I’ve long preached that difficulty can bring out the best in games, and today I have another example.
I’ve been playing Total War: Warhammer 2 for a bit now, first finishing a game with the High Elves on Normal, and then playing a game ‘long enough’ with the Skaven on Hard. After the Skaven game I was feeling a bit bored, and unsure if I was going to keep playing. Then, on a whim, I started up an Undead game (Mortal Empires) on Legendary, and got my ass kicked. It was great.
Legendary difficulty is not only harder in terms of the rules, but is also forced Iron-Man mode, meaning you can’t save and reload. This is especially important to keep not just the difficulty up, but the tension. The game is no longer about correctly beating a single battle or having a good turn, but about managing the larger picture at all times. Without Iron Man, if you made a mistake a few turns ago, like say sending your main army in the wrong direction, you can simply go back to an older save and ‘fix’ that mistake, right? And while that keeps your game going, it really just covers up the fact that you made a mistake, and you aren’t likely to learn from it.
The same basic principle applies to everything else in the game. On lesser difficulties, if you manage your settlements in a non-optimal way, you might not notice, since you can brute force past the inefficiency. It’s only when every little decision counts, and you are surviving by the skin of your teeth turn to turn, that you really take the time to realize its sometimes NOT the right decision to upgrade something, or that you really shouldn’t just build the same stuff in every town because it seems to be working.
The increased challenge also applies to battles. In an easier game, if you win that’s usually enough. In a life-or-death game, HOW you win is also critical. You likely can’t afford to be sloppy and lose a unit, and the cleaner you win a battle, the more likely you are to survive the next one, as you no longer have the luxury of just sitting around for an extra turn to recover. Suddenly you start paying more attention to the fact that spear units are good vs larger enemies, see the real value in skirmish archers, and protect your higher tier and veteran units like precious gifts. You start to really agonize over how to specialize your heroes and lords, and getting a good magical items isn’t a ‘hey neat’ event, but something that can actually turn your game around.
Finally, the fact that you do start over when a game goes south, rather than reload a few turns back, hammers home how many important decisions you make each turn. I’ve now restarted a Skaven campaign a dozen times, and due to that have seen just how much small changes in how you do things have a big impact down the road.
Don’t rob yourself of quality entertainment and being able to see all the little details developers have put into their games, play on hard!