The Soulsborne Identity

Last week a little game called Elden Ring hit the shelves. You might have heard of it? So of course this week the internet has been lit up by the age old debate over difficulty.

FromSoftware games are tough – hugely intimidating to newcomers and to those who have previously dipped a toe in the water only to have their leg bitten off. They’re punishing and unforgiving from the outset, and just as many people bounce right off them as succumb to their charm.

I’m not a fan of the “git gud” mentality, or of the Souls fans all too happy to tell people “this game isn’t for you”. Not all games are for everyone, and nor should they be, but seasoned fans should take the time to explain why these games are so worth persevering with, rather than encouraging them to stay away. Souls games require dedication, no doubt, but once it becomes apparent how their worlds and shortcuts work, they become much more manageable, and much more compelling. A lot of people give up before this becomes apparent.

The difficulty is a huge part of the experience, and that’s by design. In an interview with the New Yorker (see ‘recommended articles’ below) FromSoftware boss Hidetaka Miyazaki explains “…in our games specifically, hardship is what gives meaning to the experience. So it’s not something we’re willing to abandon at the moment. It’s our identity.” It’s true, of course, but it’s unfair that the identity of these games is so often pointed squarely at their difficulty, rather than the fact that they offer the best worlds and the greatest adventures gaming has ever known.

It’s a tricky one. Playing through the entirety of Dark Souls became one of the greatest experiences of my life not due to its difficulty, but because of its staggering world and the immaculate way in which it unfolded as I explored it. Although I hate the thought of people missing out on that just because the game is so hard, above all else, I believe that it’s the prerogative of developers to make the games they want to make, and these just wouldn’t be the same without that difficulty.

Ultimately, I think the fact that there is a studio like FromSoftware operating in the AAA space on its own terms, creating incredible yet divisive masterpieces like Elden Ring, is something to be celebrated. Even if its very identity risks alienating as many people as it enthrals.

This article is an extract from The Week in Games newsletter.

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