Gears of War 3 Difficulty Retuned — Hardcore Is the New Normal
When we first sat down with Gears of War 3 for our hands-on preview, representatives from Epic and Microsoft enjoined us to set the difficulty to “Hardcore.” In order to get the best experience. This wasn’t strange in-and-of-itself — we were all games journalists with itchy trigger fingers and giant thumb calluses, after all. What was strange is that once we had finished, GameFront.com editor Mark Burnham and I had reached the same conclusion: Hardcore is, well, kind of easy.
It turns out that tinkering with the difficulty settings was a big part of the development process for Epic. As Executive Producer Rod Fergusson confirmed in our video interview, they were particularly keen to provide a perfectly tailored experience to both new and returning players. “If you’ve played Gears 1 and Gears 2, you shouldn’t be firing it up on Normal,” the developer explained. “If you’ve finished 1 and 2, you’re a hardcore player whether you want to admit it or not.”
Neither Mark nor I are absolute, die-hard Gears fans, but we had finished the first two games, and found ourselves breezing through Act I with hardly a reload. This easy-going introduction shouldn’t be taken as representative of the rest of the game, though. “Remember that you only got to play the first Act in a five-Act game, and so it’s meant to be easier at the start,” Fergusson reminded GameFront by e-mail. “The challenge certainly ramps up as you get deeper into the game and you’re facing all kinds of new challenges beyond the Lambent, like the Savage Locust.”
Having adjusted the level of difficulty experienced by series veterans, Epic was also interested in fine-tuning the experience of the newcomers. “We’re trying to make it the most accessible [Gears yet],” Fergusson said. “Casual” mode is now designed to be very forgiving, with an Aim Assist and virtually no risk of death. Even “Normal,” one step up, has been made much more welcoming. “I think of Normal as ‘Casual without Aim Assist,’” Fergusson quipped.
Despite overhauling the challenges posed by their various difficulty levels, the Gears of War 3 design team was careful to keep somethings constant. “In ‘Gears,’ we don’t really use ‘number of enemies’ as a balancing tool, because we don’t want the play experience to change that fundamentally between difficulties,” Fergusson explained by e-mail. “It wouldn’t be fun on Casual if you got to fight one enemy and on Insane you fought twenty. So we focus instead on player health, enemy health, damage output, etc.” This kind of adaptability has other interesting applications in the game’s co-op campaign, which can support four different players playing on multiple difficulties. You can read more about this feature and other co-op specifics here on GameFront, along with articles about Dr. Adam Fenix, the game’s 3D graphics option, the game-changing singleplayer mutators, and the game’s vast array of Easter Eggs.