Dark Souls and Difficulty

Dark Souls and Difficulty, an unfair reputation and a misundertood game.

I’m joining the club of blogging about Dark Souls. Though it’s not going to be about why I love it, or my experience with it, because we already have a few dozen of those. Just know that I love it a lot.

What I’m actually here to talk about is an issue which has been bothering me for a bit, the issue of integrating another easier difficulty level, and how that could possibly be bad.

The common sense answer to issuing an easy mode is obviously that more options are good and letting more people enjoy a game is a good thing! That is most definitely what I would think if I didn’t know as much about this game as I do. The enjoyment of Dark Souls, does not come from finishing it and it does not come from just simply seeing different environments or enemy types. You are supposed to learn, explore, and try things out. The game is entirely based on gratification of by achievement. You feel happy when you beat a hard boss, you feel happy when you figure out the patterns and level layouts to proceed forward. The sense of exploration and exhilarating risk are just overpowering and amazing in this game. So, what would happen if we made it a lot easier? Firstly it would make the game short. The meat of the game is trial and error, trying things and failing until you finally succeed. If it was possible for most people to run through everything first try. Then we would have a really mediocre, awkward 8 hour RPG, without any distinguishing features. While now it is seen as a 60-80h game filled with atmosphere and engaging mechanics. If you don’t enjoy this kind of Trial and Error learning process, then I’m sorry. This plain isn’t for you. Having everything be fun for everyone is a noble goal, but it’s ultimately impossible if we want something uniquely appealing. The Souls games are niche games, and that is something that isn’t easily changed, not without changing the entire core of the experience.

Fuck Yeah I did!

That wall of text is the first reason why a standard easymode isn’t needed. The second and most important reason is that there already is one. Don’t believe me? Dark Souls can be incredibly easy, even the first time through. All you need is information.

Every boss has a weakness, every fight has a trick. Every build or character can be made incredibly strong. The choice of difficulty come from using different methods. For example, I belive myself to be decent at this kind of game. So I chose to play it through alone. But every boss, and most areas has a way to summon a companion, human or not. A little help make bosses a cakewalk. On top of that there are easily abusable tricks to kill several bosses. The Taurus Demon for example, he is weak to fire. And you can get firebombs from enemies, the merchant and even from some chests and corpses. They are cheap and easy to find. I can take him down the normal, hack and slashy way with some effort. But if you want to, just keep the range and spam firebombs in his face. He immediately went from pretty hard to incredibly easy. And it works the other way around too, if I find Taurus to be pathetic, I can just try and go at him with a low level, or a crappy weapon. I might even try going at him naked, wielding a tiny dagger. Now the fight is stupid hard! And it goes out further with choices of equipment or stats. There is a ring whose only purpose is to make you die faster. It gives literally nothing in return. Except bragging rights and a crazy challenge. This game doesn’t need conventional difficulty modes, because it’s based on adapting to situations and gathering information. Just play however you feel will be the most enjoyable! Finding stuff out can be fun, but sharing information with others is also fun! If you have any issues or feel frustrated/stuck, look stuff up in one of the two major wikis. Or hell, just head on out to a forum and ask for advice, the community for this game is insanely helpful and nice 90% of the time. There are people literally just waiting to be of help to someone else.

So in a nutshell, the difficulty isn’t really as high as the game’s reputation. The real barrier of entry comes from the grindy/trial and error nature of the content. If you think the game sounds interesting, but are afraid of the difficulty, don’t worry. Several thousand people have your back. In any situation you could possibly get yourself in.

Thanks for reading this far, I’ll gladly take any counteropinions in the thread if you made it through that wall.

TLDR: Easymode is already built in, it’s just hidden, From Software style. Pay a a bit of attention and ask the fans, even bad players can make it through. Oh, and not all games are for everyone, I totally respect disliking this kind of game. It's niche for a reason, its just that the reason isn't difficulty, it's trial and error.

