So often are games becoming more and more straightforward or full of modern conveniences that guides are becoming unnecessary. Through each of these five games, we’ll explore how many games are meant to be punishing and test a gamer’s willpower and patience. Game start!
‘The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind’ (2002 PC, 2003 XBox)
Ah, the good old days of spending entire days cataloging every inch of Vvardenfell. Truth be told, I absolutely hated this game at first blush. After about twenty minutes of missing 90% of attacks on mudcrabs and cliff racers, I decided this game was hot garbage. I actually re-gifted it mere days later to my younger brother for Christmas. Maybe he would like it.
Well, Christmas day, I handed him this gift and he gave me a very sour thank-you as he knew I disliked the game. But, that’s not the end of the story. Oh no, mere hours later he calls me into his room with the most wicked grin on his face. “Here, watch this,” he says as he runs headlong into a group of bandits in a cave. He starts hacking them up with this big ass sword that I’d never seen before. Whoa, his attacks are landing. Was that magic he just cast? What? Is this even the same game? He then takes me to this little cottage in Seyda Neen that he had been storing loot he’d pilfered from dead bodies in the area. His loot room. I asked whose house this was. He responds that he murdered them a while back. I said, whoa! The next day I ran out and bought my own copy to play on my XBox.
There’s just one problem. For all my cleverness and gaming prowess, there were hundreds of dead ends to be found in Morrowind. Maybe you killed a quest NPC to which you get the “With this character’s death, the thread of prophecy is severed. Restore a saved game to restore the weave of fate, or persist in the doomed world you have created,” message. What did this mean? Was the game fucked or was it only slightly borked? It’s hard to say, but a smart man reloads. My brother just left them laying there, dead and naked because who needs a winnable game? Oh, and as an aside, his character was named “Aragorn” because this was the early 2000s after all, friends.
If you’ve ever played Morrowind or its previous siblings Daggerfall or Arena, you know that most of the time you need to put the pieces of the puzzles together or seek help from outside sources. The quest log is extremely vague and there are no map markers to follow that we will see later in Oblivion and Skyrim. You just need to read the directions and try your best. Something as simple as finding Fort Moonmoth by exiting Balmora at the right juncture and following the river for so long before taking several more turns. You absolutely need a strong sense of direction in this game.
So I did something that I don’t feel particularly proud of; I read guides. Gamefaqs.com was my best friend as there were dozens of highly detailed guides for most things you’d like to accomplish in the game. For all else, just try harder. Next.
‘Advance Wars: Dual Strike’
Another 2000s product, but a great one. ‘Twas one of the first one Nintendo DS games I owned, along with Super Mario 64 DS. These two games couldn’t be any more different. One is a top-down 2D strategy affair and the other is a 3D platformer without a whole lot of complexity (other than that damn camera.)
I was but a spitfuck of a 16-year-old when first play Advance Wars: DS. I thought I was the shit. I’m smart, I know all, I can do all. I can rig up complex calculus equations, so therefore this video game should be like second nature to me. It was not. While I have played many strategy RPGs such as Fire Emblem (DS,3DS), FF Tactics (DS), The Banner Saga (PC), Valkyria Chronicles (PS3), and Devil Survivor (DS) since then, Advance Wars was perhaps my first foray into the wonderful genre. That being said, I was used to games that had perhaps a bit more leeway when it came to what it took to win and to lose.
In Advance Wars, each battle has a certain amount of units with certain terrain and victory conditions. Your CO has certain bonuses and you can play with fog of war or many other conditional abilities. Basically, you are given the freedom to buy and use the units you want as well as play them on the map how you want. Which means you can do things so very wrong. Oftentimes it’s a war of attrition and if you lose too much on one map, you’ll go limping into the next map. Eventually you paint yourself into a sad little corner that can’t proceed effectively.
To the guides we went.
‘Archeage’ // ‘EvE Online’
There have been hundreds of MMOs out on the market since I’ve begun my gaming career. These are the two that I’ve found it to be the most difficult to penetrate. Not only are there dozens of complex systems full of intricate proprietary information that very few players are going to take the time to explain to you. This isn’t World of Warcraft where things have just gotten easier and more accessible over time.
