My buffer is getting dangerously low right now, something which happens when I play longer games. A bottomline summary of a complete game is an obvious subject to wring a post out of, but if a game takes 30 hours to complete, then I am not getting through three such games per week. As single-digit hour games start disappearing from my backlog almost completely, multi-post needs to be the future, or alternatively I might cut back to weekly posts instead of 3/week if I feel like I’m getting too much filler.
For now, though, let’s just look at all the games I’m playing right now:
I’m still playing Project Wingman’s Conquest mode, although I switched from Normal difficulty in the story campaign to Easy. The intense dogfighting of the campaign was fun, but now I just kinda want to blast through some planes without sweating.
It doesn’t help that the main campaign has a reverse-difficulty curve problem: While the differences between the stripped down F-4 I started with and the upgraded F-15E (the game calls it the F/S-15, as opposed to the less maneuverable F/C-15 – these are definitely both F-15 expies, but I’m not sure exactly which variant each corresponds to, but my guess is it’s the F-15E and F-15C, respectively) I ended the campaign with is less than it might’ve been in real life, the increased maneuverability and ready access to effective long range weapons like the MLAA and MLAG is certainly felt in intense dog fights.
But the enemies don’t get much harder. You first encounter Crimson Team in mission 6, although you aren’t expected to fight them (and I, flying a Su-25 ground attack plane, was in absolutely no condition to fight a bunch of cutting edge air superiority YF-23s and Su-37s), and you’re first expected to defeat them in mission 11, but then the exact same team is your enemy in mission 18. You don’t have as many allies helping you out in mission 18, but I noticed no difference at all in how many missiles were fired at me or how much damage was poured onto Crimson by other pilots, so as far as I can tell all the no-name NPCs did nothing in the fight (and you still have both your named NPC wingmen in mission 18, so no change there). In mission 18, I had the F-15E that I ended the game with, but in mission 11, I was flying the mid-tier Mig-29. While the endgame plane only made the fight a bit easier, it still made the fight easier compared to back in mission 11.
Conquest Mode has a better approach to this, although it’s an approach that would’ve made the story campaign interminable, so I can see why it wasn’t used there. In both Campaign Mode and Conquest Mode, your unlocked planes carry over from one playthrough to another (although not between the two modes). In Conquest Mode, however, you are not expected to win the game on your first playthrough. Conquest Mode’s difficulty works on an “alert level” that steadily rises whenever you’re in the air (but not when selecting a loadout, choosing missions, etc.), with more and more difficult planes being deployed against you as the alert level rises. The mode is played out on a map with each mission conquering a new territory, and your starting territory can be any of four that are spread out from the far reaches of Alaska to the tip of Baja California, so no mission is inherently more or less difficult than the others (or at least, not by much), but of course your alert level is going to climb over time, filling the skies with more deadly enemies and making the missions harder as you go no matter what specific order you tackle them in. If you lose any mission, you lose all your controlled territories, the alert level resets to 0, but you keep any unlocked planes.
So while I didn’t do especially well when I was stuck with a stripped down Mig-21 trainer plane and had reached alert level 10 by the time I unlocked the regular Mig-21 (and my god I never thought I’d be so happy to unlock a 3rd generation fighter), when that inevitably ended horribly I was able to use the Mig-21 to unlock an F-16. The F-16 is significantly more maneuverable than the Mig-21 and can mount longer range MLAA missiles, which make it easier to take out enemies quickly (especially high-value but less maneuverable AWACS and strategic bombers, and doubly especially the lumbering, hyper-durable, but very valuable sci-fi airships). The increase in speed means I can probably secure Alaska before hitting alert level 10, and the increase in maneuverability means I might be able to keep up with the mid-tier enemies of alert level 10 long enough to hit alert level 15 while pushing down the Canadian coast. I can’t imagine I’ll be able to take on the endgmae threats waiting ofr me at the maximum alert level 30 nor conquer all of Cascadia before then, but I’ll probably make it far enough to unlock a Mig-29 for the next run.
This is similar to what Hades called god mode (but which is not very much like what every other video game calls “god mode,” which is frustrating because I don’t think there’s another name for the one from Hades), in that every time you lose and start over, you get some kind of mechanical advantage for your next run. More games should have this.
