How many times has this happened to you? You’re running your character of choice through their randomly generated dungeon. You come across a horde of enemies, the likes of which you’ve been tromping through merrily. And yet, this horde is different. Maybe some of them have extra bonus powers. Maybe there’s just more of them than you thought. Maybe you weren’t keeping good track of the enemy levels. And maybe, just maybe, you were being a little overly confident, made a silly mistake, and are now in WAY over your head. Before you know it, your character is killed, and you’ve got to completely start over.
If this has never happened to you before, you’ve clearly never played a video game with the “hard core” setting enabled. For all three people reading this who are unfamiliar with the concept, hardcore basically means that, once your character dies, it’s gone. Kablooey. No more leveling. All of the progress you’ve put in is now completely gone, because you got axed and, just like the real world, there’s no coming back from death.
Except, this is a video game world. There’s almost ALWAYS a way to bring back dead characters. It may be a magic spell crafted specifically to raise the dead. It may be some super-science that revives the organs. But there’s generally some way within the context of the game for characters to be returned to their living state (unless, of course, they die in a cut scene to further the plot, but we’re not discussing this right now).
It’s one of the main reasons I don’t find myself playing hardcore all that often. I don’t have as much free time as I’d like to spend playing games (and probably spend too much of that time doing just that, to be honest), and, since I’m terrible about actually getting all the way through to the ending credits, the thought of losing all sorts of progress just because of a potentially silly mistake (or, worse, potential lag spike, in the case of online games) just fills me with dread. Take the Diablo series, for example. While I firmly believe that Blizzard did one big thing right with Diablo 3 (namely, the fact that your character exists online, even if you play solo, so you don’t have to rebuild from scratch if you decide to game with friends), I still believe the overarching penalty for death in the hardcore realm is too harsh, especially for the esoteric “rewards” one gets from playing that style. Especially given that, at least half of the time, a death in hardcore isn’t necessarily anything the player could have avoided. After all, there’s only so far one can go with kiting enemies, overleveling, and overgearing. Eventually, you’re going to be put up against enemies that are practically impossible, because, let’s face it, kids, computers are cheating bastards. It’s what they do. It’s why you shouldn’t try to play chess against them too often.
All that said, I do believe that Path of Exile handles hardcore death in a better way. If you happen to walk your hardcore character into something they can’t possibly escape, and they get killed, that isn’t the end of your journey. It’s just the end of that character’s time in the world of the hardcore. What you’re left with is a character that, while crippled with the shame of having moved from one form of existence to another, is still able to progress, completing quests, finding new gear, and, because they are no longer hardcore, the ability to charge headlong against enemies over and over and over again, until those enemies that keep felling them are finally obliterated into a thin paste.
So, game designers, maybe it’s time to look at this option more seriously. After all, if a free-to-play game is willing to let people keep the characters they’ve invested so many hours into, maybe the big titles that cost a pretty penny would want to consider it, as well. Sure, there are plenty of people who enjoy the challenge of seeing just how far they can get their hardcore characters. But, instead of putting them into a trophy room of sorts, why not let them continue on, in a softcore version? Heck, maybe go even further, and create some sort of icon to indicate that they’ve lost their hardcore status.
Y’know, kind of like how a bunch of pro wrestlers had to change when the ECW folded.