Why the Soulsborne Games Should Consider an Easy Mode - VRGyani News and Media

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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Why the Soulsborne Games Should Consider an Easy Mode

For better or worse, the Soulsborne games - which include Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne - have become synonymous in the gaming industry with ‘difficulty’. The infamous ‘Prepare To Die’ tagline that has followed the series since the original Dark Souls does a fine job of succinctly communicating the games’ theme. Dying over and over again and learning through one’s mistakes is a major facet of why the franchise is popular in the first place.

However, this emphasis on difficulty has also served to be a barrier to entry. Many players have been drawn in by the series' extensive lore and atmospheric worlds, only to be immediately put off after being crushed by a demon’s hammer, or losing half their health to a starting area enemy. There is an argument to be made that moments like these are core to the series philosophy and that players are meant to learn from them to overcome the games’ challenges. However, as much as this argument holds merit, the learning curve of the Soulsborne games is undeniably a steep one. And with the coming release of FromSoftware’s latest title, Elden Ring, the conversation has inevitably shifted to the question of how difficult the game will be. Along with that conversation comes another inevitable topic of debate: should FromSoftware’s games have an easy mode?

RELATED: New ‘Elden Ring’ Details Explain Game World, Main Character, and Gameplay

This isn’t a topic that is easy to discuss within the hardcore Soulsborne communities, as the mere mention of adding such a mode is often met with vitriol and disgust. Which is a shame, because it’s a topic that deserves an even discussion, as there are some valid points on each side. To that end, from the perspective of someone who has completed each game in the Soulsborne franchise at least once, here is a proposition: The Soulsborne games don’t need an easy mode, but it wouldn’t hurt to have one.

Dark Souls and its brethren aren’t typically known for having fast-paced, gripping stories that keep you on the edge of your seat. Most of the time the story is nearing its final act by the time the player character drops into the game’s world. However, hidden within item descriptions and subtle environmental details is a library’s worth of backstory, worldbuilding, and even fully fleshed out stories about characters both in-game and long deceased. For some, piecing together these wayward bits of information into a cohesive narrative is more engaging than the combat itself. With the combat being more of a means than the actual end, an easy mode would better allow certain players to focus more on what they find enjoyable about the Soulsborne games. After all, many lore tidbits are tied to the defeat of the games’ many difficult bosses, either by soul descriptions or merely advancing to the next area. If the player finds more value in the information the boss gives access to than the defeat of the boss itself, a mode that lowers the difficulty would allow them to more smoothly enjoy the game on their own terms. Lowering the barrier to entry would allow a whole demographic of gamers more interested in the exploration aspect of games to enjoy these titles as well. If it means more Dark Souls fans to discuss and share in the interpretation of lore, how could it possibly be a bad thing?

Another aspect that often gets overlooked is the community of gamers with disabilities. Whether it be mental or physical, there exists a population of gamers with disabilities that make it more difficult to experience games in the same manner as the rest of the population. An easy mode would be a relatively simple way to ensure that those with disabilities have an alternative avenue to experience the rich worlds created by FromSoftware. And while there are no shortage of stories about disabled gamers overcoming the Soulsborne games on their own merits, the question remains: if playing games is already a struggle in and of itself for some gamers, what is the harm in having an optional mode to help alleviate some of that struggle? We’ve had menu options for colorblindness and subtitles for those hard of hearing for years now. Why not add a mode that assists in the ability to experience the game across the board?

In opposition, some players have argued that the addition of an easy mode would rob Dark Souls of the sense of struggle and reward that is intrinsic to the series since its inception. To play a Soulsborne game on a lower difficulty would mean the player never feels the satisfaction gained from completing the game’s numerous challenges. And that is an argument that can be difficult to refute, as it draws on the artistic vision set forth by the developers and Hidetaka Miyazaki, the lead director of the Soulsborne games. However, if someone finds the default difficulty of Dark Souls to be inaccessible to them, who’s to say they wouldn’t struggle just as much on an easier difficulty? Some people are quite simply not very good at games, yet they still enjoy them enough to experience them anyway. The sense of perseverance and struggle would still be present for these players, just on a scale more suited to their own skill level. With an easier difficulty, the Soulsborne games could go from ‘impossible’ to ‘challenging, but doable’ for a huge segment of players.

Many will continue to argue that lowering the barrier to entry for these games in any way is a compromise of the vision set out by the developers. Regardless of how many players may give up on their journey through Lordran, maintaining the game’s default difficulty is important for making sure everyone experiences the game as intended. And that’s a fair point, but it falls flat in the face of the frankly massive modding community that has only continued to grow over the years. Should we start frothing at the mouth because someone modded Skyrim to have Thomas The Tank Engine replace all the dragon models in the game? That doesn’t seem in line with Bethesda’s vision of how they wanted players to experience the game. Should we pillory players who used cheats in Grand Theft Auto for infinite money and a free tank? The answer is of course not, because we’ve long accepted the fact that how each player experiences a game is entirely up to them. With mods specifically, games are quickly becoming a much more malleable medium, allowing players a greater level of control over their experience than ever before. But discounting mods, multiple difficulty levels have been a common aspect of games for years. Silent Hill 2 in particular has difficulty settings for both puzzles and combat, providing even greater built-in flexibility for gamers to experience the story however they wish.

For many gamers, however, it appears the Soulsborne games are different. When a journalist for PC Gamer wrote an article about modding Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice to make the final boss easier, the comments quickly filled with elitist, personal attacks about how the author cheated themselves, and that they should feel ashamed of what they’d done. All because they decided to play a single-player game the way they wanted to play it. There are genuine arguments as to why the Soulsborne games don’t require an easy mode. But for many gamers, the argument against an easy mode seems to stem from a strange desire to police the experiences of others according to their own interpretations of how a game should be experienced. At the end of the day, if someone ‘cheats’ themselves out of a difficult game, either via mods or lower difficulty, it doesn’t affect anyone but the player in question. So long as everyone gets to experience a game in a way that is enjoyable to them, what’s the problem?

This discussion has raged for years now, and it seems unlikely to be settled any time soon. And in all honesty, there doesn’t need to be an answer. Do the Soulsborne games need an easy mode? In short, no. FromSoftware’s games have gone on to become commercial successes and critical darlings, all without an easy mode. However, would including an optional mode that lowers the difficulty of the experience be seriously detrimental to either the game or its players in any way? In short, the answer is also no. Many will argue that players utilizing an easy mode are only cheating themselves out of the quintessential Dark Souls experience. But at the end of the day, it’s their experience to do with as they wish. That’s the point of a single-player game, after all. At the end of the day, why should we deny players the freedom to have the experience they desire?

KEEP READING: 'Dark Souls' Bosses, Ranked



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