Are you ready for some lukewarm videogame takes? Because boy do I have a particularly room-temperature one ready for you on this fine day. As the title suggests, I’m of the opinion that Dark Souls should have an easier difficulty setting.
I want to start off by establishing some fundamentals that I would like you to keep in mind while reading this. First of all, I’m going to be using the word “you” a lot here. This is aimed at you, the reader, who is presumably a fan of Dark Souls reading this article with a mildly inflammatory title. This article is aimed specifically at you. Second, I have actually played Dark Souls. The Prepare to Die edition on PC, with a controller and the DSFix mod installed, in case you were curious. I’ve even dipped my toe into Bloodborne. But I didn’t actually get very far in either game. I hit a wall pretty quickly and got frustrated at my lack of progress. If I didn’t struggle with them, this article probably wouldn’t exist. I also want to draw attention to the fact that I’m choosing my wording very carefully. I’m not saying “easy”. I’m saying “easier”. There is a difference, and I’ll explain what that is in a minute.
But before I do that I want to lay out the core of my argument and my personal connection to the subject. This is not an attack on the Souls games. I think it’s super rad that so many people have found so much enjoyment from them. I can recognize that they’re very well-made games, but I can also say that I don’t actually enjoy playing them. But I find myself drawn to aspects that aren’t the gameplay. I want to see more of the world. I want to discover all of that juicy lore and worldbuilding that fans of the series always praise to high heavens. But I can’t.
I don’t necessarily dislike hard games. I find that an appropriate level of challenge can make games very rewarding. Hell, I’m a fan of Monster Hunter. Those games are definitely not easy, and far from simplistic. But unlike in Souls games, I never found the difficulty in Monster Hunter to be a problem. The term “harsh but fair” gets thrown around a lot, especially for Souls games, but I don’t really feel like it applies here. Take an experience I had early on in the game as an example: In the Undead Burgh, before you even see the Asylum Demon the first time, there’s a trap where a boulder rolls down the stairs you’re trying to climb. Now, I’d seen some Let’s Plays at this point so I knew it was coming, and I even saw it on top of the stairs. By all accounts I should have been fine, right? Wrong. I dodged too late and the boulder clipped my foot and took off about a quarter of my health. I felt cheated. And that just feels bad.
Let’s talk about the worst phrase in gaming: “git gud”. While the phrase itself has rightfully become sort of a joke in recent times, its implications still hang over the gaming community like a particularly dank Cheeto mist. According to the “git gud” doctrine, it’s not the game’s fault that you keep dying, and you just need to get better at playing the game in order to progress. This really is the heart of the issue for me: some people, like me, can’t get much better. I’ve seen the argument be made that an easier difficulty in Dark Souls would defeat the purpose of the game and the feeling of dread it’s trying to evoke in the player, but I don’t completely buy that. As the title states, experiences aren’t universal. What may be harsh but fair for some, like you, is impossible for others, like me.
What does giving Dark Souls an easier difficulty actually accomplish? Well for starters, it’ll make the game a lot more accessible. More people could play it and see what the fuss was all about. And the best part is that it’s an option. It doesn’t affect the normal difficulty of the game one bit. You can completely ignore the easier mode if you wanted. But for the people who would benefit from it, it can make all the difference. When Assassin’s Creed Origins was announced to have its Discovery Tour mode, I saw so many people so excited to see the world of that game in an entirely different way. That could only be a net positive in the long run. Because making people who enjoyed Dark Souls into some sort of exclusive club is unwelcoming at best and ableist at worst.
It’s an issue of everyone’s favorite word: “accessibility.” This concept gets brought up every time a particularly hard game comes out. It happened to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, it happened to Cuphead, and it’s inevitably going to happen again when the next From Software game comes out. But I bring it up because it’s something we’re still not very good at in the videogame industry. But we are getting better. Marvel’s Spider-Man let you turn button mashing into button holding. Shadow of the Tomb Raider let you adjust the difficulty of the combat, puzzles, and exploration separately to suit your needs. Examples like this are encouraging, but few and far between. For every Spider-Man there’s a Spyro Reignited Trilogy that didn’t ship with any subtitles in its cutscenes.
So what would an easier mode in a Souls/From Software game look like? I’m not sure, to be honest. I have some ideas, of course, but I’m not a game designer. I’ve never worked in the industry in any meaningful fashion long enough to have the experience to know what is reasonable to implement. Though even something like giving the player more starting health and stamina when they pick the easier difficulty setting feels like it shouldn’t be too hard to implement. It allows new players or people who need it more room to make mistakes and learn at their own pace.
At the end of the day, everyone approaches a game from a slightly different angle. From their previous game-playing experiences, to their mental or physical abilities, to the amount of free time they have to play games, nobody’s experience is universal. So saying things like “Dark Souls is not as hard as you think it is” may be true for you, but for a lot of people it might not be. For me, it’s prohibitively difficult. It’s a game series I wish I could get into, but my skill level is lower than the games require, and that’s just unfortunate. Surely, more people playing the game you love and engaging in friendly fandom discussion can only be a good thing. A game shouldn’t have to be for everyone. But it should be for anyone.