(Warning: the following post is a closer look at the areas of Dark Souls, this entry will be spoiler filled and discussion can include spoilers, don’t read unless you have beaten the game or don’t care about spoilers.)

I’ve reached my boiling point with Dark Souls and can no longer play it without feeling my blood pressure rising. When I first wrote about the game I was about 30-40% done the main game, not counting optional areas. At this point, I’m close to 70-80% finish and can see more of the big picture of the game.

When Dark Souls works, it is a great experience, unlike anything else this year. However, the times that the design fails, and it does multiple times, it keeps the game from reaching the same heights as Demon’s Souls. Before I begin, you should read my last post on Dark Souls, as I already covered some of the problems with the design there.

Let’s start with how magic works. In the last post I talked about how building a pure caster build was almost impossible due to the limits of how many times you can use a spell. Getting further into a game I want to edit that to say that it is completely impossible to be a spell caster in Dark Souls. Basic spells that cast somewhat quickly do too little to be effective, while the decent spells leave you wide open for at least 4 to 5 seconds, which is a very long time when a boss is charging at you.

Originally I was going for a similar build that I had in Demon’s Souls, which was a magical samurai. However, it never felt that magic was worth it in Dark Souls. By the time I created a weapon from a boss’s soul, it was doing more damage per second then my strongest spell, and safer to use.

I know why the designers changed how magic worked, to force people into close combat more. However, I would argue that removing a potential option from your game does more harm than good. If someone wants to spend the time becoming a mage, they shouldn’t be punished with systems designed against them.

Another point I want to talk about are my issues with the lack of shortcuts. As I got farther into the game, the amount of shortcuts open improved dramatically. Sen’s fortress has a huge shortcut that literally drops you back at the start of the level from near the boss’s chamber. However it remains to be answered why there are so few shortcuts in the world itself. I spent plenty of time doing nothing but running to and from bonfires. Blight town is a clear example of this. Even though there is a back and front way into the area, there are no shortcuts making the place a pain in the ass to get around and to get out of.

Eventually you do unlock a minor warping ability, but it only lets you warp between three bonfires once it is originally unlocked. This means that you still have to spend a lot of time running through areas you already went through because of the lack of bonfires and shortcuts.

Speaking about the level design, one problem that I had was that the graphics and art made the levels look aesthetically busy. I had plenty of times that I couldn’t tell if I was looking at the right way, wrong way or about to kill myself. In Anno Lundo, I was lost for about thirty minutes as I couldn’t find the way out of the starting area. The Duke’s Archives seem to be about repeating the same room structure and feels creatively flat. There were plenty of times in the game that I got lost by the sheer amount of visual content in the levels, hiding the right way to go. The crystal caves was a nightmare for me, as I killed myself several times thinking that the crystal below me was the correct path when instead I slid off to my doom.

Going through darkroot gardens, I completely missed the path to the butterfly boss several times because I couldn’t see the way due to how the camera was pointing. The level design seems like it was design for visual quantity instead of quality.

Once again going back to Demon’s Souls, the levels seemed to flow a lot better than in Dark Souls. Each area in a level had a different look and feel to it allowing you to figure out where you are by the environment. I rarely got lost in Demon’s Souls, with exception to 5-2.

Moving on, the boss fights in Dark Souls were one of the worse parts of the game for me, especially coming from Demon’s Souls. In one of my many posts on Demon’s Souls, I talked about how every boss in the game was designed to provide a unique challenge, for example, you couldn’t fight Man-eater the same way as Flame Lurker.

In Dark Souls, the majority of the bosses follow the same pattern of having a lot of health and requiring you to keep attacking until they die without any other real strategy. One big issue I have is that a lot of the bosses were designed to be fought with a 2nd person, as when you are in human form, there will be a summon sign outside of the boss room even when you are offline. This is a big issue for me and a huge departure from Demon’s Souls. In Demon’s Souls, you could fight every boss solo, but if you were online you could get a helping hand if needed.