17 Comments
18 Comments
Posted by TobbRobb

Dark Souls and Difficulty, an unfair reputation and a misundertood game.

I’m joining the club of blogging about Dark Souls. Though it’s not going to be about why I love it, or my experience with it, because we already have a few dozen of those. Just know that I love it a lot.

What I’m actually here to talk about is an issue which has been bothering me for a bit, the issue of integrating another easier difficulty level, and how that could possibly be bad.

The common sense answer to issuing an easy mode is obviously that more options are good and letting more people enjoy a game is a good thing! That is most definitely what I would think if I didn’t know as much about this game as I do. The enjoyment of Dark Souls, does not come from finishing it and it does not come from just simply seeing different environments or enemy types. You are supposed to learn, explore, and try things out. The game is entirely based on gratification of by achievement. You feel happy when you beat a hard boss, you feel happy when you figure out the patterns and level layouts to proceed forward. The sense of exploration and exhilarating risk are just overpowering and amazing in this game. So, what would happen if we made it a lot easier? Firstly it would make the game short. The meat of the game is trial and error, trying things and failing until you finally succeed. If it was possible for most people to run through everything first try. Then we would have a really mediocre, awkward 8 hour RPG, without any distinguishing features. While now it is seen as a 60-80h game filled with atmosphere and engaging mechanics. If you don’t enjoy this kind of Trial and Error learning process, then I’m sorry. This plain isn’t for you. Having everything be fun for everyone is a noble goal, but it’s ultimately impossible if we want something uniquely appealing. The Souls games are niche games, and that is something that isn’t easily changed, not without changing the entire core of the experience.

Fuck Yeah I did!

That wall of text is the first reason why a standard easymode isn’t needed. The second and most important reason is that there already is one. Don’t believe me? Dark Souls can be incredibly easy, even the first time through. All you need is information.

Every boss has a weakness, every fight has a trick. Every build or character can be made incredibly strong. The choice of difficulty come from using different methods. For example, I belive myself to be decent at this kind of game. So I chose to play it through alone. But every boss, and most areas has a way to summon a companion, human or not. A little help make bosses a cakewalk. On top of that there are easily abusable tricks to kill several bosses. The Taurus Demon for example, he is weak to fire. And you can get firebombs from enemies, the merchant and even from some chests and corpses. They are cheap and easy to find. I can take him down the normal, hack and slashy way with some effort. But if you want to, just keep the range and spam firebombs in his face. He immediately went from pretty hard to incredibly easy. And it works the other way around too, if I find Taurus to be pathetic, I can just try and go at him with a low level, or a crappy weapon. I might even try going at him naked, wielding a tiny dagger. Now the fight is stupid hard! And it goes out further with choices of equipment or stats. There is a ring whose only purpose is to make you die faster. It gives literally nothing in return. Except bragging rights and a crazy challenge. This game doesn’t need conventional difficulty modes, because it’s based on adapting to situations and gathering information. Just play however you feel will be the most enjoyable! Finding stuff out can be fun, but sharing information with others is also fun! If you have any issues or feel frustrated/stuck, look stuff up in one of the two major wikis. Or hell, just head on out to a forum and ask for advice, the community for this game is insanely helpful and nice 90% of the time. There are people literally just waiting to be of help to someone else.

So in a nutshell, the difficulty isn’t really as high as the game’s reputation. The real barrier of entry comes from the grindy/trial and error nature of the content. If you think the game sounds interesting, but are afraid of the difficulty, don’t worry. Several thousand people have your back. In any situation you could possibly get yourself in.

Thanks for reading this far, I’ll gladly take any counteropinions in the thread if you made it through that wall.

TLDR: Easymode is already built in, it’s just hidden, From Software style. Pay a a bit of attention and ask the fans, even bad players can make it through. Oh, and not all games are for everyone, I totally respect disliking this kind of game. It's niche for a reason, its just that the reason isn't difficulty, it's trial and error.

