Why I’m Hooked on Dark Souls

I put off playing Dark Souls for some time for a few different reasons. I was an Xbox fan boy for a long time before joining the PC “master race.” I always looked at the Souls series as another lame excuse for Playstation lovers to claim the PS3 had good games too not to mention the fact that it was just another example of Japanese developers making horrendous PC ports. But, as I grew up and graduated to the PC, my tastes have “slightly” (emphasis on the slightly) matured. I have become far more open to more interesting and varied games. Despite my gaming renaissance, I had already written off Dark Souls as trash, and didn’t find any reason to give it a shot. As I said in my Spelunky video (which, at the time of publishing this, I am realizing didn’t ever make it to youtube), “I am late to every party I’ve ever been invited to.”

With all the buzz surrounding Dark Souls 2, most notably in my opinion, from the writers at Giant Bomb, my preconceived notions gradually started to wear thin. I became more and more curious; “did I really miss something so compelling because of my bias?”  Last week, I decided to bite the bullet and pick up the Prepare to Die edition on Steam and give it a try. Boy oh boy, am I happy I did. However, my enjoyment didn’t come quick though. My first few hours were spent looking up all manner of PC fixes. How games are allowed to not run natively on modern operating systems without a warning on Steam is just beyond me! Thank goodness for pcgamerwiki helping sort out all of my problems. I still have to go in and disable all my usb peripherals before launching the game, which is slightly more tedious than I would like, but I’ve learned to deal with it. I was going into Dark Souls with negative preconceptions, high expectations and the added annoyance of having to do a few hours of tweaking to get the game to run acceptably on my machine, and despite all that, it still won me over.

From the moment I was hit by the giant bowling ball, to when I realized that the reforming skeletons in the graveyard are not the first enemies I should be taking on, to the first time I defeated a real boss, I loved every second of it – even as I was screaming profanities and using every ounce of self-control not to throw the controller at my monitor. Everyone I spoke to about the game touted its extreme difficulty, but I think the game should instead be touted for its extreme training. The game isn’t difficult for the sake of being difficult; it’s difficult for the sake of teaching you to get better at the game. In this way, it’s almost like one giant tutorial the whole way through. The game’s tagline should not be “Prepare to Die,” it should be “Learn or Die.” Full disclosure: I’m only 12 hours in so everything may change once I beat the next boss or area, but from everything I’ve seen thus far I have no reason to believe the game gets significantly different. As I mentioned in my blog post about difficulty curves, I am a huge fan of games that are not afraid to make the player improve in order to progress.  At no point in Dark Souls does the player feel completely safe, but at no point in Dark Souls is the player not 100% in control of their situation. Whether you are up to the challenge or not rests solely on the player.

The game’s focus on punishing the player until they learn to progress is actually strikingly similar to raiding in mmos, and Dark Souls is a force to be reckoned with.

√  Interesting and varied trash mobs leading up to larger than life bosses

√  Bosses with mechanics and tells that are satisfying to learn and conquer

√  Non-linear paths with the ability to explore vast environments and secrets hidden throughout the world

√  Loot that not only gives stats, but acts and feels meaningfully different

Dark Souls has all the hooks that I hope for every time a new raid dungeon is released. A class on raid design could be taught using just Dark Souls as the text book. Even the community surrounding Dark Souls has become mmoish, for lack of a better term. Websites featuring boss guides and loot lists could easily be mistaken for the Tankspots or Wowheads of the world. I found myself playing each boss as I like to do in an , trying it blind once or twice to get a feel for it live, then going to a guide to find out what strategies others had perfected. Occasionally, I would even find little tricks that worked best for me, as I do when working with certain players or group comps in other games. That’s not to say that the analogy is perfect. I have not played anything in a group, but I have read that a lot of the bosses break down when you have more than one player involved. At the most basic level most bosses devolve into some combination of “roll in, attack, roll out.” But despite these minor hang-ups, I believe that Dark Souls is the greatest raid dungeon of all time. I had very little interest playing TESO up until this point, but what little I have played makes me hopeful that an endgame resembling Dark Souls is possible there. Just that small sliver of hope makes a little bit more curious as to what ZeniMax has to offer.

What do you think? Have you played Dark Souls yet? Has your experience reminded you of raiding in mmos?


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