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Should I include multiple game modes?

11th April 2023 2

On Friday, a new league started for the video game Path of Exile and it just so happened to coincide with a longer weekend here in the UK so I jumped at the chance to play for a few hours.

I logged into the game to create a new character and was immediately offered 3 options:

  • Standard
  • League
  • Hardcore League

I was here to play the new league and enjoy challenging games so selected the hardcore league, which led to more options.

Did I want to play the solo self-found mode, the ruthless mode, both, or neither?

I enjoy playing solo self-found as I feel like my decisions matter more and ruthless was a new mode that recently got released which I had been wanting to try – I ticked all the boxes and started the game.

Looking back at this process Path of Exile  offered me the following modes:

  • Standard
  • Standard hardcore
  • Standard solo self-found
  • Standard ruthless
  • Standard hardcore solo self-found
  • Standard hardcore solo self-found ruthless
  • Standard hardcore ruthless
  • Standard solo self-found ruthless
  • League
  • League hardcore
  • League solo self-found
  • League ruthless
  • League hardcore solo self-found
  • League hardcore solo self-found ruthless
  • League hardcore ruthless
  • League solo self-found ruthless

In total there were 16 options with each creating a very different experience in the game while keeping the core systems the same. Most players will read through the options, quickly identify which combination most appeals to them and get started. Some players may try different modes over time, but I expect many always choose the same combination.

When it comes to board games and my own design principles, I have always tried to create games with a single mode. I want the game to be the best it can be and I make design decisions to achieve that.

However, this weekend Path of Exile has challenged that mindset and left me considering the following:

Is there always 1 specific set of rules that makes the game the best it can possibly be or does offering options allow players to refine the game to better suit their own personal tastes, resulting in the game being better for them?

The key requirement here is the different modes shouldn’t alter the core rules of the game, they should provide choices that impact the journey players experience while playing the game.

I think it is the job of a designer to refine a game to be its best possible self and adding options for the sake of it would be a mistake. But I also think there can be cases where adding variable rules to games can provide a better experience if implemented in a clear and simple way.

I had a lot of fun playing the new league with the hardcore solo self-found ruthless options and certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed the game anywhere near as much without those extra settings, leaving me very glad Path of Exile offers these options to players.

Frank West

Frank West is a gamer and designer based in Bristol, UK. He published his first board game, The City of Kings, in 2018 and now works on other games and organising events in the local area. His goal? To design and publish games focusing on immersive themes, fun mechanics and beautiful components. If you have any questions or would just like a chat, feel free to get in touch at any time!


  • Sam Francis

    11th April 2023 at 1:48 pm

    I think there’s a boardgame-specific (or multiplayer-specific) consideration: on a game night it’s enough of a decision already to decide which game to play, let alone which version of it! Maybe less of a consideration for solo and/or video games!


    • Frank West

      11th April 2023 at 2:22 pm

      I agree that multiplayer is a huge consideration here, I would perhaps further refine that to competitive multiplayer games. Two players at the table may have different tastes and giving options that need to be agreed upon before playing could cause challenges.

      I can see decisions like “more luck or skill based” or “more or less complex” working in most multiplayer situations, just like many cooperative games already have difficulty options.

      Most importantly this is something that would remain dependant on the game as to whether options should be included and what they can offer.


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