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How ELDEN RING Changed My Stance on the Easy Mode Controversy

How ELDEN RING Changed My Stance on the Easy Mode Controversy

Much like everyone, I was smack in the middle of the controversy surrounding games and their difficulties when Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was released. As a big fan of FromSoftware games, and a big lover of anything mildly challenging, I played Sekiro as soon as I got my hands on it, and I hated it.

I got stuck at Lady Butterfly; then, after finally fighting for what felt like years and beating her, I got stuck at Genichiro. After that? You guessed it, Owl. It seemed like every boss was a roadblock, and I hated each and every one of them, as I saw hours upon hours passing of repetition; at this point, Dragonrot had decided that it was infecting the local insect populace because it ran out of humans.

When Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice won Game of the Year at The Game Awards, I was disappointed, although it's not like I was rooting for any other game in particular. For the longest time, I had decided that I believed games should be more accessible and every game should have an easy mode.


Years passed, my negligence to try to beat Sword Saint Isshin continued strong, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice had become an afterthought. I eventually received some money and was able to buy a CX OLED TV that I'd been wanting for years; I decided that I wanted to revisit Sekiro simply to experience the Sengoku Era Japan on my new gorgeous display. I was sure that, when I'd finished running past the Hirata Estate and stumbled upon Lady Butterfly, I would give up on the spot.

So I did, I played up until Lady Butterfly, and I defeated her; with ease, too. I thought that I'd hit a stroke of luck; surely a rabbit's foot had snuck itself onto my pocket. Then I reached Genichiro, Owl... before I knew it, I stood at the gates of the Sword Saint Isshin boss fight, and I understood the point of the easy difficulty controversy. If the game had handed me the victory, I would never have felt this accomplished as I finally reached the ending.

After finishing Sekiro and in the few months afterwards, I understood why no one wanted an easy difficulty. In my review for the game on Steam, I spoke of how I was wrong about the way I had approached the game and how I was wrong for disliking it in the first place; it wasn't Sekiro at fault, but instead my mentality and approach. Thenceforth, I argued tooth and nail that games should never be made easier for a wider audience... that is, until I played ELDEN RING.


The thing I loved about Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was that it beat me down until I learned to trust and understand how I was supposed to play it; I was punished to the very end until I learned what it was trying to teach. I fought and fought, hellbent on the idea that I was supposed to dodge Genichiro's attacks instead of parry. Meanwhile, when I played ELDEN RING, I was comfortable with everything that was presented to me; the game didn't feel nearly as punishing as many of the aspects in Sekiro. I didn't like this at first; I wanted the game to punish me and be extremely difficult, making every boss fight feel like a brick wall, and many of the "mini-bosses" present throughout the game didn't give me that feeling. But, as I wrote my ELDEN RING review, I found out that this difficulty disparity between the bosses was intentional.

You see, as I wrote the first few words in my review, I intended to rate ELDEN RING an eight, perhaps a nine if I was feeling charitable; I had found the difficulty to be lacking in contrast to what I wanted it to be. Yet, as I wrote down more and more things, I found myself praising something I never thought I would: Its difficulty and accessibility. Although some of the bosses didn't have the back-breaking difficulty I wanted, I found myself liking the way they were built. Sure, the Scaly Misbegotten or the Black Knife Assassin did not share Margit's difficulty, but if they did, it would trivialise his. Not every boss can be a herculean task to beat, as, if they were, those that are truly difficult would lose what makes them stand out so much among the others.

Take the Abyss Watchers in DARK SOULS III as an example; they aren't what I would consider the most challenging bosses in the game, yet I find them to be the most memorable. I had never fought side by side with a boss the way I did with them, and after the adrenaline of fighting three enemies at the same time wore off, I realised I loved the fight. Not for its difficulty, but its originality and approach. Even though fighting the Twin Princes remains a butt-clenching task for me, and even though they are the harder of the two bosses, I enjoy the Abyss Watchers more. Their design, their combos, their approach, it's all so much more accessible, but it is also built in a way where it is more fun.

Abyss Watchers DARK SOULS

When I first encountered Flying Dragon Agheel, I was terrified; a giant wyvern (because that's a wyvern and I'll not humour this racism) swooped down from the air and burnt everything — including me — to a crisp. After I'd miserably died as a glorified piece of coal, I returned to the battle on horseback, weapon at the ready. And, although the boss proved to be significantly easier than some of the other "Great" enemies present in the game, I remember him more. Not because he was harder but because he was fun.

So there it is again: fun. What dictates fun in a soulslike title? I prefered the Abyss Watchers over the Twin Princes, so it certainly isn't the difficulty, especially when you add Flying Dragon Agheel into the mix. No, I like to imagine that a soulslike game is built around unique, difficult, and fair boss design. None of the bosses will one-shot you, but they will have intricate combos that punish mistakes such as panic; the best bosses don't deal obscene amounts of damage. Instead, they are built intelligently. It isn't about who does the most damage, nor who kills the player the fastest, but rather how they kill the player that gives them their charm. The unique boss design of Flying Dragon Agheel perfectly simulated what I picture fighting a wyvern on horseback would feel like, and the Abyss Watchers offered me the opportunity to fight alongside a boss for the first time. Their charm doesn't come from how hard they are, but rather how unique.

Do easy difficulties belong in soulslike titles? No, an easy difficulty belongs nearly as much as an Eldritch monstrosity belongs in Stardew Valley; but that's not to say that it can't, and ELDEN RING proved that. The accessibility options that ELDEN RING provides give players the choice of their difficulty, but more importantly, it proves that it’s crucial we let developers put their artistic expression into the game. It wasn't the hardest bosses that were the most memorable ones, but the ones that had the most love and attention put into them, and if that means they have to be easier, so be it.

Elden Ring
Artura Dawn

Artura Dawn

Staff Writer

Writes in her sleep, can you tell?

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