Difficulty of a Different Kind

Frostilyte has written a plea for games to consider using a difficulty system more akin to Slay the Spire’s. By which he means a fairly granular and layered difficulty system. When you complete the game you unlock the Ascension Level system. Within which relatively small difficulty modifiers unlock with each level. Each individual modifier perhaps not making a huge difference, but when you layer 20 of these things all upon another?

Well… Now you’re getting into some pretty insane territory vs. the original experience.

Frosti’s thinking being that this sort of layered experience not only gives more of a fine grain control over the difficulty of the experience — but also provides an avenue for games to become better teachers of their own complexities.

So far? So good. I agree with the sentiment here; and I’d welcome more granular difficulty options being included in more games. Frosti’s post goes into other good examples of where these have been used to good effect, and in the comments I talk a little to Path of Exile’s merging of the bigger, chunkier difficulty jumps (what was formerly Normal, Cruel and Merciless difficulties still exist as breakpoints along the 10(!) act journey, sure.

But over the top of this, the mapping system that forms much of the endgame has both quite granular difficulty tiers, and ALSO the ability to roll map modifiers (a bit more RNG than StS’ Ascension Levels — but certainly fitting for the genre). These tiers and modifiers provide quite a range of difficulty steps.

I should’ve won this battle — but I made one too many mistakes along the way and didn’t properly account for the damage ramp. D’oh.

But look; this is the internet and we’re expected to argue. I’m way behind on my internet-arguing quota. I think it might even have been increased with everyone at home so much.

So the point I’m going to pick at is probably going to be a wee bit pedantic but I’m committed now, so here we go!

If Dark Souls had more clearly defined difficulty modulation in the same way that Slay the Spire does it might be easier for more people to get into and understand it.

Frostilyte (2020), More Games Should Handle Difficulty Like Slay the Spire (Frostilyte Writes)

Now, despite being behind on my quota — I want to hasten to add I am not seeking to make the argument for or against Dark Souls having difficulty levels. I’m not touching that one with a 10-foot pole. Not so much because I wouldn’t ever, but mostly because if I were to — it would derail this post entirely, as it is a subject warranting of an entire post to itself.

Rather, within the context of this conversation I would like to correct a potential assumption I see in that statement. And that is that the base difficulty of Slay the Spire isn’t just as difficult as the base (New Game 0) difficulty of Dark Souls.

You can choose to make her mad early and trigger an out-of-sequence boss fight. But I’m most certainly not brave enough to attempt it.

Now without question they rely on incredibly different skill-sets and exist in totally different genres. Drawing a direct comparison in this way is always going to be at least a little problematic, but I would still submit that Slay the Spire is every bit as difficult as Dark Souls; in it’s own way.

Slay the Spire isn’t going to test your manual dexterity. There is no need to pull off the perfectly timed parry or dodge-roll to survive. You won’t be asked to understand how long your invulnerability frames (i-frames) last with a given encumbrance level.

But… You will be asked to learn boss patterns and how best to deal with them. Knowledge of the possible is nigh mandatory to successfully completing a run. Refining your decision making and value assessment skills of your possible options? Again, mandatory.

So no — you don’t have to wield a controller as if it were a precision tool, but you will be expected to die, die and die some more learning the game and earning in a trial by fire the necessary knowledge to succeed. Your personal preferences in game genre may lead you to prefer or be naturally better at one of these styles over the other — but make no mistake; they stand neck-and-neck in their demands of you as a player, if you want to succeed, even at their base difficulties.

I might even go so far as to say that the New Game+ modes in Dark Souls already sort of offer the type of granular difficulty jumps being requested. Some people have gone to crazy high NG+ modes, and to FromSoftware’s credit — there is new content on offer (be it in new encounters or whole new enemy types) on offer through a good number of these.

Could they do more? Almost certainly; but like I mentioned — that’s a topic for another day.


This was a post for Blapril 2020, the annual blogging event (albeit usually as Blaugust), brought forward to help bring a sense of community during the challenging time of COVID-19. Blaugust is an event aiming to welcome new blogger blood into the fold and revitalise those who’ve been at it a little longer.

The Blaugust Discord is still available to join in, year round!


Naithin

Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.

5 Responses

  1. Magi says:

    I want devs to create a “speedrun” mode for all games they make. The longer you take, the more difficult it gets. Put that into the Binding of Isaac or Slay The Spire. Put it into Dark Souls, put into Risk of Rai- oh never mind.
    I hate timers like that but RoR1 and 2 are great example of difficulty levels gradually increasing (like actually gradually) and the game still getting harder even when you’re at the “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAHHAAHAHAHAHAHAHA” level of difficulty past the 35-40 minute mark of a run.
    At the end of the day, there are three difficulties to begin with (Dizzle, Rainstorm and Monsoon, iirc) and you also can add artefacts to the levels to essentially add another layer of difficulty to the base-level of the game. In RoR1 you could for instance make enemy corpses explode, resulting in more death for you and the enemies alike. in RoR1 there also was an artefact that would lock one of your abilities every 30 seconds or so, resulting in a more difficult experience :D Still quite fun, though.

    Now imagine the aforementioned “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA” difficulty with all artefacts applied on the Monsoon difficulty. Yup. That’s fun. Cause it’s stupid after all :)

    And jokes aside, while I enjoy games like Zelda that really do gradually increase the difficulty of fights and puzzles to not overwhelm players… there are also games that do it completely wrong and should maybe just have three difficulties (Easy, Normal, Hard) and then add artefacts or modifiers or whatever you wanna call it, to make the game harder. I feel like that’s a good approach, similar to how Bastion and Transistor have done it.
    And if you then add the RoR-approach to it, you win the competitive-difficulty-award, too, lol.

    • Naithin says:

      Bastion was an example raised in Frosti’s initial post; and I agree. It’s a pretty good example of granular and modular difficulty. I never really went all that far with Transistor though so I can’t comment on how they did it in that game.

      RoR is another interesting difficulty implementation too. I’ve been up to Insane, but haven’t personally reached the HAHA levels of difficulty yet.

      I’m curious too, what games you have in mind that possibly should’ve just kept to the Easy/Normal/Hard structure? I don’t necessarily disagree even, but am curious what ones you thought of for this.

  2. Frostilyte says:

    I dunno if you skimmed over the comments section but Quietschisto eventually convinced me that Dark Souls does have this kind of fine tuning in its difficulty by way of how the stat gain and character builds are implemented. If you want to be able to make more mistakes you build for more health, or you can master the parry and go for high risk/reward strikes the entire time.

    Also, really happy that I finally wrote something…uh…thought provoking (?) enough to convince someone else to write their own article spinning off of it. :)

    • Naithin says:

      I had see the first exchange between Q and yourself; but not the subsequent ones. Interesting stuff, and I agree with the conclusions he’s reached I think. :)

      It was a great post; I love topics like this — so many ways to cut it and think about it!

  1. May 8, 2020

    […] Time to Loot – Difficulty of a Different Kind […]

%d bloggers like this: