Developer Ice-Pick Lodge will, following criticism, soon be adding a difficulty slider to its recently released, wilfully inscrutable plague horror follow-up, Pathologic 2 - but it would rather you didn't use it, thank you very much.
Pathologic 2, which charts the bleak deterioration of a plague-ridden town through the eyes of three characters, is something of a re-imagining of Ice-Pick's idiosyncratic, rough-around-the-edges 2005 cult-favourite horror original. But while Pathologic 2 is slicker and prettier than its predecessor, it's still punishingly difficult - and, following its launch last week, players have aimed particular criticism at its hunger mechanics, requiring so much upkeep that it's tough to find time to explore the game's fascinating narrative.
Now, Ice-Pick has addressed that feedback, while also offering extended thoughts on its own design philosophy. "We've always believed that games are a medium capable of delivering all kinds of compelling experiences - and that said experiences don't need to be conventionally pleasant to be interesting and fulfilling," the developer wrote on Steam. "Pathologic 2 was always intended to be gruelling, stressful, and bleak; we believe in ludonarrative cohesion and aren't too fond of stories that are only dark and hurtful on the cover."
As such, Ice-Pick says it focussed its efforts on three principles while designing Pathologic 2. "We want the player to always balance on the verge of death, but also always to have an opportunity to drag themselves out", it wrote, adding that the game is "an exploration of selfishness" and so players should "do things that feel clearly wrong, like voluntarily thrashing their reputation or using the healing items that could have saved someone."
Finally, it wanted players "to be forced to sacrifice 'cool and interesting' content due to their survival needs, to be always short on time and not being able to achieve an optimal playthrough...Pathologic 2 is written to be caught glimpses of, not unfold completely".
"Judging by your feedback," the developer continued, "Pathologic 2 is actually balanced in a way that achieves all that."
However, despite its successes, Ice-Pick acknowledged that many players felt the game was too hard, "and we don't think that everyone who says that misses the point of the experience". It conceded that different people have "different attention spans and patterns. So we're fine with allowing the players to tweak the game a bit to account for this fact."
To that end, it will shortly be introducing a difficulty slider into Pathologic 2, enabling players to "tweak the game mildly, within the limits of what we consider intended difficulty, and also set it the way you want, if you want." As Ice-Pick put it, "We'd rather give people a tweaked experience than none at all".
It's a bold stance from a developer known for its deliberately obscure, often impenetrable games, particularly in light of the accessibility discussion sparked by From Software's Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice earlier this year. But despite its move toward greater inclusivity for Pathologic 2, and its willingness to compromise, Ice-Pick readily admits that it hopes players don't make use of its new difficulty slider.
"Pathologic 2 is supposed to be almost unbearable," it wrote, "otherwise the effect is lost. We concede that everyone has their own limits to push. But we strongly advise against making the game easy for yourself. However, we do like the notion of giving you this freedom-and this responsibility. This way, the achievement of resisting the temptation and finishing the game on intended difficulty becomes even more true and vivid.
"And that's the kind of effect we deeply appreciate."
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