General Ignorance: Dark Souls

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Developer: From Software

“Dark Souls is hard” anybody’s video game analysis of the Dark Souls that starts and ends with “it’s hard” really isn’t worth your time.  It’s one dimensional there is so much more to Dark Souls and what’s worse is they project this lazy analysis on the Dark Souls fans “They only like it because its hard” and that writing of one of the best communities in video game. So lets look at what makes Dark Souls so compelling.

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I love Dark Souls and I never play games on hard just for the challenge. In most cases, hard mode just cheapens the game leaving you feeling cheated. So, if I love Dark Souls and don’t like hard games why do people say it’s hard? That’s simple Dark Souls features very fair tactical combat that’s a world apart from cheap bullet sponge enemies of hard games but requires a certain approach. You have to think before you move and choose your move wisely.  It works like this “that thing is swinging its sword at me I probably shouldn’t run in. I should walk back, dodge or block”. With Dark Souls enemy attacks are telegraphed and directly after the enemy attacks they leave themselves open so you can safely move in for a couple of attacks (don’t get greedy) then move out. The rush comes from the fact if you get greedy or you are careless even the weakest enemies in the game can kill you in small groups and bosses can take multiple attempts to learn their attack patterns. Ultimately though the only fight is with yourself and your patience. It’s core gameplay is simple you can complete the whole game with a sword using just light attacks and yet there is real depth to Dark Souls combat. Is it easy? No Does it require a level of skill? Yes but its fair it never cheats you.

The combat however is only is only one part of the appeal there are five pillars to Dark Souls appeal.

1. Combat

2. Design

3. Lore

4. Boss Fights

5. Exploration

Combat

We’ve explored the combat at its highest level but what I’ve yet to mention is the variety the game offers. You create your own “build” by leveling up and picking certain attributes. This means you can tailor the game to the way you play. There is a serious amount of freedom in character building and weapon choices.

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I like to put all of my points into strength and hit foes really hard with a big sword. The choice really is yours if you want to run around magic staff in one hand and a sword in the other like Gandalf you can. Certain weapons will scale to your attributes. And here is the point nobody really mentions when they say Dark Souls is hard its actually quite easy to overpower yourself in Dark Souls to reduce the level of tension in the combat if it all gets too much for you. And to be honest by the time you’ve finished grinding slugs for Large Titanite Shards which you can use to upgrade your weapons to +10 you’ll find your power level has increased.

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There are too many weapons, spells and things to grind for to list I couldn’t even begin to do it justice in a single article in fact you could write a book about it. I suppose though I should mention weapons can have up to three attacks heavy, light and a running attack and that there are additional technics like back stabbing and ripostes which are nice skills to have but not all builds or even weapons support these moves so I’ll skim over those too.

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Design

Design is almost too broad a category to cover when you are talking about Dark Souls but to summarise Dark Souls is a video game that knows it’s a video game and never tries to be anything but a video game. And it excels in being a video game more than most purely for that reason. Its basically a collection of very video games systems a sort of greatest hits collection of video games. It doesn’t soften an edge to make it less of video game and more welcoming to none video game players you’ll find no tutorial here just a small starting area before it releases you into the wild.

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The dark fantasy medieval art style of Dark Souls is fantastic. It’s an art style that really works for the game as an RPG and is definitely one of the reasons I choose to play Dark Souls even though I wasn’t sure I would like it.

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You’ll hear a lot of comparisons between newer games and Dark Souls but what you will rarely hear is how close Dark Souls is to the Legend of Zelda.  It’s a comparison that had more people made instead of “it’s hard” I probably would have played Dark Souls earlier. Even some of the basic sword and shield combat is actually quite close to Twilight Princes combat (although not by design). Both focus on exploration and distinct areas with a boss fight at the end and both contain secrets that you can complete the game without ever knowing they were there. However Dark Souls unlike Zelda which has an open world that tends to be simple Dark Souls world is expertly interwoven it’s unlike any other game I’ve played. You’ll be making your way through an area thinking how far you are away from where you have been when suddenly you open a door a short cut opens up and you know exactly where you are you’ve double back on your self.

An area of Dark Souls design that deserves a special mention is optional area’s and bosses and the only reason these work is that you (to a point) can tackle the game in any order you choose. Secrets are a huge part of Dark Souls design, hit a wall and poof the wall disappears and secrets lay beyond. Plus there are NPCs you need to talk to at a certain time to advance their story. It adds a massive amount of replayability rarely seen in any game.

The next element of design I want to touch on is the unique multiplayer which I must admit can be a marmite experience. In the game, you can take one of two forms human and hallow. When in human form you can summon a human or AI co-op partner to help you but this in turn allows a random human and AI characters to invade your game as an enemy.

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Dark Souls UI is arguably outdated almost to the point it makes a statement and its why I love it again its not trying to be a iPhone its trying to be a video game.

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Lore

Hidetaka Miyazaki the games creator has confessed to being a fan of choose your own adventure books as a kid. The problem was English wasn’t his first language so he had to fill in some of the gaps himself. Dark Souls is like this every item or bit of dialogue hints at something and you have to fill in the gaps yourself. Either by finding another item and making a connection or by paying attention to your surroundings and spotting something in the environment and using that in your story. The story becomes your own.

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There are even NPC’s in the game with timed events which means your game experience can be completely different to a friends.

Boss Fights

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The boss fights… ah the boss fights. Like Zelda each boss is a mixture of puzzle and combat but the bosses are closer to The Legend of Zelda on the NES as opposed to 3D Zelda’s where the puzzle is linked to an item or the environment. Each boss has a pattern you must learn and you will only have time for a few hits before you need to step back and repeat the process and like Zelda bosses can change tack part way through the battle. One element unique to souls is the ability to roll through a bosses attack , you roll speed it determined by your equipment mode and this leads to different strategies for different bosses. If you have little experience with the Souls games then you are unlikely to beat a boss on your first go but after sometime with the series you will.

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Like other combat in the game bosses are fair and can be beaten provided you are using the correct tactics this is the origin of the “Git Gud” meme which was never meant with malice the Dark Souls community are infamous there support and if you are struggling with a boss you’ll find no shortage of help. And struggle you may for some bosses in the Dark Souls do require you to master a certain skill like rolling through attacks and you are unlikely to master this on your first try. You will also find AI partners that will appear as summon signs near some bosses if you complete their quest or defeat them as an invader plus there is the option of calling in a friendly sunbro.

Exploration

Exploration is where the incredible level design of Dark Souls really comes into play. Dark Souls nails risk vs reward with enemy and item placement. If you explore you put yourself in danger but get rewarded with items. You really want to explore but sometimes you want to preserve your souls or get the next bonfire or short cut to know your safe. The beauty is that you will never know where those will be and this is where a system that allows players to write a message on the floor comes into play. Players once again can help each other by leaving notes on the floor. These same notes will not show for all people which is great because once again in Dark Souls your playthrough is your own and can be a completely separate experience to a friend’s playthrough of the same area.

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There is a real tension to exploring especially when you have a large amount of Souls because Souls (the currency used to level up you get by killing enemies) are dropped on the floor when you die. To retrieve your souls you need to make your way back to where you died and pick them up within one life or they are gone forever.

I’m not going to lie and tell you Dark Souls is an easy game but its a different kind of difficulty than we are used to dealing with in video games and the game has real depth.

 

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