Strategy Guides: Cheating Or Advising?

Strategy guides nowadays are a popular item that many gamers use to help with a particular mission, or to find a certain piece of gear. In a world where the Internet rules over all, guides are as easy to access as ever. But a conversation I was involved in the other day got me thinking; are they cheating? Does using a strategy guide count as cheating, or merely a helpful signpost, pointing you in the right direction? Personally, I believe it is circumstantial. In some situations, it’s absolutely fine. But others, it’s cold flat cheating. And this article will explain why.

So, I’ll begin with why I believe it’s cheating. A strategy guide, in itself, is essentially something that gives you an advantage over the game. The guide tells you everything; where to go, what enemies to expect, what treasure is nearby. Even what secret easter eggs are about. In games where you’re expected to explore for yourself and discover things alone, a strategy guide takes that part away. Dark Souls, for example, is a game that makes you explore. It gives me quest markers, no signs that say “BOSS IS THIS WAY”. From Software want you to find it yourself, and using a guide basically says “screw what the game wants me to do, I’m gonna follow this guide and do exactly what it says”.

In contrast to that, sometimes it means you’ll miss hidden places. Guides that tell you how to progress the main story will put you on that path alone – no deviating off the path. In effect, it turns your open world game into a linear on-rails game. You don’t explore, you don’t do side quests. You focus on doing one questline only, and end up missing a lot. Using Dark Souls as an example again (Dark Souls will be the main game I use to explain my reasons, as this opinion fits with this game perfectly), there are areas that you could never see, as you stay on the path the guide has set for you. Hundreds of hours can be missed, simply because the guide didn’t tell you to go that way.

This leads me to my main reason for why using a guide is cheating; you lose out on the experience of finding things for yourself. The joy of so many games in this day and age is in the discovery of things yourself. Finding secrets on your own, as you traipse through the world, has an amazing effect of euphoria on you. Dark Souls played on this heavily. If you played it, you’ll know how it felt when you beat the Iron Golem and was carried to Anor Londo, with the entire city laid out before you, as the Sun beamed down on the great city. You felt a sense of pride and happiness; YOU reached that point alone, with no-one pointing you in the right direction. Using a guide takes that away, and tells you exactly where to go. It robs the experience of a blind playthrough, and in my opinion, ruins the experience entirely.

On the other hand, there are times when using a guide is perfectly fine. One of these times is if you’re trying to learn how to play a specific build properly, be it in PvP or PvE. Dark Souls has the option for players to build any kind of character they like, including cosplay characters (I’ve done all kinds of cosplay builds, from other Dark Souls characters to Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist). This then leads to players playing new builds they’ve never done before. In order to play it properly, it may require looking up a guide on how to play with that weapon or magic, and what spells to use, etc. In these cases, it’s absolutely fair to do this, in my opinion. In order to get the most out of a specific build that you’ve never tried before, sometimes you need advice on how to play it.

My other opinion on when a guide is fair to use, is when you’ve completed the game several times before, and you’re either rounding up the last remaining easter eggs, or hunting after achievements/trophies. This may seem contradictory to my first point on why it’s cheating, but in reality it’s not. After playing through a game several times, you tend to know it off by heart. You know what spawns where, which dialogue options lead to the best outcome, and what weaknesses a boss has. As such, the advantage given by a guide is made redundant; you yourself have an advantage over the game through experience, and ergo, a guide will give you no more advantage than you already have. Using one at this point would only be to finish collecting those last few items for an achievement, or because you’re a collector and completionist. Such as with Dragon Age Inquisition, and those damn shards…

In conclusion, my opinion is that using a guide before playing through a few times will ruin the experience of learning and discovering for yourself. Games like Dark Souls rely on you going in blind and staying blind until the end; the most enjoyment I got out of the Souls games were from playing myself, discovering things alone and making the mistakes I needed to learn. If you use a guide to hold your hand through the game, you’re merely taking things away from yourself, and to put it bluntly, hurting no-one but yourself. However, if you need to learn how to use a build correctly, or just want to get that very last achievement, then you’ve earned the ability to use a guide.

You may have noticed my excessive use of the words “my opinion” throughout the article. That’s because this is my opinion, and not how I believe everyone should feel. Have a different opinion to mine? Feel free to discuss it with me. I’d love to hear from you guys about what you believe.


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