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I absolutely adore FromSoftware. I'm one of those freaks that plays Bloodborne to relax. I'm that boring arsehole that tells you the first Dark Souls isn't even that hard, actually. I even managed to make it all the way through Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice without wanting to snap the disc in two and carve my own eyes out with the jagged shards. I guess I just like the misery of it all.
FromSoftware games are notoriously challenging, and I love that. I love the fear of exploring new areas and meeting new enemies, the exhilarating rush of finally taking down a powerful boss I've been stuck on for hours. Now, as I re-watch the Elden Ring trailer for the 80th time, I see quite clearly that all of those experiences and more will be waiting for me in FromSoftware's biggest and most ambitious game yet.
Still, I can't help but think Elden Ring would almost certainly benefit from difficulty modifiers.
We've had this conversation so many times, of course. Do games like Dark Souls and Sekiro need an "easy" mode? Note the use of inverted commas there, because speaking about these settings purely in terms of "easy" or "hard" robs the argument of any nuance in regards to wider issues of accessibility.
I've always believed FromSoftware games should include a range of difficulty and accessibility options. These are rich, fascinating worlds that should be seen by as many players as possible, and gating off those worlds to people without the skill, knowledge, or time required to "git gud" has always seemed a touch harsh to me.
I've heard and understood the arguments against making these games more accessible. People say it's not what the developers intended. They argue we'd just be cheating ourselves by not playing "properly". I hear these rebuttals, but I'll never agree with them. I am sorry about that, by the way. I very much wish we could all just get along and be friends, but trying to suggest more people being able to play video games is a Good Thing is the kind of thing that ensures I get sent threatening emails by totally normal people.
Having established that a good number of you fine folk reading this piece are almost certainly diametrically opposed to my opinion on accessibility in FromSoftware games, allow me to hit you with this: Whatever your opinion on previous FromSoftware entries and their difficulty, Elden Ring needs difficulty modifiers more than any other game from the studio yet.
I should clarify quickly that I haven't played Elden Ring yet, by the way. I've seen as much as the rest of you, which is to say I've drooled over that brief gameplay trailer from Summer Games Fest earlier this week. I don't know how much harder or easier in relation to previous Souls games it'll be. It could be a super easy and chill experience and this entire article is moot... but I think we can safely assume it's going to have some challenging moments, right?
The trailer showed off a good number of massive, Dark Souls-looking bosses with some punishing-looking attacks and seriously aggressive patterns. Again, it's hard to glean too much from what we've seen, but I know enough about FromSoftware to know that a human-sized opponent with a massive sword is not going to take you out for a picnic.
So we can probably agree Elden Ring will be hard. Even if there are things about its combat and exploration that reward Dark Souls veterans by making it feel a little easier through familiarity and muscle memory, there are going to be newcomers drawn in by the involvement of George R.R Martin and the general ridiculous levels of hype around this game who really struggle to keep up.
Some of those players will be willing and able (able being the operative word here) to really master what this new adventure requires of them and push on. Others will not be so lucky. Do we really leave those people behind? Do we really tell players who are stuck on a ludicrously demanding boss battle that they don't get to explore anymore of this brand-new open-world game? One of the most-anticipated releases of 2022, at that? I'm not sure about that. I'm not sure about that at all.
Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro should all have given us the ability to tone certain elements down. There's a reason there are popular PC mods for these games that do this, because people want to play FromSoftware games without getting their asses kicked every single night. That's not relaxing for everyone. For the last decade, FromSoftware has put out hit after hit, but it keeps making the same mistake.
Elden Ring is a chance for the studio to cast its net as wide as possible, to bring in an entirely new generation of gamers and win over everyone who ever said the Dark Souls franchise was too much work for them. Elden Ring can be the hardest and most brutal FromSoftware game yet for those who want it to be, and it can also be a far less intense open-world adventure RPG for those who just want to explore and enjoy what promises to be a particularly twisted and unusual fantasy tale.
Did the ability to skip encounters or turn the challenge all the way down prevent The Last Of Us Part II from becoming one of the most critically acclaimed and successful video games of all time? Was Celeste any more of a brutally punishing platformer for most of us just because some players had the option to make the game a little easier? Will Elden Ring be anything other than the ambitious open-world game we've been wanting FromSoftware to make for years because some players choose to give themselves more health, or make their attacks hit harder? Absolutely not.
With difficulty modifiers and a greater range of options, Elden Ring has the chance to be all things to all players. It has the chance to show everyone, everywhere, that FromSoftware's greatest strength lies not in how hard its bosses can hit, but in the subtle genius of its world design, of the hundreds of self-contained stories and secrets tucked away waiting to be discovered by curious adventureres, no matter their skill level or ability.