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After putting a significant amount of time in Dark Souls II, EDGE published an editorial to argue against the common notion that the series is exceedingly difficult. I largely agree with the premise, even though some of their reasoning doesn't appear strong to my eyes:
Furthermore, the Souls series gives players a spread of options like few other games. Ryu will always be Ryu, but if you're struggling against a boss in Drangleic, Lordran or Boletaria, a different approach can be adopted with just a few menu screens. You can switch to a spear and attack with your shield up, get out a halberd and give yourself greater range, or whip out a greatsword to maximise your damage output. If you're struggling at close quarters, you can fight from range with sorcery or pyromancy, or put on heavy armour to mitigate the impact of mistakes. On your travels, you'll amass all kinds of items, and chances are the answer to your struggle is waiting in the inventory screen.
Dark Souls II gives you even more options, in fact, with the new ability to respec your character using the Soul Vessel item. It's a rare find we had just three of them by the end but it's a key change, especially bearing in mind how many players abandoned their first Dark Souls save after realising they'd raised the wrong stats at the wrong times and levelled themselves into a corner. You're never forced to respec, but you'll be tempted to, especially during one mid-game run of areas that is seemingly designed to mock those who said the first game's Resistance stat was pointless. We resisted, but did restyle ourselves as a hybrid Strength and Intelligence character before embarking on New Game Plus, which is where Dark Souls II really gets hard.
And this freedom affords such flexibility that you can make the game harder, if you so choose. If Dark Souls really was the hardest game on the market, why would so many players complete the Soul Level 1 run, which involves starting out as a Pyromancer and never levelling up? Why is YouTube full of playthroughs of characters wearing only a loincloth, or completing the game without resting at a single bonfire? How is it possible that the 100 per cent boss speedrun world record stands at an hour and 21 minutes? It's because, in its vanilla form, Dark Souls isn't hard.
I'm not sure if challenge runs on YouTube should be used as a yardstick of how hard a game is, especially considering how much they rely on having learned all the quirks of the game, nor do I think the kind of practice and knowledge it takes to come up with and learn how to effectively use your character build should be underestimated. That said, I tend to agree with EDGE that the difficulty of the Souls games has been blown out of proportion, to the point where the entirety of the discourse around them seems to be dominated by this element, ignoring the title's clever mix of action-based gameplay with character building, the excellent art direction, the occasionally obtuse but always interesting systems design and all the other elements that make From Software's action-RPGs what they are.