Forbes Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’ Should Honor Its Players By Including An Easy Mode
It’s time to revisit an old saw once more. It was true of Dark Souls 3, it was true of Bloodborne, it was true of all prior From Software titles, and it will continue to be true until one of these games finally has an easy mode.
That hasn’t happened yet, and therefore we find ourselves here. There should be an easy mode in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Good day, old saw. To be honest, seeing you again isn’t all that pleasant.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the latest game from Software, a studio known for making punishingly difficult games that set a new standard for how much abuse a modern player could take.
It introduced this new aesthetic with Demon’s Souls, solidified it with Dark Souls, and then strutted across the gaming world with Bloodborne, my go-to drug and one of the most immersive gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
In some areas of the gaming world, these games have gained cult status, with some using them as a litmus test for determining if someone is a serious gamer or a filthy casual.
Due to the lack of difficulty options in these games, only a select group of players with the time, inclination, reaction speed, and lack of physical limitations will ever see the final boss fight anywhere other than Twitch. This is a serious issue.
Update: There’s been some interesting discussion on Twitter and elsewhere since I published this.
I’ve included a Twitter thread from accessibility specialist Ian Hamilton discussing accessibility, difficulty, and how developers might think about these issues, as well as an article by game developer Garrick “Doc” Burford about his experience playing From Software games with a physical impairment. The rest of the article is below the tweet.
My issue with these is that I don’t believe I would have written any of them if I didn’t enjoy them so much.
I’m not going to play any other difficult games, so whatever.
However, difficulty is only one aspect of what distinguishes these games for me, and it isn’t the most essential.
From Software has some of the best world creation and, I would argue, character design in the industry.
I had to slip under a bridge early on in Sekiro, where I encountered a strange, malformed hermit man with a nasty knife from beneath a large straw hat.
It was disgusting and odd, the kind of thing you could practically smell, and it was the first look I’d gotten of the world’s deformed underbelly, into which I’d only just stepped.
That’s what I remember most about Bloodborne: something about the lonely, dreadful way these characters move fascinates me so much that I could watch them all day, and every time I see one, I feel compelled to see the rest.
Many developers have tried to emulate From’s style of aggressively sparse storytelling, which relies on oblique item descriptions and occasional short dialogue to build out worlds that seem so much larger than our own character’s comprehension, but only Hollow Knight has ever come close to capturing what makes these games so special.
Shadows Die Twice (Sekiro)
But the vast majority of people, even those who might be interested in such things, will never see any of it.
Perhaps they have a limited amount of gaming time and don’t want to waste it fighting Lady Butterfly 100 times.
Perhaps they’re not very adept at timing their parries, or perhaps they get frustrated and don’t want to be frustrated right now.
Perhaps they have a physical condition that makes this level of precision impossible to achieve.
An easy mode would allow an order of magnitude more people to see what From has produced, but for reasons I can’t fathom, these experiences remained closed off to those millions of individuals.
What’s particularly galling about Sekiro is that all previous From Software games had a sort of safety valve that allowed you to summon other players into your game to help you get over the game’s most difficult boss battles.
Even that is gone in Sekiro, so if you run into a brick wall, that’s it. Either bang your head against the wall or give up the game.
The lack of a summon mode kept me from investing too much of my mind into the game.
I was able to defeat the chained ogre without too much difficulty—even without the fire—so I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to continue doing well in this game.
But I can’t let myself become obsessed with this one because I don’t enjoy the concept of facing a boss I can’t beat without a week of frustration.
When it comes to not adding an easy mode, there’s a lot of rhetoric about “respecting the player,” or the idea that all players can and should play this game in this particular, harsh way.
Despite this, I believe the lack of a simple mode demonstrates the exact opposite.
It demonstrates an almost shocking lack of respect for players by implying that they can’t be trusted with their own gameplay experiences, that even those who want a challenging game will be seduced by the siren song of lower difficulties and ruin their own experience because they’re too impatient or immature to know what they want.
The summoning mechanism is an excellent illustration of this: I never utilised it while playing Bloodborne because I knew exactly what I wanted from the game.
I wasn’t a big fan of Dark Souls 3, so I utilised it a lot. Celeste was one of the year’s most critically lauded games, immediately cementing its place in the “masocore” category, which includes platformers with the same ruthless mentality as a From Software title.
Despite this, the game came with a plethora of accessibility options, allowing each player to assess exactly what would make this a suitable experience for them and then tailor their own settings to their ability.
The game didn’t mince words about what you were doing: it was apparent that conventional mode was the best way to play the game, and that you should attempt it on regular difficulties before switching to assist mode.
The essential experience is preserved, and more individuals can participate. Nothing is lost, but there is a lot to gain.
And this is why I’ll never understand From’s zealots and their adamant belief that the simple appearance of an easy option will jeopardise the game’s unique experience.
It bears repeating: an easy mode does not have to alter the fundamental experience in any way, period.
Playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice with an easy mode would theoretically be equal to playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as it is today.
The players’ constant insistence that an easy mode would somehow influence normal mode appears to reflect a lack of respect for themselves, a belief that they wouldn’t be able to play the game they wanted without damaging it.
As a result, I’d advise From fans to have faith in themselves. Recognize that you have the freedom to play the game you want to play, even if others are doing the same.
An easy option doesn’t have to be complicated: I’d prefer to see the kind of deeper customization that Celeste has, but all you have to do is increase the player’s damage and decrease the enemy’s damage.
That concludes our discussion. At this point, I don’t think my wish will ever come true. However, that is still my wish.