Arkham City Part 3: A Difficult Discussion on Difficulty

By Shamus Posted Thursday Feb 9, 2017

Filed under: Batman 452 comments

For a long time I’ve been wanting to contrast Batman with Dark Souls. But every time I get into it I realize we’re just going to end up having the same frustrating arguments that always arise whenever someone mentions Dark Souls.

Dark Souls is famous for being “hard”. But then some people will insist, with a straight face, that Dark Souls is “Not that hard” and someone else says the game is “Tough but fair” and someone else says it’s not hard because videogame torture devices like I Wanna Be The Guy exist. Still other people use Dark Souls as a universal metaphor of arduous challenge. As in: “Ghost Peppers are the Dark Souls of spicy food.”

On top of this is the judgemental attitudes people throw at each other over what difficulty level they play on. George Carlin once said:

Have you ever noticed when you’re driving that anyone who’s driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?

Anyone playing easier than you is a filthy casual noob and anyone playing the game harder than you is a masochistic tryhard.

The point is that some people are really particular about what difficulty levels other people should play on, and so every discussion on what difficulty is ends up getting sidetracked into this side-argument on the “intended experience” and “the right way to play”.

Three Dimensional Difficulty

You only play on Ultra-Violence? Why don't you just stick to walking simulators? Filthy casual.
You only play on Ultra-Violence? Why don't you just stick to walking simulators? Filthy casual.

On top of this, our conversations about game difficulty are fundamentally broken. We have countless people all arguing past each other because they all have different standards and criteria for determining what makes a game “hard”. We’ve been using a simplistic model that imagines difficulty as something that exists on a single axis, with the low end being “easy” and the high end being “hard”. And to a certain extent, this makes sense. That’s how the games themselves present it.

Back in the days of Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM, selecting “New Game” would take you to a menu where you can choose somewhere on the gradient between “Ultimate Baby Mode” and “Technically Possible for Humans”. And that system has stuck around. But since then games have grown in sophistication, audience, and complexity. We have more games than ever before and those games offer a greater range of experiences to appeal to more varying tastes. Games have long since evolved past the stage of being simple mechanical challenges designed to devour quarters, and so I think it’s time we updated the way we think about difficulty.

I’m going to put forth the notion that game difficulty is at least a three-dimensional problem. If we want to pull apart what makes some games “hard” or “easy” then I think we can talk about three independant design choices that all feed into this concept we call “difficulty”.

  1. Mastery
  2. Strictness
  3. Punishment

I realize making up nomenclature and sorting things into categories is a horribly tedious and pretentious thing to do. But I think it’s less tedious than the misunderstandings we keep having over difficulty, and if trying to clear that up gets me marked as pretentious, then I’m willing to bear that burden.

Look, you don’t have to use my definitions, and you don’t have to divide difficulty up like I do. But I hope we can at least agree that when we talk about a game being “hard” we’re dealing with more than one concept.


I am REALLY good at the part of the game where you sit and watch predetermined events play out.
I am REALLY good at the part of the game where you sit and watch predetermined events play out.

I think of mastery as how much mechanical depth the game has to offer. Like, “How good can you get at the game?” Or, how much better is the best player from the worst, and how easy is it to tell the difference?

In the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider there’s a sequence where Lara is sliding down a hill as the tumbling wreckage of an aircraft bears down on her. There’s debris in the way, and the player has to slide around the obstacles to reach the bottom alive. If you make a mistake, you die and start over.

Let’s imagine two players are both going through this sequence. One is a new player who’s just barely good enough to get through it, and the other is the world champion Tomb Raiderer. This player is the greatest and most legendary human being to ever raid a tomb or slide down this particular hill.

By watching the screen, can you tell which one of them is playing? Probably not. You can’t do this section faster, or more efficiently, or more stylishly. There aren’t secret techniques, special moves, or shortcuts. You either pass or fail. Once you’re good enough to make it through alive, you’ve effectively become as good as you can get at this.

Link (YouTube)

And that’s fine. This set-piece is basically a cutscene with some light interactivity to keep you on your toes and allow the player to participate in the danger. It’s more about creating emotion and less interested in offering challenge. Quicktime events are the same way, which is why people often hate them. There’s no room for player expression. There’s no mastery. The game tells you what to do and you do it.

Contrast this with something like Super Mario Brothers 2 and the difference becomes obvious. You can play SMB quickly. Efficiently. Stylishly. You only need to look for a couple of seconds before you can tell if the player is new to the game or if they’re a master.

If you’re really enjoying the gameplay of a particular game, then you might feel compelled to learn to play it better. Maybe you’ll increase that linear difficulty slider. Maybe you’ll play to beat your best score. Maybe you’ll play under self-imposed limitations. A game with deep mastery is a game where there’s a huge performance delta between skilled players and newbies.


Don't make any mistakes ever.
Don't make any mistakes ever.

How many mistakes are you allowed to make before you fail? (Usually this means “death” or “game over”.) How much do your mistakes haunt you after you’ve made them? Hotline Miami is an incredibly strict game, because you’re not allowed to make any mistakes. Any hit means instant death.

Dark Souls isn’t nearly that strict, but it’s still more severe than most games. You can’t take a lot of damage, and when you do it doesn’t magically regenerate. Foes don’t helpfully drop health potions for you to use and you’re not going to find any healing in the environment. Every hit drains your supply of health / estus flasks, thus reducing your ability to absorb damage later. Those resources aren’t replenished until you reach a bonfire.

A shooter with regenerating health is not strict at all. You can make lots of mistakes, and all mistakes are wiped away once you find a safe place to cower for a few seconds. It doesn’t matter if you got through the fight without a scratch or if you got shot a hundred times. As long as you survive you’ll be at full health again by the time you reach the next fight.

Then you have games like Half-Life 2, which is the opposite of strict. While invisible to first-time players, the game actually rewards mistakes. When your health is low, the bad guys miss more, you find more medpacks, and each medpack delivers more healing. When your health is high, the bad guys shoot straight, they hit harder, and medpacks deliver less healing. This is why you can survive for twenty minutes with your health hovering somewhere in the middle, but then you get full health and a full shield and lose it all in thirty seconds. It’s all part of the magic trick Half-Life 2 is performing to make you feel threatened without actually killing you. The game tries to funnel players of all skill levels into the state where they feel like they’re doing fine, but not too fine.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach to game design, but it does sort of blur the player’s ability to appraise their own performance. It’s like lifting in a gym where weights magically get heavier as your muscles get stronger and lighter when you’re getting tired. You might be improving or you might be faltering, but it’s kind of hard to tell.


People are always talking about Sen's Fortress in Dark Souls. I figure it must be one of the most fun areas of the game.
People are always talking about Sen's Fortress in Dark Souls. I figure it must be one of the most fun areas of the game.

So what happens when you fail? What’s the cost to the player in terms of time and progress? In Hotline Miami, you’re sent back just a few seconds to the start of the level. You die often, but restarts are instant and painless. Other games have permadeath, so the cost of failure starts off as trivial and gradually increases as you play.

Too Human even went so far as to deliberately and explicitly punish the player with an unskippable 20 second cutscene on death. In my mind, that’s brutal. In terms of individual frustration, that’s worse than having a one-minute run back to where I died. Sure, twenty seconds is less than a minute, but during those twenty seconds you stop playing the game. Holding the run button is boring, but it’s far better than watching a cutscene you’ve seen a dozen times already.

The Problem With Punishment

If I didn't have the ability to quickload, then failure in Hitman would be miserable. But since reloading is painless, I'm able to laugh my way through the absurd cascading failures of a hit gone wrong.
If I didn't have the ability to quickload, then failure in Hitman would be miserable. But since reloading is painless, I'm able to laugh my way through the absurd cascading failures of a hit gone wrong.

Of the three, I think punishment is the contentious one. From reading what Souls fans have to say about the game, I gather that they need punishment for the challenge to be interesting to them. If the game isn’t threatening to punish them, then they feel like there’s no threat and thus no stakes. They’ll talk about the loop of punishment and retrying, and how it makes their eventual victory more rewarding.

I know it’s trite to distill a difference of opinion into a simple binary “there are two kinds of people”, but there really do seem to be two fundamentally different kinds of people. I don’t just mean “some like it, some don’t.” I mean there are two drastically different ways human beings respond to punishment in games.

I LOVE the new Hitman. If you took away quicksave and quickload, I’d HATE it. On the other hand, once I master a level I want to try beating it in a single run with no reloading. For me, punishment is a dangerous thing. I can enjoy the stakes-raising danger of punishment. I’ve played through stuff like Quake and Half-Life 2 with self-imposed permadeath. I’ve built sprawling mansions and fortresses in Minecraft worlds where death is permanent and the cost of failure might mean the loss of dozens of hours of effort. But the notable thing about punishment in these situations is:

  1. It was always self-imposed.
  2. It was NEVER when I was learning. It was always after I’d basically mastered the game and was looking to test myself.

Let’s say I’m playing a song on the piano and I hit a wrong note. My first instinct is to go back just a few notes, replay them, and make sure I hit the right note this time. I’ve just made a mistake, and I want to correct it as quickly as possible. I may even play those few notes over and over again (correctly this time) just to make sure the proper behavior is ingrained. I know what I did wrong, and I don’t want that wrong motion to get burned into my muscle memory. The last thing I want to do is go all the way back to the very beginning of the song and start over.

If I’m playing Dark Souls and I can’t get the hang of the timing on a boss, then I end up dying and slogging through a bunch of trash mobs before I can try again. That will take a few minutes. By the time I get back to the point where I made the mistake, I’ll have lost track of what I did wrong. In fact, in terms of developing muscle memory the most familiar thing is also the wrongest thing. Which means I’m more likely to repeat my previous mistake, thus further burning those wrong things into my memory. Or I have a moment of hesitation where I struggle to NOT do what I did last time, and end up getting killed because of the uncertainty.

You want to be REALLY careful with punishment in story-driven games. If failing a task means repeating a cutscene, then you've effectively turned your story into a punishment. Which is why story games are so generous with checkpoints these days.
You want to be REALLY careful with punishment in story-driven games. If failing a task means repeating a cutscene, then you've effectively turned your story into a punishment. Which is why story games are so generous with checkpoints these days.

This punishment is not enhancing my enjoyment of the game. It’s actually enraging. I become angry and frustrated and I resent every single moment wasted trying to fight my way back to where I left off.

For me (and I imagine a lot of people who dislike Dark Souls) the cycle of punishment doesn’t make the eventual victory “more rewarding”. It takes away the fun I would otherwise be having throwing myself at a challenge again and again until I master it. The thing that ruins the game for me is the same ingredient that makes the game so compelling for fans. You literally can’t please one group without ruining the game for the other.

Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal. There are lots of genres out there to cater to diverse tastes. That’s the whole reason we bother to classify games into genres: To help us find the stuff we’ll love and avoid the stuff we’ll hate. But Dark Souls is pretty much the only game in the AAA space where these people can get this particular experience. Even eight years after Demon’s Souls kicked off this craze, we’re not seeing the raft of clones, remixes, and copycats you’d expect from something this popular. And the few instances we do see come from the indies.

I think this is why Dark Souls fans have a reputation for being difficult and defensive. When there’s only one game in your genre, the last thing you want is for developers to make it more “mainstream” in response to the constant bitching about the game being “too hard”. If the masses had their way – if the game was changed to make it more palatable to folks like me – then the genre would stop existing.

So I get why we so often end up in these absurdist arguments where a Dark Souls fan is explaining to you earnestly and with no hint of irony that you would enjoy the game if you just played it differently, or thought about it differently, or followed their specific build advice. Many people really do think I’m somehow “missing out” by not playing this game.


Hang on, weren't we supposed to be talking about BATMAN?
Hang on, weren't we supposed to be talking about BATMAN?

So that’s difficulty. No, this list isn’t complete and it can’t be applied to all games. (Try putting adventure games on the Mastery / Strictness / Punishment scale. It’s odd.) But at least we have a framework for comparing different games in a way that won’t immediately end in misunderstanding.

Some games are hard because they have deep systems that take time to master. Some games are hard because they’re unforgiving and even small mistakes lead to failure. And some games are hard because the punishment for failure is severe in terms of time required to return to the point where you made the mistake.

Next time we’ll bring this back to talking about Batman.


From The Archives:

452 thoughts on “Arkham City Part 3: A Difficult Discussion on Difficulty

  1. Mephane says:

    I realize making up nomenclature and sorting things into categories is a horribly tedious and pretentious thing to do.

    I am writing this immediately as I reach this sentence: I do not consider that tedious at all, but actually very fascinating. So go on. :)

    1. Mephane says:

      And now after having read it all, I find your categories (including their names) very sensible. While I haven’t thought about it in these categories yet, they ring true with my own experiences and my personal taste (deep mastery, medium strictness, little punishment). I would go even further and claim not only does this 3-dimensional categorization apply to games as a whole, but to individual sections, encounters, fights or even game mechanics.

      1. Matt Downie says:

        A component of ‘difficulty’ that I don’t think really falls under Strictness, Punishment or Mastery: The testing of innate skills that a human can’t really improve much, like reflexes, versus the testing of knowledge-based expertise.

        So you might have a bit in a Dark Souls game where you have to jump out the way of a trap, and you can do it by having fast reflexes or by knowing the trap is there. In a fighting game you might need to both know that a low punch beats a sliding kick, and be able to react fast enough that you can recognise a sliding kick and hit the low punch button fast enough to respond. And a turn-based strategy game might be hard to learn, but trivially easy once you take the time to build up your knowledge of the mechanics and AI.

        1. Mephane says:

          Of course Mastery itself can be subdivided into multiple things – knowledge, reflexes, perception etc.

          1. Chris Robertson says:

            Thanks for mentioning the multiple aspects of Mastery. I’m casually following the development of an indie game (Rogue Process) where one of the developers (Mike Cook) recently posted a piece titled “The Difficulty With Difficulty“. In it, he points out there are many settings for graphical fidelity, and control schemes, but usually only a sliding scale or multiple choice for difficulty.

            He also acknowledges that this doesn’t work for everyone (calling out Derek Yu's Spelunky specifically).

        2. Robyrt says:

          This is a key point. One of the big reasons that Dark Souls has such a devoted fanbase is that it tests a different kind of “mastery” than most other action games: it tests your knowledge and perception, not so much your reflexes. The idea that you could spend the whole game running away from combat, turtling behind a giant shield, or whittling foes down with poison arrows from 100 yards is completely foreign to brawler games like Devil May Cry, God of War, Ninja Gaiden, Castlevania, etc. but that’s how most people beat Dark Souls for the first time.

          1. CrypticSmoke says:

            Probably my favorite thing about Dark Souls to be honest.

            The combat system is pretty damn basic (light and heavy attack, block and parry. Adding a special skill mechanic took them 3 games and made people flip until they realized that half of those arts are just for the lols, even if the dash made Thrall’s Axe a go to weapon on anyone who wasn’t a brick shithouse in most of my builds) but learning the environment and enemy movements/patterns and weaknesses is what separates the pros from the regular Joes… (Hell that’s really what determines your PvP wins provided you’re not fighting some twink build, which is a bit less common now…in my experience PvP in a lot of games where it isn’t just straight numbers comes down to having pro teir mechanical mastery and lighting quick reflexes, but in my experience with Dark Souls if I know my build and the environment, and at least what class of weapon the enemy is using I can come out ahead with a bit of ingenuity, and I am by no means great at the Souls games. (I’m like, adequate. I tend to go for a glass cannon speedy attacker, or a patient brawler with devastating single strikes. I lack the situational awareness and execution for the former, and the patience for the latter, but I’ve still found great luck by pretending to be a chair and basically teasing the enemy or doing crazy/unexpected things to force a mistake…) Beyond all that though you can completely flip the tables with a Giant’s Seed, an item which specifically rewards you for planning ahead and baiting the enemy when you get invaded, not unlike how you’ll fight the more dangerous power enemies… A neat bit of a single item’s use reflecting on a key combat philosophy the game tries teaching you, which I guess just shows the thought FROM puts into seemingly inconsequential things in their games…

            (Sorry for the wall, I can really gush about the Souls series since they exemplify some of my favorite traits in games, and engross me in a way I feel only the most enthralling vidya can…)

  2. CliveHowlitzer says:

    Speaking as a Dark Souls fan. I never understood why there wasn’t just an option players could check at the start of a playthrough to respawn at boss fights or something. You could force them to play offline. Sure they aren’t getting the whole experience but at least they can play it.

    It wouldn’t offend me as a Dark Souls player and it’d be pretty easy to add, you just keep it 100% separate from the regular game play through.

    That said, Mastery and Strictness are more important to me than punishment. However, I enjoy all 3. I like my games hard and there aren’t enough of them anymore.

    1. Zekiel says:

      Having never played Dark Souls… this (totally valid) question reminds me of the bigger question – why do a majority of story-based games feel it necessary to gate progress to their story by skill? If I don’t want to watch a bit of a film or read a bit of a book I can just fast forward/skip a few pages. If I don’t want to play a boss fight (most likely because its frustratingly difficult) then that generally means I can’t play any more of the game. Boo.

      1. Starker says:

        Dark Souls has only a minimal amount of story. It relies mostly on lore and worldbuilding, which the difficulty is a pretty big part of. In a sense, the boss fights are the story and as such you might as well ask why Shadow of the Colossus doesn’t just let you skip to the cutscenes.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        If the story wasn’t gated behind gameplay, you’d effectively just be watching a movie. The trouble is, that balancing a game’s difficulty is difficult. For example, 2/3 of the story in Crypt Of The Necrodancer is locked behind slowly-increasing amounts of difficulty, where you eventually get the player to pretty-good, or dang-skilled. Then you get to the last 1/3, and it suddenly ramps up several notches, where you there’s almost no room for error, requires mostly complete knowledge of every enemy type and game system, and is very punishing because you have to restart that 1/3 from scratch (there’s only “checkpoints” at these coarse 1/3 sections of story).

        1. Blakeyrat says:

          If I spend $60 on Tomb Raider 3, and I want to watch it as a movie, why shouldn’t I be able to? It doesn’t hurt the people who want to play it as a game in any way. Moreover, if I’m into the story but not really into the gameplay at all (think Spec Ops: The Line), it allows me to skip the gameplay I find boring but still reach the end of the story and see how things turn out.

          Frankly, I see no downside to story-based games including a story-only mode.

          1. Syal says:

            Don’t include extra cutscenes or anything, just make a throwaway line of dialogue for skipped boss fights.

            “Wow, what a fight!”
            “That sure was tough!”
            “That’s the kind of thing you can only appreciate by being part of it.”

          2. Echo Tango says:

            I think a movie/cutscenes option actually would affect the people who choose not to use it. If the cutscenes are meant to be watchable by themselves, then there couldn’t be substantial story content delivered by or during the gameplay, or else the people using the movie-option would still be missing out – the problem being solved by the new option. A game could work with almost no story in the gameplay, as evidenced by games like Crypt Of The Necrodancer, or SpecOps: The Line. However, the Half Life games, Portal games, and others, would not be compatible with such an option.

            1. evilmrhenry says:

              Eh, games with tourist modes or what not usually do that by causing enemies to die in one hit, while removing most risks to your character, or by automating some gameplay elements. It’s not just playing all the movies.

          3. Cubic says:

            Even better, the cutscenes can be found on youtube, for free.

            1. Andy says:

              I “played” the first three Uncharted games this way – watching the cutscene movies on youtube. I don’t feel like I missed anything.

          4. galacticplumber says:

            That already exists. It’s called youtube. Don’t waste dev time on it when players will do it for free.

          5. Fuzzy says:

            I think you gave the perfect example of how cutting out gameplay can be harmful to the story with spec ops. Would the white phosphorus scene have had half of the impact if we didn’t pull the trigger ourselves? What about the crowd scenes? I think there most of the impact was our complicity in the descent into the heart of darkness

            1. That’s literally the entire point; it wasn’t simply “that happened,” it was “that happened because other games have trained you to think that doing what you just did was a good thing regardless of the context, so here’s some context that turns what you thought was a victory (and technically a war crime) into a horrifying war crime that would easily get you kicked out of the military and most likely life itself if it happened in real life.”

              In most MMS games, gameplay is a vehicle to get to setpieces. In SO:TL, it’s half the story’s punch.

        2. Daimbert says:

          I don’t think giving the ability to skip a boss fight if you’ve tried it a number of times (with the lowest being “at least once”) itself would reduce the game to a movie; it just lets people move on with the game if they happen to not be able to beat one particular boss. The worst that could happen here is that you need to learn specific skills or abilities to beat that boss and that then, once you do, you can use that for the rest of the game. If you can’t beat that boss and skip it, then you have to skip all of the other bosses as well because you won’t be able to beat them, either. I had an issue like that with Sakura Wars: So Long My Love where I was taught the combo attacks early in the game but never needed to use them … until one turn-limited boss where you absolutely had to use them, and so I had to actually learn to use them, which really helped me for the rest of the game.

          That being said, skipping all of the gameplay for most games doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, an unabashed story gamer. The stories in story based games aren’t usually good enough to just sit through, and playing through the game can actually be entertaining. For example, I shudder at ME3 if all you did was flit from cutscene to cutscene. Also, Persona 4 Arena and Persona 4 Arena 2 provide an interesting contrast on precisely this point, as for the first one on easy I could keep spamming the special move and win the fights, while in the second I couldn’t … but it gave the ability to have the game fight for you (and thus win). I like the former better than the latter because at least I get to participate in the former, but will take the latter over the Blazblue game that I played where spamming the special move worked … right up until the final boss, meaning that I couldn’t finish it.

          For story-based games specifically, I think that skipping combat won’t work except for cases where there is a lot of interactivity in the story, where you decide how to react to characters and the world (Dragon Age Origins might be a good example of a story-based game where the really interesting parts of what the player decides to do, not the combat parts. Mass Effect has less choices, in general, and they mean less). Then for some players the interactive combat gets in the way of the interactive story, which is what they prefer. Without that, all you’d generally have is an inferior movie, which is not going to be that appealing to most people.

        3. Alan says:

          I think the distinction between “gated by gameplay” and “gated by skill” is important. The gameplay (should) be tightly intertwined with the story. But skill, less so. There are a few games that I enjoyed the exploration and the story and the visuals, but hated the core gameplay. Well, I paid my $40 for them, an this was the 1990s, when god mode codes were plentiful, so I’d toss the game into god mode, or least give myself a bunch of boosts to make the game easy, and would tourist my way through. I particularly remember salvaging a fair amount of enjoyment from the original American McGee’s Alice, which was incredibly creative, but with incredibly unpleasant gameplay.

      3. galacticplumber says:

        Well for one any given fight can be a stepping stone of learning that will either teach you something you need to know later, or tests you on something you were supposed to have picked up by now. Allowing people to skip these things cuts at the very core advantage of linear games to begin with.

      4. John says:

        I think that in most games story exists mostly to reward players for completing gameplay challenges. Beat a level, get a cutscene. Good job, player! When viewed in that light, the idea of giving out a reward–letting the player watch a cutscene–without requiring the player to complete the corresponding challenge seems almost dishonest.

      5. Blakeyrat says:

        One of the Mass Effect writers proposed making a “story only” mode, which showed the story (and let you make all the branching decisions) but skipped all the combat sequences. Presumably the combat would be replaced by quick cut-scenes, ala Metroid: Other M theater mode.

        This being a few years ago after the gaming community had gotten incredibly toxic but before anybody had tried to stem the tide, the response was a cascade of death threats. Here’s an article about it:

        Personally I think her idea was great. Costs little to implement, and would greatly increase the number of people who could enjoy the games entire story.

        1. Mephane says:

          What the hell is wrong with these people?

          1. evileeyore says:

            Sigh. Two things “are wrong with these people”, 1 – The original article mislead readers as to Hepler’s stance on games and gaming in general and 2 – other articles made up quotes out of whole cloth from her in order to fan the flames.

            “Those people” basically expected that she hated playing games and wanted to remove game playing from the games she was working on. It would be like finding out JJAbrams is going to make the next incarnation of your favorite movie franchise, it’s disheartening.

            1. Viktor says:

              Well, in that case the death threats are TOTALLY justified.

            2. Blakeyrat says:

              I’m having trouble seeing your point. Are you trying to say harassment and death threats are a-ok as long as the person making them was misled?

              1. Shamus says:

                While I can’t speak for evileeyore, I think these details are worth noting. No, it doesn’t justify death threats or personal harassment, but it sucks when important details are left out to make the story more enraging.

                The more INTERESTING story: Fans got angry for NO REASON and sent death threats.
                The REAL story: Troublemakers told LIES that angered the fanbase and they sent death threats.

                Reporting the interesting version of the controversy rewards the troublemakers that caused the trouble to begin with. (Assuming their goal was to just stir up drama and sit back and laugh.) And I guess we’re obligated to link to this thing again:


                1. Viktor says:

                  Either way, though, the details of the original story are basically irrelevant. The writer wasn’t talking about ruining anyone’s life or beating fans of the game with a bag of oranges. She was talking about making a change to a video game. I don’t care if the proposed game costs $80 and just displays a screen of the writing team laughing while peeing on your avatar*, DEATH THREATS ARE NOT A REASONABLE RESPONSE.

                  *still better than what we actually got for ME3

                  1. Shamus says:

                    “the details of the original story are basically irrelevant”

                    I DID start my comment off by saying that “It doesn't justify death threats or personal harassment”, so I’m not sure why you felt the need to shout that same point back at me like I’d missed it.

                    This entire thread began when Mephane referred to “these people”. Who did he mean? The BioWare community as a whole, or just the people who sent threats?

                    “Can you believe that the entire community got so mad about this dumb thing that some of them even sent threats?”

                    “Can you believe someone actually sent threats?”

                    If you take the first interpretation – that the community (even people who did NOT send threats) as a whole over-reacted – then these details are not irrelevant. They are important context to understanding whats wrong with “those people”.

                    1. Mephane says:

                      This entire thread began when Mephane referred to “these people”. Who did he mean? The BioWare community as a whole, or just the people who sent threats?

                      Sorry for that; I merely assumed it would be obvious from the context, which it apparently was not. I meant “everyone who issued death threats over this”.

                  2. poiumty says:

                    And I don’t think getting all torches-and-pitchforks angry over the entire community is justified when there were a very small minority of death threats.

                    “But one death threat is TOO MUCH!” Okay, how are you going to stop that mentally suffering internet dweller who didn’t take his pills today from lashing out angrily on the internet when nobody made it clear that shouting on the internet, something he won’t be punished for, is like totally not-o-kay? You think moralizing and taking a Strong Principled Stance, getting angry and lashing out at whoever’s listening is going to stop him? You think telling people who are trying to explain this to you that they’re just a bunch of apologists for Horrible Misdeeds is going to avail you anything?

                    Anyone can use the internet. Yes, this includes the individuals that would murder you in your sleep. There is literally no entrance selection. So I’m sorry that you feel betrayed by the high standards you had for humanity but wake up and smell the flowers already.

                    Death threats are not okay, whatever that means. You know what else is not okay? That news story.

      6. Zekiel says:

        Just want to point out to the various people complaining about this idea as being impractical or silly – is that being able to skip content in games used to be a basic feature – or close to – due to the existence of cheats. If I wanted to skip a frustrating boss fight, I could just turn on godmode and infinite ammo and get through it, then turn them off again afterwards.

        Sure, implementing cheats does take dev time, but probably [I’m guessing] not that much (not least because the cheats may well already exist for testers to use anyway).

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Meh, the devs don’t even need involved if you are a PC gamer.

          Any time a game comes out that I’m interested in, that isn’t the first in the series, I’m obsessive about needing to finish earlier entries before I play the new one, even if I don’t find those as interesting. It’s pretty easy to give yourself +infinity anything with Cheat Engine, which makes it easy to sail through those earlier entries.

          Corollary: I tried this with Dark Souls 1 (I lost interest/got distracted by another game about mid-Anor-Londo on my first playthrough) and that game REALLY DOES SUCK with god-mode on.

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      I’ve been thinking this for a while: Why not have a game mode with as many quicksaves as you like, for those who still “practice”, and another one as it is now? And maybe a third one with no saves, no restarts and maybe some other handicaps, for the people who want to turn it into a competitive sport?

      1. Syal says:

        I’m going to go with “write what you know”. The developers want to make punishing games; that’s why you can’t opt out of PvP without giving up functionality. The numbing repetition is part of the design philosophy, and throwing that off could throw off the whole game.

        1. Ivan says:

          I know this is a few days old but I read something interesting about dark souls once.

          Basically the game was intentionally designed to be “masochistic”. It wants to hurt you and in order to get through it you need to be able to deal with that pain somehow.

          The interesting thing about this is that it makes you (as a player) experience the world much like your character is experiencing it. You are not the only undead sent on this quest, you’re not even the first. In-fact you encounter hordes of hollows on your journey. They were once undead just like you, sent on the same quest, but eventually they gave into the constant torment of death after brutal death and went hollow, giving up what was left of their humanity.

          You see, everyone is constantly warning you about going hollow but at no point while playing can the player actually go hollow. When you fail, you don’t get a game over, you don’t go hollow, you get a “You Died” and the story continues. Your death is cannon and part of the story and so I feel that giving up is also a cannon ending to Dark Souls as well. When you set down the controller for the last time and decide that you’ll never play the game again, you as a player finally go hollow.

          The punishment was always intended as part of the game in order to bridge that gap that normally exists between player and avatar. Dark Souls is probably one of the most immersive games there is… until it throws any amount of platforming at you.

      2. silver Harloe says:

        The flip side to that question is: does every game really have to appeal to every gamer? Why not let Dark Souls be Dark Souls and just don’t play it if the difficulty matrix decisions lead to a game that’s not your cup of tea?
        Like, right now I’m not playing tons of racing games because I just don’t like the genre. I’m not playing hidden-item games because I find them tedious. Why is it okay to skip a game based on genre or mechanics, but not okay to skip a game based on difficulty-matrix?

        1. Kylroy says:

          Because making a racing game with appeal beyond existing racing fans is nigh-impossible, whereas vastly expanding Dark Souls audience would involve some minor, player-optional tweaks. It’s wrong to exclude your game for difficulty alone in that, given the massive payoff in terms of added (potential) players versus developer effort, it amounts to excluding people as an end in itself.

          1. Peter H Coffin says:

            It’s always kind of puzzled me, as an aside, why exactly it is that Dark Souls players aren’t deeply into racing games, for exactly the same reasons that they seem to enjoy playing Dark Souls. That endless refinement of situational play with a very limited tool set seems pretty much exactly how they like to play. “There are many ways to win; find your groove, refine it to perfection, progress” is pretty much how both seem.

            1. Kylroy says:

              Because the gameplay itself is completely different; I actually like that this illustrates how even this breakdown of difficulty remains wholly orthogonal to gameplay. Just because a player likes a particular combination of Mastery, Strictness, and Punishment in an open(ish) world brawler does not mean they’ll like the same in a racing game or a platformer.

            2. Cybron says:

              I like arcade-y racing games – F-Zero GX, for instance. However a lot of the challenge in them tends to be execution based, which usually isn’t what Dark Souls focuses on. I do like the “observation” based challenges in them, like finding the best lines and spotting shortcuts.

              Realistic racing games don’t really feel like they have much in common, though.

            3. tmtvl says:

              Meh, I can stomach Gran Turismo 2, love Crash Team Racing, loathe Need For Speed I Dunno Which One And Do Not Care In The Least.

              None of them seem even close to as well designed in terms of environment, music, story, mechanics,…

          2. evileeyore says:

            “Because making a racing game with appeal beyond existing racing fans is nigh-impossible…”

            False. I can name several racing games I love and I hate racing games.

            That addition is combat. I love the Mario Cart games, Demolition Derby, and a few others whose names escape, but the one thing that they all have that say, Gran Turismo, lacks is combat.

            Just one little tweak.

            1. There’s also Blur, the Sonic & All-Stars games…

    3. Orillion says:

      Because the very concept of potentially offering this to players makes OTHER Dark Souls fans literally froth at the mouth in rage.

      Personally, I think it’d take even more than that. A proper quicksave/load and relegating the bonfires to respawning enemies and levelling up would be a good start.

      Part of what pisses me off about the Dark Souls franchise overall, though, is that it’s not just the only stupid hard punishment ARPG; it’s one of very few games in its genre, and probably the only one with so much player choice in builds and such (albeit mostly false choices, at least in the first game.) The only other game on the PC that feels anything like it, in terms of control at least, is Dragon’s Dogma, and we didn’t even get that until about a year ago. So for those of us that just want an open world noir fantasy action RPG, it’s a carrot on a stick, only the carrot’s poisoned and the person holding it starts beating you to death with the stick as soon as you look at it.

      1. nobb says:

        That would a completely different game with a completely different atmosphere and feel that it’s creators intended. Everything is carefully designed to evoke certain feelings, such as fear, despair, loss but also hope and progress. Trivializing the core experience of the game would destroy those feelings.

