surprise as I’m staring down the barrel of 50 next year. (I guess that means that getting involved in MMOs –WoW at first– was my mid-life crisis. Given what it could have been, I guess that’s a pretty cheap mid-life crisis, I suppose.)

    Anyway, there’s no shame in admitting that you’re not as fast as you once were. Very few people are able to fend off Father Time and continue to play games –video or otherwise– at a high level once they hit middle age. Right now, I’m pretty sure that list includes only Tom Brady, and I still have no idea how he does it without resorting to performance enhancing drugs.

  11. Yeebo September 13, 2018 / 5:18 pm

    A pet peeve of mine is that too often games that are mostly pretty easy on normal have sudden brick-wall difficulty spikes late in the game. Decent ones will let you switch difficulty on the fly so that you can at least see the ending. However, there are too many games I’ve put 40+ hours into and will likely never see the end of.

  12. pkudude99 September 14, 2018 / 1:19 am

    I occasionally watch youtube videos of streamers doing games that I play in order to see about picking up new tips and tricks and whatnot. Something I’ve noticed on the Civ6 ones is that they almost all will *only* play on the hardest “Deity” level.

    On the one hand, that’s cool that they can do it, but on the other — it ends up making it really boring. To overcome the bonuses the AI players get, the streamer simply *must* play a certain way each time. They never get to mess around, try alternate victory conditions, build that new wonder that came out in the last balance patch, etc. So it doesn’t matter which civilization they pick and how this one might be geared more toward a religious victory, or that one might be geared toward a cultural victory… nope… you will win a domination victory on Deity. Or maaaaaaybe you can take over about 2/3 of the map and then win a science victory simply by sheer weight of number of owned cities, but that’s rare.

    One guy seems to get it a little, so after a new balance patch he’ll bump down 1 or 2 levels so he can “chill” while learning how the changes play out, but even there he’s still playing it on a “harder” level.

    Frankly, to me it seems to be showing off their epeen — I play Deity becuz I’m awesome!!! Yeah, but you never actually get to play around, it’s always showing off and jumping through the hoops to play in the same specific way that you must in order to be able to overcome the insane AI bonuses. Yawn.

    Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate learning about how to better use the game mechanics in order to give oneself much bigger bonuses and whatnot, but still and all, it makes for boring watching after the 1st time.

    But hey, if they think it’s fun to always do it like that and get the accolades from their subscribers for being so leet and hardcore… more power to them.

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