Friday, March 22, 2013

Icewind Dale and Difficulty Settings

After finishing Planescape:Torment and learning that an early partnership with Black Isle is basically what set Bioware on its path to greatness, I finally decided to go through the other Infinity Engine games, Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale. Having played to about level 4-5 in Icewind Dale, my first impression is that it's fairly conventional and linear, but still enjoyable. That's not the problem.

The game is just too damn difficult.
And that's the first time in a veeeery long while I've had to say that.
Actually the problem isn't the difficulty in itself, it's that the difficulty was increased without thought to how this factors into the general computer game pattern of killing large numbers of mobs.

Now don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree with the basic notion of scaling player power more evenly against monsters. You should not be able to just mow down armies of gigantic creatures as is the case in most games. At level one, killing a kobold or wolf should be a challenge.

There is a difficulty slider in Icewind Dale. The game tells you in big caps-locked print that the middle setting, the default, represents true D&D settings. At this difficulty, my spellcasters were getting one-shotted by goblin/orc archers at level 2. That's all well and good, you get to play with a 6-character party from the start. The problem is that while the individual monster difficulty is set to provide a reasonable challenge, with a single orc being comparable to a level 2-3 character, the campaign was apparently designed as if for a standard 'duke nukem' scenario where the player is mowing down whole armies. Yes, it's good that a goblin is capable of killing my level 2 fighter, costing me all my gold to resurrect him, but in that case the game should not be throwing half a dozen goblins at once at me at every turn of the road.

Not only that, but the number of encounters was also left as if the game is on 'easy' setting. It's good that encounters are difficult enough that I have to use everything and barely survive them so that I have to rest after each one but then you can't just throw encounter after encounter at the player, forcing repetitive trips to town. It's good to have to fight a yeti that can kill me at level 3. It's ridiculous to have to fight twenty of them before getting anywhere.

Difficulty is good, but forcing players to rest ten times over by throwing endless monsters at them before they even get to a quest location is just ridiculous. It's a grind. You can either have ridiculously large numbers of monsters or difficult ones, not both.

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Edit 2015/07/01 - Capitalized my aye-aye-I's. It only took me two years. Shut up.

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