        That kind of asking why can’t we have an happy ending to titanic. We could, it would be easy technically, but it would completely change the movie. Perhaps for better, perhaps for worse, but it would have nothing to do with what the author intended.

        Frankly most people here talk about the game respecting their time, but no one talk about respecting the time of the game. Some work ask for some involvement from the spectator/reader. That made them not for everyone and that ok. Morrowind is a good example of a game that ask for time and make for a pretty miserable experience if you don’t allow yourself to give it.

        TL;DR: from my point of view it’s about respecting the author, but feel free to tell me I’m “literally frothing at the mouth in rage”

        1. Jokerman says:

          You know what also ‘destroys those feelings’? Not being able to play the game at all… that’s a real killer to it’s atmosphere.

          I never got why people hate other people having options, “the way the developer intended” makes for an unplayable experience for some, all it is, is an option… it doesn’t effect people who already enjoy what Dark Souls is.

          1. Kylroy says:

            “it doesn't effect people who already enjoy what Dark Souls is.”

            Well, apparently knowing that other people aren’t able to enjoy it *is* central to some players enjoyment of Dark Souls.

          2. nobb says:

            “the way the developer intended” makes for an unplayable experience for some, all it is, is an option

            first it’s not an “unplayable” experience, it’s an offputting one (for you). It’s not like the game didn’t work or you were literally unable to play it because of the bonefire system. You played it and decided that it wasn’t for you, apparently because it was too hard or too time consuming, which is okay. There is nothing wrong with giving up.

            second, as for “just make it an option” I encourage you to read shamus goodrobot devlog on why it’s neither a simple nor (generally) a good idea. Basically you would have to redesign the game around the new save system to such an extent that it would be a very different game.

            1. Jokerman says:

              “There is nothing wrong with giving up”

              Well that’s patronizing as hell…

              I am actually a big fan of the games… I even liked that sup par knock off that was ‘Lord of the fallen’

              I wasn’t talking unplayable in the literal sense, i am sure someone (like Shamus) could torture themselves by pushing through a utterly unpleasant experience, i would say from a practical point of view, the way these games are designed make them unplayable for some.

              I am pretty sure a AAA dev team can put in some anti frustration features… like checkpoints before a boss.

              1. nobb says:

                “There is nothing wrong with giving up”

                Well that's patronizing as hell…

                I’m sorry if it came that way, that the opposite of what I’m trying to convey. Again I’m not a native english speaker so please excuse any mistakes.

                I wasn't talking unplayable in the literal sense, i am sure someone (like Shamus) could torture themselves by pushing through a utterly unpleasant experience, i would say from a practical point of view, the way these games are designed make them unplayable for some.

                I am pretty sure a AAA dev team can put in some anti frustration features… like checkpoints before a boss.

                That the point I trying to make actually. Yes they could, they choose not to. and I think that choice really reinforce the experience they wanted to make, and that departing from it would make for a subpar, or at least very different experience. They made that choice knowingly, choosing to exclude some player instead of diluting their visions. that a really strong (and I dare say in the present game industry, courageous) choice, and even if I imagine it must be unpleasant for people that feel excluded, I think they should be applauded for it instead of put down.

                1. Jokerman says:

                  “Again I'm not a native english speaker so please excuse any mistakes”

                  Sure, no problem.

                  I think the game might not have caught on to start with if they had these options, it’s popularity rose from it being a niche in my opinion. So we have the vision, most people know how the games are supposed to be played, its established as a genre and a series, i think it would do no harm in adding that option it would be a “very different experience” i agree, and that is a good thing, stripping out things some don’t like to let them experience the other part of the game that are good.

                  Abnaxis, the gameplay being an integral part of the experience is true… if you want ‘pure Dark Souls’, if you don’t want that, if you want some of it… but not all of it, and it’s low cost for implement that? I don’t see it as a problem, at all…

                  The core experience remains as is, it’s the same… a new mode doesn’t take away from that, you get the perfect game, other people get a “lesser game” that they enjoy more, they get the level design, the story at more service level, the sharp combat, without the pressure that dying will cause a ton of frustration.

                  The vision gets compromised a little, in an isolated way, the game is liked by more people, hardcore Dark Souls fans get to call ‘casual mode’ players “pussies” everyone is happy.

                  1. Abnaxis says:

                    It depends on what you mean by ‘low cost.’

                    There’s ‘low cost’ as far as ‘just implement it and forget about it.’ Then there’s ‘low cost’ as far as ‘trying to ensure that the new feature sacrifices as little of the vision as possible.’

                    I’m largely in the same boat as you, but with regards to multiplayer in many games. There have been a lot of games that I had a lot of fun with playing coop together with my wife, where the the developers clearly put in as little effort as possible to add the multiplayer feature–e.g. Gladius.

                    Every time I see a developer “focus on the single player experience” (e.g. Skyrim) I want to shout at them to just do lazy multiplayer, because I don’t want matchmaking, or chat clients, or any of the nine-million other multiplayer functionalities most player expect, I just want player two to pick up a controller, press start, and get some input.

                    The problem for both of us is that the game will be judged on how well it implements those new features. If every player who see that Skyrim is multiplayer on the box loads it up and finds out that they can’t actually get all-out Khajiit deathmatch going, they’re going to jump on the forums and bitch, and review scores are going to tank.

                    The same goes for Dark Souls–if all they add is a difficulty slider or quicksaving without any regard for tuning the experience to account for those features, the players who use those features are going to regard the game in a negative light because (e.g.) the load screens are too long or the environments are too boring. That greatly increase the effort imposed by the ‘low cost’ features.

                    Given all of the above, I think we’re both out of luck…

                    1. Wysinwyg says:

                      I don’t understand why you think players who buy the game and hate the core vision of the game would rate the game higher than people who buy the game and choose the watered down compromise mode, but that seems to be a premise of this argument

                    2. Abnaxis says:

                      Ideally, players who hate the core vision won’t buy the game to begin with. It’s not like it’s secret how the game works. But if the devs half-ass implement a compromise to the core vision, it’s less clear-cut what experience everyone is buying–and that’s probably the fastest way to get review bombed.

              2. Abnaxis says:

                It seems like you’re both talking past each other.

                Not to put words in your mouth, Jokerman, but it seems like you’re looking at the game like there’s a bright line separating the ambience/story and the gameplay, while for nobb there isn’t. The gameplay is integral part of the ambience and the story.

                That has ramifications for whether or not you want to include quicksaves, because you’re talking about a completely different experience. It’s like Breaking Bad–some people find the series utterly intolerable because Walter White is a self-centered, petty asshole, but that’s central to the theme of Breaking Bad. Changing that creates a completely different series. Like, completely restart writing the script and re-shooting the action sequences sort of different.

                The solution then, is that people who don’t like watching a series about a petty asshole should not watch Breaking Bad.

                Now, the difference here is that this isn’t a movie, this is a game. There are options for customizing things, and maybe, technically, there isn’t a huge hurdle is coming up with ways to add quick-saves/lower the difficulty of Dark Souls. But that’s fundamentally changing Dark Souls to tell a completely different story, with a different ambience and different themes. It’s like having a slider for how intolerable Walter White is–it’s screwing with central tenets of the emotions the game is trying to convey.

                On the one hand, this seems perfectly reasonable–I mean, it just means that the people who just want to clobber some hollowed warriors and demons get a game where they can do so without caring about the aesthetic, while the people who enjoy the aesthetic can get their punishing aesthetic. But the developer just doesn’t want to make a game for that former category of players. They want the punishing, foreboding aesthetic they’ve created and tuned and that’s it. And I mean…there’s something to be said for a game just being designed for one thing, and doing that thing really well, isn’t there? Is it really right to fault a creator for not creating what you want, because you aren’t their target audience?

                1. Daimbert says:

                  The problem is that when it comes to difficulty, different players will react differently. The designers may have been going for that punishing, foreboding aesthetic, and a particular player might even be able to appreciate that aesthetic and be looking forward to experiencing that with great anticipation … and find that, for them, in the game, it’s not punishing and foreboding but is instead frustrating. And another player, with the same settings, might find most of the game a mechanical cakewalk. A big part of this is going to be player expectations and what they’re used to, another part is going to be player default skill levels, another part is going to be practice time available, and so on and so forth. If a designer picks gameplay or a certain difficulty of gameplay in an attempt to build an aesthetic, what they’re likely to do is end up building that aesthetic for a minority of their player base … leaving all sorts of other players out in the cold.

                  That’s where customization of experience comes in. And it also allows for players who don’t really want that aesthetic but like other parts of the game to enjoy it as well. The more customizable you make it, the better it will be for more players. The downside is the players who can’t resist “cheating”: taking advantage of the difficulty customizations to make it easier, and then complaining that they didn’t get the aesthetic or that the game is too easy. Personally, my advice is to ignore them, but lamentably they are generally the most vocal voices.

                  1. Starker says:

                    This is why Dark Souls has built-in customizable difficulty, though. If the player needs help for beating a challenge and they feel too underpowered to take it on, there are systems to give them a hand. There are a myriad of ways to get stronger and more resilient and you can often enlist the help of NPCs and/or other players for challenging encounters.

                    1. Daimbert says:

                      How many of those systems are either the equivalent of grinding, forcing you to play with other players — and thus be connected — or are things that players who are good at the game won’t also use/abuse? Because all of these are standard techniques that have existed in many games and do not solve the debates over difficulty.

                    2. Starker says:

                      Very few. You don’t need to be connected to summon NPCs and you can get vastly more powerful by just exploring the game world fully and having the right equipment. The game can be can be much much easier if you just have the right resistance or if you come back to a challenge later when you are more powerful. It’s a semi-open world.

                      If all else fails, grinding is always an option, though.

                    3. Daimbert says:

                      Summoning NPCs, then, is something that everyone can do to make it easier, and the exploration/equipment/resistance part is the equivalent of grinding for the most part: if you keep dying, just keep walking around killing things until you’re tough enough or earn the right thing. Admittedly, the right resistance might be learning what that is (like in the Personas: scanning to see what they attack with and are weak to and bring the right characters/Personas to that fight) which is more tactical. But for the most part, it does seem like the options are: grind (kill more things) or things that all players can use (NPCs), which as I said exist in many games and only make the debate over difficulty worse, not better (players who want to do those things find the game too easy; those who don’t still find it too hard).

                    4. Starker says:

                      Yes, everyone can do it (although you have to go out of your way). You can skip it if you are good at the game, but for a new player or someone who is less skilled, getting help for the more difficult parts, exploring the game world and finding/upgrading equipment can make the game vastly easier.

                      It all comes down to the metroidvania (or zeldaesque, if you prefer) nature or Dark Souls — it’s less like running a gauntlet and more like finding the paths of least resistance.

                      A word of warning, though — it’s easy to take it too far and overlevel, thereby ruining the rest of the game. If you find a good xp spot, don’t just stay there and grind until you’re blue in the face. Grab a few levels and move on.

                    5. Starker says:

                      Whoops, replied to wrong comment.

                  2. Daimbert says:

                    A word of warning, though “” it's easy to take it too far and overlevel, thereby ruining the rest of the game. If you find a good xp spot, don't just stay there and grind until you're blue in the face. Grab a few levels and move on.

                    Oh, then I DEFINITELY should avoid Dark Souls; my preferred strategy in games like The Old Republic is success through overlevelling, where I essentially pick up as much XP as I can without getting too bored and hope my level is high enough to let me mostly sail through the fights.

                    1. Starker says:

                      Yeah, Dark Souls is very different from KOTOR. Challenge is a part of its narrative and it’s what makes the game work. Playing an overleveled character is a bit like playing Doom with the god mode on.

                    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Some people only enjoy playing doom with god mode on.Whats wrong about that?

                    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Except that its easier to resist the temptation of using a cheat that does exist than to use a cheat that does not exist.So yeah,one side is wrong,because their preference makes the enjoyment of the other side impossible,not just slightly annoying.

                    4. Starker says:

                      Well, overlevel then, if you want. I’m not stopping you. I’m just warning that it won’t be the same. That’s not how the game is meant to be played. And I would argue that Doom is not meant to be played with god mode either — if you go that far, you might as well watch the game on Youtube.

                    5. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      “Not meant to be played like that” is not the same as “no one can enjoy it like that”,as Ive pointed out in another comment about speedruns and twitch plays pokemon.

                    6. Starker says:

                      I never said no one can enjoy it like that. I said that overleveling too much changes the nature of the game, a bit like playing Doom with god mode would. It destroys the challenge which is a big part of the Dark Souls experience.

                    7. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      But you* are acting like its the only valid experience.

                      *As in “you fans”

                    8. Starker says:

                      I’m not a Dark Souls fan. I merely think it’s a great game. There is only one game series I’ve ever been a fan of and that’s Thief. Besides, what some fans may or may not act like has nothing to do with me or my argument.

                      Actually, I explicitly said that you can play the game that way if you want, so I’m not even sure what you are accusing me for.

                    9. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      You act in the same way though.Whether you call yourself a fan of it or not is irrelevant.

                    10. Starker says:

                      Do you so desperately want to have sides and prove that the other side is terrible? Can’t my argument really have more nuance than that or the benefit of a doubt? When I said that overleveling too much would ruin your game, I meant that it would change the experience in a way that’s not the quintessential Dark Souls experience any more. I didn’t say that it’s the only way to play.

                    11. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      No,you didnt say that its the only way to play,you just said that its the only correct way to play.Thats exactly what your comments about it being like “playing doom with a god mode on” and “you might as well just watch it on youtube at that point” are implying.

                    12. Starker says:

                      Yes, I think playing Doom with god mode on is little more than virtual tourism. That doesn’t mean I think there’s necessarily anything wrong with virtual tourism, but I do think that it’s not the same as playing the game.

                      To be clear, I’m not equating playing Doom with god mode and watching it on Youtube because I look down on these activities, I’m equating them because they are very similar.

                2. Wysinwyg says:

                  “Is it really right to fault a creator for not creating what you want, because you aren't their target audience?”

                  Yes. This is called ” criticism” and it is the whole point of this website.

                  1. Core says:

                    I way more prefer Ebert’s approach to the definition of criticism. He tended to separate objective/intent/target audience and execution.

          3. GloatingSwine says:

            You know it’s alright to make things that aren’t for everybody, right?

            It’s totally a valid artistic decision to make a game where the whole point is struggling to overcome a really hard challenge where the stakes are high, even if it means some people will simply be unable to experience that game. Those people can go and play other games.

            Dark Souls isn’t for you, that’s fine, but accept that Dark Souls does not need to change in order to be for you, it’s for people who are not like you.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              That would be fine if not for a plethora of “youd like it if you only played it correctly” comments Ive seen over the years.

            2. Wysinwyg says:

              You know its ok to criticize a game by saying ” I’d probably get a lot out of it with a relatively minor tweak”, right?

              Yes, I understand you think it’s not so minor. People are allowed to disagree about that too

          4. David M says:

            So I had an interesting thought while reading this thread: it appears to me that Dark Souls should be a poster child for the “video games are art” debate (just based on what I’ve read about it, I’ve never played and likely never will). I mean, look at this thread: we have people who are debating about the author’s artistic intent in creating Dark Souls. And then we have other people saying that the author’s artistic intent is invalid, non-existent, or otherwise irrelevant, and the makers of Dark Souls should cater to the masses.

            This is a debate that we’ve had over and over and over again about literally every other artistic medium on the planet. Should John Cage have stuck some notes into 4:33 to make it more palatable to his audiences? Does the audience of an orchestra deserve to hear notes played when they go to the symphony?

            What about painting? Is a blue painting with a white line worth $44 million? Is it art? Should the painter have added some more lines and textures to make it more palatable to the masses?

            You can have the same debate on the other side. Should the “schlock” that Stephen King publishes be considered great literature? Shouldn’t the fact that it’s a bit trashy and pandering exclude him from the list of “great authors in the world”? If a Marvel movie tries to make a statement about, say, racism and genocide, but it includes punchy-punchy-boom-boom explosions, are we lowering the standards of real cinema?

            Anyways, my point here is just to say that from now on whenever anyone says that “videogames aren’t art” I’m just going to point to this thread.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              The answer always should be “Of course they are art.But that doesnt mean all of them are good.Schlock is art,but its bad art.”.

        2. Kylroy says:

          You may not be frothing at the mouth, but you’re responding to someone saying “this would make the game accessible to me” with “no, excluding you is a core part of how the game works.” They’re not asking for a happy end to Titanic, they’re asking for a non-3d version because the glasses give them headaches.

          1. nobb says:

            I’m sorry if I sound off putting, but that how thing are. Dark Souls is a hard game that ask a lot of your time (and in my opinion reward you well for it) and it was consciously designed the way it is.

            it’s a bit like asking for thinned version of lord of the ring, with not too much big words, no elfish poetry et no hobbit non sense at the start of the book. Would that made the book more accessible ? Yes. It would also make it a completely different book.

            The point I’m trying to make is that the bonfire system is central to the design of the game and have repercussion in the game play, level design and lore. a different save system would either require a complete rewrite/redesign of the game or break down everything that make the game interesting completely.

            When they made the game, they deliberately choose this design knowing it would exclude some players, but that it would reinforce the experience of their target players. That a hard choice not often make by game developer, and I respect it a lot actually.

            1. Kylroy says:

              Okay, I’ll bite. How would the existence of this hypothetical version of Lord of the Rings (which to me largely just sounds “edited”) hamper your enjoyment of the unabridged text?

              1. Core says:

                LOTR might be a poor example here IMO, asking for the balance of a Souls title to be done around accessibility first honestly makes about as much sense to me as asking for an abridged edition of Ulysses. Such a thing could conceivably exist but the readers would also probably miss the point.

                Not to mention, in our case it’d also take time better spent elsewhere away from the writer.

                1. Kylroy says:

                  The requests I’ve seen here so far haven’t been any rebalancing of the game itself, just a reduction in walk-back after death.

                  1. GloatingSwine says:

                    That is rebalancing the game because it guarantees that you go into every fight with maximum resources and therefore reduces the stakes for failure.

                    High stakes is part of the point.

                    1. ehlijen says:

                      Yes, that’s what easy mode is meant to be for. To let people enjoy the game in private without judgement even if they don’t have the time, skill or inclination to master its mechanics through repetition of already seen content.

                      The existence of easy mode does not remove hard mode.

                    2. GloatingSwine says:

                      The existence of easy mode does not remove hard mode.

                      Actually the existence of easy mode does remove hard mode for a lot of people, because they won’t try hard mode if they have an easy mode available, they’ll play through the game on easy, not get as much out of it as they would if they allowed themselves to be challenged, and then move on to the next game.

                      And even if they do go back and play on hard they’re not experiencing the level of challenge and the novelty of experience at the same time, which is a major element of the Souls series’ intended design.

                      Anyway, Dark Souls has an easy mode, it’s just called Lords of the Fallen and as everyone will tell you it’s not as good.

                    3. ehlijen says:

                      Those people don’t really sound like the kind of gamers that would be tempted to buy a hard core dark souls in the first place.

                    4. Abnaxis says:

                      So, we’re well into “nobody but Shamus is going to read this” territory, but I’ve been thinking hard about how what I think, and how to describe it, and I want to write it down for when the Dark Souls discussion comes up later.

                      It’s like this: I don’t like self-imposed restrictions in my games. I don’t find them fun, because the usual sequence when I’m playing under a self-imposed restriction runs as follows:

                      1) Start new game with restriction in place. For example, I might choose the “hard” option, or I promise myself that I’m playing Ironman, or decide to deliberately use a sub-optimal build choice in an RPG, or whatever

                      2) I run into a portion of the game where the restriction becomes unpleasant. Often, the game isn’t designed to be played in Iron Man mode, and has a load of “gotcha” type unavoidable deaths. Or, it translates “hard” to mean “challenging, plus a bunch of annoyances that don’t increase challenge but make playing a chore like disabled pausing or bullet-sponge enemies.” Or it has entire sections of enemies that are completely immune to my characters’ abilities with the sub-optimal restrictions.

                      3) Question why I’m bothering to play this game with the restrictions, then realize the reason I’m playing it that way is probably because I was bored on “Easy” mode. At this point I get the urge to say “fuck it” and quit playing.

                      4) Either give in to the “fuck it” urge, or muscle through it and keep playing until my “fuck it” streak wins. It rarely loses in the long run.

                      It’s been said, exhaustively, that it’s “easy” for me to play the game on hard if there’s an easy option–and does, indeed, take very little actual effort to hunt down an optional checkbox in a menu and click it, or to pinky swear that I won’t save scum, or whatever. By any measurable metric, the two experiences–one with an “easy” option and one without–might be indistinguishable.

                      But it’s not easy for me to enjoy the game that way. I can’t just turn off the belligerent part of my brain that wants to say “fuck it” every time I run into a challenge that I feel is poorly designed or unfair, and the rate of occurrence for “poorly designed challenges” is much higher when the extra challenge is an option. And the urge itself sucks–I wouldn’t go so far as to say that that alone is enough to ruin a game by itself, but it is unpleasant.

                      As I’ve been thinking about this issue, it has occurred to me that virtually every game I would put in my personal “top games” list has no difficulty settings. The games themselves aren’t necessarily “hard”–I’m absolutely fine with grinding and cheesing my way through challenges if that’s the system put in front of me–but the developers constrained themselves to building a tuned gameplay experience without the crutch of “well if this boss is utterly unfair/utterly trivial the players can just fudge the difficulty slider until they like it.” To me, that constraint frees me from the doldrums of doubt every time the developers mess up on balance, and as a little bonus it forces developers to more carefully balance their systems since they can’t depend as much on players to fix their mistakes for them.

                      The upshot of all of this is that what you enjoy and what I enjoy are incompatible with each other. I’m sorry I don’t enjoy the game the way you’d like it. I’m sorry you can’t enjoy the game the way I like it. I know my own position is not exactly rational, but I would challenge you to try and argue that your position is more rational than mine. It’s just the way it is.

              2. Ninety-Three says:

                Let’s give the author credit and assume they know how to make a good book: everything is there for a reason, and removing things would diminish the experience the author was trying to create. Removing significant bits of LOTR would therefore make it worse. You could sell “Lord of the Rings but Edited And Worse”, and some people would read it who wouldn’t have otherwise, and they will get some enjoyment out of it. But why would you do that when you could just direct people to read a different book that isn’t compromised by edits?

                To take the conversation away from difficulty, consider Batman Arkham Knight, which released with a monstrously buggy PC port. It was technically playable, a reasonable number of people even completed the game despite the issues, but it was far worse than the console versions. When it became apparent how buggy the PC port was, the developer stopped selling the game on PC. One could argue that they shouldn’t have done that: after all, aren’t they just diminishing the game’s accessibility? They were only giving people the option to buy it on PC, anyone who thinks that version is compromised can simply stick to the console version while some people who only have a PC and will still get some enjoyment out of the PC experience.

                But even if you don’t agree, surely you can at least understand the argument for taking it down. The consumer doesn’t make perfect decisions, and Arkham Knight’s PC port was taken down to protect people from buying a deeply flawed game. If the PC port had stayed on sale, some people would have bought the game only to discover that the bugs compromised the experience worse than they had expected, and they had wasted $60 on a game they didn’t want to play. Other players would push through it, and just not have as much fun as if they’d spent their time and money on a different, less buggy game.

                That’s why a lot of Dark Souls fans don’t want an easy mode. As it stands, Dark Souls is a great game that a lot of people can’t play. Because Dark Souls has a lot of thought put into its difficulty, changing that (via an easy mode) would make the experience worse. More people could play it, but they’d be playing a worse game, and why would you inflict that on anyone? The people who can’t play the current version of Dark Souls would be happier playing a good, easy game than playing the flawed easy mode of Dark Souls.

                TL;DR: Adding easy mode to Dark Souls would be like adding an Iron Man option to a game that crashes a lot. The developers are arguably protecting you from a poor version of the game.

                1. Kylroy says:

                  So…they’re protecting you from the shortcomings of their game by making you replay large portions of it ad nausem. Except I don’t even agree with that due to all the praise I’ve heard of the series’ gameplay, character customization, and atmosphere.

                  Or say I did agree with you. If all these things make it good, wouldn’t it make the game even *better* if they made it harder? Two bonfires in the whole game, only get half your souls back when retrieving your corpse, stuff like that. If hard is good, why isn’t harder better?

                  1. Ninety-Three says:

                    Or say I did agree with you. If all these things make it good, wouldn't it make the game even *better* if they made it harder?

                    If spicy food is good, why isn’t spicier better? Why not shove six ghost peppers in your mouth with every bite?

                    That’s silly and you’re either missing incredibly obvious points, or deliberately arguing in bad faith. Either way I’m done here.

                    1. Kylroy says:

                      So…you’re unwilling to offer a milder version of the dish because reasons. Gotcha.

                    2. Geebs says:

                      The “wouldn’t harder be better” argument is kind of begging the question. The only valid answer is: the difficulty in Souls games is exquisitely tuned. Making them one iota harder or easier would reduce the player’s enjoyment because the sense of danger, and of prevailing over adversity, is precisely the gameplay hook. You’re walking into the Louvre and starting an argument with one of the security guards about why the Mona Lisa would really be far more fetching with a sharpie’ moustache, and then making a fuss about how unreasonable they are when they disagree with you.

                      The arguments about “why can’t they rebalance the game to suit everybody” are pretty disingeuous. All of the nineties games with multiple difficulty levels just increased the bullet-sponginess of the enemies, and bullet sponges are no fun. Difficulty through bad game design is not a virtue. Anyway, adding features to a game is not free; the additional balancing and testing costs money. Finally, From were barely able to kick out a decent PC port of DS1, and all of their games have frame rate issues; do you really think it would be a good idea for them to try to make things harder for themselves.

                      As to the food analogy: a better one is walking into a curry house and demanding chicken and chips. Chicken and chips is perfectly nice, but a) the chef is really bad at cooking it and b) all of your friends are now embarrassed because you’re such a picky eater. You would have been better off eating somewhere else.

                    3. ehlijen says:

                      Alright, dark souls is precisely tuned to deliver a specific experience. Nothing wrong with that. But that then means it will only appeal to a specific subset of the market, too, and that will limit sales.

                      I’m not sure what the overlap from specific people is, if any, but as someone who the game does not appeal to, hearing both ‘being hard is the point’ and ‘it’s not that hard’ a lot sounds very confusing.

                      Point is, whether or not it’s hard, it’s frustrating to a point where it exceeds a lot people’s tolerance levels for an entertainment product in that regard.

                    4. Geebs says:


                      Re: mass market appeal – I think the Souls games have found their market niche; after all, the reason people are aware about them is that they have been a sizable hit. I don’t think it’s really that much of a stretch to draw the conclusion that they are popular because a lot of people like them exactly as they are.

                      I would point out that people’s expressed opinion on “converting” to Dark Souls seems to be particularly Damascene in a way you don’t get with, say, Uncharted. You hear a lot of stories from people who absolutely hated the games, but who give it one last push, find everything suddenly clicks for them, and then do a complete 180 on their opinion. Again, I don’t think people could have that kind of experience if the games’ design were different.

                    5. ehlijen says:

                      Yes, a large number of people like the games as they are, and that’s fantastic!

                      But from personal observation, my impression of dark souls related conversations tends to lean more towards fans trying to tell non-fans what they’re missing out on and not accepting the reasons the non-fans give for their disagreement than the other way around.

                      As in, dark souls fan want their game to be more popular, and that’s absolutely reasonable. If dark souls is more popular, more games like dark souls might come out, and what dark souls fan wouldn’t want that?

                      But when non-fans tell fans what it’s going to take for them to be able to enjoy dark souls, those requests tend to be dismissed ‘that’s not what the game is about’. And that’s fair, but it does mean, dark souls is going to have to stay in its niche, however large that may be, and leave non-fans to their own niches.

                      For some reason there seems to be a mild conflict on whether or not dark souls is great, and frankly, I’m not really sure why.

                    6. Geebs says:

                      Think of it like having a personal trainer, or learning that a food you hated as a child is actually delicious; sometimes you really need to be pushed over that initial hump of difficulty to find out that you actually really like something. That’s where I come from when I encourage somebody struggling with a Souls game to persist a bit longer.

                      Obviously, the games aren’t for everybody and getting advice from strangers on the internet can be obnoxious, but the reason Souls fans keep on going on about it is that the same thing already happened for them, and they would like to share that positive experience.

                  2. Daimbert says:


                    The “wouldn't harder be better” argument is kind of begging the question. The only valid answer is: the difficulty in Souls games is exquisitely tuned. Making them one iota harder or easier would reduce the player's enjoyment because the sense of danger, and of prevailing over adversity, is precisely the gameplay hook.

                    Tuned for WHOM, though? It’s very likely that a lot of the people who are complaining about it being too hard would indeed find a sense of danger and of prevailing over adversity with things being less difficult, because at that “exquisitely tuned” difficulty they aren’t even able to START getting anywhere, for various reasons. And it is possible that some players at that level — especially after they get experienced — have no sense of danger because they know exactly how to play the game. If they want to provide that experience, then modifiable difficulties are DEMANDED, because players play differently and so will react to ANY hardcoded or tuned difficulty radically differently.

                    If someone plays it on easier settings and complains that it’s too easy or that they don’t get that sense of danger, then you can say that they’re playing it wrong. But you have no reason to think that many of the complaints about it being too hard are because that “exquisite tuning” tunes them out, not in.

                    1. Geebs says:


                      When I was a kid, I got thrown out of the school choir for being really, really bad at singing. Over time, I’ve taught myself a bit, but I basically have an irredeemably unattractive voice. I don’t hang out on the SingStar forums complaining that the game is too vocal-oriented.

                      If I want to experience singing, I can enjoy somebody else doing it. If somebody wants to experience Dark Souls without the gameplay, the internet is flooded with Let’s Plays.

                    2. Daimbert says:


                      You’ve missed the point. The point was not that we should allow players to skip that sense of danger and prevailing over adversity, it’s that people will get that sense and experience AT DIFFERENT DIFFICULTY LEVELS. You argue that it can’t be tweaked without losing those senses and experiences, and I’m saying that that might be true for you, but that is likely not true for me or for someone who is better — even just naturally — at the game than you are. If you want to aim for a precise level of difficulty in order to present a specific experience, you have to understand that that level will be PERSONAL, not general.

                      Thus, if they refuse to allow players to tweak the difficulty then they are basically saying that they don’t care if some players won’t get the experience they want to present because the game is too hard or to easy for them to get that. This, then, would kill ANY artistic, aesthetic, or experience argument; they can’t care that much about it if they aren’t willing to help ensure that everyone can get it.

                      That’s where your analogy fails: you have no reason to think that people won’t or shouldn’t be ones who enjoy the Dark Souls experience just because they don’t grasp the techniques as quickly or can’t use them as easily as others. And even in your analogy, it’s not unreasonable to think that there might be choirs that are more for fun — or other activities — where you can enjoy singing without worrying about how good you are at it.

                    3. Geebs says:

                      I get your point; I just don’t agree with it. Thanks for the discussion, though!

                    4. Wysinwyg says:


                      I don’t see how anyone can reasonably disagree with the statement that games have different levels of skill, and that therefore a game with a precisely tuned level of difficulty will present a different experience to players of different skill levels.

                      It seems obvious to me that this sinks any argument based on the premise that the Dark Souls games are trying to present exactly one kind of experience to all players. That argument also doesn’t make sense for an open game with lots of build choices.

                      Since that’s the premise for all these arguments against variable difficulty, I don’t think they really fly.

                      I think the real reason is more a prestige thing. “I play this super hard game and that sets me apart.” the game just doesn’t seem oriented towards providing one experience, or there should be variable difficulties after all.

                    5. Syal says:

                      It's very likely that a lot of the people who are complaining about it being too hard would indeed find a sense of danger and of prevailing over adversity with things being less difficult

                      I think most of those people don’t want to have that sense of danger or struggle to prevail over adversity to begin with, and if they ran into it at a later point in an easier version of the game they would still complain about the game being too hard.

                    6. Geebs says:


                      OK, here’s four* examples of particular aspects of Dark Souls gameplay that I particularly enjoy and don’t think would work as effectively with variable difficulty.

                      1) the ability to blunder into the wrong place and get murdered by something that’s Gary too high-level. This was also true of Morrowind and is one of the reasons I love that game far more than any of the other Elder Scrolls games, because it feels like I have to engage with the world on its own terms, not my own.

                      2) the ability to feel like a badass by going and killing that high level mob anyway

                      3) the fact that low-level mooks can murder an inattentive player, even a high level one.

                      4) the entire structure of the online game.

                      You can’t retain those aspects in an easier difficulty level, because a player who wants an easy experience will hate any of those things happening to them.

                      *arguably the entire “go back to the bonfire or push on to a shortcut” decision-making thing would also be eroded by changing the difficulty, too.

                    7. Daimbert says:


                      Ah, finally an attempt to argue against my point and express disagreement! Too bad it wasn’t in a reply to me, but I’ll take what I can get:

                      1) the ability to blunder into the wrong place and get murdered by something that's Gary too high-level. This was also true of Morrowind and is one of the reasons I love that game far more than any of the other Elder Scrolls games, because it feels like I have to engage with the world on its own terms, not my own.

