Did Elden Ring Finally End The ‘Easy Mode’ Debate For Good?

Did Elden Ring Finally End The ‘Easy Mode’ Debate For Good?
Image: From Software

Hard games. Should they have an Easy Mode? Should every game have an easy mode? These are questions that have resurfaced in recent years, with staunch opinions on either side about what, if anything, is lost by giving some players an easier time.

This post first appeared on Kotaku Australia on November 12, 2021. It has been retimed as a weekend read.

For those previously unaware of these arguments, I apologise for exposing you to them. This debate largely focuses on approachability as opposed to accessibility, which is a wholly different conversation. Both are important, but usually, when someone brings this particular debate up, they’re talking about allowing newer players to get through the full game without becoming experts by the end, as opposed to things like text size, colour contrast, and button inputs.

Dark Souls has been a favourite target of this debate because its difficulty is inherent to the sense of achievement it conveys. Folks on one side of the debate say beating Dark Souls should mean something, and you’re denying people a proper reward (and even inner growth) if you hand out participation medals.

Folks on the other side contend that we basically lose nothing by including an Easy Mode, and that beating the game on Normal still means the same thing it always did, so what’s the harm?

A player knight stands before a golden gate of fog
Image: Elden Ring/From Software | Fight or flight?

And now, Miyazaki has torched all sides of the debate with a massive “por qué no los dos?” and dropped the mic on his way out.

Elden Ring solves this argument in the best way possible — by simply offering the player more choice. No need to select anything from a menu, lock yourself into a Mode, or have a conversation like “But did you beat it on Normal?”

None of that. Because all of this is baked organically into the game. You can beat Elden Ring‘s challenges, some of which are sure to be brutal, in so many different ways the Easy Mode debate isn’t even a conversation anymore.

Some of these methods involve dexterous skill, some of them leverage raw game knowledge, and some of them use strategy. Or, you can combine the three in any way you like. If you learn and try new things, the parts of this game that feel impossible will slowly start to melt away, without any of its integrity being compromised.

Just Walk Away

A mounted knight approaches a gatehouse with palisade walls and enemies around
Image: Elden Ring/From Software | Totally within your rights to say “nope”

Elden Ring is an open world. Different enemies will populate different zones, similar to what you’d see in an MMO, and more important enemies and NPCs carry out their unique schedules through the day/night cycle.

Pull an enemy too far out of their territory and they’ll retreat to it, which means you can skedaddle as soon as things get rough. Get low on health, or pull too much aggro, and there’s usually a full 360 degrees of potential escape vectors. You can just leave. Do something else.

I think Elden Ring is deliberately structured like this, and it doesn’t even have to be a “difficulty” thing. The first real boss is quite tough, and many people skipped it to come back later when mounted. I beat it on foot. But when I came across a dragon later, I said “nope” and high-tailed it, whereas others beat it.

That doesn’t make anyone more badass than anyone else, it’s just … doing what we felt like doing. Player choice is a hell of a drug.

This is all made easier with the mount, which you can call during combat, and even engage in mounted combat if you wish. But outrunning enemies is a cinch on horseback.

It’s harder to leave boss fights of course, though you can always do the ol’, start a boss fight, grab the souls from your last death, and use an item to portal back to the bonfire with the souls intact. I’ve certainly done it once or twice. Or hundreds of times. Who’s counting?

Stealth Is Your Friend

A player knight sneaks up to a caravan with a valuable treasure chest at the rear, while large enemies loom in the background
Image: Elden Ring/From Software | Can you open the chest without them noticing?

You can play a good deal of Elden Ring as a stealth game, akin to Sekiro.

This is something you can do all game, or you can just dip in and out of the playstyle. You can spec your character for stealth, with the appropriate attributes and daggers and spells, or you can be a hulking Havel who just decided to stealth through one enemy camp.

It’s up to you, Tarnished.

Personally, I love a good full-frontal sword-and-board, but I also couldn’t resist sneaking up behind a world boss with a two-hander, charging up a strong attack with R2, and taking 10-15% of their health with one swing.

