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.
The PlayStation 5 Specs Are Beefy, But Not Entirely Necessary
Six years have passed since the launch of the PlayStation 4, and, consequently, the launch of the eighth generation of consoles. Throughout this time the industry has seen a shift in how the medium is consumed. Nowadays, gamers are no longer forced to experience titles through conventional controller inputs thanks to the implementation of VR, while visual performance and optimization are at record heights given the current technology available to developers.
For well over a year now, rumors and speculations have sprung up surrounding the next generation of hardware from both Sony and Microsoft, with the latter being more open about its technological aspirations. Despite withholding true hardware specifications, Microsoft does not shy away from igniting conversations around its next systems (yes plural). Sony, on the other hand, has been extremely tight lipped on the topic, only hinting at the PlayStation 5 during a discussion on the success of the PS4.
Until now, consumers were left to speculate on the possibilities of what the PlayStation 5 will contain. To the surprise of many, however, Sony has unexpectedly opened up about the final specifications that will be found within the upcoming hardware. Lead architect on Sony’s next console Mark Cerny detailed how important this generational leap is for the company and what consumers can expect from its beefy machine. While confirming some rumors, and debunking others, Cerny expressed Sony’s desire for the new generation to allow “for fundamental changes in what a game could be.” As a bold statement by Cerny, this ideology will help Sony fall in line with the trajectory that other studios, such as Xbox, have had during the eighth generation of consoles.
For those who are unaware, the PS4 launched in 2013 to wide success, re-establishing Sony’s brand at the forefront of console gaming. Although the console became a household and media juggernaut, many tech-savvy individuals were quick to point out the flaws within its hardware. For example, much of the specifications that the PS4 touted were, in fact, already outdated at release when compared to high-end PC rigs. Despite the obvious limitations of console gaming, the choice of hardware found within the PS4 proved puzzling, as it was being marketed as a giant leap forward for the industry. Sony would later attempt to mitigate the ongoing damage caused by underperforming hardware with the mid-generation iteration of the PS4 Pro, though this attempt only served to extend the console lifecycle by another few years.
From the outset, Sony knew its largest issue was underperforming hardware, and, thanks to the information detailed by Mark Cerny, the community finally has some insight on how that will be addressed. For starters, the CPU found within the PS5’s hardware will use the third generation of AMD’s Ryzen line which is a massive leap over the PS4’s Jaguar chip. Although I am not much for technical jargon within the PC economy, I do understand how much the Jaguar chip held back performance within the eighth generation, and I welcome the Ryzen with open arms. My only hope is that this upgrade will be enough to sustain the PlayStation 5 throughout the years and maintain its presence as a PC competitor.
Additionally, the custom AMD Navi GPU that will be present in the PS5 will support ray-tracing, a feature that only a few games fully utilize on PC, but nonetheless will provide a more realistic experience. Although this specific feature is a welcome addition to the console ecosystem, I honestly never expected it to be a priority. While having real-time accurate reflections within the environment will definitely increase immersion, I would personally desire a more optimized experience that will never falter during play. We will have to wait until more is revealed on the PS5’s ray-tracing technology, but I can only hope that it will not take priority over performance.
Building upon the implementation of ray-tracing with the PS5, Cerny noted that, for him, the audio technology present within the PS4 did not achieve the standards of a generational leap from the PS3. According to Cerny, the PS5 will implement 3D Audio, dramatically changing how gamers perceive sound within a video game. The inclusion of 3D Audio sounds like a well-deserved feature for PlayStation veterans. However, I feel as though this addition will only benefit those who have an entertainment setup that supports it. Unfortunately, individuals who resort to stereo speakers could potentially see no difference in how the audio is delivered from PS5 titles compared to those on PS4.
The interview also provided information surrounding the type of storage available in the PS5. As a much-needed addition, the PlayStation 5 will contain a solid state drive (SSD), which will allow for faster load times and experiences. As many PlayStation users know, the PS4 can provide some appalling load times, leading this issue to be a constant topic of discussion throughout the entire generation. The possibility of a game having long load times was so great that it often made headlines in video game’s media, pleading for action to be taken (Bloodborne anyone?).