                      Again, you are presuming a player of your general skill level. If a player of less inherent skill or less practice time tweaks the difficulty level, they’ll end up having precisely as much difficulty with the game as YOU usually do. Again, my general argument is that not all players are inherently or even inherently able to be as good at the game as other players. Thus, if they tweak the difficulty, they can indeed blunder into the wrong place and get killed by something that is too high a level that they are not skilled enough to take down. The various numbers MIGHT change slightly, but don’t even have to. Again, they are tweaking the game because while you find it delightfully challenging at the default difficulty level, they find it impossibly frustrating. After tweaking the difficulty, they find it delightfully challenging. Thus, if part of your delightfully challenging experience is wandering into a high level monster that smashes you, that will be part of THEIR delightfully challenging experience too.

                      2) the ability to feel like a badass by going and killing that high level mob anyway

                      For players without your level — or the game’s presumed level — of inherent skill and practice time, the only way they can get that feeling is by the tweaks to the difficulty level to let THEIR level of skill and ability work to make them feel like a badass and actually TAKE DOWN that high level mob. The issue is that to them they will have no chance of taking it out because they aren’t and can’t be good enough at the game to do so, which is why they want a lower difficulty level. So for this case, variable difficulty levels are a requirement if you want all possible players to get that experience.

                      3) the fact that low-level mooks can murder an inattentive player, even a high level one.

                      See above.

                      I’ll skip the online part, not being someone who cares at all about that sort of thing.

                      *arguably the entire “go back to the bonfire or push on to a shortcut” decision-making thing would also be eroded by changing the difficulty, too.

                      As long as resources matter, it would still be an issue. The problem that many would be trying to avoid is the issue that they really can’t do EITHER, because they use too many resources to push on but returning to the bonfire means that by the time they fight their way back to the shortcut they’re out of resources — or have too many at risk — again.

                      You can't retain those aspects in an easier difficulty level, because a player who wants an easy experience will hate any of those things happening to them.

                      I don’t think we’re limited here to people “who want an easy experience”. There are a number of reasons for people to want to be able to select a difficulty level. For me, personally, there are generally two:

                      1) I want to follow the story without worrying about getting stuck somewhere and not being able to finish it.

                      2) I’m getting frustrated at not being able to make ANY progress at all, or stuck on That One Boss.

                      For both cases, a game that’s a bit of a challenge is more fun, but if I have to choose between a game that’s a cakewalk and a game that’s simply frustrating because I can’t do ANYTHING, I’ll choose the former. As examples, I play the Persona games on “Easy”, but even there learning the tactics is still useful and I can get set back if I don’t, which means that it’s not just “Push buttons to win”, which is more fun than the alternative. On the other hand, I played a hockey game where on Easy I was walking through the team and scoring at will, while on the next difficulty level up I couldn’t score AT ALL. I played on “Easy”. But in general what I want is a game where I “win” most of the time if I do the right things, but it’s close. That’s pretty close to the experience you describe for Dark Souls.

                    8. Core says:

                      Again, my general argument is that not all players are inherently or even inherently able to be as good at the game as other players.

                      Which is literally what the whole design attempts to refute.
                      The tune of the entire game is that if you plant your rear firmly down and pay attention to what’s going on screen you can prevail no matter how overwhelming the challenge may seem or what you tell yourself about your skill level or even your prior experience with those sorts of games, as long as you keep trying and learning.
                      It’s authorial intent, as stated in interviews a number of times.
                      That’s why the fans are forced to repeat the same argument over and over – those games are more than content tours. If you’re playing it on ‘easy’, you won’t get the message. And the only people who will have it easy with any of the Souls games are ones who already likely suffered hours of learning in earlier action titles that don’t entice you with multiple routes, or the RPG discovery or an open world to draw them in, the relatively smooth difficulty curve, or even the semi-familiar setting, so if you actually believe your experience would be hugely different from the majority of those very fans who are now telling you to just play it instead of worrying what you might or might not be capable of, you’re mistaken.
                      Even the narrative itself you talk about centers partly on the importance of not giving up in spite of everything – the NPCs that do literally go ‘hollow’ and insane under the pressures of the world.

                      Why are we perfectly fine with games invoking every emotion in the name of art, oftentimes to the detriment of their gameplay, but not the feeling of overcoming a carefully tuned challenge?
                      In a way it’s like an argument that Gone Home needs a rocket launcher and a basement full of demons to be engaging – perhaps in a separate difficulty setting even so that everyone gets what they want(!), but from the opposite end. “What if that game’s pace bores ME?”

                    9. Starker says:

                      “And the only people who will have it easy with any of the Souls games are ones who already likely suffered hours of learning in earlier action titles…”

                      Actually, from my experience, Dark Souls is designed to trip up those players especially. Dark Souls slaps the action fans who rush into encounters or tend to fall into a rhythm and rewards cautionary players who are observant, alert and think before they act. The glacial pace of the fights, the way fights quickly get overwhelming with multiple opponents, not being able to cancel out of attacks, it all works against the natural instincts of people used to action games, or at least in my case it did.

                    10. Daimbert says:


                      Which is literally what the whole design attempts to refute.

                      And I submit that the reaction to the game pretty much proves that that attempt failed.

                      The tune of the entire game is that if you plant your rear firmly down and pay attention to what's going on screen you can prevail no matter how overwhelming the challenge may seem or what you tell yourself about your skill level or even your prior experience with those sorts of games, as long as you keep trying and learning.

                      Sure. But we run into all sorts of issues around that that mean that some people won’t be able to tolerate the journey or the practicing enough to actually be able to play the game through and get that experience. For some, some concepts will take them too long to grasp, and so they’ll hit their frustration level before others will. Stronger hints of what the right method is or allowing them to extend the fights to observe and practice will help them. Some people will have to unlearn concepts, which means that they’ll want to make the game more tactical so that they aren’t tempted to rely on their trained reflexes. Some won’t be able to play the game as often as others, and so will have to start over and re-practice what they learned the previous session. I’m an example of the last one: I might be able to play for two 3 – 5 hour sessions a week — on the weekend — and might not even get that in. Not only am I likely to go long enough without playing the game to get out of practice, if it would take 3 or 4 sessions to get practiced enough to get past the boss that would take me A MONTH of not feeling like I’m making progress, which really kills me when it comes to a game. And there are a ton of other considerations that might come into play here to make the same difficulty produce radically different experiences for various players.

                      But, as everyone says, Dark Souls is not about a particular playstyle, skill level or time of play. It’s about that overall experience. And it seems obvious that a set difficulty level will end up pushing people out who could have and might want that experience but need a different difficulty level to get that. I think that this is why the arguments are less — at least here — “The game is intensely punishing” vs “You’re just a scrub, get better!” but are more “I find the game frustrating” vs “You’re just not the sort of player who can enjoy this experience” or even “Keep trying and you’ll like it eventually!” I believe that fewer Dark Souls players are using it as a “We’re so good!” social proof BECAUSE of the attitude you cite. But I believe that the ones who do end up good at and liking it are severely overestimating how well the difficulty level works to produce the experience that attitude implies in other people.

                      In a way it's like an argument that Gone Home needs a rocket launcher and a basement full of demons to be engaging ““ perhaps in a separate difficulty setting even so that everyone gets what they want(!), but from the opposite end. “What if that game's pace bores ME?”

                      Let me address this with a slightly different example (even though I haven’t played Gone Home either). From my understanding, Gone Home is a game where learning what has happened in an interactive way is what’s important, and so it focuses on the player going around and looking at things in the way they want to, and so unlike more linear games it doesn’t do much to impose an order, even by having goals stand out. The reason it does this is to produce the experience; the designers aren’t railing against having goals in and of itself, but think that making it that obvious hurts the experience. So, presuming that my understanding is correct, how would it deal with a player like me who might well enjoy the story elements and even, to some degree, the exploration, but who gets very, very frustrated in a game if I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing? The parts the game wants to convey are interesting to me, and I could even experience that if there were just a few more hints about what I should be doing (say). Could adding an option for some hints be a good thing and expand the potential audience who might experience the game and what the game intends to convey?

                      Note that I’m not saying that Gone Home IS actually bad for that; again, I haven’t played it. But even differing personalities can lead to players not experiencing the game the way it was intended to be experienced, and if the reason for the problem is the gameplay, then perhaps optional tweaks to the gameplay can make the artistic portions more accessible.

                    11. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Why are we perfectly fine with games invoking every emotion in the name of art, oftentimes to the detriment of their gameplay, but not the feeling of overcoming a carefully tuned challenge?

                      Thats absolutely not true.Plenty of games are praised for being difficult,and for having tight gameplay.And plenty of people are praising dark souls for what it does.

                      The reason that the problem exists with dark souls comes from a section of the fanbase being very obnoxious,pressuring people to “git gud and try again” when they were told that dark souls isnt for everyone.This is what created the backlash towards the game.

                      Since youve mentioned gone home,imagine if the response to everyone who said “Its not for me” was “But it totally is,you just have to play it”,and to everyone who said “I didnt like it” was “You just didnt play it right.Go slower through the game,read everything,and then youll love it”.Then youd have the situation we have with dark souls now.

                    12. GeoG says:

                      Yeah, I dunno, though – is it the game’s fault that many of its players are such poor advocates for it? What if they did say e.g. “You’ve really tried and persevered, have you? Oh dear, that’s kind of the point. And you still don’t like it? OK, well, maybe the game is not for everyone.”

                      Because I think it is OK if it isn’t for everyone. (It’s not for me, actually!) I don’t think I should get a shorter Lord of the Rings just because I don’t have time to read it. And actually that’s a bad example – the length of LotR is unavoidable, but it’s not part of the artistic point being made. The argument, I think, is that the difficulty of Dark Souls and the perseverance required is part of the artistic point being made. Telling an artist they have to amend a central tenet of their work so more people can enjoy it is a non-starter. As is telling everyone that they need to enjoy something which isn’t going to be enjoyable by everyone, of course.

                      So if the soulers gave up after an honest initial attempt to persuade, would that be sufficient to square this circle? (They’d ironically be giving up rather than persevering! XD But life isn’t Dark Souls, thank dog.)

                    13. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Of course its not the games fault.But thats the unfairness of life.

                    14. GeoG says:

                      Dark Souls is often said to be very fair, so that’s another way in which it and life differ! XD

                    15. Starker says:

                      I don’t think the “fine-tuned difficulty” idea really gets to the heart of the matter. Dark Souls doesn’t have a fixed difficulty, it’s an RPG. You can struggle immensely against an enemy and later come back and beat it with ease. In fact, one of the things Dark Souls does is have bosses appear as regular enemies later on. And there are lots of ways to reduce the difficulty in the game.

                      The idea is more that the game is carefully balanced to the breaking point, and if there were an easy mode, all these ways to reduce the difficulty would break the game even more than they do already. It’s not uncommon to see someone following a wiki guide get a Drake Sword and breeze through the mid-game. Or play the DLC as soon as they can and find the rest of the game disappointingly easy because it disrupts the natural progression curve of the character.

                      The Dark Souls difficulty is in large part a magic trick, using smoke and mirrors to make you believe it’s more difficult than it really is. If you persevere and learn the game’s systems, you will succeed without fail. You will have to learn and adapt, but the game is not unreasonable about it. In fact, if you find something too difficult in the game, more often than not it’s a sign that you should not tackle it yet and go find an easier area.

                    16. Core says:

                      The reason that the problem exists with dark souls comes from a section of the fanbase being very obnoxious,pressuring people to “git gud and try again” when they were told that dark souls isnt for everyone.This is what created the backlash towards the game.

                      That’s not a reason for any problem, DS games can difficult to enjoy until you press yourself for a while. They’re games about not giving up. That’s the experience that many fans have had for themselves, and that’s the experience many fans have had with introducing their friends to the series. “Get good” shouldn’t even sound like a disparaging combination of words when used earnestly. I remember Chris from this site eventually coming to that conclusion in his Souls videos.
                      So the point is, it’s generally difficult to tell whether Souls is ‘for you’ until you’ve given them a decent amount of time in the first place – which is a reasonable thing for any fan to convince you to do. And criticizing a game like that without understanding why specifically everything is the way it is is a little moot.

                      It’s kinda like this article if you consider that there are both flow and non-flow games out there, and disentangling a complex narrative can be as flow-inducing as the action game experience for some:

                2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Removing significant bits of LOTR would therefore make it worse.

                  Oh definitely.I remember how so many people said that the removal of tom bombadil from the movie would make it worse.


                  Only for the movie to come out and 90% of them to say “you know,it was actually a good idea”.

                  1. GloatingSwine says:

                    Removing the Scouring of the Shire, on the other hand, removes the part of the story that shows how the characters have changed and grown and the part that demonstrates the cost of war even on places it doesn’t directly reach.

                    1. Kylroy says:

                      Yes…but after the fifth or so ending sequence in Return of the King, what portion of the audience was feeling the story was incomplete?

              3. nobb says:

                My experience personally ? none of it.
                You’re experience on the other hand and the impression of the series you will acquire from it ? quite a bit.
                The experience the authors wanted to share? completely

                And that doesn’t solve the main problem, which is will you redesign the entire game around the new save mechanics or not ?

                If you don’t, you don’t just have a abridged version of the game in your hand but a completely broken one, that is extremely far to anything ressembling dark souls ( as a simple example, finding an bonefire for the first time would be meaningless, will in the real game it’s an enormous moment of relief, progress and closure). None of the level would be adapted to this save system, and the ingenious intricacy of shorcut that define the first game would be nothing but an annoyance. and that just scratching the surface.

                On the other hand if you redesign it , then it’s a very extensive rework that need to be done. the save system is part of the lore, so you need to partially rewrite the story. you need to find an excuse for NPC to gather all at the same place. you need to change part of the basic mythology of the world and rewrite several NPC because they don’t make sense anymore. you need to redesign every level and every monster because now they will only see once. most of the environment story telling is gone because you can’t expect most players to notice things the first time they go somewhere. again, I’m just scratching the surface of things that would need to be done to make the game work around the new save system.

                so it would be :
                1) a game vastly different of dark souls
                2) a game vastly different of the intent of it’s authors
                3) a lot of work. Which I don’t know who would do it, because I’d rather that From software spend that time and budget on another game.

                Finally you seem under the impression that I don’t want to share dark souls and will object to anything that could “allow” you to play it. or at least allow you to play it without frustration.
                That far from the truth. I love dark souls and I love introducing new people to it. I think it’s one of my best video-ludic experience of all time and that everyone should play it and see video game can be when their authors have a real mastery of every aspect of design.
                At the same time, I acknowledge that it is a hard and demanding game (as explained in an other post, I think it’s not as hard as people think it is, but I recognized it as hard nevertheless) and i accept that it’s not for everyone, exactly as 4000 pages book, 6 hours long film or three day long opera are not for everyone. I also don’t think less of someone if he choose not to spend his time playing it. That an understandable stand even If I think their missing something great.
                I’m just telling you that, perhaps sadly, there is no way for people to have the dark souls experience while having an easy,non-frustrating time of it . It’s one of those things were even modifying what might seem a minor aspect of the design will completely unravel the rest.

                you asked me what it would be to me if there was an abridged version of lord of the ring ? it would make me sad. it’s one thing to not having read it, but to read a shortened version of lotr witch miss most of subtillity and quirk of Tolkien writing while thinking you had a “good enough” experience of the real thing ? for a book that changed my life in a myriad of subtle way, It would make sad for you and upset that this version even exist.

                Drink clear water, or don’t drink. but don’t drink mud.

                1. Kylroy says:

                  Ahah. Well, mayhap let other people decide what they want to experience, and don’t worry that they’re enjoying something incorrectly.

                  1. nobb says:

                    don't worry that they're enjoying something incorrectly

                    That really not the point I made.

                    1. Kylroy says:

                      Dismissing someone for “thinking (they) had a “good enough” experience of the real thing” is hard to interpret any other way.

                    2. nobb says:

                      Dismissing someone for “thinking (they) had a “good enough” experience of the real thing” is hard to interpret any other way.

                      First I’m not dismissing them, I’m saying I’m sad for them. Second I’m talking in the context of a substitute of lesser quality than the real thing. if you only experience of wine is a cheap bad one and you found your entire opinion of wine on it and never feel the need to try it again, yes that pretty sad. I’m not saying that everyone should enjoy wine, just that should at least experience it in the best condition before deciding if they like it or not.

                    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      And what if I like cheap wine?What if the taste of it is better to me than the expensive stuff?Would you be sad for me for “not having the proper taste buds”?Because thinking that people who enjoy the “improper” experience are sad is kind of condescending.

                    4. GloatingSwine says:

                      And what if I like cheap wine?What if the taste of it is better to me than the expensive stuff?Would you be sad for me for “not having the proper taste buds”?Because thinking that people who enjoy the “improper” experience are sad is kind of condescending.

                      Then buy cheap wine. Don’t complain that the expensive stuff isn’t vinegary enough for you and demand they pour some sarsons in it at the vineyard.

                    5. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      If I was constantly bombarded with “You have to try wine,its the best!Youd totally love it if you only gave it a chance!” youre damn right that Id demand the wine to be watered down for to fit my taste before I actually do “give it a chance”.

                  2. Core says:

                    The whole point of authorship is to decide what your audience gets to experience in order to convey whatever point you have, and in this case, I’m pretty sure From Software’s kept the Souls series devoid of difficulty adjustment mechanics or straight up checkpoints for that very reason. They’ve very tuned, very deliberate designs, top to bottom, and in many ways built to showcase that the most insurmountable seeming challenge can be beaten, and by demanding that they change something vital to their design, something they keep holding on to simply to accommodate more players…you’re not really letting them say what they want to.

                    Every random NPC in the world of DS1 could have ‘beaten the game’, traveled to the Kiln and ushered the next cycle, it feels that way even mechanically and it’s implied in general, yet they don’t because they’re caught up in the atmosphere of hopelessness even though they’re not any different from the protagonist, they even ‘respawn’ in a way over and over, and the PC is just another undead body that just has the player’s motivation and curiosity that keeps him from going “hollow” in spite of all the odds and apparent challenges, the lack of checkpoints and bonfires placed so that your heart would pound on approach to some of them, the gigantic bosses that feel way more threatening than they really are, and to drive that further, for DS3 that narrative is changed to fit a more experienced…player.

                    1. Kylroy says:

                      And if I heard these things from the makers of the game, I’d credit them. And maybe they have said as much, I don’t follow them closely; if they have, I would genuinely appreciate a link.

                      All I know about the creators WRT difficulty is they floated the idea of an easier mode and the players revolted.

                    2. Core says:

                      Well, if you need a confirmation for how deliberate the difficulty is in those games, there’s this interview:

                      Now if you want me to get the lore relevant quotes, that’s trickier, but I think I recall there being a good bit in the interview in the official BB guide.

                2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  You're experience on the other hand and the impression of the series you will acquire from it ? quite a bit.

                  How is my experience of the game wrong if its not the same as your experience?For example,people who like speedruns,are they wrong for enjoying the glitches that help them skip huge chunks of a game?That video up there,is that the wrong way to play mario?Is that the wrong way to experience it?Because it most definitely is not what the author intended.

                  Or how about the “chat plays pokemon” thing on twitch.That most certainly was not the intended experience by the authors,so are all those people who enjoyed it wrong?

                  1. nobb says:

                    I was answering to:

                    Okay, I'll bite. How would the existence of this hypothetical version of Lord of the Rings (which to me largely just sounds “edited”) hamper your enjoyment of the unabridged text?


                    My experience personally ? none of it.
                    You're experience on the other hand and the impression of the series you will acquire from it ? quite a bit.
                    The experience the authors wanted to share? completely

                    not making any point on how you should or should not experience any game.

                    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      So what was the whole “Drink clear water, or don't drink. but don't drink mud.” sentence there for?

                    2. nobb says:

                      well my point is that the save system is an integral part of the design of dark souls, and any attempt to replace it with a “at will” save system will either left the game broken or force to redesign the game so thoroughly that it would be a very different game, far from the initial vision of its creator.

                      thus it would actually do nothing for people that want the dark souls experience without the frustration. they would either be playing a broken game and hate it or play a game so different that it would be better to name it differently.

                      my sentence was to point that in this regards, either play dark souls as it is, or don’t both, are ok; but don’t go hoping that you could play dark souls with removing one of it’s central design point. I see now that my phrasing could be seen as too vehement, so sorry if I offended someone. again, I’m not a native speaker.

                      I’d like again to point out that I neither criticize any play-style nor any game inspired by dark souls that would want to shake up the formula.

                    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Or,there could be a “casual,save anywhere” mode and an “real way to play it,ironman” mode.No redesign needed.Just have the people who dont play ironman be disconnected and youve solved your problem.

                    4. nobb says:

                      sight… allow me to quote myself:

                      And that doesn't solve the main problem, which is will you redesign the entire game around the new save mechanics or not ?

                      If you don't, you don't just have a abridged version of the game in your hand but a completely broken one, that is extremely far to anything ressembling dark souls ( as a simple example, finding an bonefire for the first time would be meaningless, will in the real game it's an enormous moment of relief, progress and closure). None of the level would be adapted to this save system, and the ingenious intricacy of shorcut that define the first game would be nothing but an annoyance. and that just scratching the surface.

                      On the other hand if you redesign it , then it's a very extensive rework that need to be done. the save system is part of the lore, so you need to partially rewrite the story. you need to find an excuse for NPC to gather all at the same place. you need to change part of the basic mythology of the world and rewrite several NPC because they don't make sense anymore. you need to redesign every level and every monster because now they will only see once. most of the environment story telling is gone because you can't expect most players to notice things the first time they go somewhere. again, I'm just scratching the surface of things that would need to be done to make the game work around the new save system.

                      so it would be :
                      1) a game vastly different of dark souls
                      2) a game vastly different of the intent of it's authors
                      3) a lot of work. Which I don't know who would do it, because I'd rather that From software spend that time and budget on another game.

                    5. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      And as its been mentioned in the comments already:Cheats.Cheats were easy to implement,did not change the core game at all,let people who did not quite enjoy the core game enjoy the broken game instead.And no one minded that they existed.Yet now,for some reason,having an easy “cheater” mode in the dark souls would somehow make the game worse.

                    6. Shamus says:

                      A lot of people know this, but some might not:

                      Cheats often weren’t added there for “cheating”. They were put in place by the developers for the purposes of testing the game. If I want to make sure that the switch on Level 2 actually opens the secret door it’s supposed to, I don’t want to have to die 3 times fighting my way to it. I’ll just turn on god mode and (if needed) noclip so I can glide past all the gameplay, test the thing, and get back to work. The fact that they turned out to be lots of fun for players was just an added bonus. It was free anyway. (I liked experimenting with the game’s systems, like finding out how long it would take to punch a cyberdemon to death.)

                      Today developers go to extra effort to DISABLE all of that stuff. (Probably to protect everyone’s precious cheevos.)

              4. Syal says:

                Okay, I'll bite. How would the existence of this hypothetical version of Lord of the Rings (which to me largely just sounds “edited”) hamper your enjoyment of the unabridged text?

                Ooh, I can actually answer this one. It’s because the difference between the abridged version and the unabdriged version will not be properly advertised and the abridgers will eliminate things that are core to the experience in the name of streamlining things seriously how the hell did somebody think it was a good idea to cut the Baron Danglars’ comeuppance from the Count of Monte Cristo?!

              5. Talby says:

                It would take development time away from the main product, the one that the developers actually want to make, to make an inferior version designed for people who are not the target audience.

                The industry is already full of AAA slop that demands nothing from the player, play those games if you want that kind of experience. Dark Souls is not for you.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  So you are saying that they never shouldve ported the series to pc.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Because the very concept of potentially offering this to players makes OTHER Dark Souls fans literally froth at the mouth in rage.

        Yeah.I remember all the hate they got when they wanted to introduce an easy difficulty to the game.Seriously,the worst part of any game* is its fanbase.

        *Art in general.

        1. Cubic says:

          Isn’t the appeal of running a marathon that it’s a test and an achievement to finish, not just a bus ride?

          1. Kylroy says:

            Yes, but you’ll find a lot more people riding buses than running marathons. And we somehow manage to accommodate both marathons and buses on the same roads.

            1. tmtvl says:

              Generally not on the same road at the same time, though.

          2. lurkey says:

            Also, how is the value of your “Finished the marathon” cheevo diminished by other dude’s “Came there by bus”?

            1. Cybron says:

              Here’s a better question: how would marathon organizers balance the needs of people who “marathon by bus” and those run? A lot of the analogies people are making (abridged editions of books and the like) ignore the fact that we are not talking about two independent experiences – we are talking about one product, even if the two players would not play it the same. Catering to the more numerous bus riders would likely damage the experience of the runners – smog in the air, blocking off running spaces, etc. It’s obvious runners would protest the idea.

              You could optimistically say that the marathon organizers will not cater to the bus riders at the expense of the runners, despite their likely deeper pockets, and provide an equal experience for both. What would that entail? Making entirely separate routes for both of them? Doubling the number of volunteers so they can manage both routes? That seems like a lot more expense and effort for the organizers. How are they going to ensure quality of experiences for both parties? It seems like they’d have to sacrifice something.

              We are fundamentally talking about two different products that co-habit in a single game. I find it extremely difficult to believe that this could be delivered without compromises for one or both experiences.

              1. Daimbert says:

                I think a better analogy might be the various “charity runs” that you often see. Some people treat them like marathons and try to get good times or placements. Some people just want to participate in the cause and so want to walk the course, and don’t care about their times. Those who care about their times will be told it and can then get satisfaction from that, those who might want to just FINISH one can finish it and get satisfaction from that, and some of those who just want to participate in the charity can, say, do half of it, collect money from that, and then ride back and feel satisfaction, too.

                I have not played Dark Souls, but have read the comments here and am not convinced that optional, configurable difficulty options couldn’t be implemented to allow people to feel the experience that the designers want them to feel without leaving many players frustrated and out in the cold. For me, personally, I’m a little afraid to return to Bloodlines because I’m worried the combat — especially after not playing it for a while — will be too hard; Dark Souls is a game that I can predict I would never finish, given what people have said about it here.

                1. Cybron says:

                  That’s not a good analogy because the organizers have to make no changes to meet the needs of both groups. Your example is closer to choosing to impose self limitations to make a run more challenging, which people do all the time. Or allowing people to cheese tough encounters – which the game is happy to do (some of the game’s hardest parts can be trivialized with some poison arrows).

                  1. Daimbert says:

                    Actually, there generally ARE things the organizers need to do for those mixed events, because they still need to track distance for all competitors and need to organize it so that people can drop out after certain distances without penalty, and also often need to increase the time available for all of those different parties to finish. All of this doesn’t impact those who really do just want to run it like a marathon.

            2. evileeyore says:

              Ah Dark Souls, the Barkley Marathon of gaming.

              And a slightly more serious answer:

              It alters the definition of having beaten the game. For one group saying “I finished the Boston Marathon” means they ran, sweated, and suffered their way to the finish line. That’s an achievement.

              For the other it means they got on a bus, took a nap, and then got off. No achievements injured in the making of this “achievement”. It’s the “gold star of participation” and reduces the gold star the actual competitors receive by it’s very existence.

              Not every thing is for everyone and it shouldn’t be.

              1. lurkey says:

                Well, don’t hand out cheevos for bus rides then. Condescending smuggos can be condescendingly smug at people without appropriate trophies, and players on both marathon and bus camps who don’t care about this sort of petty bullshit and just want to play the game can, well, just play the game. Problem solved, everyone’s happy.

                1. Cybron says:

                  I don’t care about achievements and never have – if anything I dislike them (even the word “cheevo” is vaguely irritating). But I do care about the community of the game and the conversations revolving around the game. I think a lot of the people who have beat Dark Souls as it is today would not have ever even tried it if were a hard mode. I think the tone of the conversation about the game would be vastly different, and I think the conversations the community has within itself would be very different.

                  Let me be very clear: This is NOT because I “look down on casuals” or want to be elitist or whatever uncharitable motivation is likely to be projected on what I’ve said. Please do not accuse me of such.

                2. poiumty says:

                  Do you also call marathon runners “condescending smuggos”?

                  “Ha ha look at this guy thinking he’s better than me because I took the bus and he actually ran. What petty bullshit! I hope you’re feeling really good about that pointless thing you did, *loser*!”

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    If they go around telling others that “You need to git gud and run a marathon” and “you didnt like the marathon just because you ran it wrong” and “your insistence that some people should run only 1 mile,then ride the bus the rest would ruin my enjoyment of a marathon”,then yes they 100% are condescending smuggos.

                    1. poiumty says:

                      Counterpoint: there are no people saying “marathons are too hard, I’d enjoy them SO much if there was this optional option to skip to the end – man, why don’t people who make marathons make them for EEEEEVERYONE!?”.

                    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Thats because no one is pestering them to “Just try it,youll love it!”.But you know what people are being pestered about thats kind of tied to a marathon?Weight and health.And how many easy and “easy” ways to get slimmer and healthier exist?If people arent pestering you to do it,you wont ask for a way to do it comfortably and enjoyably.Its simple as that.

                    3. poiumty says:

                      People like the game a lot and want other people to share in the experience. I see nothing wrong with that. I do see something wrong when said other people become stubborn and start advocating for the game to be changed for them.

                      The reason most of this misunderstanding exists is because we once thought the game was too hard as well. We just had more patience with it.

                    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Other fanbases also want people to experience their thing too.But with dark souls*,they kind of went overboard.Thats what caused the pushback.

                      *And arguably undertale

                  2. lurkey says:

                    Since Daemian Lucifer already answered, just a tangent. I am actually acquainted with a few marathon runners IRL. Sometimes they even try to talk me into running, only they are not even remotely as obnoxious about their hobby as Souls fans about theirs…but then, a few things are. Anyway, they usually just tell their often fascinating running stories that leave me thinking about marathons as some sort of wondrous activity that makes people starry-eyed and, you know, cool.

                    Also, say we have a hypothetical dialogue.

                    Person A: You have to try this Dark Souls game!
                    Person B: No thanks.
                    A: But you totally have to, you will like it, I know!
                    B: No thanks, not interested.
                    A: But you totally have to, you will like it, I promise!
                    B: Sigh. Okay. I’ll check it out. *some time later* Sorry, the game’s too hard for me. If it did C like this and D like that, I might enjoy it better…
                    A: How DARE you demand the game be changed for you!

                    If I understand it correctly from your post, poiumty, you think there is nothing wrong with A, but something’s wrong with B?

                    1. poiumty says:

                      Man, you must’ve had a really horrible experience with the entire Dark Souls community.

                      Nice strawman “hypothetical dialogue”. Wanna see mine?

                      A: This game is really awesome, you should play it.
                      B: Wow it’s so hard!
                      A: Yeah, it’s supposed to be like that. I had a really hard time too, but the satisfaction of victory is second to none.
                      B: Why is this game so hard! I’m bored! Why isn’t there an easy mode so I can have a better time! Why isn’t there a save option!
                      A: Dude you have to let go and embrace mastery of the moment. That’s what the game is about.
                      A: No I’m just trying to say that the difficulty is an integral…
                      A: God you’re such an idiot.

                      See I can do it too.

                    2. lurkey says:

                      You young people should really stop abusing “straw man” as a some sort of universal dismissal. Or at least google the definition, since applying it to a vague hypothetical thing is kind of useless, nor is it “strawman” when I present an embellished, hyperbolised variant of something written in this very thread. Who knows, mayhap you’ll even find some new, better fitting fallacies to throw at words you don’t like?

                      Also, nice caps lock meltdown.

                    3. Shamus says:


                      You specifically mocked the other side by putting words in their mouth. poiumty just reflected the same rhetorical technique back at you. You’re condescendingly assuming the people debating you are “young people” when this isn’t necessarily the case.

                      This debate gets hot enough as it is. Please be cool.

                    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      A: This game is really awesome, you should play it.
                      B: Wow it's so hard!
                      A: Yeah, it's supposed to be like that. I had a really hard time too, but the satisfaction of victory is second to none.
                      B: Why is this game so hard! I'm bored! Why isn't there an easy mode so I can have a better time! Why isn't there a save option!
                      A: Dude you have to let go and embrace mastery of the moment.

                      You actually wrote this,and you think that that lurkey made a strawman?Your hypothetical dark souls fan presented in a good light is exactly the same as his dark souls fan presented in a bad light.And then you wonder why people think that a big chunk of that community is obnoxious?

                    5. lurkey says:


                      While “young people” was intentional, putting words in poiumty’s mouth was not, because I was going for hypothetical conversation without any authorship attached. Responsibility for being unclear is mine anyway — my apologies, will try to limit ad hominems to minimum.

        2. Core says:

          I’d like to note that the developers never actually suggested introducing an easy mode into their game, more or less as the link reads:

        3. Grimwear says:

          Hmm I’m sure there are lots of people who are against making Dark Souls easier and I’m one of them but it’s not for the sake of prestige or getting good. My worry is simply that I’m afraid a lot more concessions would need to be made in order for difficulty levels to be implemented.

