Git Gud or Git Easy: Will Darkest Dungeon's Radiant Mode Update Catch On?

Souls-like games entirely revolve around their difficulty, but it may be time to offer a less punishing experience for a wider audience.

Unlike a rabid (and vocal) online fan base that likes to rag on all us "filthy casuals," in general I am not a fan of the Souls-like games. Call me crazy, but I'm of the opinion that games should be fun, and not anger-inducing. Why go out of your way to play something you know ahead of time will be unduly frustrating?

One of the few exceptions to that Souls aversion is Darkest Dungeon, which managed to draw me in with its grim aesthetic, highly unusual RPG mechanics, and heavy focus on the darker side of fantasy to the point of essentially being horror.

Darkest Dungeon's upcoming Crimson Court DLC even made our list of most anticipated horror games of the year, and it really showcases how this game turns convention on its head, adding in a deranged ex-priest vampire hunter who is hunting down your party.

Aside from that DLC release, there's another big change coming to Darkest Dungeon soon in a free patch that has the possibility of totally changing this entire genre.

Hard Enough Or Too Hard?

Darkest Dungeon's main selling point (other than the tentacled mythos madness in the cove or unknown horrors found out in the woods) is that it's relentlessly hard, but also incredibly well balanced.

Trinkets all give a serious drawback in addition to a minor boon. Combat is always a gamble, but you can mitigate the risk through proper lineup placement and bringing the appropriate camping skills. Your limited resources must be carefully balanced between upgrading lower level heroes and healing the spiritual and physical afflictions of your existing high level heroes, and so on.

In other words, the game really does exemplify the adage of "making the best of a bad situation." It does have a big problem, however -- since total party wipes are expected and only heroes of certain levels can take on specific areas, there's a lot of re-grinding to get back to a previous point.

GOD F*****G D**N IT ALL TO HELL

Beating the game from beginning to end takes about 80 hours, and that can be deal breaker for a game that has such a small world to explore.

The issue was addressed to a minimal degree in a previous patch that let you recruit a handful of new heroes who don't start at rank 0 (if you spend a lot of money to upgrade the caravan), but the problem still persists overall -- until the upcoming Radiant Mode option arrives and offers a different way to play.

Evening The Odds

While there's typically always the ability to upscale the difficulty in more casual gaming experiences -- think hardcore mode in the ARPG Grim Dawn -- very rarely is there an opposite ability to downgrade the difficulty level in games that are designed around being incredibly hard to beat.

That's what Radiant Mode aims to fix, and it can't arrive quickly enough. In fact I'm gonna let you in on a little secret: after about 25 hours of playing Darkest Dungeon as intended, I got tired of rebuilding parties that were just going to all die again anyway, so I went into the game's code and made some tweaks myself.

After finding the right files housing all the settings (spread out across a ton of different locations naturally), I increased the amount of health healed by spells and upped the damage of higher level equipment, in addition to increasing the amount of gold received for selling back unused items.

Now if you wanted to be mean you could call this "cheating." I'm going to refer to it as the more pleasant term "modding." Either way you slice it, suddenly I found myself playing the game for longer stretches without getting frustrated.

10 damage? The gods smile upon us today!

Darkest Dungeon's Radiant Mode

So what exactly is Radiant Mode going to do? Based on what information has arrived so far, it would appear Radiant isn't actually going to significantly reduce the difficulty, but just simply reduce the amount of grind and attempt to erode some of that frustration of having a high level party get totally wiped. Here's what the developer had to say:

Radiant will have balance changes and rule tweaks aimed at bringing the completion time down to approximately 40 hours. Rest assured that even in this alternate campaign ruleset, we won’t be compromising on some of the core ideas that make DD what it is (e.g. permadeath, autosaving). However, we will flex here and there on some things and generally structure it so that a reasonable investment of time and effort can see things through to the deepest parts of the Ancestor’s trail.

The essence of Darkest Dungeon is still there. Your party will still be doing small amounts of damage, your healer will still provide pathetic amounts of health gain, your characters will still go mad and get terrible diseases, party member placement will still be crucial to tackling different types of encounters, you will lose party members on long quests, and so on.

In other words, Radiant doesn't appear to be offering an “easy” mode, but rather what we're going to call a “no Hulk smashing your screen” mode.

Why Go Easy On A Hard Game?

More so than many other purposefully hard games like Necropolis (and, it could be argued, even Dark Souls) Darkest Dungeon has an unfolding story to be learned as you progress further, with the doomed adventurers learning more about what terrible things their ancestor did to lead to the current sad state of affairs.

For many players, they will just simply never see that end screen or find out the full depths of the ancestor's depravity short of checking out a YouTube video of someone who had more patience than they did. Radiant Mode offers that possibility legitimately now.

So here's the question: if it draws in more players to Darkest Dungeon, will this idea catch on with other games in the same style? It may be a bit of a moot point now that Dark Souls is done with, but it's not inconceivable to think of an HD remaster of the first game arriving with a blessed and long overdue "no-controller-throwing" mode.

It wasn't long after this point that I said "no thank you" to Dark Souls

The Casual Is Spreading!

While Darkest Dungeon's design allows for Radiant Mode to reduce grind without significantly altering the difficulty, other games like the upcoming Ni-Oh or any other Souls-like might need some tweaks if anything resembling an easy mode were to arrive.

Obviously there would need to be a change in the rewards available at the lesser difficulty, whether that's simply cutting off access to certain achievements or instead making some equipment (or even whole level areas) only accessible when playing the game through on its intended difficulty.

Another possibility would be to only allow a less brutally hard experience after reaching a certain point in the game, like a 25% or further mark where you've gotten the full brunt of the difficulty long enough to really appreciate it.

I really don't want to see this screen 900,000 times

It's time for you to sound off: what do you think of Darkest Dungeon's impending Radiant Mode update, and would you like to see this same idea implemented in other incredibly difficult games like Dark Souls or Nioh?

Published Jan. 13th 2017

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