There’s sort of a theme of games where the difficulty wall has me frustrated right now. I never got 112% completion on Hollow Knight, and I’m going back for that. The only thing I need to get that achievement is to defeat the Pantheon of the Knight, and the only boss in that particular boss rush who I can’t beat reliably is the Pure Vessel, who is also the very last boss of the rush. I’ve sunk a few hours into practicing against Pure Vessel and have gotten a few wins, but never the three in a row I like to have before betting a pantheon run on it. I’m looking into mods that will let me change the amount of HP I have so that I can hack my way into an ad hoc Hades-style god mode. If I can throw an extra hit point onto myself every time I lose the pantheon, then sooner or later I’ll have enough to brute force it and I’ll feel more like I’m making progress towards the final goal. I’m not a huge fan of the Godhome DLC anyway, not because it’s poorly made but because I like the bosses as the culmination of the exploration of an area, so the boss rushes really aren’t for me. But also I know not totally completing Hollow Knight is going to eat away at me, so my compromise is to steadily increase the amount by which I cheat until I find the minimum amount of cheating needed to get me through the end.
Likewise with Stronghold Crusader HD, some of the missions on the skirmish trail are challenging in a fun way, where I have to quickly bootstrap an economy and fortifications to get defenses up and maintain them against a large number of enemies and often with no direct access to certain critical resources, like stone or food. Some of them are a type of challenge I enjoy much less, like being packed into a resource-abundant map with five AIs with massive piles of starting gold so I have to develop my economy in the shadow of enemy towers constantly peppering me with arrows but whose lords are fortunately too braindead to spend their pile of gold on a pile of 40 swordsmen and rushing me with them in the first ten minutes. And some of them are just outright bullshit, like mission 33, which nobody ever seems to beat except with some jank strategy that exploits the deficiencies of the AI like bringing your lord (whose life or death is the actual win condition of the game, regardless of the state of your castle) into a tower halfway across the map, destroying the staircase so he can’t return to the keep, and building an ad-hoc base around that tower while the AI plows their armies into the abandoned keep which your lord is frantically trying to escape into, because both the enemy AI and your lord’s unit AI are programmed to think that’s the heart of your castle no matter what. But since you’ve demolished the stairs leading into the tower, your lord can’t retreat there, and the enemy mulls about doing nothing while you stockpile resources for the counterattack.
Or better still, wait for the enemy to enclose their keep, and then wall them in with low-priority civilian buildings right in front of their gatehouse. Since the buildings aren’t very important in their intended function as part of your economy, it can take 30+ minutes for the AI to get around to demolishing them, but since they’re blocking the gatehouse leading into their castle, their armies and workers are unable to get in and out. This trick works on a lot of missions, but it’s hardly worth the 30-60 minutes it takes to win a Stronghold skirmish mission if I’m going to rely on bullshit AI exploits like that. I’d rather just skip the missions that demand those kind of tactics and get back to the good stuff.
Luckily, Stronghold Crusader has cheats, one of those cheats is to dump 1,000 extra gold onto you, and that can turn bullshit AI exploitation levels or even close quarters knife fights that I personally find frustrating (but which are a perfectly reasonable challenge overall) into a pretty mild challenge, so I’m going to use that as an ad hoc Hades-style god mode: If I get frustrated with a level, I’ll dump an extra 1,000 gold onto myself at the start, and if that still doesn’t work, make it 2,000, then 3,000, and so on until eventually I’ve leveled the odds enough to come out on top.
I haven’t actually felt the need to use the God Mode in Hades. I’ve beaten Hades himself, so I could call this one Complete right now, but there’s clearly more plot to be had for beating Hades multiple times and more side quests and unlockables to scrounge around for beating him with different weapons and with some optional difficulty stuff toggled on, so I’ll give that a go, turn God Mode on if I feel like I can’t handle it. Overall, though, Hades is probably the game I feel least daunted by, which probably has more to do with Supergiant Games presenting it better than in the actual difficulty curve (although in Team Cherry’s defense, they didn’t really present the Godhome DLC poorly, they just presented it to someone else).
My takeaway from all this is that Hades’ God Mode is a good idea and more games should have it: A toggleable difficulty setting that makes the game slightly easier every time you lose. And also that this needs a better name because “god mode” already has a meaning in the context of video games, and it’s even a meaning related to difficulty, but the meaning is completely different.