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Early Game Hell

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Palutena: In your last adventure, the Underworld was where you died the most, right?
Pit: Oh, absolutely. The difficulty level was just brutal. I'll prepare for the worst.

The early part of a video game or tabletop game is often the hardest part. This can be due to a number of factors, including (but not limited to):

  • Lack of resources (skills, money, equipment, party members, etc.).
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  • Lack of opportunities to Level Grind.
  • Lack of a Second Hour Superpower.
  • Lack of experience with the game mechanics.

This particular valley of difficulty usually occurs between the opening chapter of the game (where there are so few options that it is hard to make a wrong choice) and the point where a player becomes able to understand and accumulate the resources at their disposal, significantly increasing their available options. It is essentially a symptom of Unstable Equilibrium.

Remember, Tropes Are Not Bad. Use of Early Game Hell can make progression more rewarding. Early Game Hell can also be the only time the game ever presents a challenge. On the other hand, sometimes developers are aware of this particular trope and give you a Crutch Character and/or A Taste of Power to compensate. In addition, this trope is often why the Healer Signs On Early. Another thing to keep in mind is that the player generally has less freedom in the early game, with less combinations of party members, items, etc to choose from, so players that spend a lot of time between battles optimizing these things are harder hit with this trope, while a Challenge Gamer that refuses to use new features as they're earned will be less affected. When With This Herring is in play and the herring is crappy equipment/very little gold, this trope is likely to happen.


Early Game Hell can lead to a Slow-Paced Beginning if the pacing problem is caused by the player being too underpowered to easily make progress.

Super-Trope of Early-Bird Boss, and often overlaps with Schizophrenic Difficulty. If there are difficulty options and the "Easy" mode is harder for whatever reason, that's Non-Indicative Difficulty.

Not to be confused with the way that early video games tended to be brutally unforgiving because the medium was too new to find a good skill/challenge balance, which is Nintendo Hard.



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  • Civilization games can be this, if you have an early warmonger civ as a neighbour. Bonus points if you're Venice from the Fifth Game's Expansion, Brave New World. If you manage to survive his attack or somehow he doesn't declare war on you, you can try to take him down since his advantage is gone after going up to a certain era (Medieval or even Classical).
  • Stellaris, as par for the course for a game made by Paradox Interactive. You start off with a fair amount of energy, minerals, influence, etc., to allow you to build a colony ship, or a few mining platforms, etc. But until you start expanding to other worlds, you'll likely run out of resources really quickly, until you can expand to several systems and build up a solid mineral and energy income, but by that point, your AI neighbors will likely be far ahead of you in both infrastructure and military because they don't have these problems.

    Action Adventure 
  • Battle Princess Madelyn: Instead of dramatically ramping up the difficulty as you progress, Story Mode actually gets more forgiving as it goes on. This is less a matter of the game getting easier (the difficulty is fairly constant) than upgrading your weapons and armor allows you to take more damage and gives you more powerful and more useful attacks. However, the upgrades are optional if a more difficult game is desired.
  • The Zeon campaign in Gundam Crossfire, especially if you picked the E.F.F first. The early Zeon mobile suits are blatantly worse in every way that matters (the wet paper-thin armour being especially problematic) and the early missions have you facing more and much more advanced enemy equipment than what the E.F.F has to fight at the same point of time. However, as newer and much better Zeon suits become available for purchase, the difficulty evens out.
  • Hello Kitty Roller Rescue's New Game+ has this when you play as Badtz-Maru. He has lower health than Kitty has — though by the end of the game he has more health than she does.
  • Hyper Light Drifter can have any one of three areas be the first one the player explores, but even the locked-away fourth area is of comparable difficulty to the first three. As a result, all of the game is of similar difficulty, while the player gets more powerful over time. Some unlocks — most notably the ability to deflect/absorb projectiles — make the game significantly easier, meaning that the game is much harder before they are unlocked.
  • For about the first half of the Summer chapter of The Last of Us, you’re seriously lacking in advanced gear. All you have is a pistol and rudimentary melee weapons. Pistols don’t do so well against the more advanced levels of infected and melee weapons aren’t one hit kills yet. Once you get out of the core area of Boston, you’ll get a shotgun and learn to craft Molotov cocktails that make fighting advanced infected so much easier. Melee weapon upgrades help to get you out of tight spots if you’re backed into a corner by the infected.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link are very brutal in the beginning where enemies are strong and you lack decent gear and enough hearts to survive. As you progress, you'll find better items and your life meter will be longer, thus you can endure enemies a lot better. And in Zelda II, Link starts off with extremely weak stats, and it takes a while to get enough EXP to even have a fighting chance. Making matters worse is that the game throws Death Mountain, probably the hardest level in the game, at you very early on.
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: You only start with three hearts at the start of the game, and after the easy-by-comparison Hyrule Castle and Eastern Palace, you'll commonly run into enemies that can do at least two hearts of damage. Combined with the prolonged threat of Collision Damage due to the regular sword's short range, the early game can be quite stressful. This doesn't end after you obtain the Master Sword either, as you're thrown into the Dark World not long after, which is where the game really stops pulling punches. You will quickly learn to value every heart you have, and it's up to you to have a Fairy or Red Medicine prepared when the damage adds up.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening:
      • The earlier bosses are likely to be the hardest due to your low heart capacity. Conversely, the boss of the eighth (and penultimate) dungeon is laughably easy thanks to the Fire Rod.
      • The Switch remake adds Hero Mode, in which enemies deal double damage and don't drop health items. The only sources of healing early on are heart pieces and containers and the Great Fairy in the Mysterious Forest. Once you get the Power Bracelet in the second dungeon, you can get to Crazy Tracy's Health Spa and a fairy you can put in a bottle, making things much easier.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Master Quest starts with much harder dungeons right from the Great Deku Tree — by this point in the game, there are no Pieces of Heart to extend Link's health or Bottles to carry healing items. In the 3DS remake, Master Quest also doubles the damage taken. Once Heart Piece sidequests are opened up and the inventory expands, the dungeons generally become more manageable. The Water Temple, the sixth main dungeon out of nine in a "normal" runnote , is even made easier in the mode, although that was in part due to complaints about its original incarnation.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has a rough beginning due to some cruel factors that affect Link since the beginning. Since his Ocarina of Time was stolen, he's unable to travel back in time and thus unable to save his progress. Until he's able to revert the situation, he has to perform several tasks under a time limit of three days, which even pass on a much faster rate than in later gameplay sessions. (Each hour normally lasts 45 real life seconds, but in this first loop it only lasts 27 seconds; symbolically, this represents the urgency Link has to improve his situation.)
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker's Forsaken Fortress is quite nasty because it foists a rather unforgiving Stealth-Based swordless dungeon on you. Without the means to defend yourself you're stuck sneaking around, hiding under barrels from Moblins in areas where rats will gleefully knock you over and expose you if you're unlucky, while you try to find your way around what amounts to a maze to take out searchlights and clear the route to retrieve your sword. In fact, your second attack on the Forsaken Fortress much later in the game, despite being swarming with many more (and more powerful) enemies, is worlds easier simply because you're free to fight instead of being forced to surrender when you're spotted.
    • In the HD version of Wind Waker, Hero Mode causes you to take double damage, while no monsters or pots drop hearts. Dragon Roost becomes extremely dangerous in this mode, as you're not allowed to leave the island until you complete the dungeon, and the only healing items you can get within are red potions (purchasable from rats) and a fairy in the pot in the room right before the boss. And you only have a few Heart Containers (four if you collect enough Heart Pieces, including one from Forsaken Fortress that will be missed until much later if you don't get it on your first visit) while everything deals double damage. You do get a bottle, which you can use to catch the fairy or buy the red potion, but you don't get it until after you reach the island, so you can't put any other healing items in it. Once you finally get off the island, you can claim a second bottle and start buying more potions, making future dungeons far more manageable.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has Hero Mode, which doubles damage done to you and eliminates recovery hearts. Once you get the Heart Medal (which takes beating at least three dungeons) and start amassing more Heart Containers, the game becomes far easier, but early on it is quite easy to die to even the simplest enemies.
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is like this, akin to its predecessor. At the beginning, enemies are extremely dangerous and do a lot of damage, with those in Hero Mode being able to kill Link in just two hits. Then however you get the special tunics that double defence, more and more heart containers and the insanely powerful upgraded items... and the difficulty kind of drops like a stone as a result. The pattern actually occurs twice too, with Lorule's first few hours of gameplay being a bit like a repeat of the start (thanks to the much tougher normal enemies). Then after a few dungeons and sidequests, that too loses its difficulty.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has this as one of its defining qualities. The game can be grueling when you start off on the Great Plateau, as you only have three hearts of health, flimsy old clothes for armor, and are reliant on anything you can pick up off the ground for weapons and shields (likely a lowly tree branch, to start). Enemies are smart and will swarm you if they spot you, forcing you to be cautious and clever if you hope to best your foes, at least until you can get better equipment and upgrade your life bar.
      • Speaking of the Great Plateau, you may face a Blue Bokoblin and a Decayed Guardian. In regular mode, as long as you keep your health at max, you can survive a one-hit kill, although taking too long to heal immediately would result in a Game Over. It is even crazier in Master Mode, with making the enemies stronger (enough to One-Hit KO you on top of losing the Last Chance Hit Point clause in this mode), more capable of seeing past your stealth efforts, and even adding Sky Octoroks and a Silver Lynel.
      • After getting the para-glider, there's nothing preventing the player from ignoring the map markers and going straight to Hyrule Castle or other areas such as the Wasteland, where you'll find yourself facing Guardians or Lynels.
    • Cadence of Hyrule: Before the player gets the lute (to teleport out of deadly situations), some potion bottles (for health potions automatically used to prevent death), alternative weapons (to attack enemies for more than a heart of damage without putting yourself in position to be hit), and a few extra hearts, the game punishes mistakes brutally. This is especially evident on permadeath mode, where most deaths will happen before finishing the first temple.
  • Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight has a hellish first couple of stages. Oddly, it's not just that you have a short health bar, few to no healing items, and are lacking the upgrades that make the game easier later on (although that certainly doesn't help), the enemes you meet at the start are among the most annoying and hard to deal with in the game on their own merits, particularly the shielded imps (even late-game enemies are very rarely capable of blocking your attacks), the unpredictable knife-throwers who are hard to hit without taking damage, and the bombers who can inflict Poison on you.
  • Ninja Gaiden Black/Sigma qualifies in Master Ninja mode (the Harder Than Harder Than Hard mode): you do the first chapter with no weapons, upgrades or techniques but instead of weaklings you fight the strongest and cheapest Ninja enemies. Reaching the first save point literally becomes the hardest part of the game.
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice takes this Up to Eleven even compared to previous FromSoftware games thanks to its completely new combat systems; trying to play it like Dark Souls or Bloodborne won't end well. You essentially have to stealth your way through the entire early game until you get your prosthetics and Gourd Seeds, as you have such little health that getting hit once by anything can instakill you and you have basically no healing at the start. In addition, dodging attacks is not the be-all-end-all like in the Soulsborne games, and you will likely find yourself screaming "Damn You, Muscle Memory!" after you reflexively try to dodge through an attack that must be deflected or jumped over, only to get flattened due to your severe lack of i-frames. And the worst part is that the only way to increase your health or attack power is by beating the bosses and minibosses, so you can't just spend a few hours Level Grinding in order to bulldoze your way through with an overleveled character if you're having trouble, you really do have to "git gud".
  • While the original Tomb Raider wasn't all that bad, it was the sequels that really started to put you through the wringer for the first handful of levels. In particular, Tomb Raider II and Tomb Raider III will utterly destroy you in the first levels, and heaven help you if you had never played any of the previous games. A lot of the hell in these games comes from the fact that the developers seemed to intend for the games to be played in sequence. As a result, The Great Wall in TR 2 isn't all that much more difficult than some of the Atlantis levels from the first game, and the Venice levels after were a fair bit easier than The Great Wall. Unfortunately, all of India's levels in TR 3 are pretty difficult, and if you're smart, playing the Nevada levels immediately after only extends the hell into about mid-game. Afterward, once you have plenty of new equipment and experience under your belt, the South Pacific Islands and London are a little bit less hair-pullingly hard.
  • Viewtiful Joe is hit by this hard. The first stage lasts over 10 minutes and you are incredibly weak starting out, only having 5 hit points (on Adult difficulty) and only one of your VFX powers. The stage then ends with a tough miniboss that can kill you fast if you don't know what you're doing, especially given Joe's glass cannon status at this point in the game, and if you run out of lives you're going right back to the start and you've made no progress. Once you reach the first save point after beating the first stage you gain access to the shop which allows you to increase your maximum health and get more attacks which helps a huge amount, and from this point it isn't long until you gain access to all of your VFX powers and are fully equipped with everything you need to take on the game's remaining challenges.