A player knight touches a point of grace
Image: Elden Ring/From Software | It was early in the game, but we found points of grace to be plentiful

I imagine with some theorycrafting you could raise that number quite a bit, and create a whole build and playstyle around it. There’ll probably even be YouTube videos about one-shotting bosses like there was in Dark Souls.

The stealth is as easy as pressing L3, and you can sit in the tall grass while enemies walk straight past. There’s also bound to be abilities and spells that decrease your noise, or decrease aggro and the like.

This playstyle is easy, fun, and built right into the game for you to dip in and out of. Approach the challenge however you want. No “mode” to select from the menu. Just organically play how you like.

Sorcery Breaks Souls Games

Sorcery was always the unofficial easy mode in Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. That’s a fact that’s been largely missing from the whole Easy Mode debate.

I haven’t given enough time to Elden Ring to fully confirm this is true here too, but from what I’ve seen… Yeah, it’s true. Though now, sorceries and Ashes of War (which are the new Weapon Arts) kind of fill the same space.

Just check out how easy it is for VaatiVidya to take down a boss with the homing spell at 24:15 in this video:

That’s pretty brutal. It makes mincemeat of a boss that some may find tough in the early game. It puts me in mind of the Artorias fight, which wreaked havoc on the stamina bar of anyone trying to win with just a sword and shield.

The fact that you can get this benefit from both sorcery and Ashes of War makes it easier to dip into, as well. You don’t even really need to be doing a sorcery playthrough. You can change your Ashes of War at any time at a point of grace.

Another playstyle that you can dip in and out of. You still have to learn the game, it’s just a different path. Beat it however you like, the point is that you beat it.

Multiplayer and Semi-Multiplayer

Multiplayer has always been fun, but a little bit clunky in Souls games. I think Elden Ring has helped out new players here simply by fixing up the networking part of the game. The one time I tried to get a friend in, it worked without a hitch.

Obviously, the true test is when the game launches and we see how it handles everyone connecting at the same time. We’ll also get a better picture of how it handled this upcoming weekend.

But purely based on the fact that multiplayer works better now, you can make your game a little more manageable by having someone portal in and show you the ropes.

NPC co-op and invasions are again present, and these can both help and hinder you. But the items needed to facilitate all of this seem less finite now. Gone are the days of grinding for Cracked Red Eye Orbs.

A big new feature is the NPC ashes you can carry around with you, using them to summon the NPCs at the cost of FP. This requires no internet connection, or even faking an internet connection. You can just walk to a boss fight and throw the ashes on the ground.

It does make the boss fight considerably easier, judging from the one time I used them. The large samurai I summoned was able to do lots of damage, but even more valuable was his ability to hold aggro. That’s a Godsend in a Souls game.

Game Knowledge Is King

A knight holds a torch out to his side after striking a beast man in front of him, lighting it on fire
Image: Elden Ring/From Software | Some enemies don’t like fire…

Overall, I’d say Elden Ring is also a little easier than the Soulsborne games. I’m sure there will be some non-essential bosses that are brutal, but mostly the mechanical windows seem more forgiving, and there’s more room to theorycraft around hard encounters. With game knowledge, you can make most fights easy.

My friend Joab Gilroy had a fun time beating the Beastman fight like a normal boss fight. Now here’s me, feeling clever because I worked out the Beastman was vulnerable to fire, so I could stunlock it with the torch. Now here’s VaatiVidya (9:40), who worked out how to put fire on a twinblade so the Beastman didn’t stand a chance.

Game knowledge. All of these things that seemed hard suddenly becoming trivial.

I love this because it maintains a core tenet of Souls philosophy — grinding should never be the answer. Levelling up your avatar is just a means to an end, a vehicle for theorycrafting. Dark Souls isn’t really about levelling up a character, it’s about levelling up yourself.