Posted by Pieman51

The only reason people want an easy mode is because they think the game is too unfair when they get killed after running head-on into a boss and spamming the attack button. No one has the patience or strategy to actually pay attention to the game and play it the way it was meant to be played.

If you ask me.. it makes me ashamed of the PC community to just downright lie about something being too hard after console users have already had that first-hand experience.

Edited by crcruz3

I just wanted to say that I love this game the way it is. I'm with you about it's a question of trial and error. My way is not seeking info anywhere, just exploring and dying and learning. It's fun in the Spelunky sense of fun. My type of games.

The harder the better.

Posted by SirPsychoSexy

There is some trial and error, but to be fair even if you know what to do it can be hard as fuck

Posted by Random45

@Pieman51 said:

The only reason people want an easy mode is because they think the game is too unfair when they get killed after running head-on into a boss and spamming the attack button. No one has the patience or strategy to actually pay attention to the game and play it the way it was meant to be played.

If you ask me.. it makes me ashamed of the PC community to just downright lie about something being too hard after console users have already had that first-hand experience.

Yeah, that's totally the ONLY reason people want an easy mode.

Posted by Oldirtybearon

@TobbRobb: What we find interesting and enjoyable about Dark Souls isn't the same thing, I'm afraid.

The reason I got sucked into Dark Souls is because of the atmosphere and the mystery of Lordran. The ambivalent, almost ethereal nature of the NPCs helped to give an eerie feeling to the game. It's something I greatly enjoyed, and can only really compare to something like Silent Hill 2. I think that is the main crux of any debate between Souls players. Those who love what the world the game paints, and those who love the sheer challenge of it.

When it comes to easy mode though, the game doesn't need it necessarily. but it does need the developers to better explain the mechanics from the word go. It shouldn't have taken me a 15-20 hours of gameplay to meet a fellow player who told me how to upgrade my weapons and equipment, and why that was more important than leveling my soul level. That should have been explained in the game, in a manual, somewhere. The challenge of Dark Souls should stem from strategy, learning enemies, and navigating the treacherous landscape to make it to your goal unscathed. It shouldn't be dependent upon some forum dweller maybe telling you what you're missing is Titanite Chunks to upgrade your Sword of Bad-assery.

Now to be clear, I do love the game as is. I've sunk roughly the same amount of time into multiple playthroughs of Dark Souls as I did playing Skyrim. The first time took me about 50 hours. I've gotten it down to about 25 per playthrough.

Looking at the larger picture of the series, if From includes an "easy mode" I won't blame them. They're seeing a success in the Souls series that they've previously never enjoyed. It's got critical acclaim and is showing the sales to ensure future installments. Hopefully instead of including "easy mode," they simply listen to the criticism from Souls players about the obtuse nature of their game. That's what all of the complaints and criticisms really boil down to. There's zero transparency in a Souls game, as it stands.

And maybe, just for this particular fan, include a goddamn codex so I can read all of the lore in one tidy place.

Posted by Pieman51

@Random45 said:

@Pieman51 said:

The only reason people want an easy mode is because they think the game is too unfair when they get killed after running head-on into a boss and spamming the attack button. No one has the patience or strategy to actually pay attention to the game and play it the way it was meant to be played.

If you ask me.. it makes me ashamed of the PC community to just downright lie about something being too hard after console users have already had that first-hand experience.

Yeah, that's totally the ONLY reason people want an easy mode.

It is... what other excuse could a PC user have to complain about difficulty? The level design? The maze-like areas? That's just up to the player to figure out for themselves.

*Don't know if this was a sarcastic reply, so apologies if I'm mistaken.

Posted by TobbRobb

@Oldirtybearon said:

The reason I got sucked into Dark Souls is because of the atmosphere and the mystery of Lordran. The ambivalent, almost ethereal nature of the NPCs helped to give an eerie feeling to the game. It's something I greatly enjoyed, and can only really compare to something like Silent Hill 2. I think that is the main crux of any debate between Souls players. Those who love what the world the game paints, and those who love the sheer challenge of it.

