I recently wrote about how great Fallout would be as a survival horror game. For now, it’s at odds with itself, the supposed scarcity of resources of the post-apocalyptic wasteland outweighed by the sheer number of shots it takes to assassinate a super mutant. I started playing Cyberpunk 2077 over the weekend, and committing to the hard difficulty made me realize what would fix so many RPG shooters: make everyone, including the player, die in a few hits.
One of the earlier missions in Cyberpunk gets you out of a gang hideout after a deal goes south. It’s a game that encourages stealth, with plenty of perks attached to it and sneaky takedowns you can make. But no battle plan survives first contact, and things always go south. There’s no fun in saving scares to get the perfect ghost sequence, and I like being forced to react intuitively if I’m rammed, but dying from a few shots at the hands of enemies who can survive entire magazines being dumped in in them, is incredibly frustrating.
I enjoy the challenge of a tough combat scenario, and with the vast amount of tools at my disposal in Cyberpunk, I want to use them all. It’s exciting to ping people to find out where all the hostiles are, to break their cyber cover to hack in more easily, and blind them from afar so I can sneak past. It would be great if I could lure enemies over to a hacked machine and then throw a grenade at them, then sneak off to finish off the rest with a Tanto, but what actually happens is they all take some damage and let loose shingles on me, killed me almost instantly.
I just want a difficulty setting where everyone plays by the same rules. I’m fine with some boss enemies being harder to kill. Of course, a chrome-clad cyberpsycho victim would be hard to take down with his titanium legs and second heart, but why are street-level mobsters immune to a headshot? It’s no fun if I have to pick my moment carefully, poking my head out of cover a second or two at a time to slice away endless health bars for fear of dying as soon as I turn a corner.
If people fell realistically, it would make sneaking that much more tense. I didn’t want to start over as soon as I was spotted, but try to quickly eliminate those who saw me. Precision aiming would be rewarded and I still had to position myself carefully to avoid getting flanked and killing myself. There’s also the untapped potential of making health items more like real combat meds. Like soldiers on amphetamines, it wouldn’t stop being shot on a loaded chrome head high as a kite. They would succumb to their wounds when the adrenaline wore off, but they wanted a chance to take you down with them first. There is so much more potential than just resizing everyone’s health bar.
This kind of gameplay might be a little unreasonable for Skyrim and God of War, but these reality-based games avoid it entirely in favor of boring difficulty settings where all that changes is the disparity between your strength and the AIs.
I love the Cyberpunk 2077 world, but so far I don’t feel like an elite cyborg mercenary. I dropped the difficulty down to medium because I just wasn’t having fun on hard, but now it’s a little too easy. I don’t die quickly, but my enemies still need to be killed quite a bit. A melee build is clearly out of the question without the right perks behind it to buffer damage, but that just means the way I want to play is shut down in the mid and late game. Just create a setting where everyone plays by the same rules and I’ll be happy.
Next: I wish God of War characters would stop telling me to do sidequests