    Action RPG 
  • Battle Princess of Arcadias has three different types of levels: Combat for taking on enemies, Sieges for boss fights, and Skirmishes for army vs army battles. The first few levels consists of one Combat zone, one Siege, and two Skirmishes in a row with the second Skirmish being much more difficult than the first and none of the levels are very good for grinding to be able to strengthen the characters and brigades very quickly. After that Skirmish, the level variety and experience curve balance out and most of the rest of the game becomes much easier.
  • The eponymous protagonist of the Bayonetta series starts off underpowered, and has to rely on dodging, Witch Time and combos to deal with her angelic enemies. She has to collect weapons, health and skills throughout the game.
  • In Bloodborne, you can easily run out of health items early on, especially since you can't level up until you at least see the first boss, and the much faster combat can easily defeat new players, even those used to Dark Souls games. Later in the game, you'll probably have a lot more health items and a better grasp of the combat, making the game easier.
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night dumps a lot of game mechanics and abilities on you very early on and thus has a fairly steep learning curve. By the time you've beaten only the first boss you're introduced to sidequests, a farming mechanic, alchemy, shard augmentation, cooking, and even inherent abilities of Miriam like attack canceling and back-dashing. It's easy to want to just press on and rely on Level Grinding to get by but if you don't take the time to at least learn how all of these work and try them out a bit, you are not going to get past Zangetsu.
  • Castlevania
    • Castlevania: Circle of the Moon has Thief Mode, where all of your stats (save for intelligence), HP, and MP are cut in half in exchange for 1600 Luck that goes up 160 each level. At the beginning of the game, enemies can kill you in about 2 or 3 hits and your attacks are incredibly weak, but as your luck goes up you can easily collect equipable items that more than make up for your reduced stats and max out your healing items. By the end of the game, even the Battle Arena can be easiest to beat in this mode.
    • Zigzagged with Luck Mode in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, where entering the name "X-X!V''Q" starts you at a piddling 30 HP, 1 MP and Strength, 5 Hearts, and 0 Constitution and Intelligence in exchange for 99 Luck and an equipped Lapis Lazuli. While this does make the game much harder, it also enables the "Bypass Death" glitch that lets you keep Alucard's Taste of Power which turns you into a nuclear bomb with a cape and a sexy voice. Luck Mode was at least intended to be this, though.
    • Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia runs on this trope. At first, Shanoa has one weak weapon, meaning she will likely die many times before she starts acquiring more potent weapons and techniques. Once she does, the game drops in difficulty to become only very difficult, slightly below Nintendo Hard, once you learn which monsters are weak against which weapons.
  • Many players never got past the first chapter of Dark Cloud because the very beginning of the game can be sheer torture: before you have access to a shop, you get a VERY limited cache of supplies from the mayor of Norune (albeit one you can refill every time you enter the dungeon and then return to the village); your weak weapon needs to be repaired frequently (and God help you if you run out of Repair Powder at a critical time), you may or may not luck into a Healing Spring in the random dungeon layouts, and heaven help you if you manage to get poisoned. Even after you finally get access to the game's first shop, it doesn't get MUCH easier, because the enemies in the first dungeon don't drop much money and the item prices are ridiculous — plus in a Guide Dang It! moment, it's possible to inadvertently cause the shopkeeper to injure himself and thus be unable to provide you with his full stock (the trick is to completely restore the Macho Brothers' House before restoring the shop, so the brothers can help the owner with his inventory). Add to that the fact that your first ally's weapons are slingshots that do Scratch Damage, a dungeon floor where you can only play as said ally, and the absurd difficulty of the final boss of the first dungeon, and a lot of players gave up on this otherwise excellent game before they could really open it up.
  • Dark Souls:
    • Dark Souls: Early game, everything can one-hit-kill you somehow, you've got no clue where anything is, no weapon upgrades, no way to repair damaged gear, not enough souls to buy things like anti-poison moss and arrows and not enough stats to use any of the more powerful weapons. And the player doesn't know what to expect, how hard the game can really be, and that you need to be on guard at all times. Late game, you've got the gear, you've got enough health to take at least one hit from everything (though not much more than that), you know to keep your guard up, and you either know or can guess the attack patterns of everything you come across.
    • Dark Souls II makes the early game even more brutal: you can easily miss getting your Estus Flask, and it starts with only one use instead of five. The game introduces more common healing items, but your supply will be limited until you defeat the first boss and get the merchant to move to Majula. You will only be able to buy a fixed number of items the first game quickly gave in infinite supply from merchants, including basic Titanite Shards, Poison Moss, Homeward Bones, and Prism Stones, until potentially very late in the game, and farming is harder because enemies don't infinitely respawn. Blocking starts out harder because shields that block 100% of physical damage are rare and/or have high stat requirements; additionally, the only class to have a shield from the start has a broken sword that will be rendered "at risk" more or less the moment you use it. Dodging starts out harder because the number of invincibility frames is based on a stat instead of equipment load, and its starting value is as low as armored characters had in the first game. Also, your weapons are very fragile, and repair powder is both very expensive and comes in very low quantities. On top of that, there are two areas you can reach from Majula. The Forest of Fallen Giants has large numbers of hollow soldiers, including two early areas where you need to defeat multiple hollows while under fire from hard-to-reach archers (and in the latter you can accidentally aggro an optional Mini-Boss who, at that stage, will barely break a sweat as he peels your skin off and uses it to write a letter to his aunt), plus a durable Ironclad and a boss who can ambush you some distance outside his arena while you're dealing with one of several fire-bombers. The Flame Tower of Heide is swarming with large, durable Old Knights, who are slow but damaging; in particular, there's one with a mace who is very hard to dodge (although thankfully he doesn't respawn when killed), and he's the second enemy in the area.
    • Dark Souls III keeps up the pattern, although the Estus Flask splits the difference and has three uses. The tutorial area ends in a fast-moving and damaging boss, who will completely change moveset part-way through. And then, when you get past that and level up at Firelink Shrine, you come to the High Wall of Lothric, which is so hard you could use it for horseshoes. A warren of staircases and ladders, swarming with hollows, the High Wall is a place where you can find your head being beaten in by a guy who came up a staircase you didn't even see while you were already avoiding arrow fire and fighting a guy who is worryingly skilled with his halberd. The Lothric Knights are so eager to punish the slightest misplay that they practically qualify as Artificial Brilliance. Also there's a dragon and a mimic, because why not at this stage.
  • Demon's Souls: Take everything said above about Bloodborne, except you can't level up until you beat the first boss, and dying once will permanently cut your max HP in half until you get your body back... by beating the boss. There's a ring that lessens the HP cut so that you only lose 25%... except you can't get it until immediately before the boss, so good luck doing the entire level at half.
  • Deus Ex starts the player off with few skill points, ammo, and medkits, all to hammer in that the player has many more options than just shooting their way through.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution's first level has Jensen fight against Spec Ops soldiers without any augmentations, including HUD, health meter and radar. It's not impossible but very easy to die if you botch a shot or get detected. Even more annoying when attempting a Pacifist Run, as Jensen has no non-lethal weapons and can't do takedowns yet.
  • Most Devil May Cry games count for this trope. At the beginning of the game, Dante (or Nero) start out with their basic sword, guns, weakest maneuvers, very little health and MP (Usually NO MP at all), and the enemies can still kill quite easily. DMC3 seems to like throwing concepts of difficulty curving to the wind, putting you up against tough bosses right at the start. Even though you face harder enemies later in the games, the ability to repeat stages and grind through means that it's possible to level up faster than the difficulty curve can keep up with. Typically, the games get easier after a few life bar increases, the acquisition of way to deal with crowds of enemies, and getting the ability to double jump. Even worse is that the original DMC lacked the option of allowing players to freely choose and revisit previously completed missions. Unless you've been doing well enough to earn enough orbs, you're going to need to do a lot of backtracking to respawn enemies for grinding purposes, lest you struggle your way through the rest of the game.
  • The total conversion plug-in for Escape Velocity: Nova: Colosseum, can start out extremely hard as you're stuck with a fighter that was about to be recycled, barely any credits to modify anything, and the opponents are already tough enough as is.
  • The other Escape Velocity titles can be challenging early on as well, it's hard to make a living in that tiny shuttle of yours.
  • God Hand, while hard throughout, breathes this. You get your ass kicked a lot in the early going, with the sliding difficulty going UP the better you do. There is one particularly egregious example on Hard Mode: a room in 1-5 that you must go to where you have to face four waves of thugs, at least one of which will transform into a demon most of the time, the last wave of which has tons of HP, with a very limited moveset, in a cramped space, AND with the difficulty meter locked on DIE, is almost guaranteed to result in a chucked controller.
  • Gothic is purposefully built on this to give a feel to character progression, making The Nameless Hero taking a level in badass all the more noticeable. Initially, except for some VERY weak civilian characters and the odd monster at the bottom of the food chain, pretty much anything will easily kill you. You are expected to gather EXP by staying in town and doing non-combat quests, take full advantage of the rare opportunities where an NPC deigns to escort you somewhere, resort to thievery whenever you can, gather all sorts of consumeable trinkets that might save you in a pinch and, in general, choose your battles wisely, use unconventional tactics and avoid combat until you are ready to tackle the weaker enemies and work your way up from there.
  • The difficulty curve for Indivisible is basically inverted from the norm; the early parts of the game will kick your ass hard, but things only get easier and easier as you progress. This mostly stems from the initial lack of important platforming moves or effective healing options, coupled with your party members being limited to two attacks per round and the game in general just being somewhat eclectic, with a lot of unusual mechanics that can take getting used to.
  • Try Infinite Undiscovery on Infinity. The first fight with the Player Character alone against two Mooks is easily the hardest fight in the game, because you'll die in 3 hits and barely do Scratch Damage. Most players find the only way to survive that is to get one of them stuck on a piece of furniture so you can deal with them one at a time. Even then, it will require near-perfect use of the parry move, because you'll die from a few hits and there's no way to heal. The game really only becomes comfortable at the second dungeon when you can finally start to Level Grind.
  • Kingdom Hearts
    • Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories has you begin with only a handful of attack cards, one Cure card, and no Sleights. If you're in a tough battle and that Cure card gets broken, pray you can get through the battle alive or have a Donald card handy. And don't try to Sleight your cards together to use combos on bosses, or you'll learn the hard way that the first card in the Sleight does not reload and thus your deck begins to dwindle. Once you get to the next world, you can start visiting Moogle shops to buy more cards, you'll level up a bit to get Sleights and more HP and CP, and the game settles into a more even difficulty level.
    • Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep has this as Aqua. As the local Squishy Wizard, she's largely reliant on magic... and doesn't really start getting many good spells until the third world. Then the game becomes much easier. Ventus also has this trouble. In the first required world he visits, there's very few enemies, they all offer very low exp, and he doesn't even learn the cure spell until afterwards, which means that when he confronts the first boss it's a very stressful battle. Thankfully the next two worlds feature more frequent enemies that give out better exp, making it easier for him to quickly get stronger after that rough beginning.
    • Kingdom Hearts is pretty tough until you beat the Deep Jungle and get the Cure spell, so you have to rely on potions to stay alive, and at first you can only bring up to 3 of them to each fight without restocking. On proud or higher difficulty, you won't be able to withstand many attacks, so the first couple of bosses will just wreck you. God help you if you choose the magic build since you don't get any spells until after the second boss, especially if you choose dusk exp curve (slow leveling rate that rises later on). It's actually kind of amusing to watch bosses that you probably didn't even notice had attack patterns on your first play through three-hit KO you over and over again.
  • In both Knights of the Old Republic games, you start without the Force or a lightsaber, resulting in very slow fights. Once you become a Jedi (KOTOR I) or build a lightsaber from collected components (KOTOR II), the game becomes much faster.
    • Jedi Knight II similarly starts you out with a few levels as a Badass Normal, made challenging by the fact that in this game blasters really are clumsy and random, and the Stormtroopers have apparently learned to shoot straight. Few descriptions of it do it justice: the game is very stingy with ammo and health; expect to be a One-Hit Point Wonder with One Bullet Left being constantly shredded to pieces by stormtroopers with better aim than Hawkeye and Deadshot combined. You will cry like a baby. Repeatedly. Getting hold of your lightsaber, even with the weak starting skills, is a palpable relief.
  • Mass Effect
    • Mass Effect has this even on the easier difficulty levels due to starting with the least effect armour, weapons and equipment. However aside from one or two new types, no new enemies are introduced, so as you progress through the game it gradually gets easier and easier.
    • Mass Effect 2 hits this in a New Game+ Insanity run, since the enemies are scaled to your level, but your weapons are stripped of all upgrades. The hardest levels are either Freedom's Progress, where you're restricted to the crappy default weapon loadout, or Horizon, where you come up against the full might of the Collectors, including a Goddamn Praetorian. Mitigated if you're starting from the first game, or from scratch (which isn't recommended for story reasons) as the enemy's power is scaled to Shepard's level, and assumes you have stat upgrades. If you don't...
    • Mass Effect 3's multiplayer suffers from this as well. When you're first starting, you have pathetic starter weapons, and all the Shepard expy characters, plus one from Reckoning. However, as you go, you'll be buying packs full of new weapons and characters, upgrading the stuff you have, and maxing out those cool powers for flashy biotic, fire, cryo, and electrical explosions. Platinum solos are still incredibly difficult with maxed out everything. Don't go into one as your first match. It is also mitigated for new players in that they may be put in a server with other players who have considerably better weapons and more levelled up abilities, so new players can ride along with them until they have enough experience points and credits to start making names for themselves.
  • Risen can be a brutal experience at least initially. You start with no skills, armor, or money with little but a tree branch to protect yourself with. The player will likely spend the first couple of hours scrounging or stealing what money and equipment they can get until they can please the local bandits and gain the right to purchase worker's clothing. The weakest armor in the game.
    • The sequel isn't much more merciful you start the game with none of your items or skills from the last game but you do start with 500 gold, a weak sword and some grog. 500 gold is enough to pay for one skill. The smart players pick Sneak. Which helps you steal which will make up the most of your current and future income.
  • River City Ransom: Underground has a quite rough early-game, as a Level 1 character's starting move set has a very limited ability to handle the large crowds of enemies, the money for extra moves and stats are only slowly trickling in from beating people on the streets, and the fact that your money gets cut in half every time you are defeated. Once you get enough moves for crowd control and hitting people while they're down, it gets much easier.
  • Secret of Mana is at its most difficult without magic, which not only deals a majority of the game's offense for a while, but allows you to stunlock the enemies in place, and can hit a target no matter where it is.
  • The Witcher can be hard at the beginning not because the enemies are particularly strong, but because the game has lots of mechanics that can take a while to get used to. A good example is potion brewing. To harvest the ingredients for potions, Geralt first needs to read certain books about local flora and fauna, which cost a pretty penny to obtain. Once Geralt is able to harvest said ingredients, the game becomes much simpler.
  • The Witcher 2 is at its most difficult during the prologue, when Geralt only has the most basic skills and has to fight groups of enemies who can kill him in a few blows, and the first chapter, which has a couple of really tough boss fights. To make it even worse, when the game was released, there wasn't even a real tutorial at the start. If you have a habit of playing on harder difficulties, dying a few times the very first moment you take control was pretty much to be expected. Fortunately, a more in-depth tutorial was later created and patched into the game.
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt suffers this to a lesser extent. Post-tutorial, wandering into the wrong part of the Wide Open Sandbox can and will result in random bandits thoroughly handing you your ass, as they can be several levels above you. The key here is to take on the easier contracts until you've sufficiently levelled up to deal with these threats.

  • One of The Secret of Monkey Island's hardest moments happens early on, where you have to memorize the shopkeeper's commands in order to open his safe for a note of credit. Unlike the game's other puzzles, this does not require using items, and instead a specific combination of push, pull and use commands that randomizes with each new game (so Guide Dang It! is futile).

    Beat 'em Up 
  • The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa has a fairly difficult early game. To really start doing damage you need to train and improve your stats, so before then, enemies can easily take you down.

  • Most driving/arcade simulation games (Formula One, rFactor, Game Stock Car, Race07, etc.) tend to have very steep learning curves due to the cars being very complex and not being as responsive as the cars in Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. Many cars either will function poorly with automatic gears, won't turn when approaching a corner at high speed, or will spin like mad when they lose traction. These result in that it is hellish just to stay on the track and get one lap correctly. Once the players get the hang of the cars' physics, however, it's only a matter of remembering the track's layouts, shifting sequences, and racing lines as they will quickly become stronger and beat AI at higher difficulties. Moreover, the skills tend to carry over multiple games provide it's the same type of vehicle that they specialize in.
  • Gran Turismo games can have this for anyone not used to how cars actually handle, or any real working knowledge of cars. Usually the game starts you with just enough money to buy a reasonable second hand car, but that's about it. Yes, you can take the licencing test right away to learn all about driving theory and cornering techniques, but they tend not to reward you with money, and the good car prize is often only for getting all gold, something a new player won't manage. Hence, there's every possibility you could unintentionally buy an awful early car, and have no option other than to repeatedly fail at races until you've got enough pity money to buy something better. The game usually gets easier once you've had a bit of experience on each track, and have managed to scrounge up enough cash to buy/mod up a winning car.
  • When you begin Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune, you begin with a bone stock vehicle that can maybe hit 240 km/h tops, in contrast to the 340 km/h that a full-tuned vehicle can achieve. A full tone requires completing Story Mode, which, depending on the game, takes 60, 80, or 100 stages, and to make matters worse, every single stage uses up a credit. Until then, it's the only worthwhile mode to play because you just won't have the power to take on full-tuned vehicles in Ghost Battle or Versus Mode. There is also no point in taking on Time Attack mode, though the games rectify this somewhat by providing a "special car" mode (in the original Maximum Tune and its sequel) where you drive one of the three protagonist cars from the manga, or an "official machine" mode where you use a non-customizable, full-tuned car.

  • The BioShock series is distressingly fond of this.
    • BioShock started you out at your weakest with little health, a small amount of eve, and weapons which either had low damage output or weren't affordable to feed. You see, you need to keep yourself supplied with health, eve, and ammunition, all of which cost a fair amount of money. You don't have terrible reserves of any, and all of them are rather scarce outside of vending machines. The result is that you spend quite a lot of time getting into fights and using up a fair amount of resources, and then taking the spoils back for recovery and ending up with slightly more than you had earlier at best, assuming everything goes well. The game gets much easier once you get a few upgrades to toughen you up and do more damage. Once you can start taking down the big daddies without bankrupting yourself, the game gets much easier as you can farm the infinitely respawning bastards.
    • BioShock 2 keeps up this grand tradition by sticking you with your weakest stats and shittiest gear right at the beginning of the game, when it really does seem like the game is also at its most determined to kill you. It's the same deal with the resource grinding, only that you now have to defend the Little Sisters against hordes of baddies prior to getting any Adam for upgrades, after you've busted your hump to bring down their big daddy, and then big sister has to have a go at you before you can upgrade.
    • BioShock Infinite is this all over again, especially before you get the regenerating shield. You can't carry any health kits or salts this time, so you need to actively go get healing items. This is hellish on Hard, and more so with the 1999 Mode difficulty, before Booker has his shield, as getting shot once is a risky proposition, and there are several turrets around that laugh at his starting pistol and its poor ammunition capacity. This is exacerbated by the first Vigor obtained—Possession—having an extremely high Salts cost (without Elizabeth around to refill easily) and having no effect against non-mechanical enemies (though there is a purchasable early-game upgrade that allows you to posess humans), meaning he can't even use his limited resources to full effect.
  • Black Mesa, the Fan Remake of Half-Life, has this trope in spades. In the original, you only had a single headcrab standing between you and the crowbar, and the pistol could be picked up not long after that. In Black Mesa, that lone headcrab has turned into a small army of them alongside a comparable platoon of zombies, and it's a considerable distance after that before you get your first gun... which, by the way, is in an optional, out-of-the-way area, so it's entirely possible to miss it and put yourself through this for even longer.
  • The Borderlands games tend to be rough in the beginning. You have little money, a narrow selection of mostly bad-quality weapons (especially in the first game; the second one hardly ever generates completely unusable pieces of Vendor Trash like its predecessor was prone to doing), no shield, no artifacts, relics or class mods to boost your stats, and you can't use the character's special ability until level five. This means you'll spend time grinding for levels on weak enemies and searching respawning chests for decent loot, which at this point includes health pickups and any ammo you can lay your hands on. Once you get a decent shield (which can effectively double your HP if you get a decent one), unlock your special ability, and find elemental weapons, the games start to ease up.
    • Despite unlocking your action skill at level 3 instead of level 5, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! manages to be even harder early on. Most of the early areas lack an atmosphere, and while you do get your first Oz kit very quickly, you're not likely to find one with a decent oxygen capacity for a long time. The enemies are also generally harder than what you'd face in the previous games around the same time; Scavs are prone to taking flight and leaping great distances, making them harder to track than their gravity-bound Bandit counterparts, while Kraggons split in two when killed, making them more dangerous than the relatively-straightforward Skags. To cap everything off, you don't get access to most of your key resources, such as the Black Market, the bank, and the Quick-Change station, until you've defeated the notoriously-difficult first boss, and you won't get a third weapon slot until you're halfway through the story. There is the option of choosing the Crutch Character Claptrap, who does not require oxygen and takes reduced damage from Fire attacks, which is common in early game, at the expense of higher mid and late-game difficulty on account of having an action skill that relies entirely on randomness.
    • Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! avert the trope with bonuses you earn from getting badass ranks. The bonus stats apply to all characters you use, which means you can have an easier time getting into the game every time you use a new character. You can still play the trope straight by turning the bonus stats off.
  • Daikatana take this Up to Eleven, as the first time period (far future Japan) is pretty much universally agreed to be the worst. Not only are almost all the weapons awful, the place also has a ton of annoying enemies as well some rather ugly graphics (in particular the swamp right at the beginning, which is mostly an eye-watering acid green color.) This likely is a big contributor to the game's horrible reputation, as many players never get past the first time period.
  • In Doom Eternal the first three levels are extremely harsh, especially on higher difficulties. Margins in the early game are much tighter, and mistakes that would be inconsequential in the later game will often mean a quick death.
    • The Slayer will initially have the lowest possible caps for ammo, health, and armor, meaning that survivability and sustained damage are at their lowest for the whole game. The low ammo cap is exacerbated in the very early game before the Plasma Rifle is obtained, as this means the Slayer can't even use one of the three basic ammo types.
    • The game's primary means of replenishing health are "glory kills," achieved by weakening an enemy without killing them, then performing a melee attack. Getting a sense for how much damage is required for that sweet spot will take the player a little time, and killing a fodder class demon that you needed to harvest health from will often mean that you die as well.
    • The Flame Belch ability is used to replenish armor and isn't unlocked until the end of this sequence.
    • The Dash ability is key to getting bogged down and dogpiled in bigger fights, and it isn't unlocked for a few levels, either.
    • The frag grenade and freeze grenade aren't unlocked by default. The freeze grenade in particular is often a Get Out of Jail Free card.
    • Many rune and Praetor suit upgrades will make health, armor, and ammo drops more frequent and generous. Guess which levels they aren't unlocked during?
  • In Hexen II, the first hub, Blackmarsh, is easy for all classes but one: the Paladin. Reason being, his second weapon isn't ranged like those of the other classes. That means a lot of painful things: having to rush in to destroy archers and ballistas while entirely exposed to their fire; playing cat-and-mouse with Wizards that pelt you with skull missiles and teleport to another end of the room if you take too long in getting within sword's reach; facing Stone Golems, that don't flinch and aren't affected by knockback (which mean the sword is very impractical against them), with the uncommon-in-Blackmarsh Glyphs of the Ancients because getting close to them means either literally getting your head smashed in even for a melee class such as him; and storing all your healing items for the fight with Famine, as you'll be too close to use Discs of Repulsion and reflects his magic bolts while you attack. To slightly compensate for the ordeal, the Paladin has his third weapon available much earlier than the other classes, and he, when using his sword with knockback and insane damage, laughs in the face of anything that isn't a Golem (which he can now play keep-away with).
  • Metro 2033 does this, as it comes from the same lineage as the below included STALKER. The first game, even on easy, doesn't let you have any good gear early on. It takes a number of tough levels, including two tense firefights and a long trek across the Death World of the surface before you can even get a decent assault rifle. Ammo is scarce as all hell. For context, games like Call of Duty and Gears of War often let you carry hundreds of rounds for an assault rifle. If you got down to say, 150 rounds, you'd call that running low on ammo. In Metro, having even a full spare MAGAZINE is considered abundant. The enemies and environmental challenges in the early game require you to learn the mechanics very quickly. This all comes at a time when you have hardly any ammo at all, without which, you'll have to either evade or take on everything with your knife. Guess what's standard practice in Harder Than Hard Ranger Mode? That's right: sneaking around like a rat and never getting into a direct fight if you can avoid it.
  • Metro: Last Light toys with this. Stealth is a little easier, but after you get your choice of the Rangers' armory in the prologue mission, you're captured and get stuck with nothing but a knife and whatever weapons and ammunition you can rip out of the enemy's hands, and you'll be scrounging for every round. It's telling that it's only on the hardest difficulty that you get your weapons back at the end of the first real level.
  • PAYDAY: The Heist is extremely difficult for new players or players that have reset their levels. You only get to use an assault rifle and a silenced pistol. Until you level up your class trees several times, you won't have access to better guns to kill stronger cops, an ammo bag, body armor, or a medical bag. Until you get better stuff, expect to conserve your ammo and to take lots of cover to preserve your health.
  • PAYDAY 2 follows suit by having you start a fresh game with nothing but a two piece suit, a weak pistol, and a just as weak and inaccurate assault rifle. Unlike in the first game, weapons have to be bought with money (which you don't have much of in the beginning), but you also have to unlock them first by leveling up. Character skills require skill points gained via level up, and you need said skills in order to be able to be more versatile in combat and stealth. If you decide to go infamous, you'll lose all your acquired skills and spending cash while all of your gear gets locked again. However, you do get to keep all your guns and the mods installed on them, as well as your perk decks which greatly boost your survivability.
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R.:
    • In vanilla Shadow of Chernobyl, you are stuck with a leather jacket that barely qualifies as armor and a cheap pistol for the very early game. The first fight is one of the hardest, because you're up against several bandits with better protection than yours and sawed-off shotguns that can blast through you like tissue paper, while you're stuck with an inaccurate pea-shooter. After finding some more decent ranged weapons and armor, the game gets much easier, but it'll still be a while before you get a submachine gun, let alone an assault rifle, unless you're willing to take on several heavily armed and armored opponents.
    • Despite the Renegades, the first faction you get in a war against in Clear Sky, being much less well-equipped than any other faction, the entire battle occurs in the Great Swamp, an extremely flat area covered with tall grass and reeds that can hide their approach and little to no cover anywhere. Add to that that fact that you have barely more gear than at the start of the Shadow of Chernobyl example above, and suddenly it doesn't seem that outlandish to say that fighting Monolith is easier. The game even toys with you on this - you can find an endgame-grade rifle in the starting area, but it's in the worst possible condition and there's no ammunition for it.
    • Call of Pripyat avoids this by giving you some gear on par with other people in the starting area, and leaving a bunch of high-end weapons available across the map if you know where to look.

