From Bloodborne to Jedi Fallen Order : Examining the Debate on Game Difficulty

 I have a rather vast personal philosophy when it comes to gaming. I believe in not paying for something you don’t think you will enjoy.  I believe that toxicity has no place in multiplayer games.  Perhaps the most divisive one is how I like to play some games on easier difficulties. In most cases, I find games more fun when I feel powerful and can complete tasks as time goes on. Dying constantly and losing progression every time is not something enjoyable to me. I know that it’s a concept that can be seen as slightly foreign or even looked down upon; possibly ruining any shred of “gamer cred” that I have.  

Alas, I look back on games like Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox with great delight. It was the first truly difficult game that was an absolute treat to complete; to a point where I would revisit it every so often.  Earning the Halo Reach achievement “A Monument to All Your Sins” which consisted of beating the game solo on legendary difficulty is another one of the pins I would like to display in my gaming passport.   

Upon playing Minecraft Dungeons about a week ago, I thought deeper about the concept of game difficulty.  Based on its own merit, the game isn’t bad per se. It lacks a lot of the systems that Minecraft is known for, and for a game that is a spin-off, it makes me wonder if my opinions on the game are harsh or perhaps if the game was even designed to be played by someone like me.

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Bows are by far the best weapon in the game and more useful than many other melee weapons.

I come to a similar realization thinking back to when I picked up Nioh 2. I was incredibly familiar with the first title and being a fan I thought I would have a similar experience with the sequel. An interesting aspect overcame me as I didn’t find the introduction to be overly difficult. Granted I knew what to expect, but my experience changed when I met with the second level boss. This fast hitting monk-like demon was so cunning that I am still unable to defeat it single-handedly. Even with assistance, surpassing the boss is a feat that I just cannot complete. I tried for hours only to put the game down indefinitely.  I even spent additional time grinding out more levels in hopes that perhaps I can withstand its ferocious blows. That didn’t quite work, which makes it clear that Nioh 2 is a much more laborious game.  

At times, I think about going back to the game but I am constantly filled with a level of anxiety; fearing that I will never overcome this demon. All time spent trying to overcome the challenge is time wasted. I am a father of a four month old who requires a lot of attention and care and my days are not filled with as much gaming as one might hope.  Because of this, I have to openly recognize that time is a resource that we never get back. If I have time to spare, I’d rather play something I enjoy than to punish myself; another philosophy I believe in.

No matter my own personal skill level, I cannot deny that there are many fans who are tied to the games that inspired Nioh. From Software is a studio that developed two of the most infamous games out there in Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Dark Souls practically put this punishing genre on the map, and each game after seemed to alter and refine the experience. While Dark Souls can be played at a more relaxed pace in some instances, Bloodborne is more aggressive And Sekiro… well, I haven’t played that one yet. 

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Sekiro looks so beautiful and yet the difficulty makes me back away from the game.

Each of these games clearly has a home among players. These titles even inspired other games such as The Surge and Lords of the Fallen which don’t quite hit the mark, but are a testament to the popularity of the genre.  This methodology even crosses over into other productions like Salt and Sanctuary, Blasphemous, and even Cuphead. Clearly there is a market for these games. Any time Sony states that they will announce something amazing, fans hope it’s Bloodborne 2. The positive track record only increases fan’s eagerness of the joint effort between From Software and George R.R. Martin’s newest vehicle: Elden Ring.

Despite the difficulty and concept of time management, I still appreciate what From Software does with their titles. I’ll admit, it is very strange how I am still oddly drawn to these games. There is an element of horror in From Software games that doesn’t affect me liking it unlike other horror games like Resident Evil.  To be quite honest, I’m not a fan of horror games to begin with. But Bloodborne presents the horrific style that doesn’t push me away from it. Instead, Bloodborne presents concepts and ideas that pull me in. The further I go into the city of Yharnam, the more I become strangely curious about everything that surrounds me.

From Software does their due diligence ensuring everything is shrouded in a layer of macabre misery, and I want to explore it all. Nothing is clear, nothing is straightforward, various elements are obscured in thinly veiled mystery. Characters speak in almost Shakespearean style tones, pontificating in over the top fashion while maintaining a sense of despondency. This nightmarish tone somehow draws me in, looking for the next link in this massive, disconnected chain that binds several segments of this incredibly convoluted story.

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The Hunter’s Dream is an area that serves as your HQ during Bloodborne.

From Software’s greatest achievement is how they created perhaps the most perfect combat system to date. Within their titles, combat is so pinpoint accurate that I wish it was in more games. Combat is as simple as it is in every other game, you hit a button and the game reacts. For the lack of better words, there is a level of physical, fine-tuned accuracy as each swing of a weapon feels impactful. Every weapon feels incredibly different in their own way. This combat system allows me to accurately measure my tactics, execute my plan, and makes every weapon I choose to wield feel viable.  There really is no wrong way to approach a situation and From Software does an amazing job of presenting, in a visualistic manner, the upsides and downsides of certain weapons.  

