Ever since FromSoftware released “Dark Souls” in 2011 (and sequels and spiritual successors in years since), I've had a morbid fascination with the punishing role-playing game series.
I'm not a fan of overly difficult games, so I've steered clear of the fantasy-esque franchise that's infamous for its relentlessly challenging gameplay. I find myself easily frustrated when I feel as if a game is working against me or is painfully hard for no reason other than to infuriate the player.
But I've kept my eye on reviews and talk about the series, and it seems love and dedication to “Dark Souls” has only continued to grow.
After “Dark Souls III” received critical acclaim when it released a couple of months ago, I read some articles that touched on the game's difficulty. Some wrote “Dark Souls” should have an easy mode for those not skilled enough to get through the game as intended. Others retorted that “Dark Souls'” whole point is to be challenging, and that including an easier difficulty would take away from the experience.
After reading some of the articles, I tweeted out my controversial opinion.
“As someone who's never played 'Dark Souls' because of its notorious challenge, I'd like an optional, easier difficulty,” I wrote. “I don't see how scaling back the difficulty subtracts from the challenging experience for those who want to play it the way it's meant to be.”
Since those tweets, I've played the original “Dark Souls”—and I've completely changed camps. “Dark Souls” is a hard game, and it wouldn't be “Dark Souls” any other way.
I've made it a decent way through the original “Dark Souls” in the 15 or so hours I've logged since I started playing it a couple of weeks ago. In my journey, I've faced undead hordes, giant dragons, oversized rodents and countless other monsters. I have vanquished them all.
And along the way, I've died—a lot.
As I tweeted a few days ago, the challenge of “Dark Souls” isn't part of the game—it is the game. An easy difficulty—even it were optional—would completely devalue what makes the series fun, rewarding and oh so satisfying.
And it is satisfying. In fact, “Dark Souls” is the most gratifying game I've ever played. Every time I died and had to restart with my experience depleted and my pride wounded, I was more determined than ever to make more progress and defeat the enemy that vanquished me. And whenever I did defeat that enemy and make it a bit closer to my goal, the feeling of accomplishment was unrivaled—until a new, bigger baddie crushed me along with my hopes and dreams, that is.
What makes “Dark Souls'” challenge so great is that any gamer with enough patience can make it through. While the game takes skill to play, it's not the type of skill that can't be learned with enough practice.
For instance, I recently defeated a giant dragon that could kill me in a single hit. After trying and failing to kill the monster, I learned the beast's attack patterns and timed my strikes appropriately. I got frustrated after each death, but after a few tries applying what I learned, I vanquished the dragon. It didn't require lightning-fast reflexes or ridiculous coordination; all it really took was some patience.
I've learned a bit about myself while playing through “Dark Souls,” namely that difficult games don't anger me as much as they used to. Many have joked that “Dark Souls'” challenge has led to broken controllers as enraged players throw them at walls and whatnot. While I've never been that angry with a game, I've had my fair share of shouting at my TV.
With “Dark Souls,” I've never reacted this way. Maybe I've grown as a gamer (I've avoided frustrating games for years now), or maybe “Dark Souls” is the type of difficult game where I don't feel cheated. I felt every death I suffered was at least partly my fault, which meant I had learned something new about the game or the enemy I was facing—which only made me more prepared for the next encounter.
“Dark Souls” doesn't hold your hand, and it's relentlessly unforgiving, but that only encourages me to keep pushing.
I'm about to enter Blighttown, which I'm told is one of the game's most frustrating areas. Everything I've done so far has felt like preparation for the true challenge to come.
But I'm ready. And when I inevitably die, I'll try again with a bit more knowledge than I had before. One day soon, I'll join the ranks of those who have conquered “Dark Souls.”