From The Archives: Options Aren’t Always a Good Thing

From The Archives posts are posts which I’ve carried over from my old blog (usually just the opinion pieces and other critical stuff, not the news and miscellaneous posts). They come from the entire length of my time in games writing, so you’ll probably notice a big jump in quality between the really old stuff and the more recent posts.

Originally posted on my old blog on September 20th 2012

There’s a reasoning I often see thrown around to justify an addition or possible addition to a game, and that’s “It’s optional, you don’t have to use it!” It sounds like it makes sense, right? Adding as many features and options into a game (like difficulty settings) in order to make it accessible to everybody. So why then, do I disagree with the logic? My line of thinking here was prompted by two recent happenings: co-op mode being announced for Dead Space 3, and an easy mode being patched in to Dragon’s Dogma (though there’s a few things I can say about this topic in relation to this game).

Dragon’s Dogma is a great RPG that gives you a real sense of adventure. There’s no easily used fast travel functionality, so you’re pretty much forced to travel everywhere on foot. Half the enjoyment of the game comes from the journeys you have in between quests. You have to plan your trips so that you spend as little time out at night as possible, as it becomes ridiculously dark to the point where you have to use a lantern in order to see anything, and even then it’s only a small radius of light. Plus, harder to kill enemies like to prowl the world at that time too. That’s not to say it’s easy wandering around during the day- you’ll come across all sorts of enemies along the way, bandits, Cyclopes (yes, that’s the plural of Cyclops), griffins and more. Not to mention the fact that the game gives you the whole continent of Gransys to explore from the very beginning without telling you which areas are out of your league, so the only way to learn is through exploration and trial and error. It makes you really mindful of every action so you don’t make a stupid mistake and get sent back to your last save point, and makes you feel so much more accomplished after making a long, epic journey. I still remember most of my journeys because of how exciting and visceral they were. How many games can you name where you fight off a griffin attacking some soldiers, before discovering a canyon where you intervene with a battle between a goblin army and a Cyclops by manning a ballista and toppling over the Cyclops, before jumping off the cliff, grabbing onto its head and knocking its helmet off? And this is all before you head down to the nearby shore and are attacked by a large golem, who you spend a whole day duking it out with, before you finally smash its last medallion on top of its head. Or what about the time I thought I’d made it to the village I needed to go to to find a witch, just as it turned night, only to discover her house was hidden deeper in the woods? So not only did I have to wander through the woods at night, but a) the woods had a deep mist meaning there was no map to tell me where to go, and b) the woods at night were full of phantoms which can only be killed by magic, and only one of my party members was a magic user, and a very weak one at that. I had no clue where I was going, and the phantoms were way too strong for me, I even lost one of my party members to them, but I finally made it to the witch’s cottage and cleared the quest. Ask anyone who’s played the game, and their fondest memories of the game are of these journeys had between objectives, or simply on the way to discovering a new location of your own accord. But one gripe people had with the game was how limited the fast travel was, because they didn’t want to make these long journeys. “Fair enough,” you say, “it’s optional after all, give them the choice.” But think about all the people who, once given the choice of fast travel, will not give a second thought and just fast travel everywhere. I’ll be honest, this would probably be me. They’re missing out on half of what makes the game fun and unique, because they don’t have these epic journeys, they’re just jumping across half the world whenever they get a quest. By forcing players to play the game this way, the players are being exposed to a new experience, and the experience that the designers wanted them to have. Sure, some people still will be experiencing it this way, but how different a game is it for the people using the fast travel? The experience of the game would be totally different, and they’d be missing out on so much. While they can indeed just not use the fast travel option, how many people can look at the map and resist the temptation to say “Oh geez, that’s halfway across the map, I really can’t be bothered walking there” and just fast travelling. When I added a fast travel disabling mod to Fallout New Vegas, the game was so much more fun, I was discovering new places, encountering mobs of enemies, and it was a lot more engaging, especially on Hardcore mode. In this case, not having a particular option means the developers can ensure you have a much better experience of the game.