Like a true action-RPG should be, this can be about skill in combat, or skill in theorycrafting. In Elden Ring, if you choose, you can level up your knowledge of the game so much that challenges seem easy — and killing 200 boars for XP is still not the path to victory. As it should be.

The Guard Counter

A player knight holds a shield up while stabbing a boss enemy, as the boss enemy takes enough damage to die
Image: Elden Ring/From Software | It’s still possible to stab with a spear while blocking

Another new facet of the combat system is the Guard Counter, which seems designed to buff a shield-heavy style.

Pressing R2 after a successful block will counterattack the enemy. The window is forgiving, and the attack is both fast and strong.

Shield builds are typically the domain of those new to Souls games anyway, as pressing L1 to hold the shield up lets newer players get the hang of enemy attack patterns. You can block most basic enemies without penalty, memorise their moves, and start attacking when you’re comfortable. More experienced players will start parrying and rolling, and eventually discover they can shed some gear weight for a light roll, theorycrafting for more damage output because they get hit less.

The extreme version of this is a build with the Red Tearstone ring, in which you lower yourself to under 10% health for a damage bonus. You’re a glass cannon but you can down a major boss in only a few hits.

A player knight sticks a sword into a downed boss with a metal casing around its head
Image: Elden Ring/From Software | It’s easier now to base a strategy around poise damage, and get the resulting critical attacks

But what if you don’t want to move into that high risk, high reward playstyle? What if you want to keep blocking?

With the Guard Counter, you’re not just better shielded against enemies, you’re better shielded against riskier playstyles. Shield builds were always viable, but now they’re more interesting.

There’s still absolutely a game to be played here, complete with mid-fight fake-outs and mind games, but this is more a style of “picking your moment”.

Bosses might go for the full six-hit combo, or they might stop at some point prior. Learn the tells, and you’ll be able to spot it. It’s up to this shield-happy warrior to pick the last hit in the combo and then unleash the counter.

Or, as I found with Margit the Fell, there are moments mid-combo when you can counter and avoid being punished. Perhaps his next swing has an arc your counter will go under, or perhaps there’s just enough time. Or perhaps you’ve cleverly counted 10 hits and you know you need 11 to stagger and interrupt him.

As I said. Still very much a game to be played here.

With all of the above, it’s definitely a more approachable game, without sacrificing any of what makes it great. It simply offers more choice, not forcing anyone into a risky playstyle.

Beating the game still means something. You just get more choice over how you do it.


  • We’ll see. I don’t think the argument was ever particularly well founded. Not to say their concerns aren’t coming from a legitimate place, just they tended to be based on a lot of assumptions that didn’t always entirely reflect the reality of what the Souls games are.

    All that to say broadening the scope of possibilities in Elden Ring might not actually quell the criticism.

    • I agree with you Jacka. As a seasoned Souls vet who has finished all the games and their dlc (solo’d not co-op’d them), the idea of multi branch ways / ways to take out bosses etc sounds awesome to me. The casual player who just wants to beat a boss on one go will still get irritated by the constant deaths and will be making the same complaints they’re making now. “Why should I run away? Just make it easier for me” or “Omg, I’ve died 5 times, I’m over this” etc etc etc.

  • I used to be a Dark Souls purist, if you cant hack it dont play. But ever since I played Hades god mode it made me realise how ridiculous that elitist and self indulgent notion was. Personally there was no way I could play Hades long enough to get through the game, if not for the god mode. My brain simply isnt wired that way to function in Rogue Like games. It allowed players who would not normally be able to enjoy the game, at least have a fighting chance to get into it. Its not a cheat code for you still had to work, it just made it all a bit more forgiving.
    And because it could be toggled on and off with no penalty, it meant I could control how to have my own fun. After like the fifth full run, I took off those training wheels and it became one of my most favourite games ever. No one outside yourself cares about the challange, that is way Hades worked, because it gave ownership of the challenge to the player themselves..

    • really insightful comment; and a great article Jung!
      I’ve been a bit intimidated by the GetGud mentality of prior souls games; as I generally want something fun to play after work to unwind (I also loved Hades!) and it looks like Elden ring may be a good starting off point given the options and ways to approach things!

