Posts Tagged ‘Dark Souls


Dark Souls II

Dark Souls 2

Having recently completed Dark Souls II with my wife, my feelings on the game are mainly positive with undercurrents of doubt.  Dark Souls II has all the flavor of a Dark Souls, but I can’t shake the feeling that there’s been a bit of the experience from the firsts game that’s missing from the sequel.  The mechanics of the game are solid (but I’ve got a gripe with the targeting system) and the process of building your character then throwing them to the wolves is familiar and satisfying.  The environment and monster designs are detailed and unnerving (even if they didn’t end up being what From Software aspired to be.)  But I felt that there was a diminished sense of discovery to this game as opposed to Dark Souls II.

I would like to argue that the real staying power of Dark Souls is drawn from the risk/reward contrast.  There are plain examples of this in risking your accumulated souls to obtain an item in a precarious area of the dungeon.  But there are also indirect examples that lead from this.  Dark Souls does indeed have a story, albeit one that you’ve stumbled upon after the fact.  The items you collect throughout the game include a series of pieces to the story’s puzzle, and alongside the NPCs you meet and assist throughout the game, it’s possible to put it all together.  The story isn’t handed to you, and it goes without saying that it can be ignored altogether.  But doing that means denying yourself a more interesting experience, and one that is shared with the Dark Souls community.

Dark Souls II, in contrast, felt more like the story was a box to check off a list.  Don’t get me wrong, there are interesting things going on, and you’ve got to work to uncover it, but vast sections of the game offer little to further your understanding of that story.  It’s very possible that this is the result of having already completed Dark Souls, and am playing through Dark Souls II expecting the unexpected.  I was waiting for lightning to strike the same place twice, and it just wasn’t going to happen like that.  There’s only so much From Software could do to mitigate that.  But I also felt that the game was actively avoiding it in places as well.  You’re told, early on, that you will find yourself in front of the Drangleic Castle, and not really know why.  The undead that wind up in the world of Dark Souls II all suffer from memory loss, but I also felt that this statement was also meant to be taken literally.  You really have no idea why you’re doing this.  And perhaps the first game had, to its benefit, your curiosity at just what the heck was going on.

There is one area of Dark Souls II that I’ve neglected in almost its entirety: online multiplayer.  Our first play through was on a Live account that did not have gold access.  My impression is that From Software chose to focus more on the series unique multiplayer experience at the expense of the game’s lore.  This is totally fine in my eyes.  The online multiplayer component is indeed interesting and worth playing the game just for that aspect alone.  But it’s not what we chose to play the game for.  I expect that players that elect to continue through “new game plus” and further will be doing so to continue to enhance their player and compete with others at higher levels.  There seems to be less incentive to do so otherwise.  There are fewer choices to be made with NPCs, less lore to each of the locations, and less to be dug up in the process of playing. It’s a fine game, just maybe a game that’s worth playing once, which is not a bad thing by any means.


Dark Souls Combat

Isometric Dark Souls

You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Dark Souls at this point, but without actually having a chance to play the game yourself it’s hard to summarize why it’s good other than to say it’s satisfyingly difficult.  That’s quite true, but the satisfaction comes from the depth of its combat system.  You have a myriad of tools and options at your disposal in the game and because of this, repeating sections of the game doesn’t have to feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over and over again.  It’s a playground for exploring the combat mechanics that’s incredibly well realized.

What makes combat in Dark Souls deceptive is that at first glance, it appears to function as a run of the mill hack-and-slash dungeon crawler.  As soon as you begin to treat it like one though, it just doesn’t feel right (especially since you’ll be dead.)  Your avatar doesn’t act the moment you hit a button, and they will become almost entirely unresponsive.  One of the first things to stand out will be the stamina meter, which falls at a steady pace while you are engaging enemies.  Your stamina represents how much energy you have to expend on any given physical action.  In other tactical games, this would essentially represent action points.  However, it is also depleted when deflecting blows or running.  When your stamina is exhausted you will no longer be able to attack, and the next blow you receive will cause you to stumble.  You’ll also stumble if you try to strike the enemy and they successfully block it.

This alone still doesn’t quite set it apart from hack-and-slash games.  Managing your stamina, selecting where and when to engage an enemy, and when to let your guard down to recover is fun.  What really makes it interesting is that all enemies also have stamina meters.  It incorporates a whole new layer of challenge and advantage to the experience that forces you to think about the game in a very measured way that’s more similar to strategy games than action games.  For many enemies, your goal is to first exhaust your target’s stamina as to make them stumble.  The easiest way to do this, many times, is to simply block one of their attacks against a shield.  You’re not simply deflecting the blow in order to control the timing of your attacks against theirs – you are leaving them unable to react at all since they exhaust their stamina.  From there you have the opening to attack them with your weapon, with one hand, both hands, or to flank them and execute a backstab for critical damage.  You must remember though that the enemy will recover stamina shortly and return blows, at which point you must have enough stamina to deflect them or roll out of the way to recover yourself.

