The Contentious Debate Over Whether To Make Hyper Light Drifter Easier

The Contentious Debate Over Whether To Make Hyper Light Drifter Easier

Hyper Light Drifter is beautiful, mysterious and hard as hell. To some, that difficulty is central to its design. To others, it’s an obstacle preventing them from enjoying its other parts. Since release, the developers have tried to patch the game to appease both audiences, but it’s been a challenge. You can’t talk about Hyper Light Drifter without addressing its difficulty. In Kotaku‘s review, Riley MacLeod explained how it was possible to love the game, even if the difficulty was pushing him away:

Overcoming difficulty in Hyper Light Drifter rewards you with the chance to overcome more difficulty. There are people who are going to love this — I loved it, at least for a while. But it’s the kind of joy that’s best for a very specific subset of people. Some might not have the time, patience or manual dexterity to sit through these fights again and again. If you’re struggling, as I did, I would definitely recommend taking a break — I’ll always remember that one fight I couldn’t beat until I gave up and went to bed, only to wake up to beat it on the first try at 7am.

He’s not alone. I’ve talked to friends intrigued by Hyper Light Drifter‘s world, only to walk away frustrated at their inability to play it. The question facing the developers was if they should do anything about it.

This debate comes up every time a new Dark Souls game is released — a Google search for “Dark Souls easy mode” brings up countless hot takes — but while Souls has become more accessible, it hasn’t gotten “easier”.

Heart Machine, the developer behind Hyper Light Drifter, took the comments personally, and issued an update on April 15 called “The Invincibility Patch” with a brief note about the “significant amount of changes to make you feel like a more badass drifter than ever before”.

There were three big changes:

  • Invincibility frames added to dashing
  • Health kits refilled upon using a warp pad
  • Healing happens much faster

The first alteration — invincibility frames for dashing — was the most significant. Previously, dashing around in Hyper Light Drifter meant nothing if you didn’t literally avoid an attack or projectile. Now, there was a brief window of wiggle room. It’s an idea modernly popularised by Dark Souls, and it’s why you see players rolling; by doing so, the “invincibility frames” allow them to dodge an attack that should theoretically hit them.

“Jeezuz thank you,” said the first comment on the patch notes.

“Were there that many complaints on difficulty?” said the third.

And thus, the parameters of the debate were set, resulting in 18 pages and 174 comments over the patch. Were the changes made because the designers felt it was better for the game, or simply because some people had complained? (You can see this tension playing out in gaming culture debates, like that Overwatch pose.) Some celebrated the newfound accessibility, others grumbled about goal posts for success being changed. Others wished for a compromise: make the changes optional.

“I want to feel like a badass drifter by becoming a badass drifter,” said one fan, “instead of the game being altered in such a way to make me simply feel more badass. That kind of stuff should be reserved for an easy mode.”

Acknowledging that “challenge is great” and a toggle could come in an upcoming patch, designer Alx Preston attempted to explain the changes.

“The iframes were added in response to a good amount of feedback over the past two weeks +,” he said. “We want this game to feel as fair and fluid as possible. While the frames make a few situations easier, they also makes things feel more fluid, open up some dynamic and aggressive possibilities in combat and they curb frustration in many cases.”

A few days later, another patch went live for Hyper Light Drifter, alongside a lengthy blog post by Preston. The developers seemed to recognise it would have helped to give more context to their design decisions.

Describing the release of Hyper Light Drifter as the game’s “biggest playtest”, Preston appreciated feedback, “even for the harshest of comments.” That said, he acknowledged the patch had been “polarising”.

“Many have expressed concern that particular tweaks make the experience less challenging, almost too easy,” he said. “After a fair amount of consideration and consultation, we agree.”

They didn’t completely walk back the changes, but health kits were no longer recharged at warp pads and healing was given a tighter window. And while they reduced the number of invincibility frames during dashing, it was still there. That change was staying, and Preston reiterated his feeling that it improved the flow of combat.

(I wish they’d kept the health kit change, personally. It’s annoying to grind for med kits, especially if you show up to a boss without any.)

The developers could have made these changes optional, but instead, they’re part of the core design. Preston said it’s possible the game will get a new difficulty mode to be “inclusive to more players who want to experience the world”, but they’re still discussing the idea.

“I realise we can’t please everyone, and we don’t aim to do so,” said Preston.