    • WoW should give me all the mythic raid gear. I can’t complete mythic raids so I feel like I’m entitled to all the gear without the effort.

      No one will care if I get free mythic raid gear, it doesn’t effect them. I should be able to control how I have fun in WoW.

      I normally don’t enjoy mythic raids but giving me all the gear for free would allow me to.

      Stellar logic Blake!

      • Do you actually stop and think about how stupid the shit you’re saying is, or are you really just totally oblivious?

        By your logic, you agree with EA’s “sense of pride and achievement” of grinding for 500 hours to unlock things in Battlefront 2.

        It’s almost like games are designed to be entertainment, and gatekeeping solo entertainment behind arbitrary dick-measuring contests is… for dickheads.

        • I don’t agree with djbear’s example as WoW is an MMORPG so there’s an obvious difference between it and Hades right there… However I also don’t agree with you that it’s a) ‘gatekeeping’ for devs to make a hard game that’s just not for everyone; and b) it’s automatically some dick-measuring contest to find it entertaining to be challenged by a game as specifically envisaged by the dev.

          I think you forget that games are designed to be whatever the developer wants it to be, not what YOU want it to be.

          • I actually think one of the best arguments for difficulty options, etc, is precisely so the developers work can be experienced by more people and not less.

            And I don’t think you’ll find a sane developer on the planet that is going to be like, “Nah I really don’t want X group of people to buy and play our games.”

            Since WoW is being mentioned, I believe that is one of the primary reasons they put in the ‘easy mode’ LFR system… So more people would actually see the raid content they were making.

          • @kasterix

            I understand your point, but I’m not sure I actually agree. I think you WILL find sane developers who have a vision for what their game is, and don’t want to compromise it for sales, pretty easily.

        • Exactly how is my point different to people demanding an easy mode for Dark Souls?

          they find dark souls too hard and want an easy mode.
          I find Mythic raiding too hard and want the gear given to me instead to make it easier.

          Games are designed to be entertainment, Giving me free mythic gear would entertain me. Don’t discriminate against me bigot. Why are you gatekeeping mythic raid gear?

          • Dark souls games are designed to be entertainment, That entertainment comes from the difficulty of the games.

            Dark souls games are as popular as they are because of the difficulty. Without that difficulty, they would not be where they are today.

            if you dont like it dont buy it.

          • There are different ways to handle difficulty. Not everyone steps up to gaming with the same level of experience. Thats why I bought up Hades IT understands that. It’s devs arent precious enough to think everyone games at the same level, it wants ALL people to play their game, so it lets players balance their own difficulty. Even Guardians of the Galazy did this as well, by giving a lot of options/levels, so people could micromanage the DEVS game with the PLAYERS own comfort level.

            I really dont think you understand how Hades God Modes, because it is not easy mode but makes the game more forgiving, giving players to increase their resistances to this type of game, while allow more people to step up to the plate and expereicne the game of their game… I have played all From Software games, what makes them brilliant is NOT only their difficulty but the world, the monsters, the art, the entire package. Who wouldnt want more gamers, the world over, to experience that sheer of gaming art?

      • I know you struggle sometimes Djbear but surely even you can comprehend the difference between single player and multiplayer games?

      • Not even remotely the same thing, but you know that. Lets face it, your comment wasnt about difficulty options and how game developers are slowly changing the paradigm of how difficulty is handed in games but more a personal dig. At least the devs in games like Hades and Elden Ring understand it is a complex issue worthy of mature debate.

    • How odd. I’m legit terrible at video games but finished Hades 10 times in 49 attempts without guides or tips. This is not to brag – I mainly button mashed. It just surprises me that someone so good at souls games would find Hades tough.

      • Yup I was thinking this. I put maybe 20 hours into Hades, and all but finished it. It’s not a hard game. The main difficulty was the repetition.

