Dark Souls 2: The Renaissance of Challenge?

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By Nick Flegg – 27th February 2014
Dark Souls 2: The Renaissance of Challenge?

With Dark Souls 2 lurking ominously on the horizon like the visage of a particularly menacing dragon, gamers around the world are once again preparing to die. As the sequel to a game famed for its difficulty, the second instalment of Dark Souls (the third in the franchise including Demon’s Souls), promises to torment and terrorise as much as ever before. However, while some gamers are anticipating this new challenge with unbridled glee, others are finding the appeal less obvious.

Since the game was first announced in 2012, the question that has been on the lips of every Dark Souls fan has been, ‘will the game retain it’s hard core nature?’ Rumours of a new ‘easy mode’ were debunked by director Yui Tanmura, who promised that “challenge and difficulty are core elements of the game”. A sense of satisfaction is a huge part of the Souls franchise and it was an element that Tanmura didn’t want to sacrifice. Learning to endure and overcome is the very essence of the game.

A Difficult Evolution

Not only will Dark Souls 2 deliver new locations to explore and monstrous enemies to defeat, but it also carries with it the threat of constant invasion by other players. This scenario highlights the stark contrast between gamers — those who seek to push their skills to the the limit and those who simply wish to have fun with the game. It’s a controversial addition and one that is proving to be a dividing factor amongst fans of the series. It poses an interesting question: is the satisfaction of overcoming a human invader greater than the frustration of losing everything upon defeat? Tanmura would answer in the affirmative, offering that the original Dark Souls was so popular because “there were not many games offering this same sense of accomplishment at the time.”

He has a point. The modern age of gaming has been defined by mechanics such as regenerating health and generous checkpoint layouts. It’s up to indie titles such as Super Meat Boy to recreate the hard-core mentality of yore and provide the experiences that can push a player’s frustration to its limits. Even troll games like Eryi’s Action are deadly by design, rather than pure difficulty. Truly challenging games such as Contra and Ghosts ‘n Goblins are quickly becoming a relic of the past.

Reward or Relief?

While there are many who mourn the loss of difficulty in video games, there are others who question whether this shift in paradigms is such a bad thing. As the medium continue to grow and develop, the number of people who venture into the digital world of gaming increases. While this new type of casual gamer may be looked upon with resentment from the hard core crowd, is the shift away from frustration a scandal or a necessary evolution? It could be argued that retro games had to be more challenging due to their limited processing power, while a modern game that provides fluid controls and clever level design cuts out the frustration and focuses on the fun.

Can a game be both fun and challenging without also being frustrating and off-putting? Is overcoming extreme adversity a reward or a relief? One thing is for sure; Dark Souls 2 is coming and it’s not looking to make friends. Dark Souls 2 will be released on March 11 in the US, March 13 in Japan and March 14 in the UK.