rust me, you do NOT want to be there when that foot comes down
rust me, you do NOT want to be there when that foot comes down

Also on the topic of Dragon’s Dogma, there was a relatively recent patch for the game that added in an easy mode for the game. Great, that means people will be less intimidated to play the game, right? But again, the difficulty at the beginning of the game is part of why it’s so great. You feel vulnerable and have to be more conscious of your decisions. It also makes it that much more satisfying once you finally clear the hard parts. Defeating a Cyclops is that much more tense when you know he can kill you in one big hit at lower levels, and you have to think much more carefully about taking on a fort full of bandits when you know how vulnerable they really are. Which is why it was disappointing to hear that an easy mode had been patched in. Nothing is a threat any more, and you can pretty much charge right in and slaughter everything without even trying. A lot of people now who pick up the game will either start the game in easy mode, or switch over from normal mode the second an enemy gets too hard, and it’s sad that they won’t be experiencing the epic, satisfying game that us fans have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all opposed to difficulty modes, but if they go against the fundamentals of the game, then developers should really think twice about adding them, or at least make them so there isn’t such a drastic drop in difficulty.

The fight against Grigori makes Alduin seem like a pansy
The fight against Grigori makes Alduin seem like a pansy

There was a bit of uproar when it was announced that Dead Space 3 would have a co-op mode added, not least of all because of the reasoning for it. Get this, they said that the first two games, which were survival horror games remember, were too scary. Yes, that’s right, survival horror games were scary, who woulda thunk it. So EA decided to give players the option to play through the game with a friend and play a survival horror game without the horror. Yeah… Now, I should think the problem here is pretty obvious. EA are giving people the option to stop the game being scary (assuming it is scary and it hasn’t gone the Resident Evil route) and turn it into just another co-op shooter. Regardless of how well designed and atmospheric the game will be designed to be, a lot of players won’t even experience this because they’ll be playing with a friend and most likely chatting and laughing over voice chat. You’ve got to wonder why the developers would go through all the effort of making a survival horror game (again, assuming this isn’t a sign of the game becoming a total action TPS) only to sacrifice their artistic integrity to appeal to a totally different audience by marketing it as an action co-op shooter. I know, I know, money talks and EA are obviously thinking more buyers = more money and not much further than that, but if a series has done that well to have more than 3 games, is it really necessary to turn it into something different to get more sales? Why can’t developers be happy with a game doing well, but not bringing in COD levels of money? I’m trying to not go on a tangent and rant about this being a more common trend, with things like Resident Evil turning from one of the forefathers of survival horror to just another zombie shooter, or Battlefield slowly trying to appeal to console players and standard FPS fans more and more over time, because I think this is a separate issue in and of itself. For people who still don’t see this as a big deal, imagine if Amnesia had an optional ‘Easy’ mode, where you had unlimited tinderboxes and lantern oil, and your sanity never drained from looking at monsters. Sure, not everyone’s going to be playing this mode, but what about those who do? Their experience is going to be totally different, and much worse than that of us who played the game ‘normally’. Like Dead Space 3, it would mean the developers aren’t concerned so much with making a good survival horror game, but rather just appealing to everyone and making as much money as they can.

"Oh hey, I did this part already, don't go down the corridor, a monster jumps out" "Cheers bro"
“Oh hey, I did this part already, don’t go down the corridor, a monster jumps out” “Cheers bro”

And I think that’s what annoys me about this the most. Developers aren’t aiming to make the best possible experiences, and have gamers go through the experience that was intended, but are instead just trying to make their games marketable to everybody to make more money. Yes, it means the games will be more profitable for the developers, but wouldn’t it be much better to have a large variety of high quality games with a clear, defined focus and vision? To have games give a certain experience for you to try out rather than one you change so you can get through it easier? I mean sure, you may find a lot of harder games, or games that do things a lot differently and take some getting used to, but if you take the time to persevere with them you’ll find them much more enjoyable in the long run.

Edit: Ha! Right after I posted this I saw an article in my news feed about the Dark Souls director considering an easy mode being patched into the game. How’s that for timing?

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