          I’m a firm believer that Dark Souls is a pve game first and foremost rather than pvp but there are lots who play simply for pvp. Would having an easy difficulty then mean that only those on easy could pvp each other? What if I improve and want to play harder people do I need to make a whole new character? Same for if people on easy play offline. In implementing this feature my worry is simply that they would fracture the player base. Heck people got angry when they made pvp dependent on Soul Accumulation in DS2. Am I against having more people play my favorite game in a way they enjoy? God no. But as Shamus said, do I worry that in doing so they’ll damage my personal enjoyment with the game? Yes.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Make an easy difficulty be offline only.There,problem solved.How would that diminish your enjoyment?

            1. Grimwear says:

              I wasn’t saying all that purely for my own enjoyment. I want anyone who desires to play be able to. I was simply stating that there are many problems associated with introducing an easy mode. For instance if we had offline only for easy what happens if someone plays, then decides they actually want to try pvp? While not my favorite aspect of the game there are actually some interesting takes on it such as the Cat Forest in DS1 or Rat Covenant in DS2.

              Introducing a style of play with such a drawback may actively deter people from wanting to try the game. “Man I wouldn’t mind playing the game on easy but then would I have a worse experience? Is it possible to play through on easy and then at a later point move out of easy or will I need to make a new character and put another 20 hours in just to see what I missed?”

              I’ve said it before that while I consider Dark Souls primarily pve I cannot ignore the pvp which also contributes to the overall experience (positively or negatively depending on the person). Honestly if I came to a new game that I was interested in playing and saw I could play on an easy setting but in return the experience was neutered I’d avoid it on principle. The fact that they are actively limiting the game for the easy setting is a negative that would turn me away.

      3. Urthman says:

        The thing is, if Dark Souls had an easier difficulty setting, I would have used it and missed out on 80% of what I ended up loving about the game.

        1. Cybron says:

          I just wrote a little thing about how easy mode would change the community before I saw this post. It should have just pointed to this because this basically shows what I was trying to get across.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            But then you have people like Shamus,who have played the game very briefly,and then stopped because there was no easy mode.He too missed out on everything that the fans told him he wouldve loved about the game.So it kind of balances out.

            1. Cybron says:

              If Shamus doesn’t like it, well, more power to him I guess. I certainly don’t like every game he likes. He may be missing out on the good parts of dark souls, but if he played the game on a hypothetical easy, he’d still be missing out on many of the good parts of dark souls. At that point, you may as well read the wiki or watch a let’s play. I know a couple good LPs and I think it’s worth doing if you steadfastly don’t want to play the game.

              If you (or someone else) wants I can elaborate how struggle is important to the experience of dark souls, but I think anyone who wants to know probably knows by now, given how old the game is.

              As for the fans, well, having been (maybe still am, depending on your point of view) the annoying evangelistic souls fan, it’s pretty natural to want to share something you like. And the constant “you’d like it if you ____” stuff isn’t any different from the “it gets better ___ hours in” thing that is so common in video game discussions. Someone likes it, they think you could like it if you get over some part of it. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. There’s no way to know until you pass whatever that bump is. It’s reasonable to make the statement, and it’s reasonable to reject the game anyways because you don’t want to invest the time in a game you aren’t actively enjoying.

            2. Shamus says:

              For the record: It’s not the difficulty that puts me off, it’s those sodding runs back to where I died. That just KILLS the fun for me. I don’t mind dying a lot (I love Hotline Miami) but I will NOT tolerate having my time wasted on corpse-runs. Dark Souls has that built right into the mechanics.

              Easy mode would make me have to do LESS of them, but that doesn’t fix the problem so much as make it less frequent.

              “Man, I hate the run-back after death.”

              “Pfft. You’re making a big deal over nothing. These bosses aren’t that hard. Once you know their tricks you won’t die so you won’t have to do the run-back.”

              “Okay, how do I learn those tricks?”

              “Well, you gotta practice and die over and over until you get it.”

              “Yeah. That’s the part I hate.”

              “Well you don’t understand. That’s part of the tone of the game and is integral to the thematic…”

              “Yeah I get that. But it’s also why I don’t want to play the stupid thing.”

              I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve gone ’round this stupid conversation. And yet somehow I really thought if I explained it carefully enough we could escape this loop.

              Talking about Dark Souls is the Dark Souls of talking about videogames.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                And here Ive fallen into that trap too.Ive started using “easy” mode as a shorthand,even though I was originally talking about stuff like “quicksave anywhere”.Which would have solved your issue with the game.

                1. poiumty says:

                  It would also make quite a few integral mechanics utterly meaningless.

                  More importantly, since the game is regarded as hard, it’d make everyone feel like they have to use it. Which would spoil the game for anyone but the ones who are specifically making no-quicksave challenge runs. What you’d get is a rather mediocre video game with some superfluous mechanics.

                  I don’t think you understand that game design is 100% incentives. The mere existence of an optional thing can drastically change how the game is played.

                  Which, for the record, is 100% my stance on the whole “optional difficulty” discussion. It’s not that it wouldn’t do ANY good – it’s that it would do more harm than good.

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    It would also make quite a few integral mechanics utterly meaningless.

                    Yes,and?As has been stated even by people here,not all of the mechanics of the darks souls are beloved by everyone.So what if some of them are made meaningless for people who dont care for them?Those who do would be playing an ironman mode and still enjoy those mechanics.

                    More importantly, since the game is regarded as hard, it'd make everyone feel like they have to use it.

                    Fun fact:Go to any of the xcom posts made by Rutskarn and youll find a conversation that goes like this:
                    – Everyone has to savescum in this game
                    – I dont.I play just ironman.
                    – Me too.
                    – Me three.

                    So yeah,it would not spoil the experience for those who already enjoy the save free version of it.But it would improve the enjoyment of those who dont like the “no save before a boss” version that is the only existing one now.

                    1. poiumty says:

                      >So what if some of them are made meaningless for people who dont care for them?

                      I’m not sure developers like to design superfluous systems into their games. If DS came out with a quicksave feature, there would be little point to bonfires.

                      If they added a quicksave feature right now, it would be a literal dumbing down of game mechanics in order to appeal to a broader audience. If you don’t understand how that would put some people on edge I’d suggest being more up to date with the gaming industry. Not that i think you aren’t.

                      I’m not sure whether XCom is designed solely around the Ironman mode, with saves being an afterthought. I’d say no. Either way, you’re relying on anecdotal evidence to argue that a majority of people prefer harder difficulties. I don’t believe you.

                    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      I'm not sure developers like to design superfluous systems into their games.

                      If that were true,we wouldnt have a bunch of games with superfluous crafting and skills mechanics.

                      If they added a quicksave feature right now, it would be a literal dumbing down of game mechanics in order to appeal to a broader audience.

                      You mean how they already did when they ported the game to pc,despite saying they have no interest in it?Or how,judging by some comments here,they made it easier from the original release when it was released in the west?

                      Either way, you're relying on anecdotal evidence to argue that a majority of people prefer harder difficulties.

                      When did I say majority?And again,just by comments in this thread alone,plenty of dark souls fans would like for a lower difficulty.But they cant have that,and Shamus cant have his way,because somehow even the option to make it more convenient would somehow ruin your fun.

                    3. poiumty says:

                      No I still think devs don’t LIKE desgining superfluous systems. That they still DO sometiems doesn’t mean they gave it all their blessings and had absolutely no complaints.

                      Your comparisons are way off the mark too. Bonfires are integral in a way crafting and pointless skill systems will never be.

                      >You mean how they already did when they ported the game to pc

                      No I do not see how porting the game to PC is “dumbing down the game mechanics in order to appeal to a broader audience”. I’m afraid you completely lost me on what game mechanics exactly you’re implying were dumbed down.

                      The game went through a number of patches and balance changes. Neither of these fits the moniker of “dumbed down”.

                      Are you sure you read my reply thoroughly enough? You seem to be ignoring quite a few things. Have you antagonized me so much that you can’t have a decent conversation?

                      >When did I say majority?

                      That WAS the context required in order for your argument to have weight. That more people as a whole will play the game if these changes occur? As in, a majority of people will benefit from these changes? Yes?

                      If I misunderstood you and you acknowledge that this will make the game LESS appealing overall, then this discussion just got easier.

                      I’m sure a lot of people who played Souls would jump at the chance to play it on easy mode. I do not believe that is good for the game. See, if Ironman was all I had to choose in XCOM 2, I would have played it on Ironman just like I did XCOM 1. I would have been safe in the notion that the game is designed and tested from the ground up with this in mind. But incentives are a hell of a thing, and my only XCOM 2 run ended up being subpar. For Dark Souls, I have this mentality where I don’t trust anyone who says “I know exactly what I want from a videogame”. Because I know that it’s not necessarily true. Because it happened to me.

                    4. lurkey says:

                      I have this mentality where I don't trust anyone who says “I know exactly what I want from a videogame”. Because I know that it's not necessarily true. Because it happened to me.

                      This. This right here is what you soulers should absolutely tone down when trying to get converts. Because for most people presuming that you know what someone wants better than the person in question themselves — especially nagging them further even after they gave a list of well explained arguments — is really, really rude. Unless you’re their mom. Don’t do it.

                    5. poiumty says:

                      It’s a disagreement based on personal experience.

                      If you really don’t want to play the game, I agree that no one should try to mock or insult you into playing it. But the argument stems from introducing objectivity to what is just a difference of taste. Some people think DS would be 100 times better if it had their arbitrary simplifications installed. This frustrates the people who like the game partly because it’s obscure like that.

                      And you’re not doing anyone any favors when you’re painting the entire community as selfish, condescending elitists, as you have done multiple times throughout this thread. You’re only serving to reinforce the views that people already have, and nothing else.

                    6. lurkey says:

                      when you're painting the entire community as selfish, condescending elitists

                      Eh? Entire community? I am calling selfish, condescending elitists a subset of your community that is unhealthily dependent on how other people play the game — that is, opposes “easy mode”, whatever form it takes, because they feel that other people finishing the game on easy somehow defiles their achievement of finishing it on hard. People with faux-concerns like “I want you to experience game in true way, it’s for your own good!” don’t get into that subset even though they’re selfish (because what it actually means is “I want you to experience the game in a way I experienced it) unless they also give condescending garbage a la “Drink clear water, or don't drink. but don't drink mud”, and I most certainly have nothing against the part of community that just plays the game and doesn’t give a fig about what others think or do.

                      P.S.: And if “disagreement based on personal experience” means that you don’t think that majority of people hate being pushed and told by other people that they know better — you should think about career in marketing. They value this sort of mindset there.

                    7. Core says:

                      Eh? Entire community? I am calling selfish, condescending elitists a subset of your community that is unhealthily dependent on how other people play the game “” that is, opposes “easy mode”, whatever form it takes, because they feel that other people finishing the game on easy somehow defiles their achievement of finishing it on hard.

                      If you were a fan of a given novel you’d also probably tell others to avoid the CliffsNotes version of it in lieu of the unabridged original, how is that elitist, or condescending?
                      IF anything, that feels to me like the respectful thing to do, both towards the potential readers and the author.
                      And if the authors themselves share that point of view, which they really seem to, isn’t it actually condescending to demand that they change something without having engaged with the developers’ work fully in the first place? How would you know that the approach the game requires isn’t worth whatever experiences people raving about the series have had?

                      When did I say majority?And again,just by comments in this thread alone,plenty of dark souls fans would like for a lower difficulty.But they cant have that,and Shamus cant have his way,because somehow even the option to make it more convenient would somehow ruin your fun.

                      The problem is that the entire theme and the entire atmosphere of DS revolves around hardship and tension, so for something like this, I don’t think having a ‘convenience’ option would be appropriate in the slightest. And Bloodborne just straight up feels like it’s trying to drive you insane once in a while. Again, consider that Souls try to evoke a very specific feeling in the player, changing the difficulty for that would be like say, adding a slider to a horror game that turns the spooky ghosts into a circus clown party(ok, that might actually be scarier but whatever), to expand its audience among people who really dislike the genre and that sort of imagery in the first place. It’s also, as it was brilliantly pointed out by someone in this discussion, deliberately set up that mastery of a level or a boss is a requirement for completion, unless you’re really really grinding, you can’t get through with by pure flukes. You have to actively fight the world to get by, and that’s the world the game wants to portray and has committed every inch of its design to.

              2. B W says:

                Dark Souls (sort of) solves the corpse run problem in its own mechanics with the Ring of Sacrifice. This is an item you can wear which will break if you die, but means you don’t actually lose anything for that “life”. It’s even one of the first rings you’re likely to encounter in a playthrough. Of course, this being Dark Souls, there’s only about a dozen of them in a playthrough of the game, most of which are bought from one guy you meet well before you can afford to buy them all.

                So you have to walk all the way back from wherever you are in the game world when you decide you need more of these rings, since there’s nothing else to do where this guy is once you’ve been there. The game will eventually give you a method of fast-travel; but it’s gated behind one of the most notorious boss fights in the game and once you have it most of the game’s most interesting moments are already behind you.

              3. GeoG says:

                I think DeathbyDysentery has already (amongst other things!) explained why the argument is such a revenant. There aren’t only two types of player – i.e. those who accept the punishment and try again, and those for whom the punishment remains too high a cost. There’s at least one other group – folks who didn’t accept it, but now do.

                That might be because of mood, changing life circumstances such as varying amounts of free time, having a moment where things “clicked,” originally playing with a massive hangover during which they weren’t willing to put up with any repetitive bullshit, etc. etc.

                It’s also possible to go in the other direction. Including partially – some folks will start running past enemies rather than taking them on each time, because a particular run has boring foes, or it’s particularly long, or whatever. When you run by enemies, is it defeating the original artistic vision? Possibly, although some subset of the jog-on folks will argue that artfully running past enemies is also a skill which can be learnt and mastered. It’s never simple to separate people neatly into just two groups, and even when it might appear to be, we’ll often neglect the temporal aspect: mood can change drastically even short-term, and people can change drastically over medium- to long.

                So, whatever – that’s why the argument doesn’t end when you say you’re not willing to engage with the game if this kind of punishment is an essential aspect of it. Because there are plenty of folks who thought the same, but now don’t. They wonder if you might move groups too. (I don’t, by the way – I think the very fact you’ve had this argument so many times now definitively rules out the possibility you’ll switch, if it ever existed. And I’m in none of the groups, having never played any of the games.)

                1. Core says:

                  When you run by enemies, is it defeating the original artistic vision? Possibly, although some subset of the jog-on folks will argue that artfully running past enemies is also a skill which can be learnt and mastered.

                  I’d argue that it’s not, since many of the levels in the game already factor the running into their design. And it gets more and more obvious with every title. That pretty snow town in DS3, Irithyll Valley and almost every enemy in it feels like they were designed and placed to screw around with your attempts to ignore their presence on repeat runs. Especially the priests and their weird fire attack. And what’s more, the unlockable shortcut placement actually encourages you to still try doing that because fighting some of the groups can feel frankly terrifying.
                  Or for another example, the masked crossbearers in front of the Cathedral in Bloodborne with their gigantic reach and the restraining attack, put in the players path, they can be dodged every single time, but it’s possible to make a mistake…
                  So running past enemies feels like it got treated by the designers deliberately and with plenty of intent, I’d say even maniacal glee.

                  There's at least one other group ““ folks who didn't accept it, but now do.

                  In a way the series serves as a gateway drug to even more demanding games, at least it did for a number of my friends. It’s probably because the premise of a mysterious, beautiful and deadly gothic-ish fantasy world RPG appeals as it is to many who wouldn’t be playing action games in the first place, they come for the exploration and the looting and stay to figure out that there’s something more to the experience, something that’s sometimes quite difficult to put a finger on.
                  It feels like that bit would be lost with an easier difficulty to boot, and I don’t know anything else recent that had a similar kind of general reach.

                  1. GeoG says:

                    Indeed! I’ve not played the games myself – just watched a lot of videos on them – so whilst your level of detail is well outside my experience it certainly accords with what I have seen!

                2. GeoG says:

                  Oh yes, I knew there was something else – it seems like one of the things fans like is not the punishment per se, which sounds a bit masochistic, but that the possibility of punishment forces interesting risk/reward decisions, and also that the decision mechanism is based on resource management. It’s these aspects that they find enjoyable/necessary, rather than only the punishment itself. (Hence Dark Souls 2 got a fair bit of flak for introducing in some fashion regenerating health.)

                  So, I can certainly see why someone might think Shamus would be a candidate for coming to enjoy interesting resource management! Anyway, again, not trying to persuade anyone they should like or dislike it, as I have no dog in that hunt. Am just theorising on why the argument might seem never to end.

  3. Christopher says:

    I don’t think it’s so simple that only people who like punishment are into Dark Souls.

    I hate it, and it kept me away from it for a looong time. But in the end, Dark Souls has some of the best level design in games, with a good action combat system, a cool setting, neat atmosphere, fun and varied enemies and bosses and a story that adds to the action without overshadowing it. I take the punishment(or more likely, play until I’ve had enough of it and come back another day) because the game itself is so freaking great, and, besides its sequels, unique.

    I would take a Retry Boss option any day, but I suck it up because it’s good, and take every option the game gives me to make it easier. Maybe that’s why you keep getting these arguments: I hear what you’re saying and I said the same things for years before I got into it. The thought isn’t “Oh, Shamus is just a different type of person from me”. It’s “Shamus is the kind of person I am, but I play this and that way to limit the frustration and have a good time that way.” That’s just me, though. And after eight years, I hardly see the point in trying to convince someone.

    1. Fizban says:

      Agreed, I don’t like the punishment/reward cycle either.

      If I'm playing Dark Souls and I can't get the hang of the timing on a boss, then I end up dying and slogging through a bunch of trash mobs before I can try again. That will take a few minutes. By the time I get back to the point where I made the mistake, I'll have lost track of what I did wrong. In fact, in terms of developing muscle memory* the most familiar thing is also the wrongest thing.

      The first Dark Souls had quite a lot of this slogging. From what I remember of watching a Demon’s Souls LP, it had even more of it. Essentially you have an extra skill you need to master before you can work on tough boss fights: how to run past mobs to re-do tough boss fights without forgetting what you’re doing.

      Dark Souls 2 had more bosses with bonfires right next to the boss door, or at least it certainly felt like it. Dark Souls 3 definitely has more like that, as well as fewer bosses in general than 2 did. So 3 should be even easier right?

      Nope, they made a new mistake: multi-stage boss battles. Previously rare, there are now maybe 2 bosses in the whole game who aren’t two-stage fights. And unlike the general skill of how to run past mobs to reach the boss door quickly, you can never bypass the slog through the first part in order to reach the second. You’re forced to fight through the first part again, repeating the muscle memory that you don’t need and forcing out the new stuff you need to actually practice. It’s infuriating once you reach something you can’t beat automatically with previous experience.

      To the point where I haven’t actually beat several of the endgame bosses, just calling in a pile of sunbros because I wanted to get to the end and could see it was going to take hours and hours to actually gather enough scraps of knowledge to beat the boss properly.

      *Aside: I think most of the time when we say muscle memory, we mean more just response memory. Even if your reflexes are fast enough that you separate your mental response to an attack from the pressing of the button to execute your retort, you still need to learn to recognize that attack and make the correct choice.

      1. GloatingSwine says:

        There’s an important thing to remember about the runback:

        The enemies you fight when you’re running back to a boss are fought using the same systems and rules as the boss.

        Dark Souls isn’t about getting to a boss and fishing for that one golden attempt where you beat it then moving on and never using that information again, it’s about learning the whole system, in and out of boss fights, with enough proficiency that you are good at both.

    2. Abnaxis says:

      Disclaimer: I am not saying Shamus is playing Dark Souls wrong and would enjoy if he played it right. I am just contributing my two cents to a Dark Souls discussion in response to his article, with no judgement at heart.

      That said, one of the big disconnects I think he has with me as a Dark Souls fan is what he seems to think I enjoy as far as “punishment” is concerned. Whenever he talks about punishment, it’s in the context of the boss fights. It’s about how hard those fights are to master when you have to slog through the level between them, and how much you hate that slog after you’ve mastered the level.

      That’s not the part of the punishment I enjoy. I enjoy the punishing level design itself. If I had to repeat levels ad nauseum as I was mastering a boss fight I would hate it (more on that later), but where the real fun comes for me is when you’re fighting against entrenched enemies, straining to avoid all the traps and make your way to the next bonfire. When you die here, you go back to playing the exact same sequence you just did, except with the added caveat that you’ve got to do at least as well as you did before or you lose everything.

      I don’t know if I’m really authoritative on this, but my experience is that other Soul’s fans are in the same boat. Most of the time when difficulty comes up as a feature, it’s rarely about the difficulty of the boss, it’s about the difficulty of the level design, e.g. Sen’s Fortress. Boss fights are usually glossed over.

      Again, I’m only speaking from my one data point, but for me there’s a reason why I don’t consider bosses part of the ‘hardness’ of the game. It’s because there is a “Retry Boss” button–it’s called the White Sign Soapstone. Basically, what I do is make my way through the grueling, difficult level leading up to the boss, and then I use the multiplayer feature to fight the boss in someone else’s game–letting me learn its attack patterns and master fighting it without actually risking the loss of progress for myself. Then, once I feel like I’m comfortable with it, I’ll take on the boss by myself.

      I could actually use the same trick for the entire level–including the boss. Just let myself be summoned, and experience all the traps and murder in another players’ world without any risk to my own progress. But I like the tension that comes from creeping around in scary ruins, jumping at every shadow and checking around every blind corner to see if there’s an ambush waiting. By the same token, there are people who say my multiplayer trick on the bosses is “not playing the game right,” because they like the induced panic of having massive boss to deal with when they haven’t been at a bonfire in a long time.

      In any case, that’s my take–basically, everything Shamus describes as onerous about Dark Souls to him is also onerous to me, but I get around it. I’m not saying he’s playing wrong, on that he needs to like Dark Souls, or anything else like that, I’m just proffering my one data point with regards to the issues brought up in the article.

      1. Cilvre says:

        The summon stones are exactly how many players try new areas if they aren’t super skilled. I did this for my first playthroughs, and i also played with a friend set up in the living room so we could work together and see each others screens my first time through. Playing on pc makes it easier to voice chat with a player, and the newer games make it easier to play with friends repeatedly. I believe playing the way you describe would change the way a lot of players feel about the game and not liking it.

      2. Christopher says:

        In lieu of a “retry boss” option, I also use the co-op system constantly. I do it for stages, too. When you’re being summoned, you’re practically in no danger. You don’t lose a thing if you die. I would put down my summon sign outside boss fogs at almost every boss in Dark Souls 3 and do a at least a few co-op sessions. Besides being easier with more people and learning to fight the boss with no danger to your own souls, succeeding earns you an ember so you can summon yourself.

        I spent a whole three games helping people and being helped in co-op before I ever tried an invasion, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Dark Souls’ rough world encourages jolly cooperation, and it’s easy to matchmake with specific friends now.

        My flatmate did all of Dark Souls 1 on his own without ever going online, and good on him for that. It’s much more of an achievement. But I have fun in this way.

    3. Scott says:

      I want to second this. I actually AM the sort of player who enjoys finally beating a challenging game sequence but to me that’s the least important part of what makes Dark Souls great. What I enjoyed most was the interesting setting and the mysterious and minimalist approach to story telling. To me the moment when I finally put together enough clues to figure out what was really going on in the story was a hundred times more satisfying than any of my victories in combat.

      It was sort of like the moment in Silent Hill when you start to realize the rules behind the supernatural weirdness or the moment in Final Fantasy X when you find out about the true reason for the pilgrimage and the various plots within plots surrounding Sin and Yevon.

    4. Kylroy says:

      I think that some people like Dark Souls because it’s the only place to get a severe Punishment fix in AAA, and other just tolerate the punishment because much of the rest of the game is so well done. Heck, right in the comments here we’re seeing some Dark Souls fans who don’t understand why the game can’t have quicksaves, and others who feel any reduction in slog would be a like a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

  4. Christopher says:

    But Dark Souls is pretty much the only game in the AAA space where these people can get this particular experience. Even eight years after Demon's Souls kicked off this craze, we're not seeing the raft of clones, remixes, and copycats you'd expect from something this popular. And the few instances we do see come from the indies.

    In related news, Nioh seems to be taking the internet by storm after it came out a day or two ago. It’s not a souls clone, they brought a lot of their own developer DNA into it, but it certainly scratches the same itch and has lots of similarities. I’m happy that other good contenders enter the same market, but this is freaking Team Ninja we’re talking about. The systems are even deeper and more confusing than Souls, which makes it seems harder. It also took them five years. Making good Souls games is hard.

    I sold a friend on the game by describing an early cutscene in which a ninja takes a cat out of his pocket and uses it to tell time like it was a watch, so maybe that sweetens the deal.

    1. King Marth says:

      I went to a ninja museum once, and one plaque talked explicitly about the cat’s-eye clock used by real ninja – cats have excellent night vision due to very accurate pupil dilation based on the level of light, so examining the shape of a cat’s pupils gives you a precise measurement of the current level of light. In a preindustrial world with no artificial light, this gives you a time of day accurate enough to co-ordinate plots with others without direct communication.

      Fantasy ninjas and all their superpowers are fun and all, but actual ninjutsu is pretty cool as well – using careful observation and understanding of how the world works to pull tricks other people just don’t understand. Any sufficiently misunderstood science is indistinguishable from magic.

      1. Christopher says:

        That’s so cool, thanks for the additonal info.

    2. Abnaxis says:

      “Other good contenders”…IF you happen to own a PS4, which was the only platform to get Bloodborne. God Dammit :(

  5. Theminimanx says:

    As a Souls fan, I’m pretty split on its punishment. I don’t like doing it, and I definitely don’t think it makes beating bosses more satisfying. This part of the game is what made me quit four times before finally learning to enjoy the series.
    Though “learning to enjoy” might not be the best way to put that. Rather, I think Dark Souls just broke me, and I learned to accept it. It’s very similar to Morrowind, which also has way more walking from A to B than it has any right to, and that game also had to break me before I really got into it.
    My complaints aside, I think Dark Souls at least uses its punishment for good thematic effect. The pointlessness of the trek to the boss ties in nicely with how futile trying to postpone the inevitable is.
    Or maybe the game really has broken me and I’m just desperately looking for anything to justify the time I spent on pointless nonsense.

    1. lurkey says:

      Rather, I think Dark Souls just broke me, and I learned to accept it.

      Now that’s a sales pitch! Sold!

      *psssst* Dude, where to send help? If you cannot answer right now it’s alright, just toss a message over the wall or drum it in Morse when the game has its attention elsewhere, and…just hang on there, okay? :(

    2. Kylroy says:

      “Or maybe the game really has broken me and I'm just desperately looking for anything to justify the time I spent on pointless nonsense.”

      I really think cognitive dissonance generates a non-trivial portion of Dark Souls fandom.

  6. OriBiggie says:

    I always love reading about peoples opinions on dark souls. The more I read the more I’m certain that there’s no such thing as a stereotypical dark souls fan.
    I’m a fan, but I love it for the mastery difficulty (I like your three scales, and shall use them liberally), but see the punishment as a necessary evil to make the mechanical side “worth it”, even if I don’t enjoy it as such. Although that only works for the bits that feel like I’m not getting cheated by the game (the archers in Anor Londo can die in a fire).
    But I think my love of the mechanical side of things is why I prefer dark souls 2 over dark souls 1 and 3 (which, based on my interactions online, is a cardinal sin and will get me laughed at).
    I’ve seen lots of dark souls fans say that the real appeal is the atmosphere/exploration/design of the game, and the combat is just the cherry on top. I’ve never really felt that. Maybe I’m not a real fan!
    Anyway the actual reason I was commenting at all is that just this week there’s a new contender for AAA Dark-souls-like released in Nioh. I tried the beta/demos while they were out and it’s definitely got the right vibe! And the protagonist is a historical figure from near where I’m from, so that’s pretty cool (if completely irrelevant).

    (EDIT; damnit took too long to write it all and I’ve been gazumped!)

    1. Destrustor says:

      I also prefer DS2, given that it’s the first one I played and the only one I’ve completed.

      So you’re not alone, we can get laughed at together I guess.

      1. Fizban says:

        Thirded, ds2 tried to actually fix some mechanics and I find it hilarious how everyone complained about its lore/world for. . . actually being new and having its owns themes and tone and whatnot? Once 3 finishes disappointing me with its DLC I’ll probably go back for another run of 2 just to enjoy the world and casting implements that don’t lie.

        1. nobb says:

          Fourth, although it’s the most flawed , it’s my favorite too. I actually like the washed out feeling of the world and npc better than the dark fairy tales vibe of dark souls 1 and a lot better than the “everything must look like the cover of a metal album” look of the three.

      2. tmtvl says:

        I like both 1 and 2 (need a better computer before I can play 3). I feel like 2 has tighter mechanics (even though I used to get frustrated with the tracking attacks, but I got over it), while 1 has a neat world layout where you can look around at various parts and see stuff like “oh, there’s where I fought Taurus, there’s the way to Firelink, there’s the way to Darkroot,…”.

        In the end, I think I like 2 a little more, if only because game feel is just a bit more important than the game world (and because I love Lucatiel).

    2. Christopher says:

      I’m definitely in the “Dark Souls 2 is the worst one camp”. It disappointed me in terms of graphics, atmosphere, lore, enemy design and level design, sure. But the combat is the worst, because it just felt off to me. The sounds of just hitting an enemy or sucking up souls felt off, quick and plentiful estus was replaced with sparse and rare estus and regenerative consumables and I didn’t appreciate the agility stat or whatever it was that slowed down shield raising and robbed me of invincibility frames. At least that’s what I assume was the case. I’m actually not that technical. It just felt “off”, and I’m trying to hone in on what caused that feeling.

      Are you big into different builds and stuff? I can’t take away from Dark Souls 2 that it’s the most Souls, both in number of environments and weapons, especially after the DLCs. I feel like I used to see hundreds of different videos on youtube of the PVP, although maybe 3 has taken over now.

      Edit: Granted, it’s not like Dark Souls 1 was perfect or anything. The second half of that game is way worse than the first half in most regards.

      1. OriBiggie says:

        Late on the ol’ reply front, but here I go anyway!

        But yeah, I loved the number of builds that felt viable in 2, I’ve played through it a number of times trying different things. It also scratches an itch I have about connecting with the game away from the game itself. I can be at work, thinking about the types of character I could try next.

        If nothing else, power stancing was cool. One of the best runs I had was a great big green guy called Bruce using nothing but dual wielded caestus. And hexes meant there’s an entirely different style of caster class you can run that requires a different build path. And that’s great because it means I get to take a new character through and get to find out where it’s strengths and weaknesses lie in the game. Some characters breeze through parts of the game that others stumble on. Bruce above for example, having no thrusting weapons, has a harder time on the fleshier enemies.

        I don’t feel that sort of gameplay works in either 1 or 3. But then again, I’d actually put 3 last for me. It’s clear it’s made in the bloodborne engine, and they tried to shoehorn in dark souls mechanics – but that’s a different conversation entirely!

        1. Christopher says:

          I can respect that! It’s a strength the other games really don’t have.

  7. Content Consumer says:

    I realize making up nomenclature and sorting things into categories is a horribly tedious and pretentious thing to do.

    Not at all. I mean, it’s got to start somewhere, right? I grant you, it’s not likely your (in the sense of any one individual’s) categorization methods will take off and become wildly popular, but at the very least it organizes your writing in a way that makes it easy to understand next time.

  8. Content Consumer says:

    From reading what Souls fans have to say about the game, I gather that they need punishment for the challenge to be interesting to them.

    NB: To make Pseudoku appeal to a wider audience, add in a “hard” difficulty setting that, whenever you place a tile wrong, resets the entire puzzle. And all previous puzzles. And deletes the Pseudoku.exe file.

    1. Content Consumer says:

      This will nicely contrast with the “easy” difficulty setting, wherein whenever you place a tile wrong, the game automatically places the tile in the correct position, then finishes the puzzle, then finishes all the puzzles the game has to offer, then goes online and downloads more puzzles and finishes them too.

      1. Baron Tanks says:

        I don’t often wish for a like button or similar on here, but I have nothing to add but got to let you know, you’re killing me with these!

        1. Content Consumer says:

          I love hearing good things about me. :)

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      And then add an “extra difficulty dlc” for 1000$,where if you make a mistake,Shamus will hire someone near you to punch you in the face.

      1. Content Consumer says:

        y u use punch should use kick insteadof punch LOL casaul looser !!1!!!1!1!1

        I wonder if the spam filters will grab this. It’s just bad spelling, after all, supposedly nothing Akismet would find truly horrible (I think).

  9. Bags says:

    As someone who hated Dark Souls for ages before coming around to it with the force that only a born-again convert can muster, I agree and see where you’re coming from in a lot of this. But I’d wonder where Roguelikes would fall on this. You’ve acknowledged games with permadeath, and how it makes the risk feel much greater as the game goes on, and I’ve seen you write about enjoying both games with permadeath and enjoying self-imposed permadeath states in games you’ve played. Heck, you made a game, Good Robot, in which permadeath was a core gameplay mechanic.