I find the Kirkhammer in Bloodborne to be a prime example of a tactile weapon.  Bloodborne has a weapon system that allows you to transform weapons from one mode into another with the press of a button.  In one mode, the Kirkhammer is a quick agile sword that transforms into this heavy hitting hammer that is slower but deals much more damage. This allows you as a player to change your stance on the fly depending on how you decide to approach a situation.  

The combat system has this vicious, aggressive style to it that fits this overall tone of the game. It empowers the player to perform to their best ability, as it is necessary to succeed within the parameters set by From Software. Monsters move quicker than you can anticipate and their strikes can be absolutely devastating; killing you with minimal blows. This is why you need a combat system that is going to compliment the onslaught presented to you by these monsters. Nailing the feel of combat is so incredibly important with games like these. Imagine if your dodge roll or swing was just a tiny bit off? It would drastically change how you perform, and in some cases it could present you from succeeding.  

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Pistol in one hand, saw cleaver in the other; the hunter hopes to defeat the beast that lingers.

As much as I have an appreciation for Bloodborne and Dark Souls, there are a lot of elements that stick out as problematic for me. There is a huge level of vagueness when it comes to understanding some elements of gameplay. Granted, I don’t need a tutorial to pop up every five minutes telling me how to climb a ladder, but at the same time I would like to know how some aspects of the game work. From Software establishes this natural narrative that I appreciate because it immerses me instead of taking me out of the moment. Bloodborne allows me to assess threats on my own without forcing the camera out of my hands to show me what the threat is. This is partially due to everything in Bloodborne being a threat which will kill me over and over again.  

All of this brings me to the natural conclusion that presents a new question: would it hurt to have an easier mode? Before you get all up in arms, we should examine this further. On one hand, Bloodborne is already successful for being the game that it is.  Could it be more successful if the game provided an easier mode for the more casual players? Being easier would mean that the game is just generally more accessible to others who wish to explore the Victorian gothic city of Yharnam. It’s not a bad thing for players like me, but plenty of people are in protest of the idea.

Beating difficult games is a proud moment for a lot of people. As I mentioned, difficult games can be a daunting experience, but there is a sense of pride once the final monster is slain. It’s no different than when Game of Thrones was still good and seeing the mass of “good guys” lose. When the bad guys are eventually defeated, the payoff is much sweeter. That is one thing that these games do very well and remain as titles that I will never forget. Will I ever revisit some of these games? Not alone, at the very least.  

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There is a psychological element to these difficult games that can be easily explained in a Psychology Today article by Timothy A. Pychyl Ph.D.  In this article he states that there are three elements related to completing difficult tasks: difficulty, interest, and orientation. Within the article he states “Perceived task difficulty refers to our beliefs about how much effort would be needed to succeed at a task. It also includes our perception of how likely we’ll be successful, if at all. This perception includes both objective characteristics of the situation as well as our ability.

In this case, the moment we are introduced to Yharnam, we die thanks to a skulking wolf. We understand that in this moment that the game will be unlike anything we have ever experienced. We understand the rules of the game and the theme in that immediate instance. The task difficulty is internalized. And if interest is established we may set our goal orientation to be “finish Bloodborne.” Some people take that further and make their goal “Get the platinum trophy” which goes into the “performance orientation” type of goal. I already beat the game myself, but for those who want to show their prowess, they can take it a step further as long as everything stays in check. If anything falters, such as interest, the entire operation collapses and becomes “procrastination” unless you never go back to it, which in that case it becomes “failure”.

There are people out there that do not bother to even attempt to play these games because of their history of being difficult, and that is absolutely fine. Constant failure can definitely keep someone from continuing on in a game, and as I stated earlier, time is the most valuable resource known to us. Some people would rather spend their time playing something a bit easier but also still have a level of interest in the series. I understood the task of beating Nioh 2. My interest was established and my goal to beat the game is more than clear. But the more I died, the more I found the game to be more difficult thus leading me to never play it again; which makes my attempt at beating the game a failure. But I am fine with it. And I feel that as long as I am personally in agreement with another one of my philosophical standpoints, then I am alright. That point being this: not every piece of content is meant for me, and only me, to consume.

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It is very easy to look at this and go “No thank you.”

This is where I have a moment of inner conflict.  I feel that Bloodborne is not a game for everyone, yet here I am saying that there should be an easy mode so that everyone can play it.  It’s incredibly contradictory to my philosophy and yet I am fine with it.  I console myself and come to terms that there can be exceptions. It’s fine, and it’s not like my personal outlook is being forced onto other people. Others might be harsh and criticize my stance but I’m okay with it.  

