Is Gaming Too Easy Today?
Are games less challenging?
by Daniel Geikowski
©2013 Daniel Geikowski
I played through the original, and while I had an enjoyable experience, it was over rather quickly.
It got me thinking: have my skills as a gamer increased over time, or are games not as challenging as they once were?
Nowadays, it seems that it is all too easy to finish a game’s campaign, even playing through on Normal and Hard difficulties.
Campaigns are being hastily completed in four to five hours, when the norm used to be around ten to fifteen.
Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I’m not saying this is the case for every game.
What I am saying, however, is that the vast majority of games have gotten increasingly easier over the years, making it hard to find a legitimate challenge for gamers seeking one.
Sure, the vast majority of games have difficulties that increase the amount of damage enemy AI can take, but this should not be the only “challenge” gamers have the option to undertake.
It could be argued that because graphics were nowhere near the amazing levels we see and experience today, games of old had to provide another hook to keep players engaged.
It was a time where one wrong move meant certain death, and a handful of deaths resulted in Game Over.
So what’s changed?
Now, instead of the Game Over screen, once a player dies or fails some sort of objective, they resume playing from a nearby checkpoint or auto-save area.
While I can see the benefit of this in cases where a weird bug or erratic AI kills the player or fails an objective, it has drastically reduced the stress, tension and intensity of fighting to keep yourself alive.
One can not point the finger at any one game, as the vast majority have adopted this option, from Assassin’s Creed to Splinter Cell, the already mentioned Uncharted as well as Infamous, Halo, Call of Duty… the list goes on.
[Ed.: While some are inevitably going to argue that Halo popularized regenerating health, not Call of Duty, neither were the first to do it; rather, they both took it and popularized it.]
This further takes the challenge away from games, and has instead enforced the habit of gamers hiding in cover, waiting until they are fully healed.
It is rare in games today, particularly in first-person shooters, to have health meters that can only be replenished through the acquisition of Health Kits.
I remember playing the original DOOM games, where after doing battle against a horde of demons, I’d be low on health, knowing I’d have to get past more demons in order to gain precious health kits.
It might be just me, but I felt there was more tension and intensity present, knowing that one wrong move would kill me, and making it to safety would give me a greater sense of accomplishment.
This change in games could be attributed to a greater focus on story, where players would rather progress to see what occurs next, rather than face difficult challenges along the way, with the potential for permanent death hanging over them .
In the vast majority of games, it seems that players can continue to make mistake after mistake, constantly being killed until they pass their current objective.
There is no fear of death anymore.
Just like lambs to the slaughter, players repetitively die until they eventually make their way forward. In games of old, with only one or two lives remaining, it really forced players to learn and adapt, increasing skills quickly in order to survive.
Games such as Mega Man were brutally difficult. This is a franchise where precision timing and skill were needed in order to retain the precious few lives the player was afforded.
The widely-renowned Contra was known to also be punishing, and the three lives given to players were gone quickly unless they adapted quickly (or cheated through use of the Konami Code). [Ed.: You keep making the editorial team feel inadequate, Daniel.]
Old-school games such as Sonic The Hedgehog gave players lives to contend with, and rewarded them with extra lives, for collecting pick ups as they progressed through the level.
Thus, skill was required in order to achieve these extra lives, rather than be given to players for nothing.
One of my favourite games of 2012 was Max Payne 3, and it, among countless other games, gave players an infinite number of player lives.
Once Max was killed, instead of losing a life on the way to a Game Over screen, he’d respawn not too far away from the bad dudes that put a large amount of bullets in his face.
As a result, this mechanic has also enforced another habit into gamers today, myself included; throwing caution to the wind.
I want it NOW!
They recklessly charge into oncoming enemies and gunfire, until they are the only ones left standing, therefore allowing them to move on.
While this may be fun at times, it further takes away the challenge and achievement of progressing through a game’s campaign.
This can be attributed to today’s generation and their familiarity with technology. We are used to getting everything we want almost instantaneously.
Want to find something out? Just Google it. Want a certain product? Buy it online. Download it. Whatever.
Games are no exception.
Instead of leveling-up or acquiring items through time, patience, and perseverance, some people would rather purchase said items and abilities, even going so far to hack them in instead of working for them.