What this meant was that the bosses were balanced and designed for single player fighting only and their stats were adjusted accordingly. In Dark Souls, bosses like the duo fight in Lundo, the spider boss in Blight town and the gargoyle fight at the parish pretty much require a second person by design. Fighting more than one enemy at once shows one of the main problems with the Demon’s Souls style of combat, which I’m come back to further on. With the spider boss, she attacks so quickly and has so much health at that point of time, that you need someone to take the heat off of you to fight it.

Some of the later bosses seem like they belong in the Monster Hunter series and not Demon’s Souls in how they are designed. They are slow moving creatures that rely on you spending 5 to 10 minutes hitting them to deal with their huge health bars, where they can kill you in 1 to 2 hits. The only boss fight that felt like a return to form was the Pinwheel fight in the Catacombs, as the boss produced copies of itself and you had to find the right one (like the false idol battle of Demon’s Souls).

The Capra Demon is perhaps one of the worst offenders of bad boss design in the game, as it systematically hits every bad point of Dark Souls design. We have a boss in a narrow environment for the camera to get stuck on, able to attack with wide attacks making it hard to avoid. Who also has two fast moving enemies as back up keeping you from focusing on the real threat. The only way I saw how to beat this thing was to cheese it while standing in an area he can’t get to.

The main theme of the issues that I have with Dark Souls and what I mentioned in the last entry is how Dark Souls seems to capitalize on the problems in Demon’s Souls without improving them and being imbalance. About half way done the game, it was no longer exciting finding enemies who were placed in the blind spots of the camera forcing me to always keep my guard up; it just felt lazy at that point. Having to fight more groups of enemies while dealing with the poor collision detection without any fixes to the engine was bad form; worse, is when you head into the ruins and have to fight ghosts who not only have no collision detection to begin with, but can attack you through walls and floors.

On my first run in the ruins, I was stun killed in a narrow hallway by six ghosts who attacked me through the floor before I could raise my shield or see them. I also noticed far more technical issues present in Dark Souls compared to Demon’s Souls. Slowdown occurred more often making it hard to react to attacks. I was also knocked through the floor in one area by a special attack and the only way out was to kill myself. Larger enemies are so big that the camera gets stuck on them every time, making the auto target more of a death sentence then being useful. Along with the control issues mentioned in the first entry, makes Dark Souls less polished compared to Demon’s Souls.

Playing Dark Souls I had to “find the fun” more often than I did in Demon’s Souls. Sure I got frustrated in Demon’s Souls plenty of times, but I always felt like the game was fair with how I died. In Dark Souls it felt like the game’s own mechanics were out to get me and while that is a challenge, it is a different kind of challenge compared to Demon’s Souls. The concept of wandering around a vast, dangerous world was well done and I have no complaints about the overall regular enemy design. However, one of the mainstays of creating a proper sequel is to get the foundation set and fix any issues present in the first game. Dark Souls feels like someone built a 2nd floor on their house without making sure that the first floor was completely stable.

At this point I’ve lost my remaining desire to play the game and will probably shelve it for now. Maybe a patch or two could fix my issues, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s very discomforting to me how one of the games I was dying to play has disappointed me to such a degree. For people new to the series as a whole, I still recommend Demon’s Souls as an amazing title that still holds up and I would say to wait on Dark Souls so that it doesn’t kill your wallet as much as your character.

Josh Bycer

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THOUGHTS ON
“Cutting Through the Fog of Dark Souls(Part Two.)”

  • Anonymous

    I think you're wrong, wrong, wrong. The game just punishes you for making mistakes and being hasty than Demon's Souls did, something you seem to be unable to cope with.

    Your analysis is lazy and written in frustration. From Software made it very plain that this game was going to ramp up the difficulty. And it truly is a brilliant game, I hope you can look at it again one day and realise that it isn't cheap, it just begs for you to learn it's nuances.

    But the main problem is that you wanted this game to be Demon's Souls 2 so badly that you were always going to struggle with it. It's a spiritual successor, not a sequel. The one boss fight you claimed to enjoy (Pinwheel) was the easiest in the game by far. And as for your complaints about the magic being changed to a limited use slot system, that is in fact a mini masterpiece. It took away the Royal mana regen from Demon's Souls which essentially WAS easy mode. Sorcerer's can still survive in Dark Souls mainly on their magic but it's just another game mechanic to push gamers out of their comfort zone and create that real sense of sweaty palmed tension that is so lacking from most of today's games.