    Hack and Slash 
  • The hardest boss in the first Diablo is the Butcher, encountered at level 2 and quite capable of surviving all your mana potions and staff charges and killing you in two hits.
    • Notable in that this is by design — it was meant to be more or less an unwinnable to teach players to be careful about the enemies they engage (the encounter is entirely optional, but you're likely to attempt it on your first try)
  • Diablo II and Diablo III aren't quite as bad as the original Diablo in this regard, but the lack of ways to recover your health and resources is a big detriment early on. Gear that synergizes with a certain build is crucial to gaining power in the Diablo series, and the things you find early on only might do that if you're really lucky. It's only in the second or third chapter of each game that things really start to take shape; before that, it will involve a lot of having to run from even basic zombies and undead monsters.
  • Part of the reason Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson has a reputation for an enormous Sequel Difficulty Spike is due to this. Stage 2 decides to throw a full-blooded boss at you, before you've unlocked the pair-up mechanics the game's difficulty is scaled around. The game is certainly never easy, but it becomes much more manageable once you actually have all your abilities.

  • In Dungeon Fighter Online some classes suffer from this, mostly because they can't produce reasonable amount of damage early on, meaning they take much longer to clear dungeons and waste MP-restoring items the process: either they're more focused on party play and not very suitable to soloing dungeons or they don't gain access to their main sources of damage until later. The classes that suffer the most from this are Paladin, Soul Bender and some of the female Mage subclasses. Downplayed in the Season 2 update, where you can freely change your subclass before level 50 once for free and for a moderate but increasing cost from that point onwards, allowing you to do all your early leveling as one of the more effective subclasses and then switch to another one afterwards.
  • Final Fantasy XIV:
    • Unless you play as a healer, the first levels can be quite tricky. While some quests will pair you with an NPC that can heal you, they are not too good at it and you will have to learn to pay attention to which enemy is attacking you and how not to aggro every single enemy. Additionally, participating in a FATE syncs your level to it, thus you can sometimes be temporarily deleveled and lose access to some abilities you learned. Once you're able to upgrade from a class to a job, it gets much easier.
    • Leveling in the field early on, at least solo, is also a slog due to lack of support. Once the player has their trusty chocobo companion (acquired at level 30), going back and doing the other classes becomes much simpler, especially combined with the bonus experience from items like the Brand-New Ring and the Hunting Logs. This still, of course, doesn't help when it comes to the main questline and the first go-around.
    • Eureka is an absolute slog in the first few levels. At level 1, you can barely go toe to toe with most enemies at your level solo and fighting enemies higher leveled than you can easily get you killed. It isn't till at least level 10 where you can really start dishing out damage in your party.
  • On 1st playthrough of Kingdom of Loathing, the player is essentially under most of the restrictions of Hardcore modenote , without any of the the benefits of a New Game+. It becomes marginally easier each ascension until you gradually accumulate the skills for an optimal run. The Special Challenge Paths more or less try to equalize the difficulty between newbie and veteran players.
  • Wurm Online suffers from this rather badly. Unless you can get recruited into an existing group (or put up some real-world money) from the beginning, you're faced with the prospect of walking for as long as it takes to find some unclaimed land to erect a simple hut and a fenced-off potato patch, fighting off hostile wildlife with a laughably ineffectual sword and buckler and no armour whatsoever. And that's before we talk about the amount of Level Grinding necessary to get any useful Item Crafting done.

    Open World RPG 
  • Fallout:
    • Since encounters in Fallout don't scale to your level, you can run right into a pack of radscorpions right out of the Vault and get slaughtered because all you have is a 10mm pistol and a leather jumpsuit.
    • Fallout 2 starts with the publisher required Temple of Trials tutorial era. At the end of the tutorial, you have to confront a man called Cameron. Just like is tradition in the Fallout series, you have the ability to situation from multiple angles; you can either fight him, steal the key from him, lockpick the door behind him or convince him not to fight, but the game does an extremely poor job communicating this to a new player and most players simply assumed they just have to fight him since they weren't aware how to use the other mechanics yet. If your character is anything other than an melee/unarmed fighter (you have no firearms here) 2/3 of your attacks will miss and may fail to kill the enemy even when they do hit. Further, there is a very limited number of healing items (and the ones that are present have side effects that make you even less accurate) with no resting ability.
      • The real hell begins after you complete the trial. When you start your adventure, You're only given a Vault suit, a spear, a knife, a few bags of healing powder, and a handful of money and told to go save the village. While unarmed/melee based characters (once again) have it a little better at this point, small arms based characters have to rely on a crappy pipe rifle early on. The weapon is extremely slow to use and has low damage. In the same time it takes melee based enemies to attack you two to three times, you can fire off one shot every turn (presuming you invested in Agility, if you didn't, you're screwed).
    • In Fallout 3, you can get curbstomped by early random encounters, such a Talon Company Merc squad, a Giant Radscorpion, a Yao Guai, or a Deathclaw, when you're probably only armed with a pistol or hunting rifle. With the Broken Steel add-on, you can run into a Super Mutant Overlord as early as the GNR Plaza, and a Feral Ghoul Reaver or two in the Taft Tunnel as they start spawning at level 15. They're a fierce fight for a Level 30 player, who's already at max level.
    • Fallout: New Vegas has several Beef Gates that will curbstomp you if you go to the wrong place too soon, and overpowered hit squads that you WILL encounter once you get a bad reputation with either of the main factions. If, for example, you go straight north you make it past Scorpion Gulch (a gulch with giant Radscoprions) armed with only dynamite, a cheap pistol, weak armor at best, and some supplies. If you do manage to survive and win you still can't make it past the Cazadors (giant Tarantula Hawk wasps) further north.
    • Fallout 4:
      • You start the game far from any major population, so you have to deal with a lack of doctors and not enough medicine. The Commonwealth has a lot of radiation to deal with (including random rad-storms everywhere). If you're like most Fallout veterans, you'll think that exploring the vicinity of Sanctuary and running a bunch of sidequests before charging halfway across the map to Diamond City is a good idea, but you really want to open up access to Diamond City's shops, and especially their doctor, as soon as possible (ideally shortly after getting with the Minutemen).
      • Survival mode is especially hectic in the early game. With no armor and low stats, players can easily be killed without even realizing they're under fire. The weakest enemies can make short work of even careful players. Players who don't know what they're doing can easily become sick, with the worst sickness causing constant health deterioration. With the lack of doctors, the punishing saving mechanics, and rarity of medicine at this stage, it may become impossible to advance in the game. Trying to rush to Diamond City becomes suicidal, and making settlements is not optional. You have to build a network of safehouses and bases everywhere you go, to store your valuables (because everything weighs you down and you can't carry much), to sleep (and save your game), and to avoid going too far from safe territory (because you can't fast travel). It will take you a long time to be able to get to Diamond City, making things that much harder.
      • The new Perk Tree makes the early game hurt even more as you now have to juggle perks that either give you more of a fighting chance over perks that let you dish out more damage with the piss poor pipe guns you get. No matter which you chose you'll need to gind for many, many levels before you start to get a clear advantage over everyone else.
  • After you run through the tutorial section in Far Cry 2, the game dumps you in a Wide Open Sandbox where nearly every person you meet outside Pala wants to kill you, and the game is determined to give you something to cry about.
    • If you don't know to start working for the gun shops immediately to unlock a good supply of weapons, which involves taking out CONVOYS with multiple trucks, you'll be stuck using the broken weapons that enemies drop. It doesn't help that the G3 is ubiquitous in this part of the game, and despite firing the respectably powerful 7.62x51 in real life, the game's version apparently fires slightly hurtful insults. Enemy weapons improve to more powerful and reliable weapons as you progress in the story.
    • Any and all gun shop items (weapons, upgrades to everything, and so on...) are painfully expensive at the start of the game, and all methods of getting income suck fumes through a straw. Faction missions pay crap and take a long time, but they advance the story. Taking missions from the radio towers pays a bit more, but also takes a long time and doesn't advance the story. Diamond briefcases just about always contain one or two diamonds (more usually just 1), which at least remains consistent throughout the game. The prices of weapons and upgrades are high compared to what your income is; it can take several missions just to have enough to buy one thing or one gun. Mission pay gets dramatically better as you advance through the story.
    • Your stealth capabilities are patently awful at the start of the game, making sneaking by enemy groups and checkpoints very difficult, and the starting map has terrain that gives you very little freedom to avoid the roads and their attendant enemy patrols and checkpoints, which is a vital part of surviving IRL. The one upgrade to your stealth capability is pretty expensive and raises trying to sneak from guaranteed detection when all the guards are alive, to being able to avoid combat or at least kill a couple guards before detection. In this game, your machete isn't a 1 hit kill stealth weapon; unsuspecting guys you kill with it will still give death screams which alert all the other enemies in the area. So you have to buy your first proper stealthy weapon, which, again, is expensive.
    • You have to get used to fighting in environments which have lots of concealment in the form of tall grass and big foliage.
    • To top it all off, you still have malaria, and you have to occasionally stop doing paid missions in order to do missions where the only reward is medication that stops you from keeling over.
  • Far Cry 3 starts with you having just two health units, minimal capacity for anything, being able to carry hardly any ammo, you have only the most basic skills, and enemies who hardly give you any loot. Oh, and they are all over the entire map.
    • A single brief shootout with one of the ubiquitous patrols is extremely prone to alerting some other enemies that you are in the area, leading to massive impromptu battles as the fracas from you killing the initial enemies alerts more enemies, and the fracas from that alerts more enemies... Also, knockdowns will not only stun you, but reduce you to one last hit point.
    • Your stealth is ludicrously bad, and while your abilities even now are better than peak stealth in Far Cry 2, you still get detected too easily... The game gets so much easier as you progress and expand the tatau. It's done this way on purpose to make you feel like you are becoming a badass motherfucker. And it works. The most important things to get quickly are improvements to stealth, health, and weapon and ammunition capacity. Unfortunately, this leads to the late game being typically too easy. Annoyingly, the game prevents you from upgrading too much until you reach certain points in the story. This leads to the infuriating problem of the game not letting you acquire skills which would have been VERY helpful until after you needed them most. For example, you can't even learn the ability to use a stealthy melee takedown on the Elite Mook Heavies until well after they've repeatedly been a thorn in your side. Instead, (if you want to stay stealthy) you basically need to set them on fire, which tends to get nearby enemies a mite agitated.
  • No Man's Sky starts with the universe against you. You start the game on a hazardous planet with your gear non-functioning, leaving you to scramble to find some Sodium to recharge your hazard protection and find materials to repair your gear. Your starting Multi-Tool is pathetically weak, unable to gather some resources, has few upgrade slots, and can't fend off predators or Sentinels. Your inventory space isn't enough most of the time, and upgrading it involves finding rare Drop Pods. Then there's your starting ship. Little item storage, low damage, its warp drive only goes a few stars at a time, and certain star types are inaccessible. Getting a better ship involves either buying one for Units several orders of magnitude higher than what you have or getting lucky with a crashed ship and repairing it with exorbitant amounts of hard-to-get resources. When you find an alien race, you won't be able to understand them; talking to them is manageable, but raiding outposts to find crafting recipes will involve a lot of Save Scumming until you learn more words. But every step, every improvement makes the universe open, and eventually it will be yours.
  • Octopath Traveler:
    • The first character you choose will have the hardest time starting out, since they start at level 1, most of them have to fight all by themselves, and your inventory and money is limited. While the other party members also start at level 1 when you recruit them, your main character will always be in the party, giving them a strong ally who can easily wipe out the early enemies; you have more characters that can exploit enemy weaknesses; you will likely have enough money to get the best equipment available for them at the time; and your inventory will have more items that can help in battle.
    • All this is writ large with Primrose, who has terrible defense and fights exclusively physical enemies, has the toughest chapter one boss, and can only access the equipment store by going off the beaten path during a brief segment before she has access to her dungeon (and she can't return to the store when she does).
  • Starbound: The planet you start out on may be all but the most peaceful place you'll ever find, but... you're practically naked, with only a broken sword and a glorified shovel in hand. You want better, you'll have to work for it. Also, getting off the planet requires you to either burrow to the planet's lava-filled core or take your chances with a very dangerous boss beastie...

