Not a Review: Dark Souls

Masochism the Game
A barbaric game for a barbaric time

When Demon Souls came out and everyone on Talking Time was talking about how wonderful/awful the game was I didn’t pay much attention. I don’t own a PS3 and I, generally, don’t play games that endlessly punish the player. When the unofficial sequel to the game, Dark Souls, came out on the Xbox 360 Talking Time is again abuzz with discussions of the game, its difficulty, and how best to play the game. Now, though I wasn’t as distanced from the game, I own a 360, and in a moment of weakness I picked the game up. I opened it up last night and played for about an hour…

What have I got myself into it?

Much like its predecessor this isn’t a game designed with many modern sensibilities. The designers expect you, nay they actively want you, to die. The gimmick being that death just kicks you back to your last save point and you’re stripped of all the experience you’ve gained but you can reclaim it all if you make it back to the spot where you died. There is no map of the game (so far), the manual is a mere three pages thick and fails to explain anything. There are a lot of stats that effect the performance of your character and none of them are clearly explained nor are the equipment, magic, everything systems. If it wasn’t for the internet (game forums, wikis, FAQs, etc.) this game would, for the majority of people who play it, remain opaque. It appears that there are a number of complex systems operating in the background of the game but there seems to be very little in the way of accessing them outside of intense trial-and-error and numerous replays. This game is dying for a meaty manual, one that could better explain the games background, story, and mechanics. Something akin to the manuals that accompanied such games as Darklands, Civilization, or Baldur’s Gate 2.

Sadly, it seems game publishers have abandoned their duty to inform and enlighten the people who play their games handing over that responsibility to either strategy guide publishers (who will charge you a hefty fee, sometimes more than $20, for information that might not even be correct) or the players themselves. I just don’t have the time or energy, right now, to sit down and play a game endlessly trying to figure out information that should have been included in the manual. I’ll poke at the game little more if I have time and maybe I’m wrong about all this, but not from what I’ve seen so far and heard from those who have played it much more than I have.

I wonder why people don’t complain about this sort of thing when the designer says it was intentional but tear developers apart for the exact same crimes in games in which the inscrutability of the game isn’t advertised as a “feature?” Bad design is bad design intentional or not, right?

I guess I’ll just go back to playing Quest for Glory: So You Want to be a Hero?

Author: falselogic

Doesn’t mix well with polite company; his two favorite topics being politics and religion. Would rather be out cycling, swimming, running, or camping. Misspent his youth reading genre-fiction; today, he is making up for it by reading large quantities of non-fiction literature. The fact that truth, in every way, is more fascinating than fiction still tickles him.

12 thoughts on “Not a Review: Dark Souls”

  1. Because personally, even if it did come with a manual, I’d do what I did with Dark Souls and just google up a wiki dedicated to the game and have all the information I need.

    1. The existence of wikis and strategy guides does not give the publisher/developer a “free pass.” It’s still their job to explain the game to the player and the developer/publishers abandonment of doing so irks me endlessly. I want a wiki or strat guide for strategies on beating the game not for the basics of it.

      1. Now I agree, but if you’re asking why people don’t compalin, that’s why. Especially for the younger players who could never rely on getting a decent manual. Even me personally, I can’t think of the last time I’ve opted for a manual instead of the internet. And perhaps that is because manuals have been awful for so long.

  2. I disagree with you so hard. The dev, simply put, does not “owe you” an instruction manual. In fact, even if it had one, people who rented wouldn’t see it anyways. Moreover, the lack of said manual doesn’t go to game design, as it’s part of the metatext surrounding the game.

    Also, I have heard, but cannot confirm, that there is no official strategy guide for Dark Souls, so it is not an attempt to foist that onto the cheat book people or make a cash grab.

    As far as excusing it, to me, authorial intent goes a long way. If you hate Dark Souls for torturing you, do you also hate VVVVVV? Super Meat Boy? Wouldn’t’t those games also be poorly designed by your criteria?

    1. So you found Monopoly or Clue or any boardgame just as fun without having any idea what you’re doing in the game? VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy both tell you you what your goal is and how to get it. The games explain how they work. Dark Souls doesn’t do that.

    2. Gotta be fair, Monopoly or Clue have no real mechanics to enforce rules in the same way a video game does. You can’t ‘discover’ the rules of a board game by playing it. Even a vague approximation of what you might do with the pieces on hand is probably going to be a totally different game.

      1. Dark Souls doesn’t really have ways to direct the player either. Outside of combat mechanics things aren’t explained and using some items or effects don’t seem to have any effect either. Leaving the player scratching their head.

  3. For me, a lot of the appeal of Demon’s/Dark Souls is discovering how to play it. I would much rather figure this stuff by comparing experiences on a message board than by just reading it from a manual. The developers encourage playground rumor style learning by allowing you to leave messages on the ground for other players to find and allowing you to interact in co-op in a limited way. Checkpoints are frequent enough, and although it’s disappointing to lose thousands of souls if you fail to reclaim them, souls are actually extremely easy to come by. You’re going to die a lot, but it’s rarely as bad as it seems. You can actually stockpile a ton of souls if you repeatedly recover your bloodstain. Short term, tactical gameplay is readily apparent if you just mess around with the game. The only thing that’s actually hidden without looking outside of the game is long term strategic stuff like what stats are most important and how upgrading weapons effects your character. Also, as much as I love these games, they are not for everyone in the same way that Super Mario or Uncharted are. They ask a lot from the player before they start becoming (really) enjoyable.

    1. >> They ask a lot from the player before they start becoming (really) enjoyable.

      As someone who gets into Sting games, I can appreciate this, but for me it seems that I need to have tiny revelations doled out at regular intervals to stay enthused. I’m comfortable with not having the first clue as to what’s going on as long as I can remain confident that things will make sense in due time.
      I haven’t played Demons’ or Dark Souls, but the ball-busting I’ve read and heard about reminds me of The Dark Spire, a game for which I’ve seen proponents urge newbies to NOT look up the mechanics on the web because figuring it out is part of the fun. In that particular case, though, I just ended up severely frustrated.
      So Demons’/Dark Souls doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, and that’s fine. On the other hand, the former is responsible for my all-time favorite On the Stick joke (episode 32 at 1:21).

  4. I haven’t played Dark Souls, but I picked up Demon’s Souls recently since I am not averse to a difficult game. I thought, “Heck, I’ve slogged my way through Ikaruga. I know an extraordinary level of challenge isn’t necessarily a barrier to fun. Let’s give this a shot.” What I didn’t know was that it was “hard” because of willfully bad game design.

    Beyond the swing sword, shield, dodge, and use item commands here’s all the things that Demon’s Souls failed to explain:
    -Why I was collecting souls
    -How to cash in on said souls
    -Whether it’s possible to “bank” souls or how to do it
    -Why I’m permanently at half health until I beat the first boss
    -Which way to go in the first stage to reach the first boss
    -What any of the stats on your character or you weapon (arguably the more important of the two) does

    There was one place i found in the game with text that might have been explanatory, the shop. However, I can’t really comment on how helpful that might have been since I have a CRT TV and they chose their font size specifically to give a giant “f%$* you” to anyone without an HD TV.

    Of Course this is Demon’s Souls and not Dark Souls, but I wouldn’t expect the designers to learn anything when their last foray into making a ridiculously obtuse game proved so profitable.

  5. Only smat players can play this game. This game is more then a game. This game was life training. Nothing can pass easily. But if u smart and try hard for it you can win. Idiots hat this game…….:)

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