    I hope you can maybe one day play Dark Souls again and come away with a different point of view… a better one.

    And for the record, putting capital letters on the words 'game theorist' doesn't make it a real title. Sort it out…

    Yours eternally,

    J.D Wolf
    Game Enjoyist.

  • So tell me then, how great was Lost Izalith? With the lava so bright that it made it impossible to see where you were going while fighting enemies that can break through your defenses.

    Or the sniper spot in Anor Londo where unless you use the cloaking spell it's a crapshoot that you'll be able to get past the archer who can knock you off the edge while blocking.

    And better yet, the decision to include bonfires hidden behind walls that no one would ever know about. That if the Dark Souls servers go off at some point like Demon's Souls, will leave a lot of players SOL.

    Also when your defense of something is: ” you're wrong because there's something wrong with you”. Doesn't give much credibility to your statement.

    Such as saying that pinwheel was the easiest boss, when bed of chaos was hands down the easiest boss to kill. All you needed was a bow to snipe the weak points and one jump and the fight is over.

  • Anonymous

    While you do make some valid points about the locking system and occasional camera glitches, I would have to agree with the above poster in that your review is flawed.

    You wrote, in sum, “I don't like this game because x, y, and z are critical design flaws which render it near unplayable.”

    What you meant to write was “I don't like this game as it does not present challenge in a way I enjoy.” (The sentiment is glaringly obvious through your entire review). Which is fine! I'm sorry it didn't live up to your expectations after Demon's Souls.

    However, the frustration and rage and stress are intended and are, in fact, the highlight of the game for an unexpectedly large number of players.

    I would encourage you to come back to the game in a month or so after you've had some time to cool off and try it again from the beginning with your prior experience as a guide. It is a game about learning from mistakes, after all.

    I would also encourage you to try and be more objective in your reviews (I've not read any besides this one, but it is clear that your frustration dominated your opinion of the game). Each game has some frustrating moment at least, but in a game that revolves around perpetual frustration before a gratifying victory you should expect the rage! 🙂

    Earnestly,

    Eric H.

  • I still disagree. The last quarter of Dark Souls takes a dive both in level design and quality. The areas become less about exploring and more about going through a corridor of pain.

    Sen's Fortress and the painted world were my two favorite areas as they seemed more like Demon's Souls style of presenting a unique environment to explore.

    Most people seem to declare Dark Souls the best but never touch on the lack of quality in the last quarter of the game. Sections like the Valley of Giants or Last Izalith that weren't challenging because of great gameplay, but because they were frustrating to deal with.

  • Having just completed Dark Souls for the first time (despite having clocked up 90 hours between 3 characters) and having for the most part really enjoyed the game, I find myself surprised by how much I agree with you. I think for me the main difference between Demon's and Dark is that while Demon's could be extremely challenging and indeed frustrating, I don't remember it ever feeling as cheap as Dark often does. For me there's a big difference between being frustrated because I've been killed and being irritated because the death was cheap. The first Capra demon is probably the worst example, mainly due to the dogs, but there are plenty of others, like the ghosts and the sewer dragon, or the Crystal Cave. The boss fights aren't as clever either, I agree. Thinking back to the variety shown by Phalanx, the Demon King, the Old Hero and as you mention the False Idol, there's nothing that comes close. That said, I still really enjoy Dark, and I actually prefer the open world bonfire design to having separate 'worlds'. My greatest complaint is probably the slot based magic system. The previous posters comment that it addressed the problem of certain equipment sets making for easy mode doesn't stand up to me, they could have removed MP regen items without gimping magic as a whole. I'm looking forward to the upcoming DLC. I just wish they'd released one for Demon's where the broken archstone was repaired and you visited what was left of the Land of the Giants…

  • T.

    Well clearly you had very little to no knowledge of the game when you wrote this I.E the lack of short cuts,the fact that the lordvessel allows port to any of 15 fires that you had allready touched when you get it,the fact that you had to use a curse to even strike the ghosts and saying the bosses had no needed strategy….yeah. I hope you went on to find the amazing quality of this game after the butthurt went away.

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