I Wish More Games Embraced FromSoft’s Approach To Difficulty

The studio's unique way of tackling difficulty in its games is a lot better than simple sliders.

Story Highlights

  • FromSoftware has always employed a unique approach to handling difficulty in its Souls titles.
  • Players can make the games as difficult as they want for themselves, allowing for unique experiences. 

I always find it a bit weird when people say that Souls games are extremely difficult. Don’t get me wrong, the difficulty in these games is one of the big reasons why they are so popular. But I think, more and more, FromSoftware has designed its titles to be a lot more approachable to wider audiences. While its most recent Soulslike, Elden Ring, is still a game that will truly test your patience and skills, it is also their most lenient game by far.

This isn’t because Elden Ring is “easier” than any of their previous games. In fact, I’d argue, that it has the potential to be one of the hardest. But what makes the game so approachable is that with this game, FromSoftware perfectly nailed its unique approach to difficulty. Elden Ring is as difficult as the player wants it to be. 

With numerous strategies, builds, areas, and additional help like summons available, the game allows you to set how difficult you want the game to be yourself. In doing so, FromSoftware ingeniously caters to a large variety of players, both Souls veterans and newbies. It’s a unique style of managing difficulty in games and one that I think is a lot better than your typical “Difficulty Sliders“. Here’s why.

Sliders Never Really Get It Right

I’m sure you’ve come across the folk who’ve always wanted the Souls games to have difficulty sliders and settings. Essentially, these players view the Souls games as being difficult by default, and so, because they don’t think they can handle what the game throws at them, they want it all to be made easier. Usually, through the help of a setting in the menu.

Difficulty settings seen in a more typical RPG like Oblivion.
Difficulty settings as seen in a more typical RPG like Oblivion.

The problem is that difficulty sliders aren’t magic. And while developers can try their best to find out the exact settings that can help to make the experience engaging for every player, they rarely nail it. In a lot of cases, Normal difficulty might be a bit too easy for someone, but Hard is just one step too difficult. Usually, flat-out damage numbers or enemy health percentages are adjusted.

This isn’t ideal, since giving flat HP or damage buffs can often ruin the pace of the game. Having difficulty sliders implemented in a game also takes away from the feeling of achievement a player might feel after overcoming a boss. Imagine if the only way for someone to progress is for them to dial down the difficulty to “easy” from the settings. All in all, this isn’t the best solution. And the one presented by the Souls titles is a lot better.

FromSoftware’s Approach To Difficulty

Anyone who has played Souls games before likely has run into a boss they just can’t seem to beat. In this case, you can keep beating your head against a wall, if you want. Learning every single detail about the way the boss is designed. Or, you have the option to explore different areas, try out different builds, or simply, level up. Coming back stronger, and fighting the boss on equal footing, basically means you dialed down the difficulty.

But because it involves player agency, and requires you to think out of the box, the experience is never as dull as simply changing a slider in a menu. Overcoming a boss after making such a choice, will often be met with an equal, if not higher feeling of accomplishment. Because it shows that you came up with your own unique solution to a problem the game threw at you.

This approach to difficulty is something that is most notable in Elden Ring. Because of the open-world nature of the title, players have the freedom to explore wherever they want. So if they see an enemy that is too tough for them, it is best to go out and see what awaits them in another direction, rather than to frustratingly chip away at the enemy for hours.

Tree Sentinel in Elden Ring.
Tree Sentinel in Elden Ring.

The very first real encounter that players will see in the game, the Tree Sentinel, is put in there on purpose to teach players this very lesson. There is no shame in running away, getting stronger, coming back, and conquering a foe. That’s what Souls games are all about. You don’t need a difficulty setting to do the legwork for you. You can do it all by yourself, and make the game cater to your playstyle and specific skillset with these games. 

Games Don’t Often Trust Their Players With This Approach

I feel game developers are often too hesitant to try out FromSoftware’s approach. Part of this has to do with the image that the Souls games have developed over the years. Most gamers see these titles as difficult, to the point of being unfair. When in reality, a Souls game is only as tough as the person playing it wants to make it. You can easily find tons of videos online of players “cheesing” their way through the games.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking an easier route through these titles. After all, as long as you’re not outright exploring mechanics, you’re doing what the developers intended. In this way, there really is no wrong way to play a Souls game. On the other hand, games that only have specific difficulty settings have a hard time figuring out just what the “right” way to play the game is. 

YouTube video

Devs also tend to avoid taking FromSoftware’s route, because it actually involves having a deep knowledge of the game being developed itself. Like knowing which areas might be pain points for what type of player, and providing remedies or alternate routes in such cases.

It’s a lot more complex than simply reducing the health of enemy characters by a specific amount. Despite this, I’d love to see more people try this approach towards difficulty, which could help break the stigma that Souls games are overly difficult or unfair. 

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Danish is an opinion piece writer at eXputer who loves sharing his takes on the industry. He is a long-time PC gamer with a passion for delving into the discussion and discourse surrounding the titles that he plays. Often eager to jump right into the fold and formulate his take on the latest topics, his noteworthy presence on gaming forums, and keen insight help him understand the gaming community in a thorough manner. This helps him provide a more nuanced look into any topic or discussion.

Writes Opinion Pieces at eXputer || Education: Bachelors in Mass Communication.

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