Dark Souls has brought challenge back to video games. I know it may seem like an unlikely thing, but there was a time when games weren’t that hard. I know. Shocking. But the industry advanced, values changed, and thus the games changed with it.
Think back to the arcade era (if you weren’t alive then, ask someone who was), games were fun and simple, but they were also hard. Why? Because they needed the players to die in order to get more money from them. The reason getting to the final level of Donkey Kong is a massive achievement is because it’s incredibly hard to do. You have to be a dedicated gamer to get through it all, including using some of the games coding against it (not cheating, but glitches that you can exploit).
Then, after the fall in 1983, and with the rise of Nintendo, games took a slightly easier approach to difficulty. Some were still difficult, but the vast majority weren’t an unrelenting wave of challenge like what we saw with certain arcade titles. Mario is a great example of this. Do you die in the levels? Yes. But it’s usually a case of mistiming. Once you’re in the zone, you’re going through no problem.
And so it goes, generations pass, games evolve, difficulty remains kind of stagnant. “But Todd!” you say, “Many a game allows you to adjust difficulty to increase the intensity!” That’s true, but not too many actually do that. Furthermore, how much of an increase does that actually give? You’d be surprised at the answers.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with slightly less difficulty, in fact it makes games more enjoyable at points, and helps us get through them. But there are those who want challenge, who want epic difficulty. And now, those games are really coming back. For me, it’s all because of Dark Souls.
I wanted to establish that I know that Demon Souls technically came first, but Dark Souls is really the one that many got exposed to.
Dark Souls was a very unique game, both in story and in gameplay. The story was minimal, and it was up to you if you wanted to piece it all together. The gameplay though was brutal, unrelenting, and ensured you would die. In many games, you can die, in Dark Souls, you WILL die!!! Death could literally be defined as a game mechanic here. Because through your death, and subsequent deaths, you will learn things. And yet sometimes you won’t and the game will continue despite that.
What makes me smile about this is that it almost shouldn’t have worked. Yes, gamers want challenge, but rarely do they go full force on it. With Dark Souls, they not only got it, they enjoyed it, and they wanted even more. That’s the difference. Having difficulty is one thing, but enjoying death in game, wanting to get back into it without having rage-quit symptoms, that’s rare.
We’ve all done rage quitting for one reason or another. Then when we get through the area we struggled in, we’re relieved that it’s done. From everyone I’ve seen who plays Dark Souls, that’s not always the case. They’re relieved to be sure that they got through the tough section, but they feel a true sense of accomplishment. Cause instead of dumb luck, or pressing the right button at the right time, they know it was their skills that got them through. Which is something else that makes Dark Souls fun, if you survive, it’s because of you.
Since Dark Souls, I’ve noticed a slight uptick in the difficulty of games, I see more gamers trying out harder difficulties, and wanting more intense gameplay. That’s cool to me, cause it shows we don’t just want to play fun video games, we want to be challenged by them.
If you want any proof of that, just look at Dark Souls II and Bloodborne. Same kind of difficulty. Got big sales, and numerous awards from critics and fans alike.