    The reason I draw attention to this is because for me, and a big part of the key to my learning how to enjoy Dark Souls, was seeing it not as a game with often long, often arduous DIAS gameplay, but rather as a rising and falling cycle of mini-permadeath segments. Just as in, say, Good Robot, you’re challenging yourself to keep going and try and make it further on this playthrough than you did last time, each time you die in Dark Souls you challenge yourself to make it further through that level or further through a boss’s health bar before dying. Eventually, you succeed, and just like when you finally make it all the way through a game of Good Robot, it’s a great feeling (or one of profound relief/”thank goodness that’s over”, depending on the level or boss). Except instead of only having that once, it’s a cycle which repeats dozens of times through the game, between each bonfire.

    Now, there are key differences of course – Good Robot has large elements of procedurality (is that a word?) whereas Dark Souls is the same every time you run through, meaning the former has much higher replayability. But on the other hand – and this is the key to a lot of the “harsh but fair” arguments made by Dark Souls defenders – it means that Dark Souls lets you, or rather forces you, to learn from your mistakes. And if you learn from the mistake which got you killed last time, you ought to make it further through the level/boss next time you do it. Whereas a game where much of the content is procedurally generated can be far easier or harder depending on RNG, which I find far more frustrating than the kind of difficulty found in Dark Souls (and the large amounts of RNG-dependent “artificial” difficulty is one of the reasons why Dark Souls 2 is pretty universally considered to be the worst in the series by fans).

    Not attempting to change your mind on Dark Souls, but felt like the conversation about punishment as difficulty could be helped with some more context.

    1. Mousazz says:

      Although honestly, the first time I played Dark Souls, at the first skill-ceiling I got stuck at (literally couldn’t get through the Undead Burg), the main lesson I learned is “Pick a knight instead of a hunter so you could tank hits better”. In fact, my whole unfinished playthrough felt like it was based on cheese when I could afford it – a halberd to keep my enemies away and out of reach; beating Ceaseless Discharge (right after beating Quelaag’s sister, mind you) simply by juking it and attacking its wall-clipping tentacle; heck, even the standard tactic of walking in, dying, and then returning from the bonfire felt lame and exploitative. I only remember beating Havel on my first try as the only true achievement of skill – everything else was “try until you find what works; previous knowledge isn’t really gonna help at THIS specific encounter”.

      Then again, I lost my enthusiasm just before entering Sen’s fortress. Maybe it’d have been better there…

      1. Cybron says:

        Although honestly, the first time I played Dark Souls, at the first skill-ceiling I got stuck at (literally couldn't get through the Undead Burg), the main lesson I learned is “Pick a knight instead of a hunter so you could tank hits better”.

        I find that pretty funny, because I started as a knight and quickly hit a skill wall in the form of the Tauros Demon. The lesson I got bashed into my face was “take off all your stupid heavy armor so you can avoid getting hit!”

        The most universal skill I think you can learn in Dark Souls is “patience and caution are your most valuable weapons.” There are few encounters where this does not apply.

        If you don’t enjoy it, you don’t enjoy it, but Sens Fortress indeed the fan favorite area, with the followup area having what many say is the best boss fight in the game.

    2. Syal says:

      I would guess it has to do with where the difficulty spikes. Roguelikes mostly put the difficulty in the moment-to-moment fights; there isn’t a boss in Good Robot half as dangerous as that generic swarm of worms. Nuclear Throne kills you by drowning you in enemies, Isaac kills you by trapping you between rocks and hitting you with those stupid invincible masks, Rogue Legacy kills you by making you take blind jumps into spikes and fire and pain, Nethack kills you by doing anything at all. Every new step could be the last.

      Dark Souls puts a whole lot of difficulty in the bosses; once you know the mook patterns they’re… maybe not trivial, but significantly reduced. People say once you’re good you can run past the minions on the way back to the boss. There’s very specific, predictable spikes to the difficulty.

      1. tmtvl says:

        Bosses are the easiest, though. They can’t swarm you (with the exception of Four Kings, if you’re slow at dishing damage) AND their damage is scaled, so you can usually take a few hits while learning their pattern. Once you’re good you can run past most mooks, until one of them is standing just a bit too much to the right so you can’t pass and you get mauled by a horde of ’em.

    3. Bubble181 says:

      And I’m an example of a gamer who absolutely hates the Permadeath feel as it makes *me* feel like it’s a huge DIAS but with a much longer “slog back” than in DS2 or most other games.

      I’ll *eventually* get around to it (I have several level 70, Paragon 500 HC characters in D3, for example), but in my own good time and by my own choice.

      I’ve never completed Good Robot, as the first 2 or 3 levels just got incredibly tedious after a while. I just felt “not good enough at this sort of game”, so I gave up.

      I agree about DIAS gameplay, and I dislike punishment a *LOT*. I’ll take insta-reloads every day, all day. But feel free to put the mastery level alllll the way up there for me to reach to.

  10. acronix says:

    While I have put about a hundred hours into the Dark Souls series, I am not afraid to admit I’d like the games more if one could instantly restart the boss fights (by either having the bonefires right outside the door or by literally providing an option to respawn directly into the begining of the fight). That’s not actually making the boss fights any easier, it’s just convenient and respectful of the player’s time , if you ask me.

    The problem Dark Souls will eventually get (I think it’s already gotten some of it, actually) is that veterans will become better at the systems and will adapt faster to the changes introduced to the mechanics. Which means that, inevitably, the game will need a difficulty system to be able to present an actual challenge to those players without alienating the new ones. And at that point, there will be no reason anymore to not provide an Easy mode.

    1. Fizban says:

      Hmm, I said this above in different context, but it applies here too: they kinda did both those things without hitting a difficulty slider yet. Bonfires closer to bosses and/or with clear runner’s paths, and a new form of difficulty: practically everything is a mult-stage boss, so you have to slog through first stage every time you fail at the second. The running adaptation doesn’t do any good against a new unskippable slog that’s different for every 2nd form actual boss.

  11. Starker says:

    An additional difficulty in talking about the difficulty in Dark Souls is that it’s an RPG and your character gets stronger and tougher over the course of the game. Someone with fully upgraded equipment will have it a lot more easy than someone who has unupgraded equipment. And, in addition to the equipment upgrade drops, you will constantly keep progressing in small steps if you can at least make it back to where you died and you periodically spend your souls.

    Also, things will be much easier or much harder depending on your playstyle — will you bulk up and block or tank all the damage or will you try to dodge it all? Will you use magic and archery to safely snipe a lot of the enemies from the distance or will you try to take on everything in melee? Will you summon other players and/or NPCs to help you or will you try to solo the bosses? Those are drastically different experiences.

    1. tmtvl says:

      SL3 Sorcerer FTW!

  12. Alrenous says:

    Dark souls isn’t actually difficult, it’s playing a trick. It presents itself as a massive cliff of skill mastery, but in fact is gimmick stamp collecting. Every enemy in the game can be easily defeated if you know the right gimmick to use. (Except the lightning drakes. If they have a gimmick I don’t know it. I suppose their gimmick is, “Don’t go into that valley.”) Some enemies have multiple gimmicks, so you can cheese them with your choice of cheese. However, this means you can git gud via gamefaqs.

    Because bosses are this way too, the run back is necessary to avoid utterly trouncing them. Try gimmick one, die, try gimmick two, die, try gimmick three, win. For bosses there’s also a bit of bonus stamp collecting in terms of memorizing attack dodge windows, I suppose.

    This is most blatant for the four kings. If you try to block their attacks, their timers will overwhelm your DPS. If you try to dodge roll them, it’s a massive skill cliff. If you wear havel’s armour and facetank everything, you find out (or were told) that their damage is range dependent and they can hardly do anything to you up close, a mechanic that appears nowhere else in the game. The last boss would be the most blatant, as his gimmick is even more trivializing, but it requires nonzero practice.

    This trick counts as a double trick, because the gimmicks lull the player into thinking they’re good at the game and can relax on using said gimmicks. Then even the blue slimes of this game will wreck their face. There’s a tension between the cheese making the player hold the enemies in contempt, and the respect for the necessity of the gimmicks.

    I tried a no gimmicks run – no poise-locking weapons, no dodge roll, no crits, not sorcery/pyromancy, no wolf ring, etc – but the game is just boring because it takes so long, largely due to armour mechanics.

    1. Core says:

      “Dark souls isn't actually difficult, it's playing a trick. It presents itself as a massive cliff of skill mastery, but in fact is gimmick stamp collecting. Every enemy in the game can be easily defeated if you know the right gimmick to use. ”

      It’s more that the gimmicks are there to give any player who really wants to, but genuinely can’t, a chance at beating it. Same as you can, if you want, to just massively overlevel your enemies, it’s what the game has to offer you in place of a difficulty system.

      I don’t know where the idea of Souls being insanely difficult came from either, there’s an entire genre we call the ‘character action game’ that existed for quite a number of years and it houses a lot of stuff from Devil May Cry to Ninja Gaiden to Bayonetta to God Hand to Metal Gear Revengeance, DS is entirely representative of. It just features more RPG elements, medieval weaponry(which makes the game slower and makes planning your moves easier if anything) and a different approach to connecting the stages together – which wasn’t even the case in Demon’s Souls. If you’ve played those sorts of titles for a while before, replaying Souls stages won’t be about building muscle memory as much as just attempting to read the enemy attacks on the fly and while you’ll die a bunch still, you’ll die in varied and interesting ways.

      In a way it becomes a little closer to a roguelike once you’ve mastered the genre-appropriate skills where the moment to moment randomness comes instead from the unexpected in the level design, your own mistakes, the limited resources and the slightly randomized attack patterns and interesting group arrangements that emphasize them.

    2. Cybron says:

      How in the world is dodging a gimmick? That’s about as core a mechanic as can be. You could maybe argue the wood grain ring can MAKE dodging a gimmick but that doesn’t mean the mechanic is somehow less valid overall.

      Indeed, I take issue with your classification of pattern recognition (which is what you use to beat most standard enemies – including the drakes, incidentally) as a gimmick. What does gimmick even mean to you? Hitting the enemy and shielding? God knows how shielding is any more or less of a gimmick than dodging. The core of “skill” in Dark Souls is recognizing danger (be it an enemy attack or hostile environmental elements) and then avoiding it (be it by blocking, dodging, or proper positioning). This tests your skills of observation (notice the danger), pattern recognition (identify the best response to the danger), and execution (avoiding the danger).

      Yes, the Four Kings are most reasonable beaten with a gimmick (which I’m not a huge fan of). Yes, you can beat the last boss with a gimmick (this doesn’t bother me; he’s perfectly beatable without, and fun to boot). But even if you learn the “gimmick” to defeating, say, the boss of Anor Lando Lure out a charge and attack whichever one you want to kill while they’re separated there’s still skill involved in executing it. The same can be said of most of the game’s bosses (I’d argue all but those two and the Bed of Chaos).

      1. Alrenous says:

        Dodging with fast roll is not a deep, difficult to master skill. I dodge when I’m about to get hit. I do this, and it doesn’t mitigate incoming damage, it removes it. The only thing standing between me and immortality is impatience and monotony. If I have to find out where the damage frames are, I block and it tells me. If I’m too lazy to master dodging, I still only get hit sometimes, and I can stock up 20 estus flasks on anything even vaguely difficult. On top of that, heavy armour is barely stronger than light armour, so you still can’t afford to take damage while heavy and risk you take being light is slight. Parrying at least has some tightness in the timing.

        Yes, 100% block shields would probably have gotten onto my gimmick list too if waiting for silver knights to let me hit them for 80 damage hadn’t gotten old. I remember Ocarina of time. Lock on, hold R–> congratulations, you can’t get hurt.

        1. Cybron says:

          Being good at a game’s core skills makes it pretty easy to beat, yeah. I don’t see how that makes it a gimmick. I can beat most modern 3D Mario games without ever dying, that doesn’t make jumping a gimmick.

        2. galacticplumber says:

          Actually that’s not true at all. Heavy armor is powerful relative to light equivalents. In some of the bigger cases we’re talking less than half the damage taken from a hit to a lighter player and that’s assuming they aren’t literally going in naked. This in turn makes it easier to heal on time and makes any one piece of healing worth more hits. A heavy armor melee cleric has healing coming out of every orifice and is happy to poise through a hit just to hit the enemy, because if it turns into a fight of attrition they WILL win.

          1. Alrenous says:

            I have a heavy melee cleric, so I’m curious as to how you came to this delusion. I did the math.

            My light armour + wolf ring melee cleric also (frequently) simply poises through hits and wins the ‘attrition’ battle.

  13. Hal says:

    You kind of touched on this, but it was part of your Bordlerlands conversation from the Diecast this week. For a lot of games, the difficulty variable comes only from health and damage. That is on easy, the enemies have less health and deal less damage, and on hard they have more health and deal more damage.

    So what category does that fall into? Mastery? Strictness? Probably depends on the game. But I think you can see how that would be unsatisfying to a lot of players because it runs into the problem you described with Borderlands. Once you have the learning/mastery portion down, all it does is drag out the game. Enemies now take 10 hits to kill instead of 2. On the one hand, is it really punishment to have more gameplay? On the other, this can become grinding drudgery if it’s not handled well, and that’s not much fun. We usually walk into games with the impression that, if we’ve mastered the system, it should be easier and faster, and that gets subverted when difficulty is all a matter of health and damage.

    1. Fizban says:

      The punishment doesn’t change based on enemy hp, and flat hp/damage multipliers clearly aren’t something with depth of complexity. Enemies with bigger hp and damage require you to survive longer with smaller margins for error. That’s strictness.

  14. nobb says:

    It’s so frustrating to read you wrote about dark souls. I’d like to point out two things:

    First about difficulty in dark souls, I wouldn’t say it’s an easy game because that would be dishonest, but it’s an easier game than you think. A good part of the difficulty is smoke an mirror.

    for example the fact that you lose all your souls if you die. it might seems incredibly unfair and difficult until you realize that you will never loose any souls that you invested. loosing all the experience and money you have since last save when you die is a mechanical thing that happens in all rpg. it’s just that dark souls make a big deal about it to make it seems unfair although I would argue that the fact it allow you to get back your previous souls make it easier in a mechanical sense that most. anyway, you can generalize this point into the following: in dark souls progress is never lost, be it experience spend, object found or shortcut open.

    Another good example is that enemies are big and scary and the environment is masterfully designed to intimidate you, but once your think about it they are not much in term of actual difficulty. A good example is the asylum demon, the first boss of the first game. In itself, it’s a pretty easy boss, it’s slow, every move are telegraphed and it doesn’t have much life. The game even allow you to start with an advantage (you start the fight above him so you can start with a plunging attack that will take half its life most of time). But the game use a number of trick to make it intimidating: first the design of the boss itself is between horrifying and repugnant, they set up a first encounter before you have access to your starting equipment (so no real weapons) so most player are force to run away and the boss make a lot of damage (which might seem like an actual difficulty, but it’s not if you remember that the boss is slow and announce all it’s moves. it’s like avoiding a tractor, yes it will hurt a lot if you are caught and the danger is real, but it’s not exactly difficult).

    Basically, any horror house trick you can think of, dark souls make use of it. which lead me to my second point:

    You don’t need muscle memory (*). It’s a slow paced game and it doesn’t allow you to change your attack mid course, you have to commit. which mean that as long as you don’t panic you can do whatever you choose to. You don’t need to develop muscle memory, you need to develop a plan. you need to observe the boss, establish it’s move set and prepare a counter measure to each one, adapt you equipment and then apply calmly your plan. that why so many people comment on how you should play the game. It’s designed to punish the brute forcing, button-smashing players. I don’t think it’s absurdist to point it out, in the same way that pointing out that ,say, invading as much and as often as possible in Europa universalis is neither a winning way to play the game nor very enjoyable, or that the game punish you for it. When people say that having you walk to the boss every time instead of directly starting in front of him allow you to calm down and plan, they’re not making absurd excuses. Being calm and having a plan are central to this game, and this is favored by this design choice. you talk about that walk back to the boss as punishing (and surprisingly that actually the only example of punishment in dark souls you give), but I think it’s actually a favor the game do for you. Fighting again and again without pause the same boss would be harder and frustrating, because without pause most player wouldn’t calm down or take a step back to think. instead they would quit the game in frustration, and perhaps some would come back to try a new plan, but I suspect that most would never touch it again, way more than with the actual game.

    Once again it’s so frustrating to see you write about dark souls. It’s frustrating because it’s obviously your right to not like it, even if I like it very much and probably never understand why you don’t like it, and it’s frustrating, because if you liked the game, oh man, you would love it so much. it’s everything you seem to like in a package that rub you wrong. I’d love to see you write an in depth analysis of dark souls as you did for mass effect, but sadly it will never happen.

    sorry for any mistakes in my writing, I’m not a native speaker.

    And yes, sen fortress is one of the most fun part of the game, it make you feel like a medieval indiana jones :-)

    (*) except for parring, it’s true. I finished my first game without ever using it tough (and i was definitely not “gud”), and many builds don’t have the ability to parry, so I don’t really consider it as indispensable.

    1. Shen says:

      I’m glad I refreshed before posting, because this is almost everything I wanted to say. The only reason you’re noticing pretty standard game mechanics is because the game thematically ties it together. Part of the reason people love Dark Souls so much is that it HAS to be a video game – no other medium can do it justice but it doesn’t do that pretentious “game about games, ooh look at us breaking the fourth wall” malarkey.

    2. Bloodsquirrel says:

      loosing all the experience and money you have since last save when you die is a mechanical thing that happens in all rpg.

      Most RPGs let you save when you’ve got a lot of money and exp that you don’t want to lose.

      You’re not going to proselytize Shamus into liking Dark Souls. The main thing that Dark Souls does to engage the player is something that a lot of people are actively turned off by, and it’s lacking in a lot of things that other games have. It’s not like The Witcher 3 where you can find the combat to be a little meh, but enjoy the narrative, exploration, questing, crafting, horse-riding, and Gwent. It’s not a game with a steep learning curve that you go through before you get to the real fun; the learning curve is the entire game, and if you don’t like it, you don’t like Dark Souls.

      1. nobb says:

        Most RPGs let you save when you've got a lot of money and exp that you don't want to lose.

        Actually Dark Souls let you backtrack any time you want to save you earning. The game is slow and each encounter is neatly separated so I think you can really do it anytime you want. It’s always the player decision to push on and risk loosing what they currently have. And the game is pretty lax about it because it let you one chance to get it back. And once again real progress is never lost, if a boss is defeated once, it’s done for good. Compare to the situation were you forgot to save after a boss battle in a rpg (say baldur’s gates for example) and die.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Actually Dark Souls let you backtrack any time you want to save you earning.

          Thats not the same as saving.In order to save,you either have to just hit one button and wait at most 10 seconds(but no longer than a second in a good game),or go into the menu and do it from there.Either way,it never takes more than half a minute.Backtracking,on the other hand,can take several minutes.And what makes it worse,is that you are backtracking either through an empty level because you killed everything,or a dangerous place because you avoided everything.Either way,its tedious and unfun.

          Compare to the situation were you forgot to save after a boss battle in a rpg (say baldur's gates for example) and die.

          Any well designed game will give you an autosave in addition to your manual saves.

          1. nobb says:

            A lot of game have a checkpoint system that won’t let you save in ” at most 10 seconds”. for example I’m currently playing mgs5 and they don’t let you save during missions. you either finish it or start again next time. it’s an unpractical and sometimes frustrating system, but I understand why they choose it. much like dark souls, it would be a very different game if it was otherwise.

            as for dark souls, I’d like to point out that if you planned ahead, you can have an pretty common object that let you backtrack immediately to your last bonefire.

            ultimately I’d like to convey that the bonefire system of dark souls is a deliberate design choice. and it’s not necessary good design to have easy accessible save at anytime. this favor “savescuming” for example.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              A lot of game have a checkpoint system that won't let you save in “ at most 10 seconds”.

              Just because many are doing it does not make it good.

              and it's not necessary good design to have easy accessible save at anytime. this favor “savescuming” for example.

              Ah,the good old “savescumming is bad” argument.Which is completely false because if you dont like to savescum,you simply dont do it.Its simple really,you just never press the quicksave button.

              1. Jokerman says:

                Yeah… some people often can’t resist that quicksave button, i like when games have the option to disable it.

                I don’t have the problem, been doing iron man runs in games that don’t support it since… well, since i started gaming really…

      2. Syal says:

        Might have meant all Action RPGs. Diablo and such generally make you drop some things where you die.

    3. Syal says:

      Fighting again and again without pause the same boss would be harder and frustrating, because without pause most player wouldn't calm down or take a step back to think.

      You already have pause from the death itself. You can take a step back and think then. But when you have to walk back to the boss, past enemies, you’re not giving additional time to plan, you’re adding a memory requirement to the plan. Remembering what went wrong is like trying to remember someone’s phone number; it’s trivial if you use it right away, but it’s harder after spending ten minutes looking at unrelated numbers.

      1. nobb says:

        while I understand your argument, I think you are overestimating the amount of time and information you need to travel back to a boss. although the zone to explore is pretty big, there is generally on direct short path to the boss (often opened by a shortcut) with few or no enemy that you are use to fight after exploring the zone. because of the slow rhythm of the game, an enemy you know well is pretty easy to fight, generally speaking. As for the both, as long as you calm down and plan, there not million possibility to consider. They generally have three or four move possible, some depending on your range (which actually simplify the calculation) and most counter measure are “roll in the opposite direction” or “raise your shield”. it’s not exactly advanced math. I’m not saying the game is easy, but once you know what to do and get calm enough to do it, it’s surprisingly less harder than you would think.

        By the way, I totally realize that I’m making another comment than frustrate shamus to no end ” but you can run really fast to the boss !”. Simply I think it’s a design decision to make you run to the boss and it’s also a design decision to be able to make it really quick.

        1. tmtvl says:

          I dunno, Taurus, Capra, Kangz, and Seath (worst run) have pretty long runs.

          And now, after thinking back to all the bosses I wanna play the game again.

      2. Core says:

        A good amount of quick routes to a given boss you’ll generally figure out while just exploring the stage looking for the boss’ area though, before you ever see the fight. Souls games with a couple exceptions highlight the boss areas with an obvious ‘fog gate’ and when you see one your first thought generally is going to be ‘how do I get from the bonfire to this place the fastest’ both because you might want to spend your accumulated resources and, what if the boss immediately smashes you to pieces and you’ve missed a shortcut? The cost of losing those resources contributes to players having to plan that ahead even in that way. And some of the later game runs in these titles can be risky enough to be as interesting as the boss itself or have small tricks for the player to figure out.

        It also creates a cohesion with the atmosphere for me, it dumps your living corpse sustained by nothing but the rare bonfire flames in a hostile and bleak dying world that doesn’t really care about your protagonist status, sometimes helped and sometimes hindered by traveling phantoms, adding more savepoints to the scenario instead of having those in-level shortcuts would probably diminish the effect. It helps that you can sometimes just genuinely feel happy to find a rusty ladder to kick down somewhere.

        1. Syal says:

          I agree it adds cohesion. The tone of the game is like tying a rope in the cold; you slip at the last bit of tying a knot and the rope unravels all the way back down, and you’ve got to pick it back up and start again.

          But that’s on the game design end. On the player end, they’ve got to be comfortable switching gears from “figure out boss pattern” to “reach boss without dying” and back again. That’s not a given.

          Someone once unexpectedly asked me my name while I was doing paperwork and there was about a five second span where I both lost track of the paperwork, and couldn’t remember my name. If a guy like me hits a hard boss, that reloading hallway by itself adds one or two runs while my brain rearranges itself to consider the hallway part of the boss’s pattern. If the hallway has enemies, that’s more runs.

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Being calm and having a plan are central to this game, and this is favored by this design choice. you talk about that walk back to the boss as punishing (and surprisingly that actually the only example of punishment in dark souls you give), but I think it's actually a favor the game do for you.

      Nope.Sorry,Ive seen this argument thrown a bunch of times,and it is utter bullshit.Ill decide for myself if I need to calm down before attempting a challenge,thank you very much.If the game decides for me that I need to calm down,Id rather calm down by never playing that game again.

      1. nobb says:

        I’m sorry but it’s too funny to imagine you raging before your computer, smashing a game pad and screaming “NEVER TELL ME TO CALM DOWN !!! AAAAHHHH!!!”.

        As to answer your argument, I think it is a basis of gamedesign to suggest or limit how a player should play. some time they encourage you by giving you xp for your action ( like reading codex entry in mass effect) sometime by level design (like painting the path you should take in red in mirror’s edge). gamedesign is designing an experience after all and trying to make the player play as intended isn’t a disservice in itself.

        1. lurkey says:

          I'm sorry but it's too funny to imagine you raging before your computer, smashing a game pad and screaming “NEVER TELL ME TO CALM DOWN !!! AAAAHHHH!!!”.

          Hey now. It’s not quite fair to judge this site’s regulars by the behaviour of your game’s fandom, now is it?

          Anyway. As someone who’s only familiar with the series from Shamus’s posts and Campster’s videos I gotta say this game is indeed fiendishly entertaining. For starters, it redefines the “cult game” definition by coming with literal cultists who try with all their might to snatch new victims for their cult AND are as unwelcoming as possible to potential neophytes.

          And then, arguments.

          “How can you say you’re not into coprophagia if you never tried it? Oh…you did? Well then…you just didn’t find the right kind of shit, yeah! Just keep eating it and trust us, eventually you will learn to love it!”

          “It’s so varied and has so many builds and stuff! Well okay, most of them are not viable and basically if you’re not sword and board you’re fucked, but so! Many! Builds!”

          “How to get into the game? Watch a “Lets play” first. Or two. Or ten. Better twelve, even. Also, pause and rewind important parts until you have them memorized!”

          “Griefers are integral part of enjoying this game’s fair and just difficulty, you pussy!”

          It’s so ~*beautiful*~. And I don’t even have to play the game!

          1. Kylroy says:

            It’s like Scientology, but for your time instead of your money!

          2. Starker says:

            You seeing Dark Souls fans as shit-eating cultists and strawmanning them has more to do with you than Dark Souls fans, though.

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Any game that forces me to play it the correct way gets negative points.Any game that allows me to play the way I want to(for example,by adding easy/humorous cheats and extensive mod support)gets bonus points.Thats why I love what bethesda is doing with their mod friendliness,even though I dont really enjoy their games.

    5. Ninety-Three says:

      When people say that having you walk to the boss every time instead of directly starting in front of him allow you to calm down and plan, they're not making absurd excuses… Fighting again and again without pause the same boss would be harder and frustrating, because without pause most player wouldn't calm down or take a step back to think.

      Really? How much time did you spend analyzing people’s playstyles to conclude this? How many people did you poll on their frustration levels? Have you done any A/B testing?

      Or did you just assume that everyone’s brain works the same way as yours, and state your preference as fact?

      1. Jokerman says:

        I see some truth in it for me personally… do you ever fail to beat a boss (or section, or whatever) turn the game off for a while, then suddenly beat it easily when you come back? I do that quite often.

        But that is also an example of why Dark Souls does not need to force that long walk to “calm you down” because if it had checkpoints, you would have that option to walk away when ever you like, not be dictated to by the game on when you need a time out…

  15. Bloodsquirrel says:

    Two things:

    First, I think “punishment” is not how we should be thinking about being set back in games. The point of a death penalty should not be to punish the player, it should be to enforce mastery by requiring that a player be able to play up to a certain level in order to progress. It’s to prevent a player from succeeding just by save scrumming until they luck through the game five seconds at a time.

    A checkpoint system says “You need to be able to beat this room without dying.” If you had a shock collar on the player that zapped them every time they died it would add nothing. They don’t have to be any more skilled to advance, they just have to endure a lot more pointless pain.

    Too Human got it completely backwards: their death penalty is painful for the player, but didn’t actually set them back any, so you could just win by running into the same group of enemies over and over again, slowly whittling them down, no matter how bad you were, as long as you could stand the tedium of the cutscene.

    Second, I’ don’t think “hard” is even the right way to talk about Dark Souls. The level of mastery that Dark Souls demands isn’t all that high, but it does require a high level of investment from the player in order to reach it because of how it’s taught. Dark Souls demands that the player learn through trial and error, without a lot of assistance, and with harsh penalties attached. The game is designed to make a player’s journey though it slow, emphasizing thorough exploration of each area at a time. It’s not designed to be run through quickly, even for a player who is very skilled at the combat itself, because a lot of the mastery is area-specific.

    This is the core aesthetic of the game. I’m not really a fan of the series- I quit after one of the game’s “gotcha” deaths- but I don’t think that removing the difficulty by throwing in checkpoints would result in a better game. The combat itself isn’t very interesting on its own, and you’d be helping the player blow through all of the atmosphere and careful level design that the game is built on top of without noticing it. It’d be like giving someone the ability to fly and clip through walls in Portal- you’re fundamentally undermining the experience.

  16. Galad says:

    I’m a self-proclaimed Dark Souls scrub. I don’t usually like the boss fights. I’d fight a boss once, twice, thrice, and by the fifth time I’m already tired of it and want to move on. And while I would be learning attack patterns, strategies (most likely with the help of the wiki), I wouldn’t be good enough to beat it at that point. In Dark Souls 2, tanking was a lot easier, and bosses would usually hit up to three times at most, while in DS3, regular enemies can hit for 6+ times easily. So what did I do? I had a particularly helpful friend help me in coop beat a good two thirds of the DS3 bosses. Is it a scrub thing to do? Yeah, probably. Does it save me time, and more importantly, frustration? Absolutely. I am more interested in the scenery, the world, unlocking mechanical things like shortcuts, this sort of thing.

    Also, last night I was reluctant to get to the Wolf+gravekeeper boss in the DS3 DLC, since I’d watched a streamer have a hard time with it. The gravekeeper’s easy but the Giant Wolf has this Large corridor-hitting attack that is hard to avoid and deals a lot of damage. I was somewhat overlevelled at lvl 98 but with a little kiting around a column I made it much harder for the wolf to do that attack, so I killed it easily, while not even having my max health (=being hollow). So that was nice :)

    1. Fizban says:

      Remember first rule of dark souls: the bigger it is, the more likely you should roll straight into it. Basically every big “wolf” charge can be dodged by running towards them and rolling forward-right. From there you can figure out if it’s a good position to attack from of if you’ll need to find a different attack to wait for.

      I also wouldn’t say you were overleveled: that DLC seems to continue the tradition of meager rewards for things that will mince you without a late-game build, and 98 is a solid late-game if you don’t lose any souls. So well done, column kite that dogo into submission.

  17. Durican says:

    Having read your stance on difficulty, I am now very interested to hear what you think of the difficulty in Arkham City.

    I felt the challenge flowed beautifully by having the entire game consist of new element -> tutorials by repeated use of the new element in various situations -> implementation of the new element as a permanent hazard of the gameworld -> repeat.

    Nobody in Arkham City has a shield until Batman faces his very first shield-wielding mook with an onscreen tutorial prompt for how to deal with it. Next, before he’s able to return to the overworld, he has to beat a fight consisting of lots of mooks who now have a few shields between them that they can pick up and reuse. Afterward shields are now a common element in both optional and mandatory fights for the rest of the game.

    The game never ever throws you into a situation that it hasn’t trained you to prepare for. And excessive preparation is so very Batman. The difficulty can get overwhelming, but never unfair.

  18. Darren says:

    I don’t think any discussion of the Souls series and difficulty is complete without looking at the way the series has progressed over time. They get pretty considerably easier over time. The first Dark Souls has several moments where they throw lots of really terrible things at you without warning and without much hope a new player could respond in time. Rolling ball traps, invisible walkways, and snake-men who are remarkably resistant to the weapons you are likely to have when you encounter them (Sen’s Fortress with sorcery versus Sen’s Fortress with a weapon is a very different experience). On top of that, bonfire placement is all over the place, sometimes demanding you to navigate needlessly difficult sections for no good reason.

    By the time you get to Dark Souls III, bonfires have multiplied tremendously. Summonable NPCs are available for many bosses. Each class has starting equipment good enough to go the whole game, and few enemies are particularly resilient to an ordinary weapon. Embers are much more common than Humanity in DS1.

    Yes, the Souls series (and Bloodborne) are all firm in what they demand of players. Players either get good enough to succeed or they don’t. But it’s obvious that the designers of the games aren’t trying to make players slam their heads against the wall. They want to offer a challenge, not just endless punishment, and while they aren’t going to compromise the overall design to maximize the number of players who can enjoy it, they clearly care about their players feeling that the challenge is fair, achievable, and relatively respectful of their time and desire to make progress.

  19. Darren says:

    And regarding difficulty in the Arkham games: the way New Game+ removes the counter icon completely kills the game for me. I like the remixed enemy groupings–that in at least one early instance changes the way you solve a challenge!–but the visuals just aren’t easily readable enough for me to succeed without the visual prompt.