I love both the challenge AND the world and atmosphere they have built. The sense of loneliness and the way the world just feels. But I also think, that isn't enough to be a game on its own.

@Oldirtybearon said:

And maybe, just for this particular fan, include a goddamn codex so I can read all of the lore in one tidy place.

There are two Codexes for Dark Souls. http://darksouls.wikidot.com/ and http://darksoulswiki.wikispaces.com/. Entirely fanmade! They was a lot of fun to create too! Those wikis are the collective information of thousands of players, testing random stuff out, reading lore on keys and armor alike to create a relatively coherent world.

Moreover, fans has speculated and cross checked small pieces of information on different items or the environment and made up events and lore about the world that is never explicitly said. Stuff like, how the knight in the asylum got hurt and lay down in there after saving you. If you put the pieces together you can paint a picture.

  1. Asylum Demon was on the roof
  2. He lies in a pile of Rubble
  3. Giantass hole in the roof

Conclusion, he got smashed through the fucking roof.

That's just one tiny simple thing that even I could notice, but other people have done some seriously insane speculation around the covenants and factions of the world. Basically what I'm saying is that the obtuse nature of everything which lets the community fills in the blanks themselves, is a part of the game. I don't blame them if they streamline it next game, but I would definitely miss seeing everything grow around it. This game has the best community I've ever been a part of, and I just want to do something like this again. It's fun. But I understand that this isn't the average persons experience playing through it. I just took it the step further this particular time. Being a bit clearer would only be a good thing for most people I think, but let me have some selfish hopes for the next game too. :D

Posted by Laksa

@TobbRobb: Why did the knight save the player character?

Posted by TobbRobb

@Laksa: Good question. I don't know.

I heard that he was intended as a major character with his own little questline, but got cut into that small part because of time issues. So someone at From has probably at least written a reason. All I really know about him is his name. Oscar. :D

Posted by phrosnite
  1. Kill the Dark Knight or whatever he is called
  2. Take his sword
  3. Get 20 str
  4. Now you can one shot most enemies
  5. Profit

The game is definitely challenging but that's when you go somewhere you shouldn't be level and equipment-wise.

Posted by Sarumarine

I played Dark Souls blind on my first time through, with the exception of looking up maps for Sen's Fortress and Blighttown, so admittedly it wasn't totally pure. It took me 45 hours but it felt ages longer than that. I tried to do another play through with a new character only to find the whole game a walk in the park. The boss fights were trivial. I beat nearly all of them in one try (with the exception of the Bed of Chaos because that 'boss fight' is a load of shit) and it made me realize something.

The thing Dark Souls is best at is information warfare. Past basic controls, it denies you everything you need to know in order to play it properly. The most important things like hollowing, kindling, and soul level are literally nowhere to be found in this game. No NPC or tutorial is there to let you in on the ground level of Dark Souls play. They don't even let you know what Humanity means in the grand scheme of things which is crazy considering how critical that is to getting decent item drops from one-time enemies like the armored boar and certain knights. Which, in some ways is so damn frustrating I can't believe From Software has the balls to pull it off.

But this is obviously by design because by withholding that information, Dark Souls wants you to dig. It wants you to dig for everything. Story, gameplay, etc. It also wants players to talk to each other. The community element (such as player messages on the ground), the sense of discovery, is hard wired into this game. Like you're saying here, once you know the tricks and have already dug up everything you need to know, what difficulty is left? Of course, until you learn that stuff, it's going to appear pretty damn hard as the conundrum goes. And the game feels so ruthless that it's hard to tell when it's throwing you a homeward bone, or leading you onto a bridge to get roasted by a dragon.

