Unpacking The Difficulty Of Dark Souls

Unpacking The Difficulty Of Dark Souls

Is Dark Souls too difficult.

No. The answer is no. But it is difficult, and difficulty is part of its appeal to the point where people won’t shut up about it.

But this video does a great job of unpacking that difficulty and explains why it’s such an inextricable part of how Dark Souls works.

I think the interesting part of this video is that it’s not necessarily by an ‘lore expert’ or a YouTuber dedicated to the series. It’s by someone who enjoys video games and is literate enough to discuss the differences between Dark Souls and other action games.

I don’t usually last long on YouTube videos of this ilk, but this was good. Very good in fact.


  • I’ve played and beat Souls games before (DeS and BB), and thought I was hot shit at the start of DS3. Beat the first few bosses (fairly) easily, even managed to parry/riposte that shitty little Uchigatana guy to death right after the first boss. (I gots to have my Uchi) Doing my classic playthrough with 2h Uchi, dex stacked to buggery and was doing quite well.

    Then came the Abyss Watchers. Cue my inflating ego being deflated rather promptly. This is why I love these games. Not because ‘I’M HARDCORE I PLAY SOULS. HEY DID YOU HEAR I PLAY SOULS. IT’S LIKE TOTES HARD.’ but because the difficulty curve is completely different for everyone. People will be like, ‘Oh, that boss was easy!’ when I’m getting the shit kicked out of me repeatedly, but then the next boss I steamroll, and everyone else is having a tough time. It’s so much fun comparing Souls experiences. Best part by far.

    Took a break because Destiny has reeled me back in, but plan to jump back on and flog that smarmy trio as soon as I can.

    • How does the difficulty stack up compared to DS2? DS2 killed souls games for me because I flew through it. Still have some small interest in DS3, want to find out what it’s like but trying to avoid spoilers at the same time in case I decide I’m getting it…pretty odd conundrum.

      • I skipped DS2, couldn’t tell you, sorry.

        I tried to play the PS4 release of DS2, but did it immediately after my two month BB bender, and just couldn’t get into it.

      • It is harder than DS2, its also more interesting as the story seems more… involved? I found DS2 was pretty straight forward compared to most souls games where as there is a lot more layers to DS3 as far as the story, bosses and general environments go.

        Also there is like 3 or 4 swamp areas, but none as bad as VoD or BT

    • Oh man abyss watchers took me a while to solo…
      Not as long as the pontiff did but hey I’d pulled an all nighter and was smacking my head against a brick wall until I stripped down and beat him first shot

      • I always try and solo bosses until I’m pretty much at risk of taking my own life – then I call in support. Abyss Watchers seems really doable, just gotta put it together right. I’ve got them all down and got cranky flame sword guy a few times, but he decimates me shortly after.

        He reminds me a lot of Maria from The Old Hunters, so should be manageable. Just have to stay the hell out of his way.

        • Yeh I think my strategy for abyss was get some hits in and defend mostly until third guy comes in and starts going at it with them, get some more hits in when I can and for second phase much the same but made sure I was dodging that big ass sword properly too.
          And Yeh I’m the same with my summoning, after a full game session I’m calling in support.
          For ornstein and smough years ago I spent three nights trying to beat them! After that I was like naaaaaaah!

  • Dark Souls is incredibly difficult, but not in a way that makes the game seem unfair on the player. The game is difficult because you need to get better, not because the game needs to take it easy on you.

    If Dark Souls were difficult just for the sake of fucking the player over I don’t think people would stick with in over countless deaths.

    • Yes. Generally speaking, unless you die to a first time surprise (ambush, trap, etc) every time you die in a Souls game, it’s because you made a mistake. You mis-timed a roll, you got greedy and ran out of stamina, you got frustrated and tried to rush, etc. It’s almost always your own fault.

  • I have no issue with the difficulty of the souls games, it’s the unfair punishment for failure that gets me. The amount of backtracking and rework you have to is unfair given that the majority of the gameplay boils down to trial-and-error. And maybe I’m in the minority here, but I don’t feel a sense of achievement of when I pass a section, just an overwhelming sense of “it’s about f**king time!”.

    DS1 was one of the few games I’ve ever legitimately rage quit, which is annoying because the tactical combat and unique world is awesome, but the way it’s presented means I have no desire to explore any more of it.

