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A good game MUST be difficult. Kena Bridge of Spirits is a great example.

This doesn't apply to a few genres like walking sims.

I'm not the greatest gamer out there, but I, like many of you, have been playing videogames for a very long time, so it's rare for me to struggle with stuff that a beginner may find difficult: things like button layouts, aiming, orientation, camera movement.

With that said, I definitely approve when developers do the best they can to help beginners, because as gaming becomes more and more mainstream, there are going to be more and more and more beginners. What they often forget though is that many games without difficulty fall apart, because the challenge is very often core to the experience

here are the consequences that, off the top of my head, lack of difficulty can create:

-Disconnect from the story

So many games feature empowering stories which put you at the center of a conflict that will decide the future of the universe. So many baddies in so many videogames get no or a nonsensical motivation at most, but what writers usually spend the time on is making that villain at least look menacing. But I'm pretty sure that if you're reading this, then you've already played some boss fights that didn't meet that expectation and went down very easily. So, while you're supposed to triumph with the main characters, you're left with emptyness and disappointment.

-Disconnect from the quiet moments.

If the game is always easy, then the parts where the game is purposefully easy for the sake of pacing will result boring. If The End in Metal Gear Solid 3 was an easy and quick boss, then The Ladder wouldn't have been such an iconic moment, while like this is a perfect intermission between one of the hardest bossfights and the next biome which will feature more complex stealth challenges. Even the graphics will be enjoyed more, because, if the game is difficult, you won't have the concentration to appreciate them when you're fighting, but the impact they will have when you will have that concentration will be heightened.

-Lack of true progression

We all know games like to trick us into thinking we've actually become better at the game by showing us a bigger number on the screen. And while it works in a lot of cases, seasoned gamers will be able to see behind the façade. If it took three hits to defeat an old enemy, and now I've become stronger and it takes two, then I've not become stronger: the game has become easier. Of course a game can do both things, say, it takes two hits instead of three but now you have a third more enemies to take care of, so the difficulty stays the same; but I wouldn't be making this post if every game nailed this. A very big symptom of this phenomenon is when boss fights don't get more and more difficult the more you play but vary wildly and even get easier (unless it's on purpose).

-Content is ignored

"Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game." this quote is famous and I don't know where it comes from, but it's true. If you make a cool moveset to your enemy that is well telegraphed to the player, but the player isn't punished enough for not learning it, then the player will not learn it and won't have the satisfaction of having bested the enemy. This applies to many of the facets of game design, and it will result in a lot of your work wasted.

Another thing to keep in mind is that difficulty is the biggest "litmus test" you can do when trying to identify if the game's mechanics are well calibrated and fair. If you notice the game's difficulty doesn't scale "linearly" with the parameters you're changing when calibrating such difficulty, then it means that there often is something that might break the game's balance. Very often innocuous challenges in other difficulties can become terrible choke points in others. We also know of artificial difficulty and nobody likes it (e.g. in new Assassin's Creed games when you do 1 point of damage but the enemy moveset remains the same lame moveset)

Here comes Kena: Bridge of Spirits, a game that has been overall well received but criticized for being a tiny bit too shallow in the story and the combat and the world.

It has 3 intended difficulties for the first playthrough: easy, medium and hard, but it has a 4th difficulty that you unlock after the completion of the game, called master. Now, personally speaking, I hate doing second playthroughs of videogames, and nowhere in the marketing was the combat highlighted as the focus of the videogame, so I used a small trick on the game's pcgamingwiki to unlock it for your first playthrough.

Man, was it a blast.

This game is well thought out and what was probably too simplistic on normal difficulty became a very tough but also very fair challenge, that made me despise every villain I encountered but also master every encounter, and care for their story. It is surprising that a game made by a handful of people is probably a bigger challenge and a better one than, say, Dark Souls 3. Of course I had to insert Dark Souls into this conversation lmao. By having simple mechanics but well thought out ones, Kena and it's world will always be etched in my mind because it managed to succeed in the pitfalls that it otherwise would've certainly suffered had it been too easy.

The only thing I wish they did is have the courage to make master difficulty available for everyone from the start (although they kinda did with a very simple trick you can do on pc, so I kinda think that it was on purpose), but as my first playthrough, it was one of the best experiences in the last years of gaming. Every time I beat every boss I had struggled with, I felt like it wasn't down to luck but down to me mastering the mechanics of that boss in particular, and that I could've defeated him again if I confronted immediately.

Very few games do this well while also being rewarding, and the only example that I can think of recently is Kingdom Hearts 3 Remind's bosses, but even then, only if you use the difficulty modifiers to disable a lot of broken click to win mechanics, so it doesn't really count despite being one of my favourite games ever.


With that said: every player has its own skill level and everyone should play at the difficulty they want, but that difficulty SHOULD BE DIFFICULT FOR THEM, or they won't enjoy the game to the fullest. And unfortunately developers seem to forget about the higher skilled players and just make a game that is good for the average player or lower.


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