Ever wondered why some video game characters seem to be able to take down multiple foes with ease? Sure, for games like God Of War this may make sense considering the protagonist is a hugely strong demigod, but when it comes to a series like Assassin’s Creed, all it takes is a monotonous combination of blocking and countering to take down dozens of enemies one-by-one without losing much health at all.
Perhaps the most obvious counter to these sorts of games is the Dark Souls series, whose third instalment recently received universal acclaim ahead of its release. Dark Souls’ punishing gameplay is infamous for knocking you back two steps every time you take one forward. So, why is it such a success? You’d expect there to be little pleasure in feeling inferior to every opponent you face, but on the contrary, it makes it all the more rewarding when you finally best each individual adversary.
Okay, so Assassin’s Creed’s fun free-running and easy-to-master combat can be thoroughly enjoyable, and sure, master assassins trained for years are most-likely unrivalled in their fighting ability, but when you’re surrounded by so many enemies, it’s hardly rewarding to be able to take them all out with the same routine. Similarly, by the end of a game like the critically acclaimed Shadow Of Mordor, dealing with enemies you encounter in its open-world becomes more of a nuisance. It takes challenges like the “Into The Pit” mission, which requires you to defeat 50 enemies without dying, to make the game exciting again.
Dark Souls, meanwhile, is characterised by making each individual fight fair, or perhaps even weighted to favour your opponent. Just as you gain confidence from taking out one undead soldier, you are beaten down by the next. This can admittedly get frustrating, but patience is key when it comes to avoiding blows, and timing when attacking is essential. When you get this balance right, taking down one guy no bigger than your protagonist can feel as immensely satisfying as taking down 100 enemies in a game like Shadow Of Mordor.
Remember that sense of relief you got when you eventually completed that Candy Crush puzzle you were stuck on for weeks? A game like Dead Souls can provide that sense of achieving a task you originally thought impossible, and enhance to the extent that you surprise even yourself when you finally best some of its harder enemies. It’s a beautiful series with an underlying dark enigma, but the immersive aesthetics wouldn’t mean a thing if it wasn’t for the rewarding experience the combat provides. If Lords Of The Fallen – a game often referred to as “Dark Souls lite” – told us anything, it’s that making Dark Souls easier doesn’t make it any better.
There is certainly something to be said of the fun of difficult games. Fallout 4 developers Bethesda recently told of the game’s upcoming survival mode, which will supposedly be even harder than the one featured in Fallout: New Vegas. The mode will see players contend with diseases, a lack of essential resources, and immeasurably difficult enemies. Even on its easiest setting, it takes a fair bit of levelling up to feel ready to take on the likes of the game’s Deathclaws, so just imagine what the infamous foe will be like in the new survival mode. Those that remember the survival mode of New Vegas will remember how rewarding simply surviving a short journey was. Similarly to Dark Souls, it made exploration so much more gratifying.
Whether it’s the endless deadly obstacles of Mega Man or the brutally hard stealth of Metal Gear Solid, adding a challenging element to games can make for an experience that feels much more worthwhile. This simple truth can be found throughout gaming’s different genres. The tough monster battles of fantasy RPG Dragon’s Dogma meant exploration became less and less tough as you levelled up, and this maintained interest throughout, whilst the rapid responses needed to master platformer Super Meat Boy could make you feel like a pro when executed correctly.
There are a thousand ways to make a video game, and of course, a game doesn’t have to be hard to be enjoyable and interesting. The simple point and click of Telltale Games The Walking Dead can still deliver shocking moments due to its unique storytelling, for example, and feeling like a master of your craft in a game like Assassins Creed can be immensely fun.
Furthermore, there are games like Journey, which can exist almost as a piece of art. These are all successful games in their own right, but whether it’s finally finding some ammo in a hostile radioactive wasteland (Fallout survival mode) or finding the perfect moment to strike a powerful boss (Dead Souls), nothing quite beats the feeling of pure joy and pride you receive from besting a tough game.