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Difficulty Level - Where is my Easy Mode!


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I'm a bit torn on this because I'm generally a huge advocate of difficulty and accessibility options and not caring what other people do with their game. For example, I've always said that if someone pays money for say, Dark Souls, and wants to enjoy the world and atmosphere and fights while still breezing through it, it's up to them really, so long as it's clear what the intended difficulty is. If the Souls games gave those options in the first place, of course.

 

Thing is, Returnal's concept literally does not work if a player could, theoretically, alter the settings so that they could breeze through it without dying or by having a fixed save point they could always reload from.

 

I'm not exaggerating to say that. The story, the way the story is told, the progression system - it's all built around the idea of repeated cycles and starting from the beginning each time. The game would basically fall apart if you could breeze through it because it is so intrinsically designed around this very specific loop. The storytelling simply wouldn't work.

 

I totally agree that, generally, there should be options to modify certain aspects of a game's difficulty so that a less skilled or able player could still have the same kind of experience as a more skilled player but Returnal is a very specific case here I feel, which is why it has spawned so much interesting discussion since its release. 

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12 minutes ago, Majora said:

I'm a bit torn on this because I'm generally a huge advocate of difficulty and accessibility options and not caring what other people do with their game. For example, I've always said that if someone pays money for say, Dark Souls, and wants to enjoy the world and atmosphere and fights while still breezing through it, it's up to them really, so long as it's clear what the intended difficulty is. If the Souls games gave those options in the first place, of course.

 

Thing is, Returnal's concept literally does not work if a player could, theoretically, alter the settings so that they could breeze through it without dying or by having a fixed save point they could always reload from.

 

I'm not exaggerating to say that. The story, the way the story is told, the progression system - it's all built around the idea of repeated cycles and starting from the beginning each time. The game would basically fall apart if you could breeze through it because it is so intrinsically designed around this very specific loop. The storytelling simply wouldn't work.

 

I totally agree that, generally, there should be options to modify certain aspects of a game's difficulty so that a less skilled or able player could still have the same kind of experience as a more skilled player but Returnal is a very specific case here I feel, which is why it has spawned so much interesting discussion since its release. 

 

Returnal isn't a specific case though. This just circles back round to Hades, FTL, Into The Breach etc. which all have the same core concept of repeated deaths and restarts and all offer easy modes and are some of the finest games in the genre.

 

About half the roguelikes I've played in recent years have an easy mode.

 

This isn't people effectively saying "I want this type of experience compromised so I can enjoy it" without realising it and then that has to be debunked by people who understand how this type of game works. It's been part of the fabric of the genre for over a decade now.

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Also, going back to the roots of the genre, save scumming was just an accepted way someone could chose to play Rogue, Nethack, Moria etc. and the games frequently had documented cheat modes that let you edit your equipment or stats. You could use these ways to play to learn the game preparing for a real run or as a personal preference, or ignore them entirely. The genre at it's most punishing and hardcore didn't fall apart off the back of these ways of playing either. We arguably wouldn't have a AAA game like Returnal with these mechanics if there wasn't a willingness to examine how to bend and break the core mechanics in recent years.

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12 minutes ago, matt0 said:

 

Returnal isn't a specific case though. This just circles back round to Hades, FTL, Into The Breach etc. which all have the same core concept of repeated deaths and restarts and all offer easy modes and are some of the finest games in the genre.

 

About half the roguelikes I've played in recent years have an easy mode.

 

This isn't people effectively saying "I want this type of experience compromised so I can enjoy it" without realising it and then that has to be debunked by people who understand how this type of game works. It's been part of the fabric of the genre for over a decade now.

It's not a type of game, it's a specific game that's trying to do a specific thing. It's very different to what Hades is doing with narrative in a Roguelike loop. I've not played a Roguelike game that's using the format in the same way as Returnal is.

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48 minutes ago, Dudley said:

 

The problem is fundamentally though what might be a hurdle for you is a mountain for some others.

