I’m glad Soulslike gaming is dying

Bailey Tomlinson, News Editor

2017 was a huge year for indie games, of which I am a major fan.

Games made without the backing of a large studio, often crowd-funded, developed over several years, made with a tiny development team or a mix of all three are often referred to as ‘indie games.’ 

This in reference to their independence from large development studios and traditional selling points because of it.

2017 was also a huge year for a very specific type of game, called a Soulslike. 

This is due to similarities in playstyle to From Software’s Souls series, the most recognizable of which is Dark Souls. Soulslike games are unforgiving in difficulty and quick to withhold resources that would make them easier. 

PC Gamer defines a Soulslike as having certain elements, including “exploration and skill-based combat, while also borrowing certain obvious elements from Dark Souls, ranging [from] the checkpoint system through to the way XP is gained (and lost). What does ‘skill-based’ mean? Well, it basically means you can’t button mash.”

Gamepedia lists elements of a Soulslike which include things such as high difficulty, risky combat with high level enemies, sparse checkpoints and enemies dropping resources used for upgrading stats and/or weapons that are lost upon death.

The focal point of many Soulslike games in the gaming community at large is decidedly the difficulty level. Many of these games do not have a difficulty setting that can be changed, like would be expected in other types of games. 

The difficulty the developer made the game to be played at is the difficulty that the player will experience. Gamers who can beat certain games, or even certain portions of particularly brutal games, are seen as more skilled than those who can’t. 

This, along with the influx of Soulslike elements into popular games, generated a discourse in the community at the time about difficulty levels in gaming. 

A popular argument in favor of them was that video games are special in that they are a form of art that can be experienced, and games that have high difficulty at their center should be experienced in that way. 

Going into the settings and changing the difficulty to easy or normal would be taking away from the experience the developer intended. 

If gamers weren’t skilled enough to progress in the game, then they couldn’t experience the story as it was made to be experienced. Nobody should make an artist ‘water down’ their art.

In 2017, I was 17 years old. I had money to spend on the latest games and seemingly infinite time to sink into them. At that time, that argument made sense to me as I ground away at Soulslike after Soulslike, having those experiences as they were supposedly intended to be.

In the past month, I’ve been spending my free time slowly playing through one of the bigger 2017 Soulslike indie games, Hollow Knight. 

In it, you platform through dangerous terrain and fight increasingly difficult bosses as a little bug with a nail for a sword. 

About two weeks ago, I realized that as I reached the bosses, I stopped both having fun and progressing in the game. I no longer have the free time to sink into grinding fights until I have the muscle memory to beat Soulslike difficulty bosses. 

Losing the same fight upwards of five, 10, 15 times is no longer an exciting challenge, it’s a drag. I couldn’t continue playing a game I’d been enjoying because I didn’t meet the ability level needed to.

So, in my foolish optimism, I opened the settings menu to turn the difficulty down and found that I couldn’t. 

It was at that moment I realized 17-year-old me had been wrong. Playing video games has never been about having the same experience as other players, shaped by artificial caps such as difficulty and supposedly specific enough that the developers would put these caps in place.

Playing video games is about getting to experience stories we wouldn’t be able to fully share with each other in other formats. These difficulty caps don’t enhance that, they keep players who may not have enough time, or enough skill, or who have a disability or who just don’t enjoy difficult games from experiencing those stories too.

Since 2017, I would say the amount of Soulslike games being the big titles of the year has gone down. 

Of course they’re still around, with titles like Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice being popular recent releases. 

But compared to what it was at its height, Soulslike gaming is dying, and I for one am ready to see what takes its place.