The Patient Gamer

The Treacherous Cliff of the Retro Game Difficulty Curve


I started playing Fallout a few days ago. After creating my character -- a young, fresh-faced but skilled go-getter named Roosky -- I stepped out into the wastes on a quest for a water chip. I killed a few animals, and a few people. I helped a little town named Shady Sands with some Radscorpion issues they were having. I tracked down the water chip that my vault desperately needed. But then I met an angry Supermutant named Harry.

Harry took me to a military base to meet his boss, and I slowly started to realize that I was in way over my head -- the creatures I was running into in the base, many of whom really wanted me dead, could pretty much kill me in one shot. All of my gear had been taken away from me when I came to the base so I had no armor and no weapons. I was getting by bluffing my way past some of the creatures, but there were a few spots that my strategy came down to saving my game and reloading repeatedly until the random number generator rolled my way.

The save-and-reload strategy was a completely legitimate way to play games 10 or 15 years ago. Had this been a more modern game, I never would have had to. New games of the genre put quest markers on your map so you know exactly who to talk to. There are little arrows that point you in the right direction to go. If you get hurt, it takes a few seconds out of combat before you're back at full health. If you die, you respawn a little bit away and just have to find your way back to where you were -- or the game auto-loads the last point where you entered a new area. 

These are all great innovations, each of them fixing some shortcoming in older games. Nobody likes that feeling when you die in and old game and realize it's been way too long since you last saved. Or when you're trying to read between the lines on some ambiguously worded quest, trying to figure out what the next step is. Each one fixes some little annoyance, but when taken as a whole they begin to take something away from a game. You don't have to read quest text anymore, or even listen to a character's backstory, you just follow the arrow. You don't have to consider what might be in the building you're about to enter, because death has no meaning anymore. It's not so much that they're too easy - it's that they take away the need to think.

For me, that military base was where my first game of fallout ended - trapped underground, guarded by Supermutants, awaiting the day when they dip me in some goo that turns me into a mutant as well. My vault was pretty much doomed. My save-and-retry strategy ultimately failed me when I overwrote all of the saves I had before the military base.

Maybe I'm a masochist, but this is one of the things that attracts me to retro gaming. Sure, I'll be going back and starting over. Sure I'll have to replay through some content. But maybe I'll find something new, or do something better. Certainly I'll be more careful when I agree to meet a supermutant's boss. Or - at least - more careful about saving before I do.

Current rating: 5