Monday, 4 March 2013

Pondering Hardcore

Tough stuff, rough stuff, but stuff that makes you want to play? Maybe.

This week I find myself once again turning to the idea of difficulty in games. I may not be talking about such this theme for the entire week, but given that I've spent my last week playing Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Path of Exile the thoughts have been swirling around in my mind for a little while. Oh, the second game might be confusing to some, given that while it can be tough PoE is hardly what one would call a difficult game. However, I neglected to mention something that ups the stakes somewhat.

I'm playing hardcore.

Even though I've talked about it previously, having actually gotten some experience with hardcore has given me some insight. For any that might not be completely familiar with the term, in an RPG like Path of Exile or Diablo -- a game which PoE is heavily based upon -- you can select to play hardcore, which means that once you die, it's over. In Diablo this was a permanent death, while in PoE at the moment it means getting moved from the Hardcore League down to the Default one.

There are reasons that people play hardcore over softcore, although those that do so in hopes of some reward are going to be disappointed. To my knowledge neither game offers any benefits for playing hardcore over regular, although some games do. No, the benefits, if any, seem to be more ephemeral than just better gear or faster level gains.

Having played a bit of hardcore, I think that I can understand and even appreciate a little of the mindset. There's an aspect of greater risk that leads to a more satisfaction when things go right, although of course on the flip side when things go wrong, especially when it was something that was beyond your control, the loss can be hard to take. I've seen many people in the global chat lose characters to things like synchronization issues and lag, which never feels good.

The pride though, when you beat the area boss, or get out of a particularly nasty situation; I think that it's those moments that make people that choose hardcore over default appreciate their choice, rather than regret it. Having a higher risk scenario isn't guaranteed to be more enjoyable, but some people will certainly gravitate more towards it.

That's not to say that hardcore isn't without it's problems though.

I already mentioned that sometimes the deaths can feel cheap, although with good design and proper care given those incidents can be kept to a minimum. The problem that I'm referring to is often more one with attitudes. A lot of what I saw written could be taken in jest, granted, but there seems to often be a lot of resentment among the hardcore community towards, well ... just about everyone else.

I don't think that being in hardcore really gives a substantial reason to look down on people who aren't, but I have the sinking feeling that I might be one of the minority about that issue. It's nothing completely nasty, but it doesn't seem that all of it is entirely jocular either. In Path of Exile people also look down on those that choose to keep playing as their characters even if they get killed and moved to the default league. I can see nothing wrong with growing so attached to a character that you'd want to keep playing that character, but again, perhaps I'm in the minority on that count.

That being said, I believe that hardcore is an ultimately fulfilling, if entirely optional, route to take when you're playing certain games. It may not be for everyone, but it's certainly worth trying if you feel compelled to.

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