FromSoftware games aren’t that hard, some players just want you to think they are

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I only started playing Soulslikes last year. I had completely avoided them up until that point because, to be honest, I don’t really like hard games. I enjoy a challenge, don’t get me wrong, but when a game’s raison d’être is simply being too hard, to elicit that mind-numbing anguish that comes with repeatedly banging your head against a wall, that’s where I draw the line. 

And from the outside, looking in, that’s exactly what FromSoft games looked like. The name Dark Souls is now so synonymous with difficulty that I have friends and relatives who have barely touched a game in their lives who know about it. So it’s hardly surprising that I, and plenty of others, viewed FromSoft’s catalogue as some impenetrable wall of content designed for masochistic gamers.

FromSoftware games are not that hard: A player in Elden Ring fighting against a giant metal sphere in an ornate stone room.
These big spheres have more character than 99% of enemies in games. I’m not joking. Image captured by VideoGamer

But that all changed last year with Wo Long, the latest release from Nioh’s Team Ninja, which just happened to drop onto Game Pass. Without the threat of wasting my money on a game I’d probably hate, a friend and I played through the entire frankly incomprehensible campaign and lo and behold I actually had a good time. So much so that when he recommended Sekiro to me as ‘Wo Long but actually good’, I gave that a go, too.

And then once I’d finished that, I checked out Lies of P. And then Dark Souls. And now Elden Ring just in time to start Shadow of the Erdtree. In the space of a year I’d gone from saying I had no interest in trying out any Soulslikes to them becoming one of my favourite genres. And yes, I know Sekiro isn’t technically a Soulslike, leave me alone.

And the more of them I played, the more one thing became abundantly clear – these games are not that hard. Don’t get it twisted, I’m certainly not saying they’re easy. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t sit at my desk getting eviscerated by the Bell Gargoyles in Dark Souls. But despite the ‘git gud’ mentality that has sprung up around these games, the solution in these games is almost never getting better at the game as much as it is finding a better sword

FromSoftware games are not that hard: A player wielding a halberd and shield fighting Chaos Witch Queelag in Dark Souls.
I hated Queelag until someone pointed out to me that I should probably upgrade my weapon for once. Image captured by VideoGamer

Struggling to kill bosses? Well, you’re probably not doing enough damage; go upgrade your weapon. Are you taking too much damage? Grab some better armour and a nice big shield. The subreddits for these games are full of players asking for advice on how to min/max their build or what the most powerful items are. There’s nothing wrong with playing the games this way, of course, but it feels completely at odds with the reputation of the games. How can they be so soul-crushingly difficult if you can just breeze through with the right stats and items?

While for many, the appeal of FromSoft games goes well beyond the combat. It’s about the deep lore of a cursed world full of strikingly varied and beautiful landscapes. But for a small, but not insignificant subsection of the community, beating a FromSoft game is like a badge of honour that screams to the world ‘I’m really good at games’. 

Thus the deception begins. It’s not good enough for these games to just be hard, because that’s not as impressive. Instead, they need to be impossibly hard; games so hard that not just anyone could beat them. In fact, that’s what makes them so good, the fact that they’re hard. Too many games these days are happy to hold your hand and walk you through it, not the games I play.

FromSoftware games are not that hard: A player running towards a Walking Mausoleum on a grassy plain in Elden Ring.
This is straight up one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in a game. Image captured by VideoGamer

And then Shadow of the Erdtree comes along. After years of relishing the challenge of these hard games, FromSoftware drops a masterful DLC that, among other things, introduces some damn tough boss fights. Fights that your overpowered build can’t immediately overpower. For the first few days, before some powerful new builds arrived to fill the void, negative reviews for the game rushed in to decry how FromSoft had made it too hard. (We loved it, just want to put that out there.)

It’s not like this is the first time it’s happened either. Out of the entire FromSoftware canon, Sekiro, regarded by many as one of, if not the hardest FromSoft title, is the only game that doesn’t let you create a full build. And while you can cheese certain bosses with specific items, for the most part, the only barrier to progress is skill. If you can’t beat a certain boss, there’s no Moonveil Katana to carry you through it. 

FromSoftware games are not that hard: Sekiro and Genichiro crossing swords at the end of their fight.
You never do get tired of absolutely demolishing Genichiro. Image captured by VideoGamer

In essence, ‘git gud’ is the very mantra of Sekiro, so you would expect that a game of this calibre would be immediately embraced by the challenge-craving FromSoft devotees. Instead, plenty of players on launch derided the game. There’s no powerful weapons to choose from, no stats to upgrade, and only one approach to combat – parrying. Don’t want to parry? Good luck getting past Genichiro, pal. The barrier to entry is only high if you refuse to engage with the core mechanics.

Thankfully, Sekiro has since rightfully cemented its legacy as one of FromSoft’s best titles.I don’t doubt that the players currently struggling with Shadow of the Erdtree will look back on it with a similar fondness, especially now the difficulty has been toned down a bit. But the idea that FromSoft games, and Soulslikes in general, are some uniquely challenging experiences that only seasoned veterans can complete is simply not true.

FromSoftware games are not that hard: Sekiro standing among some clouds with a giant dragon wielding a sword flying in the air in front of him.
I think this picture speaks for itself, really. Image captured by VideoGamer

Essentially, all I really want to do is encourage more people to play these games as there is so much more to them than fighting tough bosses. If you love the theorycrafting that comes with a deep lore, then these games are for you. If you like exploring levels that are often as weird and wacky as they are genuinely stunning to look at, then these games are for you.

If you, like me, have been put off trying these games out because of their reputation, ignore that and try them out. Pick one up on sale and jump in. I’m not saying you won’t die a lot – you will, especially as you get the hang of things. But if you can push through that initial frustration and see everything that these games have to offer, you’ll see that there’s so much more to them than just being difficult.

About the Author

Alex Raisbeck

Alex is a Guides Writer for VideoGamer. He is an indie gaming obsessive with a soft spot for Zelda, roguelikes, and Football Manager, as well as an unhealthy relationship with his backlog.

Elden Ring

  • Release Date: February 25, 2022
    • - 25 February 2022 (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S)
  • Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X
  • Genre(s): Action, RPG
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