      • Because it is too different speeds of a game. In Dark Souls you are constantly moving forward, if you die you only lose what you have done since the last bonfire, as such, you see the constant value of your gaming time. While battles can get crazy, there normally isnt at many mobs, so it is a slower more calculated, where as Hades it is insanely fast, with heaps of mobs and while you keep a lot of stuff, the fear of losing a great fun run with a stupid mistake happens too fast. They tend to be too fast, with too much to lose.

        I have played all From games, loved every one of them. While I have played most big name Rogue games and virtually finished none of them, despite loving the style of many of them. Chalk and Cheese, I guess.

  • I think that while gaming is for everyone I don’t believe at all the EVERY game should be for everyone. The pace and difficulty is engrained in the DNA of FromSoft games. To think that they should be accessible to everyone who wants to experience it is almost paradoxical in a sense because you can’t actually experience the game without it’s indented difficulty. The balance of risk reward is what makes these games. The elation that comes with beating a boss or finishing the game only works if you’ve suffered and grown. I don’t know why people these days believe the EVERYTHING should be theirs and accessibility should come at the cost of variety and actually diversity. If you don’t like FROMSOFT games because they are too hard, that’s ok it just means the game is not for you and thats also ok. Play someone g else. NGL to hated summoning rando’s to help me on a boss. Some are so OP that they just 1 shot a boss leaving nothing for you to do except ponder how actually shit these games would be if they were easy. Do yourself a favour. if you want a game that has good exploration a lore but not hard, do yourself a favour, DONT play Elden Ring play something like BOTW instead.


      I fucking hate Bethesda games (i.e. Oblivion, Skyrim etc) because to me the combat is complete trash. This is ok! Not every game has to be everything to everyone.

    • Here is my issue with that argument… There’s actually a LOT more to the Souls style games besides difficulty.

      They typically have a great design and style to them, excellent world environments that are often unique and offer some great exploration, and piecing their lore together can be a whole thing of itself.

      All of that is a massive factor of the games and difficulty of combat doesn’t factor into ANY of it.

      • That’s true, and is certainly a strong argument in favour of difficulty scaling. The lore, that is there to be found, is incredible and the difficulty can prevent people from experiencing that…. however if that’s not what the Dev really wants their game to be then ultimately it doesn’t have to be. And having toiled for a while until the soulsborne games just ‘clicked’, I can understand the feeling Miyazaki talks about as kelsier pointed out below. If there was a difficulty slider, I don’t know I would have bothered and maybe I miss the satisfaction of overcoming those challenges. This isn’t dick-measuring as someone else asserted, it’s entirely personal.

    • The flaw in that thinking is that the value of From is that there are not some shallow gaming experience that only exist because they are difficult. Indeed their difficulty is all but a gaming urban legend. I am not saying they are easy but they are fair.

      But here’s the thing gamers are not equal, why shouldnt gamers experience the world of From if the combat is stress inducing? Why shouldnt all gamers be free to experience the ugly beauty and power of the From universe. I get it, I used to be a Dark Souls purist, these days, nah I just cringe at how on earth the only value I placed on their universe was celebrating it’s difficulty.

  • Miyazaki has literally stated that he makes his games challening, and that it’s the essence of the games he creates. His quote was “Overcoming challenges by learning something in a game is a very rewarding feeling, and that’s what I wanted to prioritise in ‘Dark Souls’ and ‘Demon’s Souls.'”

    At the same time his other quote is “Dont give up. Obstacles can be overcome through strategy and learning.”

    Asking for an easy mode for his games literally ruins the reasons as to why these games are created. It’s stupid to even argue to the point of an easy mode for the sousborne series. If the game is too challenging for people then it’s clearly not created for them.

  • I like how more games are starting to call it story mode rather than easy mode.

    There’s a lot of gamers who don’t have the time to play the same segment repeatedly and would rather less of a challenge and just enjoy the story.

    It’s the developers choice what they do, they just have to consider that some gamers are put off by reviews saying a game is challenging, others love a challenge.