  • The first level of Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a vertical oriented one where you go down instead of left to right, and it is much harder than the rest of the game, especially if you're trying to get all the money bags, since there are no shops and one hit will leave you dead and without power-ups.
  • Hollow Knight has shades of this, with early game difficulty mainly being due to the lack of movement abilities, and the fact that most optional upgrades open up halfway through the game. Just beating the game is relatively easy, though the game makes up for this with it's extremely difficult optional content.
  • The missions in Jak II: Renegade will be quite tough at the beginning. Outside the city you have to fight Metal Heads, and some of them take a lot of punishment and will gang on you. Inside the city you have sometimes a never ending stream of Krimzon Guards on your tail. At the start you can either use Dark Jak, which charges slowly, punch the enemies (that isn't really advised), and a bit later a Scatter Gun that is slow and has a short range. Once you get Blaster you'll have so much needed opportunity to fight back while not staying inside the effective range of enemy's attacks.
  • The first levels of Kid Icarus are probably the hardest (which makes sense; you actually are in Hell, after all). Pit starts out with a tiny health bar and a weak bow with poor range. The first levels also scroll upward, and due to Ratchet Scrolling you die if you fall past the bottom of the screen. Once you've completed those levels though, most likely gaining some health and weapon upgrades along the way, it gets much easier. Pit and Palutena even reference it in Uprising, as the page quote indicates.
  • While it stays Nintendo Hard throughout, La-Mulana is hardest at the beginning, when it has the learning curve of a brick wall. The game opens with your pathetically weak character, armed with a single clumsy weapon, running around a confusing jungle. How do you get into the ruins? What's the best item to buy with the few coins you can find? How do you save? It doesn't let up after you get into the Guidance Gate, which, at first glance, is filled with nasty traps and unclear puzzles. Veterans will know to make a beeline for the Grail, Shurikens, and Knife, but new players will suffer until they figure out the game's general train of logic. Reading the manual confirms this was intentional. The developers wanted to make a game that recalled early sidescrolling adventure games, and purposely made it this hard to weed out anyone who wasn't really interested.
  • Metroid:
    • Metroid is very difficult in the start due to starting out with just 30 energy points out of the maximum 99 (Yes, you don't even start at full health) and a weapon whose shots only go a third across the screen. This makes killing enemies very difficult and if you're not careful, you will die a lot. Once you get better gear and more energy tanks, enemies become easier to deal with. The Metroid: Zero Mission remake makes the game a lot more bearable when starting a new file.
    • The first Dark Aether region in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Dark Agon Wastes, is one of the most frustrating areas simply because of the Dark World life drain. Without the Dark Suit, your HP drains at almost five hit points per second, meaning you have to dash from safe zone to safe zone (even worse, some safe zones have to be manually activated and only stay on for a number of seconds, forcing you to either continually re-activate them or move on). After the Agon Wastes, you get the Dark Suit and can navigate the dark world with ease (the atmosphere of Dark Aether is still degenerative to Samus but at a considerably reduced rate with the Dark Suit; it won't be until she gets the late-game Light Suit that she's truly impervious to Dark Aether's atmosphere).
  • Mega Man games get easier as you go on because you're getting new weapons from each stage, allowing you to bypass challenges easier. This includes gathering the weapons that each individual Robot Master has a weakness to, the likelihood of having such increasing as you gather more (unless you have a guide). Unless one boss in particular is just much easier than the other then the first boss will usually be the hardest because it's the one that you must defeat with your Mega-Buster alone, before you can start the chain of weakness-exploiting.
  • Freeware Metroid Vania Soldexus starts out obscenely difficult — it takes very few hits for you to die, and the enemies are placed in layouts that make it all but necessary to fight your way past them no matter which way you're going. Once you've gotten some upgrades (particularly extra defense that effectively means more health), things get much more manageable.
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps exhibits this on Hard difficulty, where both enemies and hazards deal double damage, and purchased items cost 50% more, exacerbated by having to fight the starting enemies and the first boss with a woefully short-ranged torch. After you acquire the Spirit Edge, learn some athletic abilities, collect a few Shards, purchase a suitable secondary weapon from Opher, and upgrade your life and mana meters a few notches, the going gets smoother.
  • The first Shantae title has some issues, due to several little factors. The infinitely-respawning baddies in the first section, Lilac Fields, have a bad habit of spawning on top of you and kill you in six hits. The key to the first dungeon is past three full overworld biomes (Lilac Fields, Tangle Forest, Water Cliffs). There's a day-night mechanic, and you can just barely get to Tangle Forest before the moon comes up and the enemies get free extra hit points. The sprites in the game are all pretty big, so you can't see very far ahead of you or below you. To top everything off, this is before you get a real source of money; if you want any healing items whatsoever, you either have to grind, or deliberately wait out the clock for the Dance Parlor to open.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 4's Episode Metal is difficult at first because you go have to go through the 4 main zones of Episode 1 in reverse order.
  • The early game in The Swindle can be a bit tricky. While Slums levels don't have the intricate variety of security systems that the later difficulty levels do, you start out without certain key upgrades: you can't double-jump, wall-cling, hack computers or plant explosives until you've saved up the cash for that, and the payouts are low enough that once you're past those intro-level upgrades you won't be able to buy things too quickly. It at least takes a few levels to gear up the difficulty with mines, drones and the like, but losing seven hundred quid and the chance of the Ghost bonus because one computer spawned somewhere inaccessible without dynamite can provide some nasty delays given how low payouts are at that stage. (It doesn't help that tutorials generally boil down to "Here's a two-sentence summary of that new toy you just bought"; figuring out what a new thing does is usually achieved by getting inconvenienced or killed by it, wasting precious time in your pursuit of the Devil's Basilisk.)

    Rhythm Game 
  • The first tier in the PS2 version of Guitar Hero II. When the game was re-released on the Xbox 360, 3 of the original 5 songs from tier 1 were moved to tier 2 while two new tracks were added to tier 1 and two songs that were originally in tier 2 were moved down.
  • THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage isn't as bad about this, but it still takes some time to accumulate enough SRs to get good scores on Master difficulty songs. Thankfully, a Pro-only player can still be competitive enough in events to get those SRs.
  • New to Love Live! School Idol Festival, but not new to Rhythm Games? Get used to the fact that you will not be getting any A or S ranks for a while, even if you get all Perfects. Unlike in most rhythm games where your note-hitting accuracy and sometimes your combo are the sole influences in your score, in LLSIF your score also depends on your characters' Attribute values. The higher a character's level and rarity, the higher their Attributes will be. If you're trying to get grade S unlocks, it's largely recommended to ignore score and just go for Full Combos in the early game; at least Full Combos don't necessitate a good team. And let's not get started on Score Matches, where you'll frequently end up in matches where the 4th-place player will have a Full Combo while the winner doesn't. Once you power up and idolize your characters and start getting SR- and UR-rarity characters, your rhythm game skills will begin to finally pay off.

  • A lot of the Atelier games can leave you with frustration. You start off with one or two recipes, you often find low quality ingredients, and equipment is hard to come by, if at all. And you can be on a strict time limit even early on. Once you get more recipes, figured out where the best ingredients are, and know the right combinations, you can start kicking some serious butt.
  • The original Baldur's Gate, like all Dungeons & Dragons-based games where you start at level 1, can be extremely unforgiving for the first one to three levels (depending on your build), since you start with just the basic equipment (unless you exploit the character export function during the illusionist's quest), minimal skills, measly 4-10 HP, and just one companion in the party—who likewise has weak equipment, skills, and health. Fortunately, it is justified by both characters having been forcibly expelled from a previously very sheltered life with no idea how to survive on their own. It is astonishingly easy to have your 4hp mages oneshot before you even notice you'r under attack.
  • Both Baten Kaitos games suffer from this to various extents. The battle systems are quite complex and not beginner friendly. Just to add to that, the first game makes you spend a long time with only Kalas in your party, which slows battles to an absolute crawl and gives you little margin for error. Origins, being the difficult game it is, really tries to mix this up. You've got a short section with no party members other than Sagi, a nasty Early-Bird Boss, and several scenes where nothing particularly interesting happens. Just to add to that, new players are going to have a hell of a time with the battle system and the rather steep difficulty curve, while veteran players learn there's no EX Combo options until a couple hours in. The game gets infinitely better once you meet Quaestor Verus, though.
  • In Betrayal at Krondor, combat in Chapter I is usually a lot more difficult than it becomes in later chapters, after you've upgraded your equipment and learned some useful spells. This is especially true if you try to take the long way to Krondor (through Highcastle and Northwarden, then down the east side of the map) as the few combats of five or six moredhel blocking the way will normally rip you to shreds, despite combat of this kind becoming fairly standard by Chapter IV. The last chapter, in particular, is really easy compared to earlier ones. It's probably for this reason that a lot of the tips on websites for this game are ways to earn enough money to afford good swords and armor early on.
  • Breath of Fire II has a very hard opening chapter after the Playable Prologue. When Ryu and Bow leave the first town, you may find that straying more than a few steps from town could end with you flattened by random encounters. It will take a few level-ups before you can even reach the mountain pass, and in said mountain pass you'll almost certainly need to camp by the healing fountain for a while to grind before you can explore the mountain without fear of getting slaughtered within a few feet. Fortunately, by the time you take out the mini-bosses, Bow will have learned some healing spells — and then right after this, you lose Bow for the next third of the game. Now Ryu must battle alone for the next couple of hours, facing even harder enemies on the overworld, and a rather unforgiving dungeon with a mini-boss at the end, followed by two more tough fights. After this part, thankfully, you get access to Lightning Bruiser Katt, who makes battles much easier. The game then settles into a difficulty somewhere between challenging and difficult, but doesn't reach the maddening levels of the early game until the final dungeon.
  • The early stages of A Dance with Rogues are extremely unforgiving: everything can kill the Princess in one hit, and anyone who isn't after her head will at least try to mug and rape her. The first act is there to teach you to consider where you go very carefully, to never speak with strangers, and to always, always have an escape plan. It's only roughly after the Golden Chalice adventure that the Princess obtains enough character levels, disposable cash, and magical gear to be able to relax and enjoy herself from time to time.
  • Both Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Original Sin II games are quite difficult during their first act. While the second game is much more forgiving, your characters still begin with no money and nothing but the clothes on their backs—which, incidentally, provide zero armor or stat buffs.
  • The NES Dragon Quest games are all Nintendo Hard, but special mention goes to Dragon Quest I at the beginning. You start out with 120 G, which gives you a choice of either buying a club and losing out on armor, or buying armor and having to fight with a glorified sticknote . Times might be tough, but seeing as how the king's relying on you to save his daughter and his whole kingdom, you'd think he could at least give you a loaner or something.
    • Dragon Quest VIII deserves some special mention. The game's encounters are balanced around a full party. Problem is, it takes several hours before you even get a third party member. It also takes awhile before you are given any kind of a tool to deal with groups of enemies. Sure, you get hit for Scratch Damage, but when you get hit as many as five or six times in a row, it really adds up and turns into Death of a Thousand Cuts. It wasn't unheard of for some people to actually get a game over before the first dungeon.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Arena and Daggerfall are absolutely hellish, where even basic enemies like rats can kill you in a couple of hits if you aren't careful. Awkward controls, no health regen and the ability to only cast one or two spells before magicka runs out means players will usually die a myriad of times in the tutorial dungeon alone until they figure out what they are doing.
    • Morrowind is very hellish once you leave the easy-going starting town of Seyda Neen. Even the standard local wildlife will be a challenge until you increase your skills and acquire better equipment, and anything stronger will serve as a Beef Gate. It's recommended to complete the first few assignments in the main quest, as well as the first few missions for the local guilds, as these are largely easier quests and are rewarding enough to purchase training and the aforementioned better equipment. Progression is largely lopsided, however, and once you start increasing in levels, you'll go from schmuck to god-slayer very quickly.
    • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion potentially inverts this trope due to its level scaling system. The system scales enemy encounters to the level of the player. During the early game, the most dangerous creature the player can encounter is a small imp, while bandits generally wear low tier equipment. On higher levels, the gameworld is filled with creatures like minotaurs, ogres and bandits wearing high end equipment. If you didn't level the right skills and attributes, you might find fights becoming nearly Unwinnable, resulting in a Late Game Hell.
    • Skyrim isn't nearly as harsh in the early game, but, like Morrowind, loses most of the difficulty that it does have after level 16 or so, especially if the player invests in crafting skills to create weapons and equipment far more powerful than what is available in the game world and weapon damage with multiple perks applied increases exponentially, reaching ten or more times the base value. However, like Oblivion above, not levelling the right skills can result in fights becoming unwinnable.
    • The Game Mod Alternate Start: Live Another Life for Skyrim allows the player to choose where they can start the game without having to do the lengthy intro. Some of the options could drop the newly created character in a high-level zone such as Solstheim and Blackreach with very little equipment. If the player has the Frostfall mod enabled, it can become far worse if they chose the shipwrecked option since it requires the player to swim through cold water that can be deadly without proper protection.
    • The Game Mod Requiem - The Roleplaying Overhaul for Skyrim is a complete overhaul of the gameplay which results in a much more difficult early game. Level Scaling has been removed and most of the animals or mooks you can encounter are stronger than a low level Dragonborn; note that the first dungeon you have to visit is no longer a Noob Cave. The encumberance capacity has been drastically reduced, while gold, arrows, and lockpicks are no longer weightless. Also, the efficiency of skills have been greatly reduced if you don't buy perks, which means you'll initially suck at, well, everything until you gain a few levels and some perk points. On the other hand, the complete removal of level scaling means the game because gradually easier the longer you play and gain levels.note 
  • Etrian Odyssey, an already hellish game, makes the early game hard even by its own sick standards. Patching up party members and replacing your Warp Wires takes up all the money you earned getting the injuries, giving you no cash for even basic equipment. Running into FOEs means an instant game over. Skill-heavy characters like mages and healers run out of TP after only a few battles, reducing them to plinking with daggers for Scratch Damage. It's not until you can level up a few times and get some decent skills that you can start saving for better gear. Even worse, the first game in the series does not let you reset your skills until halfway through the game, meaning if you made bad decisions assigning skillpoints before the first boss, you may have to train an entire second team almost from scratch...
    • In Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard, you can use a password obtained at the end of the original game to get recognized as the same guild. None of your characters transfer over; you're still going to be training up a new team of heroes, but you'll still be viewed as old pros. And while this lets you access some special encounters down the line, it also means that, because you're such experts, the guards at the start of the labyrinth won't bother giving you some Medicas to help you get started.
  • Fatal Labyrinth can be like this due to the random generation, sometimes you will start the game right next to a dangerous enemy. But on the other hand, if you can a Battle Axe and some healing potions, the only challenge might be a Game-Breaking Bug.
  • In the first part of the Soul of Rebirth section of Final Fantasy II, your only playable character is Minwu, a White Mage who (though fairly powerful) has very few ways to hurt his enemies unless you really grind up Teleport or give him Holy somehow in the main game. He then meets Scott and Josef, who are more combative, but still very weak. It's only the very last companion to join, Ricard, who can really pull his weight in combat, and you have to go the whole way without being able to rest or restock, meaning grinding is very dangerous. Not long after Ricard, though, you find your first town, at which the game becomes far easier.
  • While Final Fantasy X itself doesn't suffer from this, the same cannot be said about one of its minigames, Blitzball. The first match that you have to play is the only obligatory one and you have to play with Besaid Aurochs, by far the worst team in the game. Only Tidus and Wakka have okay stats, and you can't even have both at team at once. They are also only ones that have any techniques. This match alone is enough for some players to completely abandon the minigame in disgust. After this match however you get the option to fire Besaid Aurochs and hire another players, and the further you get in core game, the more players available to recruit you have, some of which are so powerful (such as Brother) that they make the entire minigame a cakewalk.
  • Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is awfully difficult when you begin: you start out with bottom-barrel equipment, a handful of mediocre abilities, poor stats, not enough money to fix this, and no idea where anything is. Combined with most areas having a chance to spawn high-level enemies and the enemies you can beat dropping low EP, the early-game is a desperate scramble. Once you've got better equipment and abilities things become more reasonable.
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age has the beginning become very tough if you decide to play it on Hard. All of the monsters' stats are given a 1.5 multiplier boost, which means you will have to level grind far more often than you did in a normal play through just to survive and make a dent in the enemies' boosted HP and/or get lucky with rare drops. Dying in Hard mode will be even more brutal due to how expensive reviving allies at a sanctuary will be and the Water of Life item being extremely rare to find.
  • The Great Gaias: Not only do money drops start low, mages don't start with enough MP to take advantage of their equipment's passive MP regen, making it hard to repeatedly use magic. This becomes less of a problem when the mages' max MP grows enough to regen MP and when the player forges max MP increasing gear.
  • Hoshi wo Miru Hito: Stargazer starts your party off at level 0. Yes, level 0. And while at level 0 you can only do one 1 point of damage per hit at best, and even the weakest of Random Encounters can completely trash you. It's up to luck whether you live long enough to gain enough levels to put up a good fight.
  • The power curve in Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory is built around the assumption you'll be clearing dungeons multiple times after meddling with them via the Scouting system, meaning the early parts of the game (before this mechanic is introduced) are absolutely brutal. You have only a couple of small dungeons to grind in, lackluster equipment, and filling up the EXE gauge to give yourself a vital power boost is so arduous you'll almost certainly need to retreat to heal afterwards (resetting the meter by doing so). The developers seemed to have noticed, too; right at the start of Chapter 2 (where you encounter the first non-plot boss that will mop the floor with you) very potent HP boosting accessories are made easily available. It's not much, but it's something.
  • In the first games of each Inazuma Eleven series: Raimon Soccer Club is made of depressingly underpowered players and limited resources to the point even random encounters can be a problem. In addition to the poor bases, most characters will get tired out by half-time in a 60 minute full match due to the lack of stemina. They will be forced to crawl through the rest of the game because you have little to no substitutions. Once the characters level up and gain special abilities, cooped with the player mastering the stylus movement, the rest of the game is a cakewalk.
  • For new players Lost Odyssey can suffer from this. Part of the problem is the that your smaller team size means your dependent one one mage doing both your Black Magic and White Magic, causing difficulty in prioritizing healing your party and doing your main form of damage. However, a bigger problem is the lack of the potential Game-Breaker abilities of Relax, which you gain access to right after the first major dungeon, and Cover, which is gained not too longer after Relax. For experience players who know how to properly combine skills and manipulate defend and GC to build Kalm up as a tank the start isn't as painful, but not everyone is going to figure this out on their first play through.
  • Mother:
    • In the first part of Earthbound Beginnings, Ninten is your only party member and he has zero offensive PSI spells in addition to a pitifully small amount of inventory space. Once you bring in Ana or Lloyd, the game eases up as there are more targets for your enemies, more inventory space, and in Ana's case, effective methods of attack other than just bashing the enemy.
    • The early game in EarthBound is more difficult than many later parts. Before you get a proper party, you have to fight several early game bosses note  and go through Peaceful Rest Valley. Once you get Paula and can level her up enough for her strengths to shine, the game gets much easier. Having Paula also doubles your inventory space - each character can only hold 12 items at once, and the sheer number of plot-important-but-useless items Ness must have on him at all times severely limits his ability to stockpile healing items and weapons.
  • Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is this trope when playing on Hard Mode. Later on, you can grind, get decent special attacks, get good gear and badges and who knows what else. In the beginning? You've got obviously bad stats, a near non-existent choice of gear and badges, semi useless items you can only carry ten of each and enemies that kill you in two hits due to doing about 7 times the amount of damage per attack as in the normal mode. It's bad enough the game's producer apparently died in the tutorial when testing.
  • Might And Magic VI could be very difficult at the outset. Until you get bows for all your characters, you won't have much of an ability to fight monsters at range, and it can be difficult to defeat even the enemies around New Sorpigal until you gain a few levels.
    • In Mother 3, the first three chapters are told from the viewpoint of three different characters, and getting yanked away from the characters you've leveled up and gotten familiar with can be a bit jarring. This comes to a head in Chapter 3, where you have to play as Salsa for the entire chapter, including fighting a freaking tank at the end.
  • The prologue of NieR: Automata (which includes a shmup segment, an entire stage, and multiple boss battles) has to be beaten without saving. This can take up to an hour on your first playthrough, and if you die at any point (which is pretty easy on Hard mode due to the bosses' ability to take you out in only a few hits) it's right back to the beginning.
  • Oracle of Tao until you have a full party, are about level 20, and one of your healers researches some more spells, and have some decent money for recovery items, many of the early enemies kill you easily. The thing is, many of the early enemies also only offer Vendor Trash, so earning the money or the levels is rather difficult, unless you know exactly what you are doing. You can get levels by visiting a hidden NPC and by using the priest or special items against undead, and the money you can get by selling a blackmail picture repeatedly.
  • Pillars of Eternity: While the game is more forgiving than Baldur's Gate, Act I can be more than a little tough for new players. Your characters are frail, you don't have any decent equipment yet, and you can cast only so many spells before you need to rest. Just traveling between areas can be a problem since some of your characters may not have a single point in Athletics and, as a result, will suffer from a major debuff because they are exhausted just from traveling from one area to the other (leading you to use camping supplies, which are sparse and costly at this point of the game). Most aggravating of all, you will encounter ghost-type enemies, which deal high endurance damage, can stun you with each attack, and can teleport directly on your most frail characters (and there are a mandatory encounter in Od Nua, a dungeon you must complete in order to gain access to the rest of the map and begin Act II).
  • Pokémon
    • Pokémon Yellow starts out slower than molasses. This is because you have few Mons available to you to build a proper party, and because the game prevents you from leaving the early area until you beat the first Gym Leader. Unlike Red and Blue, where all three of the starter Pokémon can easily beat Brock,note  you're forced to start with Pikachu, who only learns Normal and Electric type attacks. Brock's Pokémon are highly resistant to the first and outright immune to the second. You're forced to catch a wild Pokémon and level grind it until it can face Brock. And most of the wild Pokémon in the early areas are ineffective against Brock too. note 
    • Main-series Pokémon games tend to start off rather slowly in general, since they're all typically plagued by having a poor selection of Mons available early on. In general, your only decent Pokémon will be your starter, and the rest of the stuff you can find will be Com Mons who don't have advantages over a lot of stuff. Few are quite as egregious about it as Gen 1, but the series as a whole falls into this trope to some degree.
    • Pokémon Colosseum's early difficulty comes from its main mechanic, Shadow Pokémon. There are plenty of decent Shadow Pokémon to snag early in the game, but each one starts with only Shadow Rush (a strong move that deals recoil damage and can force a Pokémon into a berserk state, interrupting their turn) and gradually earns its other moves as it gets purified through battles. Shadows can't level up or evolve until they're fully purified at Agate Village, which is reached a third of the way through the game; until then, the only Pokémon who can level up are your starters Espeon and Umbreon (and a Plusle), since Colosseum doesn't have wild Pokémon. Pyrite Town and its dungeon areas can become difficult fast since trainers increase in levels while Shadows are stuck at around level 30, and the boss fights with Cipher Admin Miror B. and Cipher Peon Skrub reach and pass the mid-thirties. After unlocking purification, there's another tough Cipher Admin battle before Mt. Battle opens up and it becomes easier to grind. The sequel, Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness, grants access to purification and Mt. Battle much earlier.
    • Pokémon Diamond and Pearl pits you against two nasty bosses early on in the two Team Galactic admins, Mars and Jupiter. Mars is fought in the Valley Windworks, where she has a Level 16 Purugly (17 in Platinum), a fully-evolved Pokémon who at this stage in the game is a Lightning Bruiser compared to your not-fully evolved Pokémon. Jupiter ups the ante not too long after with her Level 20 (23 in Platinum) Skuntank, who has a powerful attack in Night Slash, Screech to make its attacks hit even harder, and Smokescreen to make it certain you're unlikely to hit it back. Just like Purugly, Skuntank's a fully evolved Pokémon, meaning it most likely outclasses your lineup at that point, and since both these fights take place within the first two gyms, and both Pokémon only have one weakness, there aren't that many viable options to beat them without crazy amounts of Level Grinding. The games also have arguably the strongest front-half Gym Leaders in the entire series, with the first Gym's ace being a Pokémon with an Attack stat on par with fully evolved Pokemon (Cranidos), and subsequent Gyms having you face off against fully-evolved Pokemon with metagame-worthy stats note , two of which later get used by the Champion (the last three Gyms, in comparison, are Breather Bosses due to specializing in easily countered types).
    • Pokémon X and Y addresses the lack of early Pokémon variety in the early game by having more Pokémon beyond the typical Normal, Bug and Flying types available, plus the first Gym leader is Bug type, which is weak against the commonly available Flying type. However it falls right back into Early Game Hell by not having a proper Pokémon Center in the first town. You can't swap Pokémon on the Computer so until you get through you're stuck with whatever you've got.
  • The whole Hero Gauge/Invincible Action mechanic falls squarely into this in Resonance of Fate. To elaborate, Resonance of Fate seemingly plays like a tactical turn-based RPG, which massively hampers the playable protagonists if you do play it as such. However, Hero Gauge usage allows for actions that "break" such turn based rules (one example being allowed to attack multiple times while moving in a single turn). However, Hero Gauge consumes Bezels, a resource which is also consumed when any character depletes his/her health points. Furthermore, completely consuming all of them will all but guarantee a Game Over. This trope comes in full play as in early game, you are only given three Bezels. Later on, you gain more Bezels, and enemies come in varieties which replenishes more when attacked, in addition to already having upgraded/customized your guns as well as having higher levels. This is not to say it makes the game much easier, but definitely much more manageable.
  • The beginning of Risen is rather harsh. You start out with nothing. You have to comb the beach looking for plants, pearls and a stick so that you can defend yourself. You then have to travel further inland where everything can one or two shot you while you try to scrounge together enough gold and experience points to become somewhat competent at fighting. Things don't become reasonable until you purchase worker's clothes and a decent weapon. Then you have to choose a side either the don or the inquisition. Both sides give you better armor with the inquisition giving you the option of magic. Either way your first couple of hours in risen will be miserable. The sequel is a little more forgiving allowing you to start out with a weak weapon, some grog and a bit of gold. Which if you are smart you will spend it on the the sneak skill. Which allows you to steal stuff which is going to be where the majority of your income comes from.
  • Shin Megami Tensei series:
    • In general, until you get to access fusion, you're stuck with whatever demons or Personas you can recruit or purchase. Some games even limit your stock early on to restrict your tactical options until you reach a certain point in the plot.
    • Shin Megami Tensei IV is considered a horrible uphill battle at the beginning due to the grueling Press Turn combat system and how easily you can get destroyed if you don't learn to abuse it yourself. Once you reach Tokyo, however, things become far more manageable as you start getting the heavy weapons. It's especially brutal in the tutorial segment as you have ~100 hit points, no other party members or repeatable healing, and all enemies come in groups of at least two, each of who deals ~60 damage when they attack.
    • The playable epilogue "The Answer" in Persona 3 FES is already incredibly hard, and it certainly doesn't help that you need to clear the first dungeon in order to access Paulownia Mall and stock up on healing items and equipment.
    • Persona 4 hits you with this as well. While there exist certain Personas and abilities that make the early bosses cake (Good luck with that), the low power and small party options will turn against you very quickly. After about the second dungeon, it gets easier.
    • Persona 5 While the game is good in giving multiple options to allow you to restore SP, the bulk of these happen later on in the game, making the first palace you tackle a situation where you will regularly run out and either be forced to use expensive items or leave entirely. Additionally, the first Palace is the only one where it's possible to save yourself in an unwinnable situation due to the time limit not accounting for the three days needed to actually put a bow on things. So taking too many of those breaks can result in being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
  • Tales of Rebirth: Before the Enhance and Inheritance options are available, prepare to die a lot due to the lack of good sources of healing available (Annie, your healer, tends to waste time casting useless area of effect buffs and not healing you) and not having any particularly powerful attacks to deal damage quickly before you can take it in return. You also cannot run away from most encounters, unlike in every Tales game prior and subsequently.
  • The Tiamat Sacrament: The hardest part of the game is the beginning, when the party has few abilities or items, and the procedures to learn new skills are grindy. Az'uar's inhale mechanic is also hard to use because of how it's easily interrupted. However, endgame enemies and bosses generally don't stand a chance against the party once they have most of their skills. There are also lategame equipment and skills that remove the drawbacks of Az'uar's inhale system, allowing him and Kelburn to unleash their best attacks more frequently.
  • In A Witch's Tale, just gaining your first level will be extremely difficult, since enemies give you very low EXP and can hit fairly hard, especially in the Candy Maze. You also have only 100 MP when the Ancient Rune magic costs 99 MP.
  • The older Wizardry games, Nintendo Hard even at their best, were literally almost unplayable when you were just starting out. Level 1 characters are so utterly inept at absolutely everything that even getting them to win a single battle without someone dying was a pretty impressive accomplishment, as your spellcasters would only be able to cast maybe one spell before they ran out (assuming they didn't bungle their Oratory check and kill themselves with their own backfiring spell), your melee characters and archers had worse accuracy than a fresh X-com recruit, leaving them stuck in an endless loop of "*attack* *miss!* *attack* *miss!* *attack* *miss!* *attack* *miss!* *attack* *miss!*" until the enemies killed them just to get them to stop embarrassing themselves, and most characters had so little HP they would be killed in 1-2 attacks by anything. Oh, and any character who dies is gone- even if you could revive slain adventurers that early in the game, they wouldn't even be worth it. On the first floor of the castle in Wizardry VI it was perfectly possible to lose a frontline fighter to a single large rat if luck wasn't with you (and it usually wouldn't be). Once you put on a few levels of experience and find some better equipment your characters become marginally less incompetent, but good luck getting that far!

