How About The “No Bullshit” Difficulty?: Bad Difficulty In Video Games


When I start a game and I see a difficulty select, I pretty much always vouch for the easy mode. I could be very well acquainted with the franchise or genre, I may have played perfectly on the hardest difficulty on only the previous entry. My reason for this is simple: more often than not difficulty relies on bullshitting the player.

Difficulty is one of those concepts that isn’t easy to pin down, I will fully admit that. Some people find something cheap and lazy, others think it is a genuine method of making the game harder. Deciding how to implement scaling of difficulty even in the normal game can be a strenuous activity for some, there are only few games to date that most people can agree hit the difficulty curve so well it is almost non-existent. However that is not an excuse to make it an after thought when a higher difficulty can provide the challenge and complexity the players wanted in the first place.

One of my major complaints is the perfect AI. On higher difficulties I will naturally expect that the enemies who couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat to improve, create less room for messing around and refocus the experience. When this goes too far and the guy 2 miles away gets a perfect shot on me from a gun that is notorious for its awful spread, that is when I start getting upset. I ask you to look at Far Cry 1 & to an extent Far Cry 2. In the first game in this series, getting spotted would lead to your ultimate demise, every guy in the area could pop you from any location with a millisecond of spotting you. Anything but perfect memorisation of the areas is the only way to win in that scenario, I understand programming a human element is hard as the default AI will just do everything mathematical flawlessly. I also understand that no one should have to fight an opponent who can just walk at me in a fighting game and block frame perfect because they “just can”. The strategy goes from being reactionary to just cheesing it out with maybe a flaw in its reaction patterns, this isn’t rewarding this is tiring and unsatisfying. Speaking of unsatisfying…

TOO.MUCH.HEALTH. I was once playing Bioshock 2 from a PSPlus subscription, I had no expectations of the game and no attachment to any money spent on the game, very open to the experience. I went in on easy because it was my first go with a game in the series & I like to go to easy as a bullshit checker, being wary of what would have been infuriatingly designed on later difficulties. Halfway into the game….I put it down.Why? Well because even on easy I was getting sick and tired of all the enemies soaking up so many hits! I’m playing on easy, no I didn’t die during my play so you could argue that was easy, nonetheless spending my time throwing my ammunition into people and slowing any pacing to a crawl is simply awful. More health is the cheapest means to make something artificially harder, it prolongs engagements often when they should be short and the difficulty of the enemy isn’t even that big, it is just a rinse and repeat of the same actions but for a little longer than it should have been.In a normal session of say a cover shooter, you sink X amount of shots into enemies to defeat them and can take Y amount of hits. As the difficulty goes from easy to normal and so on X increases and Y decreases, not actually making the game that much harder, only forcing you to stay out of the fight for longer and making each engagement mathematically longer, not a very strenuous employment to achieve for a developer and a waste of my time, can you imagine what it would be like trying to fight those Bioshock 2 enemies on hard mode? I’d lose my mind. Mathematical changes to a game to make it seem harder are one of the worst implementations of difficulty, at least when it that alone and the mechanics of the game don’t provide a high skill ceiling. Speaking of mathematical changes…

One guy? Okay. Four guys? I can handle it. 10 guys of the most tedious, highly evasive enemy type in the entire game? Yeah okay, this game can go away forever. More enemies is not a good difficulty change, it is an endurance test often defined by the resources they choose to provide you, usually not being enough for a slog out in an area with terrain that is clearly benefiting my opponents. I recall playing Bulletstorm on yet again the PSPlus subscription, having a rather okay time with some issues in the number of enemies in an area being a little tiresome, although you can often just kick them into a instant kill hazard it is the difference between the first guy impaled on a cactus and the 50th. There is a section later on that involves hanging in an area and having enemies just pile in, note that yes like usual this was easy mode for my own sanity. I got bored. I died a few times because they come from every goddamn location and in swarms relentlessly. Most of all? I praised any and every god that came to mind that I had the mind to make sure this was on the easiest difficulty. This sort of thing is simply not a design choice I can get behind, I am losing interest in these massive waves while also feeling my patience shrink rapidly to the point I almost turned off the game for good. I had felt kinda bored they’d stuff so many enemies in each area, I know some of the skillshots, special rewards for killing enemies creatively and specifically, aren’t easy and you need a few attempts, some even ask you to wipe out a number of enemies in a single shot or in succession without reloading. Regardless of that necessity the balance of large groups to a couple of enemies is horrendous, I expect changes in enemy types as I progress within the normal game, maybe a few new strategies in the higher difficulty modes. I do not now, nor have I ever or will I ever want to fight this many enemies at once, at least like this. Some games use set-pieces of multiple enemies like Kingdom Hearts 2 that actually have very effective means of fighting hundreds of enemies and it works, unfortunately even with that moment the game still suffers from chucking enemies at you in too large a wave or sometimes too close together and it burns enthusiasm and energy like nothing else.