 

And while it's unfair to call you specifically here there seems to be a base assumption in this thread that everyone is playing the same game.

That's what I was getting at with tweaks, though. But if you ask for every game to effectively be beatable at any point, I think you're asking for a very different game. 

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1 hour ago, jonny_rat said:

 

How does a player the ability to speed through a game make it pointless for a developer to use challenge as a storytelling tool? Let me say again:  if the developer is good at emphasising what the intended experience looks like, why worry about what people do when they choose to deviate from that experience?

Not sure I follow. If the developer is good at emphasising what the intended experience looks like, why do they need to provide an alternative experience? Or, if they have to provide the alternative experience, why go to the trouble of making the intended experience in the first place? 

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21 minutes ago, matt0 said:

 

Returnal isn't a specific case though. This just circles back round to Hades, FTL, Into The Breach etc. which all have the same core concept of repeated deaths and restarts and all offer easy modes and are some of the finest games in the genre.

 

About half the roguelikes I've played in recent years have an easy mode.

 

This isn't people effectively saying "I want this type of experience compromised so I can enjoy it" without realising it and then that has to be debunked by people who understand how this type of game works. It's been part of the fabric of the genre for over a decade now.

 

Out of interest, have you played Returnal? Just because it is part of a certain genre it doesn't mean that it can be lumped together with everything else.

 

If you could beat Returnal in one go it would still be an excellent game because the levels and atmosphere and combat system are great. As is, the storytelling simply wouldn't work though.

 

Automatically modifying the difficulty after a certain number of deaths in the same level, as suggested above, would probably be a reasonable compromise. 

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I don't think anyone was advocating that you should be able to complete Returnal from start to finish on a single life, and that the developer should be expected to enable that.

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8 minutes ago, BadgerFarmer said:

Not sure I follow. If the developer is good at emphasising what the intended experience looks like, why do they need to provide an alternative experience? Or, if they have to provide the alternative experience, why go to the trouble of making the intended experience in the first place? 

 

Think of Halo 1. The wording of the difficulty levels there was that Heroic was Halo as it was meant to be played. The received wisdom on this is now that Heroic is Halo as Bungie designed the combat, and the closest thing we have to an intended experience in that game, where the damage values are tuned to the developer's tastes (which themselves are probably based on a marketing demographic).

 

By emphasising what the intended experience is (we should probably give it a better name but I can't think of one now, as I think it's probably a confusing term) they clearly communicate that there is a core experience that has been crafted and tested by them, maybe with a limited group of players. This is the experience that they ideally want players to start with, and that can be a shared, consistent experience between player communities (e.g. on here).

 

The alternative settings are there to allow players who find the default settings too hard (or indeed easy) to approximate the intended experience.

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8 minutes ago, Uncle Mike said:

I don't think anyone was advocating that you should be able to complete Returnal from start to finish on a single life, and that the developer should be expected to enable that.

Yep - in line with Matt0's post above, the developers presumably have an expectation of the broad number of runs that they'd expect a player to do before beating the game.

 

(Although if Returnal can theoretically be done on a single run with no artificial deaths, as I'd imagine to be the case, there's a part of me that says well fuck it, if that's the cost of letting people tweak the difficulty, then go for it)

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41 minutes ago, BadgerFarmer said:

It's not a type of game, it's a specific game that's trying to do a specific thing. It's very different to what Hades is doing with narrative in a Roguelike loop. I've not played a Roguelike game that's using the format in the same way as Returnal is.

 

30 minutes ago, Majora said:

 

Out of interest, have you played Returnal? Just because it is part of a certain genre it doesn't mean that it can be lumped together with everything else.

 

If you could beat Returnal in one go it would still be an excellent game because the levels and atmosphere and combat system are great. As is, the storytelling simply wouldn't work though.

 

Automatically modifying the difficulty after a certain number of deaths in the same level, as suggested above, would probably be a reasonable compromise. 