    Real Time Strategy 
  • The second level of the Russian campaign in Empire Earth has you fighting multiple superpowers with advanced technology right off the bat, compared to the previous game where you faced a single base.
  • Heart of the Swarm and Legacy Of The Void have a campaign version, the missions in both campaigns immediately before getting to your ship are among the hardest. (Thanks mainly to the lack of special abilities.)
  • Homeworld 2's multiplayer does this with the Vaygr race. Sure, their strikecraft is all you need to win and in fact the Vaygr's strongest asset. However, with expensive upgrades and the fact that Vaygr Carriers can only have one production module at any time (though this game averts No Recycling, alleviating it somewhat), early game Vaygr players are in constant want of a large Resource Unit pool and a stable source thereof. Once they get the ball rolling and their strikecraft cloud large enough though, Vaygr players can start their Zerg Rush or wait to make an even larger cloud of massed units, thereby (almost) ensuring victory. In other words, the best way to take out a race known for their Zerg Rush is to Zerg Rush them first.
  • Every level in Populous is hardest at the beginning. Since your mana is dictated by the population of your tribe, and you almost always start with only one or two, you barely have enough mana to raise or lower land at the beginning. This is compounded by the fact that later levels manage difficulty primarily by giving the enemy a very good start location and a massive initial population, making it easy to get crushed by them early on if you're not careful.
  • Satellite Reign starts off very difficult: you have 4 agentsnote  with very inaccurate, very low-power submachine guns and that's pretty much it. Your first few missions will be stealth missions out of necessity, and even those will be difficult, since you can't take advantage of terrain features like high vents, and can't hack security features with your low-level hacking ability. As the game grinds on, you get access to better weapons, more options for dealing with situations, better stealth and hacking technology, and equipment that massively boosts your agent survival rate such as armor and shields. The final mission can be brute-forced, but the first mission requires a lot of subtlety.
  • The Total War series:
    • In Rome: Total War when playing as one of the non-Roman factions who shares a border with the Romans. Greece? Carthage? Gaul? Be prepared for your Roman neighbors to attack within the first few turns of the campaign. Not only are they a tough and wealthy foe, being at war with them also deprives you of establishing trade relations with them, meaning you'll have to fight them at an economic disadvantage. And gods help you if one of your other neighbors decides to attack you early on as well... In fact, some campaign guides even advise that you pull out of your Roman border settlements just to give you a few extra turns of peace to build up your army and treasury.
    • In the popular Medieval II: Total War Game Mod Third Age: Total War, each of the "good" factions qualifies to an extent, but Gondor has it the worst. You start off at war with Mordor and Harad, two factions that can churn out Cannon Fodder to Zerg Rush you and have protected settlements located deep within mountains or deserts, meaning that conquering either is a long slog. Meanwhile, Gondor has great infantry and a huge city, but slow recruit times, a very large and vulnerable coastline, and a lagging economy in its inland settlements. Playing as Gondor requires an active strategy of harrying both enemies until its economy is powerful enough to sustain multiple stacks of troops.
    • Total War: Shogun 2 progresses from early game hell, to middle game heaven, and then to late game hell when "Realm Divide" kicks in.
      • At the start, you'll struggle to balance fielding an army and developing your provinces as your aggressive neighbouring factions torment you relentlessly. Expect to be short on funds as you exempt newly acquired provinces from taxes to maintain public order and field armies of mostly ashigaru units to Zerg Rush your enemies. Eventually, once you've carved out a nice territory and establish trade relations, your economy will rebound so you can start to produce stronger units and develop your cities. Things will go swimmingly for a while as your high grade troops carve through Japan like a warm knife through butter... then Realm Divide will kick in and everyone will be against you. This can be especially jarring to players coming from Rome: Total War and Medieval II: Total War where you might spend you first several turns doing nothing more than beginning to build up your cities and waypointing your starting troops. And even then, the worst you generally have to deal with early on are the weak "Rebel" factions.
      • The Otomo clan especially suffer from this. Many clans can eventually convert to Christianity, but the Otomo are Christians right off the bat and their leader is dishonourable, which means everyone in Japan hates them. The only advantage they have is a matchlock unit which isn't very good and costs a ton, and they share an island with the Shimazu, who are aggressive, expansionist and happy to demonstrate to you that Guns Are Worthless and Katanas Are Just Better. Fortunately if they manage to survive the Otomo can really become a Japanese superpower, as their gunner units improve dramatically, trade with Europe leaves them swimming in cash, and being able to recruit European-style cannon ships reduces all Otomo naval warfare to a series of Curb Stomp Battles.
      • The Oda clan starts out smack dab in the middle of Japan and will be fighting a two-front war, and also have ongoing feuds with the powerful Imagawa (and their Tokugawa vassals) and the nearby Ikko-Ikki. Once you've shaken off the initial pests, however, the Oda clan's access to superior Ashigaru (especially if you go straight for Long Spear Ashigaru and gunpowder units) lets them Zerg Rush Japan into submission.
    • Total War: Warhammer II has this with several of its campaigns.
      • The biggest and most notable example in the whole game is easily Tomb Kings, particularly Settra the Imperishable's campaign. While Tomb King units are virtually free and have no upkeep, their buildings and research are ludicrously expensive and take a long time to reach, and their basic units are crappy skeletons that can't really do much other than blob enemies. However, once they getting their upper-tier constructs like Ushabti, they quickly steamroll the other factions in short order.
      • Thorgrim Grudgebearer's campaign start qualifies too, particularly post The Warden and the Paunch patch. Due to the new Greenskin confederation mechanics, there's a high chance that all the Greenskin tribes around your starting province will unite against you and take out the other Dwarf kingdoms nearby in short order, leading to multiple doomstacks from the south lead by Grimgor and doomstacks from the north attacking your tiny province simultaneously by turn 10. However, once you manage to take Mount Gunbad and get your economy in order, the campaign gets considerably easier.
      • Alarielle is another example. She has a unique mechanic where she gets bonuses to her economy, diplomacy, and public order if Ulthuan is under High Elf control, and staggering penalties if it isn't. At game's start, Alarielle is at war with a Dark Elf faction that holds a number of territories including a fortified pass she has to siege her way through long before she has access to good tools to do so, and who will grab the Sword of Kaine if given enough time. Simultaneously, far to the south, Tyrion is dealing with a similar inner-ring incursion of Druchii. And while Eltharion will have no problem stomping out the Greenskins expeditionary force he starts next to, this normally leaves his army woefully out of position when the Pirates of Sartosa start raiding and occupying the coast. And everything but her personal target is far out of Alarielle's sphere of influence, leaving you at the mercy of the AI to get the worst of your penalties cleared up. Once Ulthuan is finally secured, Alarielle can start to take advantage of some very nice bonuses to quickly confederate the other High Elves and get her economy rolling.

