How to make an accessible hardcore game: Part 3

How to make an accessible hardcore game: Part 3

We hear it all the time:

  • This game is too easy
  • This game is too hard.
  • Developers need to make money so they dumb down.
  • There’s money to be made from the casuals.
  • Hardcore are a dying breed
  • 22% of gamers are mobile, that’s more than the “core”.

What does it all mean? Are games really undergoing a transition to become easy experiences with easy rewards and just tickle your brain into a dopamine high? Read on to find out. We have discussed the terminology here, and chosen Dark Souls as an example here.

How can we make Dark Souls accessible without compromising it’s challenge? The key to creating a sequel worthy of its players is to understand how the players operate and who they are, and to not forget we are two years post-launch and impressions are not fresh or unbiased. We are aiming to create a game that appeals to the game-savvy hardcore player, retains its challenge, but succeeds at engaging and attracting new players by increasing accessibility.

Who are the Dark Souls players?

We’ve been running this wiki since early 2011, and we thus have millions of player impressions on our pages that highlight something that will surprise many readers:

  • The majority of Dark Souls players are PvE, pick their weapons from forum recommendations, and have the Bosses page bookmarked
  • Most of them will not read a walkthrough, but are carefully informed in covenant options.
  • An exceptional number of new players hit an NPC by mistake or answered “no” to Alvina’s and Kathee’s trick questions and are regulars at Sin Absolution.
  • Over 60% of the players want a linear progression for their first playthrough, and only under 20% commits to NG++++ and over.
  • only 1% of the playerbase frequents forums this late on the game’s life.


With the above, we can now determine

Aspects that should not be removed

  1. PvE should remain the focus of the game
  2. Discovery should remain the focus of the game
  3. The game does not need story or progression guidance, but covenant detailing is needed
  4. The game needs a method of resolving some mistakes
  5. The game should keep the first playthrough locked linearly
  6. The game has specific longevity in lore and pvp, as well as in beginner’s tips


Thus some examples of

What can be changed to make Dark Souls II accessible

  • Explanation of the game’s rules: Dark Souls lacked the guidance to explain to the new player that dying 40 times on your way to the Taurus Demon was perfectly normal.  New players don’t need an easy tutorial, they need to be told they are going to fail and are expected to push through it.
  • Emphasis on “paying attention” and clue-seeking: The series is notorious for having short lines of dialogue explain key objectives. The players should be made aware of this early on, not the challenge removed
  • Enhance multiplayer by adding dedicated servers
  • Effects of Stats on specific categories can be explained in-game instead of waiting for players to figure it out beyond the game
  • Better indicators of key items: Inventory is poorly laid out in respect to story items, making lore-seeking tedious at times due to navigation.
  • Introduction to crafting: a better explanation of the crafting system without removing the discovery aspects
  • Simplification of character dialogue: Many NPCs use double negatives and create unnecessary confusion that does not add to the game’s challenge and is off-putting to newcomers


What can’t be changed or challenge will be removed

  • No bonfire warping to everywhere from the start. It makes the content less appealing. It provides for PvP and farming, but it also stops players from having to learn regions and shortcuts.
  • PvE focus and host advantage: Invasions should be limited and dangerous to the invader
  • Story should be layered, with deep and rich ambiguous lore underneath an easy and accessible front.
  • Characters should be fluid, allowing the player to evolve into any class or build
  • Items should remain rare: Farming is part of the game, having everything accessible from a vendor diminishes accomplishment.
  • Choices should be permanent


Will Dark Souls II live up to its hype and bring the community to a new height? As some people with beta access have found, some of these concepts have already been implemented, and others remain a mystery.  These list is not exhaustive but it should give an idea of what can be altered in the game to attract new players whilst retaining the core. Please feel free to jump in on the comments and let us know what you think!

You can find the Souls series here.

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MMO raider by day and guide writer by night, Fex enjoys multiplatform gaming, good books and animes, and streaming with a cold beer.

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19 comments on “How to make an accessible hardcore game: Part 3”

  1. I mostly agree with this. First off I have to point out the seeming contradiction in the ability to fix some mistakes and have choices permanent. Hitting an NPC is something I consider a choice (which is fixable albeit I admit most of us had no idea at first, sorry Ingward). I think for the most part following the formula they’ve had will be a good balance. And if the beta is any indication they’ve made killing NPCs less permanent by allowing ghosts to be summoned at a cost so there’s still some sacrifice. You could be referring to other permanent choices though which I assume will be retained (using slabs or quivalent, etc.).