    • Completely agree. It’s got such tactile movement and combat which made me want to play it but because it’s essentially a “figure out how to beat this guy by trying to beat this guy a bunch of times” puzzle, it makes you replay the same areas over and over and over and I just got bored of it.

  • I relate this video as a SoulsBorne newbie. I’ve tried to resist all the Souls/Bloodborne games til recently, not because of the difficulty, but more the obtuseness of the story and systems that id read about n watched kinda irked me (and still kinda does). Not to mention being fairly short on spare time for what looks like an epically huge saga. Until i was made redundant at work 2 weeks ago anyway. I bought DS1 years ago and Bloodborne 3 months ago and after playing them once each i benched em as they just didnt click. I picked BB up again last week, set my grit n perseverance lvl to 11, and jumped in.

    And i fucking love it! The hardest thing is avoiding the use of wikis- so many items that i dont know what they do and people telling me theres so much that can easily be missed really gets to me but i also dont want to spoil the experience. Yeah its a tough game but the fact i know exactly why i died each time makes it a challenging, not masochistic. As soon as i knock this over im gonna try the souls trilogy. Ive always sorta chuckled at your obsession with these games, Serrels. But now i get it.

    I dont think centrelink is gonna be happy with this weeks job hunting progress…

    • I think you could make a legitimate argument that you have indeed been working hard though, and whilst learning to overcome huge obstacles in life!

  • I don’t really agree with his opinion that it’s not like a fighting game or about muscle memory. The game is primarily about learning patterns and then memorising responses. It’s different between players but essentially each time you die you are learning the most efficient paths to get back where you were, building up muscle memory and pattern memorisation so you can roll, side step, stab, run and walk at the appropriate times. In essence, everyone learns mini speedruns. When it comes to combat, it’s very much like a fighting game where you learn zoning, positioning, baiting, attack and block/dodge strings and punishable attacks to control the battle and your opponent.

    I wouldn’t really say the games are “difficult”, (it’s rather a subjective term) it’s more like learning a sport. You learn the basic moves and responses then you just practise and get live experience until you can pull off those moves perfectly under pressure and at high speed.

    • Souls games are arcade games without the coin pumping. You play and learn and get caught out by something. You start again and you try not to get caught out and as you learn the game gets easier as you understand the mechanics and how far you can push them Push too far and the game reminds you it’s your fault to pushing too far.

      EDIT: If you could take it back to a uniform load out that worked across the entire game, a linear level approach and a simple timer you could easily turn it into an arcade game. The high score would be a combination of player score, time taken and deaths.

    • I restarted DS1 just recently after giving up on it due to lack of interest a couple of years ago. Seemed way too fiddly.

      I now reckon this, and PsychoSmiley’s comment afterward, are bang on. Provided you have a decent memory, can work out (or shamefully look up) some of the more esoteric stat issues, and aren’t completely useless with a controller, it’s actually not terribly hard. Once you start getting keys it’s not too bad to work out where to go next.

      Funnily enough, I’ve found myself playing like an arcade game, or psuedo-rougelike, and it’s been way easier than the cautious approach I was taking the first time because it was “hard”. Dead things don’t hit you, has been my dictum, and if I drop dead it’s only due to something silly usually, and I don’t care about the souls/humanity much. Once you get motoring with it, running past mobs, scything through a few, then ducking about corners, it’s actually not fiddly but rather fluid.

      A more frantic Dark Souls has been much more fun I plan on hitting up Bloodborne again with a similar philosophical approach once I’m done with DS1.

  • I think the “difficulty” is overstated, and I don’t mean that in a pretentious “I am so good at games” way. The enemies are the same difficulty every time you face them, they are in the same places. I see it in an Edge of tomorrow type way. When you die, you try to get a little further than last time, you learn where the enemies are, and what they’re going to do. You have to be patient, not just the first time you go through an area – every time! If you get too bold, or take on too many enemies at once it’s back to the bonfire for you. If you were able to just take on hordes of enemies and blaze a trail through an area, your 60hr game would be over in 10.

  • Errant Signal deserves love for his videos beyond just this Dark Souls one. He’s been producing great content. Check out the rest of his reviews. I especially enjoyed his one about The Beginner’s Guide recently.

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