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Posted by EXTomar

I do think "diffcult" is an often misused idea applied incorrectly in a lot places let alone games. My complaints about Dark Souls has always been it seems be constructed oddly which creates a game I do not wish play. I could complete it but why should I bother if I am not having fun? That doesn't mean it is "too difficult" at all.

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Posted by benjaebe

@Laksa said:

@TobbRobb: Why did the knight save the player character?

Oscar was rather close to going hollow, and being as you're the only Undead who isn't hollow at the Asylum, he figured he'd find someone who wasn't hollow to inherit his mission.

Posted by phrosnite

@Sarumarine said:

It took me 45 hours but it felt ages longer than that. I tried to do another play through with a new character only to find the whole game a walk in the park.

Pretty much this.

Posted by Jazzycola

I didn't read the entire of the blog, but I know where its heading. I don't think people's problem with the game is that it's too difficult. In a lot of ways, dark souls is much easier than demon souls, but at the same time much more difficult to really get a grasp on. There's very little direction in the game which led me to stop playing after I placed the lordvessel. The animation and AI in the game are so janky that sometimes it doesn't even know what to do. The camera in small enclosed areas doesn't know what the hell to do so a lot of the time you're walking around blind. I think that's the problem with Dark Souls.

Posted by TobbRobb

@EXTomar: Exactly! It's just plain not for everyone. I just hear a lot about how difficult it is, and people saying they don't dare play it because it seems too hard.

@Sarumarine: Yup! Nothing to add there. Well, except that it's fairly impressive to do a blind run in 45h. I took way longer than that, though I did fuck around a lot with PvP or just farming for no reason/trying stuff out.

Posted by Ares42

@Oldirtybearon said:

When it comes to easy mode though, the game doesn't need it necessarily. but it does need the developers to better explain the mechanics from the word go. It shouldn't have taken me a 15-20 hours of gameplay to meet a fellow player who told me how to upgrade my weapons and equipment, and why that was more important than leveling my soul level. That should have been explained in the game, in a manual, somewhere. The challenge of Dark Souls should stem from strategy, learning enemies, and navigating the treacherous landscape to make it to your goal unscathed. It shouldn't be dependent upon some forum dweller maybe telling you what you're missing is Titanite Chunks to upgrade your Sword of Bad-assery.

The sad part about this whole debacle is that this is the real truth about the matter and the entire discussion about the difficulty of the game is a distraction. How hard the monsters hit you or how much trial and error the gameplay is doesn't matter at all, the problem is that the game doesn't do a good enough job to clue players into it's design.

@Sarumarine said:

But this is obviously by design because by withholding that information, Dark Souls wants you to dig. It wants you to dig for everything. Story, gameplay, etc. It also wants players to talk to each other. The community element (such as player messages on the ground), the sense of discovery, is hard wired into this game. Like you're saying here, once you know the tricks and have already dug up everything you need to know, what difficulty is left? Of course, until you learn that stuff, it's going to appear pretty damn hard as the conundrum goes. And the game feels so ruthless that it's hard to tell when it's throwing you a homeward bone, or leading you onto a bridge to get roasted by a dragon.

It's completely true that the game is all about uncovering it's secrets, but it cuts it a bit too tight. The major problem with the game is that you place a large amount of your stats in the first 5 hours or so in the game, while you have little to no clue what they actually mean, and the weapon UI and upgrading system is very non-intuitive. While it's not impossible to recoup, by the time people actually figure these systems out they're already so deep into the game that they have most likely put themselves in a bad situation and is faced with the choice of starting over or continuing on knowing they've severly gimped themselves. This is a deal-breaker for many people. Discovering these secrets on your own brings little to no pleasure as they don't really bring any reward, only good hindsight. Making sure people better understood their choices before they commited to them and having a UI that didn't need outside explanation would not steal away from the discovery of the world and it's inhabitants.

Or in short, withholding information about the content of the game = great. Withholding information about core game systems = bad. You can't expect people to enjoy a game if you don't tell them how the game is played.

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