It's been a few years now since publishers decided that launch day DLC and obnoxious preorder incentives were a good idea, and you'd think we would've grown used to it by now. Unfortunately, it seems like every time we grow complacent with yet another crappy business practice, someone finds a way to implement an even crappier one. It hurts even more than usual when that business practice is applied to something with the potential for greatness, too.
The most recent example of this race to the bottom amongst publishers comes in the form of Metro: Last Light's preorder incentives. Not content to just offer preorderers some exclusive weapons or extra in-game currency, as has become the norm for digital preorder bonuses, publisher Deep Silver has chosen to incentivize preorders just a little bit more than that. They've chosen to rip an entire difficulty mode out of the core game and offer it as part of the "Limited Edition" version, which happens to only be available via preorder.
You're probably already cringing at how awful that idea sounds, but hold on, because it gets worse. The difficulty mode in question is the storied "Ranger Mode," an option that was added to Last Light's precursor, Metro 2033, as a gift to hardcore players who wanted a truly challenging experience. Ranger Mode removes the game's HUD, increases enemy difficulty, and reduces the amount of ammunition the player can find. In a game that was already fairly difficult on the default settings, Ranger Mode became something of a legend to serious-business FPS players.
Now, it looks like that mode will be unavailable to players who buy the vanilla version of Metro 2033's sequel. In order to be able to play Last Light in Ranger Mode, players must either preorder the game or pay five bucks post-launch for the privilege of selecting their preferred difficulty setting. What's more, all the gameplay videos Deep Silver has released seem to indicate that the normal difficulty mode has been made substantially easier than Metro 2033's, in an attempt to draw a wider audience into the fold. It may well be that Last Light's Ranger Mode will most closely resemble 2033's normal mode - and you'll be stuck playing on easy mode unless you pony up.
There's an odd dissonance coming out of the Deep Silver camp regarding this decision, too. The Last Light website currently has a massive preorder banner across the top of the homepage, on which Ranger Mode is referred to as "The way it was meant to be played." Apparently no one at Deep Silver stopped and thought about just what it meant to be removing "the way it was meant to be played" from the core version of a fifty dollar game.
So far, the only response Deep Silver has given to the criticism they've received comes via PC Gamer, who posed the question, "If Metro: Last Light's Ranger Mode is 'the way it was meant to be played' why isn't it included for all players?"
Deep Silver's response to this question is as odd and off-putting as their decision to make Ranger Mode DLC in the first place. A PR person for Koch Media, the parent company of Last Light's publisher, had this to say:
"Game makers and publishers now live in a world where offering game content as a pre-order exclusive is a requirement by retail, and Ranger Mode seemed like the best choice since it was a mode for hardcore fans who would most likely pre-order the game, or purchase it at launch in any case," he says. "We rejected requests to make story content or additional missions exclusive. We also rejected requests to make this a timed exclusive."
It's a mix of "everyone else is doing it, why can't we?" and "the retailers made us do it!" but neither of these answers addresses why this particular DLC scheme is a problem to begin with: this is a much more aggressive preorder strategy, and robs non-preorderers of much more content, than virtually any other game that has tried similar tactics. That fact seems completely lost on Koch Media's spokesperson, though a nod is given to that fact when he goes on to downplay the importance of Ranger Mode.
"We do not recommend Ranger Mode for a first playthrough, and this is made very clear both in-game," the PR person says. "We expect Metro fans will want to try Ranger Mode for a subsequent playthrough, and we think that for this hardcore player, Ranger Mode offers a richer experience - but only once you've clocked the game at least once."
There's that strange dissonance again. Is Ranger Mode "the way it was meant to be played," or is it something you should only attempt on your second playthrough? No one at Deep Silver seems to be sure, though most fans of the first game would probably insist the former is true.
So far, Deep Silver and Koch Media have shown no signs of backing away from this strategy, and to do so at this point might prove impossible anyway - how would they compensate all the people who begrudgingly preordered specifically to play Ranger Mode?
With Last Light hitting store shelves this coming Tuesday, it will be interesting to see how much of a damper this controversy puts on its critical and commercial reception. It's a shame that Deep Silver has managed to mar the image of a game that looks potentially every bit as impressive as Metro 2033, which came out in 2010 with nary a DLC pack to be found on launch day.