Thankfully, information on the PS5’s hard drive capabilities does not require too much speculation, as Cerny provided an example of how fast it will be. According to him, Marvel’s Spider-Man, which has an average of a 15 second load time on a PS4 Pro, will have just 0.8 second load times on a PS5. No indication is yet forthcoming as to how consistent this technological feat will be across different titles, and I urge consumers to temper their expectations on the speed of the PS5 because only time will tell how efficient it can be. Regardless of my concerns surrounding inconsistencies, the PS5 will feature the fastest load times of any console before it, eliminating one of the greatest issues of the PS4’s hardware.
In addition to the announcement that PlayStation 5 will have an SSD, Cerny confirmed a much-desired feature in backwards compatibility. Although this feature will not reach as far back as the competition, the PS5 will be compatible with PS4 titles, both digital and physical. This was to be expected—seeing as both consoles will run off the same architecture—but the silence from Sony proved worrisome for some fans, myself included. While I am disappointed that PS3 titles will not be compatible with the PS5, I understand that the cell processor of that earlier device would take more effort than it is worth to make games from the platform compatible. Regardless, PlayStation fans can rejoice in this news, as it further validates any investment into the PS4’s ecosystem.
Where I draw most of my criticism from Mark Cerny’s report on the specifications of the PS5 is within the idea that Sony’s next hardware will support 8K resolution. To be clear, I am not stating that such an achievement is impossible; rather I question the necessity of it. Given everything that we know about the PS5, one can assume that the system will cost around USD $500. With 4K televisions slowly becoming a household norm, is it worthwhile for a company to be devoting resources into a feature that will likely not be consumer friendly for years to come? I understand that Sony is at a disadvantage right now with the Xbox One X outputting at native 4K, but seeking to outdo the competition to this extent seems financially unobtainable for most consumers.
My concerns develop from individuals who hear the news of PS5 and 8K resolution and assume it to be the Second Coming. It is unfeasible to have a $500 to $600 console run at a native 8K resolution. Anyone who believes this will happen need look no further than PlayStation’s competition with the Xbox One X. At its launch, Microsoft was selling the Xbox One X at a loss, solely to prevent the console from exceeding the $500 mark and turning away consumers. Microsoft’s current machine is capable of outputting at a native 4K resolution, whereas the PS4 Pro can only achieve the same through upscaled checkerboarding. The PS5 will surely be able to output at a native 4K resolution, but to expect anything more with the current state of consumer technology is wishful thinking. I urge consumers to understand that if the PS5 has an 8K setting, it will likely be only achieved in the future and through a checkerboarded solution.
Given the rumors that the next generation of hardware will be the last, Sony may be trying to future proof the PS5 so that it can remain on the market for as long as possible. Given the information provided by Mark Cerny, Sony may be intending to utilize every feature of the PS5 to its entirety before considering what could come after. By future proofing the PlayStation 5, Sony can anticipate where the industry is heading, ultimately eliminating the need for a mid-generation upgrade with a PS5 Pro.
I have been a PlayStation fan for as long as I can remember, but have recently branched out with the Xbox One X and PC gaming to experience what those ecosystems have to offer. By broadening my horizons, I maintain an outside perspective on how Sony is upholding its promise to gamers and how the competition tackles similar issues created by an ever-growing industry. With the eighth generation nearing its completion, I look forward to discussions such as this one as it generates hope and excitement for the future of the brand.
While the PlayStation 4’s colossal success this generation will provide a jump-start in sales for the company’s new hardware, the beginning of a new generation only reinvigorates the console wars. As a firm believer in what both Sony and Microsoft will do to shape the future of the industry, I am reminded that competition breeds excellence. Furthermore, when competition is present between both parties to win over public appeal, in the end, consumers emerge victorious.
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