 

I haven't played it and I understand that the story would be spoilt if someone hammered through it in one run without dying. But the vast majority of players aren't going to break the game for themselves. The people who want an easy mode because they can't hack it on normal probably aren't going to one shot the game on easy either and if someone can one shot the game on easy, they probably aren't going to choose that difficulty in the first place. Someone might die 30 times on easy mode before they beat the game who would give up on normal. Someone else might beat the game on easy mode and then go on to normal and die loads before beating it there - in that case maybe they fill out the story for themselves out of sequence, but if they like the game and the story they probably don't care but then maybe someone really skilled beats the game on normal on their 3rd or 4th loop and undercuts the story that way.

 

It always circles back to this for me: Someone can experience an equivalent personal level of challenge on easy that you did on normal. Someone can experience the story the same way on easy that you did on normal. That's true for any game in any genre. Also, balance is key - the games I mentioned earlier, FTL, Hades, Into The Breach - the majority of players are still going to die repeatedly on easy because there's still systems to be learnt and understood, enemy behaviour to be internalised etc. but long term the challenge is less and lets more players reach the end.

 

Maybe someone, somewhere breaks the game for themselves and walks away, but... does it really matter? They probably still enjoyed it and their experience didn't change anyone else's.

 

Maybe I'll be posting something different when I've got round to playing Returnal but if it's just about the game needing to loop for the story to work, then I don't see it. The game will still loop on easy mode.

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2 hours ago, BadgerFarmer said:

Obviously there should be save points, and yes why not some options to at least tweak the difficulty in certain ways? But at the point you say all games should have options that allow people to simply speed through, you make it pointless for a developer to invest time in using challenge as a storytelling tool. That seems to me be stunting creativity in an industry that already takes far few risks at its top end. 

Just picking up on a theme in this thread (so I'm using your post as an example rather than calling you out in particular), but the second bolded point is a strawman - nobody has asked for the ability to 'simply speed through'.

 

On the first point though, as @jonny_rat says, why is it obvious it should have save points? HM didn't put them in for a reason (and that's clearly been a creative decision), so, actually, no - it shouldn't have save points if you want to stick to their 'vision'. They made shortcuts throughout the biomes presumably because they built around the idea that each run must be completed in one go, too. Now some people want save points to make the game more accessible, just like some people would like difficulty options to make things more accessible - the key being that different people have different ideas of what accessible means.

 

If they do introduce some kind of save system then arguably they've already gone against their design philosophy (it's hardly like it's something they just forgot to add) so they've already compromised the experience. Does that make it a lesser game for those that currently think it's perfect as it is?

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To me the issue is not do we want games to be inclusive and accessible to people of all skill levels/ability. I think/hope that’s a given. Everyone should want that. And it’s clear work needs to be done. 
 

The question is over what scale that should happen over. Is it over the entire medium, or for each individual game?
 

Most mediums, are only accessible over the entire medium. Books have different reading ages and difficulty. But as a whole they are accessible to all. You can become famous if you manage to take a difficult topic (cosmology) and ‘dumb it down’ (a brief history of time), but on the whole there are hundreds of thousands of books that are hugely difficult to read with a massive barrier to entry, and a tiny readership (and so budget) in response.

 

In sport you have things like tough mudders/iron mans that for the very best, and c25k for the other end of the scale. Not every event caters for all. It’s celebrated when the big tent pole events (London marathon) do a fantastic job at making it accessible to all. 
 

I feel games should be similar. A huge budget, mainstream game (Last of Us, Forza, Guitar hero, Mario) should be accesible to all, but I feel the medium is large enough to support (no doubt smaller budget) games that are exclusionary either via difficulty (or ease). 
 

Balancing game mechanics to be exactly the designed experience if hugely difficult, and quite an art form. To do that multiple times is exponentially harder.  I feel more content tailored for specific audiences is better than less content adapted multiple ways. 
 

Reading a difficult book, or running a marathon, is a challenge. And some games are too. I think that’s a good thing. 

