Should Every Video Game Have An Easy Mode?

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Photo courtesy of

Over the past few years, as games have become more and more accessible to all gamers, a debate has formed around whether difficult games, especially from FromSoftware should include an easy mode. FromSoftware created a subgenre of RPGs known as “SoulsBorne” or “Soulslike” characterized by a variety of factors, with the most important being these games are notoriously hard.

When you first pick up a Soulslike it will more than likely be the hardest game you’ve ever played up to that point, as these games’ gameplay loop is entirely predicated on trial and error, where any mistakes are severely punished. These games provide a daunting challenge for players to overcome, which for many makes these games unappealing. So should these games provide an easy mode to make the games are more accessible to more players? No.

Some of the arguments for introducing an easy mode center around making the game more accessible to those who may physically not be able to play the game well due to some disability, some people don’t have the time to sink to just keep dying over and over again, some people just want to experience the world and story without the challenge.

A lot of times when I see people try to defend why games like “Dark Souls” should not have an easy mode, they give really toxic responses that don’t understand the opposing argument at all. For example, a lot of people will just say the now obnoxious phrase “git good.” This implies that players who want an easy mode are just lazy or unskilled, which isn’t necessarily the truth. From an outside view, Soulsborne games are extremely difficult and provide a brutal challenge.

If they added an easy mode, many argue that it would make the game too easy and just allow bad players to succeed without any regard for people with disabilities, such as dyspraxia. For a lot of people, easy mode could be as hard as ultra-hard mode, so to say it would be easy for everyone is just false. While I lay on the side of not adding an easy mode in these games, the toxic gatekeeping by many Soulsborne fans is at best annoying and at worst disgusting and ableist.

For simplicity’s sake, I will mostly be discussing “Dark Souls” rather than all of FromSoftware’s recent lineup, such as “Bloodborne,” “Sekiro,” or the recently released “Elden Ring.” With that being said, while it would be great if FromSoftware were able to make the game more accessible to more players, slapping an easy mode onto the game doesn’t really make much sense from a logistical or artistic standpoint. The game isn’t hard because enemies do a lot of damage or are super aggressive, so it’s not just a matter of dialing those down.

The game’s difficulty pervades every aspect of its design. To give this game an easy mode, you’d need to change enemy animations to be easier to dodge, change player reactions to damage (like attacks that knock you back), change environments that were designed to be perilous such as Blighttown, Tomb of the Giants, and New Londo Ruins, and you’d have to rework entire boss fights, such as the legendary duo Ornstein and Smough.

Then there’s the online aspect of the game. To make an easy mode for this game would require the developers to fragment the player base, which doesn’t sound all that bad at first glance, but when you think about it, it would lead to even worse outcomes. By adding easy mode, you’d have to split the game into easy mode players and normal mode players, which would invite good players to come and annihilate new players, thus disincentivizing the use of humanity, which allows you to become human and summon other players.

Many argue that the easy mode should just be offline, but then you lose a core aspect of the gameplay and story. Dark Souls was meant to be a communal experience where other players help you to overcome battles that they lost, so playing it solo would make it harder for new players.

There are a multitude of ways to make these games more inclusive without simply slapping an easy mode. For example, the developers could add an extensive list of accessibility settings similar to “Far Cry 6” or “The Last of Us 2,” but beyond that, the developers can include more inclusive design into the game without radically changing their artistic and game design vision.
“I think it’s really important to acknowledge that Souls-like games are actually doing a lot of parts of inclusive design already, and they’re doing them pretty well,” said Clinton Lexa, Ubisoft accessibility project manager, in an interview with IGN. “Strong examples are how well the patterns of enemies communicate [what] is about to happen, what you need to react to. The actual level design has a lot of in-world differences [between] levels themselves that you can learn and remember to guide the player. And that can be very effective to rely less on a map.”
Later in the interview, Lexa discussed how FromSoftware could add different items to help close that gap between different players, such as a ring that increases dodge and parry windows for the player, which would fit into the pre-established world and lore of these games. This may sound cheap or effectively like an easy mode, but each game has a variety of items that can subtly or substantially help the player. “Dark Souls” has a shield that increases the speed of stamina regeneration, making it easier to hit, dodge, and parry without being brutally punished for running out of stamina. It also has a ring that changes the player’s roll animation to be a flip giving the player faster dodges, more range for each dodge, faster recovery for each dodge, and a larger frame of invulnerability while dodging. So even the original “Dark Souls” had a form of making the game easier and more accessible, while also fitting the lore. These games give players a plethora of options to tackle these daunting worlds. It’s not about pure skill but also exploration and ingenuity.
Storywise though is where I’d say adding an easy mode would most detrimentally affect the game. What makes the story of Dark Souls so good, despite it being extremely vague, is that it’s the ultimate story of triumph and overcoming hardship. It puts the player through the absolute ringer in a desperate world on the brink of ending. Left and right, you see people lose their purpose and meaning in life and go insane as a result.
It’s an allegory for depression and the state of the human condition. Life is a constant struggle to find and keep a purpose and without one we become a husk of ourselves, hollow. Though it may be in a fantastical setting, the story of “Dark Souls,” “Bloodborne,” and now “Elden Ring” is about powering through the hits life gives you both by yourself and with the help of others by learning from everyone’s past mistakes and overcoming them. If you gave these games an easy mode so people could “explore the story and world” you miss a core part of that equation. Sure, you could explore the world, but are you really experiencing it? Without the core aspect that ties the story and world together, you lose everything that makes it impactful. It becomes just as hollow and lifeless as the characters in the game.