Hot Take: Dark Souls, and difficulty in games

[Note: I was out of ideas on “Hot Takes” about games to deliver. At least something not involving Nintendo or Baldur’s Gate. So I took it to the members of the Twitter Universe, and this was the one subject I felt I could write something about.]

There has been, for lack of a better term, a debate about difficulty in games. A lot of arguments have been made about difficulty, whether it should be adjustable, and if a game being too hard would exclude an audience that would otherwise enjoy it. Specifically, the Dark Souls series. Of course, like all game-based arguments with any degree of nuance, it’s been divided into a black and white “Real Gamer” issue, which is ridiculous. So I’m going to give out my particular hot take.

The big point made about Dark Souls is that, in order to build up this oppressive atmosphere and dreary, run-down world, the games need to be difficult. You need to get your ass kicked. Life sucks, and then you die. Repeatedly. It is this necessary evil in good world building. Now, I’ll probably catch some heat for saying this, but as someone who grew up on From Software games like King’s Field and Shadow Tower, I’m going to put this out there: no, these games being hard do not make them better. The setting. The lore, or lack thereof. The characters and monster designs. Those are what make those games good. Not to say that I don’t enjoy the challenge. I absolutely do. But I didn’t buy Demon’s Souls on PS3 back in 2009 because I was interested in dying a bunch. I bought it because it looked cool, and the concept of assisting/hindering others in order to come back to life, or to just troll people via the messaging system sounded awesome. And it was! It was a great game! But I also knew that it wasn’t a game for everyone, which was a shame given the other RPGs getting released at the time being nowhere near as good or having as much care put into its design.

Should there be different difficulty options for Dark Souls? Yeah! I mean, the games aren’t impossible, or Ninja Gaiden levels of unfair, but there’s a lot of investment that needs to be made in order to get the most out it. Probably too much. I like hard games, but I’m not always in the mood to actually sit down and play one. There’s a lot of moments in those games that don’t feel particularly fair, like Valley of Defilement (I actually like this area, but a lot of other people didn’t), Lost Izalith, or any of the DLC in Dark Souls II. We didn’t need those two dogs in the fight against the Capra Demon! Nothing wrong with wanting to tone things down a bit. There will still be traps, and difficult fights, and things that would make a player feel nervous turning a corner. It just won’t take away half their health.

And besides, it’s not as though an extra option will suddenly invalidate the game. Folks like you or me can still enjoy the challenge that it presents. Now we’ll have more people to talk about it with.

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