  • This is a trapping of the genre at large. Since each run is a full reset the player is at their weakest at the very beginning of the game. Plus a large part of the games is learning mechanics, patterns, enemies, traps and such. As a result the vast majority of most players deaths will be in early levels.
  • The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth:
    • The Greed Mode's main gimmick is that you fight waves of enemies that escalate in difficulty until you eventually fight a boss (or a couple of them), which when beaten, allows you to proceed to the next floor if you choose not to battle a champion boss for a guaranteed Devil/Angel Room. Its other gimmick however, is that you can only get your items (other than the aforementioned Devil/Angel Rooms, a free Silver Treasure Room, and a locked Gold Treasure Room every floor) from a shop. While you do start off with the useful Restock item, you of course don't start off with pennies to buy stuff with. How do you earn pennies you say? Why, beating waves of course! As such, this can lead to some really aggravating and painful early games, especially if that first Gold Treasure Room decided to give you something like a Black Bean to fight hordes of disfigured monstrosities with.
    • Isaac in general is rough as hell in the early game, as most of the better items (such as the D6) are not unlocked and require beating the game multiple times with different characters in order to unlock them. And Afterbirth is tougher by far than Rebirth is, especially if not a whole lot of items have been unlocked.
  • In Castle of the Winds, the very first battle the player encounters is against a kobold. The battle verges on sheer luck territory, especially if the first spell you chose wasn't the healing spell or Magic Arrow. Then you can grab the armor on the ground, start making money to buy new equipment, etc. and it gets easier, but barely. The snake enemy that poisons you is a trifle when you have tons of HP and mana to cure the poison, but early on you can find yourself in a position where you just have to go back to your last save or start over, because that next keystroke is going to kill you.
  • Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead has the "Challenge: Really Bad Day" scenario, which starts you off as one of the worst classes in the game (Shower victimnote  or Tweaker note )in a burning building surrounded by zombies (no time to craft basic equipment), with a "Bad Feeling" (-100 morale, which means your character is depressed and has stat penalties in addition to being unable to craft), extremely drunk, sick with the flu (several stat penalties), and with an infected bite wound which gives constant pain and nausea and will kill you after a day unless you find one of the few items capable of curing it. You're going to need the 10 bonus skill points this scenario gives you.
  • In Crypt of the NecroDancer, this applies to one character: Aria, already a Nintendo Hard One-Hit Point Wonder, goes through the zones in reverse, so she starts out having to make her way through the chaos of Zone 4, but each progressive zone gets more predictable and less filled with traps.
  • Darkest Dungeon starts you off with a tutorial section where you can suffer a Total Party Kill, or at least lose one of the only two heroes available. For the first week, all buildings are locked, and even when they open, you'll be too strapped for cash to have your heroes go through stress relief or quirk removal, and you're not going to have the necessary heirlooms to upgrade all buildings to keep up with how fast your heroes level up. Expect to send off or outright lose some of your dearest characters until you've amassed enough gold and heirlooms to treat and upgrade them with, and trinkets to remodel their stats to your advantage.
  • The top four killers in online Dungeon Crawl are early game monsters (hobgoblin, kobold, gnoll, snake) for a very good reason, with even the much-maligned Sigmund achieving a mere 7th place. No matter what your selected background is, a streak of missed or undamaging attacks can result in one of those low-HP monsters getting up in your face, bashing you with an enchanted weapon. In the case of snakes, minor poison can be deadly, as you have no HP buffer to work with and might not have a healing potion to counter it. Potions and scrolls are scarce and unidentified at that point; reaching for one in an emergency can give you something completely useless or even harmful.
  • A Dwarf Fortress is most vulnerable in its first year, when population is still low and security hasn't been constructed yet. The more challenging the embark conditions, the more hellish the early game, but as a fort develops over the years, the difficulty flattens out. A fort that survives 2 years can probably sustain itself through the worst of the late game. Also, the slightest mistake or miscalculation in Adventurer mode can end a career very early. Even demigods need to spend time developing themselves through non-combat skills (swimming, sneaking, throwing, etc) before they can get a fighting chance.
  • In FTL: Faster Than Light, the magnitude of Early Game Hell depends upon which ship you start with. Some ships, like the Kestrel, the Rock Cruisers, or the Federation Cruisers, start off reasonably well armed and equipped for the early sectors. Then you have some, like the Zoltan Type B, the Stealth Type A or the Mantis Type B, that need a few upgrades before they can reliably go toe-to-toe with whatever they encounter. Finally, you have some like the Stealth Type B or the Engi Type B, which have so many problems in the early sectors that most people consider them 'challenge ships'.
  • In Has-Been Heroes, before you have access to elemental spells and better heroes, you're stuck with non-elemental spells that lack the ability to deal damage, access to items is very limited and only two of your three characters are capable of dealing more than Scratch Damage and you'll still need to strategize and manage them properly if you want any hope of reaching the boss at the end of the run, let alone winning.
  • In NetHack and other Roguelike games, experienced players can guarantee a win, but still run the risk of running into a dangerous enemy and dying before they can insure themselves against such threats. Statistics show that the most common causes of death for NetHack players are being killed by a soldier ant or some other low-level enemy.
  • Water's Fine: When you're starting your first dives, you have a very limited air supply, you're a One-Hit Point Wonder, and you don't have any direct way to attack enemies. But once you've accumulated some treasure and purchased some upgrades, you can dive deeper more easily and get more treasure.

    Shoot em Up 
  • In Chicken Invaders, your firepower grow much faster than the hitpoints of the monsters. Thus, the second level is normally easier than the first.
  • While the first day of Danmaku Amanojaku ~ Impossible Spell Card isn't that bad, the second sure is. You have a handful of mediocre items, little ability to level them, and are up against some fairly nasty patterns. Once you clear it you get access to the bomb, and the game doesn't get particularly hard again until the last few days.
  • Hellsinker is known for many things, but perhaps the games most infamous claim to fame is its steep learning curve with players often struggling to get anywhere in the game before they get a handle on it. Making matters worse is that new players will be forced to face Glorious Symbol at the end of Segment 2note . And just to rub it in, in order to unlock one of the more easy to play characters, the player has to get past Segment 4 and in turn Rusted Dragon.
  • Starfighter Sanvein is a top-down room-clearing shmup, where rooms are tiles arranged in hexagonal patterns. Since your attack power is determined by how many rooms you have cleared that is adjacent to the room you are currently on, you always start with 0 power for both your main and sub shots. Not only this is bad enough, but the Very Definitely Final Dungeon is a Boss Rush floor, with exactly 7 tiles.

    Survival Horror 
  • Alien: Isolation sees you as Amanda Ripley, being chased down by a Xenomorph, androids, and hostile humans. You don't even get a gun until 3/4th's the way through the third chapter, and even then ammo is so scarce that hiding is a better option, especially since in chapter 4 is when the androids start trying to murder you, and they take all 6 shots from the revolver to put down. Chapter 5 is when the Alien becomes an active threat, and if you are extremely lucky, you might be able to obtain enough resources to craft one Molotov cocktail or a pipe bomb, the only two offensive weapons capable of driving the Alien off until you acquire the flamethrower, which doesn't happen until chapter 9, effectively half way through the game. By then, the amount of ammo, bombs, healing items, and crafting supplies should cover you, provided you don't just try and draw attention to yourself.
  • The Evil Within opens with you practically defenseless and injured while a chainsaw-wielding maniac bears down on you. The next chapter sees you obtaining a gun, but your ammunition pool is comically low, as well as your maximum life gauge, so you'll still need to sneak past enemies that can end you with a blow or two and watch out for explosive traps that can easily blast you apart. The following chapter offers up a powerful shotgun and a multi-purpose crossbow, the better to take on enemies with (good thing, too, since the aforementioned chainsaw maniac shows up again for a proper boss battle). From there, you start amassing enough in-game "currency" to upgrade your vital stats and your weapons, to the point that enemies can be directly confronted with less of a problem, and running into a tripwire bomb is a painful nuisance instead of Yet Another Stupid Death.
  • Resident Evil:
    • As soon as the game gives control to the player, Resident Evil 2 throws zombies at you in nearly every direction from the very start. If playing on normal, you won't have enough ammunition to fight them all, forcing you to run. The controls have a definite learning curve to them; expect to die a lot in the early stages (if not the very first screen) if you're not well accustomed to tank controls. It gets worse if you go for the secret key that requires you to pick up no items or weapons until you reach the police station, leaving you with very little ammo and a few hits off your health as well.
    • Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. The reason? The Recurring Boss the title alludes to. The first encounter Jill has with this ten-foot-tall brick shithouse is by far the hardest, since you only have a pistol (and, if you know the game, a shotgun, a few herbs and a health spray) but Nemesis' total health is constant in all encounters - which is to say, very high. It's a fight that's guaranteed to give trouble even to veterans of the series. By the time the second encounter rolls by, you've already got far more healing items and one of the two high-powered guns the game has to offer, and Nemesis will often favor standing back and rocketing you instead of breathing down your necknote , and you can disrupt his aim by shooting him. Even the mandatory boss fight with him mid-to-late game, where you're permanently poisoned, is several degrees of magnitude easier.
    • Resident Evil 4 can be terrifying and brutal in the beginning village sections, where the player is unlikely to have enough supplies or ammo for their guns to effectively fight off the villagers (especially Dr. Salvador), let alone get any gun upgrades. You're lucky if you can escape by the skin of your teeth. Leon can get more ammo and money from the enemies he kills, but he will have problems during the whole village survival segment and to a lesser extent the aftermath, up until he meets the Merchant and starts buying new weapons and upgrading or selling old ones.
    • Resident Evil 5, in the very first level, throws you into an area where you have to fight off an endlessly respawning number of Majini and a Boss in Mook Clothing that can reduce you to Dying status in one hit. Worse still, said fight starts in a tiny building in an equally small area with no cover where you're Zerg Rushed by tons of enemies. The only way out is when the Boss in Mook Clothing smashes the wall open for you. All you have is a handgun, Sheva's special A.I. will have her dying constantly until you figure out how to babysit her, and you're damned well staying put until the game decides you can leave.
  • Silent Hill 2 starts James off with just one weapon: The Plank. It's about as worthless as one would expect a skinny three foot length of wood with a couple nails sticking out to be. Seriously, it's a wonder the damned thing doesn't break when James hits enemies with it, and to make matters worse it can easily ricochet off walls and obstacles if one's aim isn't right on, briefly stunning James. At this point fighting anything is dangerous for an experienced player, and nearly suicidal for a newbie. Near the beginning of the first "dungeon," (so to speak) the player acquires a handgun, which does more damage and can hit enemies at range; good thing, too, since enemies are much harder to evade in the cramped hallways of the apartment complex than out on the streets. Still, ammunition is in short supply, especially on higher difficulties, and the more one uses on normal monsters, the less available for boss fights. It's not until the steel pipe shows up a quarter of the way into the game, sticking out of a car's hood like the sword in the stone, that the difficulty curve leaves the "hell" zone: it does much more damage than the plank, hits with an easy to aim stab for far more range, and doesn't run out of bullets like a gun. With it, a reasonably competent player can melee most single enemies without losing health, allowing James to save ammo for fights with enemy groups and bosses.
  • One of the first missions after reaching your first Home Site in State of Decay has you defending other survivors' enclave from several waves of zombies. At this point, you only have two playable survivor (only one of them had a firearm with little spare ammunition), one of them may be already fatigued by the time you reach the Home Site, poor quality weapons, no explosives, and little medicine. The worst part is the Freaks that come with the horde and if a Juggernaut appears, you can kiss this task goodbye.
  • Sweet Home uses the classic turn-based RPG gameplay style, which includes infinite Random Encounters. Coupled with limited supplies and permanent character deaths, it should go without saying that this is a hard game for the first hour or two. However, if all of your characters can survive long enough to gain a few levels, it then becomes fairly easy, since your party is always given the chance to attack first.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons a first level character starts off with enough hit points to be killed by a single critical. In some versions (e.g. 3.5), the squishier types are weak enough to be slain by an ordinary house cat. Additionally, Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards is a major issue in 3.5 and before, and tends to benefit players more than monsters — most monsters have more limited casting than a wizard PC, or just have a short list of specific powers, while a player spellcaster tends to have an absolutely massive array of options available to them as they grow in power. And powerful, versatile spellcasting limits randomness in general (since the best spells just automatically resolve problems with no roll), which tends to benefit players more than monsters (because players have to succeed every time while the monsters just have to TPK them once.)
  • While 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is somewhat lamented for not being as lethal as earlier editions, a lot of the adventures are brutal at level one. This is largely because level one characters are much more fragile than they should be since they start off with low amounts of health, spells, equipment, etc, meaning a lot of early encounters that should be easy are over-tuned. It's not rare to find groups who prefer to start start off as level two or three characters instead of one so that the players have more balanced stats and skills.
    • The very starter set adventure itself, Lost Mines of Phandelver, starts of with an encounter that should be balanced in theory, pitting four goblins against the players in a wide area. However, the goblins get a surprise round due to ambushing the characters, wield bows, and are hiding in some trees which give them extra cover. They also are far enough away so it can take around two full turns of movement to get to them, making it very easy for the goblins to kill level one characters. It then puts them through a dungeon filled with goblins, traps, and a Bugbear, still at level one. Once the players beat this section, the rest of the module is much smoother and the encounters after are not nearly as challenging, such as the Red Brands being much easier to fight thanks to the players having more options for approaching it.
    • Hoard of the Dragon Queen, part 1 of the Tyranny of Dragons adventure, is particularly infamous, with the players having to do several missions in a town under siege by hostile forces. Enemies are very difficult to kill, in particular Gnolls because they get a pack bonus that is well beyond what normal level one groups can reasonably handle. Oh, and two of the bosses of chapter one are of a level the players don't have a prayer of a chance in fighting.
    • Curse of Strahd features a short, introduction dungeon called Death House, and that name is quite accurate. It's a confusing area filled with strong enemies, unclear objectives for completion, and doesn't give much in the way of rewards for the players. One of the most infamous examples being the animated brooms, which are seemingly joke enemies, but for level one adventures, are surprisingly hard to hit and kill. While the entire campaign is hard, the Death House is very hard for where it is positioned.
    • While Descent into Avernus isn't quite as bad as others, the first real combat encounter is a fight involving a bandit crew, consisting seven bandits, and a Bandit Leader, who is able to make three attacks and can easily kill any player character without trouble. Unless the players recruit help from inside the tavern, its very likely to be a Total Party Kill.
  • The Mordheim early game is punishing enough that a bad game can make it more cost-effective to scrub the warband and start over, rather than to try and continue - especially if you have a bad run with your heroes, who will thus be prevented from helping you explore and resulting in a dearth of wyrdstone with which to replace the casualties.
  • Character creation in the original Traveller is its own mini-game. Scouts were popular character types because they had the best chance of getting their own ship (a small ship, but fully paid for), but unless you rolled well when you generated your Endurance your chance of dying during character generation as a Scout was roughly 40% for each term you served. 3-4 terms of service was needed for most characters to be competent.
  • In The Witcher: Game of Imagination the mechanics are intentionally imbalanced vis-a-vis starting characters. In their zone of competence they have about a 50% chance to succeed in easy tasks. The expansions helped a bit, providing material for Min-Maxing and a bunch of easy-to-gain perks, but for a long time your character will remain relatively underpowered outside the specific field(s) picked up during character creation.