    • Not sure this helps with soulsborne games made by FromSoft given they basically tell you the story via item descriptions and loading screens.

  • I dont ‘Demand’ these kinds of games to have an easy mode.
    Its just a clear personal edict, Until they do, i wont buy them.
    I like games as entertainment, endless deaths that require you to ‘get gud’ is not what i would personally call entertainment, so ill never play them. I never play games on anything harder than normal.
    I dont necessarily believe these games Should have an easy mode, they are a niche product that seem to do well for that audience, and if the developers are happy enough to be that, let them.
    Trying to turn a niche game into a more mainstream game is how EA operates.

    • Exactly, I feel the same way when it comes to strategy games. They tend to become overwhelming for me personally so I avoid the genre because I know I won’t enjoy my time with said games. I also understand there’s more talented gamers out there who genuinely love strategy games so I’m not going to harp on about simplifying the genre just so I can finally play it. Niche genres are a normal part of entertainment in general be it film, music, books or games. Imagine if every form of entertainment was just cookie cutter & designed for the masses. It would be the most boring thing ever.

  • So like every other game in the Dark Souls franchise, then?

    Co-op was the easy mode in Demon’s Souls, and the same is true in every other Souls game. No need to select anything from the menu – if the boss is too hard, call in a more experienced player to kill it for you.

    By having ways to make the game easier without having an easy mode per se, Elden Ring is simply continuing the (excellent) design philosophy that has always been present in the series.

  • Some people in this comment section need to realise that it’s OK to not enjoy a style of game, there is literally thousands of other options out there for you to enjoy. It’s another form of entertainment like Music & Film, and just like those each genre has it’s niche audience.

  • The whole ‘if the game is too hard maybe it isn’t for you / go play something else, there’s plenty of other games out there’ argument straight doesnt make any sense. You could just as easily apply that line of thinking to a difficulty mode option as well. Like, if you feel you need that sense of satisfaction from overcoming difficulty, go right ahead. If you don’t, just don’t use the easy mode. Not every difficulty mode is for everyone. The ‘purists’ lose nothing from the addition of scaling options – it doesn’t devalue the achievement of completing it the regular way. Plus the games are so much more than just the combat and the challenge, saying an easy mode would ruin the whole point of the game really does a disservice to the art, the lore, the environmental design, the sound design etc etc.

    • An easy mode would do a disservice to Miyazaki’s original vision for the core game style though. He has said many times that he wants his games to be challenging, so the feeling of victory is a genuine reward for learning to adapt to adversity in combat. The “purists” are just upholding Miyazaki’s core values. It’s a game type for a niche group of players.

      • Yeah you make a good point. Having gone and had a read of some of his comments on the choices he’s made regarding difficulty I can certainly see that he’s got a very specific reasoning behind the choices he’s made, and it makes perfect sense – not just approach to adaptation and that feeling of accomplishment, but also wanting the entire player base to have the same experience when they play through them. idk, I just kinda feel like it’s a shame that some people might bounce off it because of that difficulty, and that the amazing work that’s gone into every other part of the game is inaccessible to those people as a result of that. Like, there’s no barrier for entry for tv, film, music, books etc besides access and personal taste (well maybe not with books, reading comprehension level is a thing there I guess). Plus there’s always youtube playthroughs or whatever, but that’s not the same as actually, you know, exploring the world yourself. All that being said I imagine there’s plenty of cheese mods out there for people who are into that sort of thing anyway, so you know, easy mode’s probably still an option, just not an official one.

  • Everyone acts like “easy mode” would be one hitting bosses and infinite health, people that want an easy mode just want the same experience as the “purists” but at their own skill level.

    Also everyone acts like from soft invented action rpgs, all they did was inflate the difficulty.

  • I bought Returnal on day one at full price. I can’t get past the third biome and it shits me, like cool you made a difficult game for difficult people but can I refund it on the psn store because I can’t play it?
    It’s an enjoyable enough game but playing the first two levels over and over again with no actual advancement makes for a dud game in my library.

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