A Sucker for Punishment? What’s the problem with the Dark Souls series?

It’s been an interesting journey for the Dark Souls series, which has inspired multiple clones and created a genre due to its impact on gaming. The series that many dearly love and one that’s highly protected by its most loyal of followers. But guess what? Many gamers can’t enjoy this series of ‘master pieces’ and feel it’s impact is blown out of proportion. Guess what? I’m one of them.

Oh boy, here I go pissing off fan boys again!

Dark Souls, FromSoftware

Now, I can appreciate the influence Dark Souls has had on other games and a few of them I really like. Dead Cells is one of the most impressive Metrovania games I’ve played since Shadow Complex and I have to say that I really like Bloodborne. I know right? I like Bloodborne but not Dark Souls. There are reasons!

I look at difficulty as a means of personal skill and being able to choose it determines player skill. But if the game has one difficulty or is just extremely difficult without natural pacing, does that mean it’s unbalanced?  To me, yes it does. What is interesting is hearing from older developers and designers on how they spoke about using difficulty spikes and unbalancing in their games to increase length and play time. So difficulty can be a cheap trick to make games longer? Well it does make sense and for most respects it’s the same here.

Dark Souls, FromSoftware

Some of the most famous games such as Ghouls and Goblins relied heavily on their infuriating level of difficulty to make the game longer. It’s a developer tactic to con gamers into many hours with a product that if played without the gruelling pace would actually be rather short. Think about it, how long would the Dark Souls games last if the difficulty was lower? Maybe 8 hours or even less? There are people who’ve beaten the game in less than an a couple of hours. The only reason you play for longer is due to the amount of times you’ll potentially repeat stages and bosses over and over.

I can enjoy the trial and error format in video games but the main reason it can work effectively is the set up and scale. A game like Dead Cells is so fast and fluent that dying is big deal but you can get back on your feet so quickly. Plus you’ll unlock new gear that’s meaningful to progression and levels change drastically, offering multiple paths to take. Dark Souls is more of a grind where you learn a little more from each encounter by dodging more often or using a fire bomb where needed. It’s a cycle of two steps forward, one step back and no matter what skill you class yourself with, everyone dies a lot. But there’s reasons for this, namely the over powered nature to enemies.

Bloodborne, FromSoftware

I don’t understand why having over powered enemies is a sign of brilliant game design for Souls but not for other games. Yeah there is a biased opinion when it comes to this and many gamers and critics often shy away from what is a big problem. I mean a skeleton warrior with massive damage will piss anyone off, unless you’re a souls fan. Bloodborne at least balanced this out with faster combat, more enemies with lesser hit points and created worlds with multiple paths. Again I see a slight grind to Bloodborne and repeating areas just to earn some more Blood-echoes for upgrading was tedious. But at least everything more at a quicker pace, with the agile and brutal combat. Plus Bloodborne was more generous to give Blood-Echoes to adventurous types while Dark Souls just punished needlessly.

What does stand out like a sore numb for Dark Souls are the dirty tricks and lack of fore shadowing. Dark Souls would relish in surprise attacks, over powered enemies in small areas and moments where you’ll receive massive damage  massive within a split second, i.e the dragon from Dark Souls III. The area he lingers over does not even have the faintest of scorch marks or display any signs of fire, so no suitable warning signs mean a cheap death to new players. That’s great and this is done a few times throughout the campaign resulting in what feels more like a sucker punch for just exploring a new area.

Dark Souls, FromSoftware

But just remember players succeeding in Dark Souls is actually based on the 5 D’s (you know where this is going). Duck, dive, dodge, dip and dodge and that’s it. The relentless dodging is maddening and this is the soul tactic. Games like The Witcher rely in more depth for success but a game like Dark Souls relies on hitting A/X 90% of the time.

Have you ever noticed that the lore for Dark Souls is really … Meh? Yeah I know there’s plenty of  mystery with interesting visuals showcasing a decaying world and some complex myths embedded into the lore. But it’s nothing new or compelling about it unlike games such as Brothers: A tale of Two sons or Horizon: Zero Dawn. Much of it is very bog standard D&D fan fiction type stuff which really just recycles elements from better source materials. While I do like games and movies which don’t tell you everything, Dark Souls left too many gaps for my liking. You’ll often hear fans boost of the mystery and unknown but remain quiet actually going into detail about the story. Also I’m not so keen on having to watch Youtube videos to get the full story and even then have plot holes, sorry I meant segments you interpenetrate or fill in yourself.

While Bloodborne did this as well with leaving the story telling to vague conversations and notes scattered across the world, you at least had interesting visuals. It was a world that immersed you and by God was it beautifully disgusting. It made you question everything around you due to it’s amazing eye for detail that made observe with keenness. I mean, seeing giant wolves on crucifixes, coffins chained up and manic laughter coming from locked homes really can be super unsettling. The developers did a great job to perfect the atmosphere for this compelling horror hack and slash. Dark Souls is just filled with dull, tedious fantasy landscapes and uninspired enemy designs that often just feel like re-skins from game to game. Not to mention that 90% of the world is just lifeless with no originality to the world’s design.

Dark Souls, FromSoftware

Not to forget that your always a dude who’s brought back to life who’s soul purpose is to die repeatedly. Things like this and others including the uninspired character customization, gear and loot which all seem pretty boring. Almost to the point where it’s bare bones and even elements such as enemies changing in the mist of battle is a concept done to death in gaming. I bring this up because critics loved giving praise for this, big time! Oh wow, the enemy has changed tactics, what do I do? Duck, dive, dodge, dip and dodge and repeat! Seriously?! Besides Resident Evil 4 did that back in 2004! Hell Castlevania did that back in the 90’s. The lack of dynamic mechanics or interesting set pieces makde Dark Souls a minimalist run and slash with a heavy reliance on the trial and error format to make it captivating.

Now look if you love the games that fine and I can see why and more power to you. But you know what’s super annoying with loyalist Dark Souls fans? Your snobbery and self-important big pigheadedness. So if you don’t like the games then you must suck at them? I’ve played and finished each game and I can surely say these are extremely overrated titles. Also I think IGN just need to stop stroking Dark Soul’s ego more than needs be. Even when you criticize anything it’s no big deal, like Dark Souls 2 which has divided fans with many of them classing it as a poor game in comparison. Yet it’s still bringing in 9’s, 10’s and perfect scores all round. Really, is this game really worth so much praise?

I’d advise you go and play Ninja Gaiden. Now that’s a great series with awesome combat, interesting level design and a lore that’s more appealing than Lord of the Rings leftovers. Just saying.

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