Higher difficulty changes the feel of the game. Let’s take myself as an example, which is like someone being on their 3rd playthrough. I have started on suicidal difficulty and I need to use every known treasure and invest gold and talent points incredibly wisely to make the next hurdle, be it undead wizard or Orc warlord or spider queen. Makes it a very tactical resource constraint game. I find it very enjoyable. But it feels very different to the original playthrough. So this is a means to create another way to enjoy the game.

Then there is the general gameplay. If you are casually playing, you will win a lot and find a lot of things and feel happy about yourself. Some fights like the lich will be tough though. A hardcore gamer that minmaxes everything and grinds for power and dominance will find ‘normal’ too boring, he should play on Hard or Sparta. So difficulty is my way to also balance general/first gameplay against player experience as it exists and as it evolves.

Difficulty impacts unlock chances, heal amounts, monster health and accuracy and evasion and armor, XP gain, … Everything that can be a challenge. Except loot.
Treasure and loot is defined in the game as:
– fixed item finds (like the bone ring from the strange rat)
– X..Y item rolls of Z possibility and certain specs. An Orc warlord has fixed items but also 3..5 rolls of 80% chance to exist, with specs around fighter armor, 1h blade etc.
That 2nd element is POSITIVELY impacted by difficulty. Higher difficulty has a chance to reroll the ‘3-5’ range and take the higher result. So you have better chances to find more loot. Better chance of finding more that is. But not ‘better’ loot. However if you want to find a rare item, you find it quicker on high difficulty because you get more chances.

SPARTA and upwards also adds a change to fights: when a monster is calling for help (new mobs appear from the edge), then they can also appear on the left half of the arena, which can wrack havoc to how you positioned your weaker players.

What difficulty does not do is act by itself. If you like battles to be challenging and they are not, you have to act and increase difficulty. I am against auto-scaling monsters to player level. I make use of what I know about the party strength when I make the ‘gut feel’ fight intro prediction, and to be fair it gets it wrong sometimes.