I love Dark Souls… no really, I do…
Dark Souls… this is a game I just love, and it was not an easy love at first. But in the end, this game won me over with its brand of tough love, making me work through the game with only a tiny bit of help from the internet forums. (OK, maybe more than a tiny bit.) My last post ended with a bit about Dark Souls and I decided to elaborate on it a bit.
First off, I love hard games, always have, always will. But they have to be fair in their cruelty; no cheap hits, invisible enemies, or dumb ass flying levels with electrified fences. I played Castlevania, Contra, Metal Gear, and others with glee, always having a sense of accomplishment when I finished those games. But the days like that were long gone, and the new era of games came in… more open worlds, not as straight forward, easy to get lost as you wander around exploring. Metal Gear Solid, Grand Theft Auto 3, Devil May Cry, and Resident Evil… loved them, the marriage of gameplay and storytelling was so cool. I was excited about the direction games were going and I couldn’t wait to see what was next.
Well, the games got bigger, more elaborate, more cut scenes, quick time events, dialogue trees, choices galore; which I loved… at first. The newer Metal Gear Solid games, Fallout 3, new Grand Theft Auto games… don’t get me wrong, great games and design, but I just wasn’t into them anymore. First NPCs would just tell you where to go (take a left at the tree, go 63 paces, and you will find the Pebble of Supreme Ant Might, bring it here and I will tell you where to find the boss who has taken your love), mini maps that showed too much, maps that would put big markers where to go next, then finally the damn arrows/compass/glowing path on the ground to follow so you don’t get lost. I understand why the developers did it, the worlds they had created had became so large, it was too easy to lost and never find your way around.
As these worlds became larger and took as developers would say, 500+ hours of gameplay to explore; I grew into adulthood, got a job, and my time had to be managed a bit more. Gone were the days of spending all my time to complete a game and see everything it had to offer. Now I know people will say that I should be happy then, more bang for my buck, and be done bitching about it. Problem is, while I loved Fallout 3 at first (I love post apocalyptic themes, Road Warrior rules!), I became bored with it after about 70 hours. Monsters were easy to beat, there was no real threat of death, I could just go back to my nearest save if something went wrong, and I completely forgot that my main mission at first was to find Liam Neeson to soothe my character’s daddy issues, or something like that.
The last super open world game I gave a try was Skyrim… I am not a fan. I mean a huge dragon breathes fire on you and you laugh it off and continue to hack/slash your way as if nothing happen? Fucking boring. And don’t give me that shit about, well I see that mountain over there in the distance? I can walk all the way over to it and climb to the top of it. Was there anything of importance on top of said peak? Um, No. Then why the fuck would I want to walk a hundred miles and climb a large ass mountain if it does not move the plot along of the game? I wouldn’t truth be told, if something does not develop the character you are playing, introduce a new story element or character, then it should not be in the game. It is all just fat, useless subplots and nonsensical areas to explore, all just to pad a game’s playing time to make it seem more than it is. I was feeling like adventure games were becoming the soulless, bloated Hollywood movies I despise.
Then I played Dark Souls… I was not ready for it. I died often and quickly, usually by a lowly hollow that would gladly gut me as I forgot to put up my shield to meet his attack. I was frustrated, my warrior was weak, his moves limited, I did not know where to go (Why won’t that guy at the bonfire tell me where to go? He just keeps telling me I am probably going to just die.), what do you mean I can fall off the ledge of the path I was walking on!?! That’s it, fuck this game, I am out of here.
But I kept coming back to it, something kept bringing me back to try just one more time. First I learned that my moveset wasn’t so limited, it was actually quite varied; I had to fight smarter, as any enemy would capitalize on one of my mistakes. That was the first thing that got me, the enemies weren’t really overpowered, I just had to be patient and smart on the way I fought. No more charging head first without a care in the world, I would approach each room with caution, believing whatever laid in the dark would rend me limb from limb. I loved the gameplay, and as I practiced I became quite good at killing the creatures that stood before me. That was the beauty of the gameplay, the fact that even as I got more powerful, a few lowly hollows could give me fits if I played poorly.
After I actually learned the flow of combat, I was able to start to appreciate the world of Dark Souls more fully. Those ramblings of the man by the bonfire or the crazy undead merchant were filled with clues if you listened. I wasn’t beaten over the head with useless dialogue or subjected to endless hours of cut scenes. The NPCs were real characters with their own goals or problems and I was just a visitor in their story. They weren’t waiting around to give me a mission, they had their own shit to do whether I was there to help or not. Neither were they indestructible nor necessary to finish the game, as you could fight and kill them, even the merchants and blacksmiths (though their wares were very helpful in finishing the game). Almost every item description gave a bit more insight into the lore of the world, but left enough unsaid allowing me to fill them in with my own theories. Go on the forums of Dark Souls and you will see tons of posts on how players interpret the back story of Dark Souls. Most of them are plausible, from the hints you are given in the game; allowing the gamer to make the world they are playing in more personal.
The game is quite large and open, but not enough that I would wander needlessly or completely lose my way. See that big mountain over there in the distance with nothing on it? Fuck going there, I want to go to those creepy ruins poking out of that forest over there, much more interesting. There was no map or arrows pointing the way for me to go; I had to go forth with what little information I had gleaned from my adventure. Almost every direction I went moved the plot along and seemed vital to the game, even if not needed (the descent down that damn tree to Ash Lake for example). The developers had cut away most of the fat and had left a lean, mean game, ready to hook you in before tearing you apart.
That is just the single player aspect too, as Dark Souls has an ingenious co-op, not so co-op multiplayer mode. If you are connected online and having trouble with a particular area, then munch on a bit of humanity, become human, and look for a white symbol on the ground to summon someone to help you. But the catch is now you are open to be invaded by some of the less friendly players, looking to kill you for fun and profit. Never have I been so paranoid than when I saw the INVADED BY words come up on my screen, I became jumpy, waiting for this red glowing menace to jump out and kill me with one blow. I LOVED IT… never has a game made online play so seamless with the single player campaign.
Sure not every part of Dark Souls is rosy or perfect… frame rate in Blighttown, those fucking invisible bridges in the Crystal Cave, and the lag that could become an annoyance with online battles; those are minor quibbles in what is a great game. This is a game that challenges you, inspires your imagination, and gives you a sense of accomplishment when you complete it. This may be one of the most satisfying games that I have ever owned.
As I side note, I did get to play a demo of Dark Souls II at San Diego Comic Con and I can’t wait for March 2014 to get here for it was glorious. But I do not want From Software to rush the game… I want them to take their time to make a game that is just as amazing and memorable as the first Dark Souls (just don’t take too long please).
Til next time, skipping down an escalator while drunk may be detrimental to your health…