How to Unlock The Difficulty Of A Minecraft Map

Minecraft 1.8 introduced a new feature map feature: the ability to permanently lock the map’s difficulty setting. While it’s a great way to encourage you to play without cheating it’s also frustrating if the difficulty is locked at a setting you don’t want. Read on as we show you how both permanently change the setting and unlock it.

What’s the Difficulty Lock?

Chances are if you’ve found this article via search query you know exactly what the difficulty lock is and you’re ready to get rid of it. To bring everyone else up to speed: the difficulty lock is a feature introduced in Minecraft 1.8 that allows players to permanently lock the difficulty setting of a non-cheat-enabled survival game.

The feature was introduced after players asked for it as it prevents you from changing the difficulty to escape a hairy situation. Thus, if you set the game to survival, no cheats, and hard difficulty you can’t flip the difficulty of the game at the drop of a hat to save yourself (e.g. turning it into “Peaceful” difficulty to force all the monsters to despawn after you find yourself hopelessly lost and starving in an abandoned mineshaft).

By default the game difficulty is not locked, but you can find the setting to do so by pressing the “ESC” key to pull up the settings menu and then navigating to the “Options” submenu.

The difficulty lock (seen in blue above) is located right next to the difficulty selection button. Once you press that lock button and confirm your choice the difficulty level for the map cannot be changed with in-menu settings and can only be changed by either enabling game cheats through a backdoor trick of sorts or by editing the actual game file. Let’s take a look at both methods now.

Changing the Difficulty with the LAN Trick

If you just want to change the difficulty setting and you don’t care if you actually unlock it, there’s a little trick that relies on opening your game for play on the local LAN. It doesn’t matter if you’re not actually playing with another person (or if there is even another computer on your network). When you open a game for LAN play you’re granted the ability to both change the game mode (e.g. Survival to Creative) and the ability to toggle cheats on and off.

First let’s take a look at the difficulty setting on our test world.

At present it’s set to “Hard” and locked. There is no way to change the options with the in-game menus and clicking on either the lock icon or the difficulty selection button yields no result. It’s time to trot out the old open-to-LAN trick to work around the lock.

To do so press the “ESC” key to pull up the settings menu, click on “Open to LAN” and then when presented with the LAN game options select “Allow Cheats: ON” as seen in the screenshot above.

Once cheats are enabled then you can use console commands to change the difficulty setting despite the lock. Return to the game and press the “T” key to pull up the chat box/console.

Enter the command “/difficulty peaceful” to change the difficulty level. (The designations for difficulty levels are “peaceful,” “easy,” and “hard,” or “0,” “1,” “2,” respectively.)

Now when you look in the settings menu again you’ll find that the difficulty level has been adjusted based on your console command parameter.

Note, however, that the difficulty setting is still locked. Outside of opening your game to the LAN and enabling cheats every time you restart the game to make any changes you want, you will not be able to adjust the difficulty level.

If you only want to make a single change, such as if you discover that you don’t like the higher difficulty level and just wish to dial it back permanently to a lower level, this trick is perfect and requires no outside software; the change will persist over time even if you leave the game and lose the open-to-LAN cheat mode you enabled. If you want to unlock the lock itself (and not just adjust the setting behind the scenes with a console command) you’ll need to use a Minecraft level editor.

Unlocking the Difficulty Lock

While the previously outlined no-extra-software required trick will likely be sufficient for most people just looking to switch the difficulty setting once, for those of you that like adjusting the difficulty on the fly without resorting to console cheat commands then a more permanent fix is in order.

RELATED: How to Switch a Minecraft World from Survival to Creative to Hardcore

To make permanent changes to the lock mode you need to edit the actual game file, the level.dat. You can’t just slap the file in a text editor, however, as Minecraft uses a specific formatting known as Named Binary Tag (NBT). To that end, we need to call upon a tool you may recall from a previous Minecraft tutorial, How to Switch a Minecraft World from Survival to Creative to Hardcore, NBTExplorer.

NBTExplorer is a free cross-platform designed specifically for editing Minecraft’s NBT-based game files. You can find versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux on the NTBExplorer GitHub page or read more about it at the official thread on the Minecraft forums.

Note: Although this technique is very safe and very unlikely to corrupt your data, always backup your world data before editing it. If you don’t know how to do so, check out our guide to backing up Minecraft data here.

Download and run the application. By default it looks for world data in your default Minecraft saves folder but if you want to edit a save located outside of the default directory you can always browse for it using the File -> Open command to locate the file.

Our test world for this tutorial is called, creatively enough, “Lock Test I”. To access the setting for the difficulty lock, expand both the entry for the save file you wish to edit and the subsequent entry for “level.dat” as seen in the screenshot below.

The entry we’re looking for, among the dozens found in the level.dat file, is right up at the top: “DifficultyLocked.” The default value is “0” or unlocked; it shifts to “1” when you lock the difficulty setting in game.

To permanently unlock the difficulty setting simply double click on the “DifficultyUnlocked” entry and edit the “1” to a “0”. When you’re done make sure to save the changes via File->Save (CTRL+S or the equivalent keyboard shortcut on your system). Let’s load our game back and up check the difficulty setting.

The difficulty selection setting is unlocked and we’re free to change the difficulty setting without resorting to console command or file editing.


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Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.