Dark Souls is a series that is unrepentant in its difficulty. Beating the game, nay, beating a single boss is a mark of pride. With the Dark Souls 3 about to launch, I’ve spent my week considering just what people love about the game, and why so many others find it alluring yet impenetrable. I’ve read the threads of fans bordering on pleading for difficulty sliders and others begging they be ignored. Yet, for all the disagreement, adding an Easy Mode to the game would be better for everyone and here’s why.
Let me give you an example using a dear friend of mine. Let’s call him ‘O’. ‘O’ is what I would consider an average gamer. He reads gaming sites every now and again but usually goes based on what his friends recommend. He owns a gaming PC and a console, and is also a diehard fantasy and RPG fan. The Dark Souls series seems like an easy recommendation. I know he would love it, except that reason that keeps most prospects away: education by death is frustrating to him. It's understandable; this method of teaching gameplay is unusual in an age where ‘normal’ seems to be the new ‘easy’.
‘O’ is not alone. The difficulty of Dark Souls scares many gamers away. They hear about fans dying over and over again and it’s baffling why that would be fun. Yet, stories from fans are also so alluring. The game drips with tantalizing mystery. Visiting some forum threads is almost like peeking in on another land itself as players reference items and locations and it’s taken for granted that everyone knows exactly what each item does and why it’s important. There’s a sense that you’re eavesdropping in on the ‘in crowd’ and they're so passionate that it's enough to make you wonder what if you're missing out. Who doesn’t want to be in the know with a game is so unabashedly awash in a dark and rotted fantasy steeped in an utter mystique other games just doesn’t offer?
This was me back around Dark Souls 2. I eventually found my way into enjoying the game, as well as Bloodborne last year, but I’ve come to the conclusion that an Easy Mode really would be better for everybody.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Dark Souls is its difficulty. Changing that would take away what its fans love about it. Find another game! That argument assumes that the difficulty of the entire game should change and nobody (I hope) wants that. If you enjoy Dark Souls at its current difficulty, more power to you! What Dark Souls needs is an easy mode for players who need something more accessible, not an easing for every player. There is a whole audience out there who would love the chance to see what Dark Souls 3 has to offer. There are gamers who would gladly throw down their dollars if they knew the game would challenge, but not frustrate them, and eventually pushing them away entirely. They need a mode a little closer to what they're used to in other games before they make the jump to normal mode.
But that’s how you learn the game! you say. That’s how you earn that sizzling satisfaction of a boss kill well-earned. But what about the player who will simply not kill that boss? They exist. What of the player who will throw down his controller in frustration after the eighth time having to fight his way to the door only to die again and lose all of his souls -- remember, modern games don’t exactly train gamers to play carefully and not push their advantage in boss fights (they also don’t train you to just run past those mobs straight to the boss door either). All of this is your training, you would rightly counter, and without it your victories would be empty.
But who are we to say what another player should value? Playing the game on easy is better than not playing it at all, right? And more importantly, why should we really care how another player enjoys their game?
As I read players arguing against easy modes, I can’t help but feel like they think this would somehow devalue their own accomplishments. Would having an easy mode make the game less hardcore or less respected? Only if the majority started playing on Easy, and what would that say about the community. What if we called it something really demeaning, like Rattle and Pacifier mode and gave worse rewards, would that make it better? I say that honestly, as ribbing players who go for an easier mode seems like exactly the kind of thing that would fit in a Dark Souls game.
There is the issue of online play. Clearly, there would need to be separate servers to keep things fair, so you really would have two separate communities, but, importantly, both enjoying the game their own way. I don’t see a problem with this. You can hate the idea of an easy server, but the real life impact is nothing unless you’re also playing on easy mode.
Some might argue that no series should have to change just because some fan wants to like it or be part of the conversation. After all, players who want something easier have their pick of the rest of the genre. This isn’t their game; they should play something else if they’re not up to the challenge. You’re not wrong, but ask yourself, is the difficulty the only thing you love? What about the setting, the mystery, the character development system, or the combat? These are all things that draw potential players in too; the way you talk about it draws people in!
I understand players who resist the addition of an Easy Mode. Dark Souls is one of the last bastions for truly challenging gameplay. That's what makes it most special. What we should want more than anything, though, is for From Software to continue making excellent games. We should want their reach to be as wide as possible and for them to bankroll game after game without struggle.
Their success is better for everyone and it wouldn’t take much. What Dark Souls needs is a better onboarding process. An easy mode that can ease players in and push them up to normal for the ‘good stuff’ without affecting the rest of the community. A tutorial and better explanations for those who don’t visit wikis. Less soul loss. More checkpoints. It could open the game up to newcomers, players with less time, fans who want to try their hand at the incredibly confusing story and lead to more sales, and more fans . That’s something we should all root for, From Software fans more than anyone.