 

Board games are a good example. Such a broad church and better for it. They run from snakes and ladders to twilight struggle. The latter takes 6hrs and is preposterously deep and complicated and is for a uniquely small segment of the audience. 
 

I don’t think computer games have reached that same level as board games, but that would be my aim. 

 

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Looking at things from a completely different angle, if you are a developer you surely want people to a) enjoy your game (of course) but also b) appreciate the work you've put in throughout (whether that's graphics, level design, music, mechanics etc). Now universally game-completion stats are abysmal, with most people probably never getting more than half-way through a game, if that - the Steam achievement stats are always interesting to see how few people even get passed the first achievement; surely all that work put into later levels that overwhelmingly most people will never see has got to sting a little bit as a developer, no? Why wouldn't you want to have options that allow people to see, appreciate and, hell, perhaps even advocate to others about how good it is?

 

It's all very well talking about a developer's vision, but surely nobody has the dream of creating something they know 99% of people won't ever see? For as much of the talk centres around challenge being rewarding and stuff (and of course it is if you are that way inclined), the simple fact of the matter is that hardly anybody will ever put in the time to actually see all the amazing things that are there because they don't want to/can't/won't 'git gud' - and there's too many other distractions they could spend time on.

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21 minutes ago, LaveDisco said:

To me the issue is not do we want games to be inclusive and accessible to people of all skill levels/ability. I think/hope that’s a given. Everyone should want that. And it’s clear work needs to be done. 
 

The question is over what scale that should happen over. Is it over the entire medium, or for each individual game?
 

Most mediums, are only accessible over the entire medium. Books have different reading ages and difficulty. But as a whole they are accessible to all. You can become famous if you manage to take a difficult topic (cosmology) and ‘dumb it down’ (a brief history of time), but on the whole there are hundreds of thousands of books that are hugely difficult to read with a massive barrier to entry, and a tiny readership (and so budget) in response.

 

In sport you have things like tough mudders/iron mans that for the very best, and c25k for the other end of the scale. Not every event caters for all. It’s celebrated when the big tent pole events (London marathon) do a fantastic job at making it accessible to all. 
 

I feel games should be similar. A huge budget, mainstream game (Last of Us, Forza, Guitar hero, Mario) should be accesible to all, but I feel the medium is large enough to support (no doubt smaller budget) games that are exclusionary either via difficulty (or ease). 
 

Balancing game mechanics to be exactly the designed experience if hugely difficult, and quite an art form. To do that multiple times is exponentially harder.  I feel more content tailored for specific audiences is better than less content adapted multiple ways. 
 

Reading a difficult book, or running a marathon, is a challenge. And some games are too. I think that’s a good thing. 

 

Board games are a good example. Such a broad church and better for it. They run from snakes and ladders to twilight struggle. The latter takes 6hrs and is preposterously deep and complicated and is for a uniquely small segment of the audience. 
 

I don’t think computer games have reached that same level as board games, but that would be my aim. 

 

 

6 minutes ago, Gabe said:

Looking at things from a completely different angle, if you are a developer you surely want people to a) enjoy your game (of course) but also b) appreciate the work you've put in throughout (whether that's graphics, level design, music, mechanics etc). Now universally game-completion stats are abysmal, with most people probably never getting more than half-way through a game, if that - the Steam achievement stats are always interesting to see how few people even get passed the first achievement; surely all that work put into later levels that overwhelmingly most people will never see has got to sting a little bit as a developer, no? Why wouldn't you want to have options that allow people to see, appreciate and, hell, perhaps even advocate to others about how good it is?

 

It's all very well talking about a developer's vision, but surely nobody has the dream of creating something they know 99% of people won't ever see? For as much of the talk centres around challenge being rewarding and stuff (and of course it is if you are that way inclined), the simple fact of the matter is that hardly anybody will ever put in the time to actually see all the amazing things that are there because they don't want to/can't/won't 'git gud' - and there's too many other distractions they could spend time on.