This balancing act between using your stamina to attack and to defend is a huge part of the game and what makes it a dynamic experience.  There are ways to rely less on stamina.  Sorcery, archery, and advanced combat techniques (e.g. parry and riposte) allow you to choose a different type of risk (you will be attacked without shielding yourself) in exchange for ranged attacks and conservation of your stamina.  The game comes up with many different ways to throw you off balance while trying to manage your stamina (or control range.)  Here are a few examples.

  • Sen’s Fortress will force you to manage combat while simultaneously navigating environmental hazards.  You don’t exactly have room to put distance between you and your target, and when you’re hit with an environmental hazard you’re either already dead or vulnerable to enemy attacks.
  • Blighttown assails you with enemies that will afflict you with status ailments.  Poison and toxin will build up in a meter in the middle of the screen, and when it fills you’ll lose HP at a slower (poison) or quicker (toxin) pace.  Either way, you’re forced to strategically disengage the enemy long enough to drink from your estus flask to restore your health or to cure yourself of poison/toxin.
  • The Tomb of the Giants is pitch black.  Unless you have a lighted helmet, you must carry a lantern in place of either your sword or shield.  Even then, you cannot see very far in any direction.  When you do see an enemy, if you are not moving slowly, you will almost immediately be attacked by large enemies with fearsome attacks which quickly deplete your stamina.
  • The Duke’s Archives features enemy mages which have strong, ranged magic attack.  They are usually defended by several regular enemies which force you use special magic resistant equipment and use careful crowd control methods
  • There are many enemies that can break your weapons and armor (which can only be fixed at bonfires or blacksmiths) rendering them ineffective.  Weapons will also break after prolonged normal use if not regularly repaired.

Of course stamina is only one part of Dark Souls, but I feel it’s the keystone around which the rest of the game is able to shine.  It drives the game’s PvP community where creative strategies can win over sheer numbers.  Duels are popular and have led to the emergence of PvP etiquette as opposed to open free-for-all.  It gives the game life beyond it’s already entertaining (and repeatable) campaign.  The combat system is a thoroughly rewarding game mechanic that’s encompassed by a game that realizes its full potential.  That’s a rare accomplishment, and is why the game enjoys such enduring popularity.  I can only hope that lightning strikes the same place a second time when Dark Souls II is released this March.


Dark Souls as a Mobile Game


Mobile games are here to stay, and they’re big business the world over.  It’s a new market that’s rapidly expanding, and publishers are racing to stake a claim in this new frontier.  It’s easy to see the similarities between mobile games and their console brethren.  There’s a lot of pressure on console game publishers to control as much of that space as possible since it (at least in part) eats away at their console gaming market share.  Console gamers also feel that pressure, at least indirectly, when publishers try to bring them along for the ride.  And, it can often be the case, that these games are cynical cash-ins on core gaming audiences.  You don’t have to look any further than to Square-Enix and the Final Fantasy brand.  In some instances, ports of existing games have been effective.  But then there are examples like Final Fantasy: All The Bravest.

On the other side of the spectrum, you see a game like Dark Souls, which holds the continuing respect of many core gamers as an example of a modern game that captures the essence of a core, console gaming experience.  It’s not hard to believe that Namco Bandai sees the brand’s popularity as an opportunity to capture a part of the mobile gaming market.  Digital Spy recently interviewed the publisher’s director of global strategy, Alex Adjaj, and covered just this topic.

We’d like to bring Dark Souls to mobile, but it’s very difficult because the guys at From Software are very much console oriented. … To change their mind about it, it takes quite a while. … But definitely it’s something we could bring to mobile in a very successful way.

Read more of the interview here.  To take the interview at face value, you’d have to assume From Software is being a bit stubborn in not being flexible in how to design their games.  They are narrowly focused on being “console oriented” and that makes sense when you’re approaching this from a business standpoint.  Adjaj makes it clear that Namco Bandai needs to make inroads in the mobile gaming market since it has the largest install base in the world.  And Namco Bandai has a chance to enlist the support of the Dark Souls franchise’s fans to help them to that end.  From Software is right to be wary of a mobile entry in the Souls series this.

The leads on Dark Souls are saying we don’t want to do mobile because the controls would have to be changed, and therefore it won’t be Dark Souls anymore.

I think there is a need to redesign the way you reroll in the game to make it a bit more casual, so with shorter sessions.

Now, I don’t have any problem with casual games, or mobile games.  What strikes me about the assessment of Dark Souls’ value on a mobile platform is to the degree by which the experience must be compromised.  Adjaj points out that developers don’t want to compromise on controls, but there are many other fundamental changes that would need to be made with the game’s formula.  While console games and mobile games are both fully digital experiences, the difference between the two platforms can be more like the difference between console games and board games.  They fundamentally interface with user in differing ways.  From is absolutely correct to think that the experience would cease to be Dark Souls on a mobile platform.  It would make more sense to come up with an entirely new game that carries a similar spirit as the franchise, but better suited to the needs and expectations of the mobile gaming market.

