Lowering Elden Ring's difficulty would attract more players but would also 'break the game itself,' says director Hidetaka Miyazaki

3 weeks ago 54
 Shadow of the Erdtree, a powerful knight wielding a blade of magic and a blade of roiling flame.
(Image credit: FromSoftware)

The launch of Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree means, among other things, a resurrection of the timeless debate over difficulty in Dark Souls games. In the eyes of many soulslikers, Elden Ring was notably gentler than its predecessors because if you're getting hammered by one demigod clown or another, you can always take off, do something else for a while, and come back later when you're better equipped to clean house.

Even so, Elden Ring does not have any kind of difficulty selector: It is what it is, and you're either the windshield or the bug. And this is how it needs to be, according to game director Hidetaka Miyazaki, who said in an interview with The Guardian that decreasing the difficulty might open up the game to more players, but would also compromise the experience.

"If we really wanted the whole world to play the game, we could just crank the difficulty down more and more," Miyazaki said. "But that wasn't the right approach.

"Had we taken that approach, I don't think the game would have done what it did, because the sense of achievement that players gain from overcoming these hurdles is such a fundamental part of the experience. Turning down difficulty would strip the game of that joy—which, in my eyes, would break the game itself."

That said, FromSoft did ease up a little bit: Miyazaki said the studio wanted to ensure Elden Ring players didn't "feel claustrophobic or overly limited in the scope of what they're able to do," and instead of the relentlessly bleak worlds of the Dark Souls series, "we wanted to have these moments of beauty."

"That's where a little bit of high fantasy comes in, conceptually," he said. "Both in terms of the difficulty and the learning curve, as well as the world setting, you feel that you can come up for air."

It's no secret that I'm not a souls guy, but I truly loved Elden Ring—against all expectations, it was nothing short of exquisite. Much of that arose from the dreamlike beauty of the game world, which was genuinely wonderful to be lost in, but I have to admit that Miyazaki might have a point about difficulty too. 

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On the whole, I think I would prefer a difficulty slider, so I could explore the Lands Between without worrying about dying all the time; but it was also undeniably satisfying to roll up on some jerk who'd stomped my guts out two weeks prior with a "Hey, remember me?" and an extended blast of fusion-powered Comet Azur. I do not enjoy the thrust and parry of conventional souls combat, but holy cow, that kind of melt everything payback felt good.

Of course, the odds of adjustable difficulty in Elden Ring or whatever FromSoft gets up to next are basically zero. Miyazaki has been talking about it for well over a decade now, and at this point it's pretty clear his mind is made up—especially since FromSoft has apparently decided to crank things up for Erdtree. Good luck, everyone.

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.

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