Thoughts on Adjustable vs Fixed Difficulty

I’ve been wanting to get people’s opinions about this for a while now - what are your thoughts of CDDA (or games in general) for adjustable vs fixed difficulty?

My biggest issue with sandbox style games is that its hard to get a good feel of how well you are playing. You’re character can be absolutely destroying a world, but maybe that’s because you have the settings changed to freeform / single pool, or game setting set to blacklist certain monsters / wander spawns. For me it always feels like there is something I could have done in world creation to make the game more challenging when I am doing too well, which makes victory seem hollow.

At the same time fixed difficulty can have problems as well because it causes players to lean towards a certain play style. If you are trying to accomplish a specific goal, there may only be a few specific starting classes or scenarios that will suit your needs (Tales of Maj’eyal Madness difficulty is a good example of this). You want to run a certain playstyle or character that is fun, but you are limited by knowing you will have to rely much more on luck and happenstance to get through.

Anyways, what model as a player do you prefer?

Adjustable, I can set the difficulty to my own play style and I can set the difficulty to force different play styles.
Playing with the different sliders will result in different outcomes, you bump up speed and suddenly evasion and light armour drops in viability, you bump up spawn numbers and city raiding becomes much more dangerous etc.
Add in the available mods that let you customise your enemies and suddenly you have even more options to play with. As an example I’m considering doing a run with either the no big zombies or no special zombies mods and bumping up the spawn rate to 10x so I can have a playthrough with more of a Romero feel.

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I like as much freedom to adjust difficulty as I can get. And in a game with lots of modding any “difficulty” can be modded in or out anyway.

Sometimes I want an easy-going game focused on role-playing a character’s journey. Other times I’ll use default settings, no mods, and randomized character. Any time I feel the game is too easy I just tick everything up or down a notch.

With fixed difficulty in a game you eventually end up with a solved game loop. Something where you can follow a game guide and play more or less optimally. Minecraft without mods is practically in this state. Only the huge mod packs keep that game interesting for me.

If you want to gauge your skill at the game it might be useful to have a community-defined challenge mode. Either as a mod pack or as a monthly agreed upon scenario or character type. Honestly I think the “challenge mode” start scenarios in the game already fill this niche. More of those would be welcome.

As far as a “hollow victory” this is a game with a fail state and no win state. The game doesn’t have an ending, so victory is only defined by your personal goals. If you want to play with a handicap for the challenge then go for it. Conversely some people play games where they steamroll the end boss with an over-leveled character and still seem to enjoy it. For them the goal was maxing out the characters, defeating the boss was just a formality.

Untold numbers of people have played the Fallout or Elder Scrolls games for hundreds of hours without ever actually completing the main story quest line. That’s just the nature or open world and/or sandbox games. It is what you make of it.

I also like adjustable difficulty.

One has to understand though, that the default settings or “normal” difficulty is usually what the devs intend the game to be played with. If you can handle default then you can play the game well enough to warrant wanting a change in difficulty to either a higher or lower point, because now you can play for fun or challenge, or both if you like to punish yourself with hard settings.

Don’t do that then? You can change things, but if you’re concerned that it’s warping the game, shift closer to default settings. You should only adjust game settings if you think it’ll make the game more fun for you, so if your goal is to present a challenge for yourself, then yes you should leave settings at default until that becomes too easy for you, then ratchet the difficulty up further.

So the question is less about which is better, but “what are you trying to do”? If you want a specific “flavor” to your game, then yes you’re taking balance into your own hands by making adjustments to how the game works, but if you want a more curated challenge, you probably want either vanilla settings or use the settings from some opinionated mod (e.g. PKs rebalancing).

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