Bloodborne is the biggest release for Sony on Playstation 4 this year, yet it’s notoriously difficult – from a similarly challenging lineage of Demon Souls and Dark Souls 1 & 2. With no difficulty setting it throws you straight in with very little explanation as to what to do and it’s down to you to figure it all out. Not just that, but death means you lose a lot of progress and repetition of areas is a key theme. Still, people are loving it. Even I am loving it, despite spending nearly two hours yesterday just repeating only the third boss in the game. This isn’t hugely surprising – I enjoyed Dark Souls 2. What is surprising however is that I enjoyed these games despite their incredibly challenging difficulty and the fact that I usually play games on easy.
At this point there will be a split between “the Souls games aren’t that hard” (you’re wrong, they are) and “easy setting is for wimps” (maybe it is, I don’t care). Yet it’s nearly always my preference when starting a game up for the first time, regardless to whether it’s a story based game or a sports game – or even an update to a sports game which I play every year! I always start on the easiest setting.
Sometimes the combat/AI/criteria to meet is too easy initially. I don’t mind. I like to explore and understand the game at first without feeling pressure of dying or being thrashed. For sequels perhaps the controls have changed slightly or I want to experience the subtle or drastic improvements in a series. Some of my friends moan that I’m not playing the game as intended – this is a fair argument and the one which has come closest to swaying my preference to select easy instead of normal. But who is to say that the developers are confident and comfortable enough to select an adequate difficulty for ‘normal’. Some can’t even release the product without game crippling bugs! What hope have they at fine tuning a balanced difficulty curve?
For me, ‘easy’ should be that. Easy. I can play the game and enjoy it without finding it challenging. Should I enjoy it then I will skip normal and ramp it up to the hardest difficulty for a second play through. This didn’t always work to my favour – Battlefield Hardline only unlocked the hardest difficulty when completing it on hard. Thankfully I liked the single player although didn’t especially appreciate three rounds of unskippable cutscenes – even after finishing it on ‘hard’, it was especially difficult. Perhaps Hardline difficulty should have been the game’s ‘normal’ mode.
Then there is that ambiguous set which don’t have a difficulty option. DriveClub pulls this off excellently, initially coming off as tough to fully complete every objective but easy enough to progress with the bare minimum catering for all levels (mirroring the classic Project Gotham Racing no less). And then there’s the aforementioned Bloodborne and Souls games. No difficulty options, or even any sort of tutorial, the difficulty is immense from the off demanding constant attention and care.
Perhaps this is all part of the appeal. I mean, I am enjoying Bloodborne. Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m not getting the most out of playing on the lightest difficulty. Then again, I’ve never finished a Souls game. I would really like to. Perhaps they should include an easy mode after all.