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The Last of Us: Part 2 - Tuning Your Own Difficulty

Video transcription below:

I have a bit of an obsessive personality, which really drives a lot of my day to day decision making. I’m always trying to make sure I do things in the most efficient way possible, so I don’t waste any time. For repetitive tasks that I do often, like chores or cooking, I’m constantly looking for little optimizations or techniques that make the work easier or faster. Sometimes I’ll get into ridiculous detail and get sort of stuck in my “planning phase” and stare into space weighing the pros and cons of each possible method, each possible decision in my mind. If it’s really bad, I’ll find myself paralyzed with indecision. I guess I feel this need to make sure I’ve spent the least amount of time on things I don’t want to do, so I can be sure that I’m fully maximizing the little free time I do have to spend doing things that I find interesting.

My obsessiveness also creeps its way into my time playing games, manifesting as a need to make sure I don’t miss any content, no matter how insignificant. I frequently find myself talking to every NPC multiple times, just to make sure that I hear all of their dialog lines. It feels like if I don’t hear every line, or find every audio log or note, I’ll be missing out on something. Don’t get me wrong, more content is always rewarding, but after a while, it begins to feel like a chore with diminishing returns.

Another bad gaming habit I have is scouring every inch of a game’s world, just to make sure I’ve picked up all the little items lying around. At first, it makes sense. I want to make sure I pick up everything of value so I can sell it for money, or use it for crafting essential items. However, this usually leads to me accumulating a huge amount of money or items that I’ll never use. In games with inventory limits or weight limits, I’ll find myself shuffling items around to stay under that limit. In the end though, do I really need to pick up every little thing? Usually the answer is no.

Unfortunately, games don’t often make it easy to say no to falling into this type of behavior. Usually, you do need to explore a bit to find resources and weapons so that you’re better prepared for enemy encounters. Some games make it possible to forego scavenging by allowing you to turn down the difficulty, making enemy encounters less challenging, which in turn makes finding items and stronger weapons less necessary to succeed. However, sometimes games can be a little heavy handed in their difficulty options, leading to the elimination of any sort of challenge at all. By lowering the difficulty so much, it sort of trivializes the combat and takes away from the experience. This is frustrating because I do still want to have a difficult time in fights, but the game is making me choose if I value this challenge or my time more.

The Last of Us: Part II answers this problem with its unique difficulty tuning system. Like in most games, you are able to select a difficulty between easy, medium, and hard presets, however TLOU2 also allows you to fine tune your experience by offering up more specific difficulty options. These options include sliders for changing things like checkpoint frequency, enemy perception, ally aggressiveness, and my favorite: resource scarcity. By adjusting the amount of scavengable resources littered throughout the game world, I’m able to let resource gathering take a backseat in my gameplay. With more abundant resources, I no longer have to comb every inch of each building to make sure I’m prepared for my next encounter, as I’ll usually be able to pick up what I need without straying too far from the path to my next objective.

This change is more than just a convenient time-saver though, it actually has completely changed the way I approach many of TLOU2’s enemy encounters. Before I increased resource availability, whenever I would find myself trying to sneak around enemies, I would always end up taking the easy way out and starting a shootout and killing everyone in the area just so I could gather resources in peace. It was too difficult and frustrating to try to sneak around enemies while keeping an eye out for resources, but I couldn’t pass them up.

Now that I don’t have to worry so much about gathering items though, I can focus on sneaking around enemies, take more risks, and overall just have a more fun time with these encounters. Instead of TLOU2 feeling like a slow, methodical clearing out of each area, the game now has me on the edge of my seat as I try to be as stealthy as possible, reacting to enemy movements and creating distractions to get myself out of hairy situations. This has had the overall effect of making me feel much more immersed in the game, which really helped me enjoy playing so much more.

When the video game medium was younger, grinding and looting was very commonplace, as games didn’t come out often and people wanted to make sure they got as much bang for their buck as possible. As a kid, I never had to worry about how long I spent grinding or clearing out an area since I had so much free time. The older I get though, the more I value my time and the less I want to spend it on filler content. I hate when quests are blocked off due to my character’s level, and I’m really over filler side quests. TLOU2 doesn’t quite cut out all the chaff, but makes up for it by allowing you to tailor your experience. Hopefully more game designers will learn from TLOU2, and include options like these in the future.

In the end though, regardless of whether or not a game can be tuned to my liking, sometimes I have to remind myself why I’m playing the game in the first place. I don’t need to find every little thing. I don’t need to squeeze the game dry, trying to get every morsel of content out of it. What’s important is getting immersed in the game’s world, connecting with the characters, and really experiencing the story and gameplay, instead of merely checking off boxes. Playing through TLOU2 has helped me realize this, and in the future, I’m going to try my best to keep this in mind.

Thanks for listening to me ramble about TLOU2 for a bit. This was a phenomenal game, and I very highly recommend it to anyone that was on the fence about playing it. Not only does this game make strides in accessibility, but it also attempts (and succeeds in my opinion) to do something with the narrative that I don’t think has been done in games before. Check it out on PS4 if you’ve got the chance. Thanks again, and see you next time.

Developer: Naughty Dog Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Platform: PS4 Release date: June 19, 2020

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