  20. John says:

    Hm. I wonder how this taxonomy of difficulty would apply to a non-action game like XCOM? Let’s see . . .

    Mastery: Well, there’s plenty to master in XCOM. No question about that. There’s the tactical part of the game, with four classes, a cover system, and a whole bunch of enemy types with different abilities and behaviors. Then there’s the strategic layer, with base building, research, equipment upgrades, satellite deployment, panic-management and mission selection.

    Strictness: XCOM has varying levels of strictness, depending on both the difficulty level (Easy, Normal, Classic, Impossible) and whether or not you are playing Ironman (aka “no-takebacks”) style. But the game doesn’t end the first, second, or even third time you fail a mission–not even in Ironman–so I don’t think it’s really all that strict.

    Punishment: This is the hard one. Unless you’re playing Ironman, I don’t think XCOM has much in the way of punishment at all. If you failed a mission or even if you succeeded but took more casualties than you would have liked you can always re-load and try again until you’re happy with the result. Consequently, the only way to lose a non-Ironman game is to be just utterly–and possibly deliberately–terrible at the strategic layer. If you’re playing Ironman however, and you do lose, then, yes, you have to start over from the very beginning of the game, which is a pretty severe punishment.

    1. ehlijen says:

      Mastery: I agree that there is a lot to master. Simply building up a mental library of mental expectations is a great help (is a terror/council mission due soon? How many unresearched corpses can I sell for a boost? How many hidden enemies do I still expect to find in this mission? And many more.).

      Strictness: The game is somewhat forgiving here, as you say. But unlike Half Life 2, it gets harder the worse you’re doing. Casualties of interceptors and veterans build up, loosing countries reduces your budget, the more panicked more countries are, the more likely you’ll get a cascade failure come next abduction mission. While some failure is tolerated, and even expected, too much can quickly build into a death spiral.

      Punishment: There is plenty of punishment. Every soldier lost is a lot of XP spent building them up gone. Several missions will raise panic, and if you lose a country, your income goes down. If you lose an interceptor, you may also loose a big gun you built for it, and will have a harder time getting the next UFO.
      Soldier and plane loss can be mitigated with cautious play (i.e. abandoning missions when you’re loosing), but that increases panic and stunts your own growth through resource starving.
      Yes, there is saving and reloading, and given how hard it can be to realise you’ve reached the death spiral, they are welcome (not to mention crashes). But I don’t really think they qualify as part of the designed game balance in this game.

  21. wswordsmen says:

    At the risk of being that guy, do you mean to say Super Mario Brothers 2, instead of just Super Mario Brothers? Your video is of the first game and using it instead of SMB2 doesn’t change your point at all and you later refer to it as SMB not SMB2.

    1. Steve C says:

      I thought the first video was going to be a Tomb Raider sequence. It’s definitely Super Mario Bros 1 speedrun.

  22. Matt Downie says:

    Since this has once again turned into the Dark Souls debate club – what’s the best (or least punishing) entry point to the series right now? As in, buy game X (bonus points if it’s cheap on PC), and play as character type Y, specialising in Z.

    1. wswordsmen says:

      The short answer is playing as a mage. Joseph Anderson (–PiJXCMKxQQ) in his multi-hour review of the original demonstrates multiple times that a mage is easy mode for Dark Souls. He beats two of the hardest bosses* in a couple minutes as a mage while in one a melee character took 15 minutes or so for one and died on the other.

      Also I am talking about DS1, although I think he says it is true for DS2 and 3.

      * For first time players. One is considered the hardest boss, the other is a huge difficulty spike if you aren’t prepared for it and not that bad if you are.

      1. tmtvl says:

        Mages get clobbered by O&S, though, because their AI changes if the game detects you’re going for ranged.

        1. GeoG says:

          He seems to demonstrate the opposite, here:

      2. poiumty says:

        While playing as a mage is the easiest option, it’s also only the easiest *if you know what you’re doing*.

        First time players will find it less taxing (and skill-based) to carry around heavy armors and shields, and just go for Strength+vitality builds.

    2. Christopher says:

      This question is difficult because I remember being absolutely overwhelmed by Dark Souls 1, while Dark Souls 3 was much easier to me. But is that because it’s actually easier or because I’m more experienced now? And the experience is much more smoothed out now. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are hard and unbalanced, but easily broken. Pyromancy is the Dark Souls 1 thing to go for(or magic, I think), and Royal is the class that makes Demon’s much easier. Dark Souls 3 is different, you can’t just tank your way through damage.

      I’d have to say Dark Souls 3, though. It’s very linear, so you can’t go the wrong way and lose yourself at a difficult optional area. It’s recent, so more people are gonna be playing it than the others. Start as a knight for a decent shield and defense, buy a white soapstone from the firelink merchant, summon and be summoned as needed. I’ve heard BLEED weapons are good, but honestly I don’t think I’ve heard of magic or armor trivializing stuff in the same way as some other games in the series.

      (But Dark Souls 1 has gotta be super cheap now, right? Maybe try that out as a pyromancer or mage first if it’s not too expensive).

      1. tmtvl says:

        Royal only makes Demon’s easier if you’re experienced. They have kinda weak stats, but begin at a low soul lvl, so you can go any way you want. They have poor armor, but they have an item which regens MP.

        Temple Knight starts off with Fluted Armour, some of the best in the game.

    3. galacticplumber says:

      Salt and Sanctuary with a focus on heavy armor and two handed weapons. Specifically great swords and hammers. Will there occasionally be hard fights? Yes but the hardest thing I ever dealt with that wasn’t me deliberately taking a harder path to get metroidvania world traversal skills early only managed to kill me like five times. Also the respawn point is literally right outside her battle area. Also the game is cheap. Yet more also still keep a shield around for the queen of smiles. You’ll thank me later. Possibly also for the boss of the red dungeon. Finally when the knight tells you that the dome is scary, he’s right about the freaky chimera boss at the end, but the rest I actually consider easier than your other path option. Like…. Seriously should’ve switched the order on those levels, but left the bosses where they were.

      1. Grimwear says:

        Having picked up Salt and Sanctuary and played through it multiple times recently until I accidentally corrupted my save so that my characters no longer have heal or stamina potions I can say S&S is a lot more restrictive and can actively ruin your experience with the game. My main was a 2h great hammer character and I dealt next to no damage to many bosses. Unlike Dark Souls where you only need to concern yourself with strength/dexterity/faith/intelligence then can choose any weapon that has those stats, S&S has you spec into specific weapon types and if you hit a boss that is strong against that type of damage then you’re out of luck. Your choices are either fight over and over until you win or go grind levels so you can then branch out further and use other weapons which is just a tedious time waster. Also a lot of fights (particularly the Witch) can just destroy you unless you come prepared to fight her in a singular fashion which is use the 100% magic reduction shield and instead of dodging just block her spells. It’s really annoying to play through the game, feel like you’re improving, then hitting a wall because the Witch chose to cast the blood orbs which follow you across the map, then immediately cast her machine gun. Too much luck, not enough skill. I still loved the game but it has some very deep flaws.

        1. galacticplumber says:

          This would be an issue if levels weren’t both easier to obtain, AND more individually useful than they are in souls. Yes, regardless of playstyle, you’re going to want both of the two opposed damage types available to you. It is faster to obtain both to maximum than get forty in any stat in souls, and that’s assuming you actually take a path that diverges them. Mages get lightning and fire just for scaling their damage stat. You’ll also get other stuff on the side for your trouble. You’re also much more mobile both in terms of movement speed, better jumping, and later on the ability to dodge WHILE IN MID-AIR. Further yes the witch is hard. She’s also the only boss in this game I’d call a wall with a straight face. Most everything else will crumble within a try or two assuming you do them in the order of least resistance.

        2. Alrenous says:

          I noticed this just yesterday, when I did a test run of a greathammer character. Thing is, the skill is greataxe/greathammer, so it automatically gives you the means to get around the problem. The greathammer wrecks normal enemies, but the bosses all seem resistant to strike damage, meaning the greataxe wins for having better stamina efficiency.

    4. nobb says:

      that a hard question actually. I would say DS1 have the best start but the least balanced second part of the game, while DS3 have an overall better design and balance but the first boss is the hardest/ less well designed for newcomer of the series. DS2 have a nice introduction for newcomer (but less nice than DS1) while having a pretty balanced game all along, but it’s the longest and less loved one. It’s actually my favorite but I can’t deny it’s faults.

      I would say start with DS1. it’s the cheapest one and if your fresh to the series you will be less sensible to the lack of later game play improvement. a one handed weapon and shield can carry you along the game without too much trouble. class doesn’t matter that much in the game, just make sure you understand what the stats does and plan accordingly.

    5. Fizban says:

      No matter which game you’re trying, watch someone else play it first, or better yet get a friend to coach you.

      Any game: use the help/description/whatever button to read the tooltips so you know what stuff is. Don’t put points into anything you’re not going to use. Don’t dump all your points into str/dex/whatever for damage: you can upgrade that once you know how to fight, and you won’t learn how to fight without hit points, so get some of those first. Probably the single worst mistake of newbies, even if you start squishy there is no reason to stay squishy. Weapon upgrades are far more important than stats for your damage, and an extra level of hp will help you survive an attack way more often than an extra point of str will. The basic pattern is: block attack, hit foe as they stagger.

      Ds1 will be the cheapest: sorcerers can just shoot a lot of things to death, but once you hit the point where that doesn’t work you’ll have learned no real combat skills. Start as a Knight or a Pyromancer, learn how to block and what weapon you like, then how to dodge, managing stamina, and branch out as you get comfortable. Whenever you find a key, check its description for clues on where to go next to use it, this will keep you from getting lost (and don’t take the Master Key starting item). Once a stat hits 40 you get severely diminishing returns, so don’t waste points after that (and you can see what effects a level up will have before confirming it). Pyromancy is magic that upgrades like a separate weapon in this game, so there’s no reason not to use it if you can afford just a little bit of attunement, even if you started as a Knight.

      Ds2 has a somewhat more instructive training area, but non-knights start with even worse shields. There are consumables, but you start with less free estus so you’ll likely burn through though consumables and have some trouble if you try to push too fast. The world is much more open and it’s easy to miss important vendors, but if you know where to go and what to do it’s a lot easier to make a dark mage build that just blasts people to death, or lightning for that matter, but pyromancy isn’t a free lunch like ds1. Put enough points into Adaptability to raise the derived Agility stat to 99 to get the invincibility frames on your rolls up to snuff (it doesn’t take very much, less than 20 Adp I think) before you try to seriously start rolling, but not before you get your hp and basic sword and board figured out.

      Ds3 has an okay training area and will obviously have the most active community. Knight remains the best starting class, as it can easily tank the starting area boss and 1-shots weak enemies for some time. Casters continue to have spell vendors/tomes you can miss, though not as bad as ds2, and remain a much bigger hassle than tank-n-spank. You need to be more careful about leaving yourself open in this one since armor doesn’t stop you from staggering except in certain situations (big two-handed weapons and the Perseverance skill). Furthermore, almost all bosses are 2-stage, so you have to slog through the first stage again every time you die to the second.

      While on the surface it seems the least friendly, the fact that general foe and boss designs have simply gotten more difficult as the games progressed, ds1 is still the best entry point, and naturally the cheapest. With a guide or coach to make sure you don’t fall into a newbie trap ds1 starts at the bottom, while ds2 sort of throws you to the wolves with a limited consumable handicap, and ds3 throws a starting area boss that can crush even veterans playing non-Knights (seriously, do not try to start with ds3 as a thief or sorcerer, it will be bad).

      1. Matt Downie says:

        “Watch someone else play it first”
        This does not appeal to me at all. I want to avoid option traps that might spoil the experience, but I also want to avoid spoilers, which might also spoil the experience.

        “or get a friend to coach you.”
        This appeals to me but if I had a friend who was a Dark Souls expert I’d probably be asking them and not the internet.

        (I’d be happy to coach strangers into Paradox grand strategy games for free, come to think of it. Maybe someone should set up an internet service – meet games coaches in your area.)

        1. Cilvre says:

          You could make some steam friends from some of us who play dark souls series and stream your game with us giving advice as you play through it.

        2. Cybron says:

          The biggest option traps in DaS1 (Mechanical info only, no gameplay advice. I don’t think these are spoilers):
          -The resistance stat. Just don’t.
          -Be aware that armor (and weight more generally) has trade offs. Sometimes less armor is better, because it reduces your mobility.
          -If you want to use shields, when comparing them, the numbers you want to look at are % damage blocked and stability. I mention this because the game doesn’t do a good job of teaching it
          -Not a trap, strictly speaking: I recommend playing a melee focused character. Range doesn’t teach good habits.

          Otherwise Fizban’s advice is good.

        3. Fizban says:

          If you don’t want to spoil the one game, watch a different one. I watched a full playthrough of Demon’s Souls before I touched Dark Souls (it’s what made me want to try Dark Souls), and that was enough grounding. I’d say watching the first few episodes of a blind LP would also work, but if you want absolutely zero spoilers that won’t work.

          The main newbie trap in ds1 can be phrased thusly without much in the way of spoiler: if you’re fighting skeletons, you’re going the wrong way. There’s three exits to Firelink Shrine and you want the upward slope (but you can try exploring the other two for easily reached goodies if you want), the others are all for later.

    6. Abnaxis says:

      Playing as a ranged character (i.e. spellcaster) is usually the easiest path, in any of them. The game likes putting archers in inconvenient places, and range can help you get around that. Also, if you time it right a lot of the more difficult enemies and bosses can be ranged down safely (though there are notable exceptions to this).

      As I was saying below, all the games are much, much easier in coop. The way coop works, is you either summon random people into your game world (you’ll see little glyphs close to the start of the area or right in front of a boss fight to do so) or you make yourself available to other people to get summoned. In the former case you get a lot more firepower to take out enemies (but dying still hurts) while the latter case you are the extra firepower and dying only costs you the extra resources you’d get for helping the summoner. In either case, the extra firepower makes the really challenging stuff much easier to overcome.

      That being said, if you were willing to play in coop I would guess that the newer games will have more like-minded coop players available for you to play with. Also, the difficulty curve is markedly more shallow for the newer games. At the same time, they’re also going to be the more expensive games….

    7. Grimwear says:

      I personally recommend DS1 first though I haven’t played DS3. Many people have said mage and my main is a mage and when dealing with ng+7 and beyond they’re hands down the best. However this all depends on your playstyle. Anytime I start a new game I’m always primarily melee. In this case when worrying about stats I recommend stamina and strength. Strength because while weapons generally scale with dexterity or strength, strength by and large has the largest variety of weapons to choose from. Find the one that works best for you then upgrade it. Arguably the bet weapon is the Black Knight Halberd but actually acquiring it involves a random drop on a non respawning enemy.

      Finally, many people have said heavy armor and I discourage it. Unless you max out stamina and want to wear really heavy armors you will be slow and take a lot of hits. Nothing wrong with that but personally I recommend going light so you have the best dodges (you get a full set of Gold-Hemmed Black Armor after the halfway point which you can just wear until the end of the game). Armor really isn’t super relevant for playing the game but rather just buy yourself a 100% physical reduction shield (you can even buy a cheap one right at the start). Having mobility and holding up the shield that will block most weapons I find will save you a lot more than carrying around heavy armor which reduces mobility.

      If you are having trouble with an area or boss (I personally had a lot of trouble with the red drake when I first played) don’t be afraid to watch it on youtube. It may not be ideal but if it’s a choice between putting the game down forever or seeing someone get through and emulating them then I know which one I would pick.

  23. Jordan says:

    Games also tend to mess up difficulty by not letting you chose the difficulty of the things you actually find difficult. Puzzles, reaction times needed, how easy the enemies are to outsmart. In too many games easy mode is just “enemies have 25% less health” when that’s not even what’s stopping your progress.

    1. Blakeyrat says:

      I’ve been bitten by games where I had trouble doing the quick-time events (because, apparently unlike most gamers, I don’t memorize my controller– if you show me a yellow button on screen, I’m going to have to physically look at my controller to remember which button is yellow!). So I turned down the difficulty, but that didn’t affect the quick-time events at all!

      The solution of course is: quick-time events are terrible and STOP USING THEM GAME DEVELOPERS WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU. But yes, your idea is good too.

    2. Bubble181 says:

      This! I love the fact that Total War games allow you to set strategy and tactics difficulties separately. A whole lot of other games could use difficulty levels being more “split up”, too.

    3. ThricebornPhoenix says:

      I actually had to restart Arkham Asylum after reaching the final boss, because it was too hard for me… and you can’t change the difficulty after you select it at the beginning.

      I found the stealth sections disappointingly easy but never quite got the hang of combat (and I know some people experienced the opposite). Really, that’s about every game with both stealth and combat components – I want to be able to increase the difficulty of the former and, occasionally, decrease the difficulty of the latter. It wouldn’t matter so much in a game that doesn’t gate your progress with one or the other separately, but there’s nearly always some mandatory no-stealth-allowed combat in these games.

  24. Syal says:

    In Hotline Miami, you die often, but restarts are instant and painless.

    That final fight with the five-second cutscene before it felt like torture. That’s how you know the rest of the game got it right.

  25. Christopher says:

    I wanna complain about a design decision in Dark Souls, since the comments are all about it anyway. In each game, there are wizards hidden in some of the levels. Not too unusual, right? All of the games hide NPCs that sell you spells and items out and about, and it’s up to you to find them.

    Only, the wizards have an intelligence requirement before they’ll teach you anything. And I could never even find them without a guide. Big Hat is hidden behind a wall in Sen’s Fortress. The Snape guy in Dark Souls 3 I ran through a whole playthrough without finding. I’ve never even seen the Dark Souls 2 mage, who’s apparently in No Man’s Wharf.

    I feel vaguely insulted about being too stupid to find these guys with intelligence requirements.

    1. nobb says:

      well arguably big hat logan is hided behind a trick in DS1 but the other two are easily findable if you explore thoroughly their area. In DS2 you can even see the platform he is on from different view point of the level. they are game about exploration, so I don’t think it’s unfair to ask you to explore.

      Please also note that although those are the main sorcery merchants, every game have alternative merchant that sell some sorcery.

      1. Christopher says:

        Oh, I don’t think it’s the Souls games that are being stupid. I’m saying that I am, for being so unable to specifically find wizards.

  26. MelTorefas says:

    I feel like, before you can even get into addressing the axes of difficulty, you have to answer a simple yes/no question.

    “Is this game Battlespire?”
    If no, then it’s not that hard.

    (But seriously, I really enjoyed the article. And the comments, insightful as they are, pretty much seem to be proving your point.)

  27. Droid says:

    I would also add another dimension of difficulty that is basically “luck”. You could in theory hit every 2% shot in XCOM, collect every collectible with a 0.0….01% dropchance in – I dunno – Terraria, Pokemon(?), or you could have a 50% dropchance and get something on your fifth try.

    Of course, this is not something that you can adjust in a slider or something (and if you could, it would no longer fit into this axis, but into strictness), but in any not-100%-deterministic game, this adds or subtracts from the difficulty of the game.

    Maybe it’s actually not its own axis, but a kind of random variance on the strictness axis?

  28. Blakeyrat says:

    I stopped playing Dark Souls the instant I got a phone call and realized I *couldn’t pause the game*. It had nothing to do with difficulty. The lack of pause pissed me off so much that I didn’t even *get* to any of the difficult fights.

    (Yes, I’m aware you can’t pause because there’s some online feature I didn’t care about and would never use, but still. You can’t pause. Come ON!)

    1. Cilvre says:

      at least you can quit and the game keeps you where you were. The worst for me was playing through phantasy star online. I couldnt quit and turn the system off if i wasnt done with a level because you could only save and quit from the main ship. so if i only had about 30 minutes to play an hour level, i was basically wasting my time.

    2. Victor McKnight says:

      Its funny you mention this particular “feature”. Like you, I didn’t care about the on-line stuff. Actually, it was more a nuisance since I was trying to learn and then some jerk would invade my game and kill me. But I did beat the game and loved it…

      … but my wife has some choice words for the lack of a pause button, let me tell you. She had her own meta-game going… learning how to deal with her husband while he played Dark Souls. It was basically as hard and rage inducing as the actual game.

  29. Retsam says:

    For me, the Punishment spectrum needs to be a fine balance. I think there’s a link between punishment and mastery where some level of punishment is necessary for the mastery to be satisfying. Even a game like Arkham, which doesn’t have punishing load times and is very forgiving, having a combo system is actually a form of punishment: the better you do, the more punishing it is to lose your combo. (Punishment often scales to how well you’re doing: the farther you get into a Dark Souls level the more it hurts emotionally when you die)

    But like I said, it’s a balance: so, on the one end of the spectrum, I generally hate quicksaves, as it removes most of the tension to me. (And, unintuitively, can cause me to make games take longer, as I don’t try as hard, and thus screw up more)

    On the other hand, Dark Souls I think went overboard on punishment in a few places: I nearly dropped the game on the Capra Demon, and I felt the walk back to the last boss was too boring, too.

  30. Asmodan says:

    Hi Twenty Sided first time comment here and no native English speaker.

    The thing with Dark Souls is that it’s from Japan. if you ever studied Martial Arts in the DO tradition Like Ju-Do. you will find something familiar if you want the higher belts. You are getting tested not only on the belt that you want to get but also on everyone that came before that one.(Black Belt exams will take Hours) Meaning for Dark Souls, you have to Master the trash mobs before a Boss fight. you have to have the fundamentals right.

    Dark Souls wants you to Master it and that’s only happening through practice. and looking at your errors.

    If you keep consistent you will get more souls. For Undead Burg if you keep making your way to the Taurus Demon and Dying on the way but recover your bloodstain, eventually you will have enough Souls to simply Firebomb the Demon to Death, Level up to get more Health, get humanity to kindle the bonfire to have more healing.

    EpicNameBro discussed easy mode for Dark Souls and brought up the point that the game would lose much of its impact if you would just fly through it in 6-8 Hours. And you would not get Those personal Stories we all love.

    I recently Played bloodborne for the first Time(did finish the one Bro DS1). And the first area took me almost 4 Hours. After Finishing it started over with an arcane build and did in my first run.

    If you are interested about the Experience of first Time Dark Souls Players i want to recommend the Don’t Give up Skeleton Podcast

    Don’t Give up Skeleton Podcast

  31. Cilvre says:

    Why can’t we just make Mastery/Strictness/Punishment the difficulty scale for all games?

    Mastery being the mode that helps you master the controls and strategies, Strictness that helps you ingrain those skills, and Punishment that really makes you play perfectly.

  32. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Anyone playing easier than you is a filthy casual noob and anyone playing the game harder than you is a masochistic tryhard.

    Josh Viel is objectively a masochistic tryhard.
    Josh likes dark souls.
    Therefore,everyone who likes dark souls is a masochistic tryhard.


  33. Jeff says:

    So about the difficulty of Dark Souls (1-3). I think most people are not really understanding how dynamic the balancing in Dark Souls series really is. When I first started playing, I was constantly dying and in some ways the game felt like a chore.

    However, once you see how they designed difficulty into the game organically you see that it is one of the best balanced games for allowing a player to select their own difficulty.

    If an area or boss is too tough then a player can grind an area to get more souls and improve their level or equipment to better handle the challenge.

    Almost every boss fight has NPC summons that make the boss easier and allow the player to have a better chance of survival.

    One can also summon in other players to help with bosses. Cooperation is one of the best ways to play since both players get worthwhile rewards.

    There are plenty of items that can be used to make different opponents easier to defeat.

    There are in game methods that allow you to respec your character to better handle certain enemies.

    And if you like a challenge, you can ignore all of the above and player through the game at level 1 and minimal equipment just relying on reflexes and skill.

    Or anything in between. Overall when it comes to balancing challenge the Souls series offers the most dynamic method balancing it. It does’t have the arbitrary difficulty levels as seen in your examples above.

    IMHO people that complain about the difficulty in the Souls series are not seeing how many tools the game gives the player to manage the difficulty to the level they can handle.

  34. I love this 3 dimensional model for describing difficulty, and I have another good example of how difficulty is perceived differently by different players in another genre, Racing Sims:

    I’m a huge fan of the racing series Grid, who’s big differentiation is a feature called “Flashback” where if you crash or make a mistake you can rewind the race by 10 or 15 seconds and replay from there. This essentially lowers the punishment of a mistake versus many other racing sims where you often have to start a race from the beginning after a crash.

    Comparing Grid to another racing sim such as Project Cars, both games offer somewhat comparable difficulty as far as Mastery and Strictness. In both you can play with almost no driver assists requiring precision control to avoid spin outs and going off course, in a car which can sustain almost no damage before breaking down, and against computer opponents who can match the best human players. The difference begin that Project Cars has no flashback like feature, if you crash you suffer the full consequences every time.

    I enjoy playing Grid on the highest difficulty settings, and I’ll often play with self imposed restrictions not to use Flashback expect to correct for out of my control situations (AI glitch, phone call in the middle of a race, etc.). I doubt I ever would have played the game to the point of reaching this level of skill had it not been for the Flashback feature, and I often enjoy the freedom the Flashback feature gives me to take extra risks during a race which adds additional excitement to the game.

    In the past I’ve perused the Project Cars forums looking to see if a Flashback like feature might be added or modded in. Every discussion I’ve read on the topic is immediately shot down by fans of Project Cars as a dangerous crutch which would make the game too easy, and destroy the nature of the game as a simulation.

    Just other example of different players having different levels of tolerance for punishment if their game play.

  35. Daemian Lucifer says:

    If I didn`t have the ability to quickload, then failure in Hitman would be miserable. But since reloading is painless, I`m able to laugh my way through the absurd cascading failures of a hit gone wrong.

    Screw the modern naming convention.Because the real hitman *blank* was really brutal,with loooong levels,no saves anywhere,and non repeating sequences.Im glad that the new hitman *blank* is not like that,but it loses the honor of getting the praise because it has no subtitle or a number after its name.

  36. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Even eight years after Demon's Souls kicked off this craze, we're not seeing the raft of clones, remixes, and copycats you'd expect from something this popular.

    Actually,we do.But the reason why you dont know about most of them is because 99% are utter trash.Just browse through the list of Jim Sterlings videos,and youll stumble upon a bunch of souls wannabees.

    1. Kylroy says:

      Partly because I think a lot of the appeal of this genre is the mystique of beating a hard game, and what’s the point in that if nobody’s heard of it?

      1. Cybron says:

        I like playing obscure hard games (Bunny Must Die is one of the hardest games I have ever played, I loved every minute of it right up until it broke me, and I’ve still never heard it mentioned on any gaming website I read – and it’s on Steam!) but I’ve never liked a Souls clone other than Salt and Sanctuary. Most of them just don’t “get it” on some level. Especially the world design, level design, or encounter design. Heck, even Dark Souls 2 didn’t “get” DaS1’s encounter design.

  37. Victor says:

    Speaking as a Dark Souls fan, I just wanted to say I very much appreciated your more in-depth discussion on difficulty, and I thought the three categories made quite a bit of sense. It helped me better analyze why I like the “Souls” series.

  38. Dt3r says:

    An interesting thing about the punishment aspect is that for many games it can be entirely divorced from the game mechanics. Using your Dark Souls example, I notice that you entirely skipped mentioning the loss of souls as a penalty. That makes sense because, generally speaking, losing souls is a minor penalty (and basically stops mattering once you die twice to the same boss). The real punishment that you identify is lost time.

    The lost time punishment is entirely based on the placement of bonfires. Imagine if Dark Souls was 100% the same except that bonfires were placed in front of boss fights (like most games do with their checkpoints). It would drastically change the difficulty (and Shamus might even be able to tolerate the game).

  39. Flockofpanthers says:

    I don’t really enjoy punishment, but I do enjoy consequence. For me the sweet spot of difficulty can be tricky for me to find, and some games don’t really let me get close. When I hit a game over screen, all the tension drops, and the game reloads me back to when everything was fine. It’s basically a jump scare: there was a spike of tension before, but it’s like it didn’t happen now, and it sort of serves to bring me out of the experience.

    In my ideal Skyrim I would end a harrowing fight with an ice troll, bruised and bloody, in desperate need of warmth and shelter so I can bandage injuries, and wishing I hadn’t had to break my last spear.

    Unfortunately, in practice, I hit the Dead screen over and over until I get through with regenerating health and no long term effect.

    I suppose consequences fall under Mastery?

    1. Syal says:

      If the spear breaks because you forgot to fix it or kept ramming it into a shield, that’s a Mastery issue, if it breaks because you’re not supposed to be fighting an ice troll with a standard spear, that’s Punishment, and if there are more fights between you and another weapon, it’s Strictness. And still Punishment, for not bringing enough weapons.

      …in Mount and Blade you’re immortal but enemies that defeat you will drag you into the ass end of nowhere and can steal your gear on top of it. It’s got a bit of that “everything’s gone south and the only way back is through suffering” vibe.

  40. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Id add one more very important dimension to the difficulty:The user interface.How much info does it give you,how easy its to translate your thoughts into commands,etc.Some games arent really that hard,but due to their atrocious ui,they rise in difficulty very much.Sadly,many good old games(like the original fallout*drink*)are pretty bad when it comes to this.

    1. Kylroy says:

      Eh…I think you’ll find very few defenders of obtuse UIs as an important and positive part of player experience. (As opposed to the folks defending slog and DIAS gameplay as vital parts of Dark Souls.) It’s “difficulty” in the same way lag is difficulty – wholly artificial and never appreciated.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Youd think that,but sadly thats not the case.

        1. Kylroy says:

          …really? On older games, UI is a much dodgier issue because many of the conventions (mouse look, WASD movement) weren’t established yet. And some of those conventions weren’t necessarily optimal, but became commonplace and were easier to adopt than ignore. I suppose you could get some old grognards arguing that feature X of game Y really *is* the best thing for game Y even though it contradicts everything you’ve learned in a life of playing PC games, but…do you really have people arguing that an interface is poorly designed *and* that it being so improves the experience? Really?

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Oh yes.Ive heard people say how 12 unit selection limit of the original starcraft is a good thing that “improves strategy”,how lack of information for items in binding of isaac improves the exploration,how the addition of pause in inventory window makes the remake of baldurs gate shallower,and so on.Heck,back in the day a friend of mine responded to my “fucking lag” during a counter strike match with “I like lag,it makes you a better player”.Mind you,this was back when we were teens and multiplayer was a new thing,so definitely not an old grognard.

            1. Kylroy says:

              Man, I will never again underestimate gamers’ determination to insist that enforced tedium somehow enhances the experience. Then again, Dark Souls should have demonstrated that to me long ago.

            2. ehlijen says:

              Starcraft’s 12 unit limit was particularly bad as its contemporary rivals (Red Alert, Age of Empires etc) did not have this limit.

              At best, it slightly counteracted the bad pathfinding that plagued RTSs of the time by keeping group sizes down, but then players would just order multiple groups in rapid succession (spending more clicks doing what other games let you do with one) and still end up with traffic jams from hell. And pathfinding was never even an issue for Starcraft’s flying units, but they were still bound by the same 12 limit.

          2. Syal says:

            Remember, Surgeon Simulator and Octodad are games built entirely around poor controls. Everything has fans somewhere.

      2. Matt Downie says:

        You get a lot of Dwarf Fortress fans defending the bad UI as unimportant. (“He shouldn’t work on that until he’s finished adding all the planned features, which should take about 15 years. Until then, there’s no point in trying to fix the UI, because it would need changing every time a major new feature was added. Besides, it’s pretty instinctive to use once you’ve been playing it for a year or so.”)

  41. Kathryn says:

    There is definitely a wide range of players out there. For me, the issue is gaming time: I have a few hours a week for gaming at most (sometimes, I go months without any gaming time at all). So any difficulty mechanic that costs me real-world time or expects me to remember button sequences* is a big no-no for me. There is basically no way to make a game that’s satisfying for both me and a dark souls fan.

    *exception: left, up-left, up, up-right, right, down-right, down, down-left, left, BUM’S RUSH

  42. Kylroy says:

    Was thinking of Too Human from the *moment* you outlined the “Punishment” category. Ironically, beyond that super-irritating cutscene, the penalty for death in Too Human was so minor that flopping through tough encounters was a (theoretically) viable strategy; I almost think they kept it in to deter just that style of play.

    1. Grimwear says:

      God I hated Too Human. I got to the final boss, would take off a sliver of health, die, rez, take off a sliver, repeat until she died. Having to watch that stupid cutscene over 30 times made me want to punch whoever devised it in the face. The game has been sitting in my basement untouched ever since.

  43. Dreadjaws says:

    So, Shamus, what are your thoughts on Dishonored 2’s difficulty system?

    If you haven’t heard about it, the difficulty can be customized with a bunch of different sliders, including things such as how long a sleeping dart will affect an enemy, how much noise your footsteps make or how often you can save the game.

    For years I’ve wanted games to try this approach, and I’m glad someone’s finally doing it.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      A few games have tried similar things earlier,so dont hope that this will somehow catch on.It would be nice,but I doubt it will happen.

