In my previous post, I talked about why we don’t need an easy mode in Dark Souls III. There was some good discussion that started me thinking about what an easy mode in Dark Souls III would look like, and I think I’ve come up with some ideas that would preserve the challenge of the game while still making it more accessible and forgiving. The good news is, these are improvements the game could make already, so there’s still no real need for an easy mode!
Playing through the segment between the Tower on the Wall bonfire and Vordt of the Boreal Valley was a exercise bordering on masochism; even using a shortcut, there was still two knights, three spear zombies, multiple arbalests, a few fast zombies with swords, a prayer group with a leader who turned into a hideous monster if I didn’t kill him fast enough, at least two rogue zombies, and a heavy knight with a winged halberd between me and the boss. That’s a lot of bad guys to have to fight through, especially with the challenging combat in a Souls game. And if at any point I died, I would have to fight through all of this again—THEN fight a boss.
You know what would have made this so much better? One more bonfire. Just one. A chance to refresh my estus flasks and regain my health and mana would have kept me from having to replay this section over and over and over again. No need to nerf the enemies; just give me a chance to catch my breath.
The current section I’m struggling with—immediately after the graveyard near the Cleansing Chapel—is even worse, involving even more ranged and heavily armed enemies, plus an impossibly fast grave warden. I always manage to die o on the rooftop segment, to the point that I decided to just make a run for it, and I still die over and over again. I’ve looked ahead in walkthroughs, and it’s a LONG time before I see another bonfire. So I’m hitting a brick wall, over and over again, with no way of restoring my power-ups.
A bonfire should be a blessing. Seeing one should be a huge relief, a literal light in the dark. That doesn’t mean they need to be sparse. Bonfires are the one guarantee that you’ll never have to fight through another grueling section ever again, yet some grueling sections are ridiculously long. From Software should have studied “hot spots” on their maps during testing, and established bonfires immediately after where most players died consistently. This would not only allow for players to feel a greater sense of progression, but would make it easier to split your play sessions up into more manageable chunks.
Quality vs. Quantity
There are many sections of this game where the challenge doesn’t come from how tough an enemy is, but how many you have to fight in succession or—even worse—all at once. No matter how good you are, when you’re surrounded by enemies wielding long-range, high-damage weapons you are going to die; and no matter how good you are, there are sections of this game where you will be surrounded, no matter how well you maneuver.
Enemies could still be as strong as they are now, but the game would be more manageable if there were less of them. By the very virtue of the fact that you have less mobs to deal with, the player could more easily find escape routes and herd enemies together into a single clump so their weapons or magic can strike multiple targets. After all, when your encounters are challenging because they demand skill, that’s legitimate difficulty; when they’re challenging simply because you stack the odds against the player such that luck is just as important as skill, that’s artificial difficulty and nobody likes it.
Better Leveling Up
One of my biggest gripes with this series has always been how the leveling system works. You trade souls for increasing your stats—one at a time. Of course, you also trade souls for weapons, items, and upgrades. This makes for a delicate balancing act that almost never works to the player’s advantage. That may very well be the point, but it also means that you can’t just spend a few hours on the weekend buffing up your level and upgrading your gear; and while grinding isn’t a necessity in this game, it’s still possible—even lucrative—and presents a more relaxed way of playing.
Levels should be earned the same way they are in traditional RPGs; you earn experience points which convert to higher levels as you play. Still leave the player with the option of using souls to up individual stats if they wish, or keep the same system but dump a windfall of souls onto the player at specified intervals, so the player has more flexibility in how to build their character.
More Restrictive PVP
As it stands, any player can invade any other player’s world, as long as both of them are embered. This makes for some very tense game play; when you get the message that you’ve been invaded, you feel your heart sink and your pulse quicken. Fighting against players is fun, but not everybody wants to do that.
While players could toggle PVP on or off, a less complex way of making PVP more balanced and accommodating would be to just not kill the loser. Another player killing you is the same as a mob killing you; you respawn at the last bonfire you visited and have to claim your lost souls. You lose ember if you were in that state when you were killed as well. Instead, why not just have the loser...lose? Reward the winner with an Ember or some random drop of a high-value item and let the loser simply sink to one knee in submission; then, refill their life and magic and let them go on their way. This makes getting that invasion message less dreadful and would actually encourage gamers who usually wouldn’t consider PVP give it a go.
None of these parameters would require nerfing enemies, and none of them even require a separate easy mode; they are flaws in the game’s design that, if corrected, would naturally make it less of a daunting experience.
If we were going to institute an actual easy mode; here’s my one suggestion other than nerfing enemies and buffing the player: you don’t lose your souls when you die. Enemies still respawn and you’re still set back at the last bonfire you visited, but you keep your souls. That way, you can level up your character faster so you’re ahead of the tougher enemies later in the game. Would this “taint” the Dark Souls experience? In a way, yes. But while some games should just be meant to be hard, no game should be exclusionary.