There are plenty of ways to change a games difficulty as you go along both in a single play and as a reflection of the difficulty setting, something that will be the topic of a future post, so now I go to all of you. What have you experiences been of just mind numbing or infuriating difficulty? Did you think it was your lack of skills or the design of the challenge was just bad? What sort of difficulty setting do you start on when playing a game? What is the reason behind that decision? Thanks for the read and I’ll see you all around!


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  1. #1 by The guy on November 26, 2016 - 2:29 pm

    Sounds like you guys lack some good old hand eye coordination or something but as a pretty experienced gamer i can vouch for normal/Regular doing a good job in difficulties in most games. Theres a reason its called regular oor normal, cause thats the intended way the game was meant to be played. Rather than giving up i notice the answer is taking advantage of the game mechanics to win. That and ruls of thumb like aim for the head and save ammo. I rarely “Spray” in any shooters and if i do its against a boss or endgame maybe. Try to change up your tactics as i find it hard to believe that any game registers on the BSmeter on anything easy mode


  2. #2 by Son91 on April 15, 2015 - 1:11 pm

    I AGREE – difficulty modes are bullshit. That flaws almost everything in game, its like hardcoring nonsense people think of.


    • #3 by Prof.mcstevie on April 15, 2015 - 1:12 pm

      I was recently browsing through some forums on hardest games of a franchise, turns out people would often complain that the one hit KO moves don’t kill instantly in later games, as if that is a detriment to good difficulty.


  3. #4 by trevbook on November 16, 2014 - 1:00 am

    Have you ever played a game where the different difficulty levels actually made sense? I can’t think of one that I’ve played that didn’t simply increase the health of or number of the enemies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • #5 by Prof.mcstevie on November 16, 2014 - 1:36 am

      While it does also incorporate extra health and damage to you, the Megaman Zero games and ZX generally didn’t upset me too much. They added new moves and expanded upon enemy attacks so you weren’t just doing the same thing but with less room for error. My only issue was that there was a trial and error style to it, not inherently bad but they didn’t facilitate well, you had limited lives and losing all your VERY rare to find lives (without grinding of course) would push you back to the start.

      My ideal difficulty would be expanding upon the mechanics taught making the challenges harder rather than longer or the such. Devil May Cry sorta had this in that while health did go up somewhat, you also had more dangerous attacks and had to perfect the evasion systems. Not perfect but it did look to your impeccable skills for challenge and with them it became just as winnable as any other mode.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. #6 by bcorneliarsj on November 15, 2014 - 11:09 pm

    A good example of bad difficulty: bot AI in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS. If you crank up the difficulty, they’ll blatantly read your inputs. They’ll dodge and block everything on a frame’s notice- the game becomes all about punishing their moves at that point.

    They’re not even consistent either. Even at max difficulty, bots will still behave in the most predictable ways during certain situations (pretty much any time they’re in the air). Fighting bots is actually BAD practice since they’re so unlike actual human opponents.

    A kind of difficulty that gets a bad rap is trial and error, but I don’t often mind it. Trial and error can actually make a game all that more rewarding to play once you learn your way around obstacles. Castlevania 3 is one of my favorite games and it EMBRACED trial and error gameplay. I love picking it up nowadays, breezing through it, and frankly patting myself for being able to do well at it.

    …that said, Castlevania 3 also has its fair share of bullshit. Have you ever heard of Medusa Heads? They’re these notorious enemies that infinitely spawn and travel along a sine wave, usually above bottomless pits. Honestly, they’re not the bad. If you’re playing hard mode though, they’re replaced with flying skulls that are faster and move in irregular and unpredictable arcs. True hell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • #7 by Prof.mcstevie on November 15, 2014 - 11:13 pm

      Facilitation of trial and error is fine, such as rapid restarting or say just blocking in an RPG when you don’t know what is gonna happen.

      I never really hated medusa heads, they were sometimes awkward but manipulable to spawn on a higher arc if you timed a jump right. Not exactly invigorating to fight but oh well, I’m sure the boss will be fun…..oh fuck you Death.


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