With the recent release of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the conversation surrounding accessibility in video games has been rekindled. Sekiro's an unforgiving title that even hardcore players can have trouble with, but would it ruin the game for it to have an easy mode for those who just want to take in the atmosphere, or the story? A broader question: should all games include an easy mode? If not, why not? That's what we're here to discuss in this latest Talking Point.
Easier difficulties are not a rarity in modern gaming. Most PlayStation 4 titles that we can think of have at least a few difficulty options in an attempt to cater to as broad an audience as possible. In particular, mainstream, immensely popular games like FIFA offer a suite of difficulty modifiers so that you can tweak the gameplay exactly to your liking. Likewise, the most recent Assassin's Creed titles -- Origins and Odyssey -- go above and beyond with their accessibility options.
But just because the big boys are doing it, does that mean every game should offer something similar? As mentioned, Sekiro can be a brutal experience, much like From Software's previous games. Dark Souls is a series that's all but founded on being difficult, with the franchise often using its inherent toughness as a key selling point. Even people who have never played Dark Souls will probably know it as a series that's supposed to be challenging.
I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this. I’ve always felt that games should be as accessible as possible, and thus difficulty options can level the playing field. But at the same time I think a game like Bloodborne is so tightly designed around its underlying challenge that you could ruin the overall experience by offering an easy setting. As such, I can only really conclude that the context is crucial. - Sammy Barker, Editor
So should games like Dark Souls and Sekiro open themselves up to more casual players with an easy mode? It's a heated and complex debate that's been bubbling for years, but there's no clear answer. It's easy to argue that these titles wouldn't be the same without their high difficulty. The joy of Sekiro, for example, is overcoming an especially tricky enemy. Breaking through the limits of your supposed skill level is always going to be incredibly rewarding, and the same rule applies to any title that's hard to master.
But does an easy mode actually take anything away from these games? Those still craving a challenge can opt for the default difficulty, while an optional easy mode could welcome players who perhaps wouldn't have even tried the game previously, put off by how hard it's supposed to be.
We suppose the key word here is 'optional'. No one complained when God of War -- a challenging action title on the harder difficulties -- shipped with a 'story' difficulty, because it was entirely optional. The same goes for Marvel's Spider-Man, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and a load of other highly rated games. Heck, even the recently released Devil May Cry 5 offers an easier difficulty level alongside optional mechanics, making it the most accessible entry in Capcom's long-running series.
If you want to take the examples even further, what about games that don't require quick reflexes and dexterous fingers? Persona 5 is a turn based role-playing title that has an easy mode for those who may just want to experience the story without having to worry about grinding for levels. Are optional easy modes ever really a bad thing?
When this topic began to resurface after the release of Sekiro, my first thought was that games like this are very deliberately designed to be as challenging as they are, and that really shouldn't be messed with. It's perfectly accessible for new players, has clear rules, and has little tolerance if you deviate from them. That's just how it is, and it's the way From Software wants you to experience its game. However, having mulled it over, I think that line of thinking is a little inflexible. Sure, you can have your high difficulty, but I don't see any reason why you couldn't include an easier option for those that want it. It does no harm to anyone, and opens the doors to a much wider audience. Ultimately, the more options available, the better. - Stephen Tailby, Associate Editor
But again, it all seems to come back to games like Sekiro -- games that are built around steep learning curves and unforgiving gameplay. Would Sekiro be the game that it is without its punishing difficulty? If there was an easy mode, would it separate players from the "true" experience? What if the developer's vision just doesn't line up with making the game more accessible? Shouldn't that be respected? Or should developers always try to include as many options as possible so that no one is left behind? Yeah, it's complicated.
Anyway, we've had our say, so now it's your turn. Vote in our polls, and then feed us some honest opinions in the comments section below.