Think of these games as going to work at a new job. There are tons of things you don’t know and very little you do. So, what is a boy to do? Check some wikis, right? Nope. They’re mostly outdated. These games change monthly and don’t always announce their patch notes.
And even when they do, maybe you just don’t have the baseline understanding necessary to figure out what you need to do. Do you know how to explore wormholes? Can you craft some Erenor gear? Probably not. So ask some nation chat. “Poor little scrub wants to know what’s going on,” they say. Oh…so sad. Well, I guess I’ll just try to figure it out. Oh, now I’m sad and dead. Oof.
What guides are great for these games? Up-to-date YouTube videos which players who may also be avid YouTubers have uploaded to help us useless scrubs to succeed in the game. Sweet.
Another of those strategy RPGs that relies on your ability to figure things out and quickly. Many of the story maps are only winnable if you participate in the newest gimmick. That’s not always doable. Maybe you need true five-star units that are leveled up fully and equipped with best-in-class gear. Once again, that’s not always doable, as many of the units are stuck behind lotteries that require you to pay huge amounts to get the unit that will help you win.
Much of this isn’t obvious, but rather learned through guides, videos and meticulously scouring the requisite subreddit. Yeah, it’s not ideal, but how else are you going to learn? To go with trial and error, it may take weeks or months to figure out. Raising a particular unit to max level and best gear can take more than a week unless you’re paying dollars to achieve this rapidly. So if you make a mistake in which unit to put time and effort into, this can set you back weeks. Beyond that, it can also hinder you in your efforts to engage in PvP. If you have non-meta (non bozel) units, that may not have the best types of gear for their specific skillset, you’ll be in a deep drowning-worthy water.
That’s basically how Langrisser Mobile works. Either you read up on the current meta (or become the pioneer of meta) that exist in China, you’re going to be tragically behind and no one will mourn your corpse.
‘Xcom: Enemy Unknown/Within’ // ‘Xcom 2’
I love this game. It’s punishing and so rewarding all at the same time. It’s also possible to make it all the way through the game without accessing a guide. But. And it’s a huge but. There’s a legitimate chance you’ll lose your favorite, best, most wonderful units in one very difficult end-game mission. You’ll just straight up lose everyone if you’re not careful. They take this permadeath thing seriously.
Seriously, that mission where you lose three or four of your best veterans will leave you scratching your head with mouth agape. You’ll think, goddamn, what the fuck did I do wrong? Those enemies were /insane/ and I stood no chance. Most of Enemy Within is easy to figure out just by playing. Or rather by losing. Though, unless you’re willing to invest many hours into wasted missions where you stand no chance of winning, it’s best to invest a bit of time into reading guides. What’s the best class to bring? What kinds of enemies appear in certain missions late-game? How can I make it to both destination points during a mission without losing members? These are the things we must ask ourselves and oftentimes the Internet can has answers.
Guides Helps Us Help Each Other
At the end of the day, it’s only our pride that prevents us from accessing guides. This is the true reason I never finished Majora’s Mask when I rented it from Blockbuster. I was too afraid of trashing my pride by asking for help. I’m too manly for such things. Though, the reality is that certain games require us to ask for help. There are just simply too many moving parts involved. Let’s talk a little about Divinity: Original Sin 1 and 2. They’re great, wonderful universes with complex move-sets. They also know that the type of gamer that will play these games will expect a certain level of difficulty. Sadly, this means that instead of simply making enemies harder or less predictable, they add puzzles and traps into almost every situation so as to trip up even the most formidable gamer.
A friend of mine commented on D:OS and said, “These are the types of games that are so difficult and unwieldy and they expect gamers to seek help at some point or for some reason.” Planning a game around the idea that people are going to /have/ to ask for help is a bold thing. I’m still unsure if this is a good or bad things, as my pride has been wounded severely by both of these games. That being said, I feel better as a person for having experience these narratives and game mechanics.
Difficult games test our willpower, resolve and patience. They also give us a rush when we manage to defeat them. While some games are artificially difficult or unbeatable due to game development flaws, the games I’ve talked about in this article are great games that understand that many gamers truly wish to be challenge and defeated. Hats off to you, devs.