"It's really not that hard". I'm sure you've heard that uttered by "Dark Souls elitists", and if you've never played a Souls game but hear all the time about how terribly difficult it is, there's a good chance you sneer when you hear that. "Not that hard". ARROGANT JERK!!! Maybe you think something like "I'm sure physics wasn't 'that hard' to Einstein, but he didn't go around looking down on everybody else" (I actually heard a similar comparison).
I confess to be guilty of the phrase "it's not that hard" myself, but here's the thing: when Souls fans say that, what they really mean is... well, I have no idea what other people mean, they might all just be arrogant jerks for all I know, but what I mean is that Dark Souls is not "that hard" in the way you typically think of difficulty. In fact, Dark Souls is surprisingly accessible, and the only thing you need to play it is some basic videogame familiarity like being familiar with third-person adventure or action games.
Some games are insanely difficult in that, truly only the very best, the most dedicated, the ones who have lightning fast reflexes or whatever skill the game requires, will make it to the end, or sometimes even past the beginning. I remember plenty of old school games being like that, though I was just hit by the realization that I'm too old to remember any of them :(
Dark Souls is not like that. You don't need super-human skill, reflex, brain or precision. Literally any gamer can learn and have fun with Dark Souls. The only two things Dark Souls truly require are available to every single human being, though admittedly in varying degrees: patience and method. The reason for the "hardest game of the generation" hype is that it's just so different from what we're used from modern games, you have to train yourself to think in a different manner, learn the language of the game. You need to... *cue solemn Star Wars music* unlearn what you have learned. Lucky for you, that's exactly what I'm here for!
Years and years of gaming trained us to run to the first enemy we come across and mash the attack button with abandon, maybe while checking twitter. In Dark Souls, this mindset will get you killed. All the time. No exception. Seriously. And if you insist on doing that, you'll surely end up storming out in a rage.
You need to take it slow. Treat each enemy in Dark Souls like you treat a boss fight in other games. Don't worry, the enemies die quickly and it's not actually like fighting bosses all the time, you just need a similar mindset. Put up your shield and carefully approach the enemy. Watch how it behaves, learn it's movements. See what kind of weapon it uses, the range, if he has a shield, if its typical attack is a 3-strike combo or a 4-strike combo, and attack when you see an opening.
Modern games teach us that there are no ledges, only invisible walls, so you can run at full speed all the time without a care in the world. In Dark Souls, there really are ledges. A lot of them, and nary an invisible wall to be seen. So if you're not familiar with an area, don't run if it doesn't look safe, walk. Keep your eyes peeled. Find a source of light if possible. And be aware that, when fighting enemies near ledges, the risk of falling is very real. Don't rush, take it slow. Act like you yourself would if you were a real life explorer and came across an uncharted land, and not like you're just controlling an avatar in a game that will go out of its way to protect you.
Modern games teach us that death equals failure. Death means we see the continue screen (do they still have those?)or respawn with a mild penalty of some kind, but either way, we failed at what we were trying to accomplish. Some games are so terrified of making us feel like we're not rewarded or special enough that they scrap the notion of death altogether.
In Dark Souls, you will die. A lot. And if you're conditioned to treat every death as a failure, you'll feel like you're failing all the time, and quickly grow frustrated.
Here's the little secret, though: In Dark Souls, death is not failure, it's just a normal part of the game, so much so that it's treated almost like a gameplay mechanic. When you diie, the souls (the game's currency, used for literally everything) you had on you stay in the same place you died, and you get them all back if you get back there alive, but if you don't, then they are lost for good. This adds another another decision for the player to make: do I go back to spend my souls now, or can I risk going just a little bit further?How much of a loss would it be if I risk going further and die twice? In Demon's Souls and the first Dark Souls, for instance, you even actually need to be dead to be able to do certain actions, like invading the worlds of other players.
So don't sweat that you're dying. Dying in Dark Souls is just another part of the game, and every time you die a different death, you'll learn something of value. So don't be afraid. In Dark Souls, death is not failure.
It's really not that hard with friends
Finishing Dark Souls alone is perfectly doable, but it really is THAT hard. However, you don't have to survive everything on your own. You can summon up to two players to help you. With the help of just one extra fighter, some of the more challenging areas may still be challenging, but if you have two adventurers to back you up? Sometimes it almost feels too easy! I know, right? That almost impossible boss that can't possibly be killed, even with a friend? With two friends, he's almost a pushover.
Which isn't to say the game won't require your full attention. Even if once tough enemies crumble easily under your combined might, the biggest enemy in Dark Souls can and will still kill you if you relax too much: carelessness. Allowing yourself to be trapped between two enemies in a narrow bridge, forgetting that spike trap, falling AGAIN for the same ambush, lingering near exploding barrows, etc, all that and more can still kill you just as quickly.
This may be a shocking revelations, but we don't play Dark Souls because we like suffering, we play it because it's fun! Seriously. Sure, you'll be frustrated some(many)times, but will also have a blast. Rolling out of the way of a giant sword at just the right time, defeating an invading phantom, killing a giant boss with your friend, invading another player's world, coming across not one but three enemy players, luring them to a very narrow bridge and landing a horizontal slash with your big-ass greatsword that hits them simultaneously and pushes them all off the bridge,... beautiful!
Yes, you'll die. Yes, you'll be annoyed and frustrated sometimes. And yes, you'll have a lot of fun. Not just because of the feeling of reward after overcoming a challenge, not because you like pain, but because you'll be having a genuinely good time. So don't be afraid, don't be put put off by by the "too hardcore" or "too difficult" reputation and come join us. Maybe you'll try and hate it anyways, but you just might have the videogame time of your life!
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