Atomic Heart is a hostile game. You can only manually save at dedicated save stations (yes, in 2023!). You have to stomach an entire script’s worth of juvenile “humor.” The slim offering of accessibility settings is a genuine disappointment, to say the least. But there is at least one way to make this first-person shooter a tiny bit more approachable: Play on the lowest difficulty level.
Atomic Heart difficulty settings explained
Atomic Heart, released on PlayStation, Xbox, and Windows PC on Feb. 21 (and as part of the Game Pass library at launch), features three difficulty settings:
- Peaceful Atom — easy
- Local Failure — medium
- Armageddon — hard
These settings don’t appear to alter the number of enemies you face, or to change the parameters of any missions and challenges. They do, however, tweak how much damage you deal and how much damage you receive. You can swap between difficulty levels on the fly in the gameplay menu.
What difficulty setting should you play Atomic Heart on?
Though developer Mundfish describes Peaceful Atom as “only the plot will keep you on your toes,” I’ve found it to be anything but. Some bosses have still killed me, particularly those that rely on quick-time events. (Switching the difficulty does not appear to lengthen the window of Atomic Heart’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quick-time events.) In the more frenetic combat encounters, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by enemies, scrambling to survive, and regularly failing. On easy mode, Atomic Heart feels like a typical first-person shooter.
By contrast, Local Failure comes across as less of a challenge, more of a taunting middle finger — as if the game itself is booing you from the sidelines, peppering you with ripe tomatoes, then daring you to give up when you stop to clean up the mess.
While some missions have a healthy number of save points, others, including the first major one, are stingy with how frequently they let you save. Too often have I lost a not-insignificant amount of progress due to a robot I did not see or hear. This falsified tension ultimately incentivizes backtracking to save stations, turning what should be a confident march to the finish into an exercise of incremental progress.
But playing on the Peaceful Atom difficulty has allowed me a greater appreciation of the game. I switched difficulty levels during one early boss — against the fire-breathing Giant Mutant — and haven’t looked back.
I’ve been able to use melee weapons more effectively against cannon fodder, conserving ammo for tougher fights, which in turn has let me get better acquainted with Atomic Heart’s ’50s-inspired arsenal. It has allowed me to freely experiment with its array of skills, instead of relying on the few I learned to trust in the opening hours (the electrifying Shok and the freezing Frostbite). And best of all, the save spots actually feel safe.