I’m sure that Alex Adjaj has a great deal of respect for the development team, but I think it says a lot when a publisher is trying to secure a brand for use in the mobile gaming market rather securing the talent behind a franchise to come up with a gaming experience that’s unique on that platform.  It also comes across like Namco Bandai is seeking From Software’s blessing to utilize fans of the franchise.  In any case, I’m happy see Dark Souls firmly planted in console landscape, and not suffering the same fate as Final Fantasy with games like All The Bravest.

PROTIP: The PC edition of Dark Souls is available for $5.99 right now during the Steam Holiday sale.


New Review: Dark Souls

You've got something on your shirt.  Right here!

Oh Dark Souls.  Dark Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls.  It’s been a long road, but I finally finished you.  Sure I’ve been yelling at the TV when you throw me off of cliffs and spam uninterruptable attacks.  You made me run a countless number of times between bonfires and boss battles.  And you also introduced me to the capra demon, the manifestation of all things terrible.  But you know what, you were a pretty good game in spite of all this and you get a final score of 3/3.

Continue to the full review.


Gaming Links Roundup for March 2nd

Grossly Incandescent.

Why I’m Not Okay With Sony Ditching PSP Discs
For a device that’s supposed to do so much, the Vita not being able to play UMD based games seems like a pretty big caveat when you’re marketing it toward core PSP gamers.

Square Enix announces remix album dedicated to beer
Haha.  Wait, what?

XSEED Will Do What Nintenwon’t, Agrees to Localize ‘The Last Story’ for North America
I’m thrilled to hear that we’ll get a chance to play this.

Tim Schafer Says Publishers Aren’t Worried About Kickstarter
It’s not surprising that publishers wouldn’t be impressed by $2 million.  But if they feel an existential threat posed by used games and $0.99 mobile games then I’m sure that the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter is causing them some degree of distress.  Publishers only survive with developers on their side, and there are more and more ways for developers to escape that relationship every day.

Are 100-Hour Games Just A Waste Of Our Time?
People who spend 100 hours playing games would disagree (as I am one.)  Articulating why it’s worth the time and pointing to it is challenging though I’m sure if we tallied up the amount of time that people spend on other activities then this wouldn’t sound as dramatic as it does.  See also: Hell Yes, 100-Hour Video Games Are Worthwhile and Sunbro.

Jet Grind Radio HD Re-release Confirmed
I used to think HD re-releases were shameless cash-ins, but then I tried playing SD games on an HD TV.

Silent Hell: the rage-fueled tale of Book of Memories
I don’t know what happened with Silent Hill but whatever enthusiasm I had for the series has evaporated.  I’ll still pick up the Silent Hill Collection later this month though (even if it’s not much of a collection.)


Extended Impressions: Dark Souls

In case it wasn't obvious.

Another day, another way to die in Dark Souls.  This game has grown on me considerably since the last time I had written about it.  I still can’t say that I totally buy into the hype I’ve seen for Dark Souls online but I keep coming back to it even in spite of battles with the likes of the Capra Demon or Ornstein & Smough.  What’s becoming more apparent the more I play (I’m sure my girlfriend originally made note of this) is that Dark Souls is like Squaresoft’s Vagrant Story.  Both are games that offer an intricate combat system that places you, alone, in an unforgiving realm that is both ruined and beautiful.  What makes both games unforgiving though is how little insight they give into their gameplay mechanics.  There’s no avoiding death in these games, but it’s not because they are exceptionally challenging, they are just exceedingly difficult to learn how to play effectively.

These are games that have a high price of admission while offering:

  • Combat mechanics that you can spend dozens of hours exploring and mastering.
  • Impressively daunting boss monsters.
  • Dungeons fraught with danger and opportunity.
  • Understated stories that invites you to dig deeper.
  • An overstated sense of confusion and frustration.
I think Dark Souls will continue to endear itself to me (but not before inspiring a series of curses a mile long) and I’ve got a feeling that by the time I finally get around to playing Skyrim I will be a little disappointed when it treats me more nicely.


Weekly Links for January 21st



Resident Evil 6 unveiled, with a surprise November release
What’s funny is as time’s gone on I’ve become more and more of a Resident Evil fan. I skipped the first, cheated through the second and finally

“Deus Ex” Live Action Film Behind the Scenes – Stunt/ Fight Choreography
I wish very badly for this to be a real thing. But I guess it’s not. (via: Kotaku)

Vita Sales Get Even Worse
I was surprised, but then I remembered that this is Sony that we’re talking about.

AMY dev claims its game is just ‘hard’ instead of ‘crap’
You know you’re desperate when you’re reduced to responding to your critics by saying “well, you’re just stupid.”

ESA spent $190,000 to support PIPA lobbyists
Nothing like spending a ton of money to try and get Washington to hurt people you don’t like.

What I’ve Been Playing

Dark Souls
On to Sen’s Fortress.

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
The more I explore the plot branches in this game the higher my opinion of it becomes.

Bonus Video

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