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Too hard? Too easy? How can I tell?

September 20th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

CGW Editor in Chief Jeff Green finally updated his corporate blog and, like many people, is raving about Company of Heroes. And, like many people, he comments on the difficulty level.

The *only* thing I have an issue with at all, and it’s not really an “issue”, is that it’s actually pretty freakin’ hard at time. I’m playing the campaign on normal, and I am *not* winning every scenario the first time out. I’m definitely having to work for it.

He’s not alone. A lot of people seem to be dropping down to “easy”. I haven’t played it yet – my professional backlog takes priority – but by the sound of it, there will be much gnashing of teeth in my office. I hope I don’t have to throw things.

Let’s get something straight. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be really good at games in order to write about them. I’m not very good at most games. I don’t have the time to put into them to become really good and I’m too much into experimentation to quickly suss out a brilliant game plan.

I know when a game is too easy. The Paradox games are infamously easy at the normal levels. I’m playing a new RTS for review in which I jumped into a skirmish map, lost all the objective points and all but four units and then rebounded to a completely crushing win once I figured out what the hell I was doing.

Knowing when a game is too difficult is the hard part. How much of my failure is my fault and how much is the game getting in the way of my victory? Green’s complaint about Company of Heroes is echoed in so many other places that I have no doubt that his defeats are the fault of his daily diminishing reflexes or distractions.

One problem is that difficulty levels really don’t mean much from one game to another. The easy/normal/hard trifecta is pretty useless. It generally means that the AI is given an advantage in resources or abilities, but the value of these advantages can be quite different depending on the title. Two different RTS may make a game harder by giving the AI fifty percent more cash, but one of those games might have alternate player tactics to neutralize or minimize that disadvantage.

I’m not really interested in the historical question of whether games are getting easier or harder – I’ve read both in the last two months. (The correct answer is both. Games are harder because they demand more of you, but easier in that they’ve never been as transparent to gamers.) But it would be nice for me know how much of my losing I can lay at the feet of developers.

Because Company of Heroes and Jeff Green won’t always be around to give me an easy answer.


2 Comments so far ↓

  • MikeO

    The ‘normal’ difficulty level in CoH seems quite difficult until you get an idea what the AI is doing. I now rarely lose to it on ‘normal’, although I haven’t had the nerve to try the ‘hard’ setting. I totally suck at RTS games, but I do liberally use the pause function in CoH, especially early in the games, when I’m trying to max out my expansion. I imagine it would be a lot more stressful without pausing from time to time.

  • jason bergman (2K)

    I’m not surprised…Homeworld was brutally difficult. Some of my favorite strategy games of all time were brutally difficult…both Myth games were downright impossible at times.

    Dawn of War seemed a bit easy by comparison, so hopefully CoH is somewhere in between.