FromSoftware built four IP and a genre on many things. Relentless difficulty, though, is perhaps the developer’s key foundational property at the end of the day. Now that the notion of a potential easy mode has been brought up by critics and fans alike, the toxicity surrounding the discussion seems, sadly, not much of a surprise.
FromSoftware, for better or worse, has more than proven itself as capable maker of games and, while its games certainly do not need an easy mode, spouting monkey-brained responses like ‘git gud’ are not necessarily the right path either. This begs the question: should all games offer easier difficulty?
This year’s most recent largely inconsequential yet thought-provoking discourse war started after business website Forbes posted an article about From’s most recent game, headlined “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Needs to Respect its Players.” Now, “needs” is quite the strong word to use regarding something that is quite plainly art, though this may be a case of a misleading headline rather than a hot take.
Author Dave Thier makes his opinion on the matter clear later in the article, when he describes the desire as a “wish.” This point is where the argument for a more accessible game comes into view.
The more people that can play a game, quite frankly, the better. Personally, I want From to give me towering, proud moments that I will surely carry to my grave. Taking a day break from a boss to come back and claim victory on the first try evokes the sweetest sensations, but if others are willing to miss out on those unique moments, then more power to them. In fact, I would love for more players to talk with in attempts to decode the lore and mystery found in From’s worlds. From has so many gameplay-centered themes in its titles, but if someone is willing to miss out on those themes the first go around, then they should be allowed to.
Accessibility is crucial and new strides in this department are made every day. Thier makes a fantastic point that, while a game can offer more than one mode, the idea of creator vision can be preserved thanks to a simple “this is the way the game is meant to be played” message steering gamers in a more suitable direction.
Either way, players should be forced to commit to a decision from the beginning so that the experience stays consistent throughout.
Cory Barlog, creative director for 2018’s God of War, sounded off on Twitter regarding the debate, providing a sort of voice of reason. The tweet was in reply to Able Gamers COO Steven Spohn and reads, quite frankly, “Accessibility has and never will be a compromise to my creative vision.” Barlog later went on to add that accessibility is an “essential aspect of any experience” and that he does not believe FromSoftware Director Hidetaka Miyazaki would ever want his games to be difficult simply for the sake of being difficult. One half of the indie developer Vlambeer, Rami Ismail, added to Barlog’s sentiments with his own tweet, too. Now, plenty of arguments canbe against an easy mode in a game, but the informed opinions are coming straight from the horse’s mouth thanks to these tweets from Barlog and Ismail.
YouTuber Writing on Games has a fantastic video that discusses the ways the first Dark Souls helped him combat depression. In Dark Souls, players often travel to the deepest depths and must crawl their way back to the top. The three entries in the saga are known for their gray landscapes, fog-covered forests, and pitch-black corridors with seemingly no end. Not only are the rewards for besting these worlds materialized with in-game currency and items, but the feeling of seeing light for the first time in hours, too.
The infamous Blighttown is the stuff of nightmares thanks to its comedically difficult poison swamp and enemies, but, for many, this location is where they realize they love Dark Souls, too. If Blighttown were any easier, much of the pitch-perfect pacing could be ruined. Sure, the environmental storytelling could still be enjoyed, but Blighttown would become a breeze and the feeling of crawling out of a depressing world is more likely to be lost on so many players as a result.
Thier says Sekiro’s difficulty is keeping players “walled off” from From’s trend-setting design and world building, but the barrier to entry is not so steep. Never once will the game start players over from the beginning of the story thanks to the checkpoints provided generously throughout the world. Though this is not respectful of time, players can always try again. “Prepare to die” is a famous tagline because that is what the Souls-like games are and aim to be. The game is dying and learning from your mistakes. If players can blast through Sekiro in 10 hours, then the experience is fundamentally different.
Moreover, on the topic of respecting a participant’s time, there are plenty of games that are praised for having hefty content offerings. The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is too dense for many to grasp and, as a result, could take hundreds of hours to finish. Does this length make CD Projekt Red’s critically acclaimed RPG disrespectful? Maybe a bit bloated, sure, but not disrespectful. No game is for everyone and CD Projekt Red cannot anticipate how many hours of work someone has in a day and then condense the story for them.
Expecting developers to create with everyone in mind would likely result in duller experiences. If the director of a game has stated on multiple occasions that they enjoy making challenging games, would expecting an easier difficulty not stand in direct opposition to these wishes?
If anything, Sekiro specifically offers stealth as a way for players to bypass so much of the difficulty found in the combat’s high skill ceiling. Entire sections are passable without touching the attack button for those who find the game too difficult. Perhaps this is just a fault of the medium, but at some point, players who cannot handle the difficulty should start wondering if the game may just not be for them.
What may be the most damning argument against an easy mode is the amount of time it would take to implement such a feature. Setting aside development cost and resources to focus on properly balancing a game, much less a From game, could be taking away from precious polishing time. Maybe an easy mode could have resulted in a more glitch-filled game or a rushed story moment. Development time to create an easy mode—or even what an easy mode could look like—is difficult to see from the perspective of anyone outside of the developer. At the least, some developers might prefer to focus on a streamlined experience with as much content as possible rather than use the time to cater to a wider audience.
Sekiro does not need an easy mode, but adding one may not have hurt the game either. If developers had all the time, money, and resources in the world to make games, then I would be floored to learn they opted to not include an easy mode. The sad reality is, though, that developers are constantly strained for time, and resources are precious. Sure, an easy mode may have never been a negative for the final product, but who knows what players could be sacrificing for a release that caters to the to a wider audience.
That said, From and developers everywhere are talented and considerate enough to make these decisions on their own. If the next Sekiro were to have an easy mode, the decision to include such a feature would have been made from the beginning. Overall pacing or quality would never take a hit from something like this, so while the amount of content offered in the long run may be somewhat diminished, the precious creator vision would remain perfectly intact. Looking at things either way, an audience cannot and should not set expectations regarding how a developer chooses to spend its development cycle.
While the list of arguments against an easy mode are expanding by the minute, especially for From’s games, the few arguments for an easy mode are more convincing and have fewer holes. I will always push others to at least try developer-intended difficulty. Even games that do not have an emphasis on difficulty can still have rewarding qualities found from challenge, but just adding the option is not necessarily negative or detracting from the overall experience.
All in all, this is From’s call. I will be happy with whatever the studio decides to do with Sekiro 2, Bloodborne 2, or even the next Armored Core. From has put out refined, challenging experiences for a decade at this point, so easy mode or not, I am sure the next game will be just as exceptional.
Except for Sekiro’s last boss, though. That guy is just too much, and I care about my sanity.