    Turn Based Strategy/Tactical RPG 
  • Not counting the tutorial (which is very easy), the first so many missions of Advance Wars tend to be much more difficult than later missions due to being pre-deployed maps with no factories. Once you have access to factories you're free to produce cannon fodder, not create the useless units the game seems to think you want (like missiles on maps with no aircraft), and tailor your army to suit your strategy. Until you reach that point there's much less room for error: you're stuck with the miniscule force they saddle you with and losing even a single crucial unit can make the map unwinnable.
  • Battle Brothers is a very, very challenging game early on:
    • Building up your mercenary company will quickly exhaust your starting gold, and your first recruits will be people who really aren't the best choices for the job - farmhands, fishermen or even beggars and cripples. The only gear you can afford to outfit everybody is often just simple clubs and repurposed farming tools, and thick shirts and leather hats. All it takes for any of your men to die is often a single bad hit, and you'll usually only be able to break even on the poorly paid early contracts. Really, you'll look less like a reputable mercenary company and more like a band of opportunistic looters and hired thugs. And worst of all, even once you climb out of the pit, a really bad mission can toss you back in.
    • The special starting scenarios in Warriors of the North often have their own specific quirks that further compound the early difficulty.
      • Peasant Militia: You start with a large gang of poorly-armed peasants of various backgrounds. The superior numbers mean losses are less painful and you can more easily outmaneuver enemies, but food costs will be very high, and your men will swear to never allow a highborn among them which forever prevents you from hiring many of the best recruits.
      • Lone Wolf: This start gives you a single, well-equipped knight who serves as your Player Character: he can almost handle many early contracts by himself (keeping in how effective armoured knights were against poorly-armed lowborn troops in real life), but the prices to repair his nice arms and armour are exorbitant, an issue exacerbated by his lacking starting money. Also if the knight does go down then it's game over.
      • Band of Poachers: You start with three woodsmen, men who are light on their feet and deadly shots with their bows, but they are not the best fighters in melee and have a reduced inventory, limiting supplies and trade opportunities.
      • Beast Slayers: You start with three professional monster slayers, well armed and skilled in combat, but the social stigma they face from the rest of society will leave them facing inflated buying and selling costs wherever they go.
      • Trading Caravan: You start with a pair of caravan hands and a cache of nice trade goods, and make more money from trades too. However you also start with zero renown, and gain it at half the normal rate, leaving you struggling with the bottom-barrel contracts for a long while.
      • Deserters: You start with three trained men with some decent equipment... and a noble house out to kill them right off the bat. They also only managed to get away with what they had on their backs, so starting money is little too.
      • Cultists: You start with four men and a surprisingly large amount of money too. Unfortunately your four men are deranged servants of Davkul, a capricious and fickle Lovecraftian elder god who randomly demands sacrifices of supplies, weapons... or people. Honouring Davkul gives you boons but not heeding him leaves him displeased, and Davkul also doesn't give a shit if you are going through a rough patch and haven't got a lot to give him at the moment.
      • Northern Raiders: You start with a trio of barbarian warriors who were roped into becoming sellswords by a monk. These barbarians are excellent fighters and get more loot after battles, but most human factions hate them, which means fewer opportunities to trade or take contracts, not to mention higher costs in shops.
  • The early part of career mode in BattleTech is not easy. Yes, you have five Humongous Mecha, but so does everyone else, and odds are that you've probably got a lot of small, vulnerable 'Mechs like the Locust or Commando. If you do have a medium 'Mech, it's more likely to be a liability than an asset as they are usually 40-ton designs, which are generally very squishy for their size. Surviving the first few months is tricky, as you will either have to corner and kill enemy medium 'Mechs or buy some of your own to really start making progress. Better hope your unit started with a Panther.
  • Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is quite this - the first few maps have you vastly outnumbered by enemies that are surprisingly smart, with no form of healing outside of field heals. Fortunately the game is nice and eventually gives you four teammates, a healing weapon usable by everyone, and Tiger Lily.
  • Conviction (SRPG): The early game only allows the player access to infantry and priest classes and troops, making it hard to move across the map quickly or deal with a variety of enemy types. By the mid-game, the player will have more variety, but the abundance of speed-based objectives can make most of the campaigns difficult. The last four chapters of route A are standard campaigns with no speed-based objectives or NPCs to protect, making them less frantic than many of the earlier chapters.
  • This holds true for a lot of opening games in Crusader Kings II especially if you're playing as a kingdom with few provinces or some counties and duchies with powerful rivals. But it's especially true if you're starting out as a Zoroastrian ruler (and you're determined not to convert). Basically you start out with no advantages except a large starting army (if you're playing the satrap of Karen) that cannot be replenished, virtually no one to make alliances with because of religious differences, and completely surrounded by hostile pagan and Islamic rulers who can gang up against you and will sooner or later, and probably sooner, attack you - and even if you do survive for a couple of centuries you'll probably be right where you'll have to deal with swarms of Seljuk Turks. Even strategies posted online by veteran players can only recommend the "gamey" strategy of pledging allegiance to a neighboring Muslim monarch and exploiting the game's mechanics to try to seize their territory from within, or at least play aggressively and rely on luck, or just pick a stronger and more secure pagan ruler and convert to Zoroastrianism (which is itself tricky, since it usually means you'll have to capture a Zoroastrian woman and make her a concubine). Even with save scumming, it's still an accomplishment to start out as a Zoroastrian leader and survive.
  • Disgaea 1 through 3 tend to have somewhat punishing, but reasonable difficulty curbs that make the early game fairly easy if well-played. Disgaea 4, however, is ridiculously punishing early on, with the enemy level average easily exceeding yours if you don't go back and grind, which is incredibly inefficient before unlocking good leveling maps or the skills to make quick work of them. Once you get past around chapter 7 or 8, the game becomes slightly less cheap and more Nintendo Hard.
  • If that's not stressful enough, in Europa Universalis you can try to revive the glory of the Byzantine Empire — starting just a few decades before it was invaded in real life. You have only a few provinces (with ocean and enemy territory between your capital and them), an all but nonexistent army and navy, are surrounded completely by a much stronger enemy who wants your capital province and will work to claim it, and your only ace is that your capital province is a trade center, which really doesn't do you much good all things considered. Although unlike the Zoroastrians mentioned above, there are nearby powers you can form alliances with, they tend not to do much if any good unless the Ottomans find themselves in a bad position early on, which rarely happens. Recommended strategies also tend to be "gamey", like exploiting the peace treaty and vassalage systems to gobble up territory in eastern Europe before the Ottomans can. Luckily the game does give the player considerable bonuses just for being able to expand into the Byzantine Empire's old territory, but most games played as Byzantium won't even make it to that point. The Muslim equivalent to the Byzantine Empire is Granada, with Castile (most likely Spain later), usually in conjunction with Portugal and Aragon, filling the role of the Ottoman Empire. IV even offers players who manage to pull off conquering all of Spain and Portugal as Granada the Re-Reconquista achievement.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics is very difficult in the beginning due to you having access to only a few basic job classes (Squire, Knight, Archer, etc.). Accuracy for many abilities are generally poor, including the critical Life spell for the White Mage (yes a revive spell can MISS). By the 3rd story mission, you'll be fighting a group that have Black Mages on their side and their spells can hit you pretty damn hard while you are most likely relying on the use of Potions to heal at this point. As you level up and unlock more advanced job classes, you can start kicking butt with little effort and you can boost accuracy on some of your moves to ensure they don't always fail.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • The early chapters are the only ones where accuracy is a frequent issue and one miss will cause a unit to die due to not enough buffer HP/defense. This issue is compounded in hard modes due to the enemies being tougher. Early-game Fire Emblem in general is also made worse by the fact that you have few decent weapons and not much money to buy new ones with. Fortunately, most early gear has a high number of uses, but it still usually takes a while for the player to get access to higher-ranking gear. In addition, players have far less flexibility in early levels, being restricted to a small number of units still locked into their base classes. It's for this reason that the meta now generally considers it totally okay to use Crutch Characters, because you need them more early on and later access to better classes makes the EXP loss irrelevant.
    • Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 has a very pronounced case of this—while the first couple maps aren't too hard, the chapters taking place in Manster are downright brutal, between limited healing access, having to start over with what's basically a new party (which lacks the powerful Crutch Characters Eyvel and Dagdar), and many of your characters being mounted units who are stuck indoors and forced to dismount. Once you've escaped Manster, you have enough strong units to carry you.
    • Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is a good example of this trope. In just the first five chapters of the game, it is possible to get a Game Over if the player is careless with their planning. The boss of the third chapter is one of the first to use a throne for an evade boost, and he can take advantage of it quite well. Roy, the game's Lord, can be frustrating to level early on due to his speed issues. Weapon accuracy also adds to the game's difficulty early on. Chapter 4 is often considered one of the hardest, due to its large size, multiple objectives, and enemies that (on Hard) are juuuust fast enough that Crutch Character Marcus can't double them.
    • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is one of the bigger offenders, as unlike most games where the best units come at the start and latter units are mostly to replace ones that die, the first quarter is populated either by units that are terrible (Meg, Fiona, Aran, Leonardo), leave, taking their XP with them, and leave the team even further gimped once they leave (Ilyana, Nailah, Tormod and co, the Black Knight.) and even the decent units (Zihark, Jill, Nolan, Micaiah, Laura, possibly Edward) are frail and/or have hideous accuracy at first, while the next two chapters have Lightning Bruiser badasses on your team from stage 1.
    • The two hardest chapters of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon's remake are Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. The strategy to beat Merciless Mode that most players advise is to utilize class changing to get characters into optimal arrangements, forge extra power onto anti-armor/cavalry/dragon weapons to utterly wreck vulnerable enemies and bosses, and make use of the Warp Staff to skip over particularly troublesome sections. But you don't get to forge or change class until Chapter 4 (and you only get Warp about halfway into Chapter 3), and the majority of enemies in the first three chapters, including the bosses, are Fighters and Pirates, and there are no weapons which counter those classes. Also, your only recourse for healing during most of this period are vulneraries and Wrys's heal staff, when Wrys is a very squishy unit and his heal staff only has so many charges in it. The most significant Wake-Up Call Boss is Gomer, the Chapter 2 boss—only three characters out of the fourteen available at that point can survive a round of combat with him at base level, and the most common advised strategy to deal with him is to try outlasting him until his handaxe breaks. Chapter 1 averts this very slightly, as while it's still abnormally hard for a first chapter, the game deliberately tweaks the enemy level scaling to be lower, and its boss can be cheesed by hitting him at range. This can make Chapter 2 quite a shocker.
    • The first four chapters of Lunatic and Lunatic+ in Awakening are generally considered the most brutal part of the game... because after Chapter 4 you have access to DLC grinding maps. (And yes, Level Grinding there is all but required on those modes.) If you've got the guts to go without (or you're too broke to afford the DLC), Early Game Hell lasts until chapter 8 when you start getting approximately one Master Seal per chapter, allowing you put your best units into their Prestige Classes (probably a well-trained Avatar, then Chrom, then whoever else is kicking ass), and soon after unlock Steel weaponry for purchase in chapter 9's armory.
    • The Conquest and Revelation routes of Fire Emblem Fates are especially bad about giving the player a low unit count for their first few levels. For example, Chapter 7 of Conquest starts the player off with only Corrin and Jakob/Felicia; while the number grows to 6 total during the mission, there's a turn or two between each arrival, and the enemies on the map all hit fairly hard. Revelation's Chapter 7, meanwhile, only gives you Corrin, Azura, and either Jakob or Felicia (until almost the end) in a Fog of War map with a very high number of enemies.
    • The first few chapters of Fire Emblem: Three Houses on Maddening difficulty are the most brutal segment of the game on a fresh file, the main reasons being halved exp, too early enough to access to Battalions and Gambits, who are equippable allies that gives stat boosts and have useful support Gambits such as Stride and attack Gambits be the only method of preventing enemy counter attacks early in the game, no access to Divine Pulse, which let players rewind back to an earlier action for a fixed amount of times in each battle, for the first two chapters, being stuck with Level 1 allies while enemies are several levels higher early in the game, and being stuck with the Noble/Commoner class, which while having access to all weapons and magic types, magic uses are halved in that class, meaning that magic-dependant allies have 6 or less magic uses to cast per battle and are forced to use their weaker Strength stat to attack when they run out. Enemies are also more numerous and have buffed up stats (not only they will hit hard, they will very likely be hitting hard twice) and now access to skills such as Pass, Lance Breaker+, and Poison Strike, making some of them Demonic Spiders. The Blue Lions route is slightly easier than the other routes due to having access to Crutch Characters such as Dedue being a good physical tank thanks to his personal skill granting +4 Defense if he waits to end his turn and Felix with his +5 damage with his personal skill and +5 damage more when his Crest activates, but for other routes, you'll be praying to the RNG gods. Once you have access to Battalions and stat boosting items from the Garden, the game gets a bit easier to handle. New Game+ also gives access to Battalions from past playthroughs right from the start, making it easier on the initial chapters, but you cannot replenish them until you unlock the Battalion Guild.
  • Jagged Alliance 2 forces realistic weapon ranges while sticking the player with pistols and the rare SMG. Unlike STALKER, the environments and combat system make closing the distance impossible, and sticks the player at the mercy of Randomly Drops, allowing the computer to have long arms while you don't.
  • Mordheim: City of the Damned is a game that wants players dead. At the start your warriors will be fragile and lacking any powerful skills, and money will be tight. If it's your first-ever campaign then chances are you'll have a suboptimal build for your warriors that the game will happily chew up and spit out. Be prepared to fire your first few warbands. If everyone has it tough early on then the Cultists have it even worse as their leader is a Squishy Wizard with only one dubiously useful spell (the other factions' leaders are badasses who can handle themselves well in combat) and their other henchmen are quite fragile; in a game where being knocked out can lead to permanent injuries which hamper your warriors' capabilities, this means that only a few bad losses early on will make the game nearly impossibly difficult, necessitating a restart.
    • A small blessing for later on is that the AI generates random warbands to fight yours, which often contain troops like one-armed,, dagger-wielding Marksmen which are no match for the optimised troops developed by an experienced player. The AI essentially uses We Have Reserves to try and knock out your troops. But, early on your low level forces are little different from theirs.
    • There's also the Macrogame to consider, where achievements help build account veterancy. The first warband will start with next to nothing, but after a few small successes, following warbands will have a bigger nest egg, better prices at the market, more capable swords for hire, and points to spend on powerful Veteran Skills. Basically, every start is easier than the last.
  • Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden: Beatable enemies can be hard to find early on, which makes it more difficult to level up for the harder enemies.
    • Enemies that are too hard for you are marked with a red skull. Half the locations on the map seem to have red skulls.
    • Enemies that are individually manageable can be rather harder en masse.
    • You are encouraged to sneak around and pick off enemies one by one, but if they are too tough to take out in one round with silenced weapons, then we return to the second point.
  • Third Super Robot Wars Z: Tengoku-hen starts out brutal for the first half of the game. With a mandatory event that scatters the party members, most of the party members being stripped of their most powerful attacks and sometimes even mecha, and the Quirky Miniboss Squad of the game being comprised of Sphere holders with nasty abilities that affect all units in a battle, the game doesn't pull any punches in terms of difficulty.
  • Super Robot Wars X can be this in its Expert Mode difficulty where enemy upgrades will be at a higher point than players can keep up especially since for the first few stages, the characters that the players have are either the Glass Cannon type or the Fragile Speedster type. The game however does get easier once Simon joins the group and Gurren Lagann ends up becoming one of the best tanks in the game.
  • Valkyria Chronicles peaks early on in Chapter 7, an absolutely brutal Final Boss Preview, but gets much easier later on, when your troops have leveled up and learned how to actually hit things. Some classes get access to new weapon types at higher levels, the most notable being Flamethrowers for Shocktroopers, which let you One-Hit Kill enemies in cover and then take the cover for yourself, GREATLY simplifying the game. You also get Smoke Rounds for the Eidelweiss, a Machine Gun that fires 30 shots(when even 3 hitting the target's head is enough to kill) and Alicia awakens her Valkyria powers. Early chapters are near impossible to A-Rank without a New Game+, but play your cards right later on and you'll be getting A-Ranks left-right and centre. It feels like you're an army of Quadratic Wizards facing an empire of Linear Warriors.
  • Although Wasteland 2 is fairly challenging throughout the whole game, it is VERY brutal at the start. Characters start with an acceptable amount of attribute points, but a ridiculously low amount of skill points -You have enough to buy a total of six ranks in skills, including combat skills. As a reference point, three ranks in a combat skill is probably enough to reach mediocrity with a base 65% or so chance of hitting, and that would be half of your starting points. Pretty much forget about having a secondary weapon at that point. Weapons jam, ammunition is sparse, and you don't have much cash. So, you'll miss frequently or have your gun jam, which will waste the precious ammo you do have, and switching to alternate weapons is harder because you probably aren't trained in them. That's on top of needing to spend skill points on all kinds of non-combat Knowledge and General skills too, some of which are binary you have enough points to succeed or you don't, like the conversation skills. And for players starting the game for the first time, the game gets even MORE difficult because they have no idea what combat or non-combat skills will be needed or when. A character who starts with maxed-out Luck and skill points in Energy Weapons, Heavy Weapons, and Alarm Disarming are going to find themselves quite the liability.
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown has this in spades. You'll spend the first few months of the alien invasion commanding four panicky rookies equipped with kevlar armor and basic assault rifles against enemies with plasma weapons, desperately trying to keep the nations of the world from collapsing into panic as the aliens abduct their citizens and terrorize their cities at will. By the endgame you've got six badasses in power armor, toting reverse-engineered plasma weapons of their own and even psionic powers, supported by aircraft that can go toe-to-toe with the biggest alien battleship and win with ease, and what's left of the world is sleeping soundly because they know you've got this.
  • The sequel XCOM 2 is even more punishing. The alien regime has had twenty years to establish itself and is entrenched in the remaining city centers, so your mission objectives aren't usually "clear the map of hostiles" but "accomplish the objective and get the hell out before reinforcements come in." Global resistance has long since collapsed, so you'll be making contact with local resistance cells one country at a time. And your rookies still can't shoot straight. With the War of the Chosen expansion, you'll also be dealing with three Recurring Bosses who train themselves in new abilities in response to your successes, possess Resurrective Immortality, and will even oppose you on the strategic level by cracking down on allied resistance groups and sabotaging your progress. But eventually you'll learn how to take down those Chosen for good, build up a squad capable of the job, and rebuild XCOM and take the initiative away from the aliens.
  • X-COM: UFO Defense is no cakewalk either: the remakes learned from the master. Despite being able to field a much larger team (up to 14 in the basic transport craft), your rookie troops are barely capable with accuracy that makes them more likely to shoot the ground in front of them then the enemy two feet away, your basic weaponry has a damage rating of "Sponge Bullets", and your armor is literally non-existent. Even the basic Sectoid enemy can and probably will tank a shot or two from the basic rifle, and you're at least a month away from better weaponry (assuming you rush research and manufacturing on laser weapons, you might have a laser rifle by February, but you won't have the money to do much of anything else). Your beginning budget is laughable, your single base with basic radar provides such world limited coverage that you can go weeks without ever spotting a UFO, your soldiers improve slowly if at allnote , and your first terror site mission, one of the hardest missions of the game, is reliably coming at the end of the first month. The only redeeming factor at the beginning of the game is that your interceptors can reliably shoot down the UFOs that will be showing up (Small Scout, Medium Scout and Large Scout) without difficulty...until you realize that missiles are a resource you need to purchase. On top of that, new players may not know which research the prioritize to best bring their forces up to the par with the aliens The end of the game is much, much easier, when you're able to field an army of up to 26 soldiers to a mission, all armed with Heavy Plasmas or Blaster Launchers, alien grenades, and for the best, psi-amps that can mess with the enemies, all while flying around the battlefield in functional tank armor, but it will take a lot of effort and death to make it there.
  • Xenonauts starts off with a lot of advantages, such as dedicated special purpose weapons (sniper rifles, shotguns, etc) and decent troopers, even a few with a couple of promotions under their belts. The aliens that you first encounter are also relatively inept, and although their weaponry is dangerous, it's not only possible but likely to survive being shot (at least on lower difficulty levels). However, the bread-and-butter of alien defense, shooting down UFOs, is difficult and demanding at the beginning, requiring a lot of planning and resources to successfully shoot down a basic scout, and the aliens quickly and deliberately ramp up their invasion, such that the second month could introduce escort fighter formations to air combat, smarter aliens with psionic powers that can and will devastate your previously sound tactics, and budgetary concerns that will keep you from expanding as quickly as you need to, leaving most of the world at risk of alien attack and nothing you can do about it. Significant downtime for poor operations is also a recurring theme, with interceptors needing significantly longer repair times if they get badly damaged, wounded soldiers potentially needing a full month to recover from a bad injury, and resupply taking days or even weeks once you start fielding advanced equipment. Later in the game, when you have the resources to cover more of the world (ensuring funding), the base facilities to improve production (speeding resupply) and a full fighting force of soldiers (reducing downtime between missions), you'll be in much better shape to respond to alien aggression.