 

Enjoyed these posts! Baffled by people thinking that there's no meat on the bones of this topic.

 

On the issue of whether it should be industry wide or individual games.. I can totally see a time five years off when one of the big platform providers (most likely Sony the way things are going) publishes a list of good practice. This is already happening around accessibility and it could happen around difficulty and approachability. 

 

In the meantime (or if that never happens) if there is a shift it'll be cultural and self-regulated. I think the git gud viewpoint will continue to be seen as increasingly harmful within the industry and we'll probably get a nasty and divisive split at some point. Some devs will pander to the shrinking git gud crowd with niche games, while the overall shift will be towards inclusion.

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41 minutes ago, Gabe said:

surely all that work put into later levels that overwhelmingly most people will never see has got to sting a little bit as a developer, no? Why wouldn't you want to have options that allow people to see, appreciate and, hell, perhaps even advocate to others about how good it is?

Maybe people give up because they are so utterly bored with the non-challenging gameplay?

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Just now, Hylian said:

Maybe people give up because they are so utterly bored with the non-challenging gameplay?

 

The more this goes on the more weird I'm starting to find it.

 

As if anyone out there is spending £70 on a game, starting it on easy, finding it too easy and then walking away instead of bumping it back up to normal.

 

Nobody plays games like that.

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5 minutes ago, matt0 said:

 

The more this goes on the more weird I'm starting to find it.

 

As if anyone out there is spending £70 on a game, starting it on easy, finding it too easy and then walking away instead of bumping it back up to normal.

 

Nobody plays games like that.

I played God of War on normal difficulty and rattled through most of the game without too much trouble. In the end I walked away thinking it was an extremely average game, but I get the impression that there is a deep and satisfying combat system to it, but a lot of people think you need to play on hard to force yourself to engage with it. I really wish I'd played that game on hard, but how was I to know? At no point did I think "I bet this is much better on hard", I just thought the whole game was a bit average. This is exactly my problem with difficulty settings - I ended up not engaging with the game in the way the developer wanted, because I had to make some decision about what the correct difficulty was, and I had no basis to do that. Yeah I saw all the pretty graphics and experienced the shit story, but that's not why I want to play games. 

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2 minutes ago, Hylian said:

I played God of War on normal difficulty and rattled through most of the game without too much trouble. In the end I walked away thinking it was an extremely average game, but I get the impression that there is a deep and satisfying combat system to it, but a lot of people think you need to play on hard to force yourself to engage with it. I really wish I'd played that game on hard, but how was I to know? At no point did I think "I bet this is much better on hard", I just thought the whole game was a bit average. This is exactly my problem with difficulty settings - I ended up not engaging with the game in the way the developer wanted, because I had to make some decision about what the correct difficulty was, and I had no basis to do that. Yeah I saw all the pretty graphics and experienced the shit story, but that's not why I want to play games. 

Why didn't you up the difficulty level, if only for a little while, to see if it changed things?

 

That post is also somewhat on point though, because whilst you may not have chosen to explore them, the game did have difficultly levels you could've engaged with at least and it allowed people to tailor their experience.

 

Also, people have commented that a simple line when choosing difficulty levels along the lines of 'this is the level the developers recommend' would solve your issue about not knowing which to pick.

 

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11 minutes ago, Hylian said:

I played God of War on normal difficulty and rattled through most of the game without too much trouble. In the end I walked away thinking it was an extremely average game, but I get the impression that there is a deep and satisfying combat system to it, but a lot of people think you need to play on hard to force yourself to engage with it. I really wish I'd played that game on hard, but how was I to know? At no point did I think "I bet this is much better on hard", I just thought the whole game was a bit average. This is exactly my problem with difficulty settings - I ended up not engaging with the game in the way the developer wanted, because I had to make some decision about what the correct difficulty was, and I had no basis to do that. Yeah I saw all the pretty graphics and experienced the shit story, but that's not why I want to play games. 

