Debunking Dark Souls' Difficulty

Written by: Carlos Zotomayor

Features | May 11, 2016

dark souls from software

With the release of Dark Souls III and its ever-increasing fanbase and number of Internet memes, more and more people are getting exposed to From Software's special brand of gameplay. And when I say "exposed", I mean a lot of gamers shy away from the franchise like a guy who is about to meet his girlfriend's parents for the first time.

Ask a non-Souls player about the game and more often than not it will be a variation of "Isn't that the very hard one?", whereupon a Souls veteran would just smugly tell them to play it to find out for themselves without so much as an explanation.

This statement is partially true: Dark Souls as a series can be unforgiving, difficult, and at times funny in its own macabre way - but its difficulty is just one of so many reasons why so many people love it. Let me elaborate.

Back in 2011, difficulty in video games wasn't unheard of... but it wasn't that challenging either. In the middle of the PlayStation 3 - Xbox 360 console generation, gamers seemed to have been bogged down by video games that obsessively held their hands throughout the entire experience: HUDs abundant with objective markers, linear paths, and countless checkpoints all got in the way of what made video games a unique medium in the first place: the ability to be challenged, to explore, and to make your own story through gameplay.

Then along came Dark Souls.

A spiritual successor to From Software's Demon's Souls, Dark Souls was an answer to a prayer that was never given by gamers who were sick of modern games and wanted something that felt more akin to the earlier days of gaming, where a sense of achievement was gained only through how much blood, sweat, and tears you put into a game.

We didn't know exactly what it was that we wanted, but when it arrived we knew that this was it.

"But what makes Dark Souls so difficult?!"

I'm glad you asked.

From the moment that you exit the character creator, you are immediately thrust into the harshness of the world and aside from a few tutorial messages, the game will give you no hints whatsoever on how to go about things. Now for people new to the Souls franchise, this may seem cruel and unusually harsh since most games at least give you clear objectives on what to do, but Dark Souls is not most games.

Let me give some examples:

For starters, you cannot pause the game. This is the probably one of the first obstacles that any player has to overcome when getting into the Souls franchise and is easily forgettable. Dark Souls doesn't just require your attention, it demands it. This is not a game where you can just check your phone or eat chips every now and then; this is a game that will eat your ass alive if you stop paying attention to the ass-eating monster that is in front of you for even a second.

Another gameplay element that adds to difficulty is bonfires and souls.

Bonfires serve as the games' checkpoints, wherein you can take a breather from the crazy things that are trying to kill you. Bonfires are good; you will rejoice every time you see one, and it is here where you know that you are safe (for the moment, at least), have a place to respawn at, and can spend some of your hard-earned souls which serve as the game's currency.

Souls are good, too! But getting and keeping them? Not so much.

See, souls are these games' lifeblood (that's why they are in the title, after all): kill enemies or use specific items and you get souls. You use them to level up, to buy and improve items from merchants, and to gain access to otherwise inaccessible areas. But there is a catch: there is no way to store your souls and you carry them around with you at all times so that when you die, you lose all your in-game money and respawn at the last bonfire you rested at.

The only way to get your souls back then, is to return to whatever hole or freakishly large turd monster that killed you and retrieve your bloodstain. Do that and you're golden but if you fail to do so and die again, then all those souls you previously had will disappear like your patience when it does happen.

These are just a few examples, though. There are countless factors that contribute to why Dark Souls is difficult: from the hordes of enemies to the geography that seems like it was meant just to taunt you, this is a game that can make even the calmest person lose their shit.

"God, that's awful! Why would you even want to play a game like this?!"

It is because amidst all this adversity and seemingly impossible odds, there exists the purest feeling of success and triumph that hasn't been rivalled by any other game to this day.

This is probably the hardest thing to explain to a non-Souls player and why veterans have such a hard time explaining Dark Souls to them: it's because these people have never experienced the frustration of running through an entire level and throwing yourself at a boss for the better part of an hour until every corner of the map, every character animation, and even the timing gets burnt into the recesses of your mind.

Dark Souls treats its players like the characters they play as and drops them into a world that they do not fully comprehend at first and it is only through time, patience, and effort that they become accustomed to the logic of the game and use it to their advantage.

Death is inevitable in Dark Souls, that's why they always have this tagline that involves death: "Prepare to Die", "Go Beyond Death", ... do not count Dark Souls III's tagline because it's crap.

You will die. A lot. But it is how you take those deaths that make all the difference. You can either rage quit (which is the easy way out), or you can use what you learned to your advantage and overcome whatever obstacle killed you previously. And the first time that happens, you will get hooked.

"So, it is difficult then?"

Yes, Dark Souls is difficult, but it is always fair.

It never throws you into an impossible situation and every death feels like it was because of your own doing and not because the game was being cheap. Sure, the odds can become overwhelming at times, but there is always a way around a dragon that seems unkillable or a bridge with asshole sniper archers. You just have to think.

You will memorize glitches in character animations. You will exploit the geography. You will call for help from other players. You will use every little dirty trick you said you would never use because in a game as unforgiving as this, how can you show mercy to it?

"But is Dark Souls for me?"

Ah. Now that's the question isn't it?

If you have read up until this point and are still interested and haven't played it, then by all means give Dark Souls a try! It can be one of the most engrossing, rewarding, and above all unique experiences that you will ever have should you decide to put in the time and effort to understand it.

Granted, it isn't for everybody.

If you are the type who plays games just to have a fun time or to unwind after work, then Dark Souls might not be for you. Like an unrelenting, strict teacher, the games ask a lot from you and though at first you may not make it, Dark Souls will never give up on you should you choose not to give up on it.

Is it catered toward hardcore gamers? Absolutely not.

Who it caters to are players who want to spend time to understand a whole new method of playing video games, just like any other video game that isn't a sequel or blatant rip-off of another franchise.

There are many reasons why Dark Souls is good. It has subtle storytelling. It has online features that promote camaraderie and even add difficulty to an already difficult game. It even has one of the nicest fanbases that I have ever come across. But what I consider to be the best thing about Dark Souls is that it makes you better than who you were before- should you choose that path, over...and over... again. 

What Dark Souls is, ultimately, is that it is different. It just so happens that its difficulty factors into what makes it unique and shuns away a lot of players from trying it. But should you get past the entrance barrier and learn to treat it as its own thing, then what you will find is exactly what playing video games should feel like: rewarding. 

About the author: Carlos Zotomayor

Zoto can see your underpants. Mmm... tasteful.

Copyright © 2018 GameGulp, All Rights Reserved.
Powered by Magis Solutions