    Wide-Open Sandbox 
  • At level one, Dead Rising's protagonist Frank West moves very slowly and has low health and inventory space. Compounded by good weapons being rare at this point, the player will have to make do by making a weapon out of whatever you can get your hands on and healing (by eating food) at every opportunity.
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor: After the tutorial cutscenes that teach you basic skills like stealth, countering, and attacking, drops you in the middle of Mordor with no further tutorials. With a slew of wraith abilities the game does not teach you how to use, but are vital to your survival, you will constantly run into large groups of Orcs and multiple enemy arc types that block all frontal attacks and all direct attacks. You will also start encountering Orc captains, who also can fit into these arc types, can kill you quickly, very soon, and grow stronger as they kill you. Even a mob of enemies can be troublesome. Once you start unlocking more powers, though, the game gets much more manageable.
    • The sequel Shadow Of War turns this Up to Eleven. The first area Minas Ethil can be absolutely punishing even on normal difficulty. It has just as many Captains running around as any other area in the game but is much smaller, so you'll keep tripping over them going from one quest to another. And since all possible random traits and immunities are present from the beginning (And there are so much more of them) you could be saddled with a Captain who can turn up at any time who is immune to standard attacks, your frost stun, can't be vaulted over, enraged by merely seeing you, and carries an unblockable poison weapon that takes out all your health in one hit. (The developers seem to know this, and it's the only time where Talion may be rescued from a Captain by a normal Gonderian captain.) As a part of the tutorial, the game introduces you to enemy types with them ambushing you, forcing you to abandon whatever you were doing beforehand. It gets even more hellish on Nemesis difficulty, as every uruk is more durable, captains tend to be several levels higher than Talion, and your "Last Chances" are halved. and that's not even counting "Gravewalker" difficulty.
      • Shadow Of War also introduces a fun feature where Orc captains can adapt to certain attack or defensive option if you use it too much. You start out with five basic ones, standard attacks, counter, frost-based stun, vaulting, and a bow with limited arrows. Basically, you counter a captain's attacks too much and they'll start using more unblockables, vault over those and they'll soon grab you, throw you to the ground and continue to pummel you. Make them vulnerable by freezing them and they'll start blocking your stun attack. Forcing you to use only standards attacks (Leaving yourself vulnerable) or a very limited amount of arrows to damage them... and god forbid they're immune to either. Captains adapt faster on Nemesis, and even faster on Gravewalker.
  • Minecraft's early game is hard, especially for new players. You start off with nothing, you'll have to scour the landscape for supplies, and whenever night hits, you'll likely only have wooden or stone tools and a small stock of food to defend yourself with. If you're unlucky enough to not have found any sheep or villages, you'll be lacking a bed to skip nighttime and have to deal with the mobs that come out during the night. Even if you DO find a bed, you'll then have to venture into the dark, mob-infested caves in order to gather the resources needed to craft better tools and armor. Getting iron and diamonds makes the Overworld a lot more secure, but this difficulty spike occurs AGAIN after entering the Nether, where even the tiniest slipup could send you hurtling into lava, and every living creature (with the exception of the Strider) is hostile and hits HARD.
    • Where you start in a new world can also make or break players. Started out in a forest with cows and pigs nearby? You'll have an easy time gathering supplies. Started out on a lone island in the middle of the ocean with a single tree and no animals? You'll have a harder time. This was later lessened with a new option to spawn a chest within walking distance that has a pickaxe, some food and some torches so you aren't necessarily in a frenzy to get everything ready for the first night.

  • Star Traders Frontiers is brutal at the start, particularly on hard difficulty where permadeath applies. Your starting ship is badly underpowered and generally inefficient at whatever task you want to use it for, while your low-level crew don't have the skills required to pass the game's constant skill checks with any degree of consistency. Expect to take constant ship, crew, and morale damage while merely traveling through space as a result. Furthermore, your lack of standing and trade permits also means you won't be able to access the game's high end cargo at any place other then indie worlds.

  • Baby Pac-Man suffers from this — the player starts off with no power pellets, and the only way to earn power pellets, faster movement, and extra lives is to play the mini-playfield pinball game. To make matters worse, the ghosts are more aggressive than in other Pac-games, and all of them can reverse direction at any time, leaving most players to consider this the hardest Pac-Man game ever made.
  • In Bounty Train, you have to pay money to unlock paths to other cities. Money which you also need to buy goods and coal and subscriptions, and which you won't even have much of unless you have prior experience of the game or you are a very fast learner. Also, you can't know whether a city will pay decently for any given good until you've actually been there and/or bought a subscription to the city's newspaper, which- again- you can't do unless you're inside it. (If you don't buy a subscription, you will be dependent on old information which may or may not still be accurate.) Every city's economy is defined by the RNG, and it changes every month.
  • Progressing through Cook, Serve, Delicious! feels like a chore through the zero- and one-star ranks. Due to the low initial food prices, limited prep stations, and low Buzz (meaning fewer customers), you'll be lucky to scrape together $500 on a typical day. Yet most foods and upgrades have costs in the thousands, meaning you'll have to scrimp and save in order to make even minimal progress, and even then you'll likely find yourself having to pass up significant money-making opportunities (like bets and catering jobs) because you can't afford the required foods. By the two-star rank, most players will have upgraded enough to provide themselves with a steady revenue stream, making the rest of the game considerably more bearable. Surprisingly averted on the hard difficulty, as you receive a significant, permanent 50% boost to buzz, and start off with 6 cooking stations. Within a few days you can jump through a few restaurant and food upgrades without too much worry.
  • Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom. Each new kingdom starts you off with a handful of money and an open area. The first year or so will be spent building houses, getting steady food and water supplies going, waiting for new settlers to move in, and setting up trade with neighbors, all the while minimizing your construction because it's easy to go broke if you overextend, especially on higher difficulties. Once your population and workforce grow to the point you can start gathering taxes and building industries for export, your money woes will soften and you can build and expand your city more safely.
  • While in mid- to late-game Factorio you (hopefully) have a good sized factory and most of the boring tasks are automated, you start out with nothing but a burner mining drill, stone furnace, and a peashooter of a pistol with 10 magazines. There's no small wonder that an entire mod has been created for the express purpose of skipping Factorio's early game outright. When not lightening the load between several players in a multiplayer run, the grind can feel unnecessarily intense for veteran players who just want to jump into their favorite part of the game, and are bored to tears with the first couple of hours of gameplay:
    • The first few objectives of starting up power production, research, mining, and smelting can be a real slog. Often, you will be waiting to get a sufficient amount of resources to build sections of your mines and factory. Once you have those resources, manually crafting what you need will tie up your crafting queue, which occasionally forces you to wait to craft more items or cancel what you're crafting (and God forbid you're doing a "Lazy Bastard" run, in which case you can't even craft more than a certain amount of items before reaching your first assembling machine, which itself requires power). Combine all that with needing to grind through all the early game research to get to automobilism, which lets you explore more efficiently, and trains, which make transporting large amounts of resources across long distances viable (doubly so if you're playing on "Railworld" map gen settings).
    • Once your factory gets to a decent stage of the game where most of the early tasks are automated, you suddenly have to watch for biter attacks, which are triggered by the pollution your factory constantly produces. All of your early game gun turrets will frequently run out of ammo and need to be replenished, and hand-fed ammo if you don't have a dedicated transport belt bringing in magazines and a factory supplying the belt. Neglecting to clear out biter nests early on will leave your base open to more attacks. Biter nests themselves are full of danger and can't be easily cleared out until flamethrower research is finished; flamethrowers are also a mid-game tech locked behind oil research, which itself takes a lot of setup, and often requires scouting of the map to find a sustainable oil field.
  • Fallout Shelter starts you off with a handful of dwellers, very few caps, no equipment but what raiders and lunchboxes give you randomly, and you can't build crafting or training facilities. The first several hours of the game will be spent just getting your vault self-sustaining and holding off enemy attacks. Once you scavenge some half-decent equipment and send dwellers into the wasteland to find more, the game lets up considerably.
  • The Hunter: Call of the Wild:
    • You start out forced to use bad equipment until you can unlock better. You also start out with a very badly woobley aim, which can be mitigated by spending Perk points. Perk and Skill points can also be used to mitigate other very important things effecting difficultly, like how visible you are and the amount of noise you make, and give you other crucial skills.
    • All of the high scoring animals of any type, and all large animals such as bison and moose, are very difficult to hunt early game until you get stronger guns and until you spend Skill and Perk points. You will need to play many hours before you can hope to possibly get anything better than does and low-level bucks.
    • Coyotes and foxes are also very difficult to hunt early game because of how skittish they are due to their good sense of smell and sight. They are also very hard to see in the thick vegetation.
    • Two early missions on Layton and Hirschfelden involve photography, which can make the early game hard because of how broken the photo system is. It doesn't help that one requires two bears in the same picture.
    • One of the early missions on Hirschfelden is to hunt a fox with a bow. Unless you've been grinding or playing another reserve, this often comes at a time when the player has yet to spend Perk and Skill points in visibility and noise stats, making it difficult to not spook the fox until you can lure it in close enough.
  • Ingress is painful to play at first because at level 1, the only XMP Bursters and Resonators you can use will be at L1; L1 Bursters will do Scratch Damage at best unless you stand right on top of a Level 1 Resonator, and L1 Resonators are often just cannon fodder. Once you propel yourself to higher levels, however, you'll have access to higher-level equipment that will withstand enemy attacks better and can do massive damage to enemy Resonators within a 40-meter radius.
  • The first years of King of Dragon Pass can easily go very poorly. Your clan is small and vulnerable to raids, you have access to very few of the gods' mysteries, you're rather diplomatically isolated once you go harder than Easy, and you have no reserves to help weather hard times.
  • Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube are difficult to play for the first time due to 80% of the characters being locked and forcing you to use weaker characters who cannot hit the ball very far. To unlock better characters, you have to beat them in a head to head competition and the rivals will always have hit the ball farther than you.
  • Shira Oka: Second Chances is built on this trope: your character starts out as a self-proclaimed loser with pathetically low stats, but you get to pick up more stat points and better quirks on successive playthroughs and the "Groundhog Day" Loop thus becomes progressively easier.
  • Likewise, in the first few years of KODP's Spiritual Successor Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind, you start out without knowledge of the gods' mysteries and multiple "stresses" on your farming situation that limit the amount of food you can produce until you deal with them.
  • When you first spawn, you can hardly Nitro Boost, meaning you can't attack or go after the mass of dead snakes very well. Plus, your small size makes you vulnerable to being coiled. It's not hard to get to a decent length so that your boost becomes effective, but it can be annoying should you spawn in an area of the map with sparse pellets or near a giant snake that can circle you easily.
  • The very earliest stage of Starbound, especially during the game's early beta. The game starts you off with only a broken weapon to defend yourself with, plain clothing for armor, and the only tool you have to manipulate the world around you is a Matter Manipulator that verrrrrry sssssllllowly chips away at the world. In order to make the most basic tools (some of which aren't initially that much faster than the manipulator), you'll need to chop down an entire tree with only the manipulator's "wiggles" and break off around ten pieces of stone. Once you make proper tools, however, things do start to move at a better pace and exploring becomes much easier. It's also a bit of a Luck-Based Mission. What type of Single-Biome Planet you end up on is random. If you wind up on a desert planet, it'll be harder to find wood. If you end up on an snowy planet, you'll likely freeze to death if you can't gather wood for a campfire in time (and might freeze anyway if it's cold enough). If you end up on Planet Heck, you'll find out that obsidian is even more time-consuming to mine through. Just having enough fuel to pick a less hostile planet can make things a lot easier.
  • In Stardew Valley, only the most basic adventuring equipment is available from the start (it does 5 points of damage, meaning that even green slimes will take several hits to kill), the player must spend most of their time doing agricultural work in order to earn money, his/her inventory is relatively small, and valuable loot is very rare on the first 20 or so floors. Eventually, the player unlocks sprinklers- which means that farming can be automated- and grows or finds enough food that some can be sold and the rest can serve as relatively cheap healing items.
  • Startopia can be this, depending on the level or sandbox options. Regardless of specifics: you'll not have a lot of energy, and what little you have goes to Arona Daal to buy raw materials and basic facilities. Low energy means power shortages, and guests that were only minorly upset that your station isn't a four-star locale will become really irritated when things shut down. It's inevitable, though, that you'll be able to become nearly completely self-sufficient by making your own goods. It'll get to the point where you'll need to buy another Energy-storing building because you've overloaded the first. Sooner or later, you'll need a third. You'll need a fourth one before you realize it, and the fifth one is practically instant. Before you know it, you'll experience an economic version of The Singularity.
  • The first mission of Star Wars: Rogue Leader, the Battle of Yavin, is brutally frustrating owing to some jankey physics during the final iconic trench run where you fire the proton torpedo down the exhaust port combined with a lack of checkpoints. You get one very easy to miss shot at it at the end of a fairly drawn out mission, and if you miss you go back to the very beginning of the mission. It's also possible to render the level Unwinnable by Mistake by using up all your proton torpedoes prior to the run, which will also punt you back to the beginning of the mission.
  • In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's Adventure Mode, the Schizophrenic Difficulty plus your lack of good spirits means you will often have to face powerful 3-star level spirits with a bunch of wimps. Fortunately, once you start to pull yourself together and get better spirits, the difficulty evens off, and by the time you reach the Realm of Dark, you'll only really fear the strongest enemies in the game at that point.
  • An example for an in-universe MMO, the titular Sword Art Online. Half of all player deaths occurred before beating the first dungeon, and it took a disproportionate amount of time to complete (over a month, while it took about two years to do seventy-four more dungeons).
  • Terraria:
    • Gathering resources in the early game, especially expert, can be increasingly difficult. The underground is plagued with traps that'll easily kill you, mobs that can quickly overwhelm you, mobility is heavily limited without a hook, fall damage is a likely hazard without an accessory to negate it, and most of the basic armor defense is paper thin and only offers the slightest bit of protection. May the great Terraria Gods above help you if you spawn with a Corruption/Crimson biome on either side of your base at that. It isn't until you finally get the Corrupt/Crimson armor sets does the difficulty let up and, ironically, many feel that hardmode is when the game truly starts to balance out in terms of difficulty and armor progression.
    • This trope is especially true for summoner playthroughs. In 1.3, their three pre-hard mode staffs are either an extremely rare drop that you pretty much need a mob statue to grind the mobs to get (slime staff), acquired by beating a boss (the Queen Bee, which also must be beaten for one of the only pre-hardmode summoner armors), or is made from hellstone, which requires the second best pre-hardmode pickaxe (corruption/crimson, which requires beating their respected bosses to craft). You could also sequence break using the Reaver Shark, an item acquired by fishing, to get hellstone before fighting a boss, but this was changed in 1.4. Fortunately, 1.4 also gave summoner some other early game options, such as the Finch Staff and whips. This gives the summoner a much easier way to start out, though the lack of early summoner armor or accessories and the weakness of the early weapons leave it still one of the hardest classes to start.
    • The Easter Egg seed "not the bees" makes the beginning of the game significantly more challenging by making almost all of the world a Jungle, one of the hardest biomes in the regular game. It also has other nasty gimmicks such as honey replacing water to greatly slow down the player, Hornets being able to spawn anywhere instead of just the Underground Jungle, and several Larve being dotted around the world making it easy to summon Queen Bee by accident. It is more difficult for an early player to get around a "not the bees" world than even a "for the worthy" world, which was deliberately designed to be a leap in difficulty. Once the player gets enough progress to get through the Jungle normally and has tools strong enough to regularly farm Queen Bee, the difficulty sinks like a stone until Hardmode. And even in Hardmode, the player by that point would have likely found a way to build several safe spots or have easier access to other biomes from late Pre-Hardmode movement gear. Meanwhile, "for the worthy" worlds continue to scale with the player and reach the point where Hardmode bosses can one-shot those with endgame gear.
  • Warframe is pretty rough on new players for two main reasons. First, new players don't have access to very many of the resources they'll need to make stronger equipment or improve their current gear, which is only to be expected. Second, the game doesn't do a very good job of explaining... well, most things, leaving newbies reliant on the community to learn the ropes. By around Mastery Rank 6, most players have figured out the key mechanics, and they'll have gained access to powerful weapons like the Soma, making the rest of the game much easier (at least conceptually).
  • X3 Reunion and previous X-Universe games are infamous for dropping the player into the universe in a crappy ship with next to no money, no upgrades, bad weapons, and no tutorial. Trading is painfully slow and combat usually results in a Pirate fighter curb-stomping your little ship. Later games alleviate the issue by having alternate game starts give the player a better ship or more money, and rewarding the player more for doing the more numerous plot arcs and randomly generated missions.
    • The later games also give you options to enhance the hell of the early game, such as Terran Conflict's Goner Witness start. You get the Goner Ranger, which is completely unarmed and agonizingly slow, and 350 credits. That's enough credits to buy a handful of Energy Cells, the cheapest ware in the game.
    • The original X: Beyond the Frontier was bad about this even by X standards. You start with a measly 100 credits, no weapons, no time compression device - so you have to spend 30 minutes real time on a one-way trip between stations - and the weakest possible shield in a game where zero shields = dead. Oh, and you have a 3,500 credit debt to pay off (fortunately, the Teladi are pretty patient when it comes to you paying them back).
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
  • Zoo Tycoon can be this, particularly when it comes to dealing with your zoo's guests. You start out with small buildings that can only serve one guest at a time. As your zoo gets more popular, crowds and lines form, resulting in your guests' needs rising and consequently, their happiness decreasing. Eventually, you unlock fancier buildings such as restaurants and large restrooms that have unlimited capacity and do a better job and satisfying your guests' needs.
  • Virtual Villagers is a big example, considering that you start off with a few people that don't know what to do. Your food sources are limited, which means you have to make sure your villagers can develop a trainee skill to keep them from shaking head (indicating failure) over and over, as well as researching new technologies to unlock new things to work with. It isn't until Virtual Villagers 4 where you can select your starting group's skills.
  • In a non-gaming example that still applies to an in-universe game, early on in Yu-Gi-Oh!: Capsule Monsters things are very tough for Yugi and his friends, as they're separated by wild monsters and lack enough power to fight large groups of monsters or particularly powerful monsters effectively. Things become more manageable starting around episodes 4 and 5, when Yugi gains his Dark Magician, Joey and Tea gain Flame Swordsman and Dark Witch, and Yugi obtains the Duel Armor.
  • A non-game example: The Minecraft YouTuber Dream and his Minecraft Manhunt series. The beginning of a Manhunt is almost always one of the most frantic parts, since all the Hunters are nearby and Dream doesn't have any of the tools he'd normally use to fight them off, leading to some dud games where they simply corner Dream and punch him to death in minutes. Once he manages to get some breathing room he can gather resources and equipment, giving him a lot more options to level the playing field.


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