We've been over this before. The discourse around the difficulty of Dark Souls games comes and goes like the tides. We're not here to litigate that argument again, aside from pointing to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order as an example of clever and, more importantly, transparent difficulty design. Often times, games with difficulty options will hide what is changing between tiers with vague language about "challenge" and how much "familiarity" you might have with a given genre. However, in recent years there's been a bourgeoning implementation of extensive and clear difficulty options, like the kind you see in Celeste, a difficult platformer with a bevy of options for players to tune the experience to their liking. We discuss what Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order gets right with its difficulty, the ups and downs in level design, and the science behind lightsabers on this episode of Waypoint Radio. You can listen to the full episode and read an excerpt below:
Austin: Yeah, I kind of blew through it, which is not to say that I didn't do a lot of exploration and other stuff. Let me set up what this game is so that you can contextualize that. Third person action game, in terms of combat it's drawing on sort of third person action games or action RPGs like Dark Souls and Bloodborne and Sekiro. I think, in the year that Sekiro came out, this is it's a hard comparison to make, because this has some similarities in terms of like the enemies have stamina bars, and once you drop the stamina down, you can do damage, but you can also kind of sneak in a hit every now and then.
Patrick: They do a lot of hits where they wind up from the back and are constantly trying to put you off, based on the speed of their attacks because you're doing parries. But yeah, it's a game that couldn't exist without Dark Souls, but to say it's the Dark Souls of Star Wars I think is way too far.
Austin: Even playing on hard like, you're just not that same experience.
Patrick: Can we talk about that bit, how you start the game?
Rob: The question I have is just about framing. I was talking to Matthew Galt earlier today. And I was like "I'm not sure this game is for me because like, I'm not really a souls-like guy." And he was like "You probably be thinking more in a Metroid direction."
Austin: Yeah, well, we'll get there once we described the combat. The bulk of this game is combat. I guess it's equal parts combat and traversal/exploration, but it's a lot of combat. So Patrick, go ahead and setup the difficulty thing.
Patrick: Well, for one, if you're saying it's the Dark Souls of Star Wars, if that was true then it wouldn't have a difficult slider, which it does. It has four difficulties.
Austin: And I'm glad it does.
Patrick: And it's not just that, it's the way it conveys the difference between those difficulties. I forget what all all three of them are, but I think it's like damage input, damage output–
Austin: It's not output. It's importantly not output.
Patrick: Is it?
Austin: They always take the same amount of damage, per the reviewers guide. The two things are damage that enemies do to you, and it's the parry window.
Patrick: So the parry window is the one that I think is is important, because that's what I ended up looking at. When I was trying to figure out [my difficulty], you'll see as you're going through different difficulty windows that it's basically how wide do you want that parry window to be?
The moment that I saw that, I was like, "Oh, I probably want to increase this because I'm coming from Sekiro, a game in which the window is extremely tiny." Where there is almost no window, which is the point. So it's like oh, so this that means on normal the gap here is probably going to be pretty wide. And so I put it at hard to try and compensate for that. But it's just an interesting way to convey [difficulty]. You can play this game without parrying and you'll you'll be okay, especially on easier difficulties. It's not a requirement, it's not like Sekiro where [they said] "we're going to put up a hard wall, you're not going to go forward [without parrying].
But I just thought it was interesting when game convey something about themselves through difficulty, often in pejorative or like frustratingly like vague terms. But for someone who has played this type of game, they can look at that and then get a sense of what they're actually scaling for. It's not just you take more damage, it's "Oh, we're going to ask more of you physically through your fingers." And if you're new to these types of games, you know what? blow open that parry window so you can have the feel of the parry without necessarily having to time it right before the attack hits you.
Discussed: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order 6:21, Unity of Command 2 1:03:12, Guildlings 1:22:27, Takeshi and Hiroshi 1:25:45, Stadia 1:28:44, XO19 1:35:49, Pokemon Sword and Shield 2:13:14
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