What you are witnessing is what once upon a time known as the “luck factor”.
In reality, this is just an invisible artificial difficulty setting designed to intentionally frustrate the player for various reasons. For game modes that run on sigils, the intent is cause enough intentional losses to induce players to purchase the next tier in the shop that they wouldn’t have normally purchased. For game modes without sigils, the intent is to create a level playing field by forcing losses onto everyone.
As many have observed, the primary functions of the modified skyfall as difficulty increased are:
– Increased natural skyfall rate of skulls.
– Increased probability that beneficial skyfalls will drop a free match 3 or more of skulls or gems.
At “max” difficulty, the natural skyfall rate of skulls is pretty close to that of a bonestorm.
Exploding is ultra-effective in exploiting the difficulty increases, as the greater the number of gems that skyfall onto the board at once, the greater the probability that a favorable event (or events) will happen on a given turn. This applies in both directions, for players and for the AI. Although, at high enemy level numbers, these favorable events are more beneficial to the AI than to the player through sheer scaling of numbers.
I’ll apply some broad paintbrush strokes about the matter.
One of the most tight-lipped secrets the devs keep is what is being modified when the invisible difficulty rises and when. That said, there are some anecdotally observable similarities that can shed some light on the matter.
– The difficulty curve starts low and rises over the course of the event.
This is to start everyone on a level playing field and to ensure that younger accounts are not frozen out of events.
– The difficulty curve only increases; it never decreases over the duration of an event.
This is the foundation that allows other aspects of the difficulty system to controlled for and observed.
But, wait, someone might say. In Bounty mode, the player can select a lower difficulty. Therefore, this is wrong! A good point, on the surface of the matter. But, there is something deeper at play, which is…
– For each game mode there is a central element that controls the rate of difficulty increase. This element varies between game modes.
The easiest element that is observable is enemy level. This is generally applicable to game modes that with enemies that scale up into the hundreds (Raid Boss/Tower of Doom/Delves, and so on).
I’m not sure if there is a gradient on the difficulty curve rise, but there is definitely a noticeable change in skyfall behavior at the hundreds (100, 200, etc).
Bounty was harder to discern, because technically a player can go back and choose a lower difficulty fight. So, enemy level is not the controlling element here. Instead, using the premise that the controlling element must be something that can only increase, the controlling element for bounty mode is the current reward tier the player is currently within. There’s a very noticeable leap in skyfall behavior when crossing from Reward 18 --> 19, and again at 19 --> 20. Not that shocking, given that these are the two reward tiers with Major orbs.
General PvP is a the most murky to discern, as the behind-the-scenes matchmaking algorithms make this difficult to figure out with any conclusiveness. For the longest time, defense team power level was the measuring stick used by the game. But, this changed in the last major tweak a few months ago that brough PvP matchmaking in-line with other game modes. The simplest answer may be the the “difficulty” mode applied in PvP is a function of the player’s hero level. More complex possibilities include win rate, maximum potential team score, and PvP tier for the week.
Regarding Guild Wars, the difficulty is set based upon the “rank” of the opposing player, from soldier up to paragon.
– The overall effect for higher level accounts that reach the highest reward tiers in events is that artificial difficulty blocks are in place to hinder players from easily obtaining those rewards.
At the same time, younger and more casual accounts will generally never see the increased difficulty levels because of the time investments needed to reach the higher difficulty levels / reward tiers in those events. Very likely by intentional design.
But, hey, potions are coming any time now. As advertised, these potions will be highly beneficial for younger accounts. For the veterans though, I have to wonder how much the devs are acutely interested regarding how many players purchase them to counter the effects of the difficulty curve.
How many will purchase the Potion of Blessing to stop transforms in Delves [at least at the start of the match]… (Tier 5)
How many will purchase the Potion of Armoring for the teamwide skull resistance to partially counter skyfalling skull matches… (Tier 6)
The placement of these potions at these tiers are surely intentional by design. How many of these optional purchases will not really be that optional in the future?