    2. Blakeyrat says:

      The Mount & Blade series has similarly detailed difficulty. It’s certainly been done before.

  44. I Wanna Be the Guy is Cat Mario turned to 11. Let’s face it, that game is way more difficult than Dark Souls or Batman will ever be.

    I should clarify. My first death in Dark Souls was me rolling off the cliff of one of the tutorial missions. I imagine that to be included in punishment, and I don’t think I would be wrong when I say that simple gesture, adding no barriers to falling, was punishing. Then I went up against gigantic rats and I quickly realized this game was more about making you die than making you win.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      You know,there are some who thought that I wanna be the guy was to easy.So we now have,I wanna see you suffer:

  45. MadTinkerer says:

    (Try putting adventure games on the Mastery / Strictness / Punishment scale. It's odd.)


    Not the complexity of mastering one set of mechanics, or the complexity of mastering all sets of mechanics in a game. I speak of the complexity of the number of different things that count as progression.

    Hypothetical example: in one area of an adventure game, you might need to open a door by repairing the mechanism which opens the door, but all of the parts are right there. Then, in the next area, you progress by convincing one character to convince another to let you pass. Then, in the next area, you progress by realizing that combining one of the items in your inventory with something in the new area doesn’t make literal sense but does make sense as a pun (or you just randomly try everything until you stumble on the combination).

    Adventure game difficulty is rated according to the complexity of progressing through each gate multiplied by the number of gates (if progression through a later gate is an intuitive extension of what you needed to get through an earlier gate, that counts as less complex). The gated areas can be more like a collection of separate games, and since they are essentially separate games, may have terrible-to-nonexistent tutorials. The better adventure games have a good sense of mechanical progression as well as narrative progression. The worse adventure games have no sense of mechanical progression.

    The fewer things that you have to do, and the more of them that are adequately explained, the less complex. The more things that you have to do with less instruction, just to get through the game, the more complex.

  46. Cybron says:

    As someone who grew up with an NES as my primary source of electronic entertainment I find the idea of Dark Souls being super punishing to be really odd. Its punishment for failure is exactly the same as Super Mario Bros (death sends you back to a checkpoint and makes you play that segment again), and that game isn’t known as particularly punishing. Am I wrong?

    1. GloatingSwine says:

      No. But back then every game basically had the same structure. Do bad enough at Mario and you go right back to the start of the whole game when you burn all your continues.

      There was far less expectation that you were going to be able to complete a given game. These days there is that expectation, people expect to be able to experience the whole game in a smooth linear progression because that’s what so many games are now, and if they hit a stumbling block then they just need to beat their head on it for a bit until they get past it and then never think about it again.

      That’s why people regard having to go back five minutes as “punishment”, because their expectation is that the game is about smooth progression through content not developing systemic skill and meeting increasing tests of that skill.

      1. ehlijen says:

        “That's why people regard having to go back five minutes as “punishment”, because their expectation is that the game is about smooth progression through content not developing systemic skill and meeting increasing tests of that skill.”

        The idea that one had to master a game to make it all the way through and that failure would set you back to the beginning is a holdover from the arcade days when that’s what got people sticking more quarters in the slot.

        Now that players pay for a game all up front, the expectation that they should get to experience the whole game without grinding effort is not unreasonable.

        It’s not necessarily about smooth progression, but a player having to repeatedly go through the same content because they failed at an unrelated challenge afterwards is not going to be popular with every player and for good reason. There is room for a compromise between uninterrupted story flow and repeated grinding of the same page, and dark souls is not offering it.

        It doesn’t have to, of course, but then it has to live with not being loved by everyone.

        1. Syal says:

          The idea that one had to master a game to make it all the way through and that failure would set you back to the beginning is a holdover from the arcade days when that's what got people sticking more quarters in the slot.

          It’s also that those games were really short. As seen above, it takes five minutes to finish SMB 1 when you don’t die. Making it hard to not die is a pretty easy way to increase longevity (secrets being the other big one) (secrets to everybody) , and longevity is necessary to get people to buy games.

          As space expands and games get bigger, longevity becomes more baked in and expectations about difficulty shift.

          1. ehlijen says:

            Yes, but for many people ‘longevity’ means ‘more content to see’, not ‘more time spent repeating the same content’.

            1. Syal says:

              More content is only an option with more space. If there’s no more space, the trick is to make the existing content take more time to see. Players die repeatedly on 7-3, or burn every tree in Hyrule, because they’re trying to unlock the new content of 7-4, or discover another hidden heart container.

              And then you take it to its extremes and get Milon’s Secret Castle.

    2. Starker says:

      Yeah, Super Metroid does a lot of the same things and not a lot of people say that it’s super punishing.

      1. Cybron says:

        Yeah, that’s an even better example, since they’re closer in genre. Symphony of the Night too, I think.

        Does anyone who’s played them both think one is punishing and not the other? I’d like to hear from someone who does. Or from people who think Super Metroid is punishing, maybe my opinion just isn’t up to date.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Nintendo hard exists for a reason.

      1. Cybron says:

        When people say Nintendo hard they usually mean Castlevania or Contra, not SMB.

    4. Syal says:

      Some part of that is going to be the aesthetic of the game. Dark Souls uglifies and enlarges its enemies, and sells the idea that the world around you actively wants you dead. Super Mario Lost Levels never did that.

      Also the death animation for SMB has always been cute, which cuts down on “punishing”. Sure, you lost a life and had to go back to the checkpoint, but Mario hopped into the air in a “can you believe it” pose while cute music played.

      1. Cybron says:

        You’re not wrong, and the marketing sells it that way too. I’m just curious if that’s enough to explain the gap in perception or if it actually has something to do with the the game’s mechanics.

        1. Syal says:

          Thinking about it further; Dark Souls has a lot of enemies that aren’t clearly understood until you fight them, and will likely kill you on your first attempt, and it also lets you wander into mid- or late-game areas much tougher than the one you came from.

          There’s nothing really threatening in Super Mario Brothers; Lakitu or the Bloopers come the closest to an “oh shit” encounter in SMB 1. Enemies work slightly differently but you’ll know everything they do if you watch them from afar for a second. Late game enemies are the same as early game enemies and the challenge comes from their position in the environment.

          1. Sleepyfoo says:

            It’s basically a trick the game plays on you.

            For most games, when you die and reload, you are back a the save, with both you and the game world identical to it was when you saved. You’ve basically only lost time and there is a clear break in continuity.

            Dark Souls, on the other hand, taunts you with changes made to the world persist, your pack of souls are right where you were if you could only get to them (implying that your time can be recovered and encouraging you to risk it (which makes it hurt that much more when you fail)). Additionally, if you used a consumable to get wherever and then died, you don’t get the consumable back, there’s a mostly ignored item durability mechanic and lost durability persists past death. (In DS1 there are 2 weapon upgrade paths that make slightly stronger weapons for the cost but you can’t repair them (Crystal and Raw))

            This makes it seem worse than it is. It also means you can lose unique piles of XP (say killing a boss, failing to find a bonfire, and then dying trying to get your souls back). Even if you can grind that XP back, and the world progress is kept, you have lost more than just Time.

            Peace : )

            1. Starker says:

              “It also means you can lose unique piles of XP (say killing a boss, failing to find a bonfire, and then dying trying to get your souls back).”

              That’s why bosses drop a homeward bone.

              1. Sleepyfoo says:

                I’m gonna be honest, I never noticed that. I’ve only played (and beaten) DS1 though.

                Also, I really need a grammar edit on my above comment.

  47. tmtvl says:

    It's like lifting in a gym where weights magically get heavier as your muscles get stronger and lighter when you're getting tired.

    High Intensity Training heaven.

    Anyway, I could give my perspective on things, but it was said well enough by Vageta311, who mastered DS1.

    How he got so good at the game.

  48. Fimbulvetr says:

    I think I’d replace Mastery with Competency, since the critical path through any game only requires your level of skill be good enough rather than perfect, and plenty of games have that “easy to learn hard to master” quality.

  49. DeathbyDysentery says:

    I think one of the greatest barrier to discussion surrounding certain games is the fact that titles with a deep systems mastery components appear to be entirely different experiences based on who is playing them. What I mean by this is that the experience of playing certain games changes entirely based on level of mastery.

    To illustrate this, let’s take Dark Souls as an example:

    An inexperienced player is playing a level in Dark Souls. They kill enemies and progress into a level for 30 minutes, and then die to a trap which they didn’t see. Frustrated, they stop playing for now, and go to a forum or chatroom to talk to their friend, who is a seasoned Dark Souls veteran. They tell them that they might quit because they don’t like how easy it is to lose huge chunks of progress in the game. It’s simply too frustrating for them to handle. The friend’s response is something along the lines of, “It isn’t actually that easy to lose progress, you know,” or, “You just need to get better, and then you’ll understand,” or, “I think it’ll get better for you later.” In any case, the inexperienced player feels rightfully upset because their friend basically just invalidated and/or ignored their experience.

    The reason this sort of exchange happens so often is that the experienced Dark Souls players approach the game with an entirely different frame of mind. Whereas most players of most games interpret physical advancement through a level as progress, Dark Souls fans interpret the acquisition of mastery over a level as progress. Because of this, a Dark Souls fan will very rarely interpret death as a major setback in the same way a less experienced player might. After all, the death did not take away the knowledge that they gained before they died. Crucially, they only come to see the game in this light after hours and hours of play. Something clicks, and they gain this understanding over the design of the game which newer players lack entirely. Oftentimes, it is not even a conscious realization, but a subconscious shift in their interpretation of the experience. Either way, they come to see the game in way which the average player does not, and they come to think that their interpretation of it is ‘true’ and ‘correct’, since it comes from a deeper understanding of the systems.

    This is all well and good except when it comes to discourse. If two parties cannot agree on the ‘basic facts’ at hand, then they cannot possibly have a productive conversation about them. Fans and non-fans will almost always disagree on the very nature of the game; as illustrated above, when non-fans complain that a mechanic is punishing, fans will sometimes reply that the mechanic is not really punishing. At best, exchanges like that end with both sides thinking that the other is idiotic. At worst, they each suspect that the other is intentionally falsifying the facts to ‘win’ the discussion. Even if the experienced player is aware of what is happening, they may still disrespect the novice’s view simply because it is borne from a more limited understanding of how the game is ‘meant to be played.’ I suspect this is why they often respond to frustration by saying things like, ‘Just keep playing! You’ll see!’ They hope that, if the novice keeps playing, the game will ‘click’ for them as well, and they’ll learn to love it. Unfortunately, this is not always how it works.

    This is also why there are often arguments over whether Dark Souls is really ‘hard’ or not. Many fans claim that Dark Souls isn’t hard because they literally don’t interpret the game as being difficult anymore. This is not just because they are so good at the game that they rarely die (though this is sometimes the case), but more because they see the process of exploration and gaining knowledge about levels, enemies, and bosses as being the most important challenge. Since exploration isn’t all that difficult, they reason that the game, in sum, isn’t all that difficult either.

    There are other examples that I won’t get too far into. Dark Souls is a surprisingly deep game from a mechanics and systems mastery standpoint, and it provides many ways to befuddle discourse in this same way. It isn’t unique in that regard, though. Most Real Time Strategy games, for instance, also become entirely different experiences once one grasps some important concepts. Whereas a novice might see Starcraft as primarily being a test of patience as they wait for their forces to build up before attacking, a professional sees it as being the test of reflexes, planning, and improvisation that it can be.

    Contrast both of these examples against, say, Super Mario Bros. You can play SMB simply or stylishly; you can die many times or not at all; you can do the main route or you can make use of secrets, glitches, and the like to get to the end faster. Regardless, however, the experience of playing the game does not change. It is always a game about reflexive jumping through mostly linear levels, so the super fans and the novices can always talk about the game on even ground.

    1. Shamus says:

      DeathbyDysentery: This is a really insightful comment.

    2. Wow, that’s possibly the best explanation for how the Dark Souls discussions between fans and non-fans can feel so… disjointed. In fact now that you mention it, I am sure I experienced similar “talking past each other” discussions about other games (and books, films).

    3. Ranneko says:

      So to take a page from a recent Extra Credits video

      Super Mario Brothers is a game that is easy to read, and therefore easy to have a conversation about. Even a novice can understand how the game works and have a useful conversation about it.

      Dark Souls is a game that is harder to read, or at least can be read at different levels and if you aren’t able to establish the level you are discussing the game on the conversation gets confused and bogged down.

      1. DeathbyDysentery says:

        I cannot watch that video right this moment, but based on your summation: yes, that is exactly what I mean.

        Dark Souls and its closest imitators are especially problematic in this regard because they have a mostly unique rhythm and philosophy of play even though they closely resemble other games. Many gamers have a body of gameplay literacy which branches between ARPGs, CRPGs, MMORPGs, and the like. They can move between those games easily because they more or less know what to expect. Even when the games vary drastically in design, they share certain elements in terms of progression, game flow, story structure, advancement, etc…

        Dark Souls is ostensibly an ARPG as well, so many novices think, “Oh, this is like Fable or Skyrim, but very punishing and difficult!” In reality though, it’s more accurate to say Dark Souls takes its level design and progression from Metroidvania, its combat system from fighting games and combat simulation games, its statistics system from min-maxy tabletop and computer RPGs, and its equipment system from JRPGs. This is a scarily unique and complex combination of influences, and none of them come directly from the ARPGs which Dark Souls superficially resembles.

        I would say that, to be at the level of literacy where you can play Dark Souls at the ‘optimal’ and ‘intended’ state of mind, you have to understand (whether consciously or no) that you should be exploring levels like a Metroidvania player, fighting enemies like a Mount & Blade or Chivalry player, and managing your character like a DnD player (among other things). Keep in mind: accomplishing this doesn’t mean that you’re ‘good’, it just means that you’re thinking along the lines which will, through practice and discovery, lead to you being ‘good’. You have your foot in the door. It’s the equivalent to knowing that you need to keep moving in a shooter like DOOM or that you need to keep building your economy in an RTS.

        This is also the point where the game becomes fun rather than frustrating (for many people, at least), which, as I’ve said above, is part of why so many fans are eager to encourage frustrated novices to persevere. “He still thinks that this is just a particularly hard ARPG, but if the true nature of the game clicks with him, then all his frustration will melt away and he’ll really get into it just like I did!”

        1. Starker says:

          There’s a lot to agree with here, but I’d argue that the stats are not really as min-maxy as you’d think from the first glance — each stat that you raise also raises your defence, the stats have soft caps, so you are encouraged to spread out, and there are a lot of different weapons available for different stat configurations, even for low stats. It’s very hard to screw up your build to the point that you’re out of options.

          1. DeathbyDysentery says:

            Yes, I agree. My ‘breaking down’ of the systems in Dark Souls was kind of simplified for the sake of brevity.

            What I mostly meant was that, like tabletop RPGs, the stats in Dark Souls are

            A: Incredibly important in determining what your character is capable of and how they play


            B: Unintuitive to novices, with each stat affecting several different factors in relatively complex ways.
            Case in point: It’s not as simple as just, ‘Endurance gives Stamina.’ Endurance gives Stamina and equip load, plus passive armor buffs. Stamina not only helps you stay in action, but also determines your blocking potential, but that is also dependent on the stability of your shield. Your equipment load determines your potential mobility, but again, that is also dependent on how much stuff you have equipped. To fully grasp this one stat, the player needs to be keenly aware of several other stats and game concepts and their interwoven relationships with each other. So even if it is difficult to ‘mess up’ your build (stacking resistance to 99 notwithstanding) it’s still incredibly easy to spend levels on things you don’t actually want or care about if you don’t know what you’re doing.

            1. Starker says:

              Ah, yes, I agree. You definitely do need to understand the system up to a point. And yes, the more important part of it is things like the equipment/spell requirements, rather than the raw benefits from the stats themselves.

              Though, comparatively speaking, the equipment improvement you get from stats is not as important as that of equipment upgrades from titanium, for example. More endurance allows you to wear heavier armor, but the improvement is not as significant as what you get from upgrading armor.

              Now add buffs to the mix and you could make it a university course. :P

        2. Benjamin Hilton says:

          I also think it is Important to note that some people will never enjoy that type of game even if it does “click”. It’s not simply that there are people who are literate in it and those that are not. This leads to a problem where veteran players seem to assume that anyone is capable of liking it if they were only in the right frame of mind.
          So not only are they having trouble communicating with people who haven’t “clicked” yet, they seem to assume that anyone who doesn’t like it must not have “clicked”, because if they had they would surly love it too. This leads to further confusion in discourse where fans of the series talk to people who understand it but still don’t enjoy it as if they just don’t understand it, leading to even further frustration on both sides.

    4. Cilvre says:

      Bravo sir, this was really great to read.

    5. Starker says:

      A bit off topic, but I just wanted to point out that the depth of Dark Souls doesn’t just stop at the mechanics and systems. It draws from a wide variety of sources for its themes, from the Titanomachy to Arthurian legends to Zelda to Berserk to From’s previous games, and its lore, sometimes told purely visually, needs to be carefully assembled and reconstructed by the player.

      In a small way, it probably contributes to people playing it over and over again, thereby exacerbating the problems outlined above.

  50. Mr Compassionate says:

    I adore Dark Souls more than any other franchise but I think the series would be better off if either
    A: You could retry the bosses instantly or
    B: The bosses were fairly doable on your first try
    Demon’s Souls had it right the first time by going for B and the later games slowly went astray. Now we reach Dark Souls 3 where every single f**king enemy is a giant armored badass who takes 10-20 attempts because the “hardcore” guys whined every time a boss died on their first attempt. Like YEAH bro you’re an expert DS fan of course it died on your first attempt, it should do if you’re that good.

    Couple that with every enemy wielding a weapon so big you have no choice but to I-Frame through every swing with perfect timing so it’s like a Guitar Hero game and suddenly I don’t feel excitement when I see a new boss any more, only resigned acceptance. A cutscene kicks in and I’m like-
    ‘Oh look it’s another large, heavily armored dude with a massive, long weapon and 20.000 hp. I can’t wait to find the one exact pattern that works. I hope he has a second stage that’s the “Real Fight” so I have to plough through a pointlessly easy first stage every single time I try again’. I still love the series for every reason MrBtounge mentioned in his video but I wish it still awarded intelligence, common sense and preparation as much as mastering the dodge button.

    PS: Before anybody accuses me of wanting easier bosses or instant restarts because I’m a “scrub” I just want to mention I bandit knifed Four Kings and Smough and Ornstien to death in one morning, I’ve wiped out the chalice dungeons, defeated Orphan of Kos, Sister Friede, Artorias, Nameless King ect ect and gank spanked many times in PVP, all without ever summoning. So when I say DS is often hard for no good reason I know what I’m talking about.

    1. Christopher says:

      Second phases are so cool though! Smough/Ornstein absorbing the other? Killer. The princes joining forces, with one clinging to the other’s back? Awesome. The Abyss Watchers locked in endless combat, giving all their blood to one guy after they’re all beaten? Magical.

      I found that was one of the things I enjoyed most about Dark Souls 3, that most of the bosses had several phases with new moves so the fight wasn’t the same the entire time.

    2. Grimwear says:

      I’m just slightly confused by the Demons’ Souls being better sentiment. I personally consider Demons’ to be significantly worse in that they have a lot more gimmick and instant death boss fights. The World 2 Dragon God who will instantly kill you if you don’t have precision timing for running down a hallway, Garl Vinland who depending on your build/ability to parry can quite easily 1 shot you, the giant flying stingray which if you’ve never fought before chances are you’re standing in the open and will get riddled with the spikes he shoots. And lets not forget Flamelurker who breaks poise with nearly any hit. In fact I’d say that overall Demons’ tends to be more punishing in that when you enter a world if you don’t make it to the very end of the area to unlock the shortcut to the start you need to rerun the whole level (Poison world 1 being the worst).

    3. GloatingSwine says:

      I’m not that good and most of the Dark Souls 3 bosses died on my first or second go. It was only Champion Gundyr and the Nameless King that really made for serious roadblocks.

      But that’s a consequence of everything in the Souls series following the same rules and being scrupulous about doing so, familiarity with those rules as a whole means that you can much more easily adapt to a new situation inside that set of rules.

      You don’t need to learn the timings and patterns of every boss seperately, you learn and master the rules by which the game operates and that learning transfers to the boss fights (which is also why I don’t think the runbacks are bad, because the same skills and mastery you pick up running back to a boss work on the boss).

  51. Merlin says:

    As someone who would really enjoy not hearing about Dark Souls again for another decade or so, I will vouch that Sen’s Fortress is 100% the highlight of the game. It’s refreshingly honest about its bullshitty video game-iness in a way that the rest of the game isn’t, and it becomes much easier to accept monster closets and the like when they’re surrounded by giant bladed pendulums rather than Very Mysterious Lore Artifacts.

  52. Grimwear says:

    As a quick aside in terms of the article Dark Souls does actually have items (humanity) that you can find in the world and give you an instant full health heal when used. Not like it really changes what you said in terms of managing resources since humanity are relatively rare to find (you tend to always get 1 when you beat a boss).

  53. Fast_Fire says:

    Imagine if you were not allowed to progress through the Arkham titles unless you had the proficiency of a man dressed like a bat:

    A man dressed like a bat doesn’t get hit. A man dressed like a bat doesn’t whiff his punches or kicks. A man dressed like a bat has and uses the right tool for every situation. A man dressed like a bat gets his intel. A man dressed like a bat plans and executes his moves flawlessly. All this when a man dressed like a bat has the sufficient amount of time to prepare. Anything less and you don’t move on, because you’re not yet enough of a man dressed like a bat to progress as a man dressed like a bat.

    While this would make thematic sense because no mook should even have a chance to take on a man dressed like a bat, this tall order of near-perfection would be well beyond what’s asked of Dark Souls and deep into the realm of Ghosts ‘N Goblins and Battletoads. This is not something to be asked of any sane person with a limited amount of time among the living.

    What Dark Souls asks of you is not unreasonable so long as you are up to the challenge of understanding the mechanics of the game more than simply grinding out some levels and brute-forcing your way through. There is room for mistakes and you can even customize it by means of increasing health, lighting bonfires (checkpoints and refill health flasks), upgrading your health flasks, and even participate in Jolly Cooperation.

    And that’s what it comes down to: Challenge. Complete it and you will walk away a better person. Give up and you can say you at least tried. Maybe some time later you’ll feel more ready with perhaps a fresh perspective so solve that tough problem.

    Fair point: There is a handful of bullshit in the game including much of Blighttown and the Bed of Chaos.

  54. Cinebeast says:

    Man, the comments just explode whenever Shamus brings up Dark Souls.

    I don’t think I really have anything cool to add. I’ll just say that I’m one of those Souls fans who likes the series, and has completed several of them, but would deeply appreciate some kind of difficulty setting.

    I’m looking forward to playing Nioh too. Now all I need is some money…

    1. Christopher says:

      We can only dream of the comment section the day he writes an article that compares Mass Effect with Dark Souls.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Mass effect is like dark souls in that you get to fuck with whoever you want,but in the end,its you who will be fucked over by the developer.

    2. poiumty says:

      I basically only read this Arkham column thing because he said he’d compare it to Dark Souls. Shameful, I know.

      And then I go to the comments and there’s like a multiple page discussion about Dark Souls mechanics and it’s so tempting to just jump in I can barely contain myself.

      I could write a novel about exactly how Dark Souls does what it does. I MIGHT.

  55. PhoenixUltima says:

    I’m one of those guys whose first instinct when someone says “Dark Souls is really hard!” is to say “well ACTUALLY it’s not that hard at all, really”. There are 2 reasons I don’t actually make this reply:

    1: There are few things in this world that are more annoying than someone telling you that whatever you’re having difficulty with isn’t actually that hard, you just need to keep at it/apply yourself/git gud. I don’t want to be that guy, so I don’t.

    2: I’ve actually beaten Dark Souls without leveling up (only new game, not new game + or later, but still), so I might be just a little bit biased RE: Dark Soul’s difficulty. It’s not really fair to judge people for not being able to beat the game at its base difficulty when you can do it with ridiculous self-imposed challenges.

    1. Starker says:

      To be fair, some of the pushback is because Dark Souls is often portrayed as being far far more difficult than it is (which is partly the fault of the game’s marketing and partly the fault of some of the fans). When people say that it’s trial and error gameplay that you need to keep practicing until you nail the execution or that it’s a game for masochists like IWBTG, the natural instinct of a fan is to correct them. These fans are not saying, “It’s not that hard” (“It’s easy”), they are saying “It’s not that hard” (“It’s not as hard as IWBTG”).

  56. Decius says:

    >Try putting adventure games on the Mastery / Strictness / Punishment scale. It's odd.
    Challenge accepted:

    Roberta Williams’: Pass/fail mastery, but with a lot of pass/fail events. Maximum Strictness. Reload Punishment.

    Gods will be watching: Moderate mastery, strictness, meta punishment (the game actually rewards you for having to try again)

    The Longest Journey: Pass/fail mastery, maximum strictness, zero punishment.

    1. Zaxares says:

      Full Throttle had next to no punishment either, except for a very few scenes near the end of the game, as well as the bike combat scenes. And even in these scenarios, it was a case of “Bad luck! Try it again from where you last failed.”

    2. GloatingSwine says:

      Adventure games are an odd bird. Lucasarts removed the traditional “punishment” of either locking the game into an unwinnable state or dying because you clicked the wrong pixel, and that became the norm for the genre because of the popularity of their adventures.

      I think that was what drove some writers deeper into moon logic though, because they backed off from the punishment they previously had they instead decided they needed to make advancement as difficult as possible, until you got to the infamous cat hair moustache incident.

      (I think that was the question. Where does something like the cat hair moustache incident fit into this definition of difficulty when it actually consists of doing a nonsensical string of actions which the player can’t possibly intuit in order to progress).

      1. Starker says:

        The cat hair incident didn’t come from the designer taking things too far, it came from executive meddling without the approval of the designer. GK3 actually has some of the best puzzles in the genre (Le Serpent Rouge, for example).

        1. GloatingSwine says:

          Who put it there is less significant than the fact that it was there. Someone at some point during the process of making that game decided that it was appropriate to have a puzzle where you make a fake moustache out of cat hair and maple syrup in order to better impersonate a man who does not have a moustache.

          1. Starker says:

            Yes, but the point remains that it’s not an example of the designers deliberately making things difficult, it’s an example of a producer screwing up otherwise very good game design.

  57. MaxEd says:

    There is also tactical/strategical difficulty. I feel it greatly in different RPGs. Some prefer every combat to be difficult, but restore your health between individual combats (fully or almost fully). This is a common approach in modern western RPGs (including indies – see Tyranny or Avadon). Other may throw dozens of easy fights at you, but your HP and MP will gradually be whittled away until even an easy battle is a great risk, because you lack the resources for it (JRPGs mostly follow this tactic).

    Both approaches create difficulty, but it’s different kinds of difficulty. The first one requires tactical thinking: how do I even defeat this group of enemies?! But you can spend all, or almost all resources you have in a single fight, you don’t have to worry about unknown number of enemies the designer placed later in the dungeon.

    The second one makes for a far more simple, even boring combats. But it requires strategic thinking: should I use that MP potion now, or save it, because I may need it in the next fight (which may, or may not even exist, or include enemies that drain your MP on the first turn!). It also requires tactical skill, but of a different kind – not “how to I defeat enemies”, but “how do I defeat enemies most efficiently, wasting as little resources as possible”.

    For me, the first approach is way more interesting, because thinking about possible future combats make me nervous and reduce my enjoyment of the game. Also, any single fight is much more interesting with this approach, because the designer can go all-out on it. This way, the game may contain fewer combats, but every one is more interesting – a perfect situation for me! It is also explicitly difficult, while the second approach is deceptive: a first few fights into the dungeon, you may win very easily by using expensive spells and attack, and then suddenly find you’re out of HP and MP, and have to restart the whole thing, because there is just NO way you can win the next combat – a “walking dead” scenario where you just wasted a lot of time.

    1. Zaxares says:

      The early generations of Western RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights actually cleaved more closely to the 2nd method. Healing and spells were very limited; it was entirely possible to burn through your entire reserve of spells in a single difficult combat, as well as exhausting your healing afterwards. (This made items like healing potions incredibly valuable, as an emergency supply for dangerous areas.) You can usually “rest” to get back your spells and healing, but it wasn’t guaranteed; some areas didn’t permit resting, or there was the chance you could get attacked while resting and thus be forced to fight when most of your party was exhausted and spent on resources, usually a losing proposition.

      These days I would probably find this sort of game to be incredibly slow-paced compared to the “heal all resources in between fights” popularized by the 2nd generation of Western RPGs (starting largely with KotOR and continuing through games like Jade Empire and Dragon Age), I have to admit there was a certain cerebral thrill to completing a combat and going, “You know what? I bet I could have done that fight better and without using up my 3 healing potions and a Fireball scroll. Let’s try that again.”

    2. Syal says:

      I’m coming to the conclusion that I like a hybrid; give me a series of easy fights with a few fights in unexpected and/or random locations that are actually nasty.

    3. Starker says:

      Dark Souls is most often the second kind — it doesn’t win by putting up a nasty fight, it wins by attrition. It has a series of perfectly beatable fights and it just waits for you to get too greedy/impatient/careless, so it can chip away at your health. Likewise, with bosses you often lose because you run out of healing items — estus and/or humanity. In a lot of ways, Dark Souls is less of an action game and more of a stamina/health management game.

      And the real nasty fights are either completely optional or hidden away entirely in secret worlds.

  58. Phantos says:

    Deciding how hard a game can be and trying to accommodate players is… well, hard. Harder than I thought.

    Heck, you’d think letting people skip a part that’s too difficult would be the solution, but every time Nintendo does that in their games, people bitch and complain.

    1. GloatingSwine says:

      It does always feel a bit insulting when the game pops up and asks “Are you sure you don’t suck, would you like to turn the difficulty down or maybe skip this bit?”

      1. Phantos says:

        Except they specifically design it so that it only happens if you fail at the same task A LOT. If it happened after the very first time you slip up, it’d be insulting. But you have to screw up a ton of times before these types of games give you the option to God Mode your way through it.

        I think gamers need to get over themselves and stop taking it as a personal insult to play on “Easy” mode, or to accept help.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Relabeling it to “I have other shit to do” difficulty would help.

  59. Locke says:

    I realize making up nomenclature and sorting things into categories is a horribly tedious and pretentious thing to do.

    It really isn’t. When you hit a wall in a discussion where you can’t keep having a conversation because the vocabulary isn’t there, it is often not only necessary but also very interesting to create that vocabulary (preferably by doing what you’ve done here, which is find words in the existing language that fit and and work them into the context, but “ludonarrative dissonance” works too). The shape of the problem is suddenly clarified and the conversation becomes easier to have. It’s an “aha!” moment and it feels nice to suddenly be able to understand and talk about something with more depth, nuance, and clarity.

    What’s horribly tedious and pretentious is to make up new words that cover the exact same ground as existing vocabulary in the hopes of fooling people into thinking that your understanding of the subject is so deep that you had to develop jargon. To someone whose understanding of the subject isn’t that deep, it’s impossible to tell if you’re talking to a genuine expert who’s misunderstood the amount of information you’re walking into the conversation with and a pretentious git who’s intentionally obfuscating the discussion in order to make you look dumb (and themselves smart by comparison) by your lack of understanding. If that someone is particularly cynical, they’ll assume that anyone who’s defining new terms for a purpose which isn’t immediately clear is just trying to write an article they can point to and say “my understanding of this subject is so deep I had to invent new words just to describe it.” That isn’t fair to the writer of the article, but if someone has only encountered mimics and never people who are actually trying to expand their audience’s understanding, it’s easy to see how they’d come to this (wrong) conclusion.

    I don’t think you need to be especially worried about this kind of thing, though, both because you have cultivated a very specific sort of audience here who 1) are interested enough in video game theory to know that new jargon can be helpful and 2) the majority of your readers are people who know you well enough to know that you aren’t a mimic, and also because you have a pragmatic, results-oriented, “make games better at specific, non-controversial goal” approach to the discussion that is harder (though not impossible) for a mimic to imitate.

    Contrast someone like Campster, who is usually just looking for interesting connections to other subjects, unusual perspectives, and otherwise has a much more academic approach. This is an equally valid way to write (or…video?) about games, but it’s easier to mimic. You write a series on Mass Effect and at the end you have a thesis statement about story collapse and how there were plot holes growing through two entire games that made more and more promises, and the ending was simply the moment when fans realized that the promises were not going to be delivered upon. You can (and boy have you ever) defend that with specific examples from the games, and the only knowledge needed to follow along is video game knowledge about Mass Effect specifically.