 

I can see where you're coming from, but normal is the default whereas you consciously opt to play something on easy. Nobody puts a game on easy, and then thinks "this is too easy but what can I do?".

 

Also, this is just the argument for letting players change difficulty mid game. You can switch up without having to replay bits. With a game like Returnal you could opt to change difficulty on a loop by loop basis. Everspace did this - it lets you choose the difficulty at the start of each loop.

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3 hours ago, Majora said:

I totally agree that, generally, there should be options to modify certain aspects of a game's difficulty so that a less skilled or able player could still have the same kind of experience as a more skilled player but Returnal is a very specific case here I feel, which is why it has spawned so much interesting discussion since its release. 

 

2 hours ago, BadgerFarmer said:

That's what I was getting at with tweaks, though. But if you ask for every game to effectively be beatable at any point, I think you're asking for a very different game. 

 

And you're both really still doing it.

 

"Beatable at any point for you" might not BE "beatable at any point" for others, it might be "Just about possible ever".

 

It's not about making it possible for you to breeze through, it's about opening the ability to play it at ALL to others. It's really no different to any other accessibility option and it should be just as socially pressured for it to exist.

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9 minutes ago, Gabe said:

Why didn't you up the difficulty level, if only for a little while, to see if it changed things?

Yeah of course, but I was playing on "normal" and so I assumed this was how it was intended to be. It's not that I wanted it to be more difficult per se, but that by playing on normal I'd not engaged with it during the early parts of the game. I could up the difficulty, sure, but I'd probably really struggle, because I hadn't trained myself to play the game properly by that stage. So I don't think moving between difficulties is a good thing at all!

 

I would go so far as to say "normal" is probably not what the God of War developers would want people to experience. But it's there for all the (good!) reasons that people give about making games accessible to everyone. Personally, I just find that quite often it detracts from my experience. But that's my take (and I'll try to shut up now) - I prefer to know that I'm taking on the game as intended, and if it's too difficult, well I've probably just not played it long enough or I need to think about what I'm doing a bit more. 

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21 minutes ago, Hylian said:

I had to make some decision about what the correct difficulty was, and I had no basis to do that.

 

So the only issue then is that the developer of that particular game didn't do a good job of communicating to the player what the various difficulty levels meant.

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2 minutes ago, Hylian said:

I would go so far as to say "normal" is probably not what the God of War developers would want people to experience. But it's there for all the (good!) reasons that people give about making games accessible to everyone. 

 

Well, no. That's not what people are saying at all.

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Of course, ignoring accessibility what doesn't help and is now improving is sheer loading times.

 

Because if you die in say... Prey on XBone then you have to wait a good minute for it to load then find your way back from wherever someone decided the last save should be.

 

Quite possibly to get stuck in another 5 seconds before a boss kills you fight.

 

It's directly why I quite Ratchet and Clank at the final boss, it took 5 minutes to get back to the point I died because it makes you do the entire boss sequence if you do, often I died getting back to the point I died.

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Just now, Camel said:

 

So the only issue then is that the developer of that particular game didn't do a good job of communicating to the player what the various difficulty levels meant.

No the issue is that they had multiple difficulty levels :P

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The God of War difficulty selector is a FANTASTIC example of good intentions going slightly wrong, and how the psychology of the linear difficulty scale can end up misleading.

 

ezgif-2-d2cabf9f869a.gif.a549488f5a446fad98777546da9cc683.gif

 

The red setting is clearly highlighted as an outlier, so the first time player has a reasonable choice between three. You then have three options that are equated with easy/medium/hard, but never explicitly labelled as such. Presenting them this way does shepherd the player towards the middle option ('balanced' is also super leading for the first-time player).

 

Advice would have been to change the linear order that these are presented in, don't label the God of War option as red, give it a more meaningful name, and consider removing the mid-game save notice here (only give that to players once they pick it). (And has has been said give more specific info about HOW the game is harder in Give me a Challenge)

 

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