Dying Lightwas already a tough game for many people when it first came out, but a new patch this week answered other players' demands by making it even harder.
Loot is one of the weirdest things about video games. I usually can't stand it when a game makes you obsess over weapons and items for their own sake. Fixating on minutiae worked perfectly for me in the zombie survival game Dying Light, though. Until I started playing with the new "hard mode." Now, I can't stop staring down at the floor.
The added difficulty dials up the game's intensity by tweaking a few different aspects of the game: your character has less stamina, can only heal over time (rather than immediately) with medkits, and can no longer detect the toughest and scariest types of zombies on the mini-map. Enemies deal more damage and take longer to kill, and your weapons wear out and break at a faster rate than before. On top of these substantial challenges, your "survival sense" also gets diminished so that it no longer highlights loot you haven't picked up yet. Dying Light was already a terrifying game, the extra hard mode makes it all the more so thanks to the newfound vulnerability all these changes instill in you as a player.
Loot is hard to find in Dying Light. It's also exceedingly valuable -- your weapons all have dangerously short lifespans, and you need to scrounge around for random bits of stuff in order to repair and modify them. Doing so is the best way to get the most bang for your buck, item-wise, which also means it's the best way to guarantee your survival. Most of the time when I visit a merchant in the game, it's not to buy any of the weapons they're selling -- those are far too expensive. It's just to buy even more random junk.
Picking through every conceivable corner of an abandoned house in the hopes of finding a bit of string (necessary to make molotov cocktails) or gauze (needed for medkits) adds a surprising amount of time to playing Dying Light once you remove the ability to automatically highlight items. Before, walking into a room and picking everything up was as simple as pressing X to see something like this:
Now, I have to go over and over (and over) a room again to make sure I didn't miss, say, that one piece of metal I could really use to trick out a weapon:
Or a bag that could contain a useful bit of something:
Or -- who knows -- some side-challenge that could give me an even more lucrative reward:
This makes sense, on one level -- string and gauze are relatively tiny bits of stuff in the real world, so they wouldn't exactly announce their presence the moment you walk into a room.
Going over (and over, and over) a small patch of the game's scenery with a fine-toothed comb can feel unsettling and realistic, then. It might be frustrating in the moment. But in the aggregate, it adds up to something genuinely horrifying: you're behaving like a bottom-dwelling scavenger because that's exactly what the terror of the post-apocalypse has turned you into.
At the same time, Dying Light's newfound obsession with loot helps solidify an already weird dynamic I'd noticed in the game: why, when a developer puts so much time and energy into making an intricately crafted and gorgeous open world, does it then make the game keep grabbing your head and pointing it directly at the ground? Wouldn't they want you to spend as much time as possible ogling all the pretty scenery they created?
All this scrounging for loot feels all the more irritating because it's placed on top of a whole lot of pre-existing ground-staring in Dying Light. You already spend a lot of time with your head pointed downwards to make sure you're kicking out a zombie's legs properly:
...and then to make sure you've bashed their head in properly once you've knocked them over:
...or you might be looking for a safe way to drop down from a tall building:
...or just make sure you're keeping a safe distance between yourself and some monster below:
The point is: you've got a lot of pretty stuff in there, Dying Light! Why not try and encourage me to spend more time looking at something like this:
...instead of continuing to fixate on something like this?