    Campster makes a video about how the new SimCity paints more growth and expansion as the only goal you can have, revoking the sandbox of the old SimCity that left you free to maintain a tiny rest stop or a town that’s only as big as it can be while having a crime and illness rate of zero or whatever other metric for success you wanted to pick. He draws on subjects outside of pure video game theory to make a more philosophical assessment, and that means pretending to be Campster is easier for a mimic than pretending to be Shamus. If a mimic wants to pretend to be Shamus, they must pretend to have an understanding of video game design deep enough that no one in the audience will be knowledgeable enough to realize they’re being sold a bridge. If a mimic wants to pretend to be Campster, they can pretend to have depth in two subjects (or even more), and someone has to be familiar with both of them before they can recognize the scam for sure.

    If someone wants to run a simple and easy heuristic for finding mimics and they don’t care if they’re being unfair to a lot of false positives, first off, they’re a jerk, but second off, just assuming that anyone who tries to find new perspectives from which to analyze things is a mimic will fit those criteria. I seriously doubt anyone in your audience is using this unfair and extremely basic heuristic, because your audience is self-selected for people who like detailed analysis of games and you filter out so many false positives with a heuristic that simple that it will seriously harm your ability to find good faith writers.

    Plus, the best way to test for a mimic is obviously to attack the suspect with a lethal weapon. If it flinches, it’s a mimic. Otherwise it’s a real treasure chest.

    Also, the point of this post is to identify bad behavior and explain why I don’t think anyone on this website needs to worry about being mistaken for engaging in it. A discussion about which individuals or organizations are engaging in that bad behavior would start a flame war, which is not at all my intention. Please do not do that.

  60. IanTheM1 says:

    What I always find strange about the Eternal Dark Souls Difficulty Argument (though in all fairness, things have been pretty level-headed here compared to elsewhere, and I’m not directing this at any specific person here) is that the same people who will gush about all of the depth and complexity and nuance to Dark Souls’ systems and design will suddenly disregard all of that the second you talk about making the game easier.

    Maybe part of the problem is, as Shamus’s original post pokes at, that people have such wildly different expectations of difficulty, and moreover, people are very loose with throwing around terms like “easy mode” without actually having a clear idea of what that’s supposed to mean. I think that most people don’t actually want Dark Souls to have a literal easy mode*, especially not a sloppy halfhearted one like you see in many games where all that’s done is halving enemy health and doubling the player’s.

    So in that regard, I absolutely agree that Dark Souls doesn’t need to be made “easy,” however, there’s a vast number of ways to make it easier that really wouldn’t ruin the game. I’m not going to bother coming up with specific examples, because that’s not really my point. I just think in a game with classes, stats, items, covenants, NPCs, varied enemies, buffs, debuffs, co-op, PVP, the works…it’s grossly underselling the creative space allotted by all of that to stubbornly insist that DS’s difficulty is set in stone. …Of course, the fact that people are quick to point out the comparative easiness of Pyromancer to other options shows that DS fans already don’t care about an absolutely rigid sense of challenge. (And on the opposite spectrum, the game has at least one built-in extra challenge of using the Deprived.) Though I don’t really accept the idea that Pyromancer by itself already counts as an easy mode, for the simple fact that a new player will only discover that by random chance or by someone else telling them.

    I think the other thing that gets overlooked is that DS1’s starting player experience…kind of sucks? Apparently they got better about this sort of thing as they went along, but first time players seem to notoriously get confused and stuck on the immediate areas around Firelink Shrine and might not even make it to the Parish or even the Undead Burg before giving up thanks to awkward map design and stuff like the infamous undying skeletons. It’s a total Liberty Island situation. I think a lot of people who bounced off the game might’ve stuck with it if the first few hours were handled a little better, even as the game got more difficult along the way. (The worrying emphasis on difficulty that the community and some of the marketing place on the game also doesn’t help.)

    *As an aside, I’ve heard of and seen plenty of cases of players who insist on playing optimally to the point of ruining a game for themselves (ie, using a wrench build in Bioshock while equally insisting that it’s no fun to play with) so I wonder how many people who recoil at the idea of an easier Dark Souls do so not out of a concern for the integrity of the game or some dumb tribalistic thing about “teh casuals” but rather because they’re secretly unsettled by the temptation to use it themselves.

    1. IanTheM1 says:

      Oh, and I forgot to point out another similarity to Deus Ex in the form of a newbie trap. Don’t put points in Resistance. Don’t put points in Swimming.

    2. Christopher says:

      It helps that I can modify the difficulty in-game. I can use very skill-based tactics like rolling and parrying or safer options like shields or ranged abilities. I can read messages left by players that all say where secret items or ambushes are(As well as when there is an amazing chest ahead, or if I should attack but hole). I can use humanity to upgrade bonfires to give me more estus. I can summon for help. I can be summoned, which means I can practice bosses with zero runback by putting it down outside boss doors. I can upgrade armor and weapons, or grind souls for stats. Dark Souls 2 even had bonfires you can throw an item at to make the surrounding areas NG+, as well as a covenant you can join to, as far as I’m aware, make every area NG+, if you want it to be harder.

      I already play Dark Souls in “easy mode” by doing all of the options that make the game easier and are available in-game rather than in a slider. If all else fails, I can use a guide, because a lot of the challenge lies in just having the proper knowledge. Even then, doesn’t that one miracle reveal more developer messages? I should try that one time, it could practically be a Hint system.

      This is, I think, part of the problem with Shamus feeling everyone tells him he would enjoy it if he played it another way, because it’s essentially telling him to turn the difficulty down. At this point, the entire spoiler warning cast could probably co-op through Dark Souls 3 together easily.

      1. Cybron says:

        “Even then, doesn't that one miracle reveal more developer messages?”
        Oh yeah, Seek Guidance. Totally forgot about that. It’s notably sold by the first merchant you find, who also serves as the contact for the new player covenant. Looking it up, seems to be a mix of helpful tips and messages that point towards hidden areas.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        This is, I think, part of the problem with Shamus feeling everyone tells him he would enjoy it if he played it another way, because it's essentially telling him to turn the difficulty down.

        No,its because they are acting like all those people he keeps mentioning whenever he is googling for a solution to his problem.Shamus already said “I have a problem with X and I want Y”,and then everyone keeps telling him “But have you tried Z?”.Z is not Y people,stop equating them.

        1. Christopher says:

          Alright, so the other stuff is all about making the game easier to limit runback deaths rather than eliminate them when you finally die, a preventative measure. But how is the summoning system not a version of checkpointing that hinders the runback? It works by you putting down a summoning sign in your world. You’re then sucked into someone else’s world, and when you die in that world, leave it, are kicked out or beat the boss of an area, you return exactly to where you were. Putting it down in front of the fog doors leading to bosses, you don’t have to do any runback at all. You can practice as much as you want, and it only “counts” when you do it in your own world.

          I realize it’s not replacing the entire in-game system of death with a PC-style quicksave/load key, but it is a marked improvement that I use all the time.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Its not the same because it requires in game resources* to use to get the stone in the first place,it requires you to be constantly online,and it requires you to know in advance which section of the game will be problematic for you.Also,if in one of your practice runs you do manage to overcome the problem,you would still have to do it again in your own world.And sometimes,you manage to overcome a problem just due to luck,meaning that further practice would not help you that much.So it is not the same.

            *Not just souls,but time,exploration,etc.

            1. Christopher says:

              Time and exploration are not in-game resources, man. And besides, it is an item given in the first or second are of the game, either for free or for terribly cheap(500 measly souls), from some of the first NPCs you can talk to, that aren’t hidden in any way. Getting it is objectively one of the easiest tasks in the games. But yes, I must agree that it is necessary to be online when you want to use it.

              I also agree that it is not the same as an instant restart at the same place. It is significantly closer to restarting where you were than dying, though, and if you are frustrated by runback then using it for every available area is an option. The whole point of practice runs is to be able to practice. You have to do it in your own world, yes, but that’s what you practice for, and along the way you get the satisfaction of helping other players out with their own rough spots.

              “And sometimes,you manage to overcome a problem just due to luck,meaning that further practice would not help you that much” is just you being contrarian as usual. If it was by luck and you don’t feel condifent in pulling it off again, then what’s stopping you from practicing until you do so?

              The best argument against summoning is that you are practicing together with other people. It will help you learn the level, certainly, but two people playing are significantly harder for enemies in the game to deal with than one. You could split up, but why do so when you’re stronger together? Since summoning successfully gives you the ability to summon help yourself, it’s encouraged to go on and have others do for you what you did for them and help you get through a portion. So if you want to do the impressive thing and beat it all on your own, there isn’t as much in it for you besides learning what a level and the boss’ moves look like.

              But it depends. Some hosts hang back and let the summonees do all the work for them, because the game only ends if they themselves die. It’s not hard to practice going toe-to-toe with an opponent in that situation, because it will focuse largely on the person damaging it.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Im not being contrarian,Im talking from personal experience.Take the dahaka fight from the warrior within.When I finally beat him,I did it in about the same way as my last two attempts where he got me with just a sliver of health left.So that means that at that point I was able to kill him 1 times out of 3.If that was a practice run,that would mean I would either have to attempt the same fight 3 more times in the game proper,or practice until I could reliably kill him every time.Both of those prospects arent that appealing at the time when I know that I can do it,and all that separates me from the real ending of the game is just luck and time.And thats without counting the worsening aspect of having to run a gauntlet of mooks/traps before attempting that fight.

                As for the resources,I was talking about the fact that being summoned into someone elses world is not an instantaneous process.You dont just plop down the thing and immediately appear in someones world to attempt the fight.And,like you said,just being summoned into a different world is not a guarantee that youll get to practice the fight on your own.

                1. Christopher says:

                  If you beat a boss in someone else’s game with a sliver of health left after three tries, It’s not a given that you would beat him in your own game after three tries. And on the other hand, you don’t have to completely master a boss until you can beat him every time, either. You just practice until you feel you’ve got it figured out enough to give it a real shot.

                  The rate of summoning depends on the traffic of the area. For all bosses in Dark Souls 3, I’ve had no trouble being summoned within five minutes, and for most it took something like 30 seconds. I can’t disagree that it takes time. But it’s not a great big deal, and you don’t have to challenge the area again while waiting. At its worst, it changes a runback into a waitback, which deals with the issue of changing focus from the boss to the enemies and having to navigate enemies and hazards again.

                  I can accept that this clearly isn’t enough for you, but it was enough for me. Between the more lenient bonfires and the ease of summoning, Souls has gone from the harshness of Demon’s Souls to a quite friendly Dark Souls 3.

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    If you beat a boss in someone else's game with a sliver of health left after three tries, It's not a given that you would beat him in your own game after three tries.

                    That was my point.If you do it in a practice run,you still have to do it in the game proper,so it will still be a source of frustration there.Whereas if you beat him in the game proper,its gone,you did it.Thats why the summoning thing youve mentioned is not a replacement for a checkpoint right before the boss,or better a “save anywhere” feature.

                    1. Christopher says:

                      But every time you beat him in practice, not only do your knowledge of his attacks and your skills improve, but in-game you gain a large amount of souls that you’re in zero danger of losing, and those can improve your stats and weapons ti improve your chances even more. Throwing yourself at the boss in co-op isn’t frustrating because you lose nothing and gain everything, and by the time you feel okay about taking him on in your own game you’re in a much better position to do so.

    3. Cybron says:

      I think you are mistaken: a lot of people would like a literal easy mode. I don’t think that is everyone, but many people mean exactly what they say in this regard, I think.

      “there's a vast number of ways to make it easier that really wouldn't ruin the game. I'm not going to bother coming up with specific examples, because that's not really my point.”
      It may not be your point, but I do think it’s really important. I do not think there is any change you could make to the system aspects of the game that would not make it a different experience.

      There are indeed some existing aspects of the game that make it easier. It is not a coincidence that the first covenant that you encounter is the Way of White; it is explicitly designed to help to new players, in ways which do not interfere with the Dark Souls experience (the world is still just as harsh and unforgiving, but it gives you some amount of help you would not get otherwise, from other players). Certain classes do make the game easier, but they do so by altering the tactics most available to you, not by altering the world. The commonality between the two is that the world never becomes less harsh and unrelenting; the system does not lighten up on you. The game itself does not become easier – the locus of change is always in player hands, either of the new player (easier tactics) or in other players who may choose to aid him (way of the white, sunbros). This is critical to the dark souls experience. If you ever get the feeling that the game is handing you the advantage, then the experience is broken. I don’t think I would object to some sort of in game “difficulty rating” for classes, however. Nothing too intricate, just a “forgiving/average/challenging” to direct newer players towards classes (tactics) that are more suitable for them.

      “first time players seem to notoriously get confused and stuck on the immediate areas around Firelink Shrine and might not even make it to the Parish or even the Undead Burg before giving up thanks to awkward map design and stuff like the infamous undying skeletons.”
      This could easily be a total deal breaker. The way the world places no rails on you and doesn’t care about you is critical to the dark souls experience. A mission compass would destroy the game. The best “light touch solution” I can think of is having the camera linger on the crestfallen warrior a bit when you leave the asylum (or use some other soft “look here” means of directing the player like lighting). Letting players figure out the hard way that some areas (the graveyard) might be too tough for their current skill level by experimentation is important.

      I do agree the marketing and community could have done less to play up the difficulty, but it seems to have helped the game succeed so I try not to criticize it too hard.

      1. IanTheM1 says:

        This could easily be a total deal breaker. The way the world places no rails on you and doesn't care about you is critical to the dark souls experience. A mission compass would destroy the game. The best “light touch solution” I can think of is having the camera linger on the crestfallen warrior a bit when you leave the asylum (or use some other soft “look here” means of directing the player like lighting). Letting players figure out the hard way that some areas (the graveyard) might be too tough for their current skill level by experimentation is important.

        Thank you for proving Shamus’s (and my own) point perfectly. Who said anything about a mission compass? Any changes I would consider making to Firelink are exactly the kind of light touches you describe, if maybe slightly more extreme by way of tweaking geometry to further emphasize certain things over others. Maaaaybe make getting up through the aqueduct less about wrestling with not falling off a cliff, too.

        The problem with the graveyard is that it’s regularly the very first thing that players gravitate towards and without any further context the lesson of “come back later” doesn’t get taught very well, especially since the skeletons parse as generic enemies. An average person might even just assume the graveyard is indicative of the entire game, because, after all, Dark Souls is haaaaard. Mind you, the game doesn’t need to be DSP-proofed, but I think making the most obvious path a trap is the wrong way to go about it, at least in the context of the starting area.

        I think the simple difference of keeping the main path relatively clear and making the side paths very obviously guarded (like the various “oh crap” moments when you disturb the Black Knights in the Undead Burg/Parish) would click with people much better. In fact, I really have very few complaints about the path to the Bell Gargoyles, hence why I think it’s so critical that players be guided towards that path so they can at least get a better feel for the game before getting totally frustrated and giving up.

        And while I get your point about a no-rails, unguided, uncaring world to an extent…we are talking about an area that comes immediately after the Asylum, which is exactly the opposite in nature. Even once you’re out of there, the very first thing a player is likely to hear upon reaching Firelink is a speech telling them where to go and what to do. And discounting the Master Key, I think it’s no coincidence that the game world doesn’t begin to really open up until you make it to the Parish, get some keys, and explore some side paths, hopefully all while establishing a tangible foothold on the area with the elevator back down to Firelink and finding the blacksmith. In short, I don’t think Dark Souls is actually trying to stoically disregard the player nearly as much as you make it sound (in a gameplay sense, anyway).

  61. Daimbert says:

    As a separate take on the Dark Souls discussions, I think it is possible in a well-designed game to provide the tactical or aesthetic properties of the gameplay while also making it easier for other players. As an example, Persona 3 is, on hard difficulties, a VERY tough game to play. But one thing they do on Easy mode is give you 10 “Plumes of Dusk”, which means that when you die you get revived with full HP/MP for the entire party. This means that you aren’t at risk of dying if you screw up or get unlucky with auto-kill attacks. But you still want to, for the most part, learn the tactics for each enemy and bring the right Personas, because otherwise the combat can be really annoying and tedious. So I could see adding a difficulty option in general to give the player a number of these Plumes — even to infinite — without changing the difficulty of monsters at all. Players using this know that eventually they’ll win the fight and so will never be completely stuck, but will want to learn the tactics and weaknesses and plan for it to avoid the annoying grind when they get it wrong.

    For Dark Souls, perhaps something like not letting the boss’ health regenerate while keeping the bonfire system — as an option, not by default — could allow players to at least feel like they aren’t stuck; they’ll get past eventually through sheer attrition if nothing else, and if they die too much it will be in their OWN best interests to practice and learn more to avoid the downtime.

    1. Starker says:

      That would mean giving the bosses much more health and make them a grind instead of a challenge, though?

      1. Daimbert says:

        No, it’s an option that a player can select. The default game works as is. For players who find the walk too frustrating, this can help them at least know that they’ll get through it eventually.

        Even as the default, players good enough to beat it the first time will never even notice it’s on.

        1. Starker says:

          Yes, I mean for the players who select that option. The bosses don’t have that much health for the system to work right out of the gate.

          1. Daimbert says:

            Well, as per my discussion with Geebs, from whose perspective? If someone is only getting in one or two hits and then getting pasted, the bosses would be seen to have PLENTY of hitpoints, and maybe even too much. For someone who can get a quarter or even a half down, it avoids frustration as they know that if they can keep that up it’s only 3 or 4 more attempts and they’ll win for sure. The whole point is to give something that gives even really bad players some hope.

            At any rate, it’s just a suggestion of the type of thing that I think can work: something that still encourages you to learn the gameplay — because not learning it is annoying — while not blocking you if you’re having a hard time learning it or with a particular boss fight that uses a mechanism you aren’t good at.

            1. Starker says:

              My point is more that it would change the nature of the game. Instead of being challenges that the players have to overcome, the bosses will just become content to whittle down.

              And a few of the bosses also work as a gating system — sort of a “you must be this tall to ride” to see if the the player is either skilled or powerful enough to continue.

              1. Daimbert says:

                My presumption is that the backtracking is still annoying enough that players aren’t going to WANT to do it, and so won’t adopt the “whittling it down” as an active strategy. It just means that they know that eventually the pain will end even if they don’t improve enough to easily get past it in one attempt. And if they don’t learn the skills they need, they’ll feel it, presumably, with the basic monsters in the next area, at which point they can decide that grinding or practicing will make their lives easier.

                The idea is that you can make things easier without making ignoring all of the tactical details a desirable strategy. For the Personas, learning the tactics is still better; all the Plumes do is let you be less efficient and still win. The same thing would apply here: the backtracking is annoying, but you can mess up enough to get killed sometimes without it ruining the game. And it could also, then, allow for HARDER monsters that are less forgiving, knowing that players who find that one too tough can use the whittling down to at least get past it (so, an example of a monster where you can’t miss the dodge more than two or three times. For players who are good at dodging, this will be easy; for those who aren’t, this might be tough, even though they are as good as they will ever be. This lets then screw up and even miss a few in a row without being blocked, as the attacks they made when they were doing it right won’t be wasted).

                1. Starker says:

                  Hmm… I don’t really see how players who take the “permanent boss health” option can avoid whittling down as a strategy. If they can’t beat the boss the first time, which, if the player is not careful, can easily happen even on the less difficult bosses, then the boss will be automatically easier the next time.

                  1. Daimbert says:

                    Well, first, by being good, skilled or leveled enough to be able to kill or mostly kill it the first time. Second, by being BAD enough to not even take more than a sliver off of its HP before dying, which will encourage them to learn and level more before trying it again. So the only cases where it will be a huge benefit are when the player doesn’t have even remotely the right tactics but either basic tactics or luck lets them do significant damage anyway, which will be rare and, if it’s luck-based, won’t work. In all cases, my thought is that the walk back will be annoying enough that they won’t want to rely on it as a strategy. If it happens to work out for them, great, but they won’t be PLANNING on that. They’ll at least learn the basics. The only time where they can use it as a strategy is where they aren’t getting the mechanism but know that all they need to do is keep at it and they’ll get past that one frustrating boss — for them — and onto the rest of the game that they might be able to handle better.

                    1. Christopher says:

                      I don’t think this sounds like such a good idea. Mostly I die on bosses for several tries before I beat them, but it’s not very hard to get in hits on them. Even if you trade hits and die, that’s damage the boss won’t ever recover, and in two or three tries they’re dead anyway.

                      The idea of the Plumes sound fine to me, though. If the problem is with the run back to where you died, then that’s the part that the plumes would eliminate for a while. Every time you die, you could get an option to keep going with full health and renewed estus as long as you had a plume.

                      Dragon’s Dogma has a similar resource. Normally, when you die you just die and have to reload from a save. But if you’re carrying a wakestone, which are super rare in the main game but common in the post-game dungeon, you’re free to use one and just keep playing from where you left off.

                    2. Daimbert says:

                      I don't think this sounds like such a good idea.

                      It’s mostly just a suggestion of an idea as to how you MIGHT be able to maintain the feel of danger and struggle without risking locking players out on “That One Boss” … or most of them.

                      If the problem is with the run back to where you died, then that's the part that the plumes would eliminate for a while.

                      My thrust here is to try to keep the annoyance of the run back — to avoid using whittling as a strategy — while at the same time also maintaining the “Keep practicing on the monsters here because the skills you need to beat them are also ones you need for the boss or later monsters” aspect. Just activating the Plume would lose that, and giving ways to get them that aren’t directly related to the boss would also lose the practice aspect.

                      That being said, an optional mechanism to give you a Plume each time the boss kills you after you’ve engaged it once or twice might work, because it would allow you to keep going in THAT fight, and so be better able to practice the moves you need to overcome it. If even using the Plumes was optional, then you could practice and level how you saw fit.

    2. tmtvl says:

      Going with the “Plumes of Dusk” theme, why not give the player who selects easy mode a few Rings of Sacrifice? Wearing a Ring of Sacrifice in DS2 was basically playing on Easy Mode, so it would make sense in a way.

  62. vdweller says:

    People asking for optional story modes in games fail to realize that in an age of marketing, target groups and profit maxing this will result in a downgrade of both gameplay and storytelling aspects. Also this conversation reminded me of

  63. lethal_guitar says:

    Interestingly, the very first Japanese release of Dark Souls used to be more difficult than the current version. Some of the things that were patched over time:

    * The skeletons in Firelink Shrine used to revive after killing
    * If an enemy/NPC which drops an item fell of a cliff, the item was gone for good
    * Curse used to stack: I.e. you get 1/4th of max health the 2nd time you get cursed etc.

    There are more things like this, ENB mentions a lot of this stuff in his From The Dark playthrough.

    1. IanTheM1 says:

      Wasn’t Bed of Chaos changed at some point to make progress permanent?

      Dunno what you mean about the skeletons though. They’re definitely still immortal in the Steam version of the game. (Unless you mean they still revived after killing something else?)

      1. lethal_guitar says:

        The skeletons in the Catacombs are, but the ones in Firelink aren’t. They used to also be immortal (except against Divine Weapons, like the ones in the Catacombs), you would kill them, and after a short amount of time, they get back up.

        Yeah, Bed of Chaos might also have changed, although I don’t specifically remember that.

        1. Christopher says:

          If it wasn’t permanent before, yes, they changed it. It was permanent when I played it.

    2. Cybron says:

      Yeah. Some others I remember: Blightown mosquitos used to not give any souls. Dragon butts in Izalith used to be ABSURDLY aggressive. Humanity used to be rarer.

      1. tmtvl says:

        The firebomb golem is Sen’s used to aim where you were going instead of where you used to be.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      So what all of you are saying is that all the comments about dark souls difficulty being finely tuned so that changing it in any way wouldve ruined the experience are wrong.

      1. Starker says:

        IMO, there are certainly places that could use some more fine-tuning in either direction. Capra Demon could use some tuning down, for example, while Pinwheel is far too easy.

        1. GloatingSwine says:

          Capra Demon doesn’t need tuning down, because he’s not the problem (back up, bait his jump, smack him whilst he recovers). The room you fight him in is the problem.

          Even just taking the two trees out of the area next to the stairs would actually make the fight a lot easier because there would be less to get in the way of the camera. A big chunk of the difficulty of the capra demon is the size of the room you fight him in and the amount of greeble in that room (the trees, the colums to the side of you when you enter, and the alcove one of the dogs is in). All that makes the camera less manageable than it is for most of the rest of the game.

          1. Starker says:

            You know, I’m half convinced that the dogs are an oversight or a mistake, because the encounter would still be relatively challenging without them. In any case, I think the fight could use some rework, for feels very unfair as it is.

            1. Cybron says:

              No way. Once you figure out the “trick” Use the stairs to get away the demon himself is pretty trivial.

              1. Starker says:

                Yes, but the way the encounter is set up, you don’t really have any time to figure out the trick and the trick itself makes it feel gimmicky. It just feels like a random gotcha, like the bit with the Stray Demon*. And, unlike the Stray Demon, it is more difficult to avoid fighting Capra Demon, as you’d have to take the whole detour through Darkroot Basin to get to Blighttown and skip a whole area to boot.

                * I’d complain about the Stray Demon too, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s an optional boss in a side area off the critical path and easy enough to get back to.

        2. Cybron says:

          You’re actually “intended” to fight pinwheel way before your average player actually does. He’s “meant” to be taken on after Rhea disappears, which happens if you talk to Petrus anytime post-Capra demon. So in other words, possibly before Blighttown and definitely before Sens. It just turns out many players (myself included) didn’t pick up on that, so they don’t encounter the catacombs until they’ve got the Lordvessel, at which point Pinwheel is a total joke.

          1. Starker says:

            That’s easy to remedy. Just have different versions of Pinwheel at different states of game. For example, a different version after both bells have been rung, a yet different version after the Iron Golem is destroyed and a yet different version after getting the Lordvessel.

  64. Cilvre says:

    For a lot of those that are interested in dark souls but do not like the run back through fighting enemies and trying to get to a boss, I believe you should start with Dark Souls 2. They made it so enemies will not respawn forever in DS2, so you could make a run clearing out the first half of the level a few times, and then not have to fight anything there anymore. A friend of mine did this for the first few levels til he felt more confident with the controls and the area, and then felt more confident playing knowing that he could remove all the standard enemies if he was having a tough time of it.

  65. Phantos says:

    People are always talking about Sen’s Fortress in Dark Souls. I figure it must be one of the most fun areas in the game.

    It’s not joy and joy unrelenting by any means, but I REMEMBER Sen’s Fortress. There are parts of it that kind of scare me. Parts that I dread hours in advance, and then I’m relieved when they’re over, so that they stick around in my mind when I think about this game. Parts of it that can kill even an experienced player. It’s full of traps and enemies and things to be aware of. It forces you to slow down and approach the world cautiously. And then sometimes it forces you to know when to make a dash for it, to run as fast as you can to avoid a giant boulder or a line of swinging axes on a thin railing over a pit. And it has secrets and optional areas and loot.

    It’s also one of those levels in a game that arguably gets more difficult as you progress through it, just because the railings and bridges you walk across get thinner and thinner as you go higher up into the fortress. It introduces a concept at the start, and then you face a more difficult version of it as you progress. So even if you’re not losing a lot of health, there’s that gnawing realization that a slip-up later on is a lot worse than it would be at the beginning. There’s real tension that builds as you progress through it.

    In fact, one of my bigger criticisms about later Souls games is that the levels don’t have nearly as much imagination that went into making Sen’s Fortress. They’re well-lit, they’re really open and flat, there are barely any enemies or loot or secret places, and there’s no tricks or traps or things that play on the behaviours and expectations of the players.

    It might not be what I’d call “fun”, but it’s clever and it’s dangerous and it always feels like there’s something else you can discover there. It’s a shame the level design in the Souls games took such a dive in quality after the first game.

    1. tmtvl says:

      I can think of a few areas in Dark Souls 2 which are quite different from what you mention, like the Gutter, for instance. Although I kinda feel like Dark Souls 2 is a bit easy because you can grind enemies away and you can teleport back to Majula from any bonfire at any time.

    2. Christopher says:

      I think it depends. Generally, I’d say the Dark Souls 2 level design is weak, but not appalling apart from the wade through water in Shrine of Amana, and stronger in the DLCs. The don’t interconnect in any meaningful way, but you can choose from several different straight pathways, giving it an open-ended feel for much of the game. Dark Souls 1 has great level design for most of the game, but the levels of the 4 holders of Gwyn’s soul got somewhat short-changed in development. They feel both sparse and gimmicky, with elemental hazards like darkness, lava, ghosts that are invincible unless you’re cursed or use a special item and invisible pathways. And again, the DLC has quite strong levels, and all of the levels besides the DLC, The Painted World of Ariamis and the undead prison are interconnected like a metroidvania map. Demon’s Souls has largely good, intricate, layered levels that you can do in any order you want from a stage select. Dark Souls 3’s levels are some of the best in the series, but it’s a terribly linear game compared to every other Souls game.

      Every swamp level besides Blighttown annoys me. Shrine of Amana counts, the Gutter isn’t much like the other swamp levels at all despite the imagery.

      I have yet to play Bloodborne, although Yarnham seems like an amazing level.

      1. Phantos says:

        RE: Bloodborne: Yharnam is a well-crafted level to a Souls-ish game. The rest of it is just really bland and monotonous. I don’t think they knew what to do with that game after the first level.

        But like other From Software games, the levels in the DLC are a cut above the rest. I guess they have to be, to justify paying extra for them.

        I wasn’t big on the levels in DS3, but the gameplay trailer for the new DLC looks great. In the first 30 seconds, there’s at least 3 or 4 cheeky “GOTCHA!” moments that remind me of the sense of humour Sen’s Fortress had. It really seems like they spent a lot of time studying how people play these games, and then thought of how to turn that against them.

        Although I wonder how much of that is level design and how much of that is the stuff you encounter in the levels…

        1. Christopher says:

          I appreciate that they are big on crumbling floors that don’t kill you, but scare the shit out of you. There’s an early segment of the Painting of Ariamis DLC where the ice you’re walking on breaks, dropping you down into a forest with a pack of wolves. The first thing in that trailer is even worse in terms of just startling me.

          1. Phantos says:

            Even when I think they’ll probably do something like that, seeing that glowing item just sitting there, begging for me to claim it is enough to make me risk falling for that trick every time.

  66. RCN says:

    Well, I missed the train, but here comes my 2 cents:

    Punishment was, originally, only a way for the game to whack you over the head for the crime of losing all your quarters. The more quarters you had, the more you paid for the game, and the more forgiving the game was. But once you stopped paying the game, then back to the beginning you go, you filthy rat, how dare you play our game when you can’t PAY for our game?

    So it is fascinating that this, quite frankly, sordid money-making tactic managed to hit such a particular spot for some people. That must be what it is like to be a gambling addict, I think. You go for the big rewards no matter how much you have to pay. It doesn’t matter that you put 50 dollars in coins in that slot machine, you’ve won TEN BUCKS BACK! It was totally worth the effort! I wonder if you could have treat gambling addicts with punishing games in order to recover them. I mean, it is still time being wasted, but at least it is not time AND money you’ve acquired with even more time being thrown out of the window. Though the reward isn’t more money, so it might not work.

    Also, I find the term “strictness” kinda lacking. Mastery I knew instantly what it meant. Same for punishment. But until you explained strictness I had no idea what you meant. Then again I can’t come with a better term myself, at least right now. Maybe “limiting”. Eh…

    The funny thing is that Dark Souls isn’t even that strict or punishing. Yes, it places you back at your last bonfire, but there are games that place you back at the very beginning. Heck, Good Robot is MORE PUNISHING than Dark Souls. Also, you can always refill you flasks at the bonfire with a bit (or a lot) of retreading, while in Good Robot every time you repair yourself you are gimping yourself from future challenges. Sure, it is not fair to compare the two. Good Robot is a rogue-like. And is fairly short from start to finish. And at the end, Dark Souls has a higher bar at Mastery, while Good Robot has a fairly low bar at mastery. Which is the thing that cements Dark Souls as such a difficult game. Fairly high at all 3 categories.

  67. I think the difference between those who respond to punishment and those who don’t like on a continuum. I’m usually closer to your side: I’d rather have more autonomy, more mechanical capabilities, etc. than more punishment. But there are some devastatingly punishing games that I’m happy to try to slog through, and without a self-imposed challenge; while there are others that I’ll save state, and have plenty of fun just trying to get through each new challenge in a row.

    My hypothesis would be that people vary on how many and how hard of tasks you can string in a row and demand that they complete before they find it too punishing or too easy. Maybe some people will get frustrated if they have to complete a minute’s worth of hard tasks after a mistake but not thirty seconds.

    That in turn has to be weighed against other details. When I’m playing a roguelike/roguelite with lots of unlocks, I’m happy for the game to make me have to do five hundred difficult things in a row near-perfectly for me to succeed, because if I do four hundred and fifty, I still get a new character. Forward progress of any kind counts like a lot. And, as you noted, I suspect even the majority of Souls masochists would probably throw a fit if you had to beat the game on one or even five lives, but they wouldn’t mind at all imposing that challenge on themselves.

  68. ron hansen says:

    I know I am late to the party here. just wanted to say how much I am enjoying your blog and in particular this post. Excellent break down of a subject I have thought about a little bit and never came up with a good answer. Thank you.

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.