Tobold's Blog
Friday, April 28, 2023
Git Gud - The other side

About a year ago, I argued on this blog that a Metacritic score of 97 for Elden Ring isn't a good reflection of reality, because there are a large number of people who won't be able to enjoy Elden Ring, it being too difficult. Thus if you know nothing about the game and just buy the game with the highest review scores, you'd be wrong to assume that a high review score means that it is a game that is fun for everybody. This sort of argument usually gets dismissed by a certain type of hardcore gamers, who argue that you need to "git gud", and it is your fault if Elden Ring is too difficult for you.

I was thinking about that this week because the review scores for Age of Wonders 4 are starting to come in, and in some of those reviews the depth and complexity of AoW4 was cited as reason to downgrade the review score. I certainly agree that AoW4 is a highly complex game, with a decent AI, making it hard to win, especially on higher difficulty levels. That was actually funny to see with some streamers, who as a matter of pride set the game difficulty to hard on their first playthrough and ended up getting their asses handed to them by the game. AoW4 is a bit less complex than the most notoriously inaccessible Paradox games, but it is more complex than Civilization 6, or similar games like Humankind or Old World.

So, what happened to "git gud"? Why does "git gud" only apply to games in which the challenge is mostly one of muscle memory and reaction time, but not to games in which you would be well advised to pause and think what you are doing? That is even more curious if you consider that old people like me have a scientifically proven lower reaction time, and can't actually "git gud" just by practice. I'd argue that most gamers could learn to play AoW4 well, if they wanted. Not everybody enjoys having to learn a lot to be able to beat a game, but even complex Paradox games aren't rocket science that are fundamentally inaccessible to most people. It is just a steep learning curve, a big hump to overcome at the start, but given a bit of time you can understand the complex game mechanics, and beat the game.

One problem with complex game series is the growing gap between veterans and new players. I'm pretty certain that I will have no major difficulty playing AoW4, but that is after spending over a hundred hours over the last half year in Age of Wonders: Planetfall and AoW3. I *want* AoW4 to have more options and features than those previous games. I didn't buy the remake of Master of Magic, because I found that it hadn't evolved at all from its 1994 original, other than graphically. The original Age of Wonders from 1999 already took the Master of Magic gameplay and added to it, and then every further iteration of the series added more stuff. For me, who played every game in the series, Age of Wonders 4 is like tailor-made. But to somebody who played few or no 4X games, AoW4 can look very daunting.

Still I would argue that the fact that Age of Wonders 4 does have variable difficulty levels, which Elden Ring doesn't, makes it possible even for newcomers to enjoy the game. Start with the lowest difficulty, have fun making outrageous heroes and factions just based on how interesting the options look, and learn the game by playing. Unlike Elden Ring, where you would get stuck if you couldn't kill the first  boss (and didn't know the secret path to circumvent him), in AoW4 you don't have to win a campaign to start the next one, and try out other things.

For me, Age of Wonders 4 is certainly a better game than Elden Ring. I don't think it is very fair that review scores ignore a game being reaction-time difficult, but downgrade it if is deep and complex.

I've played both aow3 and Elden Ring. I have not done anything with AOW4 so I can not judge the actual qualities of the game. For the purpose of my replies I am assuming it is a great game in its genre.

I think Elden Ring is accessible for more people than AOW and that probably reflects in the metacritic rating.
I also can't say AOW is a particularly complex 4X game (AOW3 at least), and I actually think it suffers a bit being classed under the 4X type as it is a lot more casual than many.

I do not think the difference between the games is the difficulty and 'git gud', it is the way of learning. In Elden Ring you learn things by doing and reacting with a rather direct payoff and return of investment as you learn the fight step by step. In 4X games it often involves diving into statistics and spreadsheets, with a payout XX turns later and a rather longer time investment to restart/retry. Depending on your personality one of those will be more fun than the other, and metacritic is probably a rather fair report of general population preference in this case.

Sidenote: there are most certainly difficulty levels in Elden Ring, it is just that they are not on a menu select screen. (stats, level, summons,...)
I've learned that game taste is so individualistic over the years that I don't think game reviews matter to me. What I like to learn about games before playing them is their actual game play, settings, etc - not what someone else thinks about them, I just want to see them for myself so that I can make an informed decision. Luckily with YouTube I can do just that most of the time. Anything that I can't I don't buy.
I find Steam reviews (and Gog to a lesser extent) the best indicators for whether I will like a game. Obviously I might go to full-fledged reviews first as well as the game trailer for details and images - but it's the customer reviews that tell me how thing work out in practice. Are the positive reviews enthusing about things I care about, and the negative reviews complaining about things I don't? Then I'm probably going to like it.

I have looked at YouTube reviews occasionally, but I don't have the patience for them.
The Git Gud mentality is definitely a thing for 4X strategy games. Spend any time on the various subreddits for this game and you inevitably see folks complain that game X is difficult and then get told "no it's actually too easy you just need to learn" etc.

But these folks are a minority, even in the dark souls/elden ring community.
It's jocks vs. nerds in the digital arena. Muscle memory games are something only the most athletically inclined gamers can master and they have no patience for game manuals or having to learn complexity.
4X games are a bit of an inconsistent genre. They are really designed to be played more like RPGs than true strategy games, but of course a lot of people get interested in beating them, so the developers include stupid difficulty levels that these players defeat with degenerate - and generally very boring - strategies.

I don't know what the answer is, really. War is hard if there is a question about the outcome. You have to give it everything because you have to win. That means even if you were RPing it at a lower difficulty level, you have to micro-manage the war you find yourself in - and then you find yourself in a spot not so very distinct from that of the 'deity-level' min-maxers!

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