Dark Soul’s Difficulty Is In Its DNA – The Easy Mode Debate
Earlier this week I spoke about people wanting ‘Easy mode’ put into Dark Souls 3. The reaction was fairly split between people for this and against it. Obviously my views remain the same, Dark Souls should stay the way it is. The idea that people see difficulty as a problem is rather disheartening. Much like a good story or a neat mechanic, difficulty can enhance a video game. In truth, challenge can enhance most things in life, even if you don’t like to admit it.
Dark Souls has always been hard, but never to the point where it’s unfair. Each death is comes with a lesson. Players gain a appreciation for enemy attack styles and patterns, their reach and ability. It may sound bizarre but Dark Souls is a lot like sparring or fighting. Each encounter forces the player to make the most of what they have. Utilize their strengths against the enemies weakness, be it power, movement and reach. Every encounter matters because the player (or for sake of comparing, the fighter) can take damage. Like genuine close combat.
Obviously actual fighting requires much more overall, but the link is still there. Each battle has risk, it requires thought and effort. Removing this takes away the heart of the game/sport. It’s not that Dark Souls is forcing people away from the franchise, it merely asks players to adjust. Those who game the challenge is ‘problematic’ are ignoring cold facts, Dark Souls (and Bloodoborne) is selling huge numbers.
Bringing in over 8,504, 000 sales makes the idea of difficulty being a problem questionable at best. On the whole, video games have been becoming more and more accessible in order to reach the widest audience they can. There’s nothing wrong with that, but not every game has to adhere to this. Complexity and depth has taken a back seat.
Compare Skyrim to Morrowind, Dragon Age: Origins to Dragon Age: Inquisition (to be extreme, Dragon Age 2), Mass Effect to Mass Effect 3, Fallout 3 to Fallout 4. Heck, even games like Xcom have been streamlined to allow all audiences to play it. There’s various factors to count in when this discussion comes up. Huge budget games need to hit massive sales figures to make a profit, often forcing the hand of developers to make games open to as many as possible.
The awkward truth when it comes to From Software games is that there is always a ‘easy mode’ in the game, it’s just not in a name. Magic use rendered a number of sections ‘easy’ in the original, along with the various ‘cheesing’ tactics and builds players could use. Bloodborne was more accessible to the masses, mostly due to the nature of its combat and health-on-hit mechanic. Dark Souls 3′s ‘Battle Arts’ act as a means to make the game slightly more accessible, as does the increase in bonfires. As a franchise, Dark Souls is getting more accessible.
While it may seem harsh, the argument that Dark Souls 3′s difficulty is a ‘problem’ feels misjudged. I don’t recall people asking for easier versions of Crusader Kings, Insurgency, Darkest Dungeon or any other game labelled as ‘challenging’. What makes Dark Souls so different? The ascent to Triple A status is surely part of it, more people want in on the scene but don’t like the challenge.
Part of me understands why people want a lower bar entry. I’d love to play Starcraft 2 online more, but the challenge is intimidating, but it’s the nature of the game and I respect that. Fire Emblem: Awakening kicked my arse when I first started playing. The challenge of matching up units, selecting the best possible approach, it was hard. By the time I entered my 4th restarted play through, Awakening had became a firm favourite, I had learnt my lessons and improved from defeats and failures. It’s the exact same process Dark Souls has.
Difficulty is one of Dark Soul’s core mechanics, all while being its main selling point. Look at the marketing, the community, the challenge is key. When a game releases with the title ‘Prepare To Die Edition’ you’re damn right the difficulty is vital the Soul’s identity. This is why people are against (mostly anyway) the introduction of a Easy Mode. Is it really any surprise the Dark Soul community is against the identity change?
We’ve seen the likes of Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, Dragon age change for the worse in the name of accessibility. At the very core of the debate, this is why Dark Soul’s challenge is regarded so highly.
When all is said and done, Dark Souls still has no easy mode to speak off, and it looks like it never will. This fact should be respected by both sides of the argument. Maintaining the identity of a franchise three games in, with a remastering and new IP in between, is commendable. Challenge is part of Dark Soul’s DNA.