Where is the fun in that? Where is the sense of accomplishment? Why bother even playing the game at all?
A lot of gamers want to progress whilst doing as little work as possible. Most don’t want to face nigh-impossible challenges.
Games are almost at the point where it is more of a challenge to fail, and players are just going along for the ride.
Don’t touch me
Going back to my most recent example, as I was playing through the Uncharted series, I noticed that at certain points the AI companions would constantly kill enemy AI for the player.
This is by no means a bad thing, and isn’t solely limited to Uncharted, but it yet again takes the challenge away from the player by allowing the friendly AI to do the work for them.
Another recent example of this is Medal of Honor: Warfighter.
It’s not enough that Warfighter gives you a mission in which you only fire ONE, virtually impossible to miss shot, but the AI seems to do the heavy lifting for the player, along with constantly telling them what to do.
They always lead the way, signposting every objective, in which all the player has to do is shut up and follow suit. At times it feels like the AI just patiently waits for the player to catch up before proceeding.
While most games hold players’ hands initially in the early going until they pick up the basics, some titles continue to help players a bit too much, even towards the endgame.
Games of old, and some games still today, were typically characterised to have boss battles throughout the campaign, culminating with a relatively difficult boss battle, that required players to utililse skills and weapons acquired over the course of the game.
A great example is the universally popular Ocarina of Time, where each temple would grant players a new weapon or item, which was needed to defeat that temple’s boss.
The final fight against Ganondorf/Ganon required multiple items acquired over the journey.
Nowadays, however, even some boss fights seem to have had their difficulty tapered down, or provide no challenge whatsoever.
The boss battle is pretty much non-existent, and even goes so far as to have Reaver, one of the player’s AI partners, defeat the evil Lucien instead of the player doing so.
Sure, we all want to be caught up in a story, being a cog in the machine of various games worlds, but challenge us along the way.
What Are My Options?
Sure, it’s more difficult and slows progress, but shouldn’t be the only obstacle standing in the player’s way.
I understand making games more difficult would alienate a large player base, now that gaming has a greater mainstream focus. However, that’s not what I’m after.
Games should cater to gamers of every skill level. Some players may just want to be told a story, where others may be wanting to withstand punishment along the way.
The Halo series utilises their famous skulls, which alters the gameplay in a variety of ways, to add more challenge in completing the standard campaign.
Max Payne 3 offers New York Minute, where players must replenish an always-decreasing timer through killing bad guys, with more precious seconds rewards for greater skill and precision.
Dead Space 2 contains Hard Core Mode, that not only raises the health and damage of enemies, but utilises game mechanics reminiscent of old hardcore games.
Hard Core mode limits the player to three saves for the entire game, provides less ammo drops, so that players can’t rely on the crutches of current games (respawning/close checkpoints/recharging health).
Fallout: New Vegas also has their Hardcore/Survival mode, in which players must constantly deal with hunger, dehydration, and sleep deprivation.
Ammo has weight, and medical items heal over time instead of instantaneously.
While these are a few examples of games offering a greater challenge to players, they do make up a minority. In my opinion, every game should have the option for optional, difficult challenges.
There is hope
While it seems like most games today are genuinely easy to complete in one mode or another, there are a few gems being released today that offer greater challenge to those who love receiving punishment.
Demon/Dark Souls is widely known to be a punishingly difficult game, constantly killing the player for mistakes made, or lack of skill. Sure, there is no game over, but every enemy requires sound strategy and timing in order to be successful.
Trials HD is a side scrolling physics-based motorcycle racer that yet again requires skill, patience, and,determination in order to complete the game’s more difficult tracks.
Yes, there are games out there that are difficult to play, but overall, gaming today too often holds the player’s hand. Most gamers don’t want to be guided through games, being told what to do.
The joy of figuring out how to proceed, and the sense of accomplishment from overcoming a generally difficult challenge — not a horde of mindless enemies — when you know failure means certain death, is what is sorely missed in the majority of games today.
I’m not asking for every game to punish me for every wrong move I make; instead, I want games to make me think.
I want that sense of accomplishment of completing increasingly difficult objectives.
I want to see my skills as a player grow.
I want a greater challenge.
It’s not hard.