On the Souls' difficulty. Good or bad?

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#1 Edited by eroticfishcake (7857 posts) -

Already posted this on the DaS subreddit but I thought I might as well prop it up here.

Anyway, what the title says really. But yes I know this is a rather debatable topic given one that could argue that Dark Souls isn't difficult, rather it just expects a different skill and mind set that most other games don't ask you for. On the other hand, it's not a walk in the park either for most people.

Anyway, back on topic. The theme of death has strong overtones to the series atmosphere and story and considering that death is generally synonymous to a fail state in games I sometimes feel that if often misleads new players. Some common examples include trying to fight the Asylum Demon without realising you need to escape first or going through the graveyard near Firelink. Since the enemies there are statistically stronger for new players they sometimes give up, throwing the game aside under the belief that that was the correct path and calling it bullshit proclaiming artificial difficulty.

Which, while amusing at times can be rather disheartening for me. I love the challenge the series gives me but there's so much more to the game than that. Story, atmosphere, level design, characters, multiplayer components and so fourth and when the difficulty becomes a barrier to these things it can be...disappointing, for lack of a better word and at the risk of sounding condescending?

At the very most, I know FROM SOFTWARE are making certain gameplay aspects of DaS2 more understandable thus accessible. It may not remedy the "problem" but that's the double edged blade of challenging games. It may push others away but it gains a cult following as a result and we are rather fanatic

Sorry for the ramble, I don't create threads often but I like to make a point when I do. Also, this is in the Dark Souls subreddit but it extends to the other games in the series too. So what's your take lads?

Finally, considering that I rarely create threads and that I just don't want a series of yes/no answers I thought it might be interesting to dump some Dark Souls related content.


Bonfireside Chat is a Souls related podcast. So far they've finished Dark Souls and are working their way through Demons Souls.

Twin Humanities is a Dark Souls only podcast created by two chaps on the Polygon forums. One of the lads is rather new to the game so hearing his thoughts is quite interesting too.

Then there's the one episode on Cane And Rinse where they discuss the game book club style like the previous two.


Article wise, there's a tonne out there but two in particular that I've revisited is the breakdown of Sen's Fortress which is a great read if you're interested in level/game design and lastly there's the Chain of Pain where a bunch of reviewers have a back and fourth banter helping each other whilst they were reviewing Dark Souls at the time. Makes a great argument to play this game in a relatively tight vacuum.

Rich Stanton of Eurogamer and self professed mega fan of Dark Souls writes about the game's crowning achievement and the story telling methods between Dark Souls and Skyrim (probably not the best comparisons but I can't but agree anyway.)

Chances are pretty good that I've read every single Souls related things out there but any more are welcome. Also if you've read all the way down here, cheers. Have yourself a humanity.

Edit: Original title was meant to be; "Do you think Dark Souls' reputation regarding it's difficulty is a detriment or in favour to it? (Plus other discussions.)" but apparently GB doesn't like long titles.

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#2 Posted by MikeLemmer (1447 posts) -

Dark Souls' greatest detriment is not its reputation for difficulty, but its reputation for being utterly vague and hard to understand. It wasn't until I saw Vinny screwing around with the game that I thought, "This looks interesting, and not as vague as I thought. I'll give it a try." And I'm glad I did. It still required looking up a few things on FAQs, though, like how to forge Boss Weapons & the benefits of different upgrade paths.

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#3 Edited by Demoskinos (17356 posts) -

Well I think you find older gamers in their early 30's way more comfortable with Dark Souls simply because if you played early 90's PC games you've already seen worse. Gamers these days are used to having their hands held which is why this game sticks out so much in this day and age.

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#4 Posted by mosespippy (4751 posts) -

I don't think the game would have nearly as affective of an atmosphere if it wasn't for the challenge. I walk down dark hallways into unknown areas in loads of games. The fact that in Dark Souls it could be leading me to certain death or a safe area makes it very tense. Add to that the fact that I could be adventuring in an area too soon makes it even more tense. And it's not like there are any areas that are impossible no matter your level. You don't have to run from the Asylum Demon; you can kill him the first time and get sweet loot for it. The risk reward of punching above your weight class adds to the experience.

Dark Souls is a game that requires lots of thought and planning as well as the ability to adapt to your situation. The graveyard skeletons are a good test for players. You can't take them down easily head on at the start so you have to search for alternative methods or alternative routes. If you can't do that then Dark Souls is not the game for you. Better to weed them out early on so as not to waste their time.

