When Savathûn finally fell, spiralling to the ground like a cheap Airfix knock-off, I screamed at the TV. A cinematic cut in – we gaze at her from above, all crumpled and broken, as she staggers to get up – and I’m sorry to say I did a very ungainly fist-pump (how unbecoming of a woman my age). It had taken a four-hour session on the second successive day to get this done. Four hours of my fireteam partner and I swapping apologies for fucking things up – “shit, I fell off the map: sorry”; “Oh Christ, I put my toe in the water and now I’m dead – revive?!” – and we’d finally done it. Destiny 2‘s The Witch Queen campaign was done, Savathûn was down, and on Legendary difficulty to boot (and yes, I can confirm that the loot was worth it).
The trouble with Legendary difficulty, you see, is that the thing we take most for granted in video games – respawns – is limited to just one. This means that in a 20-minute encounter – a 20-minute encounter where even the “easy” enemies can one-shot you if you’re not paying attention, and the scarcity of ammo for your bigger, heavier weapons lies somewhere between chocolate teapots and rocking horse shit – you can only make one mistake. Make two, and it’s a wipe and restart.
That’s why I’ve always preferred to play more challenging games with pals, though. It’s not that it’s easier (well, it can be; my pal and I got through several Halo campaigns on Legendary in co-op over the years by alternating between shooting and cowering in a corner because as long as one of us didn’t die, we didn’t reset) but like a lot of games, difficulty scales with the number of players in The Witch Queen, so the bigger your fireteam, the tankier your foes will be. This means that loot rewards aside, there’s actually little benefit in teaming up with fellow Guardians: you’re just literally making it harder for yourself.
For me, though, it’s the camaraderie. It’s the shit-talk, and the cheerleading, and the chance to discuss tactics and loadouts. It’s having someone alongside me to keep me going when I’m ready to quit, and vice-versa. Had we’d been tempted to drop it down a gear and just get the final mission completed on an easier mode? Uh, yes. Of course. I mean, I’d like to tell you that I’m not a quitter, but that would be a lie.
Beyond raiding in Destiny and games I’m compelled to finish for work purposes, I don’t go out of my way to play anything particularly challenging these days. I just don’t have it in me anymore. It’s not that I can’t do it – I mean, I’ve Platinumed both Destiny games and their DLCs, which requires completing raids on hard mode; and didn’t I just tell you about whooping Savathûn’s bony arse on Legendary? – it’s that I just don’t want to anymore, I guess.
Maybe it’s an age thing? My boy’s (mostly) all grown up now, so I don’t have to worry about shoehorning gaming into a parenting schedule much these days, but I do still have to fit it in around work and a High Chaos puppy and a husband who works shifts and has a bad back and family and friends and all those other annoying things that get in the way of my gaming time. That means that sometimes, I might only get an hour of free time to jump onto my PS5. Sometimes it might just be half an hour. And I no longer want to spend that half-hour of scarce free time fucking up my blood pressure and embedding my controller into a wall. Again.
That’s why I’m currently role-playing Aloy in Horizon Forbidden West instead of a Tarnished in Elden Ring. Right now, it may feel like your life is stuck on hard mode, anyway. Elden Ring‘s open-world is glorious and intriguing, and it boasts some of the best creature design I’ve seen in an age, but I’ve got no time right now – or patience, quite frankly – for a game that requires I keep a bloody notebook beside me. And I waste enough of my life endlessly headbutting stubborn bastards in work to entertain the idea of doing it in my free time, too.
Yes, I occasionally play games for the challenge. Yes, I agree, little can match that feeling of besting a particularly difficult foe or feat, be they Skolas, C’thun, Godrick the Grafted, or Through the Fire and Flames from Guitar Hero 3. But sometimes, the only thing you need is Animal Crossing New Horizon‘s Kapp’n and his sweet nuggets of wisdom. Sometimes, you want an evening without stress headaches and sweaty palms. And that’s a perfectly valid way to play games and while away an evening, too, okay?
Vikki Blake is a freelance journalist and columnist for NME.