    I know we’ve also disagreed on this in the past too but I have no issue with bonfires being able to be warped between right from the beginning assuming you have to find them first. The people who actually gain anything from a second, third (forty second) look at the scenery are the ones who will still foot it. I know I will be. The ones using the warps are likely going to be the ones impatiently running through mobs in the first place and not really gaining anything from the experience. Also, as I pointed out in the forum when this came up:
    Excessive warpers will have a much more difficult experience. Those of us who search and scavenge and hunt will have more souls to level, purchase things we want and will find more items to play around with. The warpers will be at a high risk for being underleveled and unpracticed with the mechanics. So when they come to a roadblock they’re going to have to run around and level up anyway.

    With those things out of the way I love the write up. Especially the focus on the PvE aspect of the game. Accessible isn’t a dirty word and I think your vision is just what the new(ish) team has reiterated. We want it to be a Souls game, we just want it easier for everyone to understand and immerse themselves in.

    1. Fexelea says:

      Skare I get what you mean about it being personal choice and consequence but in a way not having the opportunity to fast travel everywhere made the progression better and linear for the “average player”. What’s the point of enemies respawning if you can simply go back and forth as you please? – Adding warping to *everywhere* from *the start* is similar to adding an easy difficulty setting. You’ll just rush through mobs, reach a bonfire while they all trail after you, and then you can just warp here later

      I understand it is annoying/boring for multiple characters, but there should be a threshold. Maybe this should be an item unlocked on all characters after one game completion, like many other games do.
      Edited to add: I was referring to the accidental hitting of npcs because of putting controllers down etc, punishing and consequence is good but going through all of demons souls without storage for a mistaken controller press is not legitimate challenge or choice

      1. Yeah, that kind of mistake shouldn’t be punished. I like the beta ghost system. The souls needed to revive them was substantial so it represented sacrifice for a first run without being permanent for what was likely an accident.

        For warping my biggest disagreement is that it makes it easier. Convenient (for some) absolutely. As someone who had to constantly farm souls for arrows, items and levels my first time (not to mention materials) just to make it through the game I can’t even begin to imagine the challenge the first time if I was warping everywhere. Factor in that I would have also lost all the practice with my gear from walking and, in my opinion, unless you’re much better than I am at the game I actually want to have pity for anyone who warps too much. I see your point about just running to the next fire to gaina new warp point. But if the game is like the beta a blind speed run anywhere is likely suicide.
        It’s also not that I don’t see your side, I just really think warping isn’t going to be a favor for anyone until they’ve played a good amount in the first place.

        1. Maz says:

          I liken warping to the airship in Final Fantasy games. You grind your way through the game, and as a reward, you are given the airship. Giving players the airship from the start loses any appreciation for it and the game itself. If warping in DS2 happened early on, I definitely would be tempted to use it. Yes, it would be optional, but I’d rather not be tempted.

  2. Thief says:

    I absolutely agree with this. Just one thing I do not understand:

    “What cannot be changed or challenge is lost” – PvE focus and host advantage: Invasions should be limited and dangerous to the invader.

    As I understand it now, the invader has the advantage in assuming control over the host’s world, while being unharmed by its enemies or even his own death – thus in no real danger. The 15 minutes is more than enough, but it wouldn’t even be necessary if the rest were less one-sided.

    Was that intended to go into the “what should change” subsection of your article then?

    1. Fexelea says:

      Hi 🙂
      The advantage is and has been with the host since Demon’s. The fact that the host can summon two helpers to deal with the invaders, and that the host has more healing items is important to allow PvE players their progression without forcing them completely offline. It is of course not risky for the invader in terms of loss, but the odds are leveraged against them.

      1. Thief says:

        Oh, yeah that makes sense.
        But realisticly, it’s more coincidential than common for an invaded host to find summons to help you quick enough. And as much as I whine about my non-existing PVP skills, I never use Estus, because I myself know I wouldn’t have won without a second health bar…

  3. Emergence says:

    I think this article does a really concise job of demonstrating how A+B=C and makes a compelling argument for what needs tweaked and what should be left alone. We have a unique window at the wiki in that we are able to see what content people reach out for more and what they avoid. Great work Fex!

  4. Argetlam350 says:

    I agree with this article for the most part, except for maybe the not allowing to warp between bonfires in the beginning which is a possibility with Dark Souls 2. I think there should be warping, though of course you will still need to find the bonfire before being able to warp to it but Dark Souls did get tiresome after doing several builds with having to run around so much especially when you are on your umpteenth playthrough of the game. As for choices, I rather like the fact they are allowing a player to be able to summon the ghost of an NPC back. Maybe there should be a greater cost to talk to them or maybe there are few items the shouldn’t sell as a ghost that they normally would while alive but I like the idea of the gravestones and paying souls to see the NPC’s if you mistakenly kill a certain NPC.