  • This is the kind of thing that really should be left to fit the developer’s vision for the game because the only way you’ll ever get consensus on this is by only talking to people that can agree on “what the game is”.

    I haven’t personally played HLD so the question I’m still wondering about is if the game is of the “difficult but fair” genre that Dark Souls executes so perfectly. Judging by the dashing not making you immune thing, it does sound like it was more unfair than it was difficult.

    • I played it. The combat is damn hard, but working out where I’m supposed to go next was harder. Hence game over. On the subject of combat, one of the hardest bits was getting used to the way the gun aims and shoots. I was expecting the controls to be like a twin stick shooter, alas they are not. And i died a lot when trying to swap to the gun.

  • I didn’t buy it because I heard it was hard. I’d been anticipating it for a while thinking it was more of a Zelda thing.

    I don’t mind the odd hard game, loved Dark Souls 1 & am a big Shin Megami Tensei fan. But sometimes I play a game for its charm or aesthetic rather than trying to prove to myself how big my dick is.

    To be honest, I have a smaller than average penis & that’s ok. Not every lady is looking for a big one & I’ve even heard complaints about some guys being too big..

    He’ll, I’m a good guy, I’ve got a full time job, I pay my taxes & if Carmen can’t just accept me for who I am then I’m better off without her!

    There’s plenty more fish in the sea!

  • I play a game for its charm or aesthetic rather than trying to prove to myself how big my dick is.

    This game is no Dark Souls, easier than you have heard. Not a Dick thing.

  • Why are some people so fundamentally opposed to multiple difficulty settings?
    Are these the same complete assholes who care about what kind of mods you install on your own machine that no-one else will see?

    • I’d lob this discussion in with the other argument recently that all games should let you skip to any part of the game.

      I don’t think people are really opposed to multiple difficulty settings outright. The issue is more about changing existing games, which is inevitably what starts all these discussions. You basically get one shot of articulating what the vision is for your game when you launch it and your players buy into that vision. Changing the vision after launch is going to rustle anyone’s jimmies regardless of the context. In this case HLD launched with the “hard game” vision, and I’d say the ship has sailed.

      • No, see, I don’t get it. With a difficulty option, that vision is still fucking there.

        It doesn’t get ‘tainted’ because some ‘filthy casuals’ are enjoying a different experience that doesn’t affect the original fans in any way whatso-fucking-ever.

        • It depends on the execution! Let’s say the game is retuned and the new easier version becomes Normal and the old difficulty becomes Hard. That would mess with the vision because the original vision has been shifted off the default setting. It would be much more consistent if the current difficulty became Normal and the new easier difficulty was Easy.

  • I’m all for different difficulty settings. Sure, have the ‘normal’ setting as the developers originally intended for it to be, but cut some other people some slack – AND – add even tougher challenges for players who like that.

    It’s like chilli in food, some people love the searing pain and sweating profusely (at least they say they do) and some people can’t handle a single chilli flake, but they can each enjoy the meal overall, because the spice is only a single aspect of the food, not the entire meal.

    Just like how HLD isn’t JUST about how difficult it is, it can still be enjoyed for it’s graphics, soundtrack and everything else.

  • Now, I’m not here to shake my ego or anything, but just provide my perspective…

    I didn’t find the game too difficult. Not even close to “too” difficult. It was difficult, sure, but just enough to feel genuinely rewarding.

    To be honest, after reading Riley’s article on the game, I bought it, and was a little surprised to find it was a lot easier than I’d anticipated. I only say this because, having bought the game explicitly based on Riley’s review, the difficulty was something I was constantly attentive to. I honestly feel that, if the game had been easier, I would have been disappointed. That said, the alleged difficulty was a key element in my decision to buy it. I prefer games to border on uncomfortably difficult, so I guess that’s a factor.

    It was a beautiful game though, and I’d hate for the difficulty to dissuade others from playing it. I’m all for a difficulty setting to be implemented. I’m not opposed to adjusting the difficulty of a game after it’s release due to public response, but I personally feel like Hyper Light Drifter got it right first time. Just sayin’.

    EDIT: Man I say “difficult” a lot.

    • I feel (EDIT: almost) exactly the same. The game was tough, but not too hard by any means. It certainly takes a few tries to get the bosses but when you work out the mechanisms, it’s awesome!

      I’m disappointed that they reduced the difficulty because I’m a wimp and will generally put it on easy, but without a choice I was forced to be careful and get good. But in the end it’s up to the developers.

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