The concept of "difficulty" in Pathlogic is tricky to parse because the game is so utterly impenetrable. Is it difficult, or is it just impossible to figure out what the hell is going on and thus what you're supposed to be doing? Pathologic 2 aims to maintain the original's weirdness, which is central to the experience, while smoothing down the sharp edges of confusion that make it unnecessarily challenging and frustrating to play—"difficult," you might say.
"We’ve always believed that games are a medium capable of delivering all kinds of compelling experiences—and that said experiences don’t need to be conventionally pleasant to be interesting and fulfilling," developer Ice-Pick Lodge explained in an update posted to Steam. "Pathologic 2 was always intended to be gruelling, stressful, and bleak; we believe in ludonarrative cohesion and aren’t too fond of stories that are only dark and hurtful on the cover."
It's fair to say that Pathologic 2 is not "conventionally pleasant." The core plot is about stopping a mysterious illness that's ravaging a village in the Steppes, but you're not going to chopper in to save the world like some kind of latter-day Hawkeye Pierce. You don't have the tools you need to do the job (or even to manage basic survival unaided), it's not entirely clear what that job is in the first place, and you will occasionally run into people (or worse) who want your money and/or your life—all while mucking about in a very strange, under-lit world that can charitably be described as "grim."
The studio said that Pathologic 2 is meant to be balanced around three basic principles: The player should always "balance on the verge of death" but have a way out; that "cool and interesting" content will sometimes have to be bypassed in favor of basic survival (see principle #1); and that players should sometimes do things that are "clearly wrong" or selfish, something that other games generally don't encourage or even require. For the most part, it believes the effort has been a success, but even so there have been complaints about the difficulty unrelated to those principles.
"Our games have always been in a curious spot. Some people only finished the original Pathologic and The Void using cheat codes. So while in theory these players agreed with our stance on games as a medium for creating compelling experiences, in actuality they didn’t really—well—experience what we had in store for them," the developers wrote. "Which is, of course, understandable. Not everyone wants a life-changing experience every time they launch a game. Sometimes people only want a cursory glance."
Embracing a fourth principle—"We'd rather give people a tweaked experience than none at all"—Ice-Pick Lodge said that it will roll out a difficulty slider within the next few weeks that will enable players to adjust the game "mildly, within the limits of what we consider intended difficulty." At the same time, however, it really hopes that nobody actually uses it.
"Pathologic 2 is supposed to be almost unbearable, otherwise the effect is lost. We concede that everyone has their own limits to push. But we strongly advise against making the game easy for yourself," it wrote. "However, we do like the notion of giving you this freedom—and this responsibility. This way, the achievement of resisting the temptation and finishing the game on intended difficulty becomes even more true and vivid. And that’s the kind of effect we deeply appreciate."
The first of Pathologic 2's three parts, Haruspex, went live on May 23. The second and third parts, which will tell the story from the perspective of the Bachelor and the Changeling, don't have release dates yet.