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#5 Edited by sunbrozak (2257 posts) -

I love the vague nature of Dark Soul's world. Being forced to look around and find where you are supposed to go, gives you a better appreciation for the environment. I think it gets away with it because it's a cleverly designed world, with shortcuts and connecting paths abound. And it's incredibly rewarding to find a secret doorway, or an elevator that leads you to a bonfire. It gives a sense of progression to exploring the place that other open-world games lack.

In regards to the difficulty, I agree with @mosespippy. The constant feeling of dread that's integral to the experience of Dark Souls would be lost the second you stop fearing the unknown. But it still respects the player, and if you keep a cool head, you can tackle just about every enemy in that game from the get-go.

It's not perfect, though. There's certain information the game just handles poorly. Poise, for example, is a very useful stat to newcomers that might not be so great at dodging enemy attacks. But the game makes very little attempt at explaining that to the player. So I'd hope there's improvements made towards relaying that sort of information in Dark Souls 2.

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#6 Posted by TheHT (14564 posts) -

Here's the game, here are the basic controls, everything else is there for you to intuit or discover. Oh, more armor makes me tougher but slower. Oh, these skeletons can't die, I should try another area. Oh, this glowing lizard ran away from me and disappeared, that's probably something special. And so on and so forth.

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#7 Posted by cannedstingray (492 posts) -

For me, one of the best things is the "no overworld map". Every few months or so, it seems, I get back in to DS for a while, and it is fairly easy to forget what is waiting around the corner. Last night I picked up my ng+ and headed to the catacombs and the tomb of giants. Holy shit, the amount of suspense that game creates is almost unmatched, and I've beat the game 3 times on various platforms already. But having to do everything by memory with no map to fall back on is really fantastic..

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#8 Posted by Otogi (369 posts) -

The most part, it's fair but then you get in to stuff like cameras clipping through walls that you can't see through.

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#9 Edited by LikeaSsur (1753 posts) -

I don't see how this game is vague. Maybe I've had the misfortune of learning so much about this game through social osmosis, but playing the game is not nearly as devoid of hints as everyone tells you. As soon as you learn to keep your shield up when you walk into a room, it's a matter of learning attacks that every enemy telegraphs. The game also tells you what each stat means, and if you don't have a high enough stat for a weapon, also blatantly tells you.

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#10 Posted by plaintomato (616 posts) -

The two things that make me love Dark Souls are the challenge and the pvp.

The pvp does nothing more than give you a good reason to keep playing long after you might otherwise be done with the game. The challenge though is what got me vested in the game in the first place - it adds almost a puzzle element where you have to figure out where you can go and what you need to do to survive. Even once you know the game pretty well you still have to play thoughtfully. And the first time thru, even figuring out the larger story behind the world is a challenge. None of that would matter if what the game delivers wasn't any good. But it's great, and the challenge makes the game more engaging. So...good. Very good.

It still required looking up a few things on FAQs, though, like how to forge Boss Weapons & the benefits of different upgrade paths.

But this - some of the mechanics need to be outlined more clearly - like invasion conditions, upgrade options, and little things like a "Do Not Eat" label on a Firekeeper Soul would have been nice. Wiki's are great and all, but you should be able to avoid NEEDING a wiki.

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#11 Edited by Sin4profit (3428 posts) -

I originally avoided Dark Souls because i thought it was a, "hard just to be hard" type game, kinda like I Wanna Be The Guy but when i played it i was surprised that it wasn't difficult for the sake of being difficult, it just required a more tactical approach.

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#12 Posted by Stealthmaster86 (739 posts) -

I originally avoided Dark Souls because i thought it was a, "hard just to be hard" type game, kinda like I Wanna Be The Guy but when i played it i was surprised that it wasn't difficult for the sake of being difficult, it just required a more tactical approach.

I beaten it a few days ago. Except for a few places and the duo bosses, this game is pretty much 95% fair. Oh, it's hard, but it's mostly fair. Except New Game Plus. Fuck That.

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#13 Posted by viking_funeral (2664 posts) -

@demoskinos: It'd be nice if I could quote you on my phone.

I totally agree. I came to Dark Souls after replaying Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and it was practically the same game but in 3D. I think the difficulty is only high compared to modern games that hold your hand the whole way. And compared to the NES games of my childhood it's a breeze. I don't thin many younger gamers could play through the original Zelda with the hidden dungeons and no internet.

