In defense of the difficulty in From Software's games

Many have criticized the difficulty in Bloodborne and the Souls series for being exclusionary to the casual gaming market, but should that change?

I recently came across an opinion piece online where the author expressed that although he really enjoyed Bloodborne, its lack of a difficulty option was exclusionary to the more casual market. He believed that everyone should be able to get through the entire game without having to dedicate the time required to master the mechanics, and that this problem could be rectified by allowing the player to turn down the difficulty.

This author isn't alone in this belief and although the argument has been around since Demon's Souls was released, it really only gained popularity after the launch of Bloodborne, when the Souls series made its official debut into the limelight. Before Bloodborne, the Souls series was regarded as "that really hard game", and of course many found the difficulty off-putting. Miyazaki's return to the helm and Dark Souls' cult following allowed for a greater amount of resources for marketing Bloodborne. Then suddenly everyone was intrigued by the dark, gothic architecture and nightmarish creatures.

Difficulty is a drawing point for the Souls games

The Souls series gained much of its following and popularity because of its difficulty, not in spite of it

Don't get me wrong, I think that it's fantastic that more people were drawn to the game, because it meant more sales and therefore more incentive for From Software to keep doing what they do best.

What I disagreed with was that people who couldn't have cared less about Dark Souls and Demon's Souls went into Bloodborne expecting it to be a little bit tougher than what they were used to, and subsequently complained about feeling excluded because it was more difficult than they anticipated.

The Souls series gained much of its following and popularity because of its difficulty, not in spite of it, and people who expect it to change because they don't have the time or patience to learn its nuanced approach to combat are selfish. It's a bit like a child on a playground asking to join in a game with a group of children. Then after being accepted, they ask that the game be changed to suit them.

The game was already established in a way that many players enjoyed -- and if it doesn't suit somebody's tastes, there are literally hundreds of other action RPGs that allow for scaling difficulty they can choose from.

The easy way out

Why, you may ask, does it matter if they just add the option to change the difficulty when no one is forced make use of it? I can't speak for others, but one of the reasons that I love the Souls series is because no matter how frustrated I get, there is are no shortcuts to success.

Despite my adoration for the hobby, I'm definitely not what one would consider an incredibly skilled gamer -- and with games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, I've spent literally hours (in some cases days) stuck on the same boss. If the option was there for me to knock the difficulty down a few pegs, my frustration would likely get the better of me and I'd break down, robbing myself of the satisfaction that can only be gained by overcoming a truly difficult challenge.

The Souls community

Granted, there are many who use this difficulty as a means of being exclusionary and spout the phrase, "Git gud, casul!" at anybody who gets stuck. For the most part though, I've found the Souls community to be extremely welcoming, offering advice to anybody who asks, and in many cases even offering to join you for some jolly co-operation if you can't beat a particular boss.

As I said, I'm not particularly skilled, and as a result, I've spent countless hours on the various Souls sub-reddits learning from the experiences of others. Because of the difficulty, I'm forced to look at a number of different approaches to find the best possible solution to my problem. When I finally find one, the feeling of satisfaction I get from successfully beating bosses like Ornstein and Smough -- which took me a solid 12 hours -- is something I haven't had from any other game.

While I sympathize with the plight of those who haven't been able to complete these truly spectacular games due to their unforgiving difficulty, I think that adding the ability to change the difficulty changes the very essence of the series, and would take away one of the key aspects that makes it so great.

There are so few games nowadays that don't hold your hand from beginning to end, and by allowing a shortcut to success by way of a difficulty slider, the Souls games would lose one of the aspects that makes them so unique. And they would eventually become almost indistinguishable from every other action-RPG ever made. 

What do you think about the difficulty of these games? Are you against seeing a slider put in to adjust it? Let me know in the comments!

Featured Contributor

Glen is an avid rock climber, sky diver and bungee jumper who tends to lie about enjoying outdoor activities when in reality, all he does is play a lot of video games.

Published Jan. 21st 2016
  • topher339
    "its lack of a difficulty option was exclusionary to the more casual market"

    Personally, I think that's part of the point point of the series. It caters to those who want a challenge. If they don't want to change, that's their prerogative. The Souls series has been successful as is.
  • Autumn Fish
    Featured Correspondent
    I'm in love with the Souls series! If they added a difficulty option, though, I would certainly use it eventually and cheat myself out of the experience.

    Nothing compares in a world where publishers are working to pull in larger and wider audiences.

    It doesn't matter how casual or skilled you believe yourself to be. Dark Souls is a game for everyone; it entrusts its world to the player and methodically rewards them for turning over every stone.

    It is the only modern game series to come to mind that encourages players to be clever, witty, tricky.

    Anyone can see Bloodborne's credits given they dedicate enough time to be intimate with its systems. It doesn't matter how skilled you may be -- or how experienced you are with Souls games -- when dropped into a new FromSoft adventure, everyone starts at square one.
  • shox_reboot
    Nah, we don't need a difficulty slider in our souls series. The Dark Souls series and Bloodborne have been the only games in my recent memory to cater to the gamers who like a tough/rewarding game.

    I mean c'mon, 99% of the games coming out now are 'accessible' to everyone, what that phrase really means is that 99% of games are geared towards casual gamers while the ones who like a tough/rewarding experience are left unsatisfied. Let us have our games that don't want to hold our hands...we don't complain about games being too easy do we?

    Well...we do. But our voices aren't as loud as the casual audience which is much larger so you guys got nothing to worry about. Just let us have our Dark Soul games.
  • Glen Schoeman
    Featured Contributor
  • Rhys Bjornsen_5219
    But that is an argument that /other/ games' "hard" isn't hard enough for you, resp. that their 'easy mode' can't be turned off - and I agree, games should include more those players who like their games very tough.

    It doesn't answer the question what /you/ would personally lose from /your/ Dark Souls enjoyment, if the game series would offer an 'easy mode' to be used by /others/. (I am genuinely curious here)

    The point of the temptation to cheat on yourself is a valid one, but can be addressed creatively.
  • Robert Guthrie
    I agree. I think that games should be accessible, and I hate the exclusionary "hardcore vs. casual" distinction, but Souls/Borne games are basically built around the difficulty. I'm a pretty casual gamer by a lot of measures and these are still my favorite games ever.

    <---- (Still hasn't beat Orphan of Kos after a dozen hours of trying)
  • Glen Schoeman
    Featured Contributor
    I'm right there with you, mate. Orphan of Kos is so damn hard!

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