Multiplayer Difficulty Spike

[I] was brought to an instance with three other guys and the instruction: "Now there are four of you, so I guess you won't have any trouble meeting a one hundred dude smacking quota!"
Zero Punctuation review of DC Universe Onlinenote 

A tendency of video games that offer both single-player and multiplayer modes to make the latter a lot more challenging of the two. Comes in two variations:

  • Strategy and shooter games (especially post-2000) are often geared towards competitive player-vs-player modes, with the campaign serving mainly as an extended Tutorial Level sequence. The campaign AI is often handicapped while the player is gradually introduced to game mechanics; the multiplayer/bot AI, on the other hand, is completely unhindered in its task of taking you down. And, of course, the human opponents are, in theory, the biggest challenge since most of them will have been playing longer than you have.
  • Games with pronounced Co-Op Multiplayer increase the difficulty in it with the justification that more players can take on bigger challenges and stronger enemies. Some additionally impose penalties on the players to enforce teamwork, such as Crippling Overspecialization and artificial Caps. On the downside, if the game doesn't become popular, players may end up barred from most of its co-op content, unable to find enough co-players online to match the raised difficulty.

The downside of such approach is that players returning from multiplayer to single-player may find the latter boring and hardly challenging after the brutal online battles.

This trope applies specifically to games that offer distinct single-player and multiplayer modes. In Massively Multiplayer Online Games and games whose single-player mode is essentially Co-Op without co-players (in the vein of Diablo II), difficulty spikes proportional to the number of players fall under Dynamic Difficulty.

Examples of PvP difficulty spikes:

  • Destiny plays this straight for balance reasons. No matter you level difference (provided you're playing in a "Level Advantage Disabled" playlist), you are just as weak as the other player. This does make it harder to master PvP, but it encourages you to get decent gear before then, then do PvP, and then get good gear as a reward.
  • Fighting Games in general as players research and exploit things the computer can't. Of course the computer has some aces up it's sleeve.
  • In WarCraft 3, the campaign AI is quite blatantly railroaded into the same attack patterns over and over again and protected only by cheating. Online AI, on the other hand, is intended to emulate how human players will act.
  • Starcraft has similar issues. In the first game the AI is fairly predictable in the campaign, but custom game computer players can be anywhere from "really dumb" to "scary effective and stupid fast".
  • World in Conflict is actually a mixed example: by pitting teams of players against each other, it both gives them access to all the destructive potential only glimpsed in the campaign, and enforces Crippling Overspecialization mostly absent from the single-player.
  • Pokémon battles against other players are Nightmare Fuel-inducingly difficult compared the battles against in-game NPCs. This is not only due to the absence of Artificial Stupidity, but also because Pokemon are capped at level 50 and cannot switch out freely after fainting an opponent. In Pokemon, Pv P is quite possibly the highest difficulty spike an RPG can offer.

Examples of Co-Op difficulty spikes:

  • As the trope description says, the Diablo series is mostly Dynamic Difficulty based on number of players and thus not this trope. But in the first game only, choosing to play in multiplayer mode (whether or not you actually invite any other players) resulted in increased XP requirements for leveling up, all equipment being dropped on death, and savegames saving only your character state rather than the entire world (so you couldn't leave items or gold in town between sessions). Additionally, single-player savegames were completely incompatible with multiplayer mode, and higher Difficulty Levels were multiplayer exclusive rather than New Game+ with a weird name. Later games in the series chose to increase the multiplayer focus and made most of those things standard while removing the rest entirely.
  • Destiny averts this, thankfully. It's done to encourage co-op with friends and other players, to the point that doing Strikes, you are put into matchmaking to make sure you have a full Fireteam.
  • Many Beat Em Ups will add extra Mooks (and, rarely, bosses) when more than one person is playing.
  • The Portal 2 Co-Op mode is a lot more challenging than SP, thanks to the puzzles requiring four portals to solve rather than just two.
  • Mass Effect 3 multiplayer caps the player level to 20 (compared to 60 in the SP), drastically reduces available skills, and consistently pits the players against Demonic Spiders rarely encountered even on higher difficulties in SP (or not encountered at all, such as the DLC-only Collector faction). To put things in perspective, a generic Reaper mook during a Bronze multiplayer match (the lowest available difficulty) has about the same health as one in single player, but the difficulty set at Hardcore (equivalent to Hard). Enemies will also do much more damage with their weapons. Now consider that there's also Gold and Platinum difficulties in multiplayer...
  • Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days has the Mission Mode, which has a multi-player option. The enemies have buffed stats compared to story mode whether you have multiple players or not.
  • Evil Islands doesn't allow importing your SP characters to co-op (so you have to make new ones from scratch), makes all enemies a lot tougher than in SP, and drastically reduces the XP and money rewards for quests and combat.
  • When played in co-op mode, Doom games have extra enemies (including boss enemies like the Spider Mastermind and Cyberdemon) in places where they weren't there on even the hardest single-player difficulty.
  • The House of the Dead series does this. Irritatingly, one boss in The House of the Dead III, The Fool, has a final attack that requires a full clip in a very short timespan (we're talking no time to reload) in single-player...and two clips in two-player, meaning that both players must fire a full clip at it. Conclusion? You're better off playing alone than with an incompetent or fooling-around player.
    • Par of the course for most light gun games, in fact.
  • In Brave Firefighters, playing with a second player reduces the time bonuses you can get from clearing sections.
  • The Monster Hunter series has this, buffing an enemy's health and damage output and ultimately having a bunch of super hard enemies you would otherwise never encounter in the single player mode. And you can still take on the multi-player mode by yourself, which a lot of people do.
  • Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker does this is Extra Ops vehicle and monster fights by adding more Mooks and making the boss itself more resistant to damage.