Difficulty, Patience, and Dark Souls
When I was a kid, one Christmas my grandmother gifted me a rock with the word “patience” engraved in it. Being around 5 at the time, I didn’t get it. She told me that I could benefit greatly by focusing a little bit about the patience that I was lacking. I wasn’t alone, most kids lack patience in our instant gratification culture. It got top me though, and I still have the rock today. A more contemporary example of this act is a grandmother giving her grandchild a copy of Dark Souls. They would say, “finish this and they’ll be an amazing present waiting at the end.” I don’t think this is a thing that’s ever happened, but I really hope that it has or will. While the kid’s parents might think their mom or dad is losing it, they are completely on top of their shit.
So much of the growing amount of attention being given to Dark Souls games is about the difficulty. “Prepare to die” and “get gud” are everywhere in its marketing and community. Souls games are, without a doubt, more difficult than your average games. It’s something that new players should know before throwing down $60. The reason that they stand out as so difficult is how this all comes together though. They are different in their expectations of players than most other AAA games coming out today. Rather than guaranteeing a action filled thrill ride, they want players to learn, explore, and fight on their own. The games provide little guidance so that players gain a sense of appreciation and achievement from the experience.
Take a Breath, Plan Your Next Move
From Software expects patience and respect from their players. Take your time, don’t run in blind expecting to come out on top. Tread carefully and respect their game design as being proficiently executed and fair. It can feel like they’re just out to get you at first, but it all comes around.
The Index Gundyr is a perfect example of this. “Welcome to the game new player! Here are a few simple grunts to fight to learn the controls. Next up is the first boss, he’s a tutorial in the Dark Souls sense. Sink or swim.” From’s design implies the idea of learning and adaptation that’s guaranteed by the progressing through these games. From might as well follow up with, “he might seem tough, but wait until you see him again in New Game Plus. You’ll crush him”
The first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood
From Software might be forging their own digital fight club with the success of these games. “A guy who came to Fight Club for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood.” The same rules apply, get in and get better or get out. The way you get better in Dark Souls is far away from some intangible toughness and skill that veterans have honed over the last few games. Most often, it simply comes down to patience. Slow down, watch for patterns, don’t force the last hit on a tough boss. Eventually, you’ll emerge victorious.
I started playing the original Dark Souls before I got into reading and writing about games online. I bought it based on the recommendation of a co-worker who told me that it felt old-school, like the re-invention of the games we grew up with. I didn’t know about its reputation online for its crushing difficulty, I just knew it felt different than anything else I had played around that time. It almost forced me into a flow state, it required focus and almost meditative attention like nothing else. I learned to take my time and plan ahead, that’s what the game required. It didn’t feel tremendously hard to me, but it did feel entirely different from any other contemporary game I’d played. Savor the experience, work through it, don’t expect to be catered to, you get what you earn. With how much media attention the third entry had received, I wonder how many young players are benefiting from the same lesson I received at their age, except through a much cooler medium.
Image captured in Dark Souls 3, courtesy of From Software