To those excited about Owlcat game's Pathfinder: Kingmaker, you may have already noticed talk about the games questionably balanced difficulty settings. Everything below "Normal" is a cake walk intended for those interested in exploring and storytelling, while "Hard" mode and above is essentially impossible for anyone but the most dedicated players who are willing to die, load, and die again dozens of times.
Players on Hard mode get frequently stuck on the first tutorial battles, as the game chooses to pair your starting character with a fragile bard and an even more fragile spell caster. If you also chose to build your character as a spellcaster (and thus lack multiple proper fighters) getting past the first skirmishes of the game can take hours.
Once you finally make it past the tutorial, the first battle encountered on the road is between three wolves. It is, inexplicably, one of the toughest grinds imaginable.
RPG streamer CohhCarnage embodies the hilarious reality of Hard difficulty when he faces one of the most annoying threats in the game: Spider Swarms.
On hard difficulty, a single Spider Swarm becomes an epic encounter. In the clip above, CohhCarnage somehow manages to position himself so the swarm will not do damage to him while he is free to make attack rolls -- a cheesy strategy he stumbled into that makes the fight passable.
Encounters like the swarm spiders are where the innocuously titled Hard difficulty becomes a big problem for new players looking to enjoy DnD combat and the Pathfinder universe. You can change the difficulty at any time, but many gamers have grown so accustomed to easy RPG's, they can't imagine playing on anything but hard. These players crave a strategic challenge, not excessive deaths and reloads due to lucky crits, hits, and misses.
But in Kingmaker, Hard is designed to be like this. The game purposefully makes enemies much stronger than the player's characters and if you aren't willing to accept the RNG, you aren't who the mode was meant for.
Roll them bones
This is because, true to its roots, Kingmaker's combat is revolved dice rolls. On Hard mode, enemies have more advantageous odds on their dice rolls for every hit, miss, resist and critical chance. Small enemies that normally pose no threat under normal Pathfinder rules have their armor, dodge, and attack ratings boosted across the board. On hard difficulty, a harmless group of kobolds, behind the hood, can have the stats of an elite squad of armored assassins.
The result is your characters missing a lot while often getting killed in one or two hits. Even the tankiest starting characters with the most armor available can be killed in a matter of seconds.
So combine this with esoteric enemy information like swarms of spiders only taking damage from Area of Effect spells (things like fire and elemental explosions, something the game doesn't tell you explicitly) and it's easy to see why the first hour of Kingmaker is leaving tons of new players scratching their heads -- how is this balanced at all?
Alexander Mishulin, Creative Director of Kingmaker took to the Steam forums to comment on the popular concern about Hard difficulty and the supposed lack balance finesse. He responds directly to the swarm spider and wolf problems and ends the post with a soft reminder that hard doesn't mean impossible:
"And one last note about the difficulty - there are plenty of difficulty options to choose from, and we really hope that each player can find the difficulty of the game that will be interesting to them. Unfair and Hard difficulties were meant as really difficult challenges, where creatures are much more powerful than player's party (and we will be adding an additional warning for the new players, who want to start the game on those difficulty settings). I know that there are some players who consider modes like this the only viable modes of play, and while respecting that I want to say that we were designing them to be very difficult and require a lot of patience, careful party building and getting accustomed to party abilities and adapting your strategies to that. A lot of encounters there are killing my party when I am playing the game and require at least several tries to change the tactical approach to the encounter. Please keep that in mind.
In Kingmaker's defense, the "hard" mode is completely optional and plays don't have to submit themselves to the abuse of reloads and dice rolls if they don't want to. In fact, I've found that the "Challenge" difficulty (right between Normal and Hard) is ideal for most RPG fans looking for a little extra resistance from enemies.
Ultimately, Kingmaker's Hard mode isn't for everyone. In hindsight, I think Owlcat games should have used different language when labeling their difficulty settings.
Normal should stay Normal.
Challenge should be named Hard.
Hard mode should be named Unfair.
Unfair mode should be called Insane.
This way, everyone knows what they are getting into and the Pathfinder veterans that pride themselves in their masochistic tendencies know exactly who their true peers are.