Finally, get off my lawn! Young whipper-snappers!

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#14 Edited by AdequatelyPrepared (2521 posts) -

Dark Souls is great because the difficulty ties into the story itself. You are meant to be this one guy Undead, barely a speck on the massive landscape, that dares to face down the most powerful creatures of the land. In most games that try to have a story like this, the actual difficulty does not live up to how much the game tries convincing you that you are on an 'epic' quest. Dark Souls makes you feel it through your own struggles.

Fuck Lost Izalith for being a bloom filled mess though. And Bed of Chaos has to be the one boss where they really screwed up, and crossed that line from difficult to just frustrating.

Edit: However, I do think that there are some failings of bringing across concepts to the player, especially when it comes to how multiplayer works. Having some just a bit of extra direction at the beginning of the game would have also helped, instead of basically just saying: "There are two bells. One up, one down. Go."

Edit 2 (sorry): I only just realized that whenever there is a discussion of the difficulty of Dark Souls, almost no one ever mentions the loss of souls upon death. Not quite sure what that indicates, but probably something good about its design.

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#15 Edited by RonGalaxy (4782 posts) -

I think some core systems in that game are poorly explained, and sometimes poorly implemented and designed, leading to a negative difficulty spike. However, the gameplay itself is fantastic; Methodical is the best descriptor I can think of. Encounters with enemies/bosses themselves are extremely gratifying, and tensely in the moment - being 100% immersed in an endless bout that causes you to perspire from your hands, and bite your lip in cheerful anguish. Its one of those things that requires a degree of mastery if you are to get anywhere at a reasonable pace, which is satisfying once accomplished.

My personal issue with the game is that thinking about playing it makes me not want to play it, but when I am playing it I enjoy myself immensely. Might be that my subconscious is still frightened of the game, even though I know it isn't as grueling as its been made out to be. Or maybe it becomes too tense and I have to take a breather for a day or 2. Not sure... Irregardless, I like the game a lot!

Overall I'd say the difficulty is good, but I really do hope some of the bad design choices from the first game get ironed out in 2.

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#16 Edited by Fredchuckdave (10492 posts) -

If Dark Souls wasn't difficult it wouldn't have any aura whatsoever and probably never would have been made in the first place. Learning curve is difficulty, trial and error is what isn't (most platformers, most FPS); that said Dark Souls' curve is like 3-4 hours and that's not really that impressive relative to something like Vagrant Story which is easily 15+ hours or Valkyrie Profile 2 which is around 5 hours; but it is still longer than most last generation stuff.

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#17 Posted by OhBabes (114 posts) -

I think that it's a difficult game when you compare it to its contemporaries, for three key reasons:

1) It doesn't spend much/any time explaining how/when/why to upgrade weapons/armour/shields, or how to level your character effectively to complement your equipment. I see this as a good thing -> it adds an extra layer of discovery and satisfaction when you start to get it all straight in your head.

2) The minute to minute gameplay often leaves little to no margin for error. Fail to block or dodge, or make an attack at the wrong moment, and you're probably dead. Again, this is a good thing - very few games lace so much of your time with that feeling of pressure.

3) The bonfire/"checkpoint" system punishes failure harshly, with just one chance to get back souls/humanity that you lose. This is where I think it goes too far -> by all means have this bonfire/souls/bloodstain system, it's a good one, but some of the hardest bosses need a bonfire closer to their room. The boss difficulty is generally about right, but several require a 5-10 + minute jog through/past enemies just to attempt them again, which is going a bit far.

I'll also add that, although many reviews have said the opposite, Dark Souls is NOT always fair. Sometimes the collision detection goes awry, or the camera decides it hates you. That's not designed difficulty.

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#18 Posted by bybeach (5763 posts) -

I also never learned how to do boss weapons out of their souls. DS is so forgiving though it was easy for me to find a final weapon of a form I liked, that re-inforced well. And finally I got to understand the stats enough to have several shields for use. I also broke the ring of favor and protection, knew I would be sorry if I put that on. I was already half- addicted to havel's ring, and wanted more versatility out of that grouping.

As for difficulty, the graveyard taught me that. For a while I ran around seeing how long I would last against the rejuvenating skeletons and explored around the firelink, but I realized there were other places to be. So valley of the drakes and that ruined section then kicked my ass too, lol. Eventually I funneled to where I could last a while, lit a bon fire and went from there. To be honest I had heard a bit about the game, knew it would tell me where and when, and it did.

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