Difficulty settings, bad?

Some people argue that difficulty settings should not be used for a number of reasons. These reasons vary from slightly valid to laughable, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate on this post and rant on their shortcomings.

The mayority of the players will go with the path of least resistance, meaning that it would be the same if the game didn’t give any option. It grants replayability to only the hardcore crowd and unless the game exclusively appeals to that audience, there’s no reason for including this feature. But let’s assume that the player will choose “hell mode” because he thinks he is really good at [genre here] but as a matter of fact, no game has equal difficulty so he may get his behind handed to him. So now what does he have to do? Well, restart again and be humiliated of course because the option of difficulty is only at the beginning.

To some degree almost all games have the options with too much space in between. A player might not be challenged in the least by the normal setting, but the next one, Lovecraftian Hell, is impossible. Since programming more than 3 options is more than a pain to code it is the norm to have just a few difficulty settings that range from “cake-walk” to “count your back hairs with boxing gloves on”.

Every little thing in the game is going to change depending on the setting, there is no way to choose to make easier or harder just one section. This is specially annoying in games where the gameplay is granular so it requires different skills for different actions. On easy everything’s easy, from driving to killing to flower picking, but change the difficulty because just one of these is too easy and suddenly everything becomes harder.

Right at the begining without having any experience whatsoever with the game, the player is supposed to know which difficulty is best suited for him. Granted, some people have an easier time choosing; a hermit would most probably choose the easy option. But most of the time, “easy” means anything but “easy”. It’s the lowest difficulty available and yet the game is incredibly hard at the end. Why? I %$&# chose easy for a %$&# reason! Stop padding the game, I want to finish!

None of these reasons have much weight to them. Make the settings a slider instead of a set of options, have them be available the whole time and give the player some freedom on what section of the game they can make easier or harder. The concept of difficulty settings in itself is not (that) flawed, almost every complain on this post can be attributed to just bad/lazy game design.

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