If I circle back around to Minecraft Dungeons, it’s a game whose core audience is supposedly children. We can say that due to its lack of complex systems, it’s designated theme, and overall ease of access. Not to sound full of myself, but I have the ability to play and beat the game with little to no difficulty. Even though the game does check some parameters that I am more than fond of, this game doesn’t comply as something for me.  It’s for kids. It’s a game used to help introduce kids to a world of gaming that isn’t something lame like Sesame Street (no offense to Elmo here). It can garner interest from children as it’s a fairly easy task to complete and it can actually help children understand goals. It doesn’t need to be complex. It just needs to work. And it does. It’s not Diablo or Path of Exile and that is absolutely fine because those games exist for people who want to play those games. I am not expecting Minecraft Dungeons to live up to either of those other games, and I don’t know where we got the idea that it even could.

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Back to a happy picture! Seriously, Minecraft Dungeons is a good game.

I understand the need for something new, but what do we look like when we slam the hammer down on a game like this? Could it use complex systems? Of course it could but then who would the focus be for a game like this? Adults again? I reiterate the fact that we have enough games out there made for us. I don’t think we really need to pick on Minecraft Dungeons. There are so many other games out there that need to be criticized, I feel that this is just not one of them. I’m not going to stop you from expressing your feelings, because that is your right to do so. It’s an okay game that does an okay job and if someone has fun with it, then that is wonderful. Every game is not made for you.

Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order is a title that is very similar to From Software games. It’s almost a direct copy when it comes to combat which still feels just a tiny bit off. Alas, it does allow the player to tune the difficulty. As you change the difficulty, it tells you what aspects of the game change with it. Fallen Order allows you to play the game at your own comfort level, and doesn’t punish you for doing so. 

According to this Venture Beat article, Fallen Order’s sales surpassed the 10 million unit mark which is outstanding. Bloodborne has sold over 2 million units which is still good.  Fallen Order is a licensed Star Wars game so it has to have a level of accessibility due to its renown. But it still offers something for people who want to be challenged. Most games these days offer difficulty adjustments. It’s not a brand new concept. Fallen Order just codifies its inspiration and presents it to the player in a form that is just much easier to digest. In its own way, it’s very impactful. Fallen Order is a prime example of a game adjusting to player needs instead of players adjusting to a game’s needs. In a way, Fallen Order is the anti-Bloodborne in almost every single aspect. Does that make it a better or worse game? Absolutely not. Liking both games is not a mutually exclusive idea.

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Fallen Order is a beautiful game that offers something for everyone.

Difficulty in games is a very strange topic because in the end we all want a rewarding experience. Some people want to be challenged, and others want to feel like a badass without too many obstacles in their way. Some people want to keep these difficult games away from others in the name of dividing players from casual to hardcore audiences.  The sad reality that comes with this topic is how there are people who may come off as elitist because they are much better at the game than many casual gamers. Some players  want to keep that divide instead of uniting and creating universal experiences that everyone can share. Minecraft Dungeons may be easy, but that means more people can play it. And so more people can give opinions on it or perhaps even openly discuss it. I’m not saying Bloodborne cannot. But when crowds of people utter the phrase “get gud”, it only leaves a negative stain on the community that is supposed to be welcoming to people who wish to venture into new experiences.

Bloodborne was never a game I openly pursued. I said before that upon picking it up, it didn’t fit within my realm of modern titles that I could see myself enjoying. I took a risk after it came out and found myself becoming allured by it (if you couldn’t that tell by now). Even after I completed the game, I still think about it every so often, like a dream that doesn’t fade away. It sticks with me. And I wonder if it would have this same effect on me if it wasn’t the game that it is. If it was easier, would I forget it like other games in my past? I would like to think that I would remember it because it has so many other aspects that left such a solid impression on me.  

New experiences are paramount to the full picture of the gaming community.  Support and motivation fuel our interests. As long as developers make titles filled with heart and soul, we will always remember them. We will always go back to them and introduce others to the moments that helped shape our lives. Not every game is made for everyone, but if we explore areas outside our comfort zone we might be able to appreciate new experiences. Maybe introducing easier modes will help elevate players into exploring the same fun people have when playing difficult titles. The landscape is vast and the possibilities are endless. Now excuse me, I must take my leave as I contemplate picking up Sekiro, as it is currently on sale. 

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Just look at this! How could I not want to play this?
By Steve Esposito

Steve Esposito is a dedicated content creator with a focus on his love for technology, video games, and the very industry that oversees it all. He also takes part in organizing the Long Island Retro and Tabletop Gaming Expo as well as a Dungeons and Dragons podcast: Copper Piece. You can find him on twitter @AgitatedStove

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