Friday, February 3, 2017

Three Shades of Hard Mode

I am currently playing three different games on their hardest difficulties. I have no idea why I started this, but I have come too far now. Glutton for punishment? Sure, we will go with that. Maybe I was tired of trudging through normal mode to only replay the game all over again.

Whatever the reason, I am finding that each of these games has had a different impact on me overall. Some kindle frustration, others incite strategy and new ways of thinking, but each has made their own impression in how I play and what I am experiencing.

The Trial and Error
Gears of War 4
Insane Solo-Mode Rundown:
  • Health much lower than normal, cover a necessity
  • You do not "go down" to be revived, you just die.
  • Fast grubs can two shot you with melee attacks
  • Drones are aggressive and rush with shotguns, capable of one-shotting
  • Enemies take much more damage to bring down.

The first and most frustrating is that of Gears of War 4's insane difficulty, in what I imagine purgatory must be like. Gears of War is a cover shooter; all about staying down, taking your shots, and using the environment to your advantage to flank the enemy.

Insane mode has changed that into a reserved game of peek a boo. Peeking out of cover can result in instant death from snipers or torque bows. Drones are much more aggressive, charging you out of cover and instantly killing you with a single bullet from shotguns. Many of the heavier weapons or pathways you could usually take have to be used sparingly, lest you die to a stray Juvie.

You will die to these...a lot

The main issue is with such high expectancy of death, the game does not feel particularly designed for this mode. There are segments with little to no cover, segments that felt like I was lucky in enemies not charging me over enemies that did charge me on occasion, or my AI distracted the enemy whereas sometimes the enemy booked it straight for me. In a mode where you are flushed out of cover continuously by grenades or flanking enemies, it can seem almost like a stroke of luck in some situations.

Bottom line, it is proving difficult, but viable. I get stuck on certain segments, but find walking away and trying again later proved to assist with any hangups. The game is one of the hardest of the series (the other three had their moments as well), but with enough patience and luck, I am already a few chapters away from completing the game.

The Unforgiving Tutor
Nightmare Mode Rundown:

  • Enemies deal far more damage than normal, one-shotting in most cases.
  • Enemies take much more damage to bring down.
  • Constant movement while firing is a requirement to live.
  • Healing items/armor have less value on pickup.

I started a fresh run for DOOM in lieu of new game plus in which you keep all of your upgrades to give a fresh experience to the mode. Mind you, I did not choose the absolute hardest difficulty of Ultra Nightmare, a mode in which the only caveat from Nightmare is permadeath where once you die you have to start all over again.

Where Gears 4 felt like strategy relying on a spring of luck, Doom felt like a lesson in how to play properly. If you stand still or strafe in a predictable pattern the game will be quick to punish you. Fluid combat is the name of the game, running and gunning without predictable movement and constant awareness of enemy position.


It started rough, with a lack of weaponry and armor, it was easy to be killed in a single shot. Once inventory expanded and upgrades were unlocked, the game become not only much more manageable, but much more enjoyable. Battles were tense, with hectic firing as knights closed the gap to smash you and weaving between fireballs from imps; I was having more fun than the Normal mode play through I experienced, preparing for big battles and scrounging for armor and health before trudging forward.

While Nightmare is proving fun, I do find that knocking it down to Ultra-Violent would be the prime way to first experience DOOM with tense battles without the early game death expectancy.

The Way to Play
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Death March Rundown:

  • Enemies have 80% more health, deal 230% more damage.
  • Health does not naturally regenerate and requires food/potions to replenish.
  • Being outnumbered usually results in a quick death.
  • Battle preparedness is necessary early game.
  • Even with leveling and gear, each fight can be a challenge.

In contrast to the previous two modes, one a lesson in pain and another a lesson in play, this mode feels like the prime example of a hard difficulty that I would recommend to experience The Witcher 3 as it was intended to be experienced.

Death march is all about planning effectively, and fighting efficiently. Minding your spacing, your positioning, and managing your gear as the game intends. Going up against a monster contract that will surely be a dangerous foe? Preparing your armor and gear at the blacksmith and drinking a few potions goes a long way in giving you the upper hand. Studying enemies, approaching each quest cautiously; I felt like a Witcher.

Weak to Quen, got that I doing homework?

I found myself having more fun than I did on normal mode, as each fight was more hectic than the last. Intimidating beasts felt more like a challenge, swarms of enemies more like a real danger, and one on one swordplay much more satisfying. Being an RPG, leveling and gearing up goes a long way in assisting the ease of it all, but it cannot assure smooth sailing in all situations.

The necessity of upkeeping gear, looking into the Bestiary for enemy weaknesses, and preparing for battle made Witcher 3 that much better. Out of the three games I am currently juggling, this is the hard difficulty that has made the biggest impact on my feelings toward the game. I feel like it was not only a challenge, but the way the game was meant to be played; carefully and with vested interest.

It was interesting to see how a simple thing like a difficulty change can drastically effect the impact a game can have, especially the contrast between games. Upping the difficulty can change some games entirely; it can make some games frustratingly satisfying to complete, and others improve your overall skill entirely. I love seeing how each game not only challenges your ability as a player but makes you approach situations differently than being on auto-pilot in normal mode.

You may not be one to suffer through tougher difficulties, and I do not blame you. Trial and error is common, and must be expected. But I do encourage you explore the tougher difficulties further, as it may end up changing your thoughts on a game entirely.