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Exploring Shadow Of The Tomb Raider’s Insanely Clever Difficulty System

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The three major pillars of the Tomb Raider series are exploration, combat, and stealth, but chances are that you have a harder time engaging with one of those segments more than the others. In a clever move, developer Eidos Montreal has fragmented the difficulty settings so Shadow of the Tomb Raider players can individually adjust the challenge for each gameplay pillar. For example, if you enjoy puzzles but want to cruise through the combat sequences, you can kick up the difficulty of the puzzles and decrease the challenge of the combat. To better understand how this mechanic works, we sat down with Shadow of the Tomb Raider game director Daniel Bisson.

“This game, in general, is harder [than past Tomb Raider titles] and we want to make sure that people can tailor the difficulty based on their play style,” says Bisson. “Because we feature three different gameplay types, it's a very difficult game because you have puzzles, traversal, and combat and each of them needs to be balanced.”

When most games adjust difficulty, they really only throttle the difficulty of combat, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s difficulty settings also effects its puzzles and exploration, and since you can set them individually it's easy to tailor a game experience that fits your preference. During a recent hands-on session, I adjusted the difficulty of puzzles and noticed that it affected the amount of time Lara had to react to time sequences. For example, on easy I had more time to run through a door after hitting a switch. Additionally, when I activated Lara’s hunter mode – which highlights important objects in the environment – she offered useful hints and tips on how to complete a certain puzzle. However, on harder difficulties, Lara offers fewer and fewer hints and the path through a level becomes less highlighted.

“In hard, all the white paint that tells players were to go is completely gone,” says Bisson. “The normal difficulty on Rise of the Tomb Raider’s traversal is equivalent to the easy version on Shadow. We wanted to adjust that because it got to the point where people were just following the white paint and it wasn’t very interesting. We want people to lose themselves for hours in there, and by taking out some of that white paint we’re finding that people are discovering things in the world that the might not have found otherwise.”

This approach to exploration actually improved my experience with the game’s early hours. Over the last few years, I’ve grown tired of exploring in games like Tomb Raider and Uncharted because the path forward often feels too obvious – I often feel like the developers are holding my hands through a game because the path forward is painted into the world. Players who are happy with this approach can play Shadow of the Tomb Raider on the easy exploration setting and have that familiar experience. Those who want an old-school experience that doesn’t feature any environmental paint can play on hard. Personally, I feel like Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s normal difficulty does a good job of subtly blending the white paint cues into the environment in a way that isn’t immediately noticeable. This meant that I had to occasionally hunt around for the next place to go, but I never grew frustrated and lost.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s difficulty settings are pretty nifty and I hope that other games take this approach of fracturing the various aspects of gameplay into different difficulties. We’ll see if this approach takes off after Shadow of the Tomb Raider launches on September 14 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

 

For more on Shadow of the Tomb Raider be sure to read about how Lara Croft has evolved for this entry or watch us play nearly 30 minutes of the final build.

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