    1. Thief says:

      I don’t know… I don’t play the game for too long -nor have I played DMS- but am yet somewhat savy about it. And I have to say, all the warping makes the endgame loose something. Arriving in Anor Londo the first time truly felt like a big checkpoint on a long journey – after warping everywhere though, the world immediately shrinks to 1/3 of its “perceived” size IMO.

      If often find myself walking unecessary distances because I get the feeling I’d “warp too much”. Whatever that means.

  5. Castielle says:

    Great article! For me it’s not so much about the warping, it’s more about how many warps there are. Can you warp everywhere or can you just warp to some (important) places?

    The thing I would like to see the most is explanations on HOW things work. I realize part of the fun of the game is discovering things, but I had no idea how to even summon anyone for like 2 months of playing, AND THAT’S ONE OF THE COOLEST THINGS ABOUT THE GAME!

  6. twiggy1807 says:

    I agree with skarecrow13, warps are nice and those who “abuse them” will suffer in the long run from the lack of souls/items they would get along the way. I know personally I have hoofed it from one side of Lordan to the other, just to build my character up and have some fun. Because let’s face it, the game is a game in the end, and it should be about having a good time.

  7. Emergence says:

    To be completely honest I think Fex is being generous to even offer elements that can be changed. I thought the game was already more than accessible in its current state, especially with the existence of a wiki community to fill in the blanks (which I earnestly believe was Miyazaki’s vision of having players transcend the game to seek out others for help). It was accessible enough to move over 2 million units and a rehash of the game elements with just a different story would likely sell many more units, given the opportunity to build off the success of the first and with AAA marketing support.

    Better servers, more integrity against exploits (which both comprise the Achilles heel of the series) and various shoring of the ship would be more than adequate. I like at launch needing to memorize a map, not knowing how to make a vagrant, not knowing how many reprisals I need for DMB, the risk of losing a blacksmith for an entire cycle and not knowing that I miss out on the DW if I talk to Frampt. I think games should say “fuck you, figure it out or ask someone who knows” with a wry smile like that much more often hehe. If we are talking purely fun for all, then sure, streamline the elements down to appeal to the broadest common denominator. But if we are talking artistic vision and a director like Miyazaki who wanted his audience to feel a certain way, and take certain things away from the experience of playing the game then I would disagree with the audience tailoring the experience to meet their own expectations. I say let the painters paint.

    Plus let’s face it. It could be Armored Core.

    1. First let me say I love Armored Core. Second let me say I’m glad the games are wildly different. AC is the player’s vision. Souls is not. And I agree, if they changed zero I would still want the collector’s edition.

      1. Emergence says:

        Good point on AC, although I was using them to highlight a game that is the antithesis of accessible. I would say the relative paucity of instruction there is what keeps the game in such a fringe/cult status. I think Souls gives you a lot in comparison, especially in item descriptions.

        1. Lol, true.
          Armored Core: either you “get” the concept of ballast or you “get” the f*** out

          1. Superdude100001 says:

            I believe the game is fine the way it is. Changing the formula is kind of giving in to those who aren’t strong enough to handle it. This game isn’t really made for fitting the form, it’s DESIGNED to challenge you. Smooth out the wrinkles, sure, but keep the difficulty, or make it harder.
            I like that, MAKE IT HARDER.

  8. The big thing here for me is the explanations. The hints that you are going to die repeatedly- even in the opening cutscene, should be expressed. I mean, Dark Souls’ blurb was “Prepare to Die”, so i felt it was likely already, but i guess being more explicit with it would help.

    Explanations… I think rather than explaining it, physically showing that patience can be a good thing in the tutorial level (such as making a trap which you HAVE to wait to finish before proceeding) would be ideal. Many of the traps in Sen’s fortress for instance are good examples of how patience and being careful is key.

    The stats thing is a definite for me. While I love having to discover things, simply not being told what symbol means what could be very alienating for some players. I know I was taken aback and didn’t know for about 3 playthroughs what poise was!

    Anyways, on the addition- permanent choices is a huge one for me. Personally, I’d like a true commitment to any covenant. If you leave the covenant with a character you should a) Never be able to return to that covenant and b) You should be punished for leaving in some way, or groups of equipment/spells/armour should be linked to covenants and locked out upon betrayal (but open to neutral and friendly people). Making choices more important is a must for me, as in DkS the interactions and covenants felt almost meaningless as you could cut people down, leave covs and return without a blink of an eye. Needs more focus next game.

    Also if you had far worse consequences for killing NPCs the notorious bezerker run would be even more fun 😛

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