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Discussing the difficulty of Souls games (or: should Dark Souls have an easy mode)

Content of the article: "Discussing the difficulty of Souls games (or: should Dark Souls have an easy mode)"

I know this is a controversial topic but I can't think of a better place to get an honest discussion than this subreddit.

Let me preface this with my personal experience playing Souls games. I started with Bloodborne as a challenge because I heard about how difficult the game is supposed to be. After 12 hours I beat the first boss and 100 hours later I beat Bloodborne and started to really appreciate the game design and artistry that went into it. So as a result I played Dark Souls 2 SotfS and after 100 hours beat the main story and ~70% of the DLC. Then I completed Dark Souls Remastered in ~60 hours and am currently half way through DS3.

And the discoveries I personally made are that for one I don't play these games for the difficulty. I play them for the atmosphere and the gameplay. Another thing I noticed is that the Souls games have changed in how they approach difficulty:

Dark Souls 1 is much slower paced and the difficulty mainly comes from figuring out smart positioning and navigating through the game world. The most infamous example is that as a newcomer you might struggle fighting against the skeletons in the Catacombs because you weren't aware that going through Undead Burg would be much easier. Other examples include figuring out how and where to upgrade weapons or that you can skip the first boss until you have better gear and a vantage point. This has been streamlined over time where e.g. in Dark Souls 3 or Bloodborne the progression path is almost always rather obvious. However, the actual combat has become much more demanding as enemies have become faster, attack in larger numbers and have built in countermeasures to many powerful strats from earlier games.

And to be honest, I truly wish there was a way to make combat easier, especially on your first playthrough. As much as I respect Bloodborne for how beautifully crafted it is I'd rather just replay Dark Souls 1 than Bloodborne because of how frustratingly difficult the later FromSoft games have become. In my opinion the gameplay mechanics start to fall apart if you don't meet a certain skill threshold. Corpse runs become a meatgrinder, constant farming for blood vials and resorting to cheesing bosses after many failed attempts definitely leads to a very different experience than a more skilled player would have who beat the game in maybe just 40 or 50 hours.

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Especially the hardcore community seems to be strictly against that idea because the developer intended the game to be experienced a certain way or because they think it actually isn't hard enough. But honestly it's easy to say "git gud" from the perspective of someone who maybe has 1000 hours invested into the game and is currently beating bosses with triple health in NG++++

Some people may never git gud enough to meet the game at a skill level where everything clicks and all the gameplay mechanics fall into place. How long can you honestly expect someone to bash their head against a brick wall hoping to break through? As it stands the Souls games have garnered a core community of people who are either very skilled or have a very high tolerance for frustration so that's mostly the perspective many people argue from.

So this is why I wanted to provide a perspective that's maybe a bit different. I think there is room for some kind of easy mode as the Souls games in my opinion have so much more to offer than just being hard.

But why does bringing up an easy mode always cause such heated discussions? I believe it is because of 2 reasons:

  1. Gatekeeping: Dark Souls is supposed to be hard. That's how it is marketed and that's the reputation it has garnered. I get it, especially since many fans view the Souls games as a refuge from all the handholding you get in many mainstream games. And I can't fault people who view souls games this way for objecting to the inclusion of easy modes. The only thing I can really say as a response is that according to the lead developer, difficulty for difficulty's sake was never the point. Much rather he wanted the game to be a uniform experience where you overcome tremendous odds. And in fact the devs have done many things to tweak the difficulty over time, e.g. massively streamlining some gameplay elements, despawning enemies in DS2, patching certain enemy encounters, allowing for harder modes via NG+. Changing the difficulty is not off the table then it seems.

  2. The concern that an easy mode would break the game: The major issues people bring up are that people might just lower the difficulty once they even feel remotely challenged, that online play wouldn't work if not everyone is playing at the same difficulty. Also it could fundamentally change the experience if e.g. the easy mode removes content or enables players to ignore certain gameplay mechanics and brute force their way through enemy encounters.

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In this case the discussion becomes less about wether there should be an easy mode but much rather "How do we implement an easy mode without breaking the game?"

This is a discussion in and of itself but this is how I would go about it:

  • make it very clear which mode is the intended difficlty. Also lock the "true ending" and online play for easy mode in order to incentivise people to not lower the difficulty whenever they get slightly frustrated.

  • be transparant about the changes that easy mode would bring to the game. It would be even better to allow people to fine tune what exactly they need to be easier rather than just lowering the difficulty for everything.

  • only change stuff that doesn't mess with the core experience. E.g. cutting content or just buffing your health and attack power would be a bad idea. However I think having something like slightly slowing down the attack speed of enemies and yourself would keep the core experience intact while providing players with more wiggle room to react to enemy moves and having an easier time reading and understanding attack patterns

What do you guys think about this? Should Dark Souls accomodate for players who can't meet the required skill set? If yes, how could an "easy mode" look like? And do you play Souls games mainly for the challenge or for other reasons?

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