On Story Mode and RPG Difficulties

Richard Cobbett used the inclusion of a Story Mode in the Enhanced Editions of the Infinity Engine game as a starting point to talk about difficulty and player preferences in RPGs, on his RPG Scrollbars column over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Cobbett believes that, because the audience is so wide and varied in tastes, developers should make more of an effort to cater to the various preferences and offer more options, for example in form of easier difficulties. He does however concede that there are cases where more options would hurt the core of an experience, like with From Software's Dark Souls series.

Here's an excerpt that I believe encapsulates the tone of the whole piece:

When I reviewed World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria for instance, I said that Blizzard should offer every player a free Level 85 character to play with. Fans hit the roof. How would anyone learn how to play, demanded the same people who usually insist that the levelling curve isn't actually playing and that you only learn to play at the endgame. Why would anyone not want to sit through the 84 levels of (mostly deserted at the time) content that haven't interested them in the past, including the achingly outdated Burning Crusade expansion, to play the game that finally made them want to jump in? What would that say to the players who paid their dues, to see a whole new generation of players simply having fun in exchange for time and money?

In essence: (I don't want other people to have it better than I did.)

Well, as Descartes once so memorably put it, fuck that noise. I like games to be inclusive. I like the response to someone wanting to try something new to be (Absolutely.) That doesn't mean accommodating every desire, no matter how silly (Baldur's Gate needs car chases!) (Planescape Torment should have been a shooter!) but it does mean accepting that games are now big enough that even fans of a particular series can come to it for many different reasons and in many different ways. Looking back, Baldur's Gate's big success was proving that D&D could be cool, but the parts that are generally remembered most fondly are the characters and the narrative side of their adventures rather than the minute-by-minute action. It wasn't a particularly great tactical experience, and much of the combat was deeply underwhelming. Even if it had been though, wanting to go back to hang out with Minsc and Boo some more, or see more of the Sword Coast, is every bit as valid a reason to be interested in a return trip as the new bigger scale battles that Dragonspear promises.

There's lots of reasons to love the genre, whether you like Mass Effect or still have the entire of The Magic Candle mapped out and mounted on a wall somewhere. The word '˜fan' shouldn't be a badge that you have to earn, but a statement of enjoyment. And I think it's totally okay to accept that someone can be a fan and still not like a particular element.

Or for that matter actually be any good at playing RPGs.