Experience Points: The Challenge Is The Achievement
Lately I’ve been playing an indie game called Rogue Legacy, which is a rogue-like RPG platformer where you descend into the depths of a castle in pursuit of a great evil. In the game, you will die, that is its central mechanic, but you will be gifted with a choice of descendant with some genetic deficiencies. In other terms, your descendant may be a giant, suffer from irritable-bowl syndrome or have a severe case of colour-blindness. Some deficiencies provide advantages, whilst others are greater hindrances than beneficial in the long run. Essentially Rogue Legacy is a game founded on the principle of overcoming the challenge, and once you overcome one challenge you are faced with another. There are endless challenges to be dealt with. However, overcoming the slightest of challenges in Rogue Legacy proves to be most rewarding. The reward is steeped within the high difficulty and learning curve of the game, and coming to grips with the harshness of the game.
This is an old school game design philosophy, which has seen a resurgence in the last few years with a growth in prominence across rogue-like and Metroidvania style indie games, and the broader AAA game market most notably with games like Dark Souls. Difficult and punishing gameplay design can be rewarding, and when the fairness of the challenge is balanced then the reward is increasingly satisfactory. A game that doesn’t feel as if its a burden upon the player’s play-through is genuinely successful in this regard. No matter how rage-inducing the game may be, if the total experience is enjoyable in the long-run, enduring the initial growing pains and difficulty curve can be alleviated by inducing player enjoyment through reward and success mechanisms in-game. Alternatively, if the game is designed well enough, a feeling of euphoria may sweep over you as you become one with your inner gaming nirvana.
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I experienced this feeling of euphoria when playing through the tutorial of The Witcher 2. Some gamers take easily to the game’s combat system and game design choices. Sadly I had been affected by the fettered simplification of contemporary RPG gameplay, from the likes of both Bioware and Bethesda, and found myself at a loss as the challenge was far more intense than I had perceived. I was genuinely confronted with a challenge in accustoming myself to Witcher 2’s design and gameplay mechanics. Combat was one such element that I struggled with in my first attempt at the game. Most notably the terrifying tutorial which haunted my dreams with traumatic effect, until I satisfactorily faced the problem head on and dealt the final blow.
In The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition, to be specific, you are asked whether you would like to partake in a tutorial level before starting the actual campaign. Being the dedicated gamer I am, I committed to going through the necessary steps as I was recommended to do so by many friends, who told me of the game’s high learning curve. The tutorial starts off by introducing you to a couple of standard elements of the game. These include: meditation, alchemy which outlines the process of making potions, finding objectives in the world map and the controls for the basic movement of Geralt. All of which is highly appreciated.
Following this, you move to an arena where you are confronted with the basics of combat. This consists of how to use magical signs such as Aard, Igni, Yrden, Quen and Axii. Besides this, the tutorial also educates you in parrying enemy attacks, heavy and light attacks, how to use quick slot items in battle, target selection and much more. In summary, there is an overwhelming amount of information you’re exposed to in short space of time. Understanding the instructions offered was not the problem at face value. No, my problem lay within the execution of combat manoeuvres, and this is where I dismally failed on my first few tries.
After going through all the steps set out in the tutorial, you are asked whether you want to test out your skill and determine the difficulty you should pursue in your play-through, or alternatively you can exit the tutorial. On my first few tries, I chose to take my chances and test out my abilities. I was knocked about in those first few tries and was taught a couple of handy lessons. Being told to play the game in Easy mode is devastating especially the first time when you see the message glaring back at you on the screen.
Yet there were two important things I learnt very quickly. Firstly that Quen, a magical sign which creates a protective shield for Geralt, is your friend and rolling to dodge enemy attacks should be continuous throughout a battle. The reality is that Witcher 2 is no mere hack-and-slash affair, nor is it a walk in the park. I took part in the challenge, and had to be tactical. Giving up and moving on to some other game, was out of the question. Even if this challenge was slight and small in scale, it was important for me to at least try my best. I placed traps all around the arena, before initiating the hordes of enemies to attack. I lured a couple of enemies into enchanted traps, threw daggers and bombs at them, and took out a few with a few quick slashes of my steel long sword. It was fun and when I came face-to-face with a Dwarven archer, he was easily taken down. But then suddenly, and without warning, a mage who had appeared quite quickly summoned a giant golem. Of course, I tried to take possession of the giant with the Axii sign, and was swiftly killed. A prompt appeared telling me to play the game in normal mode. I was relieved, no longer haunted by the taunt of having to play the game in easy mode.
I admit that although an RPG like The Witcher 2 may not come to me as naturally as others, the game does encourage you to overcome your own insecurities and welcome you with a challenge. In that moment, I was fulfilled. Challenging games are fulfilling. When a game asks of you dedication and you respond in kind, the rewards can be both satisfactory and enjoyable. In practice I now don’t let difficulty dissuade me from trying out a game. By doing so, I was surprised by the experience contained within The Witcher 2. Ultimately, the lesson I learnt was that you can limit yourself severely by rejecting games based on a difficulty curve. However, you may lose out on some genuine gaming experiences, and that is quite sad.